October 2, 2013
Exclusive: Brazil’s President Rousseff lashed out at U.S. spying during her UN speech, but there was a deeper message – the days when South America was Washington’s compliant “backyard” are over. The U.S. government now has the choice of forging a more equal relationship with the region or facing damaging isolation, writes Andrés Cala.
By Andrés Cala
There were several factors – both domestic and geopolitical – that moved Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff to blast American spying during her address to the United Nations General Assembly last week. But Washington is missing the most important message: Brazil, South America’s new economic titan, is assuming a role as regional leader.
Brazil, in effect, has replaced the U.S. as the most influential player on the South American continent and its reach can only be expected to increase. By missing the speech’s larger implication, the White House and Congress are making a miscalculation that undermines U.S. interests in Latin America and the world.
Brazil’s muscle-flexing is the result of an evolution which began over a decade ago as the resource-rich nation began to experience rapid economic development. The entire region now looks to Brazil, not the U.S., as a model for progress – and that includes Washington’s allies such as Colombia, Peru and Chile. This new paradigm is being cemented geopolitically and economically.
Consequently, Washington can choose to partner up with Brazil and this newly empowered region as a whole or the U.S. can stick to its old-fashioned and counterproductive policies of paternalism and exploitation, which will only increase its isolation.
In the context of this regional transformation, Brazil’s angry reaction to National Security Agency spying, leaked by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, is more understandable. Rousseff unequivocally condemned NSA spying on her government’s internal communications, on Brazil’s permanent mission at the UN and its other diplomatic delegations, on Brazil’s vital corporations including its oil and mining giants Petrobras and Vale, and on private e-mails of thousands of Brazilians.
It is “a breach of international law,” a “serious violation of human rights and civil liberties,” an “affront … especially among friendly nations,” and “above all, a disrespect of the sovereignty of my country,” Rousseff told the UN General Assembly. And Washington’s excuse that the spying is meant to protect Americans from terrorist activity is “unsubstantiated,” she said.
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