Brazil mayor seeks end to fingerprinting of tourists

Court ordered procedure as protest against U.S.

January 07, 2004|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - The city of Rio de Janeiro was to file a lawsuit today demanding an end to Brazil's new practice of fingerprinting and photographing U.S. tourists, Mayor Cesar Maia announced yesterday, and the U.S. State Department seconded his complaint.

Maia said the procedures, ordered by a Brazilian federal judge who was angered by new U.S. screening of Brazilian visitors, discriminate against Americans by treating them differently from other foreign visitors. In addition, Maia contended that Brazil's federal government, not a judge, should be setting the country's immigration policies.

"It is the country that loses because of this infantile anti-American policy," Maia said in an e-mail in response to questions from Knight Ridder.

City lawyers will seek immediate suspension of the judge's order, saying it harms Rio's business and tourism interests and usurps federal powers. The city will seek compensation for damages if the order isn't overturned.

The move came after Brazilian Federal Police officials, unprepared for their new fingerprinting and photographing duties, took as long as nine hours on Monday to process bleary-eyed U.S. citizens who'd arrived on overnight flights to Brazil from New York and Miami.

That treatment drew a protest from the State Department to Brasilia and criticism from State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

Boucher told reporters that Brazil's new entry procedures "single out U.S. citizens for exceptional treatment," were "quickly instituted [and] not well prepared" and are causing "significant delays" in admitting U.S. visitors.

That's a big problem for Rio, which in the post-Christmas season tries to welcome about 1,300 Americans a day to Brazilian summer south of the equator.

American and Canadian tourists numbered about 220,000 and spent an estimated $255 million in the city last year. The new screening threatens that business and hurts Rio's image as a modern, welcoming destination for tourists, said Paulo Bastos, the city's undersecretary for tourism.

Julier Sebastiao da Silva, a federal judge in rural Mato Grosso state, ordered the intensified Brazilian screening on Dec. 30.

The new rules require Brazilians and residents of more than 150 other foreign countries to be fingerprinted and photographed electronically as they enter the United States.

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