ANOTHER OF CASTAÑEDA’S LIES AND INNUENDOS
We have seen, read and heard the events of days, weeks, months and even years – over here we are well aware of Mr. Castañeda’s dossier. One of his most recent statements to the press - it certainly won’t be his last - is particularly striking. He talks of what he calls Cuba’s "double game" in relation to a purchase request that, according to Castañeda, the Havana government made to Mexico to acquire oil derivatives through a ‘Banco de Comercio Exterior’ (Overseas Trading Bank) (Bancomext) credit line.
And he went on, as if to muddy his claims even further with these added ingredients: "We don’t sell them (oil and its derivatives) as far as I’m aware. There has perhaps been a shipment from time to time but in principle we do not sell them oil, they do not depend on us, they receive all their oil practically free of charge from Venezuela".
The statement of the Foreign Affairs Secretary is another colossal lie.
After the Political Declaration of the Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro on April 22nd, Cuba has not requested any credit nor carried out any financial dealings nor has any contact been made nor meetings held with Mexican institutions or officials.
The only credit which the Foreign Affairs Secretary Castañeda could be referring to dates back to 1993 on the signing of the joint telecommunications venture between the Cuban Telephone Company and a Mexican firm. The Mexican ‘Banco de Comercio Exterior’ granted Cuba a credit which was used to buy oil, the repayments of which have been punctiliously met by our country.
Under the aforementioned 1993 agreement, it was established that once Cuba began to repay the principal, similar quantities could be re-borrowed by Cuba according to standard commercial practice.
What can certainly be said is that the negotiation process to obtain this legitimate and normal credit facility was long and arduous. Negotiations began at the beginning of 2001 and it wasn’t until March 5th this year that an agreement was reached. At this stage, however, the Mexican authorities had still not completed all the steps on their part to fully implement what had been agreed to.
As can be seen, a credit granted in 1993, which had been agreed to during the six-year office of president Carlos Salinas de Gortari and brought up to date according to the original contract through a process spanning practically the whole of 2001 and finally concluded last March, cannot be used in accusations of the "Cuban double game" to which Mr. Castañeda alludes, lying and distorting the truth in a gross attempt to confuse public opinion.
Both the 1993 agreement and the negotiations of 2001, that would allow Cuba to re-borrow part of the credit it would continue paying, were beneficial not only to Cuba, but also of particular advantage to Mexico. On both occasions the Mexican Government not only ensured the payment of the main debit owed to Bancomext for the loan granted in 1993, which would only be re-borrowed in part and as a new obligation, after the corresponding interest had been paid, but also the payment of previous debts that would be settled together.
What is more, the 1993 agreement opened the door for the participation of Mexican firms in important sectors of the Cuban economy, aside from the telecommunications already mentioned, such as tourism.
Such credits, aside from dating from before current political differences in no way constitute neither a request from Cuba nor an offer from Mexico. It is an agreement reached under normal economic relations between two countries. But right now we are not sure whether or not Secretary Castañeda is attempting to damage these relations as well. Should this be the case, then it will be clear to all that responsibility lies on his shoulders, and therefore, on his government’s.
It should be added that in this as in other commercial operations, as has become a tradition, for obvious reasons related to the economic warfare imposed by our powerful neighbor, the Cuban authorities always engaged in these negotiations with prudent discretion; both to spare Mexico from any type of pressure and as a simple necessity imposed by 43 years of blockade. Nevertheless, the Mexican Foreign Affairs Office, in a communiqué issued on March 6th this year, informed that both countries had signed an agreement rescheduling the $ 380 million Cuban debt and fixing a ten-year term for its recovery of this sum. The Foreign Affairs Office expressed "the will of both governments to enter into sound and stable financial-commercial relations". The background to, circumstances and mutual benefit of such an agreement were not explained at all.
According to the Office for Foreign Affairs of that country, this made it possible for Mexico to increase its exports to Cuba, in that the latter now enjoyed a facility by which to acquire goods from Mexican companies for an initial $ 30 million. The communiqué also clarified that the agreement was signed in the Mexican Embassy in Havana, cited the officials involved and mentioned the cancellation of a Bancomext debit for $ 36 million by the Cuban National Bank. One can appreciate the difference between what was given and what was received; even the $ 30 million mentioned was meant to purchase Mexican products.
In accordance with normal international business practice, a series of steps, designed to facilitate implementation, follow the signing of these agreements to complete and legalize all documentation, among other procedures. Until very recently, these steps were taken by the Cuban National Bank and Bancomext. It is absolutely clear, however, that after Monday, April 22nd the executives of both banks, being the authorities responsible for the implementation of the credit, have had no contact whatsoever.
The Mexican press has searched for information and arguments around the issue, only succeeding in exposing evidence of a new innuendo. The ‘Milenio’ newspaper in its Thursday, April 25th edition, in an article under the headline "Oil Negotiations between Cuba and Mexico in Place since February" reported that although Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) had sold no oil to Cuba since 1997, "conversations were held up until last February between Pemex and ‘Cubapetróleo’ on a plan, promoted from within Mexico, to restart and finance the purchase of oil and its derivatives, the prospecting in the Cuban zone of the Gulf of Mexico and other such investments.
During his research into "the news" offered by the Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretary– read Castañeda’s new machinations and perfidious acts – the journalist Luis Carriles, under the title "Cuba responds: the request was agreed to", sustains that Cuba has asked for nothing during this crisis with Mexico, nor during the Monterrey Summit, nor at the time of Chavez’ crisis.
He added that the information Castañeda would give Fox on Wednesday was a document written three months ago "within the framework of the rescheduling of the Cuban debt, which has been completely paid back in hard cash, right up to the very last cent". Given that the debt was completely repaid, he goes on, that "credit had been arranged for the purchase of oil derivatives and another three or four things, on Mexico’s suggestion". The only reference to the oil subject in these months "came from Mexico in the thick of the Chavez crisis. The Fox government offered to replace those shipments within the framework of the San José agreement to which Cuba did not respond at all". The Mexican Ambassador in Cuba, Ricardo Pascoe, reminded Cuba of the offer on the same day that Mexico informed about its intention to vote in favor of the Uruguay resolution in Geneva. To this, Fidel Castro responded with a clear no: "thanks a lot, but charities are not acceptable", saying that Mexico was attempting to buy dignity with oil.
It is worth noting that later clarifications given by PEMEX executives were also deceitful. We have been able to conclusively verify that Cuba has made no request to PEMEX for oil supplies since the serious political differences arose between the two governments. Neither has Cuba made any advances concerning the Bancomext credit line already mentioned.
Therefore, any assertion on Cuban government negotiations to solicit Mexican credits for such purposes is the fruit of a pathological obsession which may damage the Cuban economy, but will cause greater harm in this case to Mexico’s own interests.
With respect to the offensive statement claiming that Cuba receives all of its oil free of charge from Venezuela, we must reply that Venezuela supplies Cuba with oil in accordance with the Caracas Agreement, which includes all Central American and Caribbean countries. In this manner, Cuba satisfies merely a third of its annual consumption requirements, paying systematically what was agreed upon under the terms previously agreed, as recently recognized by the executives of PDVESA themselves. Other countries cover more than 50 % --and in some cases up to 100 %-- of their consumption needs with the oil coming from this same source.
In the face of events so distant from the "double game" which Mr. Castañeda attempted to saddle Cuba with upon his comeback on stage on April 24th, one might wonder what is behind his new maneuvers, intrigues and lies.
For our part, we must reiterate that no threat or attempted pressure could in any sense intimidate Cuba in the slightest. Our history over the last four decades can by no means, under no grounds, or for no reason, be ignored by any real or potential adversary.
Published in Granma
April 30, 2002