CI Shorts: Cuba's growing group of friends

Recently departed US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had been the White House frontman on Cuba before he was given his marching orders by President Donald Trump. On the alleged “sonic attacks” at the US Embassy in Havana, Mr Tillerson had told the Associated Press: "I still believe that the Cuban government, someone within the Cuban government, can bring this to an end."


Now he’s gone, we at Caribbean Intelligence© thought it would be worthwhile examining what Cuba has been doing in terms of its foreign policy and at home in recent times – developments that went under the radar screen while the war of words on sonic attacks was grabbing the headlines.


  • Cubans voted on 11 March for a new National Assembly, as part of the countdown to a new leadership. For the first time since the 1959 revolution, Cuba will not be led by a Castro, as Fidel’s brother Raul will step down after a short transition period once his successor is known. The expected successor to Raul Castro is 57-year-old Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who will take up the leadership if approved by the new National Assembly on 19 April. After casting his own vote, Mr Diaz-Canel spoke to reporters about relations with the US, stating that "the re-establishment of relations has been deteriorating thanks to an administration that has offended Cuba". He also said about his possible election that the Cuban people can also “recall someone who doesn't fulfil their responsibilities”, adding that “there has to be a focus on ties to, links with, the people, to listen to the people, deeply investigate the problems that exist and inspire debates about those problems”. Cuba-watchers spotted a smart piece of democratic behaviour as Mr Diaz-Canel waited in line to vote in a country where top officials are usually whisked into the polling booth. The Miami Herald was keen to point out that the 11 March election brought out one of the lowest voter turnouts.
  • Cuba has been negotiating a series of new trade deals with Russian state companies. In 2017, Russia wrote off a US$35bn debt owed by Havana and 300 Russian-made Lada cars were delivered to Cuba. Another deal on the horizon includes energy partnerships, as Russian exports to Cuba in 2017 rose by 81%. Reuters described these developments as “all part of a broader move by Moscow to renew commercial, military and political ties just as the US government is retreating from Cuba under President Trump”.
  • Cuba and the Opec oil cartel entered a co-operation project in March 2018 to improve water supply and sanitation systems in the Cuban city of Trinidad. The US$25m project will include the installation of a new system of aqueduct and sewerage in the city, which was declared a Cultural Heritage of Humanity City in 1988. Trinidad was the third village founded by the Spanish in Cuba in 1514.
  • Cuba’s growing foreign ventures have brought on a growing foreign debt. Reuters reported in early March that a shortage of cash and mounting commercial debt had caused the Cuban authorities to impose new restrictions on imports by state-run companies. Firms now have to obtain a letter of credit from the Central Bank for purchases above the equivalent of US$100,000. The Central Bank said the measure was necessary to curb Cuba’s growing foreign debt.
  • Increased foreign interest in Cuba has led to Norwegian Cruise Line introducing a seven-night Caribbean cruise which includes Havana for the first time. The cruises begin in September 2018 and will travel from Miami to Mexico’s Costa Maya, Belize, the cruise line’s private island in the Bahamas and Havana.
  • Cuba has been increasing its medical ties with several African nations. In one of its most recent deals, a number of South African doctors have been trained in Cuba in working in cities and deep rural areas. South Africa Business Live described the partnership as “precisely the kinds of doctors needed throughout the province and country, because Cuba’s excellent medical schools pursue a comprehensive approach that focuses equally on the four pillars of medicine - disease prevention, health promotion, treatment and rehabilitative medicine”.
  • Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta visited Cuba in early March as part of his country’s efforts to boost its “Big Four” policy agenda issues of manufacturing, affordable housing, healthcare and food security. Kenyan officials said that their country also wanted to look at how Cuba’s pharmaceutical industry works, especially in the area of vaccines for both human and animals. An exchange programme of sportsmen and women between Cuba and Kenya is also on the cards, with Kenya interested in Cuba’s boxing success and, in turn, offering training in marathon and long-distance events.
  • China’s burgeoning moneyed classes have caused a surge in the sale of Cuban cigars. The country’s top export of hand-rolled cigars saw a 33% value growth in 2017, with sales burgeoning in China, Spain and France. Cuba held its annual cigar festival in February 2018 to showcase its US$500m-a-year industry.

CI Shorts give you-bite-sized chunks of news from across the Caribbean. For more in-depth news analysis, go to our Caribbean Intelligence news page and background articles on our Intelligent Thinking page.


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