Spain’s PM Pedro Sanchez and Cuba’s president agree to human rights dialogue during historic visit

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CUBA VISIT: Sanchez met with Diaz-Canel in Havana. Photo credit: Pedro Sanchez, via Twitter

SPAIN and Cuba have agreed to have a “frank” discussion on human rights after Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and President Miguel Diaz-Canel signed a pact during the former’s ongoing visit.

The agreement commits foreign ministers from both countries to meet at least once a year to discuss political issues which affect both countries.

Spain is the first European Union (EU) country to make such an agreement with Cuba. The two nations also agreed new arrangements for cultural exchange and co-operation.

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Pedro Sanchez said good relations between Spain and Cuba were a “priority” for his country.

“We’ll always defend Spain’s interests in all forums,” he added on Twitter.

Diaz-Canel said he and Sanchez had held a “cordial” first meeting.

“I received the Prime Minister of Spain, Pedro Sanchez, in the Palace of the Revolution. We sincerely appreciate his visit to our country. Relations between us have been strengthened,” he said.

Diplomatic sources said the agreement would mean Spain could raise issues including political prisoners and limits on freedoms in Cuba. It also means Cuban officials could raise human rights concerns with their Spanish counterparts.

Sanchez also reportedly suggested that Spain’s King Felipe visit Havana next year for the 500th anniversary of the city’s founding by Spanish explorer Diego Velazquez de Cuellar.

It comes during Sanchez’s visit to the Communist-run Caribbean island which began yesterday afternoon (Thursday).

Sanchez is the first Spanish Prime Minister to visit Cuba in 32 years. The trip has proved controversial and the Prime Minister has attracted criticism at home for going to Cuba.

Diplomatic sources said it was not “logical” that the EU had a channel for political dialogue with Cuba but that Spain did not.

Sanchez arrived in Cuba with Foreign Minister Josep Borrell, Reyes Maroto, Industry Minister, and his wife Begoña Gomez shortly before 5pm local time.

His visit has so far seen him attend a ceremony in Havana and hold talks with senior Cuban officials.

Pablo Casado, leader of the conservative Partido Popular (PP) opposition, accused Sanchez of “cynicism” due to his criticising former Spanish ruler Francisco Franco while visiting a “living dictator”.

Albert Rivera, leader of the centrist Ciudadanos, said the Prime Minister’s failure to meet with political dissidents showed he lacked courage.

Source from La Moncloa, Sanchez’s official residence, said working discreetly for greater freedoms on the island was more effective than “taking a photo” with dissidents.

Cuba was previously a Spanish colony until revolutionaries with the backing of the United States (US) defeated the country in the Spanish-American War of 1898.

The island was then run by a series of US-friendly leaders including dictator Fulgencio Batista until Communist revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro seized power in 1959.

Relations between Cuba and the outside world have been strained since until recent efforts from countries to improve them.

 

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