Iran leader visit provokes protest in Brazil

Photo: Mario Cardoso

Photo: Mario Cardoso

Protests are being held in Brazil ahead of Wednesday’s visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which has angered Jewish and human rights groups.

For the Brazilian government the visit is seen as a step on the road towards widening its trade links and developing an independent foreign policy, including relations with increasingly influential countries.

Brazilian exports to Iran were put at $1.8 billion in 2007, but this is said to have fallen by about 40% to $1.1 billion last year, after international support for doing business with Iran waned, following a United Nations Security Council resolution.

The government says it wants to increase dialogue and bilateral cooperation in a number of areas, while maintaining a critical distance from Iran.

For the around 1,000 demonstrators who gathered in São Paulo calling for the visit to be cancelled, that distance is nowhere near far enough, if it means offering Amhadinejad, who has repeatedly questioned whether the holocaust took place, a platform for his views in Brazil.

As well as São Paulo, demonstrations were expected to take place in the cities of Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre and Belo Horizonte.

Photo: Mario Cardoso

The treatment of women´s rights and the persecution of gays are seen as other reasons why Brazil should not get involved with Iran.

Opponents of the visit say President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — a symbol of Brazil´s struggle to free itself from military dictatorship — should not be rolling out the red carpet to a leader who openly promotes oppression.

“Lula got to where he is by fighting for human rights, where are the human rights in Iran?” asked one demonstrator.

Though Iran insists its nuclear energy programme is for peaceful purposes only, western governments are worried about its intentions, given Ahmadinejad has questioned neighbouring Israel´s right to exist.

On April 20, a speech by Ahmadinejad at a United Nations Security Council anti-racism conference sparked a walkout by diplomats from western nations.

The following day, Brazil’s foreign ministry issued a softly-worded statement saying it would use this week’s meeting to raise the issue of discrimination with Ahmadinejad and while it sees dialogue as crucial, the government is concerned about the Iranian leader’s comments “diminshing the significance of the holocaust.”

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