Cuba, Brazil trade ideas, goods

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva visited Cuba in mid-January. He and his ministers signed agreements with their Cuban counterparts relating to credit, technical exchanges, trade and energy. On Jan. 15 Lula spent almost three hours with Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Visiting Cuba for the second time since becoming president in 2003, Lula recalled that he used to visit Cuba annually. He and Castro first met 28 years ago in Nicaragua. Lula “came from very humble working-class roots and Christian beliefs,” Castro wrote, “and he worked hard creating surplus value for others.”

Lula dated the origin of Latin America’s progress toward unity among left governments and social movements to a conversation with Castro at the 1990 Sao Paulo Forum. Unity is crucial to contemporary revolutionary struggle, Castro responded. It means “sharing in the struggle, the risks, the sacrifices, the aims, ideas, concepts and strategies.” Unity “revolves around the idea of independence and against the empire.”

Castro took the exchange as an occasion to produce a four-part series of ideas on history, threats to human survival, and Brazil’s role in today’s world. The series, in English and Spanish, may be viewed at the Cuban newspaper Granma’s website:

Castro’s time with Lula developed into a forum at which a preeminent revolutionary leader reviewed past struggles and examined present contradictions. Since his withdrawal from official duties in July 2006, 86 “Reflections of the Commander in Chief” have appeared. Beginning in March 2007, they demonstrate Castro’s remarkable turn toward study and analysis.

Castro sought to update Karl Marx: “New necessities have arisen which could destroy the aims of a society [devoid of] exploiters and exploited,” adding, “No one had even heard about climate change in Marx’s day.”

The Cuban President did acknowledge that he talked more than Lula, because, he said, of seniority. The topics covered included control of scientific knowledge by the wealthy, slavery and sugar production in Cuba, his own “coming to the revolution through ideas,” mistakes of Soviet leadership before and during World War II, Che Guevara, foreign debt, exploitative U.S. monetary policies, the prospect of food shortages and biofuel production.

“You are great food exporters,” he told Lula, noting that Brazil possesses “Thirty percent of the world’s water reserves.” Lula pointed out that to meet the world’s requirements for soy, which necessitate production increases of two percent annually until 2015, Brazil must step up its own production by seven percent annually. Brazil’s Mato Grosso region, once unused, has become the country’s major grain-producing area. Almost half of Brazil’s total acreage has agricultural potential. Lula reported on prospects for establishing agricultural research centers in Ghana, Angola, and Venezuela.

The two leaders discussed relations of both countries with Venezuela, and Brazil’s newly available free university education for hundreds of thousands of young people “on the periphery.” Lula reported that Brazil’s trade throughout Latin America exceeded trade with the United States.

The approach of world leaders to climate change came under scrutiny. Castro cited the book “Mobilizing to Save Civilization” by Lester R. Brown to document what he sees as human survival in grave danger.

At the end, Castro wrote, “We walked together to the exit. The meeting was really worthwhile.” Meanwhile colleagues were gathering elsewhere in


Four of Lula’s cabinet members and the head of Brazil’s state-owned oil company joined Cuban First Vice President Raul Castro and other Cuban officials to review bilateral relations and expand trade and financial cooperation. Brazil is Cuba’s second largest commercial partner in Latin America behind Venezuela.

Agreements were signed providing Cuba with $1 billion in credit for food purchases, road building, nickel mining and other projects. Brazil’s Petrobras oil company will be undertaking Gulf of Mexico oil exploration. A joint facility for manufacturing lubricants is planned, and also Cuban technical support for Brazilian soy production.