Spain bolsters relations with Cuba via debt deal, new agreements

Trade fair in Cuba []

Spain and Cuba yesterday (2 November) reached agreeed to refinance the island’s short-term debt, signing several accords during the visits of Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos and Industry Minister José Manuel Soria.

De Guindos and Soria inaugurated the Spanish pavilion at the Havana International Fair, or FIHAV, where Spain was once again the country with the best representation, with a record 160 companies, accounting for more than 25% of the businesses at the event.

The unprecedented participation of two Spanish Cabinet ministers at FIHAV, the island’s most important business gathering, comes as international interest in Cuba grows following the restoration of relations between Havana and Washington.

“New stages and new opportunities are opening, I’m convinced that Spain, as happens in foreign trade and in many other markets, will play a fundamental role, especially given the long-standing relationship with Cuba,” De Guindos said.

Soria, for his part, noted the “commitment to permanence” by Spanish businesses on the island, adding that companies from the Iberian nation have “many years in Cuba,” staying through good and bad times.

The inauguration of the Spanish pavilions at FIHAV was attended by five members of Cuban President Raúl Castro’s government, including one of his vice presidents, Ricardo Cabrisas.

The Spanish ministers signed several agreements and memorandums covering economic, innovation, development energy and industrial cooperation.

The most important agreement covers the refinancing of Cuba’s €201.5 million in short-term debt, including principal and interest, to Spain.

De Guindos and Cabrisas signed the agreement at the Council of State’s headquarters.

The agreement addresses a problem dating back 15 years and opens the way for the countries to make progress on trade and economic cooperation.

De Guindos and Soria will return to Spain on Monday night.

Since 1996, EU policy toward Cuba has been guided by the so-called Common Position, which rules out full relations with Havana until it makes reforms in areas such as more diverse political participation and freedom of expression.

The EU suspended talks with Cuba in 2003 after Havana launched a crackdown and jailed 75 dissidents in a direct response to calls for liberalisation and greater respect for human rights.

It was only in 2008 that the EU started lifting some sanctions unilaterally, the year Fidel Castro retired from the presidency permanently and power passed to his younger brother Raúl.

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