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Brazzil - Brazil/USA - January 2004

Brazil vs. US: The Finger Affair

Brazil has been harshly criticized for its decision to identify
Americans arriving in its land. However, nothing has been said
about the grueling process Brazilians have to endure to simply
obtain an entry Visa to the U.S. The procedure may take days
and entail an undue invasion of privacy of Brazilian citizens.

José Gurgel


Much controversy has been created over the recently enacted orders to fingerprint Americans arriving in Brazil. In response to USA-VISIT, an anti-terrorism program that requires citizens of Brazil, along with many other countries, to be photographed and fingerprinted upon entering the United States, a Brazilian federal judge issued a ruling in late December, 2003.

Such ruling requires immigration officials nationwide to subject Americans to the same procedures that Brazilians face in the United States. The rule is based upon the diplomatic employment of the principle of reciprocity, a tool that is often used in international affairs.

At first, the U.S. government response to this measure was guarded but welcomed as a procedure any sovereign nation should employ to protect its lands. In fact, while many Brazilians feared this would impact the tourism industry, the American government defended the measures by citing many of the same reasons it employed to pass the USA-VISIT program here.

As expected, shortly after Brazil started photographing and fingerprinting American visitors, on January 1st, the American government began its harsh criticism, not to say attacks, against Brazil. The main reason: long delays and waiting time Americans had to endure during the identification procedure. Some of the first visitors waited over 8 hours to pass through immigration in Brazil, which, fairly enough, was infuriating to some visitors.

In response to complaints made by Americans with the American Embassy in Brazil and this extra red tape subjected only by Americans, U.S. Ambassador Donna Hrinak and Secretary of State Colin Powell made public statements calling the ruling a "discriminatory act," and, according to Ms. Hrinak, a ruling that is "sure to reduce travel by Americans in Brazil."

While long delays were the major complaints initially, Brazil has now had the time to implement a fully digital system, identical to the one used in the United States, that reduces the `booking' process to only about one minute. This fiasco, however, has already created an unnecessary friction between the two nations.

In recent meetings with leaders throughout the hemisphere, in Mexico, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, of Brazil, formally presented President George Bush with a proposal to end the identification process of Brazilians arriving in the United States, something President Lula always asserted as being an insult to the two countries' long standing diplomatic relationship.

Brazil has always been a friendly nation to the United States and some view as a slap in the face when the United States exempts certain countries, mostly from Europe, with which its relationship hasn't always been a smooth one.

Brazil has been harshly criticized for its decision to identify Americans arriving in its land, a process based solely upon the international principle of diplomatic reciprocity. However, nothing has been said about the grueling battery of interviews and bureaucracy that Brazilians have to go through to simply obtain an entry Visa to the United States.

This is a process done by the American Embassy and consulates in Brazil that lasts hours and sometimes even days to be completed and requires travelers to disclose their income, purpose of travel, among other things, which many people consider an invasion of privacy. Not to mention the fact that after spending all the time to obtain the Visa any Brazilian can at any time be barred from obtaining said Visa depending simply upon whether or not the immigration agent "likes" that person.

In addition, the prohibitive costs associated with obtaining the Visa act as a first deterrence by those who desire to travel to the U.S. The costs, excluding travel costs for those who live in other cities without an American consular agency, revolve around US$ 100, not much until you consider the minimum wage in Brazil is set at about US$ 140 per month.

Facing the U.S.

The (incorrect) mentality in Brazil is that the government has made a huge mistake and that American tourists should not have to go through this process lest they will stop coming to Brazil to spend their dollars. This view depicts what has always been the mentality towards the United States in South America, one of fear and subordination. It is a mentality, however, that more and more is being weakened as nations have the courage and the ability, financial and otherwise, to withstand a direct clash with the all-so-powerful United States of America.

It is wrong, however, to think this way. Nations in South America are simply demanding more respect; they are demanding to be treated like equals and not have to budge to American interests by sacrificing their own national interests, not to say sovereignty. The U.S. government has long been accusing Brazil of slowing down the process for the liberalization of international trade policies set for January 1, 2005, as established in the Doha Declaration of 2001.

The truth, however, which is largely omitted by the U.S. government when talking about this subject, is that the United States wants to establish a free trade area of the Americans for all areas but for Agriculture and Anti-Dumping related matters. The Agricultural industry, which is essential to South America export, is largely subsidized by the government in the United States. A subsidy without which many claim would kill the industry due to cheaper labor competition in other South American nations.

Agriculture and anti-dumping rules, which basically bar any products to come in the U.S. that are cheaper to import than to even produce internally, are two issues that the U.S. government refuses to negotiate under current free trade negotiations (due partly to pressure from European nations that also employ similar rules), insisting they are negotiated under the umbrella of the World Trade Organization, which has no set date for the world trade liberalization in the near future.

If South and Central American nations budge to American pressure, which some smaller nations already have, due to a simple inability to go against the United States, the U.S. would have free access to all of the markets which South America cannot compete with, such as information technology and government services, but would be able to rely upon agricultural government subsidies and other anti-dumping measures to compete and survive against competition from South American nations, thus completely eliminating any chance for poorer nations to benefit from the so-called "free trade."

What the United States wants distorts the notion of what is considered fair trade. And, according to the Center for International Development at Harvard University, subsidy policies also waste the resources of developed countries by channeling money into sectors that are relatively inefficient and by artificially raising domestic prices of the good, forcing consumers in developed countries to pay more.

The existing mentality today is that Americans have for too long imposed their superiority over other nations, especially developing nations, in order to benefit its interests. I am not so sure I disagree with that, which is not say the U.S. is a terrible nation for doing so, after all this is the spirit of democracy and of a free market economy.

The problem, however, arises when the United States government plays the card that it cares about other nations rising to become a strong free market economy as they are. Well, actions clearly speak louder than words and at the end of the day the United States would rather yield to lobbyists, especially in election years, than to look out for the interests of other "Third-World" nations. And you can't really hold that against the U.S. since any other nation in the same position would likely do the same.

Emerging nations, such as Brazil, who are now becoming strong enough and having the courage to clash with the Titan, are just not wiling to accept this self-imposed superiority any longer. This phenomenon was bound to happen someday, and hopefully, by joining Brazil in taking a stand against this superiority, other nations will realize that only together will they be able to fairly negotiate with the United States.

The New York Times, in its January 9, 2004 edition, declared Brazil an ally "docile and reliable no longer," but the fact of the matter is that they should have replaced the words "docile and reliable no longer" with "subservient no longer." I think this is a better representation of Brazil's position when it comes to international affairs.

The author was born in Brasília, the capital of Brazil. He graduated from Boston University with a degree in Philosophy and Psychology. He is currently working in Boston as a paralegal with Bonner Kiernan Trebach & Crociata, while preparing to apply for Law School. He can be reached via e-mail: jgn1979@hotmail.com

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