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France and democracy

Posted by Helen Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Yesterday evening I attended a talk by a Spanish expert on terrorism – ETA, IRA and the new-fangled Islamic variety. He was superlatively knowledgeable and I shall cull his talk for various comments in the next few postings.

The first and rather amusing comment that needs sharing is his description of what happened for some years between Spain and France over the question of ETA and ist leadership who tended to escape the Spanish police after some terrorist outrage or assassination and find shelter in France.

It was, the expert said, very difficult for the Spanish police, because France did not want to co-operate, publicly doubting for years after King Juan Carlos installed a democratic system that Spain was a democracy. Not till the late eighties did that attitude change and not till very recently have the French started arresting ETA “dignitaries”.

This was slightly puzzling to all listeners since France has never been known as a protector of democracies, as was confirmed by article in today’s Daily Telegraph, which tells us that France has unilaterally decided to end a European Union embargo against Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba.

Presumably, the hope is for fattish commercial deals in the future but in the present this has brought some (though not too much) embarrassment as well as a certain lack of communautairisme.

As the article puts it:

“Apparently emboldened by the French overture, Cuban authorities responded by launching the largest wave of dissident arrests since 2003, when almost the entire dissident leadership of the Communist-ruled island was rounded up.”

Of particular embarrassment was the fact that a number of the arrests were made outside the French embassy as the demonstrators protested against the deal. 19 of those arrested are still in prison.

One of those arrested and later released, the 60 year old economist Marta Beatriz Roque said that

“… the aborted protest was organised after France broke the EU embargo and invited the Cuban foreign minister, Felipe Perez Roque to a Bastille Day celebration at the French embassy, from which dissidents and democracy activists were excluded.”

What was that slogan? Something about liberté came into it, as I recall.