El Hermano Mayor

by Geraldo Rivera | Nov 01, 2013

To say that institutional trust is fragile between the U.S. and Latin America is to understate the undeniable. Even before the world ever heard of NSA spying, after decades of armed intervention and engineered coups, most Latin nations did not trust the American behemoth as far they could throw the Empire State building.

Historically, the distrust has been fueled by envy, anti-Yanqui hype and bitter shared history. From at least what President Grant labeled the "Wicked War" of 1846, which ripped the American Southwest from Mexico, and the Spanish-American War of 1898 where the prizes included Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines, there has been deep distrust of official Washington.

The stereotype of Yankee imperialism was only deepened in the 20th Century by our support of repressive dictators ranging from the Dominican Republic's Trujillo to Somoza of Nicaragua and Pinochet of Chile.

Now comes the era of electronic surveillance, and the most effective anti-American propagandist since Che Guevara; it's the bespectacled gringo named Edward Snowden.

The nerdy leaker's latest revelations prove graphically that the National Security Agency has been trampling privacy rights all over Central and South America; going so far as to track the personal phone calls and emails of the presidents of Brazil and Mexico.

Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño called NSA's Spy-palooza "an international crime...It doesn't just violate international law, it violates international trust," he said in an interview with democracy.org, a popular left-wing blog.

The foreign minister also disclosed how in the Ecuadorean embassy in London where Snowden's friend and ally Wiki-leaks founder Julian Assange has sought asylum; they found, "a hidden microphone in the office of our ambassador."

According to the German magazine Der Spiegel, which analyzed the classified documents leaked by Snowden, in 2010 NSA hacked into the email account of Mexican President Felipe Calderon. In an operation dubbed "Flat-liquid" access to Calderon's electronic communications gave our intelligence operatives "diplomatic, economic and leadership communications which continue to provide insight into Mexico's political system and internal stability."

The documents analyzed by the German magazine also reveal an earlier NSA operation called "White-tamale" (I'm not making this up) which allowed the agency to access emails of high-ranking Mexican officials in the country's Public Security Secretariat, the agency that combats drug cartels and human trafficking. According to various press accounts, beginning in 2009, the operation produced 260 classified reports that facilitated "diplomatic talking points."

In other words, since 2009 we've had the upper hand in bilateral negotiations between Mexico and the United States because we knew what their positions were before we even met with them.

Further, Mexican newspapers allege the intelligence produced by NSA helped America gain a commercial advantage over Mexico in trade negotiations.

One of the secret documents disclosed by Glenn Greenwald, Snowden's primary faucet states, "These TAO (Tailored Access Operations designed to obtain secret information) ...are just the beginning, we intend to go much further against this important target."

NSA spying on the current Mexican president Peña Nieto began when he was still campaigning for office in June 2012, according to Der Spiegel and Brazilian TV Globo, which has also been reporting the spying story aggressively. NSA harvested 85,489 text messages between Mexico's Nieto and nine of his close associates in a single year, the outlets report.

"This practice is unacceptable, illegal and against Mexican and international law," the Mexican Foreign Ministry said in its statement of outrage, adding, "In a relationship between neighbors and partners there is no place for the actions that allegedly took place."

Of all our "neighbors and partners" none is as angry at us as Brazil, South America's largest and economically most important nation. The disclosure of surveillance by the United States of the personal emails and cell phone calls of President Dilma Rousseff has ignited a firestorm of protest that included the cancellation of President Rousseff's planned goodwill trip this year to the United States.

And the Brazilians think we're doing it for the money. Globo alleges that economic espionage rather than U.S. national security was the primary motive for the surveillance. One high priority target, according to the reports was the Brazilian oil giant, Petrobras.

The Latino mother country, Spain also discovered this week that our National Security Agency collected data on 60 million telephone calls in Spain. On Monday, the Spanish government summoned the American ambassador for an urgent parlay.

After meeting with the Spanish foreign minister, U.S. Ambassador James Costos issued a statement acknowledging the widespread anger about our pervasive snooping, saying, "Ultimately, the United States needs to balance the important role these (spying) programs play in protecting our national security and protecting the security of our allies with legitimate privacy concerns."

In response, Inigo Mendez de Vigo, the Spanish secretary of state called on Washington to clarify "the reach of measures that, if proven to be true, are improper and unacceptable between partners and friendly countries."

The Spanish prime minister was blunter. "Spying activities aren't proper among partner countries and allies."

President Obama promised "an exhaustive investigation."

With the United States pre-occupied by the Obamacare debacle, and Mr. Snowden settled down in an I.T. job in Moscow, Americans aren't paying much attention to the NSA spying scandal right now. Rest assured, from the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego in remotest southern Argentina, Latinos are focused on this latest chapter in the long, sad saga of El Hermano Mayor.

Big Brother really is watching.

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