Hu Jintao Visits Chinese Students in Cuba

HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 19.- President Hu Jintao visited Chinese Spanish language students studying in Ciudad Tarara on the outskirts of Havana on Tuesday. He was accompanied by his host President Raul Castro.

Hu Jintao met earlier in the day with former President Fidel Castro and the local press ran a photo of the encounter. Fidel has been outside of the public eye for over two years but has remained active, writing regular newspaper columns and occasionally meeting with heads of state or other important visitors.

[2] Several accords were signed Tuesday as part of the visit to the island by Hu Jintao and a large Chinese business delegation. The cooperation is in fields including seismology, port rehabilitation and the sale of sugar and nickel. China-Cuba trade reached US $2.6 billion in 2007. Chinese technology has been instrumental in the reactivation of Cuba’s ground transportation system.

A total of 2,022 Chinese students are currently studying in Cuba, of those 1,112 are taking intensive Spanish courses and 276 a full university language career, an indication that the Asian giant has its sights set on communication and commerce with Latin America. The others are studying medicine.

Tarara, a residential community before the Cuban Revolution, is close to the beach with numerous refurbished and new buildings being used for the language school. It was used as a popular kid’s camp during the 1970s and 80s.

Not far from where the Chinese board and study, there are also homes where rotating groups of Ukrainian victims of the 1986 Chernobyl Nuclear accident receive medical treatment, a program Cuba has maintained since the late 1980s.


Chinese president and Fidel Castro meet in Habana

China’s president signed trade and investment deals with communist ally Cuba on Tuesday, part of a Latin America trip on which Chinese businessmen have been snapping up all manner of raw materials.

aking the long view at a time of financial crisis, China is investing heavily in commodity-producing countries, and Cuba is no exception. More than a dozen deals agreed to by President Hu Jintao included purchases of Cuban nickel and sugar, along with pledges to send food and building materials to help the Caribbean nation recover from three major hurricanes.

Hu signed off on a second, $70 million phase of $350 million in Chinese credit to renovate Cuban hospitals. China also committed to help renovate Cuba’s crucial, but aging, ports.

It was unclear how many of the deals were on credit. Havana has already borrowed extensively from Beijing — loans it might have trouble repaying as it recovers from three severe hurricanes this year.

Hu thanked Cuba for sending doctors to China after last year’s devastating earthquake, and for educational programs on the island attended by about 2,000 Chinese, including medical students.

Hu also met with Fidel Castro. Cuba released a photo of the pair shaking hands and chatting. Hu wore a business suit and the former Cuban president had on exercise clothing that has become his standard uniform since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery and disappearing from public view in July 2006.

The ailing 82-year-old Fidel Castro has an undisclosed illness and brother Raul Castro, five years his junior, formally succeeded him as president in February.

Accompanying Hu on a visit to a school for Chinese students on Tuesday, President Raul Castro sang snippets of a song about China and Mao Zedong he said he learned while traveling the world in 1953. At first, hundreds of students gathered in an auditorium seemed confused, but they soon sang along, clapping in time.

“Even though the physical distance that separates China and Cuba is great, friendship between both people goes back a long way,” Hu said.

Cuba depended heavily on Soviet largesse and turned a cold shoulder to China during the Cold War’s Sino-Soviet split. But ties warmed after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, and Cuba now has no problem dealing with both Beijing and Moscow.

With bilateral trade topping $2.6 billion a year, China is Cuba’s No. 2 trading partner after Venezuela, where socialist President Hugo Chavez provides nearly 100,000 barrels of oil a day to the island at favorable prices.

The ties have brought a tangible benefit to residents of the Cuban capital, where more than 3,000 shiny new Yutong buses replaced smoke-belching, Soviet era buses.

But Hu’s visit poses something of an ideological challenge, since some Cubans speculated that Raul Castro might follow a Chinese model of reform after becoming president in February. China transformed its economy three decades ago by embracing market reforms even as its Communist Party maintained strict political control.

Cuba’s communist government, however, still controls well over 90 percent of the economy and shows no sign of easing its grip on political or economic matters, even as Raul Castro has expanded foreign trade 39 percent since becoming president and signed a major offshore oil exploration deal with Brazil.

On the eve of Hu’s visit, the Communist Party newspaper Granma praised China’s reforms as having “sparked a gigantic investment process that brought quick results.” But it also criticized “the evils of such an accelerated spiral: unequal distribution of the country’s income, a marked difference between city and country, and the erosion of the environment.”

Hu brought a large delegation of Chinese businessmen who have busily pursued deals despite the global financial crisis, continuing a trend that has seen China’s trade with Latin America jump from to $103 billion last year from $10 billion in 2000.

Kirby Jones, president of the Washington-based U.S.-Cuba Trade Association, said Hu’s stop in Cuba is more about business than ideology. Jones, whose organization opposes the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, said Cuba is eagerly pursuing deals with other countries.

Noting that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visits next week, he said Russia and China are “perfect examples of the rest of the world jumping in to fill the void left by the U.S.”

Cuba says China also is investing in the island’s respected biotechnology industry, and promises agricultural products, roofing and other home-building materials for a countryside that suffered more than $10 billion in damage from the three storms this hurricane season.


Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived in Cuba on Monday for a two-day visit

Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived in Cuba on Monday for a two-day visit to promote further economic ties with the island struggling to recover from three hurricanes and the ongoing effects of the global financial crisis.

No sooner had Hu landed than Cuban television said the two countries had already signed accords for China to continue purchasing nickel and sugar from Cuba and to provide agricultural products to the Caribbean country.

More agreements on economic, education and other matters were expected to be signed during a visit Cuba hailed as an indication of the close relations between the two Communist-run countries.

Hu, making his second trip to Cuba, was greeted at Havana’s airport by First Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, a dragon dance performed by Cuban youths, and some 50 members of the local Chinese community who waved Cuban and Chinese flags.

“My visit is aimed at increasing friendship and cooperation between our two nations, and working together with our Cuban comrades to build a promising future,” Hu said in a statement.

Hu offered “sincere good wishes that the Cuban people achieve continuous new advances in the construction of socialism.”

China is Cuba’s largest trading partner after Venezuela at $2.3 billion in 2007 and is looking to increase that number.

The Asian giant currently buys about 400,000 tons of sugar annually from Cuba and is estimated to get close to half of Cuba’s annual nickel production of 75,000 tons a year.

Due to damage from hurricanes Ike, Gustav and Paloma, which caused $10 billion in damage when they rampaged through the island this year, Cuba may be hard-pressed to promise more of either product in the near-term.

Chinese loans have helped Cuba rebound from the hardships that followed the 1991 collapse of its Cold War benefactor, the Soviet Union, and those loans are starting to come due.

Western diplomats said it was likely that restructuring those debts and future credits will be on the agenda as Hu meets with Cuban officials, including President Raul Castro.

Hu was scheduled on Tuesday to visit a school near Havana where hundreds of future Chinese diplomats, translators and functionaries are studying Spanish.

On Tuesday evening, he was to attend a ceremony where other accords with Cuba will be signed, then depart on Wednesday en route to Peru for an Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

It was not known if Hu would meet with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who was in power when Hu visited in 2004.


China’s Hu Jintao Heads for Cuba

HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 16.- Chinese President Hu Jintao is expected in Cuba on Monday to begin an important two-day visit after attending the G-20 Summit on the global financial crisis in Washington.

China is Cuba’s second leading trade partner after Venezuela and the ties have helped the Caribbean Island in its prolonged recovery from the depressed 1990s.

Hu visited Cuba in 2004 when numerous cooperation agreements were signed. Besides a greater flow of Chinese appliances, like refrigerators, rice and pressure cookers and TVs seen in Cuban homes, the increased trade has led to a resurrection of the Cuban ground transportation system.

HU JINTAO AND FIDEL CASTRO, NOV. 22, 2004 (photo from website)

New Chinese Yutong buses are now a part of the Havana urban landscape and on intercity routes throughout the country. Under the accords, the Cuban railway system will also see major improvement both for freight and passenger service.

Well aware that Cuba has been hard hit by three powerful hurricanes in less than three months, China may restructure debts and provide future credits to help the island recover.

“Cuba is indispensable for China in its bid to strengthen links with Latin American and the Caribbean countries,” the Chinese ambassador to Cuba, Zhao Rongxian Zhao, said of Hu’s visit in an interview with China’s Xinhua news agency.