An Information Service of the Cuba Transition Project
Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies
University of Miami

Issue 30
November 14, 2002


Staff Report, Cuba Transition Project


The following chronology on Cuba in the Middle East, 2000-2002, highlights Fidel Castro's continuous and growing involvement with Middle Eastern and Muslim countries. This chronology updates an earlier one, "Cuba in the Middle East," prepared by Domingo Amuchastegui and released by the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies in 1999.


September 13: Qatar's Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, arrived in Cuba on the first-ever official visit by a Persian Gulf head of state. Fidel Castro decorated al-Thani with Cuba's highest distinction, the Jose Marti Order. The Qatari delegation visited Havana's Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. Cuba and Qatar signed cooperation accords in health, science, and technology.

September 15: Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, concluded an official three-day visit to Havana. Fidel Castro honored Saleh with the Jose Marti Order and received the Order of the Republic of Yemen from its president. Saleh and the Yemeni delegation toured the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology and the Frank Pais orthopedic hospital in Havana. Cuba and Yemen agreed to expand joint ventures, facilitate investment, and increase technical cooperation.

September 30: Iranian president Mohammad Khatami arrived in Havana on a landmark two-day official visit to Cuba. Castro conferred the Jose Marti Order on Iran's president. Castro and Khatami discussed oil and bilateral relations. Khatami visited the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in Havana where he praised Cuba's scientific achievements stating that "imperialist powers could not monopolize knowledge and technology."


May 5-17: Fidel Castro and a senior Cuban government delegation visited Algeria, Iran, Malaysia, Qatar, Syria, and Libya to bolster political and economic ties with Muslim states before returning to Cuba.

May 5-7: Fidel Castro bestowed the Cuban state's highest honor-the Jose Marti Order--on Algeria's current president and his long-time ally, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The Algerian president inducted Castro as an honorary member of the Algerian armed forces, decorating him with the Medals of the Algeria Liberation Army and the National Liberation Front. The two heads of state held official and private talks on regional and international matters and committed to strengthening bilateral ties.

May 8-10: In Tehran, Castro laid a floral wreath at the tomb of the late Ayatollah Khomeini and called Iran a "friend, brother, and ally of the progressive and independence-loving peoples of the world." Castro was received by and conferred with the highest political and religious powers in Iran, including president Mohammad Khatami, the current supreme leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, and former president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, among others.

May 10: Speaking at the Islamic University of Tehran, Fidel Castro stated: "Iran and Cuba, in cooperation with each other, can bring America to its knees. The U.S. regime is very weak, and we are witnessing this weakness from close up." During his stay in Iran, Castro inspected the construction of a joint Cuban-Iranian "biotechnology complex, the largest and most modern of its type in the Middle East," according to Granma, the official Cuban newspaper.

May 10-13: In Kuala Lampur, Fidel Castro met with Malaysian prime minister and strongman Mahathir bin Mohammad. Castro praised Mohammad as the "rebel of the East" for his authoritarian regime's opposition to Western democracy. Cuba and Malaysia signed an accord to expand bilateral economic, scientific, and cultural ties.

May 13-15: Fidel Castro arrived in Doha for his first visit to Qatar. He was received by Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and interviewed by the al-Jazeera news network. Castro visited Qatar's Ras Laffan liquefied natural gas complex and sought to strengthen ties to the petroleum-rich emirate.

May 15: Syria's president Bashar Hafez al-Assad welcomed Castro to Damascus. The two heads of state held official and private talks on building bilateral relations and coordinating a response to U.S. policies. Castro recalled the participation of Cuban military units in Syria during the 1973-1975 war with Israel.

May 16: In Libya, Fidel Castro and Mohammar Qaddafi conversed in public and private on ways to strengthen Cuba-Libya relations and bolster cooperation that peaked in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Castro visited Qaddafi's former residence bombed by the U.S. in 1986. Castro wrote in the visitors' log: "It is one thing to hear about the barbarity of the Yankee empire and quite another to see it in all its horror. It is something that can never be forgotten."

July 26: Hojjatoleslam Hassan Khomeini, grandson of the founder of the Islamic Republic in Iran, the late Ayatollah Komeini, walked side-by-side with Fidel Castro as his guest of honor during the annual July 26 demonstration in Havana.

December 5-8: Zuhair Dhaif, Latin America liaison for the ruling Iraqi Baathist Party, as well as an unidentified Libyan envoy, attended the 10th annual Foro de Sao Paulo conference (gathering of the Latin American radical and terrorist left) hosted by Fidel Castro and the Communist Party of Cuba in Havana.


February 26: Iran's Minister of Science, Research and Technology, Mostafa Moin, visited Havana to sign a memorandum of understanding with Cuban counterpart Rosa Elena Simeon on expanding scientific and research cooperation.

February 27: Dr. Rodrigo Alvarez Cambras, director of the Frank Pais Scientific Complex in Havana and head of the Cuban-Arab Friendship Association, led a Cuban delegation to Yemen to meet with president Ali Abdullah Saleh and formalize an agreement to build, and staff with Cuban personnel, a new orthopedic hospital in Sanaa.

March 6: Cuban parliamentary delegation led by Kaheimi Hernandez arrived in Algeria on a three-day visit to "exchange viewpoints concerning several current international issues" and develop bilateral relations.

April 18: Iran's vice-president, Mohsen Mehr Alizadeh, visited Havana to "explore" the transfer of Cuban technology to Iran and "expand" cooperation in other areas.

May 7: Cuba's special envoy to Iraq, Dr. Rodrigo Alvarez Cambras, met with Saddam Hussein to affirm "Cuba's absolute support" and convey a verbal message from Fidel Castro on enhancing bilateral relations with Iraq.

June 16: Syria's vice-president, Mohamed Zouheir Macharka, arrived in Cuba for a six-day visit hosted by the Communist Party of Cuba. The Syrian delegation visited Havana's Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology and the island's petroleum industry facilities.

July 17: Fidel Castro sent a congratulatory telegram to Saddam Hussein on the occasion of the rise to power of Hussein's socialist Baath Party in 1968. Castro attacked the "savage policy of the United States towards the friendly Iraqi people" and reiterated his solidarity with Iraq.

July 17: Iranian Deputy Minister of Health Mohammad Nouri and delegation in Havana. Received by Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada, head of Cuba's National Assembly. The Iranian delegation visited "research and medical centers" and "inspected ongoing medical, agricultural and economic projects."

July 21: On a visit to Baghdad, Dr. Rodrigo Alvarez Cambras, head of the Cuban-Iraqi Friendship Society and member of the National Assembly, met with Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz. Alvarez Cambras condemned U.S. policies against the Hussein regime, expressed "Cuba's solidarity with and support for Iraq," and discussed the "international situation" with the Iraqi official.

July 25: Iranian ambassador in Havana, Davood Salehi, met with Cuban vice-president Jose Ramon Fernandez. Fernandez stated that "Cuba attaches special significance to promoting relations with the Islamic Republic," and expressed Cuba's "support for the Iranian nation's struggle against US hegemonic policies and its unauthorized interferences."

October 2: In Kuala Lampur, Cuba's Heber Biotec S.A. and Malaysia's Bioven Holdings Sdn Bhd launched a new biotech joint venture to manufacture and distribute Cuban biotechnology products in Malaysia and other Southeast Asian markets.

October 3: In Havana, Youssef Mokaddem, Tunisia's minister of foreign affairs, and Ernesto Senti, Cuba's vice-minister for foreign investment and cooperation, agreed to the transfer of Cuban biotechnology know-how to Tunisia to establish a biotech production facility in the North African country. Havana's Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) and Tunis' Institut Pasteur will implement the accord.