Qatar in Cuba: A Moment of Splendor

The construction of two five-star hotels and the partnering of Qatar Airways and Cubana de Aviación are just two of Qatar’s investment projects in Cuba. The economy continues being one of the principal channels for the bilateral relations that began in 1989 when that State became the first Arab Gulf country to have diplomatic ties with Cuba.

The small peninsula, with barely 300,000 inhabitants more than Havana, has the third largest world reserve of natural gas and is one of the planet’s countries with the highest per capita income. It has the highest human development index in the entire Arab world. Qatar was one of the States attracted by the new Cuban Foreign Investment Law of 2014.

The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamin bin Hamad Al Thani, visited the island in late 2015, which represented a boost to bilateral relations, especially in the commercial sphere.

In early September it was announced that the state-run Qatar National Bank (QNB) would open an office in Cuba, thus becoming one of the 10 foreign banks with representation on the island.

OnCuba talked with Mr. Rashid Mairza Al Mulla, ambassador of Qatar in Havana, to get to know the details about these projects.

Rashid Mairza Al Mulla, ambassador of Qatar to Cuba. Photo: Gabriel Guerra Bianchini.
Rashid Mairza Al Mulla, ambassador of Qatar to Cuba. Photo: Gabriel Guerra Bianchini.

The signing of some 17 agreements between Cuba and Qatar and that another dozen are in the process of negotiation has been recently reported. Can you give us some additional information?

Cuba and Qatar have healthy and strong relations, among other things thanks to how long these relations have lasted. As part of the Arab Gulf countries, we have had relations with Cuba for a long time.

We recently signed 17 bilateral agreements in different fields. One of them during the visit of His Highness the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, when we signed a sort of memorandum for the investment in Cuba of two billion dollars for the next five years, covering each investment sector available in the country.

The Diar Qatari real estate company, the largest of its kind in Qatar, plans to build a five-star hotel. The project is in the negotiation stage with the Cuban Gran Caribe Hotel Group, waiting for it to finish the legal procedures and the process of assessing the terrain. Diar representatives’ arrival in Cuba is expected to conclude these procedures and start building the hotel.

Another five-star hotel would be that of Qatar Airways, a project that is also in the negotiation stage with the Cuban authorities. Moreover, we are studying the partnering of Qatar Airways and Cubana de Aviación airlines.

Apart from that, there are almost 11 projects that are being assessed by both parties. We want this process to come to a successful conclusion in the very near future, which could happen during some official visit by a Qatari authority to Cuba or a Cuban one to Qatar.

It was just announced that the Qatar National Bank (QNB) will open a representation office in Cuba, what advantages does this involve for relations between the two countries?

That is taking place right now. We received the license to open a QNB office here less than three weeks ago. This is another expression of our good relations. Thus Qatar will become the second Middle East country to have a representation in Cuba of its national bank.

We have put every effort into opening this office in Havana; we thank the president of the Central Bank of Cuba, who has helped us a great deal to get this license that represents an advance for the future of all Qatari investments in Cuba. I consider this is a leap forward in relations.

Having a representation of our National Bank in Cuba has many benefits. The first would be facilitating Qatari investment. There are many financial agreements between the two countries and this office will become the channel for that.

The 1st Energy and Infrastructure Summit was held in Havana in early September. Since Qatar is the major world exporter of liquefied natural gas, has the possibility of bilateral trade in that industry been explored?

The economic link we are having with Cuba is living a moment of splendor, we have a very wide-ranging collaboration in the economic field.

Due to our enormous production of liquefied natural gas we expect that in the future there will be some type of collaboration in this field. But for this to happen there are many procedures, and our production is sold out for almost 20 years in the context of the international evolution toward clean energy, there is a demand for this. But of course in the future I think the Qatari authorities will find the forms to provide Cuba with this energy.

On what do you base your affirmation that Qatar is one of Cuba’s principal partners?

There is the medical collaboration, in addition to many investment projects that will be applied soon in Cuba, five-star hotels, airlines connecting the two countries. Moreover, we participate in many diverse areas of the economy in Cuba, which ranks us as one of the most important investors.

Having such a strong tourist industry, what priority do the tourism projects in Cuba have for you?

It is one of the most important areas of our relations. Cuba is an attractive country for tourism worldwide. Qatar is trying to enter that market in Cuba, due also to the fact that we have experts on the subject, we receive every year almost 30 million visitors in our international airport.

In fact, it is possible to have a direct line that connects it with Havana through Qatar Airways, one of the most competitive airlines in the world. We consider the Cuban capital as a hub. It would be the first airline to fly directly from an Arab country. And that should occur very soon, in the very near future.

Taking into account the precedents of sanctions imposed by the U.S. authorities on international banks doing business with Cuba, does this worry the Qatari bank?

Since the start of the new relations between the United States and Cuba, and I think especially after President Obama’s visit, there have been many negotiations to facilitate financial relations with Cuba.

Actually, we are not afraid of some type of sanction by the U.S. authorities. We are two countries with strong relations and we will find some solution if it comes to that. Beyond the fact that they are in favor or not, the future will come and Cuba has the right to that.

Cuban President Raúl Castro (to the right), receives the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who visited the island in late 2015. Photo: Estudios Revolución
Cuban President Raúl Castro (to the right), receives the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who visited the island in late 2015. Photo: Estudios Revolución

Why is the Embassy of Qatar interested in the promotion of cultural events like the Countertenor Festival of the World, of the Leo Brouwer Office?

The fact that we support cultural events, especially in music, has to do with the fact that in Qatar we place great emphasis on the promotion of international culture. My duties as ambassador in Cuba include the promotion of bilateral cultural relations.

In this case, since it’s about Maestro Leo Brouwer, we are proud to support the projects of his office and his team. That collaboration is part of relations of mutual benefit for the two countries.

I must also mention that we always seek a projection toward the future. The support is not just something seen in what is happening now, but rather it must be lasting in time. For example, we are exploring the possibility of hosting a special event of the Maestro in Doha, the capital of Qatar. We are also trying to have a Qatari music group in Havana next year.

Being united through music and culture is the ideal way to have close relations.

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Yehuda Kovesh MD MS MSc FRAI

17 May, 2017

I am delighted to read this article and the increasing cooperation between Qatar and Cuba. A direct flight from Doha to La Habana would be a boon to tourism, it would also facilitate the Cuban assistance in Health Care in Qatar as well as Health Tourism to Havana.


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