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May 27, 1982

Memorandum, Minister Saraiva Guerreiro, Information for the President of Brazil, 'Protection to Brazilians. Mendes Junior Workers Detained by Iraqi Authorities'

This document was made possible with support from Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY)





Date: May 27 1982

Subject: Protection to Brazilians.

               Mendes Junior workers detained.

               by Iraqi authorities


On March 13 of this year the engineer in charge of the transportation sector of Mendes Junior Company in Iraq, Mr. Aristides Sergio Cavalcanti de Azevedo, responding to an invitation from the civilian police, presented himself at the precinct of the Abu-Ghraib neighborhood allegedly to give information on a highway accident. Upon interrogation without witnesses, however, he was detained and put at the disposal of the Information Service and then transferred to an initially unknown place.


2.   Apprised of what had happened by the legal superintendednt of Mendes Junior, the Embassy of Brazil sought to learn the nature of the charges and of the whereabouts of Mr. Azevedo and received from the local Chancery only the clarification that the Brazilian citizen had been taken to the central Baghdad jailhouse.


3.     On March 15 and 24 two other Mendes Junior employees, Raimundo de Souza Lima, in charge of the warehouse, and Jaime Hermenegildo Camacho, technical assistant, were detained in similar circumstances.


4.       Iraqi authorities did not permit a consular visit to the detained men,  assured by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations to which both countries are signatories, nor did they release any information on the motive of the detention or on the situation of the Brazilians.


5.       For this reason I summoned the Ambassador of Iraq on March 31 and conveyed to him the concern of the Brazilian Government with the matter. I urged that information be promptly given regarding the situation of the Brazilians as well as permission for them to receive consular visits. Ambassador Makki said he was ready to convey immediately to his Government  the Brazilian concern.


6.   On the same date, March 31, instructions to the Brazilian Ambassador in Baghdad to make identical demarche to the one made in Brasilia, this time specifically to the Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs, were reiterated.


7.          Despite the concern conveyed through both channels, only on April 14 did the Iraqi authorities permit the consular visit, accomplished on the same day by two diplomats from the Brazilian Embassy in Baghdad. The conversation they held with the Brazilians could not be free, since the Iraqi official who supervised the interview during the whole time demanded, initially, that only the English language be used, and in view of the impossibility to satisfy such a demand, that everything said in Portuguese be simultaneously translated to him.


8.             Asked about their food and prison conditions, the Brazilians responded that they were satisfactory, in spite of being prohibited to smoke, read or write and having been kept incomunicado since their detention. They admited that they might be guilty of receiving kickbacks related to the supply of fuel to Mendes Junior Company, despite insisting that the amounts received in such conditions belonged to the company itself and not to the local Government. The statements of the detained men must be taken with due reserve in view of the presence of the Iraqi official, who followed the interview very attentively.


9.          One of the detained men succeeded, however, to convey, unseen, to one of the diplomats, the information that he had been tortured. He said he would not continue to keep the parallel conversation for fear of being killed upon returning to the prison. The impression of the two diplomats about the two detained men was that they were very much emotionally shaken.


10.           Once that information was received I again summoned the Iraqi Ambassador on April 15, so that he would transmit to his Government the endeavor of the Brazilian Government for the immediate granting of the requests made by the detained men on the occasion of the visit: that they could remain together; that they receive visits from their families; that they could exchange mail; that they could be transferred to another prison with better conditions and that the charges be urgently formalized.


11.        It was also conveyed to the Ambassador the need for the consular visits to be frequent and at assured opportunities. Finally, it was suggested to him that the best way to solve this issue would be the prompt expulsion of the three Brazilians from the Iraqi territory, in the shortest possible delay, in order to avoid that a limited incident could harm the relations hitherto existing between the two countries and be subject to uncontrolled exploitation. The passage of time would run counter to the interest of avoiding publicity, since day by day it became more difficult to prevent the issue from being known.   


12.       On the same day I reiterated the instructions to the Brazilian Ambassador in Baghdad to make a similar demarche with identical emphasis before the Minister of Foreign Affairs.


13.      On April 22 our representative finally succeeded in having an interview with Minister Hammadi. He sent a  report on the meeting by the cable no. 298 from Brasemb Baghdad, which is annexed.


14.          Until to-day there has been no reaction from Iraq.


15.       It must be noted that Mendes Junior Company, initially very much concerned by the issue, came to Itamaraty in mid-March and kept coordination with us in the effort to resolve or improve the situation of the Brazilians. After the 14 April visit to the prisoners and following the receipt of information on it by Itamaraty, the Mendes Junior Company did not raise the matter again with the State Secretariat.


16.  The Minister of Industry and Minerals of Iraq, Taher Taufiq, wishes to visit Brazil in the period between June 11 and 15, accompanied by a large delegation, which would remain in our country between June 6 and 20. Regardless of eventual agreement on dates, my intention, in view of the repercussions of the arrest of Brazilians in Iraq in the last few days, is to again warn the Brazilian Embassy in Baghdad to the risk of exploitation of the matter by the press that faltam palavras [no original] the visit of an important Iraqi official to our country, as long as this situation stands.


17.   With regard to new demarches to solve the problem, I shall instruct the Brazilian Ambassador in Baghdad, if Your Excellency agrees, to seek an interview with President Saddam Hussein himself and convey to him the concerns of the Brazilian Government with the matter.


(Signed)  Ramiro Saraiva Guerreiro

                 Minister of State of External Relations  

Memo to President Figueiredo dealing with the arrest and inadequate treatment applied to three employees of Mendes Jr., a Brazilian company operating in civil construction projects in Iraq, and efforts—mostly frustrated—by Brazilian diplomats to resolve the issue.

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Obtained and translated by Fundação Getúlio Vargas.


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