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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Civil-Military Relations Update

This post was compiled by WOLA Intern Michael Pelzer.

  • In Honduras, officers with the recently launched Military Public Order Police (PMOP), a new branch of the armed forces, have been deployed to the del Campo slums in southwest Tegucigalpa. The officers, donning ski-masks and assault rifles, were deployed to the region after numerous requests for assistance in dealing with violent criminal gangs. Numerous human rights organizations have voiced their apprehension, fearing that the military police are not equipped to deal with civilians and viewing abuses as likely.

  • The Congress of Honduras is debating legislation to enshrine the PMOP in the constitution. A number of legislators and presidential contenders have expressed concerns over this militarized police force that is to have 5,000 members. The measure to add the PMOP to the constitution would require approval of two thirds of the legislature.

  • The Inspector General of the Armed Forces of Nicaragua dismissed allegations of espionage against soldiers. Journalists and Catholic Church figures had filed a complaint that army officers had followed and spied on them while they were covering the military’s deployment to fight criminal bands operating in northern Nicaragua. The Inspector General said that the military does not engage in espionage of any sort, noting that its role is to “defend [the] national sovereignty, security, and integrity of the country.”

  • The Army and National Police of Nicaragua have expressed support for a proposed constitutional amendment that would, among other things, allow active-duty officers and police to serve in non-defense roles, including heading civilian government ministries.

  • In order to curb what Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro has labeled “usury,” National Guard troops have occupied a number of Daka electronics stores throughout the country. Maduro claims that Venezuela’s biggest provider of electronic goods had been overcharging consumers as much as 1200 percent, and has issued a 90% discount. In order for consumers to take advantage of the government induced sales, they must first register with the National Guardsmen administering waiting lists at the five various stores.

  • Venezuela President Maduro has also called for the installation of artillery batteries in densely populated neighborhoods outside of Caracas. Maduro claims that such installations are integral to a strong national defense and dissuading “imperialist” foreign powers. Maduro has also justified the purchase of Russian Sukhoi fighter jets with the same logic.

  • President Maduro has announced plans to expand the ranks of the Bolivarian Militia to one million by 2019. Maduro claims that this armed citizen militia force, made up of those most sympathetic to late President Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian revolution, acts as a centering force in the “economic war” being waged against the people of Venezuela. The militia is currently tasked with a number of civil roles including the monitoring of hospitals, the control of gasoline sales, the patrolling of public transport, and border protection.

  • Venezuela Agriculture Minister Yvan Gil announced that the military and militia groups will begin taking on an important role in agricultural policies in an effort to contend with shortages in basic foods and commodities. The armed forces are to produce much of their own food, and share surpluses with the population.

  • A collection of secret documents found in an Argentina air force basement provides unique insight into the culture of repression during the 1976–1983 dictatorship. Some of the files detailed “blacklists” of celebrities, politicians, and artists whom the government perceived as threatening their firm grasp on society.

  • Mexico military forces have seized one of the nation’s largest ports in response to complaints of wide-spread corruption and infiltration by drug cartels. The port of Lázaro Cárdenas in the western state of Michoacán had become a hub for precursor chemical shipments used by the Sinaloa and Knights Templar drug cartels to produce methamphetamine. The 156 port employees that manage customs enforcement and tax inspection are to be rotated out of their positions in an attempt to address corruption.

  • The secretary of national defense of Mexico, Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, announced the Army’s plans to launch a new training program aimed at engaging society and the armed forces on human rights. The military intends to transform its education system in order to instill “responsibility, social consciousness, and institutional loyalty.”

  • On October 31st representatives from the armed forces of Central America met to discuss the creation of a multilateral quick reaction force that would be made available to the United Nations upon request. The reaction force would be under the purview of the eight-nation Latin American Association of Peacekeeping Operations Centers (ALCOPAZ), which is currently headed by Guatemala.

  • After nearly a decade of peacekeeping operations in Haiti, the United Nations is taking steps to reduce its footprint. With a reduced international presence comes the necessity for the Haitian government to fill the security void. In response, President Michel Martelly has taken steps to revive the country’s coup-prone military, which was abolished in 1995. Martelly claims that the new military will serve as infrastructure support, boosting its engineer corps through multilateral training agreements.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Latin America Security by the Numbers

This post was compiled by WOLA Intern Michael Pelzer.

  • The defense minister of Guatemala, Manuel López Ambrosio, announced on October 7th that the army will maintain its ranks at 18,000 troops, with 4,000 of them slated for roles supporting the National Police. López Ambrosio defends the use of the military in quelling crime, claiming that there are widespread requests by both mayors and the general population for their use.

  • The government of Honduras plans to spend $30 million on a modern radar system capable of 360-degree detection of airplanes suspected of transporting narcotics. Honduran Defense Minister Marlon Pascua has indicated that the country is looking at systems from Israel, Ukraine, Argentina, Spain, Holland, and France. The Hondurans had previously operated off of information provided by U.S. forces stationed in the area; however Washington withdrew its intelligence sharing after numerous incidents of Honduran forces shooting down civilian planes.

  • The number of citizens of Guatemala deported from the United States has reached a record 41,000 so far this year. The entirety of 2012 saw the deportation of 40,647 Guatemalans.

  • Migrant rescues along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona are up 50% since 2011. Explanations for the trend include better cell service in the Arizona desert as well as a change in strategy for illegally entering the United States, with migrants taking more dangerous routes to avoid detection. 911 operators are often the first to interact with the lost migrants and must determine their location in order to send help. The rescue trend may also indicate that the number of migrants who died in the desert on U.S. soil also increased this year.

  • A recent report puts the number of homicides in Mexico since December 2012 at over 15,000, with a projected 17,000 in total for the year. Were this projection to hold true it would be the lowest murder total since 2009. The issue with these data, however is that “murders reported in criminal investigations goes to the Secretaria de Gobernacion, and death certificates that show murder as the cause of death go to the Instituto Nacional De Estadistica Y Geografia.”

  • Mexico authorities arrested 13 federal police officers on October 8th on suspicion of involvement in a kidnapping ring. The group is allegedly responsible for four kidnappings and at least seven murders.

  • Five years and $2 billion in U.S. aid later, the government of Mexico admits is falling short on its promise to reform its federal and local police forces. The program calls for an in depth vetting of current and future officers, including background checks and polygraphs, with those that did not meet the requirements to be removed from the police force. Of 36,000 federal, state, and local officers who failed vetting tests, fewer than a third have been fired.

  • A 600-man detachment of the Navy of the People’s Liberation Army of China arrived in Chile on October 7th. The visit was part of a five day visit to strengthen bilateral relationships and military ties between the two Pacific trading countries.

  • The cost of crime in Chile has risen 172% between 2000 and 2012, according to the “Libertad y Desarrollo” think-tank, with the 2012 cost comprising roughly 2.23% of GDP. In an attempt to curb rising crime rates, the government has increased security sector spending by nearly 188%.

  • In Brazil, police and military Special Forces began their 35th pacification operation in the favelas in and around Rio de Janeiro. The operation plans to target a dozen of the shanty towns in the Lins complex, in an attempt to drive out drug dealers and other criminals. Due to numerous abuses, the Pacifying Police Units (UPP) are often looked upon with skepticism by residents, although many are still optimistic that they can improve their lives. The pacification program comes in preparation for the 2014 World Cup Championships being held in Rio.

  • In Brazil, An additional 15 police officers have been charged in the murder of Amarildo Dias de Souza, a bricklayer who disappeared in July from Rio de Janeiro’s Rocinha favela. Mr. Dias de Souza’s high-profile case has been a black eye for the Rio state government’s highly touted Favela Pacification Program.

  • On October 9th a joint operation by Dominican Republic and U.S. forces ended in the seizure of 1,110 kilograms of cocaine. The pursuit lasted nearly an hour and ended in the arrest of three traffickers.

  • The recent seizure of four tons of cocaine in Ecuador signals that trafficking within the country is on the rise. With the addition of these two raids, the past nine months have seen 38 tons of cocaine seized, although estimates by the American Police Community claim that nearly 120 tons of cocaine are transferred through the country each year. The high volume of captured narcotics could also signify a higher interdiction rate.

  • In Colombia, ELN guerillas operating near the Venezuelan border have claimed that they have conducted more than 50 attacks targeting security forces and oil infrastructure. The ELN claim they will continue the attacks until the government agrees to negotiate an oil tax of $10 per barrel to compensate for claimed damage caused by petroleum exploitation.

  • Officials in Panama have stated that they will release 33 of the 35 crew members captured on a boat transporting weapons from Cuba to North Korea. The freighter ship was concealing, under a shipment of sugar, MIG fighter jets, spare parts, and anti aircraft missiles bound for North Korea, in apparent violation of United Nations Security Council sanctions.

  • A seizure in Peru of four tons of cocaine is one of the country’s largest in recent years. It indicates Peru’s growing role as a supplier to the European market. The cocaine was seized in Paita, one of Peru’s largest international ports, and was believe to be destined for Lithuania.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

U.S. military exercises in August and September

This post was compiled by WOLA Intern Michael Pelzer.

Entire Region, Colombia

  • The 54th annual edition of “UNITAS,” a U.S. - South American sponsored naval exercise, kicked off on September 9th. “Operating in the Caribbean waters off Colombia through Sept. 15,“ read a Southern Command release, ”the participants in Unitas 2013 will focus on coalition building, multilateral security cooperation, tactical interoperability and mutual understanding among the participants.” Another document explains, “During 10 days at sea, 19 ships conducted a full spectrum of maritime operations, including electronic warfare, anti-air warfare and air defense, anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare and maritime interdiction operations.”

Entire Region, Panama

  • PANAMAX 2013, a joint exercise between the United States and 17 other Latin American nations, spanned from August 12th to 16th. Its focus was to develop participating nations’ capacity “to plan and execute complex multilateral operations … under the support of United Nations Security Council Resolutions.”

Belize

  • On September 4th, U.S. Marine Corps General John Kelly, Commander of U.S. Southern Command, visited with Belizean military and civilian defense officials to discuss “security engagement and joint activities” between the United States and Belize. Part of the talks included the humanitarian assistance exercise “New Horizons,” which seeks to improve interoperability and joint humanitarian response techniques. A similar exercise will take place in 2014.

El Salvador

  • On August 14th high-ranking U.S. and Salvadoran military officials met to identify and discuss strategies for improving interoperability. The meeting culminated in both Major General Joseph DiSalvo of SOUTHCOM and Salvadoran Brig. Gen. William Armando Mejia signing a memorandum of understanding. The major issues guiding cooperation were identified prior to the signing in a number of steering sessions that led to the development of a “bilateral engagement plan that includes knowledge, capabilities and support for current and future peace-keeping, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and other combined operations.”

Guatemala

  • Texas National Guardsmen and Border Patrol tactical units teamed up to lead a training program for Guatemalan soldiers and federal police from the newly created Tecún Umán Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF). The program addressed a number of skills including “fundamentals of marksmanship, weapons maintenance, sand table preparations, mounted and dismounted operations, and gunnery skills.” The spirit of the training course was one of building connections between the two nations’ armed forces, with U.S. and Guatemalan soldiers working side by side in on simulated missions during the day and sharing the same barracks at night.

Honduras

  • Thirteen advisors from the United States’ Mobility Support Advisory Squadron led a 35 day training seminar in Honduras to train 50 partner nation personnel on aircraft maintenance, secure communications, command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

  • On August 23rd, airmen from Joint Task Force Bravo engaged in a joint exercise with Honduran forces, simulating a response to a downed aircraft. The exercise took place outside of the boundaries of the Soto Cano Airbase in Comayagua, adding a greater degree of reality to the simulation. Joint Security Forces Commander Robert Shaw noted that “This is a way for our joint security force members to be tested in their individual and collective tasks."

Trinidad and Tobago

  • U.S. Green Berets and Special Forces units from Trinidad and Tobago engaged in a four week Joint Combined Exchange Training Program. The month long Special Operations Forces training activity allowed members of Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) to work on interoperability and bilateral relations, to train in an unfamiliar environment, and to improve their tactics and area knowledge. SOCSOUTH planners intend to hold similar events with several other countries in the coming months.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Week Ahead: October 19, 2013

Adam talks about a U.S.-backed coca eradication offensive in Peru, a delivery of U.S. helicopters and equipment to Guatemala, and a series of events affecting human rights and the judicial system in El Salvador.

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Podcast: The Week Ahead, October 12, 2013

Adam talks about the recent troubles of Rio de Janeiro's Favela Pacification Program, the Venezuelan President's quest for decree powers, and politics in Argentina as President Cristina Fernández undergoes brain surgery.

Subscribe to the "Just the Facts" podcast here and on iTunes. Thank you for listening.





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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Latin America Security by the Numbers

This post was compiled by WOLA Intern Michael Pelzer.

  • 2013 marks the 20th anniversary
    of U.S. Border Patrol’s “Operation Hold the Line,” whose objective was to reduce the number of illegal border crossings. The program called for increased physical presence at the El Paso border crossing point to serve as a “show of force” and dissuade would be crossers from Mexico. This program was initially hailed as a success, however experts cited in an extensive El Paso Times analysis claim that it forced undocumented immigrants to enter the United States in more dangerous places or to seek out those who deal in smuggling people across borders, thus feeding into organized crime.

  • The Central State of Mexico has hired hundreds of women to fill the ranks of the corruption-prone State Transit Police. Ecatepec Police Chief Carlos Ortega Carpinteyro, a strong supporter of the initiative, claims that “women are more trustworthy and take their oath of office more seriously. They don’t ask for or take bribes." As it stands, the female traffic officers are limited to issuing verbal warnings until certain anti-corruption standards are put in place and the officers are determined to be compliant with them.

  • Forty years too late, the government of Chile has located Raymond E. Davis, a former U.S. naval officer charged with complicity in the murder of two American journalists. The Chilean government charged Davis, the chief of the military group in the U.S. embassy at the time of Chile’s September 11, 1973 coup, with passing information to two Chilean intelligence officers working with the Pinochet regime, ultimately leading to the journalists’ execution. The Chilean government had processed orders for extradition with the United States, only to find out that Davis had died in an affluent nursing home near Santiago.

  • In Colombia, the government’s Agency for Reintegration (ACR) has stated that it is ready to receive up to 40,000 former combatants if a peace process should succeed. The US$90 million-per-year program seeks to rehabilitate former fighter, providing psychological support, education, and vocational training. ACR Director Alejandro Éder notes the difficulty of the program: “they [ex-combatants] are coming from a completely different society and you essentially have to train them about everything.” The ACR’s pronouncement comes as FARC representatives note “modest progress” being made in peace talks between the Colombian government and the former leftist turned narcotics trafficking paramilitary group.

  • Recent figures released by the government of Colombia claim that more than 3,500 guerrilla fighters have demobilized over the past three years. With mass demobilization comes the difficulty of not only rehabilitating the former fighters, many of whom have been with the FARC since they were children, but also the difficulty of ensuring their acceptance into the Colombian population as a whole.

  • In a sweep of the notorious Sabaneta prison, authorities in Venezuela discovered a weapons cache containing over one hundred firearms, more than 20,000 rounds of ammunition, as well as grenades and tear gas canisters.. In addition to the weapons, 26 pounds of marijuana and cocaine were discovered in a hidden underground labyrinth of tunnels. Prison authorities have made assurances that those responsible for smuggling will be held responsible for their actions.

  • Documents discovered by the Truth Commission working in Brazil shed light on specific operations that occurred between 1964 and 1974, the first ten years of a 21-year dictatorship. The roughly 1.2 million pages of documentation were converted into microfilm by CENIMAR (service to the Navy), in order to preserve some of the dictatorship’s specific history.

  • As part of the urban pacification program in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 590 police officers and 180 soldiers entered into the Lins de Vasconcelos favela, in northern Rio, “securing” the community with the intention of installing two police stations. The addition of these Police Pacification Units (UPP) will bring the total to 36 across the city that will host next year’s World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Olympics. Both the UPP’s and Brazil’s government have been facing mounting criticism over charges that some UPP personnel, particularly in neighborhoods most recently “pacified,” are abusing the population.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Podcast: The Week Ahead, October 5, 2013

Adam looks at new data about U.S.-Mexico border security and migration, the upcoming election in Honduras, and how Latin American media commentators are viewing the U.S. government shutdown.

Subscribe to the "Just the Facts" podcast here and on iTunes. Thank you for listening.





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Friday, October 4, 2013

Arms Trafficking and Arms Transfers Update

This post was prepared by WOLA Intern Michael Pelzer.

  • On September 25th, Secretary of State John Kerry signed the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty, raising the number of signatories to 107. The United States’ signature of this treaty is noteworthy considering its role as the number one arms exporter in the world, with roughly a 30% share of the $90 billion dollar global industry. The treaty seeks to stymie the flow of arms to groups who would seek to violate human rights and engage in terrorism. The bill, however, still needs to be ratified by the Senate, where it faces significant opposition by both Republican members of Congress and private interest groups like the National Rifle Association.

  • A number of South American countries have expressed an interest in South Korea’s recently unveiled FA–50 light attack aircraft. The aircraft is a multi-purpose jet fighter that can carry both air-to-air missiles and precision guided bombs. The versatility and low cost of the FA–50 make it an attractive option to South American militaries seeking to upgrade their existing air force technology.

  • Brazil and Pakistan have begun talks with the intention of broadening their industrial defense ties. The goal is to strengthen ties with an emerging market for Brazil’s growing defense sector. Pakistan is part of a region that Brazil is beginning to see as strategically more important in terms of its foreign policy goals.

  • The Panamanian government has disclosed more information on the contents of the North Korean ship canal authorities seized in July. A report by Panamanian authorities and United Nations officials indicates that the quantity of illicit content on the North Korea-bound ship was much larger than initially reported. The contents included small arms, rocket propelled grenades, ammunition, night vision gear, and artillery, as well as MIG–21 fuselages and engines. Upon the ship’s seizure, Cuba initially claimed that the contents were being sent to North Korea for repair and refurbishment; reports and photographs published by the Panamanian government, however, indicate that most items were in new condition and still in factory packaging.

  • Bolivian President Evo Morales negotiated the purchase of six Super-Puma helicopters from the French government. Bolivia claims it will purchase the helicopters for use in the war against narcotics traffickers, and as a means of updating their aging fleet. French president Francois Hollande pledged that he would negotiate with Eurocopter directly on Morales’s behalf, allowing the transfer of the first two helicopters in early 2014; transfers such as these are normally delayed a requisite 18–24 months.

  • Argentina has negotiated a $230 million deal with the Spanish government to purchase sixteen decommissioned Mirage F–1 fighter jets. The arms deal comes in response to pressure from Cristina Kirchner’s military aides, who voiced concerns over the Air Force’s nearly obsolete Mirage III fighters, which were designed and manufactured in the mid-fifties. Argentina was originally considering the purchase of a number of new aircraft. Faced with mounting energy costs and rising inflation, however, a multi-billion dollar fighter jet deal similar to one Brazil is considering was not viewed as feasible.

  • A jury was selected for the trial of seven El Salvadoran soldiers charged with the sale and distribution of illegal arms, including over 1,800 grenades. The soldiers were originally tasked with the collection and destruction of captured ordnance and weapons, but instead stashed the illicit arms for resale later. Prosecutors claim that a batch of rockets that were seized in Honduras was in fact part of a cache of explosives the seven soldiers were supposed to have destroyed.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Civil-Military Relations Update

This post was compiled by WOLA Intern Michael Pelzer.

  • Forty years after the 1973 coup in Chile, the nation has yet to come to grips with what happened. Chile has made strides towards reconciliation through the publishing of reports on the human rights abuses of the dictatorship, prosecution of some who committed abuses, and the apology of government officials who let it happen. One institution, however, refuses to accept its role: those searching for answers continually lobby the army for information pertaining to the rampant abuses during the seventies and eighties, only to be stonewalled by claims that that there is no more information to be provided.

  • In preparation for the 2014 Soccer World Cup, Brazil is employing an aggressive approach to ensuring security. Employing tactics akin to that of counterinsurgency strategy, Special Forces enter a neighborhood, remove gang leaders, and search for drugs and weapons. After this initial shock and awe, a Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) is established. The UPPs are essentially federal police stations, manned by officers educated in community policing, whose job it is to patrol around the clock. As of present, 34 UPPs have been established with another six to be built before the World Cup next July. Thus far the areas where UUPs have been established have seen a reduction in crime, though there are some concerns. The areas where UUPs have been built are disproportionately wealthy, leading some to conclude that the new security policy is meant only to benefit a certain sector of society.

  • Honduras’ recent creation of a new 5,000 person military police force tasked with combating organized crime was met with mixed reactions. The new force will be comprised of officers with experience in fighting organized crime who have gone through psychological testing and passed a polygraph. The first two units of this force, comprised of roughly 500 men each, were deployed to Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. Some fear that the increased militarization of police forces will only worsen the situation in Honduras.
  • A recent op-ed piece in Excelsior described the dual role that the armed forces play in the security policy of Mexico. Íñigo Guevara noted that in an ideal world, the military would exist to defend Mexico only against external threats, but argued that present insecurity requires the military to take on both national defense and internal security. The security void the Mexican military fills is one of a counterinsurgency force, says Guevara. The author describes the recent shift of public security operations from direct action by the military, to inter-institutional operations with the goal of diminishing competition between agencies and promoting cooperation through the use of Mixed Operations Bases that coordinate interagency action.
  • In Venezuela, the government of Nicolás Maduro has reasserted the military's internal role in public security, notes WOLA's Venezuela blog. Measures include the replacement of the head of civil security with a national guardsman. Under Plan Patria Segura, Maduro has expanded the role of military forces in performing roles normally delegated to law enforcement. This new role has led to a number of abuses; in 2012, the blog notes, "164 people lost their lives at the hands of the military."
  • In an effort to address prison overcrowding, the government of Colombia has put forth a plan that will make use of army engineers in the construction of medium security prisons in rural areas. The project seeks to increase prison capacity by ten thousand, with the creation of roughly one hundred new facilities built by soldiers. The government’s goal is to ameliorate overcrowding.

Friday, September 27, 2013

NSA spying and a new low in U.S.-Brazil relations

This post was written by WOLA Intern Michael Pelzer.

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff formally cancelled her planned October 23 visit to Washington D.C. in response to United States spying activities in Brazil, despite attempts by high ranking U.S. officials, including President Obama himself, to convince her otherwise. Rousseff’s staunch position comes in response to revelations surrounding National Security Agency (NSA) documents leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden. These leaks have profound implications for for the future of U.S.- Brazil relations with President Rousseff calling them “totally unacceptable,” and stating that “meddling in such a manner in the lives and affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and, as such, it is an affront to the principles that should otherwise govern relations among countries, especially among friendly nations.”

The exposure of a broad reaching and intrusive NSA initiative codenamed “PRISM”, among other programs, has led to varying degrees of diplomatic backlash from nations considered friends and allies.

PRISM is essentially a data-mining program that collects information passing through American Internet servers. Information is compiled without the permission of individuals or nations; it is then broken down and analyzed by the NSA.

The realization that the United States government was spying on citizens of nations considered friends or allies, has put a strain on relations around the globe. Heads of state from Europe, Asia and Latin America have claimed it to be a violation of sovereignty, as well as a poor precedent for use of new technologies set by the United States, the world’s most influential democracy.

Documents published by the Guardian have noted a three tier system of spying within Brazil, well beyond the PRISM program. Like many other nations, Brazilian citizens’ phone and Internet traffic was monitored, collected and analyzed—without government permission. This is especially disconcerting to the Brazilian people, who are still grappling with the legacy of a twenty year dictatorship defined by surveillance, repression, and a lack of transparency. Furthermore under programs like Blarney and Fairview, users social media data was scooped up and analyzed. Brazilians are avid users of social media, ranking third globally in terms of Facebook usage and second for both Youtube and Twitter.

The second tier of the NSA spy program involved the interception of phone calls, text messages, and emails between Rousseff and members of her staff. U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper claimed that the program was focused on combating terrorism and did not target personal communications — but the new revelations about spying on Rousseff’s communications contradicted that assurance. Rousseff saw this breach as “unacceptable” citing violations of national sovereignty.

As egregious an invasion of privacy as intercepting presidential text messages may have been, the revelation that the NSA hacked into the computers of Brazilian mega-company Petrobras met with the most outrage. Rousseff likened the incident to industrial espionage, arousing fears that the United States was attempting to gain an upper hand in the upcoming auction of the Libra oil field in October. Clapper refuted outright these implications, claiming that “The department does not engage in economic espionage in any domain, including cyber.” Clapper clarified this point by noting that:

“We collect this information for many important reasons: for one, it could provide the United States and our allies early warning of international financial crises which could negatively impact the global economy. It also could provide insight into other countries’ economic policy or behavior which could affect global markets.”

Rousseff responded with skepticism, questioning the intentions of the United States government. This skepticism led Rousseff to commission an investigation into the alleged hack. In a September 18 Senate hearing, Petrobras President Maria das Graças Foster testified that “there was no breach or any sign of a hacking attempt if there was one.” In all reality, the incentive for hacking the files does not balance with the risk of being caught doing so: almost all of the information pertaining to the Libra oil field was already publicly available.

The big question about NSA spying activities in Brazil is quite simply, why? Brazil has no history of terrorist connections and is not exactly a springboard for international terrorism. The answer inhabits the grey line between national security and national interest.

The President’s line is one claiming ignorance of the program’s pervasiveness and making assurances that the White House will consider making changes after a review. The intelligence community has responded differently; rather than apologizing, it is offering a justification for its actions, citing the importance of combating terrorism abroad. This mixed response by the United States government is a reflection of its relationship with Brazil in general: one of stated trust amid quiet skepticism.

Much of the NSA’s interest in Brazil owes to its location. Telecommunication lines from Europe, Africa and parts of the Middle East cross the Atlantic and converge in Brazil. It is worth noting that there are very few locations like this around the globe. Hubs like these are chokepoints for international communications, consolidating the interactions of millions into a single location providing a one stop shop for all the NSA’s information needs. Furthermore, Brazil is also a hub for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a clearing house for international financial transaction communications. SWIFT provides a secure means of sending sensitive banking information between more than ten thousand financial institutions in 212 countries. Again, this provides intelligence agencies with a swath of sensitive information that has the potential to incriminate the financiers of terrorist organizations as well as the intended recipients of that money.

Some have labeled Rousseff’s outraged response a product of political pandering, citing her desire to rally public opinion for the upcoming 2014 elections. Although her approval rating is relatively high, a September 12 poll put her at 58%, rallying public support is always on the prospectus for an incumbent politician. Had she not made a statement, Rousseff would have come across as inept or worse, weak. Brazil is attempting to establish itself in the world and in order to do so it cannot be humiliated by other nations. By standing up to the United States, Rousseff is playing off an important historical legacy with implications for the future.

Brazil’s Cold War history is defined by a succession of brutally repressive military dictators whose lineage began with a 1964 coup, which was supported by the United States. The memories of that coup and the following two decades of military dictators are a dark period in Brazilian history and a legacy of U.S. meddling. During the military regime, Rousseff associated herself with various Marxist and left-leaning movements leading to her eventual imprisonment and torture. It stands to reason that the discovery of a clandestine surveillance program by a U.S. spy agency triggered fears of a resurgent meddling of the United States in Brazilian affairs, something alluded to in her address to the United Nations where she noted “As many other Latin Americans, I fought against authoritarianism and censorship, and I cannot but defend, in an uncompromising fashion, the right to privacy of individuals and the sovereignty of my country.”

Rousseff’s cancellation is a means of asserting Brazil’s independence within the region. Her meeting with Obama was the only scheduled official state visit to the White House this year, and was a representation of Brazil’s growing importance within the hemisphere. Brazil’s willingness to voice protest against the United States may represent a paradigmatic shift in U.S.-Brazil relations; changing from one of U.S. dominance to one of greater Brazilian independence and regional relevance.

Rousseff is now pushing for a number of reforms in an attempt to curb U.S. spying; the two main reforms would be the passage of an Internet constitution and the creation of localized servers.

The Internet constitution itself is not a new concept. It was originally proposed in 2009. However, recent revelations have fast-tracked its consideration. The Marco Civil da Internet will spell out the expectations and rights of the government, businesses, and the population with regard to the Internet and its usage.

The second, and potentially more contentious, response is Rousseff’s push to mandate local servers designed by Brazilian companies. The broad objective of this move would be to put the management of information in the hands of Brazilians, rather than in those of multinational corporations complicit with the U.S. intelligence community. Agencies such as the NSA work with American software developers in order to build backdoors into programs that allow eavesdropping. By designing Internet and security software in house, Rousseff is hoping to avoid this type of issue in the future. Mandating companies wishing to operate in Brazil to have local servers is also an attempt to manage the flow of private information out of Brazil and into the hands of companies that share it with various governments.

Concerns have been raised about these types of programs, with some saying that they will create barriers in the Internet, act as anticompetitive measures boosting domestic companies, or simply won’t work. How effective or ineffective these programs will or will not be is not what is at the center of this shift, rather it is the statement being made by instituting them in the first place.

Brazil’s actions have implications for both the U.S. economy and security sector. The importance of Brazil as a consumer economy, especially in terms of social media, will lead many companies to follow proposed Brazilian legislations, building domestic servers and ultimately rasing operating costs. Facebook, for example, operates a global network out of the United States and Sweden. Brazilian reforms like the ones proposed would require Facebook to build facilities in Brazil as well, raising costs significantly. In fact, Forrester Research, a business forecasting service, estimates that this type of reform could cost U.S. companies 180 billion dollars by 2016—constituting a 25% hit to information technology service providers.

However, the real effects of this legislation would be felt if it spread. Brazil is setting a precedent, directly confronting the ways in which large technology firms operate. This forces them to reconsider their relationship with governments and consumers, prompting a much needed conversation about the role of private information, technology firms, and national security.

Perhaps the more profound impact of Brazil’s push is the ways in which it will affect both current and future U.S. intelligence programs. Nations across the globe reacted by condemning the NSA program, calling it an invasion of their citizens’ privacy and a breach of national sovereignty; but their outrage was markedly reserved, for most never extending beyond verbal condemnation. Dilma Rousseff, on the other hand, has not remained silent on the issue; instead she has used what influence she has to try and influence U.S. spying policy. This is very much because Brazil is in a relatively unique position, insofar as some of the leaks coming from Snowden dealt directly with Brazil. This served as a direct affront to Rousseff and her people, forcing a more vehement response.

By further asserting her nation’s autonomy from the United States as well as Brazil’s influence within the region and around the globe, Rousseff can encourage other nations to take similar measures. The hope is that Rousseff’s actions will force a much needed conversation on what defines sovereignty in a world that is increasingly shaped by boundless communication and an unregulated security sector that seeks to exploit it.