HAVANA – Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos began on Monday an official visit to Cuba with an eye on relaunching bilateral relations, with particular emphasis on economic opportunities.
“Colombia is very interested in investing here in Cuba. For years Colombia has encouraged Colombians to invest abroad, and the region where we have been most active is the Caribbean and Central America,” Santos said on Monday at the inauguration of a business forum of Cuban and Colombian companies in Havana.
Santos flew to the Cuban capital last night on a brief state visit, in which he also met with his counterpart, Raul Castro, to express his thanks for Cuba’s role as the host country for his government’s peace talks with the FARC.
Santos also spoke of his wish to boost bilateral trade, “of which there is still very little,” despite the Economic Complementation Accord signed in 2001 and expanded in 2016, which allowed the export of 4,550 products to the island with special customs benefits.
Colombia exported to Cuba last year products worth $33.5 million, of which $30.2 million were non-mined energy goods, a fairly modest amount.
On this trade mission, which according to the Colombian Foreign Ministry is “at the invitation of the Cuban government,” Santos is accompanied by Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin and Trade, Industry and Tourism Minister Maria Claudia Lacouture, along with the president of ProColombia, Felipe Jaramillo.
Also forming part of the delegation are 12 Colombian business leaders from the sectors of construction, agribusiness and engineering plus petroleum, chemical and mining services.
President Santos also referred to the “possibility of working with Cuba in tourism, by creating joint travel packages for the Asian and European markets, so tourists can visit several Latin American countries on a single trip.
“I say that tourism is the industry of the future because it is an industry without chimneys, it doesn’t pollute, it brings in foreign currencies, creates jobs and also modernizes the countries that offer it,” Santos said.
For Cuba, tourism is one of its most stable sources of revenues, with more than $1.5 billion in the first six months of the year.
Presiding over the forum for Cuba was Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca, who noted the “political will” of both governments to promote economic relations and “make the possibilities of doing business a reality.”
This is the third state visit by a Colombian president to Cuba in the last 50 years.