President Jacob Zuma.  Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu
President Jacob Zuma. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Opposition slams Cuba aid as ‘lavish’

By Deon de Lange Time of article published May 11, 2012

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Opposition parties have reacted angrily to the ratification of an agreement between South Africa and Cuba that will see a R350-million taxpayer-funded “economic assistance package” handed to the island nation. They say the money would have been better spent at home, and that public money should never be used to “prop up an anti-democratic and nepotistic regime”.

The National Assembly’s committee on trade and industry voted this week – by a single vote – to ratify the agreement, entered into after President Jacob Zuma visited Cuba last year.

The deal offers Cuba a R100m “solidarity grant” – which will not have to be repaid – and a credit line of R250m. Of the latter amount, Cuba will be given R40m to buy seeds – of which R5m must be spent on South African seeds – and a further R210m in tranched loans.

The latest aid package follows the government’s controversial decision last year to write off R1.1 billion in Cuban debts. DA trade and industry spokesman Geordin Hill-Lewis said on Thursday that the government “should not use public money to maintain the political friendship between the ANC and the Castro regime in Cuba”.

He also said the agreement came without any strings attached, placing no conditions on the Cuban government to “respect human rights or democratic governance”.

“We cannot afford to be throwing money away like this. It will not help to improve our people’s lives, and will only help to prop up an anti-democratic and nepotistic regime in Cuba. It cannot be justified,” Hill-Lewis said.

FF Plus finance spokesman Anton Alberts also complained about the lack of conditions attached to the deal, particularly the government’s failure to insist that Cuba “reform its human rights record in order to move towards democracy”.

“This deal appears to offer no real benefits to South Africa,” Alberts said.

Zuma’s visit to Cuba last year – where he was bestowed that country’s highest civilian honour by President Raul Castro Ruz – raised eyebrows when it was revealed that the ANC’s Progressive Business Forum, a party-political networking group, benefited from the trip.

Speaking at the signing of the agreement in February, Cuba’s ambassador to South Africa, Angel Villa, said the deal was important to his country, particularly as it coincided with the 50th anniversary of the US imposing sanctions on Cuba.

Ties between South Africa and Cuba have grown since the two countries established the Sa-Cuba Joint Consultative Mechanism (JCM) in 2001.

Since then, the countries have entered into various co-operation agreements, including a deal for 500 young South Africans to receive primary health-care training in Cuba. South Africa is also at the forefront of an international campaign lobbying for economic, trade and financial embargoes against Cuba to be lifted.

At the JCM’s meeting in August, deputy minister of international relations and co-operation Ebrahim Ebrahim said South Africa’s close relationship with Cuba “goes beyond government-to-government relations”, as shown by the “close fraternal relationship at a people-to-people level and (political) party level”.

“This close and trusted relationship enables South Africa to learn closely from the successes of the (Cuban) revolution in as far as delivery of social benefits to our citizens (is concerned),” he said at the time.

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