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Lessons for Brazil in Libya, Iran?

by RASHEED ABOU-ALSAMH in Brasília

01 Sep 2011 22:44Comments
Rebelflag.jpgA cautious policy, its costs, and how it may be echoed in the Syrian situation.

[ comment ] Brazil is insisting that it will not recognize the Transitional National Council of Libya until the accreditation committee of the United Nations General Assembly votes on the issue in late September in New York.

"We do not recognize governments but states," declared Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota in a statement last week widely reported in the Brazilian media.

This despite the fact that the Libyan ambassador to Brazil, Salem al-Zubeidy, previously a die-hard Qaddafi supporter, declared his allegiance to the TNC on August 26, saying it was the will of the Libyan people to support the rebels.

A pro-rebel diplomat at the embassy in Brasília told the Folha de São Paulo newspaper that he did not believe the ambassador was sincere, dubbing him a turncoat. "Six months ago he was calling the rebels 'rats' and 'al-Qaeda,' and now he's pro-council?" said Adel Swizy.

Pro-rebel Libyan diplomats and citizens living in Brazil took over the Libyan embassy a few weeks ago in the posh Lago Sul neighborhood of Brasília after scuffles with pro-Qaddafi diplomats and the son of the ambassador, who ended up with a bloody nose. Al-Zubeidy asked the Brazilian government for assistance, and Itamaraty, the Brazilian foreign ministry, sent in six diplomatic police. They tried to negotiate a settlement, but the pro-rebel Libyans insisted on staying in the villa from which the embassy operates, over which they had hoisted the rebel flag. The ambassador has been forced to work out of his residence.

A few weeks ago, in a last-ditch effort to support the Qaddafi regime, al-Zubeidy sponsored the trip of a delegation of leftist Brazilian politicians, journalists, and lawyers to visit war-torn Libya and observe the civil war first-hand. He took the step despite the fact that the embassy has been struggling to pay its Brazilian employees -- funds stopped coming from Tripoli after international banking sanctions were imposed on Qaddafi and his government. In any event, the delegation never made it into Libya. They were stopped at the Tunisian border and warned by NATO that it was not safe for them to enter the country.

Many Brazilians have criticized the government for its reluctance to immediately recognize the rebel movement in Libya, noting that the administration of President Dilma Rousseff had indicated that it would place greater emphasis on human rights in Brazil's foreign policy.

"This policy is overly cautious," said David Fleischer, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Brasília, in an interview with Tehran Bureau. "The Libyan ambassador to Brazil has changed sides. We don't know if Itamaraty will maintain his credentials or not. The U.N. Security Council has already authorized the liberation of Qaddafi government funds frozen in British banks to be transferred to the new Libyan government. In light of that fact, many governments have recognized the National Transitional Council. Itamaraty should quickly review its policy and not await the decision of the U.N. General Assembly regarding the representation of Libya at the U.N."

The Brazilian government has made attempts to talk with the Libyan rebels, sending their envoy to Egypt, Cesário Melantonio Neto, to Benghazi on July 31. According to Folha, he was received coolly by the rebel leadership because of Brazil's perceived support of the Qaddafi regime and the fact that it did not back the U.N. resolution authorizing air strikes and was the last Western government to pull its ambassador from Tripoli in April. But the rebels did assure Brazil that its current economic interests in the country would not be harmed.

The Brazilian oil giant Petrobras has a concession to drill for oil off the coast of Libya, and three Brazilian construction companies, Odebrecht, Queiroz Galvão, and Andrade Gutierrez, have been building a new terminal at Tripoli's international airport and a ring road around the capital, among other projects. Odebrecht alone had contracts in Libya worth 2.3 billion euros. All four companies pulled out of Libya when the intense fighting began, but it is uncertain if they will win new contracts when the rebels consolidate their control over the whole country.

"We don't have any problems with the Westerners, like the Italians, French, and British. But we could have some political problems with Russia, China, and Brazil," said Abdeljalil Mayouf, the spokesman of a Libyan oil company, to Reuters.

"This is the real problem for Brazil," said Fleischer. "Some leaders of the NTC have hinted that Brazil will be 'punished' for what they consider 'bad behavior' and that Brazil's commercial interests will be harmed. Brazilian construction firms had some $5 billion in projects under way in Libya when they were forced to withdraw. NTC leaders have said that 'all contracts of the Qaddafi government will be honored,' but what about all of the new contracts? Much of Libya's infrastructure was destroyed and will have to be rebuilt via new contracts, and perhaps Brazilian firms will not be able to compete for these."

Brazilian foreign policy took a turn leftward under the presidency of Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, from 2002 to 2010. The new slant was often at odds with U.S. foreign policy and more in line with that of nonaligned nations such as India and China. President Lula in particular became very friendly with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, visiting Iran and in return receiving the Iranian president in Brasília in 2010.

As part of Brazil's more activist foreign policy under Lula, the country became closely involved in the nuclear energy negotiations between the Iranian regime and the West, managing to craft with Turkey an enriched uranium swap mechanism at the end of 2010. This was soundly rejected by the United States and brought U.S.-Brazil relations to a new low.

Ironically, Turkey is now hinting it may support armed intervention in Syria to defend the anti-government protesters that are daily being brutally repressed and killed by the regime of Bashar al-Assad, which has been consistently backed by Iran. It remains to be seen if Brazil, as a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, will once again abstain if a resolution authorizing armed intervention by the international community in Syria comes to a vote.

Rasheed Abou-Alsamh is a Saudi American journalist who lives in Brasília, Brazil. He writes on Mideast affairs for Al-Ahram Weekly and blogs at RasheedsWorld.com.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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