Rousseff comes with investments and loans in luggage

Continuing the policy of her predecessor Luiz Inácio ‘Lula’ da Silva of forging close ties with Cuba, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is in Cuba for a two-day visit to witness the signing of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of agreements.

During a preparatory visit of Foreign Minister Antonio de Aguiar Patriota to Havana Jan. 16-17, the two nations agreed to work on “important projects for the Cuban economy,” a communiqué by Brazil’s foreign ministry said. According to a Brazilian foreign ministry spokesman, there is space for Brazilian investments in “generic pharmaceuticals, including anti-cancer drugs, in petroleum refining, and production of lubricants.” He also cited sugarcane-based biofuels, saying that the resistance of Fidel Castro is “being overcome.”

Most importantly, as part of Rousseff’s visit to Cuba, Brazilian development bank BNDES is expected to release the second, $230 million, tranche of a nearly $600 million credit for an expansion of the Port of Mariel. Rousseff visited the construction site Jan. 31.

A Cuban-Brazilian joint venture led by Brazil’s Grupo Odebrecht began construction of the crucial infrastructure project last year, thanks to a first $232 million tranche of the BNDES loan. The port project, which includes a new container terminal and offshore oil logistics center, is expected to be completed by mid-2013.

Meanwhile, Companhia de Obras em Infraestrutura (COI), the Odebrecht subsidiary in charge of the port project, announced it will enter an agreement with state company Azcuba to operate a sugar mill in Cienfuegos province.

The first company that will announce it will set up shop in a prototype Special Development Zone at the port just west of Havana is São Paulo-based Fanavid S.A. The glassmaker will open a manufacturing facility at the Port of Mariel to supply Cuba, Brazil and the Caribbean region with architectural glass, a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Brazil said after Patriota returned from Cuba.

The zones, allowing companies to benefit from less red tape and simplified customs processes, are part of a government effort to convince more foreign investors to produce high value-added goods and service exports in Cuba.

Other Brazilian activities:

•Rousseff announced Jan. 31 that Brazil is providing Cuba a rotating credit facility of $400 million for food purchases in the South American country.

•In November, Cuba became the first non-African country to participate in the Brazilian “Mais Alimentos” program, designed to strengthen family farming and bolster food production. Rousseff confirmed that, under the program, Brazil’s Agriculture Development Ministry will grant $200 million in financing for up to 165,000 private farmers in Cuba through 2015 to buy Brazilian-made tractors and other equipment, as well as training and technology transfer. 

•The head of Brazil’s state postal office (ECT), Wagner Pinheiro de Oliveira, was in Havana Jan. 19 to expand a two-year old cooperation program between Brazil’s and Cuba’s postal systems. Under the agreement, Brazil provides support for operations, training, logistics, finance and information technology.

•Finally, Brazilian officials signed agreements to help establish a geological database in Cuba, to support the Technology and Quality Center of the Heavy Industry Ministry in Cuba, and to expand a network of breast milk banks.

“This is a market that’s opening up,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Tovar Nunes told Brazilian reporters last week. Cuba is “absolutely interested in expanding the partnership with us and is betting on that port as a focus of export-oriented investments.”

Increasing investments are paralleled by a rise in trade. Bilateral trade has risen 30 percent from 2006 to 2010, when it reached $488 million, the Brazilian foreign ministry said. In the first 11 months of 2011, trade volume was $570 million.

Meanwhile, the Brazilian foreign ministry announced Jan. 25 that it granted Cuban opposition blogger Yoani Sánchez a tourist visa to attend the screening of a new documentary film about Cuba and Honduras, Feb. 10 in Brazil. Sánchez had applied for a visa with the Brazilian embassy Jan. 20. Rousseff is not expected to meet with Cuban opposition members during her visit.

Before a meeting with Raúl Castro Jan. 31, she criticized the U.S. embargo and defended Brazil’s “strategic and enduring partnership to help accelerate Cuba’s development” against media criticism over human rights issues. She suggested human rights issues should be treated in multilateral fora.

Brazil's showcase investment in Cuba is the expansion of the Port of Mariel
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