Country Listing

Brazil Table of Contents


The Middle East

Immigrants from the Middle East began arriving in Brazil in large numbers in the twentieth century, especially following World War I. These immigrants spread throughout Brazil but can be found mostly in the Southeast region, where many are merchants.

Brazil's economic relations with the Middle East were accelerated by the 1973 petroleum crisis. Brazil tried to maintain a moderate stance vis-à-vis the Arab-Israeli conflict and supported all UN peace initiatives. In late 1973, Brazil established embassies in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and legations in Libya and Kuwait, and it signed cooperation agreements with Egypt, Israel, and Iraq.

However, in 1975, because of the deepening petroleum crisis and in search of petrodollar investments, Brazil tilted its foreign policy in favor of the Arab (Palestinian) cause in three crucial votes in the UN. Brazil's military government upgraded its representation in Iraq by appointing a succession of four-star generals as ambassadors to Baghdad. When the Iran-Iraq War broke out in 1979, nearly 35 percent of Brazil's oil imports were coming from Iraq. In 1981 it was reported that Brazil had sold low-grade uranium ore or yellow cake (see Glossary) to Iraq.

The Iraq-Kuwait conflict, which resulted in Operation Desert Storm in early 1991, placed Brazil in a very delicate position. United States congressional subcommittees accused Brazil of exporting technology and expertise to Iraq to develop a missile based on the Piranha missile (MAA-1). Retired Air Force Brigadier Hugo Oliveira Piva had taken a private group of Brazilian technicians to Baghdad to complete this project; under pressure, the Collor government ordered the group's return to Brazil.

At the time of Desert Storm, a Brazilian construction company, Mendes Júnior, had several hundred workers and technicians, as well as several million dollars worth of equipment, in southern Iraq working on railroad and irrigation projects. Thus, Brazil, unlike Argentina, did not participate in the Allied operation. The Brazilian government had to dispatch its key negotiator, Ambassador Paulo de Tarso Flecha de Lima, from his post in London to negotiate the release of the Mendes Júnior personnel from Iraq and the disposition of the equipment. Brazil had won a US$5 billion price and performance competition to supply its Osório tank to Saudi Arabia in 1990, but the Kuwait conflict changed the decision in favor of the United States Abrams tank.


Brazil's relations with Africa date from the beginning of the slave trade in the seventeenth century. By the middle of the nineteenth century, many former slaves had returned to West Africa and had become prosperous merchants and entrepreneurs, and regular shipping lines and commerce flourished from Bahia. After 1945 Brazil maintained a low-profile position in the anticolonialism debate in the UN, but supported the positions of Portugal, Belgium, France, and Britain. In 1961 President Jânio Quadros's new independent foreign policy made some timid advances in favor of independence for the remaining colonies in Africa. During the Goulart period (1961-64), Brazil took contradictory positions, especially regarding Portugal. Brazil's main contacts with the newly independent nations of West Africa involved price-fixing attempts within the International Coffee Organization. The Castelo Branco administration (1964-67) sent two commercial missions to Africa, the Costa e Silva administration (1967-69) opened an embassy in Abidjan (Côte d'Ivoire) and one in Kinshasa (Zaire).

Nonetheless, the opening to Africa really began during the presidency of Emílio Garrastazú Médici (1969-74). In November 1972, Foreign Minister Mário Gibson Barbosa visited nine West African countries. In 1973 Brazil voted in favor of anticolonialism measures in the UN. This vote and follow-up trade missions resulted in numerous bilateral agreements and Brazil's participation in the ADB (African Development Bank). South African companies made considerable investments in Brazil, especially in mining. Brazil's exports to Africa jumped from US$90.4 million in 1972 to US$1.96 billion in 1981, and its imports from US$152.9 million to US$1.98 billion.

Brazil's opening to Africa was consolidated during the Geisel period (1974-79), which coincided with the emancipation of the five Portuguese colonies in Africa. Brazil recognized the independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde in July 1974, before it was conceded by Portugal. In November 1975, Brazil became the first Western nation to recognize the independence of Angola, under the revolutionary government of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola--MPLA), and to establish an embassy in Luanda. Brazil's stance caused much consternation for the United States because the MPLA government in Angola was socialist and dependent on the communist bloc and Cuba at that time. That same month, Brazil established relations with the government in Mozambique because of its strategic importance in southern East Africa and the Indian Ocean. Within the context of the Cold War and Brazil's anticommunist military government, this decision was a bold move on the part of the Geisel government. However, Brazil placed considerable importance on establishing relations with African countries. It was hard hit by the 1973-74 petroleum crisis and desired access to West African oil exports in particular. The petrodollars thus earned were used to buy Brazilian exports of manufactured goods through Petrobrás International Trade, Inc. (Petrobrás Comércio Internacional S.A.--Interbrás).

Over the next twenty years, Brazil established very close relations with the lusophone or Portuguese-Speaking African Countries (Paises Africanos de Lingua Oficial Portuguêsa--PALOPs). In addition to Angola and Mozambique, these included São Tomé e Príncipe, Cabo Verde, and Guinea-Bissau. The Rio Grande do Sul Airline (Viação Aérea Rio-Grandense do Sul--Varig) established regular flights to Lagos, Nigeria; Abidjan; Luanda, Angola; and Maputo, Mozambique. However, in the early 1990s flights were suspended to Lagos (to control drug traffic) and Maputo. President Figueiredo (1974-85) was the first Brazilian president to visit Africa (five countries in November 1983). Brazilian construction companies undertook hydroelectric and infrastructure projects, and Petrobrás signed risk contracts for oil exploration.

By 1986 Brazil had twenty-two embassies in the region, and President Sarney continued the expansion of relations with Africa, visiting Cape Verde in 1986 and Angola in 1989. African heads of state from Algeria, Zaire, Cape Verde, and Mozambique, as well as Sam Nujoma of the South West African People's Organization (SWAPO), also visited Brasília. By 1985 commerce between Africa and Brazil had grown to US$3.3 billion.

In the context of the independence of Namibia in 1990, the UN requested a Brazilian battalion to participate in peacekeeping operations, but Brazil refused, saying that the army was not prepared and the government lacked resources for such a venture. However, when the UN asked for Brazilian army and police participants in peacekeeping operations during the October 1994 election in Mozambique, the Itamar Franco government was quick to oblige. In 1995 the Cardoso government sent a full engineering battalion to Angola to participate in UN operations (minesweeping and infrastructure rebuilding). In 1996 President Cardoso made a short visit to Angola en route to a longer state visit to South Africa.

Data as of April 1997

Country Listing

Brazil Table of Contents