Josep Borrell is in Cuba. The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy landed in Havana on Thursday to begin a three-day official visit with the purpose of finding a new approach in relations between the island and the Twenty-seven. The situation is especially delicate. The Caribbean country lives immersed in a permanent economic crisis, aggravated for a few months by the lack of fuel. An issue to which are added the chain complaints from various international organizations in defense of human rights for the numerous arrests without guarantees of opposition activists.
The first stop of the head of European diplomacy has been in a place on Lugareño street, located in the vicinity of the Plaza de la Revolución. There he took part in a meeting with representatives of the new MSMEs, the name given in Cuba to private micro, small and medium-sized companies that have been operating legally in the country since the September 2021 reform. Borrell heard from the businessmen Cubans the possibilities that the discreet economic opening brings with it and the obstacles that their private initiative businesses have to face in a country where the State controls everything.
Borrell transferred the European position of “accompanying” the process of economic and social reforms, and announced that Brussels has a fund of 14 million euros to “help businessmen [cubanos] to become better businessmen”, with training and advice, reports the EFE agency. Community partners are open to cooperating with the Cuban government to boost the economy of the island, which is suffering the worst economic crisis in the last 30 years. In fact, the EU is the leading foreign investor in Cuba, far ahead of Russia and China, “despite the restrictive measures of the blockade [el embargo estadounidense]which does not make things exactly easy, ”Borrell acknowledged.
With this aid, Cuba can become “the Majorca of the Caribbean,” predicted the head of European diplomacy. That is precisely the model that the government of Miguel Díaz-Canel is trying to import. According to the independent Cuban media 14ymedio, Cuba continues to prioritize investments in the construction of luxury hotels, an economic policy focused on tourism with the aim of recovering the sector after the Covid-19 crisis.
But the day marked on the calendar is Friday, when Borrell presides in the company of Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla the third Cuba-European Union joint council. It is a space for rapprochement created in 2017 based on the Bilateral Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement, the first meeting of this type that has been held since 2019. On this occasion the issue of human rights in the country will be on the table, as they come suing the families of the reprisals and the organizations in defense of human rights.
Borrell announced in his meeting with Cuban businessmen that “before the end of the year” a dialogue on this matter will be held. But the humanitarian organizations press the head of European diplomacy. A statement from Human Rights Watch (HRW) published on the occasion of his visit to Havana, states that the Castro regime’s repression against freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association “has only increased with attacks against demonstrators since the demonstrations of the July 11 and 12, 2021”, when tens of thousands of people took to the streets across the island to demand change in the largest demonstration of discontent since the triumph of the revolution.
“Cuban authorities have refused to allow EU and member state diplomats, international media or human rights organizations to monitor the trials of those detained during the July 11 protests,” HRW denounces in his letter. “Family members and detainees denounce various violations of procedural guarantees, while artists, intellectuals and other people with alternative ideas are subjected to alarming levels of surveillance and restrictions on their freedom of movement. According to reports, peaceful protests as recent as those of September and October 2022 were responded to with police and military deployments to suppress them.”
The organization recommends that Borrell’s official displacement be accompanied by “a proportionate response from the EU and its Member States to address the scope and gravity of the situation and establish concrete benchmarks on human rights in their relations with Cuba.” .