HAVANA TIMES — German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, met in Havana with Cuban President Raul Castro on Friday, to close his three-day visit to the Caribbean island, reported dpa news.
Gabriel, also Germany’s economy minister, was with Castro during the afternoon at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana. The meeting took place in a “cordial atmosphere”, according to Cuban state television, which gave no further details.
The top official arrived in Havana on Wednesday heading up a delegation of 60 business persons from his country.
During his stay on the island, Gabriel called for closer trade ties between the two countries and offered Havana an economic partnership “as equals”. He also called for less red tape for German companies wishing to operate on the island.
“Many firms that operate or want to operate in Cuba do not get the permits they need or must do so with conditions that were previously imposed on the state companies, which failed for that reason,” lamented Gabriel.
“We tried to explain it and my impression is that the Cuban political leaders understood. Now it is a matter of putting it into practice,” said the German Social Democratic leader on his talks in Havana.
Before meeting Friday with Castro, Gabriel met on Thursday with Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel. He also spoke with the Cuban economy minister, Marino Murillo, in charge of the economic reforms on the island.
On the business delegation that accompanied Gabriel were representatives of large firms such as Volkswagen, Siemens and Bosch, as well as numerous small and medium size business people from Europe’s leading economy.
Trade between Germany and Cuba is low compared with the commercial relations of the island with other European countries like France or Spain. Some 50 German companies are currently operating in Cuba.
In 2014 Germany exported goods to the island for a total of 224 million euros (240 million dollars) and received Cuban imports with a value of 33 million euros (35 million dollars).
For several years now, Cuba is implementing a series of market reforms hoping to overcome its prolonged economic crisis. The Castro government seeks to attract foreign capital as part of these measures.
Many foreign companies already operating on the island complain of excessive restrictions, such as not being able to contract their employees directly.
The vice chancellor praised the new bridges between Berlin and Havana, after several years of a cooling in relations.
“I think there is a political rapprochement and good progress, largely thanks to the visit of Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (in July) last year,” Gabriel said today during a stroll through Old Havana.
“Everything is easier because there are already diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba,” he added.
At the end of 2014, Raul Castro’s government began a historic rapprochement with Washington, after 54 years of rupture between the two countries. Since April 2014, Havana is also negotiating a treaty of political dialogue with the European Union.
Several European countries, including Germany, reduced their contacts with Havana to a minimum after a wave of arrests of political dissidents in 2003 known as the “Black Spring”.
Gabriel assured that in the framework of his visit, human rights were an important aspect for the German side.
On Thursday Gabriel met with the Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, one of the leading figures of Cuban civil society. No meetings were scheduled with political dissidents.