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Iraq – Brazil Watches and Waits

 Iraq 
        - Brazil Watches and Waits

Lula
is not a hypocrite like France’s Jacques Chirac. Brazil
knows it makes no sense to irritate Washington unnecessarily
over this war. The country has enough trade disputes
with the US to get involved in a matter which has
little to do with Brazil’s strategic interests.
by:
John Fitzpatrick

 

Brazilians
have been watching the war in Iraq on the TV sets like the rest of the
world but, for the moment, it is a war taking place far away with little
relevance to this country. According to local press reports, President
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has spoken three times this week to
the UN secretary general Koffi Anan. The government has also set up
various bodies to monitor the situation and is, of course, concerned
at any effects which a drawn-our conflict could have on Brazil’s still
shaky economy. However, a wait-and-see policy seems to be in place and
fingers are crossed that the conflict will be over quickly.

Officially,
the government is against the US action but, despite his talks with
Anan, Lula has put forward no proposals to resolve the issue and is
keeping out of the limelight. Lula was initially critical of the US
for attacking Iraq without a UN Security Council resolution. The US
did not have "the right to decide, on its own, what was good or
bad for the world", he said. This was Lula talking from the hip
but he could easily have been harsher and played to the anti-American
gallery within the PT and the country as a whole but, wisely, did not.
Despite these initially strong words he later toned down his comments
and, overall, the government’s reaction has been downbeat. In turn,
the US embassy issued a statement in what it said it respected Brazil’s
right "to disagree on the best way to achieve the aim we both share:
an Iraq which no longer represents a threat to other countries."

Thankfully,
Lula is not a hypocrite like France’s Jacques Chirac who regularly sends
troops into former French colonies in Africa without a by-your-leave
from anyone, yet made any Security Council resolution pointless by saying
he would veto it. The Brazilian government knows that the situation
could change completely if Iraq were to use chemical weapons, as it
did in the first Gulf War against Iran and against its own Kurdish citizens
in the 80s. It also knows that the Americans are almost certain to win
and it makes no sense to irritate Washington unnecessarily. Brazil has
enough trade disputes with the US to get involved in a matter which
has little to do with Brazil’s strategic interests.

The
truth is that Brazilians are not really that interested in what happens
outside their own vast country, especially a country as far away as
Iraq. Although the Brazilian press has reflected the overwhelmingly
anti-American popular feeling, it has also been fair enough to present
the horrors of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. This means that there is virtually
no support for the Iraqi regime. We have also seen none of the mass
anti-war protest which have affected other countries, including in the
US and UK. There have been a few scattered protests, attended mainly
by students, at which political parties and trade union organizations
have been noticeable by their absence.

The
truth is that there are simply not enough reasons for Brazilians to
become upset by the American action. By attacking Iraq, the US is not
attacking Brazil. Iraq is not an ally. Iraq is not a friend. There are
few Brazilians in Iraq or the region. This was not always the case.
In the 70s and 80s there were many business ties in the oil, construction
and arms sector. There were also allegations that Brazilian scientists
had helped Iraq develop nuclear weapons, which embarrassed the Brazilian
government.

Following
the invasion of Kuwait in 1991 several hundred Brazilians working in
Iraq were prevented from leaving and kept as effective hostages for
two months before being let go. In fact the main Brazilian export to
this region in recent years seems to have been football players and
managers. The Brazilian foreign ministry has been working to allow these
expatriates to leave Kuwait and Turkey.

It
was interesting to note that Lula mentioned the millions of Brazilians
whose ancestors came from the Middle East. This is true but strikes
few chords since once again Iraq has few cultural or family ties unlike
Lebanon or Syria. Most Brazilians of Middle Eastern descent are of Lebanese
and Syrian origin. They are also mainly Christian and, since their ancestors
fled the tyranny of the Moslem Ottoman empire, there is no sense of
religious solidarity with the mainly Moslem Iraqis.

Brazilians
of Arab descent are well entrenched in politics and business but have
distanced themselves publicly from the troubles in the Middle East.
(This does not mean they have not provided help to their ancestral homelands
any more than Brazil’s Jewish community has not helped Israel but this
has been done with discretion.) The focus on the Foz de Iguaçu
region, which has a large population of Arabs and people of Arab descent,
as a center for terrorism is a relatively new phenomenon resulting from
the influx of recent mainly Moslem immigrants.

 

John
Fitzpatrick is a Scottish journalist who first visited Brazil in
1987 and has lived in São Paulo since 1995. He writes on
politics and finance and runs his own company, Celtic Comunicações—
 www.celt.com.br,
which specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian
and foreign clients. You can reach him at jf@celt.com.br 

©
John Fitzpatrick 2003

You
can also read John Fitzpatrick’s articles in Infobrazil,
at
www.infobrazil.com

 

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