Friday, November 24, 2006


Russia, Second Time Around

Cuban economic links with Russia and other ex Soviet Republics did not disappear completely with the dissolution of the USSR, although they were sharply cut as of 1992. Russia kept on being the island´s number one market for its sugar exports and main oil supplier until Venezuela came along to take its place.
Almost 15 years after Cuba´s worst trade quake, Russian companies are trying to take over where they left off. After all, most cars, trucks and tractors rolling on the island´s roads and fields are Russian, Bielorussian or Ukrainian-made. Dozens of factories and power plants have Russian technology and machinery installed, with its load of inefficiency and higher energy consumption than international standards allow today.
Russian businesses have learned their lesson. Unable to compete in the world market without meeting those standards, Russian industry is now offering updated equipment and vehicles which have been seen in the last two Havana International Trade Fairs. No more freebies for Cuba, but contracts on reasonable terms and supported by credits, more than can be said for many other suppliers.
The recent visit of executives from 30 enterprises among the largest in Russia in the energy, aviation, mechanical industry, tourism, land and sea transportation sectors confirmed the interest in doing business with Cuba and eventually, use the island to introduce their products and services to the Latin American market.
Vilem Hakobian, representing the Russian part in the bilateral Business Committee, said trade turnover could be much higher and cooperation potential as well as investments are not negligible. According to Alejandro Mustelier, chair of the Cuban part, reported there are 79 Cuban companies participating in negotiations with their Russian counterpart.
Already 30 areas of cooperation have been defined, suppliers of consumer goods, raw materials and spare parts, among others. Mustelier also advanced there are Russian companies interested in investing in tourism, health and telecommunications. Cuba is receiving offers from the oil and mechanical industries, as well as from land, air and naval transport companies.
Another unwritten commitment is that the Russian military industry is interested in updating Cuban weaponry and substitute the old equipment for new, subject taken up during Mijail Kalashnikov´s trip earlier this year. On that occasion, Kalashnikov also signed an agreement with Venezuela to supply 100,000 rifles that bear his name. Contracts with Venezuela amount to $3 billion dollars.
These actions promoted Russian weapons before other Latin American countries, region that has become the first client of the Russian military industry. Over the last six years, Russian exports of weaponry and equipment have doubled.
Aiming to consolidate their part in this market, Moscow will supply fighter planes Sukhoi to Mexico and Brazil, reported RIA Novosti news agency on November 7.
As for Asia, the second Weapons and War Material Exhibition in Jakarta in November stresses the presence of Russian weapons and equipment for naval forces, according to the company Rosoboronexport.
In Africa, the president of Rosoboronexport also recently signed contracts with Algeria for 7.5 billion dollars.
Since Cuban military involvement in Africa, with victories in the Ethiopia-Somalia conflict and the Angola war, Russian weapons went up in the preference of developing countries, on very favorable payment conditions.

Friday, November 03, 2006


Cuba Va! is no Jingle

Cuban state TV runs a spot reminding people how much has the country lost after 45 years of US sanctions and restrictions, followed by the question, have you stopped to think, otherwise, how much has been done in spite of the blockade?

Terrorist actions and the effects of the blockade have taken a toll of over 3,000 lives. There was no need for human or material losses, but Washington wanted to make the Cuban Revolution pay for being outspoken and serve as example of defiance before Latin American countries and the rest of the Third World.

Now for the 14th consecutive year, a resolution will be voted at the UN General Assembly demanding the US to stop the blockade, or embargo, as they call it to downsize its reach and effects.

In 2005, a total of 182 nations voted for stopping the blockade. This year it is expected to go over that number. How many votes are needed to make the US comply with the opinion of the international community?

The US considers issues related to Cuba as domestic policy. That line of thinking includes 600-odd attempts on the life of Fidel Castro, terrorist acts against hotels and tourist resorts, the blowing up of a civil airplane with 73 persons on board, bombing of several Cuban embassies in Europe and Latin America, shooting of Cuban officials and the most recent plan Bush to annex and run the island in a so-called Post-Castro era.

Ten US administrations have gone by since the triumph of the Revolution in Cuba and still, Washington has learned no lessons from the outcome of events. Using a policy of force and bullying against the island has only made Cubans outsmart their aggressor and defend even more steadfastly the social advantages given them by the government they chose of their own free will.

Three thousand lives, many more wounded and $86 billion dollars in material damages later, Cubans have a lot to show for themselves: outstanding world-level indicators in health, education, life expectancy, attention to the disabled, the elderly and children.

Through international cooperation, Cuba has managed to expand literacy campaigns in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Over 30 thousand doctors work abroad saving millions of lives and now engages with Venezuela in one of the most humane projects ever accomplished: helping hundreds of thousands of Latin American and Caribbean people recover their eyesight.

The Cuban economy has also thrived under pressure. A biotech and pharmaceutical industry has gained international recognition, trade is flourishing in spite of having to pay more than is usual for other developing countries due to the blockade, without financial support as is the case of US agricultural exports to Cuba.

After President Fidel Castro took ill last July and had to undergo intestinal surgery, once again they mistook the consequences. Three months after leading responsibilities were passed on to Raul Castro, first vicepresident and Minister of Defense, Cubans go about their lives as usual.

The situation is calm, conventions like the World Sports for All Congress are taking place, the Havana International Trade Fair and the International Ballet Festival, as usual, attract thousands of visitors these days.

Members of the US intelligence community, Pentagon gurus, the most famous think-tanks and prestigious experts have denounced the futility of the blockade policy and the need to change course, but on both sides there is wide skepticism that change would come under this administration, which has been kidnapped by the Miami mafia.

Thus, the club will once again precede the carrot in US policy and make Cubans even stronger.

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