Europe must face up to the secret terror of Fidel Castro's Cuba

THIS spring marks the third anniversary of the wave of repression in which Fidel Castro's regime arrested and handed down long sentences to 75 leading Cuban dissidents. Soon after, many friends and I formed the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba.

The bravery of those who found their social conscience, overcame fear, and stood up to communist dictatorship is fresh in my memory. It reminds me of the jingle of keys that rang out on Prague's Wenceslas Square in autumn 1989.

This is why I rang keys during the conference in Prague calling for democracy in Cuba three years ago. I wanted to draw international attention to the human rights situation in Cuba, to support its opposition, and encourage pro-democratic forces. The European Union then introduced diplomatic sanctions, albeit mostly symbolic, against Castro's regime.

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Soon, a contrary position came to the fore. The EU opened a dialogue with the regime, sanctions were conditionally suspended, and it was made clear to dissidents they were not welcome at the embassies of several democratic countries. Cowardly compromise and political alibis defeated a principled position.

In return, the Cuban regime made a sham gesture by releasing a small number of prisoners of conscience - mostly those who were tortured and seriously ill - who it feared would die in its notorious prisons.

Respected organisations like Amnesty International have collected ample evidence of violence and intimidation against free-thinking Cubans, whose cases often do not end in court but hospital. The Cuban secret police brutally attack political opponents and accuse them of absurd crimes to intimidate them or to force them to emigrate. These moves are known as "acts of rejection".

Political violence that creates the impression of mere street crime is never easy to prove, and does not receive due attention. Yet thousands of former political prisoners in Europe can attest to the fact that a kick from a secret policeman on the street hurts just as much as a kick behind prison gates.

Some Europeans apparently regard Cuba as a faraway country whose fate they need take no interest in. But what Cubans are enduring today is part of our own history.

Who better than Europeans, who brought communism to life, exported it to the world, and then paid dearly for it over many decades, know about the torments inflicted upon the Cuban people?

Humanity will pay the price for communism until such a time as we learn to stand up to it with all political responsibility and decisiveness.

EU states meet in June to review policy on Cuba. They should weigh up the consequences of accommodating Castro and show they will not ignore his practices or neglect the suffering of prisoners of conscience. We must not forget seemingly anonymous victims of Castro's "acts of rejection".

• Vaclav Havel is a former president of the Czech Republic