Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro waves to supporters during a military ceremony on Tuesday in Maracay, about 100km west of Caracas, in this handout photo provided by Miraflores Palace.
Irate Latin American nations are demanding explanations from the US about new allegations that it spied on both allies and foes in the region with secret surveillance programmes.
A leading Brazilian newspaper reported on Tuesday that the US National Security Agency targeted most Latin American countries with spying programs that monitored Internet traffic, especially in Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil and Mexico.
Citing documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the fugitive former US intelligence contractor, O Globo newspaper said the NSA programs went beyond military affairs to what it termed “commercial secrets,” including oil and energy resources.
Regional leaders called for a tough response to the alleged espionage that O Globo said included a satellite monitoring stations based in Brazil’s capital.
“A shiver ran down my back when I learned that they are spying on all of us,” Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said in a speech on Tuesday.
She called on the Mercosur bloc of South American nations, due to meet tomorrow, to issue a strong statement and demand explanations from Washington. “More than revelations, these are confirmations of what we thought was happening,” she said.
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, who has emerged as a close US ally, said the reported spying was worrisome.
“We are against these kinds of espionage activities,” he said in a televised interview. “It would be good for (Peru’s) Congress to look with concern at privacy issues related to personal information.”
Brazil’s government said it set up a task force of its defence, communications, justice and foreign affairs ministries to investigate the alleged espionage and establish whether the privacy of Brazilian citizens had been violated.
The Brazilian Senate’s foreign relations committee has asked US ambassador Thomas Shannon to testify on the allegations. It is unclear whether Shannon, who is not obliged to testify, will do so.
Gilberto Carvalho, a top aide to President Dilma Rousseff, said a “very hard” response to the US was needed. “If we lower our heads, they will trample all over us tomorrow,” he said.
Colombia said it was concerned about reports it was the target of US electronic surveillance and will seek an explanation from its close ally.
The foreign ministry, in a statement late Tuesday, said Colombia rejected “acts of espionage that violate people’s right to privacy and international conventions on telecommunications.”
“Colombia will ask the government of the US of America to give the corresponding explanations,” it said.
Washington has been helping Bogota combat drug trafficking and illegal armed groups through Plan Colombia, a military cooperation programme under which Colombia has received more than $8bn since 2000.
Mexico too has asked the US to provide “broad information” about a report that it was among Latin American nations targeted by US electronic espionage, the foreign ministry said Tuesday.
“Following the information published today, the Mexican government reiterated to the US government, through diplomatic channels, its demand for broad information on this matter,” a foreign ministry spokesman told AFP.
The reported snooping on the energy sector comes as the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto mulls a reform aimed at attracting more private investment in the state-run oil monopoly Pemex.
“Relations between countries are conducted with respect and adherence to the legal framework,” the foreign ministry said, adding that Mexico “strongly condemns any deviation from this practice.”
The Mexican government had already sought “direct contact” with Washington last month after a report in London’s The Guardian newspaper that it was among 38 embassies and missions that were spied on by US intelligence services.
The espionage allegations surfaced one week after South American nations were outraged by the diversion of Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane in Europe because of the suspicion that Snowden was on board.
O Globo said a main NSA surveillance target was Colombia, the US’ top military ally in the region, where drug trafficking and movements by the FARC guerrilla group were monitored.
It said the NSA spied on military procurement and the oil industry in Venezuela, and in Mexico it gathered information on the drug trade, the energy sector and political affairs.
Also swept up in what O Globo termed as US spying were Argentina, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Paraguay, Chile and El Salvador.
The article was written by Glenn Greenwald, Roberto Kaz and José Casado. An American citizen who works for Britain’s Guardian newspaper and lives in Rio de Janeiro, Greenwald was the journalist who first revealed classified documents provided by Snowden that outlined the extent of US communications monitoring activity at home and abroad.
Greenwald said on Sunday in a Twitter message that he had worked with O Globo on the reports to relay more quickly the scope and reach of the alleged surveillance. The bulk of Greenwald’s stories thus far have appeared in the Guardian.
As disclosed by Snowden to the Guardian, the NSA’s Prism program collated mail, Internet chat and files directly from the servers of companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Skype.
O Globo cited documents saying that NSA agents carried out “spying actions” via “Boundless Informant,” which it said cataloged telephone calls and access to the Internet.
The newspaper had reported on Sunday that the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency had gathered telephone and e-mail data in Brazil, based on documents Snowden provided to Greenwald.
Brazil’s telecommunications agency said on Monday it would investigate whether local operators had violated customer privacy rules in alleged surveillance of Brazilian telecommunications data by the US spy agencies.
According to O Globo, access to Brazilian communications was obtained through US companies that were partners with Brazilian telecommunications firms. The report did not identify any of the companies but said an NSA program called Silverzephyr was used to access phone calls, faxes and e-mails.
O Globo also reported this week that the CIA and the NSA jointly ran monitoring stations to gather information from foreign satellites in 65 countries, including five in Latin America, citing documents dating from 2002 leaked by Snowden.
The so-called Special Collection Service operated from the capitals of Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico and Brazil. The newspaper said it was not known whether the alleged satellite espionage continued after 2002.
Snowden has not yet accepted Venezuela asylum: WikiLeaks
The WikiLeaks anti-secrecy website has said that fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden had not yet formally accepted asylum in Venezuela as was claimed by a top Russian lawmaker in a Twitter posting that was later deleted.
Pro-Kremlin lawmaker Alexei Pushkov sparked confusion when he tweeted on Tuesday that Snowden had agreed to an offer from Caracas. He deleted the posting after about 30 minutes.
“Edward Snowden has not yet formally accepted asylum in Venezuela. The Russian lawmaker concerned has deleted the tweet,” WikiLeaks said on its Twitter account.
Pushkov does not officially speak for the Russian government but has close Kremlin connections and is believed to relay views similar to those of President Vladimir Putin.
The lower house of parliament’s foreign affairs committee chief said that “apparently this (Venezuelan) option looked like the most reliable one to Snowden.”
Putin’s spokesman declined to comment, saying all questions should be directed to Pushkov.
After removing his original post, Pushkov said in a separate message that he had learnt of the most recent development around Snowden from a news report on Russian state television channel Vesti 24.
He later rephrased his original message, saying Snowden had agreed to asylum in Venezuela, according to a Vesti 24 report.
“Venezuela finally received an answer from the CIA former agent,” a news report on the channel’s website said earlier Tuesday.
“The President of the Latin American country, Nicolas Maduro, received an official political asylum request from Edward Snowden,” said the channel.
On Monday, Maduro called on Snowden to decide if he wanted to fly to Caracas.
“We have received the asylum request letter,” Maduro told reporters in Caracas after he offered the 30-year-old former National Security Agency contractor asylum along with the leaders of Bolivia and Nicaragua.
“He will have to decide when he flies, if he finally wants to fly here,” Maduro said. He called the offers from the three Latin American nations “collective humanitarian political asylum.”
It remains unclear how the world’s most famous refugee would be able to leave the transit zone of Sheremetyevo Airport, where he has been marooned without valid documents since he arrived from Hong Kong on June 23.
There are no direct flights between Moscow and Caracas. The quickest way to get to Venezuela would be to fly via Havana.
A spokeswoman for Russian national carrier Aeroflot, Irina Danenberg, said she was not aware if Snowden had been on the flight to Havana that left Moscow on Tuesday. “I have no clue,” she said.
Venezuela’s foreign ministry has also made clear that it has not made any contact with Snowden since Maduro’s invitation.
That makes it uncertain just how much currency a verbal commitment from Maduro has with Russian authorities who are seeking clear documented evidence of Snowden having a legal future destination point.
Snowden never boarded his plane out of Moscow for Cuba on June 24 for unexplained reasons.
Analysts said it was likely that he was simply not allowed to board by the Russians because he had no valid transit papers after his US travel passport had been revoked. Neither do countries such as Venezuela have consular sections in Sheremetyevo that could issue Snowden with the required papers.
Pushkov has been a vocal commentator of the Snowden affair, saying earlier that Venezuela was “possibly his last chance to receive political asylum.”
Meanwhile Brazil on Tuesday turned down an asylum request from Snowden. “We will not grant asylum,” to the US fugitive, Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota said after talks with his Uruguayan counterpart Luis Almagro in Brasilia.
In apparent limbo in Moscow, Snowden has applied for asylum in 27 countries as he tries to evade American justice for disclosing a vast program of US worldwide electronic surveillance.
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