By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA TIMES, March 21 (IPS) – Cuba and the European Union (EU) have fully entered a path to the normalization of their relations of cooperation. Likewise, they have begun to identify common priorities through direct exchanges between authorities, international cooperation agencies and non-governmental sectors of this Caribbean country.
“This is an exceptional opportunity for mutual understanding, the definition of strategies, and the identification of how and what we will do with regard to collaboration,” said the Cuban Minister of External Commerce and Foreign Collaboration and Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca, in a two-day meeting in Havana that concluded on Friday.
The UE and the government of Cuba reestablished their ties of cooperation this past October when they also agreed to formalize political dialogue. The relaxation of tensions brought a favorable climate for European organizations, which, despite difficulties over that period, continued implementing their collaboration programs.
“This opening offers new possibilities for institutions with which we are working in Cuba,” Dineke Van den Oudenalder told IPS. She is the director of the Regional Office of Holland’s Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation (Hivos) for Central America and Cuba. That office is headquartered in Costa Rica.
In Van den Oudenalder’s opinion, the rapprochement between Cuba and the EU will allow European non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to access funding from both public and private entities to support projects that their Cuban counterparts have been unable to carry out due to a lack of resources.
“But it’s not only the funding. The normalization of ties will contribute to a coming together and to increased exchanges between Cuban and European organizations,” added the executive of Hivos, a non-governmental agency that has been involved in cooperation projects in Cuba for more than 10 years.
Van den Oudenalder attended a forum on cooperation between the European Commission, (the executive body of the UE) and the Cuban state. The talks were opened on Thursday by Minister Malmierca and the EU commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Louis Michel, who confirmed the allocation of €42 million for the Caribbean island.
“What are essential are projects that benefit the Cuban people and that support reforms underway, such as those in the agricultural sector, which are key to the sustained resolution of the food security problem through increases in national production,” indicated Michel, who was received by the host country’s president, Raul Castro.
European support spans a range of programs, from those related to efforts to mitigate the damage caused by three hurricanes that pummeled Cuba last year, to the prevention and reduction of disaster risks, to programs related to atmospheric and climatic change.
Participating in the seminar were government officials from both Cuba and the UE, as well representatives of European NGOs, such as German Agricultural Action and Oxfam International, and Cuban agencies such as Cubasolar and Pronaturaleza.
Considered by the Cuban government to be a serious and responsible envoy, Michel was able to help lay the groundwork for the rapprochement, which, in his opinion, is also a strong signal that many countries “are ready to commit to cooperation” with the Caribbean island.
On this trip, his third to Havana in the last 12 months, Michel considered it necessary to take steps in strengthening political bonds and to show greater mutual trust along that path. “What was important was that the channel of dialogue opened up in 2008, didn’t end without hopes,” he emphasized.
Cuba to Attend EU Ministers Conference in Brussels
In that vein, Cuba officials will attend a conference with EU ministers of foreign relations planned for Brussels in May, confirmed both Michel and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez after they held official talks this past Wednesday.
“We have concurred that (…) it is possible to continue advancing toward the establishment of a new integral framework of relations between the EU and Cuba,” said Rodríguez, who on March 2nd replaced Felipe Perez Roque as Cuba’s foreign minister.
The new head of Cuban diplomacy dismissed the idea that his country’s foreign policy would change as a result of the ministerial change. He also expressed the will to continue political dialogue, which he said could include the issue of human rights, a topic around which Havana does not accept finger pointing.
Michel clarified to journalists that the EU “never imposes itself,” but rather “tries to suggest” and “to convince.” The European commissioner added that in his meetings with the Cuban ministers, the two delegations agreed to speak about any and every topic, “but with each side respecting the other, not unilaterally, with no moralizing, with no one side telling the other what it should do.”
In October, the EU definitively rescinded the package of diplomatic measures it imposed in response to the arrests in 2003 of 75 Cuban dissidents; those individuals were subsequently sentenced to severe prison terms under charges of conspiring with Washington to carryout acts of subversion. However, the Cuban government also expects the scraping of the EU’s “common position,” which it considers “interference.”
That position of the bloc was promoted in 1996 by the Spanish government, then headed by right-wing President Jose María Aznar, with the aim of fomenting “a transition process toward democratic pluralism and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba.”
On this matter -which Havana considered an obstacle to full normalization- Michel said that a new framework for conditions could be assessed and that the “common position” could be modified in the next few months to create new opportunities through “various forms,” such as an association agreement.
Translation by Havana Times