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Page last updated at 21:51 GMT, Thursday, 23 October 2008 22:51 UK

EU formally renews ties with Cuba

By Michael Voss
BBC News, Havana

European Commissioner Louis Michel and Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque shake hands in Havana (23 October 2008)
Mr Michel said the Cuban government had agreed to resume political dialogue

The EU and Cuba have formally restored ties, five years after the EU imposed diplomatic sanctions on the island following mass arrests of dissidents.

European Commissioner Louis Michel said the accord he signed with Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque was "a turning point for EU-Cuban relations".

Mr Perez Roque welcomed its respect for the island's political independence.

It will now receive 2m euros ($2.6m) of emergency hurricane recovery aid, with 30m euros ($38.9m) available next year.

An EU delegation will return to Cuba in November to determine the needs and priorities for the financing to be made available in 2009.

Political dialogue

The two recent hurricanes which swept through Cuba in late August and early September - Ike and Gustav - caused billions of dollars worth of damage.

Yet Cuba's communist authorities refused all offers of aid not just from the US but the EU as well - a sign of just how strained relations had become.

Residents drive a horse cart through a flooded street in Batabano, Cuba (11 September 2008)
Two recent hurricanes that hit Cuba caused billions of dollars of damage

Now following a signing ceremony in Havana, Cuba and the EU have agreed to resume co-operation.

A joint declaration, signed by Cuba's foreign minister and the European commissioner for development and humanitarian aid, calls for respect for Cuba's political independence and non-intervention in its internal affairs.

However, according to Mr Michel, the Cuban government has agreed to resume political dialogue in which "no subjects will be taboo".

This should open the way for future talks on issues such as democracy, human rights and political prisoners.

Mr Michel also announced an aid package of up to 30m euros for hurricane reconstruction.

How to deal with Cuba is one area where Europe and the United States have substantial differences.

Since Raul Castro took over the presidency, following his brother Fidel's retirement due to ill health, EU policy has been to try to develop a dialogue with Cuba in the hope of influencing change.

But the Cubans demanded that the EU formally lift the diplomatic sanctions which it imposed in 2003, following the mass arrest of dissidents. The sanctions were suspended in 2005, but only eliminated altogether at the EU summit in June.

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