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Brazzil - Brazil/USA - February 2004

Brazil's Fingerprinting: Good to Catch Sex Tourists

Many U.S. citizens visit foreign lands to engage in illegal activity that
would be more seriously persecuted in the United States such
as soliciting of sex. Brazil's upcoming Carnaval attracts millions
of tourists lured by sex and drugs, so the whole fingerprinting
thing wouldn't be such a bad idea to help the Brazilian police.

Ernest Barteldes

Shortly after the Bush government began fingerprinting and photographing foreign visitors from countries whose nationals need visas to enter U.S. territory, Brazilian Federal judge Julier Sebastião da Silva ordered that U.S. citizens would have to be treated likewise upon entering that country. The Brazilian judge's decision, which received mixed reactions from the international community, is based on the principle of reciprocity.

According to the judge's reasoning, if Brazilian nationals should be treated differently than those of 21 other countries who do not need to go through the process (mostly members of the EU) here, it is quite logical that Americans should be singled out in foreign lands (a similar measure was suggested in Greece, but their government turned down the idea).

While Secretary of State, Colin Powell, criticized the measure as "discriminatory" and "hostile" in a statement to Brazil Foreign Minister, Celso Amorim, I must say that I was among the few people on this side of the U.S. border to applaud judge Silva's decision.

First of all, I feel that massive fingerprinting of foreign nationals not only is incredibly questionable (for instance, what does the government really plan to do with the data? What about civil liberties?), but also reeks of political correctness, which I believe has gone too far in this country.

I am positive that, had the Department for Homeland Security begun profiling solely nationals of Muslim nations, which are terrorist "hot spots" —as Israeli airline El Al routinely does—, the PC police would have had a ball in the press, and that is just the kind of thing a politician with any horse sense would want to avoid, especially in an election year.

So, it is easier to create a smokescreen to pretend that we are protecting the country by creating a massive database of foreign visitors while the fact that many possible terrorists will not need to go through the process.

For instance, few remember that the shoe bomber was a British national who, at this time, would have been dismissed from the requirement had he planned to conduct his mischievous plans in U.S. territory.

Now, before you start kicking and screaming in rage, let me clarify one thing: I do believe that something must be done to protect innocent people (citizen or not) from terrorist acts like those that happened on 9/11, but I also believe that the methods of the Bush camp are dangerously fallible, and I think I am not going out on a limb here, also unconstitutional.

If memory doesn't fail, the U.S. Constitution grants everyone equal protection in face of the law. If that is the case, why are we granting differentiated treatment to the citizens of some other countries? If we should create such a database, shouldn't everyone entering this country be photographed and fingerprinted? I would think so, and that is also the argument used by judge Silva, who stated that if the U.S. government granted Brazilian nationals the same treatment given to those of the said 21 nations, they would do the same there.

Some would say that Brazil is not a target of international terrorism, as Rio de Janeiro Bar Organization Octavio Gomes wrote in the daily O Globo recently, and that their measure is simply vengeful. But then again, there are many U.S. citizens who visit foreign lands to engage in illegal (if not criminal) activity that would be more seriously persecuted here, such as soliciting of sex, use of readily available leisure drugs and others.

The upcoming Carnaval smorgasbord attracts millions of tourists who visit Brazil lured by specifically those, um, attractions, so the whole registration thing wouldn't be such a bad idea for them either.

I also believe that once U.S. citizens feel how it is to be on that other end of the stick, they might just press for the end of the whole process in favor of something more effective.

But the bottom line is that if the U.S. has the right to indiscriminately create files on foreign visitors here as a measure to thwart terrorist activity even if such country has no history of acts of that kind, other nations have the same right to do so in their lands for whatever reason they see fit—and we should not be whining about it.

Ernest Barteldes is an ESL and Portuguese teacher. In addition to that, he is a freelance writer who has regularly been contributing The Greenwich Village Gazette since September 1999. His work has also been published by Brazzil, The Staten Island Advance, The Staten Island Register, The SI Muse, The Villager, GLSSite and other publications. He lives in Staten Island, NY. He can be reached at ebarteldes@yahoo.com

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