Brazil rejects Kerry explanation on NSA surveillance

U.S. may lose $4 billion fighter jet deal

August 14, 2013 08:42 pm | Updated November 16, 2021 09:30 pm IST - Brasilia

In this August 13, 2013 photo, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry talks with Brazil's Foreign Minister Antonio de Aguiar Patriota during a press conference at Itamaraty palace in Brasilia.

In this August 13, 2013 photo, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry talks with Brazil's Foreign Minister Antonio de Aguiar Patriota during a press conference at Itamaraty palace in Brasilia.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Brasilia on Tuesday to smooth over ruffled feathers caused by revelations by American whistleblower Edward Snowden that Washington was spying on South American countries, but he got an earful from Brazil’s top leaders who rejected his explanation that electronic surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA) was part of strategy to “combat terrorism”.

Mr. Kerry’s first visit to the region since becoming America’s chief diplomat was completely overshadowed by revelations that the U.S. spied on Brazilian communications related to the military, political and terror issues, and energy policies. A defensive Mr. Kerry, eager to placate the government and people of this South American powerhouse, tried to argue that the NSA activities were “legal and essential to thwarting terrorism”.

But in a clear-cut message to the U.S., Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota told Mr. Kerry that his country wanted more than explanations for the disclosures of surveillance of emails and telephone conversations of Brazilians by the NSA. “We need to stop practices that violate the sovereignty (of nations), relations of trust between states and individual liberties,” Mr. Patriota said at a joint news conference with Mr. Kerry. “Today we face a new type of challenge in our relations, a challenge related to the news of interception of the electronic and telephone communications of Brazilians,” the Minister added, as dozen of protesters gathered outside the Foreign Ministry here and shouted “Go away, spies”.

So straight and strong was Mr. Patriota’s remarks that at one stage Mr. Kerry was seen fiddling with his earphone, as if not able to hear the English translation of the Brazilian’s comments in Portuguese. But Mr. Patriota made sure nothing was lost in translation as he warned the U.S. about the implications of NSA surveillance. “If this challenge is not resolved satisfactorily, we run the risk of casting a shadow of distrust on our work,” he said.

A deep chill has set in relations between Brasilia and Washington in recent weeks as it was revealed by O Globo newspaper that the American agency was collecting huge amounts of Brazilian public and private communications involving military, energy and commercial secrets.

The distrust caused by the revelations is now clouding a $4-billion deal for 36 fighter jets that the US hopes to sell to Brazil. But, with anger against NSA surveillance growing by the day and several Senators demanding the scaling down of defence ties with the U.S., Brazil now appears reluctant to award the contract to Chicago-based Boeing Company, which is competing with France’s Rafale and Sweden’s Gripen for one of the biggest defence contracts given by Brazil in recent years.

Though Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has delayed a decision on the deal because of economic slowdown this year and massive demonstrations against austerity and government corruption in June, the Americans may lose the contract as a result of the NSA scandal. “We cannot talk about the fighters now. You cannot give such a contract to a country that you do not trust,” a government source told Reuters on Tuesday.

Because of the history of U.S. interference in their internal matters, South American nations are particularly sensitive about how Washington treats them. In recent weeks, suspicions have become deeper after Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane, flying from Moscow to La Paz, was grounded in Austria because the U.S. thought that Mr. Snowden was on board. The heavy-handed tactics didn't go down well in the region and Brazil led South America in protesting the incident in recalling their ambassadors from the four European nations involved in the incident.

But this tension may become more intense in coming weeks and months. According to Glenn Greenwald, the American journalist involved in the publication of leaks provided by Mr. Snowden, more revelations would be made public soon. Testifying before the Brazilian Senate foreign relations committee last Tuesday, Mr. Greenwald said, “The stories we have published are a small portion. There will certainly be more revelations on the espionage activities of the U.S. government and allied governments...on how they have penetrated the communications systems of Brazil and Latin America.”

In addition to his reporting for the Guardian newspaper, Mr. Greenwald has also been a fixture on O Globo , where the journalist wrote about the details of U.S. electronic surveillance of Brazil and virtually all of Latin America. O Globo recently published claims that Washington had at least at one time maintained a spy centre in the capital of Brasilia, as part of a network of 16 similar facilities worldwide designed to intercept foreign satellite transmissions.

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