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Lord Avebury: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, has always been a great champion of Britain's involvement in Latin America. She is right to say that we should put that continent higher in our list of priorities. She has reminded us that embassies and consulates are being closed or downsized. I might add that it is a great pity that we have stripped of resources the levied programmes in middle income countries because of the demands of Iraq.

In the case of Peru—here I declare an interest as chairman of the Peru Support Group—we have stopped the bilateral programme altogether with effect from 2006 onwards, and we have actually closed the DfID office in Lima. It does not seem to me that that is the right way to proceed regarding a region which is of enormous importance to our trade and our historical interests; and I entirely agree with the remarks of the noble Baroness.
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As regards Iraq, we have heard notable speeches from two former Foreign Secretaries on the harmful consequences of that venture. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, said that the lessons of Chechnya, Palestine, and now of Iraq, were that in all these situations as many terrorists were created as were killed. I should like to remind your Lordships of what President Hosni Mubarak said in March 2003. He said that the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq would produce 100 new Bin Ladens. So it has turned out, except that your Lordships may think that he was wrong by a couple of orders of magnitude, since there are probably in the region of 10,000 new terrorists spreading their wings in Iraq since we occupied that country.

We know that Saddam, who was, of course, a brutal and ruthless dictator, not only had no weapons of mass destruction but had no links with international terrorism, and that because of the occupation thousands of terrorists are being recruited in Iraq itself and many more have travelled there to join terrorist gangs or to start their own operations, like Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, a former petty criminal from Jordan.

The invasion of Iraq has also fermented hatred against us as well as the Americans throughout the Arab and the Islamic world. It continues to alienate our own Muslim citizens. This hatred, coupled with economic deprivation, makes fertile ground for the extremist views that Islam itself is under attack and has to be defended by all means, including violence. There is a negative feedback, which has not been properly considered and which was not properly considered by Mr Blair when he took us into war. That is apart from the damage we have done, as the noble Lord, Lord Plant, has reminded us, to the United Nations itself.

The jihad ideology has infected other communities throughout the Islamic world, as your Lordships may see from the growth of religious violence in the Middle East, south and east Asia and Africa. It did not seem to occur to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, in his introductory remarks on international terrorism that there is a connection between this phenomenon and our actions in these regions of the world.

Although the United Nations has developed multilateral initiatives for combating terrorism, it has paid far too little attention to the ideological bases of terrorism. That may also be the case with the European Union. We focus on the military, the legal and the security measures that need to be taken against terrorism, but we tend to ignore its aetiology or to think of ways of diverting the energy of fundamentalism into more constructive channels.

During our presidency of the G8 next year, the Government say that they will continue to work to counter terrorism. It will be interesting to hear from the noble Baroness whether they have any particular non-legal and non-military measures in mind.

One key theme stated in the gracious Speech for our G8 presidency is climate change in Africa, as has been remarked. I welcome that because Africa is one of the priorities for our EU presidency in the second half of
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2005. We need to mobilise concerted action to enhance the African Union's capacity for dealing with African problems and particularly, as has been said, with the loss of African potential through dictatorship, corruption and conflict.

It would be an enormous step forward if a lasting peace is achieved throughout Sudan. I can understand the Security Council's anxiety to grasp at the prize of a comprehensive north/south settlement. Resolution 1564 has been criticised for being a step back from the earlier threats of UN sanctions if Khartoum fails to honour undertakings to stop the violence by government supported militia in Dafur. I must say that Resolution 1564 does seem to have been taken as a signal by the regime to carry on with its ethnic cleansing operations. The immediate priorities, however, are to get the north/south agreement signed and to deploy the full 3,300 AU mission in Darfur because, as the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, said, they are,

But it is a totally inadequate number for the size of their task.

In the light of the continuing violence, including the bombing two days ago of a Save the Children feeding centre in north Darfur and the evacuation by AU helicopters of 30 SCF staff, should we not be now asking the AU to agree to a much larger UN-funded military presence in Darfur, supported by air cover, which would enable military observers to say what was happening on the ground and to bring in troops, if necessary, to protect civilians?

Did not the Sudanese Government agree that Darfur should be a no-fly zone? Will the noble Baroness remind us about that, and how will it be enforced? The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, wanted the Government to acknowledge that in Darfur there is genocide. There obviously is, but that should not necessarily be our priority. We should be thinking about the practical measures needed to prevent the atrocities and to protect the civilian population to the maximum extent that the international community can.

In Nairobi, the Security Council also heard an appeal, which has not been mentioned, from President Abdullahi Yusuf, of Somalia, for a huge African Union peacekeeping force—he asked for 20,000 men—so that he could take up his position in Mogadishu. The Somali Prime Minister Ghedi says that they will return in January or February. He does not place any conditions on that assurance. If the Somalis accept the President as legitimate, it is up to them to get together to provide security for their own government, not for the international community to cough up millions to protect Mr Yusuf from his own citizens. The president did control the Puntland militia, before he became president, and he has the backing of a number of other warlords. So between them they have the muscle to oust the armed groups that control the capital. Chris Mullin has been urging that Mr Yusuf should take up his post, and I hope that the Security Council will reinforce the message.
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I move from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam, where the UN Secretary-General assured the leaders of the Great Lakes region that the UN will be at their side in turning the declaration that they have just made in principle into a lasting peace and stability. But the unrepentant genocidaires of 1994 are still in eastern DRC. MONUC should be given more troops and a more robust mandate to disarm all non-state troops, by force if necessary, in co-operation with the DRC armed forces. Was the UK involved in the Security Council delegation which asked Kinshasa to stick to the June 2005 elections, as scheduled, and is that realistic with the illegal 10,000-strong democratic forces for the liberation of Rwanda still at large?

Finally, African leaders now recognise that the crisis in Zimbabwe is about tyranny, breakdown of the rule of law, harsh repression of criticism and gross misgovernance. Mr Mugabe still pretends that this is all brought about by Downing Street. He can silence his own media, even with regard to the cricket matches, which are to start on Friday in Zimbabwe; but in other African countries, people can look at the evidence of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which details the torture and illegal retention of opposition MPs; the Solidarity Peace Trust in Johannesburg, which says that an estimated 2 million Zimbabweans have fled to the security of South Africa; or the own-goal of the forcible expulsion of the trade union COSATU delegation. The question is: what can Africa do about the situation? Presidents Mbeki and Mogae are still suggesting that the MDC should take part in free and fair parliamentary elections next March, notwithstanding the fact that all the opposition parliamentarians and candidates have been brutally suppressed in previous elections, and in spite of the fact that the Zimbabweans have signally failed to comply with the protocol of SADC itself. Mugabe is dragging the region down with him, and a reversal of the process can be achieved only if SADC takes a robust lead, with the encouragement of the European Union and the G8.

Lord Ashcroft: My Lords, I apologise for not being present at the start of the debate. It was due to some flight delays that I had this morning.

Three weeks ago, I had the good fortune to be in Cuba, a country that I have visited on at least two dozen occasions over the past 10 years. Cuba is a country with a fascinating history and, possibly, a more fascinating future. The history of Cuba, since it was claimed by Columbus in 1492, has been colourful and turbulent. A colony of Spain, it was liberated by America in 1898. "Liberated" is probably not the right word; Cuba was not given independence but was simply transferred from one foreign power to another. The revolution of 1959 was not a communist revolution; it was a war for independence and was backed by Cubans of both socialist and liberal traditions. It was only later, when America refused to recognise the new Cuban regime, that Fidel Castro declared himself to be a Marxist and established a one-party communist state.
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The United States has always felt threatened by Cuba. At the height of the Cold War, that fear was easy to understand. A country in such close proximity to the US with a government openly in sympathy with America's greatest enemy represented a security nightmare. The Cuban missile crisis spelt out that threat in no uncertain terms for those who had yet to grasp it.

The world has moved on since then. The end of the Cold War has wrought great geopolitical changes that have altered the nature of the threats that we face. Most obviously, Cuba's Soviet ally is not a threat today. Cuba no longer represents a security threat in a military sense. Those in America who seek to claim that Cuba is a front in the war on terrorism are being dishonest.

I always opposed the US embargo on Cuba. The Cubans describe it as a blockade, and that is the word that I prefer to use. Today more than ever, I believe it to be counter-productive. We all seek a Cuba that is an active and constructive participant in global affairs politically and economically. In order most effectively to do that, Cuba must change. We can play a role in helping to bring about that change only if we engage commercially and culturally with Cuba and its people.

The collapse of Soviet communism plunged Cuba into economic crisis in the 1990s. Until then, 80 per cent of its trade had been with eastern European communist states. Cuba has struggled to find new trading partners and inward investors. Obviously, the blockade has contributed to those difficulties, but Cuba's economic system is at the root of the problem. It is not true to say that Cuba resists commercial partnerships; it is simply that doing business in Cuba is not easy. Getting through the complexities of the various joint contracts and still coming out with a profit is a feat in itself. In that respect, it is fair to say that the Cubans do not help themselves. Capital is a global commodity, and it moves swiftly and with ease. At the slightest hint of excess bureaucracy or unnecessary obstacles, it will move to more favourable markets. That is the nature of the beast. If Cuba continues to make doing business a bureaucratic ordeal, business will move on.

Cuba must change, but bludgeoning such a country into changing through a blockade will not work, as time has shown. Instead, democracy and, more importantly, the rule of law that underpins it must, in large part, grow from within in a way that is sensitive to and shaped by the history and traditions of the country in which it is to take root. But I am optimistic. On my recent visit, I had the opportunity to meet senior government and party officials. They recognised the need for change to meet the challenges of the global era.

A debate is taking place about how socialism can be balanced with the entrepreneurial spirit. It is my view that if it can crack that one, Cuba will be well placed to achieve the kind of advances that we see today in China and Vietnam, success stories that, I am convinced, Cuba could repeat. A socialist society and a free enterprise economy are not incompatible. As a free market liberal capitalist, I firmly believe that all we
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can do to help Cuba to make that transition will bring greater freedom to the people of Cuba and greater stability to that vital region.

Cuba has achieved much. In education, health, culture and sport, there has been much success, even in recent years, despite the challenging loss of the Soviet subsidy. When I visit Cuba, I meet not only politicians and industrialists but ordinary Cubans. I find delightful people—inquisitive, aspirational, educated and remarkably friendly. In business, people are the greatest asset, and Cuba is asset-rich in that vital regard. We have a right and a duty to encourage economic liberation in Cuba.

It is wishful thinking to believe that the eventual passing of Fidel Castro will lead to the collapse of the Cuban communist system and the embracing of a democratic system overnight. Indeed, some Cubans are convinced that the communist system is so firmly established that some talk about "if" and not "when" Fidel dies.

One of the best ways of encouraging democracy is to encourage trade. Trade puts money in people's pockets. When one is poor, it is money that often fulfils a lot of one's dreams.

The Cuban Government argue that, if anything, the blockade has helped to support the revolution, serving as a focal point on which to place the blame for the capitalist ills of the world. It is na-ve to think that the Castro regime will fall because American citizens cannot visit Cuba or that democratic elections will be held because Cuban students cannot have American-made laptop computers. Of Cubans alive today, 70 per cent know of no other life than under the blockade.

The legislation underpinning the American blockade is already being broken on a daily basis, much to the applause of the Cuban authorities. There is an irony behind the US blockade. It may come as a surprise to learn that Cuba's seventh largest trading partner is none other than the United States.

Three weeks ago, I visited the Havana EXPO trade fair. A whole pavilion was set aside for companies from the United States. Many American citizens were manning the stands. It transpires that as a result of a particularly bad hurricane in 2002, the US authorities granted a special dispensation which allows for the exporting of US food and agricultural products to Cuba, in lieu of humanitarian aid.

That dispensation still exists today. The products on offer were wide ranging, including soya, maize, rice, dairy products, chewing gum, chocolate, pasta products, cleaning products, Californian wine and, yes, even hot dogs. Quite how Californian wine and hot dogs can be classed as humanitarian products is beyond me. I suspect a few loopholes are being exploited.

In addition, while British ships that visit Cuba are prohibited from entering the US for six months, it is US flagged ships that carry this trade direct from America into Cuban ports. I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether that, if true, has been taken up with the State Department.
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This is a brisk trade: US exports to Cuba have totalled 950 million dollars in the past two years alone. It would appear that United States farmers are doing quite nicely out of the blockade. It is also ironic that it is Republican politicians with large farming constituencies which lobby the hardest for increased trade with Cuba.

While the US economy is doing well out of Cuba, the same cannot be said for Britain. UK trade in all of 2003 totalled 21 million United States dollars, with a slight increase this year to September of 27 million dollars. We lag behind many of our EU partners. Consider the performance of Spain at just under 600 million dollars or France at about 100 million dollars—almost level pegging with Germany. Most sectors of the Cuban economy are open to foreign investment. I am convinced that there are huge opportunities for British companies.

I pay tribute to my colleague, my noble friend Lord Moynihan, who is UK chairman of the Cuba Initiative, which is a programme that develops business and cultural links between Britain and Cuba. In the past few days, he has returned from leading a business delegation to Cuba, which was enthusiastically anticipated by those that I met in government on my last visit.

Britain is lagging behind; we need to take a lead. It is well known that there is a direct correlation between healthy trade and good transport links. There are no British Airways flights to Cuba. But next year, Virgin Atlantic starts a scheduled service to Havana. I was delighted to hear that the necessary agreements were concluded last week to enable that service to go ahead.

I hope that those early scheduled flights will open up Cuba to British business in a way that the charter flights opened up Cuba to UK tourism in recent years. Perhaps I may quote a salient point from an article in a national newspaper, which stated:

If there is one message that I should like to convey tonight, it is that I believe Cuba's future lies not in enforced isolation, but in open engagement. If embraced properly, Cuba could serve at the heart of a Caribbean trading community. In the long term, the relationship with America can normalise. We must remember that the last United Nations vote this year, calling for a lift of the blockade, was passed by 179 votes to four. World opinion is clear; it is time to do business with Cuba, and I agree.
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Europe has a role to play. Links between the EU and Cuba are currently strained. The European Parliament is opposed to any further development of the relationship with Cuba, but there is no consensus in the Council of Ministers. One small irritation is the insistence of a number of EU ambassadors who have invited Cuban dissidents to embassy functions alongside government Ministers and party officials. This causes huge offence and I cannot see what the gesture achieves. The British embassy in particular has in the past caused offence to the Cuban Government by not telling them that they will be expected to meet dissidents at embassy receptions. We certainly need to dialogue with dissidents as well as the government, but not attempt to do it together.

A strong diplomatic presence in Cuba is very important. I was concerned to read reports that our embassy there was to be downgraded, which would send all the wrong signals at this time. I hope that the Minister will be able to offer some reassurance on this matter.

Finally, I believe that it is important for the European Union and the interests of world stability that there is a healthy relationship in place when Fidel Castro dies, which will be a potentially tumultuous moment. The relationship should be friendly, critical and honest. If this cannot be approached on an EU-wide basis I believe it is time for our Government to consider a bilateral approach, working with Spain, and I hope that the Minister will reflect on that.

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