Bad friend or good enemy: Snowden scandal shadows Kerry in Brazil

Adrian Salbuchi
Adrian Salbuchi is an international political analyst, researcher and consultant. Author of several books on geopolitics in Spanish and English (including ‘The Coming World Government: Tragedy & Hope’), he is also a conference speaker in Argentina and radio/TV commentator. He writes op-ed pieces for RT Spanish as well as RT English, and is a regular guest on alternative media radio and TV shows in the US, Europe and Latin America. Adrian currently hosts his TV show ‘Segunda República’ on Channel TLV1 – Toda La Verdad Primero – in Buenos Aires, and is founder of the Second Republic Project (Proyecto Segunda República), a sovereign governance model for Argentina, Latin American countries and elsewhere. His website is:; YouTube
Bad friend or good enemy: Snowden scandal shadows Kerry in Brazil
Brazil should be on guard as US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Brazil attempting to achieve some measure of damage control and revive negotiations over military contracts which were disturbed after the Snowden leaks.

Brazil became part of the unfolding Snowden scandal when it was revealed that America’s electronic eavesdropping programs included huge amounts of Brazilian public and private communications involving sensitive military, energy and commercial secrets.

Needless to say, Kerry’s task in the country won’t be easy. The US must learn that its behavior of talking in friendly terms, but acting in a less than friendly manner is destroying its trustworthiness and credibility worldwide.

America’s nasty backyard policies

For decades, Latin America was considered by the US as its “backyard”. It was always easy for them to push around – even bully and invade - those Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries in order to suitably line them up behind US interests.

With the passage of time, Latin American countries grew, matured and lost their innocence.  Today, they’ve become very suspicious of their powerful neighbor to the North, especially with so many secrets having come to light regarding Washington’s systematic and direct endorsement, support and financing of right-wing pro-US civilian-military regimes in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Whatever went down in Latin America, it was all justified under a Cold War rationale, with the using perceiving its actions as the best way to keep the former Soviet Union and China out of the region. 

For over a century, Latin America suffered no territorial attack from Europeans or anyone else for that matter, lending some measure of dissuasive credibility to the Monroe Doctrine’s “hands-off, Europeans” declaration, which swore that “America is for Americans”.

That is, until the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas War pitted Argentina against Britain, prompting the US to not only trample on its own Monroe Doctrine, but also on the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance signed in Rio de Janeiro right after World War II at their behest.  Not only did the US not side with the bulk of Latin American countries – most of which have since left the treaty - but instead fully supported its key ally, the UK, in military, diplomatic, economic and financial terms.

That was thirty years ago you might say, but if we fast-forward to more recent times, America’s long history of orchestrating coups throughout Latin American lands continued recently in Venezuela against Hugo Chavez (2004).  We can add to this its unjust decades-long embargo against Cuba and its pressure in June on several European countries to intercept and force Bolivia’s presidential airplane, which was carrying President Evo Morales on board, to land. The reason: the US suspected the aircraft might have been transporting former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden out of Moscow, where president Morales had just attended a meeting. 

Tanya Lokshina / Human Rights Watch

Nope...The US is definitely not perceived as a good friend by Latin America.  At best, it is seen as a bad friend; and more often than not, as a “good enemy” that the whole continent has to reckon with because of its power, leverage and aggressive foreign policies.  Somewhat like the neighborhood bully that everybody knows it’s best to say “Hi!” from a distance and not get into trouble with…

Officially, Kerry’s trip to Brazil was to prepare a state visit for its President Dilma Rouseff to Washington next October, which will no doubt take place in spite of this spying scandal. 

But a far more important behind-the-scenes issue has to do with military and economic issues.  Notably, the US is trying to sell 36 Boeing F16 Super Hornet jet fighters to Brazils’ powerful Air Force, a contract worth more than $4 billion. 

Boeing’s aircraft is their Air Force’s preferred choice, but Brazil’s political leaders are having second thoughts for a series of good reasons that have to do not just with the Snowden scandal, but also because of the increasing encroachment the US and UK are meting out to Brazil, as we reported in an article published by RT last June.

Not just a technical issue

Brazil’s Air Force has been pressing for renewal of its aged Mirage jet fighter fleet for decades now, and the time is fast approaching for the fleet’s renewal.  Aside from Boeing’s F17, they have other choices: not just from such manufacturers as Dassault Aviation of France and Sweden's Saab, but also from Russian and Chinese suppliers. 

Brazil recently made a sizeable high-tech surface-to-air missile defense deal with Russia to protect next year’s World Cup and 2016’s Olympics.

Does it really make a difference where Brazil shops for its fighter jets?  It certainly does, and it’s not just a case of technical specs and multi-billion dollar price tags. 

When a country acquires its military gear and materiel from another country, an important state of dependency arises, whereby the purchasing country will need from the selling country many years of support in terms of sale of spare parts, maintenance issues, pilot and engineer training, updates in avionics, weaponry, plus a very long list of highly complex et ceteras.

Truly sovereign countries design, build, operate, maintain and update their own military gear: the US, UK, Russia, China, and the EU. 

However, if a country cannot do that and has no choice but to acquire its military materiel from another country, then it had better make sure that never ever will they enter into any serious confrontation with that country.  The results would be devastating in terms of being unable to obtain all those much needed parts, repair and maintenance services, etc., which will no doubt occur during a national emergency. 

In times of “peace” everybody smiles and says nice things....  In times of war, however, countries act based on their own national interest, which is logical. 

Going back to our example of the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas War, look at what happened to Argentina as it fought the British Atlantic Fleet sent from London to take back those islands. Argentina’s Navy was at the time equipped with state-of-the-art Dessault “Super Etendard” jet fighters, which boasted French “Exocet” missiles. 

Argentina had but a handful of these, but they proved to be very effective, sinking several British war and supply vessels.  Naturally, France immediately stopped supplying them to Argentina, but other countries helped out, notably Gadhaffi’s Libya.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a joint press conference with Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota (not framed) at Itamary Palace in Brasilia on August 13, 2013 (AFP Photo / Evaristo Sa / Pool)

However being a member of NATO, France automatically became an ally of the UK.  Former-French president Francoise Mitterrand was thus co-opted by then-British prime minister Margaret Thatcher into providing secret weapons codes to Britain, so that they could better ward off those lethal French-built missiles fired at them by Argentina. It was a trap Argentina’s short-sighted admirals, generals and brigadiers had not planned for.

When dealing with the US, non-key ally countries like Brazil must understand that its “good enemy” stance can quickly sour and erode into Bad Enemy Mode… 

Brazil’s foreign office – Itamaraty – has a tradition for having the best geopolitical thinkers in Latin America, so they know this only too well.

Can America be trusted?

Putting oneself in Brazil’s shoes, one can perceive that there is no likelihood of that country coming into conflict with any superpowers like Russia or China, with which most Latin America countries have many potential common interests.  More notably still, Brazil is forging increasingly closer ties with them within the scope of the informal BRICS group. 

The US and Britain, however, are a different story.  As allies, they have both increasingly militarized the South Atlantic through America’s powerful Fourth South Atlantic Fleet based in Florida, and Britain’s beefed-up Falklands Military Base, all as part of those two countries’ global strategy of militarizing sources of oil and their transportation access routes.

And - boy, oh boy! -  is there oil near the coasts of Brazil and around the Falkland Islands off Argentina!!!  Huge reserves!!

If America were to be hit by a national emergency one day, and the US were to declare full unhindered access to Latin American oil as a “national interest priority”, deciding to take Brazil’s oil come what may – or oil elsewhere in the South Atlantic for that matter – would Brazil feel safe in  trying to dissuade US/UK military forces by using US-built F17 aircraft? 

Relations between Washington and Brasilia had chilled under Dilma Rouseff´s predecessor and mentor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who drew Brazil closer to Latin America's leftist governments and to Iran.  Ms Rouseff, however, has sought closer ties with the US and distanced herself from Iran and meddling in the Middle East. 

So the on-going spying scandal surely won’t escalate into any full-scale crisis between the two countries, however, contrary to most every other country in the region save Chile, Brazil knows very well where its national interest lies.  
Brazil has become the industrial and economic power-house of the region and, with Venezuela’s Chavez now gone and by the sheer size of its economy, is quickly evolving into an informal spokesman for the whole region.  As Henry Kissinger once said in the 70’s, “wherever Brazil goes, all of Latin America goes”.  That is indeed true, and America may very well be losing its key ally here.

Because there is so much at stake, Brazil’s leaders are looking farther afield, thereby doing all of Latin America a great favor by seeing major risks whilst they are still far off in the horizon.

Such political risk management is certainly an overriding issue nowadays for all self-respecting countries bent on surviving in these increasingly dangerous times. 

Can you imagine what would have happened if the lookout on the “Titanic” had seen that huge block of ice whilst it was still far, far away in the blackness of the ocean?  A timely few degrees’ change in its course and the steam liner would have peacefully sailed into New York Harbor.

But no, when he realized the danger that was homing in on the condemned ship, it was too late.

Brazil would do well to think carefully with whom it will renew its fighting forces in the region – air, sea and land - which will continue to be the primary and truly credible armed forces of Latin America. 

They will surely carefully assess Kerry’s “friendly” visit now, as well as Obama´s hosting of Ms Rouseff in October, which will no doubt be “warm and caring”

ut such niceties and overtures probably represent the tip of the iceberg and as with all icebergs, it’s what lies underneath the water’s surface that really counts.

Adrian Salbuchi is a political analyst, author, speaker and radio/TV commentator in Argentina.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.