Brazilian President Snubs White House

Brazilian President Snubs White House

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff indefinitely postponed a planned state visit to Washington, the latest fallout from the ongoing release of classified documents by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Rousseff had been scheduled to visit the White House in late October, but she abruptly put off the trip Tuesday because of allegations that Snowden had documents showing that the NSA had routinely read emails and text messages between Rousseff and her top advisors and eavesdropped on their phone calls.  Secretary of John Kerry traveled to Brazil in August as part of an attempt to tamp down public fury over earlier reports about purported U.S. spying, but his efforts weren’t enough to persuade Rousseff to go ahead with her trip.

In a statement announcing the delay, the White House said that President Obama "understands and regrets the concerns disclosures of alleged U.S. intelligence activities have generated in Brazil" but was committed to working with Rousseff to "move beyond this issue as a source of tension in our bilateral relationship."  The statement said that the trip had been postponed until the two sides could agree on a new date, but it gave no indication of when that might be.

Brazil is one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries in Latin America, so Rousseff’s decision to postpone her visit – and her obvious anger at the U.S. — has potentially far-reaching implications for Washington’s standing and influence in the region.  It is extremely rare for a head of state to call off an already-scheduled state visit, so the move is also a profound embarrassment for the administration.

The delay comes just two weeks after journalist Glenn Greenwald told a popular Brazilian TV station that Snowden possessed classified materials showing that the NSA had listened in on Rousseff’s communications with her aides, as well as on conversations between the advisors themselves. 

Greenwald’s allegations sparked widespread fury in Brazil.  The country’s foreign minister, Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, said at the time that the purported spying was an "inadmissible and unacceptable violation of Brazilian sovereignty."

"The Brazilian government wants prompt, formal explanations in relation to the facts revealed in the report," he said then.

The Obama administration has spent months trying to ease widespread Brazilian anger over purported NSA spying efforts, but the issue has continued to cloud Washington’s relationship with the Latin American power.  When Kerry visited the country in August, the Associated Press reported that protesters massed outside the Foreign Minister and shouted "go away, spies" as his delegation drove away from the facility.