|Peril of the Caribbean|
|Saturday, 11 February 2012 20:03|
Brazil's ill-timed visit to Cuba
by Marcos Azambuja
On the other hand, the initial stages of her political trajectory and the complex web of allegiances that her coalition partners and the governing Workers Party rank and file have spun around her have put her in a position where a measure of loyalty - or at least indulgence - toward the Cuban regime is unavoidable.
Rousseff, therefore, could not have been expected to touch down at JosÃ© MartÃ Airport in Havana and start issuing declarations of public censure of Cuba's human rights record, much less of the regime's maneuvers to perpetuate its hold on power, as it has managed to do for the last 52 years.
There is nothing inappropriate about Brazil deploying high-level diplomatic missions to Cuba. We have important economic and commercial interests in Cuba, and major Brazilian companies are justified in working to consolidate and expand their presence on the island. Helping them do so is a natural and appropriate diplomatic goal that falls squarely within the accepted bounds of the international game.
And yet the timing of the Cuba trip was unfortunate. Engaging Cuba is something our three most recent governments have done with propriety and success. Brazil is fortunate to have a versatile corps of senior ministers and bureaucrats who may be quickly deployed and tasked with promoting and defending our various interests abroad.
Thanks to shifts in the global balance of power, Brazil today enjoys unprecedented international visibility and prestige. Our priority should be to preserve our national leaders from encounters with certain players in the international arena looking to take advantage of Brazil's credibility to burnish their own credentials or advance their own agenda.
On his recent swing through Latin America, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad omitted Brazil from his itinerary, and that exclusion was interpreted internationally as a sign that the Brazilian president wished to keep a prudent distance from the Iranian leader.
There was a time not long ago when our leaders travelled abroad in order to seek loans. Today, often enough, we are the ones financing international borrowers. That is to say, Brazil is lending its prestige to discredited governments and leaders.
Brazil could have sent a government mission to Cuba without the presence of President Rousseff, whose political constraints prevented her from speaking out on her beliefs and publicly embrace the universal values of liberty and individual freedoms to which Brazil unquestionably subscribes but are routinely disrespected by the Cuban regime.
What she did do, on the contrary, was to unhesitatingly and vehemently condemn the notorius conditions of the prison at Guantanamo Bay where alleged terrorists are confined. Some of these men have been caged there for years, and many have yet to be tried, constituting a flagrant violation of their rights and a stain on the reputation of the United States.
And yet Rousseff's critique of Guantanamo Bay would have carried greater weight and been more balanced had it been accompanied by an equally vehement condemnation of authoritarian, single-party governments - such as the one in Cuba - that curb their citizens' freedom to come and go, to name just one restriction.
The romantic and, at the same time, heroic origins of the Cuban Revolution endowed Brazilians with a sentimental bond and a vision of liberation that a half-century of abusive suppression of civil liberties have yet to completely erode.
The lesson here is that, in diplomacy, an ill chosen itinerary can skew the journey, even before it begins. A head of state does not go to Tehran with impunity. Honoring Chavez in Caracas has its risks. A visit to Cuba exacts a price. In these countries, as in many others, we are dealing with regimes avid to parlay a visit by a credible world leader into a tribute, direct or indirect, to the failed policies they represent.
Marcos Azambuja, a former Brazilian ambassador,Â currently serves asÂ vice-president of the Brazilian Center of International Relations. This is a version of an article published in O Estado de SÃ£o Paulo. Translation by Roman Gautam.