A Common Man's Symphony

James Boswell, The Cinema, 1939


Commentary on the documentary directed by Jose Joffily

Right at the beginning of the film, A Common Man's Symphony, by José Joffily, the narrator/director informs us of the reunion with an old friend, who told him an incredible story. It becomes clear that the narrator's voice actually expresses the protagonist's thoughts and that the narrative is driven by the information and sources provided by him.

After the opening, for those who don't know Ambassador José Maurício Bustani, what we see is a pianist very irritated with the sound quality of the piano assigned to him, demanding that they exchange it for Piano No.o. 1 that he knew existed and which he personally went to look for in another room. Finally, an opening that has nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction. He would be the concert pianist of the Orquestra Sinfônica Jovem do Rio de Janeiro, composed of young people from a favela and conducted by Tobias Wolkman, from Teatro Municipal.

In the sequence, the bad-tempered musician soon reveals himself to also be the same José Maurício Bustani, a character in an international plot that deserved to be converted, with that competence that Americans have to tell the most complicated stories, in a fictional series. typical of Netflix or an action movie (there's even the revelation of a wall stuffed with listening devices by the CIA). Not that José Joffily's documentary suffers from a lack of clarity. On the contrary, it is absolutely well narrated, well sequenced and objective.

It manages to tell the viewer the story of a Brazilian diplomat who, occupying a high-profile international position, as the first Director General of the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons), especially in a world subject to so many wars, tried to stop the United States and its allies to destroy Iraq based on the false accusation that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

The George Bush government and its associates wanted Iraq's oil and a good pretext arose with the terrorist attack on the twin towers on September 11, 2000. Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis had nothing to do with that tragedy. But this was not an obstacle for the powerful empire to promote a campaign based on Islamophobia, intensified by a partial media and supported by opportunistic or cowardly politicians with the objective of invading Iraq.

Due to his role, José Maurício Bustani had reliable information that Saddam Hussein no longer had those weapons that had been destroyed during the first war in Iraq. It was known in specialized circles that 95% of Iraqi weapons no longer existed since 1991 and that there would not have been technical conditions that would allow Iraq to (re)manufacture them. Even if 5% of them still existed, their validity period would have expired around 1995. In 2000 they would no longer be able to be used.

In strict compliance with his attributions under the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, José Maurício Bustani should ensure that all countries become members of the Organization. By the time that clash was due to start, he had already secured the participation of almost 150 countries. There remained the Arab countries, always concerned with keeping open the possibility of obtaining some type of weapon of mass destruction to protect themselves from possible attacks by chemical or nuclear bombs from Israel.

As a result of the diplomatic work carried out since he took office in 1997, added to the growing credibility of the Organization's impartial performance, José Maurício Bustani managed to convince the governments of Iraq and Libya to join the OPCW. Now, this would make it more than evident that those regimes no longer had such weapons because they would be subject to inspections by the Organization. By informing the delegations of the United States and other member countries of the United Nations Security Council of the imminent accession of those two countries, Bustani ran into Bush's secret objective. From then on, he became the preferred target of attacks by the US extreme right, then led by Vice President Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, with the now notorious John Bolton as operator, who would also be an important character in the Trump administration. .

The media bombardment aimed at pushing José Maurício Bustani to resign included accusations of incompetence and, behind the scenes, a threat worthy of the mafia, when Bolton went personally to his office to demand that he resign by the end of the day, saying in a threatening tone that “ she knew where her children lived” (by chance, both boys studied at American universities and the only daughter in the UK). José Maurício Bustani did not resign.

He asked the Brazilian government for support, which had nominated him for that position. Fernando Henrique Cardoso went off on a tangent, did not have the guts to face the pressure and also recommended his resignation. In the interview, FHC, with his characteristic style, claimed that José Maurício Bustani had not held that position as a representative of the Brazilian government, but because he had been elected by an international assembly. Anyway, he handed the diplomat over to the sharks.

An extraordinary assembly of the OPCW was convened by the United States. It was illegitimate, as it was not foreseen in its constitutive convention. The 45 countries of the so-called “western group” (except France) voted against Bustani, 8 in his favor and the rest, Latin American, African and Asian abstained. It was an unprecedented defeat, by abstentions, less than by votes against. Interestingly, even yesterday's ally – India – voted against him. Bush had promised him an anti-aircraft defense system, of the type he had recently provided to Pakistan.

José Maurício Bustani returned to Brazil and stayed in what is called the “stairs and corridors” of the Itamaraty for a year, until he was appointed to the Brazilian embassy in London at the invitation of Lula and his chancellor, Celso Amorim. It was a way for the PT government to demonstrate that it recognized his qualities as a public man. When Lula was received by Tony Blair in England, he took Celso Amorim and José Maurício Bustani with him. In the documentary, José Maurício Bustani narrates a very amusing conversation, in which Lula asks Tony Blair: “do you know who this is? José Maurício Bustani, whom you helped overthrow from the OPCW and who you have just received as ambassador from Brazil. He guarantees that Iraq does not have weapons of mass destruction”. Blair's response couldn't have been more revealing: "I hope he's not right." Coming from someone who had blindly adhered to the designs of the USA, it was, to say the least, curious.

But José Maurício Bustani's story with the OPCW was not over yet. The Trump administration has accused Syria of using chemical weapons against its own people. It was a new farce mounted by the United States, United Kingdom etc.. The inspection report carried out in Douma, Syria, concluded that there was no use of chemical weapons, but the false mounting of an attack by opponents of Bashar al Assad . The manipulation of images to simulate the situation was evident, in line with the fake news that marked the Trump administration. The blow was so primary that it was not difficult to demonstrate such an absurdity.

At the request of former OPCW senior inspectors who had worked with him, José Maurício Bustani was willing to testify on the matter at an online meeting of the United Nations Security Council. The scene of that meeting appears in the documentary. Right from the beginning, the representative of England opposed José Maurício Bustani's statement, claiming that he had been Director General many years before and that the case was new (despite being essentially the same, including even a prominent role for John Bolton). . The participation of José Maurício Bustani was put to a vote and was not approved. We see the moment when he is dismissed, with no apology for the time taken, he packs up his papers and walks away from the table. It's a rather melancholy scene.

However, the courage and determination of this Brazilian persecuted by the most powerful nation in the world contrasts with the candor, to say the least, of Collin Powell, confessing to having been deceived by the American information services. Remembering that Powell, as Chancellor of the Bush government, vehemently stated at the UN that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that, therefore, it had to be invaded. They also make a contrast with the confession of the former spokesman for the Bush presidency, Richard Boucher, today a professor of History at an American University, that he lied when he verbally attacked José Maurício Bustani during the Bush administration's violent campaign against the Brazilian. But such "posthumous" confessions did not prevent the deaths of thousands of Iraqis and the collapse of the country that their criminal irresponsibility left behind. The situation was made worse by the emergence of the Djihadist movements, the Islamic Army, with the well-known consequences for the Middle East and the rest of the world.

The drama experienced by Ambassador José Maurício Bustani is reminiscent of Henrik Ibsen's character in The enemy of the people. There, the doctor from a Norwegian resort town, Dr. Stockmann, denounces a public health problem whose solution would affect the tourist business that supported it. Faced with this perspective, everyone turns against him, who is now considered a public enemy and ends up ruined. Defending the truth against the interests of the powerful is a thankless and frustrating mission. Fortunately, the moody pianist at the beginning of this film is a high-level erudite musician and finds in this art that has followed him since childhood, the comfort and joy that Ibsen's doctor did not find.

*Isabel Lustosa is a researcher and historian at the Rui Barbosa Foundation.


A Common Man's Symphony
Brazil, 2023, documentary, 84 minutes
Directed by: Jose Joffily


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