US spied on Brazilian and Mexican leaders

The US National Security Agency (NSA) has spied on emails, phone calls and text messages to and from Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto, according to NSA documents presented on Brazil’s Globo television network on Sept. 1. These documents, like those made public in July about US spying on at least 14 Latin American nations, were given to Glenn Greenwald, a US blogger and columnist for the UK daily The Guardian who lives in Brazil, by former US intelligence technician Edward Snowden in Hong Kong in June. Snowden is now residing in Russia; he says he is unable to comment on the documents because of the terms under which Russian authorities are letting him stay in the country for one year.

The documents, which come from a top-secret report intended to demonstrate the NSA’s spying capabilities, show that in June 2012 the agency collected communications in which Peña Nieto, then the front-running candidate in July 2012 presidential elections, discussed plans for appointments to his cabinet. The report includes two text messages—marked “interesting messages”—from Peña. At about the same time the NSA was tracking communications between President Rousseff and her top advisers, although the report doesn’t show the texts of the communications. (O Globo, Brazil, Sept. 1; The Guardian, Sept. 2, from Reuters)

In a Sept. 2 statement, Mexico’s Foreign Relations Secretariat (SRE) expressed “great surprise” at the revelations and asked for an explanation from the US. “[T]he government of Mexico rejects and categorically condemns any espionage activity on Mexican citizens in violation of international law,” the statement said. (La Jornada, Mexico, Sept. 3) The Brazilian government had a stronger reaction: officials indicated that President Rousseff might cancel a state visit to Washington scheduled for Oct. 23. Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), who is close to Rousseff and is, like her, a leader in the center-left Workers’ Party (PT), charged that the US was “threatening the world’s sovereignty,” adding that the US “wasn’t elected to act as the world’s sheriff.” “The Americans can’t bear the fact that Brazil has become a global actor,” Lula said. “Basically, the most they’ll accept is for Brazil to go on as a subordinate, the way it used to be.” He called for US president Barack Obama to apologize “humbly” to Rousseff and Brazil. (The Guardian, Sept. 2, from Reuters; El País, Madrid, Sept. 6, from correspondent)

Apparently President Obama succeeded in lowering the temperature during private meetings he held with Rousseff and Peña in St. Petersburg on Sept. 5 at a summit of the Group of 20 (G20), a working group of finance ministers from 20 major economies. On Sept. 6 Rousseff said that Obama had promised an explanation of the spying report by Sept. 11 and that the October visit might proceed as planned. (New York Times, Sept. 6, from Reuters)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, September 8.