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U.S. spying scandal strains ties with Latin America

Relations between the United States and Latin American countries suffered a heavy blow in 2013 following revelations of a U.S. spying scandal.

Secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden, a former contractor of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), indicated that Washington particularly spied on South America's economic powerhouse Brazil, as well as on its own North American neighbor Mexico and oil-rich Venezuela.

Espionage in Latin America

The strongest condemnation of U.S. espionage so far has come from Brazil, whose President Dilma Rousseff was personally targeted by the spy agency.

The incident prompted Rousseff to cancel an official visit to Washington in October. At an annual meeting of the UN General Assembly, she also urged the international community to adopt norms to protect online privacy.

Meanwhile, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, whose emails were reportedly intercepted by the NSA when he was still a candidate, has been reluctant to denounce the United States, his country's main trade partner, with which it shares a 2,000-mile (3,218-km) border.

Pressured by his political opposition, Nieto eventually asked Washington for an "explanation," but has not pursued the matter.

Venezuela, a staunch U.S. opponent, seemed unsurprised by Snowden's revelations, with Interior and Justice Minister Miguel Rodriguez saying his country's vast oil reserves and other natural resources made it a natural target of U.S. interests.

"We have enormous (natural) wealth and any country or empire that unquestionably sees its oil reserves dwindling and its energy-producing capacities gradually decreasing is going to see Venezuela, undoubtedly, as a tempting place to control," Rodriguez said last month at a meeting of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) trade bloc.

Strained Ties

Mainly as a result of the spying allegations, relations between the United States and several Latin American governments were especially strained this year.

Jean Guy Allard, a retired Canadian journalist and author, believes that an over-emphasis on generating wealth in the United States is having a negative influence on its domestic and foreign policy.

"Increasingly, the United States assumes positions resembling those of dictatorships, where the only thing it respects are the large corporations and it tries to justify to public opinion such serious crimes as spying on its own citizens and the rest of the world," Allard, an expert on U.S.-Latin America relations, told Xinhua.

"Under the pretext of fighting against terrorism, the White House invades the privacy of the international community," said the Canadian, who writes for Cuban state daily Granma.

Jesus Silva, a political scientist from the Central University of Venezuela, said Snowden's revelations reflected the "internal contradictions of a decadent system."

"Despite its great military, economic, political and communications might, the United States has to increasingly deal with emerging groups and non-governmental organizations that disagree with the system," he said.

Outlook on U.S.-Latam Relations

The spying revelations have threatened U.S. influence in Latin America, experts said.

In an interview with a U.S. news outlet, Carl Meacham, a former advisor to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described the effect that the Snowden case has had on the U.S. renewed efforts to strengthen ties with Latin America as akin to throwing a "bucket of cold water."

Mauricio Savarese, a Brazilian journalist who reports for Russian news broadcaster Russia Today, echoed Meacham's view, saying U.S. influence in the Western Hemisphere has been threatened as regional leaders would not remain silent about Washington's transgressions "without appearing weak."

Bilateral ties would be improved "when the U.S. is willing to understand that good relations can only be based on mutual respect," Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua has said.

[Source: Xinhua, Mexico City, 12Dec13]

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Privacy and counterintelligence
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