Paraguay: reaction entrenched / 228 Aug/Sep 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 228 August/September 2012

The constitutional coup that removed President Fernando Lugo from office on 21 June highlights the intense struggle waged by imperialism and its money-crazed servants in Latin America against the impoverished masses. ALVARO MICHAELS reports.

Lugo’s election promise in 2008 was to redistribute land to some 87,000 landless families, in a country where 80% of land is owned by 2% of the population. He promised to end corruption. It was a popular programme but with the limited political forces at his disposal, unachievable. The powerful landowners, enjoying a massive growth in global demand for agricultural produce, split the President’s coalition with the Authentic Radical Liberal Party (ARLP). They impeached him for ‘poor performance’ and replaced him with ARLP leader and Vice President Federico Franco until the end of Lugo’s term of office in August 2013. Franco had objected entirely to Lugo’s land reform proposals. On 11 July the Paraguayan Supreme Court heard and rejected an ‘unconstitutional appeal’ July against Lugo’s removal. He will now appeal to the Inter-American Human Rights Court.

On the same day as Lugo’s ‘impeachment’, the head of the parliamentary defence committee and opposition member Jose Lopez Chavez met with US military chiefs to discuss both the establishment of a US military base in the Chaco region in the north of the country, and the restoration of ‘humanitarian assistance’ programmes, previously halted by Lugo in 2009. While Lopez Chavez plays up to the US Southern Commands’ targeting of the Venezuelan and Bolivian governments, both fearing the consequences of the development of the use of regional resources for the Latin American masses, he and his cronies also want ‘security’ for their ongoing plunder of the Chaco itself.

The Chaco

FRFI has already pointed to the massive role of US imperialism in the conversion of Paraguay into an agricultural colony for multinational agribusiness.* In the past 10 years, 203 million hectares of land has been sold – 60% of the area of Germany – and at an astonishing pace. Every year 9,000 rural families are evicted for soy production and nearly half a million hectares of land are turned into soy fields. Forest law permits up to 75% of a plot of land to be deforested. Once this has been done with a plot, it can be sold again and a further 75% of the forest cut down, and so on until it is cleared.

This was how most of the forest in eastern Paraguay was destroyed and it is now happening in the Chaco. Land in the Chaco is 10 times cheaper than in neighbouring countries, and is an attractive proposition for Brazilian agribusinesses amongst others. Since 1996, more than 1.2 million hectares of forest have been cut down to grow soy in huge industrial plantations, rather than food and other crops – one million hectares of this since 2007! In December 2011 the Paraguayan Congress voted down a proposal to stop this.

In the past 20 years 100,000 small-scale local farmers have been made landless, forced into city slums or out of the country. The remaining poor peasants suffer from acute water shortage and the effects of chemicals used on the large-scale soy farms. Paraguay is now the world’s fourth-largest exporter of soy and demand is surging, primarily from China and Europe for cattle feed and bio-fuel. So Paraguayan ‘GDP’ grew rapidly in 2010, by 15%, through soy exports worth $1.6bn. As much as 70% of Paraguay’s soy is exported each year, and the imperialist grain giants Cargill, ADM and Bunge account for about 70% of that. Beef is also a massive industry. Meanwhile 11% of the people are undernourished, and 40% live in poverty.

Between 2006 and 2007, soy exports from Paraguay to Argentina almost quadrupled, to be re-exported as fuel. This was during EU discussion of its bio-fuels mandate which came into force in 2009: it requires bio-fuel to be 10% of fuel by 2020. With 87% of Argentinean bio-fuel output going to the EU, the EU bio-fuels mandate has promoted soy plantations in Paraguay and other South American countries. Although the Organization of American States (OAS) hastily approved Lugo’s removal, with the US, Canada and Mexico voting against further analysis of the situation proposed by Argentina, the Mercosur trade bloc voted to suspend Paraguay ‘politically’. However, Mercosur decided not to impose economic sanctions, thus leaving US and EU imperialist agricultural trade interests in Paraguay untouched.

Mercosur and US imperialism

The suspension of Paraguay from Mercosur meant the removal of its long-standing veto of Venezuela’s membership of the trade bloc, a ‘blow back’ that has created disputes within the Paraguayan ruling class. Should they now stay in or leave Mercosur? Venezuela will now formally join the bloc on 31 July. This change is likely to frustrate Paraguay’s independent ambitions to sign trade deals with other countries – the bilateral treaty pattern promoted by the US after the failure of its Free Trade Area of the Americas strategy. The US, the EU and Australia are target markets for the Paraguayan capitalist class. US imperialism, irritated at the consolidation of Latin American governments around a theme of regional growth detached from the immediate interests of the US, has promoted the ‘Pacific Alliance’ – made up of Colombia, Chile, Peru and Mexico – to weaken the influence of Venezuela and its ALBA allies in Latin America. The US is undoubtedly now trying to use Paraguay to fracture Mercosur.

This split will be encouraged by Rio Tinto Alcan which plans to build a $4bn aluminium smelter in Paraguay ‘based on the merits of the opportunity’. However, Paraguay could be badly hit by Venezuela’s decision to halt oil exports in protest at Lugo’s removal. The state-owned oil company Petropar receives a third of its supplies from Venezuela, and it owes Venezuela’s PDVSA $260m. Any fuel shortage could increase the opposition to Franco’s administration that Lugo is now seeking to rally.

* 26 June:

Paraguay’s President Lugo removed – June 2012

Paraguay’s President Lugo removed – June 2012On 21 June 2012, Paraguay’s reactionary Chamber of Deputies voted 76-1 to impeach President Fernando Lugo. The Senate confirmed this with a 39-4 vote the following day.

This ‘constitutional coup’, reminiscent of the removal of President Zelaya in Honduras in 2009, has been condemned across South America. Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Cuba refuse to recognise the change and Venezuela will cease providing oil.Brazil and Argentina have called their ambassadors home and Uruguay has expressed concern. On 25 June, the Mercosur trade bloc suspended Paraguay from taking part in a summit in Argentina.

Despite poor health, Lugo -fought back, saying he will attend the summit and hand over the rotating presidency of  UNASUR to Peru next week, months before it is due to switch in November. His former cabinet ministers have announced the establishment of a parallel government to continue Lugo's policies.

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Tension builds in presidential election race / FRFI 227 June/July 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 227 June/July 2012

Tensions are building in the run-up to the Venezuelan presidential elections in October. Hugo Chavez of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) is standing for his third term. Opposing him is Henrique Capriles Radonski, from the Roundtable of Democratic Unity (Mesa de unidad democratica or MUD).

Who is Capriles Radonski?

Despite presenting himself as a ‘moderate’, Capriles Radonski is a right-wing extremist who participated in the short-lived 2002 coup against Chavez and took part in a violent assault on the Cuban embassy in Baruta while mayor of the district. When revolutionary lawyer Danilo Anderson was in the process of suspending Capriles’ mayoral legal immunity in order to prosecute him, he was assassinated by a car bomb. The perpetrators were never found. The opposition’s campaign is supported by Pedro Carmona, who swore himself in as president in the 2002 coup and has been living in hiding in Colombia ever since. The MUD coalition also boasts support from the infamous former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, who has offered to campaign against Chavez in towns on the border between the two countries.

Conveniently for the opposition, the Capriles family own an influential media chain, which includes the national papers Ultimas Noticias and El Mundo, stocks in the private opposition broadcaster Globovision, radio stations, online media, and Venezuela’s biggest cinema company. In March, Ultimas Noticias published allegations about the existence of paramilitary organisations linked to pro-revolution social movements such as the Ezquiel Zamora national campesino front. The paper has since been forced to publicly retract the allegations.

Dirty tactics and the media war

Although officially campaigning opens on 1 July, the opposition’s dirty war has already begun. Capriles held a campaign procession through the district of Cotiza in March, during which his bodyguards attacked and injured five people. The bodyguards were later identified as police officers from neighbouring Miranda state, which is governed by Capriles. The son of opposition legislator Ismael Garcia accused PSUV members in red T-shirts of firing at him. Community members reported seeing Capriles campaigners change their T-shirts from yellow to red moments before the attack. It is clear that the opposition is using the media to present to the international community a picture of democracy in Venezuela under attack from an oppressive PSUV state headed by Chavez. US congressman Eliot Engel has called for an OAS mission to monitor the presidential elections. Rejecting this, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council has called for candidates to publicly agree to recognise the results they publish. Capriles has so far failed to do so.  On 14 May media workers marched in Caracas after journalists from public media companies VTV and Avila were physically attacked by Capriles’ supporters.

Attacks on embassies are clearly a signature of opposition violence. On Friday 13 April, the anniversary of the failed 2002 coup, members of the opposition stormed the Venezuelan embassy in London, damaged the building and verbally abused embassy staff. This was prominently covered by Globovision and El Universal in Venezuela.

The Bolivarian revolution advances

Despite health concerns, Chavez continues to top the polls with even privately-owned polling companies showing 53% support for him. The continued economic viability of the Bolivarian revolution is crucial to securing these elections. Significantly, the Venezuelan economy grew by 5.6% in the first quarter of 2012 and inflation is falling. A further lynchpin in Chavez’s campaign has been the passing of the ‘Organic Law of Work and Workers’. The final version was the product of more than 19,000 proposals developed from over 1,800 worker assemblies nationwide. The new law reduces the working week to 40 hours, increases maternity leave to 6.5 months and seeks to eliminate private sub-contracted labour. The minimum monthly wage has been raised by 32% to $414, the highest in Latin America.

Article 25 of the law states: ‘the social process of work has, as its main objective, to overcome forms of capitalist exploitation, as well as to produce goods and services that guarantee our economic independence [and] satisfy human needs, through the just distribution of wealth...’ Appropriately, the legislation was signed on 1 May, International Workers’ Day, as tens of thousands of PSUV supporters turned the streets of Caracas red. As Alexis Toledo, mayor of Vargas state, emphasised: ‘May Day is a day of struggle for workers in a large part of the world, but in our country it is a day of celebration’.

Sam McGill

The disintegration of the Organisation of American States / FRFI 227 June/July 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 227 June/July 2012

In the context of deepening economic crisis, the US and Europe are losing their grip on Latin America as Cuba and Venezuela strengthen regional ties. SAM MCGILL reports.

Bullies, blunders and prostitutes

The Organisation of American States (OAS) was founded in 1948 on lofty-sounding ideals including non-interference in the internal affairs of other member states. In reality, it acts as a cover for US imperialist interests in Latin America. The OAS summit held in Cartagena, Colombia, in April reflected this, as the United States once again vetoed Cuba’s attendance. Leader after leader condemned the US veto and Rafael Correa of Ecuador boycotted the meeting in protest. Even staunch US allies Mexico and Colombia demanded Cuba’s inclusion. Countries belonging to the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) made it clear that without a radical change in the nature of the summits, they would not attend the OAS again. Before President Obama even arrived, his bully boy Secret Service agents were setting the imperialist tone as they were caught taking prostitutes back to their hotel, flaunting their ID cards in an arrogant attempt to get past the reception desk.

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The 1982 Malvinas/Falklands War

2 May 1982 - the Argentine cruiser ARA General Belgrano after being attacked by a British submarine during the Malvinas/Falklands warThirty years ago, on 2 April 1982, an Argentinian force landed on the Malvinas/Falklands islands having already occupied the island of South Georgia. The response of the Thatcher government was immediate: it authorised the assembly and dispatch of a huge fleet to recapture the islands. British imperialism would not accept such a challenge: its global position was at stake. It was the dawn of neoliberalism: the end of capital controls had unleashed a flood of overseas investment with British banks in the lead. British imperialism had to demonstrate that it would use military force to defend these rapidly expanding interests.

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