HC Deb 18 January 2000 vol 342 cc680-1
8. Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North)

What recent discussions he has had with the Cuban Government. [104195]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook)

I met my Cuban counterpart, Felipe Perez Roque, in the margins of the Rio summit in June, the first such formal meeting since the 1950s. At that meeting and at others, we have raised our concern over human rights in Cuba. However, it remains our strong view that we are more likely to make progress on human rights and other issues of mutual concern through dialogue than through blockade.

Dr. Gibson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we have much to learn from Cuba—high literacy rates, a health service that apparently works the whole year round, and a successful bio-technology industry? When he is next in the State Department in Washington, will he urge the Americans to remove their blockade of the Cuban people and lift the economic and travel sanctions against them?

Mr. Cook

There are opportunities for us to co-operate to our mutual benefit. One such example is the agreement to develop the vaccine against meningitis between SmithKline Beecham and the Finlay institute in Cuba. I welcome such co-operation to the mutual benefit of our two countries and our two peoples.

May I say to my hon. Friend that Cuba also has a lot to learn from the rest of the world? I endorse the view that we are likely to make progress if Cuba becomes more open to the world, and the world becomes more open to Cuba.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

Does the Secretary of State agree with Human Rights Watch in its report last year, which observed that Cuba has developed a highly efficient machinery of repression? Under the terms of our ethical foreign policy, why are we engaging with Cuba in a way in which we are not prepared to engage, for example, with Burma?

Mr. Cook

I have always made it clear that we are more likely to make progress if we are prepared to deal with regimes about which we have concern, where there is a possibility of engaging in genuine and sincere dialogue. I have great difficulty in sitting down with members of the military regime in charge of Burma, not only because of its extensive ethnic cleansing of large parts of Burma, and not only because of the fact that at one time it had 200 elected Members of Parliament locked up, but because of its plain connivance and complicity in the heroin trade from Burma, to which it is a major contributor.

In the case of Cuba, I did raise with the Foreign Minister of Cuba a number of the issues of concern to Human Rights Watch and the rest of us, in particular the trial of four people for doing nothing other than calling for national elections.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

In my right hon. Friend's communication with the Cuban Government, has he made it clear that Her Majesty's Government support the principle that the little boy who is now in Honda should be returned to his natural father, and that we are making representations to the United States in support of that view?

Mr. Cook

That is entirely a matter for the immigration authorities of the United States and its bilateral relations with Cuba. With respect to my hon. Friend, I will not run my neck into that noose.

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