Lula, the leader of Brazil, strengthens connections with Cuba during the G77 summit held in Havana.

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva met with his Cuban counterpart Saturday in Havana, signaling a revitalization of ties between the two countries in the first trip by a Brazilian president to the Caribbean nation in nine years.

Lula was in Havana for the summit of the Group of 77 emerging economies plus China. The group, founded in the 1960s, is meeting in Cuba just days ahead of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

Lula expressed his concerns about the embargo imposed on Cuba during the summit on Saturday. He stated that the island is suffering from an unlawful economic blockade and emphasized Brazil’s opposition to any one-sided coercive actions.

“I disagree with Cuba being included in the list of state sponsors of terrorism,” he stated. Lula was referring to the compilation of countries by the U.S. that are believed to have consistently aided in acts of global terrorism. Nations included in this list may face sanctions.

Cuba and Brazil have a deep historical and demographic connection. Soap operas from Brazil are well-liked in Cuba, and both countries have vibrant musical heritages.

Lula and the former leader of Cuba, Fidel Castro, had a friendly relationship. Cuba rejoiced over Lula’s close win against the previous far-right president Jair Bolsonaro in the recent election.

Paulo Peres, a political scientist at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, stated that the event in Havana provided a chance to formally reinstate the political and diplomatic ties with Cuba, which were completely neglected under the Bolsonaro administration.

The relationship between the two countries was robust during the period when Lula’s leftist Workers’ Party held power from 2003 to 2016. However, it deteriorated under Bolsonaro’s leadership, as he supported the embargo.

Lula and Miguel Díaz-Canel, the leader of Cuba, were scheduled to have a conversation about the debt that Cuba owes to Brazil’s development bank. According to reports from the Brazilian media, the debt is estimated to be around $540 million. This debt was primarily accumulated during the extensive construction projects carried out at Cuba’s Port of Mariel, which is situated about 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Havana.

In 2018, Cuba ceased making payments on the loan. Supporters of Bolsonaro from the extreme right frequently raised this matter to criticize Lula, claiming that he prioritized constructing a port in communist Cuba over funding domestic projects.

Antonio Jorge Ramalho Da Rocha, a professor of international relations at the University of Brasilia, stated that the retrieval of the funds provided to Cuba for financing projects undertaken by Brazilian companies will be significant in addressing the opposition’s critique of the Workers’ Party.

Peres stated that Lula is highly interested in enhancing the utilization of Brazilian companies in the port and maximizing its infrastructure to promote international trade with the Caribbean and the United States.

Brazil’s foreign affairs ministry stated in January that there was a trade surplus of around $287 million between Brazil and Cuba in 2022. The agenda is also expected to include discussions on expanding trade connections between the two countries. Brazil mainly exported vegetal fats and oils, rice, and poultry meat to Cuba.

Cuba is currently experiencing its most severe economic crisis since the Cuban Revolution in 1959, according to experts. Although the island would appreciate an increase in imports of various goods, it is widely believed that the Cuban government does not have sufficient funds to make the payments.

However, Cuba is currently undergoing a process of change as it allows the establishment of small and medium-sized private businesses. Since the legalization of small enterprises in September 2021, over 8,000 companies have been initiated in Cuba.

Peres mentioned that the two leaders would probably talk about Brazil’s “More Doctors” program. This program, which started in 2013, aimed to bring in doctors from other countries to provide healthcare services in underserved regions of Brazil.

After his election in 2018, Bolsonaro’s criticism of the program resulted in its quick suspension.

Peres stated that both nations are interested in resuming the program called “More Doctors.” Cuba’s financially struggling government would appreciate the earnings generated from the doctors’ wages, while Brazil still faces a shortage of healthcare professionals in remote regions.

Bolsonaro showed minimal concern for matters beyond Brazil’s borders. Since assuming office in January, Lula has been striving to establish Brazil as a significant participant in global affairs.

Lula has implemented a strategy that involves embarking on multiple international journeys, advocating for a restructuring of the global world order to grant greater influence to countries in the Global South.

Following his visit to Cuba, Lula will proceed to New York, where he is scheduled to deliver the inaugural address at the United Nations’ General Assembly and hold a bilateral meeting with President Joe Biden.

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