Wednesday 15 August 2018

Human rights on agenda as President Higgins meets Castro in Cuba

President Higgins meets Cuban president Raul Castro at the Plaza de la Revolucion in Havana. Photo: Maxwells
President Higgins meets Cuban president Raul Castro at the Plaza de la Revolucion in Havana. Photo: Maxwells

Ryan Nugent

Human rights and LGBT issues were top of the agenda during an historical four-hour meeting between President Michael D Higgins and Cuban leader, Raul Castro.

It was the first time an Irish president had visited Cuba, and also the first visit of an EU head of state since the EU-Cuba Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement (PDCA) was signed in December.

The meeting, which was described as "warm, long and comprehensive", lasted close to four hours at the Plaza de la Revolucion in Havana.

Mr Higgins is on a 12-day tour of Latin America - having already visited Peru and Colombia - and arrived in Cuba on Wednesday afternoon. The discussions took place through an initial bilateral meeting which carried on through dinner.

The presidents discussed opportunities to expand trade and economic relations - with Ireland looking to Latin America in the wake of Brexit.

Meanwhile, it is understood the uncertainty surrounding the Donald Trump regime in the US has led to Mr Castro seeking to build stronger trade relations with EU countries.

The human rights, LGBT and civil society issues were raised in relation to the PDCA - a deal which was made possible after the EU repealed a 1996 policy that had prevented normal ties until human rights issues were resolved in the country.

The new agreement is supportive of social and economic modernisation in Cuba. The meeting followed a wreath-laying ceremony opposite the Plaza de la Revolucion at the monument to Jose Marti - a key leader in the Cuban war of independence from Spain - and was set against a backdrop of the Che Guevara mural, which was originally designed by Irish artist, Jim Fitzpatrick.

Also in attendance were Minister of State David Stanton, Irish Ambassador to Mexico Sonja Hyland, Secretary General to the President Art O'Leary and Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Niall Burgess.

Mr Higgins had been under pressure to relay concerns on human rights issues, following a statement in the aftermath of the death of Cuban communist leader, Fidel Castro - brother of Raul.

The president was criticised for a statement which some politicians believe neglected human rights concerns of the Castro regime, though Mr Higgins rejected this criticism.

Read more: Higgins 'moved' by influence of peace process on Colombia

Read more: President visits Colombian rebel group's camp 

Irish Independent

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