Monday, July 30, 2012

Globalizing Paraguay

After decades of oppression, a reformist president was finally elected in Paraguay, only to be suddenly impeached last month. In the ensuing five weeks, Paraguay has rushed to open the country to the U.S. military and controversial U.S. corporations.

In what had all the appearance of a blatant kangaroo court, the elite-controlled parliament of Paraguay voted on June 22, 2012 to impeach the reformist president, giving the president’s lawyers two hours to present their defense. [Telegraph, 6/23/12.] Ousted President Lugo championed land reform, albeit without major success. Surprisingly, Vice President Franco, who automatically replaced him, is already claiming successes on land reform, though with a statistically insignificant number of farmers so far. 

Vastly more important to Paraguayan society and democracy, however, are the contradictory signs of Franco cosying up to international corporations. He has already met with U.S. oil and Canadian mining companies and spoken out against “las invasions de tierras,” presumably code words for signaling that when poor farmers protest former theft of their lands by the rich, Franco will support the rich. Coincidentally, U.S. oil interests center on Chaco, according to a company spokesperson, the Paraguayan region that the U.S. military currently has an interest in (see below). And suddenly the new, temporary president is “accelerating” the decision-making process on the admission of foreign companies, a move that former President Lugo had been examining for its potential environmental and social threats. The proposed deal with a Canadian mining company alone would use an amount of electricity equal to that of 9.6 million people and be subsidized by Paraguayan taxpayers, according to a Paraguayan social research institute. Simultaneously, Franco has suddenly opened Paraguay to Monsanto’s infamous seeds that “require an expensive regimen of pesticides, and must be fertilized and watered according to precise timetables.”  With elections scheduled for April, private interests are evidently desperate to push through these deal.

Opponents of Lugo in Congress accused Venezuela’s ambassador of interfering in the impeachment process by inciting the Paraguayan military to revolt.

The questions at this point include at least the following:
  1. Was Lugo fired for trying to redress historical elite theft of land from farmers?
  2. Do Franco’s tiny initial land reform achievements forecast a real land reform policy?
  3. Why is the elite in such a rush to give foreign companies access to Paraguayan resources and put farmers under Monsanto’s control?
  4. Is Washington playing the Honduras game  {updated text: old game} of sabotaging democracy, and, if so, why?
[Update: According to evidence provided by Wikileaks (!), as quoted in The Nation, evidently there was no "Honduras game," at least in the sense that Washington did not provoke the coup, whatever its post-coup tolerance or support may have been. The reference to Honduras in Ques. 4 is thus my error and hence deleted.--WM]

Washington’s Role
Paraguay’s elimination of traditional dictatorship in favor of a supporter of land reform made the country a natural target for U.S. imperialists, and U.S. officials have reportedly been concerned about Lugo’s independent attitude toward U.S. military involvement in his country. [Nikolas Kozloff in Al-Jazeera 07/08/12.] Kozloff describes the Bush Administration’s attitude toward Paraguay in clearly imperialist terms:

the Bush White House was careful to employ the stick, bluntly informing Asunción that if the authorities failed to host US troops then Washington would cut off millions in aid. 
In the event, such threats were probably unnecessary: a right wing Colorado government proved all too willing to comply, and, in May 2005, the Paraguayan Senate dutifully approved entry of US troops, granting the forces total immunity from local jurisdiction.

After Lugo was elected, he publicly rejected a new US proposal to send troops to Paraguay. The U.S. ambassador responded that the military deployment would have been for “humanitarian reasons,” without explaining why armed troops were the appropriate method of providing “medical” aid. Whatever the reasons, the fact is that Obama, not just Bush, has been pushing hard to expand the U.S. military presence in southern South America.

Argentina. In the spring of 2012, the U.S. inaugurated a military facility in Argentina, according to a Southern Command spokesperson (as quoted in Argenine media). As protests occurred in an Argentina that still remembers with horror the vicious U.S.-supported fascist dictatorship, the U.S. Embassy denied it was in fact a military base. According to Argentine writer Walter Goobar:

the province of El Chaco is of great importance for several reasons. “In this specific case, (a base) gives the Southern Command control over a strategic area where the borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay converge and where the famous Guarani Aquifer flows.” As it loses political leadership in South America, the United States needs a territorial kind of control ; Goobar adds that “the installation of bases in El Chaco and in Chile will also allow for the recruitment of local forces in order to have them under its command and on its payroll.”

Chile. Meanwhile, Southern Command has admitted that it has opened a new base in Chile. With an unbelievable display of crassness, the base will be used to train the Chilean Army in urban warfare, which can hardly help but be seen in Chile as a direct threat of a return to the Pinochet days of fascist violence.  

Paraguay. Precisely as Lugo was being impeached, a group of U.S. generals was reportedly in Paraguay negotiating the establishment of a new base there, with local conservatives proclaiming the “threat” to Paraguay posed by Bolivia’s new “military arms race.” The speaker, Paraguayan Congress head of the Commission on Defense Jose Lopez Chavez helped organize the impeachment of Lugo, has ties to “former coup leader and retired general Lino Oviedo,” and reportedly met with the U.S. delegation of generals. Coincidence is of course possible. Chavez was Oviedo’s lawyer representing him concerning charges that he masterminded the murder of an ex-vice president of Paraguay in 1999 and member of Oviedo’s party Unace.

A month after leading the successful campaign to impeach Lugo, on July 29, Chavez introduced a motion that carried in the Congress’s lower house to impeach the defense minister on debatable charges, only three months after he had first been threatened with impeachment charges for criticizing the U.S. ambassador by letter for “interfering in” the internal affairs of Paraguay.

Paraguay already hosts what is widely reported in the media to be a U.S. air force base, at Mariscal Estigarribia, featuring an impressive air base (photo) and bizarrely located in the same region as an enormous, 98,000-acre ranch reportedly purchased by George W. Bush. If Washington is indeed as fearful of Hezbollah and Iranian activities in the region as some militaristic conservatives claim, one can only wonder why the Bush family would wish to live there. Stridently pro-Netanyahu Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, for example, has ominously referred to “nefarious activities” by Iran in the region including (how dare they?) a Spanish-language TV network.

Meanwhile, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay have banned Paraguay from participating in their joint trade group until it holds elections to legalize the post-impeachment regime, and have admitted Venezuela, thus seeming to respond to Washington’s military initiative with an economic countermove to bolster Latin independence.

In sum, while the U.S. superpower is clearly working hard to expand military involvement in southern South America, as far as Paraguay is concerned, two hypotheses have supportive evidence:

  1. In an attempt to get U.S. soldiers on the ground in Paraguay to minimize Iranian or Hezbollah influence, Washington is coordinating with factions in the Paraguayan military and elitist political supporters of the military to return Paraguay to pro-U.S. dictatorship.

  1. While more than willing to use its excess soldiers to provide humanitarian assistance, the U.S. is being drawn into domestic Paraguanan politics by sly Paraguayan military officers and elitist politicians who, eager to simultaneously prevent social reform and give tiny Paraguay a larger regional military role, are playing up the ever-present fear in Washington of independence-minded Latin populism.

The U.S. Military in South America:

Latin America, it seems, will participate fully in U.S. global military plans. Even according to DoD, which no doubt omits many off-budget items, U.S. military spending has been explodingrising exponentially both since the end of the Cold War and despite the U.S. retreat from Iraq.

Figures out through 2013 show a slight drop that still leave the budget more than $100 M above its level in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

That budget evidently remains sufficient for a wave of expansion into one of the most peaceful regions on earth, despite the raging conflicts throughout the Muslim world, the rising power of China, and continuing recession back in the U.S.

Further Reading:

Paraguayan Landowners' War on Farmers

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