Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 180

It was also unclear whether Ivanov’s visit has helped the two countries move forward on a pair of key issues: the repayment of Cuba’s Soviet-era debt to Moscow and a joint project by which the two countries hope to complete the controversial Juragua nuclear power plant. With regard to the debt question, Ivanov proclaimed during his stay in Havana that Moscow would not allow Cuba’s estimated US$20 billion debt to impede the development of friendly relations between the two countries. But, despite earlier indications that the two countries intended to discuss even their most nettlesome problems during Ivanov’s visit (Russian agencies, September 28), the Russian foreign minister suggested afterward that the debt issue had not arisen in their conversations. His talks with Castro and with Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, Ivanov said, consisted solely of political discussions meant to set the tone for a continuing dialogue between cabinet-level ministers of the two countries. The debt issue, he added, would be handled by the finance ministers of the two countries at an undetermined later date (AP, September 28).

There was also little to indicate this week whether–or to what degree–Ivanov had broached the subject of the Juragua nuclear power plant during his Havana visit. Plans to complete construction of the plant are controversial both because of intense U.S. opposition to the plant, and because Cuba and Russia have thus far failed to come up with the US$700-800 million it is estimated will be required to complete it. U.S. opposition is based on a belief that the plant, which would be situated only about 200 miles from Florida’s southern tip, would pose a serious environmental threat. U.S. experts warn that the uncompleted plant has been sitting idle since 1992 and that its greatly deteriorated condition would make a resumption of construction unwise. They also argue that the Russian technology which would go into the plant is not up to Western standards. Although completion of the plant does not appear to be on the horizon, he United States has set up a monitoring system in Florida to detect any possible upsurges in radiation coming from the site (Reuters, September 27).

Construction of two Soviet-designed light-water reactors began in the early 1980s, but was halted in 1992 due to financial problems brought on by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Although experts believe the light-water reactors to be safer than graphite-cooled models used at the Chornobyl plant in Ukraine and elsewhere in the Soviet bloc, they say that the reactors are still not up to Western standards.

The Cuban authorities have tried to revive the Juragua project, but the intense opposition of Washington has discouraged Western companies from any involvement in the construction effort. Russian-Cuban talks to restart construction, meanwhile, have foundered on financial obstacles. The two countries nevertheless reached an agreement this past spring to establish a joint venture which would aim to complete the construction project. Although Cuban officials spoke confidently afterward that work would indeed be resumed, it was unclear whether the new agreement included provisions for funding. U.S. State Department officials dismissed the agreement on those grounds, arguing that it would require a massive amount of funding which neither Cuba nor Russia is capable of raising (AP, May 13; Reuters, May 15; UPI, May 24; Itar-Tass, May 25).