- Published in Cuba
CATANIA, Sicily — Italy escalated its standoff with France over migration Wednesday, challenging Paris to take in more asylum-seekers and demanding an apology after the French president accused the new populist Italian government of cynical, irresponsible behavior by refusing entry to a rescue ship with 600 people aboard.
Italy summoned the French ambassador for consultations and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini chided French President Emmanuel Macron by name during a speech before Parliament’s upper chamber.
Salvini said France had taken in only a fraction of the 9,816 migrants it had pledged to welcome under a 2015 EU relocation plan to relieve frontline countries Italy and Greece of the burden of caring for newly arrived migrants.
“So I ask President Macron to pass from words to action and tomorrow morning welcome the 9,000 France promised to welcome as a sign of concrete generosity and not just words,” Salvini said to applause in the Senate chamber.
“I speak in the name of a government but I also have the ambition of speaking for a people who have nothing to learn from anyone about generosity, volunteerism, welcome and solidarity,” he said.
Italy has defended its decision to refuse to allow the Aquarius rescue ship to dock, saying it has never abandoned the ship and is escorting it to Spain. Spain stepped up and offered the Aquarius safe harbor in Valencia after Italy and Malta both refused.
The standoff over the Aquarius appeared a clear tactic by Italy’s new government to force Europe’s hand at the upcoming summit of EU leaders in Brussels June 28-29. Italy for years has complained that it has been left largely alone to manage Europe’s migrant crisis, but the new government says its tactics have finally gotten the point across.
Salvini has accused European aid groups of essentially operating taxi services for Libya-based human traffickers, and has said Italy will now refuse their rescue ships entry. Italian maritime vessels, however, are still docking in its ports: on Wednesday, an Italian coast guard vessel docked in Catania, Sicily with 932 migrants aboard.
The Diciotti was greeted in Catania’s port by activists criticizing the new policy, with a banner draped at the port saying “Stop the attack on refugees.”
French President Emmanuel Macron had blasted what he called Italy’s cynicism and irresponsibility in turning away the Aquarius, which is operated by the humanitarian group SOS Mediterranee and the French-founded Doctors Without Borders.
Macron’s office said Tuesday that France doesn’t want to “start a precedent” that would allow some European countries to breach international laws and rely on other EU member states to take in migrants.
In his speech, Salvini shot back and said France had turned back 10,249 migrants at Italy’s northern border since January “including women, children and disabled people.” The border crossing point at Ventimiglia has been the scene of protests and desperation for years as France has refused to let in migrants, many of whom are seeking to reach family in France or Germany.
Under the EU’s asylum laws — currently the subject of revision amid a major political dispute — migrants must apply for asylum in the country where they first enter Europe. In practice, this has placed a heavy burden on Italy and Greece, where hundreds of thousands of people have entered in recent years. Some countries feel justified in stopping migrants from entering when they should have registered elsewhere.
Salvini also demanded that France make good on its pledge to relocate migrants under a 2015 EU scheme that never fully got off the ground.
France was to have accepted a total of 19,714 migrants from Italy and Greece; in all, it accepted 4,677. Across the European Union, only a third of the 98,255 migrants that were supposed to be relocated under the scheme had been relocated by the time it ended last year.
Salvini’s League campaigned during the March 4 national election on a strong anti-migrant agenda that included promises of mass expulsions of migrants already here. According to government figures, Italy has accepted 640,000 migrants since 2014, but the number of arrivals this year is at a five-year low: 14,441 since January.
The number of migrants arriving in Italy began plummeting last year after the Italian government under the center-left Democratic Party negotiated controversial deals with Libya that beefed up its capacity to better patrol its coasts and discouraged land-based smugglers.
Earlier Wednesday, Salvini accused France of having caused the instability in Libya that has allowed smuggling networks to thrive by spearheading the 2011 NATO-led military campaign that led to the downfall of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi.
The Aquarius and two Italian ships that have taken some of the migrants are now expected to arrive in Valencia on Saturday night, weather conditions permitting, said SOS Mediterranee’s co-founder Sophie Beau. The port is some 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) from where the ship had been on standby since Saturday night.
“It’s a relief for everyone, our teams and of course above all for the survivors to know that they are finally allowed to head to a safe port in Europe,” Beau told reporters in Marseille, France.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has been forced out of office after a no-confidence vote was passed in the country's parliament.
Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez, who lead the motion after Rajoy's party was implicated in a corruption scandal, is likely to become prime minister.
Rajoy is the first prime minister in modern Spanish history to be defeated in a no-confidence motion.
The vote is the second advanced by Sanchez against Rajoy in a year.
The motion received the support of six parties, including the progressive bloc of Podemos, the Basque Nationalist Party, the Catalan European Democratic Party, the Republican Left of Catalonia, and United Left, among others.
During the debate Thursday, members of these parties demanded Sanchez ensures a national discussion on self-governance and pro-independence movements, respect civil liberties, and policies to protect Spain's welfare system and repeal neoliberal reforms.
Despite repeated calls by Sanchez for Rajoy to resign, Rajoy announced Thursday he would not step down. However, Rajoy conceded defeat before the no-confidence vote according to Reuters, telling according to deputies: "Mr Sanchez will be the head of the government and let me be the first to congratulate him."
The Basque Nationalist Party, whose five seats were crucial for Sanchez securing enough parliamentary backing, withdrew support from Rajoy after dozens of people linked to his center-right People's Party (PP) were sentenced to decades in jail in a corruption trial.
Sanchez, who is expected to be sworn in by Monday and appoint his cabinet next week, has promised to start talks with the Catalans but said he would not give them an independence referendum.
About 300 individuals were picked up on nine boats on Saturday while another 250 were rescued from eight vessels on Sunday.
More than 500 migrants were rescued by Spanish authorities, in the Mediterranean, over a two-day period, from 17 boats – three of which eventually sank. According to Reuters, the migrants hailed from North and sub-Saharan African countries.
About 300 individuals were picked up on nine boats on Saturday and another 250 were rescued from eight vessels on Sunday. Last August, Spanish authorities came to the aid of 593 people – including 35 children and a baby – traveling on 15 small paddle boats in one day.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned that Spain appears to be facing “another very challenging year” regarding helping and protecting migrants.
“This situation requires urgent measures from the central government, which needs to coordinate with the relevant ministries as well as the Guardia Civil border police, the maritime rescue service, the police and NGOs,” Maria Jesus Vega, a spokeswoman for UNHCR Spain, said.
“The solution to irregular immigration is necessarily a matter of creating opportunities in countries of origin and working to improve the paths of legal migration,” a spokesman for the interior ministry had explained in January.
The number of people crossing into Spain, from North Africa, has increased significantly in recent years while arrivals to Italy and Greece via Libya have dropped. At least 19,000 people arrived in Spain in 2017 – a 182 percent increase on the previous year.
International Organization for Migration, 6,872 people have been rescued – and 218 other died – while trying to enter Spain, by sea, since the year began.
The governments of Cuba and Spain today expressed their willingness to strengthen cooperation, during a meeting between the Vice President of the Council of Ministers, Ricardo Cabrisas, and the Spanish Secretary of State, Fernando Garcia.
According to official sources, the meeting took place in the context of the 37th session of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), hosted by this capital from May 7 to 11, a forum in which Garcia presides at the Spanish delegation.
During the exchange of criteria, the also Cuban Minister of Economy and Planning pointed out the good state of bilateral relations to the Spanish Secretary for International Cooperation and for Ibero-America and the Caribbean.
It is expected that both nations begin a new stage of collaboration with the negotiation, signature and entry into force of the new Country Partnership Framework, a tool that will establish the basis for the development of their cooperation over the next four years.
Spain is one of the largest partners of Cuba in the commercial and business areas, and one of the main countries with which the island works international cooperation.
The head of the Spanish government, Mariano Rajoy, today congratulated the recently appointed Cuban president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, whom he wished success in his new responsibility, and highlighted the relations between the two countries.
In a telegram sent to Diaz-Canel, Rajoy conveyed his 'most sincere congratulations and wishes to succeed' in his assumption to 'the highest post in the Republic of Cuba', in reference to his designation as the head of the Councils of States and of Ministers.
'Cuba occupies a special place for Spaniards: we are two brother countries, members of the same big Ibero-American family, united by strong historic ties and friendship,' the Spanish president noted.
In addition, he underlined that the Cuban people can always count on a sincere and loyal friend in the Spanish people. 'I expect that in this new stage that opens, Cuba succeeds in overcoming the challenges that it faces and achieves the prosperity, peace and well-being that we wish it so much,' concluded the text, published by the Palace of La Moncloa, the venue of the Spanish Executive.
Diaz-Canel was elected the Cuban president last Thursday, at a session of the People's Power National Assembly (Parliament).
Havana, Nov 1 (Prensa Latina) More than 150 Spanish companies are exhibiting their products and services at the 35th Havana International Fair, FIHAV 2017, which takes place since Monday at ExpoCuba fairgrounds, in this capital, a source from that European country reported today.
The economic advisor at the Spanish embassy in Cuba, Federico Ferrer, told Prensa Latina that the ties between the two nations are very strong, in which some 400 companies of that Iberian nation are settled in this island.
He stressed that Spain has five of 25 pavilions of ExpoCuba -the largest Cuban exhibition site-, which is the most represented country, with a 20 percent.
According to the official, bilateral trade in 2016 exceeded 900 million Euros, and a fifth of that figure corresponded to Cuban exports to Spain, consisting of tobacco, rum, nickel and other metal products and traditional goods.
With regard to trade from Spain to Cuba, which favors the European country, it supplies food, machinery, special tools, water treatment machines, supply for hotels, among others.
Cuba is a very important country for Spain and our businessmen are comfortable on this island, where they are present in many sectors, Ferrer said.
Spain is Cuba's fourth commercial partner, after Venezuela, China and Russia.
The Day of Spain at FIHAV 2017 is celebrated today, occasion in which the pavilions of that nation will be opened, on occasion of the official visit to Cuba by Secretary of State for Commerce of that nation, Maria Luisa Poncela Garcia, to participate in the event.
About 3,400 exhibitors from more than 70 countries are participating in the fair, no less than 30 representatives from Chambers of Commerce and other organizations promoting this activity, as well as 300 Cuban companies.