Brazil's President Accuses U.S. of Serious Human-Rights Violations

Matt Berman
National Journal

In the first speech of the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff immediately dug into the Obama administration and the U.S. National Security Agency's data-collection programs—including spying within her own country, as revealed in the Snowden leaks. Referring to the programs through a translator as a "global network of global spying," Rousseff said that the arguments in favor of the collection are "untenable" and that "Brazil knows how to protect itself."

"What we have before us is a serious case of the violations of human rights and civil liberties," she said. "We are a democratic country, surrounded by democratic peaceful countries that respect international law." The dragnet, according to Rousseff, is "a case of disrespect to the national sovereignty of my country."

This isn't just verbal bluster from Brazil's president. The revelations about targeted spying on Brazil are absolutely serious. They reportedly include the collection of communications from Rousseff herself. Last week, Rousseff indefinitely postponed a state visit to the United States over spying concerns. And at the U.N. on Tuesday, Rousseff implied that U.S. freedoms aren't all they're cut out to be, saying that "without the right to privacy, there is no real freedom of speech."

Rousseff added that her country will "double efforts" to protect itself from the interception of its data, and she called for a multilateral framework for Internet governance.

Strong statements against NSA data-collection programs and the Obama administration aren't just about positioning Brazil on a global stage. In the wake of mass protests in Brazil this summer over a struggling economy, government corruption, and the World Cup, these aggressive statements can also help build-up Rousseff's presidency at home. That's especially the case in the lead-up to next year's elections.

And, so far, Rousseff's role as America's spying foil seem to be working domestically. In July, Rousseff's popularity rate was 49 percent, according to Brazil's MDA Consultores. By early September, after Rousseff began speaking out against NSA data collection, that rate had risen to 58 percent. Taking a strong stance against the U.S. alone isn't going to help float Rousseff to reelection. But using NSA data collection as a way to be a vocal global advocate for her country can't hurt.