The European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini says the 28-nation bloc is committed to helping Cuba develop its economy, even as the United States tightens sanctions on the Communist island.
Mogherini, who is on a three-day visit to Havana for the Cuba-European Union Joint Council, made the remarks during a news conference with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez on Monday.
“The EU is Cuba’s top commercial partner and investor, and we have tripled cooperation in the last two years,” Mogherini said. Europe could help Cuba update its economy, she added.
Investment can help European firms consolidate their foothold on the island, which has come under increasing economic pressure by the United States.
In a post on his Twitter page, Rodriguez also said that “the work of the joint committee has shown that there are more elements that unite us than those that separate us.”
“We will continue to work with respect, trust, transparency and cooperation,” he added.
The US and Cuba had severed relations in 1961 during the Cold War. Cuba has been under a US economic blockade for over 60 years.
In July 2015, the US under ex-president Barack Obama restored diplomatic relations with Cuba. However, his successor, Donald Trump, began to partially roll back the historic rapprochement as soon as he took office in early 2017.
The US State Department in July expanded the list of Cuban companies under sanctions for their alleged links to Cuban military and security forces.
“The State Department remains determined to ensure that US funds do not go directly to the security apparatus of the Cuban State,” it said in a statement.
In the latest such bans, Washington issued new regulations last week, limiting the remittances its citizens can send to Cuba.
The EU, however, dropped all sanctions on Cuba in 2016 and inked a historic agreement to normalize ties with the Latin American country. The two had frozen ties back in 2003.
EU development aid is welcome in Cuba, which is in a delicate economic situation with little growth.
Havana is struggling with tighter US sanctions and lower aid from its main partner in Latin America, Venezuela, which is grappling with its own political and financial tensions.
Also on Monday, the EU foreign policy chief held talks with Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel.