‘The Cuban People Owe a Debt to Africa,’ but Havana Charges Angola Dearly for Its Services

Miguel Díaz-Canel shakes hands with João Lourenço this Monday, during his visit to Angola. (DiazCanelB)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 22 August 2023 — The coverage of Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel’s visit to Angola by the press of the African country is as extensive as it is intense. Of the 12 articles with which Jornal de Angola opens its website this morning, seven talk about official acts, meetings, tributes and speeches of the Cuban president, but little is known about the content of the agreements signed on the official trip. This Tuesday, the front page of the official newspaper has this headline: “Cuban pharmaceutical industries can be installed in the Special Economic Zone,” without more details.

According to the text, the agreement that will allow the installation of the Island’s laboratories in the country is reciprocal, and Angolans will also be able to establish themselves in the Mariel Special Development Zone. In addition, there is another memorandum signed between the Regulatory Agency for Medicines of Angola  and the State Center for the Control of Medicines, Medical Equipment and Devices of Cuba for the training in Cuba of Angolan staff for hemovigilance, quality control and scientific research.

Tourism is also the preferred objective of the collaboration of two countries whose relations have been excellent since 1975. That year, hundreds of thousands of Cuban soldiers, financed by the USSR, intervened in the civil war that continued until 2002. Cuba’s involvement was the result of the friendship between Agostinho Neto — the first president of an independent Angola — and Fidel Castro, who was interested in the implementation of a Marxist regime in the country. Personal ties also continued with Angola’s second president, José Eduardo dos Santos, who made cooperation with the Government of the Island a priority.

The collaboration has been intense since then in all kinds of areas, in particular health and education. Cuba has sent up to 2,056 workers on an “international mission” to Angola, of which 1,171 are health workers and 582 are teachers. “In companies there are 212 colleagues, and in other sectors 91,” reads the Cuban official press on Tuesday. In addition, 2,180 Angolans are currently studying on the Island, and a total of 7,795 have graduated, according to official data.

At the end of 2020, the new president, João Lourenço, ended a huge contract valued at 77 million dollars with the Cuban company Imbondex, one of the flagship projects of cooperation between the two countries. The project was intended to construct thousands of kilometers of roads and bridges in the surrounding region of Luanda, but the work never began.

After the shock of that cancellation, aimed at cleaning up the public accounts, the meeting these days between Díaz-Canel and Lourenço put an end to any possible dissension. The African president expressed his desire to promote relations and cooperation, specifically when it comes to helping Cuba to “update its economic model.”

“In the context of the new vision of the model that from now on must be present in the relationship between Angola and Cuba, it is essential to agree on the dynamic role that the private sector and the citizens of the respective countries can play in the framework of free enterprise, to strengthen the capacity of both economies and bilateral cooperation,” he said.

The Angolan insisted that he is satisfied with the exchange, but it is necessary to give it “a new paradigm.” “We count once again on your disinterested collaboration and solidarity,” Lourenço said, ignoring that the payment for a single Cuban health worker, about 5,000 dollars, according to the local press, is close to ten times more than a national is paid.

“Today we have very well-prepared Angolan staff, trained in Cuban schools, universities and military academies, or in Angola, by Cuban instructors and teachers, who perform, with great care and efficiency, the functions assigned to them,” the president added.

Lourenço also praised the Cuban regime for the ingenuity used daily against the embargo. “Despite this, [the country] has demonstrated an impressive level of resilience and ability to find solutions that guarantee the survival of the Cuban people and the preservation of independence and national sovereignty,” he said.

Díaz-Canel, who visited the country for the first time in his mandate (a Cuban leader had not traveled to Angola for 14 years), was grateful for the compliments and said that he considers Luanda an “ideal friend to accompany the process of updating the Cuban economic and social model.”

The Cuban leader has been present at other events, such as at a speech in front of the deputies of the National Assembly, whom he lectured about the blood ties between the African continent and the Island, humanism, the fight against slavery and support – not without interest – for the independence of both countries. There he quoted Fidel Castro: “Without Africa, without their sons and daughters, without their culture and customs, without their languages and their gods, Cuba would not be what it is today. The Cuban people therefore have a debt to Africa that increases with the heroic history that we have shared.”

He also deposited flowers at the tomb of Agostinho Neto and the head of the Cuban troops in Angola, Raúl Díaz-Argüelles, who died at the beginning of the war. He also visited young Cubans studying in the country and held meetings with organizations that support the regime.

But the main question that Cubans ask themselves is how similar this tour of their president is with the one he made at the end of last year to Algeria, Turkey, China, Russia and Belarus. On that trip, he extracted from his partners several contracts, agreements and donations together worth millions of dollars, although the most important element was the guarantee of energy and oil supplies.

Angola is an extremely poor country with galloping inflation, but its natural resources are enormous. Twenty-six percent of its gross domestic product depends on oil that, with the rise in prices, brings in large amounts of foreign currency. But Cuba has no way to pay, unless it does so in its usual way: with the work of its doctors and other professionals.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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