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Brazil vs. US: The Finger Affair

 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.

by: 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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