MEXICO CITY - Several Latin American presidents have complained bitterly after recent revelations about U.S. electronic surveillance, but there's a bit of hypocrisy in some of their griping.
At least four Latin countries have requested, and received, U.S. help in setting up eavesdropping programs of their own, ostensibly designed to fight organized crime. But the programs are easily diverted to political ends, and with weak rule of law in parts of the region, wiretapping scandals erupt every few months.
The latest brouhaha occurred six weeks ago in Panama, where a leading presidential candidate complained of wiretapping by the government.
"All Panamanians know that illegal recordings are done by the government every day. The only party able to record and tap telephones is the state, not anyone else," said Juan Carlos Navarro, a center-left presidential candidate.
Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli told Navarro to watch his mouth because some "beauts" were about to leak out showing how "the most corrupt man" in the nation seeks its presidency.
Some experts on Latin America say they believe wiretapping is probably widespread - and not just under authoritarian leaders, and is a reflection of political mistrust, lack of adherence to law and poor accountability.
"You know that old saying," said Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank. "In God we trust, in everyone else we spy."
Disclosures last month by The Guardian and The Washington Post of a vast U.S. electronic data-sweeping program, based on documents leaked by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, have sparked angry responses around the region.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said Wednesday that he'd asked "quite clearly" for his diplomats to seek an explanation for the U.S. spying allegations, and, if proved true, "it would obviously be totally unacceptable."
Mexico is one of four Latin nations to receive sophisticated surveillance equipment, software and training from the United States in recent years. The other nations are Colombia, Panama and Paraguay.
Other Latin governments can easily obtain surveillance technology if they want it and Washington refuses to provide it.
"There are a lot of companies, especially Israeli ones, that offer the equipment," said Hiddekel Morrison, a telecommunications expert in the Dominican Republic.