Rousseff Strengthens Caribbean Ties

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s recent visit to Havana could easily have been a tense one.  On Thursday, January 19th, jailed Cuban dissident Wilman Villar died in a prison hospital under murky circumstances, while Brazil recently granted a visa to well-known online journalist and longtime Castro critic Yoani Sanchez to leave her native Cuba and attend a documentary film premier in Brasília.  Rousseff avoided publicly criticizing the Castro administration when pressed by reporters on what the Cuban opposition calls human rights abuses, instead referencing the human rights record of the United States in regard to the Guantanamo Bay military prison.  However, she seemed perfectly happy to discuss Cuba and Brazil’s burgeoning economic partnership, which has grown significantly in recent years.

Source: O Globo

The renovation and expansion of Mariel, a key port near Havana, represents the latest manifestation of the aforementioned partnership between the two countries.  Brazil has provided USD 683 million in loans to the Cuban government for the project, which is spearheaded by Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht.  Brazilian officials have also signed a 10-year agreement to help modernize Cuban sugar company Azcuba’s sugar mills in Cienfuegos.  Brazil has given Cuba another USD 400 million in credits to buy Brazilian agricultural projects and USD 200 million more for tractors and other agricultural equipment.  These loans are crucial for Cuban agriculture, which is struggling to expand and modernize, and are essentially stimulus packages for Brazil in the sense that they will pour money back into the Brazilian economy.  Rousseff defined this collaboration as a “historic commitment” to “help the progress of economic development” in Cuba, which continues to endure the U.S. trade embargo.

Continuing her Caribbean tour, the Brazilian president headed to Port-Au-Prince later in the week.  Her delegation’s meeting with the Haitian government will focus on the refugees that have fled to Brazil since the ruinous Haitian earthquake in January 2010.  Those leaving the country without official visas expose themselves to the caprice of human traffickers, nicknamed ‘coyotes’, who have little regard for their safety or well-being upon arrival to their destination.  Many in both Brazil and Haiti expect that Haitian immigrants, with their lack of Portuguese language and basic skills, will flock to the favelas of Brazil’s urban centers and become trapped in the ongoing cycle of poverty and crime.  Earlier in the week, the Brazilian government announced that it had set aside USD 500 thousand to aid the roughly 4,000 Haitian refugees who have settled in Brazil and been granted permanent residency during the two years since the quake.  Brazil’s Ministry of External Relations also has promised to issue 100 visas every month for Haitians travelling to Brazil.  The Haitian ambassador to Brazil, Idalbert Jean-Pierre, has extolled these efforts to accommodate Haitian immigrants.

Source: Reuters

In addition to providing sanctuary for a significant number of refugees as a short term measure, Brazil has begun construction projects aimed at getting Haiti back on its feet.  Brazilian firm Odebrecht is expected to help rebuild damaged infrastructure in Port-Au-Prince and elsewhere, while Brazil has also pledged its assistance in building a new power plant on the banks of the Artibonite River, about 60 km from the capital.  The plant will generate 32 megawatts, providing electricity for over 250,000 homes.

Brazil’s recent exploits in the Caribbean are intriguing.  By aligning itself closely with Cuba’s economic interests and providing extraordinarily generous support towards Haitian reconstruction, Brazil has tacitly challenged the United States’ influence in its own back yard.  Brazil has not only become an important partner for many American states, but also enjoys good relations with countries that the U.S. simply cannot cooperate with, such as Cuba and Venezuela.  Much like Turkey, which played a crucial mediating role during and after NATO intervention in Libya last year, Brazil’s increasing diplomatic authority in Latin America could consolidate its role as a regional arbitrator and peace broker.  While the U.S. focuses intently on Afghanistan and the surrounding region, Brazil is rapidly establishing itself as Latin America’s big brother and protector.

5 thoughts on “Rousseff Strengthens Caribbean Ties

  • February 9, 2012 at 5:39 am
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    Please, let me comment the following:
    "On Thursday, January 19th, jailed Cuban dissident Wilman Villar died in a prison hospital under murky circumstances, while Brazil recently granted a visa to well-known online journalist and longtime Castro critic Yoani Sanchez to leave her native Cuba and attend a documentary film premier in Brasília. Rousseff avoided publicly criticizing the Castro administration when pressed by reporters on what the Cuban opposition calls human rights abuses, instead referencing the human rights record of the United States in regard to the Guantanamo Bay military prison."

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  • February 9, 2012 at 5:49 am
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    1st ref. to the "murkey circumstances" of "dissident Wilman Villar died in prison".
    Why on earth, ignore mainstream medias permanently Cuban sources, but take anti Cuba propaganda launched by the ultra-right wing of Miami for granted?
    This is what Prensa Latina said.
    "21 de enero de 2012, 10:55Havana, Jan 20 (Prensa Latina) Cuba condemned on Saturday the manipulations in the case of inmate Wilman Villar Mendoza, who died on Thursday as a result of multi organ failure caused by a generalized sepsis.
    “We have enough evidence and testimonies that prove that he was neither a dissident nor was he on hunger strike,” said the Cuban government in a communiqué.
    Different newspapers, chiefly those in Miami, promote a huge defamatory campaign in a conspiracy with local counter-revolutionaries to present Villar Mendoza as an alleged dissident who died after staging a hunger strike in prison, said the note.
    Cuba laments the death of any human being, added the document, before saying that Cuba will be able to dismantle that new aggression with the truth and the strength that characterizes its people.
    Villar Mendoza was a resident of Contramaestre municipality in Santiago de Cuba province and was serving sentence due to crimes of violence and resisting arrest.
    He was sentenced after a public scandal in which he attacked and injured his wife in the face, after which his mother-in-law requested the authorities to intervene.
    When the police arrived at the scene, he resisted arrest and attacked them, added the note.
    After that crime, for which he was tried without being detained, he started to link up with counter-revolutionary elements in Santiago de Cuba, who made him believe that his presumed membership of those groups would allow him to evade justice.
    The inmate died at 18:45 local time on Friday in the intensive care room at Juan Bruno Zayas hospital, to where he was sent on January 13 from Aguadores prison.
    His close relatives were informed and followed all the procedures used in his medical assistance, and recognized the efforts of the team of experts who attended him, said the report.
    ir/as/ajs/rc/ro"

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  • February 9, 2012 at 6:00 am
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    2nd ref.:"Rousseff avoided publicly criticizing the Castro administration when pressed by reporters on what the Cuban opposition calls human rights abuses, instead referencing the human rights record of the United States in regard to the Guantanamo Bay military prison."
    Please, compare the human right record in the Internet by Amnesty International, which is not "pro-Cuban" – it broke its diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1988 – to that of the United States and European countries.
    Those record are available for every one. You can see there that the human right record of Cuba show the least violation in comparison with USA, whole Latin America, and most European countries.
    "who of you is without fault should throw the first stone!" Sorry for my bad English in translating the bible.

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  • February 9, 2012 at 6:22 am
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    3rd, ref.: Yoani Sanchez, excerpt of an interview by JOURNALIST: Edmundo García GUEST: Prof. Salim Lamrani DATE: December 29, 2011 http://lanochesemueve.us/12-29-11_Jueves.mp3
    "EG: Professor Salim Lamrani, you interviewed Yoani Sanchez, someone who has received innumerable prizes. You published an interview that has been widely circulated in the press. Yoani Sanchez has stated that the interview had been manipulated by you. Afterwards, we learned that another interview that she claimed to have done with President Obama had been falsified, that it was in fact Jonathan Farrar, the American ambassador to Cuba, who had written both the questions and the responses. Yoani also maintained that she had sent questions to President Raul Castro, but later we learned through documents released through Wikileaks that, in point of fact, she had never sent the document to him. She has said that she will demonstrate that you falsified the interview, but nothing more has been forthcoming. I would like to have your opinion on this subject and on her declarations, because Yoani Sanchez has an incredible ability to surprise us.
    SL: In what concerns the interview that I conducted with her, Yoani Sanchez has put out three different versions. The first version that she published on her blog declared that our conversation had been both constructive and agreeable. The second version said that the interview had been distorted. The third version maintained, on the contrary, that I had invented her responses. So I challenged Yoani Sanchez, and I challenge her again today, to publish on her blog the responses she maintains I invented. If I do not then make public the recordings of the interview, it will be clear that she was correct. I read carefully what Yoani Sanchez published and I came to realize that she had denied several precise points on the embargo as well as on Batista that she had made in the interview. She also denied mentions of the Cuban Five. So I published an article under the title “United States diplomacy and Cuban dissidence. In it I published the exact audio versions of what she has denied saying. Therefore, I invite her once again to continue to deny certain precise points in the interview. If I do not make public the recorded version, that will mean that she is correct."

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