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//REPETITION// POLITICS-EU/ACP: Cuba Expresses Opposition To Conditional Aid

Hughes Belin,

COTONOU, Benin, Jun 23 2000 (IPS) - Cuba, invited as an observer to meetings between ministers of the Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) group here this week, expressed outrage at the “conditionality” of aid it says donors like the European Union (EU) impose on recipients.

Rene Mouhuica, the Cuban ambassador to the EU, said his country had excellent bilateral relations with the 15 EU states and the 77 countries of the ACP group and “has nothing against the co-operation agreement” between them.

However, he told reporters that “each country should be free to choose its economical, political and social system”. He said Cuba remains steadfastly against the pre-conditions that would be imposed on to Cuba in order for the Caribbean nation to join the co-operation agreement

“We do not want the EU to impose its (political) system on others,” said Mouhuica. He added that while Havana respected others’ choice of political systems, Cuba does not wish “to copy what others may do in this area”.

The ACP yesterday restated its desire to strengthen ties with Cuba, which in May withdrew its candidature to the new 20-year EU-ACP trade and aid agreement.

The agreement is scheduled to be signed here on Friday, after several members of the European bloc on Apr. 18 voted in favour of a resolution before the United Nations’ Commission on Human Rights in Geneva condemning Havana for alleged human rights abuses.

Acknowledging the block in the relationship between the EU and Cuba, the ACP Assembly has, nonetheless, decided to examine the possibility for the island to become a member of the group.

Poul Nielson, the EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, said in May that Brussels would re-orient its co-operation with Cuba from humanitarian aid to support for local Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

He said the move was not connected to Cuba’s unilateral withdrawal of its candidature from the EU-ACP partnership agreement, to be known as the Contonu Agreement following the signing ceremony tomorrow.

Rather, Nielson said the shift was in line with the EU’s Common Position of promoting human rights, democracy and a free press as a fundamental aspect of its external relations and development policy, agreed on by EU foreign ministers in Berlin earlier this year.

Numerous delegates to the ACP Ministerial Assembly, held here from June 20-21, supported Cuba’s move to withdraw its candidature.

In particular, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, strongly supported Cuba in its rebellion against “developed nation’s insurgence into internal matters” of under-developed countries.

“Bilaterally, our relationship with each EU member state is excellent which is in clear contradiction with the EU overall position towards Cuba”, the Cuban minister for external economic relations, Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, told reporters.

The ACP group unanimously supports Havana’s candidature to the ACP-EU co-operation agreement and Cuba clearly wishes to maintain close ties with the ACP group, where it enjoys a permanent observer status.

The idea would be to integrate the ACP group without participating in the ACP-EU co-operation agreement. This could pose a number of problems, however, as the ACP group was created in 1975 precisely to establish a counterpart to the EU in the framework of implementing development co-operation.

Cuba argues that its historic links with the ACP group are “indestructible, and strengthening” and that they cannot be adversely affected by the new ACP-EU co-operation agreement.

The ACP group is currently reviewing its founding charter, the so-called “Georgetown Agreement”, with a view towards adapting it to the group’s latest operational developments.

This may incorporate an amendment to include Cuba as a member, although not participating, in the development co-operation with the EU.

“As long as it only deals with intra-ACP relations and does not involve projects or funds provided in the framework of the EU-ACP co- operation, we have nothing to do with it,” an EU official told IPS.

In other words, Cuba and ACP countries may build the relationship they wish – the EU will not bother. ACP countries will agree amendments to the Georgetown Agreement in November this year.

Cabrisas Ruiz reminded the ACP delegates on June 21 that Cuban- ACP ties did not only consist of diplomatic and commercial relations.

Co-operation with the continent has increased exponentially since Havana since an agreement with Guinea in 1960, said Cabrisas Ruiz.

By 1999, more than 76,000 Cubans rendered various services in Africa, over 6,000 Africans were trained in Cuba, and over 27,000 Africans, including 10,000 students of higher education, received diplomas there.

As for relations with the Caribbean region, Cabrisas Ruiz mentioned the inter-governmental agreements in such areas as healthcare, tourism, sports, reciprocal investment promotion and protection, and drug-traffic control.

In addition, he said, thousands of Caribbean nationals took, or are taking, courses in Cuba and many Caribbean countries received Cuban co-operation workers in various spheres.

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