With just 20 days to go before Brazil’s first-ever Olympic Games, Business Korea (BK) had a chance to sit down with Luis Fernando Serra, the Brazilian Ambassador to Korea, to hear about Olympic preparations and the relationship between South Korea and Brazil. What follows are excerpts from the interview.
Just less than one month is left for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. How are the preparations in relation with event facilities, accommodation and transportation coming?
The majority of venues and infrastructure had already been completed in June. I’m confident the Olympics will be a wonderful occasion to practice brotherhood and let both athletes and global citizens have fun and watch their national teams set new Olympics records. Brazil has a record of hosting large-scale international events successfully, including the 2007 Pan-American games and the 2014 World Cup, and I’m sure this time will be no exception.
Accommodation and transport have been upgraded to cope with the demands of the mega sporting event. We expect around 500,000 - 700,000 visitors to visit Brazil during the Olympics period. In Rio de Janeiro, Barra da Tijuca will host most of the venues of the Olympic Games in 2016. The rest will be located in three other zones of the host city: Copacabana Beach, Maracana and Deodoro. Barra da Tijuca will also house the Olympic Village.
Many old buildings have been renovated. The project included upgrading the port area in Rio to enhance the city's competitive position in the global economy. The urban renovation involves roads, sidewalks and bike paths. The athletes' village is also known to be the largest in Olympic history.
There are concerns over the Zika virus and security. What is the Brazilian government doing to assuage these concerns and promote a safe Olympics?
I’m confident that the Games will not be affected by the virus mainly because of the dry, cool climate in August – Brazil’s winter. Of course, the government is taking necessary measures to fight the Zika virus. For instance, stagnant water at venues is being drained and those possible mosquito breeding grounds will be eliminated by medical experts. Also, WHO issued a confirmation that the current conditions in Brazil will not pose a serious threat of contracting the Zika Virus. As for the security concern, authorities are stepping up measures to tackle security threats. The government will deploy 20,000 soldiers all around the Olympics venues. Although an international sporting event can represent a prime target for terrorists, there is no reason to believe that Brazil will be the one as the country has no enemies on the face of the Earth.
The word "Brazil" conjures up football and samba. During this Olympics period, what does the Brazilian government wish to show the world as a host country?
Speaking of Samba, you will definitely see samba during the opening ceremony.
During the Carnival, the Brazilian festival that happens between February and March, huge organized parades featuring Samba dances are watched by the public in some cities.
Football is the most popular sport in Brazil. Football has a major effect on Brazilian people. The World Cup draws Brazilians together.
The Brazilian team has won the FIFA World Cup tournament a record five times and is the only team to succeed in qualifying for every World Cup competition ever held. It is among the favorites to win the trophy every time the competition is scheduled. The Olympic football tournament is the only international competition that Brazil has never won, although they have won three silver medals and two bronze medals. Brazilians are keeping their fingers crossed to win the gold medal this year. During the Olympics, the Brazilian government wants to show to the world that Brazil is a beautiful country, and a supporter of peace and brotherhood.
Apart from athletes, a flock of tourists and visitors will also visit Brazil during the summer Olympics. Do you have any tourist destinations including historical and cultural monuments in mind to recommend to them?
I’d recommend Theatro Municipal. The architecture is located in the city center of Rio de Janeiro. Built in the beginning of the twentieth century, it is considered to be one of the most beautiful and important theaters in the country.
Another tourist attraction that I’d like to recommend is Christ the Redeemer. The statue is located at the peak of the Corcovado mountain in the Tijuca Forest National Park overlooking the city of Rio. You can get the best view of the city from the statue site.
Candelária Church is one of the most respected churches in Rio de Janeiro. The church was built and decorated from the late 19th century. The interior of the church is designed in the Baroque style. The main facade shows Baroque influences in the design of the windows, doors and towers.
Sugarloaf Mountain is a hill situated at the mouth of Guanabara Bay on a peninsula that sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean. Its name is said to refer to its resemblance to the traditional shape of a loaf of sugar. It is known worldwide for its cableway and panoramic views of the city.
Please elaborate on the current economic status of Brazil. What effect do you think the hosting of the 2016 Rio Olympics will bring to the Brazilian economy?
Brazil is definitely doing better this year than last year. In the first half of 2016, Brazil sold more goods abroad than it bought and manages a US$23.6 billion trade surplus.
In addition to basic products like soybeans and beef, sales grew strongly with the sale of vehicles for the Latin American markets. China has also been a great destination for soybeans, beef, iron ore and oil.
We are expecting the Olympics to bring in more tourists and generate more jobs.
Brazil and South Korea are old friends, having established diplomatic relations in 1959. Please give us your summary of the relationship between the two countries and your expectations for the future.
Korean immigration to Brazil began in 1963. Currently, the number of ethnic Koreans living in Brazil stands at some 50,000 people, marking the success of the immigration policy and helping strengthen bilateral relations between the two nations. One of the things that touches me deeply is the tendency of Korean people to remember the gratitude toward the Brazilian government who welcomed them when they first immigrated to Brazil. That is not common among other nations.
Personally, I have been deeply linked to Korea, as three of my relatives happen to have been Brazil’s ambassador to Korea: my uncle and two of my cousins. My uncle, Joaquim de Almeida Serra, represented the Brazil government in Korea from October 1973 to November 1976; my cousin Sergio Barbosa Serra from January 1997 to September 2002; another cousin Celina Maria Assumpcao do Valle Pereira from September 2006 to April 2009.
Koreans frequently hear that “Hallyu,” the Korean Wave, can be vividly felt among Brazilian youth. If so, what has triggered the curiosity of Brazilian youth about Hallyu? And what kind of cultural exchanges are needed to enhance mutual understanding between people of the two countries?
Only less than three months into working in Korea, I’m still learning Korean culture and its cultural contents. I’ve been very impressed by the fashion sense of Korean women and how elegantly they are dressed. As for the Hallyu phenomena in Brazil, I think the two countries should work hard to understand each other better to appreciate each other’s culture. To do so, I think the two countries should work harder on people-to-people diplomacy.