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As the spying scandal fades, Brazil and Canada ties remain

By Peter Mazereeuw      

Brazilian diplomat to end his career in Ottawa.

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Brazil’s new ambassador to Canada is nervous. 

Not about bilateral relations, which he said are as strong as ever, nor the frigid Ottawa climate, in which he is comfortable until the mercury drops below -10 degrees C. He’s nervous because the FIFA World Cup of soccer is coming to Brazil this summer.

At 67, Pedro Fernando Brêtas Bastos has watched every World Cup since 1958, when Brazil won the first of its unequalled five cups. A book featuring his hero, football legend Pelé, on the cover lies among a collection of Brazilian reading material on a table outside of his office, and Mr. Brêtas is quick to display a cellphone picture he took with the retired striker after a charity fundraiser. 

Don’t expect a chance to mingle with Mr. Brêtas when Brazil takes to the field this summer; he’s not keen on chatting through the matches. A Brazilian loss to host-country France in the final of the 1998 cup—while Mr. Brêtas hosted some noisy compatriots during a posting in Paraguay—cemented his decision to watch future matches alone. 

Mr. Brêtas said his priorities in Canada are to gather information on issues of bilateral interest—for example, suggesting to the Brazilian government how Canada may respond to international issues—and to present a positive image of his country to the Canadian government. 

He dismissed suggestions that the spying scandal from last summer would affect his work. The Canadian government was accused of spying on Brazil’s ministry responsible for energy and mining. Mr. Brêtas said officials from the two countries are discussing the issue directly. 

“These things happen; [they] shouldn’t happen, but [they] disappear,” he said. 

Ottawa will be his final posting, he said, though his thoughts have not yet strayed to retirement. It represents a nearly-40 year diplomatic career come full-circle, as his first domestic assignment was to serve as desk officer for Canada from 1978 to 1980.

He moved on to foreign postings in Washington; Lisbon, Portugal; Lagos, Nigeria; Dublin, Ireland; and Asunción, Paraguay, “which is, I would say, one of the most important posts in a Brazilian diplomat’s career,” he said.

Paraguay and Brazil share a border, many Brazilians work in the country, and Paraguay’s massive Itaipu hydroelectric dam supplies a great deal of the energy consumed in southern Brazil, he said. 

Mr. Brêtas grew up in a household pulling itself out of poverty, he said. He joined a military academy at the age of 12—he was attracted to the romance of wearing the uniform—then attended law school and a school of public administration. 

Wealth and political ties are not factors in Brazil’s diplomatic appointments, he said, nor in determining who is admitted to or graduates from its diplomatic academy. 

“I assure you, there is no privilege [for the wealthy or well-connected], and I am living proof of that,” he said. 

Mr. Brêtas is married to Dr. Margarida Castanheira Rodrigues Brêtas Bastos, an anesthesiologist who has continued to work as she travels with him from posting to posting. 

Ms. Brêtas is trying to get the documents necessary to work in Ottawa as well, he said. 

An e-savvy diplomat, Mr. Brêtas keeps a tablet close at hand. He marvelled at the convenience of applications and email that bring press releases, news updates, government reports and, of course, Embassy, instantly to his fingertips. 

”In the old days, you had to go to the department and ask for the document, and in three days they would give it to you. Now, you receive it immediately,” he said.

peter@embassynews.ca

@pjmazereeuw

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