US intelligence agencies have carried out spying operations on telecommunications in at least 14 Latin American countries, according to a series of articles the Brazilian national daily O Globo began publishing on July 7. Based on classified documents leaked by former US intelligence technician Edward Snowden, the articles reported that the main targets were Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. The US also spied "constantly, but with less intensity," on Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela, the newspaper said. Brazil and Colombia, a major US ally, have both officially demanded explanations from the US.
The documents show that at least until 2002 the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) maintained data collection stations in Brasilia, Bogotá, Caracas, Panama City and Mexico City; the outpost in Brasilia was part of the "Primary Fornsat Collection Operations," in which the US intercepted data from foreign satellites. The two agencies used a US Navy base in the Sabana Seca neighborhood of the northern Puerto Rican municipality of Toa Baja to coordinate these operations. (The base was closed in 2003, but the Navy still owns the site and keeps it enclosed with a fence.) Other documents showed more recent spying operations through the internet, with the cooperation of giant US corporations such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft and YouTube; these were ongoing as of March of this year.
Although the US government has defended its surveillance programs as an effort to protect US citizens from terrorist attacks, the documents indicated a strong focus on commercial issues— "petroleum" in Venezuela and "energy" in Mexico, according to a listing produced by the NSA in the first three months of this year. The spying programs collected data on businesses as well as millions of private citizens, residents and travelers in the targeted countries. (The Guardian, UK, July 6; O Globo, July 7, July 9, July 9; El País, Madrid, July 9; Centro de Periodismo Investigativo, Puerto Rico, July 11)
The revelations of spying undoubtedly added to anger in the region over charges from Bolivia that France, Italy, Portugal and Spain denied the use of their airspace to a plane carrying Bolivian president Evo Morales on July 2, apparently because of the US government's belief that Edward Snowden might be on the plane. On July 9 the Organization of American States (OAS) passed a strongly worded resolution calling on the four European countries "to provide the necessary explanations of the events that took place…as well as apologies as appropriate." The European countries claim they didn't deny the use of their airspace, although France has offered a partial apology. European representatives attending the OAS meeting as observers objected to the resolution's language; the Italian representative demanded an apology from Bolivia.
The resolution was passed by consensus. Supporters included center-right governments and strong allies of the US, which until recently dominated OAS proceedings; only Canada and the US dissented. In a footnote, the US ambassador to the OAS, Carmen Lomellin, wrote that the US considered the resolution "inappropriate…at this time" because "[t]he relevant facts regarding the incident at issue are unclear and subject to conflicting reports." So far the US has declined to explain its own role in the incident. (La Jornada, Mexico, July 10, from AFP, DPA, Prensa Latina; Center for Economic and Policy Research-CEPR Americas Blog, July 10)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 14.