EU, Cuba ties thaw, aid flow resumes

October 24th, 2008 - 1:05 pm ICT by IANS  

Havana, Oct 24 (IANS) In what is seen as a thaw in their relations, the European Union (EU) and Cuba have agreed to resume aid links, with the 27-nation bloc offering two million euros ($2.56 million) to help the island country overcome the backlash of two devastating hurricanes last month.”The European Commission has announced two million euros in emergency aid that can be immediately used” for humanitarian assistance in the wake of hurricanes Gustav and Ike,” European commissioner for development and humanitarian aid, Louis Michel, told reporters after signing the agreement, EFE reported Friday.

A second tranche of aid worth 30 million euro ($38 million) would come early next year.

The aid relationship was officially restored in a cooperation agreement signed in Havana by Michel and Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque.

Michel added that the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, may invest 25-30 million euros (up to $38.76 million) to finance projects to rebuild the hurricane-devastated areas.

The two natural calamities have left a trail of destruction estimated by the government at around $5 billion.

The EU will soon send a “very high-level technical delegation” to identify the priorities of the rebuilding programmes, the commissioner said.

Michel also said the EU will follow “very closely” the situation in Cuba in order to send “additional funds” and help mobilize bilateral assistance from the bloc’s members-nations.

He expressed “great satisfaction” over the resumption of the cooperation that was interrupted in 2003 by Cuba after the European bloc imposed diplomatic sanctions on Havana for its jailing of 75 peaceful dissidents.

The mild sanctions, which included restricting official visits to the island and inviting dissidents to embassy receptions, were suspended in 2005 and permanently lifted this June.

“There is agreement between the EU and Cuba on a wide range of issues. There are also differences that must be discussed with respect and should not be an obstacle to dialogue, cooperation or relations,” Perez Roque said.

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