Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s government is taking measures to avert a confrontation over disputed territory between Amazon Indian tribes and farmers who are believed to have encroached on their historic lands.
It says it will begin to forcibly evict non-indigenous people occupying reserves and protected forests who have been ordered off the land by local courts.
The disputes go to the heart of the delicate balance between economic growth and conservation as companies pursue forest and mineral expansion into the traditional Amazon forest heartland.
In mid-January, Brasilia redeployed hundreds of soldiers and police, backed by tanks and helicopters, to enforce a June 2013 court order to evict nearly 7,000 farmers and ranchers from the Awá-Guajá reserve in the northeastern state of Maranhão.
Earlier this week, the government said it hoped to have all farmers and ranchers evicted from the area by April. There are concerns that recent clashes between indigenous peoples and ranchers could have a spillover effect into more states.
Last June, Minister of Justice Jose Eduardo Cardozo ordered the deployment of an elite military unit to Sidrolandia in southern Mato Grosso state, after indigenous peasants were killed by landowners’ employees.
The number of land disputes – and the ensuing violence, seizures and confiscations – have increased in the past several years, a 2012 report by the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) said.
“Problems facing the indigenous population include murders, death threats, lack of health care and education, and delays in registering land ownership,” CIMI says in its report.
In the meantime, Rousseff has promised to suspend demarcating borders in disputed zones and said new rules will soon be in place.
Land disputes, and often the violent confrontations that ensue, have for decades posed challenges to Brazil’s government.
Advocates from the Landless Farmers Movement have for the past three years pressured Rousseff to expedite land redistribution to landless and indigenous farmers.
Rousseff is herself also being pressured by landowners.
In April 2012, Brazil’s Congress caved in to land lobbyists and voted greater flexibility regarding how much forest land farmers are required to conserve.
While Brazilian laws since 1965 call for protection of forests – including some 13 per cent of the land allocated as preserves for indigenous populations, the Congress vote weakened the means to enforce them.
There was no provision, for example, that forced landowners to reforest land that they had already cleared.
Although Rousseff vetoed portions of the bill, including a segment that issued amnesty to illegal loggers, and sent it back to Congress for a rewrite in May 2012, deforestation has dramatically surged since.
Brazil is pushing ahead with plans to boost its Internet security by developing an undersea fibre-optics communications cable that would reroute its online traffic directly to Europe, bypassing the United States.
State-owned telecom provider Telebras recently announced that it was entering into a joint venture with Spain’s IslaLink Submarine Cables to build a link between the northeastern city of Fortaleza and the Iberian Peninsula.
The undersea cable is budgeted at $185 million and construction is scheduled to begin in July.
Brazil, along with most Central and South American countries, traditionally routes its Internet traffic through the Network Access Point, which is hosted in Miami, Florida.
Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa currently use hubs in Europe and the US to connect to one another, which translates into higher costs and leaves open the opportunity for data interception and theft.
Telebras project coordinator Ronald Valladão says the cable will boost Brazil’s Internet security and cut online costs for the consumer.
“This new submarine cable provides a direct connection to the European continent, decreasing latency. It is expected that this will result in cost reductions,” he recently told the media.
Since Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor who leaked vital intelligence to the media on US domestic and overseas surveillance, published information that Washington was aggressively spying on Brazilian officials, including the president, Brasilia has made Internet security and communications a priority.
Brazil and its fellow BRICS partners are also moving ahead with building a massive undersea cable that would connect all members.
By the time it is completed, the BRICS Cable will be the third longest undersea telecommunications cable in the world, covering a distance of 34,000km.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has also pushed a new Internet bill that would compel Google, Facebook and other networks to store locally gathered data in the country, and not on overseas servers.
The new legislation would force foreign-based Internet companies to maintain data centres inside Brazil that would then be governed by Brazilian privacy laws, officials said.
Rousseff has repeatedly said that the US spying regimen is unacceptable, and postponed an official visit to the US originally scheduled for October 23 in protest.
“The illegal practices of intercepting the communications and data of citizens, companies and members of the Brazilian government constitute a serious act against national sovereignty and individual rights, and incompatible with the democratic coexistence of friendly countries,” a presidential statement said when revelations of espionage in Brazil were made public.
On November 24, Brazil and Argentina urged other South American countries to discuss a bilateral treaty on cyber-security.
On November 27, the UN Rights Committee passed a “right to privacy” resolution, drafted by Brazil and Germany.
The Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, which deals with social, humanitarian and cultural affairs, unanimously adopted the resolution, saying surveillance and data interception by governments and companies “may violate or abuse human rights.”
In late January, talks between Brazil and the US failed to satisfactorily answer the spying charges or eke out a “permanent solution” to restore bilateral ties damaged by the Snowden revelations.
Brazil on Thursday said the US has not been able to satisfactorily answer the spying charges or eke out a “permanent solution” to restore bilateral ties damaged by the revelations.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo met Thursday with US National Security Advisor Susan Rice in Washington.
According to a report by the Brazilian daily O Globo, the talks failed to resolve the matter.
The Brazilian Minister said his meeting with Rice did not signify a permanent solution to the tension between the two countries, created by reports of massive US government snooping amid continued revelations based on documents leaked by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
“A conversation at this level will not lead to an improvement in relations,” Figueiredo said, stressing, however, that the dialogue between the two sides will continue.
During the talks, Rice presented the US government’s defense of its espionage scheme, said Figueiredo, adding those explanations now need to be relayed to President Dilma Rousseff. The Brazilian President had earlier canceled a state visit to the US after the spying charges were first reported.
America has failed to provide clarifications that the Brazilian government required, Figueiredo added.
Bilateral ties were hit after leaked NSA files revealed the US intelligence agency intercepted Brazilian communications and spied on Rousseff and her aides and on the state-owned Petrobras, the largest company in Brazil and one of the 30 biggest businesses in the world.
Rousseff had earlier said the US spying program was “economic espionage”. In November last year, the “right to privacy” resolution, drafted by Brazil and Germany, was passed by the UN rights committee.
Rousseff and Kirchner at the UN, 2013. – Roberto Stuckert Filho
The only thing missing from Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s speech at the UN General Assembly last month was “it still smells like sulfur.” For those who don’t remember, these were the immortal words of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez in 2006, describing the podium where “the Devil”—his name for President George W. Bush—had spoken the day before. Chávez’s speech received hearty applause and prompted some New Yorkers to hang a banner from a highway overpass that said “Wake Up and Smell the Sulfur.”
Dilma’s speech also got a lot of applause at the General Assembly, and because she spoke immediately before President Barack Obama, her remarks were even more pointed. She presented a stinging rebuke to the Obama administration’s mass surveillance operations, at home and abroad:
“As many other Latin Americans, I fought against authoritarianism and censorship, and I cannot but defend, in an uncompromising fashion, the right to privacy of individuals and the sovereignty of my country. In the absence of the right to privacy, there can be no true freedom of expression and opinion, and therefore no effective democracy. In the absence of the respect for sovereignty, there is no basis for the relationship among nations. We face, Mr. President, a situation of grave violation of human rights and of civil liberties; of invasion and capture of confidential information concerning corporate activities, and especially of disrespect to national sovereignty.”
Dilma also took a swipe at Obama’s previously planned—and then cancelled due to popular demand—bombing of Syria: “[W]e repudiate unilateral interventions contrary to international law, without Security Council authorization.”
Her remarks were a reminder, and for some a new discovery, that the differences among the left-of-center governments of South America on hemispheric and foreign policy issues were mostly a matter of style and rhetoric, not of substance. The speech came in the wake of the cancellation of Dilma’s scheduled October state visit to the White House, which would have been the first by a Brazilian president in nearly two decades. It was another blow to the Obama administration’s tepid efforts to improve relations with Brazil, and with South America in general.
At this moment, U.S.-South American relations are probably even worse than they were during the George W. Bush years, despite the huge advantage that President Obama has in terms of media image, and therefore popularity, in the hemisphere. This illustrates how deeply structural the problem of hemispheric relations has become, and how unlikely they are to become warmer in the foreseeable future.
The fundamental cause of the strained relationship is that Washington refuses to recognize that there is a new reality in the region, now that a vast South American majority has elected left governments. In Washington’s foreign policy establishment—including most think tanks and other sources of analysis and opinion—there has been almost no acknowledgement that a new strategy might be necessary. Of course, most of the foreign policy establishment doesn’t care much about Latin America these days. And there is no electoral price to be paid for stupidity that leads to worsening relations with the region. On the contrary, the main electoral pressure on the White House comes from the far right, including neocons and old-guard Cuban-Americans. And Obama is not above caving to these interests when the White House and State Department are not already on their side. But among those who do care about Latin America—from an imperial point of view—the lack of imagination is breathtaking.
The establishment has, over the past 15 years, sometimes adopted a “good left, bad left” strategy that sought first and foremost to try and isolate Venezuela, often lumping in Bolivia, Ecuador, and sometimes Argentina as the “bad left.” But in the halls of power, they really do not like any of the left governments and are hoping to get rid of them all. In 2005, according to State Department documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the U.S. government promoted legislation within Brazil that would have weakened the Workers’ Party, funding efforts to promote a legal change that would make it more difficult for legislators to switch parties. This would have strengthened the opposition to Lula’s Workers’ party (PT) government, since the PT has party discipline but many opposition politicians do not.
So it is not surprising that Brazil has been, according to the documents revealed by former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, the top Latin American target for U.S. spying. It is a lot like all the other left governments that Washington would like to get rid of, only bigger. It is true that countries with U.S.-allied governments like Mexico were also targeted, but in the context of Brazil’s alliance with other left governments, the large-scale espionage there—which reportedly included monitoring of Dilma’s personal phone calls and emails—takes on a different meaning.
In the past decade of Workers’ Party government, Brazil has lined up fairly consistently with the other left governments on hemispheric issues and relations with the United States. When the Bush administration tried to expand its military presence in Colombia, Brazil was there with the rest of the region in opposition. The same was true when Washington aided and abetted the overthrow of “targets of opportunity” among the left governments: Honduras in 2009 and Paraguay in 2012—although in these cases Washington and its allies still prevailed. Brazil also supported other efforts at regional integration and independence, including UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations), which has played an important role in defending member countries from right-wing destabilization attempts as in Bolivia in 2008, or in the April elections in Venezuela, where the Obama administration supported opposition efforts to overturn the results with obviously false claims of electoral fraud (A CEPR study showed that the probability of getting the April 14 election day audit results confirming Nicolás Maduro’s win, if the vote had actually been stolen, was less than one in 25 thousand trillion).
Lula made a conscious decision that Brazil would look more to the south and less to the United States as a leader in its foreign and commercial policy. In an interview with the Argentine daily Pagina 12 this past October, he explained how important the turning point of Mar del Plata was, when the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) was finally buried at the Summit of the Americas in 2005:
“It was fundamental that we had stopped this proposal to form the FTAA, at Mar del Plata. It was not a true project of integration, but one of economic annexation. With its sovereignty affirmed, South America looked for its own path and a much more constructive one. . . . When we analyze this history of South America we can see that it is one great conquest. If we had not avoided the FTAA, the region would not have been able to take the economic and social leap forward that it did in the past decade. Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela played a central role in this process. Néstor Kirchner and Hugo Chávez were two great allies in accomplishing this.”
In 2002, when Lula was elected, Brazil’s exports to the United States were 26.4% of its total exports. By 2011, they were down to 10.4%. Meanwhile, China’s economy is by some measures already bigger than the U.S. economy, and it may well double in size over the next decade. That projection, which would require only a 7.2% annual rate of growth, is quite probable, as likely as any ten-year projection for the United States—perhaps even more so. The United States will become increasingly less important to Brazil, and to South America generally. Given that Washington still does not respect Latin American sovereignty, much less the goals and aspirations of its democratic governments, the steady decline of U.S. economic power has to be seen as a good thing for the region.
Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy.
On Thursday, the Brookings Institution issued a memo to President Obama titled “Venezuela Breaks Down in Violence.” As might be expected from the title, the memo (and an accompanying video) depicts an alarming situation where
Venezuela is experiencing declining export revenues, accelerating inflation and widespread shortages of basic consumer goods. At the same time, the Maduro administration has foreclosed peaceful options for Venezuelans to bring about a change in its current policies.
But, contrary to the alarmist title, the violence is only a possibility in the future: “Economic mismanagement in Venezuela has reached such a level that it risks inciting a violent popular reaction,” and further on the reader learns that actually “[t]he risk of a violent outcome may still be low…”
The possibility of such chaos is troubling to the author, Harold Trinkunas since “it is in the U.S. interest that Venezuela remain a reliable source of oil,” while “[p]opular unrest in a country with multiple armed actors, including the military, the militia, organized crime and pro-government gangs, is a recipe for unwelcome chaos and risks an interruption of oil production.”
Trinkunas, who “previously served as an associate professor and chair of the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California” urges the Obama administration to take action. At the top of his recommendations is for the U.S. to enlist Brazil – “whose interests are also at risk” – in an attempt “to convince the Maduro administration to shift course.”
Trinkunas makes clear what course he wants the U.S. government to take should a crisis result in Maduro being removed from power. While one might think that such a hypothetical scenario would indeed be one when the Inter-American Democratic Charter should be invoked (Trinkunas suggests that it be used against Maduro now), that would be naïve. Instead:
…we should also begin quiet conversations with others in the hemisphere on what steps to take should Venezuela experience a violent breakdown of political order. Such an event could potentially fracture the regional consensus on democracy on a scale much greater than that of the Honduran coup in 2009. Maduro’s allies in the region would most likely push for his immediate restoration, but in the absence of functioning democratic institutions, this would only compound Venezuela’s internal crisis. The United States would need to work with key states in the region—Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Peru and Colombia—on a regional consensus in favor of rebuilding democracy in Venezuela.
In other words, should a coup occur, Trinkunas wants the U.S. to “work with” the Latin American countries it is closer to politically – and also Brazil – to help it succeed. This is in fact what the Bush administration attempted to do during the short-lived 2002 coup against Hugo Chávez, and the Obama administration worked to ensure that the 2009 coup against the democratically-elected government of Honduras would succeed.
Of course Trinkunas seems to be unaware – despite a passing reference to “distance from the United States over NSA surveillance issues” – that in recent years Brazil’s government has not shied from challenging U.S. foreign policy on a variety of hot-button issues, including over Iran’s nuclear program, the FTAA, and a planned U.S.-Colombia military bases agreement. Brazil led the South American opposition to the Honduran coup and refused to recognize the new government of Pepe Lobo following the November 2009 elections in Honduras. Former president Lula da Silva – who has hinted at another presidential run in 2018 – was always vocal about his support for the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chávez and released a video in support of Maduro ahead of the April elections last year.
Perhaps Trinkunas can be forgiven if he isn’t aware of these things; they aren’t talked about much in Washington foreign policy circles, where Brazil is still often referred to as part of the “good left” – unlike Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina and other bad apples.
Why is Trinkunas so concerned that Venezuela could soon collapse into violence? He cites a number of economic factors, some vague, some not. He frets, for example, about “declining” output by state oil company PDVSA, and that Venezuela had “the highest inflation rate in the world in 2013.” But as CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot recently pointed out in a contribution to the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor:
inflation appears to have stabilized. Inflation data for November and December show a monthly rate of 4.8 percent and 2.2 percent, putting the three-month annualized rate at 60.6 percent; the annual rate for 2013 was 56.1 percent.
Further, citing an analysis by Bank of America, Weisbrot states:
BOA sees Venezuela’s current debt as sustainable. A devaluation would not likely have much effect on the economy, as previous devaluations did not. Nor is social unrest a likely prospect, as there are no elections for two years, and most opposition protests in Venezuela tend to focus on elections…
Trinkunas attempts to cast doubt on Venezuela’s electoral process (the same one that former president Jimmy Carter called “the best in the world” ahead of the October 2012 elections). He writes, “A now unified national opposition continues to emphasize elections as the solution, but the playing field is hardly level, and elections are not scheduled to take place again until 2015.” Venezuela observers know that the opposition has been relatively unified for some time now, coming together to support the presidential candidacy of Henrique Capriles in both October 2012 and April 2013. Capriles lost both times, and last month the opposition was dealt a blow by a poorer showing in municipal elections than it had hoped. Analysts and some members and supporters of the opposition now question Capriles’ status as an opposition leader, so if anything the opposition is probably now less unified than it was prior to these recent elections.
Ironically – perhaps unaware that Brookings’ website is available to the public, as is YouTube – Trinkunas writes, “Overt U.S. criticism of the Maduro administration or efforts to exert our limited economic leverage would be grist for the mill of the Venezuelan propaganda machine; we should avoid that.” Certainly if one of the most prominent Venezuelan think-tanks called for supporting the overthrow of the U.S. government, that would simply be ignored by the U.S. “propaganda machine,” right?
‘NSA ruined it!’
Brazil has rejected a contract for Boeing’s F/A-18 fighter jets in favor of the Swedish Saab’s JAS 39 Gripens. The unexpected move to reject the US bid comes amid the global scandal over the NSA’s involvement in economic espionage activities.
The announcement for the purchase of 36 fighters was made Wednesday by Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorim and Air Force Commander Junti Saito. The jets will cost US$4.5 billion, well below the estimated market value of around US$7 billion.
Saito said the development of the fighters will occur in conjunction with Embraer and other unspecified companies.
The 12 Mirage aircraft currently in use by the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) will be retired at the end of this year. They were acquired by Brazil in 2005. As it waits for the new fighters, the FAB will use the F5 style, which will stay viable up to 2025.
During a visit in Brasilia last week, French President Francois Hollande was accompanied by an entourage that included the president of Dassault Group, stirring speculation that the French jet manufacturer had the edge over Saab and Boeing.
Competition over which company would win the right to supply Brazil with the fighter jets began in the late 1990s during Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s administration, continued during Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s time in office and into current President Rousseff’s term. A FAB report in 2010 indicated a preference in Saab, though then-President Lula leaned toward the cheaper Dassault jet, Rafale.
Boeing was considered to have the inside track to win the contract earlier this year, yet revelations of intrusive surveillance of global officials’ communications, including those of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, by the US government’s National Security Agency led to distrust of the American company.
“The NSA problem ruined it for the Americans,” a Brazilian government source told Reuters.
The Chicago-based Boeing’s bid was rejected because of Saab’s better performance and cost of its aircraft as well as “willingness to transfer technology,” defense minister Celso Amorim said, as cited by Bloomberg.
‘Economic espionage’ fallout
Brazil is currently probing reports released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that the spy agency monitored the personal communications of President Rousseff and hacked into government ministries to gather information. Among the institutions targeted by NSA espionage were state oil giant Petrobras and the Ministry of Mines and Energy, contradicting claims by Washington that it did not engage in “economic espionage.”
Rousseff lambasted US spying on her country during the UN General Assembly in September, calling it a “breach of international law.” She further warned that the NSA surveillance, revealed since June, threatened freedom of speech and democracy.
“Meddling in such a manner in the lives and affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and as such it is an affront to the principles that should otherwise govern relations among countries, especially among friendly nations,” Rousseff said.
Just before her address at the UN summit, Rousseff canceled a state visit to Washington, scheduled to take place in October, because of indignation over spying revelations. Rousseff has stated she wants an apology from US President Barack Obama.
Snowden has promised to aid Brazil in a probe into the NSA’s spying program in the country.
“A lot of Brazilian senators have asked me to collaborate with their investigations into suspected crimes against Brazilian citizens,” said Snowden, in an open letter published by Brazilian paper Folha de S.Paulo. Snowden hinted in the letter that he may ask Brazil for asylum.
“The American government will continue to limit my ability to speak out until a country grants me permanent political asylum,” wrote Snowden.
The whistleblower is currently under temporary asylum in Russia. Brazil plans to host a global summit on internet governance in April 2014.
Brazil resident Glenn Greenwald, the former Guardian journalist renowned for publishing Snowden’s leaks, criticized on Wednesday European Union governments’ muted response to the revelations about the NSA’s mass surveillance apparatus. He also contradicted Washington’s claim that no economic espionage is involved amid NSA spying.
“What a lot of this spying is about has nothing to do with terrorism and national security. That is the pretext. It is about diplomatic manipulation and economic advantage.”
On November 7th, Brazil and Germany jointly proposed a preliminary version of a resolution on online privacy at the UN General Assembly. At a time when public outrage over the reach and scope of U.K. and U.S. mass surveillance is at an all time high, the draft resolution is the first official recognition by the UN of the threat that mass surveillance poses to human rights. The draft resolution is significant in many respects but particularly because it condemns “human rights violations and abuses that may result from the conduct of any surveillance of communications, including extraterritorial surveillance of communications… in particular massive surveillance.”
The draft resolution calls upon all states:
- To end privacy violations and prevent further privacy incursions and ensure that national laws, practices and procedures conform to existing international human rights obligations,
- To establish independent national oversight mechanisms capable of maintaining transparency and accountability for state surveillance of communications,
- Requests the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to submit a report to the General Assembly on the protection of the right to privacy.
If adopted, this will be the first General Assembly resolution on the right to privacy since 1988. This represents an excellent opportunity for states to update their understanding of international human rights law in the context of the massive technological developments that have taken place over the last 25 years.
While introducing the draft resolution, the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations New York drew attention to the 24th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) side event organized last September by Germany and Norway. During this meeting, member states engaged in a robust debate of online surveillance. EFF, Privacy International, Human Rights Watch, Access, APC, Article 19 and a coalition of 290 NGOs presented formally the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance, a set of principles that provide States with a framework to evaluate whether current or proposed surveillance laws and practices are consistent with human rights. These principles have been cited in the new Mexican telecom reform bill, in op-eds and editorials in different countries, refered by policy makers in Sweden and the United Kingdom, and translated in more than 31 languages. During the 24th HRC, we also submitted an official statement calling on states to ensure that advances in technology do not lead to disproportionate increases in states’ interference with the private lives of individuals.
A few weeks earlier, during the opening of the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly, the Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff, made clear the indignation and repudiation in public opinion around the world regarding the revelations of a global network of electronic espionage:
“In Brazil, the situation was even more serious, as it emerged that we were targeted by this intrusion. Personal data of citizens was intercepted indiscriminately. Corporate information – often of high economic and even strategic value – was at the center of espionage activity. Also, Brazilian diplomatic missions, among them the Permanent Mission to the United Nations and the Office of the President of the Republic itself, had their communications intercepted.”
We hope that member states join Brazil and Germany in explicitly condemning mass surveillance by supporting the draft resolution as is currently written, and stay vigilant against watering-down of the text by countries who would continue their ubiquitous spying. Now is the time for all concerned citizens to call upon their governments to conform to the principles signed by 290 NGOs. If your organization hasn’t signed it yet, it can do so here. It’s time to defend the Necessary and Proportionate Principles at the United Nations, and in every other regional or national policy space.
The revelations leaked by Edward Snowden that the NSA committed acts of espionage against top Mexican officials and the president himself have so far provoked only mild indignation from the Mexican political class. Secretary of Foreign Affairs José Antonio Meade appeared to be reassured by President Obama’s ‘word’ that he would launch an investigation into the workings of the U.S. government. Notwithstanding the incongruity that any government investigating its own internal wrongdoing would have any interest in publicizing conclusive evidence of its own criminal activity, President Peña Nieto has been reluctant to push the Obama administration further on the issue, presumably for fear of undermining Mexico’s position as a staunch U.S. economic and political ally.
Ex-president Vicente Fox, meanwhile, enthusiastically endorsed U.S. spying on Mexican politicians, claiming he knew the U.S. spied on him while he was president. Indeed, Fox took comfort in the fact that the world’s superpower monitored his every move and his phone calls, evoking the ominous adage reminiscent of all authoritarian political institutions: one has nothing to be concerned about so long as one has nothing to hide and done nothing wrong. “Everyone will do better if they think they’re being spied on,” he noted, at once reinforcing the dubious entitlement of the U.S. government to act as the world’s police force while simultaneously apologizing for the illegal activities of the NSA. Mr. Fox seems unable to comprehend the basic moral and legal truism that merely because many are involved in committing criminal activities, the moral and legal implications do not simply vanish into thin air. A reasonable observer might instead conclude that the greater the number of international government institutions that are involved in criminal activity, the more serious the problem, not the reverse. “It’s nothing new that there’s espionage in every government in the world, including Mexico’s,” Fox observed. Flummoxed as to why Snowden’s revelations have provoked outrage among the Mexican populace and investigative journalists (if not in government itself), he declared, “I don’t understand the scandal.”
One document obtained by the National Security Archive at George Washington University details Janet Napolitano’s (then Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) official meeting with President Peña Nieto in July 2013. According to Napolitano’s briefing, avoiding discussion of NSA spying on the upper echelons appears to be a Mexican, not solely U.S., initiative. The Mexicans, the document claims, wanted to ‘put to bed’ the issue of NSA intrusions. Indeed, nowhere in the summary of their meeting does the issue arise. Instead, discussions focus on maintaining and increasing border security in order to protect commercial interests and on reducing the number of undocumented migrants entering the United States.
The listless and at times surreal reaction to NSA surveillance by Mexico’s political class demonstrates their level of craven subordination to their U.S. counterparts. One can only begin to imagine the response of the U.S. political class and media pundits were they to discover that Mexican intelligence had repeatedly intercepted the electronic communications and tapped the phones of the Commander in Chief himself.
The Mexican reaction to NSA snooping on the inner circle of government stands in stark contrast to that of Brazil’s. Snowden’s leaks provoked fury within the government of President Dilma Rousseff. She blasted the NSA tapping of her phone and interception of government communications in a fiery speech clearly aimed at President Obama at the UN General Assembly. She lambasted the NSA for spying on millions of Brazilian citizens, tapping the phones of Brazilian embassies, and spying on the country’s partly state-owned petroleum giant, Petrobras. Interestingly, she remarked that the bulk of NSA spying in Brazil was not designed to thwart potential terrorists or to undermine the activities of transnational criminal organizations, but instead, to further U.S. business interests through both international economic and commercial spying. As a result, Rousseff cancelled her planned diplomatic visit to Washington, called for an international conference on data security, began setting up a protected governmental electronic communications system, and proposed changing underwater cables so that international Brazilian internet traffic would no longer pass through U.S. territory.
Brazil’s position, of course, is a reflection of the changing nature of U.S.-Latin American relations more generally. Brazil, the emerging regional power and now less of a fixture of Uncle Sam’s backyard, can afford to take an increasingly independent stance from Washington. Several countries in the region are integrating with each other politically and economically and establishing firm trade links with China, India, and South Africa—an unprecedented dynamic which has had the effect of undermining U.S. hegemony in the region.
Mexico, however, dependent on the U.S. market for 80% of its exports, is much less able to stand up to the superpower. Indeed, Mexico’s traditional position as a subordinate and reliable ally of its northern neighbor is becoming all the more crucial in maintaining the waning U.S. empire, increasingly defensive and militaristic as it reasserts its influence over the region. With a myriad of uncertainties lying ahead for U.S. power in a region that has witnessed the birth of new left-wing social movements that have had considerable success at the ballot box, it is becoming imperative for the United States to uphold and preserve its political, economic, and military alliances as per Mexico and Colombia. In Mexico, U.S. funding for the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ has provided a convenient pretext for heavy militarization throughout the country and a clamping down on political dissent and organized popular movements. Spying and surveillance programs are key to achieving the U.S. objective of continuing and reinforcing a status quo that now sees well over half the population in Mexico living in poverty and unparalleled levels of economic inequality.
As in Brazil, U.S. spying in Mexico seems less to do with the ‘War on Terror’ and the ‘War on Drugs’—two key rhetorical tenets of U.S. interventionism—and more to do with the realpolitik of ensuring that a pliant and subservient political class, personified by Fox, Calderón, and Peña Nieto, guard the current transnational dynamics—a socio-economic system that rewards the powerful moneyed neoliberal elites on both sides of the border and keeps the poor and marginalized in their place.
There is a further aspect to the Mexican response to NSA spying which warrants scrutiny. Throughout the Cold War, the CIA and its Mexican counterpart, the DFS, shared all manner of material and intelligence on dissidents (Marxists, communists, students, guerrillas, trade unionists, peasant activists, feminists, etc.) who were often incarcerated or liquidated because, as the authoritarian and paternalistic President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz claimed, they were a threat to ‘national security.’
The current partnership between the U.S. and Mexican governments allows for a level of surveillance of which Mexico’s Cold Warriors could only dream. In collaboration with telecommunications giants, the U.S. and Mexican governments provide the wherewithal and funding for large-scale spying on the Mexican citizenry. Indeed, Mexico’s Federal Ministerial Police (PFM) has recently designed a system of total surveillance and increased storage of electronic communications. In a climate in which there exist widening socio-economic disparities, a grave security crisis, and a growing disillusionment with the status quo, both the U.S. and Mexican governments have a shared interest in forestalling the development of a widespread popular political revolt and a potential ‘Mexican Spring.’ Were there any mystery as to why the Mexican response to Snowden’s revelations was so moderate, one would only need to recall Vicente Fox’s unintentionally shrewd observation that all governments have an interest in spying on one another and on their own citizens. The lackluster reaction from Los Pinos to the NSA revelations is reflective of the extent to which Mexican elite politicians acquiesce in the intrusions, largely because they themselves use domestic spying to further their own sectional interests in a country in which, little more than a decade after the ‘transition to democracy,’ the majority of the population are excluded from meaningful political participation.
Peter Watt teaches Latin American Studies at the University of Sheffield. He is co-author of the book, Drug War Mexico. Politics, Violence and Neoliberalism in the New Narcoeconomy (Zed Books 2012).
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said Wednesday that Washington’s refusal to tender an apology for the spying led to her cancelling her crucial state visit to the United States.
“I was going to travel. We said there was only one way to solve the problem, and it was an apology for what happened and a promise that it would not happen again,” she said in a local radio interview.
The trip was initially scheduled to begin on October 23.
The lack of apology from Washington created an impasse, she said, adding that she did not want to run the risk of having a new spying scandal break during her visit, which would be an embarrassment for both sides.
Rousseff also reiterated her charges against the US, saying the NSA surveillance program is economic espionage borne out of commercial and strategic interests.
She said reports of the NSA intercepting communication of state-oil giant Petrobras have belied US claims of the PRISM program being directed to thwart terrorism.
In Wednesday’s interview, Rousseff also responded to a recent story in the Brazilian daily Folha de Sao Paulo, accusing Brazil’s intelligence agency of spying on diplomats from Russia, Iran and Iraq in 2003 and 2004.
She said the agency’s operations did not involve privacy violations as no phone calls or emails were tapped.
Rousseff had attacked the United States in her opening speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September.
“Brazil, Mr President, knows how to protect itself. We reject, fight and do not harbour terrorist groups,” she said.
“As many other Latin Americans, I fought against authoritarianism and censorship and I cannot but defend, in an uncompromising fashion, the right to privacy of individuals and the sovereignty of my country,” she added.
Earlier on Tuesday Brazil made public a draft bill that will allow the government to prevent internet companies like Google and Facebook from storing data about Brazilian citizens outside the country.
Simultaneous revelations regarding the UK embassy housing a secret listening post in Berlin made Germany summon the British Ambassador to respond to the allegations.
With inputs from Agencies
An anti-spying draft resolution written by Germany and Brazil has been submitted to the United Nations amid the US surveillance scandal.
The draft resolution put forward on Friday would reaffirm “the right to privacy and not to be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, home or correspondence.”
The right is already protected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Furthermore, the draft resolution would also reaffirm the “same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular the right to privacy, including in the context of the surveillance of communications.”
The draft was to be processed by the UN secretariat before being handed over to the UN General Assembly’s human rights panel for discussions.
This comes as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff have both condemned the widespread spying by the US National Security Agency (NSA).
Merkel has demanded the United States enter a “no-spying” agreement with Germany and France by the end of 2013 amid recent revelations that the NSA spied on the two countries.
The Chancellor has also stressed that alleged espionage against Berlin and Paris, which are considered among closest allies of the US, should be stopped.
On October 26, a report published by German weekly Der Spiegel revealed that Merkel’s mobile phone had been listed by the NSA Special Collection Service (SCS) since 2002, and that her mobile phone number was still listed in June 2013.
Last month, Rousseff spoke at the United Nations General Assembly, calling for international regulations on data privacy and limiting espionage programs targeting the Internet.
Rousseff’s appeal came after reports were published in September by Brazil’s Globo television network, which revealed that the NSA spied on the president’s emails, phone calls, and text messages.
Snowden, a former CIA employee, leaked two top secret US government spying programs under which the NSA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are eavesdropping on millions of American and European phone records and the Internet data from major Internet companies such as Facebook, Yahoo, Google, Apple, and Microsoft.
The NSA scandal took even broader dimensions when Snowden revealed information about its espionage activities targeting friendly countries.
The current revelations on the NSA’s spying are just the tip of the iceberg and affect “almost every country in the world,” said Glenn Greenwald. He stressed the NSA stores data for “as long as it can,” so they can target a citizen whenever they want.
Glenn Greenwald, the man behind the reports on the NSA global spy program, spoke to El Mundo journalist German Aranda and stressed that the US espionage activities went much further than just Europe.
“There are a lot of countries, and journalists in a lot of different countries, who have been asking for stories and to work on documents for a long time,” Greenwald said. He added that he was working as fast as possible to “make sure that all of these documents get reported in every single country there are documents for, which is most countries in the world.”
Shedding light on the NSA’s motives in compiling metadata on citizens, he said the spy organization’s main aim was to store the information to be able to dip into it whenever necessary.
“The very clear objective of the NSA is not just to collect all this, but to keep it for as long as they can,” said Greenwald.
“So they can at any time target a particular citizen of Spain or anywhere else and learn what they’ve been doing, in terms of who they have been communicating with.”
‘Preparing the terrain’
Referencing reports leaked from former CIA worker Edward Snowden regarding the millions of phone calls tapped by the NSA in the EU, German Aranda stated that French reaction was “important to prepare the terrain in Spain.”
“With all the countries around Europe and around the world, it will be the same. The more countries [that] see documents about them, the more interest the other countries will have to see what is happening with them,” said Aranda.
Last week the Spanish Prime Minister, Manuel Rajoy, summoned the US Ambassador to account for the reports of spying, echoing the reactions of France, Germany and a handful of other countries. Spain has so far resisted calls from Germany to sign an EU no-spying treaty against the US in the wake of the revelations; however this may be set to change.
“As in previous occasions, we’ve asked the U.S. ambassador to give the government all the necessary information on an issue which, if it was to be confirmed, could break the climate of trust that has traditionally been the one between our two countries,” said Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, at a joint news conference in Warsaw last week.
In response to European leaders’ furor over NSA espionage, the White House has launched an internal review into the NSA’s activities. The EU Parliament has also threatened to halt the sharing of data on the SWIFT banking system, which provides information on the transfer of funds by suspected terrorists.
A delegation from the EU parliament is currently in Washington to discuss what has been described as a “breakdown in trust” between traditional allies.
The Obama administration earlier said the controversial intelligence gathering procedures that have attracted international scrutiny in recent months may require “additional constraints.” White House spokesperson Jay Carney said that a “number of efforts [are] underway that are designed to increase transparency.”
Brazil is urging a plan to introduce local data storage for Internet giants like Facebook and Google in order to keep the information they get from Brazilian users safe –as part of a complex of measures to oppose US spying.
The new law could impact Google, Facebook, Twitter and other Internet global companies that operate in Brazil, Latin America’s biggest country and one of the world’s largest telecommunications markets.
The country’s president, Dilma Rousseff, is urging lawmakers to vote as early as this week on the law, according to Reuters who have seen the draft of the legislation.
“The government can oblige Internet service companies … to install and use centers for the storage, management and dissemination of data within the national territory,” the draft of the document read.
Rousseff’s calls come after surveillance leaks by the US in Brazil that went as far as tracking the personal phone calls and e-mails of the President herself.
Last month, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff canceled a scheduled meeting at the White House after leaked documents showed the NSA spied on her country’s state oil company.
“We are not regulating the way information flows, just requiring that data on Brazilians be stored in Brazil so it is subject to the jurisdiction of Brazilian courts,” Rousseff spokesman Thomas Traumann said. “This has nothing to do with global communications.”
However, the companies disagree saying that the legislation will increase costs of services, and damage the economic activity connected with information.
Last week a coalition of business groups representing dozens of Internet companies including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and eBay sent a letter to Brazilian lawmakers.
“In-country data storage requirements would detrimentally impact all economic activity that depends on data flows,” the letter read, Reuters reported.
Many also threatened the law will scare the companies, while others, nevertheless, were of the opinion that the companies would comply if faced with no other options.
This week, Brazil is expected to vote on a cyber-security bill to create a state system to protect the country’s citizens from spying.
When the news on the bill emerged two weeks ago, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff tweeted the news, stressing the need for greater security “to prevent possible espionage.”
The latest legislation project comes against a backdrop of Brazil set to host a conference next April to debate ways to guard Internet privacy from espionage.
The meeting is to be held by ICAAN, the body that manages web domain names. It is thought to be neutral and includes governments, civil society and industry.
Meanwhile, BRICS companies are working to create a “new Internet”.
In particular, Brazil has been reported to be building a “BRICS cable” that will create an independent link between Brazil, South Africa, India, China and Russia, in order to bypass NSA cables and avoid spying.
The cable is set to go from the Brazilian town of Fortaleza to the Russian town of Vladivostok via Cape Town, Chennai and Shantou.
The length of the fiber-optic cable will be almost 35,000 kilometers, making it one of the most ambitious underwater telecom projects ever attempted.
Last week, most of the BRICS countries joined talks to hammer out a UN resolution that would condemn “indiscriminate” and “extra-territorial” surveillance, and ensure “independent oversight” of electronic monitoring.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that “contacts [between Moscow and Washington] never stop,” when asked if the latest publication of secret files leaked by the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor would affect relations between Russia and the US.
Also, Lavrov made it clear that the situation surrounding Snowden is irrelevant to Russia.
“We have formulated our position on Snowden and have said everything,” he said.
- China echoes Brazil’s call for cyberspace guidelines (thebricspost.com)