with an entourage of ministers and the president of the Central Bank
What some analysts are calling the Russification of Cuba is moving forward full speed ahead with an unforeseen cost to the island’s population
HAVANA TIMES – The Cuban Prime Minister, Manuel Marrero, arrived in Moscow in the early hours of Tuesday “to expand and consolidate bilateral relations” between Russia and the Island. The official visit will last until June 17, as noted by the official Twitter account of the Government, which has changed the background image of the profile for one of the famous cathedral of San Basilio, located in Red Square.
Marrero was received by Julio Garmendía Peña, Cuba’s ambassador to Moscow, on his arrival from Turkey, where he attended the inauguration of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, re-elected as president of the country, and met with Turkish businessmen.
Eleven days of meetings await the prime minister “in the context of the expansion and consolidation of links, in particular economic ande commercial ones,” but he will not be alone. The bloated Cuban entourage is composed of the Deputy Prime Minister and Head of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, Ricardo Cabrisas, and the Ministers of Public Health, Tourism, Energy and Mines and Transport.
It also includes Gerardo Peñalver, first deputy minister of Foreign Affairs, and Joaquín Alonso Vázquez, minister-president of the Central Bank of Cuba.
First on Marrero’s agenda is his participation in the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council, which will be held between the 7th and 9th in Sochi, on the shores of the Black Sea. Subsequently, a “program” is planned in the capital that has not yet been detailed, and, finally, he will attend the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg.
The Prime Minister’s visit was announced last April and comes seven months after the one made by Miguel Díaz-Canel in November 2022, also after passing through Turkey, on a tour that previously included Algeria and ended in China to gather help from all these countries, mainly to try to solve the energy problem that last summer plunged the Island not only into serious economic problems, but also into social protests against the Government. The inclusion of Minister Vicente de la O Levy in Marrero’s entourage invites us to think that there is a lot to talk about this issue.
The same can be assumed of the presence of Alonso Vázquez, after the request of three Russian banks to operate on the Island was made in May. Just a few months ago, Cuba implemented the operation of the Mir payment system (the Russian version of Visa or Mastercard), and its leaders have addressed on several occasions the possibility of adopting payment in rubles to circumvent international sanctions, although most experts consider this option as very unlikely in the regional context of Cuba, where the US dollar is the currency of reference.
The Minister of Tourism, Juan Carlos García Granda, has his own mission: to rescue the dwindling Russian market. The Cuban authorities have insisted on a recovery of travelers from that country despite the fact that the data indicate that the number is decreasing. That decrease has been attributed to the lack of flights for much of last year and from sanctions for the invasion of Ukraine, but the truth is that the Russians began to exchange Cuba for the Dominican Republic long before the war began.
As for the presence of the Minister of Transport, ties with Russia come from afar. In 2019, the Union of Railways of Cuba and the Russian RZD signed an agreement worth 2.314 billion dollars to modernize the Island’s railway infrastructure. Although a year later senior Russian officials explained that few of the sixty projects signed could be realized with Cubans because of their economic problems and their “mentality,” cooperation has not stopped completely. Among other things, the Island has received locomotives and wagons from Moscow, in addition to remodeling workshops with Chinese help.
Of course, there was the presence of Cabrisas, a debt negotiator and the visible face of Russian investments, which currently cover all sectors. However, the strangest presence is that of the Minister of Health since, although there are cooperation agreements between both countries in scientific and health matters, the materialization is less visible than in other areas. In June of last year, Cabrisas met with Mikhail Murashko, Russian Minister of Health, to discuss the possibility of a mutual supply of medicines and collaboration in the area of nuclear medicine.
Exchanges between Russia and Cuba have increased at a giant pace in the last year when, since the invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has needed the Island as a gateway to the entire Latin American continent, to replace Europe, which has put an end to its years of friendship with the Kremlin. The Havana regime, likewise, needs Putin’s help to survive and in exchange is willing to offer concessions never seen before.
Just a month ago, Boris Titov, a counselor of the Russian Government, said that the Island has offered Russian businessmen the right to land in usufruct for a period of 30 years, an unprecedented privilege since 1959. Those conditions affect, he explained, “both the long-term lease of land and the tax-free import of agricultural machinery, the granting of the right to transfer foreign exchange profits and much more.” The official added that they expect the reduction of “bureaucratic barriers.”
Titov has been advising the Government of the Island for months to transform its economy and open up more to the private sector, but fear has spread among many analysts who consider that Cuba is heading towards a Russian-style capitalism of oligarchies.
In recent months, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Chernishenko; economic adviser to President Vladimir Putin, Maxim Oreshkin; the president of the Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin; Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov; Secretary of the Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev; and the executive director of the state oil giant Rosneft, Igor Sechin, have also traveled to Cuba.
Translated by Regina Anavy for Translating Cuba