Thursday, May 24, 2012

R350m Cuba deal sparks row

R350m Cuba deal sparks row
May 24 2012 at 10:31am
By Shanti Aboobaker

A controversial R350-million "economic assistance package" SA plans to
give to Cuba sparked heated debate in Parliament on Wednesday.

Earlier this month, the portfolio committee on trade and industry
ratified – by a single vote – an agreement entered into after President
Jacob Zuma visited the country last year.

The deal includes a R100m "solidarity grant" – which will not have to be
repaid, in addition to a loan of R250m.

The loan includes R40m to purchase seeds – of which R5m must be spent on
SA seeds – and a further R210m in tranched loans.

While the ANC cited Cuba's solidarity with the liberation struggle in SA
as reason enough to justify the package, opposition parties highlighted
Cuba's human rights record and said the money could have been better
spent on pressing needs at home.

Trade and industry portfolio committee chairwoman Joan Fubbs (ANC) said
the deal consisted of three parts, the first of which was the R40m in
aid to buy seeds, "to feed the people there – to grow things".

The second part was the R100m solidarity grant, "And may I say that
raised such a furore. Solidarity! Yet you hear it all the time in the
European Union".

The last "facility" was R210m in credit lines "and these are a loan,
actually. We're not talking of a grant. A loan – which is expected to be
repaid to South Africa".

"And I do think… we need to remember those who remembered us and
supported us, in our hour of need. And that is why this House now sits
today, under the constitution of South Africa."

But DA MP Geordin Hill-Lewis said:

"Cuban law limits freedom of expression, association, assembly, movement
and the press. Human Rights Watch has documented evidence of systematic
human rights abuses in Cuba, including torture, arbitrary imprisonment
and extrajudicial executions."

If the ANC wanted to "betray its history" of standing for democracy, it
was free to do so, but "this Parliament should not".

"If the ANC wants to support Raul Castro then it should use Chancellor
House money to do so. It should not make South Africa pay for its
friendship with the Castro regime," Hill-Lewis said.

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