Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Lula Expects Raul at Summit in Brazil

Raul Castro to attend December summit in Brazil: Lula

HAVANA (AFP) — Cuban President Raul Castro will attend a summit in Brazil in December, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said here Friday, marking the Cuban leader's first international trip since taking over from brother Fidel Castro two years ago.

"We are pleased to learn that finally his excellency will travel to Brazil to participate in the first meeting of Latin American and Caribbean nations, without interference from any other power," Lula said during an inauguration ceremony for a Brazilian business venture in Havana.

If the visit is confirmed by Havana, it would mark the first foray outside the island nation by Castro, 77, since taking the reins of power from Fidel Castro in July 2006 when the elder leader underwent intestinal surgery.

Raul Castro officially succeeded his ailing 82-year-old brother last February when Fidel announced ahead of an election that he was stepping down, after staying in power for nearly 50 years despite a US trade embargo in full force since 1962.

Lula is friends with Fidel Castro and he had not ruled out a meeting with the Cuban leader before departing for Brasilia at 3:30pm local time (2030 GMT).

The Brazilian president arrived in Cuba on Thursday and held talks with Raul Castro, to whom he "renewed the invitation" to visit Brazil and help with the first-ever integration and development summit for Latin America and the Caribbean on December 16 and 17 near Salvador de Bahia, according to an official statement.

The text hailed the "positive developments in bilateral relations" in several fields as well as a sharing of mutual regional and multilateral interests.

Economic and commercial ties between the two countries were given a boost with Lula's first visit this year to Cuba, in January, and when a senior official visited in May to firm up 10 business agreements.

According to official Cuban figures, bilateral trade rose to 450 million dollars in 2007, making Brazil Cuba's second largest trading partner in South America after Venezuela.

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