Putin in Cuba
lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Fri Dec 15 09:14:42 MST 2000
NY Times, December 15, 2000
Putin Feels Whiff of Soviet Era in Cuba
By PATRICK E. TYLER
HAVANA, Dec. 14 - Russia and Cuba, two battered allies who fell out a
decade ago when the Soviet Union fell apart, officially got back together
today when President Vladimir V. Putin and President Fidel Castro pledged
to reinvent the relationship based on a modest agenda of trade and commerce
and an equally modest smattering of ideological alignment.
The Russian leader wore a business suit - he is here mostly to talk
business about the billions of dollars in Soviet-era investments in Cuba
that have come to naught, and for which debts are owed.
And the Cuban leader, looking fit and animated at 74, wore the trademark
olive fatigues of his revolution - reflecting his own preoccupation with
the evils of globalization, the poverty of many nations in a world of great
wealth and the "repression" that Cuba continues to suffer under four
decades of an American economic blockade.
Mr. Castro and Mr. Putin found some common language in complaining about
the advent of a world dominated by the United States. Mr. Castro claimed
seniority in the struggle by asking, "Who knows better than the country
situated only 90 miles from the biggest superpower of the world?"
Mr. Putin, without mentioning the United States, agreed that such
"unipolarity" allows one country to "monopolize international relationships
and to dominate them." He said the last time this occurred, "we all know
how it ended," apparently a reference to Nazi Germany and World War II.
Both leaders condemned the continuing American economic embargo of Cuba.
But Mr. Putin signaled in other ways that the world has changed and that
Russia is not looking to return to the era of confrontation with the United
States. As he arrived in Cuba late Wednesday, the Kremlin acted on his
decree and released Edmond Pope, the American businessman convicted of
espionage by a Moscow court a week ago and sentenced to 20 years in jail.
And in a telegram to President- elect George W. Bush, Mr. Putin sent good
wishes for "success in this important and responsible post," adding, "I am
counting on an intensive and constructive dialogue with you and your
administration" with a goal of "further deepening of the productive and
mutually beneficial cooperation between Russia and the United States" and a
"strengthening of international security and strategic stability."
Mr. Castro was less effusive. A government statement today said, "It seems
that the empire finally has a new leader" and "from the new boss, we expect
Mr. Castro, seated next to Mr. Putin at a news conference, challenged
Washington's "preoccupation" with increasing its military spending after
the cold war and criticized Mr. Bush's support for erecting an antimissile
shield over the United States.
In the Palace of the Revolution, the two leaders signed minor accords to
cooperate in medical research, reopen a $50 million line of credit for Cuba
and lay the groundwork for future trade, but they have yet to announce
agreement on how Cuba might repay its estimated $20 billion in debts
accumulated over three decades during which Moscow subsidized Cuban
agriculture, industry and a significant military buildup.
Mr. Putin pointed out that even though the Russian and Cuban economies have
contracted by a third or more in the past decade, the two countries still
carry on nearly $1 billion in trade a year, mostly in barter by which Cuba
receives Russian oil and sends much of its annual sugar output to Russia.
"This level of trade is not bad," Mr. Putin said. "But there are still some
problems that have accumulated in the last 10 years, and they demand
especially close attention. The Soviet Union has invested a lot in Cuba's
economy. This is worth billions of dollars, and we have to understand what
to do about this."
Russian officials traveling with Mr. Putin said Moscow is most concerned
that if it does not re-establish strong trade ties with Cuba, Europe,
Canada and eventually the United States will move in and capitalize on
abandoned Soviet-era investments and equipment, which still form much of
the island's industrial base.
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