14ymedio, Havana, 20 May 2023 — Despite his busy schedule of support to Russia in the last 48 hours, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel found time to receive this Friday Ahmed Bin Aqeel Al-Khateeb, Minister of Tourism of Saudi Arabia and president of the Board of Directors of the Saudi Development Fund. As in the case of Vladimir Putin’s emissaries, the president welcomed Arab officials with open arms.
Díaz-Canel described the visitors as “true friends,” whose economic ties with Cuba he described as “indestructible.” He thanked the Arab country for having financed several “hydraulic projects in important Cuban cities” and in other communities. “We maintain full coordination in all fields,” he said.
The Saudi Development Fund will pay for two large hydraulic projects: one to improve the water supply in Jatibonico, in Sancti Spíritus, and another that will benefit several municipalities in Havana. They will also evaluate investing in the aqueduct and sewerage in the provinces of Camagüey and Villa Clara.
Al-Khateeb said that Saudi Arabia was going to stay “at Cuba’s side” in the international arena, and he promised “an important donation for farmers who work tobacco and who were affected by the passage of the recent hurricane,” although he did not give details.
Although the official press did not allude to it, Al-Khateeb thanked the Government of Havana for helping to make Saudi Arabia the headquarters of the Universal Exhibition to be held in 2030. Cuba was quick to provide its support, the minister observed, and now there are already 138 countries that have joined the request.
The meeting with the Arab envoys was not missed by the Prime Minister, Manuel Marrero, the Minister of Tourism, Juan Carlos García Granda, the Deputy Foreign Minister, Elio Rodríguez Perdomo, the president of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources and, also, Ricardo Cabrisas, head of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment.
Cabrisas held a separate meeting with Al-Khateeb, in which the Arab minister declared that the Island was a “strategic place” in the interests of Saudi Arabia and guaranteed that he would support Havana in any international claim against the U.S. blockade. He also celebrated the fact that the Island has continued to send doctors to his country since 2014.
According to official sources, the Island has sent more than 600 healthcare workers to the Arab country since that year, distributed in 34 Saudi cities, especially in Jizan and Bisha.
But Saudi Arabia’s financing has not been restricted to the hydraulic sphere. It was that country that provided the money to build the Fidel Castro Ruz Center, the luxurious museum dedicated to the former Cuban president located in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood. Inaugurated on November 25, 2021 and destined to be a magnet for tourists who are fond of Castro, the great unknown that surrounded the creation of the museum was its cost.
A source from the Office of the Historian of Havana told this newspaper that much of the money came from Saudi Arabia. “The credit was supposed to be for housing but they took a part for the Center and for the Capitolio as well,” the source said.
In 2017, the Fund chaired by Al-Khateeb granted a loan of 26.6 million dollars to Cuba for the Program of Rehabilitation and Construction of Social Works of that Havana organization, from which, the source alleges, the money came for the pharaonic project.
Translated by Regina Anavy
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