Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni ended his first full day in Havana on Thursday (March 12) with a meeting with President Raúl Castro at the palace of government.
Castro “expressed great friendship towards Italy and satisfaction with the bilateral relations,” Gentiloni told the media after the conversation.
The friendship between Italy and Cuba “is very important,” the Italian diplomat said. “We hope to improve our economic cooperation thanks to the actualization process that Cuba offers, particularly with our SMEs [small and medium enterprises], our cooperatives, our opportunities in tourism and in the field of renewable energy, in addition to the work on the scientific and cultural areas. Italy is intent on enhancing the artistic and cultural heritage of Havana and Santiago de Cuba.”
Gentiloni (shown in top photo meeting with Raúl Castro) said that bilateral trade should increase “significantly” in the context of Cuba’s revamped economic model. A delegation of SMEs, led by the Italian vice minister of Foreign Trade, will visit the island May 4-5 to attend the International Tourism Fair, at which Italy will be the guest of honor, he said.
He also said that the Italian Institute of Foreign Trade will open an office in Havana “before summer begins.”
Not unexpectedly, one of the subjects of the chat was the thaw in Cuba-U.S. relations.
“I expressed my great hope that the process that President Castro and President Obama courageously announced last Dec. 17, will be completed with the various steps necessary, ending of course with the end of the embargo,” Gentiloni said.
The minister called the end of the blockade “the natural consequence of [the two leaders’] political decision.”
“We agreed with the Cuban government that the processes of dialogue with the United States and the European Union are two very important processes — one of historic importance, the other of economic importance — but they should not be linked,” he said.
To speed up the negotiations between the EU and Cuba, the EU should have “more frequent contacts” with the Cuban authorities, Gentiloni said, and “my country will work to propel the process in that direction.”
Finally, Gentiloni said that he had “invited Raúl Castro to come to Italy on any of several occasions, among them the Italy-Latin America and the Caribbean Conference in June, or July 26, the day dedicated to Cuba at the Milan Expo. Castro told me that he would like to come. Everything depends on his agenda.”
He revealed that Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign relations chief and his predecessor as Italian foreign minister, likely will visit Cuba “in the next several weeks” in an effort to end the EU’s “common position” that conditions dialogue with Cuba to Havana’s record on human rights observance.
Earlier in the day, Gentiloni met with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, officials from the Ministry of Energy and Mines and the Ministry of Foreign Trade. He also met with Cardinal Jaime Ortega, Archbishop of Havana.