Brazil's President Cancels US Visit in Response to Spying Allegations

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Aaron Schachter: I'm Aaron Schachter and this is The World, a coproduction of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. State visits to the White House are grand affairs with red carpets rolled out to honor Washington's closest allies. And the allies usually relish the attention, so the news today that Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff postponed her state visit to the US next month has raised tensions on both sides of the equator. She's angry about revelations that the US National Security Agency is snooping on the emails and phone calls of Brazilians, including Rousseff herself. The snooping was revealed by documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Carolina Rossini is at the Latin American Resource Center of the Open Technology Institute. She says Brazil's irritation with the US has been building for months.

Carolina Rossini: With the NSA scandals we discovered surveillance, both political and of Brazilian citizens without any protection, right? The US law is flexible enough that it doesn't give any protection to foreigners. And Dilma has been trying to negotiate with Obama how we can change that. And I think Obama has not been very open to any change and any of the requests that Dilma is doing and her ministers are doing. So I think while Obama doesn't open some direct negotiations in the sense, she will keep canceling her trips.

Schachter: Now, there are a lot of folks around the world, Europe and America who are upset about this, but don't governments assume and leaders of governments assume that they're all spying on each other somehow?

Rossini: That's what everybody expects for years, right? There is a joke that if you take a painting out of the UN, you're gonna have microphones from every country. But one thing is political surveillance, which is also not something that we like, but the problem is when it inflicts the life of private citizens that don't have any relation with the justifications concerning national security or terrorism, then I think the pictures changes.

Schachter: The ire that we're hearing from Brazil is rising above anger from just about anywhere else. Why is this happening? Why is President Dilma Rousseff so upset?

Rossini: I think after the street protests in Brazil, and what happened with the NSA issue and the Snowden revelations, Dilma finally engaged directly with this, and she had many meetings during Sundays and this just happened when it's an urgent matter, when it's a matter at the president level. So I think that she finally woke up for how important this is. And Brazil is in a moment now that we are actually providing internet for developing countries. We have sent international submarine backbones to Africa and part of the Caribbean, so we are pretty strong power on the infrastructure side. And Dilma, I think she wants to have some saying or more saying on how the internet works worldwide.

Schachter: Now, President Rousseff has talked about cutting off Brazil from the America internet in a variety of ways, like creating a state-run email service, perhaps laying an underwater cable directly to Europe so it bypasses the US. Is this really possible?

Rossini: Well, it is possible. I don't know if it's the best solution, right? We still have many countries depending on the ISPs and so on that come from the US and the big companies. And because of that, if you see the map of internet traffic, most of the communications still pass through the US. So I think it's understandable that our country wants to be less dependent because if we are less dependent, we're also gonna be probably more in control and less open for this type of surveillance, right?

Schachter: There are a lot of common interests that Brazil and the US have–oil exploration, biofuel technology. And Brazil is talking about purchasing fighter jets from Boeing. If things are this bad with Brazil, a country that's friendly to the US, that doesn't seem like it bodes well for the rest of the region.

Rossini: Other countries are waiting to see what Brazil can do. Dilma is coming to the US next week, specifically to New York, for the UN General Assembly meeting where she will talk about all these issues, including the need for respect for human rights and the internet, and how concerned she is with how broad the surveillance is. So I think then we're gonna see how other countries of the region will react.

Schachter: Okay, Carolina Rossini, project director for the Latin America Resource Center at the Open Technology Institute, thank you for joining us.

Rossini: Thank you very much.