Cuba and Russia
Tim Ashby writes: China is not the only former Cold War ally of Cuba to renew ties with Havana. Russia is also flexing its muscles again in Latin America and the Caribbean, as described in the appended article:
Moscow - (Prensa Latina) - 12/17/05. Cuban Government Minister Ricardo Cabrisas opened a five-day official visit to Moscow to boost bilateral trade, according to diplomatic sources. Cabrisas, chairman of the Inter-Government Commission for Cuba-Russia Economic-Commercial Collaboration, met with Foreign Affairs Minister Serguei Lavrov and Trade and Industry Chamber Chairman Evgueni Primakov. The Cuban Government minister also held talks with Grigori Elkin, head of the Russian Inter-Government Commission. Meetings with deputies and representatives of the Economic and Trade Development Ministry, and the Partnership of Industrial and Financial Groups are included in his agenda, according to the diplomatic sources. In May, both sides held exchanges in Moscow, with the participation of 132 local entrepreneurs interested in expanding relations with Cuba. Speaking to Prensa Latina, Galina Kurochkina, director for Economy and Trade America´s Department, stated, "new projects will allow predicting a major boost for trade. We should only resolve small financial problems." On new contracts, Kurochkina mentioned the supply of engines for Kamaz trucks, two Russian IL-96 planes and the creation of a promotion center and assembly plant of Lada cars in Havana. Bilateral trade stood at nearly 200 million USD in 2003. During the last years, both sides have identified biotechnology and pharmaceuticals as areas to increase mutual cooperation.
RH: Does Cameron Sawyer have any comment?
From Moscow, Cameron Sawyer writes: I don't think that "muscle-flexing" is at all what Russia is doing in Cuba. Russia's superpower days are over, and with them any pretense of influencing events far from Russia's "near abroad". Cuba's client status was bought by the Soviets in Cold War times at enormous cost, which newly capitalist, "lean and mean" Russia is not willing to bear. Russia is no longer buying client states. Russia is merely rebuilding markets for its industrial goods, something it has been doing systematically . Selling a couple of those Il-96's would be a coup -- they aren't selling very well. However, at about $75 million each, it's hard for me to imagine that Cuba is buying. The pair of them would amount to almost 5% of Cuba's entire annual export revenues of $1.8 billion.
The Cuban regime has no affection for their former patrons who so spectacularly betrayed Marxism-Leninism; Castro rails against modern Russia all the time. But they have to live with the Russians -- they owe them $20 billion, probably equal to more than a year of Cuba's real GDP (officially it is about $30 billion, but we all know how reliable economic statistics are from socialist countries).
The real rising force in Cuba is, of course, China, which is investing real money, particularly into Cuba's nickel industry. China, unlike Russia, does have global strategic ambitions and might very well be doing some empire-building. Some WAISer with deeper knowledge of Latin America might want to comment on the weird relationship between Venezuela's Chavez and Castro. Free oil to boost the Cuban economy?!