Brazil Spurns U.S. State Visit Invitation Over NSA Spying

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Ueslei Marcelino / Reuters

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, March 14, 2012.

President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil has postponed a planned official visit to Washington amid fallout over revelations that the U.S. has been spying on her government, the Associated Press reports. Leaks from former-National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed, among other things, extensive spying by the U.S. on countries in Latin America, for which regional heavyweights like Mexico and Brazil already rebuked the U.S. Brazil in particular has reportedly been a primary target of NSA spying—with reports by Brazil’s Globo TV, alleging the agency had spied extensively on the internal communications of the Rousseff administration and on the country’s state-owned oil company Petrobras. The allegations awoke the region’s age-old distrust and resentment of yanqui imperialism.

Rousseff’s visit, originally scheduled for next month, was to be the first such visit of Obama’s second term, an invitation extended to mark “Brazil’s economic, political and diplomatic rise in the world,” Christopher Sabatani, senior director of policy for the Council of the Americas told TIME.

Indefinitely postponing—in effect, canceling—an official state visit is a symbolic and significant move. Brazil’s last official state visit to the United States, with full state dinner and all attendant pomp and circumstance, was nearly two decades ago, in 1995. According to the Brazilian president’s office, Obama called Rousseff late Monday in an attempt to coax her into keeping to the plan, but he reportedly refused her demand that the U.S. issue an official public apology for its spying program, leading Rousseff to call off the trip.

“I’ve never heard of such a thing happening before.” says Sabatani, suggesting Rousseff may be playing to nationalist sentiment at home. “The reaction seems a bit exaggerated, leading one to believe that this may be more about domestic politics than diplomatic state craft.”

In an official statement the White House said delaying the meeting was a mutual decision. “President Obama and President Rousseff both look forward to the State Visit, which will celebrate our broad relationship and should not be overshadowed by a single bilateral issue, no matter how important or challenging the issue may be. For this reason, the presidents have agreed to postpone President Rousseff’s State Visit to Washington scheduled for October 23.“

“It could be interpreted as a slap in the face of the U.S.” Sabatani said, “but more it could raise questions about Brazil’s own diplomatic maturity, in that, while the allegations of NSA spying are serious, and deserve attention, other countries such as Germany and Mexico have discovered that they’ve been the victims of similar spying by the NSA and not reacted with the same umbrage.”