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Wednesday, 13 December, 2000, 13:36 GMT
Analysis: Trade base for new Cuba era
Fidel castro
Castro: Declared devotion to Marxism-Leninism in 1961
By Russian Affairs analyst Stephen Dalziel

Cuba was the Soviet Union's greatest ally in the Americas region, but relations have been virtually frozen since Moscow started to base its foreign policy on pragmatism, rather than ideology.

Now Mr Putin is looking to start a new relationship with Havana.

After the Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, declared his devotion to Marxism-Leninism in 1961, for 30 years Cuba was the Soviet Union's main trading partner and ideological ally in Latin America.

Vladimir Putin
Putin: Old and faithful partner
But even by the time the leader of the Soviet Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev, visited Cuba in 1989, the economic reforms which Mr Gorbachev had introduced had strained relations between Moscow and Havana.

The new emphasis on trade on a solid economic basis - rather than the barter system of Cuban sugar for Soviet oil, which suited Havana, but did little to help the Soviet economy - saw a rapid decline in goodwill.

Even before his arrival, Mr Putin has made it clear that he wishes to resurrect the link.

In an interview with Cuban television, he described Cuba as, "an old and faithful partner".

Partner in Latin America

What is clear, though, is that any future relationship will be based first and foremost on a sound economic footing.

The Co-Chairman of the Russo-Cuban Commission for Economic Co-operation, Sergei Shoigu, arrived in Havana 24 hours ahead of his president, to set the scene for the visit. It is in Russia's interests to have a close partner in Latin America. Trade opportunities will, nevertheless, be limited.

The one thing the Cubans know for sure, is that they will no longer be able to pay for Russian oil with sugar.

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See also:

13 Dec 00 | Americas
Our comrades in Havana
13 Dec 00 | Americas
Putin seeks Cuban friendship
27 Apr 00 | Americas
What's life really like in Cuba?
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