Analysis: the cuba-spain dual track.
During the first week of December, a Spanish delegation representing Izquierda Unida (IU) and the Partido Comunista de Espana (PCE) visited Cuba. A first reaction will tend to suggest that this is "business as usual" among communists and leftists.
The next day, an official delegation arrived in Havana from the Government Junta of the Autonomous Community of Galicia, led by its president, Antonio Nunez Feijoo. Nunez also represents the leading political force of Galicia, the Partido Popular, a conservative party by every standard that currently controls the central government of Spain.
Nunez, after detailed talks with Cuba's First Vice President and the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment, signed an agreement of cooperation aimed at renewing and expanding bilateral relations in trade, services, tourism, public health, IT, telecommunications, and biotechnology, among others.
Contradictory? Not quite. After 1959, the patterns of interaction between the two governments followed similar parallel developments. A sworn enemy of Communism and a close ally to the U.S., Francisco Franco rejected repeated pressures and demands from Washington to join efforts to overthrow the Castro government. The Spanish embassy in Havana knew perfectly well how many Spanish Communist veterans from the civil war and WWII were working together with the Cuban government. Cuba was visited by numerous Spanish Communists such as Dolores 'La Pasionaria' Ibarruri, socialists such as Felipe Gonzalez (future head of the Spanish governent after the transition), and other republican figures; the Spanish Republic was revered by Cuban revolutionaries, and solidarity was conveyed in different ways.
None of these patterns created tensions, conflicts or otherwise with the Spanish authorities. Franco also dismissed domestic pressures to get tough on Fidel Castro. And not only this, but he encouraged its institutions and the private sector to engage in extremely friendly and advantageous, multibillion economic relations until his death in 1975.
Cuba's fishing fleet and bases in the Canary Islands and other major industrial and transport projects were closely attached to Spain's readiness to work together. Franco's objections to Fidel Castro and his policies were made public, but did not interfere in Cuban affairs or jeopardized in any way its normal bilateral relations.
At the time of the collapse of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, Felipe Gonzalez' government extended considerable assistance and trade and financial opportunities to Cuba, regardless of the tensions caused by Spain's Minister of Economy, Carlos Solchaga, due to his analysis and recommendations concerning the Cuban crisis.
Then came the first government led by the Partido Popular and Jose Maria Aznar (1996-2004), who decided to play along with U.S. policies toward Cuba. Aznar sponsored and masterminded the European Union Common Position on Cuba (La Posicion Comun); he became the standardbearer of Cuban dissidents in Europe, and the main opponent to Cuba's closer association to the Lome Convention and its potential benefits.
Trade, investments, and cooperation dropped to its lowest levels, including those from the Spanish autonomias (Autonomous Communities) and NGOs, and Spain ceased to be Cuba's most important market and source of cooperation, although by 2002 a steady recovery was quite visible under the influence and demands of the Spanish private sector.
Such a trend would gain considerable ground under the new socialist government of Rodriguez Zapatero to last until 2008, when it will succumb to the impact of the world economic crisis. By 2007, Spain was Cuba's third trading partner, with $1 billion in bilateral trade, and the EU had decided that it was time to revise the Common Position and "resume an open and comprehensive dialogue with Cuban authorities on all topics of mutual interest."
BACK TO FRANCO'S PATTERNS
If Aznar's government abandoned the patterns followed by Franco, today the new Partido Popular government, led by Mariano Rajoy, is clearly going back to Franco's patterns. They have insisted publicly, again and again, on the need for dialogue, cooperation and respect; they have detached themselves from any political activism in support of Cuban dissidents, and moreover have rejected every attempt by dissidents and U.S. authorities to make the Cuban government the guilty party in the Paya-Carromero case.
Their foreign affairs ministries are keeping a permanent dialogue. Trade is getting back on its feet with a total of euro 719 million ($981 million); between January and June 2013, Spanish exports to Cuba grew by 40 percent and Cuban exports to Spain by 50 percent.
Right now in Havana, more than 200 Spanish companies have a presence, including more than 50 joint ventures. Last November, at Cuba's FIHAV (Feria Internacional de La Habana), the foreign country with the biggest representation (120 companies) was Spain. Currently, Spain is Cuba's third-largest supplier, behind China and Venezuela, while Cuba is the fifth biggest client for Spain in Latin America and the Caribbean.
At the fair, Fernando Lanzas, General Director of Promotions of Spain's Foreign Trade Institute, stressed that, "Cuba is one of the most interesting countries for the opportunities it has to offer."
SPECIAL RELATIONS WITH AUTONOMIAS
Meanwhile, Cuba has learned a very special lesson in dealing with Spain. The volume and diversity of relations with the Spanish autonomias is increasing every year, including NGOs and universities. Until recently, the closest ties, institutional and economic, were with the Basque Country, Andalusia, Canary Islands, Baleares, and Valencia. Now Galicia joins this special sort of relationship, but with an advantage over all the others: Gallegos--38,000 of them--form the largest community of Spanish citizens and descendents in Cuba.
The Galicia agreement is another clear confirmation that Rajoy's PP goverment is on a constructive path aimed at a significant improvement of Spain's relations with a very different government, the Cuban government, a government that keeps close ties with IU-PCE.
On Dec. 16, the EU began a review of its mandate concerning Cuba, aimed at engaging in negotiations that may put an end and/or bypass the obstacles of the Common Position. Already, a number of EU countries have put aside this obstacle and are conducting cooperation programs and projects with Cuba. Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Greece, Cyprus, are among those favoring a new approach, and Lady Ashton seems very receptive also. At the coming meeting, everyone will be looking at Spain's readiness or not to put behind Aznar's Common Position. Evidence indicates there are reasons to be optimistic.
Former Cuban intelligence officer Domingo Amuchastegui has lived in Miami since 1994. He writes regularly for CubaNews on the Communist Party, Cuba's internal politics, and economic reform.