Isabel Cristina de Azevedo Heyvaert, a graduated in Business Administration from the University of Brasilia served as ambassador in different regions, including Africa, the Caribbean and Europe. She is now representing the emerging Latin American economic powerhouse Brazil as ambassador to Ethiopia since January 4, 2010.
Capital’s Elias Gebreselassie spoke to the Ambassador about the current state of the Ethio-Brazil relations as well as Brazil’s position in the world.
Capital: Do tell us about your mission in Ethiopia?
Ambassador Isabel Cristina de Azevedo Heyvaert: My mission is to strengthen and enhance the bilateral relations between Brazil and Ethiopia on all possible fields of cooperation.
As this is the political heart of the continent, my mission in Ethiopia includes also, as for most of the countries representatives here, to follow the events and activities of the African Union, as an observer.
Capital: How are the relations between Brazil and Ethiopia developing?
Heyvaert: Our relations are really a close one, and are about to reach another level with the signature, in the near future, of a technical cooperation agreement. This agreement will provide a legal framework to the implementation of concrete projects in Ethiopia with focus on agriculture, health or any other sectors indicated by the Ethiopian side.
Capital: How did Brazil decide to open an embassy in Ethiopia after so many years of absence?
Heyvaert: The history of the relations between Brazil and Ethiopia has not yet been written. On the other hand, I think the word ‘absence’ is too strong, especially because it does not reflect all the dimensions of the relations between two states. One of these very important dimensions is the historical one. Brazil has become an independent country only towards the end of the 19th century. At that moment, as a young nation, the tendency was to continue with the same pattern of international relations inherited from Portugal, and that meant more European and Western African countries oriented. So, this is one of the main reasons why closer and noticeable contacts between the two countries start in the sixties. Another important reason is that from the seventies through all the nineties, in a context of Cold War, both countries were in the opposite side of the political spectrum. The present century sees the strengthening of globalization, as well as both Brazil and Ethiopia emerging economically and politically in their respective regions and sharing equal values, such as the promotion of peace, dialogue and development; so it was simply inevitable for the two nations to get closer.
Capital: Ethiopia has shown a lot of interest to learn from Brazil’s agricultural sector, especially the sugar sector. What has been the Brazilian government’s reaction regarding that sector, if any?
Heyvaert: First of all, I wish to emphasize that to share our experience with the African countries in the agricultural field is one of the main priorities of Brazilian foreign policy for Africa. The Brazilian agriculture is now being seeing as a model, since it has lifted up 30 million Brazilians from poverty line to the middle class stage and has created an economic cushion that has protected us from the latest economic crisis. We really believe that the replication, with the necessary adjustments of each country’s reality, will bring progress and development, as it did for Brazil. We are really looking forward to start sharing knowledge and technology with you and other African countries, which in the case of Ethiopia should start relatively soon with the signature of the Technical Cooperation Agreement.
Capital: An Ethiopian delegation related to the sugar industry recently travelled to Brazil to get some experience. How would you say this visit has benefited them?
Heyvaert: From what I see, the Ethiopian authorities that visited Brazil are still analyzing different models of energy system production. But they were quite enthusiastic about what they saw in Brazil, because Brazil is one of the main ethanol producers of the world today. And the benefits from this industry are absolutely impressive, in terms of job creation, the possibility to combine food and bio-fuel production, reduction of CO2 emission and of oil imports. Ethiopia, in our view, assembles all the necessary conditions to partner, in a successful way.
Capital: Some countries like Germany, for instance have their technical cooperation offices in Ethiopia [GIZ]. Does Brazil plan to open a technical office or some type of development fund to assist Ethiopia’s economic endeavors?
Heyvaert: It’s important to notice and understand that the relations between states build up step by step. Many of the countries that are now showing a lot of activity in Ethiopia started to work much earlier than us in the country. So, some time is needed to start to get results. Concerning the opening of a technical office, this possibility is not at all to be excluded, on the contrary. Embrapa, for instance, the main Brazilian institution on R&D in agricultural sector, has already opened an office in Ghana. The ideal perspective is to have one Embrapa for each African region. And, in this scenario, Ethiopia, again, assembles a lot of advantages to host an Embrapa office for East Africa. In terms of funds, we have just allocated around US$ 2.5 million to projects in the agriculture sector for five African countries, including Ethiopia.
Capital: What would you say are the major principles of Brazil’s economic and political cooperation with other countries?
Heyvaert: Our international policy is driven by the principle of non-interference in the internal issues of other countries. Another of these principles is solidarity, which is one of the strongest pillars of the Brazilian external policy in recent years. Also under the spirit of South-South Cooperation we want to share, for instance, our experience in many fields, such as one of our public social policies that are changing the social and economic panorama in Brazil. The success has been so remarkable, that many developing countries are showing a lot of interest on how Brazil has been doing to fight poverty. And in this spirit we have started to organize seminars in response to this international interest. The first one has taken place in January this year, and there are another three scheduled to happen during 2012. The purpose is to showcase how school feeding, micro-credit for small farmholders, Bolsa Escola and other Brazilian social programs are working and are changing, in a very positive way, the Brazilian citizens’ lives. To share as much as we can the lessons we learnt in the social and economic area, with other countries that are on the path of development is one of our objectives.
Capital: Brazil recently overtook Britain to become the world’s sixth largest economy. What helped Brazil achieve this status?
Heyvaert: I think that the focus in our public social policies and agriculture, including biofuels, together with the application of very rigorous macroeconomic rules, are responsible for the good economic results we are having now.
The attention put by the government on agriculture has been playing a strategic role on that. Brazil managed to develop two kinds of agriculture; one that’s agro-business, and the second one, the small farmer holder’s business, that’s now responsible for 60 percent of the national food production; the other part is bought by the government to the school feeding program. This has created a very vigorous and dynamic system. Another thing, we have been successful as well with our Bio-Fuel program. Just to give an idea of the weight of renewable energy in our economy, from 1976 to 2005, Brazil has saved around 195 billion dollars on oil imports and interests. I’m talking in billions, not millions, and that is a lot of resource that may be driven to social programs and development. The discovery of huge oil reserves has also contributed to give an extra boost to the economy, since its exploitation is favoring the creation of jobs, the development of adequate technology and production of equipments.
Capital: What has been the Brazilian Embassy’s role in promoting trade relations between the two countries, and especially in terms of facilitating both countries’ business delegations visits?
Heyvaert: It’s very impressive to see the possibilities in the area of trade relations between Brazil and Ethiopia. We have been receiving many expression of interest from the Ethiopian side on the strengthening of the commercial relations. As a result, the Embassy of Brazil is structuring its commercial section in order to better answer this demand. In this context, the opening of the Ethiopian Embassy in Brazil is another relevant factor to boost the trade relations between the two countries, since its action complements ours in the sense of sensitizing Brazilian entrepreneurs to the many opportunities existing in Ethiopia.
Capital: Brazil having the largest Afro-descendants in the western hemisphere, what has been your government’s effort in promoting mutual relationship with African governments?
Heyvaert: Brazil is very much engaged in the reinforcement of the ties between Africa and Brazil, since according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE, in Portuguese) 60 percent of the population is afro-descendant, including myself; that is Africa is inside us. This of course, creates very strong bonds between the two continents. In the last ten years, Brazil has been actively participating in the discussions and conferences on racism at the Third World Conference Against Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance and of all subsequent process, as well as of the African Diaspora. Related to the matter, another important forum of discussions and source of projects have been the Conference of Intellectuals from Africa and the Diaspora (CIAD); last year, in Salvador, Bahia, we hosted the 2nd CIAD conference. This has been a holistic process, in which all sectors of the Brazilian society are involved, with the objective to give the right place in the Brazilian society to the Afro-Descendants population. All this together, naturally, in its external dimension, had to culminate with even closer relations with the continent from which most of us originate.
Capital: How has the relation between Ethiopia and Brazil evolved economically, politically, socially and other fields during your stay in Ethiopia?
Heyvaert: We opened the Brazilian Embassy here in 2005. As I said before, the construction of good and healthy bilateral relations is required to achieve the best results. So I am very enthusiastic about the role that I may play in the strengthening and the consolidation of the bilateral relations. For me, both as a diplomat and a woman, this is really an extraordinary personal challenge. I may say that the dialogue between Brazil and Ethiopia is very fluid and positive, in which is embedded the spirit of forming a strong partnership, in a short period of time.
Capital: What’s the current status of relations between the two countries in the cultural and educational fields, and what has the embassy been doing to promote it?
Heyvaert: In terms of academic exchanges we’re providing a lot of offers in the agricultural sector. We have a program designed for Africa that is a result of Brazil-Africa Dialogue on Agricultural and Rural Development that took place in Brazil in 2010. So, we’re offering regularly the chance for Ethiopian experts’ capacity building in the different fields of agriculture. We also have some students that are studying in Brazil in the Doctorate level, but this is only the beginning. Our objective is to offer more and more educational opportunities, in different fields, in Brazil, as we are already doing with many African countries.
Capital: What about cultural exchanges?
Heyvaert: We have just inaugurated the first Brazilian Festival that opened on February 8, starting with a presentation of a movie on Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art. It originates from Africa, but has been structured and recognized as such in Brazil. It has also been recognized as a human immaterial heritage of mankind by the United Nations Economic and Social Cultural Organization (UNESCO). We’ve also presented a group of Capoeira practitioners, in the context of this festival. The movie, entitled Besouro, tells the story of Capoeira in Brazil, deeply related to the lives of former slaves in Brazil. This cultural activity has been complemented by the realization of a Brazilian food festival in Addis Ababa, which has been a huge success. We are really very proud of the impact of this initiative, as well as of the very positive response from the Ethiopian side. We have also been presenting movies in the context of the Ibero-American Festival that will go for its seventh edition in November. The good reception of our movie production is really remarkable. In May, we will also be sponsoring a very important Brazilian movie, “LixoExtraordinário”, Waste Landed, in English, that will be shown during the Addis International Film Festival. The movie has won many prizes in Berlin and Sundance Festivals. It has also been nominated for the Oscar 2011.
But you have the other side as well. It’s time to take the Ethiopian culture to Brazil, because culture is a very strong tool to create bonds between human beings. I have had the opportunity to see how Brazilians coming into contact with the Ethiopian culture, are so thrilled by what they see: the different dances, the music, the food, the coffee ceremony, the paintings, the cinema… they are so pleasantly surprised, that I really think that it’s high time for Brazilians to know Ethiopia better.
Capital: What has been Brazil’s activity during its two-year revolving non-permanent seat it held at the United Nations Security Council?
Heyvaert: The period 2010-2012, during which Brazil has occupied a non-permanent seat, has been characterized by many changes and deep crises in the international scenario. So, it’s not an easy task to sum up my country’s activities in the Security Council. But, on the other hand, there’s one guideline that my country has never departed from and that is Brazil’s footprint in its action in the Security Council, that is, the deep belief that the constant and serious promotion of political dialogue is the best mean to achieve peace and development.