By Lucy Jordan, Contributing Reporter
BRASÍLIA, BRAZIL – Brazil’s Foreign Ministry on Friday removed nearly all its diplomats from the Brazilian embassy in Syria because of heavy fighting in Damascus. Itamaraty (the Brazilian Foreign Ministry) said in a statement diplomats were moved to Beirut, Lebanon, due to the “deteriorating security situation.”
Fighting reached the capital and Syria’s major city, historic Aleppo, earlier this month. Now Brazilian ambassador Edgard Casciano said things were so bad in Damascus that, “You simply cannot step outside there is so much shooting going on. It is a very problematic situation,” he declared.
“Helicopters are flying overhead all the time and there are big explosions caused by heavy weaponry.”
A spokesperson for Itamaraty said Brazil was monitoring the situation and would take action to remove the roughly 3,000 Brazilians citizens in Syria if necessary.
The national press agency reported that Brazilian Foreign Minister, Antonio Patriota, said the Brazilians living in Syria want to remain because they have dual nationality. At least one member of embassy staff remains to assist them a statement added.
Before the departure of its staff, the Brazilian embassy reported a significant increase in the number of visas issued to Syrians wishing to leave for Brazil. In the six months of this year up to July 17th, 395 visas were issued, compared to 448 for all 2011.
Although Abdel Basset Sayda, leader of the opposition coalition in Syria, told Folha he found Brazil’s actions encouraging, an Itamaraty official maintained the withdrawal of Brazil’s diplomats would not affect diplomatic relations with Bashar al-Assad’s government.
“The removal was decided solely on concerns of security, there are no political signs to be read,” he said.
Brazil has refused to condemn the Syrian government throughout the bloody conflict during which, according to the Syrian Revolution Martyr Database, 21,369 people had died as of Monday, 19,779 of whom were civilians.
Brazil took a similar position during the Libyan uprising, when its abstention from voting on the U.N. Security Council resolution that helped topple Muammar el-Qaddafi earned it disapproval from the international community.
In Libya, Brazil was not only defending the interests of Brazilian contractors and companies like Petrobras, but also adhering to a long-term policy on non-intervention, experts say.
“Brazil maintains a posture generally against foreign intervention in Arab countries,” said Arlene Clemesha, director of the Center of Arab Studies at the University of São Paulo. “However, in the case of the most recent Arab uprisings, the Brazilian government proved unable to quickly and accurately assess the situation and position itself accordingly.”
Ms. Clemesha says the friendship built between Brazil and Syria during the Lula administration, along with Brazil’s desire to play a role of mediator in the region may have clouded Brazil’s judgment on the Syria conflict. “The Brazilian government adopted an excessively timid posture.”
Brazil’s behavior may also be based on shrewd geo-political calculations, according to Peter Demant, professor of History at the University of São Paulo.
“Supporting Assad – at least as long as he’s in the saddle – comes at small cost; in contrast to helping the opposition,” he said. “If Assad stays in power, Brazil will have won… That he’s presently losing, is perhaps the calculation in Brasília: time to change sides.”