Bruna Garcia Fonseca
São Paulo – Lebanon’s new consul general to São Paulo, Rudy El Azzi, said one of his primary goals is to increase tourism to his country by the diaspora. While visiting the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce (pictured above on the right with Chamber president Rubens Hannun) on Monday (4) afternoon, Azzi spoke with ANBA about the Lebanese community in Brazil and the state of São Paulo.
“Our priority is the community, which has been in Brazil for over 140 years now. This means several generations. Some have been to Lebanon, others haven’t, and it is our role to remind them of their roots through culture, through trips to Lebanon and by doing work in Lebanese clubs and associations,” Azzi said. According to him, one of the consulate’s jobs include encouraging and supporting events held by the community. “We must keep track of what is happening and be close to the community,” he said.
When it comes to Lebanon’s image in Brazil, Azzi said that working to ensure more descendants travel to their home country is a priority. “The majority of the diaspora have never been there, or else they have been there twenty or thirty years ago. This is not a question of economics, it’s a question of promoting our country. We do know that this is a difficult kind of tourism. It’s not like going to Argentina, but one needs to see Lebanon firsthand to get a true perception of Lebanese culture,” he pondered.
“Many people think we live in the desert and ride camels, but we are one of a few Arab countries where there is no desert. We have mountains, beaches, snow. Whenever the Arabs in the Gulf are looking for better weather, they will take a trip to Lebanon. We want people to be able to tell our country apart from other Arab countries.”
In the culture front, there are plans for bringing a famous Lebanese theater group to Brazil. “We want to promote actual cultural contact through music, theater and dancing. This is more important than our social media work, which we already do well,” he said.
Regarding Brazil-Lebanon relations, Azzi said that diplomacy-wise they are great – Brazil is running a United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Lebanon, by the Israeli border – but that when it comes to trade, numbers are still modest. “Although Brazil exports large amounts to Lebanon, this could increase, and Lebanon can also increase its sales to Brazil, but there is no free trade agreement, which poses a major challenge. Research and effort are in order so that Mercosur can reach an agreement with Lebanon,” he said.
The consul arrived in Brazil last April. He is now adapting, becoming familiar with Brazilian culture and especially the diaspora. His jurisdiction includes the states of São Paulo, Santa Catarina, Paraná, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul and Rondônia. He estimates that these states are home to a combined 5 million-strong Lebanese community (Brazil is home to an estimated 8 million Lebanese natives and descendants). With a career in diplomacy spanning 15 years, Azzi has served stints as a consul in Côte d’Ivoire and Romania. His latest post was as interim ambassador in Mexico.
Translated by Gabriel Pomerancblum