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First EU-Cuba talks on normalizing ties 'fruitful'

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(HAVANA) - Talks aimed at normalizing ties between Cuba and the European Union were "very fruitful" the Brussels team said after the negotiations ended Thursday.

Havana and the European Union first sat down at the negotiating table Tuesday to talk political dialogue and economic cooperation.

The Americas' only one-party, communist-ruled state is the lone country in Latin America that has no political dialogue with the EU. It was suspended in 2003 after Havana rounded up and jailed 75 dissidents.

"The first meeting was very fruitful," said Europe's top negotiator Christian Leffler, after the two days of closed-door talks.

"We have established the basis for negotiation," because "internal changes (in Cuba) open new possibilities for cooperation," he said.

Leffler said this first round of talks didn't address the EU's "common position" -- a 1996 document which states that Europe's economic cooperation with Cuba should hinge on advances by Havana towards a pluralistic democracy and on human rights.

Leffler said the issue of human rights "is an element of dialogue that we will have with Cuba," but is not one that will be quickly resolved.

He said the next round of talks will be held in Brussels in a few months, though a date has not yet been fixed.

The Cuban delegation did not speak to reporters.

Reaching a deal that leads to Havana getting EU financial help would be rare good news for Cuba, whose Soviet-style, top-down government-run economy is in constant crisis and which does not have access to traditional sources of funding.

Havanaa's top economic partner is its political ally Venezuela, which provides it billions of dollars every year, in great measure keeping the regime afloat.

But Cuba remains cash-strapped and purchases much of what it needs in hard currency on international markets. It has been unable to produce food efficiently, for example, for its 11 million people.

Since 2008, however, around 15 European countries have unilaterally re-started some aid projects in Cuba, on the sidelines of the EU's "Common Position."

EU Relations with Cuba

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