WHILE the ultimate dream of many Brazilians for 2014 is to see their homeland win the World Cup, hosted by Brazil, Susan Kleebank suggests that there is much more to the event than winning, as it will “reinforce the positive image of our diversity and promote values such as tolerance and mutual respect among people of the most different origins”.
The Brazilian ambassador to Slovakia explained in an interview with The Slovak Spectator the challenges associated with hosting such a high-profile event, as well as the issues her homeland faces in other spheres: environmental protection, the fight against corruption and the strengthening of the economy.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Brazil will be dominating 2014 in the sports world as the host of the World Cup, which will take place in 12 cities across Brazil. What are the main challenges for Brazil associated with this event?
Susan Kleebank (SK): Let me start by giving you the response of any Brazilian football fan: the main challenge will be to win the World Cup! This would be our sixth title, after victories in 1958, 1962, the final game against the former Czechoslovakia, 1970, 1994 and 2002. However, we all know that there are other very strong and traditional competitors, like Argentina, Germany and Italy, among others. For the Brazilian government, the main challenge is to welcome people from all over the world and to ensure excellent conditions for the games. We are confident that the World Cup will be successful and that it will provide a boost to infrastructure, tourism, services and employment. It is expected that 3.1 million Brazilians and 600,000 foreigners will attend the games. The World Cup will generate revenues at $5.9 billion and create 700,000 temporary and permanent jobs.
TSS: Last year world media reported on several protests against the amount of money to be spent on the World Cup 2014. Have these protests affected the preparations or the event itself?
SK: The protests in Brazil in 2013 were mainly motivated by discontent regarding the quality of public services, particularly urban transportation, health and education. And yes, there were complaints about the money spent for the World Cup. In any case, since the initial days President Dilma Rousseff set the tone for the government’s reaction: we should work to improve public services. Brazil is a full democracy and the protests are part of the picture, like in any other democracy. At this point, it is important to note that the construction of stadiums accounts for 27 percent of the total costs of the World Cup, while 73 percent is related to investments into infrastructure.
TSS: After the World Cup, Brazil will host the Olympic Games in 2016. Will your country use this global event for communicating some broader messages that transcend the boundaries of sports? If so, what messages will Brazil try to emphasise?
SK: Certainly. We are a multicultural country of immigrants from all over the world. The World Cup in Brazil will reinforce the positive image of our diversity and promote values such as tolerance and mutual respect among people of the most different origins. Secondly, the 2014 World Cup and the Olympic Games in 2016 are and will be platforms to accelerate the country’s development, create jobs, overcome inequalities and improve the quality of life. This is a unique opportunity to accelerate investments in projects and services that will remain an important legacy for the future.
TSS: After a decade of growth, Brazil’s economy, considered a rising star, grew over the past three years at barely 2 percent on average and in the third quarter of 2013 it shrank more than analysts had predicted. What are the main challenges your homeland’s economy currently faces so as not to lose its momentum?
SK: The main challenges are to promote innovation and competitiveness in the industrial sector, as well as to work on the country’s infrastructure and improve education levels. I do not minimise the importance of these challenges at all. But I would like to emphasise two positive messages: first of all, there are a number of governmental initiatives, and the second, when I entered the diplomatic service more than 30 years ago, the challenges were the transition to democracy and macroeconomic stability. These are ‘givens’ nowadays. It shows that we have come a long way.
TSS: While Brazil has made improvements in fighting corruption, Transparency International still ranks the country among those suffering from a high perception of corruption. A new anti-bribery law is expected to become effective in February 2014. What are the main features of this legislation?
SK: The Anti-Corruption Law is one important step forward in the efforts to fight corruption. It creates administrative and civil penalties for private companies or institutions which participate in or practice acts of corruption. The penalties include the loss of all advantages obtained, the suspension of activities, the termination of the company or institution, and the prohibition of getting official credit, subsidies, incentives or donations from one to five years. Until now, penalties were imposed on individuals, civil servants and businessmen involved in corrupt practices, but not on the companies or institutions.
Another landmark law in the fight against corruption in Brazil is the Transparency Law, which ensures the right for any Brazilian citizen to request information on government activities and expenditures. It is important to emphasise that information on all expenditures by the Brazilian government are available online at the so-called Transparency Homepage.
Brazil has a government agency at the ministerial level dedicated to the fight against corruption.
TSS: Deforestation of the rainforest is a major environmental challenge. Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira said that deforestation increased 28 percent between August 2012 and July 2013. How is Brazil addressing this trend and what are the most important changes over the past couple of years?
SK: I would start by saying that this is indeed not a trend. Why? Because between 2004 and 2012 Brazil had actually reduced annual deforestation rates by 84 percent, reaching an historic low in 2012. But this comment is not intended to minimise the seriousness of this challenge, illustrated by the increase in deforestation in 2013. It is very difficult to describe all governmental initiatives in this area in a few lines. Regardless, let me give you a couple of examples which illustrate our commitment to fighting deforestation.
I think that a very important one is the fact that, according to our Forest Code, all land properties must keep a certain percentage of their area intact and fully preserved. In the Amazon region, this proportion reaches 80 percent. This is on top of the fact that Brazil has 313 Protected Areas, which cover 9 percent of the national territory. Brazil has also made progress in enforcement, admittedly a very difficult challenge in remote areas of the country. The government is able to keep track of deforestation in real time, through satellite images provided by INPE, the national space agency.
At the international level we have emphasised the view that the world needs a comprehensive approach to preserve the environment. In order to work towards this common endeavour, we must not forget the importance of sustainable development and social inclusion. Poverty leads to environmental destruction.
TSS: While hydropower remains Brazil’s main source for generating electricity, there are plans to build more nuclear power stations. What are the reasons behind these plans? Are there any possibilities for the development of Brazilian-Slovak cooperation in nuclear energy?
SK: I welcome this question, because in many aspects it gives me an opportunity to complement my previous answer on environmental issues. Brazil is a world leader in clean and renewable energies, as renewable sources account for 42 percent of our energy matrix, a figure which compares to an average of 8 percent in developed countries. Hydropower is a key component of this picture: 130 hydroelectric power plants account for 14.7 percent of the energy supply and 81.7 percent of the electricity consumption. The Brazilian preference for hydroelectricity takes into account its abundant potential. Despite the significant participation of hydroelectric power generation in Brazil, currently only 30 percent of the national hydropower potential is being exploited. In the next 10 years, 48 new plants will come into operation.
Nuclear power does not have a leading role in our energy matrix. Its participation is about 2 percent, a level that will persist until 2020. The first nuclear plant, Angra I, was built in the 1970s. The second, Angra II, started operations in 2000, while Angra III is under construction and will be ready in May 2018, generating more than 10 million MWh/year, an amount of energy sufficient to simultaneously supply the capital Brasília and Belo Horizonte, ranking 3rd and 4th places in the participation in the Brazilian GDP respectively. At this point, I have no information on specific cooperation initiatives between Brazil and Slovakia in the sphere of nuclear energy.
TSS: The Brazilian 200-million market also attracts Slovak companies and some have already succeeded there: for example Sygic supplies its navigation systems. In which sectors do you see the greatest potential for Slovak companies to succeed?
SK: As you correctly stated, there is market potential for Slovak companies in trade and investment in Brazil. My country is the 3rd world market for PCs, the 4th for mobile phones, TV sets and vehicles, as well as the 5th for medical equipment. Between 2002 and 2012 around 37 million Brazilians have left poverty and risen to the middle class.
Despite the still modest Slovak presence in Brazil, there is growing interest in exploring new opportunities, as shown by numerous requests for information addressed to the embassy, as well as by the results of the seminar “Doing Business in Brazil”, promoted together with the Slovak Chamber of Commerce last November. At that occasion, for instance, investments in biofuel production and in infrastructure, construction and maintenance of ports, airports, roads and highways, stood out as promising areas.
TSS: What sectors of the Slovak economy might be attractive to Brazilian investors? How do they view Slovakia as an investment location?
SK: Slovakia’s geographic position, its participation in the European Union and Visegrad Group, as well as its particular connections with other Central European countries, may play a relevant role in business decisions. Fiscal and administrative incentives are also important.
All Brazilian investments are located in Spišská Nová Ves: Embraco, a producer of refrigerator compressors, employs more than 2,500 workers and is expanding its production plan. Its Brazilian suppliers, CRW, Rudolph Usinados and Micro Juntas, are doing very well; working in full capacity, together with Embraco-SK and Embraco-Italy, they are supplying other important companies such as VW, Bosch, GM and CZW. Their perspectives are very positive and they are a showcase for the good investment possibilities in Slovakia.
TSS: You have already organised several events involving Brazilian architecture here in Slovakia. What aspects of Brazilian architecture do you believe are interesting to Slovaks? How do you assess the responses of Slovaks to these events?
SK: In 2013 the embassy organised, in cooperation with Clubovka, a presentation of Márcio Kogan about Brazilian architecture at home and abroad, the exhibition of photos on “Modernism and Contemporary Architecture of Brazil”, and two seminars on the subject at the Faculty of Architecture of the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava (STU) and at the embassy’s auditorium.
The Slovak public showed interest regarding several areas, such as the influence of the modernists Oscar Niemeyer and Paulo Mendes da Rocha in contemporary architecture worldwide, Brazilian projects abroad, urban planning, local construction techniques, for example, the “cheaper concrete” conceived by architect Joao Filgueiras, official programmes to promote lower income housing, like “My House, My Life”, one of the main social programmes of President Dilma Rousseff’s government, among others. The local response was very positive, and the embassy was encouraged to pursue new initiatives in this area.
TSS: Do you feel that Slovaks know enough about Brazil? What aspects of Brazilian culture have you presented in Slovakia and what aspects do you consider to be of interest to Slovaks and vice versa?
SK: In the cultural field, I was happy to learn that Slovaks know, like and follow many aspects of Brazilian culture, such as capoeira, music, movies and soccer. Last March, for instance, I had the pleasure of opening in Bratislava the Capoeira Festival 2013, organised by the group Abadá-Capoeira. About 400 people participated - the Slovak children sang and danced like Brazilians and even better! I look forward to developing initiatives in other areas, such as literature, illustration, photography and applied arts. Live TV transmissions of World Cup games will contribute to further increasing Slovak interest in Brazil.
TSS: Brazil is the top destination to visit in 2014, according to the Lonely Planet Best in Travel 2014. Has the tourism potential between Slovakia and Brazil been fully explored? What aspects of Slovakia might be of interest to Brazilian tourists?
SK: Tourism is an area with enormous potential, but there is still much to be done. The embassy promoted many initiatives last year in this regard: bilateral conversations in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Transportation, Brazilian participation in the Slovakiatour, the international fair in Slovakia, consultations during the visit of an important parliamentarian delegation from Brazil in September 2013 and a seminar on “Tourism in Brazil”, organised together with Latam and with the participation of Slovak tourism agents and authorities in October.
Tourist agents are in contact with the embassy and Latam, while the embassy’s trade section can provide any information of interest in this regard. There are no direct flights between Slovakia and Brazil, but connections are easy and convenient. For instance, Latam offers a €855 pass that enables the traveller to visit seven cities in Brazil and another three South American countries in 40 days.
TSS: You started your diplomatic mission here in Slovakia more than a year ago. What has surprised you the most, either positively or negatively, after arriving here?
SK: First of all, I greatly appreciate the unpretentious, friendly and open approach of my Slovak interlocutors. These features play an important role if you want to develop a solid dialogue. With reference to the several subjects handled by the embassy, I was pleased to note the high level of interest on the part of Slovakia in improving mutual knowledge, developing projects and achieving concrete results.
Slovakia also supported Brazil in a number of important international issues.
In the political field, I would like to highlight my satisfaction with the upgrading of bilateral relations last year. We believe that we achieved a new status in our relations, particularly through the exchange of important official visits. We received visits to Slovakia of the Brazilian Ministers of External Relations Relations (July) and Defense (October), as well as an important delegation of the Federal Senate, headed by the President of the Brazil-Slovakia Parlamentarian Friendship Group. Brazil received the visits of the Slovak Ministers of Environment (2012) and Defense(2013). New opportunies for cooperation in bilateral and multilateral fields were identified. I look forward to continuing this process in 2014!
20. Jan 2014 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová