Cablegate: Leveraging Lebanon,S Diaspora for Democracy/Deepening Local Contacts
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 SAO PAULO 000542
NSC FOR JUAN ZARATE, ELLIOT ABRAMS, NIC RAMCHAND, MEAGHEN
MCDERMOTT, GREG GATJANIS
STATE S/P FOR DAVID GORDON
STATE NEA FOR DAVID WELCH, JEFF FELTMAN
EMBASSY BEIRUT FOR AMBASSADOR SISAN, DCM GRANT LEBANON DESK FOR CHRISTINE LAWSON, MATT IRWIN
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/06/2023 TAGS: PGOV PHALANAGE PARTY PINR PREL KISL LE BR
SUBJECT: LEVERAGING LEBANON,S DIASPORA FOR DEMOCRACY/DEEPENING LOCAL CONTACTS
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Classified By: Classified by Econpol Chief James B. Story for Reasons 1 .4 B,C
1. (C) This message contains an Action Request. See Paragraph 12. Summary:
2. (C) Brazil's extensive Lebanese Diaspora, the largest such community in the world, contains important, influential people who want to work with the USG to help the cause of democracy in Lebanon, a position made evident during the 9/24-26 visit of Jared Cohen (S/P) and Janine Keil (INR) to Sao Paulo. The visit also made clear that an appreciation of the local Lebanese Brazilians' ties to their ancestral homeland strongly enhances our outreach to this influential local ethnic and economic group. Brazil's Lebanese community offers the possibility for a powerful "two-fer," a local group that can reinforce Middle Eastern democracy and that is influential, in its own right, in Brazil. Brazil could become a model for Diaspora-mobilization for democracy in the Middle East and Muslim outreach in WHA, adding important transnational aspects to our efforts at Transformational Diplomacy. End Summary. Cohen and Keil Visit Sao Paulo
3. (C) Jared Cohen (S/P) and Janine Keil (INR) visited Sao Paulo, Brazil September 24-26. They met with a variety of representatives -- Christian, Jewish and Muslim -- of Brazil's ethnic Lebanese community. Among the Lebanese Brazilians who met Cohen and Keil were: Joseph Sayah, Lebanon's Consul General; Sheik Jihade Hamade of the World Assembly of Islamic Youth (WAMY, Sunni); Berty Tawil and Ernesto Chayo (Banco Safra); Alfred Cotait (Secretary of International Relations for Sao Paulo City Hall); Guilherme Mattar (Cotait's Chief of Staff); Suheil Yammout (Head of the Lebanese March 14 Movement and representative of Saad Hariri in Brazil); Mohammed Zoghby (President of the Muslim Federation of Brazil); Fouad Naime (journalist, editor of the magazine "Carta do Libano," representative of Phalangist and Lebanese Forces); Salim Schahin (businessman and banker, participant in the Abraham Path Project); and Naji Nahas (businessman). The flagship event of the trip was a cocktail organized by the Lebanese Consul General (CG) at his residence on 9/25, where he invited a variety of Lebanese-Brazilian interlocutors to meet with Cohen and Keil. This was supplemented by a visit to a local mosque as well as a series of private meetings with Banco Safra Officials, leaders of the Future Movement, and Lebanese-Brazilian businessman and billionaire Naji Nahas at the latter's residence. The Community: Broad, Deep, Diverse, and Selectively Engaged
4. (C) Brazil's Lebanese Diaspora reflects the diversity of its country of origin. As a rough guide, Brazil's ten million persons of Lebanese descent (many of them second and third generation) are 90 percent Christian. The remaining ten percent is 9-to-1 Sunni/Shia. According to those interviewed, Brazil's ethnic Lebanese are divided along both generational and religious lines into three general groups: --The Shia (approximately 160,000 according to the Lebanese CG). The Lebanese-Brazilians interviewed (none of whom were
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Shia) said that the Shia in Brazil are usually first-generation immigrants not well-integrated into Brazilian society. They generally speak little Portuguese and sympathize with Hezbollah, likely even those who do not publicly voice their support for the group. The Shia maintain a close partisan identification with Lebanese politics and many intend to return. There are anecdotal reports, (which have not been verified-NFI), that they receive financial help from the Iranian Embassy in Brazil, including funds distributed to young Shia to start businesses. --The second, third, and fourth generation immigrants, majority March 14-oriented Christians, but also a significant number of Sunni Muslims. (Note: The March 14 Movement or March 14 Alliance refers to Lebanon's 2005 Cedar Revolution, when Lebanese citizens opposed to Syria's occupation of their country rose up in protest against the occupiers following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on 2/14/05. End Note.) This group makes up the vast majority of the Diaspora. Beyond a shared hope for a peaceful and unified Lebanon, they are not deeply involved in the particulars of Lebanese politics. Those interviewed stressed the Diaspora's spirit of integration, insisting the Lebanese conflict's ethnic divisions for the most part do not exist among Lebanese-Brazilians. Their presence in Brazil's business and political life is extensive. Some of Brazil's most successful business and banking leaders hail from the Lebanese community (Safra Bank) as well as the country's political lead ers (Sao Paulo Mayor Gilberto Kasssab is Lebanese; there are 35 members of the Brazil-Lebanon Parliamentary Friendship Group). Interlocutors told us that "there is not a province in Brazil" that does not have an ethnic Lebanese elected to some office. This group, which includes descendants of original Lebanese immigrants, may number into the millions and is the largest Lebanese community in the world. --The third group is a subset -- really a leadership set -- of the broader Lebanese community described above. It consists of very successful and well-connected business persons who are intimately familiar with Lebanese politics. They are often emotionally stricken by the turmoil they see in their ancestral homeland, but have trouble identifying worthy projects to support Lebanese democracy. Members of this leadership group reject Hezbollah's extremism and Syrian and Iranian interference in Lebanon, but are also disappointed in the corruption that they say permeates all sides of Lebanese politics. They also fear that the U.S. will give up all hope for Lebanese democracy and "abandon" the country. This last group proved most responsive to the Cohen/Keil visit and expressed keen interest in learning more about U.S. initiatives to support Lebanese democracy and in how they could support such efforts. Engagement Not Across-the-Board, But Intense
5. (C) While most Lebanese Brazilians keep Lebanon's divisions at arms-length, the leaders described above can be intensively engaged in the country. Several of our interlocutors communicate with Lebanese political leaders regularly. President Suheil Yamout of the Future Institute provided perhaps the most concrete example of intense selective engagement when he described his organizations "get out the vote" drive for Lebanon's March parliamentary elections to Cohen and Keil. The Future Institute aims to fly some ten thousand Brazilian citizens who also hold Lebanese passports back to Lebanon to vote this March,
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providing up to USD 10,000 in financial support to each one to make the trip. The Future Institute also mentioned that a likely 50,000 Lebanese will self-finance trips back to Lebanon in the spring to participate in the March elections. They are coordinating with Saad Hariri (son of the Prime Minister assassinated in 2005, leader of the Lebanese Future Movement) to ensure that they maximize thes e votes in the right districts. Meeting participants estimated that there are up to one half-million Lebanese in Brazil who are eligible to hold Lebanese passports and who could conceivably vote in that country's elections. When asked, Lebanese stakeholders explained that the vast majority of these are March 14 supporters. Pre-Polarization Lebanon Meets Brazil
6. (C) The bulk of the Lebanese community in Brazil contrasts with Lebanon itself in the critical area of polarization. Where Lebanon has become a synonym for religious/ethnic division and state breakdown, the older, second/third/fourth generation Lebanese Brazilians are a community noted for their openness, internal diversity, and tolerance. (The more recently-arrived Shia do not fall under this umbrella.) This became evident throughout a series of meetings that featured local Lebanese Christians, Jews and Sunni Muslims all conversing easily in fluent Lebanese Arabic. Interlocutors attributed this to several factors: the basic tolerance that older Lebanese, products of the pre-1970s Beirut, have for one another; the "melting pot" quality of Brazilian culture, which emphasizes mixing and moderation, the reality that they all want to do business with one another; and finally the conscious desire of the Lebanese Brazilian community not to import Lebanon's troubles into their community. Participants in our meetings were eager to tell the story of the successful Lebanese Brazilian "melting pot" back in the Middle East and particularly in Lebanon. The Diaspora may have lessons for the homeland when it comes to teamwork and tolerance. Response Highly Positive, But....
7. (C) The majority of Lebanese Brazilian interlocutors eagerly embraced the idea of coordinating engagement with Lebanon with USG efforts. The community manages large financial resources and appears more than willing to engage. That said, conversations revealed two intriguing elements that indicated frustration with the U.S. and a possible need for more Muslim outreach here in Brazil. -At the 9/25 cocktail, Lebanese Brazilian interlocutors worriedly asked Cohen whether or not the U.S. had "given up" on Lebanese democracy? Would the country be abandoned? Cohen replied emphatically that this was not the case, that the President and the Secretary remained firmly engaged. Nonetheless, the participants' disquiet was evident along with their enthusiasm for engagement. -Our 9/25 visit to a local mosque was highly cordial. Sheik Jihad Hassan presented his group as non-political and eager for outreach. Nonetheless, during the visit, Cohen noted that the mosque uses the Salafist (or more radical) of two translations of the Koran available. In addition, when asked about outside support for the mosque, the Sheik said that all financial help came "from the community," an answer that appeared to point to the local communitym, but that seemed ambiguous in the face of the mosque's ample resources for teaching and outreach.
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What Is To Be Done?
8. (C) Cohen discussed several concrete project ideas for Lebanon with our interlocutors, who responded enthusiastically. Among the ideas put forward: -Filming a documentary about teamwork and tolerance among Christians, Muslims and Jews in Brazil's Lebanese community as a tolerance model that could be broadcast in Lebanon and in the Middle East, possibly by Al-Jazeera Network. -Creating a Brazilian-Lebanese Business Council that could undertake high profile efforts to provide youth employment and internships back in Lebanon. Cohen specifically mentioned the "Teach for Lebanon" initiative as an example that could maybe benefit from this. -Developing a version of the "Birthright" Program (under a different name) that reinforces the connections American Jews feel for Israel by funding travel to Israel. Lebanese youth overseas could be encouraged to travel and even work in Lebanon. -Translating interviews with USG Officials on Lebanon into Portuguese for the Brazilian Lebanese community. Likewise, USG officials who work on Lebanon could give interviews in Brazilian media. -Arranging for the Lebanon-Brazil Parliamentary Friendship Group to visit Washington DC and meet U.S. officials overseeing our policy toward Lebanon. -Setting up meetings for the Lebanese CG in Sao Paulo, Joseph Sayah, to discuss our policies with Washington officials when he next travels to the United States. -The vast majority of interlocutors suggested that Cohen make a follow up visit to Brazil at some point in the near future. Comment: The Multiple Benefits in Diaspora-Engagement
9. (C) The most important opportunity to emerge from Cohen/Keil's visit was the possibility that Brazil's Lebanese community could support USG efforts to build a democratic and independent Lebanon. Community members expressed enthusiasm for a range of cultural and economic initiatives and appeared ready to self-finance efforts which would work in coordination with the USG.
10. (C) As potentially important as the Lebanese Diaspora might be for Lebanon, its members remain a strong and influential group here in Brazil. Engaging them, particularly some of their most influential leaders, on an ancestral homeland issue near and dear to their hearts only deepened our already good contacts with this critically important local group and some of its most prominent members.
11. (C) The Lebanese Diaspora provides a bridge to more moderate Muslim groups that would be excellent targets for outreach.
12. (C) Lastly, Brazil's diversity and the strong home-country connections of some of its Lebanese Diaspora could make it a testing ground for both Diaspora-engagement strategies and Muslim outreach in Latin America.
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13. (C) As a point of departure for efforts to engage Middle Eastern communities in Brazil, Post would be interested in models that other posts -- particularly the UK, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, and Germany -- have employed successfully for Muslim outreach. These would be good points of departure for our own efforts to engage Middle Eastern communities in Brazil.
14. (C) This message was coordinated with and cleared by the U.S. Embassy, Brasilia.