SA opposition closes ranks on Cuban aid
Opposition parties are united in opposing a R350m economic assistance
package to Cuba
Published: 2012/05/10 07:20:11 AM
Opposition parties were united yesterday in opposing a R350m economic
assistance package to Cuba which only scraped through the approval
process of a parliamentary committee because the chairwoman used her
casting vote to seal it.
The bilateral agreement — which has to be ratified by Parliament — was
reached when President Jacob Zuma visited Cuba in December 2010 and was
concluded in November last year. It comprises a credit facility of R210m
for buying South African goods, a solidarity grant of R100m and a R40m
grant for seeds.
Equal votes were cast by members of the trade and industry committee for
and against the package, which was only finally approved when chairwoman
Joan Fubbs used her casting vote for the first time to support it.
Department of Trade and Industry deputy-director general of
international trade and economic development Xavier Carim justified the
agreement on the grounds that SA and Cuba had strong political and
diplomatic relations. Furthermore, he said, it would strengthen trade
relations and help Cuba deal with the devastation caused by a hurricane.
He said only R35m of the seed grant would actually leave SA, the rest
being used to pay exporters for local products bought on behalf of Cuba.
African National Congress (ANC) whip Bheki Radebe supported the
agreement, highlighting the critical role Cuba had played in the
liberation of SA and in the fight against colonialism in Africa. Cuban
experts and doctors had also provided assistance to SA after 1994, he said.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) objected on the grounds that the government
was pursuing the ANC's interests, not the nation's.
"The DA maintains that SA should not be bailing Cuba out. Government
should not use public money to maintain the political friendship between
the ANC and the Castro regime in Cuba," DA MP Geordin Hill-Lewis said.
"It is also doubtful that Cuba will repay the loan portion of the
agreement, considering that government had to write off R1,1bn of bad
Cuban debt last year."
The bilateral trade between SA and Cuba was too small to justify using
funds that SA needed.
Freedom Front Plus MP Anton Alberts criticised the agreement for not
including conditions on human rights and democratic transformation in Cuba.
Inkatha Freedom Front MP Mario Oriani -Ambrosini also criticised the
lack of human rights considerations.