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    an Iraq which no longer represents a threat to other countries."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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