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Exclusive: Brazil likely to vote with U.S. against Cuba at U.N. over embargo

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By Lisandra Paraguassu and Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil is expected to vote for the first time against an annual U.N. resolution on Thursday condemning the U.S. economic embargo on communist-run Cuba, two people in the Brazilian government told Reuters.

The policy shift represents the latest attempt by Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro to draw closer to U.S. President Donald Trump since taking office in January — but runs against the interest of some major Brazilian firms.

“This change is very likely coming, though it has not been announced yet,” said a senior Brazilian diplomat.

Another source said diplomats were trying to convince the government not to vote against the resolution, but it appears the decision has been taken and is now difficult to reverse.

Both sources asked not to be named given the sensitivity of ongoing discussions.

A spokesman in Brazil’s foreign ministry declined to comment on the Cuba resolution ahead of the vote on the draft resolution, expected in the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday.

Bolsonaro, a former army captain who has praised 20th century dictatorships that repressed leftists in South America, has criticized Brazil’s past policy of rapprochement with Cuba and said he would investigate loans given to the island.

In his speech opening the U.N. General Assembly in September, he said a plan by Castro and other leftist leaders in the region “to establish socialism in Latin America is still alive and must be combated.”

The United States consistently voted against the U.N. resolutions for 24 years, but abstained for the first time in 2016 under former President Barack Obama, as Washington and Havana forged a closer relationship.

Last year, only Israel joined the United States in opposing the resolution, which has been presented every year since 1992. Ukraine and Moldova abstained. The remaining 189 U.N. members voted to condemn the 50-year-old embargo that dates back to the early days of Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba amid the Cold War.

By dropping its traditional position of opposing the U.S. embargo, Brazil’s government would set itself against its own business interests in Cuba.

For example, Brazil’s Souza Cruz Ltda, owned by British American Tobacco PLC <BATS.L>, has a joint venture in Havana that makes most of the cigarettes in Cuba.

Traditionally, Brazil has objected to how the U.S. applied its domestic politics unilaterally to foreign policy, punishing companies from third countries that trade or invest in Cuba.

“We trade with Cuba and it violates our sovereignty when the United States government punishes Brazilian companies based on internal U.S. laws,” said the unnamed diplomat.

Previous Brazilian governments maintained friendly ties with Havana. Brazil even represented Cuba diplomatically in Washington after U.S. move to break off relations with Castro.

More recently, leftist Workers Party governments drew closer to Cuba and Brazil extended substantial loans to the Cuban government for projects such as modernizing Mariel port.

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Anthony Boadle; Editing by Brad Haynes and Alistair Bell)

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