Sunday, February 20, 2005

The United States In the World

Just back from my first visit to Brazil, a brief, two-day business trip to Sao Paulo. Sao Paulo strikes me as a very civilized, if intimidatingly huge city whose middle-class inhabitants understand how to live well. Yes, I know I must be ignoring an enormous and troubling amount of poverty and despair, but other than a view of a favela or two from the car window, I simply did not encounter that aspect of Brazil on this trip.
What did strike me immediately upon landing, however, is that the citizens of the United States are paying a price for the arrogance of our administration. At the immigration desk in Sao Paulo there are two lines, one for everyone entering the country, and a second one labeled "U.S. Citizens Only." Those of us from the United States are required, after we go through the passport check required of everyone else in the world who wants to enter Brazil, must queue up in a second line to be photographed and fingerprinted.
This stems from the post-9/11 decision by the United States to photograph and fingerprint visitors from countries for which entry visas to the U.S. are required. The practice went into effect in January 2004. In retaliation, Brazil began fingerprinting and photographing visitors from the U.S., a process which, while not onerous in and of itself, can add quite a bit of time to entry for people already tired from the 8-hour-plus flight from the states. Bloggers have complained of waits of up to 9 hours in line at Brazilian airports (mine was perhaps 30 minutes).
So, does this photography and fingerprinting make either U.S. or Brazil citizens safer? Could it prevent a terrorist attack? I doubt it. I have not heard of these terrorists who would be deterred by the inconvenience of standing in line to be fingerprinted. And I am quite sure that terrorist organizations would have little trouble finding recruits who would not show up on terrorist lists. After all, the United States foreign policies under George W. Bush have created terrorist breeding grounds around the world.
So what we end up with is a practice that probably does little except to inconvenience tourists and business travelers from both the U.S. and Brazil. To U.S. citizens who complain (like the colleague who was travelling with me) I say this: If the United States government is determined to say "f--- you" to the rest of the world, it should not be surprised when the world responds in kind.