The European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is set to visit Cuba next week for talks that could finalize an agreement on normalizing relations, Havana said on Thursday (3 March).
“Obviously it will be another very important visit, very important in the current situation,” Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Abelardo Moreno told reporters.
The European Union suspended relations with Havana in 2003 over a crackdown on journalists and activists, but both sides are now pushing a new accord in the wake of a historic rapprochement between Washington and Havana.
The seventh round of talks are expected to hammer out final points on the agreement, including effort to reach a consensus on human rights, according to European diplomatic sources.
Sources of the European delegation in Cuba could not specify if the purpose of the visit is the signature of the bilateral agreement with Cuba, the only country in Latin America with which the EU has no such agreement.
“We are very hopeful for this round. We believe we can make substantive progress,” said Moreno, who is leading the negotiations together with his counterpart, the Secretary-General for Economic and Global the European External Action Service EU delegation, Christian Leffler.
Leffler said that the European side trusts “the joint will to advance towards an agreement to provide a framework and platform for a new relationship between Cuba and the EU”.
In this round of talks, the parties will address deeper political issues such as human rights, migration and the risks of weapons proliferation. The previous round, held in December in Brussels, closed the economic and trade chapter.
Mogherini visited Cuba in March 2015, the first such visit to the island by a senior EU representative. On this occasion, she decided with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez to speed up talks and sign the agreement before the end of 2015, a period that was later prolonged by six months.
The subsequent visit of Rodríguez to the European Commission’s headquarters in Brussels in April 2015 helped trigger high-level dialogue and begin discussions on human rights, an issue on which deeper differences persist.
Mogherini’s second visit takes place ten days before the historic trip to Cuba of US President Barack Obama, the first by a president of that country in 88 years and seeks to strengthen the normalization of relations between the two countries, which began in 2015.
On the restoration of relations with the US, Mogherini stated during her previous trip to Cuba that this was a process independent of the dialogue between the island and the EU, which kept “strong and historical ties since 25 years”.
The signing of the agreement on political dialogue and cooperation also seeks to put an end to the “common position”, the restrictive EU policy in force since 1996, which was promoted by the then-Prime Minister of Spain, José María Aznar, which limited dialogue with the island to advances on rights and freedoms.
However, this policy did not prevent dialogue with Cuba since 2008, when half of the bloc’s countries signed bilateral cooperation agreements, and the Commission allocated more than 110 million dollars in aid to Havana.
Moreover, in the past year, three member state leaders visited Cuba: French President François Hollande, Austrian President Heinz Fischer, and, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
Since 1996, EU policy toward Cuba has been guided by the Common Position, which rules out full relations with Havana until it makes reforms in areas such as more diverse political participation and freedom of expression.
The EU suspended talks with Cuba in 2003 after Havana launched jailed 75 dissidents in a direct response to calls for liberalisation and greater respect for human rights.
It was only in 2008 that the EU started lifting some sanctions unilaterally, the year Fidel Castro retired from the presidency permanently and power passed to his younger brother, Raul.