Russia to play a major role in Cuba’s future development

Cuba has signed a protocol that will see Russia play a central role in the future development of the country’s rail, maritime, aviation and transport services and the island’s infrastructure.

Cuban comments suggest that Havana is turning away from sourcing western companies for infrastructural development as it sees Russia offering better long-term reliability as a partner. The content of the protocols also suggest that Moscow regards Cuba as an important future economic manufacturing and assembly base for exports to Latin America.

Speaking following the conclusion of the eleventh meeting of the transport group of the Russian-Cuban inter-governmental commission, Russia’s Deputy Minister of Transport, Dimitri Zverev, described the agreements as demonstrating the will of both sides to reactivate and advance bilateral relations.

Zverev was quoted by TASS as saying that the protocols would see Russian companies and investment in rail, maritime and air transport projects and other joint projects with Cuban partners. It also reported that bilateral discussions took place on Russia assembling in Cuba vehicles for export and the training of pilots, technicians and flight engineers to improve the airworthiness of Cuban aviation.

The Russian Deputy Transport Minister added that following the agreement signed in June in St Petersburg (Cuba Briefing 17 June 2019) discussions on the financing terms for modernising the island’s railway system are advancing.

Zverev told the media in Havana that the protocols also allowed for the development of cabotage maritime links and “projects aimed at developing business for the ports of the island”.

Speaking separately to the Russian state linked publication Sputnik, the Cuban Vice Minister of Transport, Naima Alfonso Acosta, said that little by little new Russian technologies had been introduced giving Cuba knowledge and the assurance of technological sustainability. “There is a process of continuity in the introduction of Russian technologies in Cuba, which constitutes a solution to the problems we have today”, she said.

The online platform also quoted the Russian Ambassador to Cuba, Andrei Guskov, as saying that Cuba is one of Russia’s main partners in Latin America and the Caribbean, and that Moscow was paying priority attention to promoting economic-commercial cooperation. “In recent years we have observed a positive dynamic in the development of bilateral trade. In 2018 the (bilateral) exchange reached US$388m, that is, it increased by 34% compared to 2017, and this year we are also expecting growth”, Guskov told Sputnik.

Guskov additionally said that Moscow would actively participates in the delivery of Cuba’s 2030 Economic and Social Development Plan, observing that “our companies have joined the realisation of large-scale and long-term projects in the energy sector, in agriculture, metallurgy, industry, and the rail network, among others”.

According to the diplomat, with the help of Russia, an assembly line of the GAZ and Ural vehicles is to be launched with the objective of future exports to third countries mainly in Latin America. Russia is also believed to regard Cuba as a base for other similar manufacturing for export ventures.

Work, he said, was also being carried out to improve the urban transport service, mainly in the taxi sector. In 2018 AvtoVAZ supplied more than 300 Lada Vesta vehicles and in the first quarter of this year GAZ delivered more than 1,000 GAZelle minibuses which are already in operation. He also said that Russian cooperation was focused in other areas including biotechnology, medicine, and information and communication technologies.

On tourism he said that visitor numbers from Russia will increase during 2019 demonstrating that the two nations “deep and historical friendship” “cannot be pushed aside.” Guskov noted that he expected Russian visitor number to increase further – 188,000 visited in 2018 compared with 105,000 in 2017 – following the visa exemption and simplification of procedures agreed by the two countries at the end of 2018. He also observed that Russia would be the Guest of Honour at Cuba’s annual tourism fair FITCuba 2020.

Guskov also told Sputnik that Russia and Cuba share similar views on regional and international issues. They “practically coincide or are very similar” he said, adding that “the constructive role” of Cuban diplomacy in the international arena serves as the basis for our active cooperation to establish a “polycentric world order” he said. “The cooperation between the two countries is strategic and privileged. It evolves dynamically and consecutively,” the Russian ambassador said.

Russia’s Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev is expected to visit Cuba this November. In November 2018 President Díaz-Canel met with President Putin in Moscow, while President Putin visited Havana in July 2014 (Cuba Briefings 5 November 2018 and 17 July 2014).

Cuba Briefing is available on a subscription-only basis. Please click here to sign up to a free trial.