"Ahmadinejad, respect the human rights and don't come back here again," read a message in a banner dragged through the skies over Rio de Janeiro beaches this Saturday. The reminder could be read by thousands of people who had gone out to get some sun by the sea.
Shown between two rainbows, the symbol of the gay movement, the message was only one of the manifestations against the visit of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this coming Monday.
The FLI, Front for the Liberation of Iran, a just-created group, which is not convinced Ahmadinejad won reelection, together with Jewish leaders and homosexual organizations have summoned Cariocas (Rio's residents) for protests against the Iranian leader on the eve of his arrival in Brazilian capital Brasília.
They are also organizing protests in the Federal District and asking Lula to demand explanations from the Iranian chief of state for some of his most controversial positions.
In his one-day visit, he will meet Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula Silva with whom he's expected to sign 23 commercial agreements and discuss among other themes Teheran's controversial nuclear program.
"We wish to express our opposition to a president who deliberately denies the Holocaust and defends the end of Israel. Anybody who denies history and doesn't talk about the future does not add anything to Brazil," said Boris Ber, president of the São Paulo State's Israelite Federation.
In Rio this Sunday's protest is scheduled for 11 am in Ipanema beach, at the corner of Vieira Souto avenue with Maria Quitéria street. The rally in Brasília is planned for noon opposite the Itamaraty, the foreign relations's building.
Last Sunday there were rallies in 15 capitals across the country. The largest one took place in São Paulo and counted on about 1,500 people.
For Flávio Rassekh, a representative of the Baha'i community in Brazil, it's better to have Teheran as friend than as foe: "The visit of president Ahmadinejad should happen because this helps usÂ denounce the problems that exist in Iran. Obviously there are those who defend the idea that no rapprochement should occur."
Cláudio Lottenberg, the president of Brazil's Israelite Confederation doesn't accept this argument. For him Ahmadinejad has nothing to offer because he is not open to any dialogue: "He despises dialogue and democracy, two fundamental ingredients in the quest for peace, justice and security," he wrote in a letter.
President Lula is well aware of the opposition and he wants to show the differences and the similarities between Brazil and Iran. He will stress that both countries have a growing economy in a world in crisis.
He's been advised to mention thorny problems like human rights and freedom of religion without giving the impression that he's interfering in Iran's domestic affairs.
Lula is expected to say that Brazil is a window to the world where people from different countries, including Arabs and Jews can live side by side, practice their religion and choose their sexual orientation without fear of repression. He should also say how much Brazilians have to learn from an old culture originated in the Persian empire.
Ahmadinejad is supposed to have a moderate discourse while in Brazil talking in defense of peace in the Middle East and the need for understanding among all countries of the world. He will put aside controversy, his handlers say, but will still condemn the rich countries and the evils of capitalism.
Iran's foreign relation's deputy minister Alireza Salari told state news agency Agência Brasil that his country intends to raise from US$ 1 billion to US$ 15 billion the annual trade between the two countries.
Brazil exports food, cars, medical drugs and ores to Iran and imports rugs, salt, sulfur, fuel and dried fruit for a grand total of US$ 14 million. Ahmadinejad is expected to sign accords that will give Iran access to diabetes and cancer medicines.
Petrobras, Brazil's state-controlled oil multinational, is about to close its operations in Iran. The company has been suffering considerable pressure from American funds to respect the international embargo and leave that country.Â The company's international director, Jorge Zelada, however is giving another reason for the unexpected departure: lack of profits.
Ahmadinejad's visit is part of a Brazilian plan to become a powerful interlocutor in important international issues. Brazil still wants to get a permanent seat at the UN. Since the end of last year, president Lula has been taking position to arbitrate the Middle East peace since the US and other power seem to have used up all the influence they had.
Ahmadinejad's call occurs a week after Shimon Peres, the president of Israel, spent almost a week in Brazil, and just days after the arrival of Palestine National Authority's leader, Mahmoud Abbas.
The Iranian leader's visit is dividing Brazilians. Ricardo Caldas, from the University of Brasília's Institute of Political Science, thinks Brazil should keep its distance from Teheran.
"The Iranian president," he says,Â "is turning into an international pariah. Iran is going in the same direction of North Korea: they are countries that either carry out genocide or are totalitarian or disregard human rights, persecute the opposition and rig the elections. Brazil doesn't have any reason to get closer to a country with these characteristics."
For Anderson Batista de Mello, a historian from Brasília University, however, the presence of Ahmadinejad in Brazil will give Brazil a special opportunity to exercise its leadership and show its mediating skills.
"A lot of what occurs in this relationship of Lula with Ahmadinejad has to do with our interests in the UN Security Council," says Mello.
The ambassador of Iran in Brazil, Mohsen Shaterzadeh, sees things a little differently:
"The majority of the Brazilian population will be glad with the visit. Iran is the most democratic country in the Middle East," he guarantees.
Ahmadinejad lands in Brasília at the time the six nations involved in the negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program discuss applying new sanctions against Teheran. From Brazil Ahmadinejad will fly to Bolivia and then to Venezuela.
To those who doubt being close to Iran is good for Brazil, Lula says. "You don't build peace in the Middle East without talking to all political and religious forces."
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