On Saturday (16), President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva held a bilateral meeting with Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel. The meeting took place at the end of the G77 Summit with heads of state and government.
The meeting took place at the Palace of the Revolution – headquarters of the Cuban presidency – and lasted just over an hour. That is the third meeting between the two presidents this year so far. The first was at the Celac Summit in January. The second meeting was in Paris in June, after the two presidents visited Pope Francis.
Issues related to the bilateral and regional agenda were discussed during the meeting. According to the government, cooperation agreements were signed willing “to expand the exchange of technologies between the two countries”, and added that these understandings “represent the resumption of diplomatic relations between Brazil and Cuba, which had been cut in recent years”.
That was the first official trip Lula made to Cuba in nine years. The official entourage that traveled to Cuba included ministers Paulo Teixeira (Agrarian Development and Family Farming), Luciana Santos (Science and Technology) and Nísia Trindade (Health), among others.
After the meeting and before traveling to New York, where the Brazilian president will participate in the United Nations General Assembly, Lula took the opportunity to visit Raúl Castro, the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution. The meeting was held at the former Cuban president’s house and lasted around 30 minutes.
Brazil and Cuba will produce medicines together
The cooperation on health includes a protocol that provides for the exchange of technologies and know-how. The protocol covers topics such as chronic diseases, vaccine development, biotechnology and biodiversity, communicable diseases etc. Therefore, in addition to developing innovative products, the two countries seek to promote public and public-private partnerships.
Furthermore, a partnership is planned between state institutions from both countries – the Fiocruz, in Brazil, and Biofarma, in Cuba, so that two medicines developed in Cuba will be transferred to Brazil’s national production: NeuroEpo, used to delay the effects of Alzheimer’s disease and Erythropoietin, used to treat anemia resulting from kidney failure. It is also used to treat leukemia and other diseases.
“The importance of this agreement is that Brazil benefits from the cutting-edge knowledge that Cuba has developed through years of investment in this area”, explained the Brazilian Minister of Health, Nísia Trindade. “With this joint development, Brazil brings its experience in clinical research and its capacity for scaled production in public and private laboratories.”
In addition, two more agreements were signed. On Science and Technology, it was agreed to resume a cooperation initiative that began in 2002. Topics related to biotechnology, renewable energy, sovereignty and food security, among others, were defined as priorities.
In the agricultural area, technological exchange and cooperation initiatives were also defined. That is particularly beneficial for Cuba, which has seen its food production capacity decline in recent years.
Normalization of relations between Cuba and Brazil
The last time a Brazilian president made an official visit to Cuba was during the government of Dilma Rousseff (Workers’ Party), in 2014. The trip aimed to supervise the investments Brazil was making on the island. Just a year earlier, Cuba had begun to develop the “Mariel Special Development Zone”, an enclave of capitalist economy – located in a strategic area of commercial traffic – that operates on the island under a special tax regime seeking to attract foreign investment.
Dilma Roussef’s last visit to Cuba coincided with a process Washington and Havana were undergoing to normalize their relations, which became known as the “US-Cuban thaw”. At that time, the Obama administration had begun to develop some measures to ease the unilateral economic blockade the US had maintained against the island for more than 60 years.
The investments Brazil made on the island sought to take advantage of the business opportunities were emerging in Cuba.
However, in 2016, the impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff changed the course of the relationship. The Cuban government denied the legitimacy of the impeachment, describing it as a “parliamentary-judicial coup d’état disguised as legality”, stating that “the coup plotters” intended to “end the social achievements the Brazilian people reached and implement a neoliberal government”.
Upon taking office, Michel Temer (MDB Party) ordered the withdrawal of Brazil’s ambassador to Cuba, an unprecedented measure since the end of the dictatorship in Brazil, in 1985. Brazil’s diplomatic representation on the island was assumed by a chargé d’affaires, a lower level of diplomatic representation. That meant a deterioration in diplomatic relations between the two countries.
With the election of former President Jair Bolsonaro, hostilities against the island intensified. It produced “a break with Brazilian diplomatic tradition”, as described by Roberto Colin, former charge d’affaires of the Brazilian embassy in Cuba between 2020 and 2023 in an interview with Brasil de Fato. One of the most illustrative measures of this deterioration was suspending the health cooperation between the two countries.
This process coincided with Donald Trump’s term (2017 – 2021). His administration not only dismantled the “thaw” process between Washington and Havana but also intensified the blockade’s aggressions against Cuba, adding 240 harsh sanctions against the island. Despite Biden’s campaign promises, the current US government has not reversed the sanctions which, coupled with the pandemic, were part of the causes of Cuba’s economic crisis.
In 2022, Brazil’s exports to Cuba fell to almost half what they were in 2012. This number portrays the loss of opportunities for business on both sides of negotiations and collaboration in areas such as health and biotechnology.
Since Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took office last January, the Brazilian government has been trying to normalize ties with Cuba. Brazil’s embassy in Havana was reestablished, allowing the resumption of diplomatic relations. Lula also began organizing a series of visits to the country. The most recent of them occurred a few days before the G77 Summit when the Brazilian Export and Investment Promotion Agency (ApexBrasil) signed an agreement to increase the participation of small and medium-sized companies in exports from both countries.
Lula’s visit to Cuba is the consequence of this process of normalization of relations between the two countries.
“It is of special meaning that, at this time of great geopolitical transformations, this Summit is held here in Havana”, declared President Lula in his speech at the summit. “Cuba has been a defender of fairer global governance. And to this day the country is the victim of an illegal economic embargo. Brazil is against any unilateral coercive measure. We reject the inclusion of Cuba on the list of states sponsoring terrorism,” said the Brazilian president.
Thus, just a few days before the beginning of the UN General Assembly in New York, Brazil resumed its historic position maintained since 1992, the year from which the blockade against Cuba began to be discussed in the Assembly. Brazil only failed to maintain this stance during Bolsonaro’s presidency, breaking the unanimous position of support for Cuba.
Edited by: Nadini Lopes and Thalita Pires