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French Version

The Lebanese immigrants who became Brazil's business leaders (Daily Star)

The following are excerpts from a speech given at Planet Lebanon 2004 by Romeu Chap Chap, president of SECOVI-SP, an association of real estate companies based in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

When the Syrian-Lebanese first arrived in Brazil, they worked mainly in trade - first as street vendors, selling their wares from door to door in large urban centers, on farms and in small towns of the interior.

Gradually, rung by rung, they began climbing the ladder of social ascension, becoming shop owners and industrialists.

Most of the first Syrian-Lebanese to migrate to Brazil were modest folk - farm workers and sheep or goat herders - who sent for their families as soon as they were able.

Because they were not fluent in Portuguese, these recent immigrants often asked acquaintances to register their children for them, and for that reason, many family names were either changed, or spelled incorrectly. Many families with names like Ferreira, Salles, Souza, Lage, Ananias, Alcantara, Pedreira, Lopes, Texeira, Araujo, or Amado are actually of Lebanese origin.

As these immigrants carried passports of the Ottoman Empire, which dominated this region at that time, they came to be called "Turks," a custom that still persists in many places in Brazil.

There were three waves of Syrian-Lebanese immigration to Brazil. The first was around 1855, the second in the period between the First and Second World War, and the third at the end of World War II.

Many Lebanese came to Brazil between 1960 and 1980, fleeing from the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Lebanese mixed naturally and continually with Brazilians, living in perfect harmony.

Thanks to their hard work and the receptive conditions they encountered in Brazil, many became wealthy.

The descendants of this ethnic group diversified their activities and now constitute an outstanding presence throughout Brazilian society and in all fields of the country's economic activity.

The Lebanese colony in Brazil, including descendants, now numbers more than 9 million - approximately 6 percent of the country's total population.

Many are also very prominent in the national scenario.

Approximately 10 percent of all Brazilian elected politicians are of Lebanese origin, and many hold executive positions.

The Lebanese colony also plays a major role in the building industry in which I myself have been active for 45 years. SECOVI, the real estate trade association over which I currently preside, is a good example of this Lebanese presence.

Many of the SECOVI member companies run by Lebanese descendants have been in business for several decades, examples of Brazil's fantastic business potential.

This is the case of my own career in the real estate market, living proof that Brazil is a very fertile field of opportunities.

I began working in real estate in 1958, building small semi-detached houses while I was still in engineering school.

After working some time in partnership, I decided to fly solo and set up my own building company, Construtora Romeu Chap Chap.

Over the years I have taken on more than 100 projects - residential and commercial buildings, hotels and shopping malls in the city of Sao Paulo, as well as in the interior and along the coast of the State of Sao Paulo.

I made upscale buildings my specialty, and to this day, living in a Chap Chap building is a status symbol.

My professional life also led me to take on extensive activities in the political-institutional field and featured constant participation in several Brazilian and international trade associations, many of which I had the opportunity to preside such as SECOVI itself where I am currently in my fourth term in office, and the International Real Estate Federation where I hold the position of vice president for the Americas.

It is my belief that trade associations are the best venues for exchanging information, enriching our minds, learning and teaching. It is in trade associations that we can best contribute to the overall growth of our activities.

And Brazil offers great opportunities for development, business and fulfilment.

It is a country of continental dimensions that occupies a very large part of Latin America. Brazil is the 15th world economy, and ranks 5th in the world in both population and territory.

Four hundred of the 500 largest companies in the world are present in Brazil. And all are active because they all look at medium and long-term opportunities. They look beyond momentary political and economic fluctuations determined by analyses made by financial groups that increase or diminish Brazil risk, often in line with the tide of international speculation.

The world's major banks and financial groups are present in Brazil, including Bank Audi, and we were very happy to hear that the Intercontinental Bank of Lebanon will soon be inaugurating its office in Brazil.

According to Tony Ghorayeb, responsible for this initiative, the goal is to create funds aimed to attract Middle East investments in the Brazilian economy, and to encourage bilateral trade, with emphasis on Lebanon.

Inflation, which previously represented a threat to economic development, is under control, providing an environment of foreseeability.

Brazil has a large potential domestic and foreign consumer market, abundant labor, heavy investments in infrastructure, minerals and many other natural resources. We have a wonderful tropical climate and no volcanoes, earthquakes, or other sorts of natural disasters.

There are countless other positive points as well - political, economic, social and cultural.

And all this is buttressed by a consolidated democracy; by a free-market and free-competition environment; by the practice of healthy capitalism and respect to the right of property ownership.

In Brazil, as in most countries of the world, the civil construction industry and the real estate market play a major role in the economic and social contexts.

In our country, this sector is responsible for nearly 20 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. It generates more than 9 million jobs - direct or indirect - and is responsible for more than 70 percent of total investments.

Many business people have recently been diversifying their activities, exploring a new market niche.

This new niche features urban renewal, the revival and rebuilding of older, deteriorated inner-city areas, an activity that is being undertaken successfully here in Beirut.

Projects in this field are strongly encouraged. Investors count on incentives from local governments as well as from international agencies such as the International Development Bank-IDB, which recently opened up a $100 million credit line for recovery of the center of Sao Paulo.

I invite you all to discover Brazil, form partnerships and do good business.

As you may recall, Brazil's president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, founded the Casa do Brazil in Lebanon when he was here in December 2003.

Upon its inauguration, this house will serve as an operations base for companies that wish to develop business between our two countries, or expand already existing business. In short, we are ever closer and more capacitated to set up important partnerships.

In the words of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri upon his visit to Brazil last year, we exercise, mutually, decisive functions. Lebanon, because it is Brazil's door to the Middle East and the Arab world; and Brazil, because it is a nation of millions of Lebanese descendants and has a great deal of influence in the world.

Beirut 27-07-2004
The Daily Star

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