Spain and Cuba agree to deepen bilateral relations

Spain and Cuba have agreed to significantly deepen their sometimes-difficult bilateral relationship.

On 22 November, at the end of what was the first official visit by a Spanish Prime Minister to Cuba in 32 years, Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, and Cuba’s President, Miguel Díaz-Canel, signed a memorandum that provides a framework for regular meetings to discuss bilateral, regional and multilateral issues at the level of Ministers of Foreign Affairs.

The bilateral political agreement, which parallels the EU-Cuba Agreement on Political Dialogue and Cooperation, includes among the topics for regular discussion: economic relations, human rights, unilateral measures regarded as coercive (the US embargo), and the deepening of the two nations development co-operation.

Sánchez and Díaz-Canal also signed an agreement on cultural cooperation bringing an end to a dispute going back to 2003, when the then President, the late Fidel Castro, closed the Spanish Cultural Centre in Havana during a disagreement with former Spanish Prime Minister, José María Aznar.

Additionally, El País reported that Sánchez expressed the view that his government would be pleased were Spain’s King Felipe VI to visit Cuba in November 2019 for the 500th anniversary of the founding of Havana.

Sánchez travelled to Cuba with executives from about 30 Spanish companies who participated in a Spanish-Cuban business forum held in the Grand Packard hotel run by the Spanish chain Iberostar. The property is one of a number that the US Administration has banned US citizens from using or doing business in as it is owned by a Cuban military enterprise. The event was attended by Spanish companies involved in sectors including tourism, health, agriculture and renewable energy. Among the Cuban participants were the Cuban President Díaz-Canel and the Vice President of the Council of Ministers, Ricardo Cabrisas.

According to official Cuban statistics, Spanish-Cuban bilateral trade stands at around US$1.3bn annually. Spain is Cuba’s second largest trading partner and its most important investor in tourism. Between September 2017 to August 2018 exports to Cuba reached €921.1m, an increase of 5.7% compared to the same period the year before. Spain maintains a substantial €791.7m trade surplus with Cuba.

During his visit, the Spanish Prime Minister also met with independent local business people, intellectuals, artists and bloggers.

The deepening of relations reflects the Spanish Government’s view that it is wrong that the EU has better channels for dialogue with Cuba when Spain, a country with deep historic, familial, cultural and economic ties, does not. Despite this, the visit was criticised by opposition parties, potentially turning Cuba into a future domestic electoral issue.

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