Ahmadinejad’s Visit to Brazil: Congress Divided, New Protests Planned

Iran president at the UN Brazilian president's special adviser for International Affairs, Marco Aurélio Garcia, told reporters this Tuesday, November 17, in Brazilian capital BrasÀ­lia, that the visit of Iran president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Brazil, scheduled for this coming Monday has been confirmed.

For him, the expected protests against the Iranian leader should be considered a normal occurrence in a healthy democracy. "Brazil," he stated, "maintains diplomatic relations with several countries. It is a democratic society and NGOs and any other entity are allowed to express themselves."

As for the impasse created in Congress over receiving or not Ahmadinejad, Garcia said that the Lula administration will not interfere or give any suggestion of what should be done on the matter. "We have no orientation to give, but obviously the president of the Congress is going to know how to evaluate."

The ambassador of Iran in Brazil, Mohsen Shaterzadeh, is not revealing much about the visit. He hasn't released the schedule or even how long Ahmadinejad will stay in Brazil. He revealed, however, that president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will be visiting Iran in the first semester of next year.

After drilling two wells in Iran, Brazilian state-controlled oil and gas multinational Petrobras is thinking about ending its activities there. The company's director of the international area, Jorge Zelada, announced that Petrobras has already started to return the concession it got in that country.

Since it started its activities in Iran, five years ago, Petrobras has been suffering pressure, mostly from US investors, to leave the country. The governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, refused to meet Petrobras officials during a visit to Brazil in 2007 professing that he doesn't do business with companies that sponsor terror.

Zelada, however, denies Petrobras succumbed to pressure: "The decision is strictly technical," he said. "Why stay there if there is no production to pay the investment?"

In an interview this Tuesday with state news agency Agência Brasil, ambassador Shaterzadeh, said he didn't know anything about Petrobras leaving Iran and added that he didn't believe Brazil would subject itself to international pressures.

"For us, Brazil is a strong and independent country. We think that no other country will influence the Brazilian government. Iran is the energetic heart of the world. We have energetic resources for, at least, another 150 years," said the diplomat. "The Petrobras' office in the Middle East is set up in Iran's South. We have lots of working projects together."

On Sunday, there were protests against Ahmadinejad's visit in at least 10 cities across the country. The biggest one, with about 1,500 people, happened in São Paulo, but there were also smaller manifestations in nine other state capitals: Belo Horizonte, Cuiabá, Curitiba, Goiânia, Manaus, Boa Vista, Belém, Rio Branco and Porto Velho.

The protests were organized by the Front for the Liberation of Iran (FLI), but several entities linked to Jewish, evangelical, candomblé, anti-homosexual, anti-racist, and pro human rights groups also participated. According to the FLI, the protests were against Ahmadinejad's policies, which oppress women, homosexuals and political dissidents.

The Iranian leader was supposed to visit Brazil earlier this year. On May 4, he canceled his visit claiming "domestic problems". At the time, the results of the Iranian elections were being contested by a  substantial section of the Iranian population. Thousands of Brazilian went to streets in Rio and São Paulo to protest against human rights violations in Iran.

There are other protests scheduled in Brazil against Ahmadinejad's visit. Rio is planning a rally for Sunday, the eve of the Iranian president's arrival. Brasí­lia is organizing a protest for the day the leader if Iran arrives.

Brazilian officials, however, have shown very little tolerance to criticism. "We talk to everybody, in other words, nobody is going to tell Brazil with whom Brazil should talk," said Brazilian Defense Minister, Nelson Jobim.

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