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Czech delegation flies to Cuba to discuss trade, old debt

Czech delegation flies to Cuba to discuss trade, old debt
?TK | 9 OCTOBER 2015

Prague, Oct 8 (CTK) – The Czech diplomatic delegation that will visit
Cuba next week would like to reopen the negotiations on the debts from
the era of the communist bloc that Fidel Castro’s island left unpaid,
apart from hoping to start a new business cooperation, daily Lidove
noviny (LN) writes Thursday.

“We register civilian debts from government loan agreements worth
approximately 6.9 billion crowns,” said Katerina Vaidisova, from the
Finance Ministry.

There are other debts, too, but these are in a classified regime as they
concern military deliveries, the paper writes.

Vaidisova said the negotiations are likely to last long. The first step
is to reach agreement with the representatives of the Cuban central bank
on the volume of the debt and the validity of the loan contract, she
told LN.

Cuba has refused to talk about the debt since 1993, arguing that the
dramatic political differences between the two countries actually ruled
out any cooperation, the paper writes.

The Czech Republic has been on the Cuban list of enemies for two decades
and now the centre-left government of Bohuslav Sobotka wants to use the
restoring of the ties and the opening of this Latin American market,
which was triggered by the re-establishment of the Cuban-American
diplomatic relations, the paper writes.

The Czech diplomatic and business delegation will not fly to Cuba only
to discuss the old debt, but also to talk about new projects.

Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Tlapa who will lead the delegation said
Czech diplomacy is interested in active cooperation with countries that
are undergoing changes.

Such cooperation is part of a new foreign policy of Sobotka’s
government, which was criticised by the right-wing opposition and
nongovernmental organisations for abandoning the traditional promotion
of human rights.

This will be the second U-turn in Cuban-Czech relations. In the 1960s,
Havana severed its ties with Washington and Czechoslovakia became one of
Cuba’s closest business partners, apart from the Soviet Union, LN writes.

In 1961, imports from Cuba increased by the unbelievable 2300 percent,
compared with 1960. Castro’s island sent mostly oranges, nickel and
sugar to pay for submachine guns and ammunition. Sugar represented most
of the Cuban exports to Czechoslovakia, which, however, sold its own
beet sugar abroad, the paper writes.

Hundreds of Czechoslovak experts operated in Cuba then, with the
economist Valtr Komarek (1930-2013), whom Che Guavara consulted on
restructuring, being the most famous of them.

After the fall of the Czechoslovak communist regime in 1989, the Czech
Embassy in Cuba turned into the headquarters for other Western countries
and for providing aid to the local dissidents, LN writes.

In the 1990s, the Czech Republic applied a strict non-cooperation policy
to Cuba. It was actually awaiting Fidel Castro’s death, the regime’s
subsequent downfall and the return of the Cuban opposition from Florida.
However, Castro is still alive and Cuba started opening by itself, the
paper writes.

The attitude of the Czech Republic, but also of the European Union and
the United States began to be tinted by pragmatism. Cuba has been
pragmatic as well. Despite the embargo, more than half of the food has
been imported to Cuba from the USA for many years thanks to a system of
various exceptions. Though Cuba had no diplomatic relations with Israel,
the first foreign investment in Cuban agriculture was from Israel, LN
writes.

Cuba needs to import 80 percent of its food, which is an opportunity for
Czech food producers. Seven years ago, private farming began to be
discreetly introduced in Cuba, but it efficiently continues to be low
because still far more draft animals than tractors are being used in the
fields. Moreover, the tractors are old Soviet-made vehicles, LN writes.

Other areas in which Czech firms might get involved in Cuba are the
energy industry, including alternative energy sources, and road and
railway construction, the paper writes.

It is noteworthy that Vladimir Dlouhy who, as the head of the Chamber of
Commerce, will be part of the Czech delegation that will leave for Cuba
on Sunday in order to try to re-establish bilateral cooperation, was, as
then Czech industry and trade minister, present at the official opening
of Cuba’s largest power station Felton in 1997, which was the last big
project that the Czechs completed in Cuba and a symbolic end of the past
trade cooperation between the two communist countries, LN writes.

Source: LN: Czech delegation flies to Cuba to discuss trade, old debt |
Prague Monitor –
www.praguemonitor.com/2015/10/09/ln-czech-delegation-flies-cuba-discuss-trade-old-debt

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