11 July 2014, 15:51

Putin Arrives in Rising Cuba, Foresees Rising Latin America

President Vladimir Putin, center, arrives at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba. 

President Vladimir Putin, center, arrives at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba. 

President Vladimir Putin, center, arrives at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba. 

By Molly Seder and David Kerans

WASHINGTON (VR)– Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Cuba on Friday morning, making his second appearance there in 14 years. Cuba is the first stop in his Latin America tour; the grand finale will be a meeting of BRICS leaders in Brazil, July 14-16. 

Putin laid a ceremonial wreath at Revolution Square in Havana with Cuba’s President of the Council of States and Ministers, Raul Castro, and met with the leader of the Cuban Revolution Fidel Castro for an hour behind closed doors, to discuss Russia-Cuba relations, the world economy, and more. While answering questions from Latin American and Russian journalists, Putin offered tangible support for Cuba and for Latin America to play a larger role on the world stage.

First, he highlighted the significance for trade relations of the newly formed Eurasian Economic Union on the one hand and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) on the other hand. Further, in an obvious jab at U.S.’s longstanding hegemony in the region, Putin said “we are interested in strong, economically stable and politically independent, united Latin America that is becoming an important part of the emerging polycentric world order.”

Elaborating, Putin said Russia is “open to substantive interaction with all integration formations in the Latin American region. That includes the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Common Market of the South (Mercosur), the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), the Pacific Alliance, the Central American Integration System (SICA) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).”

Cuba observers are encouraged. “I hope that Russia can support the economic reforms that are taking place in Cuba today,” says attorney Jose Pertierra.

“Our bilateral trade slowed down somewhat in the 1990s,” Putin said today at a press conference, according to reports by the Strategic Culture Foundation. “We are ready to make up this lost ground.”

The fall of the Soviet Union devastated Cuba’s economy. The island nation is still clawing its way back. “I think there is a recovery of relations between Russia and Cuba. There is a lot of potential there in the new relationship different from the one the Soviet Union and Cuba used to have,” says Arturo Lopez-Levy, a research associate at the University of Denver and an expert on US-Latin American relations.

“The new Russia is not the Soviet Union,” he adds. “The new Cuba is not the Cuba of before 1999. It is also a country that is in transition, with a mixed economy.”

The recent emergence of private enterprise promises a great deal for the island nation, still under U.S. embargo--especially in light of offshore oil exploration conducted in partnership with several Russian energy conglomerates that could win Cuba big bucks on the international market.

“For the first time since the revolution of 1959 the government in Cuba is encouraging the birth of private enterprise to stimulate the economy,” says Pertierra, who recently returned from a trip to Cuba. “You see new businesses sprouting up all over Havana and the countryside that generate income and jobs for a whole lot of people.”

As entrepreneurs help grow jobs and local economies, Russia is offering Cuba a second wind. Before departing from Russia, Putin forgave Cuba $30 billion in debt owed to the Soviet Union. The figure amounts to 90% of Cuba’s bill.

“I think it’s good,” says Pertierra. “The fact that Russia has decided to forgive a large portion of the Cuba debt is good for Cuba.”

“Cuba and Russia are developing a new strategic relation that is convenient to both of them,” adds Lopez-Levy.

The remaining $3.2 billion will be paid in equal instalments over ten years, starting October 25th of this year.

After Cuba, Putin is scheduled to visit Argentina and Brazil. 

While in Brazil, Putin is scheduled to attend the final game of the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro. The Russian president will also meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will also be in Rio for the championship game between Germany and Argentina. 

 

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