Obama Administration's Global Surveillance Hurting U.S. in Latin America

by Teo Ballvé

The Progressive, Op-Ed, Nov 01, 2013

The backlash from revelations that the United States spied on world leaders once again shows the dangers of our runaway surveillance state. The Obama administration has got to rein it in.

This time, it's our most important diplomatic alliances that have been damaged. Reports indicate the National Security Agency was monitoring the phone conversations of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and at least 35 other global leaders.

Merkel denounced the phone-tapping as "completely unacceptable" and a "grave breach of trust."

The White House scrambled into damage control, trying to assuage the concerns of its European allies. But Merkel is only the latest world leader in the cross hairs of the NSA's surveillance operations.

Diplomatic fallout from the international spying scandal has actually been much worse in Latin America.

The presidents of Brazil, Mexico and several other Latin American countries have also had their communications monitored by the U.S. spy agency.

In response, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff canceled a state visit to Washington that was supposed to seal a growing alliance between the two countries. A 20-minute phone call from President Barack Obama failed to salvage the trip.

As in Europe, the damage in Latin America has put a wrench in Washington's vital partnerships - in this case with the region's two heavyweights, Brazil and Mexico.

Shortly after his first inauguration, Obama told Latin American leaders at a summit that he wanted to build an "equal partnership" with the region based on "mutual respect." He said, "I know that promises of partnership have gone unfulfilled in the past, and that trust has to be earned over time."

Spying on your allies is obviously not the best way to earn that trust.

The history of U.S. intelligence services orchestrating coups and backing dictatorships in Latin America means the spying scandal struck particularly sensitive nerves in the region. "A shiver ran down my back when I learned that they are spying on all of us," said Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

If Obama wants to reassure his allies in the wake of the latest diplomatic scandal, then he must take decisive action against the rampant surveillance that is turning his friends into enemies both at home and abroad.

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