Ambassador Roberto Abdalla
Born to a second-generation immigrant family from Lebanon, His Excellency Roberto Abdalla, the Ambassador of Brazil to Kuwait, is very proud of his Lebanese and Arabic roots. His grandparents, who were among the first-wave of Maronite Christians from the Levant region to migrate to Brazil in the 19th and early 20th century, formed the core of what has grown to become one of the largest ethnoreligious communities in the country. “Today, over 7 percent of Brazilian population, or more than 14 million people are of Arabic origin and a large majority of them are from the Levant. Nearly 8 percent of the members of Congress and two vice-presidents of Brazil, including the incumbent His Excellency Michel Elias Temer, also trace their ancestry to the Arab world,” said Ambassador Abdalla during a recent exclusive interview with The Times.
“I am extremely proud of my Lebanese heritage and nurture profound respect for my Arabic ancestry, so I was delighted when my first posting to the Arab world was as Ambassador to the State of Kuwait and Non-resident Ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain. I considered it a great privilege and honor to present my credentials to His Highness the Amir in March 2010. Since then my embassy and I have worked to enhance the strong bilateral relations between Brazil and Kuwait.”
“Shortly after my arrival, we organized an exhibition of works by eminent South American photographers. The exhibition titled, ‘Amrik’ attempted to introduce the Kuwaiti community to the breadth and depth of Arabic presence in South America, through images that depicted vivid scenes of the lives, history and culture of Levantine Arabs who migrated to South America at the turn of the 20th century. The event was a resounding success as people in Kuwait, many of them probably for the first time, became aware of the strong cultural and social links they had with a continent more than ten thousand kilometers away.” Elaborating on his diplomatic career of over three decades, the ambassador said, “I began my professional life in 1982, when I joined the Brazilian Diplomatic Academy and graduated in 1984. Much of my early assignments were consecrated to the promotion of trade and commerce; starting with a stint at the Trade Promotion department in the Foreign Ministry I then moved to the Brazilian Trade Bureau in New York and then to head the commercial section at our embassy in Caracas, Venezuela at the beginning of 1990s. I returned to Brazil and was appointed in 1995 as Protocol Assistant to the President during the first term of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso.”
“I was then assigned to our embassy in London, first as Head of the Ambassador’s office and then as Head of the Cultural Department. During this time I had the privilege to organize 53 separate cultural events in London as part of the 500th anniversary of the founding of Brazil in 1500. I once again went back to Brasilia and headed the Cultural Department at the Foreign Ministry before being assigned as Head of the Gulf Region that included the GCC States, as well as Iran and Iraq.
A diplomat’s career in Brazil involves being exposed to a wide range of experiences and ideas and as such we have to serve in various sectors of the Foreign Ministry. This generalized training ensures that when we are assigned to head a mission in a country, we are capable of leading the embassy and are well-versed in different aspects of the Brazilian economy, as well as knowledgeable on the country’s rich cultural and ethnic diversity.”
Clarifying that his experience of the Arab world began when he was assigned to head the Foreign Ministry’s Gulf Region department, the envoy added, “For five years I was in charge of relations with the GCC States, as well as Iraq and Iran. At that time I also presented a thesis on relations between GCC countries and Mercosur, the economic and political association of nations in South America. It was during this period, in 2005, that the then Brazilian President Lula da Silva proposed the Summit of South American – Arab Countries, better known by its Portuguese acronym ASPA. This grouping brought together leaders and heads of state of 12 countries in South America with their counterparts in the 22-nation Arab League. I am glad to note that both Brazil and Kuwait continue to be active members of ASPA, which aims to strengthen political coordination and enhance cooperation in economic, social, cultural, environmental, scientific and technical and fields for betterment of people and societies in the 34-nation community.”
Speaking about bilateral relations, the diplomat said, “Brazil and Kuwait have had long and cherished bilateral ties that date back to 1968 when diplomatic relations were first established. In 1974 we opened embassies in our respective capitals and since then cooperation and coordination on various bilateral and multilateral issues, both on the domestic and international fronts, have helped cement our strong relations. Whether it is at the UN in New York, the WTO in Geneva or the FAO in Rome, our two countries have supported each other based on shared ideals and principles. These robust relations between Brazil and Kuwait were given a further boost in 2010 with the visit to Brasil by the then Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al- Jaber Al-Sabah. The visit was singular in that it incentivized further growth in mutual relations and resulted in several bilateral agreements being signed in diverse sectors, ranging from trade and commerce to culture and art.”
Detailing Brazilian economy and bilateral trade, the envoy added, “Today, Kuwait is Brazil’s third largest trade partner in the region, after Saudi Arabia and UAE, with volume of bilateral trade rising to more than US$ 1.3 billion in 2012. While we import small quantities of crude oil and kerosene from Kuwait, nearly 80 percent of all our export to this country comes from the supply of meat and chicken products. Brazilian chicken products accounts for almost 65 percent of all frozen poultry products sold in Kuwait market. Despite these glowing numbers there is significant scope for further growth, especially considering that Brazil’s annual agribusiness exports alone account for more than US$ 160 billion last year.”
“In addition to agribusiness, Brazil, which is the fifth largest country in size and population, as well as the seventh largest economy in the world, is also very active in mining, manufacture and services sector.
During the last eight years, the booming Brazilian economy has managed to raise 40 million people out of poverty, this has created a growing domestic market with opportunities for investment cropping up in almost every sector. The infrastructure sector is currently exceedingly attractive for investments, given the upcoming mega events of World Cup in 2014 and the Summer and Winter Olympics in 2016. There are huge infrastructure projects coming up all over in preparation for these events, including roads, bridges, airports, stadiums and hotels. And then there is the tourism industry; with more than five million visitors spending nearly US$7 billion in 2011, the tourism sector has always attracted investors and visitors.”
Brazil is a friendly, welcoming and exuberant society that celebrates what Brazilians refer to as ‘Alegria da vida’ or simply the ‘Joy of life’. Expanding on tourism in Brazil, the ambassador noted, “There is a perception in Kuwait that Brazil is too far away to be a regular tourism destination, but the fact is the country is no further than New York or Washington, and much closer than Sydney or Los Angeles. With four almost fully booked daily flights to Brazil from UAE and Qatar, passengers from Japan, China, India and other Asian countries are now finding it very convenient and hassle free to use these transit airports for their trips to and from South America. The number of visitors from the region has also shown a steady increase; last year we issued more than 400 visit visas from Kuwait to Brazil. With this year’s Confederation Cup in June and the World Youth Day in July, as well as the upcoming World Cup and the Olympics, we are expecting and preparing for an exponential rise in tourism traffic, including from the Middle-East.”
Describing cultural relations between the two countries as excellent, Ambassador Abdalla said, “Following the signing of a bilateral agreement for cultural cooperation in 2005, there have been several cultural interactions, including visits by artists and performances at music festivals in Kuwait. Last year, we organized a gastronomic gathering, where people here had the opportunity to taste the culinary traditions and cuisines of different regions in Brazil. This year we are planning with the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters to publish a children’s book in Arabic, with tales from South America so that the young minds in this part of the world get an experience of cultures and countries beyond their own. At the embassy we are very engaged and focused on cultural exchanges as we believe such activities help build bridges and provide opportunities for people to discover and enjoy the variety and diversity of cultures in both countries.
Concluding the interview the ambassador added, “My tenure in Kuwait has been fantastic, it could not have been better. From the moment I arrived in the country, I have been welcomed with open arms and warm hearts, not just by the government, but also by ordinary people I meet in the course of my interactions with the public. I have found Kuwaiti society to be very mature, sophisticated and welltraveled; they are relatively way ahead in political, economic and social ideas and thoughts, cosmopolitan in their outlook and have clear views on what they want and how they want their society to develop. On a professional and personal level my days in Kuwait have been fruitful and gratifying, both as a diplomat and as a Brazilian of Arab descent.”