After Bouteflika, Cuba could be the next victim of Algeria's popular protests

After Bouteflika, Cuba could be the next victim of Algeria's popular protests
Protests in Algeria will likely have an impact on Cuba's economy, a country which relies on the export of its health services in exchange for oil.
3 min read
02 April, 2019
The North African country’s crisis constitute a threat for import-reliant Cuba [Getty]
Popular protests against Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika could lead to a knock-on effect in Cuba, with uncertainty over the future of the communist state's understanding of exporting health services in exchange for oil and money.

Algeria is a major oil and gas producer and has been a friend of Cuba's voluntary leader Fidel Castro since 1960s, when the revolutionary leader sent troops and health staff to the country, in defiance of former colonial France's guardianship.

However, with the current crisis in Algeria, the bilateral relations between the two states could become shaky.

Ailing 28-year-old Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will resign before 28 April, the date when his mandate officially ends, following weeks of mass protests and now the Algerian military saying he is "unfit to rule".

On Friday, in atmospheres reminiscing of the 2011 uprisings, hundreds of thousands took to the street, demanding an end to Bouteflika's four consecutive terms in power and calling on the aging leader to step down. "You step aside all," protest placards read.

What added salt to Cuba's injury is the decline of its foreign exchange revenues and fuel imports from its old ally Venezuela, which has been steadily falling since 2014. Following economic stagnation, Havana was forced to adopt austerity measures, which resulted in late payments to foreign partners.

Under an exchange deal signed by the late leaders of the two countries, Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, Venezuela is Cuba's largest oil supplier. The bilateral accord envisages exporting Cuba's highly trained doctors and other professionals in exchange for Venezuela's regular shipments of crude.

The arrival of Brazil right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro to power in December was another setback for Cuba's economy.  An annual $300 million deal to send doctors to the Land of Samba was canceled, as USA President Donald Trump increased his threats against Venezuela and Cuba.

To compensate for the Venezuelan's decline in crude, Havana turned to Russia and Algeria in 2017 for oil imports.

Last year, the Caribbean island nation struck a three-year deal with Algeria to send more of its highly trained doctors in return for oil. The deal, the most important one in Cuban-Algerian history, was commended by Cuba, who noted that in 2017 trade between the two allies totaled $295 million, exclusively imports.

It is too early to predict how the political crisis in Algeria will wind up. However, according to experts, the North African country's crisis constitute a threat for import-reliant Cuba.

"Cuba could lose one of its few political allies with crude oil production and export capacity able to enter into a barter agreement of services such as doctors and teachers for oil," said Jorge Pinon, director of the Latin America and Caribbean Energy Programme at the University of Texas at Austin told Reuters.

Havana signed an intergovernmental agreement with Algeria - described by local media as a step to strengthen bilateral economic relations between the two states - to supply oil and oil products over the period 2019 and 2021 in January 2018.

Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca, said in a statement that relevant commercial contracts on oil were signed between the Algerian and Cuban state oil companies Sonatrach and Cupet.

Agency Prensa Latina described the agreement as "one of the most significant between the two countries in recent times". With Bouteflika set to resign at the end of the month, the future of Cuba and Algeria's relationship appears less certain.