Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to help revive Cuba's struggling offshore oil exploration on Friday at the start of a six-day tour of Latin America as Russia aims to reassert its influence on the communist-ruled island. Putin was joined in Havana by close ally and so-called Russian oil czar Igor Sechin, the chairman of state oil company Rosneft, to finalize a deal to explore for oil off Cuba's northern coast. The Russian president also promised to reinvest $3.5 billion of Cuban debt with Russia into development projects on the island, part of a deal in which Russia forgave 90 percent of Cuba's debt, or almost $32 billion.
Both measures inject much-needed foreign investment into Cuba and demonstrate an act of defiance against the United States, which maintains a 52-year-old economic embargo with Cuba. "We will provide support to our Cuban friends to overcome the illegal blockade of Cuba," Putin said.
Putin also met with former President Fidel Castro before receiving the Medal of Jose Marti, Cuba's highest decoration. Fidel Castro, 87, stepped down for health reasons in 2008 after 49 years in power. For an hour he and Putin discussed international affairs, the global economy and Russian-Cuban relations, the Kremlin said.
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