INSIGHT-Have a cigar: Cuba and Europe to write a business plan
* EU offers talks to Cuba on trade, investment accord
* Human rights could be obstacle to better ties
* Castro pursues pragmatic economic transition
By Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Eleven months before Barack Obama's historic handshake with Raul Castro, Europe staged its own show of friendliness with Cuba. While little noticed, this gesture may end up doing far more to end the communist island's isolation.
It all happened one hot January day last year at an EU-Latin America summit in Chile. Castro cheerily waved alongside European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso for the official group picture and then, as the photo gathering broke up, German Chancellor Angela Merkel shook his hand.
This was low key compared with when the U.S. and Cuban presidents greeted each other on Dec. 10 after half a century of hostility. But all this warmth at Nelson Mandela's memorial service in South Africa has brought no radical change and the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, imposed in 1962, remains.
By contrast, the European Union decided last week to seek negotiations with Havana on increasing trade, investment and dialogue. This will mark their closest contacts after years of tension about Cuba's human rights record, over which the EU imposed its own sanctions until 2008.
While any accord will be modest, Havana said it would consider the EU invitation to talks constructively. Castro needs trading partners as he tries to ensure the survival of the Cuban revolution, which his brother Fidel led, through a transition from hardline communism to a more pragmatic model. Continuación...