Sun, Nov 08, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Mexico gives Castro warm welcome

‘INDESTRUCTIBLE BROTHERHOOD’:The Cuban president mentioned his plans to retire, saying he would like to do so in a Mexican city he once stayed at 60 years ago

AFP, MIRIDA, Mexico

Cuban President Raul Castro on Friday received a warm welcome in Mexico as Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto sought to end a diplomatic chill and boost business opportunities on the island.

With the colonial Caribbean city of Merida serving as the backdrop, Castro was given the red carpet treatment at the Yucatan state government palace for his first official visit to Mexico since taking power in 2006.

“Long live the indestructible brotherhood between the people of Cuba and Mexico,” Castro said as he delivered a speech alongside Pena Nieto following a private meeting.

For his part, Pena Nieto greeted Castro with an embrace and told him that “Mexico welcomes you with open arms.”

The two governments signed five cooperation agreements on migration, education, diplomacy, fishing and tourism.

Both leaders made clear that the improved relations could lead to more investment opportunities for Mexican companies as the communist nation implements economic reforms.

“We committed both our governments to creating the conditions for Mexican businessmen and investors to invest in Cuba,” Pena Nieto said.

The diplomatic reconciliation between the US and Cuba has raised the prospect of new business opportunities on the island, although the US embargo remains in place.

In May last year, Mexico sent a business delegation to Havana representing 48 companies. It also opened a trade promotion office in Havana.

Mexico has several investment projects in Cuba’s Mariel megaport.

“We are pleased by the interest that Mexican companies have in doing business and investing in Cuba, especially at the special development zone of Mariel and in sectors like agriculture and tourism,” said Castro, who was to return to Havana later yesterday.

In his bid to improve ties since taking office in 2012, Pena Nieto forgave 70 percent of Cuba’s US$487 million debt in 2013 and held a state visit in Havana a year later.

The US-Cuba rapprochement has had another effect for Mexico, as thousands of Cubans have been entering the country on their way to the US.

The surge is driven by fears among Cubans that the US-Cuba detente will prompt Washington to stop giving them automatic visas when they step on US soil.

Mexican government figures showed that nearly 6,500 Cubans were taken to migration centers in the first nine months of this year, three times more than in all of last year.

Pena Nieto said the two governments signed an agreement to broaden legal tools to ensure a “legal, safe and orderly” flow of migrants between both countries and to combat human trafficking.

Castro’s visit sealed a warming of relations between two nations that have had close ties in past decades.

Pena Nieto feted him with a toast at lunch at a famous villa in Merida, where Castro, an 84-year-old great-grandfather, invoked his plans to retire on Feb. 24, 2018.

“I won’t be a great-great-grandfather ... because Cubans will get bored of me,” Castro said, adding that he would like to return to Merida after retirement, because it was the first place he visited in Mexico 60 years ago.

The Castro brothers lived in exile in Mexico in the 1950s and sailed off from the country to launch their guerrilla revolution.

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