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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, first, I apologise to anybody who failed to receive a letter. I assure the House that the letter was laid in the Library by my department on 20th June. Of course, laying letters in the Library does not mean that people know that they are there. That is not the ideal way of communicating with people, but we do not always
Lord Sheldon: My Lords, it is surprising that I gave the Library two hours to find the letter, and they could not find it. However, it is obvious that my interest was observed. I still do not know, and I am going to hear for the first time from my noble friend what this is all about. It is rather late in the day.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I entirely agree. We shall have to think about how to put together a proper mailing list for announcements of this kindand whether letters from one person to another are the right way to deal with these matters. This needs some thought.
There has been much heated debate throughout the passage of the Bill on this issue, both in the Commons and here. But that should not obscure the common ground that exists and has always existed. We all want to ensure BBC accountability to Parliament and to television licence fee payers. We also want to safeguard the BBC's independence, which is central to its role as our principal public service broadcaster.
However, there are very different views on how this should be achieved. Those who want statutory National Audit Office access argue that it would pose no threat to the BBC's independence, since the Comptroller and Auditor-General is prevented by statute from commenting on the merits of policy objectives; and Amendment No. 111 includes specific provision to that effect. Others, including the BBC, feel that statutory access would inevitably compromise the corporation's position, because the nature of the BBC's operations means that it is difficult, if not impossible, to separate editorial from expenditure decisions. There seemed little prospect of finding any common ground between those opposing views. So I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sharman, for the proposal that he brought forward in Committee to resolve this issue.
My noble friend Lady Blackstone undertook to consider the Sharman proposal and report back to the House before Report. Following discussions between DCMS officials andprimarilythe BBC and the NAO, the Government are satisfied that the proposal offers a workable basis for strengthening BBC accountability to Parliament and licence fee payers while preserving the corporation's independence. I wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, on 19th June to set out how we envisage the new arrangements operating. Detailed discussions are required before the necessary amendments to the BBC agreement can be drafted, but I shall set out the basic structure.
A dialogue between the BBC audit committee and the Comptroller and Auditor-General will be the basis for establishing a programme of reviews. On the basis of the dialogue, the audit committee will settle a programme of reviews and allocate individual reviews to organisations including the NAO. The Comptroller
Once reports have been presented to Parliament, it is of course a matter for Parliament to decide how they should be considered. The Government do not envisage a role for the DCMS or its accounting officer in the process. Such a role would infringe the independence of the BBC in its day-to-day operations. As I indicated, our discussions with the BBC and the NAO have satisfied us that the Sharman proposal can work effectively on the basis that I have set out. There will be an opportunity to judge the effectiveness of the new arrangements in the forthcoming review of the BBC charter. Indeed, I can confirm for the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, although it is not for me to tell the NAO what to do, that if it wishes to review the operation of any agreement and make representations during the charter review, we would listen to it as we would to any representation made by the BBC governors.
The BBC has a clear incentive to ensure that it is a success. BBC governors are aware that Parliament and the Government will want to have sufficient evidence to judge the effectiveness of the new arrangements by the time the current Royal Charter expires. The Government expect that the first reports prepared under the new arrangements by the NAO or others will be presented to Parliament within the next two years.
I read that statement out word for word because it has been a hard-fought agreement and I do not want to depart from it in any way. I have been asked questions that are really not for me but for the BBC governors and the NAO. My understanding is that the governors want to make the agreement work and are committed to it, and that the NAO feels the samealthough that is not a matter for the Government. On that basis, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, for indicating that she is prepared to withdraw the amendments
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have set the matter out as far as I am able. These matters have of course been consideredthe possibility of disagreement has been considered. If my noble friend reads what I have said in Hansard, he will see that that is as far as I am able to go.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful for this timely opportunity to discuss United Kingdom relations with Cuba and I thank noble Lords in advance for their decision to contribute. However, I note with sadness that my noble friend Lady Hooper is regrettably unable to participate owing to an unavoidable prior commitment.
I should first declare an interest. In December last year I became chair of the Cuba Initiative, which continues to be ably co-chaired in Havana by Ricardo Cabrisas, Minister of State in the Presidency. As noble Lords will be aware, I have the enormous honour of following in the most distinguished footsteps of the late Baroness Young, whose expert knowledge and understanding of Cuba was second to none. She built a firm foundation of friendship, trust and respect at all levels of Cuban society. She was a great ambassador for this country and for constructive engagement and dialogue, the twin pillars which underpin the work the work of the Cuba Initiative.
I have since visited Cuba on two occasions, in January and May of this year, and I have had the opportunity to meet and exchange views with many people, both those in Cuba's leadership and in civil society. As the only country in the western hemisphere to,
Earlier this year, the dilemma worsened as Cuba faced widespread condemnation and anger for its crackdown on human rights activists, causing a deterioration in the island's relations with both North America and Europe. Whatever Cuba's reasons, the recent wave of arrests of over 70 leading dissidents accused by the authorities of being,
The low point in US-Cuba relations has been mirrored on this side of the Atlantic and there is now a worrying rift between the European Union and Cuba. On 5th June, the EU presidency issued a statement announcing that it was,
The announcement came close on the heels of a decision by the EU that it would postpone indefinitely its evaluation of Cuba's request for admission to the Cotonou Convention, the treaty which governs trade, aid and political relations between Europe and the 73 ACP group of nations. Havana has since responded by withdrawing its request altogether on the grounds that Europe's behaviour is "treacherous" and,
There are now reports that a number of EU countries are "rethinking" their position regarding aid to Cuba. There seems to be some confusion over the position. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that there are no proposals to cut off EU aid, a step which I would strongly oppose.
I regret to say that the reaction in the UK has been predictable. It is no surprise that we have been at the forefront of orchestrating the EU's new approach. It is the default tendency of some in government to shadow America's unreasonable lead on Cuba policy and thus to turn this country's back on constructive engagement and dialogue. Recent events have only
Now that the EU has signalled its intention to proceed to a re-evaluation of the EU common position, it seems likely that a toughening of present policy is imminent. Can the Minister comment on these points? The Government have already effectively ceased all ministerial exchanges for the time being, with concomitant implications for the UK-Cuba relationship. To what extent does the Minister believe that the new EU position will further constrain Britain in its dialogue and engagement with Cuba?
Yet, my Lords, is there an alternative? While the present situation is a serious setback and is extremely unhelpful to efforts to improve relations between Cuba and the UK, I believe that there is. We must ask ourselves what would best achieve our objective of easing the process of peaceful political change in Cuba and securing the normalisation of relations. Is it by reaching out to the Cuban people through enlarged economic and personal exchanges, or is it by trying to force the regime to comply through isolation and coercion?
On my recent visit to Cuba, as chair of the Cuba Initiative, I led a trade mission to Havana. I did so because I believe in constructive engagement and I believe that expanded trade leads to economic openness and market-based reforms, which are two of the best ways to encourage change and to bolster civil society. The key role of trading links in promoting openness and improvements in human rights has long been accepted and understood. In this respect, we are lagging far behind our European and international counterparts.
There are significant opportunities for the UK to develop trade with Cuba, especially in the key sectors of energy, tourism, biotechnology, IT and agriculture. The importance of cultural and other exchanges should not be underestimated. In particular, I pay tribute to the important work of Save the Children in Cuba. It is important to realise that not only do the UK and Cuba have much to offer each other by working together but we can make a difference in other regions of the world as well. Given the superb primary healthcare levels in Cuba and the exceptionally strong emphasis on the importance of education, a number of opportunities exist to work alongside Cuban experts on projects in third countries to combat HIV/AIDS and to promote primary healthcare through mother and child immunisation programmes, for example. I hope that the Minister will confirm that those opportunities will not be overlooked or put on hold.
Engagement and dialogue wherever possible have always been the British approach to achieving our foreign policy goals and to encouraging improved standards, or else we would not have diplomatic missions in a number of countries such as North Korea, Sudan, Iran, Zimbabwe, even China, to name but a few. Tough messages are easier to send and more likely to be heeded within the context of a relationship based on mutual respect and co-operation than one
It is clear that a further plunge into the icy waters of diplomatic isolation will not bring the goal of crafting a stable and prosperous future for the island any closer. Moreover, it would be a grave mistake to formulate policy towards Cuba in isolation of its neighbours. Policy must be developed within the context of Caribbean nations, and their response is critical. For that reason I believe that it is time for a radical new approach to Cuba, one in which our hands are not tied by the inconsistencies of the EU common position, which itself was a compromise to avoid conflict with the unreasonable Helms-Burton Act. Instead Britain should be in the vanguard of encouraging constructive engagement and dialogue with Cuba. Increased co-operation through business activity offers us the opportunity to encourage Cuba to take its relationship with the UK and the EU more seriously, and in that context the Cotonou convention would have offered a positive way forward, linking as it does political and human rights conditionalities with trade and aid advantages on a mutually agreed basis.
The withdrawal of Cuba's application represents a serious reversal in EU/Cuba relations since March when the positive step of opening a European Commission office in Havana was taken. That should be a cause for concern yet instead there is a sense in many capitals that the present Cuban government are in their twilight years and it is only a matter of biding time.
Policy makers on both sides of the Atlantic need to rid themselves of the misguided notion that Cuba policy is locked in a holding pattern until Fidel Castro is no more, at which time the Cuban people will rise up as one and embrace American culture and influence. It is naive in the extreme to think that in the post-Castro era Cuba will effectively become the 51st state of the Union, but that is precisely what many in the US administration, and, indeed, on this side of the Atlantic, appear to believe. In fact, the very opposite is likely to happen. Cuban history is marked by a strong and deep-rooted desire for independence and in the post-Castro era resistance to US influence and the drug and money laundering culture, which has sadly infected so many Latin and Caribbean nations, is likely to strengthen. Fidel Castro's demise will be a psychological loss to the Cuban people, most of whom have known no other leader. It is likely that his successor will usher in change, probably through
This is a critical time for Cuba. A knee-jerk policy of shadowing US policy will threaten to seal up the window of opportunity just at the very time when Cuba is beginning to recognise the need for further economic reform and a stable, long-term political transition to a younger leadership. Four decades on, we must detach ourselves from a failed US policy that owes more to the determinant of domestic politics and the votes of Cuban-American exiles in Florida, many of whom have been impervious to reasonable opinions and have demanded a hard-line approach.
Even that is changing. The anti-Castro exiles based in Miami no longer represent the sole centre of gravity for reform in Cuba. As the Cuban-American leadership undergoes its own generational change, many in the Cuban-American community have come to realise that Cuba's future will be determined in Cuba, not by Cuban-American exiles and certainly not by Washington policy-makers. There are alternative voices, and whether or not the Bush administration listen, we cannot afford to be deaf to them. It is in all our interests to integrate Cuba into the western hemisphere as a central part of our Caribbean policy. I look forward to hearing a positive vision from the Minister of how that goal might be achieved.
Lord Rea: My Lords, I think it is very appropriate of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, to have raised the Question today. I thank him for that, and for his extremely well-informed and well-argued speech. I speak as one who has followed the Cuban socialist experiment with interest over the years. I do not claim to be an expert, particularly as I have only very primitive Spanish, unlike some speakers tonight, particularly one who I am afraid will not be with us after all.
I have twice visited Cuba. The first time was in 1997 at my own expense, and the second time was in 1998 as a member of the IPU outward delegation to Cuba. Naturally, I have been particularly interested in the unique Cuban health system, which has been able to achieve virtually first-world levels of life expectancy and infant mortality with virtually third-world resources. I am a member of the Cuba Initiative, founded by the late and much lamented Baroness Janet Youngnow succeeded ably by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, as he has told usto promote trade and cultural relations between Britain and Cuba. As a result, I have developed very good relations with the Cuban ambassador and his predecessor, and their excellent officials.
The amazing thing about Cuba is that the political and economic changes resulting from the revolution of 1959 still survive. As all noble Lords are aware, that is not for want of strenuous efforts by the United States to destabilise Fidel Castro's government. It is
There is no doubt that in a war with Cuba the USA would eventually prevail, but the destruction and carnage would be heavy and would be unacceptable to world and most US opinion, being so close to home. The USA would be left facing smouldering guerrilla resistance, probably to a greater degree than itand weare facing in Afghanistan and particularly Iraq. However, the hawks in the United States are in the ascendant, and military action is more likely now than at any time for the past 40 years since the Cuban missile crisis. Although Cuba was not originally included in the "Axis of Evil" speech, statements by members of the US Government have indicated that it is and always has been one of the countries due for regime change.
Towards that end there has recently been a sharpening of destabilising activities. In particular, the head of the US Interests Section in Havana, James Cason, appointed last September, has been openly inviting dissidents to meetings at his residence where discussions have been held encouraging them to be more active. He has given them substantial financial and material support including radios and computers. He has also toured the country visiting the homes of known dissidents. The Cuban Government have reacted, understandably but perhaps too strongly, by arresting, trying and imposing long sentences on 65 of those dissidents. Of course, that has given ammunition to thoseand there are manywho would make much of breaches of human rights and constraints on political freedom in Cuba. They include, of course, the more hawkish elements of the US Government. It should be said, however, that the dissidents have been allowed to appeal against their conviction and sentencing, so we have not heard the last of this issue. It should be pointed out that Mr Cason was appointed by Otto Reich, the very Right-wing Cuban American adviser to President Bush on Latin American affairs, who is known to favour a "military solution" to the Cuba problem.
It is important to note that some of the activities of Mr Casonfor example, supporting and extending the Cuban opposition movement financially and materiallybreach his diplomatic status under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. With regard to the sentences imposed on the "oppositionists", it is worth looking at the US legal code, which can result in criminal prosecution and a 10-year prison sentence for anyone who:
The serious consequence of this is, of course, that although in itself it could hardly be held to be a casus belli, it is part of the denigration process that may be used in the build-up to a "military solution". The repeated high-jackings of aircraft and ships that eventually drove the Cubans to end their four-year moratorium on capital punishment, again with international protests, were also encouraged by the United Statesby not fully implementing the arrangement made with President Clinton that 20,000 Cubans who wished to emigrate to the United States should be granted visas. This increased the temptation to high-jack; and this temptation was increased when the high-jackers were not prosecuted in the USAin fact, they were treated as heroes. Incidentally, the aircraft and ships were not returned to Cuba, reportedly being held against the value of property in Cuba formerly belonging to Americans or Cuban Americans which had been nationalised many years previously. It has been said in the United States that a mass emigration of Cubans to Florida would be regarded as a hostile act "tantamount to aggression". The cutting down on visas might be held to be encouraging that, and therefore to be a casus belli.
My position is one of regret that Cuba has made these arrests and has resorted to the death penalty. I would have liked to see a more subtle response. But I also think that there was clear and almost certainly deliberate provocation on the part of the US Government. It would be counter-productive for the British Government to reduce or end any trade or cultural links with Cuba as a result of these recent acts. To respond as the Right-wing Spanish and Italian Governmentsand now, unfortunately, the whole EUhave done or plan to do by cutting funding for cultural or trade links would amount to playing into the hands of those in the United States who wish to raise the temperature of the ongoing dispute that they have with Cuba.
I have some specific questions for my noble friend Lady Crawley. Can she tell us the current position and what the European reaction would be if Cuba were to re-think its application to join the Cotonou agreementan application that it has temporarily withdrawn? My noble friend will know that all the recipient nations, in Africa, in the Pacific and the rest of the Caribbean, want Cuba to join. Cuba has much to offer as well as to receive. The hold-up in joining the Cotonou agreement was for many years Cuba's poor record on human rights. But there are other countries in the Cotonou agreement with far worse records on human rights. Recently, Zimbabwe and Nigeria had been suspended from Cotonou, but there are many other countries in Africa with abominable human rights records which are in the agreement.
Until the recent example, Cuba had, in fact, been sparing with the death penalty, compared even with the United States. Is the real reason for not including Cuba in Cotonou that it has an economy that is not
The people of Cuba and Britain have much to gain by keeping up and increasing the cultural and economic links that have recently been established partly as a result of the work of Janet Young, and also through the productive discussions between a number of British Ministers in the last five to 10 years, starting with Brian Wilson, when he was Secretary of State at the Department of Trade and Industry. I hope that my noble friend will be able to give us an optimistic, and not a gloomy, response.
Lord Sandberg: My Lords, we owe a debt to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for bringing this subject up. Cuba was much in the news for all the wrong reasons some 40 years ago. It has only just started to be back in the news again, and again for rather sad reasons. It is a country of which we should be taking much more notice.
I visited Cuba much less recently than the previous two speakers; I was there some 30 years ago. At that time in Hong Kong we were repairing ships for the Cuban merchant navy, and I was invited to go to Cuba. It was a difficult journey in those days. I went from Hong Kong to Los Angeles, then to Mexico and then to Havana. Once I got to Los Angeles and they found out that I was going on to Cuba, I was put in a little cage well away from everyone else, as I appeared to have some virulent disease.
It has been a sad 40 years of mistrust between Cuba and the United States. When I mentioned 30-odd years ago that I had had this difficult journey, my Cuban friends told me that I should have told them what plane I was going to be on, and they would have arranged to hijack it. That was their preferred way of doing things in those days; it is now much different.
Even in those days, there was a great deal of hypocrisy. Even though relations between Cuba and the United States had been taken away, a Pan Am plane flew daily from Havana to Miami. If you had mentioned that to Americans, they would have had no idea that such a thing was happening.
Of course then there were problems with the Bay of Pigs and the missile crisis, and things went from bad to worse. However, one felt, until just recently, that things were looking better. One should look back a bit to see the start of the Castro regime. Was he a Communist, or was he pushed into it? He took over from the most awful, corrupt, Batista regime. He perhaps did not get it right with the United States, and that problem has sadly continued to this day.
The Cuban economy has always been shaky. Sugar is the main export, which was helped for many years by the Russians, when they were close friends with Cuba. That has now become difficult. Other exports, such as cigars, are one of the biggest export markets in the world. More recently, their medical facilities have rightly attracted people from all over the world.
Americans have a problem in that they have many Cuban refugees in Florida. We know what happened in the last American presidential election, where Florida became a key state. It would be a brave American politician who started to try to improve relationships at the minute, although of course this should be done.
So where do we go from a British point of view? There are enormous opportunities for us to trade with Cuba, if only for the wrong reason that the Americans are not involved with trade with Cubanot that doing business with Cuba is easy. Any Communist or neo-Communist nation has bureaucracy up to its chin and it is very difficult to know what to do. Moreover, they do not have very much money.
I should know this but I must ask the Minister what the position with ECGD is with Cuba. For a long time, we were not allowed to sell them stuff with ECGD backing. I believe that that may still be the problem, which would be a pity. We have opportunities and we should try to do what we can. More visits to Cuba would be useful for people to understand what goes on. It is a beautiful place. Tourism is a wonderful way of getting to know the country.
The problem that we now face with Americathe EU has rather foolishly gone a bit too aggressively against Cubais very sad. We must hope to God that the Americans do not use that as an excuse to invade on some pretext of overcoming the last of Communist interests in the Caribbean.
Lord Thomas of Swynnerton: My Lords, I felt an obligation to intervene in this debate because I spent most of the 1960s writing a history of Cuba. It is a long book. I believe that it has the distinction of being the longest single volume on the open shelves in the House of Lords Library. I have never seen it out, although I once met a bishop many years ago whomore, I believe, out of charitable feeling than truthtold me that he had read it. That book is not easy to find in Cuba, and that is not, I believe, entirely because of its length. I believe that that is because it was critical of the harsh policies imposed on Cuba by Dr Castro in the 1960s.
Even soalthough the book is not availableI have recently been to Cuba several times. I must say that the regime of Dr Castro does not seem to me to have much affected the charm of the Cuban people or the beauty of the Cuban citiesabove all, Havana. Without question, it is still the most beautiful city of the Caribbean. It is being well recuperated and embellished by an inspired historian of the city, Dr Eusebio Leal, to whom all historians and historical tourists will always be grateful.
What is Cuba like today? At one level, it certainly seems as if very little has changed. Dr Castro is still in power; he is the dictator of all policies, as he has been for 40 or more years. His brother, Raul Castro, is the
Furthermore, the fact that Dr Castro recently imprisoned so many opponents of the regime (let us not call them "dissidents"; let us call them, honestly, "opponents") and the fact that he executed those who seized a boat in order to escape from the islandsomething which one would have thought was a normal desire on the part of people living in difficult circumstancesreminds us that not very much has changed in terms of the political management of the country.
Yet, some things have changed. First and foremost, I believe, Cuba is now in a position in which it has never been in its history: it is on its own. After nearly 400 years of rule by Spain; after 60 years of subserviencecultural, economic and politicalto the United States; and 30-odd years of a similar subjection to the Soviet Union, Cuba in the 1990s has been its own master. I am sure that, whatever happens to the regime of Dr Castro, that will seem the most remarkable characteristic of our time.
Secondly, as was mentioned earlier in the debate, there has been another change. Cuba was for generationssince the early 19th centuryknown as the great world exporter of sugar. It was not only an exporter; indeed, it was the biggest exporter of sugar for many generations. That brought great wealth in the 19th century and created great fortunes. That has now changed and tourism has taken the place of sugar. That has been largely managedpartly by Spanish entrepreneurswith style and good taste.
Thirdly, Cuba is no longerI am sure that most Cubans must secretly be happy about thisthe motor of world revolution, either on its own, making the Andes the sierra maestra of Latin America, or as surrogate forces for the Soviet Union. There have also been some concessions to our world of free enterprise. Perhaps there have not been enough and perhaps most have been made in the context of tourist needs. Nevertheless, it has happened. There are mixed companies which combine foreign investment and foreign coal management with Cuban national investment. That must surely be an important sign of the future.
Given those changes and interesting possibilitiesthe surviving attraction of the islandwhat should British policy be? First, I entirely agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Rea, when he said that we should have nothing to do with the failed United States policy of an economic embargo. To support such an embargo, which has not worked in over 40 years, seems to me to be a very mistaken policy.
In addition, I am sure that Her Majesty's Government should support an intelligent, open policy of commerce in collaboration with their European partners. They should hope, too, that, in arguing with Cuban officials the benefits of private enterprise, some of the magic which has characterised development in all ex-Communist countries would rub off on Cuba as well.
I remind noble Lords that Britain has had a long experience of involvement with Cuban national life. At least three noble Lords led an expedition in 1762 to capture Havana from the Spaniards. Many believe that that was a turning-point in Cuban economic history, helping the Cubans to develop a sugar industry on a far more substantial scale than before.
In the mid-19th century, a British consul, David Turnbull, sided vigorously with the Cuban opposition against Spain, taking the lead in a battle against slavery of a most undiplomatic nature. Over the years I spent writing my book, and since, I have developed a real love of Cuba and Cubans. I hope that Cubans can devise some way in which their originalitywhich no one doubtscan be combined effectively in future with the content which seems always to have escaped them.
Instead I had to rely on a schoolfriend, Andrew Palmer, who helped me with my work at the age of six. I always thought he was one of our best ambassadors to Cuba. He was kind enough to brief me today.
I would like to remind the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, that last year was the 140th anniversary of the year when Cuba was British. After the Seven Years' War and the treaty, Cuba was British for about three years. Then, we swapped Cuba with Spainfor Florida. Florida was British. It is interesting to reflect, as did the noble Lord, Lord Sandberg, that if Clinton had not sent back that small boy to Cuba, Bush would probably not have got in, and we would not be at war with Iraq.
In 1898, at the end of the Spanish/American war, Cuba was briefly an independent territory when the United States suddenly decided to intervene. A couple of years later, that led to the granting of the lease on Guantanamo Bay. I am told that this is therefore US territory. Whether it is sovereign US territory, I am not certain. However, a UK parallel might be Hong Kong or Gibraltar. Fidel refused to take rent from the United States for that arrangement.
I ask the Minister whether the people imprisoned there now are imprisoned on US territory and bound under US lawor does the territory belong to someone else. We have British subjects there; what is the position?
In this intrigue, and over time, I always tried to predict significant changes in the worldpossibly because I was a young upstart. When I was out there and I saw the first cracks appear in the Soviet Union, I thought it might be an idea to look at where its influence was, and came up with Cuba. I had an old friend from my days in the Council of Europemost of us must have a Socialist Minister as a friendLord Walston, an ex-Etonian, who was a Minister of State in the Foreign Office.
Harry advised me that Cuba was a good place to go and have a look at, but when I asked him to come with me, he told me that he had had a little difficulty with the Foreign Office. When he became a Minister, he thought it right and proper that he should visit all his territories. The Foreign Office cautioned him that it would not be a good idea to go to Cuba; but he wished to, so the Foreign Office contrived the wonderful suggestion that he visit Cubainformallyon the way to his plantations on St Lucia, where he owned a small chunk of the island. That was what was agreed.
So we decided to go to Cuba. I thought it would be easy; but the noble Lord, Lord Sandberg, knows that it was not easy. We looked at the possibility of going to Moscow, taking the plane to Cape Verde islands and then flying on to Cuba. Finally, we gained entry via Panama. The next time, I found that if we went to Jamaica, where I was also working, a small Russian 125 plane, which was known to have the best coffee in the world, flew from Kingston to Havana, so I took that.
When I was seeing Ministers and others, I said, "Surely we could find a quicker way of having direct relations". They said to me, "Why don't you ring a British trading company?". In London, I rang a man I know and he said, "Oh, yes, we could probably arrange that". I have raised the matter previously in this House, but that gives me a feeling of how remarkable and flexible Cuba is and what a lovely sense of humour its people have.
I took the plane. It was not Pan Am; it was a regular Thursday afternoon plane from Miami to Havana but it was not quick enough. They said, "You know, you can go a bit quicker". This was 20 years or so ago and I said, "I'll come as quick as I can". I received a telephone call and they asked, "Why don't you come immediately?". I am happy to let your Lordships know that I hold the world record for London/Havana/London. I took Concord to Miami; went down to Terminal J; pressed 1234; spoke to Daisy because Maria was pregnant; was given a Cessner 125 with red burgundy stripes on it; said goodbye to Miami; and left Miami airspace.
We then had to ring Havana. I was given the radio and told to do so. I was told that Havana was open 24 hours a day and gave the name of the plane. We landed and I had to pay an enormous landing fee. We
I took several missions there and came to like the place. At one point we asked what we could do to help because Havana was rather dirty. I still loved Hemingway and I wanted to have a Daiquiri in the Floridita and a Mohita in the Bodegita, which I did. To my horror, I found that my young cousin, who was a Left-wing extremist, was out there working as a Russian technician preaching the downfall of the Conservative government on Prince A La Taina. She is now working perfectly respectably with the ODA.
Some time after we discovered that the Americans had invaded Grenada, when the ODA was working on the runway out there and we could not understand how and why. It was these pesky Cubans who were going to do everything else. That upset some of my friends in Cadbury Schweppes because Grenada was the only place which grew limes of equal size which were suitable for Rose's Lime Juice. The one thing we did was to paint the town red, as it was called. ICI agreed to come out and set up a small paint plant and we repainted part of Havana.
During that time I came to love the Cubans. We could discuss how they received 32 cents a pound for sugar when the world price was 5 cents under the barter agreement. That obviously came to an end when the Soviet Union broke up. We could discuss how they obtained the oil from Algeria in order to pay for the troops who were in Angola and how they could sell their cigars when they did not want the Americans to get hold of them and break the trade agreement. We looked at many issues, including nickel which is a strategic material.
Four points have since come to mind. I believe that Cuba has one of the best health services in the world. It is far, far better than ours. Cuba has a life expectancy per person in excess of that of the United States. That is quite remarkable. Those are the legacies of Fidel. It has a level of literacy which is above ours and it has an integrated racial society which I find fascinating.
Throughout all that time, we would receive the monologue about the United States and the dangers America was causing in the world. Sometimes I would have the privilege of seeing the position from the USSR. In the Ukraine one day, they said, "We don't think for one moment that the first missiles that went to Cuba went as deck cargo on one of our bulk carriers. We could have fitted them below and you might assume that they went below but that the Americans didn't want to make a fuss about it. And it was perhaps some of our own satellite photographs that blew the whistle because we wanted to have the point made that if there were missiles within 90 miles of our borders, we should have missiles within 90 miles of America's borders". We all know the sabre rattling that went on and the smashing of the boots. It was so tense. I cannot understand why the United States should be so aggressive at this time. I do not see what it has to gain. It is so restrictive that tourism is limited. We know that
Trade is difficult because sugar prices have failed. Nickel works to some extent. Cuba's natural resources are perhaps its people. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, will remember from his sugar days that Jamaica was down to almost 200,000 tonnes of sugar a year; Cuba 8 million.
I cannot understand where the next step comes. Thinking of some of the relationships in Africa, I should like to suggest that the Minister considers inviting Cuba to join the Commonwealth. It might appeal to their amusement. It is a form of paternalistic, fraternalistic communism. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, pointed out, Fidel is the second longest-serving head of state in the world after Her Majesty the Queen. Until recently, Kim Il Sung and King Hussein were the only other two. He is a wise man; he is no fool. I think that he is genuinely respected and loved by his people. If attempts were made, and there were an open election, I believe that he would get in extremely well.
His number two at the time, Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, once said to me, "Why do you keep talking about the revolution? You must remember that great king in France at the time of the storming of the Bastille who turned to one of his courtiers and said, 'Excellence, is it a revolt?' 'No, Majesty, only a revolution'". They tried to explain to me that revolution is not an absolute event; it is a slow moving event, as quick or as fast as is necessary to meet the needs of the people.
I learnt, too, an Irish quotation: that man does not manufacture life, his job is to improve it. I believe that to a certain extent the Cubans have tried. They have had their hands tied. There has been the battle with the United States. Were it to be a state one day, I always think of Interstate 95 which runs from Boston down to the end of Florida; and there the ferries would be.
I hope that the Cubans remain Cubans. I am privileged to have spoken in the debate. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. My experience is now somewhat elderly, perhaps almost as elderly as some of my Cuban friends but I wish them well.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, we thank the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for initiating the debate and congratulate him on his new responsibilities, which I am sure he will pursue with his customary energy and efficiency.
Many of us speaking in the debate have a real affection for Cuba. But it does us no good to romanticise Cuban society under President Castro. In particular, its human rights record has been extremely unattractive for almost the whole of the time Castro has been in power. We should not forget that.
Nevertheless, Cuba is not an insignificant place. It is larger than Hungary or Portugal. Its population is over 11 million, larger than Belgium, Greece or New Zealand. That does not include the million and a half
The tragedy is that at the time of the Cuban revolution, both Castro and the then US administration made a catastrophic error of mutual incomprehension, leading to the ferocious US trade embargo against Cuba and the dependence of Cuba upon the Soviet Union. Castro himself recognised the gravity of that mistake when, in agreeing to help the Nicaraguan revolutionaries years later, he made it one of his conditions for so doing that they should not break off relations with the United States.
In the intervening years, the United Kingdom has maintained a policy of constructive engagement towards Cuba while being critical of the trade embargo. Other countries have pursued a similar approach, with the Canadians and Spanish being among the most successfully committed to maintaining good relations, providing tourists and selling goods.
When I lived there in the early 1980s as the wife of the British Ambassadorthis is the day for reminiscences, but mine is quite briefmy husband and I were invited to see one of the longest-lasting fruits of that constructive policy. At the time of the revolution the Cubans had what one might describe as American milk-drinking habits. Due to the embargo, the supply was cut off and for many years the UK and Canada supplied not only milk powder for reconstitution into liquid milk but also the semen for breeding the local Brahmin cows, a new race of hybrid cattle which could produce significant quantities of milk using tropical grass. It would be interesting to know whether that initiative, of so much importance to other tropical countries, has been continued.
Nevertheless, with the events of the past few months the British policy of constructive engagement must at the very least be a good deal more difficult to maintain. The attempt by Cuban citizens to hijack a ferry to escape to the United States, the summary execution of the ringleaders, and the arrest and subsequent very severe sentencing of 78 dissidentsI am sorry to use a phrase to which objection has already been madeare distressing events in their own right. They have also thrown diplomatic relations with Cuba into disarray. There have been suggestions that the senior UK diplomat in Cuba, Mr Cason, contributed to the crisis by too warmly and too frequently welcoming those dissidentsmany of them people of real distinctioninto his palatial residence.
But that may have been only the last straw as far as Castro, always an unpredictable leader, was concerned. After the tragedy of 9/11, Castro immediately denounced its perpetrators and indeed the whole phenomenon of terrorism. But the US administration under President Bush have nevertheless persisted in
Of course, Castro has, for many yearsnot entirely without justification given the history of Cubajustified his less popular actions or his country's greatest deprivation by pointing to the danger of a US invasion. Perhaps with a weakened economy, without the support of a major power and with US diplomats flaunting their support for dissidents, he really felt threatened.
Recently I was asked by my noble friend Lord Roper to join him in welcoming a group of Cuban churchmen and women. Certainly they felt alarmed enough to ask us whether we felt that the US really would attack Cuba because of what the administration had said about the axis of evil. We did our best to reassure them. The sadness is that at the same time as the Bush administration maintain their extremely rigid anti-Cuban, anti-Castro attitude, other people in the United States do not. On 30th April this year the veteran Cuba watcher, Dr Wayne Smith, head of the Washington-based Center for International Policy's Cuba Project, wrote:
At that time a Bill was introduced into the House of Representatives to end the banning of travel by Americans to Cuba, so there are people within the United States who do not take the same rigid line as the Bush administration.
Nevertheless, there now exists within Cuba an extremely unfortunate situation with serious human rights implications. At the same time the whole issue of the flight of over a million Cubans, mostly to the United States, has come to the fore again. Given that most of them live in Florida and have Republican sympathies, that can do nothing to reduce the friction between the American and Cuban presidents.
In those circumstances, will the Minister tell us how the traditional UK policy of constructive engagement is being pursued? I hope that the Government still maintain their opposition to the US embargo. But what pressure have the Government been able to bring to bear on the Cuban Government with respect to the hard treatment of the dissident prisoners? Do the Government have any fears that the recent relative tolerance of the Cuban Government of religious expression is under threat at this difficult time? Is trade with Cuba being given the full support of Her Majesty's Government?
My understanding is that the UK now has only a minor programme of direct assistance to Cuba. Will the Minister clarify the progress of existing EU programmes and of their likely extension in the future? Did the recent negotiations within the European Union on CAP reform have any implications for the market for sugar? I must confess to a feeling that with
Cuba is a fascinating and in some ways impressive country. Its fate for nearly 50 years has been bound up in the hands of a charismatic leader and a series of largely antagonistic US Administrations. That situation is not helpful to the Cuban people, nor to the cause of peace in the wider world. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will continue to do their best to assist mutual understanding between the two combatants, even in the present circumstances, and to maintain Anglo-Cuban relations in a way that benefits both us and the Cuban people.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Moynihan on initiating such a timely debate on Britain's relationship with Cuba. I am delighted that it has attracted the distinguished and knowledgeable noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, to contribute.
Alas, unlike all the speakers so far, I have never had the pleasure of visiting Cuba. But I have always heardfrom my parents, friends, and noble Lords this eveningthat it is a most beautiful and interesting country, with charming people. All I can say is that through my many Cuban friends I learned Spanish many years ago.
We have noted with sadness, as my noble friend Lord Moynihan mentioned, the recent political developments in the country when the Cuban authorities broke a moratorium on the death penalty. We on this side of the House join the Government and the European Union in condemning the deplorable action of the Cuban authorities in carrying out the summary execution of three men who had hijacked a ferry in an attempt to escape the island.
The situation was compounded by the Cuban authorities handing down prison terms totalling many hundreds of years to 75 political activists. Britain has an international obligation to bring all diplomatic pressure to bear on the Cuban regime in relation to human rights abuses. The Government and the European Union must continue to urge Cuba to release its political prisoners and to press for the immediate improvement of the conditions in which they are being held.
There is an important role for the international community to play in encouraging both the political and the economic development of Cuba. It is a country with the potential to develop in both spheres. However, it is important that when we discuss the role that Britain and the wider international community can play in encouraging change in Cuba, we must also consider the work going on in Cuba itself. Many groups have campaigned for reform in Cuba over a number of years.
Most recently, we have seen the Varela project, which has called for a referendum on political reform with free and fair elections. I am sure that all noble Lords on all sides will join me in praising the bravery
However, reform should not necessarily be pressed too fast, as, although it is desirable, the risk of subsequent criminal involvement, as in other ex-communist countries, could destroy the future security and prosperity of the Cuban people. After all, the natural and human resources available in Cuba present a clear opportunity for it to become one of the more prosperous economies in South America. Unfortunately, as we have heard, the political and economic systems that exist in the country have prevented its accession to the world economic stage.
We share the view of the British Government, the European Union and the United States that there will be a peaceful transition in Cuba, democratically and economically, to enable the country to reach its full potential. That is best achieved through a combination of dialogue, trade and co-operationculturally, through aid and research.
There is huge potential for Britain to build on its bilateral involvement with Cuba. In 200102, assistance from DfID totalled just £346,000. A further £1 million was contributed to the European Union's programme of aid for Cuba. That was in line with the contributions made by the rest of the EU, which gave a total of 15 million euros in the same year. Indeed, Cuba remains the only country in the region with which the EU has no formal agreement on economic co-operation.
However, we support the Government's position that for diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba to develop further there must first be significant progress in respect of human rights. That position is strengthened at European level through the common position of the European Union that full co-operation will not be possible until Cuba commits itself to international human rights standards.
One potential route for the Cuban authorities is to develop further trade and development links. That would be through the Cotonou agreement, which several noble Lords mentioned. Indeed, only in January this year the Cuban Government made a formal application to assent to the agreement. Unfortunately, while the issues concerning the abuse of human rights in the country remain, it is difficult to see how that application can succeed. That is yet another example of Cuba failing to achieve its economic potential purely because of the political situation in the country.
I shall now discuss the role that NGOs can play in forging stronger relationships between the two countries. Britain's relationship with Cuba has been furthered to some degree through co-operation on some recent ventures. In the past couple of years, for example, a meningitis vaccine was developed in Cuba in partnership with a British pharmaceutical company. The two countries have recently agreed on a programme of bilateral action in the fight against AIDS in Africa.
The British Council has also played a role in promoting scientific co-operation between the two countries through the UK-Cuba Science Links programme, designed to promote joint research between groups in the United Kingdom and Cuba. It currently involves eight projects, and a further five have been approved to start this year.
I pay particular tribute to the work of my noble friend Lord Moynihan, who has taken a significant interest in the country. In December, as we heard, he was appointed chairman of the UK Cuba Initiative, which aims to reinforce non-governmental links, particularly through trade, investment and cultural co-operation. I know that he will do it brilliantly, as with anything to which he turns his hand. The valuable work of the initiative not only helps to improve our relationship with the Cuban Government, but also has the potential to benefit the Cuban people.
My noble friend is quite right when he argues that the events of the past few months, to which I referred earlier, should encourage more, not less engagement. He was also right when he suggested that operating through trade and constructive dialogue is an important way of assisting the average Cuban.
The case for reform in Cuba is clear. The role that the British Government have to play in that process is also becoming clearer. With over 100 years of diplomatic relations with Cuba, an expanding trade relationship, co-operation in scientific research and the potential for further direct aid, we are in a relatively sound position to influence change in the country. The prospect of further trade and economic development should offer the Cuban authorities a clear incentive to move towards political democratisation and join the world economy.
We hope that in the years to come, the opportunities that I have outlined above, along with the continued pressure of the international community, and the valuable work of the NGOs in encouraging further trade and development, will bring about improved relations with Cuba and much needed democratic reform.
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, your Lordships have once again raised an important and topical issue. We have had the benefit of great expertise on this subject from the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, through to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, and his fascinating historical perspective on the subject.
I pay particular tribute to the input and commitment of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, who opened this evening's debate from his standpoint as co-chair of the Cuba Initiative. I am happy to record the Government's appreciation of the excellent work done by his predecessor the late Lady Young. I am glad to see her work is being taken forward by the noble Lord.
However, recent events in Cuba illustrate with shocking clarity the repressive side of the one-party system there. With a population of 11 million, it now holds a world record for holding prisoners of conscience. This repression, and the reaction to it by many people in Britain and Europe, has rightly resulted in a cooling of relations. We note, with sadness, the disregard with which the Cuban Government hold the opinion of the international community. Until we see Cuba uphold its commitment to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and demonstrate respect for the fundamental rights of its own people, co-operation and dialogue will be problematic.
I shall put the debate into perspective. Regarding UK engagement with Cuba, the UK has modest but growing interests in Cuba. The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, is rightthe Cuban tourist industry has grown rapidly over the last decade, and 100,000 British tourists visit each year. Alas, both the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, and I have not yet been among them. Direct UK trade and investment in Cuba is, as yet, fairly small at £20 million a year. But there are at least 15 joint ventures involving UK companies manufacturing or providing services in Cuba. Despite being situated in the Americans' backyard, Cuba's largest trading partner is the EU. Her Majesty's Government, like the Cuba Initiative, seek to facilitate UK businesses through the complex Cuban bureaucracy to develop our market share. We continue to pursue bilateral programmes in science, medicine and biotechnologyareas in which there is high mutual regard. A major biotech mission went to Glasgow in May, and UK Sport recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Cubaone of only five world-wide.
Collaborative operations and joint training projects in law enforcement are viewed positively on both sides. UK drugs liaison officers have also established excellent working relations with the Cubans. The Department for International Development funds development projects through its small grants scheme, and has funded specific public health projects in Cuba. We sponsor five Cuban graduates each year to study in the UK under the Chevening scholarship scheme, and our embassy actively promotes cultural exchanges.
More broadly, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is pursuing an initiative to fund Cuban doctors to work on an HIV/AIDS project in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, is right, as are the noble Lord, Lord Rea, and the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings. Cuba is well advanced in health and in science. We hope to see that model for trilateral co-operation extended.
We were dismayed to hear Cuban accusations on 6th June that EU embassies, including our own, are solely engaged with the opposition. That is far from the truth, as the examples that I have given show. But Cuba's potential, as thoughtfully advocated by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, will remain unfulfilled and the initiative of the Cuban people stifled until its political and economic systems are reformed. It is our duty to speak out against such restrictions on individual freedoms and state-sponsored human rights violations. Our goal is to see a peaceful transition to a pluralist democracy. Along with our EU partners, we continue to follow a policy of constructive engagement in Cuba.
So where do we stand now? We have left the Cuban government in no doubt as to the strength of feeling shared by EU partners towards the March crackdown. We also expressed concern at the summary trial and execution of three ferry hijackers, which marked the ending of Cuba's three-year de facto moratorium on the death penalty. Those events in themselves are a slap in the face for those countries that wish to work as Cuba's friends, and they compound a record on human rights that is recognised worldwide as seriously deficient. The EU has co-sponsored a resolution on Cuba at the UN Commission on Human Rights for the past 10 years, voicing international concern at the systematic denial of civil and political rights. It also focuses frustrations felt at Cuba's lack of co-operation with UN human rights mechanisms. Cuba continues to deny access to monitors mandated by the UN Commission on Human Rights. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, spoke with her own expertise on Cuba's human rights record.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, effectively described the measures adopted by the EU partners on 5th June, so I shall not go into that. Bilaterally, the then UK Minister for Energy, Brian Wilson, suspended a visit planned in May to Cuba, and our ambassador in Havana invited opposition figures, alongside Cuban government representatives, to the Queen's birthday party in April. EU partners also agreed unanimously to an extraordinary re-evaluation of the EU common position. Full co-operation will not be possible until the Cuban Government commit themselves to international human rights standards. We wish to demonstrate to the Cuban authorities that, although we remain committed to a policy of constructive engagement, we are not prepared to continue with business as usual. The EU calls for freedom of assembly and expression, free media and economy and freedom for all political parties. We urge an end to arbitrary detention, intimidation and imprisonment on political grounds.
Cuba's response has been vitriolic and disturbing. President Castro himself appeared on television to denounce the EU. Mass demonstrations were orchestrated outside the embassies of Spain and Italy in Havana. Castro has hurled personal insults at Prime Ministers Aznar and Berlusconi, portraying them as Hitler and Mussolini respectively. The EU as a whole have been labelled "moral dwarves" and "economic conmen". The Cuban Government's retrospective
Several noble Lords referred to the US-Cuba relationship. In that context, the role of the US in Cuba's political stasis is worthy of mention. The US trade embargo and serious travel restrictions on US visitors are intended to challenge Castro's regime. The embargo prevents US companies from trading in Cuba and further measures extend that remit extra-territorially. I can assure my noble friend Lord Rea and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, and others that the UK does not agree with the embargo. Each year we vote against it at the UN General Assembly.
Castro has long used the embargo as a scapegoat for all Cuba's imperfections. It provides a convenient distraction from domestic ills. We believe that, were the US embargo to be liftedassuming Cuba's own economic policy permitsand travel restrictions eased, Cuba would open up to increased trade and competition, and political reforms would follow. But the existence of the embargo is not an acceptable reason for curtailing human rights and fundamental freedoms.
A number of questions were asked. I shall gallop through as many as I can in the time afforded to me, while I shall ensure that responses to those that I miss are sent to noble Lords in writing. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, asked about the EU-Cuba rift. I would not describe it in those terms. We are condemning human rights violations and hope to see these rectified so that we can continue to pursue engagement of mutual interest. The crackdown and executions have been condemned not only by the EU and the US, as the noble Lord mentioned, but also by CARICOM, Canada and the Vatican, among others. However, we remain committed to our policy of constructive engagement.
The noble Lord also asked about aid, as did other noble Lords. He is right to say that the EU has agreed to re-evaluate its position. The Italian, French and German Governments have already announced a review of economic co-operation and the EU member states will discuss this issue. The UK's bilateral assistance to Cuba is minimal at present. We shall look at this, along with our European partners, with an open mind. We shall certainly also bear in mind the potential effects mentioned by the noble Lord on ordinary Cubans. I agree that we would not wish to see the general population of Cuba targeted.
The noble Lord also asked me about trade. I agree entirely with what the noble Lord had to say on this; that is, that it has a key role to play. If we are lagging behind our EU counterparts, it is not because of any
On US policy, what Cuba has done may encourage an apparent convergence of EU-US policies on Cuba. The truth is that we are all shocked and appalled, but our policies remain distinct. On the embargo, I believe that I have made clear the position of Her Majesty's Government.
The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, and the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, asked about the Cotonou agreement. The debate within the EU would have focused on the relative merits of aligning Cuba with an agreement that stipulates minimum standards of human rights and the fear that the Cubans would take the benefits of Cotonou membership without implementing any reforms. But Cuba's withdrawal of its application means that this debate has been aborted for the present.
My noble friend Lord Rea and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, asked about the US interests section and certain activities. It is not Her Majesty's Government's place to comment on US/Cuba diplomatic practices, but we should like to see proper diplomatic behaviour in all countries where we have missions. Whereas the Cuban ambassador is free
My noble friend Lord Rea also asked about the current EU position if Cuba was to think of reapplying to Cotonou. I would say to him that if Cuba was to apply to Cotonou now, I fear that the EU response would be "Tough". We need to see movement from Cuba on human rights first.
The noble Lord, Lord Sandberg, asked about the ECGD's position as regards Cuba. We have recently signed a new memorandum of understanding on Cuban debt repayments. Continuing regular repayments will revive the appetite for new export credit guarantee projects from Britain.
The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, in a very interesting contribution asked about Guantanamo Bay and its status. Guantanamo Bay falls under the remit of our relations with the US rather than under UK policy on Cuba. I do not wish to get into a detailed discussion here but I can assure the noble Lord that we are monitoring the situation closely. We continue to voice our concern about respect for human rights and we have been pushing the US Government to come to a conclusion on the future of the detainees.
As regards milk powder, perhaps I can write to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate.
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