By Raul Menchaca
HAVANA, Oct. 3 (Xinhua) -- Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday began an official visit in Cuba, where he met with former President Raul Castro and current President Miguel Diaz-Canel.
Medvedev held a meeting with Raul Castro, the current first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba and discussed "the will to continue strengthening the partisan and bilateral ties."
Medvedev and Diaz-Canel held a round of official talks at the Revolution Palace, headquarters of the Cuban government, and then both offered statements to the press.
"Our meeting has once again demonstrated that Cuba is an important partner of Russia in Latin America," said Medvedev. "Our bilateral relations develop over the long term. We build them based on mutual respect and friendship."
"Cuba has in Russia loyal friends and reliable partners for whom a notion of sovereignty and independence is a basis of national character and politics," said the Russian prime minister.
Medvedev criticized the tightening of a blockade that the United States has maintained against the island for more than half a century, which he said was a desire "to create a toxic atmosphere around cooperation with the island, scare economic investors and create an energy blockade."
For his part, Diaz-Canel said that the talks covered "advances in the effective participation of Russia in Cuba's economic and social development plan until 2030, in areas such as energy, transportation in its four branches, industry, biotechnology, and agriculture, among others."
"We are sure that in today's complex international scenario, the relations between Cuba and Russia will continue to strengthen for the mutual benefit of our peoples and governments," said the Cuban president.
Diaz-Canel said that he would travel to Russia at the end of this month, while extending an invitation to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to visit the Caribbean island "at the time his agenda allows."
The Cuban president and the Russian prime minister also chaired the signing of eight agreements by officials from both countries to strengthen cooperation in science and technology, air and rail transport, industry and customs.
The agreements included financing air navigation maintenance projects for Russian aircrafts that are part of the Cubana de Aviacion fleet.
Representatives of both governments signed other documents, such as the supply of rolling mills for the production of steel and wire armor in Cuba, cooperation in combating air traffic violations, and training of customs personnel.
They also signed a contract for the rehabilitation and modernization of railway infrastructure in the Caribbean nation, as well as a project execution agreement for the creation of an irradiation center on the island.
Another pact established the expansion of production for the assembly of automotive vehicles in Cuba.
Before the official reception and dialogue with Diaz-Canel, Medvedev honored Jose Marti, a Cuban national hero, in a memorial located in the Revolution Plaza of Havana.
Accompanied by the island's Deputy Foreign Minister Ana Teresita Gonzalez, the Russian prime minister laid a wreath at the base of Marti's monument and then toured the interior of the installation, an emblematic site with a collection of texts and personal history of the independence leader.
On the last day of his stay in Cuba Friday, Medvedev will receive the title of Doctor Honoris Causa in Political Science at the University of Havana and will visit the facilities of a joint project by Russian oil company Zarubezhneft and Cuban state-run oil company CUPET for secondary oil recovery on the west coast of the Cuban capital.
Currently, the two countries maintain a bilateral trade volume of around 200 million U.S. dollars, which makes Russia the second largest trading partner of Cuba in Europe and the fifth in the world.