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Dear President Dilma

Author: Julia E. Sweig, Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies and Director for Latin America Studies
September 11, 2013
Folha de Sao Paulo


Originally published in Portuguese on Folha de Sao Paulo:

Dear President Dilma:

I really hope you won't cancel your state visit. I don't pretend to know all of the elements that factor into your decision about whether or not to have dinner at the White House on October 23. And I have to assume that Glen Greenwald and Fantastico have more to reveal in the weeks ahead. And I'm guessing Susan Rice will not be able to satisfy your request to know "everything" the NSA has done or is doing with respect to Brazil.

The words our two countries have chosen to describe the US-Brazil relationship, "strategic partnership," often seem more rhetorical than substantive. But the phrase does capture an aspiration, one that should not be tossed away because the national security state of one of our countries has decided that Brazil is important enough to spy on. Still: just because the Washington machine seems to regard its blanket of domestic and global surveillance as business-as-usual doesn't mean Brasilia should just shrug this off.

Nor do I want to minimize for Brazil the sensitivities related to sovereignty, privacy and surveillance: you have your own history with the intrusions and violations of the national security state. But it seems to me that this NSA episode is precisely the sort of challenge that proves the need for the two big guys of the hemisphere, for you and President Obama, to break down stereotypes and keep talking.

Over the last three years, Brasilia and Washington have embarked upon a long-term strategy of deeper cooperation—between governments and well beyond. Unfortunately, we still don't have the big prizes-- a trade agreement or the nod for Brazil's Security Council membership. But you have repeatedly stated that each country has much to gain from deepening economic and international coordination. It would be a shame to send the message now that the growing agendas in energy, environment, climate, education, innovation, science, technology, and tourism are less important than the NSA crisis.

Cancelling the state visit might satisfy domestic pressures, but it would send the message to Washington that Brazil doesn't have the stamina or strategic vision to take on a difficult, but by no means insurmountable moment of tension.

After all, this visit is not only about Dilma Rousseff, Barack Obama and big business deals. The visit is about students, teachers, tourists, scientists, engineers, dancers, filmmakers, musicians, designers, athletes artists and authors—Brazilian and American—who, because of their presidents, are now discovering one another—how much they have in common, the utter coolness each country has to offer the other.

Of course, the state visit is very much about Dilma Rousseff and Barack Obama. Don't cancel. Take a walk in the Rose Garden for a serious private conversation without advisors or talking points. Speak your mind and make proposals. That night, we'll all raise a glass to your leadership.

This article appears in full on CFR.org by permission of its original publisher. It was originally available here.

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