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EU says Cuba could help broker government-opposition dialogue in Venezuela

(Reuters) - The European Union’s top diplomat said on Tuesday Communist-run Cuba could help broker fresh dialogue between the government and opposition in Venezuela, despite Havana’s frequent assurances the crisis afflicting its leftist ally was a sovereign matter.

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Federica Mogherini made the comments at a news conference in Brussels after hosting the EU’s first “joint council” with Cuba since the bloc dropped all sanctions on the island and agreed on a political framework within which to strengthen ties.

The EU has said it is now Cuba’s top trade and investment partner, and arguably plays a bigger role than traditional allies like Venezuela or Russia as the island implements market reforms to its centrally-planned economy.

Analysts say the EU has also taken advantage of U.S. indifference or a diplomatic vacuum, as the Trump administration backtracks on a fragile detente with Cuba.

“I personally believe that Cuba could play a positive role in trying to avoid further negative developments (in Venezuela) and trying to re-open and negotiate a political solution and dialogue,” Mogherini told joint news conference with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

Venezuela will hold a presidential election on May 20 that the opposition coalition is boycotting, saying it is a farce intended to legitimize a “dictatorship” led by President Nicolas Maduro.

The Lima Group of largely Latin American nations on Monday urged the Venezuelan government to suspend the vote, calling the process “illegitimate and lacking in credibility.”

Cuba has played the role of broker in several disputes in recent years, notably hosting peace talks between the Colombian government and Marxist rebel groups it has been at war with for five decades.

The Cuban government has stood steadfast by Venezuela, denouncing foreign interference in its internal affairs, despite a sharp decline in subsidized Venezuelan oil shipments amid the OPEC nation’s economic crisis.

The EU has sent several high-level delegations to Cuba this year. First Mogherini visited, then a delegation from the European Investment Bank.

The bloc signed on Tuesday an agreement with Cuba to invest 18 million euros to help its achieve its ambitious goals in terms of developing renewable energy on the island.

The EU has said it will sign cooperation agreements worth 49 million euros in total.

Writing by Sarah Marsh in Havana; Editing by Tom Brown