June 19, 2013
Mexico's Calderón arrives in Cuba pledging better relations
Mexican President Felipe Calderón pledged to improve his government's rocky relations with Cuba and seek new trade opportunities when he arrived on Wednesday for a short visit to the communist island.
Calderón, making his first official trip to the country just 120 miles (193 km) across the Yucatan Channel from Mexico, was greeted at the Havana airport by a vice minister from Cuba's Foreign Ministry in a low-level welcome that may have signalled the state of ties between the two countries.
Calderón told reporters that Cuba-Mexico relations were in a "renewed stage" and he hoped to "take to its best level."
"We want to expand trade and investment between Mexico and Cuba," he said, including "bilateral cooperation in energy."
Calderón was scheduled to meet with President Raúl Castro and Ricardo Alarcón, head of the Cuban parliament, among others, during his stay of less than 24 hours. It was not known if he would visit former leader Fidel Castro, who is retired but occasionally talks with visiting dignitaries.
Calderón was to go to Haiti on Thursday, then on to Cartagena, Columbia for the Summit of the Americas.
The Mexican leader, who has just seven months left in his six-year term, is seeking ways for Mexican businesses to take advantage of economic changes under way in Cuba, his office said.
President Castro, who succeeded older brother Fidel Castro in 2008, has undertaken reforms of Cuba's dysfunctional Soviet-style economy to encourage private-sector development and reduce the role of the government.
Calderón also may be looking to help his political party, the conservative National Action Party, in Mexico's July presidential election by shoring up relations that Mexicans widely support because of admiration that Cuba has thumbed its nose at the United States for half a century.
Historically close Cuba-Mexico ties were stretched almost to breaking point during the administration of former President Vicente Fox, also a PAN member. Fox irked Fidel Castro by taking a critical stance on Cuba's human rights and told the Cuban leader he had to leave a Mexican-hosted summit before US President George W. Bush arrived.
Fidel Castro, now 85, taped the 2002 conversation and made it public, which created an embarrassing controversy for Fox.
Other problems followed and continued under Calderón, who in 2009 angrily cancelled a scheduled visit to Cuba when the Cuban government suspended flights between the two countries at the height of the swine flu scare.