BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia called for answers from Washington on Wednesday after revelations the United States had spied on the Andean nation, its closest military ally in Latin America, as anger mounted in the region over U.S. intelligence gathering.
Colombia’s foreign ministry said it “registered with concern” reports of an “unauthorized data collection program” in a brief statement overnight, and asked that the U.S. government give an account of its actions through its Bogota embassy.
“In rejecting the acts of espionage that violate people’s rights to privacy as well as the international conventions on telecommunication, Colombia requests the corresponding explanations from the United States government through its ambassador to Colombia,” the foreign ministry said.
A leading Brazilian newspaper reported on Tuesday that the U.S. National Security Agency targeted most Latin American countries with spying programs that monitored Internet traffic, especially in Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil and Mexico.
Other countries around the region have used tougher language in condemning what some have called a violation of their sovereignty and a trampling of individuals’ rights to privacy.
“Chile cannot but firmly and categorically condemn spying practices, whatever their origin, nature and objectives,” its foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday, adding it would seek to verify the allegations.
Citing documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the fugitive former U.S. intelligence contractor, O Globo newspaper said the NSA programs went beyond military affairs in the region to what it termed “commercial secrets,” including oil and energy.
Colombia is considered a top U.S. military and diplomatic ally in the region following a decade of joint operations against Marxist rebels and drug trafficking gangs that have caused harm to both countries’ economies. Chile has also long maintained close ties with Washington, making it a key ally.
U.S. Ambassador Michael McKinley told Colombian radio on Wednesday he had been in contact with Colombia’s foreign ministry and any discussion of the matter would come “via diplomatic channels.”
McKinley said he understood Colombia’s concern but insisted the United States is not the only country that collects information on security, local W Radio reported.
Regional leaders called for a tough response to the alleged espionage that O Globo said included a satellite monitoring stations based in Brazil’s capital.
Brazil’s government said on Wednesday it was investigating the alleged U.S. spying on Brazilian citizens and institutions and would ask the United States for additional explanations as the probe advances.
“The Brazilian government did not authorize and had no knowledge of the activities that have been denounced,” President Dilma Rousseff’s office said in a statement that warned that any person or company found to be involved would be prosecuted.
The U.S. ambassador to Brazil, Thomas Shannon, has met with government officials and said the reports published by the Brazilian newspaper O Globo give an incorrect picture of U.S. data gathering.
The Rousseff administration on Tuesday created an inter-ministerial task force to study what happened and propose measures to prevent a repeat. The Federal Police is also investigating whether telecommunications companies collaborated.
An official from Mexico’s foreign ministry said the government had sought clarification of the spying allegations.
“Mexico reiterates that relations between the countries are conducted with respect, and in accordance with the law, and strongly condemns any deviation from this practice,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Snowden is thought to be negotiating his exit from a transit area in a Moscow airport’s international area. He has been offered asylum in Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua.
Additional reporting by Peter Murphy in Bogota, Todd Benson in Sao Paulo, David Graham in Mexico City and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Editing by Vicki Allen