, HAVANA, July 22 – Chinese President Xi Jinping is visiting Cuba with hopes of expanding political and economic ties in the fellow communist nation.
The tour of the Americas’ only one-party communist nation is the last leg of a weeklong trip in the region that has already taken Xi to Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela, as he reaches out to resource-rich countries often shunned by the United States and Europe.
The Chinese leader arrived in Havana late Monday from Caracas for the two-day official visit.
Xi aims to make his country – already Cuba’s second-largest trading partner after Venezuela and its primary source of credit – a major investor on the Caribbean island.
Coinciding with his trip, about 50 Chinese entrepreneurs travelled to Havana to explore business opportunities, attracted by foreign investment incentives and the future Mariel free trade zone outside the capital.
“We want Chinese businessmen to invest in Cuba and partner with Cuban companies,” said Cuba’s director general for foreign investment, Deborah Rivas.
On Tuesday, Xi meets with President Raul Castro, 83, at the Palace of the Revolution. The two leaders are expected to sign unspecified bilateral agreements.
The second day of his visit will take him to Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second-largest city, hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.
The storm killed 11 people, destroyed 17,000 homes and damaged thousands more. Xi is expected to announce Chinese cooperation in the city, perhaps in rebuilding housing.
The Chinese president may also pay a visit to retired revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, 87, who led Cuba for five decades until he stepped aside eight years ago during a health crisis.