Compiled by Savithri Rodrigo


Elizabeth-Sophie Balsa links humanitarian crises to the neglect of Mother Earth

The fifth largest country in the world has served up an exotic cocktail laced with compelling irresistible energy capable of filling streets and galvanising stadiums. Think Carnival and World Cup football, or maybe it’s the Amazon that comes to mind. Either way, Brazil being the largest country in South America is proud of its heritage, history, natural uniqueness and national power.

“But our sheer size and the abundance of resources spread across the country are sometimes difficult to control,” confesses Ambassador of the Federative Republic of Brazil Elizabeth-Sophie Balsa.

She adds: “Our attitude is that we’re not a superpower and we have always avoided conflict. We favour and have fostered great relationships with our 10 neighbours, working with our Mercosur (Southern Common Market) FTA to spur trade and mutual economic growth.”

Balsa remembers voting for the very first time when she was 27 following the end of the military dictatorship in 1985 and recalls that this newfound democracy made Brazil more assertive in the international arena.

“Our foreign policy therefore, praises diplomacy over intervention and is multilateralist. This is inherent in our culture and the character of the Brazilian people,” Balsa asserts, pointing to Brazil’s foreign missions even in North Korea and Cuba. “It was such a joy for Brazil to renew ties with Cuba given our strong indigenous religious links,” she enthuses.

The daughter of a plantation man, Balsa is understandably proud of Brazil’s agricultural legacy: “There’s immense dedication to protect this part of our economy through intervention, investment and R&D.”

She elaborates: “Although less than 10 percent of the land is used for agriculture, it’s an economic driver and a stabilising force that has seen us through external crises, political turmoil and a slump in commodity prices. With coffee, soya, wheat, corn, sugar, chicken and beef comprising our primary product portfolio, we could be a major contributor to food security in the world.”

On relations with the US and Europe, Balsa believes that Brazil has integrated relations with these prized trading blocs given their status as major export markets. “Brexit will not upset our trade relations although initially we were alarmed by its impact. However, when the issues are considered, the challenges are minor and can be addressed in time,” she assures.

But her predictions are that the world will not be any different from today: “The world will still have wars, terrorists and nations in conflict but the world’s biggest issue is its moral or spiritual crisis – it leads to a lack of humanity.

“We have to reach out more and speak about love, generosity and humanity, because everything stems from morals and virtues. Without them, we’re distanced from Gaia, losing our ability to feel and care for the planet,” she declares. And she points out that “this problem is much deeper than terrorism, deforestation and global warming. People don’t feel anymore. Solutions to these issues have to be driven by local communities and civil society movements. We cannot put our young people’s future in the hands of present-day politicians.”

Like Sri Lanka, Brazil was colonised by the Portuguese when it was discovered by Europe in the 1500s. But unlike our isle, very few vestiges of colonisation remain in that country except “the language, religion and cuisine, some of which is evident here in Sri Lanka too,” Balsa observes, adding “there’s little evidence of Portuguese architecture in Brazil unlike in your country.”

The two countries currently cooperate in agriculture, rubber and sugar cultivation, and forestry. Balsa states: “We hope to help Sri Lanka regain its agricultural prowess as it has the potential to use agriculture as an economic driver. You do have a challenge in terms of land but with eco-agriculture and agribusiness, a multilayered structure can be formulated. You are blessed with fertile earth so growing anything here is not a problem.”

She warns Colombo about the dangers of rapid urbanisation and urges the government to urgently invest in solutions to tackle sewage, garbage and health epidemics such as dengue. “With modernisation and progress comes the huge challenge of nutrition, as junk food and excessive sugar consumption provoke obesity in children. Nutrition should be a compulsory subject in schools and I would emphasise this – we adults must be more responsible for the health of our children,” Balsa stresses.

Urging the authorities to take a leaf out of Brazil’s urban transportation solutions given the rapid urbanisation that city is experiencing, she says that “while Colombo is very clean despite growing rather chaotically, its traffic and transport pose huge issues like in Brazil. We have some examples of well managed public transport that you can emulate.”

But as someone who loves Colombo, she hopes that the commercial capital’s unique character will not be diluted by too many skyscrapers and that its heritage will remain a top priority.

“I sometimes drive around the streets of Colombo to see the beautiful mansions and massive trees. Few cities have these. I served in Singapore 30 years ago, and thought it was beautiful and tropical. But Colombo is a jewel,” she affirms.