Castro and South Africa's Leader Sign Cooperation Agreements

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

( - Cuban Leader Fidel Castro and South African President Thabo Mbeki signed a number of bilateral agreements Wednesday in Havana.

Mbeki arrived in Cuba on Monday on what is the first visit to the Caribbean communist nation by a South African head of state. Reports indicate the two leaders are discussing increased cooperation in a variety of fields, notably the economy, education and health.

Cuba has offered to provide cheap drugs to South Africa to help combat the HIV and AIDS epidemic. Castro has threatened to defy multinational drug companies by ignoring their patents for AIDS drugs and producing them at a fraction of the cost for developing countries.

Radio Havana quoted Castro as saying that Brazil, by continuing the free distribution of AIDS medications, has reduced the mortality rate of AIDS patients by 50 percent in less than four years. Castro also noted that as a result of Brazil's production of generic anti-AIDS medication, the United States filed a complaint last February before the World Trade Organization accusing Brazil of violating the patent rights of U.S. pharmaceutical transnationals.

In a recent nationwide address on state radio and television, Castro said Cuba is producing "U.S.-patented" AIDS drugs and he announced that Cuba will help Brazil and South Africa challenge U.S. patent laws to provide cheaper treatments of their own for AIDS sufferers.

He challenged international companies to protest his government's action. "I would like to hear a protest so I could grin from ear to ear," Castro said.