NSA Spying Prompts Mixed Messages From Latin American Leaders

They may vary in nature and tone, but Latin American leaders are certainly not staying mum regarding allegations that the United States collected data on billions of telephone and email conversations in their countries.

Brazilian congressman Nelson Pellegrino told foreign correspondents in Brasilia that despite Brazil's strong repudiation of the U.S. information gathering activities in Brazil "the good relations we have with the United States will not be interrupted."

But the news was not easy to digest.

"We have sent Washington a clear message that we are interested in maintaining good relations, but that we will not accept these kinds of practices," he said. "We cannot accept that a country spies another, on its citizens, its companies and its authorities."

He said Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's state visit to Washington October was still on and that it would not be affected by the recent disclosures.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, the country's Defense Minister Celso Amorim, acknowledged that the country invests little in cyber-security, with just $22 million earmarked in the 2013 budget. Still, he insisted that no amount of money can create a totally secure system.

"No country has the capacity to establish absolute protection" of its communication networks, Amorim told the Senate's foreign relations committee. "Even in an ideal situation, there would not be a shield that could completely protect us."

The leading Brazilian newspaper O Globo reported last week that information released by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden showed Brazil is the top target in Latin America for the NSA's massive intelligence-gathering effort aimed at monitoring communications around the world.

Snowden's disclosures indicate that the NSA widely collects phone and Internet "metadata" — logs of message times, addresses and other information rather than the content of the messages. The documents have indicated that the NSA has been collecting the phone records of millions of U.S. phone customers, and has gathered data on phone and Internet usage outside the U.S., including those people who use any of nine U.S.-based Internet providers such as Google.

Earlier, O Globo reported that in Brazil, the NSA collected data through an association between U.S. and Brazilian telecommunications companies. It said it could not verify which Brazilian companies were involved or if they were even aware their links were being used to collect the data.

The Brazilian government is investigating the disclosures and the alleged links with telecommunications firms with a Brazil presence.

Congress has asked U.S. Ambassador Thomas Shannon for explanations.

Rousseff said any such activity infringed upon the nation's sovereignty, and that Brazil would take the issue up at the United Nations.

In Mexico, President Enrique Peña Nieto also discounted that the disclosures would hurt relations with Washington.

"I believe that at this time there isn't anything altering the relationship of respect and cordiality we have with the U.S. government, and where we are, as you know, trying to set goals within the relationship that can generate benefits and development for both countries," Peña Nieto told reporters.

But matters may not go over as easy in Colombia, where the government said it will ask the United States to explain the alleged spying on its citizens.

A Foreign Ministry communique said the South American country rejects "acts of espionage that violate the rights and privacy of persons and international conventions," though it didn't delve into details.

Colombia is one of the United States' closest allies in Latin America.

Criticism over the alleged spying has even come from Europe, where two human rights groups in France have filed lawsuits on the matter.

The France-based International Federation for Human Rights and Human Rights League say that such surveillance, if confirmed, would violate up to five French privacy laws. Their lawyer Patrick Baudouin estimated that thousands of French people may be regularly targeted by the surveillance.

Baudouin said that while the lawsuit is limited to French jurisdiction, he hopes that it can lead to wider pressure on the U.S.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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