New colours and languages are appearing in the intense traffic of political and economic influences typical of the contemporary world. Its most visible sign is the international geopolitical reorganisation. The historic hard cluster – the United States and Western Europe – is ceding spaces to an emerging nucleus represented by the famous BRICS group, made up by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
The North is reluctantly observing new driving forces in the global economy, though there are some signs of concern in the South. However, those in the South are more inclined to giving their blessings to the prospects of a change in the international financial structure, while some signs of hope are also coming from the North in view of the revitalisation of attractive markets in more than one sense.
For some years Cuba has been trying to simultaneously and calculatingly cling to a trio of those forces: Brazil, Russia and China. In one case, it is favoured by the geographical, historical and cultural closeness; in another it is committing itself to recovering economic and even political ties that had already served as a shield more than two decades ago in the face of U.S. hostility; and in the third, it aims to expand commercial and financial relations on account of the Asian-made label invading the continent, including North America.
It is not by chance that that when travelling to the recent BRICS Summit in Fortaleza, Brazil, Russian President Vladimir Putin chose Havana to start his tour of Latin America and the Caribbean. Chinese President Xi Jinping did it the other way around, closing with a visit to Cuba a regional tour after the BRICS meeting.
Both took advantage of their tour to strengthen their respective and increasingly ambitious collaboration and exchange programmes with Cuba. Without being an economy in expansion or a large market, the island nation is living moments and still has characteristics that motivate strategic reach for the Moscow and Beijing alliances with this Caribbean archipelago.
Accompanied by a large delegation of ministers and businesspeople, Xi Jinping attended on July 21 with Cuban President Raúl Castro the signing of 20 cooperation, trade and investment agreements in an express attempt to expand economic integration and ratify itself as the Caribbean nation’s second trade partner.
With the new agreements, officials from the Chamber of Commerce of Cuba estimate that trade with China could become stabilised and expand by more than 25 percent. Bilateral exchange achieved a record of more than 2.4 billion dollars in 2007, but in later years it showed an irregular and decreasing tendency of up to 1.4 billion dollars in 2013, judging by data from the Statistical Yearbook and other Cuban sources.
The agreements signed on this occasion point to increasing the business and investment opportunities in such diverse fields as the recovery of crude in oilfields, renewable energies, mining, industry, food production and the pharmaceutical and biotechnological industry – areas that coincidentally coincided with those of the agreements signed days before between Cuba and Russia.
Chinese Trade Minister Gao Hucheng and Cuban Foreign Trade and Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca signed a document that stipulates a concessional credit line “for the construction of the multipurpose terminal in the port of Santiago de Cuba”. The work in the island’s eastern region’s principal maritime link would round off the multimillion investment made by Brazil to build in the west a megaport in the Mariel Special Development Zone.
The general director of the Santiago de Cuba port, Leonardo Naranjo, announced that “the cost of the investments will be a bit over 100 million dollars,” to build a 200-metre-long quay, equipped with three gantry cranes, two roofed freight warehouses and other technological machinery.
The aim is to expand the quay’s depth to 11 metres to unload ships of up to 40,000 tons, which would surpass the maximum ceiling of 25,000 tons it currently operates, Naranjo said.
Another agreement seeks the installation of digital TV in Cuba, with a Chinese technological norm.
In line with the Cuban efforts to reorganise or restructure its foreign finances, the parties agreed this time to postpone for 10 years the start of payment of the free of interest government credit granted under the umbrella of the Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement signed on December 24, 2003. This manoeuvre came together with the Russian decision to write off 90 percent of Cuba’s debt from the Soviet period, a step that was one of the news that was the centre of attention during Putin’s visit 10 days before Jinping’s.
As guarantees for Cuban exports’ principal product, the Chinese company MINMETALS signed two five-year contracts for the purchase of nickel sinter and sulphur.
Beijing and Havana signed numerous other agreements for a project involving lines of aseptic packaging, the supply of water measuring equipment for aqueducts, cattle-ranching development and exchange in the IT sector, a field in which the Asian giant has also made strong strides on an international level.
The vigorous pace of negotiations and alliances is finding a favourable platform in the recently approved legal measures and regulations, like the Foreign Investment Law or the opening of alternatives like the Mariel Special Development Zone, which has attracted both Chinese and Russian entrepreneurs. But the well-known reactivation of official interest by two prominent international economies also contributes strategic credit, and not just financial, for the process of economic transformations undertaken by Cuba. (2014)
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