Will Russia now become a major stakeholder in Cuba?
As Cuba and Russia sign a raft of deals that Cuban officials hope will help rescue the communist island from its severe economic collapse, alarm bells might be ringing in the U.S.
Cuba hasn’t seen an economic crisis this bad since the 1990s — when its major ally, the Soviet Union, collapsed. Cubans complain that goods like milk for infants and gasoline for cars are almost nowhere to be found.
Now Cuba’s looking to Moscow again for salvation — but this time through deals that seem to make Russia a major stakeholder in the country.
The agreements, signed at last week’s Cuban-Russian Business Committee in Havana, are potentially unnerving for U.S. foreign policy in this hemisphere — in particular its efforts to reduce Russian influence in the Americas
Aside from gaining Russia’s help to reverse acute food shortages and revive moribund industries like sugar, Cuba is also opening up to Russian investors in historic fashion. Most notable: the communist island will grant them unprecedented 30-year land leases.
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That, on top of the major investment they now look poised to make in sectors like tourism, steel and rum, represents the kind of Russian footprint in Cuba and the western hemisphere that the U.S. wants to curtail — especially in light of Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine.
Perhaps not surprisingly, over the weekend Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel expressed “unconditional support for Russia’s confrontation with the West” as the two anti-U.S. allies concluded their business conference.
The trade deals, which will also improve shipping ties between Russia and Cuba, are a tacit admission by the repressive Cuban regime that its economic straits are more desperate than ever. They're also a further jab at the U.S., whose sanctions and embargo Havana blames for its disaste — which has prompted a record out-migration of Cubans in recent years.
Cuba experts, however, point out the strengthened Cuba-Russia alliance comes at the same month Havana announced it's making it easier for Cubans living in the U.S. to get Cuban passports. This is widely seen as a gesture to encourage them to come to the island and more actively engage its fledgling private sector.
The Biden Administration last year green-lighted U.S. investment in private Cuban enterprises. But Cuba's communist hardliners are still loath to give those businesses the latitude they need to thrive and aid the island's recovery.