My younger son Adam is auditing classes at the University of Brasilia. (And doing it in Portuguese.) Last week he had the chance to hear journalist Roxana Saberi speak to an audience at the school. I asked him to write a summary and his reactions to the speech.
Instead of attending my usual “Introduction to the Study of International Relations” class at the University of Brasilia last Wednesday, our professor dismissed us so that we could attend a lecture by American journalist, Roxana Saberi, a woman I first heard on NPR more than a year ago.
Ms. Saberi traveled to Iran to work on a book, which explored the diverse and complex aspects of the Iranian culture (her father was Iranian – Ms. Saberi is a first-generation American) when she was arrested for espionage. Ms. Saberi was not a spy for the United States, but still Iranian authorities sentenced her to 8 years in one of Iran’s most notorious political prisons.
Ms. Saberi shared her story with a lecture hall of at least 150 Brazilian students (mostly International Relations majors). I could tell she was expecting a few more journalism majors in the crowd (there were only two – she asked them to identify themselves) but still she told her story in a way to keep all interested.
Ms. Saberi said her story makes the clear point that it’s important to care about human rights abuses from halfway around the world with people you don’t know.
I was inspired by her story, but I was also impressed how, in her concluding remarks, she tied in Brazilian foreign policy, explaining how new relations between Brazil and Iran is an opportunity to put Human Rights front and center.
The crowd reacted as most Brazilian crowds do – a constant shuffling of people around the room, the occasional “shh” when people would talk with their neighbors too loudly. I normally applaud Brazilians for being so nonchalant but this time I found it downright insensitive to behave this way while a guest is telling you about the time she was tortured. I don’t wish to generalize, obviously not everyone in the crowd was like this, but from Ms. Saberi’s eye’s I’m sure all we were was another crowd. Despite the behavior of the crowd, it was evident from my fellow student’s questions that her message had been heard and that they were thankful for her story.
Ms. Saberi has a blog on her official website where you can find translated Brazilian news clippings. According to one press clipping, Ms. Saberi’s talk in Rio de Janeiro the day after presenting in Brasilia made sure to mention the escalating violence and the human right’s implications that come with it.
I should note here that Saberi’s call for the Brazilian government to do more on human rights, especially with Iran, is something the Brazilian government clearly does not want to do.
Yes, Brazil has good relations with Iran. It also has good relations with Venezuela and Cuba. And yet whenever the opportunity arrives for Brazil to stand up for its democratic principles, it fails to do so.
This lack of action on the government’s side has not gone unnoticed within Brazil. Even many trade union and liberal supporters of the Lula government were highly critical of him when he did not say anything about the political prisoners in Cuba during a state visit to the island country.
And for all its posturing with Iran, Brazil usually abstains in votes before human rights councils rather than criticize Iran.
If Brazil had a track record of never criticizing any of the countries with whom it has decent relations, the lack of statements about human rights abuses in Iran, Venezuela and Cuba would be expected. But Lula and his team have spent a lot of time and lung power criticizing the United States and Europe for far less violations of human rights.
Let us see what the next president has to say.