Staff writer

In a move that reflects rapidly warming relations between Japan and Cuba, Tokyo will launch a detailed study on the development of a project to clean up the heavily polluted Havana Bay, government sources said Wednesday.

The sources said that the government has already dispatched a mission of experts from the Japan International Cooperation Agency — a government-affiliated major aid organ — to Havana recently as part of preparations for the study.

It will be the first time that Japan has conducted a study on the development of a specific project for Cuba as part of its official development assistance, the sources said.

The sources said that the development study on the Havana Bay cleanup project will be launched either during fiscal 1999 or fiscal 2000.

The Cuban government has asked Japan to conduct such a study, the sources said. Havana Bay is heavily polluted with industrial and household waste.

The study will be conducted as part of Japanese technical cooperation for Cuba and will take between one and two years, the sources said. Technical cooperation is one type of Japanese ODA extended on a bilateral basis. The other two types of bilateral ODA are low-interest, official loans and grant-in-aid.

The planned study on the Havana Bay project comes amid a rapid warming of the once-estranged ties between Tokyo and Havana.

Exchange visits by senior government officials and politicians have been increasing in recent years. President Fidel Castro stopped over at Narita Airport during an overseas tour in 1995. It was the first time Castro had stepped on Japanese soil.

in February, Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina Gonzalez visited Tokyo at the invitation of the Foreign Ministry for talks with government leaders. Although many other Cuban senior officials had visited Tokyo earlier, Robaina was the first Cuban Cabinet minister to do so at the invitation of the Japanese government.

Robaina and Masahiko Komura, then foreign minister, agreed at the time that Komura should visit Cuba as soon as possible. Komura’s trip to Havana did not materialize because he stepped down in a reshuffle of Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi’s Cabinet earlier this week.

If Komura had visited Cuba, he would have been the first Japanese Cabinet minister to do so since Castro established a revolutionary regime in the Caribbean country four decades ago.

During the Cold War, Japan imposed strict restrictions on an exchange of high-level government officials with Cuba, which the United States regarded as a security threat. Although the U.S. still retains economic sanctions against Cuba, it has loosened them gradually since Pope John Paul II made a historic visit there in early 1998. In January, President Bill Clinton approved a further relaxation of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, including more contacts between Americans and Cubans.

One government source said: “During the Cold War period, the U.S. was very sensitive to whatever Japan was thinking about or doing with regards to its relations with Cuba. Therefore, it was impossible for Japan to have high-level contacts with Cuba at the risk of damaging relations with the U.S., its most important ally.

“But the situation has clearly changed,” the source said. “The U.S. no longer views Cuba as a security threat and (no longer) objects to high-level government contacts between Japan and Cuba.”

On the official economic cooperation, Japan extended 1 billion yen in grant-in-aid to Cuba in November 1998 to help the nation buy food and other supplies for drought victims there. It was the first full-scale provision of Japanese ODA to Cuba, even though it was for a humanitarian purpose. Japan has never provided official loans.

Japan has already provided technical cooperation to Cuba, but only in the form of accepting trainees and sending experts. The planned study on the Havana Bay cleanup project will be the first study on the development of a specific project that Japan implements for Cuba as part of technical cooperation.

But Japan has told Cuba that, unlike ordinary development studies conducted for other developing countries as part of technical cooperation, the study on the Havana Bay project will not necessarily result in a future provision of official loans or full-scale grant-in-aid, the sources said.

Before receiving such funding, Cuba must do more to improve its human rights and democratic principles, the sources said.

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