Friday, February 22, 2008

Lula as a Broker between Cuba and the U.S.?

One of Brazil's better newspapers, Folha de São Paulo, has recently reported that, on his last trip to Cuba, Lula met with Raul Castro. Folha reported this past Wednesday that, during their meeting, among the other items Raul mentioned were the possibility of entering an agreement with Brazil that would send more sugar-based ethanol to Cuba, as well as the possibility of Lula brokering a dialogue between the U.S. and Cuba that could potentially open relations between the two and end the embargo.

I've commented before on how important I think Lula's international relations approach has been. Instead of trying to kowtow to Europe and the United States in order to improve Brazil's economic standing, he has not been afraid to enter into any trade agreement that might help Brazil down the road, be it in Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, or North America. Cuba is no exception, and Lula has periodically visited there. Clearly, if this report is accurate, Cuba's efforts to switch to sugar-based fuel sources would be useful for Brazil from an economic standpoint, and would also help Cuba move away from oil dependency.

However, what really stands out to me here is Raul's suggestion that Lula broker an end to the embargo and an opening of relations between the United States and Cuba. This would be a great opportunity for Lula, and for Brazil, in several ways. Brazil, undeniably a growing power in the world, would be able to extend some of its influence into the Caribbean, providing a potential (but not antagonistic) second option to the U.S. for Caribbean countries. And lets play with what are simply hypotheticals, now. Let's say Obama should reach the White House next January, and he sticks to his promise to open relations with Cuba. Lula is called in to broker the talks, and after 48 years, the embargo falls, and the political landscape between the United States fundamentally changes (since anytime you start having diplomatic relations with a neighbor after shutting them off for 48 years constitutes quite a "change"). The entire world would probably be rather impressed by all members' participation in the talks, but Lula I think would particularly benefit, simply because it would give Brazil a political standing in the world it hasn't really achieved yet. Sure, it's greatly improving its economic participation and influence in the world, but Brazil hasn't really been considered a major diplomatic influence in the world. Brokering an agreement between the U.S. and Cuba would certainly help change that. And given his relations with Africa, China, the United States, and the European Union, Lula and, perhaps by extension, Brazil, would certainly have a strong claim on being a capable broker for international deals, economic and political.

Now of course, there is plenty of possibility that the above doesn't happen, or that it does, but Lula leaves office in 2010, and the new president doesn't continue Lula's efforts to increase Brazil's influence economically and diplomatically. I still think that the report (and again, this is if it's true) is still great news for Brazil - again, if nothing else holds, it's clear that Brazil is starting to have more influence in the Caribbean than it did. For all of the criticism Lula gets for being from the working class, for starting off as a metalworker, for being from the Northeast, etc. (none of which have any bearing on Lula's ability, but are totally revelatory of the classism and racism of parts of Brazil's middle class and the media here), no president in recent memory (including the presidents during the dictatorship) has done so much to increase Brazil's role in the international community as Lula has.

(via Boz).