HAVANA TIMES — French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in Havana on Saturday that his country supports negotiations to revive relations between Cuba and the European Union (EU ), but also expects further progress in political rights on the island, reported dpa news.
“Cuba has made progress” on social rights such as education and health, as well as the reforms of the government of Raul Castro, but there are things pending in other areas, Fabius said during the first visit in more than 30 years from a top French diplomat.
The foreign minister said the governments of Havana and Paris have different perceptions for example on citizen rights.
“We believe that political rights are equally indispensable,” Fabius said during a meeting with diplomats and the French community in Havana. In this area there remains “substantial progress to be made,” he said.
Fabius arrived in Cuba from Mexico and met on the island with his counterpart Bruno Rodriguez, as well as with President Raul Castro and other senior representatives of the Cuban government.
During his short visit of less than 24 hours the French minister stressed that his government seeks to promote dialogue at a political level with Cuba, as well as “economic and trade” advances.
Fabius said he had a “long conversation” with Castro, during which he concluded that there are “no irreconcilable problems” between the two countries. Cuban state television showed footage of the meeting.
Speaking at the French diplomatic residence in Havana, the foreign minister also condemned the US economic embargo imposed on the island for over 50 years.
Fabius also justified his trip to the island, the first in three decades by a French foreign minister, which comes amid an incipient rapprochement between the EU and Cuba.
The island has changed in recent times, he said. “For example, Cuba has authorized travel,” he said referring to the Cuban immigration reform on January 2013, and also pointed to the brand new law that opens spaces for foreign investment on the island.
“Likewise there is an evolution of the position of Europe and France,” he said. “It’s time that this rapprochement takes place in a concrete way.”
Cuba is the only Latin American country with which the EU does not have a bilateral treaty. Relations between the two sides are framed since 1996 in the so-called European “common position”, which determines links to advances in the human rights situation on the island.
Several European countries froze relations and cooperation with Cuba after the wave of arrests of dissidents in the “Black Spring” of 2003. On a bilateral level, some European states have already partially resumed relations with the island in recent years.
In mid-February the EU offered Cuba to start negotiations to establish a new framework for “political dialogue” and cooperation which initially exclude the granting of trade privileges to the island. The dialogue is expected to begin in Havana in late April.
Several European officials have said they expect the thaw in ties with Cuba will boost the economic reforms of Raul Castro and contribute to greater openness on the island. Countries like France, Spain and Holland advocate that position.
Reluctance to a rapprochement without changes in the situation of human rights comes from EU countries such as Sweden, the Czech Republic and, to a lesser extent Germany.