Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Brazil Seeks to Question Snowden

The Associated Press reports that Brazilian Federal Police as well as a Senate committee investigating the recent revelations about the U.S. National Security Agency’s surveillance programs in Brazil want to question former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Jose Alberto Freitas, director of the Federal Police’s intelligence division, told the Senate committee yesterday that questioning Snowden was a “top priority” for his office. Senator Ricardo Ferraco, the head of the committee, said that on Thursday he intended to ask the Russian government for permission to speak with Snowden via a video conference.

Brazil’s interest in speaking to Snowden is fairly straightforward. With Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff canceling a planned visit to Washington over the leaks, and new revelations suggesting that U.S. (and now Canadian) intelligence agencies are spying on economic actors in their country, Brazil is keen to get a better idea of the scope of these activities. And with even more leaks on the horizon, officials likely hope to gain some clues about the content of future disclosures.

For Snowden, however, the benefit of talking to Brazilian officials is far less clear, as it could land him in hot water. The U.S. has already charged Snowden with “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person,” and speaking to Brazilian authorities about the classified material would likely further bolster the case against him.

While Glenn Greenwald, the American journalist who has been most active in publishing Snowden’s leaks, has spoken to the Brazilian Senate committee about the leaks in general terms, even he took great care to avoid violating U.S. law. As the AP reported last week:
When the senators pushed him to provide the Brazilian government access to the leaked documents at his disposal, Greenwald balked and said there should always be strict separation between governments and journalists. 
Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, also appearing before the senators, added that the documents wouldn’t be given to the Brazilian government because it would be an “act of treason” that could prevent Greenwald from ever entering the U.S. again.
If Snowden does agree to speak with Brazilian officials, it may raise new concerns about the legitimacy of his whistleblowing, which has already been widely questioned. After all, denouncing the mass surveillance of private phone and internet communications around the world to journalists is one thing, but providing details of U.S. intelligence operations directly to a foreign government is a separate matter entirely.


 News Briefs
  • The director of CONSEP, Ecuador’s national drug policy council, is in Montevideo for a series of meetings with his Uruguayan counterparts to discuss deepening bilateral cooperation on drug policy, La Red21 reports. CONSEP Director Rodrigo Velez told local press that his country is looking “with interest” at Uruguay’s marijuana legalization experiment, though he also claimed that his country’s location between the two largest coca-producing nations (Peru and Colombia) required it to be “very disciplined” in its approach to the war on drugs. “Otherwise, we would have the thousands of [cocaine] laboratories seen in our neighboring countries,” said Velez.
  • Thousands of protestors took to the streets in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro yesterday in support of striking teachers unions and an improved education system. While the protests, which coincided with Brazil’s national “Teachers' Day,” were largely peaceful, BBC Brazil reports that anarchist “Black Bloc” groups escalated tensions at the demonstrations, damaging commercial property and setting street fires. The group was profiled in a recently published report by Brazil’s Igarapé Institute, which provides an excellent overview of the group’s loose, horizontal structure as well as the relationship between police related violence and the movement’s emergence. According to the report’s authors, Brazil´s Black Bloc has only recently begun organizing on social networking sites, and only began establishing an online presence “during the first week of protest in June 2013.”
  • Over at the Americas Quarterly Blog, Wilda Escarfuller and Adam Frankel offer a sobering look at structural racism in the region, pointing to the findings of AQ’s recently-released 2013 Social Inclusion Index. While Colombia and Brazil -- which have the largest Afro-descendant populations in the region -- are making inroads against racial inequality in recent years, persistent economic and educational disparities have kept progress limited on this front.
  • Spain’s El Pais has an overview an electoral reform proposal submitted by Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which would among other things require political parties to use only public funds in their campaigns. Meanwhile, the World Politics Review has an interview with Mexican political analyst John Ackerman, who argues that the PRI is against meaningful electoral reform, “particularly in the areas of oversight of campaign spending, media independence and voter freedoms.”
  • The New York Times profiles a new report prepared by the Worker Rights Consortium, which concluded that Haitian garment factories are systemically violating wage laws by avoiding overtime pay and setting unrealistic production quotas. While the report looked at only five of Haiti’s 24 garment factories, it found reason to suggest that “the majority of Haitian garment workers are being denied nearly a third of the wages they are legally due as a result of the factories’ theft of their income.”
  • The owners of the U.S.-operated oil ship which was seized by the Venezuelan navy on Thursday have told reporters that the vessel and its crew were released. Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of Venezuela and Guyana (which both claim that the ship was in their maritime territory when it was seized) are set to meet Trinidad and Tobago tomorrow to settle the border dispute, Reuters reports.
  • At Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights, Hugo Perez Hernaiz and David Smilde look at how the diverse makeup of the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition has led to divisions in local races ahead of municipal elections in December.
  • In The Guardian, environmental reporter David Hill has a critical take on Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa’s recent decision to open the Yasuni Amazon reserve to oil drilling. Hill argues that Correa’s defense of the move was dishonest, and that the president overstated its potential economic benefits and minimized the local environmental impact it would have.
  • After an effort by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives to pass legislation averting a debt default and ending a partial government shutdown collapsed last night, governments around the world are watching the situation with increasing apprehension. While a U.S. debt default would have serious implications around the world, Latin America would be particularly negatively affected, according to The International Business Times.
  • In March, the U.S. government signed a deal with Brazil’s São Paulo state, which Foreign Affairs recently described as “the first time that the U.S. State Department forged ‘direct relations’ with a subnational government in the southern hemisphere.” In the Miami Herald, columnist Andres Oppenheimer argues that this heralds a new era of U.S. diplomacy based on local and regional agreements rather than relations with national governments. This would be a major shift because, as Oppenheimer notes,  “many of the Latin American countries that are most hostile to the United States have their capitals or second-largest cities run by opposition leaders who would welcome more U.S. investments, trade and educational exchanges. The cities of Caracas, Buenos Aires, Guayaquil and Santa Cruz are just some of them.”