Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel and a large delegation of senior ministers and officials including Vice President of the Council of Ministers Ricardo Cabrisas and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, made what was described as a transit visit to the United Kingdom on 13-14 November.
During his stay in London, Cuba’s President held meetings with senior British Government Ministers, the Leader of the Opposition, business figures involved in Cuba, Members of the All-Party Parliamentary group on Cuba, the country’s solidarity campaign in the UK, and Cuba embassy’s staff.
The visit took place at the end of a multi-nation visit during which the President travelled to Russia, North Korea, China, Vietnam and Laos, largely with the aim of reinforcing political and economic relations with countries with a similar global outlook (Cuba Briefing 5 and 12 November, 2018).
Díaz-Canel described the visit to the UK as being very significant for Cuba as, according to the President, the British government had helped facilitate the holding of high-level meetings. It was the first ever known visit to Britain by a Cuban President. There was no media coverage on this event other than in Cuba.
“We have come to London to ratify and confirm to the British government our political will, our intent and our endeavours to continue expanding our relations,” Cuba’s President told businessmen. “Our current state of relations is good and our economic and trading relations are expanding. We want the British business community and financial institutions present in Cuba, not only as investors but also supporting and providing finance to the various projects that we are developing in our country,” he said.
During his visit he met with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond, who visited Cuba in April 2016 as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Although no detail was provided on what was discussed, at other events Díaz-Canel said that those original exchanges had paved the way for the further development of relations. He noted also that the 2016 visit by Hammond was a turning point. Cuban Foreign Ministry reporting suggested that the meeting focussed on several current bilateral issues.
During his visit, Díaz-Canel also met with Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry.
Speaking to British business at a meeting organised by the Cuba Initiative, Díaz-Canel reaffirmed Cuba’s need for more foreign direct investment and stressed the importance of UK enterprise playing a role in Cuba’s future. In his remarks he emphasised opportunities in the tourism sector, given the UK’s role in sending significant numbers of visitors to Cuba. He also noted the possibility for investment in agriculture if it resulted in increased productivity, efficiencies and linkages with other sectors.
In his address he spoke about the need to renew the country’s old, often Soviet era, industrial base and about the introduction of newer high-tech systems that the UK might supply. He also noted the role UK enterprise might play in the country’s plans to generate at least 24% of its energy needs from renewable sources.
More generally Díaz-Canel spoke about Cuba’s development of nano-technology to deliver biotech products including its unique product, Heberprot-B, the local development of related vaccine technology and the country’s wish to develop linkages in relation to packaging and logistics.
On rescheduled short-term debt, he said that all payments were being met and that Cuba would not, in future, take on obligations that it is unable to meet. He indicated that Cuba was particularly interested in working with UK financial institutions to develop relationships that might bring new credits.
In his remarks, Díaz Canel stressed the importance of the role the Cuba Initiative has played in developing relations between the two nations, noting that he has agreed with the new Chair of the UK side of the bilateral body, Lord David Triesman, that it would be relaunched in 2019 with an event taking place in Havana early in the year. Díaz-Canel stressed the importance of the Initiative as a bridge for co-operation and collaboration between the two countries.
During his stay, the Cuban President laid a wreath on the grave of Karl Marx. He was accompanied by the Cuban Ambassador, Teresita Vicente, and members of his delegation.
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