Steinmeier’s first visit paves way for stronger German ties with Cuba

Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Havana. 16 July, 2015. [EFE/YouTube]

Cuban President Raul Castro received German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter in Havana yesterday (16 July), in a first visit by a German foreign minister to Cuba.

The visit comes days before the scheduled reopening of the US and Cuban embassies next Monday in Havana and Washington, ending nearly 50 years of hostility, and is expected to revive bilateral ties between Germany and the Communist-run island state.

During the meeting, Castro and Steinmeier discussed the ‘large potential’ of bilateral relations, especially in the economic and commercial fields, and other international issues of interest to both.

The German minister also met his Cuban counterpart, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, where they agreed on establishing political and economic cooperation initiatives and cultural exchange.

>>Read: EU-Cuba talks progress on trade

A joint declaration on cooperation between the two governments and a Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of a Political Consultation Mechanism was also signed.

The leaders agreed, during the second half of the year, to definitively negotiate the cultural agreement and conditions under which Germany could establish a trade office on the island.

“It’s a historic moment we’re experiencing now,” said Steinmeier, who also emphasized the “process of transformation” begun by Cuba is going “in the right direction”.

Shortly before traveling to the Caribbean country, the German foreign minister said in a statement, “Cuba and the world are approaching, after a long period of separation by a wall of distrust” and with this visit “we want to contribute to further open the door between Cuba and the world”.

A small delegation of business executives travelled to Havana with Steinmeier, to explore commercial interests.

>>Read: Mogherini visits Cuba to normalise ties

Presently, Cuba is in 101st place among the nations Berlin exports to and in 125th place among the nations it imports from.

On the first day of his visit, Steinmeier also met Cuba’s Vice President and Minister of Economy and Planification,  to discuss cooperation in renewable energy, environment, agriculture and other sectors.

He will also meet Culture Minister Julian Gonzalez and Cuba’s Catholic prelate, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, as well as representatives of civil society.

The last visit by a representative of the federal government of Germany to Cuba goes back 14 years, during the coalition government led by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

Since 1996, EU policy toward Cuba has been guided by the so-called 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 a crackdown and 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.

>> Read: EU-Cuba talks progress on trade

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