Summary of Putin’s visit to Havana
Isaac Risco (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES — Cuba’s President Raul Castro praised the new “international firmness” of Russia, during the one-day visit by his counterpart Vladimir Putin to boost the economic ties between the two former partners of the socialist bloc.
Putin arrived in Havana early Friday in the context of a six-day trip to Latin America that will also take him to Argentina and Brazil. On his first stop, a visit of less than 24 hours to Cuba, the Russian leader met with Raul Castro as well as his older brother, former President Fidel Castro. In the afternoon he continued his journey to Buenos Aires.
Earlier, the Russian President and Raul Castro were quoted by the official media after holding talks at the Revolution Palace in Havana. They welcomed the establishment of “new conditions” for bilateral ties between the two nations.
Putin’s trip to the island was preceded by the Russian parliament’s pardoning of 90 percent of a 35 billion dollar debt that Havana had with Moscow since Soviet times. Before reaching the island, the Kremlin leader had also pointed to the expansion of economic ties as a “primary task” of the bilateral agenda.
Castro expressed his appreciation for the gestures and also praised Russia’s position regarding the crisis in the Ukraine.
“We are very pleased that in the international arena we fully agree with Russia’s current policy of firmness and political intelligence,” said Raul Castro while appearing alongside Putin.
The 83-year-old president also praised the resurgence of Moscow in a new “multipolar world”, a process attributed to the arrival of Putin to the Russian presidency in 2000 for his first term in the Kremlin.
Events such as the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc in the 90s, “obviously unbalanced world power, the force that held the balance,” said Castro. It had also brought a near total collapse of the highly dependent Cuban economy.
Now “this force begins to recover internationally, and in the new bilateral relations,” he said.
Putin’s visit to the island comes amid tensions with the West over the crisis rocking the Ukraine over the last several months. The United States and European countries blame Moscow for the situation in the former Soviet republic, which seeks to move away from Russian influence and closer to the European Union.
The Cuban president also thanked Putin for the recent cancellation of most of Havana’s huge debt with Moscow, a hold over from Soviet times, when the Caribbean island was a strategic ally of the Kremlin.
It was “a great example of generosity to Cuba,” said Castro. “We want to express our gratitude to the people and government of Russia for all these agreements and the decisions that President Vladimir Putin has just informed us,” he added.
Havana will still have to repay a remaining 3.5 billion dollars over ten years, which will be deposited into a special fund for Russian investment in the Cuban economy.
“Both countries are creating new conditions for the development of bilateral relations,” Putin noted.
According to the official Cuban media, Moscow and Havana on Friday signed a dozen agreements in energy, industry and health and other fields.
The bilateral projects include the participation of Russian companies in oil fields and “the supply of four energy blocks for two thermoelectric plants at a cost of 1.2 billion euros, according to the official website Cubadebate.
Before the visit, the Kremlin had announced that both sides would explore projects in the fields of industry and high technologies, energy, civil aviation, the peaceful use of outer space, medicine and biopharmaceuticals.
As part of his visit to the island, Putin also met with Fidel Castro at his home in Havana. It was a “long and very interesting conversation” the Russian media quoted the Kremlin leader as saying. Cuban State television showed footage of Fidel alongside Putin.
Although he retired from office in 2006 after falling seriously ill, Fidel Castro, 87, often receives high level foreign visitors. He is also considered President Raul Castro’s senior advisor, especially on foreign affairs.
Moving on to Argentina, Putín is scheduled to meet on Saturday with President Cristina Fernandez. He will then travel to neighboring Brazil to catch the finals Sunday of the World Cup and to participate at the summit of the emerging group of nations known as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) on July 15 and 16. Russia is the host of the 2018 World Cup.