President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil meets with Obama in an April 2012 visit to the United States (Photo Courtesy of MercoPress).
Syria wasn’t the only hot topic at last week’s G20 summit in Russia. Recent allegations concerning personal and corporate espionage placed President Obama in an uncomfortable situation as he caught up with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Rest assured: both leaders fully intend to straighten out this diplomatic mess as quickly as possible. However, the National Security Agency has been facing serious accusations recently concerning not only Brazil, but Mexico as well.
The first wave of bad news emerged in July when Rio-based newspaper O Globo confirmed that the U.S. was gathering a surprising amount of data on e-mails and calls from Brazil and Mexico. It came as no surprise that both countries reacted strongly, especially when they discovered that the NSA had intercepted communications between Rousseff and Mexican President Enrique Nieto and their respective aides.
In the eyes of the Brazilian public, this act was the first strike in a series of actions that violated Rousseff’s privacy and undermined the nation’s sovereignty. It was not, however, the only act causing the Brazilian delegation’s reconsideration of Rousseff’s official state visit to the White House on October 23rd. This one-of-a-kind visit is now at stake, as is the possible sale of U.S. fighter jets following the most recent leaks about NSA’s “Blackpearl” program.
Strike two: newly-leaked documents providing evidence that the NSA also spied on Petrobras, the huge Brazilian oil multinational. Not only is Brazil the NSA’s top target for spying in Latin America, but now the nation may have grounds to accuse the NSA of corporate espionage. The NSA’s mission to ensure national security against terrorist threats is warranted, but it is time that the organization reassess its techniques in order to fully achieve its goal of protecting American citizens without straying onto illegal territory. Gathering intelligence on Petrobras and political aides doesn’t appear to advance the organization’s main mission; rebuilding the U.S.-Brazil relationship should be the priority.
While Rousseff demands a formal apology from the Obama Administration, Brazilian citizens are left to consider important questions regarding Brazil’s relationship with the United States. The president has already been urged several times to distance herself from the world’s hyperpower and concentrate more on regional ties or with other large like-minded emerging economies such as China and India.
An increasingly stable and respectful relationship between the U.S. and Brazil can potentially foster huge benefits for both sides. For this to happen, Brazil’s citizens and government cannot and should not be placed in a similar position again. Whether the findings concern a private citizen or a private network, espionage of this kind will obviously not be well received in Brazil, Mexico, or anywhere else.
Most importantly, it is time to accept that Brazil is no longer a second-tier player in the international arena. It is time to treat it with the respect it deserves as an increasingly important new player. That respect includes not spying on the country’s main political figures and leading companies. Brazil not only dominates South America in terms of resources, but its economy will surpass France by 2016. The U.S., replaced by China as Brazil’s main trading partner, is in no position to undermine or doubt Brazil’s strength, its potential, or its rise to power.