HAVANA – Russian President Vladimir Putin began a six-day Latin American tour aimed at boosting trade and ties in the region with a stop Friday in Cuba, a key Soviet ally during the Cold War that has backed Moscow in its dispute with the West over Ukraine.
The two countries signed about a dozen accords in areas such as energy, industry, health and disaster prevention. Russian companies will participate in petroleum projects around Boca de Jaruco on the island’s north coast, and that cooperation will extend to offshore oil deposits.
Another agreement covered infrastructure at a big new port project that Cuba hopes will become a regional shipping center and attract much-needed foreign investment.
“We are talking about the possibility of creating in Cuba a grand transportation hub with a possible modernization of the maritime port of Mariel and the construction of a modern airport with its respective cargo terminal,” Putin said.
Moscow is also forgiving 90 percent of Cuba’s Soviet-era debt, which totals more than $35 billion.
Amid the crisis in Ukraine, the countries on Putin’s itinerary have shown themselves to be sympathetic to Russia’s position on the conflict.
Putin made a stop in Nicaragua on Friday night for a one-hour meeting with President Daniel Ortega. He then flew on to Argentina, whose president, Cristina Fernandez, accused the United States and Britain in March of having a double standard for criticizing a pro-Russian secession vote held in Crimea while backing a status referendum in the disputed Falkland Islands.