Cuba’s Diaz-Canel re­ceived lit­tle eco­nomic aid dur­ing for­eign tour

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Americas | Deaths - BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES ngamez­tor­[email protected]­nuevo­her­

Af­ter a visit to Rus­sia and sev­eral Asian coun­tries, Cuban ruler Miguel Di­azCanel re­turned home with­out the im­me­di­ate eco­nomic aid re­quired by the is­land’s stag­nant econ­omy.

Even so, the tour was not with­out its highlights for Diaz-Canel.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un rolled out the red car­pet and staged mas­sive pa­rades through Py­ongyang streets for his vis­i­tor like the ones once staged for the late Fidel Cas­tro. And Rus­sia’s Vladimir Putin joined him in a news con­fer­ence dur­ing which they crit­i­cized Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Cuba’s official Granma news­pa­per de­clared tri­umphantly that the for­eign tour — which also in­cluded China, Viet­nam and Laos — “con­firmed once again how much Cuba is loved around the world.”

But the love did not in- clude much eco­nomic as­sis­tance, ex­perts said.

“What Cuba is find­ing is the same that [Venezue­lan Pres­i­den] Ni­co­las Maduro found dur­ing a sim­i­lar tour: Sol­i­dar­ity goes only so far,” said John Kavulich, pres­i­dent of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Eco­nomic Coun­cil.

“All th­ese coun­tries have lim­ited re­sources. China, Rus­sia and Viet­nam are not pre­pared to sup­port Cuba un­less its govern­ment car­ries out struc­tural re­forms that ex­pand the is­land’s ca­pac­ity to be self-suf­fi­cient and pay its debts,” Kavulich said.

Al­though there may have been ac­cords that have not been made pub­lic, it does not ap­pear that what the friendly gov­ern­ments of­fered could re­solve the deep trou­bles fac­ing the Cuban econ­omy be­cause of the 6.5 per­cent drop in tourism rev­enue and the on­go­ing cri­sis in Venezuela, the is­land’s main eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal ally.

The Cuban govern­ment has pre­dicted its econ­omy will grow by a mere 1 per­cent in 2019, al­though many econ­o­mists doubt it will hit even that low level.

Cuba’s re­call this week of more than 8,000 med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als work­ing in Brazil will cost the govern­ment an­other $300 mil­lion in hard cur­rency rev­enues, ac­cord­ing to some es­ti­mates.

Diaz-Canel started his 12-day tour in Rus­sia, where he met with Putin. Al­though both lead­ers agreed to im­prove their strate­gic al­liance, Rus­sian com­pa­nies an­nounced con­tracts to­tal­ing only $260 mil­lion that had long been in the works, in­clud­ing im­prove­ments to Cuba’s rail­road sys­tem and the con­struc­tion of three power plants and one metal pro­cess­ing plant, ac­cord­ing to the Tass news agency.

The Rus­sian govern­ment ear­lier had an­nounced a

$50 mil­lion line of credit for Cuban pur­chases of Rus­sian mil­i­tary weapons and spare parts.

A bi­lat­eral com­mis­sion that met in Ha­vana be­fore Diaz-Canel left for Rus­sia also men­tioned agree­ments on a fiber­glass fac­tory, oil ex­plo­ration along Cuba’s north­ern coast, the pur­chase of Rus­sian LED light bulbs and the ex­port of a Cuban drug for di­a­bet­ics — all far less than what would be needed to turn Moscow into a new bene­fac­tor.

Cuban Vice Pres­i­dent Ri­cardo Cabrisas has sug­gested the is­land also could send med­i­cal per­son­nel to Rus­sia — an op­tion es­pe­cially at­trac­tive af­ter the with­drawals from Brazil. But there’s been no fur­ther word on that pos­si­bil­ity.

Al­though Cuba’s cur­rent eco­nomic re­la­tions with Moscow are far dif­fer­ent from its heavy re­liance on Soviet Union sub­si­dies,

Putin is tak­ing ad­van­tage of the ten­sions be­tween Ha­vana and Washington to ex­pand Rus­sia’s in­flu­ence around Latin Amer­ica, ac­cord­ing to Rus­sian Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Yury Borisov.

“We’re used to liv­ing un­der the pres­sure of sanc­tions. Our na­tions can­not be scared by that. The sanc­tions also … open the doors to reach­ing [for­eign] mar­kets with our own prod­ucts,” Borisov said. “We have adopted the ex­port sys­tem, which in­cludes the ex­port of Rus­sian tech­nol­ogy to Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries.”

If Rus­sia is tak­ing the long view on Cuba, how Diaz-Canel fared in China is even less clear.

As ex­pected, Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping spoke about sol­i­dar­ity, about Fidel Cas­tro and the friend­ship be­tween the two na­tions. But he re­mained vague on the prospects for eco­nomic re­la­tions.

Xi men­tioned the need for a long-term plan to strengthen re­la­tions and called for im­proved co­op­er­a­tion in trade, en­ergy, agri­cul­ture, tourism and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, ac­cord­ing to the official Xin­hua news agency.

“China’s co­op­er­a­tion with Cuba fol­lows the prin­ci­ples of de­fend­ing jus­tice and seek­ing shared in­ter­ests,” Xi said, adding that China will “sup­port Cuba in all the ar­eas where we can be of sup­port.”

Xi also said dur­ing his meet­ing with Diaz-Canel that Beijing wel­comes Cuba’s de­ci­sion to study how to join a Chi­nese con­struc­tion pro­gram known as Belt and Road.

Dur­ing Diaz-Canel’s stop in Viet­nam, the two coun­tries agreed to raise bi­lat­eral trade to $500 mil­lion a year.

But all those credits and ac­cords re­quire a Cuban econ­omy that can pay its lenders and sup­pli­ers.

What the Cuban econ­omy needs, Kavulich said, are ma­jor struc­tural re­forms. “The pa­tience of those [lender and al­lied] coun­tries is run­ning out,” he said.

The Cuban govern­ment in­sists that it has been “up­dat­ing” its eco­nomic model for nearly 10 years, but it has yet to at­tract any sig­nif­i­cant for­eign in­vest­ments.

Tighter reg­u­la­tions on the once-grow­ing pri­vate sec­tor that will take ef­fect in De­cem­ber sug­gest that the fear of los­ing po­lit­i­cal con­trol are out­weigh­ing the need to ex­pand that sec­tor, “in­de­pen­dently of the fail­ures of other eco­nomic en­gines such as for­eign in­vest­ments and the ex­port of med­i­cal ser­vices,” said Ted Henken, a City Univer­sity of New York ex­pert on the is­land’s pri­vate sec­tor.

Diaz-Canel’s for­eign tour “has been more an is­sue of op­tics and sol­i­dar­ity, but it has done lit­tle to help Cuba with its chronic trade and eco­nomic prob­lems,” Kavulich said.

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