Magazine article SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico

President Enrique Pena Nieto Criticized for Timid Response to US Spying Allegations

Magazine article SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico

President Enrique Pena Nieto Criticized for Timid Response to US Spying Allegations

Article excerpt

President Enrique Pena Nieto has taken a cautious approach in his reaction to reports that the US National Security Agency (NSA) spied on him by intercepting his emails and cellular phone communications while he was still a candidate for president. The information on the NSA's transgressions surfaced a few days before the Mexican president was scheduled to attend a meeting of the Group of 20 (G20) nations in St. Petersburg, Russia, in early September. The leaks about the NSA's activities came from fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden. US journalist Glenn Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro, gained access to the documents from Snowden and reported on their content on the Brazilian news program Fantastico and in an article published by the British newspaper The Guardian on Sept. 1.

The Brazilian news program displayed what it said was an NSA document, dated June 2012, which displayed passages of written messages from then candidate Pena Nieto. This was a few weeks before the election, which Pena Nieto won by a few percentage points (SourceMex, July 11, 2012). In the messages, Pena Nieto discussed the names of people he was considering naming as his Cabinet ministers once elected.

A second document displayed communication patterns between Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her top advisers, although Fantastico did not mention specific written passages included in the report.

Both documents were part of an NSA case study showing how data could be "intelligently" filtered, the Brazilian news program reported.

The NSA activities are threatening relations between the US and the two largest economies in the Americas. The Snowden situation, in which the ex-NSA contractor is rumored to have sought refuge in Latin America, has already caused some tensions with countries like Bolivia and Venezuela (NotiSur, July 19, 2013, and Aug. 30, 2013).

The Brazilian reports about the NSA spying were published a day before Pena Nieto was scheduled to make his State of the Nation speech. The president did not, however, mention the situation, which left him open to criticism at home. "Rather than take advantage of this opportunity [to make a statement] during his message from Los Pinos [presidential palace], the president opted for a weak statement from the foreign ministry," political commentator Carmen Aristegui said in a piece published in the Mexico City daily newspaper Reforma.

The statement from the Secretaria de Relaciones Exteriores (SRE) was indeed very general and left out any mention of Pena Nieto. The SRE said Mexico "categorically rejects and condemns any kind of spying against Mexican citizens in breach of international law." The SRE added that Mexico had asked the US government for a thorough investigation of the matter and that, if necessary, Washington should explain who was responsible.

Aristegui acknowledged that Pena Nieto's communications did not contain highly sensitive information and said the content was not as important as the violation of sovereignty committed by the US against Mexico.

Contrast with strong Brazilian response

In contrast to the mild initial comments from the Mexican president, the reaction from Brazil was swift and forceful. Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figuereido immediately summoned US Ambassador Thomas Shannon and gave the envoy until the end of the week to provide a written explanation. "I expressed to [Shannon] the Brazilian government's indignation at the facts revealed in the documents," Figuereido said at a news conference. "From our point of view, this is an inadmissible and unacceptable violation of Brazilian sovereignty."

Rousseff also called a Cabinet meeting that included the country's defense, justice, communications, and foreign ministers to discuss a response to the new espionage report. One of the Brazilian government's responses later that week was to postpone a visit by an advance team to Washington ahead of a meeting between Rousseff and US President Barack Obama. …

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