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Kerry faces Latin American grilling over NSA spying

US Secretary of State John Kerry had to face tough questioning over NSA surveillance in Colombia, ahead of his visit to Brazil – the country which has been the US’s top spying target in Latin America in Edward Snowden’s intelligence leaks.

Amid a chill in relations between Washington and Latin America, Brazil appears reluctant to go ahead with a planned $4 billion purchase of 36 US fighter jets, with sources close to the deal citing lack of trust as a reason, Reuters reported.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has expressed concern that the NSA’s e-mail and telephone surveillance targeted some of Brazil’s particularly sensitive sectors, such as oil production and the military.

If there was any involvement of other countries, of other businesses that aren’t Brazilian, then it’s certainly a violation of our sovereignty,” Rousseff said.   

Latin American leaders are also likely to quiz Kerry hard about the US role in downing Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plane in July. Morales was forced to land in Vienna after several European countries closed their airspace to his plane over suspicions that Edward Snowden, wanted in US on espionage charges, could be on board. Leaders of several countries in South America have already expressed outrage over the incident.

Kerry might have been anticipating a tough reception, as prior to his visit he tried to appease Brazilians, speaking of large-scale cooperation between the two countries in a Sunday Op-Ed column for Estado de Sao Paolo. Kerry particularly stressed bilateral trade between the countries, which currently stands at $75 billion.

"We both agree we must find a way to work through and move beyond this issue,” AP quoted Kerry as saying. “The stakes are far too high to let one issue detract from the clear momentum we've built toward an even more effective strategic relationship."

US Secretary of State John Kerry visits the anti-narcotics air base in Bogota on August 12, 2013.(AFP Photo / Luis Acosta)

While Kerry might be able to get through the trip publicly without any major embarrassments, he’ll most probably have to answer some tough questions behind closed doors, says political analyst Eric Draitser.

Brazilians are upset particularly with the regional perspective,” Draiser told RT. “We know that much of the surveillance was focused on the Organization of American States and some of the other regional groupings in which Brazil plays a key role and the US is attempting to use its surveillance and intelligence gathering as a way of leveraging the Brazilians as well as their regional partners in terms of their relations.”

While in Colombia on Monday, Kerry put a brave face on the NSA spying scandal, stressing that its spying programs did not violate the US legislation, and that they were essential to focus on terrorist threats.  

It's obvious to everybody that this is a dangerous world we're living in,” Kerry told reporters in Bogota.  “We are necessarily engaged in a very complex effort to prevent terrorists from taking innocent lives.” 

Kerry downplayed the NSA issue as only a small part of his Colombian visit’s agenda.
Meanwhile, Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said the country’s officials had traveled to Washington to find out more about the surveillance program.

We have received the necessary assurances to continue to work on this,'' she said. 

However, such diplomacy is likely to be tested to the full if further NSA data comes out. Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian journalist in possession of documents leaked by Edward Snowden, has said that new Snowden data will be released.

"There will certainly be many more revelations on spying by the US government and how they are invading the communications of Brazil and Latin America," Greenwald said August 7.