Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, a communist guerrilla in her youth, who is visiting Havana for the first time as a chief of state, refused to criticize Cuba’s human rights record on Tuesday, saying the issue should not be used to score ideological points.
“One should sweep one’s own house before criticizing others. We in Brazil also have human rights problems. Therefore I am willing to discuss human rights from a multilateral perspective,” she told reporters before conferring with President Raul Castro.
Rousseff stressed that human rights should not be “a weapon for ideological political warfare.”
Rousseff totally excluded the issue of human rights in her official talks in Havana because, she said, these rights are violated throughout the world, “including the United States.” She mentioned what is happening in the US prison at the Guantanamo base, is East Cuba.
Talking to the press, the Brazilian leader reminded that the US government currently maintains a prison in Guantanamo Bay, an area that’s Cuba territory, “where you know what is happening.”
In the case of Cuban opposition blogger Yoani Sanchez, who has been granted a visa by Brasília, Rousseff said it was not up to Brazil to decide whether Cuban authorities should give the renowned dissident an exit visa.
Sanchez, who hopes to attend the premiere in Brazil of a documentary by Brazilian director Dado Galvão on February 10, has been denied permission to leave the island.
Known worldwide for her award-winning blog “Generation Y,” she won the 2008 Ortega y Gasset prize for online journalism from Madrid daily El Pais.
Rousseff has no plans to meet with dissidents, according to her entourage. But Brazil’s first woman president called on revolutionary icon and former president Fidel Castro.
“I await this meeting with a lot of pride,” said the former leftist revolutionary who was tortured under her country’s military dictatorship (1964-1985).
Rousseff restated her opposition to the 50-year-old US trade embargo against Cuba and said the best way of countering it was to offer “our collaboration to Cuba in various fields”.
She pointed to the “favorable strategic cooperation” between the two countries in areas such as biotechnology, an area where Cuba excels and in which Brazil can offer high tech capabilities. Rousseff’ talks with her Cuban counterpart focused on increased economic cooperation.
Rousseff is expected to announce a 70 million dollars credit for Cuban small-scale agriculture, on top of the 450 million dollars Brasilia has already earmarked for the expansion of the port of Mariel, 50 kilometers west of Havana.
The two countries had record trade of 642 million dollars in 2011, making Brazil Cuba’s second largest Latin American trading partner, after Venezuela. But Brazilian exports to Cuba account for 550 million of the trade, an imbalance that both sides want to correct.
Rousseff’s visit came as Brazilian construction company Odebrecht announced it would sign an agreement with Cuba’s state-run sugar producer Azcuba, to boost production in Cienfuegos province.
Diplomatic sources here said the two countries were also mulling an agreement for joint production of generic medicines and bio fuels.
From Cuba Rousseff will travel on to Haiti as she aims to continue the regional diplomatic outreach of her popular predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
After being welcomed by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, Rousseff swiftly left Havana airport without speaking to reporters. The Brazilian leader hopes to “increase dialogue and deepen the bilateral cooperation, with an emphasis on the economic agenda,” her foreign ministry said ahead of the trip.
On Wednesday Rousseff leaves for Haiti, where Brazil leads a mission of several thousand UN peacekeepers.
The Brazilian government announced Monday that it had allocated more than US$ 500,000 in fresh aid for the more than 4,000 Haitian immigrants who are being granted permanent residence visas.
The northern Brazilian states of Acre and Amazonas which border Peru have seen an influx of undocumented Haitians since the devastating earthquake in their homeland two years ago.