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24th Aug 2019

Ashton to explore closer ties with Cuba

  • Cuban dissidents say Havana must overhaul its laws before the EU alters its position (Photo: Frans Persoon)

EU foreign ministers have asked the bloc's top diplomat Catherine Ashton to explore the possibility of closer ties with Cuba.

At the same time, the ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Monday (25 October) rejected Spanish calls for the EU to lift its common position towards Havana.

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Adopted in 1996, the common position makes better ties with Communist Cuba conditional on political liberalisation on the island state.

The Castro-led regime has always rejected that position as unacceptable interference in the country's internal affairs.

Newly appointed Spanish foreign minister Trinidad Jimenez is said to have made an "impassioned" defence of Madrid's desire to reform the EU stance.

She undoubtedly pointed to the release of 42 political prisoners in Cuba in recent weeks, and the announcement of several economic reforms.

But Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Poland and the Czech Republic were among countries to oppose such a move.

Instead the ministers asked Ms Ashton to explore ways to improve relations between the two sides, an apparent compromise solution. Ms Ashton promised to present her findings to the ministers by December.

Cuban dissidents welcome Monday's decision not to lift the common position.

"It's a justified decision, a balanced response because the human rights situation in Cuba has not improved," said Elizardo Sanchez, the head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights, an organisation tolerated by the regime.

"There have only been quasi-cosmetic gestures so far, which only serve to improve the government's image," she added.

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