Britain praises Cuba's Castro for embracing realities of modernity
HAVANA | BY SARAH MARSH
Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond on Friday praised Cuban
President Raul Castro for embracing the realities of the modern world
after a meeting with the Communist leader that marked a further step in
Cuba's thaw with the West.
He is the first British Foreign Secretary to set foot on the Caribbean
island since its 1959 revolution, and his visit follows one by U.S.
President Barack Obama in March.
Hammond said he had a "long and interesting discussion" with Castro
about the octogenarian leader's push to update one of the world's last
Soviet-style command economies.
"He is espousing a program of gradual change, embracing the realities of
the world we live in," Hammond said in an interview at the British
ambassador's residence in Havana.
"I was very struck by the fact that he described the Internet as the
reality of our world, spoke positively about the benefits the Internet
Cuba still has one of the world's lowest Internet penetrations with
access expensive and restricted.
The state says it wants to expand access and has been installing Wi-Fi
hotspots throughout the country. But change is slow and critics suggest
the government fears losing control of media and seeing new avenues of
political opposition open up.
Castro has vowed to "update" Cuba's socialist model but market-style
reforms have been implemented haltingly and even reversed in some areas.
A Communist Party Congress this month proposed little new to tackle the
country's economic woes.
"Castro is seeking to position himself in the middle between those who
are resisting change and those who want much faster, more radical
change," said Hammond, adding that Britain hoped to foster reforms
through cooperation in certain sectors.
The Foreign Secretary said the government recognized its financial
services sector was underdeveloped.
"Castro said to me directly 'we lack management expertise in banking
services' and this is an area where the UK (United Kingdom) has
something very clear to offer," he said.
The main sectors where Britain sees opportunities for its companies to
do business in Cuba were financial services, tourism and renewable
energy, Hammond said.
Challenges to doing business in Cuba remain however, he said, not least
due to the U.S. trade embargo.
"We have also had discussions with the U.S. about the challenges for
British and other European banks in doing business with countries that
face U.S. sanctions," said Hammond.
"There are some problems here but we are working through them with the
U.S. and hope to make progress in a way that will enable British
businesses to do more business with Cuba."
Exports of British goods to Cuba rose 32 percent in 2015 compared with
the previous year but the government deems there is scope for growth as
other European countries export far more to the island.
(Editing by James Dalgleish)
Source: Britain praises Cuba's Castro for embracing realities of
modernity | Reuters -