Brazilian authorities have canceled a trip to Washington to prepare for President Dilma Rousseff’s state visit next month, to protest allegations the U.S. spied on top officials in Latin America’s largest economy.
Diplomats were scheduled to head to the U.S. on Sept. 7 to organize the first state visit by a Brazilian president in nearly two decades, according to a government official who is close to Rousseff. The official, who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public, said he didn’t know whether Rousseff would cancel her Oct. 23 White House meeting with President Barack Obama.
Obama and Rousseff arrived late to a dinner with heads of state in St. Petersburg, Russia after meeting on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit. U.S. deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters that while he had no information to share about Brazil’s plans, he expected the president and Rousseff to discuss the issue.
Brazilian officials denounced as a violation of their country’s sovereignty allegations that the U.S. National Security Agency monitored Rousseff’s communications with top aides. The outrage may be short-lived and probably won’t affect commercial ties, said Rubens Barbosa, a former Brazilian ambassador to the U.S.
“At some point, this will be overcome, because it wasn’t just Brazil being spied on,” Barbosa, now a director for trade policy at the Sao Paulo Industrial Federation, said in a phone interview. “Rousseff will probably end up going through with the trip and speak out against the espionage in Obama’s face.”
Relations between Brazil and the U.S. have failed to live up to their potential in recent years, Barbosa said. Contentious issues include a dispute over U.S. cotton subsidies and slow progress on a plan to jointly promote biofuels in Africa.
A decade-long push by Boeing Co. to sell the South American nation a fleet of fighter jets is also stalled over Brazilian concerns that the U.S., unlike other bidders Sweden and France, won’t transfer sensitive military technology as part of the deal, he added.
“If we don’t buy the jets it won’t be because of the spying episode,” Barbosa said.
Brazil typically sends officials abroad in advance of major trips to organize details. The routine is followed for domestic trips as well.
“We understand how important this is to the Brazilians,” Rhodes said. “We carry out intelligence like just about every other country around the world. If there are concerns we can address, consistent with our national security requirements, we will aim to do so.”
The spying allegations were made on Sept. 1 by U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald, who obtained secret documents from fugitive security analyst Edward Snowden in May, on Brazil’s most-watched TV news magazine, “Fantastico.”
Greenwald said the information was part of the first batch of documents he received from Snowden when he met him in Hong Kong in May. That was before Snowden, a former Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp. employee, was granted a one-year asylum in Russia on President Vladimir Putin’s condition that he stop disclosing documents that harm U.S. interests.
Brazilian authorities will file a complaint with the United Nations and reach out to developing nations, including the other countries in the BRICS group, Russia, India, China and South Africa, Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo said.
Brazil’s presidential press office and Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to e-mails seeking comment on the preparatory trip’s cancellation.
Brazil’s Senate is creating a committee to probe the spying allegations and seek federal police protection for Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro, according to a statement posted on the upper house website Sept. 3.
Telecommunications regulator Anatel is analyzing contracts between national operators and foreign companies to investigate possible breaches of privacy in light of the spy report, an Anatel press officer said yesterday in an e-mailed response to questions.
“This represents an inadmissible and unacceptable violation of Brazilian sovereignty,” Figueiredo said on Sept. 2. “This kind of practice doesn’t live up to the type of trust needed to have a strategic partnership.”