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Brazil's Rousseff refuses to criticize Cuba rights

 

Francisco Jara, AFP

 

Visiting Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff refused to criticize Cuba's human rights record , 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). So 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."

 

In the case of dissident Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, who has been granted a visa by Brasilia, Rousseff said it was not up to Brazil to decide whether Cuban authorities should give the renowned critic of the regime an exit visa.

 

Sanchez, who hopes to attend the premiere in Brazil of a documentary by Brazilian director Dado Galvao 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 among other honors.

 

Rousseff has no plans to meet with dissidents, according to her entourage.

 

Brazil's first woman president, a former leftist rebel who now leads Latin America's largest economy, had confirmed she planned to call on revolutionary icon and former Cuban president Fidel Castro, 85.

 

"I await this meeting with a lot of pride," said Rousseff who was tortured under her country's military dictatorship (1964-1985).

 

She and Fidel Castro met Tuesday afternoon, according to official news site Cubadebate said, a report echoed by pro-regime blogger Yohandry. The Cuban government itself did not immediately confirm the meeting which was expected.

 

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's talks with her Cuban counterpart focused on increased economic cooperation.

 

Brazilian sources said Rousseff, who arrived in Havana late Monday, would announce a $70 million credit for Cuban small-scale agriculture, on top of the $450 million Brasilia has already earmarked for the expansion of the port of Mariel, 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Havana.

 

Rousseff was due to travel to Mariel later in the day.

 

The two countries had record trade of $642 million 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, another area in which this communist-ruled nation excels.

 

After two days in Cuba, Rousseff will travel to Haiti as part of a regional diplomatic outreach begun by her popular predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva, Brazil's first elected leftist leader.

 

Brasilia announced Monday that it had allocated more than $500,000 in aid for the more than 4,000 Haitian immigrants who are being granted permanent residency.

 

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.

 

Some 15 percent of Haiti's entire population of almost 10 million were either killed or displaced by the January 12, 2010 quake, one of the worst natural disasters of modern times.