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Brazil's Rouseff visits Cuba

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Published on Jan 30, 2012

Havana, Cuba (NTN24) Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff arrived in Havana on Monday (January 30) for a two-day visit focused on trade, but nagged by Cuba's ever-present human rights issues.

She was scheduled to tour the port of Mariel near Havana, where Brazil is helping finance an $800 million renovation by

Brazilian engineering giant Odebrecht; witness the signing of new trade agreements with the Communist island; and meet with President Raul Castro and possibly his older brother Fidel Castro.

Rousseff was greeted at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, then driven away without addressing reporters.

Economic and political ties between the two countries were deepened under Rousseff's predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, but she has focused more on business issues since taking office last year and was expected to do the same with Cuba.

The recent death of hunger-striking Cuban dissident Wilman Villar has created pressure on Rousseff to raise human rights issues with Cuban leaders, but Brazilian media reports said she was unlikely to do so publicly.

Brazilian sources have said the government favours a democratic opening in Cuba, but that it will not push hard.

The Cuban government has said Villar was a common criminal, not a dissident, and did not conduct a hunger strike as his fellow opponents claimed.

The Brazilian government roiled the waters ahead of the visit last week when it granted dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez a visa to visit the country in February for the airing of a documentary in which she appears.

The Cuban government views Sanchez as one of its top enemies and, like all dissidents, a mercenary in the pay of its long-time ideological enemy, the United States. It has repeatedly blocked her from travelling abroad, where she has a large international following.

She said on Twitter she has requested permission to go to Brazil.

Sanchez and the dissident group Ladies in White have sought visits with Rousseff, but that also appeared to be unlikely.

Rousseff was to travel to Haiti on Wednesday, where Brazilian troops lead the U.N. peacekeeping force and Brazil has helped finance a Cuban medical mission at work since a powerful earthquake struck that Caribbean country two years ago.

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