HAVANA TIMES — Relations between Cuba and Europe could possibly take a turn in the medium term. Brussels appears willing to sit down and talk with Havana on the issues that divide them, supplanting unilateral measures with mutual agreement.
That was explained to me by the EU Ambassador in Cuba, Herman Portocarrero, who met with us after his most recent trip to Europe. It was an informal conversation with the objective of giving us a glimpse of the new stage of relations between Havana and Brussels.
The diplomat assured me that it’s possible to have a normal relationship with Cuba and that this could result from bilateral negotiations. Nevertheless, he said preparation to sit at the table will take around six months and reaching an agreement will take at least a year and a half.
He assured me that the new EU approach relates to the changes and reforms on the island, and he believes that an agreement will allow the EU to support Cuba on issues such as food security, economic modernization, taxes and microcredit.
He called attention to the “freedom of expression that exists in the economic field, because the first step is always to open a space for discussion and our hope is to open other intellectual spaces for discussion on social issues.”
But while the discussions take place, Europe will maintain the “Common Position.” Notwithstanding, Portocarrero says he’s optimistic and says that the EU today even has good relations with countries that have major political differences with it.
This idea raised the question in my mind about why there’s no “common position” for nations like Saudi Arabia, for example. He replied that “Cuba, for historical and political reasons, is highly visible and is a country that always stands out.”
I put on a face of not understanding the explanation and he then told me that the EU works on a basis of consensus between its member states and that “to several European capitals, like in the US, Cuba is a national policy issue.” Then I understood a little better.
Among the most difficult issues on which to achieve consensus is that of human rights. “We have differences but we have to look for matters where there’s a common interest; for example, seeing them as a whole, with civil liberties and social rights.”
Portocarrero believes that for Cuba it will be an important political achievement to get the EU to leave the Common Position behind and reach a negotiated agreement. Havana “wants to have a normal relationship with Europe that gives it the international recognition that it doesn’t presently have.”
Among Europeans, there are people who are interested in investing and there will be more with economic reforms that open new possibilities and provide more security. “This country is going to need major projects in the way of public infrastructure, energy, etc.,” he explained.
But there is also the geopolitical vision of Brussels. “We care about stability in the Caribbean region, where several EU countries have interests, including territories. The interest of everyone is that the future of Cuba be peaceful and that it maintains its stability.”
He added that “everyone (in Latin America) is satisfied that we have taken this step “because Cuba is increasingly involved in the region – with CELAC this is more than obvious. Therefore dialogue with Havana could also be a message to the rest of the continent.
As the EU makes history in this manner, I made him note a strange coincidence: When the US passed the Helms Burton Act, the EU adopted the Common Position, and immediately after the White House agreed not to punish European companies that invested in Cuba.
I said to him that there are no coincidences in politics, to which he laughed and said that this may be true in Cuba, but between Brussels and Washington sometimes there are. I then recalled that the EU is opposed to any extraterritorial measure and has stated that at the UN.
“We advocate a certain model of society. We’re not an empire; in our own way we’re idealists. We’re not trying to control anyone; rather, we’re seeking to share our experiences and advise Cuban society so that it can achieve a prosperous future.”
Portocarrero assured me that despite the serious economic difficulties that Europe must tackle, the welfare state model remains a third option “that would allow Cuba to save the achievements of the revolution.”
(*) An authorized Havana Times translation of the original published by BBC Mundo.