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Rousseff signals clear difference with Lula da Silva in coming visit to Cuba

Friday, January 27th 2012 - 11:39 UTC
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The Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez was issued a tourist visa by Brazil The Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez was issued a tourist visa by Brazil

Brazil issued a tourist visa to a dissident Cuban blogger a few days before President Dilma Rousseff is scheduled to travel to the Castro family island in a visit being dominated by human rights concerns.

Yoani Sanchez, an outspoken critic of Raul Castro’s government, requested permission to travel to Brazil so she could attend the screening next month of a documentary in which she appears, the foreign ministry said in a statement. The visa was issued by Brazil’s embassy in Havana.

The 36-year-old philologist, who has repeatedly been blocked from leaving Cuba, celebrated the decision. “Now comes the most difficult part: the permission to leave,” she said in a message posted on her Twitter account yesterday.

Rousseff has been under pressure to meet with Sanchez and other activists during her Jan. 31-Feb. 1 visit after a jailed dissident, Wilman Villar, died last week during a 50-day hunger strike. Sanchez appealed this week directly to Rousseff, invoking the president’s experience surviving prison and torture at the hands of Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship.

“I saw a photo of young Dilma, sitting on a bench blindfolded as men accused her,” Sanchez wrote Jan. 24 on Twitter. “I feel that way right now.”

Rousseff has vowed to make human rights a priority of her foreign policy, and in condemning abuses in Iran has taken distance from the policies of her predecessor and mentor, Lula da Silva.

Lula da Silva refused to meet with dissidents during his last presidential visit to Cuba in 2010, which coincided with the death of another jailed hunger striker. At the time, the former union leader said he had never received a formal request for any such meeting. He later drew rebuke in Brazil for comparing the Cuban dissidents to “criminals” in Sao Paulo jails.

As part of the preparations for Rousseff’s visit next week, her government notified Cuban authorities that it would grant Sanchez the visa, said a Brazilian official with direct knowledge of the talks. Brazil routinely grants tourist visas to Cuban citizens who request it, said the official, who is not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

While Sanchez’s visa request has dominated Brazilian newspaper headlines in recent days, Rousseff’s trip, her first as president, is supposed to be focused on trade.

Brazilian companies have stepped up their presence in Cuba in recent years, as the Castro government has taken steps to attract foreign investment to its cash-strapped, state-dominated economy. Brazilian construction company Odebrecht SA is part of a consortium expanding the port of Mariel, which Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota visited last week. The project is being co-financed by Brazil’s state development bank BNDES.

Since 2006, bilateral trade rose 30% to 488 million in 2010, according to the Brazilian foreign ministry. In the first 11 months of 2011, trade reached 570 million.
 

Categories: Politics, Brazil, Latin America.

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  • GeoffWard2

    The more distance she places between herself and Lula, the more she becomes the natural president-elect for the next government of Brasil.

    Jan 27th, 2012 - 06:12 pm 0
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