Wed, Nov 24, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Hu, Castro meet in Cuba

CUTTING DEALS Hours into a visit to Cuba by China's leader, the two countries signed a raft of economic agreements, including Chinese investment in the island

AFP , HAVANA

Presidents Fidel Castro of Cuba and Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) of China signed 16 economic cooperation agreements, including a lucrative investment in Cuban nickel production, only hours after the third visit by a Chinese leader to Havana began on Monday.

The visit was the final stop on Hu's first Latin American tour, which also took him to Brazil, Argentina and Chile, where he attended an APEC summit.

Hu was welcomed at the Havana airport by Defense Minister Raul Castro, the president's brother and the No. 2 in the Cuban government. Hu then headed to the presidential palace for talks with Castro.

There, Castro, recuperating from a broken knee, welcomed the Chinese leader with a "Viva China!" from his wheelchair before inviting Hu into the government palace for private talks.

"We sincerely wish that the Cuban people march without surrender on the road to building socialism," the Chinese leader said.

Hu said his "visit will achieve our goal of deepening our friendship and financial cooperation," he said.

Both sides have hailed the importance of the 29-hour visit, which came as reformist China enjoys a booming economy, while Cuba, the only communist state in the Western Hemisphere, remains mired in a deep crisis.

Castro already has made it clear he expected the visit to bring significant investments to the Caribbean island nation, whose economy has suffered a steady decline since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Only two hours after his arrival, Hu and Castro publicly signed 16 cooperation agreements, including one boosting the extraction of nickel from Cuba's top world reserve estimated at 800 million tonnes.

The agreement calls for building an extraction facility that will produce 20,400 tonnes of nickel and cobalt per year.

Located in the Cuban province of Holguin, 800km east of Havana, the Las Cariocas plant will boost Cuban nickel production from its current 75,000 tonnes a year to almost 100,000 tonnes, a long-sought goal of the Cuban government.

The plant will be 49 percent owned by China's Minmetal and 51 percent by Cuba's Cubaniquel monopoly.

China and Europe are the chief importers of Cuban nickel.

Other agreements signed by Hu and Castro favor the biotechnology, tourism, telecommunications, fishing, education and health sectors.

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