Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Further Fallout in LatAm Over NSA Spying Revelations

A report detailing alleged National Security Agency surveillance activity in Latin America has ruffled feathers across the region, with several countries demanding explanations from the United States government about the claims.

Citing documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the article published in yesterday’s O Globo claims that the United States was monitoring telephone communications and internet activity throughout the region. According to O Globo, much of the NSA’s surveillance programs targeted Colombia, where it monitored drug trafficking and guerrilla activity. The agency also apparently focused on issues related to U.S. economic interests, tracking communications associated with the Venezuelan oil industry as well as Mexico’s energy sector. The report mentions NSA surveillance in over a dozen Latin American countries, including Argentina, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Paraguay, Chile and El Salvador.


As Reuters notes, the governments of many of these countries have expressed alarm over the revelation. In Brazil, where two previous O Globo pieces on NSA surveillance in the country caused President Dilma Rousseff to condemn it as a “violation of sovereignty,” the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has requested a meeting with US Ambassador Thomas Shannon, and others in the Senate are urging her to cancel her planned state visit to the U.S. in October.


The first head of state to raise the issue outside of Brazil was Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who in a speech yesterday called on Mercosur to issue a strongly-worded response to the allegations in a meeting planned for this Friday, Pagina 12 reports.

While Fernandez’s indignant response was predictable, it seems outrage has spread to leaders on better terms with the U.S. as well.

Mexico’s El Universal reports that the country’s Foreign Ministry has also requested a formal explanation “through diplomatic channels” from the United States on its espionage activity in Mexico in the first three months of the year.


Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, who has improved relations with Washington since coming to office, voiced concern over the NSA programs in an interview yesterday. According to La Republica, he announced that he “opposes such espionage activity,” and believed “it would be good for Congress to investigate matters related to personal information.”


An explanation may be a long time coming, however. The Washington Post notes that U.S. officials have so far refrained from commenting on the matter, only issuing a statement saying “we have been clear that the United States does gather foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations.”



News Briefs

  • While the administration of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff had vowed to press on with efforts to hold a plebiscite on constitutional reforms ahead of elections in October 2014, the president of Brazil’s House of Representatives said yesterday that would not be feasible. Instead, Alves and other leaders in Congress have supported the idea of submitting political reform legislation to a referendum, and have announced that a working group will be set up in the coming months to create a working proposal.
  • WikiLeaks has announced that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has not yet formally applied for asylum in Venezuela, contradicting earlier statements by President Nicolas Maduro and casting further uncertainty on Snowden’s eventual plans.
  • The New York Times takes a critical stance of Cuba’s recent attempts to widen access to the internet for its citizens, noting that the opening of 118 Internet salons around the island fails to cover local demand. The new salons, which charge $4.50 an hour, are also prohibitively expensive for many Cubans.
  • In an extraordinary session on Tuesday, the Permanent Council of the OAS has released a statement condemning the governments of Portugal, Spain, Italy and France for refusing to allow Bolivian President Evo Morales pass through their airspace last week. Spain’s El Pais reports that the organization asked that the European countries issue formal apologies for the incident.
  • The Patriotic Union, a defunct political party that was created by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian Communist Party in 1985, has regained legal recognition after an electoral court ruling, Semana reports. News site Silla Vacia offers some political analysis of the development, arguing that it could represent a threat to the leftist Polo Democratico party in the country.
  • While recent statements by the FARC give the impression that the peace talks in Havana seem to have stalled, El Tiempo reports that some observers claim the rebels have adopted a change in tone in the past week. This has been illustrated by an apparent willingness to engage in dialogue with former president Alvaro Uribe, as well as change the group’s stance on holding a constitutional referendum, a proposal which the government has outright rejected.
  • The three Mexican generals recently released from prison after charges of collusion with drug cartels were thrown out in court will return to military service, according to Mexico’s Reforma.
  • After Honduran police found clothing and identification belonging to kidnapped journalist Anibal Barrow, officials believe they have located his remains near a riverbank south of San Pedro Sula. Before his June 24 kidnapping, Barrow hosted a popular daily news show in the city called “Anibal and nothing more.” The AP reports that his son is running for Congress with the opposition Liberal Party. According to La Prensa’s count, Barrow’s death makes 28 journalists killed in the country since 2010.
  • In Uruguay, the ruling Frente Amplio coailition has set a July 31 deadline for the vote on a bill to legalize cannabis cultivation and sale in the lower house, according to El Pais. While it was initially scheduled to be voted on today, last-minute wavering by congressman Dario Perez (the deciding vote) forced the delay.
  • The case of a pregnant 11 year-old girl in Chile who was raped by her mother’s partner has ignited a debate on abortion in the country, gaining the same kind of national attention that “Beatriz” recently received in El Salvador. Chilean President Sebastian Piñera fueled the controversy yesterday after praising “Belen” (as she is referred to by local press) for her “depth and maturity” in expressing willingness to give birth to the child.