Your Excellency Mr. President of the Lebanese Republic, General Michel Sleiman
Authorities here present,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honor and a pleasure to visit Lebanon once again, now as Vice-President of Brazil. To be received in the land of my parents in such a warm and brotherly manner by General Michel Sleiman and the Lebanese people is a truly moving experience. I have the conviction that my feelings are shared by all Lebanese whose homes have seem their loved ones leave generation after generation to look for a new life in a new world. These feelings are also shared by all Brazilians – and they are many – whose parents, grandparents or great-grandparents someday left the Land of the Cedars to help build a country in the tropics.
In April last year I had the immense satisfaction to meet you personally in my country. As President of the Chamber of Deputies, I was with Your Excellency during your visit to Brazil, in the year that we celebrated 130 years of Lebanese immigration. In your comprehensive program in Brasilia, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Your Excellency met political and religious authorities, businessmen, and representatives of the Lebanese-Brazilian community. You signed important agreements in the areas of sports cooperation and social development. I am confident that during your trip, Your Excellency could personally witness the density of the relations between our peoples and the strength of our friendship.
This strength echoes the remote month of November 1876, when the last Emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro II, visited Lebanon and crossed the country from Beirut to the Bekaa. A few years later we would watch the beginning of a population movement that developed in the last decades of the 19th century, continued during the 20th century, and which still exists to this very day, crossing the Mediterranean and the Atlantic in both directions. It is thanks to this brave undertaking that I can stand before Your Excellency and the whole of the Lebanese people to remember, with great pride, the 10 million or so Brazilians of Lebanese origins – in a way that, more than friends, we are all brothers.
In December 2003, former President Lula met an historical obligation towards the Lebanese people: since the visit of Emperor Pedro II, over a hundred years ago, no Brazilian Head of State had returned to Lebanon. Former President Lula made up for this absence and went beyond: he convened in Brasilia, in May 2005, the first Summit of South American and Arab Countries. On that occasion, the Lebanese delegation was headed by Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who I will have the honor of meeting the day after tomorrow.
The high level of our relations is not limited, however, to moments of celebration. There were also difficult times, when peace was threatened and Brazil hastened to lend a hand to Lebanon.
In 2006 we took part in the international donors conference in Stockholm, where we pledged USD 500.000 for UN humanitarian assistance projects. In 2007, we were the only Latin-American country to participate in the Paris III Conference, where we announced the donation of USD 1 million in favor of Lebanon. We have also been present in the undergoing efforts for the reconstruction of the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp, having contributed with USD 200.000 in 2008, and with USD 500.000 in 2010.
In turn, the Lebanese Government conferred us with its full support when we found ourselves in the need of conducting an emergency evacuation of almost three thousand Brazilian citizens from conflict zones. It also allowed us, on that same 2006, to reopen the Brazilian Consulate-General in Beirut, in order to provide services to the ten thousand or so Brazilians that reside in this country, as well as to the large number of Lebanese with interests and businesses in Brazil.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In three days, Lebanon will celebrate the anniversary of its independence. Throughout almost seven decades, this country has seen periods of prosperity, but also periods of hardship. From some of its most difficult moments emerged important efforts by the international community to maintain peace, as well as the independence and sovereignty of Lebanon, an effort that continues to this day, and that is translated by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon – UNIFIL.
Today the command of the naval component of UNIFIL is in the hands of Rear Admiral Luiz Henrique Caroli, of the Brazilian Navy. I now have the privilege to renew the Brazilian commitment to this mission with the arrival of the Frigate “União”, which joins the fleet under the leadership of Rear Admiral Caroli. In October, “União” left Brazil with some 260 military personnel on board to take part in the international peacekeeping forces in Lebanon.
The Brazilian efforts for the stability and security of Lebanon would not bear fruit without the participation of the Lebanese people who, regardless of religious or political affiliation, strives to attain peace and prosperity in the country and this region. I am obliged to underscore Your Excellency’s contribution, whose leadership has protected Lebanon’s democracy during particularly sensitive times, when turbulent winds blow over your neighbors and the entire Arab world.
In facing such turbulences, it is my satisfaction to remember that Brazil and Lebanon – both in the condition of non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council for the 2010-2011 biennium – have been able to keep a high level of articulation and convergence of positions regarding the most pressing issues of the international agenda.
As declared by President Dilma Rousseff to this year’s United Nations General Assembly, Brazil is ready to take on its responsibility in maintaining international peace and security, with the credentials of a country that has preserved peaceful relations with its neighbors for over 140 years. As stated by our President, our country is a force for peace, stability and prosperity in our region, and we wish the same for this part of the world. In Brazil, people of all creeds and origins live together in harmony. This is also what we aspire for Lebanon.
Only with this background of harmony shall we attain the social and economic development that Brazilians and Lebanese deserve. In Brazil, democracy has led to economic stability, which in turn made it possible to lift 40 million people out of poverty in the last eight years. Further strengthening democracy in Lebanon could also bring about social peace and progress.
In this context, I have to mention the economic challenges that we still have to face. In the last eight years, bilateral trade between our countries has increased fourfold. Today we count USD 230 million in commercial exchange. It is an impressive number, but way short of the potential of our two countries. Brazil is but the 20th most important destination for Lebanese exports; and we are only the 46th provider of Lebanese imports. Together, we have the task of bringing to our economic relations the same level of excellence we see in other areas.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am sure that my trip is an expression of the wishes of 10 million Brazilians that, like myself, are proud of their Lebanese ascendancy. Today, I represent not only the Brazilian State, headed by President Dilma Roussef, but also a significant share of a people that, without putting aside its love and loyalty to Brazil, also praises its roots and the preservation of the family ties that unite us.
In two days I will have the pleasure of delivering the Brazilian Frigate “União” (Portuguese for “Union”) to the peacekeeping forces stationed here. Its name was not an accident. Union is what we wish for the Lebanese people, regardless of religious and confessional orientations, and above political or ideological colors. Union is what we wish for our peoples. I hope that “Union” – the frigate – will be a force for peace in the region, but only union – among all people – will provide for the political stability, economic progress and social development that the Lebanese desire and deserve.
Thank you very much. Shukran lakun. Merci à tous.