By Andrea Rodriguez The Associated Press Posted September 28 2006, 5:44 PM
HAVANA -- Russia
agreed on Thursday to grant Cuba credit worth $350 million and
restructure some of its recent debt during a visit by Russia's prime
minister, officials said. The two countries also signed a military
Cuban Defense Minister Raul Castro, who is acting president while
his elder brother Fidel recovers from intestinal surgery, gave red-carpet
treatment to Mikhail Fradkov, the highest-ranking Russian official
to come to Cuba since a visit by President Vladimir Putin in 2000.
Wearing a gray suit instead of his customary military uniform,
Castro escorted Fradkov through the halls of Havana's Palace of the
Revolution, past rows of soldiers playing Cuba's anthem.
The two met privately and did not speak to the press about the
But Alexander Bochanov, the press liaison at the Russian Embassy in
Havana, said that Russia had agreed to restructure some $166 million
of debt acquired in recent years.
The $350 million line of credit will be used to buy Russian goods
and services. It is a 10-year loan with annual 4-percent interest,
according to Russia's RIA Novosti news agency, which reported that
Fradkov said the credit would be used to help modernize Cuba's
energy sector and transportation system, reconstruct water
conservation facilities and railroads, and design and deliver air
Under an ideological and economic alliance that lasted three decades,
Cuba once relied on Soviet Union subsidies for about 20 percent of
its gross national product. Its economy has since become more self-sufficient,
though it now benefits from strong relations with Venezuela, its
current leading trading partner.
Bochanov said Raul Castro and Fradkov did not discuss Cuba's
Soviet-era debts with Moscow, which Russian media reports have
estimated at more than $20 billion. Havana puts the amount at closer
to $11 billion.
Fradkov arrived in Havana late Wednesday as the head of a delegation
looking to increase business with Cuba in the aviation, transport
and energy sectors.
The group will visit Russia's pavilion at the International
Transport Fair taking place in Havana through Saturday. Fradkov will
also go to the island's Center for Genetic Engineering and
Biotechnology, and is scheduled to meet Friday with Parliament
Speaker Ricardo Alarcon.
Relations between Russia and Cuba chilled after the Soviet Union's
collapse but warmed with Putin's visit in 2000. The Caribbean island
exports sugar to Russia, as well as vaccines and other products from
its advanced biotech industry.