Brazil President Postpones U.S. Visit After NSA Revelations

In a slap to the United States, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff announced she is postponing her state visit to Washington. It was scheduled for Oct. 23 and would have been the first state visit of President Obama's second term. The postponement follows revelations that the National Security Agency spied on Rousseff, her top aides and Brazil's state-run oil company.

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And I'm Melissa Block in Brazil, where there's big news today on the world diplomatic front. In a slap to the United States, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff announced she is postponing her state visit to Washington. It was scheduled for October 23rd. It would have been the first state visit of President Obama's second term.

The postponement follows revelations that the National Security Agency spied on Rousseff, her top aides, and Brazil's state-run oil company. NPR's South America correspondent Lourdes Garcia Navarro joins me here in Rio de Janeiro for more on this story. And Lulu, first tell us more about these NSA revelations that led to President Rousseff's decision today.

LOURDES GARCIA NAVARRO, BYLINE: Well, these are based on a series of stories by Brazil-based journalist Glenn Greenwald. He usually reports for The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom, but in this instance he was reporting for the Global News Network here in Brazil. And he had a series of stories talking about how the NSA spied on Brazilian citizens, on Rousseff herself, members of her government, and the oil giant Petrobras.

There's been a growing clamor here for her to drop the visit after all of these revelations, and including reportedly by her predecessor and mentor Inacio Lula da Silva. And, frankly, it was believed that she could not ignore that and that she would have to call off this very important visit to the United States.

BLOCK: Now, we did see, Lulu, just a couple of weeks ago, President Obama at the G-20 Summit in Russia kissing President Rousseff. They had one on one talks. He called her yesterday. They talked, I think, for 20 minutes on the phone, trying to smooth things over. Apparently it didn't work. What happened?

NAVARRO: Yeah, Brazil has reacted a lot more strongly to the spying scandal than other countries who've been implicated, like Mexico, Columbia. There's a couple of reason for this. First off, issues of sovereignty. Brazil takes this extremely seriously. Brazil has a massive economy, a growing political clout in the world stage, aspirations, for example, for a seat at the U.N. Security Council.

And you also have to remember the U.S.'s long history in the region of bloody intervention. And so, any act of perceived American overstepping is taken very seriously. But of course there are always domestic politics at play and Dilma's position has been precarious since protests swept Brazil over the summer. Her approval ratings have nose-dived, and, yes, there is an election coming up.

So this decision certainly takes this into account. She is playing to the population.

BLOCK: Now, there was a statement from the White House today. They said the president is committed to moving beyond this issue as a source of tensions. What was the agenda for this state visit from President Rousseff?

NAVARRO: Well, Dilma has been a lot more friendly to the U.S. than Lula da Silva was, and the U.S. has really been courting her. There have been many envoys coming down here, a big push to improve ties, to which she seemed quite receptive. Of course, a lot of this has to do with money and trade. Brazil's biggest trading partner is actually China now, with the U.S. in second place.

And in a big state visit like this, there would normally have been some big announcement at the end of it. So, for example, Boeing was looking to ink a deal on selling planes to the air force that was worth some $4 billion. That now looks unlikely to happen.

BLOCK: The language on this, Lulu, is that the visit by President Rousseff is postponed, not cancelled. Is the assumption that she will go to Washington, but just later on?

NAVARRO: Well, that's certainly what the two sides are saying. But first off, Rousseff is taking this issue to the United Nations later this month, when she's expected to address the General Assembly. She'll be raising the issue of Internet neutrality. And second, we know that there are tens of thousands of documents in the possession of Glenn Greenwald from Edward Snowden and a lot more stories likely to come from them.

BLOCK: Okay. Lulu, thanks so much.

NAVARRO: You're welcome.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Lourdes Garcia Navarro with me here in Brazil this week.

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