Spain's foreign minister visits Cuba, urges more rapid reforms to expand private enterprise

HAVANA – Spain’s foreign minister urged Cuba on Tuesday to accelerate economic reforms designed to expand private enterprise and attract foreign investment to the communist-run island.

Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo’s two-day visit to Cuba was the first by a minister in the Cabinet of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whose conservative Popular Party has long been critical of Cuba’s policies.

Cuba’s economic reforms were launched by President Raul Castro in 2010 to kick-start a centrally planned economy starved for cash and hamstrung by inefficiency. But the country has been slow to unify its currencies and potential investors have complained of the pace of change, the lack of supplies and the slowness of what should be simple decisions because of overlapping government agencies.

“Spain would like to see a more rapid pace to the economic reforms that give more space for private initiative and foreign investment … which advance monetary unification and allow for decentralization,” said Garcia-Margallo, who met Tuesday with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel.

Garcia-Margallo urged Castro to attend an Ibero-American summit of Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking nations to be held in Veracruz, Mexico, in December. Cuba in recent years has focused on sending officials to more left-leaning regional summits.

The foreign minister also asked Cuba to allow a group of former political prisoners to leave the country, something not permitted under the conditions of their release and the island’s migratory laws.

Garcia-Margallo did not say how Cuban officials had responded to his requests.