Brazil dismisses English language skills on Diplomatic career admission

Wednesday, February 9, 2005

BRASILIA, Brazil —The Brazilian Ministry of External Relations decided to remove the English language knowledge section from qualifying tests required by the Brazilian school of diplomats, the Rio Branco Institute. The decision proved controversial among Brazilians.

In Brazil, those interested in following a diplomatic career first must study at the Brazilian school of diplomats: the Rio Branco Institute (IRBr).

After having passed the Rio Branco Institute's (IRBr) entrance examination, the student becomes a Third Secretary. The career path then continues to Second Secretary, First Secretary, Counselor, Second Class Minister, and First Class Minister or Ambassador.

The candidate must fulfill the following requirements before signing up for the entrance examination to IRBr: be Brazilian by birth, have a clean criminal record, be up-to-date with military and electoral obligations, and have concluded a full undergraduate course recognized by the Ministry of Education before the date of inscription.[1]

The course of study is 2 years long. In the first year, the student has lectures in International Public Law, Economics, Brazilian Foreign Policy, History of International Relations, Theory of International Relations and Brazilian Readings, Diplomatic Language, English, French, and Spanish. For every three class hours on concepts, there is one lecture, seminar, workshop or debate guided by an expert in the field.

In the second year, the student develops his diplomatic professional skills. He works as a trainee in different units of the government and at Brazilian embassies and consulates in South America and Mexico.

The following written tests are part of the entrance examination: Portuguese, English, French and Spanish languages; History, Geography, Brazilian and International Law, Brazilian and International Economy, and International Politics. Also, the following oral tests are required: International Politics, English, and Portuguese language.

Until 2004, the English language tests could eliminate a candidate. However, on December 7, 2004, the Brazilian Minister of External Relations Celso Amorim changed the entrance examination rules. Failing the English test no longer removes the student from the program. [2]

The following tests can still remove a person from the program: Portuguese language, History, and Geography.

The Minister Celso Amorim explained his decision: "This is a democratic decision. I would rather have a diplomat who knows Portuguese and Brazilian History well than another one who knows English well".

However, the decision proposed by the Ministry of External Relations caused some controversy.

The Senator and former diplomat Arthur Virgílio(PSDB) sent a letter to Minister Celso Amorim protesting against the change in the entrance examination to IRBr. He said that the minister's decision is nonsense, a symbolic protest against the USA. The decision minimizes the importance of English in the world. According to him, the government is being underhanded. "The question is not to love or to hate the United States, but to recognize their enormous weight, until bothering, in the world-wide scenario," he added. [3]

The journalist and high critic of the government and the Workers' Party (PT), Percival Puggina, said: "On March 18, 2004, during a opening speech of a popular restaurant of Coca-Cola in Belo Horizonte [4], President Lula said: 'I spent much time in my life thinking that if you wanted to be anti-American you should not drink Coca-Cola. Later, I got more mature and realized that there is nothing better than waking up at night and finding a Coca-Cola in the refrigerator.' However, Lula’s anti-Americanism which still remains is more naive than not drinking Coca-Cola. The Ministry of External Relations under the rule of Celso Amorim gives us a clue when it eliminates the English knowledge skills as a requisite to the entrance at the Rio Branco Institute. I assume that this is a kick in both Bush’s groin and in Blair’s ankle. Camões is thankful, but he excuses the courtesy."[5]

In an interview with the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo, the Minister Celso Amorim told:”It should be explained that the English language was not removed from the examination, and it will not stop being obligatory; it will just not remove students anymore. Brazilian diplomats will still have to know English as well as other languages too. What the Itamaraty (the Brazilian Ministry of External Relations) decided was to take for itself the costs of the necessary complementation so that the diplomat has the domain of the language.” Amorim also added: ”There are many people who I knew during my life with all the requisites to be diplomats, but who had difficulty to pass in an examination of eliminatory English.”[6]

According to Amorim, the English language elimination test favors the children of diplomats. Ricardo Neiva Tavares, spokesman of the Itamaraty, says that with the changes candidates of all regions of the country can compete evenly to enter the diplomatic career.

The former chancellor Celso Lafer criticized the decision: "Portuguese is not the language used in international communication." According to him, the change in the admission examination is a false idea of democratization.

Cristovam Buarque professor of University of Brasilia, senator (PT) and former minister of Education during Lula’s government said: “The knowledge of foreign languages, especially of English, is absolutely necessary to the diplomat. But this knowledge little says about the potential of creativity, knowledge, and ability of a youth who intends to enter the diplomatic course. Henry Kissinger, for example, would have been disapproved of in our course of diplomacy, since he still speaks with a German accent.”