Putin arrives in Cuba hoping to boost trade
Russian President Vladimir Putin began a six-day Latin American tour aimed at boosting trade and ties in the region with a stop in Cuba, a key Soviet ally during the Cold War that has backed Moscow in its dispute with the West over Ukraine.
The two countries signed about a dozen accords in areas such as energy, industry, health and disaster prevention.
Russian companies will participate in petroleum projects around Boca de Jaruco on the island’s north coast, and that cooperation will extend to offshore oil deposits, Cuban government website Cubadebate said.
Another agreement covered infrastructure at a big new port project that Cuba hopes will become a regional shipping center and attract much-needed foreign investment.
“We are talking about the possibility of creating in Cuba a grand transportation hub with a possible modernisation of the maritime port of Mariel and the construction of a modern airport with its respective cargo terminal,” Putin said, according to an official Spanish translation of his remarks in Russian.
Moscow is also forgiving 90 percent of Cuba’s Soviet-era debt, which totals more than $35 billion. The remainder will be invested in education on the island, Putin added.
The debt agreement is “another great, tangible generosity of the Russian people toward Cuba,” President Raul Castro said.
Cuban state media carried photos in the evening of Putin’s meeting with retired leader Fidel Castro.
Putin and Raul Castro also participated in a ceremony at Havana’s Memorial to the Soviet Internationalist Soldier.
Amid the crisis in Ukraine, the countries on Putin’s itinerary have shown themselves to be sympathetic to Russia’s position on the conflict, or at least not overtly critical.
Cuban official newspapers tend to characterise it as a struggle against right-wing extremism threatening ethnic Russians in Ukraine.
Putin travels next to Argentina, whose president, Cristina Fernandez, accused the United States and Britain in March of having a double standard for criticising a pro-Russian secession vote held in Crimea while backing a status referendum in the disputed Falkland Islands.
After that, he goes to Brazil, which was among several nations opposing Russia’s possible exclusion from an upcoming G20 summit in Australia due to the crisis.