Latin American Network Information Center - LANIC
FBIS-LAT-94-124 Daily Report 28 Jun 1994 CARIBBEAN Cuba

Castro, Colombian Businessmen Review Trade

FL2706235094 FL2706235094 BFN

[Editorial Report] Havana Cuba Vision Network in Spanish at 0033 GMT on 25 June carries a recording of President Fidel Castro's 16 June meeting with Colombian businessmen in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, following the closure of the Fourth Ibero-American Summit. Castro is wearing a guayabera and is seated at a long table with various persons on either side, facing approximately 60 businessmen and officials who are attending the meeting.

President Castro begins the meeting with the following statement: "We are here full of hope for encouraging this fraternal, friendly spirit that has been created, the perspectives that have opened. The only thing I really deplore about this is that we are not the PRC instead of Cuba. Cuba is tiny; it is a small country, while the PRC is enormous, millions of square km, with a population of 1.2 billion. All the businessmen, industrialists, and investors want to go there, to the PRC. Cuba is small, but we can certainly do something in Cuba. We can fulfill a principle, above all -- to develop economic, friendship, cooperation, trade, and peace relations among nations. We can encourage economic and trade ties.

``We are willing to cooperate based on one essential thing, seriousness. I can tell you that whatever can be done in Cuba will be done with absolute and total seriousness by us. Since this is the case, I am sure you want to know about many things. I will not tell you about the summit. The newspapers have already reported it. Perhaps we can appoint a moderator. Whom do we appoint governor? No, not governor, [chuckles] moderator. He must play the role of governor to act as moderator here.''

Castro and those seated at the main table speak softly among themselves and decide who will be appointed to act as moderator. Castro is heard commenting: "He must have tremendous experience."

An unidentified moderator in the front row stands and begins by "cordially greeting" Castro "on behalf of the business community in Cartagena and the region;" adding that "the resumption of diplomatic and trade relations between Colombia and Cuba" led to "unusual intensive activity. In Cartagena de Indias' case, this was a result of the declaration of sisterhood signed between Santiago de Cuba and Cartagena de Indias." He adds: "The Cuban ambassador and his cultural and trade" attaches have already visited Cartagena de Indias and participated in "a series of meetings that have already shown various excellent perspectives" between this region and Cuba.

The moderator says the meeting is being attended by representatives of many business groups in the region -- large and small industries, hotels, stores, investment firms, fisheries, etc. -- and "they want to comment on the possibility of establishing trade with Cuba. They also have questions concerning issues they have already reviewed with the Cuban ambassador," including "the mechanisms that will be implemented to facilitate these relations." The moderator asks businessmen to stand up, identify themselves, and give the name of the company or activity they represent.

Miguel Parra stands up, introduces himself, and says he is "the owner of Milpa Investments, which operates coal mines in the central part of the country" and has "been doing business with the Cuban company MAPRINTER [Cuban Raw Materials and Intermediate Products Import Enterprise], a branch of the Foreign Trade Ministry, for the last two years. Within this time we have sent 23 shipments -- worth over $4 million -- of this product to Cuba, through the port of Barranquilla." Parra then mentions the medal he was given by the Cuban Government at the 1992 international fair in Havana, in a ceremony that was personally attended by Castro.

Parra specifically asks "the Colombian people, industrialists, and businessmen to have faith in Cuba, to believe in Cuba, to pay little attention to international propaganda because, in our case and with the experience acquired in two and a half years, we have realized that what the international media shows is not reality. Cuba is a country with credibility; it is serious concerning its commitments, as the president has said. In fact, on three occasions, we shipped merchandise without a confirmed letter of credit. This does not mean Cuba does not have the money to pay because Cuba pays us when it pledges to buy something. Instead, due to the blockade we all repudiate, we have to go the long way around, through other countries, to legalize our operations in U.S. dollars; and this obviously delays the procedure. Today, in fact, we are sending a shipment of our product -- coke coal -- to Cuba and we are doing it without having received the letter of credit confirmed by the president. But I repeat, this does not mean you do not fulfill your pledges."

Castro says: "We can stay here as a guarantee." [laughter, applause]

Parra says he and Mayra Tomas, MAPRINTER official, already have plans to establish a port in Barranquilla that "will expedite coal shipments" and give priority to Cuban ships or any ships chartered in other countries, "to overcome the gap that has occurred in maritime transportation." He explains that Thomas has already managed to get various ships to send refractory bricks and other products to Cuba. He promises Castro that a port will legally operate in Barranquilla soon and that the facilities will be at his service so he may use them to ship all the Colombian products he wants to Cuba.

Castro says: "Thank you, thank you. [applause] Which Cuban industry is using this coal right now? The steel industry?"

Parra answers: "It is used to manufacture gas for domestic use; it is used in the steel industry, in foundries, to manufacture acetylene. It is specifically used by Minaz [Ministry of the Sugar Industry] industries...."

Castro interrupts: "And the metalworks industry and basic industry, particularly the one that manufactures gas for the population in an old plant we have over there."

The next speaker is Carlos Banegas, manager of Exclusive Minerals, who invites Colombian businessmen to buy Cuban products and explains that he is the local distributor of Cuban zeolite, which is used in the agriculture sector, "to manufacture fodder, soft drink filters, and beer filters." Speaking of trade with Cuba, he says his company has "imported 3,000 tons of zeolite this year" and has plans to import 5,000 tons by year end. Banegas says he is also the local representative for a new Cuban product, a vaccine to innoculate bovines against ticks. He said "protocol research has been conducted" and its sale should be approved in a month, when it will be available in the local market. Banegas adds that his company expects to initially sell "5 million doses of this vaccine in Colombia."

Banegas is followed by Freddy Lehner, manager of BIOLEHNER, local representative of the Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Center's recombinant vaccine against hepatitis.

Castro turns to Banegas and asks: "What is yours?"

Banegas answers: "A vaccine against bovine ticks."

Castro adds: "Ah, yes, the vaccine against ticks. It is very important and yields good economic results."

Lehner says the Colombian Health Ministry has purchased "a large number of hepatitis B vaccine doses for a large-scale vaccination program" in the country; adding he is also the local representative for the Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Center's (Eyverkinasa), which is a recombinant streptokinase used in case of a heart attack; (Evermin), which is an epidermic growth factor; and Interferon.

Castro states: "(Ateromixol) comes from another center. It is the famous PPG [expansion unknown]."

Lehner suggests that it be called (Ateromixol) in Colombia rather than PPG.

Castro replies: "Yes. Coincidentially, the name was arbitrarily invented when they were involved in its research. One day they went to register a product in Spain and discovered a product named PPG in Spain. Imagine, what a coincidence. So many letters, so many combinations; yet they could not register it as PPG, but it is known as PPG almost everywhere."

Lehner smiles and says: "I am always asked why the product is called PPG, but I still do not know."

Castro answers: "It was an arbitrary decision, yet people invent names for the PPG."

Lehner says his company is also the local representative for the Carlos J. Finlay Institute's meningococci vaccine, which was tested with "excellent" results in Antioquia, where 20,000 children were inoculated with doses donated by the Cuban Government.

Castro says: "That vaccine is important because meningococci disease sows terror. It is not only a matter of how many children are saved, which is priceless, but the fear this disease instills in the family. It involves millions of people, parents, siblings, uncles, everyone. Whenever a person sees a child with fever or any symptom, he immediately thinks about the possibility of meningococci. We eradicated that scourge, that terror in our country precisely as a result of that vaccine. The use of this vaccine has expanded considerably; it is being sold in Argentine. Its sale is being discussed with the Brazilians and other countries. It is a product with many perspectives."

Lehner explains that the Colombian authorities are working hard to inoculate children in rural areas and poor sectors, adding that maningococci cases have been detected in Barranquilla, Buenaventura, Cali, and Cartagena de Indias, and every effort is being made so the people learn about this vaccine.

Castro states: "It is the only vaccine of its kind in the world. The same goes for the tick vaccine. It too is the only one of its kind. We have people working there, wracking their brains, to see how they can help the country counter its difficult situations. We have made important investments in the research sector. We are now completing the construction of a center that has already begun to produce monoclonal antibodies. These are tremendously important, not only for the diagnosis of diseases, but also for the struggle against cancer, where new theories and possibilities have appeared.

``I think there is a possibility of finding a cancer vaccine, above all, one dealing with viruses. The goal is to find specific antibodies that directly attack malignant cells because the medicine available right now attacks all the cells and has damaging side effects. Nevertheless, I think the center we are completing right now has a possibility of doing this because it will be one of the leading centers, one of the best centers in the world. I am glad we were able to help. I am glad we were able to meet; it is a pleasure. I am proud that [words indistinct] symbolically representing [words indistinct]''

An unidentified speaker asks about AIDS research in Cuba, to which Castro answers: "Yes, we are working on AIDS, too. Research began in the very beginning and we have achieved great success concerning AIDS. It is a terrible threat right now and apparently, it is very difficult to control because it is a mutant virus. A mutant virus is difficult because you may find the way to attack a specific type of virus -- for example the flu virus -- but if it mutates, it becomes another type of virus. [Words indistinct] using Interferon, an antiviral [words indistinct] from blood, and we have been using special measures to prevent its propagation because AIDS spreads like wildfire. Sometimes all it takes is one case to infect 30, 40, or 50 persons. People have a mentality. Sometimes they ignore this, granted, but we know of cases in which people know they are infected, but do not care if others become infected. The situation concerning that disease is truly dramatic and everyone has a responsibility to work on AIDS, cancer, parasites, and virus research.

``We are trying to find a multiple vaccine that immunizes a person against many diseases with a single dose. We are trying to do this through genetic engineering, which will perfect the vaccine. We now have the maningococci vaccine and the hepatitis vaccine through genetic engineering, just as we have the streptokinase through genetic engineering. Just see the difference between this and the natural product. Some people manufacture it from natural products, extracting the serum from people and all that, but what does a dose cost? $1,500. How much does a dose of streptokinase cost? More than $300 -- I do not know what the current price is, but the cost is five times less when the same medicine is a result of genetic engineering.

``I am taking this opportunity to tell you that part of the medicine we currently export to Colombia is destined to pay some old debts that are still pending. We intend to honor our commitments and pay some debts this way. I believe the possibilities are many because you have a large population -- 30 million, or more than 30 million.''

The moderator says: "33 million."

Castro exclaims: "How you have grown! You were half that many a few years ago. You also have different climates -- tropical, temperate -- and yours is one of the countries most concerned about people's health. Let me tell you, the recent Colombian Governments have been most concerned about health programs."

The last speaker is Rizo, president of the Cartagena de Indias Chamber of Commerce, who has reviewed Cuba's progress in the technology, science, and engineering sectors. Colombia has achieved various degrees of development, which entails various degrees of technology. Rizo says he "believes an enormous exchange of technology could occur between Cuba and Colombia in this concern," and he would like to exchange information with Cuban professionals, engineers, and consultation firms. This would enable them to carry out excellent work, both in Cuba and Colombia because "if there is something Cuba has done, it has been to improve the quality of people's lives. We still have a lot of people whose quality of life must be improved, and advanced technology is too expensive for them."

Castro asks: "Does this include low-cost housing?"

Rizo answers: "Yes, Sir."

Castro emphasizes: "You must work hard to find solutions, to build low-cost houses, as we call them."

Rizo says this also includes sewers, aqueducts, communication, roads, and all the services needed for a better lifestyle.

The meeting ends with Castro's statement: "I wanted to tell you I feel very satisfied about this meeting with you. The Fourth Ibero-American Summit has just been held. Its main goal was integration, and we are specifically working on issues dealing with our two countries' integration. We have achieved progress and who knows how far we can go -- until one day we are fully integrated. We should strive to be fully integrated, and we must first do it with our neighbors. As I said, the flight from Havana to Santiago in a turbo- prop aircraft takes practically as long as the trip from Havana to Cartagena de Indias in a jet aircraft. I was astonished by this. I had not realized this even though I was here recently. This time, I sat down, read some papers, and chatted for awhile, and suddenly we were landing here. The communications revolution has brought us closer.

We are very similar; at least we are quite similar to the people in Cartagena de Indias, perhaps because we live in a warmer, more tropical climate. Maybe the people in Santa Fe de Bogota are not so communicative because they live on a plateau and it is colder over there. It is colder there, and I am told the city has grown so much and there is so much cement that it is now like Mexico City, where the average temperature has increased. We are very much alike however, and it is a truly promising step to discover there are so many possibilities for getting closer, working together, developing the economy together.

``Once again, we have reason to dream what our liberators dreamed of -- that one day our Latin American nations would be united, a strong united front. We speak the same language, have the same culture, and we can speak here without translators. We know we can talk, while it is difficult to do this in the world today if you do not speak another language. If we have no other choice but to learn English, then we will learn English. In the end, it is not our fault that the English were great colonizers and spread the language throughout Asia, Africa, Canada, and other places. We will do this to speak with the others, with outsiders, but we only need to speak Spanish among ourselves -- except for one or two words that have different meanings here and there. It is a language in which we can perfectly well understand one another. What an advantage this is for becoming closer; what an advantage for us to unite; what an advantage for becoming a union someday. When I have a meeting like this, I believe more than ever in the things I have always believed in. Thank you.'' [applause]