At Havana trade fair, Spain and Cuba refinance debt

Spain and Cuba on Monday took new steps toward bolstering bilateral economic relations, reaching agreement on a deal to refinance the island’s short-term debt and signing several accords during the visits of Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos and Industry Minister José Manuel Soria.

De Guindos and Soria inaugurated the Spanish pavilion at the Havana International Fair, or FIHAV, where Spain was once again the country with the best representation, with a record 160 companies, accounting for more than 25 percent of the businesses at the event.

The unprecedented participation of two Spanish Cabinet ministers at FIHAV, the island’s most important business gathering, comes as international interest in Cuba grows following the restoration of relations between Havana and Washington.

“New stages and new opportunities are opening, I’m convinced that Spain, as happens in foreign trade and in many other markets, will play a fundamental role, especially given the long-standing relationship with Cuba,” De Guindos said.

Soria, for his part, noted the “commitment to permanence” by Spanish businesses on the island, adding that companies from the Iberian nation have “many years in Cuba,” staying through good and bad times.

The inauguration of the Spanish pavilions at FIHAV was attended by five members of Cuban President Raúl Castro’s government, including one of his vice presidents, Ricardo Cabrisas.

The Spanish ministers signed several agreements and memorandums covering economic, innovation, development energy and industrial cooperation.

The most important agreement covers the refinancing of Cuba’s 201.5 million euros ($221.9 million) in short-term debt, including principal and interest, to Spain.

De Guindos and Cabrisas signed the agreement at the Council of State’s headquarters.

The agreement addresses a problem dating back 15 years and opens the way for the countries to make progress on trade and economic cooperation.