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Cuba to receive Swiss aid

Swiss aid is targeted at small farmers Keystone

Switzerland has decided to grant development aid to Cuba, despite the Communist government's failure to demonstrate an improvement in its human rights record.

The investment will be limited to a version of the Swiss Development Agency’s agricultural storage project, which has been successful throughout Central America.

It helps small farmers to hold off selling their produce until prices are favourable to them.

The programme will cost the agency less than SFr1 million a year over a trial period of three years. But given Cuba’s record on human rights, the programme could be considered controversial.

The agency says it has no illusions about the human rights situation and will bring it up in its contacts with government officials. Rudolf Dannecker, head of the agency’s bilateral aid section, says he expects the democratisation process to benefit indirectly from the project.

“We will certainly have a network of other organisations of civil society,” says Dannecker. “And in this respect we will strengthen organisations of civil society in Cuba.”

However, he justifies the investment primarily in terms of Cuba’s progress in liberalising the economy.

“Today we live in a world of change, and I think Cuba will change. There is already a certain opening in the Cuban philosophy of the economy. There are certain signs that a market economy has gained strength.”

A representative of the Development Agency has been in Cuba since the beginning of this month to prepare the programme, which was also discussed during a visit to Berne last week by Cuba’s deputy minister for foreign affairs, Angel Dalmau.

However, some analysts challenge the agency’s view of economic progress in Cuba. Richard Bauer, Swiss correspondent in the region for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper cites a recent law restricting private restaurant owners to a maximum of 12 seats on their premises.

“It seems the government is trying to hinder all developments tending towards to a free society and a freer market economy.”

He also says the Development Agency is in for a surprise if it thinks it will gain contact with civil society. Bauer says farmer associations and other grass-roots organisations are under strict government control.

“The whole development community wants to get a foot in the door in Cuba, to be ready when the big transition starts. But when you talk to the development aid people in Cuba, they report many obstacles set up by the government.”

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR