January 14, 2008 / 4:58 PM / 10 years ago

Brazil to offer Cuba $1 bln credit on Lula trip

HAVANA, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will offer Cuba $1 billion in credit for food, road building, nickel mining and other development projects when he visits Havana later on Monday, Brazilian diplomats said.

Brazil also will offer to cooperate in oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico and in building a lubricants plant, though risk and investment contracts are still being negotiated by Brazilian state oil company Petrobras (PBR.N) (PETR4.SA), they said.

"Brazil wants to be engaged in Cuba and has economic, trade and technological resources to offer at a time when Cuba seeks to modernize," said a Brazilian foreign ministry official.

"They need new friends and they want us here," he said.

It was uncertain whether Lula would meet with ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro during his 24-hour visit to Cuba following Monday's presidential inauguration in Guatemala.

"It won't be confirmed until it happens," a Brazilian diplomat said. "It will happen if Fidel feels up to it."

Castro has not appeared in public since he underwent stomach surgery in July 2006 that forced him to hand over power to his brother Raul.

Cuba's ruling Communist Party newspaper Granma said Lula, who is being accompanied by four cabinet ministers and the head of Petrobras, Jose Sergio Gabrielli, will meet with acting president Raul Castro.

Brazil will double credit lines for Cuban food purchases to $200 million and offer credit lines worth $600 million to build roads in Cuba, $70 million for a nickel plant and more for specific projects in biotechnology and other sectors, the Brazilian official said.

Credit for the export of goods and services through Brazilian companies is available as long as Cuba can provide collateral, he said. "We hope to see the commitment of significant private and state investment in Cuba," he said.

The two countries will sign an umbrella agreement that will include Brazilian commitment to look at exploration in Cuba's deep-sea Gulf of Mexico waters where six foreign oil companies are looking for oil reserves, the official said.

Under that agreement, Petrobras will train Cuban personnel and offer aid in refining and research.

Brazil, one of the world's largest producers of ethanol from sugar cane, has for years sought to sell its technology to Cuba, but this will not be on the agenda during Lula's visit.

Last year, Castro criticized the use of food crops to produce biofuels saying it would increase hunger in the world.

Castro has only been seen in videos and photographs since he fell sick in July 2006, but he has received foreign leaders, mostly Cuba's main ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who visited him in mid-December. (Reporting by Anthony Boadle; editing by Kristin Roberts)

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