Why Europe Is Interested In Closer Ties With Cuba

Foreign ministers from the 28 nations of the European Union are meeting in Brussels Monday to discuss boosting trade with Cuba. The EU lifted diplomatic sanctions on Cuba in 2008. Now Spain is leading an effort to lift commercial restrictions too.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

NPR's business news starts with Europe moving closer to Cuba.

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INSKEEP: OK. They're still the same distance apart in the map. But foreign ministers from the 28 nations of the European Union are meeting in today to discuss boosting trade with Cuba. The EU lifted diplomatic sanctions against Cuba in 2008. Now, Spain is leading an effort to lift commercial restrictions too.

Lauren Frayer reports.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: There's a reason Europe is interested in closer ties with Cuba, says Carlos Malamud, a Latin America analyst at the Elcano Royal Institute in Madrid.

CARLOS MALAMUD: The biologic clock is running against the Castro brothers. We need to think what could happen if both brothers die.

FRAYER: He says countries from Latin America to China to Europe are positioning themselves for transition in Havana. Spain is taking a lead.

More than half of Cubans have Spanish ancestors. Spain is Cuba's biggest trading partner in Europe, along with the Netherlands. Four years ago, Madrid intervened to get dozens of Cuban dissidents freed from prison. Many now live here.

But those dissidents are divided. Guillermo Farinas is a Cuban hunger striker and activist who won Europe's top human rights prize in 2010. When he was finally allowed to travel to accept the award last summer, he warned Europe.

GUILLERMO FARINAS: (Foreign language spoken)

FRAYER: It's important that a bloc like Europe support the cause of Cuba's freedom, he says, and not fall for the complicity that all dictatorships need to hold onto power.

Other dissidents say robust business ties can help Europe press Havana on human rights. There have been no objections - at least yet - from Washington, over Europe's advances toward closer ties with Cuba.

For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.

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