By Marc Frank | Reuters
Cuban President Fidel Castro climbed aboard a Chinese locomotive and hailed growing economic links with the Communist nation for helping to undermine a four-decade-old U.S. trade embargo.
“The only thing we have to say to them (the United States) is forget your transition plans and that you wipe all that garbage from your mind,” the 79-year-old Castro said in a Saturday speech broadcast on Sunday.
He was referring to U.S. efforts to hasten a Cuban transition to capitalism through economic sanctions.
The locomotive was one of 12 delivered this year under a $400 million Chinese government trade credit Cuba is using to upgrade its transportation system and infrastructure.
The official media reported that Castro received the locomotives at a Saturday evening ceremony and that they cost $1.3 million each, compared with $3 million for a similar U.S. locomotive.
“Cuba will need around 100 locomotives in the coming years,” a transportation official told Reuters recently.
Cuba purchased 1,000 buses from China last year and Castro said he would buy another 1,000 this year.
“We are also planning to buy more than 4,000 trucks, thousands of jeeps and cars, school buses and more,” a Cuban economist said, asking that her name not be used.
U.S. President George W. Bush imposed new sanctions on Cuba in 2004 and has increased enforcement of the trade embargo in an effort to topple Castro, a feat U.S. presidents since Dwight Eisenhower have failed to accomplish.
The Bush administration has also established a cabinet-level transition commission and appointed a Cuba transition coordinator in the hope, it says, of ending Castro’s 47 years in power.
Despite the new sanctions, the Cuban economy is showing signs of recovering from a devastating crisis that followed the demise of former-benefactor the Soviet Union.
An oil for medical services agreement with Venezuela as well as payments for services provided to the oil-rich nation and other Latin American countries led to a $2 billion increase in Cuban imports last year, with China and Venezuela reaping most of the increased sales.
“Two-way trade has reached record levels and we hope it will continue to expand steadily,” China’s commercial counselor in Havana, Yang Shidi, told Reuters on Friday.
Cuban officials said total trade between the two countries reached $1 billion last year as China rose from fourth to second place among Cuba’s most important trading partners, displacing Spain and Canada.
China is selling Cuba millions of television sets, refrigerators, electric cookers, rice steamers and light bulbs as part of the Caribbean island’s efforts to replace old Soviet and even 1950s U.S. appliances with more energy efficient ones.
“We want to promote the best possible cooperation with Cuba to build socialism in each country,” China’s ambassador to Cuba, Zhao Rongxian, said at Saturday’s ceremony.