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 attended the summit of the Group of 77 developing economies along with China in Havana. This group, established in the 1960s, is gathering in Cuba shortly before the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

Lula expressed his regret during the summit on Saturday regarding the embargo imposed on Cuba by the United States. He stated that the island is suffering from an unlawful economic blockade and emphasized Brazil’s opposition to any form of one-sided coercive action.

“I cannot reword”

Cuba and Brazil have a deep connection in terms of history and population. 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, and 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 presented a chance to formalize the restoration of political and diplomatic ties with Cuba, which were entirely neglected under the Bolsonaro administration.

The relationship between the two countries was robust during the tenure of Lula’s leftist Workers’ Party from 2003 to 2016, but it deteriorated under Bolsonaro’s support for the embargo.

Lula and Cuba’s leader, Miguel Díaz-Canel, were scheduled to have a conversation regarding Cuba’s outstanding debt to Brazil’s development bank. The debt, estimated to be around $540 million according to Brazilian media, primarily resulted from extensive construction projects at Cuba’s Port of Mariel, situated approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Havana.

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

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 executed by Brazilian companies will play a significant role in addressing the opposition’s critique of the Workers’ Party.

Peres stated that Lula is highly interested in promoting the utilization of the port by Brazilian companies and leveraging its infrastructure to enhance international trade with the Caribbean and the U.S.

An expansion of trade links between the two countries is also expected to be on the agenda. In 2022, Brazil had a trade surplus of approximately $287 million with Cuba, according to a January statement by Brazil’s foreign affairs ministry. Brazil principally exported vegetal fats and oils, rice and poultry meat.

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 enough funds to make the payments.

However, Cuba is currently undergoing a process of transformation, marked by the emergence of small and medium-sized private enterprises. Following the legalization of small-scale ventures in September 2021, over 8,000 companies have been established 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 criticized the program, resulting 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 doctors’ salaries as income, and Brazil still faces a shortage of healthcare professionals in rural regions.

Bolsonaro showed minimal concern for global matters. After assuming office in January, Lula has been striving to present Brazil as a significant participant in international affairs.

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

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

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