Silver Lining

Food for thought

Latin America united against US over espionage

by Yusuf Fernandez, source

Anger is growing in Latin America over the US espionage disclosed by former CIA agent and current whistleblower, Edward Snowden. The recent meeting of the Mercosur, the common market organization of South America, in Montevideo (Uruguay) focused largely on US espionage against Latin Americans.

The summit issued a statement in which it condemned US “illegal acts of espionage that threaten citizens’ rights and the friendly co-existence between nations.”

The statement also expressed solidarity with the governments of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia, which have offered to grant asylum to Snowden, who has exposed extensive illegal spying by the US National Security Agency. The Mercosur statement reiterated that states have a right under international law to grant asylum.

Shortly before, Latin American Presidents showed their solidarity with Bolivian President, Evo Morales, whose plane was forced to land in Vienna for 14 hours due to the negative of four European countries (France, Spain, Portugal and Italy), under US pressure, to allow it to overfly their air space for fear that Snowden was on board.

This act was a clear violation of international treaties and air traffic agreements. It also put the lives of President Morales and other Bolivian officials who travelled in the aircraft at risk.

As a result, Mercosur countries have summoned their ambassadors in the four above-mentioned European states and have demanded an official explanation and “public apologies” from them for their “neo-colonial practices”.

These Latin American meetings took place amid the growing scandal over NSA spying activities in the continent. According to several sources, the NSA has targeted most Latin American nations in its activities. Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Paraguay, Chile and El Salvador are among the countries that have been spied by the agency, according to the Brazilian newspaper O Globo, which cited documents leaked by Snowden. Significantly, some of these countries, such as Mexico and Colombia, have been close US allies for a long time.

The documents showed that the NSA´s PRISM program has collected emails, faxes, searches, chats and files from Latin American individuals, companies and government agencies through US companies working in Internet such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Skype.

At least, data from 5 Latin American satellites were also intercepted in 2012. “Special Collection Service” centers were created by the NSA and the CIA in some Latin American capitals, such as Bogota, Caracas, Brasilia, Mexico City and Panama City, in order to collect data from these satellites.

The documents showed that US espionage targeted not only military or political aspects but also commercial and energy issues, such as the oil production in Mexico and Venezuela.

This fact has fueled particular concern among Latin American companies, as this espionage damages their interests and favors the position of US corporations in their struggle to control the region´s economies.

The US government is currently worried about the increase of trading links and foreign investments from China, Russia and Europe in Latin America, a region that Washington still considers its “courtyard”. China especially has been developing its ties with Latin American countries in several fields, including energy, in recent years.

Bolivia rejects US envoy

On July 13, Morales claimed US intelligence had hacked into the email accounts of senior Bolivian officials amid growing concerns about Washington’s secret surveillance programs. “US intelligence agents have accessed the emails of our most senior authorities in Bolivia,” Morales said in a speech. “It was recommended to me that I not use email, and I have followed suit and shut it down,” the Bolivian president added.

Some days earlier, Morales had threatened to expel the US diplomatic mission and shut down its embassy. “We do not need the pretext of cooperation and diplomatic relations so that they can come and spy on us,” said the Bolivian president.

Bolivian Interior Minister Carlos Romero also revealed that La Paz had rejected a diplomat suggested by Washington as the new US ambassador to the Latin American country.

Romero said in an interview that the decision was made due to the negative remarks of James Nealon, the proposed ambassador, about the governments of Bolivia and Venezuela.

In a secret document revealed by WikiLeaks in 2011, Nealon, who was Washington’s ambassador to Peru at the time, accused “anti-system” Bolivian President Evo Morales of trying to destabilize Peruvian President Alan Garcia with the support of the of Venezuela and Ecuador.

The US had proposed Nealon as its new ambassador to La Paz in December 2012. It is worth recalling that Morales expelled former US Ambassador to La Paz Philip S. Goldberg in 2008, arguing that he was attempting to undermine the Bolivian government.

Other Latin American countries have also protested against US spying activities. Colombia’s foreign ministry “showed its concern” that there had been an “unauthorized data collection program” and asked the US government to give an account of its actions through its embassy in Bogota.
“In rejecting the acts of espionage that violate people’s rights and intimacy as well as the international conventions on telecommunication, Colombia requests the corresponding explanations from the US government through its ambassador to Colombia,” Reuters quoted the ministry as saying.

For his part, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala said that the espionage was worrisome. “We are against these kinds of spying activities,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

“It would be good for Congress to look with concern at privacy issues related to personal information.” “This is the world we live in; a world with new forms of colonialism,” Argentini4n President Cristina Fernandez said. “It is more subtle than it was two centuries ago, when they came with armies to take our silver and gold.”

Brazil case

O Globo reported that the NSA and CIA have also collected telephone calls and emails in Brazil, the biggest country of Latin America and a leading member of international blocs such as UNASUR, MERCOSUR, CELAC and BRICS.

After these data were published, Brazil’s telecommunications agency said that it would investigate whether local operators had violated customer privacy rules by cooperating with US agencies. According to O Globo, the espionage of Brazilian communications took place through US companies that are partners with Brazilian firms.

For her part, President Dilma Rousseff warned that if the reports prove true, and so far every indication is that they will, they will represent “violations of sovereignty and human rights.”

Some Brazilian congressmen have called on the Brazilian government to cancel defense contracts with US companies in retaliation and others have stated that Brazil should offer asylum to Snowden.

Gilberto Carvalho, a top aide to President Dilma Rousseff, said a “very hard” response to Washington was needed. “If we lower our heads, they will trample all over us tomorrow,” he said. According to Reuters, Anatel, the country´s telecommunications regulator has announced that it will work with the federal police to determine whether local telephone operators have broken any laws.

US double standards

For its part and instead of answering Latin American concerns regarding to its spying activities, Washington is still showing its old bully attitude in its relations with these countries.

“All across the region, American embassies have communicated Washington´s message that letting Snowden into Latin America, even if he shows up unexpectedly, would have lasting consequences”, claimed a recent article published in the New York Times. A senior State Department official told the Times that aiding Snowden “would put relations (of these countries with the US) in a very bad place for a long time to come.”

Some Latin American media has criticized these open threats and accused the US of using double standards here too. In fact, Washington has rejected the extradition to Venezuela of Luis Posada Carriles, a former CIA operative and terrorist who allegedly masterminded the bombing of a Cuban plane that killed 73 people in the 1970s.

He escaped from a Venezuelan prison in the 1980s and is currently living in the US. Similarly, Washington has ignored Bolivian demand to extradite Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who was President from 2002 to 2003 and fled Bolivia after he was ousted by massive protests against his plan to sell Bolivian gas resources to foreign companies. De Lozada now faces charges of genocide in his country for ordering the military to fire on unarmed protesters in 2003. More than 60 people were killed due to these facts.

The spying scandal will certainly deal a serious blow to US influence in Latin America at a time when it was already diminishing. “A region that was once a broad zone of American power has become increasingly confident in its ability to act independently”, said a recent article in the New York Times. “Our influence in the hemisphere is diminishing,” acknowledged Bill Richardson, a former US ambassador to the United Nations.

In any case, US bully policies might well prove unsuccessful this time, when Latin America is striving to increase its unity and integration. “The State Department and the government of the United States should know that Venezuela learned a long time ago to defeat pressures from any part of the world,” Venezuelan foreign minister, El?as Jaua, said. Other Latin American countries will surely think the same.

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