Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva met with ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro on Tuesday and said he was "incredibly lucid" and healthy enough to resume his political role in Cuba.
"I think Fidel is ready to assume his political role in Cuba and the role he has in history," Lula said at the end of a one-day visit. It was not clear whether he meant Castro would resume the running of Cuba.
Lula met for two and a half hours with the 81-year-old revolutionary, who has not appeared in public since undergoing stomach surgery that forced him to hand over power temporarily to his brother Raul in July 2006.
"Fidel spoke for two hours and I for half an hour," Lula joked in remarks to reporters before heading home to Brasilia.
Two photographs of the meeting showed Castro looking much the same as in the last pictures released of him in October.
In one, Castro is shown in a track suit sitting in an armchair chatting with Lula. In the other, a relaxed and smiling Castro posed for Lula to take a photograph.
Lula, a former labour leader who said he belonged to a generation that admired Castro's 1959 leftist revolution, offered Cuba millions of dollars in credit and help in its search for oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Its was his second visit to Cuba as president of Latin America's largest nation.
Brazilian officials cast Lula's trip as an opportunity to deepen ties with Cuba and increase Brazilian investments and economic presence in the communist-run Caribbean nation.
Brasilia has the economic resources, technology and diplomatic clout to help Cuba as it approaches a crucial moment of its history without Fidel at the helm and under pressure from the United States to open up to multiparty democracy, a Brazilian foreign ministry official said.
Lula met earlier with acting President Raul Castro at the Palace of the Revolution government house in Havana, where the two nations signed eight agreements to bolster economic ties.
Brazil's export financing agency, COFIG, announced approval of credit for food purchases and for the expansion and overhaul of the Che Guevara nickel mine, one of three that produce Cuba's main export commodity.
Brazil is offering Cuba up to $1 billion in credit lines to pay for Brazilian goods and services in road and hotel building and the sugar, biotechnology and drug industries. That includes $600 million for roads.
Cuba secured the commitment of Brazil's state oil company Petrobras to explore for oil in the deep-sea Cuban water of the Gulf of Mexico, where six foreign oil firms have already contracted 24 of 59 blocks.
Petrobras president Jose Sergio Gabrielli said the Brazilian giant, a world leader in offshore drilling, was acquiring and analyzing seismological data and had yet to identify which blocks it would sign risk contracts for. Petrobras had been reluctant to return to Cuba after sinking $16 million in a north-coast well that proved dry in 2001.
Petrobras and the Cuban state oil company CUPET agreed to consider a joint venture to build a lubricants plant in Cuba, a project that has been discussed for years.
The one concrete agreement to emerge from Lula's visit was the licensing of Cuban interferon to Brazil's Oswaldo Cruz Foundation for tropical medicine research.
The influential Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper praised the credit splurge for Cuba in a editorial, saying it would clear the way for Brazilian companies to take part in Cuba's necessary modernization and reform process.
The Brazilian official said Brazil, Mexico and Canada -- countries with good ties to the United States yet critical of its trade embargo against Havana -- could ease a painful process of change expected in Cuba.
"We want to see Cuba back in the fold and can provide the Cubans with a level of comfort in the transition ahead by not being confrontational like the United States," he said. ( Reuters )