It was a reencounter filled with niceties and emotions. Fidel Castro, 77, in the first of several breaks of protocol,
went to the airport and received his old and close personal friend Brazilian President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, 57, with a
warm hug at the foot of the plane's ladder.
Thus it started, on Friday, Lula's official two-day visit to Havana. Soon after, on receiving a hug from Castro at the
Revolution Palace, Lula's Chief of Staff, José Dirceu, couldn't contain the tears. Dirceu lived exiled in Cuba from 1969 to 1974,
after having been exchanged with 14 other prisoners for American ambassador, Charles Burke Elbrick, who had been
kidnapped by a leftist guerilla group.
Reportedly, Cuban authorities wanted to give Lula a memorable reception that would include a popular parade.
Lula, however, who has been accused of being too cozy to the Cuban leader, turned down the offer with an eye to the United States,
which Brazil doesn't want to keep on antagonizing.
After all, the US continues to be Brazil's largest trade partner. During this week-long overseas trip, the Brazilian
President has for several times lambasted the Bush administration, accusing the
American President of dividing the UN with the Iraq war and defending
free trade for other nations while doing the opposite at home.
Lula's visit to the island of Castro has been presented as a way for the two countries to strengthen their commercial
ties. Lula stressed that he who was in Havana was not "Fidel Castro's friend," but the Brazilian chief of state. The Brazilian
President is expected to offer a total of US$ 400 million in loans to Cuba. Besides, some 50 top Brazilian executives, involved in
farming, oil exploration and hotels, are ready to close deals with Cuba.
The whole presidential retinue comprises around 100 people, including entrepreneurs, ministers and presidential
aides. Several of them are members of Lula's cabinet. Besides José Dirceu, the President also brought Antônio Palocci of
Finance, Luiz Dulci of the General Secretariat, José Graziano of Food Safety, José Fritsh of Fishing, Agnelo Queiroz of Sports
(he belongs to the PC do B, Communist Party of Brazil) and Health Minister, Humberto Costa.
The trip has already resulted in 12 cooperation agreements between Havana and Brasília. Among them the
renegotiation of Cuba's US$ 43-million loan owed to Banco do Brasil, a new US$ 7-million loan for the production of ethanol in the
island and the transference to Brazil of Cuban technology for the production of blood by-products and interferon, a drug used
in the treatment of Hepatitis C and cancer. Petrobras, the Brazilian state-owned oil company, which has already opened an
office in Havana, should look for oil in two Gulf of Mexico areas, off the Cuban coast.
Lula's assertion that he would not interfere in Cuba's internal affairs has infuriated relatives and friends of Cuban
dissidents who were jailed earlier this year after being sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Most of the Brazilian press
seems convinced, however, that at closed doors the theme of human rights would inevitably
be discussed between the two leaders.
For some, Lula is the only world leader to whom Castro would listen at this moment.
The Cuban Years
It's not hard to understand why Lula's Chief of Staff, José Dirceu, got emotional and cried
when hugged by Fidel Castro. Dirceu was the president of UNE (União Nacional dos EstudantesNational Union of Students) on October 1968, when he was imprisoned by the
military government with other student leaders while trying to clandestinely hold the
30th UNE Congress.
Dirceu would stay almost one year in prison before being sent to Cuba as part of the bargain to save ambassador
Elbrick's life. In Cuba, Dirceu underwent the plastic surgery that changed his nose and cheeks and allowed him to go back to
Brazil where he lived as Carlos Henrique Gouveia de Mello from 1974 to 1979, year in which the military government offered
amnesty to political criminals.
Before readopting his old self, Dirceu went back to Cuba to undo the nose and cheek jobs and then reentered the
country as if he were just returning from a 10-year exile. During his Cuban years, the man who would become the power behind
the throne of the Lula administration, worked, studied and learned guerilla tactics.