For the Brazilian president the only reason the US embargo against Cuba continues to this day is due to American wilfulness and stubbornness. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva expressed his opinion afterÂ the closing of the Latin American and Caribbean Summit, which took place in the beach resort of Costa do SauÀpe, in the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia.
"I cannot understand the continuation of the Cuba blockade but for stubbornness. I don't want because I don't want and end of story," the Brazilian leader said.
President Raul Castro, in his first trip overseas, since taking the Cuban leadership post, was one of the heads of state participating in the encounter.
Cuba was formally admitted to the Rio Group during the summit even though Havana's entry had already been approved last November 13, during a meeting of Latin American ministers in Mexico. Cuba does not belong to any regional multilateral organism since being forced out of the OAS (Organization of American States) by Washington in the 1960s.Â
As for the new president of the United States, Barack Obama, Lula asked for people to wait with a good dose of prudence and diplomacy until the president-elect has some time to define his policies. But the Brazilian leader is betting on serious changes: "I hope that there will be change for the better in the American policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean."
Lula told reporters he hopes Obama will see Venezuela with different eyes and will reestablish relations with Havana.
"I hope Obama," he said, "takes the decision of resuming diplomatic relations with Cuba. There isn't any explanation anymore be it political or sociological. No analyst or psychologist in the world would be able to understand why is there still a Cuba blockade. Would it be revenge?"
Lula also reminded the 33 leaders present at the summit that the same Left that was engaged in armed struggle in the 1960s and 1970s is now in power in a majority of countries in the region, and they did it through democratic, free elections.
The president later said that Brazilian businessmen cannot use the economic crisis as an excuse to give the pink slip to workers, adding: "The businessmen's role now is to work fast with the government to avoid that the crisis reaches society."
Lula believes that Brazilians, despite all the doom talks, will have a good Christmas: "All you need is to look at the numbers of the retail commerce. We will eat an extra little chicken."
He stated that hopefully starting in January and February the number of job offers will increase. He also believes that the crisis offers opportunities to Brazil: "I am convinced that this crisis is an unprecedented opportunity for Brazil to make a stand and show that it knows its own way." He used the Brazilian expression to say that Brazil is "dono do seu nariz" (its own nose's boss).
Once again the Brazilian leader picked on the US for the actions it's taking to solve the financial crisis: "We are putting money to stimulate production. The only thing I know they are doing is putting money to save banks."
Raul Castro has proposed releasing Cuban political prisoners in exchange for five Cubans jailed in the US on espionage charges.
The Cuban leader spoke in Brazilian capital Brasília after meeting with president Lula. He told reporters he wants the release of the men, known as the "Cuban Five," who were convicted of spying in 2001 and sentenced in a Miami federal court to long terms.
The American State Department rejected the idea, saying the two situations are independent of one another. A spokesperson said the five imprisoned Cubans had been tried and sentenced for crimes in the US, whereas the Cuban prisoners were jailed simply for peacefully protesting.
Castro also repeated his government's willingness to discuss the long-standing US embargo against Cuba with U.S. President-elect Barack Obama.
Obama has said he would be willing to speak with Cuba's leaders but that he would maintain the nearly 50-year-old trade embargo as leverage to push for democratic change on the island.