Spying scandal sends US influence on Latin America into nosedive
Posted by Mauricio Savarese
Democratic leaders from Mexico to Argentina are so resentful of American influence that they are now willing to take action. Spies did the trick.
America for the Americans is a cornerstone of United States’ foreign policy. That doctrine, introduced 190 years ago by President James Monroe, means this: foreigners keep out of the US’ backyard. For decades the US foreign policy also sat well with the elites in Latin America. They even promoted generals to dictators if the men in uniform loved Washington enough. Well, those days are long gone.
Unlike Europeans, who complicitly give a wink and a nudge to the US in the mass surveillance scandal, Latin America is angry. In a drastic move, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, a moderate, decided to call off a State visit to Washington. Leftists in the region are now more aggressive and right-wingers have been pressured to speak out. American experts may insist their focus is on Syria, but the so-called backyard is rising in revolt. The National Security Agency (NSA) scandals have made it impossible for regional leaders to keep quiet without looking weak.
Brazil’s snub has the biggest implications. The decision was taken after Ms Rousseff discovered her personal communications were being spied on. Every South American leader called to support her, including Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos, the only close ally Barack Obama has left in the region. She promised to attack mass surveillance at the United Nations. Boeing is now likely to lose a US$4 billion deal on fighter jets.
Without the Brazilian buffer, leftists are emboldened. Bolivia’s Evo Morales said he will sue Obama in the international courts for human rights violations after Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro was blocked for a few hours from flying over Puerto Rico. These two and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa are likely to push more for bringing leaker Edward Snowden to South America. After Hugo Chavez passed away they needed a joint agenda to improve their chemistry.
Europeans have taken no stand on the NSA scandal. No stand at all.
NSA revelations also made Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner reach out to Brazil to improve their cyber defense. Countries in the region are now paying attention to this project in order to develop their own email systems: specifically designed for those who don’t want Google and Yahoo accounts which allow US intelligence in. That is open retaliation, but much more might happen behind closed doors. American presence is still important; but now that China’s star is rising rapidly as Latin America’s trade partner, the pressure is on the US.
US influence is so low at the moment that even Mexico’s conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto was forced to speak out and demand an investigation. Political pressure gave him no alternative but to condemn the NSA for stealing data on his ministerial picks. Chile’s Sebastián Piñera also had to come out fighting. These leaders aren’t surprised with the surveillance itself, but the reach of it was just too bold.
The times are definitely a-changing. America might be on the way to belonging to all Americans, and that includes Latin Americans as well.