SILVIA CAMPOS - Sergio Florencio has been Brazil’s Consul General in Vancouver for four months but his connection to Vancouver and Canada is much older.
“Actually, I have a love story with Canada,” he said. Florencio’s first diplomatic posting overseas was in Ottawa, 40 years ago. “I was head of the commercial department and I came to Canada because I wanted to go to school,” said Florencio.
The Consul General completed a Masters degree in the University of Ottawa and, like so many other Brazilians going to school in Canada, he had the chance to experience the lifestyle of a typical Canadian student.
“I made many friends in university and I always said I was 70% student and 30% diplomat,” said Florencio. “I felt Canadian because I took part in things like any other student, without diplomacy.”
It was during this period that he was introduced to Vancouver. His supervisors in Ottawa asked him to travel to the West Coast to study the possibility of opening a consulate in Vancouver.
“I recommended that it should be opened,” he said. Decades later, who would have guessed that Florencio himself would be responsible for the consulate he helped to research.
Before arriving in calm Vancouver, Florencio had a productive diplomatic career with many highlights. He has held the positions of ambassador for Brazil in Mexico, Switzerland and Ecuador, among other important posts.
One of the most important decisions he had to make, however, was when he worked as Third Secretary in Tehran, Iran, during the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Florencio was in charge of organizing the evacuation of Brazilians from the country and he was asked to do this through Turkey or Pakistan.
“I knew that through Turkey and Pakistan there would be guerrillas and insecurity on the roads. So, I told them that the Brazilians had to be removed through the Soviet Union, from where they could leave by boat. But they (the Brazilian Foreign Ministry) insisted it had to be through Turkey or Pakistan,” he said. “Then, I said, ‘okay, but my wife and my kids won’t go.’”
Florencio’s resolve finally convinced the Foreign Ministry to agree with his plan for the evacuation of Brazilians. He considers his time in Iran as one of the most rewarding periods of his career.
“Living through the Iranian Revolution taught me many things in life,” he commented.
Another highlight of Florencio’s career was during his first post as ambassador in Quito, Ecuador. The president of the country had been ousted and he asked for asylum in Brazil’s embassy.
“He called me sounding desperate and said he was going to be lynched by the population,” Florencio said. “From Wednesday to Sunday around a thousand people stood in front of the embassy protesting against him. After that, I had to leave in the middle of the night with him to get a helicopter so he could be taken to Brazil for asylum.”
Sometimes it’s the simple day-to-day parts of the job that make the Consul General the happiest.
“What I like the most is that we can really see the results of our work,” he said.
He remembers, for example, helping a lady who did not know how to use the computer.
“I saw her leaving and saying, ‘Oh my God.’ She was desperate,” he recalled.
Florencio talked to the lady and discovered that she had been asked to look for some information on the internet, but she was not familiar with computers.
“So I called one of our staff from the consulate to go into the website with her,” he said.
CANADA AND BRAZIL
Florencio sees many opportunities for cooperation between Brazil and Canada. With the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro approaching, representatives from Brazil have already come to Vancouver to learn from the expertise of Canadian authorities.
“We had the visit of eight representatives from the city of Rio that came to learn from Canada’s experience in organizing Olympic Games,” he commented.
Florencio also highlights the importance of Stephen Harper’s visit to Brazil last August.
“It was an important visit because Canada has a great partner in the US and also in Asia, but I think it is looking for more integration and a larger presence in Latin America. The dynamism of Brazil’s economy creates a lot of opportunity,” he said.