Thursday, January 17, 2008

Brazil's superpower move

Before Brazilian President Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva visited Cuba, my impression was that he was going to make a quick visit to see Fidel Castro, perhaps as a sort of farewell.

He certainly did that, but his focus was on the future: on the development of Cuba’s economy and a role for Brazil’s government and private sector, and on Brazilian engagement as a counterweight to U.S. pressure at a time when Cuba’s leadership moves toward generational change.

It was a superpower move. Coupled with Mexico’s improving relations with Cuba and others’ rapprochements with Cuba, Lula has capped Latin America’s rejection of the Bush approach to Cuba.

And he did so quietly. There was no rhetoric, least of all Bolivarian rhetoric. No fanfare, no choreography or backdrops, no grand name to his initiative. Lula signaled political support just by being there for 24 hours, and he left a $1 billion line of credit on the table.

The U.S. effort to deny hard currency to the Cuban government by blocking visits and small monetary assistance between Cuban Americans and their loved ones back home, has never appeared so ineffectual, or so small of mind and heart.

A Reuters report said: “Brasilia has the economic resources, technology and diplomatic clout to help Cuba as it approaches a crucial moment of its history without Fidel at the helm and under pressure from the United States to open up to multiparty democracy, a Brazilian foreign ministry official said…‘We want to see Cuba back in the fold and can provide the Cubans with a level of comfort in the transition ahead by not being confrontational like the United States,’ he said.”

A different foreign policy angle is discussed by David Adams in the St. Petersburg Times – that Brazil is also countering Venezuelan influence.

Lots of details of the economic package remain to be worked out. It seems that the two sides reached a framework agreement, setting objectives and defining projects and sectors where the $1 billion line of credit may be used. Talk of oil exploration attracts lots of attention, and Brazil has resources and deep-water expertise. But Petrobras is only now acquiring seismological data on the formations below Cuba’s Gulf waters, so action in this area is not imminent. And ethanol development, a potential boon to a Cuban sugar industry that was downsized just a few years ago when sugar prices had tanked, was left for another day.

As for the Castro visit, Lula found Fidel in a state of “incredible lucidity and impeccable health.” (The next day, Fidel wrote that he does not “enjoy the necessary physical capacity” to address the Santiago constituency where he is running for a National Assembly seat in Sunday’s election.) See Encuentro’s roundup, with pictures and video, here.

“I think Fidel is ready to assume a political role in Cuba and the political role that he has in the history of a globalized world,” Lula said before his departure.

“A political role in Cuba” – that sounds a little different than “a return to office.” We’ll see.

More here.

1 comment:

Karla said...

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