BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil -- U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry ran into a storm of criticism Tuesday during a visit to Brazil dominated by protests and warnings about the consequences of U.S. intelligence agency spying on Brazilians’ emails and phone calls.
The scandal provoked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations of massive domestic and international surveillance dogged Kerry, the top U.S. diplomat, throughout his one-day visit with leaders of Brazil, an important U.S. ally.
Dozen of protesters gathered outside the Foreign Ministry in Brasilia and shouted “Go away, spies” as Kerry’s delegation left talks with Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota, the Associated Press reported.
At a news conference after the meeting, Kerry listened as Patriota described the importance of trade, educational, scientific and other ties between the two countries and then turned to the controversy that has rattled his nation.
“I should not forget to mention that we’re now facing a new type of challenge in our bilateral relationship,” Patriota said, according to a transcript released by the State Department. “It is a challenge which has to do with wiretapping telephone calls.”
Unless the issue is resolved “in a satisfactory way,” the foreign minister warned, “we run the risk of casting a shadow of distrust on our work.”
Practices that violate national sovereignty and individual freedoms “must be stopped,” Patriota said.
Kerry, clearly eager and prepared to mend the rift, assured his government hosts and the Brazilian population that the NSA programs were legal and essential to thwarting terrorism.
He said it was “absolutely understandable” that Brazilians had been shaken up by the disclosures that the NSA has cast such a wide net over personal communications worldwide. But he defended the NSA filtering of Internet and phone communications for “chatter” about impending terrorist plots as essential to protecting innocent lives around the world.
Kerry vowed that his talks with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Patriota and other officials would lead to “complete understanding and complete agreement with what it is that we think we must do to provide security not just for Americans but for Brazilians and for people in the world.”
He also said Brazilians should be mindful of the “remarkable and dynamic partnership” between Brazil and the United States rather than focus on the divisive surveillance issue.
Both Patriota and Kerry pointed out the important collaboration between their countries on trade, energy, sustainable development, environmental protection and social and educational ties.
U.S. investment in Brazil exceeds $100 billion, Patriota noted, providing a strong bond between the biggest economies in the Americas.
An editorial published in Tuesday’s Folha de S. Paulo, Brazil’s largest-circulation newspaper, said that “relations between Brasilia and Washington, which were already far from being in a good moment, were hurt even further after the revelation that Brazil was also among the countries spied on by the U.S.”
The newspaper suggested that the dispute is likely to linger beyond Kerry’s visit, predicting that the surveillance “will not be stopped just because the spied-upon party asks for that.”
Special correspondent Bevins reported from Brazil and Times staff writer Williams from Los Angeles.