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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 March 2019

Cuba looks to oil from Qatar amid Venezuela crisis

Havana has sent a top trade minister to the Gulf state

A vintage car with its bonnet raised is seen parked at a gas station along the the seafront boulevard “El Malecon” in Havana, Cuba. Reuters
A vintage car with its bonnet raised is seen parked at a gas station along the the seafront boulevard “El Malecon” in Havana, Cuba. Reuters

Cuba dispatched a top trade official to Qatar this week as it tries to diversify its oil suppliers and buy alternative supplies from the Gulf state with top ally Venezuela in crisis.

Foreign Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca was in Qatar on Sunday, and headed to Algeria on Monday, the Cuban foreign ministry said.

In Doha, Mr Malmierca met with prime minister and interior minister, Abdullah bin Nasser Khalifa al Thani, as well as with finance and other authorities.

Cuba is socialist Venezuela's closest international ally.

Since the 2000s, Venezuela has provided oil and economic support to the Americas' only Communist regime, while Havana has sent Caracas thousands of doctors, sports coaches and military advisers.

Many experts say there are Cuban advisers in the highest levels of the Venezuelan army.

With Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro facing a serious crisis, "there is real concern (in Cuba) about the loss of earnings," a diplomat recently told Agence France-Presse news agency after meeting with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

The loss of Venezuelan oil would weaken a Cuban economy that is already performing poorly, with annual growth of only about one per cent and shortages of food.

With a 40 per cent drop in Venezuelan oil shipments in recent years, the island "has begun to look for alternative oil suppliers: Russia, Iran and other countries," said Paul Webster Hare, a former British ambassador who has lived in Cuba and Venezuela.

Updated: February 19, 2019 04:17 PM

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