By PILAR MONTES
—Only Pope John Paul II had succeeded in bringing Cuban leaders to hear a mass. That was until President Dmitry Medvedev was accompanied by President Raul Castro to a religious service last week to consecrate the Russian Orthodox Church’s Our Lady of Kazan cathedral, in Old Havana.
The reason goes beyond the spiritual. Russia is on its way to recovering its former condition of world power, while Cuba needs strong support for its ambitious development plans and cooperation with other countries.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin made three trips to the island in three months and weeks before the arrival of President Medvedev on November 27, he signed trade and economic accords with Cuban authorities that covered the automobile, nickel and oil industries, as well as to supply Cuba with wheat.
In fact, Russia may soon overtake Spain as Cuba’s third largest trading partner after Venezuela and China, whose growth minded business sector has turned an eye towards Latin America.
While Venezuela has become a preferential client of Russia’s weapons industry, Cuba’s exclusive economic zone in the Gulf of Mexico is ripe with opportunities for oil drilling. Several other countries in the region are also seeking to do business with Moscow.
On the other hand, time is short to get a stronghold in the Western Hemisphere. The possibility that US foreign policy could be overhauled by President-elect Barack Obama, in line with promises made during his campaign, makes a pretty solid argument that 2009 will be a decisive year not only for the US, Cuba and the region, but for the whole world now concerned with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.