Sat, Feb 01, 2014 - Page 4 News List

EU foreign ministers preparing to boost ties with Havana

Reuters, BRUSSELS and MADRID

The EU will agree next month to deepen relations with Cuba in its most significant overture to the communist nation since diplomatic sanctions were lifted in 2008, people close to the matter said.

Foreign ministers from the EU’s 28 countries will give the go-ahead on Feb. 10 to launch talks with Havana on a special cooperation accord to increase trade, investment and dialogue on human rights. The pact could be agreed upon by the end of next year.

“Cuba wants capital, and the European Union wants influence,” said one person involved in the talks, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue. “This cooperation could serve as a prelude to much more.”

Two other people with knowledge of the negotiations said that a consensus had been reached in Brussels to give momentum to the market-oriented reforms introduced under Cuban President Raul Castro and to position European companies for any transition to a more capitalist economy in the longer term.

The opening with Europe comes after Cuba this week won a diplomatic victory at a summit meeting of Latin American and Caribbean leaders in Havana.

At the summit, 33 countries from the region on Wednesday backed the right of their neighbors to choose their own political systems, a victory for Cuba as the only one-party state in the western hemisphere.

Taken together, the steps by the EU and Latin American nations highlight warming ties with Cuba — in sharp contrast to the US, which has imposed an economic embargo on Cuba since 1962 after severing diplomatic ties the year before.

Washington has previously exerted pressure on Europe and Latin America to isolate the Cuban government, but it has not sought to block the EU’s latest efforts, people close to the talks said.

The initial impact of EU-Cuba cooperation agreement will be limited, but the symbolism is huge for the EU, whose ties with Cuba had been strained since it imposed sanctions in 2003 in response to Havana’s arrest of 75 dissidents.

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