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Reaching out, the Brazilian way

By Sneh Duggal      

The consulate has organized a citizens’ council, and along with other Latin American missions, is planning a health week in October.

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José Vicente de Sá Pimentel finds it easy to live in Toronto.

“You see so many different faces; this is a lot like Brazil,” he said.

“Even on the streets, people smile at you; as far as I’m concerned, it compensates totally for the winter.”

What Mr. Pimentel has enjoyed about the busy city is how simple it is to go to and enjoy its sweet spots—museums, the ballet, the symphony or the Distillery District. 

“The way that Canadians use, the way that they approach those things, it’s so nice, it’s so inviting,” he said on July 2.

“You don’t even need a tie.”

His office is on the 11th floor of a building in the heart of the city. There are a few suites on the floor marked as offices of the Brazilian consulate. 

One suite door leads to a loud, busy room full of members of the public conversing with consulate staff through windows. The consulate sports more than 30 staff members including three diplomats, a few trade people, an educational co-operation assistant and consular workers.  

In his much quieter workspace, Mr. Pimentel reflects on more than four decades with the Brazilian government.

The envoy did not always have his eyes set on a diplomatic career. Many of his colleagues have friends or family members who were diplomats.  

“Among my friends, none ever even mentioned the possibility of entering the foreign service,” said Mr. Pimentel, who grew up in Vitória, a coastal island and the capital of the Brazilian state, Espírito Santo.

But he had a passion for history, the world and traveling. So when he finished law school and was trying to figure out what to do next, he decided to give the foreign service exams a try. 

“Those exams were considered extremely hard…I was fortunate enough to pass those exams, otherwise I would be a lawyer like my father, like my grandfather, like most of my uncles,” he said. 

But while the work can be challenging at times, the envoy describes diplomacy as a “beautiful career.”

He has served in various roles in Washington, Santiago, Paris, Rome and Los Angeles, and has been stationed as an ambassador in India and South Africa. 

Most recently before arriving in Toronto in February 2014, Mr. Pimentel was the director of the Alexandre de Gusmão Foundation’s Institute for Research on International Relations, and then president of the foundation. 

The foundation sits within Brazil’s foreign ministry and is meant to serve as a link between the ministry and the academic world. They organize seminars and publish books related to Brazilian foreign policy. 

Stationed near the door of Mr. Pimentel’s office is a bookshelf showcasing several of the books published during his time at the foundation. He points to one he was particularly proud of about the key folks in Brazil’s diplomatic history and the policies they pursued. 

While it was inevitable that some would see the foundation as a government agency, Mr. Pimentel argued that the books held views of not only those within government, but also those whose views diverged from official lines. 

“We want precisely to oxygenate, we want to expose our ideas to critics and to enrich our thoughts, to enrich our discourse,” he said. 

“I really loved that job, it was fascinating,” Mr. Pimentel said. “First you identify the themes, then you identify the people who could write, and then you have to go after them,” he said with a laugh. 

Education: 'this is my thing'

A central element of Mr. Pimentel’s work is—you guessed it—education. 

“I think educational co-operation is one of the probable mainstays in our future relationship,” he said. 

“Canada is doing a fantastic job in terms of science and technology and education at large,” Mr. Pimentel said, adding that Brazil can use Canadian schools to train its people. 

He’s been working to bring universities in both countries together. Just a few weeks ago, a delegation of presidents of Brazilian universities was in Toronto meeting with heads of universities from across the province. 

“This is…something that I do with great pleasure, because I believe that lots can be done.”

Of course the added incentive of warm Brazilian weather on study exchanges is one Mr. Pimentel is sure to point out. 

Another of Mr. Pimentel’s projects is finding out how many Brazilians there are in the region, what their needs are and how to reach out to them. 

“In order to help those Brazilians, you have to know where they are, and they don’t necessarily tell us,” he said.

“So you have to find ways and means of reaching out to them.”

One of the things the consulate has done is to organize a citizens’ council, which consists of community leaders, people within social services and priests and works with the consulate to reach out to the community. 

The main focus would be on those who make the trek to Canada, who might not know English and want to make Canada their home.

“Those are the ones that I feel I am more interested in reaching out [to] because they are the less protected of our citizens.”

The consulate, along with other Latin American missions, is planning a health week in October that will see Brazilian doctors, psychologists and others speak with the community about how to benefit from Canadian institutions and services, and perhaps even provide free consultations. 

“Sometimes it’s difficult for someone who has a certain problem to express themselves, to make themselves understood to a Canadian doctor because of the language,” he said. “This barrier is complicated, people don’t tell you that they don’t know how to speak English, but they don’t and sometimes if you have psychological problems, it’s even worse.”

“It’s very probable that people will feel sometimes rejected or psychologically in complicated situations, and what kind of psychologist can they look for and how can they express their problems?”

He would also like to host an entrepreneurial seminar where successful entrepreneurs are brought in to talk to the community about starting and managing a business. 

“I have no illusions, I will not solve all the problems, I just want to start a process,” Mr. Pimentel said. “The message that I would like to convey to those people is that they can be helped, the consulate can help them, if only we knew the problems they are going through.”

This is the second in a series of columns on foreign consulates in Canada, by Toronto-based journalist and former Embassy staff writer Sneh Duggal.

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