EU restores official links with Cuba

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European Union foreign ministers have agreed to restore normal diplomatic relations with the Cuban government. The decision, announced on Monday by Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, ends a freeze on high-level contacts imposed by the bloc after Havana cracked down on US-backed dissidents in March 2003.
A statement approved by the ministers said the EU was willing to resume "a constructive dialogue with the Cuban authorities aiming at tangible results in the political, economic, human rights and cooperation sphere." But the EU insisted it would continue to raise human rights issues and demanded the "urgent" and "unconditional" release of all so-called dissidents, including those still serving sentences given in 2003.

Mr Asselborn told a news conference the new policy would be reviewed in July. "We highlighted the need to support a process leading to democratic pluralism, respect for human rights and basic freedoms," he said.

The EU stressed that any normalization of relations would not curtail its contacts with Cuban dissidents. "The EU would develop more intense relations with the peaceful political opposition and broader layers of civil society in Cuba, through enhanced and more regular dialogue," it said.

Cuban authorities said earlier this month they had resumed formal ties with all of the EU's ambassadors in Havana. They had suspended relations in retaliation for the EU's ban on high-level governmental visits and participation in cultural events in Cuba and the Europeans' decision to invite dissidents to embassy gatherings. In November, the EU reviewed diplomatic sanctions against Cuba and Havana released 14 of 75 imprisoned dissidents on health grounds.

The thaw could eventually have economic consequences since the 2003 dispute also saw the EU defer a request by Cuba to join the EU's trade and aid pact with African, Caribbean and Pacific nations, which could have granted easier access to European markets. Havana withdrew its request after the EU linked it to human rights improvements. Cuba also refused to accept further assistance from the EU's aid budget, which had allocated $11.3 million to the island in 2002.

The EU is Cuba's biggest trading partner, with two-way commerce totaling $2.09 billion in 2003.

Thanks to Cuba Solidarity UK for this story.

See also:

Cuba's Report to the UN Secretary
General on General Assembly Resolution 57/11

Cuba and Alleged Terrorism: the Facts