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Militarization, Austerity and Privatization: What’s Happening in Paraguay?

By Sara Kozameh | CEPR Americas Blog | October 9, 2013

On August 15, Horacio Cartes, a millionaire, businessman, and alleged drug-trafficker assumed the presidency in Paraguay, leading the Colorado Party back into power after a four-year interruption from its 61-year rule by Fernando Lugo, who was deposed last year in a “parliamentary coup.” Cartes has been investigated by the U.S. government for money laundering and drug trafficking, according to this 2010 U.S. diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks.

Since Cartes started his term eight weeks ago, several announcements have been made regarding Paraguay’s social and economic policy that are worth noting.

Militarization

Only a week after having taken office, Paraguay’s Congress –in which the Colorado Party has a majority in both houses– granted the president the power to deploy the military within the country to carry out policing activities. Despite opposition from human rights organizations who fear a return to dictatorship-era military operations, three days later Cartes ordered 400 military personnel to areas in which disputes over land tenure are ongoing. On August 28th the military entered an elementary school with demands to interview children on the whereabouts of suspected rebels and arrested several land rights activists and peasant leaders in the area.

The military powers granted to Cartes are especially alarming in a country that spent most of the 20th century either in political turmoil or under brutal dictatorship. The increased militarization of the Cartes regime is occurring in a context of growing discontent over public sector layoffs and privatization plans.

Austerity

Paraguay lacks an adequate system for collecting taxes and has a hard time financing social spending. With few mechanisms for distributing wealth and increasing what little there is of social services to the population, any gains from high economic growth rates that Paraguay has been experiencing this year and last are likely to benefit mostly the wealthy.

Seventy-seven percent of Paraguay’s land is still owned by 1 percent of the population and poverty reduction has been slower in Paraguay than in other countries in the region. The UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and Paraguayan government’s estimates for poverty in 2011 and 2012 have differed, with figures ranging between 32-50 percent, but showing a significant reduction during Fernando Lugo’s unfinished presidency. Cartes claims that his government’s “obsession” will also be to fight poverty and increase social spending.

But a little over 10 days ago Cartes announced a massive layoff of 4,000 government workers. This week he announced that another 15,000 layoffs are expected by December. Cartes says that the government lacks the funds necessary to pay the salaries of all 258,000 government employees. Despite accusations from at least one opposition senator who insists that layoffs are being used to strengthen the power of the Colorado Party, the Cartes government maintains that there is no persecution involved in the layoffs, and that it is implementing a system based on meritocracy. Additionally, according to this Associated Press interview with Treasury Minister Germán Rojas, public workers’ salaries will cease to be adjusted to keep up with inflation.

Privatization

Cartes’ government has used the argument of budget shortfalls to defend a move toward privatization. A bill introduced in mid-September and currently waiting for approval from congress would open Paraguay up to the privatization of infrastructure services in the transport, electric and sanitation sectors, including the dredging of the Paraguay River; construction of, and tolls for, roads, railroad and electric services. Cartes has framed his bill as a “public-private alliance,” but five of the largest unions in the country and the center-left opposition Frente Guasú insist on the “privatizing” nature of the bill, also criticizing it for granting the executive complete decision-making power over concessions, and the guarantee that losses will be covered by the state, not the company. The first three days of October have been met with protests and roadblocks throughout the country in response to mounting anxieties over privatization and one-time cuts to teacher’s salaries following their month-long strike.

The last eight weeks in Paraguay have stirred up controversies, anxieties and memories of an unpleasant past. While it is impossible to know what the outcomes of Cartes’ policies will be, militarization, massive layoffs, and privatization have often been followed by increased inequality, greater poverty, and major discontent among the populace in other countries where governments have pursued a similar path. It is these types of neoliberal policies that coincided with a collapse in economic growth throughout Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s, and it is the rejection of these policies that has led to the repeated election of center-left governments in much of Latin America since the end of the ‘90s, (including Paraguay’s own recently-ousted president Fernando Lugo) that gives us some notion about what could be in store for Paraguay’s future.

October 10, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Economics, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Leave a comment

South America: UNASUR To Build Fibre-Optic ‘Mega Ring’

By Chelsea Gray | The Argentina Independent | August 21, 2013

unasurThe Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) has approved plans for an optic fibre mega-ring which will break its members’ “dependence on the US, and provide a safer and cheaper means of communication.”

The fibre optic ring will become part of a ten-year plan to physically integrate all 12 UNASUR member states. The line, which will reach up to 10,000 kilometres long and will be managed by state enterprises from each country it crosses, is expected to interconnect South America through higher coverage and cheaper internet connections.

Industrial Minister of Uruguay, Roberto Kreimerman, explained that “it is about having a connection with great capacity that allows us to unite our countries together with the developed world.”

He continued to say, “We are considering that, at most, in a couple of years we will have one of these rings finalised.” He also added that ”I think the economy, security, and integration are the three important things we need in countries where Internet use is advancing exponentially.”

At the moment, up to 80% of Latin America’s communications go through the US. However, plans for an independent communication line comes shortly after the US was discovered to have been spying on Latin American data. The National Security Agency (NSA) were revealed to have been monitoring emails and intercepting telephone logs, spying on energy, military, politics, and terror activity across the continent.

UNASUR is made up of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

August 21, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

U.S. Seeks to Get Rid of Left Governments in Latin America

By Mark Weisbrot | CEPR | April 20, 2013

Folha de São Paulo – Recent events indicate that the Obama administration has stepped up its strategy of “regime change” against the left-of-center governments in Latin America, promoting conflict in ways not seen since the military coup that Washington supported in Venezuela in 2002.  The most high-profile example is in Venezuela itself, during the past week. As this goes to press, Washington has grown increasingly isolated in its efforts to destabilize the newly elected government of Nicolas Maduro.

But Venezuela is not the only country to fall prey to Washington’s efforts to reverse the electoral results of the past 15 years in Latin America.  It is now clear that last year’s ouster of President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay was also aided and abetted by the United States government. In a brilliant investigative work for Agência Pública, journalist Natalia Viana shows that the Obama administration funded the principal actors involved in the “parliamentary coup” against Lugo.  Washington then helped organize international support for coup.

The U.S. role in Paraguay is similar to its role in the military overthrow of democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras in 2009, where Washington hijacked the Organization of American States (OAS) and used it to fight the efforts of South American governments who wanted to restore democracy.  Zelaya later testified that Washington was also involved in the coup itself.

In Venezuela this past week, Washington could not hijack the OAS but only its Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza, who supported the White House (and Venezuela opposition) demand for a “100 percent recount.”  But Insulza had to back down, as did Spain, the United States’ only other significant ally in this nefarious enterprise – because they had no support.

The demand for a “recount” in Venezuela is absurd, since there has already been a recount of the paper ballots for a random sample of 54 percent of the voting machines.  The machine totals were compared with a hand count of the paper ballots in front of witnesses from all sides.  Statistically, there is no practical difference between this enormous audit that has already happened, and the 100 percent audit that the opposition is demanding.  Jimmy Carter called Venezuela’s electoral system “the best in the world,” and there is no doubt about the accuracy of the vote count, even among many in the Venezuelan opposition.

It is good to see Lula denouncing the U.S. for its interference and Dilma joining the rest of South America to defend Venezuela’s right to a free elections.  But it is not just Venezuela and the weaker democracies that are threatened by the United States.  As reported in the pages of this newspaper, in 2005, the U.S. government funded and organized efforts to change the laws in Brazil in order to weaken the Workers’ Party.  This information was discovered in U.S. government documents obtained under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. Most likely Washington has done much more in Brazil that remains secret.

It is clear that Washington did not see the mildly reformist Fernando Lugo as threatening or even radical. It’s just that he was too friendly with the other left governments.  The Obama administration, like that of President Bush, does not accept that the region has changed.  Their goal is to get rid of all of the left-of-center governments, partly because they tend to be more independent from Washington.  Brazil, too, must be vigilant in the face of this threat to the region.

Em Português | En Español

May 5, 2013 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Deception, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Leave a comment

Paraguay: Organisations Denounce Human Rights Abuses Before IACHR

By Kari Paul | The Argentina Independent | March 25, 2013
Thousands protest the impeachment of Fernando Lugo (photo courtesy of anticapitalistes.net)
Thousands protest the impeachment of Fernando Lugo

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an autonomous organ of the Organisation of American States (OAS), held a hearing on the “general situation of human rights in Paraguay” in Washington, US, on Friday and various Paraguayan organisations brought grievances to address.

Among the most important issues presented were the Curuguaty Massacre of last June and the so-called ‘parliamentary coup’ against Fernando Lugo last year. The organisations demanded that the commission urge Paraguayan state investigation into the allegations of torture in the Curuguaty incident.

They also asked for clarification regarding the procedure for the seizure of lands belonging to the Cuyabia indigenous community. The same request was made on the continuous felling of the Ayoreo Totobiegosode Natural and Cultural Heritage Site.

The organisations alerted the Commission to the recent murders of three farming leaders. They also asked them to help get the threats against human rights advocates in the country under control.

The Commission received the complaints of the Human Rights Coordination of Paraguay, the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women’s Rights, the Peace and Justice Coordination of Paraguay, and Rural and Indigenous Women Workers of Paraguay, among others.

Story courtesy of Agencia Púlsar, the AMARC-ALC news agency. (photo courtesy of anticapitalistes.net)

March 26, 2013 Posted by | Subjugation - Torture | , , , , | Leave a comment

Plan Cóndor: The Search for Justice

By Emily Tarbuck | The Argentina Independent | March 20, 2013

Earlier this month, a trial of monumental historic significance commenced in Argentina. A trial that will see a group of military leaders prosecuted for their involvement in the ‘Plan Cóndor’ campaign; an agreement between the right-wing dictatorships of South America which led to the disappearance and murder of up to 80,000 people during the 1970s and 1980s.

In what is expected to last two years, and call upon over 500 witnesses, the trial represents a significant step towards achieving justice for crimes against humanity committed at the hands of the Southern Cone’s brutal collusion.

The History

The brutal right-wing military dictatorships that raged terror and political oppression across the continent defined the 1970s and 1980s in South America. The exact number of victims is disagreed upon, but it is estimated that the era saw the ‘disappearance’ of over 60,000 people in the fight to eradicate communist influence on the continent.

The sprawling dictatorships across the continent led to the clandestine kidnapping, torture, and murder of thousands of Latin Americans, with the aim of “eliminating Marxist subversion”, from Argentina, to the Augusto Pinochet-ruled Chile.

Targets of the eradication were officially stated as members of left-wing armed groups such as the MIR (Chile), the Montoneros (Argentina), and the Tupamaros (Uruguay), although the operation targeted trade unionists, family members, and anyone remotely considered a ‘political opponent’.

The formation of ‘Plan Cóndor’ – or ‘Operation Condor’ in English– was paramount to the continuation and reach of the dictatorships. The collusion of Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Brazil (and later Ecuador and Peru) enabled leaders to obtain resources and allies, thus continuing their left-wing eradication.

Set in the context of the Cold War, there was a palpable communist fear felt across the globe; something that enabled the dictatorships to garner significant funding and assistance from the United States. Declassified CIA documents –thousands of which were released in 1999 (here, here, here, and here)- show the key role the US played in the proliferation of the dictatorships. Politicians such as former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger have been heavily implicated as having been fundamental in the realisation of the kidnapping, torture, and murder of political enemies.

Argentina in particular saw one of the highest cases of ‘disappearances’ during the period of mass military dictatorships, with human rights’ organisations estimating the figure to stand at 30,000. Justice for the crimes against humanity committed during this period of state terrorism arguably began with the Juicio a las Juntas in 1985. The trial proved the crimes of the dictatorship for the first time, and led to the imprisonment of key figures such as Jorge Videla and Emilio Massera, both of whom received life imprisonment sentences, along with numerous others.

However, the work of the historic trial was largely undone, or at least heavily marred, by the amnesty laws passed during Raul Alfonsin’s government, which protected military officers from allegations and prosecution for crimes against humanity. This was followed by President Carlos Menem’s pardoning of the junta leaders in 1989. Protests and campaigning by organisations such as the Madres of Plaza de Mayo were fundamental in the repeal of the amnesty laws by the Argentine Supreme Court in 2005 under the government of Néstor Kirchner.

The Trial

For the first time, the collusion between governments and dictators under the ‘Plan Cóndor’ campaign will be investigated. Twenty five defendants are on trial in Buenos Aires in what has been described as a ‘mega-trial’, expected to last two years and scheduled to hear 500 witness statements. Lawyer Carolina Varsky described the trial as: “historic as it’s the first to deal with the repression coordinated between Latin American dictatorships.”

All suspects being tried are Argentine, with the exception of Uruguayan Manuel Cordero, who is accused of participating in death squads and torture at the Orletti clandestine detention centre in the city. Cordero was extradited by Brazil, where he was living prior to the trial. The list of defendants features 22 Argentine military intelligence officers and agents, including former de facto presidents Jorge Videla and Reynaldo Bignone, both of whom are already serving life imprisonment sentences, which they will most likely not outlive.

Argentine political scientist Ariel Raidan spoke with The Argentina Independent about the significance of the commencement of the trial, and said how it signifies the government’s focus on “building a more just society, where truth and justice come first, overcoming years of impunity.”

“The countries of the continent are beginning to revise its tragic past. Both advances and setbacks have occurred in the fight for justice over the years, but this trial has a clear conviction to expose as many facts as possible” continued Raidan.

The trial will investigate the cases of over 170 victims, including 65 who were imprisoned at the infamous Orletti torture centre in Buenos Aires. Victims were often kidnapped from their home country and transported to the facilities of a neighbouring country; a practice made possible by the collusion of governments in the Southern Cone. Much evidence to be examined in the trial, and what prosecutors are heavily basing their case upon, comes from the now declassified US documents, obtained by the non-governmental organisation National Security Archive. Released under the Freedom of Information Act, the documents detail how Henry Kissinger and many other high-ranking officials in the US not only gave full support and funding to the Argentine military junta, but also urged the country to accelerate protocol and finish their operations before the US Congress cut aid. The documents, featuring signatures of many high-ranking officials, have led to accusations that the US was a secret collaborator, partner, and sponsor of the operation.

Additionally, documents identified as the ‘Archives of Terror’, discovered in a police station in 1992, were significant in the uncovering of the role of Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela. These countries provided intelligence information that had been requested by ‘Plan Cóndor’ participating countries.

The victims are comprised of approximately 80 Uruguayans, 50 Argentines, 20 Chileans, and a dozen from Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. The disappearance of two Cuban consulate officials will also form part of the proceedings. Out of the 170 victims, 42 survived the dictatorship’s brutal treatment and many of them are expected to give first hand accounts during their testimonies in court. The remaining victims were murdered or ‘disappeared’ at the hands of the Cóndor agreement.

John Dinges, author of ‘The Condor Years: How Pinochet and his Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents’, said that, “this is historic in the sense that we’re going to hear from 500 witnesses. And really, in the Latin American legal system, it’s unusual. It’s really only coming to the fore now that you hear witnesses, as opposed to just seeing them give their testimony to judges in a closed room, and then later on people like me might go and read those testimonies, but really it doesn’t become public. This is all public. And apparently, a lot of it is being videotaped. So this is the first time that the general public is going to hear the details of this horrible, horrible list of atrocities that killed so many people.”

Alcira Ríos, the lawyer representing a Paraguayan victim whose case is to be tried in the coming months, said “we’re delighted that after years of struggle this has finally come to trial… the ‘disappeared’ deserve justice.”

The Future

Raidan spoke of his hope that “the trial will shed light on the specific articulation and coordination of the military juntas that ruled the countries of the Southern Cone”. The hope of many is to see clandestine details released that have for so long been shrouded in secrecy and cover-ups. The culmination of new documents, evidence, and witness statements has created a strong sense of hope that further justice will be achieved over the course of the trial. “The documents are very useful in establishing a comprehensive analytical framework of what Operation Condor was,” said Pablo Enrique Ouvina, the lead prosecutor in the case.

Miguel Angel Osorio, federal prosecutor in the case, has said that he is convinced of the existence of Operation Condor and that he believes it will be clearly proved, as well as “the actions of those implicated [in the plan] which prove that there was a illicit agreement to move people from one country to another”.

Perhaps closure will not be fully achieved over the brutal repression and crimes against humanity committed during this era, but there is a palpable sense surrounding the case that some semblance of a resolution will be achieved; that justice will be reached.

March 20, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Historic ‘Plan Cóndor’ Trial Underway

By Sabrina Hummel | The Argentina Independent | March 6, 2013

Oral proceedings for the 24 suspects charged with crimes against humanity under the ‘Plan Cóndor’ trial began earlier this morning. The Federal Oral Court N° 1 will hear testimony from around 500 witnesses in a trial that is set to last for at least two years.

Operation Condor (as it is referred to in English) refers to a clandestine agreement between South American right wing dictatorships that sought to persecute and rid the Southern Cone of political dissidents, mainly leftists. Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay were among the countries involved.

The plan allowed for political dissidents to be persecuted outside of their own countries. This was facilitated by the collaboration and exchange of information between the respective countries, the coordination of prisoner relocation, and the ‘disappearing’ of those who opposed them politically. Argentina’s ex dictator, Jorge Videla, is among those most heavily implicated in the plot.

The plan, referred to as an “annihilation device” by the federal prosecutor Miguel Angel Osorio, is responsible for 171 crimes committed in Argentina alone, most of which were carried out in the clandestine centre Automotores Orletti.

In an example of collaboration between the regimes, the daughter in law of Argentine poet Juan Gelman, María Claudia Irureta Goyena, was taken to a detention centre in Montevideo. She was killed after giving birth to her daughter, Macarena.

The human rights organisation Amnesty International said yesterday that, “the trial is a historic landmark in the fight against the impunity of crimes committed by authoritarian military governments during the 70s and 80s”.

Osorio has said that he is convinced of the existence of Operation Condor and that he believes its existence will be proved, above all, through “the actions of those implicated [in the plan] which prove that there was an illicit agreement to move people from one country to another”.

Videla, aged 87 and dressed in a blue suit and tie, listened to the opening accusations unperturbed. This is his fourth hearing related to crimes against humanity carried out under his dictatorship, when it is estimated that around 30000 people were ‘disappeared’.

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Human rights commission demands urgent investigation into killing of Paraguayan peasant leader

MercoPress | December 5, 2012

6945The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the murder in Paraguay of human rights defender Vidal Vega, leader of the Campesinos sin Tierra movement (Landless Campesinos) and president of the Committee of Relatives of Victims of the Curuguaty Massacre and urges the State of Paraguay to investigate and clear up these crimes, and punish those who perpetrated and masterminded them.

According to IACHR information, on December first, 2012, two individuals arrived aboard a motorcycle at the home of Vidal Vega. Police information quoted in news reports indicates the victim’s spouse, María Cristina Argüello, answered the door: the two unknown men asked for Vidal Vega and shot him with 12-caliber rifles, in the presence of his family.

The information received also indicates that Vidal Vega was a key witness in an investigation into the Curuguaty massacre, which happened on 15 June 2012, and where 11 peasants and 6 policemen died. The massacre took place during a raid on Campos Morombí, Marina Cue, lands in litigation between the State and private parties.

These events led to the impeachment of former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, who ended up being removed from office. It was also reported that Vidal Vega was the person responsible for the safekeeping of the documents related to proceedings by the Committee of Relatives of Victims of the Curuguaty Massacre before the National Institute of Rural Development and Land for the adjudication of the “Marina Cue” lands.

The IACHR calls to mind that it is the State’s obligation to proactively investigate acts of this nature and punish those responsible. The Commission also urges the State of Paraguay to immediately and urgently adopt all necessary measures to guarantee the right to life, integrity, and safety of human rights defenders in the country, particularly those who work in the Campesinos sin Tierra movement and on the Committee of Relatives of Victims of the Curuguaty Massacre.

As the Commission has stated previously, the acts of violence and other attacks perpetrated against human rights defenders not only affect the guarantees that belong to every human being, but undermine the fundamental role that human rights defenders play in society and leave all those for whom they fight defenceless.

The IACHR also calls to mind that the work of human rights defenders is essential to the construction of a solid and lasting democratic society, and that they play a leading role in the process of pursuing the full attainment of the rule of law and the strengthening of democracy.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

December 5, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Democrats and U.S. Labor Delusional About Latin America

Diatribes and Curious Silences

By ALBERTO C. RUIZ | CounterPunch | September 4, 2012

The Democrats just put out their platform on Latin America, and it demonstrates only the loosest connection to reality. Thus, while praising the “vibrant democracies in countries from Mexico to Brazil and Costa Rica to Chile,” as well as “historic peaceful transfers of power in places like El Salvador and Uruguay,” the Democrats continue to point to Cuba and Venezuela as outliers in the region in which the Democrats plan “to press for more transparent and accountable governance” and for “greater freedom.” Of course, it is their Platform’s deafening silence on critical developments in the region which says the most about their position vis a vis the Region.

Not surprising, the Democrats say nothing about the recent coups in Honduras and Paraguay (both taking place during Obama’s first term) which unseated popular and progressive governments. They also say nothing about the fact that President Obama, against the tide of the other democratic countries in Latin America, quickly recognized the coup governments in both of these countries. Also omitted from the platform is any discussion of the horrendous human rights situation in post-coup Honduras where journalists, human rights advocates and labor leaders have been threatened, harassed and even killed at alarming rates.

As Reporters Without Borders (RWR) explained on August 16, 25 journalists have been murdered in Honduras since the 2009 coup, making Honduras the journalist murder capital of the world. In this same story, RWR mentions Honduras in the same breath as Mexico (a country the Democrats hold out as one of the “vibrant democracies” in the region) when speaking of the oppression of journalists and social activists, as well as the general climate of violence which plagues both countries. As RWR stated, “Like their Mexican colleagues, Honduran journalists – along with human rights workers, civil society representatives, lawyers and academics who provide information – will not break free of the spiral of violent crime and censorship until the way the police and judicial apparatus functions is completely overhauled.” And indeed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 38 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 1992, and it has been confirmed in 27 of these cases that the journalists were killed precisely because they were journalists.   Meanwhile, in Mexico, over 40,000 individuals have been killed due to the U.S.-sponsored drug war – hardly a laudable figure.

Of course, in the case of Honduras, and Paraguay as well, things are going fine for U.S. interests post-coup, with Honduras maintaining the U.S. military base which President Manuel Zelaya, overthrown in the coup, had threatened to close.  Similarly, in Paraguay, one of the first acts of the new coup government was agreeing to open a new U.S. military base – a base opposed by Porfirio Lobos, the President (and former liberation Bishop) overthrown in the coup. The other act of the new coup government in Paraguay was its agreement to allow Rio Tinto to open a new mine in that country, again in contravention of the deposed President’s position. The Democrats simply do not speak of either Honduras or Paraguay in their Platform.

Instead, the Democrats mostly focus on their alleged desire to bring freedom to Cuba, saying nothing about the strides already made by Cuba itself where, according to a January 27, 2012 story in the Financial Times, entitled, “Freedom comes slowly to Cuba,” “there are currently no prisoners of conscience.”  This is to be contrasted with Colombia, the chief U.S. ally in the region, which houses around 10,000 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. The Democrats, shy about such unpleasant facts, simply say nothing about Colombia – this despite the fact that Colombia just announced historic peace talks with the guerillas which have been engaged in a 50-year insurgency in that country. Apparently, this does not deserve a mention amongst the Democrats’ anti-Cuba diatribe.

Meanwhile, the Democrats also single out Venezuela as a country which it is hoping to free from its alleged chains.  What the Democrats fail to note is that Venezuela already has a popular, democratically President in Hugo Chavez who is making life better for the vast majority of Venezuelans, and who appears poised to receive the majority of the votes of the Venezuelan people in the upcoming October elections as a consequence.  Thus, according to Oxfam, “Venezuela certainly seems to be getting something right on inequality. According to the highly reputable UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, it now has the most equal distribution of income in the region, and has improved rapidly since 1990.”  Again, contrast this with the U.S.’s chief ally Colombia and with Mexico, the two countries with the worst problems of inequality in the region. As the Council on Hemispheric Affairs noted earlier this year, “both Colombia and Mexico suffer from some of the world’s most unequal distributions of wealth. In 1995, Colombia was ranked the fifth most unequal country (of those with available statistics), with a Gini coefficient of 0.57, while Mexico was ranked the eighth worst with a Gini coefficient of 0.52. Between 2006 and 2010, Colombia’s inequality ranked 0.58, while Mexico’s coefficient was 0.52, qualifying them as two of the lowest ranked countries in the world.”   The Democrats, uninterested in such trivialities as social equality, simply ignore such inconvenient data.

For its part, U.S. labor, as represented (albeit very poorly) by the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center, continue to march in step with the U.S. government and the Democrats in their imperial delusions about the Region. Thus, while for some time simply hiding the fact that it has been working in Venezuela at all, the Solidarity Center, in response to pressure about this issue, has recently admitted on its website that it has been continuously working in Venezuela these past 13 years – i.e., to and through the coup in 2002 which the Solidarity Center aided and abetted by funneling monies from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to the anti-Chavez CTV union which was a major player in the coup.

Stinging from the just criticism over this, the Solidarity Center now claims — reminiscent of George W. Bush who fancied himself a “uniter” as opposed to a “divider” – claims that it is in Venezuela to unite the divided labor movement. Thus, the Solidarity Center states:  “[g]iven the political fragmentation and divisions between unions in Venezuela, Solidarity Center activities work to help unions from all political tendencies overcome their divisions in order to jointly advocate for and defend policies for increased protection of fundamental rights at the workplace and industry levels. The Solidarity Center currently supports efforts to unite unions from diverse political orientations (including chavista and non-chavista, left and center) to promote fundamental labor rights in the face of anti-labor actions that threaten both pro-government unions and traditionally independent unions.” In its statement, the Solidarity Center says nothing about the progressive labor law which President Chavez just recently signed into law without any help from U.S. labor. This law, among other things, outlaws outsourcing and subcontracting, shortens the work week, increases minimum vacation time, increases maternity leave and requires employers to provide retirement benefits.

The Solidarity Center statement about Venezuela is laden with irony as well as hubris. The U.S. labor movement is itself greatly fragmented, with two competing houses of labor (the AFL-CIO and Change to Win) as well as divisions even within these two confederations. That the Solidarity Center would presume to be able to unite any union movement outside its borders is laughable.   Indeed, only imagine the reception from the labor movement in this country if China’s labor confederation purported to intervene in the U.S. to help unite the labor movement here. Aside from wondering how exactly the Chinese unionists planned to do this, many would wonder about the ends to which such unity, once miraculously created, would be applied. And, one must wonder the very same about this in regard to the Solidarity Center’s role in Venezuela. First of all, the so-called “chavista” unions want nothing to do with the Solidarity Center, funded as it is by the NED and U.S.-AID, especially after the 2002 coup. Again, they would have to question what the Solidarity Center, which just received a massive grant of $3 million for its work in Venezuela and Colombia, would want to “unify” the Venezuelan union movement to do. The question appears to answer itself, and it is not a pretty one.

A modest proposal for the AFL-CIO and its Solidarity Center is to focus on uniting the labor movement at home in the U.S. to challenge the power that capital has on our political system; pressing for better U.S. labor law (on this score it could learn a lot from Venezuela and its labor movement); abandoning its labor paternalism (if not imperialism) and leaving it to the Venezuelans to unite their own labor movement. Similarly, the Democrats, instead of worrying about ostensibly bringing U.S.-style democracy (more like social inequality and militarism) to other countries in the Region, should spend more time trying to make this country less beholden to corporate and monied interests, and thereby more democratic in the process. But again, this is not what the Democrats are about. What the AFL-CIO is about, aside from blindly supporting the Democrats, is anyone’s guess.

Alberto C. Ruiz is a long-time labor and peace activist.

September 4, 2012 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Economics, Militarism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Paraguay: Coup Backers Push for US Military Bases

La Jornada*7/1/12

A group of US generals reportedly visited Paraguay for a meeting with legislators on June 22 to discuss the possibility of building a military base in the Chaco region, which borders on Bolivia in western Paraguay. The meeting coincided with the Congress’s sudden impeachment the same day of left-leaning president Fernando Lugo, who at times has opposed a US military presence in the country. In 2009 Lugo cancelled maneuvers that the US Southern Command was planning to hold in Paraguay in 2010 as part of its “New Horizons” program.

More bases in the Chaco are “necessary,” rightwing deputy José López Chávez, who presides over the Chamber of Deputies’ Committee on Defense, said in a radio interview. Bolivia, governed by socialist president Evo Morales, “constitutes a threat for Paraguay, due to the arms race it’s developing,” according to López Chávez. Bolivia and Paraguay fought a war over the sparsely populated Chaco from 1932 to 1935, the last major war over territory in South America.

The US has been pushing recently to set up military bases in the Southern Cone, including one in Chile and one in Argentina’s northeastern Chaco province, which is close to the Paraguayan Chaco, although it doesn’t share a border with Paraguay [see Update #1129]. Unidentified military sources say that the US has already built infrastructure for its own troops in Paraguayan army installations near the country’s borders with Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil; for example, an installation in Mariscal Estigarribia, some 250 km from Bolivia, has a runway almost 3.8 km long, in a country with a very limited air force.

*Translated by Weekly News Update

July 2, 2012 Posted by | Militarism | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Venezuela to join Mercosur on July 31

Press TV – June 30, 2012

The South American trade bloc Mercosur has announced that Venezuela will become a full member of the group on July 31.

On Friday, at a summit meeting in Mendoza, a small city in western Argentina, Mercosur leaders also agreed to extend Paraguay’s suspension over the dismissal of President Fernando Lugo until constitutional order is restored, Reuters reported.

The lower house of the Paraguayan Congress impeached Lugo on June 21, and the Senate opened his trial on June 22 and quickly reached a guilty verdict, ousting Lugo.

Mercosur leaders did not impose economic sanctions on Paraguay but banned Paraguayan officials from participating in Mercosur meetings.

Paraguay’s suspension created an opportunity for Venezuela to be incorporated into the bloc since opposition in the Paraguayan Congress was the only obstruction after a six-year wait.

Although the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay approved Venezuela’s admission into the bloc in 2006, its status remained in limbo as the agreement depended on ratification by the Paraguayan Congress.

“We’re calling on the entire region to recognize the need to expand our union so we can confront this crisis… caused by rich countries, but which will affect our economies regardless,” Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said at the summit.

“(We need to) develop the incredible potential that South America has in terms of food and agriculture, minerals, energy, and science and technology,” she added.

Mercosur is an economic union and political agreement between Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay founded in 1991. Its purpose is to promote free trade and the fluid movement of goods, people, and currency.

The bloc’s combined market encompasses more than 250 million people and accounts for more than three-quarters of the economic activity on the continent, or a combined GDP of $1.1 trillion.

June 29, 2012 Posted by | Economics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mercosur suspends Paraguay from trade bloc over Lugo ouster

Press TV – June 29, 2012

South American foreign ministers have suspended Paraguay from the regional trade bloc, Mercosur, over last week’s ouster of former President Fernando Lugo.

However, the bloc stopped short of imposing economic sanctions on Paraguay, which is one of the four founding members of the Mercosur bloc, along with Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

Paraguay was banned from this week’s summit held in Mendoza, Argenita, as the regional leaders considered the removal of the country’s first left-wing president as a parliamentary coup.

“Through a unanimous decision by Mercosur’s permanent and associate members, it has been decided– because of the events that occurred last Friday– to suspend Paraguay’s participation in this presidential summit,” Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said on Friday at a news conference.

Last week Paraguay’s Senate removed Lugo from office after a five-hour impeachment trial. He was accused of mishandling an armed clash over a land dispute in which seven police officers and ten landless farmers were killed on June 15.

Lugo was immediately replaced by his pro-US deputy, Federico Franco. The move has prompted harsh criticism inside the country and among its neighboring nations.

South American officials said that the suspension of Paraguay will stand until “democracy is fully restored” to the country.

Bolivian President Evo Morales voiced his concerns over what happened in Paraguay, saying that his country will not “recognize a dictatorship in paraguay.”

Several South American nations have recalled their ambassadors from Paraguay’s capital Asuncion, permanently or for consultation, in a bid to show their opposition to the dismissal of a democratically elected president.

June 29, 2012 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

China seeks free trade deal with Mercosur

Press TV – June 26, 2012

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao says China is interested in sealing a free trade agreement with the South American regional trade bloc Mercosur.

“We share ample common interests and we have great potential,” Wen said in Buenos Aires on Monday, while standing next to Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in a videoconference that included the presidents of Brazil and Uruguay, AP reported.

In the videoconference, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said strengthening relations between Chian and Mercosur could become a “strategy to keep the crisis contagion from reaching our markets and provoking unwanted consequences in employment and income that would hurt economic growth.”

In a meeting with the Argentine president, the Chinese premier signed deals on nuclear energy and the export of Argentine agricultural products.

Fernandez called the expansion of ties between China and Mercosur “a historic opportunity to add value to our raw materials and create jobs.”

The Mercosur bloc also includes Paraguay, which does not have diplomatic relations with Beijing because it recognizes Taiwan, which China, Mercosur’s second-biggest trade partner, considers a renegade province.

June 25, 2012 Posted by | Economics | , , , , | Leave a comment

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