Russia has confirmed that the proposed programme to upgrade Cuba’s national railway system, at a previously reported cost of €1bn (US$870m), will be the flagship project in deepening the relationship between the two nations.
Following a meeting in St Petersburg between Vice President Ricardo Cabrisas, Cuba’s Minister of Economy and Planning, and Oleg Belosiorov, President of Russian Railways, both sides confirmed that plans to modernise Cuba’s railway system were proceeding as defined (Cuba Briefing March 13, 2017). They also reaffirmed the two countries’ willingness to move forward. Reports suggest that separate discussions took place on the financing arrangements.
The meetings occurred during a four-day visit to Russia during which Cabrisas led an accompanying high-level delegation which discussed multiple economic issues. The delegation included the Agriculture Minister, Gustavo Rodriguez; the First Deputy Energy and Mines Minister, Raul Garcia; the First Deputy Transport Minister, Eduardo Rodriguez Davila; and several senior officials. The meetings took place in the margins of the May 24-26 St Petersburg International Economic Forum.
Reports in the Russian and Cuban state-linked media said that Cabrisas also held talks with the adviser to the Russian President, Anton Kobyakov, and with the new Russian Minister of Transport, Evgueni Ditrich. Cabrisas also met with the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, for over an hour, which in part was in relation to Russian participation in Cuban biotechnology and pharmaceutical production.
During the visit, Cuban reports suggest, that some of the issues considered related to ‘revising’ Russia and Cuba’s bilateral economic agenda included:
- Discussions on guaranteeing two-way trade. Reports appear to suggest that Cuba may be linking in some yet to be announced way, future economic ties to Russia’s investment and participation in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals production. Cabrisas was quoted as saying “It is important that what was analysed in the talks with the Russian side regarding the guarantees for a two-way trade.”
- A meeting with the Russian Minister of Energy at which progress on several conventional power generation projects were reviewed alongside Cuba’s programme to diversify its energy matrix through the development of renewable energies.
- Meetings with the Russian Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak, the President of the International Investment Bank (BII), Nikolay Kosov, the First Vice President of the Russian Railways, Alexander Misharin, and the General Director of the Russian Export Center, Andrei Slepniov, where it is understood that discussions took place on financing issues related to the programme to upgrade the Cuban railway system;
- An agreement to extend visa-free stays for each other’s nationals from 30 to 90 days with new simplified visa formalities for holders in all passport categories.
In St Petersburg, Cabrisas spoke at the opening session of the International Economic Forum of Saint Petersburg to an audience of about 3,000. The session was chaired by Russia’s First Vice President and Minister of Finance, Anton Siluanov, who he met with separately.
In his remarks Cabrisas addressed the main challenges facing the Cuban economy, noting that Cuba was in the process of economic transformation. He observed that the backbone of Cuba’s economic system remained the planning process. This, he said, had been perfected by the recognition of the role of the market, but without the national economy having to follow the market. He also noted that economic decentralisation was enabling the transformation of the economy through independent decision making. He also noted the role of foreign capital in the process of economic and social development.
In answer to questions he highlighted the role of foreign capital in the country’s development, and noted the participation of the Russian Government and companies in several Cuban priority economic projects.
Following his meetings, the Cuban media reported Cabrisas as saying that nearly all the prioritised sectors of Cuba’s economy, such as agriculture, the iron and steel industry and power generation had been addressed during bilateral meetings and that Russia would continue to play a very important role in the country’s socio-economic development.
Also present in St Petersburg was Gladys Bejerano, Cuba’s Comptroller General, who met with Russia’s Head of its Chamber of Accounts, Alexei Kudrin. Reports say that discussions focussed on both institutions working together to ensure that the main projects on which the two nations are collaborating are controlled in an integrated manner. She also participated in Russia’s Congress of the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions.
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