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* Cuba’s financial situation worsens
* Creditor group reached out to Cuba in late Jan
* Another chance to reach amicable understanding
By Karin Strohecker
LONDON, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Cuba’s commercial creditors have offered “very significant debt relief” in a proposal sent to cash-strapped Havana in late January, according to two advisers to the group, in a sign that holders of the defaulted debt are ready to ramp up the pressure.
The communist-run island has seen its financial situation deteriorate in recent months following the deepening of Venezuela’s economic crisis, lower revenue from commodity and related exports, devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma and tightening of business and travel restrictions by the U.S. administration under President Donald Trump.
In 2015, Cuba reached a debt deal with members of the Paris Club of creditor nations, but having not dealt with its defaulted commercial creditors in the London Club means the country is in effect shut out of international capital markets.
“The committee reached out to Cuba in late January,” said Rodrigo Olivares-Caminal, coordinator of the creditor group and a law professor at London’s Queen Mary University.
“We have made a good faith proposal to the government.”
The creditor group holds obligations representing a face value of $1.4 billion worth of Cuban debt and is made up of three funds - Stancroft Trust Ltd, Adelante Exotic Debt Fund Ltd and CRF I Ltd - as well as one commercial bank.
“We are trying to give the country another chance to reach an amicable understanding with creditors,” Olivares-Caminal told Reuters. “This would give them very beneficial terms to remedy their situation vis-à-vis capital markets.”
While details of the proposal were confidential, it would convey “very significant debt relief” said Lee Buchheit at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, one of the world’s top restructuring lawyers who was retained by the group last year.
“Cuba negotiated a generous debt relief package with most of its bilateral creditors at the very end of 2015,” Buchheit told Reuters. “The London Club offer draws on certain features of the deal with the bilateral creditors but in some respects it is even more generous to the Cubans.”
Under the 2015 deal, a number of Paris Club of creditor nations forgave $8.5 billion of $11.1 billion official debt it had defaulted on through 1986, plus charges. Repayment of the remaining debt was structured over 18 years, and Havana paid the first two instalments due since.
As part of the accord, some creditors were also preparing to swap debt for an equity stake in local development projects. This was seen as a breakthrough with Cuba agreeing for the first time to give rich capitalist countries equity in development projects in sectors like manufacturing and agriculture.
Cuba does not publish up-to-date information on its foreign debt, citing a need to keep sensitive economic information from Washington, which it has long accused of trying to disrupt its financial and trade relations under a comprehensive U.S. sanctions regime.
However, the creditor group estimated it was holding at least 50 percent of Cuba’s private sector debt. Olivares-Caminal added the proposal would be open for a limited period of time, though declined to give further detail.
Cuba’s cash crunch and lower oil supplies from Venezuela have forced the government to slash imports and reduce the use of fuel and electricity. (Reporting by Karin Strohecker, Editing by William Maclean)