HAVANA – Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said Wednesday in Havana that the two countries are “partners and friends” and that the Iberian nation is “very capable” and wants to support the island’s economic development, with both nations seeking to rejuvenate their relationship and make it more dynamic.
Dastis, who arrived in the Cuban capital to prepare for a visit to the island by King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia that diplomatic sources tell EFE will take place in January, met with a delegation from the Association of Spanish Businessmen in Cuba (AEC), with whom he exchanged experiences with an eye toward his meetings later on Wednesday with Cuban ministers and other officials.
“Trade and investment relations have traditionally been tight. Our country is the one that has a large number of mixed businesses and branch offices in Cuba, mainly in the tourism and services sectors,” he said.
The minister noted that the context for such cooperation is propitious thanks to the agreement reached last year to restructure Cuba’s debt to Spain, which amounts to some 1.6 billion euros (about $1.9 billion), “more than any other country.”
The two conversion programs supply an equivalent fund that totals 415 million euros to finance projects of “mutual interest,” an amount that is already available to Spanish firms.
Dastis emphasized the roles of Spanish companies in the Cuban economy and their leadership in tourism, although he warned about the efforts to increase their presence in areas such as supplying electricity, airport management, telecommunications, waste treatment and clean energy.
In addition, the foreign minister said, a new bilateral air agreement is being negotiated to replace the one signed in 2005, the new one allowing an increase in the number of flights to meet the growing demands of Spanish tourism to the island.
However, the lack of hard currency as a result of the economic situation in Cuba, which experienced its first recession in 23 years in 2016, is “having a negative impact on payments to Spanish companies on the island,” Dastis said, adding that authorities were trying to find a solution to the problem.
AEC president Xulio Fontecha, meanwhile, said that despite Cuba’s liquidity crisis, his organization is “convinced that the island, as always, will wind up fulfilling its commitments by virtue of the capacity of the Cubans to overcome difficulties.”
Spain is Cuba’s third-largest trading partner, surpassed only by China and Venezuela, with annual trade in 2016 amounting to some $1.3 billion.