Castro Government Mends Fences With European Union

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

( - Talks between the Castro government and the European Union ended Monday in Havana with both sides saying the political dialogue is back on track after a hiatus of several years.

The Castro government's position on human rights was the main issue that soured relations between Cuba and the European Union over the past few years. But the European Union emerged from the meetings happy that Cuba was willing to discuss the human rights issue.

"Both parts reaffirm their willingness to exchange relative information in the area (of human rights)," according to a final declaration from the meeting.

The European Union five years ago had declared that improved political relations between the EU and the Castro government would depend on progress in human rights and democracy.

"We've had an open meeting during which we worked seriously and could re-establish, I believe, a political dialogue at a very useful level," said EU delegation chief Jan De Bock.

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque told reporters the discussion had been "serious, open and respectful."

Cuba is currently the only Latin American country that does not have an economic co-operation agreement with the EU.

Another sticking point in the talks appeared to be the death penalty.

Radio Havana reported Monday that the EU stated its opposition to the death penalty, which still exists in Cuba, although the broadcast said the Castro government rarely applies it.

A few weeks ago, according to the broadcast, Fidel Castro said Cuba would likely abolish the death penalty in the future.

The Castro government also said during the talks that Cuba opposes terrorism in any form.

US-Cuba talk about immigration

Meanwhile, across town, the United States and Cuba completed one day of talks on immigration, and both sides admit that little progress was made.

Illegal immigration into the U.S. was the main sticking point for both countries.

The Castro government is bitter over the recent death of 30 Cuban in the Florida Straits who were trying to emigrate to the United States. They died when their boat overturned.

The Castro government insists that the Cuban Adjustment Act is the reason for those deaths, but the U.S. says Cuban human rights abuses are the main motivation for Cubans to leave their country in the first place.

James Carragher, head of the U.S. delegation and the new coordinator for Cuban Affairs at the State Department, told a news conference after the talks that fleeing Cubans are "looking to leave a situation in which they are not permitted the free and full practice of human rights which are respected in democratic countries."

He also cited what he called "the continued failure of the Cuban economy to provide the economic opportunities and economic well-being."

Cuban parliamentary president Ricardo Alarcon said the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, which virtually guarantees residency for Cubans who reach American soil, was enticing them to leave illegally.

He called the Cuban Adjustment Act criminal and immoral.

During the talks, the U.S. delegation asked Cuba to cooperate on law enforcement against human smuggling; better medical examinations for Cubans emigrating legally; and a new port for the repatriation of migrants caught at sea.

In a separate news conference, Alarcon ridiculed the U.S. requests as "silly details" that did not go to the heart of the problem. He said Cuba's migration problems were even worse before the revolution that brought Castro to power in 1959.

"And why does nobody talk about Mexico?" Alarcon asked. He said every month, many more Mexicans than Cubans sneak into the United States.