Brazilians cool on US after NSA surveillance

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Marco Werman: Brazil is not the first place you might think of if you were asked to name countries where folks can be hostile to the United States. But recent revelations have caused a spike in tension, revelations that the US government, through the NSA, has aggressively monitored the communications of both the Brazilian government and private Brazilian citizens. That led to President Dilma Roussef postponing a state dinner with President Obama. The tension was further highlighted over the weekend with a screening in Rio de Janeiro of the Richard Rowley documentary "Dirty Wars." The film follows journalist Jeremy Scahill as he travels the world talking to families and communities affected by what he calls America's "assassination program," mostly via drone strikes. The documentary was shown at Rio's prestigious film festival, and was followed by a panel discussion. Reporter Catherine Osborn went to the event and joins us now from Rio. What was the whole thing like, Catherine?

Catherine Osborn: It was a very interesting scene. To start with it was very international. The film festival is the biggest in Latin America and there were a lot of media at the event. People were interested in the discussion that was going to happen, and the tone was very serious. Everyone was attentive to the topics at hand, which were American strategy, both as depicted in the film and as recently written about in the press, Brazilian communications, and also the role of journalism in explaining this and talking about its significance to the wider Brazilian public.

Werman: So what did you hear in that conversation? What kind of attitudes toward the United States were coming out?

Osborne: It was opened by Scahill, the journalist and protagonist of the film and Atilla Roque, who's the director of Amnesty International Brazil, and Glenn Greenwald. So first they spoke a little bit about what are the implications of exposure of these activities by the US, and they mentioned US surveillance of Brazil, they mentioned Brazilian military policy towards its own citizens, which are having a moment of democratic protests right now, receiving some aggression from their police officials. So Scahill and Greenwald spoke against that, against that use of force. There were questions from the audience about US reach and US decision making in this. In the questions, it was not a tone of anger or railing on. It was more, this is something serious that we need to look closely at. What is policy like, what does it mean that the US acts this way, and divulges that it acts a certain way. So I would say the tone was thoughtful and inquisitive, not outright angry, but very serious.

Werman: And Catherine, compare that serious tone you heard at that panel discussion at the screening of this documentary to what you've been hearing on the streets of Rio.

Osborne: People are less likely today to announce praise for the United States in Brazil, and in Rio on the streets, certainly I would say the person that you meet on the street is going to be, in tone, more aggressive. The tone of this discussion was more of a place of understanding, let's look into this, what are the implications of this. But in both, I would say, it's a critical perspective that the Brazilian public are taking right now.

Werman: And when you say more aggressive, give me an example.

Osborne: There were signs during street protests on Brazilian Independence Day against US military intervention in Syria. The word imperialist has been used by Brazilians in protest contexts against the United States. You know, as a reporter going up to people saying that you're an American journalist doesn't cause immediate respect and people wanting to talk to you in these situations. So a little bit of that.

Werman: Culturally I know, there's a lot of cross-fertilization between Brazil and the US, but this does seem kind of new. Are Brazilians themselves confused about what they're feeling about the US right now?

Osborne: A little bit, and I've had Brazilian peers say, oh, the US has, it's viewed differently in public opinion now as compared to how it was a month or two ago. There's still a huge cultural exchange between the two countries, so there's an ongoing interest in American culture and what, sort of what's going on in the United States. At the same time I would say that a hands down Brazilian endorsement of anything American within Brazilian public opinion, that's at a different place than it was two months ago.

Werman: Freelance reporter Catherine Osborn in Rio de Janeiro. Thanks so much for your time, Catherine.

Osborne: Thank you, Marco.