CubaNews / August 2002
By Larry Luxner
Brazil, the largest and most populous country in Latin America, re-established diplomatic ties with Cuba in 1987, soon after the military dictatorship in Brasília was overthrown and replaced by a democratic government.
Largely because of geographical distance and weak cultural links, Brazilians rarely think about Cuba, and few travel there as tourists. Nevertheless, the two countries do a considerable amount of business, and at least three Brazilian companies have formed joint ventures with Cuban entities: Souza Cruz S.A. (cigarette manufacturing), Busscar (bus assembly) and Petrobras (offshore oil exploration).
Rubens Barbosa, Brazil's ambassador to the United States, says his country's bilateral trade comes to $130 million a year. Of that, Brazilian exports to Cuba -- largely machinery, vehicles and spare parts -- accounts for $120 million; the remaining $10 million consists of Cuban shipments of pharmaceuticals and vaccines to Brazil.
"Since the beginning, our idea has been to bring Cuba back into our hemisphere," he said. "We should not exclude Cuba from anything. We think isolation is counterproductive, and would hinder any chance of change in Cuba. We see gradual changes in Cuban society, and we think this is an internal affair."
Barbosa, 63, played a key role in the formation of the Mercosur common market in the late 1980s, and served as Brazil's first ambassador to ALADI, the Latin American Integration Association. He was also Brazil's top diplomat in Great Britain from 1994 to June 1999, when President Fernando Henrique Cardoso transferred him to Washington.
Barbosa says the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba is "outmoded and ineffective," and insists that Cuba must be allowed back into the Organization of American States, from which it was suspended in 1962.
"One of the cornerstones of Brazilian foreign policy is non-intervention. We try not to interfere with the will of the people in any way," said Barbosa. "We've been consistently against the embargo and Helms-Burton, and have consistently abstained [from UN resolutions] with regard to human rights. At the same time, the Cardoso administration has been vocal about returning Cuba to the OAS. We know that there are political difficulties, but we think this would be the best way for all of us."
The fact that Cuba isn't a democracy shouldn't prevent it from rejoining the OAS, said the diplomat. After all, he pointed out, Brazil and many other countries endured years of dictatorship and yet were never expelled or suspended from the organization.
Carlos Rico, minister of political affairs at the Mexican Embassy in Washington, offers a similar argument.
"Mexico is absolutely convinced that a policy of isolating Cuba will not bring the kinds of results we want. Our own suggestion is simple: let's be consistent and let the markets do their work."
According to Rico, the feud earlier this year between Castro and Mexican President Vicente Fox is an outgrowth of the "increased legitimacy of human rights as an object of international action" and not just talk.
Rico said that, as a result of Mexico's new willingness to look at its own human-rights abuses of the past, the country had no choice but to condemn Cuba's human-rights record -- lest it appeared to be saying one thing and doing another.
Nevertheless, the diplomat pointed out, "the UN resolution recognizes the accomplishments of the Cuban revolution and its benefits for the people. It makes a clear reference to the negative impact of isolating Cuba. And we specifically stated that we have always opposed the embargo."
Likewise, Brazil's Barbosa complains that the Bush administration is rather hypocritical when it comes to Cuba.
"It's hard to accept that we treat a brother country differently than we treat China, Vietnam or other undemocratic countries," he concludes. "Brazil thinks this contradiction will have to be faced sooner than later."