British MP urges more EU dialogue with Cuba

Campaign News | Friday, 16 February 2007

Deputy speaker of House of Commons in Cuba

HAVANA, Cuba (Reuters): Deputy speaker of Britain's House of Commons and Labour MP Sylvia Heal called on Tuesday for improved European relations with Cuba that were upset by human rights concerns in 2003.

"We hope that the European Union will continue to work with the Cuban government so that there will be improvement in some things that have been a little difficult," Heal told Reuters during a four-day visit to Havana.

She urged Brussels to build on common ground with Havana.

"That's the important thing, that we maintain a dialogue," she said before a lunch meeting with Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba's National Assembly and a top aide to ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

A crackdown on dissent ordered by Castro in March 2003 led the EU to shun high-level talks with Cuban officials and invite dissidents to national day parties at its embassies in Havana.

The presence of dissidents at the cocktail parties annoyed the Cuban government and led to a freeze in ties with Europe.

The diplomatic sanctions were suspended in 2005 but ties with Havana remain cool due to continued EU calls for the release of political prisoners. Cuba has refused EU bilateral aid since 2003.

In June, the EU will review its policy on Cuba which advocates constructive engagement to encourage a peaceful transition to pluralist democracy and promote respect for human rights.

Since Castro relinquished power to his brother Raul after emergency surgery in late July, the EU has tried to define a strategy to deal with new political circumstances in Cuba.

Castro, 80, has not appeared in public since his surgery.

Heal said Alarcon told her Castro's health continued to improve, but he gave no indication when, or if, he might return to public life.

"He did not say whether he will (resume power) nor did he say he wouldn't either," Heal said after their lunch.

European-Parliamentarians Converge in Cuba

Havana, Feb 13 (Prensa Latina) Parliamentary delegations from Switzerland and Great Britain arrived separately on Monday to work on agendas in Cuba, with the aim of fostering ties between the respective countries.

Sylvia Heal, First Deputy Speaker of the British House of Commons, started her visit to Cuba on Monday, invited by the island s top legislative body.

Heal s agenda here includes meeting with Cuban Parliament President Ricardo Alarcon, Deputy Roberto Fernandez Retamar, Peoples Power National Assembly vice president Jaime Crombet, and Teresa Vicente, director of the European Department at the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Also on the list is a visit to the Latin American School of Medicine, the National Fine Arts Museum, Havana City s historical quarter, the 16th International Book Fair Cuba 2007 and a tour of Pinar del Rio, the island s westernmost province.

The Swiss legislators agenda includes a visit to a cigar factory in Havana and a trip to the island's central province of Villa Clara, to visit the memorial that holds the remains of Argentinean-Cuban Ernesto Che Guevara and a group of his comrades-in-arms fallen in Bolivia.

Also on the table is a meeting with Cuba's Communist Party Central Committee s International Relations Department chief Fernando Remirez de Estenoz and Foreign Investment and Economic Collaboration Minister Marta Lomas, and a visit to the Latin American School of Medicine.

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