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With Castro out, Brazil seeks Cuba profits

February 22, 2008 |  4:37 pm

Lula5 Is Brazil poised to play a sweeping financial role in post-Fidel Cuba?

That's the buzz in the Brazilian press following  President Fidel Castro's resignation.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva met last month with the ailing Castro in Havana in what some interpreted as a precursor to a big-bucks Brazilian presence on the island. The former factory hand and union leader is presiding over a robust economy and has the leftist cred to work with a new, and presumably more pragmatic, Cuban leadership. Lula has emerged as Latin America's preeminent moderate leftist leader; he's even popular with the Bush administration.

"The president [Lula] dreams that the island, close to the United States, will serve as an advanced platform for Brazilian-Cuban exports to the largest economy in the world,'' columnist Kennedy Alencar wrote in Folha de Sao Paulo. "In Brazil, Lula told aides that Brazilian businessmen should prepare for a race to Cuba.''

Lula's former powerful chief of staff, Jose Dirceu, who fell from grace in a payola scandal, is reported to be lining up Brazilian-Cuban economic contacts. Dirceu is an ex-militant with an intriguing history: He was jailed in 1968 in Brazil for political activism but was released as part of an exchange for Charles Burke Elbrick, the then-U.S. ambassador to Brazil, who had been kidnapped by a radical group. Dirceu  went into exile in Cuba, where he made lots of friends, before returning to Brazil. The kidnap of the ambassador was the basis of the 1997 film Four Days in September (starring Alan Arkin as the abducted  U.S. envoy), which received an Oscar nomination as best foreign-language film. Dirceu is now doing an apparently successful consulting gig, as he explains in this interview with the Brazilian magazine Piaui.

Marcelo Soares in Sao Paulo and Patrick J. McDonnell in Lima, Peru

Photo: Lula and Fidel in Havana in January 2008; Credit: AP/Cuban government