Cuba President Diaz-Canel is Going on a Business Trip

Cuban President Diaz-Canel in Algeria, with his wife Liz Cuesta at his side. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Elías Amor Bravo, Economist, 17 November 2022 — Nothing to object to. This is among his functions as a communist leader, and in addition, with this international journey, leaving FIHAV [International Business Fair] halfway done in Havana, what we all know is confirmed once again: the embargo/blockade that he talks about so much doesn’t exist. However, before continuing, it’s worth explaining why this blog, dedicated to economic affairs, pays attention to Díaz-Canel’s international relations. Very easy.

First, a trip like this is not improvised from one day to the next. A good indicator is that Raúl Castro, with a wide range of leaders, was to say goodbye at the Rancho Boyeros international airport. Go and find out what the old communist said to his successor. If anything. The snapshot from the official government newspaper Granma, with Rodríguez behind, is eloquent. On the other hand, the state press has already assured itself by saying that this trip arises from official invitations received by Cuba.

Second, the trip is due to economic reasons. For a long time, there has been no money in the state coffers. It is urgent to seek support, whatever it may be, to weather the storm until a new USSR or Venezuela appears ready to carry the deadweight Cuban communist country.

Third, the choice of countries on this trip has not been trivial. Algeria, Russia, Turkey and China confirm the ideological bias of the Cuban communist bet and the urgent search for a financier willing to pay the bills.

Let’s go in parts.

At his first stop in Algeria, where he will be from November 16 to 19, Díaz Canel told the communist state press, “we have high expectations with this visit.” What expectations? Who has the expectations? The grandson of Fidel Castro who organizes parties for millionaires, or the Cuban who receives a miserable pension with an inflation rate of 32.7%?

At the Algerian international airport, Díaz-Canel, accompanied by his wife Lis Cuesta, was received by a second-level court, Aiman Benabderrahmane, the prime minister, and the ministers of Health and Culture, Abdelhak Saihi and Soraya Mouloudji. The president was not there.

Then, in an airport enclosure, there was a meeting between the delegation of Cuban communists and their Algerian hosts where they remembered Fidel Castro, who visited the African country on more than one occasion and where he maintained very good political relations with its leaders. With this fanfare, which came out of the blue, because they were stories of more than six decades ago when the world was different from the current one, Díaz-Canel intoned the main issue: bilateral ties, consolidating “good relations.” Translated into understandable language: money, money and money.

And, basically, because you can’t be wasting time, Díaz-Canel’s main objective seems to be to solve the serious crisis of the Cuban electroenergy sector and put an end to the blackouts that alter the conditions of production and life in the country.

The Cuban communist leader’s Twitter has been the source of information for his followers, and so in a message, he said that “after two years under the impact of COVID-19, we crossed the Atlantic again,” adding that the journey “responds to Cuba’s political and economic priorities, as well as to efforts to alleviate the effects of a post-pandemic crisis that overwhelms everyone, and, in our case, is exacerbated by the effects of the U.S. blockade.”

Before proceeding, it’s advisable to review the available data. At their first stop in Algeria, Díaz-Canel and Lis Cuesta, accompanied by an entourage that included Bruno Rodríguez, Alejandro Gil, Rodrigo Malmierca (who was also absent from FIHAV), José Angel Portal and the new guy, Vicente de la O Levy, minister of energy and mines, had no choice but to recognize that Cuba’s foreign trade with the African country is unbalanced and complicated.

Cuba’s exports amounted to $904 million while imports amounted to a figure of over $277 billion (2021, last available year). The balance sheet is very favorable to Algeria, and the foreign trade coverage rate is 0.32. Cuba’s annual deficit with the African country is more than $227 billion, so payment, for a bankrupt regime, can be problematic. Algeria occupies a prominent position on the list of creditors and is getting nervous. On the other hand, what can Cuba offer to this country? More doctors? Artists? Advisors of various branches? Technology maybe? It’s difficult and complicated. Algeria is on another wavelength, nor does it seem that it’s going to send tourists to the Island either.

It seems that the trip involves negotiating the payment of the accumulated debt, which can be much higher than billions of  dollars, observing the figures of recent years. The state press threw out balls and described the work agenda on Algerian soil with activities such as “the exchange of Díaz-Canel with his host counterpart,” (who did not receive him at the airport), “a meeting with collaborators of the Cuban medical brigade and members of the state mission of the Island” and a little tourism, with visits “to places of cultural and historical importance of this nation.”

It’s too early to assess the consequences of this trip. There is the impression that no more can be expected than a certain continuity and that the Algerians will continue to wait to collect what is due them. A few commitments may even be signed to muddle through, in the style of the aviary deal of the former Soviet CAME*. The relationship between the two countries doesn’t admit alternative scenarios. And get ready for the best in this journey, which has just begun.

*Translator’s note: CAME, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, was an economic organization from 1941-1991 under the leadership of the Soviet Union that comprised the Eastern Bloc countries and other socialist states.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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