Brazil’s President in Cuba: Business Yes, Dissidents No

February 8, 2012

Media_httpwwwcbccagfx_kzozgMedia_httpblogsaljaze_khlxbMedia_httpblogsaljaze_cjyzc(Anna Mahjar-Barducci)Human rights activists had high expectations for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s first official visit to Cuba last January 30. Rousseff visited Cuba just few days after the international media reported that Brazil was distancing itself from Iran over the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses. Further, just a week before her arrival to Cuba, the Brazilian government gave a visa to a Cuban opponent and blogger, Yoani Sanchez, raising hopes that Rousseff would show some support to dissidents. Many therefore thought that the Brazilian president would have taken a public stand against human rights violations perpetrated by the Castro’s dictatorship, but that turned out to be just wishful thinking.Media_httpblogsaljaze_xacfb
Although Rousseff once said she “prefer[red] a million critical voices over the silence of the dictatorships,” in Cuba the Brazilian President preferred business. Rousseff refused to meet Yoani Sanchez or other Cuban dissidents, and focused in promoting bilateral trade. The Americas Society website reports that trade between the two Latin American countries increased 31% from 2010 to 2011, reaching $642 million last year. The Brazilian government is opening a $350 million credit line to Cuba to finance food purchases, and another $200 million to purchase agricultural equipment. Moreover, Brazil’s development bank, Odebrecht, is investing in the Cuban sugar industry and also helping to finance an $800 million plan to renovate the port of Mariel, hoping to transform it into one of the most important hubs in Latin America that could be of use to Cuba’s nascent oil industry. The Miami Herald‘s Cuban Colada blog stated that Cuba confirmed the presence of reserves of up to 20 billion barrels of crude oil in waters off the Gulf of Mexico; and the Brazilian oil company Petrobras is negotiating with Cuba for offshore exploration rights. Oil was evidently more attractive than human rights. Reuters sarcastically commented that Rousseff made her first visit to Cuba with capitalism on her mind.
Rousseff, who was a leftist guerrilla fighter inspired by Fidel Castro’s communist revolution, nevertheless found the time to criticize the US prison camp at Guantanamo and the US trade embargo against Cuba, but apparently felt it was not relevant to discuss the condition of dissidents in Cuba. According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, the Cuban government relies on beatings, short-term detentions, forced exile and travel restrictions to repress virtually all forms of political dissent. In January, the Cuban dissident Wilman Villar died in custody after a 50 day hunger strike. The Buenos Aires Herald mentioned that Villar’s death created pressure on Rousseff to raise human rights issues with Cuban leaders, but that she was unlikely to do so publicly.
Reuters notes that Rousseff’s trip to Cuba was made just before a visit in Washington set for next month, and mentioned that the decision raised some eyebrows, given Brazil’s recent confrontations with the United States over trade. Brazil’s economy is one of the fastest growing in the world. In the last few years, in spite of the world’s crisis, Brazil’s GDP kept growing at an average rate of more than 5%. As the seventh largest economy by GDP, with a population nearing 190 million, Brazil understandably aspires to become a world power and a regional giant. The last two Brazilian presidencies, however, former President Lula da Silva’s and Rousseff’s, have coupled this legitimate aspiration to an ideological confrontation with the US.
The Americas Society website suggests that Brazil’s strategic trade and investments in the Caribbean, and elsewhere in the developing world, are part of the government’s global strategy. Matthew Taylor, a Brazil specialist at the American University’s School of International Service, commented that Rousseff’s policy is to grow Brazil’s “soft power” on the international scale to raise Brazil’s role in the world. As Taylor told the Wall Street Journal, “Brazil is taking on a bigger role in the hemisphere in terms of aid and finance.”
Brazilian commentators, however, mentioned that precisely because Brazil is becoming a raising power, it would have been better for Rousseff not to visit Cuba at this moment. The visit actually provoked strong criticism both in Brazil and worldwide. The Brazilian diplomat Marcos Azambuja wrote that if Brazil wanted to do business with Cuba, he should have sent high government officials, but that Rousseff herself should have not gone. “A [Presidential] visit to Cuba has its price to pay,” he wrote, mentioning that even if Rousseff’s intentions were only to do business, the end result is that she paid tribute to the failed policies of the Cuban regime.

Compromises, Compromises…


Brazil Moves Away from Iran

February 4, 2012

(Portrait of the president as a young Marxist guerrilla News of the Restless) A young Dilma Rousseff, being interrogated by the Brazilian military junta in the 1970s. She looks pretty fearless and pugnacious, no? Here’s the story behind the picture, courtesy of Cubadebate:

( | by Anna Mahjar-Barducci)
Relations between Brazil and Iran are shaky. In an interview with the Brazilian paper Folha de Sao Paulo, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, who has worked as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s top media adviser, declared that the Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff, is distancing herself from Iran. Javanfekr actually accused Rousseff of having ruined the relations between Iran and Brazil that former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula managed to build. “The Brazilian president has been striking against everything that Lula accomplished. She destroyed years of good relations,” Javanfekr said. In another interview with the state-run Iranian agency, IRNA, Javanfekr said: “Brazil’s new president has newly taken over the post and should be given enough time to gain a better understanding of Iran-Brazil relations and the previous administration’s efforts to strengthen ties.”
Under the Lula’s presidency, in 2010, in a deal brokered with Turkey and Brazil, Iran signed an agreement to send uranium abroad for enrichment. In the agreement, Iran announced its readiness to swap 1,200 kg of its low-enriched uranium for 20% enriched fuel on Turkish soil. The deal failed, however, after the U.S. rejected it. The same year, Rousseff was elected as the Brazilian President and relations between Iran and Brazil stopped being so friendly. The reason was Rousseff’s support of a U.N. investigation on human rights abuses in Iran, an initiative led by Washington. As reported by the New York Times, the decision was viewed as a shift from Lula’s previous relations with Tehran.
Al-Jazeera noted that even during the electoral campaign, Rousseff, whenever asked about Iran, would say that for her, human rights would come before business – a thought that seems to have made the Iranian government uncomfortable. In 2011, when the Iranian regime realized that the new Brazilian President would not be friendly to Iran as her predecessor had been, the Iranian ambassador in Brazil commented that Rousseff was “badly informed” about events in Iran. “Rousseff,” wrote Al-Jazeera, “who was tortured in her youth at the hands of Brazil’s dictatorship, and has risen to be Brazil’s first woman president, had given signs all along she wanted to cool off relations with Iran. Cooling? No. She now appears to be dumping a bucket of ice water on it. Freezing it.”
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ramin Mehmanparast said that Iran attaches great significance to relations with Brazil, and dismissed the remarks on Tehran-Brasilia ties attributed to Presidential media adviser Javanfekr, saying they were misinterpreted: “Iran attaches high significance to its relations with Brazil as the largest Latin American country and an emerging global power. In line with this fact, interactions and negotiations between the two countries are following their normal trend; no change has been made to Tehran’s attitude toward its relations with Brasilia,” Mehmanparast added that “relations between Iran and Brazil have a history of more than 110 years. It seems that certain media outlets and third countries are not happy about good relations between Iran and Brazil and have desperately resorted to a media campaign.”
Brazilian media, however, that the Iranian government is indeed extremely irritated with Rousseff, and that in revenge to the new Brazilian policy the Iranian government is making the life of Brazilian businessmen difficult. The Brazilian paper Folha de Sao Paulo reported that the Iranian government put restrictions on Brazilian meat exporters. The Brazilian multinational JBS, for example, kept thousands of tons of bovine meat on hold for three weeks in an Iranian port. The paper also claims that Iranian meat importers reported that the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a letter to customs ordering limits on the entry of Brazilian products to Iran.
After the interview released by Ahmadinejad’s adviser criticizing Rousseff, the Iranian President declared his intention to visit Brazil in the near future. The Iranian government also stressed that Ahmadinejad would come to Latin America only to meet with Rousseff and not with other leaders in neighboring countries.
The Iranian President nevertheless just came back from a tour in Latin America that brought him to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador, and that intentionally did not include Brazil. Ahmadinejad, however, apparently now feels it was a mistake to neglect Brazil, the largest country in South America and one with a rising economy. The Iranian president apparently hopes once again to charm the Brazilian government, which could be an important political and economic partner. Under Lula’s presidency, in fact, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that among the Latin American countries, Brazil was the largest trading partner of Iran. Data also shows that in 2008, Iran’s trade with Latin America tripled to $2.9 billion.
While the Iranian government hopes to revive the lost friendship, the Brazilian government seems to hope that the Ahmadinejad’s trip to Brazil will not happen so soon. The website “Brazil Dispatch” reported that Brazilian commentators “rejoiced that Brazil had been spared the embarrassment of hosting Ahmadinejad during his recent tour of Latin America.” Political commentator Sergio Leo, writing in the newspaper Valor Economico, pointed out that Ahmadinejad’s decision not to visit Brazil during his recent Latin American trip was welcomed by the Brazilian government. Leo commented that Brazil’s relief at not being approached was exorbitant. The main issue, according to local media, was that while Rousseff seems unwilling to compromise on human rights, the Iranian government is equally unwilling to respect them. This is why for Ahmadinejad now, any rapprochement with Brazil will not be easy.

It takes a Marxist to know a Marxist and the Left