Last January, at the CELAC summit in Costa Rica, I first met president Raúl Castro. He invited me to visit Cuba, and I tried to honour his invitation as soon as possible. And this is an exciting moment to be in Havana! Today I had again the pleasure of a long and interesting meeting with president Castro: we had a two-hour discussion, covering the wide range of EU-Cuba relations, with no exception, and also the regional development, the talks with the United States, the relations in the region, a little bit of history but a little bit of future as well.
I have started my visit here by meeting this morning with the Cardinal Ortega, with whom we discussed not only the role of the Church in Cuba but also the diplomatic efforts of the Catholic Church in the region. I followed the day with a meeting with two economic ministers: minister Malmierca, with whom we discussed in particular our trade relations, our cooperation and foreign investments, and with minister Murillo with whom we discussed the implementation of the guidelines – the lineamentos – and how to strengthen EU-Cuba relations in this process. I then had a meeting with the president of the national assembly, Mr Lazo, and a long meeting with my counterpart, minister Rodríguez whom I already had the chance of meeting officially at the CELAC summit.
After meeting president Castro, I had a very interesting meeting with key intellectuals, musicians, film makers, people that live and make the cultural life so relevant and important also for the European scene.
I forgot to mention how the visit kicked off last night. I met all the EU Ambassadors that are here in Havana. To me, it was the perfect way of getting the feeling of the agenda that we have in our bilateral relations. And this is a fundamental moment for our relationship.
We are currently discussing our political dialogue and cooperation agreement. Since I got my mandate, I have tried to give new impetus to the negotiations. Just a few weeks ago we had our latest round here in Cuba. I announced today that Minister Rodríguez is coming to visit me in Brussels on April 22nd. And of course we look forward to the Cuban delegation’s visit to Brussels for the EU-CELAC summit we will host in Brussels on June 10-11th.
Today we decided to speed up the rhythm of our negotiations – to hopefully finalise the framework of our dialogue and agreement by the end of this year. On the 25th year since diplomatic ties were established between Cuba and the EU, our relationship is strong. Most of the EU Member States have bilateral agreements or arrangements. So we definitely have a lot we can build on and we believe that finalising this agreement will be key to develop our political dialogue and our cooperation on more solid basis.