EU to donate up to $38.7 million to Cuba in '09
HAVANA -- The European Union on Wednesday agreed to donate up to $38.7
million to Cuba next year for hurricane relief and improvements in food
But a top European suggested that the island's human rights record will
continue to dominate discussions even as the EU looks to improve
long-chilly relations with Havana.
Stefano Manservisi, head of the European Commission's Directorate
General for Development, said EU members would send $32.2 million to
$28.7 million to Cuba next year. Much of it would go to repairing homes,
power grids and highways ravaged by Hurricanes Gustav, Ike and Paloma,
which hit this summer and fall and combined to do more than $10 billion
''We are not here as a donor, we are here as a partner, as a friend,''
said Manservisi, who signed an accord with Ricardo Guerrero, Cuba's vice
minister of foreign investment.
The new funds also will help Cuba bolster environmental protection,
biotechnology, disaster preparedness and food production, which suffered
severe damage in the storms.
''If there's one thing we should say, it's that the world economic
crisis has to bring us closer together than before,'' Manservisi told
reporters following a signing ceremony that included a champagne toast.
But just a moment later, he broached a subject that has caused
considerable friction between the EU and communist Cuba.
''This is just the first brick, the first point,'' Manservisi said.
``Let's organize a number of other initiatives together, including
speaking freely and frankly about human rights, about freedom here and
elsewhere in the world.''
Asked about Manservisi's comments, Guerrero said all political matters
were up to Cuba's Foreign Relations Ministry, where Manservisi and other
EU officials ``had conversed about many different topics, not just human
EU Commissioner Luis Michel visited Cuba in October and offered the
initial round of 2 million euros in hurricane aid. That agreement
restarted dialogue and cooperation that stalled in 2003, when Cuba
sentenced 75 leading political activists, independent journalists and
dissidents to lengthy prison terms for allegedly cooperating with U.S.
authorities to undermine the communist system.
In June, the EU voted to eliminate the last remaining diplomatic
sanctions imposed after the crackdown. Twenty of the original 75
prisoners have since been released into forced exile or granted
provisional parole for health reasons.