Russian FM begins Latin America tour with Fidel Castro tribute

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is due to visit left-wing allies Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela on his Latin American tour (AFP Photo/Yuri KADOBNOV)

Havana (AFP) - Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was due to begin a tour of Latin America by visiting Fidel Castro's tomb in Cuba on Wednesday before meeting with his counterpart from the Caribbean island Bruno Rodriguez.

Lavrov will also visit other left-wing allies Mexico and Venezuela on his trip.

Before leaving for Cuba, Lavrov said he'd picked his itinerary to "pay tribute" to Castro.

"For me this is very significant, because for many generations of Russians, Fidel was an example of true dedication to the homeland and his people," Lavrov told Prensa Latina, Cuba's state news agency.

Castro died in November 2016, 10 years after stepping down as Cuba's leader following almost five decades in power. He led the 1959 communist revolution that ousted US-backed military dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Lavrov's visit comes a day after US President Donald Trump vowed to support the democratic aspirations of Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans in his State of the Union speech.

"We see the United States' attempts to subordinate Latin America to its geopolitical interests are aimed at toppling 'inconvenient governments' in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua," said Lavrov.

Trump has ramped up sanctions against Cuba, already subject to a US embargo since 1962.

Lavrov said that in its "eagerness to strangle the island's economy, the United States is consciously committing human rights abuses" that are hurting normal civilians in Cuba.

He said Russia was working with Cuba on "huge energy and metallurgy projects, transport infrastructure, the sphere of cosmic technology development, communication and information technology, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology."

Commerce between Russia and Cuba was worth $388 million in 2018, a 34 percent increase on the previous year, and could reach half a billion dollars in 2019.

Cuba saw a drop of more than nine percent of tourists visiting the island in 2019 but a 30 percent increase in Russians.