Bringing a package of nearly $1 billion in loans to Cuba, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva toured the Port of Mariel Wednesday morning and absolved an intense agenda in Havana in the afternoon, which included meetings with Fidel and Raúl Castro.
Lula and Raúl Castro headed the signing of several economic agreements, ranging from cooperation on informatics and telecommunication, to joint research and development of pesticides.
In the wake of the visit, the spokesman of the presidency announced Brazil is tying a loan package for the cash-strapped island, valued at nearly $1 billion.
A Brazilian delegation is negotiating new investments before and during Lula’s visit, in addition to those already agreed upon last year, spokesman Marcelo Baumbach told reporters during a press briefing in Brasilia Friday. According to Baumbach, Brazil will grant Cuba $600 million for investment projects in rice and sugar, and for road and port construction, as well as a $350 million loan for food purchases.
Some $150 million of the loan package have already been disbursed for the container terminal at Mariel, and the payment of another $300 million is “under negotiation,” according to Baumbach. Cuba requested an additional $230 million; the additional loan amount “depends on administrative issues,” the spokesman said.
Last year, Brazil announced $300 million in loans for construction of a 1 million containers-per-year terminal at the port of Mariel, just west of Havana. Construction, led by Brazil’s Construtora Norberto Odebrecht and financed by Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (BNDES), is underway. The Brazilian company has begun dredging to accommodate vessels requiring 17-meter depth, and building and rehabbing roadways and railroads, according to official daily Granma. During his visit, Lula witnessed the formal creation of a joint venture with Cuban engineering firm Quality Couriers International S.A. that will be in charge of the Mariel project.
“We work with the perspective that the blockade against Cuba makes no more sense, and that it can fall at any moment,” Lula told reporters in Havana. “Therefore, Cuba will have an extraordinary potential to enter international trade, and most of all containers.”
Meanwhile, Lula said on his weekly radio show on Monday that “we have interest in making new investments” in Cuba, partly “to contribute to the recovery of hotels and roads.”
Brazilian Foreign Trade Minister Miguel João Jorge Filho arrived in Cuba Monday night to begin talks about these investments. Lula’s delegation also included Agriculture Minister Guilherme Cassel and Defense Minister Nelson Jobim.
Documents signed during the visit include a memorandum of understanding about cooperation on informatics and communications; the protocol of the second meeting of the Cuba-Brazil Economic and Trade Working Group; a complementation agreement on health; six technical and scientific cooperation agreements ranging from soy cultivation in Cuba, to mutual support in implementing sanitary controls, to technology transfer on genetic methods to battle tomato and pepper diseases, and development of biological crop plague agents.
Brazilian state oil company Petrobras also signed an agreement, but no information was immediately available about its content. Lula said on his weekly radio program before the visit that the three-year old Petrobras plan of to build a lubricants plant in Havana was still on.
Lula arrived from the Rio Group summit in Cancún Tuesday night. As a first item on a busy schedule Wednesday morning, Lula toured the construction site at the port of Mariel with Raúl Castro. After the port visit, Lula paid a quick visit to Fidel Castro in Havana. Then, he participated in the closure of a meeting of the Cuba-Brazil working group on trade and economic issues at the Palace of the Revolution. In the evening, Lula dined with President Raúl Castro.
According to Agência Brasil, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez landed shortly before Lula in Havana, to meet with Fidel Castro.
This is Lula’s fourth visit to Cuba in eight years, and probably the last one of his presidency. He left Havana Thursday morning to continue his tour of the Caribbean with visits to Haiti and El Salvador.