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Foreign Minister Steinmeier visits Cuba for the first time Cuba

20.07.2015 - Article

Foreign Minister Steinmeier’s visit to Havana (16 to 17 July) focused on the reform process under way in the Latin American island state and the potential for more intensive cooperation.

A street in Havana
A street in Havana© photothek.net

The process of reform in Cuba and the future of German-Cuban relations were important topics during Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s visit on 16 and 17 July. The first day of the trip included a meeting with Cuba’s President Raúl Castro.

Steinmeier’s visit was in many respects a trip into “uncharted territory”, said Frank-Walter Steinmeier this Thursday (16 July) shortly after his arrival in Havana. After all this was not only his own first visit to Cuba, it was also the first time a German Foreign Minister had ever visited the country.

Steinmeier visits the old town area of Havana
Steinmeier visits the old town area of Havana© Photothek/Imo

While in Havana, Steinmeier said the visit presented the opportunity to assess “where we’re at after years of estrangement and lack of communication”. In recent months, “significant changes have taken place”. The message to his interlocutors in Cuba was that “we’re taking the signs of opening – that the President himself has given – seriously, and we want to make a positive contribution to the process of change.”

Cuba’s opening and rapprochement through dialogue comprised many topics: “Whilst we’re here the issue of human rights cannot be excluded,” said Steinmeier. He pointed out several times that there would still be differences of opinion with regard to respect for human rights and the meaning of democracy. Nevertheless, he wanted to sound out the possibilities for future cooperation with Cuba.

Steinmeier with the Archbishop of Havana
Steinmeier with the Archbishop of Havana© Photothek/Imo

In-depth discussions and concrete agreements

Foreign Minister Steinmeier said he was “very curious” to see Cuba; after a tour of the historical old town of Havana, he held a comprehensive discussion with Archbishop Jaime Ortega Alamino.

Late on Thursday morning he then met his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodríguez in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Steinmeier had already met him in Brussels around a month previously (9 June), for an initial exchange of views. Now, in the presence of both Foreign Ministers, a joint declaration on cooperation between the two countries’ governments was signed by the German Ambassador, Peter Rudolf Scholz, and the Director General for Bilateral Affairs at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Gerardo Peñalver Portal.

This was a first, there had never been anything like it before, said Steinmeier.

I believe that this is the right time to re-adjust our relations – the relations between Cuba and Germany. (...) Thus in recent weeks and months we have worked towards the ambitious goal of adopting an agreement during my visit, an agreement which will form the basis of everything that is to come.
Meeting with the Cuban Foreign Minister
Meeting with the Cuban Foreign Minister© Photothek/Imo

It was a foundation agreement, Steinmeier continued, “with which we have also set up a political mechanism through which we will maintain a regular dialogue over the upcoming months and years.”

This basis would pave the way for further individual agreements, he explained. In the second half of the year, Steinmeier went on, work would take place on a cultural agreement as well as on the requisite legal basis for a German business representation in Cuba.

Accompanying the reform process – intensifying cooperation

By being the first German Foreign Minister to visit the country, Foreign Minister Steinmeier wanted to help further open “the door between Cuba and the world.“ He continued:

That is why with this visit we are making time for political talks and establishment of business contacts as well as for discussions with artists, academics and representatives of civil society.

On Thursday afternoon (16 July), Steinmeier and his cultural delegation met Culture Minister Julián González Toledo for a large meeting to advance cultural and academic exchange. Following this, Minister for Planning and Economy Marino Murillo Jorge received Steinmeier for a talk on the options for future economic cooperation.

Foreign Minister Steinmeier and Cuba’s President Raúl Castro in Havana
Foreign Minister Steinmeier and Cuba’s President Raúl Castro in Havana© Photothek

Long discussions between Steinmeier and Castro

In the evening of Steinmeier’s first day in Cuba, he then spoke to Cuba’s President Raúl Castro for more than an hour and a half. As Steinmeier put it, they enjoyed a “very intensive dialogue about the prospects for change” in Cuba, with the Cuban President declaring that he saw great value in broad‑based international cooperation and wished for “more interest” not only from German business but also in the field of intercultural exchange.

Steinmeier said afterwards that, regrettably, Cuba had often in its history leaned on only one partner. As a result, he went on, the country was now deeply interested in cooperation with Europe and specifically Germany, which is apparently appreciated in Cuba for its economic strength and the high quality of its products.

Foreign Minister Steinmeier visiting the Vivero Alamar project run by Welthungerhilfe
Foreign Minister Steinmeier visiting the Vivero Alamar project run by Welthungerhilfe© Photothek

After the discussion, Federal Minister Steinmeier said, “Although conditions will not change overnight, we do want to try and break the silence and start establishing closer ties again in a number of areas.” He declared himself pleasantly surprised by the high levels of attention Cubans pay to German culture and their interest in cultural exchange particularly. Cuban people were glad, he said, to see German artists active in their country and collaborating with Cuban artists.

Establishing closer ties once again

In the talks he held in Cuba, Foreign Minister Steinmeier’s further priorities were pharmaceuticals, medical technology, logistics, infrastructure and agriculture. Steinmeier expressed confidence that “if the framework conditions change, then German companies will be among those taking the leap and investing in Cuba”. Cooperation had been considered on the modernisation of the agriculture industry and development of the energy sector, with a focus on renewables.

Meeting the Paralympic athletics team
Meeting the Paralympic athletics team© photothek.net

On the second day of his stay (17 July), Steinmeier visited the Vivero Alamar organic gardening project run by Welthungerhilfe and, at the Estadio Panamericano, met Cuban Paralympians who use prosthetics supplied by the German company Otto Back. He also held a long discussion with Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz, Cuban Minister for Foreign Trade and Investment.

Cuba’s encouraging process of opening up

Shortly before leaving Cuba, the German Foreign Minister learned about the work of the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB), discussing, among other things, possible closer exchange between Germany and Cuba in the academic sector. The last point in his programme was a visit to renowned Cuban artist Juan Roberto Diago Durruthy, who gave Steinmeier a tour of his workshop in person.

Having gathered all these impressions, the Minister spoke of an “encouraging process of opening up” and wished the people of Cuba a lot of courage as they follow that road.

Find out more:

Bilateral relations between Germany and Cuba

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