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Brazil's Lula meets Cuban leader, slams 'illegal' US embargo

September 17, 2023

Leftist Brazilian President Lula da Silva criticized US policy towards the Caribbean nation. Lula's predecessor, conservative Jair Bolsonaro, had supported the embargo.

Cuba's President Diaz-Canel and Brazil's President Lula da Silva in Havana
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel described Lula as a 'brother'Image: ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP

Brazil's President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, met with his Cuban counterpart President Miguel Diaz-Canel on Saturday, reinvigorating ties between the two nations. This visit by a Brazilian president to the Caribbean nation is the first in nine years.

President Lula traveled to Havana to participate in the summit of the Group of 77 or G77 emerging economies plus China. This international group, founded in the 1960s, convened in Cuba just days ahead of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Lula says Cuba 'victim' of US policy 

During his address at the summit, Lula expressed his concern over the US-led embargo on Cuba, emphasizing that the island nation is a "victim" of an unjust economic blockade. "We reject the inclusion of Cuba on the list of state sponsors of terrorism," he added.

Brazil and Cuba share deep-rooted historical and demographic connections, with Brazilian soap operas and rich musical traditions being popular in Cuba. Lula has a history of friendship with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Brazilian President Lula speaks at the G77 summit
Lula's remarks denouncing the embargo on Cuba were not met with a response from the US State DepartmentImage: Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images

Ties between Brazil and Cuba flourished when Lula had also earlier served as president from 2003 to 2016.  Brazil's last president, conservative Jair Bolsonaro, had fervently opposed the Cuban government during his term from 2019 to 2022, and backed the US embargo. 

What were other topics on the agenda?

During their meeting, President Lula and Diaz-Canel were also expected to discuss Cuba's debt to Brazil's development bank, which stands at approximately $540 million (€505 million).

This debt mostly accrued during extensive construction work on Cuba's Port of Mariel, situated about 40 kilometers (24 miles) west of Havana. Cuba ceased repayments in 2018, with Bolsonaro's allies frequently using this issue to criticize Lula.

The successful resolution of this debt matter is vital for countering opposition criticism and increasing Brazilian companies' utilization of the port's infrastructure for facilitating international trade with the Caribbean and the US.

The agenda also included discussions on expanding trade links between the two nations. In 2022, Brazil reported a trade surplus of around $287 million (€268 million) with Cuba, consisting of mainly exports of vegetal fats and oils, rice, and poultry meat.

Cuba currently faces one of its most significant economic crises since the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Nevertheless, Cuba has been undergoing a transformation, legalizing small and medium-sized private businesses since September 2021, resulting in the establishment of over 8,000 companies in the country. 

Following the meeting with Lula, Diaz-Canel said he had "warm and fruitful" official conversations with the Brazilian president. Diaz-Canel said the two leaders signed three bilateral instruments in areas such as science and health. 

Lula's international agenda aims to position Brazil as a significant global player advocating for a more equitable world order, especially favoring Global South countries. Following his visit to Cuba, he is set to travel to New York to deliver a speech at the UN General Assembly and hold a bilateral meeting with President Joe Biden.

tg/wd (AP, Reuters)