Monday, September 2, 2013

NSA ‘Spied on’ Brazilian and Mexican Presidents

Journalist Glenn Greenwald has revealed fresh details about the surveillance activity of the National Security Agency (NSA) in Latin America, the specifics of which are sure to spark further controversy in the region.

Last night the Brazilian news program “Fantastico” revealed that Greenwald had obtained a June 2012 document leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, which showed that the intelligence agency gained access to the personal communications of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

In the latter case, the Mexican leader had not even been elected president, and at the time of the document’s publication was the leading candidate in polls. The document allegedly cites Peña Nieto’s personal correspondence, in which he indicates who he would name to several government posts.

In Rousseff’s case, the document showed that the NSA had mapped out the communication patterns of her administration by monitoring the president’s communications with aides as well as these aides’ communications with one another and other administration figures.  In an email to the AP, Greenwald told the news agency that the document “doesn't include any of Dilma's specific intercepted messages, the way it does for [Peña] Nieto…But it is clear in several ways that her communications were intercepted, including the use of DNI Presenter, which is a program used by NSA to open and read emails and online chats.”

So far, neither leader has commented on the revelation, although O Globo reports that the Brazilian minister of justice, Eduardo Cardozo, said that if the document is confirmed it would be a “clear violation” of the country’s sovereignty.

It is likely that the Rousseff and Peña Nieto administrations will offer some comment later today as the story picks up steam, especially considering their immediate reactions to the news that the NSA was conducting surveillance operations throughout the region earlier this year. Last month, Brazil’s foreign minister warned that the NSA surveillance could cast a “shadow of distrust” on U.S.-Brazil relations, and this revelation is sure to make the situation worse. It may also have far-reaching implications for relations with Mexico, potentially making Peña Nieto less open to cooperation with U.S. intelligence, which he has already scaled back considerably since taking office.


News Briefs
  • The legal battle between the Argentine government and the powerful Clarin media group is seeing a final showdown. On August 28, the Argentine Supreme Court began to hear arguments over a controversial media regulation law passed in 2009, the implementation of which would require Clarin to divest some of its television, radio and cable broadcast licenses. The court heard arguments from Clarin and government lawyers, as well as the positions of journalists and civil society groups both for and against the law. While Clarin and the law’s detractors claim that it amounts to an attack on freedom of the press, the AP reports that supporters note it is based partially on media ownership limits enforced by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. Horacio Verbitsky of the Center for Legal Studies (CELS), an organization which has supported the law since its passage, claims in an op-ed for Pagina12 that Clarin’s arguments were often contradictory, and did not effectively challenge the constitutionality of the law. “On the one hand, [Clarin’s lawyers] argue that the concentration it has achieved in 68 years of existence does not exceed 40 percent of the audiovisual market,” he writes. “On the other, they insist that complying with the 35 percent cap set by the law would extinguish the only critical voice that exists in the country.” The court ended the hearing on Thursday, and is set to issue a definitive ruling on the matter in the near future.
  • As expected, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) issued a joint declaration on Syria, in which the regional bloc denounced “external interventions which are incompatible with the UN Charter,” as well as “the development of any kind of interventionist strategies,” a clear reference to the U.S. government’s willingness to carry out an attack without a UN mandate. The organization also condemned the use of any form of chemical weapon as a “war crime and crime against humanity,” and affirmed the need to address the matter through the framework of international law.
  • As the UNASUR summit was wrapping up in Suriname on Friday, the president of the South American nation, Desi Bouterse, received some bad news. His son Dino was arrested in Panama City’s international airport on Thursday. Reuters reports that charges were filed against Dino in a Manhattan federal court for conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the U.S. and for allegedly carrying “an anti-tank rocket launcher and pistols during a drug-related crime.” According to Al Jazeera English, Dino has pled not guilty to the charges. 
  • In remarks that BBC calls “an unprecedented analysis of the country's economic ills coming from a top government official,” yesterday Venezuelan Finance Minister Nelson Merentes offered a cynical take on the health of the Venezuelan economy. While he noted that Chavista-supported social spending had improved living standards, the government “lacked economic success,” and should foster a “period of stable growth” in order to remedy this.
  • Reuters has an investigation into the situation faced by immigrants in Brazil, many of which come from poorer Latin American nations like Bolivia, Peru and Haiti. While the government has attempted to assist immigrants and crack down on labor abuses, the news agency reports that immigrant welfare initiatives are notoriously understaffed and underfunded, and life remains hard for those seeking a better life in Brazilian cities.
  • As rural protests in Colombia heated up last week and spread to the capital city of Bogota, El Tiempo reported on Thursday night President Juan Manuel Santos ordered some 50,000 troops to patrol the city streets and major highways around the country. According to the Wall Street Journal, the crackdown had some impact, with no major demonstrations taking place in the capital city the next day.  Meanwhile, the Santos administration appears to be making headway in its negotiations with the various organizations taking part in demonstrations. On Friday campesino groups lifted roadblocks around the country in response to dialogue with the government, and the president signed an agreement with local indigenous groups in the southwestern province of Nariño to end the strike there on Sunday.
  • While the dialogue between the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas is still making slow progress and no major breakthrough was made at the end the latest round of talks on Friday, there was an interesting announcement that went under the radar last Monday. On August 26 the two negotiating parties announced an agreement to sponsor a citizen forum on “the problem of illicit drugs,” to be held in two parts in the coming weeks. According to a joint press release, the first part will take place in late September in Bogota, and will bring together civil society actors, government officials and academics who have participated in similar recent forums meant to supplement the peace talks. The second part will be held in the town of San Jose del Guaviare, which will seek input from rural stakeholders, including small farmers, local authorities, indigenous and Afro-Colombian organizations.
  • The International Crisis Group has released a new report on the prospects for transitional justice in Colombia, which includes recommendations to all parties in the country’s conflict. Among these is the recommendation that the government give amnesty to all “political crimes” of the FARC while prosecuting those most responsible for “serious international crimes” and creating an independent truth commission to look into abuses.
  • The Associated Press has an overview of Uruguay’s marijuana regulation bill, which President Jose Mujica recently compared to the country’s state-managed liquor business, which has been in place since the early 20th century. The AP notes that, as with liquor, the idea behind marijuana regulation is reducing harm for potential users, minimizing their odds of accessing other more harmful products.