Cablegate: Vietnam: Castro Visits Hanoi - According to A

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

REFS: Hanoi 264

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Cuban President Fidel Castro and an
entourage of over 100 government and business officials made
a "successful" and carefully scripted visit to Hanoi from
February 21-23, on his way to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)
summit in Kuala Lumpur. This was Castor's third visit to
Vietnam (previous visits were in 1973 and 1995). The
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) announced the visit only
24 hours in advance. The visit generated significant press
coverage but there did not appear to be much interest among
the general public. Castro's visit "cemented bonds" between
two traditional friends. "Multi-faceted" bilateral
cooperation, especially on the political and economic
fronts, appeared to be the main focus; Castro also found
time to denounce US policy on Iraq. Communist Party of
Vietnam (CPV) General Secretary Nong Duc Manh called for an
"immediate end" to the Cuban embargo. END SUMMARY.


2. (SBU) The MFA announced on the afternoon of February 20
that Castro would be visiting Hanoi February 21-23. Even by
GVN standards, this was exceptionally short notice for a
major state visit. Several third country embassy contacts
as well as senior UN officials said that they were also
surprised by the MFA's announcement. An MFA Americas Desk
official who was not directly involved in the visit claimed
that the short notice was "not significant." According to
the Americas Desk, the visit had been planned for a long
time, but the exact timing was in doubt until very recently.
Colonel Tran Nhung, International Department Director of the
"People's Army" newspaper said that even the GVN's top
leadership only knew about the visit three days in advance.
Colonel Nhung opined that the main reasons for the short
notice were (1) Cuban "obsession" with security and (2) the
Cuban government's "typical indecisiveness as reflected by
Castro's working style." A contact at the Mexican Embassy
suggested that the current Cuban ambassador, who is "very
close to Fidel," might have influenced him to stop in Hanoi
on his way to the NAM summit.

3. (U) Despite the apparently short notice, the GVN put
together a very busy program for Castro, who looked "quite
frail" according to press reports. The program included a
series of meetings with top officials, including CPV General
Secretary Nong Duc Manh; Prime Minister Phan Van Khai; State

President Tran Duc Luong; and National Assembly Chairman
Nguyen Van An. Castro also met with former CPV General
Secretaries Do Muoi and Le Kha Phieu; former President Le

Duc Anh, and General Vo Nguyen Giap, according to press
reports. Other events included a cultural performance at
the Hanoi Opera House; ceremonies at the Ho Chi Minh
mausoleum and Jose Marti statue; a visit to an electronics
plant on the outskirts of Hanoi; and a speech to students at
the Hanoi Polytecnic University.


4. (SBU) MFA Latin American Desk officials involved in the
Castro visit told Pol FSN they are all "too busy" to discuss
the substance, if any, to the visit. However, it appears
that Castro's meetings focused mainly exchanging ideas on a
number of bilateral issues. One unconfirmed rumor picked up
by the embassy is that Castro made a plea to the GVN senior
leadership for additional economic assistance due to the
dire state of Cuba's economy. (Note: During PM Khai's
visit to Cuba in October 2002 (reftel), Vietnam agreed to
sell additional rice to Cuba. In 2002, Vietnam exported
125,000 tons of rice to Cuba; the total volume for 2003 is
expected to rise to 150,000 tons, apparently on "easy
payment" terms. (End Note) According to Colonel Nhung,
Castro's meetings with the GVN and CPV leadership included:
(1) exchanging views on the NAM summit; (2) discussing
Vietnam's views on current issues such as Iraq and North
Korea; and (3) obtaining the GVN's thoughts on how Vietnam's
economic renovation policies might be applied to Cuba.
While other areas, such as economic cooperation, received
some attention, Colonel Nhung said that he "doubted" that
those discussions were "more than general;" as far as he
knew, there were no concrete bilateral agreements. The
bilateral relationship is "strong and established and there
are really no outstanding bilateral issues between us,
Colonel Nhung claimed.

5. (SBU) According to press reports, both sides would like
to improve two-way trade, which amounted to only about USD
48 million in 2002. However, Colonel Nhung said that
"substantial improvement" in this sector is "unlikely in the
near future" due to the ailing Cuban economy. He opined
that the US embargo has "really hurt" Cuba's economy.
Indeed, during the visit, CPV General Secretary Manh
denounced the US embargo and said that it should "be ended
immediately," according to a press report. Le Linh Lan,
head of the MFA's Institute of International Relations
Institute for International Relations Center for Euro -
American Studies said separately that the visit was "mainly
symbolic." Lan opined that, while there were "probably a
few minor interministerial agreements as well as "some"
business contracts, the poor state of Cuba's economy is an
overriding factor that limits the possibility of a stronger
economic relationship.


6. (SBU) According to Colonel Nhung and press reports,
Castro and Vietnam's leadership discussed Iraq. One press
report noted that both sides called for a diplomatic
solution based on "respect for Iraq's independence,
sovereignty, and territorial integrity, in keeping with the
UN Charter and international laws." (Comment: This is very
much in line with prior GVN statements on the Iraq issue.
End Comment) Colonel Nhung claimed that both sides
"completely agree" on Iraq; he predicted that the NAM summit
will also reflect their "solidarity" concerning Iraq.


7. (U) While State-controlled broadcast and print media
gave the Castro visit widespread coverage, there appeared
little discernable public interest. At the Hanoi Opera
House cultural performance on February 22, poloff observed a
"crowd" of perhaps 250 people waiting on sidewalks adjacent
to the Opera House for Castro's arrival. About 10-15
percent appeared to be tourists from nearby hotels. Two
university students said that they "were excited" about the
visit because "Fidel is a great friend of Vietnam." The
event, attended by many senior diplomats was scheduled to
begin at 9:00 PM; however, the guest of honor, preceded by
the GVN and CPV leadership and accompanied by what looked
like a platoon of very large Cuban security personnel, did
not arrive until nearly 10:30. The ambassador of Japan
apparently ran out of patience and was seen leaving the
venue at about 9:40. Reportedly, a number of senior
diplomats chose not to attend the performance due to the
last minute invitations. At the February 23 ceremony at the
Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, poloff observed perhaps 50 onlookers,
(kept at least 250 meters from the mausoleum); at least 20
were PRC tourists on a group tour. Castro's speech at the
Hanoi Polytechnic University on February 23 drew a crowd of
students and government officials estimated at 3,000, but,
according to a press report, many of the attendees were
"encouraged" to attend the event. Colonel Nhung attributed
the lack of demonstrative public interest to (1) a decline
in Cuba's relevancy to Vietnam over the past 15 years and
(2) people generally have become more used to "all types of
foreign visits."


8. (SBU) Reftel reported that Party Secretary Manh may
visit Cuba in 2003. According to press reports, Castro
reiterated the invitation and Manh "happily accepted."
Colonel Nhung predicted that Manh's visit is "more likely"
to take place in 2004 because National Assembly Chairman
Nguyen Van An "will probably" visit Cuba in late March or
early April in conjunction with his attending the April 6-12
Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference in Santiago, Chile.
Following the NAM summit, Castro will visit China. Although
not announced in the local press, Castro will also visit
Japan on March 1 and 2, according to Japanese emboffs.


9. (SBU) The last minute nature of this visit invites
speculation that Castro needed some convincing to visit
arguably his oldest friend, despite having visited here only
twice since he came to power in 1959. In contrast, another
"old friend," Palestine Authority President Yasser Arafat,
has visited Vietnam about 20 times. While it seems likely
that the close bilateral relationship (as well as the
solidarity rhetoric) between two of the five remaining
communist countries will continue, we predict that Vietnam
will maintain its path of trying to become a more
significant player in the mainstream diplomatic community,
focusing on oft-stated goals such as WTO accession and a
seat on the UN Security Council.

© Scoop Media

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