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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 January, 2005, 00:49 GMT
Havana halts EU 'cocktail wars'
By Stephen Gibbs
BBC News, Havana

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque
Cuba's foreign minister announced the move
Cuba has announced that it is re-establishing official contact with eight European embassies in Havana.

Relations broke down in 2003 after the European Union instigated a policy of asking dissidents to diplomatic receptions in the Cuban capital.

That move was in protest against Cuba's earlier imprisonment of 75 dissidents and its execution of three hijackers.

The eight EU nations are France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Austria, Greece, Portugal and Sweden.

'Cocktail wars'

For the last 20 months Cuba and the European Union have been involved in an unusual diplomatic row.

Dubbed "the cocktail wars", it involved the decision taken by the EU in early 2003 to include a handful of Cuban dissidents on the guest list of embassy receptions in Havana.

The Cuban government which tends to label its dissidents "mercenaries in the pay of the United States", took serious offence.

Its response was to end almost all official contact with European ambassadors in Cuba.

Brussels compromise

But now a thaw is in the air.

Last month, Brussels proposed a compromise, namely not to ask any Cubans whether they're government ministers or dissidents, to future receptions.

Cuba has welcomed that initiative.

It's already normalised relations with Spain, now eight more EU ambassadors are being added to the list.

Notable exceptions include the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, both of which have tended to favour taking a harder line against Cuba.

Cuban dissidents have expressed disappointment at what they see as a backing down on the part of Europe.

They say there's much more to this than a few cocktails and that by inviting them to receptions Europe was demonstrating in a quiet but powerful way that not everyone on this island agrees with President Fidel Casto.

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