On Thursday, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff asked legislators to quickly approve a bill that would require technology companies to store private user data on Brazilian-based servers and comply with Brazil’s digital privacy laws. This comes as members of Brazil’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee also announced yesterday that they would seek meetings with Edward J. Snowden, the former NSA contractor and leaker who is currently living under asylum in Russia.
The actions in Brazil come shortly after President Dilma Rousseff’s departure from the G20 summit. There, she spoke with U.S. President Barack Obama who agreed to formally respond to allegations that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had conducted mass surveillance activities in Brazil. New reports released on September 8 revealed that the agency also spied on Brazil’s national oil company, Petrobras.
Rousseff expressed further concern after learning that Petrobras, which is currently developing technology to dramatically expand offshore oil exploration, was a primary target of NSA surveillance. In an official statement released Monday, she wrote, "Without a doubt, Petrobras does not represent a threat to any country. But it does represent one of the world's largest oil assets and the property of the Brazilian people.”
U.S. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper defended the program and said the U.S. routinely collects intelligence for insight into other countries’ economic policies. He added that U.S. intelligence agencies do not share the information with U.S. companies.
These latest developments follow Rousseff’s repeated statements that she has not decided whether she will move forward with a planned state visit to Washington in October.
After visiting Colombia and Trinidad and Tobago this week, U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden began a three day tour of Brazil today that is expected to focus largely on energy cooperation and economic growth.
Biden’s first stop on his tour is Rio de Janeiro. While there, the vice president will address energy-sector business leaders, tour a Petrobras deep-water oil exploration research facility and visit community leaders in a favela. On Friday, he will travel to the capital city of Brasilia to meet with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
The discovery of large oil reserves off the coast of Brazil could help reduce U.S. dependence on oil in the Middle East, and U.S. technology designed to extract shale gas could serve as the foundation of an energy deal between the two countries. Vice President Biden and President Rousseff are also expected to discuss Rousseff’s October trip to the United States. It will mark the first state visit by a Brazilian executive to the U.S. in nearly twenty years.
In addition to the bilateral agenda—which includes energy cooperation and development projects in science and technology as part of Brazil’s Science Without Borders initiative—the vice president’s trip also reiterates the United States’ interest in Latin America as a strategic economic partner. Prior to Biden’s tour of the region, President Obama visited Mexico and Costa Rica earlier this month.
Brazil was ranked 14th in the world for the number of its students now studying at American Universities, Agência Brasil announced Monday. According to the Open Doors report, Brazilians made up 9,029 of the 764, 495 international students at universities in the United States from 2011-2012, an increase of about 6 percent from 2010-2011. U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Thomas A. Shannon, Jr. expressed his hope that this rate would continue to increase.
Ambassador Shannon attributed the increased numbers of Brazilian students in the U.S. to Science Without Borders, a joint effort between the U.S. and Brazil meant to increase the number of Brazilians in higher education, specifically in scientific fields. The government of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff pledged to provide 75,000 scholarships to Brazilian students wishing to study abroad in scientific and technology-related fields.
In an article published yesterday in the new Americas Quarterly, Shannon explained that this initiative is the most ambitious in Brazilian history: “it is not confined to a single economic or scientific sector. [It] covers all aspects of scientific study: computer and information technology; mathematics; physics; biology; health science; marine science; industrial and electrical engineering; mining, oil and gas technologies; and systems analysis and industrial design."
Ambassador Shannon said that President Rousseff’s ultimate goal is to transform Brazil’s economy to include more jobs in the science and technology sectors, as well as to increase social mobility in one generation.
Although the United States is only poised to receive 20,000 of the total 100,000 Brazilian students studying abroad, Ambassador Shannon would like to see the U.S. receive between 60,000 and 100,000 students. A press briefing was held today with Assistant Secretary of State Ann Stock and the president and CEO of the Institute of International Education, Allan Goodman, in Washington DC to discuss the Open Doors data.
So he’s back in Honduras. How Zelaya got in is still a mystery and to the de facto President Micheletti a source of some concern, primarily if it may mean that some segments of the armed forces may have been complicit. That concern will increase as the nervous Micheletti asks the armed forces to enforce his curfew and crack down on pro-Zelaya demonstrators . The clamp down has already caused a number of injuries and reportedly between one to six deaths, prompting a public statement from Amnesty International condemning the government’s heavy handed tactics.
In any democratic transition, the point of change comes when moderate segments of the armed forces decide that the cost of repressing escalating social unrest is too great and break with the government. Such a scenario is looking possible in Honduras. (Remember also the statement of some junior military officers in late July endorsing the San José accord that called for Zelaya to return?) But by no means is it desirable.
Getting to that point implies increased upheaval and turmoil, something that President Zelaya is clearly trying to stoke from his temporary quarters inside the Brazilian embassy The stunt of his sneaking into Honduras (as with his earlier antics of flying over the capital threatening to land and his two-step over the Nicaraguan/Honduran border) are unfortunate efforts to energize his supporters, keep himself in the news and provoke clashes. And they make it difficult for the diplomatic world to support him—even when they are (as they should be) supporting the institutional and democratic/electoral process that he represents and that was overturned on June 28th. It’s just that it would be easier if he weren’t so cynically trying to seize media attention, ally himself with unsavory allies who themselves have little interest in institutional integrity and use his supporters as cannon fodder.