Raúl visits China, Vietnam and Russia seeking investment
Cuban President Raúl Castro visited China, Vietnam and Russia in early July, receiving red-carpet treatment in all three countries. He met with top political leaders in Beijing, Hanoi and Moscow and signed key accords to boost trade and cooperation.
The groundwork for Raúl’s trip to China was carefully laid in February by Vice Presi-dent Marino Murillo, who spent five days in Beijing hammering out details of the agreements in advance. Incidentally, the accords were threatened in June, when Fidel published a surprising, cryptic attack on Deng Xaioping (see CubaNews, July 2012, page 4).
Nevertheless, eight accords were agreed upon. These call for interest-free loans, donations, a rescheduling of past arrears without interest, technical support for a nationwide digital TV system to be set up in Cuba, and various telecom, customs and food production programs.
The nature and scale of these agreements — details of which were not made public — could have been settled by a regular delegation and not a presidential visit.
“China and Cuba are at a very important stage of their development and are fulfilling important tasks,” said President Hu Jintao, urging the two nations to step up joint efforts in biotechnology and other areas. The potential for “an expanded cooperation for mutual benefits” was highlighted by Hu, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and other Chinese leaders.
NO MENTION OF NICKEL DURING CHINA TRIP
From the Cuban perspective, Raúl said his country “grants great importance to the successful experience of China in its national development,” suggesting that Cuba’s current economic reforms are being influenced by the Chinese experience — regardless of Fidel’s repeated objections.
He also said without elaborating that “Cuba hopes to design with China a mid- to long-term plan to increase bilateral cooperation.”
Not mentioned by anybody was the fact that most of the $1.8 billion in bilateral trade is based on Cuban nickel, biotech/pharmaceuticals and sugar exports. No agreements were signed in any of these areas.
In addition, the word “oil” was not uttered by a single delegate, despite the current onshore drilling program by several Chinese companies throughout Cuba, and the possibility of offshore drilling.
Although Hu did mention investments, no agreement was signed in reference to direct investments. But it was Hu himself, during a 2004 visit to Cuba, who announced a $2.5 billion expansion of Cuba’s nickel industry.
Not a penny was actually invested, and no official explanation was ever given, either by China or Cuba, as to why such an important commitment had never materialized.
Both China and Russia are extremely important to Cuba’s foreign policy for obvious reasons. Despite their relatively small investments in Cuba, both are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
VIETNAM GETS DOWN TO BUSINESS
Yet China is putting its money in more important Latin American markets like Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Mexico — and relegating Cuba to a much lower priority for now.
Vietnam’s relationship with Cuba, however, has always been defined in terms of brotherhood and solidarity rather than partnership, mutual benefits or cooperation. For years, leaders tended to stress their strong political alliance while playing down the limited trade that exists between Havana and Hanoi, last estimated at $269 million a year.
But this time was different. Vietnamese officials said the Cuban delegation “would study the current modeling of economic development in Vietnam” (known as Doi Moi, or renovation, since 1986).
Three areas for increased economic cooperation, again without details or figures, were granted special priority: Cuban oil drilling projects, rice production in Cuba and rice imports from Vietnam, and electronics.
RUSSIAN-CUBAN TIES ARE ON AN UPTURN
Raúl’s visit to Moscow was rather unexpected. No announcement had been made, and yet the reception couldn’t have been warmer. Though no specific agreements were signed, Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev lavished praise on the potential benefits of expanded Russian trade with Cuba.
Yuri Ushakov, adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the Russian-Cuban dialogue would focus on increasing and diversifying trade from its current low levels. Areas for improved cooperation were highlighted; these include machinery and naval construction, the purchase of the GPS system known as Glonass, and the oil industry. No information was disclosed about Raúl’s private meetings with Medvedev and Putin.
Two important things did happen in Mos-cow. First, Cuban Vice President Ricardo Cabrisas held detailed talks with the general director of oil conglomerate Zarubeshneft, which recently said it would spend $2.9 billion on drilling operations in Cuba between now and 2025. That includes bringing its own offshore rig to Gulf of Mexico waters off Sancti Spíritus and Ciego de Avila by November.
Raúl’s other important Moscow meeting was with Army Gen. Nikolai Pátrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council; obviously, nothing was disclosed from that event.
It isn’t hard for observers to figure out what topics they discussed, though the meeting itself was publicly and explicitly billed as an attempt to strengthen security and military relations. The obvious conclusion is that Russian-Cuban relations are today much warmer than in 2000, when Putin visited Cuba and unilaterally dismantled the former Soviet tracking station at Lourdes, on the outkirts of Havana. That marked the low point of ties between Moscow and Havana.
Putin said it all: “Cuba is not only an ally, but also a good friend. Today, relations have become more pragmatic.”
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