This is a translation from Portuguese of my column that appeared in the March 9, 2012 edition of O Globo:
The Brazilian foreign ministry Itamaraty and Condor Non-Lethal Technologies must find us naive. After my report on the misuse of Brazilian-made tear gas against pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain (O Globo, 9/1), the Folha de S. Paulo reported (11/1) that the foreign ministry would investigate whether there was breach of contract in the use of gas in Bahrain.
I was waiting for a report from the so-called investigation. Then came an article entitled "Brazil, Producer and Exporter of Arms", published by the Brazilian investigative site A Publica, on Jan. 27, which said the following: "Itamaraty itself acknowledges that it has no power of investigation: after the scandal of Bahrain, the office of the Itamaraty spokesman said that the ministry was only ‘watching with interest’ as the story unfolds.... ‘It is a contract between private parties. It may even involve a foreign government, but responsibility for its product lies with its manufacturer,’ said the foreign ministry.”
I sent six questions to Itamaraty on the use of Brazilian tear gas in Bahrain, my main question being: "It seems that the Brazilian government is washing its hands of any responsibility for the misuse of Brazilian-made tear gas in Bahrain. Why? Does Brazil not think it is important to safeguard the human rights of civilians in a civil war situation, or are Brazilian economic interests more important than human rights? "
I also asked if Brazil had sent a diplomat to Bahrain to investigate. This was the non-response I received: "This office states that the jurisdiction of the ministry and other public administration bodies on the matter in question is clearly defined by the National Policy on the Export of Military Equipment."
This policy, known by the acronym PNEMEM in Portuguese, is not very demanding. A Brazilian exporter needs to submit just three things: 1. An import permit from the importing country; 2. An End User Certificate 3. In the case of countries in which the import of these materials is unregulated, a statement from the Brazilian diplomatic mission in importing country or from the importing country's diplomatic mission in Brazil, is needed.
I called Condor in Rio de Janeiro and talked to their marketing manager, Massilon Miranda, who repeated the statement made in December that his company had never sold tear gas to Bahrain, but may have sold the gas to neighboring countries. Perhaps one of the armed forces of one of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, which were deployed in Bahrain last year to help the Bahraini royal family quell the demonstrations, had used the gas made in Brazil? Perhaps, but the way things are going, I do not think we will ever know for sure. Certainly not if we depend on Itamaraty or Condor for confirmation.
It is striking that Condor has the inability to admit that its tear gas could have been used in Bahrain. "There was never any confirmation that any person has died a victim of tear gas — even more so Brazilian gas — in Bahrain," said Miranda. "Maybe activists are doing this campaign to limit the means that police have to use against them. Is all that smoke actually from tear gas?"
The photo of a used canister of tear gas manufactured by it, emblazoned with the Brazilian flag, released by activists in Bahrain; the two deaths caused by Brazilian gas as reported by Zainab al-Khawaja, and miles of video showing security forces in Bahrain throwing thousands of canisters of tear gas against protesters, are not enough to convince the spokesperson of the Condor that it became involved in a civil war, whether it likes it or not?
The Brazilian government has a policy to help the export of arms manufactured in the country, and President Dilma Rousseff signed a provisional order in September exempting Brazilian manufacturers of armaments from taxes. Brazil has a long history of exporting heavy and light weapons to areas of conflict areas since the 1970s. The country sold many weapons to the regime of Saddam Hussein in the 1980s when Iraq was at war with Iran for eight years.
Not surprisingly, Itamaraty is in the difficult position of wanting to help Brazilian exports of weapons, but at the same time must feel a certain discomfort in seeing Brazilian-made tear gas, supposedly non-lethal, being used against children, women and old people. There is a responsibility on the part of Itamaraty and Condor to investigate, ascertain and possibly even suspend arms sales to Arab countries, since the end use of the exported tear gas was not in the country of the government that bought the gas from Brazil. It's the least we can do to rescue the reputation of Brazil as a country that cares about human rights — not only of Brazilians, but also of other people with a thirst for more freedom and dignity.
Thank you. Keep asking the uncomfortable questions.