Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Brazil: NSA Surveillance Casts ‘Shadow of Distrust’ on U.S. Relations

As expected, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s meetings with Brazilian officials yesterday were overshadowed by recent revelations of an extensive regional digital surveillance program run by the National Security Agency (NSA). What was surprising, however, was the degree to which Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota openly confronted Kerry on the matter.

O Globo reports that, after meeting privately with Kerry for over an hour, Patriota appeared with him in a joint press conference and announced that the administration of President Dilma Rousseff was unsatisfied with the details his U.S. counterpart had shared about the NSA program. “When there is a lack of information, it may undermine confidence. If it is not resolved in a satisfactory manner, it runs the risk of casting a shadow of distrust on our work,” the foreign minister said.

Kerry responded in a mollifying tone, conceding that “Brazil is owed answers with respect to those questions, and they will get them.” However, as the L.A. Times reports, he also described the NSA programs as something that “we think we must do to provide security not just for Americans but for Brazilians and for people in the world.”

This remark was widely circulated in the Latin American press, with Mexico’s El Universal, Venezuela’s Noticias24, Peru’s Peru21 and Colombia’s Caracol Radio (to name just a few) running the story under variants of the headline: “Kerry says U.S. spying is necessary to protect the world.”

Following the press conference, the AP reports that Kerry met with President Rousseff, although the news agency provides no information on the details of the meeting.  

In spite of Patriota’s statement, it is unlikely that fallout from the surveillance programs will significantly sour U.S.-Brazil relations. As the New York Times and Wall Street Journal both note, Rousseff’s state visit to Washington is still on for October. Ultimately, the scandal may have even provided Brazil with a chance to contrast itself with the U.S. and further solidify its status as a regional leader. As Elena Lazarou, an international relations expert with the Getulio Vargas Foundation, told the NYT: “The surveillance leaks are very serious, but they also give Brazil an opportunity, since the U.S. often presents itself as an example of good leadership.”

News Briefs
  • Animal Politico hosts an op-ed by Aroa de la Fuente Lopez of Mexico’s Fundar Center of Analysis and Research, who looks at a recent report which found that 44 environmental activists have been killed in the country since 2005. While these deaths are often reported as the result of conflicts between local communities, De la Fuente argues that they are in fact murders “in the name of so-called progress and economic interests.” She goes on to question whether the state’s failure to investigate these cases represents an institutional incapacity or simple lack of political will to do so.
  • El Nacional reports that Venezuelan opposition figure Henrique Capriles Radonski has accused the government of President Nicolas Maduro of protecting corrupt officials affiliated with his party while targeting members of the opposition under the guise of an anti-corruption agenda. The remark comes after last week’s arrest of Oscar Lopez, a close aide of Capriles’. Yesterday lawmakers of the ruling PSUV presented evidence they claimed suggested that Lopez received irregular payments and may have been involved in a prostitution ring. A special committee has been created in the National Assembly to investigate the matter. EFE reports that National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello claimed that “in due time” the investigation into Lopez would reach Capriles, who he labeled a “fascist” and a “murder.”
  • Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, who is imprisoned on charges of corruption and human rights abuses, has a new lawyer with a similarly dodgy record. La Republica and Spain’s El Pais report that the lawyer, William Paco Castillo Davila, has defended members of paramilitary death squad Grupo Colina and worked as a judge in the Lima district court before he was removed for corruption in 2001.
  • After candidates backed by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez lost in 12 of Argentina’s 23 provinces in primary elections on Sunday, The Economist looks at her political forecast for the rest of her term, noting that her standing will be far diminished. The AP reports that the legislative elections in October will likely leave her as a “lame duck,” though at the same time it notes she will retain a significant degree of influence. While a source from her administration told Pagina12 that Fernandez’s political force will make minor tweaks to its campaign messaging ahead of October, La Nacion reports that some local politicians of her Peronist Front for Victory (FPV) party are seeking to put some distance between themselves and the administration.
  • O Globo reports on a potential humanitarian crisis in the Brazilian state of Arce, which has seen a major wave of Haitian immigrants in recent years. The paper cites a report released this week by Sao Paulo-based human rights NGO Conectas, which visited a Haitian camp set up by the Arce state government on the outskirts of the city of Brasiléia earlier this month and found its conditions “inhumane.” Although local officials said it was meant for 200 individuals, the camp houses more than 830 Haitian immigrants. Nearly all the immigrants interviewed by Conectas complained of serious lack of basic hygiene in the camp, and investigators found evidence of widespread illness. In its recommendations, Conectas suggests that the federal government assume greater responsibility for managing the camp, with the help of international organizations.
  • The NYT looks at Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s proposal to open up the state monopoly over oil production to foreign investment, highlighting its potential benefits to the United States. According to oil industry experts, the initiative would help the U.S. reduce dependence on OPEC oil producers, and could boost Mexico’s production by much as 25 percent by 2024. The passage of the reform is far from guaranteed, however, as members of both the opposition PAN and PRD parties have criticized it publicly. Indeed, even small reforms to PEMEX have become something of a pipe dream for Mexican politicians in recent years. El Universal reports that of 125 PEMEX reform initiatives presented since 2000, only 26 have successfully made it into Mexico's law books.
  • After U.S. drug officials made it clear that they were displeased by the recent release of Mexican trafficker Rafael Caro Quintero, Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Jose Antonio Mead announced that the government was working to reverse the lower court decision and put the individual behind bars again.
  • Chilean former president and current presidential candidate Michelle Bachelet has weighed in on Barrick Gold Corp's controversial Pascua-Lama gold mine project, which was suspended last month after a court sided with indigenous groups and ordered Barrick to comply with environmental standards before continuing. In a remarks to foreign journalists on Monday, Bachelet said  the company “has a responsibility to implement all measures relating to water systems and other things it must do so that it can be given the go-ahead or not.” Reuters notes that this response was somewhat coy, as she avoided saying whether she was in favor of the mine or not.
  • The Miami Herald notes that, although recent polls have shown that residents of Latin American countries are largely against marijuana legalization, a new Pew Research Center survey shows that 51 percent of U.S. Latinos support it, and may have even been the deciding factors in the recent Colorado and Washington ballot initiatives.
  • On Tuesday, an anonymous government official in Panama told Reuters that the crew of the North Korean ship caught smuggling outdated, largely useless Cuban weapons parts through the Panama Canal last month will likely be released shortly, and are expected to return to their country directly or through Cuba. 

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