The Miami Herald
Thu, Feb. 12, 2004

Brazil ratifies fingerprinting, photographing of U.S. visitors

Brazil orders an end to separate immigration lines for U.S. citizens but maintains the controversial fingerprinting.

  Knight Ridder News Service

  RIO DE JANEIRO - The Brazilian government has made permanent the requirement that visiting Americans be fingerprinted and photographed. It was imposed as retaliation by a judge who was offended by new U.S. immigration procedures that he characterized as Nazi-like.

  While American visitors to Brazil will continue to endure the same processing that Brazilian visitors face when they enter the United States, new rules put in place Tuesday call for immediately installing electronic fingerprinting equipment and Web cameras to speed the process.

  In a concession to U.S. diplomatic objections, Americans no longer will be called out of the lines of visitors awaiting approval to enter Brazil, made to stand separately and laboriously processed. The new rules also permit Brazil's Federal Police, who enforce immigration laws, to waive the fingerprinting and photographing of U.S. cruise-ship passengers if Brazilian port facilities can't handle their processing.

  The new rules meet U.S. concerns yet allow the government of leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to claim victory for their national dignity.

  ''We wanted to do this without a lot of noise,'' Luiz Paulo Barreto, the vice minister of justice, said in an interview, declaring the dispute resolved.

  The spat began after the United States announced that new immigration procedures would be imposed Jan. 5, requiring electronic fingerprinting and photographing of arriving tourists from more than 150 countries, including Brazil.

  Exempted were 27 mostly European countries whose visitors don't need visas to enter the United States. The fingerprinting and photographing, U.S. officials said, was intended to screen out terrorists.

  Brazilian Federal Judge Julier Sebastiao da Silva likened the new procedures to ''the worst horrors committed by the Nazis'' and on Dec. 30 ordered visiting Americans to face the same screening. While U.S. processing was brisk, Americans visiting Brazil faced waits as long as nine hours to be fingerprinted with messy ink and photographed.

  Adding to the controversy, an American Airlines pilot and a former banker were arrested and fined a combined $30,000 after, in separate acts of defiance, they displayed their middle fingers while being photographed. Even visiting U.S. lawmakers traveling on diplomatic passports were subjected to the ink and mug shots.

  The more U.S. citizens griped, the more Brazilians -- not known for their anti-Americanism -- rallied behind the new rules.

  Brazil's media milked the story, and Internet chat rooms have been abuzz with delight that Americans were getting a taste of their own medicine.

  A nationwide poll released Tuesday by Brazil's Sensus Institute found that 74.4 percent of Brazilians favored fingerprinting Americans and only 3.2 percent favored extending the fingerprinting to other nationalities. Sensus' poll had a margin of error of three percentage points.

  Ricardo Guedes, the director of Sensus, said Brazilians were upset that many European countries were exempted while Brazil, South America's powerhouse, was not.

  ''We feel we are being classified as second-class citizens,'' he said.