Latin America & Caribbean

Why a Lebanese village welcomes Brazil's new president

Nizar Temer (l) holds a picture taken with his cousin Michel Temer Image copyright AFP
Image caption Nizar Temer (l) says his cousin Michel Temer has made the village proud

Thousands of miles from Brazil, a small village in northern Lebanon is celebrating the South American country's new president.

Btaaboura is a typical Lebanese village, where olive groves are the most common sight, and the days go by very slowly.

But it has recently attracted much attention due to one curious fact: it is the ancestral home of Michel Temer.

Mr Temer, a 75-year-old law professor, became Brazil's interim president on Thursday after Brazil's Senate voted in favour of launching impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff and suspended her from office for the duration of the trial.

"Now that he has become president, I wish that he unites the people in Brazil and follows in the footsteps of his ancestral hometown of Btaaboura, where the population is united and its sons always seek the best," says Btaaboura's mayor, Bassam Barbar.

"I hope he solves the problems facing Brazilians who are much divided and need someone to bring them together," he adds.

Image copyright Bassam Barbar
Image caption Mr Temer last visited Btaaboura in 2011

Mr Temer's family lived in Btaaboura until 1925 and his sister and two brothers were born there.

And Mr Barbar is keen to welcome the leader of South America's most populous nation back to Btaaboura.

"I will send him a message saying how proud we are of him and how we're looking forward his third visit, now as president," Mr Barbar told the BBC.

Mr Temer, who was born in Sao Paulo in 1940, has already visited the village of his ancestors twice, in 1997 and 2011.

He may not be overly popular in Brazil, where a recent poll suggested that 58% reject him as president, but according to Mr Barbar, in Btaaboura all 700 inhabitants support him.

One of the streets there was named after him when he last visited in 2011.

A plaque proudly proclaimed in both Portuguese and Arabic: "Michel Temer Street, Vice-President of Brazil".

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Media captionThe new president of Brazil has family roots in the village of Btaaboura in Lebanon, where there is a "Temer Street"

And just a week before Mr Temer became interim president, a garden built in his honour at a cost of $100,000 (£70,000) was inaugurated in Btaaboura.

On the day after Mr Temer took over Brazil's top job, Mayor Barbar organised a village fete complete with traditional Lebanese musicians and a belly dancer.

After the fireworks, a smiling Mr Barbar went to Michel Temer Street and, spray can in hand, sprayed over the word "vice".

'Unconditional support'

Mr Temer's unpopularity back in Brazil stems partly from how he has been named as part of Operation Car Wash, a massive corruption investigation into state oil company Petrobras. Mr Temer has denied any wrongdoing.

But in Btaaboura, interest in the allegations against Mr Temer seems to be minimal.

"I am not following the accusations against him and do not know much about his political career. I support him only for the fact he is of Lebanese origin," explains local businessman Michel El Mir.

Electrician Elias Soueid is a Brazilian-Lebanese who comes from Mr Temer's birthplace of Tiete.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The house once owned by President Michel Temer's parents now lies abandoned

He moved back to Lebanon 50 years ago, married a Lebanese woman and had three children.

He says Mr Temer's family often visited his family when he still lived in Brazil.

"When he came to Btaaboura in 1997, he recognised me and we exchanged some words. I like him, despite what they say about him in Brazil," he told the BBC.

The 200-year-old house that belonged to Mr Temer's family is partially destroyed and has been abandoned for over 70 years.

But his Lebanese cousin, Nizar Temer, a civil engineer, lives just next door and is planning on turning it into a museum.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Locals hope President Temer will improve ties between Lebanon and Brazil

"It is a symbol for us in Btaaboura, that someone from this village can be successful abroad," he says.

Mr Temer is by no means the first Brazilian of Lebanese origin to succeed.

The mayor of Brazil's biggest city and the country's financial hub, Sao Paulo, is Fernando Haddad, who also has Lebanese roots.

Mr Haddad's predecessor in the post, Gilberto Kassab, and Sao Paulo state governor, Geraldo Alckmin, are also of Lebanese origin.

Mr Temer's cousin Nizar thinks this link can only lead to good things: "Many villages in Lebanon have their sons around the world doing amazing things."

"I believe Michel Temer can do a lot for Brazil, and maybe Lebanon, forging greater ties between the two countries," he says.

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