Can Kerry Repair the Damage to US-Brazilian Relations?


2013-08-21 by Kenneth Maxwell

The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, was in Brasilia last week.

He did not want to meet the press.

But Itamaraty (the Brazilian Foreign Ministry) insisted that he hold a press conference with Antonio Patriota, the Brazilian chancellor (Foreign Minister).

Patriota had been Brazil’s ambassador in Washington. Secretary Kerry did not address the issue of US spying in his opening remarks. But Antonio Patriota did. He said that Brazil and the US were facing “a new type of challenge which has to do with wiretapping, telephone calls. And in case the challenges are not resolved in a satisfactory way, we run the risk of casting a shadow of distrust on our work.”

Sometimes it is better to be in the Senate than on the hot seat as Secretary of State.

Not surprisingly, the first topic raised by the journalists, was the revelation by Edward Snowden, the former CIA and National Intelligence Agency (NSA) contractor. who is now holed up in Moscow, of a massive spying operation by the NSA, which covered  Brazil as a priority, including spying on the Brazilian mission to the UN as well as the Brazilian embassy in Washington.

Snowden’s revelations were made via Glenn Greenwald, an American lawyer and columnist for the “Guardian,” who lives with his Brazilian partner, David Michael Miranda, in Rio de Janeiro.

Secretary Kerry’s response was to say that US “intelligence collection has positively helped to protect our nations from a variety of threats, not only protect our nations, but protect other peoples in the world, including Brazilians.” He said that spying was conduced “under the laws of the US.”  It was not a very reassuring answer. Kerry did not address the extreme promiscuity of the US intelligence agencies in sharing secret information with thousands of agents and contractors, including of course with Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden.

Secretary Kerry served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, most recently as chairman. At his confirmation hearings Kerry twice referred to Latin America as the “back yard” of the US. Not a happy phrase.

He was in Brasilia to discuss the upcoming state visit of President Dilma Rousseff to the US in October, and a new “strategic relationship” between the two countries.

There is much on the US Brazil agenda, not least a potental deal over fighter aircraft where Boeing is a major contender, and American support for Brazil as a permanent member of the UN security council.

But Brazil can ill afford at present (politically) to commit between US$ 4.3 and US$ 8.2 billion to the purchase of Boeing’s F/A-18 super hornets, and the US has shown no interest on supporting Brazil’s longterm aspiration at the UN.

As former British prime minister, Harold Macmillan, observed (it is said), when asked what represented the greatest challenges for a statesman: “Events, my dear boy, events.”

Events have conspired to make the upcoming state visit of President Dilma Rousseff to Washington singularly ill timed.

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