Timmermans encourages Cuba to undertake further reforms

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Frans Timmermans, has called on Cuba to push ahead with political and economic reform. ‘The Netherlands would like to see the greater economic freedoms enjoyed by Cubans being complemented by greater political freedoms, including an improvement in the human rights situation,’ said Mr Timmermans, speaking on Tuesday after talks with the Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla.

Mr Timmermans visited Cuba to strengthen ties with that country. ‘Things are changing here. We want to influence this process and we can’t do that by not speaking to the Cubans. That approach was tried for decades and it hasn’t worked.’

Mr Timmermans wants to see greater freedom of expression in Cuba. He welcomed a law that enables Cuban dissidents to travel abroad, but said Cubans should also be able to express their opinions on the island itself. He also spoke of the need for greater internet access. ‘We are willing to help Cuba on this,’ he said.

The Dutch foreign minister also advocates a different role for the EU. ‘I would like Cuba and the EU to talk to each other,’ he said. The EU’s foreign ministers will decide early this year on whether, and if so how, a new bilateral agreement can be negotiated with Cuba. This prospect was one of the subjects discussed by Mr Timmermans and Mr Rodríguez Parrilla.

The two foreign ministers also talked about a recently signed agreement on the repayment by Cuba to the Netherlands of short-term debt totalling €42 million. ‘This is an important step which opens up new opportunities for business investment, including from the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom,’ said Mr Timmermans.

During his visit the Dutch foreign minister spoke to representatives of civil society, including writers, bloggers and economists. He met with Cardinal Jaime Ortega, with whom he talked about developments in Cuba. And he talked with Mariela Castro, who works to promote the rights of the LGBT community worldwide.

This was the first ever visit by a Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs to Cuba. His visit coincided with a trade mission to Cuba by the Netherlands Council for Trade Promotion. While in Cuba Mr Timmermans also kicked off a football clinic for young people run by the Dutch football club Feyenoord.