Prepared by Chris Cote and Mark S. Langevin, Ph.D.
October 17, 2013
THE REVELATION that the U.S. National Security Agency has been reading the text messages and e-mails of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and other senior officials and gathering information on the national oil company Petrobras led to a scramble for new Brazilian internet protocols, a rewiring of the greater part of the continent, and, of most immediate consequence, a postponement of President Rousseff’s October State Visit to the United States. Even a last minute U.S. visit by the Foreign Minister could not circumvent the embarrassing postponement for the Americans.
The debacle has led many observers in both countries and across the world to ask fundamental questions about U.S. intentions with respect to Brazil and its role in the world. Michael Shifter, President of the Inter-American Dialogue concluded,
The revelations suggest that the U.S. went way too far, beyond any reasonable justification of containing security threats... Such an overreach is disrespectful and has touched a real nerve in Brazil, a country that prizes its sovereignty and is understandably sensitive about such abuses.
In large part the U.S.-Brazil relationship is decentralized across a number of bilateral dialogues, ranging from the Strategic Energy Dialogue to the Joint Initiative on Urban Sustainability among dozens of other consultative mechanisms. How has U.S. spying on the Brazilian government damaged these dialogues and breached whatever bilateral trust existed before the debacle? Does Washington have the desire to conduct an honest, mutually respectful relationship with its largest South American ally and trading partner or – reckoning back to a Cold War mentality – has it been hoping only to manage this global swing-state, to balance Brazil away from Russia or China, and perhaps – as many in Brazil suggest – prevent her rise?