Brazil strengthens ties

News from Cuba | Monday, 27 February 2012

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff traveled to Cuba for the first time during her presidency in February in a visit to strengthen financial ties with the island.

During the trip she met with President Raúl Castro to discuss the “excellent state of their bilateral relations" and later toured the Mariel port together. The port is currently undergoing a major $800 million renovation project, largely funded through $640 million credit given by the Brazilian government.

The two governments signed agreements on Cuban food purchases from Brazil, the Mariel project and Cuba's biotechnology and pharmaceuticals industry. Brazil granted $400 million in credits for Cuba to buy Brazilian food and $200 million under a program to improve Cuban agriculture.

Rousseff said Brazil had made a "historic commitment" to "help the process of economic development" on the island, which has been under a US blockade for 50 years.

Brazil is one of Cuba's largest commercial partners, with $642 million in trade last year, and one of its biggest foreign investors. Brazil-Cuba economic and political ties were deepened under Rousseff's predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

One of the most significant agreements is a "contract of productive administration" between Brazilian company Odebrecht and Cuba's Sugar Business Administration Group, for a 10-year cooperative effort to overhaul the industry and increase sugar production.

The collaboration marks the first time that Cuba's sugar industry has been opened to foreign investors.

Rousseff said she felt "immensely honored" to also have the opportunity to meet with Fidel Castro, whose 1959 revolution she tried to emulate as guerrilla fighter against Brazil's 1960s military dictatorship.

When the subject of human rights came up, she "chided the United States for continuing to operate its Guantanamo Bay prison," and denounced the US blockade of the island.

Following her visit to Cuba she went on to Haiti where Brazilian troops lead the UN peacekeeping force and Brazil has helped finance a Cuban medical mission at work since the earthquake which devastated the island in 2010.

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