San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica Foreign Ministry requests clarification from U.S. on alleged spying

The Costa Rican Foreign Ministry sent a formal letter to the United States Embassy in San José on Wednesday requesting clarification about alleged spying by the U.S. National Security Agency in the country.

The letter, signed by Vice Minister Luis Fernando Salazar, requested that U.S. authorities “confirm the veracity of the reports and, if they are true, explain the reach of these programs.”

The request followed reports in the Brazilian newspaper O Globo Tuesday alleging NSA monitoring of electronic and telephone communications in Latin American countries under the controversial program “Prism,” according to documents obtained by the daily from former-intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

Mexico, Brazil and Colombia were the top targets of the supposed snooping, with Costa Rica listed alongside several other countries in the region under regular but less intensive surveillance by the spy agency. 

When contacted for comment earlier this week, Eric Turner, press officer for the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica, said that it is not policy to comment on individual allegations of spying and that the department handles these concerns through bilateral diplomatic channels.

The press representative added that the U.S. collects the same kind of foreign intelligence as other nations.

Diplomatic platitudes, however, did little to assuage outrage from Latin American governments over the supposed surveillance.

Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla said Tuesday that she was “uncomfortable” with the idea of the NSA spying on communications from Costa Rica.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff ordered an investigation into the report of electronic spying on Brazilian citizens and companies.

“It sends chills up my spine when we learn that they are spying on us through their intelligence services in Brazil,” Argentine President Cristina Kirchner said, referring to another O Globo report that the United States maintained a satellite spy base in Brasilia at least until 2002. 

The tensions are more awkward for close U.S. allies listed as surveillance targets by the newspaper report. 

Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto said that would be “completely unacceptable” if the allegations were true but added that the neighboring countries maintain relations of “respect and cordiality.”

Mexico and the United States have worked closely in the battle against drug trafficking in recent years, with the U.S. government earmarking $1.9 billion in law enforcement training and equipment.

Costa Rica received $18.4 million in direct security spending from the U.S. in 2012, reported The Associated Press. 

Kirchner called on Latin American countries to use today’s meeting of the customs union Mercosur in Uruguay to make a collective statement about the allegations.

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Ernesto Castillo is in the South American country on Friday, the Foreign Ministry said.

Latin America has become one of the top regions for the 30-year-old whistleblower to accept asylum. After Bolivian President Evo Morales’ airplane was rerouted from Moscow to Vienna last week on suspicions that Snowden was on board, he has received asylum offers from Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela. 

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