Friday, March 07, 2008

Cuba and Brazil Part IV: Bringing Lula Into the Cuban Orbit; Bringing Cuba Into the Brazilian Orbit?

We have been considering the multi part efforts by Castro to woo the Brazilian President Lula. That effort ends now with this fourth part. The first of the essays provided the set up for the discussion, establishing to deep-rooted commonalities binding Brazil and Cuba, Castro and Lula. For my discussion, see Larry Catá Backer, Cuba and Brazil, Part I: Castro Lectures Lula da Silva, Law at the End of the Day, Jan. 26, 2008. The second pointed to the bases on which a mutually beneficial and strategic alignment made tremendous sense for both states. For my discussion, see Larry Catá Backer, Cuba and Brazil, Part II: Castro Continues his Wooing of Lula, Law at the End of the Day, Feb. 10, 2008. The third pointed to the parallel developments of Cuba and Brazil, through Castro and Lula, and more importantly, the critical role that Brazil could play in the protection of Cuba and in th safeguarding of the intellectual and political independence of Latin America form the United States, see Larry Catá Backer, Cuba and Brazil Part III: Cuba and Brazil in Parallel Strokes, Law at the End of the Day, February 24, 2008.

With this fourth part, Castro sums up his sense of the stage of Cuban Brazilian relations, and the role each plays in the greater amalgamation of Latin America against the United States. Here we see nicely drawn the political and ideological legacy that Castro wishes to institutionalize before his passing.
Fidel Castro Ruz,
Reflexiones del Comandante en Jefe. LULA. (Cuarta y última parte). 31 de enero del 2008 (in the original Spanish).

Having drawn ideological and political connections between Cuba and Brazil--and suggested the importance of Brazil for the protection of Cuba from the United States (and unstated but very real, from the People's Republic of China)--Castro now turns to the contextualization of that relationship within the alternative supra-national organization he would like to see created. For that purpose, Castro focuses on Venezuela.
"When I talked to him about Venezuela, he told me: We intend to cooperate with President Chávez. We both have an agreement. Every year I will travel twice to Caracas and he will travel twice to Brazil so that no differences could set in between us; and in case there happens to be any, we could settle it right away. VenezuelaI told him I was very happy to know what his stand was regarding that country, because we were very thankful to that sister nation for the agreements signed that ensured to us a steady supply of fuel." doesn’t need any money, he said, because it has many resources, but it needs time and infrastructure”

Fidel Castro Ruz, Reflexiones del Comandante en Jefe. LULA (in Spanish). Castro uses this declaration of friendship both to provide support for Higa Chavez and to remind Lula of the institutionalization of the multi-state friendship he has been describing through ALBA, the Alternativge Bolivariana para .

On the basis of that agreement, a system of command economy state to state economic relations could be established that reflected Castro's views of the proper conduct of economic activity. That view, now so very traditional, is grounded in the sharp distinction between public and private activity, with a great privileging of the public over the private. It emphasized state to state bartering and is suspicious of market, contract and individual activity. Aggregate welfare maximization, for Castro, must be the product of public policy, and is centered on states.
When the price of oil abruptly increased and it became real difficult to buy it, Chávez maintained and even increased our oil supplies. After the signing of the ALBA agreements in Havana on December 14, 2004, these agreements still provide honorable and beneficial conditions for both countries. Almost 40,000 selfless Cuban specialists, most of them doctors, are working in Venezuela. Their knowledge, and particularly their internationalist example, is contributing to training the Venezuelans who will replace them.

Fidel Castro Ruz,
Reflexiones del Comandante en Jefe. LULA (in Spanish). Lula appears sympathetic.

Lula expressed again his respect and deep love for Cuba and its leaders. He immediately added that he felt proud for what was going on in Latin America and once again reaffirmed that it was here in Havana that we decided to create the Sao Paulo Forum and unite all the Latin American left-wing, which is taking power in almost every country. This time I reminded him of what Martí taught us about all glories in this world, when he said that all of them fit into a kernel of corn. Lula added: “I tell everybody that in the conversations I had with you, you never gave any advice that would go against what was legal. You always advised me not to make too many enemies at the same time. And that is what’s making things move forward.”
Fidel Castro Ruz, Reflexiones del Comandante en Jefe. LULA (in Spanish). Lula also appears ready to embrace at least a part of this vision--Brazil's place as a political and economic leader in Latin America and new protector of those states against the outside imperial powers. "Almost immediately he added that Brazil, a big country with resources, had to help Ecuador, Uruguay and Paraguay. " Fidel Castro Ruz, Reflexiones del Comandante en Jefe. LULA (in Spanish).

Yet, at the same time, Lula remains his own man. And that is the difficulty for Castro. Cuba needs Brazil; Cuba would prefer a left leaning Brazil; Cuba would be delighted with a Brazilian leader as pliable (ideologically at least) as Venezuela's Chavez. But that is not to be. The problem is the usual. Brazil is not Venezuela. It is richer, more diverse, and traditionally more independent of the great global geo-political players. It can go its own way. Sympathy does not necessarily translate into a willingness to follow. That remains the path of the subaltern--that will always be Cuba in relationships of this type. One gets a great sense of this tension in the following description of the discussion of the nature of Brazil's regional obligations:

He said to me that Brazil’s commercial relations with Latin America were bigger compared to those it had with the United States. I continued to explain to him that we will certainly establish close relations between our two countries, not only as friends, but also as partners in important areas, that I needed to know the thinking of the Brazilian leaders, since we were going to be partners in strategic areas, and as a rule we always lived up to our economic commitments.

We talked about other important issues, the issues on which we agreed and those on which we don’t, as tactfully as possible.

I talked to him about several other regions, the Caribbean among them and about the forms of cooperation that we had developed with them.

Lula told me that Brazil should be more proactive towards cooperating with the poorest peoples. He has acquired new responsibilities; Brazil is the richest country in the whole region.
Fidel Castro Ruz, Reflexiones del Comandante en Jefe. LULA (in Spanish). But fort all that, Brazil remains important to Cuba--in its resources, affinity, and in its protection from its new patron, the People's Repblic of China. Indeed, the PRC remains very much of Castro's mind. A long apparent digression from the discussion of Brazilian Cuban relations into the problems of environmental degradation quickly turns into a reverie of the difficulties the PRC is having with maintaining its own internal house in order. This is hardly the stuff to make a leader confident--perhaps a jibe (again) at the choice made by Raul Castro and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias). "Such news will give you an idea of the consequences of climate change, which scientists worry so much about. The two examples I have referred to are revolutionary countries, perfectly well organized, with great human and economic strength, where all resources are immediately put to the service of the people. Here we are not talking about hungry crowds abandoned to their own fate." Fidel Castro Ruz, Reflexiones del Comandante en Jefe. LULA (in Spanish). Still, France has its own troubles. See Id.

The seeds planted, the mutual expressions of support made, the lectures given (and published for the elite masses in Cuba and abroad), it was time for the parting. "

Almost at the end of his visit he told me: “You are invited to go to Brazil this year”. Thanks, I answered, at least in my thoughts I will be there. Finally he told me: I will tell your comrades and friends in Brazil that you are very well. We walked together to the exit. The meeting was really worthwhile." Fidel Castro Ruz, Reflexiones del Comandante en Jefe. LULA (in Spanish).

Perhaps it was worthwhile. The real test will require a similar amicable meeting between Lula and Raúl Castro. If the Americans were astute, they might be starting to approach Cuba through Lula and Brazil. Sure, the Americans enjoy a long habit of directly applicable bluster in Latin America. But why bother with policies that appear to succeed but ultimately fail. There would only be one plausible reason--the Americans are looking to use Cuba and Latin America in general as a locus for internal consumption (immigration, toughness on anti-democratic communist regimes, leadership in our back yard). But that sort of bluster, though it may play well even in the East and West Coasts, does very little to improve relations. For reasons of internal politics, the Americans can make no direct approach to Cuba. But it can begin the process of engagement indirectly. Castro has suggested the medium--Brazil (no, not Mexico or Venezuela or Columbia!). It might be wise to take advantage of the signal and reward Brazil at the same time (it was, after all extremely cooperative with American internal needs to bolster its inefficient ethanol sector with little to show for it other than a freer hand in the world ethanol markets). It is unlikely that th Americans will act discretely and prudently in this matter--and that is a shame. But Brazil is now strong enough to make facts in Latin America, and strong enough perhaps to work around the Americans. If for no other reason, at least in this respect Castro's advice would be well worth heeding.

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