• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, www.bloggingsbyboz.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is traveling to Cuba and Haiti this week, her first official trip to both Caribbean countries.
Certainly much of the Cuba focus will be on symbolic questions. Will Rousseff raise human rights and democracy issues publicly? Will she pressure the Cuban government to give pro-democracy blogger Yoani Sanchez an exit visa to visit Brazil?
But BBC notes the more important point of her trip: "Ms. Rousseff will visit the port of Mariel, where Brazilian company Odebrecht is carrying out a multi-million dollar modernization of the harbor," with money from the Brazilian national development bank, BNDES.
Brazil's economic expansion across Latin America is improving regional infrastructure, building long term influence, and making the country money today.
As I wrote in the recent Southern Pulse book, Brazil's economic projects are placing it in increasing competition with China for regional influence.
The same will be true in Haiti. Rousseff will visit the Brazilian-led peacekeepers and certainly make some aid announcements to help Haiti rebuild, but there is a significant economic role for Brazil in that country as well.
Watch the diplomatic symbolism, because it certainly matters. But follow the money, because that is how Brazil is really making its play for regional influence.
--- James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant who runs Bloggings by Boz.