The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) has announced that it will create a united defence body to promote democratic stability among its member countries.
Military delegates of Argentina, Brazil, and Ecuador concluded a two day meeting yesterday in Quito, and agreed on creating the first South American Defence College (ESUDE) – a safety training centre with the aim of turning “the regions into a zone of peace”.
UNASUR has said that the idea behind the project is to “eliminate outdated visions that have formed our military, with manuals and taxes from foreign powers.
“The goal is to start from scratch and consider a defence doctrine, without starting from the premise of opposing countries. It is important to define our role in the military, to assume responsibility for prevention, border control or emergency responses.
“We want to create a body of higher and postgraduate education to create a regional identity for civilians and our military, and to avoid interference of other countries or geopolitical zones,” a UNASUR spokesperson said.
The ESUDE proposal paper will be presented at the next meeting of the executive body for the South American Defence Council in Lima, Peru on the 16th and 17th May. Members who attended yesterday’s meeting in Quito will meet again during the second week of July in Buenos Aires, to define the Esude proposal.
One of the issues that is expected to be up for debate in the following meetings is the level of participation in the armed forces from each country.
The initiative already has the support of other member countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and Uruguay.
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Peru’s Congress has opened a high-profile investigation into a contract with Israeli security firm Global CST, entered into by the previous government of Álan García, an audit by the Comptroller General of the Republic found irregularities in the deal. The probe concluded that the Peruvian state had lost $16 million when the firm failed to fulfil terms of its contract with the Armed Forces Joint Command. A congressional oversight commission has questioned three former cabinet members in the scandal—ex-housing minister Hernán Garrido, and ex-defense ministers Ántero Flores Aráoz and Rafael Rey—as well as ex-Joint Command chief Gen. Francisco Contreras. Special anti-corruption prosecutor Julio Arbizu has called on García himself to testify before what is being called the Mega-Commission, and for the attorney general’s office, or Fiscalía, to investigate the former president.
Global CST, whose founder and director is IDF reserve Gen. Israel Ziv, was secretly contracted in 2009 to help Peru’s military fight remnant Sendero Luminoso rebels in the Apurímac-Ene River Valley (VRAE). Testimony and documents confirm that Rey exchanged communication directly with Israel’s then-foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman over the deal, and called upon him to pressure CST’s competitor Armaz to drop out of the bidding process. According to testimony, Garrido also helped Global CST arrange a similar deal with the government of Colombia before recommending the firm to Peru’s own armed forces.
Also named is ex-admiral Carlos Tubino, now a lawmaker for the Fuerza Popular party, headed by Keiko Fujimori, daughter of imprisoned ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori. Both Fujimoristas and supporters of García’s APRA charge that the investigation is politically motivated. (IPS, La Primera, March 22; Perú21, March 15; Perú21, March 8)
The administration of Peru’s President Ollanta Humala last week introduced a bill to the country’s congress that would criminalize “Denial of Terrorist Violence,” imposing a prison term of up to eight years for publicly “approving, justifying, denying or minimizing” acts committed by “terrorist organizations.” Interior Minister Wilfredo Pedraza said the “Law of Denialism” was necessary to “protect society,” citing the threat of “nuevo senderismo”—meaning the recent resurgence of activity by surviving factions of the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso, or SL) guerilla movement, with new civil front groups such as the Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights (MOVADEF) supposedly mobilizing in their support. He said the law would “avoid this process of justification of these behaviors, of this epoch of 20 years which was so hard for the country, which I reiterate has meant 70,000 deaths.” (Radio Programas del Peru, RPP, Aug. 28)
A Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR), whose findings have never been accepted by the armed forces, issued a final report in 2003 on the toll of the 1980-2000 armed conflict in Peru. Annex 2, “How Many Peruvians Died?” (PDF), arrived a figure of 69,280 violent deaths during the period, of which 46% were attributed to the SL, 30% to “state agents,” and 24% to “other agents.” These included the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), a rival guerilla group; rondas campesinas (peasant self-defense patrols); and paramilitary groups (mostly with some degree of direction from the official security forces).
Opposition congress members Javier Diez Canseco (AP-Frente Amplio) and Heriberto Benítez (Solidaridad Nacional) responded to the proposed “Law of Denialism” by asserting that the law should also cover the actions of “state terrorism.” They said in a statement: “There were grave problems with Sendero and the MRTA, but the report of the CVR recognizes that there was also state terror and that [state] elements committed crimes against humanity. This project is problematic…and seeks to have an official version of what happened.” (La Republica, Aug. 27)
Longtime social struggle leader Hugo Blanco, who led an armed campesino movement in Cuzco in the 1960s, issued an open letter in response to the proposed law, stating: “SL and MRTA, at least at the beginning, sought to overturn the situation of oppression in which our people live. The experience of 20 years of internal war has sufficiently demonstrated that thanks to their actions, our people were more crushed than ever, as the system punished with massacres any social protest, characterizing it as terrorist. The internal war produced no improvement for the oppressed people, producing 70,000 deaths, as well as disappearances, torture, imprisonment, displacement. For this reason we censure the terrorism of SL and MRTA. [But] if this proposed law is approved, it should also impose punishment for those who deny state terrorism, which was much more criminal that that of the SL and MRTA. If these groups both committed terrorism to overturn the situation of oppression of our people, the terrorism of the state was carried out to guarantee the continuance of the oppression of the Peruvian people…” (Juan Esteban Yupanqui blog, Sept. 3)
Eight years after negotiations began in May 2004, the U.S.Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) came into force on May 15.
Negotiations began together with the four member countries of the Andean Community that are beneficiaries of the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA), which permits the entry of products not traditionally tariff-free into the U.S. market. One of Colombia’s central reasons for the FTA lay in ensuring that such tariff preferences were made permanent, since ATPDEA officially expired on December 31, 2006.
Businesses that exported under this program—especially in the textile and floriculture sectors in the case of Colombia—pushed hard for the FTA. They believed that it would allow them to gain competitiveness against other countries that did not enjoy similar preferences, and to be on equal terms with those who already had them.
The governments sought to shield important aspects of economic policy—like the treatment to foreign investment, liberalization of the services sector and strengthening intellectual property protection, among others—against the probable intent that a new administration would try to change them. The consolidation of economic liberalization would, according to authorities, attract foreign investments that generate jobs.
In this evaluation, the Andean governments dismissed the fact that tariffs are not currently the main barriers to access to industrialized country markets. They also did not consider that as the United States continued to sign FTAs such with other countries, as it was clear they would, the Andean region would lose its advantages.
Indeed, the U.S. government, as well as the European Union and Japan, use free trade agreements as a way to establish trade and economic rules that in the multilateral World Trade Organization cannot be implemented because of the resistance of a significant number of developing countries.
The Trade Act or Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) of 2002-which authorized the United States government to negotiate FTAs with other countries, says that the expansion of international trade “is vital to national security. Trade is critical to the country’s economic growth and leadership in the world.”
The same act states that trade agreements maximize opportunities for critical sectors of the U.S. economy, such as information technology, telecommunications, basic industries, capital equipment, medical equipment, services, agriculture, environmental technology and intellectual property. The TPA indicates that trade creates new opportunities for the United States, thus preserving its economic, political and military strength.
The process of meetings to achieve the FTA was extensive. What started as a joint negotiation (Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, with Bolivia as an observer) ended with individual negotiations. Peru was the first to secure the signatures of presidents Toledo and Bush in December 2007 and came into force in February 2009, while Bolivia and Ecuador rejected the FTA following changes in their governments.
Venezuela withdrew from the Andean Community in April 2006 and applied for incorporation into Mercosur, arguing that “the free trade agreements by Colombia and Peru with the United States of America have formed a new legal body that attempts to assimilate the rules of the FTA within the Andean Community, changing de facto its nature and original principles.”
While the presidents of Colombia and the United States, Uribe and Bush signed in 2006, the U.S. Congress did not ratify the act because of complaints from some quarters in Congress and civil organizations that pointed to violations of human rights and labor laws. After lengthy negotiations, and commitments made by acting President Santos, the act was ratified by Congress in October 2011. Meanwhile, the tariff advantages achieved under the ATPDEA were renewed annually.
Myth of the “special relationship” under FTA
With the enforcement of the FTA, Colombian authorities hope to convert the country into an export platform for those countries that “do not enjoy privileged relations with this large market, such as Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil and Venezuela.” Government officials from Peru and Chile had previously expressed the same hope.
However, experience shows that these hopes did not become reality for Colombia’s neighbors. Sales to the U.S. market have lost momentum. In Peru, for example, exports to the United States fell 4% in 2011 over the previous year, although the total exports increased by 28% in that period.
The United States dropped from being the top destination for Peruvian exports, to the third–after China and Switzerland. In 2006 24.2% of Peruvian exports were destined for the U.S. market, in 2011 they were only for 12.7%. By contrast, imports from the United States, which in 2006 represented 16.4% of total imports, in 2011 increased to 19.5%. The U.S. has managed to reverse its trade balance with Peru, which has gone from a surplus favorable to Peru of $3.26 million in 2006 to a deficit of $1.52 million.
It is true that in this evolution the [exchange rates] of local Latin American currencies against the dollar have had a major impact, but the slowdown in growth and consumption in the United States does not predict a scenario favorable for emphasizing exports to the United States.
In his speech to the State of the Union in January this year, President Obama proposed a recovery of the economy based on boosting local manufacturing. He proposed tax cuts to companies that invest in the country, tax increases to those established abroad and measures to increase U.S. global market share, creating “millions of new customers for U.S. products in Panama, Colombia and South Korea.”
Colombia should be asking itself: Who really benefits from the Free Trade Agreement?
Ariela Ruiz Caro is an economics graduate of the Humboldt University in Berlin, with an MA in Economic Integration from the University of Buenos Aires. She does international consulting on trade, integration, and natural resources for ECLAC, the Latin American Economic System (SELA), the Institute for the Integration of Latin America and the Caribbean (INTAL), and other organizations. She worked for the Comunidad Andina from 1985 to 1994, as an advisor to the Commission of Permanent Representatives of MERCOSUR from 2006 to 2008, and is a writer for the Americas Program.
Translated by Yasmin Khan
- Imperialism and Violence in Colombia (alethonews.wordpress.com)