October 25, 2018 / 2:29 PM / 21 days ago

Cuba makes debt payment to Western nations, 10 swaps signed

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba paid a third installment on its renegotiated $2.6 billion debt to 14 creditor nations this week, diplomats said, adding that Havana had also signed 10 investment deals as part of a debt swap with creditors, the first since the Revolution.

Cuba reached an agreement in 2015 with members of the Paris Club of wealthy creditor nations that forgave $8.5 billion of the $11.1 billion in debt it defaulted on through 1986, as well as charges.

Repayment of the remaining debt was backloaded through 2033. Cuba paid around $60 million last year and a further $70 million was due by Oct. 31.

The deal was signed as U.S.-Cuba relations improved under then-U.S. President Barack Obama, underpinning improved relations with other Western nations. Cuba, which has been under Communist rule since 1959, is not a member of the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank.

Under the terms of the Paris Club agreement, creditor nations can sell or exchange a large proportion of the remaining debt.

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Britain, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland have all renegotiated their debt bilaterally since 2015.

The agreements often included the establishment of countervalue funds, where a percentage of money owed is discounted for local joint-development projects.

The countervalue funds have an estimated combined value of around $750 million of the $2.6 billion owed, according to various public statements by the governments involved and diplomats.

Spain and France, two of the largest creditors, are the only countries to have successfully negotiated swaps to date, according to diplomatic and business sources with direct knowledge of the agreements.

Spain has signed nine projects supporting joint ventures and other Spanish initiatives for manufacturing cardboard boxes, aluminum structures, railway services, scaffolding and other items to which Cuba contributed the equivalent of a bit more than $24 million from the fund.

A $46 million French project to develop cattle ranching and dairy products in central Camaguey province is up and running in conjunction with France’s development bank and to which Cuba contributed the equivalent of $6 million.

The sources said other projects, including infrastructure, were under discussion and could also involve EU and regional development banks.

Western diplomats said this week’s payment showed the importance Cuba attaches to the accord at a moment when it is short of cash due to the crisis in ally Venezuela. Cuba has also suffered a decline in export earnings and tourism, heightened tension with the United States under President Donald Trump and damage from extreme weather such as hurricanes.

Cuba has published some sparse data on its current account and foreign debt only through 2015, citing the comprehensive U.S. sanction regime.

Diplomats expressed concern that while Cuba was keeping relatively up to date with old and new debt to their governments, it was late with payments to some suppliers and joint venture partners.

Cuba also defaulted on debt to private companies in 1986; some of that remains outstanding.

Holders of around 50 percent of Cuba’s defaulted commercial debt through 1986, with a face value of $1.4 billion, announced in February that they had made an offer to Cuba in line with the Paris Club accord.

“The Cuban government ignored the proposal,” said Rodrigo Olivares-Caminal, coordinator of the creditor group and a law professor at London’s Queen Mary University.

“Some creditors might still consider litigation,” he added.

Reporting by Marc Frank; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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