Switzerland’s foreign minister, Didier Burkhalter - in Cuba to mark the reopening of the United States embassy in Havana - has used the opportunity to announce a CHF3 million ($3.1 million) increase in development funding to Cuba.
This is the first ever ministerial-level visit between Switzerland and Cuba. During a meeting with his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla on Thursday, Burkhalter offered his congratulations on the resumption of relations between Cuba and the US, foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Marc Crevoisier said.
Both foreign ministers pledged to deepen relations between their own countries, with Burkhalter telling Rodriguez that Swiss development aid to Cuba would rise to CHF12 million in 2016.
Cuba is a priority country for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), which is mainly working in the area of decentralization and municipal development in the Caribbean island.
At another meeting, Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, Cuba's vice president of the Council of Ministers, thanked Switzerland for its good offices role. It acted as a discreet diplomatic go-between between Cuba and the US for 54 years. This service is coming to the end with the resumption of US-Cuba relations.
The US and Cuba broke off relations in 1961 and Switzerland took on a protecting power mandate between the US and Cuba at the US’ request and represented the US’ interests in Cuba. It had represented Cuba in the US since 1991.
Until 1977 the Swiss played a more active role, especially as a channel of communication between the US and Cuba and contributed to de-escalation during times of stress during the Cold War, the Swiss foreign ministry says.
After that the Swiss role became more formal, as Cuba and the US had signed an agreement allowing the countries to maintain their own interests section in Havana and Washington respectively.
US Secretary of State John Kerry invited Burkhalter to attend the reopening of the US embassy in Havanna on August 14 to express appreciation of Switzerland’s role and as a gesture of goodwill. A discussion between the two men is also planned on the sidelines of the ceremony.
swissinfo.ch and agencies