Cuba, European Union to finalize deal amid thaw in relations

The restoration of diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba -- which lead to the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana last year -- helped spur better relations between the EU and Cuba.

Story highlights

  • European Union foreign policy chief to meet with island's foreign minister
  • The two will nail down deal, two years in the making, that seeks to improve relations

Havana, Cuba (CNN)The chill may soon be gone in relations between Cuba and the European Union.

For over two decades EU-Cuba ties have been strained over issues like human rights and restrictions on political parties in Cuba.
But on Friday, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini will meet with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parilla to finalize a deal that officials have negotiated for the past two years to improve relations.
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    "In the moment we sign the agreement we agree to have a cooperation on many different fields. The European Union is already in Cuba," Mogherini told CNN in an exclusive interview Thursday. "But there are plenty of sectors where we can increase our common work. From economics investment to political dialogue, we have decided to increase the level of our common work."
    The EU suspended relations with Cuba following the 2003 "black spring" crackdown on anti-government activists and made any strengthening of ties contingent on an improvement of human rights on the island.
    The landmark restoration of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba in 2015 gave the talks between the communist-run island and the 28-member European bloc a greater sense of urgency.

    Obama visits looms

    Later in this month, President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Cuba, the first trip by any U.S. president to the island in nearly 90 years. Obama is expected to take in a U.S.-Cuba baseball game, meet with Cuban President Raul Castro and talk with government critics.
    "This is not only a historic visit, it's an exciting visit. I am of a generation that has always dreamt of America engaging so much in dialogue and peace building, bridges building," Mogherini said.
    Critics of Obama's visit say that the Cuban government has not changed it's treatment of political opponents.
    The Cuban government has rejected criticism of its human rights record and single party form of government, claiming foreign governments pay activists to stir up trouble.
    Mogherini said the EU would continue to press Cuba on human rights and political inclusion.
    "The message we pass to Cuban authorities," Mogherini said, "is that its going to be beneficial for Cuba if all the people of Cuba enjoy the changes that are coming from the opening up of the country."