The New York Times
October 13, 2003

Cuba and Argentina Restore Ties

AVANA, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Argentina restored full diplomatic relations with Communist-run Cuba on Monday, two and half years after pulling out its ambassador due to Cuban criticism that its then government was "licking the boots" of the United States.

Argentine Foreign Minister Rafael Bielsa, installing a new envoy in Havana, said Argentina's left-leaning President Nestor Kirchner planned to visit Cuba in February to cement the new chapter in their ties.

Bielsa made progress in discussing cash-strapped Cuba's $1.9 billion debt to Argentina dating back decades, part of which will be paid in medical treatment in Havana for poor Argentines.

Ties between Argentina and Cuba sank in February 2001 when Cuban leader Fidel Castro accused former Argentine president Fernando de la Rua of "licking the boots of the Yankees" for aligning Argentina with Washington in a United Nations vote against Cuba's human rights record.

The page was turned with Kirchner's election this year and Castro attended his presidential inauguration in May.

Cuba has looked to the growing number of leftist governments elected in South America, topped by the region's giant Brazil, to break out of international isolation that it blames on the United States, which has enforced trade sanctions against Castro for four decades. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva visited Havana last month.

"Latin American countries are beginning to act more independently. New winds of integration are blowing in Latin America," Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said.

"There is growing solidarity against the U.S. blockade, the attempt to isolate Cuba and President (George W.) Bush's attempts to overthrow the Cuban revolution," Perez Roque said.

Argentina and Cuba have already agreed to reduced tariffs on 1,600 items, ranging from Argentina agricultural and industrial exports to Cuba and Cuban products sold to Argentina, mainly medicine and vaccines.

Argentina has also agreed to back negotiations for a "4 plus 1" trade pact between Cuba and Mercosur, the four-nation Southern Cone customs union, Perez Roque said.

But Argentina, recovering from a severe financial meltdown, needs Cuba to pay its debt.

The ministers said they made progress identifying ways in which Cuba could meet its obligations, such as providing medical services to low-income Argentines with no access to specialized treatment, similar to a deal Cuba has with Venezuela to pay for its oil imports.

Cuba will open up to Argentine investment and exports, Perez Roque said.