EU agrees to mandate for normalization talks with Cuba

The European Union (EU) says member-states have agreed to the terms for negotiating a “whole package” aimed at normalizing ties with Cuba.

The E.U. said on Jan. 30 that the accord would “encourage the reform process (in Cuba) and engage in a dialogue based on respect for human rights.”

It would also “serve to promote trade and economic relations,” said the statement, adding that the E.U. was “extremely aware of the human rights aspect”.

The agreement will be put before E.U. foreign ministers next month for approval.

The E.U. suspended links with Cuba in 2003 after a crackdown that saw 75 dissidents thrown into jail. They have all since been released.

Dialogue was resumed in 2008, with Cuba agreeing to several bilateral agreements with some 15 E.U. member-states, the E.U. said.

The 28-member bloc currently bases its policy on Cuba, one of the world’s few remaining communist states, on a 1996 document that links relations to improvements in the human rights situation on the Spanish-speaking Caribbean island.

The E.U. has appeared increasingly ready to update the 1996 position as Cuba has introduced limited reforms in an effort to revive its moribund economy, according to the statement.

Earlier this month, European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso said the bloc was studying “the possibility of revising that position” but that all 28 members would have to agree.

“It is important that Cuba respects human rights, that it does not have political prisoners,” Barroso said. “Freedom of expression and freedom of association are very important.

“Anything positive that can be done in Cuba to open the country to democratic values will certainly be positive,” he added.

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