Sunday, February 10, 2008

Cuba and Brazil Part II: Castro Continues His Wooing of Lula

In his January essay series, Fidel Castro focused on Cuba’s connections with Brazil and Castro’s personal connection with that prodigal son of Marxist-Leninist determinism—Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the current President to Brazil. Written in three parts, the first part served as a set up of sorts. See Fidel Castro, Fidel Castro Ruz, Reflexiones del Comandante en Jefe, Lula (Primera Parte), Jan. 22, 2008. I suggested that this introduction served to draw Lula da Silva back into the appropriate political camp—that of his youth and of his social class. This is an important strategic goal for Cuba, an island that relies solely on a place like China alone at its peril. Brazil serves as a strategic buffer against the anticipated wave of destabilizing action originating in the United States that will increase on Castro’s death. See Larry Catá Backer, Cuba and Brazil Part I: Castro Lectures Lula da Silva, Law at the End of the Day, Jan. 26, 2008 (

With the second of the series, Castro continues his ideological courtship danzón. See Fidel Castro Ruz, Reflexiones del Comandante en Jefe, Lula (Segunda Parte) ( Castro starts, as he did in part I, with a memory meant to tie Lula both to his “family” and to a cluster of issues with respect to which Cuba and the United States (and Brazil and the United States to a lesser degree) hold strongly different positions.

“Lula warmly reminded me of the first time he visited our country in 1985 to take part in a meeting organized by Cuba to analyze the overwhelming problem of the foreign debt; participants representing a wide spectrum of political, religious, cultural and social tendencies presented and discussed their opinions, concerned about the asphyxiating drama.” (In Spanish: “Lula me recordó con calidez la primera vez que visitó nuestro país en el año 1985 para participar en una reunión convocada por Cuba para analizar el agobiante problema de la deuda externa, en la que expusieron y debatieron sus criterios los representantes de las más variadas tendencias políticas, religiosas, culturales y sociales, preocupados por el asfixiante drama.”

Castro, Lula (segunda parte), supra. Cuba, in particular, has been at the forefront of a global effort to discredit the contemporary system of global finance, especially in its sovereign lending aspects. See Larry Catá Backer, Ideologies of Globalization and Sovereign Debt: Cuba and the IMF, 24 PENN STATE INTERNATIONAL LAW REVIEW 497 (2006) (). And Castro recalled the force of the early nature of those struggles.

Lula is invested in those struggles, and Castro reports Lula’s pride in having overcome the difficulties posed by Brazil’s engagement with global finance. “Lula explains to me how that year was different. He says that Brazil has no debt today either with the International Monetary Fund or with the Paris Club, and that it has 190 billion US dollars in its reserves. I assumed that his country had paid enormous sums in order to comply with those institutions.” In the Spanish original: “Lula me explica la diferencia con aquel año. Afirma que hoy Brasil no tiene deuda alguna con el Fondo Monetario ni tampoco con el Club de París, y dispone de 190 mil millones de USD en sus reservas. Deduje que su país había pagado enormes sumas para cumplir con aquellas instituciones.” Castro, Lula (segunda parte), supra.

This prompted a long reminder of Castro’s views of the perversity of American manipulation of global finance at least since the time of President Nixon in the early 1970s, a point that has proven of enduring significance to Castro. Much of the discourse is well worn. These included the evils of American financial policy, the perils of Jewish persecution by Hitler (whose great mistake, it appears was to confuse a hatred of Capitalism and Communism for a hatred of the Jews), and the evils of Jewish emigration into and national aspirations within the old Ottoman province of Palestine, and “Bush’s adventurous policies in the Middle East.” Castro, Lula (segunda parte), supra. This tour de force ends with the agenda of the exercise—an admission of the strategic importance of Brazil to Cuba given its agricultural potential and its water reserves. Id.

But there is a nugget worth extracting. He noted in his recollection of the American use of its post war wealth: “The United States, I said, bought up properties all over the world minting dollars, and exercise sovereign privileges over such properties acquired in other countries.” In the Spanish original: “Estados Unidos Å\le dijeÅ\ ha comprado bienes en todo el mundo imprimiendo dólares, y sobre tales propiedades adquiridas en otras naciones ejercen prerrogativas soberanas.” Castro, Lula (segunda parte), supra. This is a curious point and worth lingering over. Castro, like many conservatives in other parts of the world, takes the position that sovereign entities, unlike other forms of corporate organization, may not act in a private capacity. A state is always a state, and its action, whether or not of a directly sovereign character are necessarily always sovereign in character. As such, the United States, almost by definition, acquired sovereign privileges with every purchase of property acquired elsewhere. In this respect Castro is an anachronism of sorts. The contemporary global community has long recognized the possibility of states acting in the market as private actors—and has adjusted public law to accommodate this idea. The law of foreign sovereign immunity recognizes an exception for substantially private (non regulatory activity), and contemporary economic globalization deepens the possibility of distinction between states as regulator institutions and states as public corporations. Though elements in the European Union have also suggested that states might be incapable of being treated identically to private corporations, most public actors recognize the possibility of a private/public distinction and law has tended to follow this consensus.

The conversation returns to food. Brazil has it; Cuba sits at the margins. For Cuba, that means a super milk producing cow “a Holstein-Zebu hybrid. Right away Lula named her: “White Udder!” (Ubre Blanca), he exclaimed. He remembered her name. I went on to say that she would produce 110 litres of milk a day. She was like a factory, but she had to have more than 40 kilograms of fodder.” In the original Spanish: “En Cuba, le continué explicando, tuvimos una vaca que estableció récord mundial de leche, una mezcla de Holstein con Cebú. De inmediato Lula la mencionó: “¡Ubre Blanca!” exclamó. Recordaba su nombre. Le añadí que llegó a producir 110 litros diarios de leche. Era como una fábrica, pero había que darle más de 40 kilogramos de pienso, el máximo que podía masticar y tragar en 24 horas.” Castro, Lula (segunda parte), supra.

But making food takes more food than Cuba can afford to feed its Ubre Blanca. And Castro bemoans the end of the days of cheap food.
“I ask him, What do you think will do the dozens of countries with many hundreds of millions of inhabitants who have neither the one nor the other? This means that the United States has a huge external dependency which is also a weapon. It could use all its reserves of land, but the people of that country are not ready for that. They are producing ethanol from corn, therefore, they are taking a great amount of this caloric grain off the market, I added making my point.” In the original Spanish: “¿Qué harán las decenas de países con muchos cientos de millones de habitantes que no cuentan con una cosa ni otra?, le expreso. Esto significa que Estados Unidos tiene una enorme dependencia externa, pero a la vez un arma. Sería echando mano de todas sus reservas de tierra, pero el pueblo de ese país no está preparado para eso. Ellos están produciendo etanol a partir del maíz, lo cual provoca que retiren del mercado una gran cantidad de ese grano calórico, continué argumentándole.” Castro, Lula (segunda parte), supra.

Aha! The subtle point has been made—a jab at Brazil’s recent efforts to team up with the Americans to produce ethanol, a partnership that Castro, and Chavez, have criticized in unison. See Larry Catá Backer, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and the Response to the U.S. Brazil Deal on Ethanol Production, Law at the End of the Day, March 3, 2007 ( And here Castro emphasizes the differences between Brazil, the giant, and Cuba. Brazil is set to sell its 2009 crop of corn (including that portion set aside for ethanol) and is not dependent on that crop. Cuba is another story. “You, on the other hand, can rely on a favorable climate and loose soil; ours tends to be clayish and sometimes as hard as cement. . . . Our soil is not suitable for the large scale commercial production of cereals, as required to meet the necessities of a population of almost 12 million people, and the cost in machinery and fuel imported by the nation, at today’s prices, would be very high.” In the original Spanish: “Tú en cambio cuentas, le dije, con un clima favorable y una tierra suelta; la nuestra suele ser arcillosa y a veces dura como el cemento. . . Para producciones comerciales de granos en gran escala, como requieren las necesidades de una población de casi 12 millones de personas, nuestras tierras no son aptas, y el costo en máquinas y combustibles que el país importa, con los actuales precios, sería muy alto.” Castro, Lula (segunda parte), supra.

And then back to the connection—Lula-Brazil-Nicaragua-Castro-Cuba: “In the short time Lula and I spent together, two and a half hours, I would have liked to summarize in just a few minutes the almost 28 years that have gone by, not since the time he first visited Cuba, but from the time I met him in Nicaragua. This time he was the leader of an immense nation whose fate, however, depends on many aspects that are common to all the peoples on this planet.” Castro, Lula (segunda parte), supra. But this is nostalgia with a specific political point—moving Brazil farther from the United States and closer to Cuba.

As he stands in front of me, smiling and friendly, and I listen to him speaking with pride about his country, about the things they are doing and those they plan on doing, I think about his political instincts. I had just finished quickly looking over a hundred-page report on Brazil and the growth of relations between our two countries. He was the man I met in the Sandinista capital, Managua; he was someone who connected closely with our Revolution. I neither spoke to him, nor would I ever speak to him, about anything that could be construed as interfering in the political process of Brazil, but he himself, right at the beginning, said: Do you remember, Fidel, when we spoke at the Sao Paulo Forum, and you told me that unity among the Latin American left-wing was necessary if we were to secure our progress? Well, we are now moving forward in that direction." Castro, Lula (segunda parte), supra. In the Spanish: "Cuando está delante de mí, sonriente y amistoso, y lo escucho hablar con orgullo de su país, de las cosas que está haciendo y se propone hacer, pienso en su instinto político. Yo acababa de revisar velozmente un informe de cien páginas sobre Brasil y el desarrollo de las relaciones entre nuestros dos países. Era el hombre que conocí en la capital sandinista de Managua y que tanto se vinculó con nuestra Revolución. No le hablé ni le habría hablado de algo que resultara injerencia en el proceso político de Brasil, pero él mismo entre las primeras cosas dijo: ¿Te acuerdas, Fidel, cuando hablamos del Foro de Sao Paulo, y me dijiste que era necesaria la unidad de la izquierda latinoamericana para garantizar nuestro progreso? Pues ya estamos avanzando en esa dirección."
The fish is caught. It is merely a matter of reeling him in. But Lula appears to reel himself into the deterministic boat that Castro has crafted for him. At the end of the second part of our Lula trilogy, then, it appears that Lula himself returns to his ideological roots and one better--for now he controls the state.

Immediately he speaks to me with pride about what Brazil is today and its great possibilities, bearing in mind its advances in science, technology, mechanical industry, energy and other areas, bound up with its enormous agricultural potential. Of course, he includes the high level of Brazil’s international relations, which he describes enthusiastically, and the relations he is ready to develop with Cuba. He speaks vehemently about the social work of the Workers' Party which today is supported by all the Brazilian left-wing parties, which are far from having a parliamentary majority. Castro, Lula (segunda parte), supra. In the Spanish: "De inmediato me habla con orgullo de lo que es Brasil hoy y sus grandes posibilidades, tomando en cuenta sus avances en ciencia, tecnología, industria mecánica, energética y otras, unidos a su enorme potencial agrícola. Por supuesto que incluye el elevado nivel de las relaciones internacionales de Brasil, que detalla con entusiasmo, y de las que está dispuesto a desarrollar con Cuba. Habla con vehemencia de la obra social del Partido de los Trabajadores, hoy apoyada por todos los Partidos de la izquierda brasileña, que están lejos de contar con una mayoría parlamentaria. " Castro, Lula (segunda parte), supra.

All is going well. From out of the darkness of the surprise visit comes a return to the road to true socialism based on the revolutionary framework first ignited by the Cuban Revolution and then manifested by the first Sandinista regime. But Nicaragua is small fish; Venezuela is better, but Brazil is the catch of the century--especially for Cuba. It represents food, fuel, space and protection. Indeed, the promise of an ideological bridge might well cement protection for Cuba. . . . against the machinations of the United States, in away that China might not. Castro here intimates that he remains suspicious of the road taken by his brother and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias. Castro does not trust the Chinese; he is suspicious of their ideological position; and he may not believe that the Chinese will stand by the Cubans even when it goes against the Chinese national interest. Castro is not the only one who fears a trade of Cuba for Taiwan in the dealing of the American and Chinese super powers. This is not unrealistic were the Chinese and Americans to start dealing with subordinate states the way merchants deal with inventory. See Larry Catá Backer, Anticipating Fidel Castro's Death: The U.S. and China Prepare For Battle Over the Fate of Cuba, Law at the End of the Day, Aug. 1, 2006.

But it is not clear who is pulling whose leg. Castro is looking to Brazil as a block against the United States, but it seems that Brazil may be looking to Cuba to strengthen its credibility as a major go-between between the United States and critical Latin American States. The extent to which that notion is engrained within the Brazilian elite close to Lula was hinted at in the address by the then outgoing Brazilian Ambassador to the United States, Roberto Pinto Ferreira Abdenur:

Abdenur assured that Brazil would be its natural ally in such an endeavor. Brazil has good relations with all of its neighbors and strategically occupies a moderate space between the region’s divergent interests and trajectories, as illustrated by its leading role in the current international efforts to stabilize Haiti and by its contribution to the resolution of the conflict between Peru and Ecuador in the 1990s—in both cases in close cooperation with the United States. Abdenur argued that the United States is not the only actor that must take decisive steps towards a convergence of interests between the two countries: Brazil must stop fearing the United States and instead embrace it as a partner.

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, The Future of U.S.-Brazilian Relations, Event Summary, Jan. 24, 2007. Perhaps Brazil can continue to play the role of “power in the middle.” Lula is certainly playing the role well. Castro certainly finds him useful—and perhaps malleable.

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