Europe Capitalizing on US–Cuba Rapprochement

The fourth round of negotiations between Cuba and the European Union has yielded a number of concrete results. According to the details offered in a communiqué by the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Vice Foreign Minister Abelardo Moreno returned home with more items on the agenda for a political and cooperation agreement with UE diplomats in Brussels.

How has Christian Leffer, Managing Director for the Americas of the European External Action Service, managed to quickly obtain what US negotiator Roberta Jacobson is still working to secure? Over recent months, the diplomats deployed by Havana have expressed Cuba’s willingness to move towards normalization full-steam…with their European counterparts.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez crossed the Atlantic three times during the first half of 2015 and was welcomed in Rome, Brussels and Paris, on one occasion accompanied by President Raul Castro and his second-in-command, Vice-President Miguel Diaz Canel.

European foreign ministers have been landing at Cuba’s Jose Marti International Airport in constant succession. By contrast, we can imagine US Secretary of State John Kerry asking Roberta Jacobson when they ought to schedule their trip to Havana to reopen an embassy which, till recently, seemed a far off prospect in the field of diplomacy.

The two paces at which the normalization of relations with Europe, on the one hand, and the re-establishment of diplomatic ties with the United States, on the other, are taking place have to do with histories that cannot be forgotten overnight, true, but there is also an inherent flaw to the rhetoric used by personnel from the US State Department.

In a different flight of fancy, Jacobson could have asked former Italian Foreign Minister and current High Representative of the European External Action Service Federica Mogherini for some pointers, or could have at least compared notes (such as the recent Cuban Foreign Ministry communique) with her.

“The meetings were held in constructive and professional atmosphere, on the bases agreed to by both parties in 2008. These include: the unconditional, reciprocal and non-discriminatory nature of negotiations, full respect towards the sovereignty of States and the legal and institutional frameworks of the parties, as well as full adherence to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of States.”

As officials at this end of the world managed to understand, the key to quick progress with Cuba is respect and not brazen meddling in its internal affairs, something President Francoise Hollande’s political advisors discovered for themselves. Only this way can the hand-shake become an embrace.

Raul Castro’s contacts with European leaders demonstrate that Europe is capitalizing on the rapprochement begun by President Obama more effectively than the United States is. The swiftness of these negotiations also shows that Cubans are not closed to dialogue and understanding.

Commercial diplomacy between the United States and the island, one of the pillars of Obama’s new policy, is still a closed book – and the clock is ticking. Next month, Spain is scheduled to send to Havana its Minister for the Economy and the future president of Eurogroup, Luis de Guindos, in what appears to be a rescue mission aimed at securing Spanish advantages in the foreign investment race to the island, which their precursors once called the “eternally loyal Cuba.”

The Spanish continue to set milestones in this field: a company from their country, Hotelsa Alimentacion S.A., is the first to make a fully private and tax-free investment in Cuba’s new economy.

History is also on their side. Decades ago, Europeans collected their respective compensations for the nationalization of their properties in the 1960s. Compensation to US companies is still an unaddressed item on the agenda of talks with Roberta Jacobson.

Talks with Europe will continue in September of this year, and the two parties have expressed their desire to “complete these negotiations as quickly as possible,” an aim that no one has heard in the more than sober communiques issued following Cuba-US meetings.

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