Lula in Cuba

Image: Yuting Gao


70 years of Moncada and Bayamo; the search for social justice and the resumption of Brazilian diplomacy

“When man stops dreaming, all humanity will be defeated” (Leonardo Padura).

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva officially visited Cuba between September 15th and 16th, on the eve of his trip to the UN General Assembly. The central reason was his participation in the Group of 77 and China (G77+) Summit, a meeting of leaders of developing nations based in Havana. The topic addressed on this occasion was particularly significant: “current challenges for development: the role of science, technology and innovation”. The journey crowns the normalization of diplomatic relations between Brazil and Cuba, after the 2016 coup and the aggressive foreign policy of Jair Bolsonaro's government.

The Summit, chaired by Cuba in 2023, had as its main objective to reinforce the defense of the collective interests of developing countries in the multilateral context. The discussions ranged from economic and financial dimensions to the imperative need for cooperation and technology transfer, as well as the tireless fight against hunger and poverty.

The Group of 77 and China (G77+), created in 1964 during the first United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), plays a fundamental role in restructuring international economic relations, aiming to create more favorable conditions for the sustainable development of its members. . Effective coordination between countries belonging to this group has been instrumental in many United Nations negotiations, particularly those related to economic and sustainable development issues.

In addition to participating in the Summit, Lula took the opportunity to hold a working meeting with the president of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel. It was a crucial opportunity to deepen dialogue between the two countries and explore potential areas of collaboration, including food security, renewable energy and biopharmaceuticals. The last visit by a Brazilian president to the island took place in 2014, with Dilma Rousseff.

It is worth taking a brief look back at the recent history of the Island and the zigzags of understandings with Brazil in recent decades.

The guerrillas and the dictatorship

The attempt to overthrow the dictatorial government of Fulgêncio Batista, which began with the armed attacks on the Moncada and Bayamo barracks on July 26, 1953, in the city of Santiago, represents a milestone in the fight for social justice and national independence in Cuba. The context in which these events occurred was deeply rooted in the reality of a dictatorship that dominated the country between 1952 and 1959. Facing a scenario of oppression, inequality, political repression and national subordination, the revolutionary movement led by Fidel Castro opted for armed insurrection as the means of achieving profound changes. This choice was supported by several reasons, some of them being the lack of effective civil means of struggle, the political domination of local oligarchies, subordinate to the White House, and the deterioration of the socioeconomic and political situation.

Fulgêncio Batista's regime was characterized by severe political repression, lack of civil liberties, silencing of the opposition and censorship of the press. Furthermore, Fulgêncio Batista's government was strongly associated with corruption and subordination to the interests of the United States. The Moncada and Bayamo events were a desperate response by a portion of the youth to the situation, previous attempts at protests and social mobilizations failed due to government repression.

The attack on the barracks represented a dramatic tactical defeat for the 165 fighters involved. Most were killed and their main leaders arrested. The speech "History will absolve me.”, delivered by Fidel Castro during his trial, became an important basis for the political program of guerrilla struggle known as the Moncada Program.

In 1955, the prisoners were amnestied. The 26th of July Movement, emanating from the rebellion, united different sectors of society, including urban and rural workers, professionals, peasants and small traders. After intricate tactical directions, the creation of rural guerrilla pockets and support in urban mobilizations, Fulgêncio Batista is overthrown and the victorious revolutionaries enter Havana, in 1st place. January 1959. On April 16, 1961, Fidel proclaims the socialist character of the Revolution, amid the heated context of the Cold War.

The economic and commercial blockade imposed by the United States thereafter forced the Island to seek economic independence and strengthen its relations with the Soviet Union. Washington's aggressive actions, including the failed invasion attempt at the Bay of Pigs, were the hallmark of six decades of tense relations with the Western superpower.

One of the crucial points of this trajectory is Cuba's diplomatic relationship with Brazil. Contacts between the two countries were marked by ups and downs, including periods of diplomatic rupture during the military dictatorship (1964-1985).

Oscillating relationships

Diplomatic relations between Brazil and Cuba have a long history that has gone through different phases over time. Both countries have an active voice in regional and global diplomacy, with considerable weight and influence despite being different. Diplomatic relations were officially established in 1909, still during the Old Republic, after Brazil recognized Cuba's independence from Spanish rule in 1898. After the Revolution, Brazil aligned itself with the anti-communist stance of the United States. This led to a period of diplomatic rift between the two countries.

In June 1986, after 22 years of severed relations and shortly after the fall of the dictatorship, Chancellor Roberto de Abreu Sodré announced at Itamaraty the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries. For Brazil, the gesture had a double meaning. On the one hand, it signaled Brazilian independence in the new democratic period. Internally, he aimed to remove yet another obstacle to the dictatorship.

During the 1990s, Cuban foreign policy underwent a significant change. With the collapse of the Soviet bloc, Havana was forced to rebuild its system and the guiding principles of its foreign policy. The fundamental objective that guided this policy was the development of actions and relationships that could guarantee the survival of the regime.

Cuba used several strategies to reinsert itself into the international scene during that period. One of them was the diversification of its international economic relations between several partners in different spheres. The country maintained a leading role in the processes of pacification of guerrilla struggles on the continent and in its closest geographic environment. Another strategy was the search for new partners, which led to a pendulum insertion into the international scene and the development of social diplomacy.

It is a foreign policy strategy that aims to promote national values ​​and interests through international cooperation actions in areas such as health, education and culture. Cuba began to seek international relations based on humanitarian and solidarity values, rather than just economic or political interests. When observing the development of relations between Cuba and Brazil in later periods, it is possible to observe the result of social diplomacy in bilateral agreements, as well as understand its importance for the survival of revolutionary values.

In 2003, the election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva would give new impetus to cooperation and marked a period of deepening and strengthening relations between Brazil and Cuba. Lula and Castro established a solid partnership that resulted in trade agreements, cooperation in health and education, and mutual political support. Lula's visit to Cuba, during his first term, resulted in the signing of 12 agreements that included the recognition of diplomas in the health area, the granting of scholarships, Petrobras' support for oil research on the island and the production of ethanol. from sugarcane. The cooperation also aimed to encourage investment in infrastructure and investment by Brazilian businesspeople in the country that was spending enormous effort to recover economically from the end of the socialist bloc.

The most famous of these partnerships was the construction of the Port of Mariel. For Brazil, cooperation fell within the new pragmatic, proud and active diplomacy. Cuba and Brazil shared many interests and concerns on the international stage and saw each other as a natural option for partnership. This rapprochement and affinity resulted in a relationship of mutual political support in which Cuba supported Brazilian aspirations for greater protagonism on the world stage and a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Brazil, in turn, supported Cuba in international forums, such as the UN and the issue of the economic embargo, and was attentive to what the country sought in trade and agreements. Relations between the two countries during this period are marked by an emphasis on South-South cooperation and economic cooperation, in addition to the promotion of social policies and the reduction of inequalities.

During Dilma Rousseff's government, the “Mais Médicos” program was implemented in Brazil to serve needy regions without health coverage, which included important participation from Cuban doctors. Cuba has a long tradition of international health cooperation, sending doctors and other professionals to work in developing countries and in emergency situations.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the country sent medical brigades to several regions in need. These teams, made up of highly trained health professionals, provided assistance, shared experience and resources to help fight the disease in various regions of the world.

After the 2016 coup in Brazil and, with the worsening of the economic situation in Cuba, the relationship between the two countries went through a period of weakening, wear and tear and estrangement. After Michel Temer's government, relations began to slow down. But it is in the institutional blackout of the Bolsonaro government that relations deteriorate.

On several occasions, Jair Bolsonaro, critical of the Caribbean nation's political system, had taken a hostile stance towards Cuba, even carrying out a change in the Brazilian position regarding the economic embargo. In 2018, Cuba decided to leave the Mais Médicos program in Brazil mentioning the speeches with a derogatory and threatening tone from Bolsonaro, which stated, among other things, that it would “expel” Cuban doctors from the country based on the diploma revalidation exam of doctors trained abroad. In 2019, the government ended the program.

The resumption

At the beginning of this year, shortly after taking office for his third term, Lula appointed diplomat Christian Vargas as ambassador to Havana. In return, Cuba appointed Adolfo Curbelo Castellanos as its representative in Brasília.

Presidents Lula and Miguel Díaz-Canel met during the seventh edition of the Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac), in January, and, later, during the Summit on the New Global Financing Compact in Paris. On both occasions, a rapprochement was already signaled and mutual interest in rebuilding cooperation and consensus on topics on the international agenda was expressed, such as a fairer financial architecture aimed at combating climate change and poverty. High-level meetings and trade missions confirm the commitment to strengthening ties.

In September, the Brazilian Export and Investment Promotion Agency (ApexBrasil) and the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment (ProCuba) signed a commercial memorandum of understanding in Havana. The delegation also included Brazilian representatives from ministries linked to the energy, industry and trade sectors. As well as representatives of public and private companies in the pharmaceutical, energy and biotechnology sectors.

*Ana Claudia Paes is a graduate student in International Relations at the Federal University of ABC (UFABC).

Bruno Fabricio Alcebino da Silva He is majoring in International Relations at the Federal University of ABC (UFABC).

Gabriel de Mello Rodrigues He is majoring in International Relations at the Federal University of ABC (UFABC).

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