CUBA

Russia to write off part of Cuba’s $25 billion debt

 

Moscow officials visiting Havana say the rest will be rescheduled over 10 years.

jtamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com

Moscow will forgive part of Cuba’s $25 billion Soviet-era debt and restructure the rest as part of agreements that include Havana getting Russian jetliners worth $650 million, Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov said Friday.

Manturov told journalists in Havana that Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and Ricardo Cabrisas, vice president of the Council of Ministers, had initialed the debt agreement and the details would be worked out by the end of the year.

He did indicate how much would be written off and how much would be restructured but said the restructuring would be spread out over the next 10 years.

Manturov said the agreement was initialed in front of visiting Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Cuban President Raúl Castro.

Russia has claimed it is the legal holder of all debts to the former Soviet Union and put Cuba’s debt at $25 billion, although most of it is in difficult-to-calculate Gold Rubles. The Soviets created the currency for its international trade.

Cuba previously made few efforts to settle its Soviet debt, and in the 1990s, Fidel Castro even argued that Moscow’s aid was “junk” and that Russia might even owe his country money for the environmental damages it caused on the island.

Manturov also reported that Russian and Cuban authorities had agreed that Havana would obtain eight Russian-made commercial jetliners worth $650 million. There were conflicting reports on whether Cuba would buy or lease the aircraft.

Ilyushin Finance and Cuban Aviation Corp. signed an option agreement on the delivery of three Antonov An-158, three Il-96-400s jetliners capable of carrying 350 passengers and two smaller TU-204SM.

News reports from Havana also mention at least seven agreements covering trade, tourism, education, nuclear medicine, the environment, telecommunications and space — including satellite navigation, space probes and space medicine.

The Soviet Union was Cuba’s main source of financial and political support from the mid 1960s to the early 1990s, when the collapse of communism and dissolution of the Soviet bloc plunged the island into poverty and hunger.

Fidel Castro regularly criticized former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and distanced himself from Moscow, but bilateral relations began warming up again in 2005 as Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to expand political and commercial links to Latin America.

Russian firms are now exploring for oil off Cuba’s northern coast.

Medvedev arrived in Havana from Brazil Thursday for his second visit to Cuba. He visited Havana in 2008 when he was president of Russia. Raúl Castro visited Moscow last July during a trip that also took him to China y Vietnam.

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