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.

During the summit on Saturday, Lula expressed his disappointment with the economic embargo imposed on Cuba by the United States. He stated that the island is suffering from an unlawful embargo and emphasized Brazil’s opposition to any unilateral coercive actions.

“I cannot reword”

Cuba and Brazil have a deep connection in terms of history and population. Cuban people enjoy watching Brazilian soap operas, and both countries have vibrant musical heritages.

Lula and the former Cuban leader Fidel Castro had a friendly relationship, and Cuba rejoiced over Lula’s close win against the former far-right president Jair Bolsonaro in the previous year’s 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 connections with Cuba that 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, who supported the embargo.

Lula and Miguel Díaz-Canel, the leader of Cuba, were scheduled to have a conversation regarding 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 and was primarily accumulated during extensive construction projects 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 far-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 undertaken by Brazilian companies will be significant in addressing the criticism from the opposition towards the Workers’ Party.

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

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 likely 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 the necessary 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 discussion between the two leaders would probably include Brazil’s “More Doctors” program. This program, which started in 2013, aimed to address the shortage of healthcare services in remote areas by recruiting doctors from other countries.

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

Peres stated that both nations have a vested interest in resuming the “More Doctors” program. Cuba’s financially struggling government would appreciate the doctors’ salaries as a source of income, while Brazil still faces a shortage of healthcare professionals in rural regions.

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

Lula’s strategy has involved embarking on several international trips, advocating for a restructuring of the global world order to grant more 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 speech at the United Nations’ General Assembly and hold a bilateral meeting with President Joe Biden.

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