The Brazil-US row

WHILE EDWARD Snowden may be chilling out in Russia, Washington continues to feel the heat. The row underway between Brazil and the United States is a classic example of state espionage coming to sabotage bilateral relations.

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Published: Thu 19 Sep 2013, 11:54 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 10:49 AM

The same is also happening in Brasilia, where President Dilma Rousseff opted to play out the nationalism card by postponing her visit to the United States. She says that the National Security Agency (NSA), by allegedly spying on her personal email as well as that of other senior officials, has betrayed Brazil’s trust and she doesn’t feel like rubbing shoulders with President Barack Obama at the cost of a storm at home. She has every valid reason to say so. The fact that the NSA has allegedly accessed the secrets of the state-owned oil company, Petrobras, is seen in Brazil as industrial espionage, whose ramifications could go on to hurt bilateral business to the tune of billions of dollars. This would inevitably land Obama in a fix. All that he could do was to try to limit the damage by promising to conduct an inquiry into the mess that whistleblowers revealed. It’s a faux pas for him and America.

The US president should realise that an off-the-cuff inquiry would not suffice as the common perception would then be that the Obama administration is yet to give an adequate response or an apology. It is no insignificant decision that Rousseff cancelled the visit, though officially it has been termed as having been postponed. The first high-profile interaction since 1995 was scheduled at a time when the economic climate in the region is fragile and Brazilian businesses were counting on the outcome of the economic diplomacy. Many Brazilian entrepreneurs have criticised the wisdom of antagonising such an important business ally as the US, but the political rationale behind it is too overwhelming to be ignored.

The cable leaks have landed the US in a place where it is finding it hard to take a stance while differentiating between allies and adversaries. Besides Brazil, Mexico, Russia and China, the obsessive state spying has also played havoc with allies like Germany, France and Canada, making the administration’s task of effecting a reconciliation difficult and, at times, suspicious. President Obama, who had made it a cornerstone of his foreign policy to woo his Latin American neighbours and the southern hemisphere, should do some political correction and do away with the jingoism of the Cold War era. A rescheduled Rousseff visit to Washington, done at the earliest, will be no less than rehabilitating America’s image as a world leader.



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