By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Brazil has reiterated its rejection of foreign intervention in Syria, where more than 3,000 people have recently been reported killed in the violent suppression of anti-government protesters calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down. World leaders are now desperate to find a solution to end the bloodshed in Syria, one of a slew of Middle East nations caught up in the Arab Spring uprisings.
But Carlos Martins Ceglia, director of the Middle East Department at Brazil’s Foreign Ministry, rejected foreign interference in what he called “Syria’s internal affairs” at a meeting with Syria’s new Ambassador to Brazil, Mohammad Khaddour.
Ceglia said that it was in Brazil’s interest to help cooperate with Syria to help it out of the crisis, stressing the need for reform in the country.
Although the U.S. and EU have condemned the violence and imposed sanctions, the UN Security Council has not been able to unite on a response; President Assad has warned his country could turn into “another Afghanistan” if foreign countries intervene.
The U.S. Ambassador in Brazil, Thomas Shannon, last week said that Brazil had the opportunity to change from being a country that abstains to one that acts, referring to Brazil’s recent abstentions over both Syria and Libya.
Many see Brazil as having a more neutral voice in the region and, crucially, as capable of providing an alternative to other Western countries who dominate Middle East debate. Over the past decade Brazil has abstained or voted against sanctions enforced by the UN Security Council. In June 2010, Brazil and Turkey voted against putting pressure on Iran’s nuclear program.
However, on her recent trip to Africa, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff condemned the ongoing violence and called for an “immediate end to the repression” seen in the country. This went further than the joint IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) declaration she signed, which only called for an “end to violence” and an “all-inclusive, transparent, peaceful political process” – blaming both sides for the unrest, and offering to send their own envoy to help mediate talks.
But Human Rights Watch has since slammed the declaration, saying that the group wasted their opportunity as a “credible alternative to the political dominance of the North” to call for Syria’s president to step down.
While some welcome Brazil’s approach to negotiations in the Middle East, others speculate the posturing is solely in pursuit of relatively short-term and specific national interests.
International Relations expert Professor Rafael Pons Reis has this explanation:
“Brazil’s growing confidence and greater presence on the world stage has meant it has broadened its scope for foreign policy. This more proactive, diverse and confident approach to foreign policy and new recognition as a global player goes hand-in-hand with its perception as a new powerful global trader.”
But Professor Reis continues: “Brazil wants a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and any ‘loyalties’ must be seen against this backdrop of global promotion by showing pragmatism. Brazil will defend its national interests on the international scene, without jeopardizing its economic development,” he explained to The Rio Times.