Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ambassador says Mexico will re-negotiate Cuban debt to improve relations

Ambassador says Mexico will re-negotiate Cuban debt to improve relations
The Associated Press
Published: November 28, 2007

HAVANA: Mexico's new ambassador to Cuba said Wednesday that his country
will re-negotiate US$500 million (€337 million) in debt that the
communist-run island owes Mexico to improve strained relations between
the nations.

Ambassador Gabriel Jimenez said both sides will meet several times next
month and hope to reach a debt settlement plan by the end of the year,
marking the first public acknowledgment of talks on the issue.

"I'm very optimistic," said Jimenez, who became ambassador in September.
"I arrived at an absolutely fragile moment in Mexican relations with
Cuba, and little by little, we're expressing the wishes of both
governments to begin to get to know one another again."

Jimenez, a friend of Mexican President Felipe Calderon, said he has
reassured his government that Havana has every intention of paying off
its debt in time.

"Cuba wants to meet its obligations," he told reporters.
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Debt discussions are likely to lead to bilateral talks on other thorny
issues, including illegal immigration and human rights, as both sides
are "now getting serious" about reconciliation, Jimenez said.

Mexico has historically been friendly with Cuba, and is the only Latin
American country to never break ties with its government — despite U.S.

But the countries' relationship soured in 2002 when the government of
then-President Vicente Fox backed a U.N. Human Rights resolution
condemning Cuba.

Cuba released a recording of Fox urging Fidel Castro to leave a summit
to avoid confronting U.S. President George W. Bush later that year,
embarrassing the Mexican leader. In 2004, the two nations temporarily
withdrew their ambassadors.

Calderon, a member of Fox's conservative National Action Party who took
office in 2006, since said he wants to improve relations with Cuba.

Mexico would like to sign an immigration accord that might help
repatriate Cuban migrants detained in Mexico or while trying to reach
it, Jimenez said.

U.S. officials say as many as 10,000 Cubans now sneak off the island
every year bound for Mexico, and then make their way by land to the
U.S., where most are allowed to stay by law. The route has become
popular with people-smuggling gangs that use souped-up speed boats to
ferry migrants.

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