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South America to Slam US-Colombia Base Deal August 25, 2009

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Published on Tuesday, August 25, 2009 by Agence France Presse

SAO PAULO – South American presidents are expected to slam a US plan to use military bases in Colombia when they gather for a summit in Argentina at the end of the week specifically to discuss the issue.

The anti-US leaders of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia have already vociferously criticized the announcement that Washington wanted to expand its military presence in Colombia to access seven bases.


[Colombians fill up a motorbike with smuggled gasoline in Cucuta, Colombia, on the border with Venezuela. In Venezuela the price of oil is 50 times cheaper than in Colombia, and due to the crisis between both countries, Colombians started smuggling along the border. Venezuela will not renew a recently-expired deal that provided Colombia gasoline at cut-rate prices. (AFP photo)]Colombians fill up a motorbike with smuggled gasoline in Cucuta, Colombia, on the border with Venezuela. In Venezuela the price of oil is 50 times cheaper than in Colombia, and due to the crisis between both countries, Colombians started smuggling along the border. Venezuela will not renew a recently-expired deal that provided Colombia gasoline at cut-rate prices. (AFP photo)

The more moderate presidents heading up Brazil, Chile and Argentina have likewise expressed concern at the decision, first announced last month by Bogota. 

The Union of South American Nations (Unasur) summit in the Argentine ski resort of Bariloche on Friday is to examine claims by Venezuela President Hugo Chavez that the increased US deployment could be used to invade his country.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is to attend, after having snubbed the previous Unasur meeting in Ecuador early this month because of regional friction over the deal.

Ahead of that last meeting, Uribe embarked on a tour of South America to speak to leaders one-on-one about the bases deal, but failed to win any support except from Peruvian President Alan Garcia.

US officials say that, while the deal on the bases was finalized this month, the agreement with Colombia has yet been signed.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she expected to ink the accord soon.

She also insisted that the beefed-up US military presence was exclusively aimed at “narco-traffickers, terrorists, and other illegal armed groups in Colombia.”

But Chavez on Sunday charged that “they are turning all of Colombia into a (US) base.”

He said in his weekly broadcast he had a document that showed the US military intended to operate unhindered “in strategic areas” — which he interpreted as including the Orinoco Delta in eastern Venezuela and Brazil’s northern Amazon basin.

The US aim was to “dominate South America and act freely across the continent,” he alleged.

Brazil’s defense minister, Nelson Jobim, was to travel to Colombia on Tuesday to talk over the bases decision with his counterpart, Gabriel Silva Lujan.

On Monday, he met with Ecuadorian Defense Minister Javier Ponce. Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim also met with Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Fander Falconi.

Falconi said Colombia had requested that several agenda items be discussed in conjunction with the bases issue at Friday’s summit, including other military deals in South America.

That latter point could touch on Venezuela’s recent purchases of billions of dollars of Russian weaponry, including sophisticated fighter jets and tanks, and Brazil’s deal with France to buy five submarines, one of which will be outfitted as a nuclear-powered vessel. Brazil is also poised to buy 36 new fighter aircraft from France, the United States or Sweden.

“There are no off-limit subjects at the meeting,” Falconi said.

“We think that all aspects linked to security in the region need to be tackled by the presidents. It’s not about accusing anybody, only holding transparent dialogue with the aim of strengthening regional unity,” he said.

Unasur groups Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guayana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Last week, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva urged US President Barack Obama to attend a Unasur summit to hear the grievances.

Obama said only he would “look at possibilities” and would next meet with Lula on September 24-25, at a G20 summit in Pittsburgh, in the US state of Pennsylvania.

Under a current cap exercised by the US Congress, the number of US citizens deployed to bases in Colombia cannot exceed 800 uniformed and 600 civilian personnel.

The US daily The Washington Post claimed in an editorial on Monday that Chavez was stirring up trouble over the bases to distract attention from his alleged support of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a rebel organization deemed a “terrorist” group by Washington.

The newspaper, which has good sources in US defense and political circles, asserted that giving the US military access to seven bases in Colombia was an “unremarkable” expansion of existing US operations in the country.

© 2009 Agence France Presse

The Amazon is Dying June 8, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Brazil, Environment.
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Published on Monday, June 8, 2009 by The Guardian/UK

The Brazilian government is legalising deforestation and western superbrands are benefiting from it. This needs to stop now

by John Sauven

Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, writing in the Guardian in March, offered us these words of hope: “No country has a larger stake in reversing the impact of global warming than Brazil. That is why it is at the forefront of efforts to come up with solutions that preserve our common future.” Lula’s words are fine. But we are still waiting for real action.

For the last 10 years, Greenpeace has been working in the Amazon alongside communities to protect the rainforest. Last week, Greenpeace released a report which was the result of a three-year investigation into the role of the cattle industry in driving illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. The report, Slaughtering the Amazon, reveals the devastating impacts cattle ranching is having on the climate, biodiversity and local communities.

Cattle ranching is the biggest cause of deforestation, not only in the Amazon, but worldwide. The report reveals that the Brazilian government is a silent partner in these crimes by providing loans to and holding shares in the three biggest players – Bertin, JBS and Marfrig – that are driving expansion into the Amazon rainforest.

Greenpeace is now about to enter into negotiations with many of the companies that have either found their supply chain and products contaminated with Amazon leather and beef or who are buying from companies implicated in Amazon deforestation – big brands such as Adidas, Clarks, Nike, Timberland and most of the major UK supermarkets. Meanwhile, back in Brazil, the federal prosecutor in Para state has announced legal action against farms and slaughterhouses that have acted outside of the law. It has sent warning letters to Brazilian companies buying and profiting from the destruction. Bertin and JBS are in the firing line – companies part-owned by the Brazilian government.

While this is a positive step, it’s clear that we can’t bring about real change and win an end to Amazon destruction for cattle without real action from the government and from big corporations in Europe and the US, who are providing the markets.

Another, worrying example of the widening chasm between rhetoric and reality is a new bill that has just passed through the Brazilian senate. If Lula gives his consent, it will legalise claims to at least 67m hectares of Amazonian land – an area the size of Norway and Germany put together – that is currently held illegally. A second bill, before the Brazilian congress, proposes to more than double the percentage of Amazon rainforest that can be cleared legally within a property. If passed, the effect of both these bills will be to legalise increased deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.

Lula’s decision to fund the cattle ranching industry with public money makes no sense when its expansion threatens the very deforestation reduction targets that Lula champions. The laws now waiting for his approval will represent a free ride for illegal loggers and cattle ranchers. It is clear that Brazil now faces a choice about what sort of world leader it wants to be – part of the problem or part of the solution.

Protecting Brazil’s rainforest is a critical part of the battle to tackle climate change and must be part of a global deal to protect forests at the climate change talks in Copenhagen at the end of the year. But while world leaders are making speeches, we are losing vast tracts of rainforest. We must also tackle the dirty industries that are driving deforestation if we are to protect the Amazon and the climate for future generations.

© 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited

John Sauven is director of Greenpeace

Will Dams on Amazon Tributary Wreak Global Havoc? April 5, 2009

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by Tyler Bridges

VOLTA GRANDE, Brazil – The Xingu River, the largest tributary of the Amazon, runs wide and swift this time of year. Its turquoise waters are home to some 600 species of fish, including several not found anywhere else on the planet. A thick emerald canopy of trees hugs its banks, except in places where man has carved out pastures for cattle.


[In this photo released by Spectral Agency, more than a thousand indigenous from around the world create a human banner that reads in Portuguese 'Save the Amazon' and a silhouette of an indigenous warrior during a demonstration marking the beginning of the World Social Forum, in Belem, Brazil, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009. (AP Photo/ Spectral Agency, Lou Dematteis)]In this photo released by Spectral Agency, more than a thousand indigenous from around the world create a human banner that reads in Portuguese ‘Save the Amazon’ and a silhouette of an indigenous warrior during a demonstration marking the beginning of the World Social Forum, in Belem, Brazil, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009. (AP Photo/ Spectral Agency, Lou Dematteis)

Now man, in the form of the Brazilian state power company, wants to harness a section of the Xingu by building the world’s third-biggest dam. 

Called the Belo Monte, the dam would drown 200 square miles of tropical rainforest – an area equivalent to the sprawling city of Tucson, Ariz. – and would flood the homes of 19,000 people. It would be only one of more than a dozen dams that the Brazilian government is planning to construct on tributaries of the Amazon, the world’s mightiest river.

Belo Monte would be only the latest assault on the Amazon tropical rainforest, which is home to one in 10 of the world’s known species and covers an area as large as the United States west of the Mississippi River.

Stephan Schwartzman, the director of tropical forest policy at the Environmental Defense Fund, said that 18 percent of the Amazon, an area nearly two times the size of California, had been cleared since the mid-1960s.

He added that deforestation peaked in 2004 and has since declined because of falling beef and soybean prices and because the government has stepped up enforcement of protected areas.

What happens to the Amazon rainforest has wide consequences, because a shrinking rainforest hampers the planet’s ability to rid the atmosphere of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that trees and other green plants absorb.

Brazilian government officials, however, say that Belo Monte and the other dams are necessary to switch on more living room lights, power expanding companies in the world’s ninth largest economy and create jobs as Brazil begins to slide into recession.

The impact of Belo Monte on the Indians who’d be displaced is central to the dam’s opponents. Under Brazil’s Constitution, Indians must “be heard” when dams would affect their land, which potentially gives them veto power over new dams.

Environmentalists are organizing riverside dwellers to rise up against Belo Monte by describing how it would submerge their homes and land. They organized a meeting March 21 in the community that locals call Volta Grande, which in Portuguese refers to a curve in the Xingu known as the Big Bend.

It took place in a barnlike house on the banks of the Xingu, about an hour downriver by motorboat from Altamira, the closest city.

Euclides de Oliveira listened quietly in a portion of the home that had been converted into a makeshift classroom with a dirt floor.

De Oliveira, a wiry 32-year-old fisherman with a dark mustache, sat on a bench with his back to a wall on which schoolwork covered the wooden planks. He wore a T-shirt and flip-flops, like most everyone else there.

The heat was stifling, and everyone swatted at the mosquitoes as activists described an unhappy future.

“What you say makes me afraid,” de Oliveira said when he finally spoke up. “It will end our way of life.”

Environmentalists emphasize the bigger picture, that Belo Monte would increase global greenhouse gases by devastating the rainforest and by releasing the methane gas stored in river vegetation. They add that the Xingu’s low level during the dry season would force the government to build five more dams to regulate the water flow.

Some critics even say that dams such as Belo Monte could become white elephants if global warming dries up parts of the Amazon, as some computer models suggest.

Instead of building dams, a World Wildlife Fund-Brazil analysis found, the government could meet the country’s energy needs by upgrading existing energy systems and pushing for the rapid development of wind, solar and biomass. In one example, the study reported that Brazil loses 16 percent of the power it generates through an old and faulty distribution system, compared with an international rate of about 6 percent.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has won plaudits worldwide for his role in pushing for Brazilian cars to switch from gasoline to cleaner ethanol produced from sugarcane.

However, Lula has continued to champion big energy projects that create jobs, devastate the rainforest and produce campaign contributions to his Workers Party from big construction companies.

He also has said pointedly: “The Amazon belongs to Brazilians.”

Lula provided crucial support for two controversial dams that are under construction on the Madeira River, in the western Amazon.

Belo Monte would be built in the heart of Para, a state that’s home to an explosive mix of poor settlers, cattle ranchers, loggers and scammers who fake land titles.

The latter are known as “grileiros.” They draw up backdated land deeds and put them in a drawer full of crickets, “grilos” in Portuguese. The crickets secrete acids that yellow the deeds and allow the scammers to pass them off as years older.

In 2005, a gunman in Para hired by a wealthy rancher shot and killed Dorothy Stang, an American nun who’d fought the powerful on behalf of the landless.

A sign of the tension over Belo Monte came at a public meeting in Altamira last May.

There, Indians in feathers and war paint clubbed and slashed an electric company executive. After the bloody executive was led away, the Indians danced in celebration, waving their machetes.

“It was a shocking and regrettable act,” said Glenn Switkes, the Brazil-based representative of International Rivers, a California-based nonprofit group. “But it defines what’s at stake and shows that the determination and resistance by indigenous people is likely to be strong.”

Bishop Erwin Kraulter has 24-hour police protection because of death threats for opposing the dam and butting heads with the powerful ranchers association.

“The dam will have an irreversible impact,” Kraulter said in his residence in Altamira.

He has some hope that the government won’t advance the dam after he met with Lula on March 19 and got the president to agree to meet with opponents in late April.

Business and political leaders in Altamira support Belo Monte because of the development it will bring.

“With the dam, we’d have more income to improve infrastructure,” said Altamira’s mayor, Odileida Sampaio. She hopes that the dam will produce money to pave 600 miles of the Transamazon highway and connect Altamira to the city of Maraba to the east.

Altamira’s streets were paved only five years ago. Its population has doubled in the past 20 years to 62,000, but it retains a small-town feel. It has two stoplights, and all its telephone numbers have the same prefix.

Sampaio and others in Altamira fear that the expected influx of job seekers would overwhelm the city’s ability to handle them.

“The population of Altamira will double in three or four years,” said Silverio Fernandez, Altamira’s deputy mayor.

Sampaio said the company that wins the project to build the dam must pay for new roads, schools, health clinics and houses.

She said she’d heard that an avalanche of unemployed workers flooded Tucurui when a massive dam was built on the Tocantins River, east of Altamira, during the 1970s.

The debate over whether to build dams in the Amazon isn’t new. Opponents stopped one massive dam planned for the Amazon in 1989.

It was an earlier version of Belo Monte. A coalition of U.S.-based environmentalists, Brazil’s Kayapo Indians and the star wattage of Sting, who shone an international spotlight, prompted the World Bank to withdraw needed loans.

Jose Antonio Muniz remembers that episode.

Now the president of Eletrobras, the gigantic state power company, Muniz showed a 1989 magazine article to a visitor to his Rio de Janeiro office. The article featured a photo of a Kayapo Indian placing a hunting knife against Muniz’s left cheek in Altamira. It was a friendly warning not to mess with the indigenous people.

Belo Monte now is a kinder and gentler dam, Muniz said.

“It’s the best site in the world for a dam,” he said during an hour-long interview. “It will produce a lot of energy and have a minimal impact on people and the environment.”

Eletrobras submitted its environmental impact statement on Feb. 27 to Brazil’s environmental agency. It has yet to be made public.

Muniz said he expected to win approval to let construction bids in October and begin work on Belo Monte next year. The dam would cost $10 billion and wouldn’t open until 2014 at the earliest.

Muniz said the government had learned from its mistakes and was taking many steps to protect the environment and minimize the impact on indigenous peoples. He promised to compensate those affected, even those without land titles.

“Brazil needs dams if it wants to become a developed country,” Muniz said. “It is a clean form of energy.”

Opponents, who’ve already won several court orders halting the project temporarily, hope that the courts will reject it because of the damage it will do to indigenous people and the rainforest.

At the meeting March 21, about 70 people gathered at one of the riverside dwellings in Volta Grande. It was the home of Fernando Florencio de Sousa, who grows cacao, coffee, rice, corn and yucca on 600 acres that abut the Xingu River.

Officials from the electric company have visited the area four or five times.

“They promise us that we’ll have a much better life,” de Sousa said, “that we’ll have electricity, running water and live in a nice house. I don’t believe it.”

Antonia Melo, an activist for a nonprofit group called Xingu Lives, which organized the meeting, showed an hour-long documentary on the destruction and failed promises of the Tucurui and Madeira River dams. Afterward, she and Ignez Wenzel, a nun from Altamira, taught the group a chant against Belo Monte.

A stout man in a red baseball cap named Liro Moraes, who’d been silent for most of the meeting, recalled a recent meeting with electric company officials.

“They only talk about the good things,” said Moraes, 51, his voice rising. “We shouldn’t let them into our communities anymore!”

Everyone burst into applause and began chanting, “Down with Belo Monte.”

An Exception to Lula’s Rule March 30, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Brazil, Labor.
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Written by Sue Branford   
www.upsidedownworld.org, Thursday, 26 March 2009


ImageSource: Red Pepper

Now and then there emerges somewhere in the world a social movement that is really exceptional for its integrity, astuteness and mass appeal. For me one of those rare movements is Brazil’s Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST, the Landless Workers’ Movement). Ever since it was founded in the early 1980s it has confounded predictions of its imminent demise. In the early days academics said that it was doomed because the peasantry was dying out all over the world. And today economists say the MST is fighting a lost cause because of the rapid and apparently unstoppable expansion of agribusiness in Brazil. Yet, against the odds, the movement has not only survived but steadily expanded. And, who knows, its ‘historical moment’ may yet come with the looming crisis in destructive, energy-profligate industrial farming.

Although many of us who went out into the streets to celebrate Lula’s election in October 2002 find it painful to admit it, nearly all of Brazil’s social movements and trade unions are weaker today than they were then. The clearest example is the Central Unica dos Trabalhadores (CUT), the left-wing trade union body that, like Lula’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, the Workers’ Party), was founded in the late 1970s, as the country mobilised to force the military government to step down.

Since those early days the CUT has always been closely linked to the PT, so it was no surprise when Lula, who has always felt more at ease with trade unionists than with left-wing intellectuals, invited leading members of the CUT to become ministers or top aides in his government. Unfortunately, this has meant that the CUT has become, in practice, little more than the labour arm of the government, and has even supported Lula when he has taken measures that have weakened the labour movement.

A similar fate has befallen the country’s main rural workers trade union, Contag. Members of Contag have administered the country’s timid land settlement programme and have occupied top positions within the ministry for rural development. This has meant that Contag no longer campaigns for radical agrarian reform and limits itself to lobbying for piecemeal advances for rural workers and peasant families.

From blind trust to disillusion

The main exception to this depressing story of co-option has been the MST, not that the movement has escaped scot-free. The rural poor were jubilant when Lula was elected president. Tens of thousands of families joined the movement and squatted on the verges of federal highways, confident that Lula would honour his earlier pledge to the MST ‘to give you so much land that you will not know what to do with it’. The MST leadership, however, was wary from the start, turning down Lula’s repeated offers of top jobs for MST leaders.

For a few years, the blind trust that many rural families felt in Lula caused problems for the MST. On several occasions militants organised marches in support of the movement’s radical demands, only to have Lula come down from the presidential palace and speak directly to the marchers in his charismatic way. On one memorable occasion, Lula doffed the MST’s characteristic red cap and spoke to the march. ‘You have waited for 500 years to see a working-class man in the presidency of Brazil,’ he said. ‘But I can’t achieve everything you want in just a few years. And I beg you to be patient.’ Lula was applauded at the end of his address, to the evident discomfort of some of the militants.

However, as time has passed, it has become increasingly clear to the grassroots that the leaders were right not to align the movement too closely with the Lula administration. The grassroots know now that the government will not deliver the kind of agrarian reform that they want and they have become disillusioned. Lula no longer comes to speak to the marches and MST leaders have become more open in their criticisms.

In a typical statement, João Pedro Stédile, one of the main MST leaders, said earlier this year: ‘Our analysis of the Lula government’s policies shows that Lula has favoured the agribusiness sector much more than family-owned agriculture. The general guidelines of his economic and agricultural policy have always given priority to export-oriented agribusiness. And agrarian reform, the most important measure to alter the status quo, is in fact paralysed or restricted to a few cases of token social compensation.’

Along with more radical rhetoric, the MST is carrying on with its former strategy – which was never entirely abandoned, even in the early years of the Lula administration – of occupying latifúndios (landed estates). Even though the Lula administration is not repressing the occupations with the same ferocity as earlier governments, MST members are still dying in the ensuing conflicts.

Avoiding co-option

So how is it that the MST has managed so successfully to avoid co-option? The MST is, after all, a movement drawn from landless peasants and rural labourers, the sectors of society that throughout Brazil’s history have suffered most from patronage and clientelismo?

It is perhaps this very history that has made the MST different. From the beginning, MST leaders were suspicious of the authorities, which were always seen as allies of the landowners. It was a lesson that was driven home during the MST’s first national congress back in January 1985. The politician Tancredo Neves – already selected to become Brazil’s first civilian president after 21 years of military rule (even though, in the event, he died before he could take office) – had promised to attend. But, despite his repeated pledge to carry out wide-ranging agrarian reform, he never turned up and the organisers left an empty chair on the podium as a chill warning to the plenary that, just like the seat, the new government’s lofty promises might also prove empty.

It was a presentiment that proved all too accurate. Brazil’s new constitution in 1988 brought important advances in the many areas – personal freedom, labour legislation, rights of ethnic minorities and children, and so on – but it dashed the hopes of the landless. Even though progressive organisations, including the MST, collected over one million signatures for a petition calling for agrarian reform, landowners lobbied Congress and the clauses dealing with land distribution were watered down into almost meaningless generalities. This was not a temporary setback: one after another Brazil’s civilian rulers backed away from confrontation with Brazil’s powerful rural elites.

Abandoned by the authorities, the MST coined one of its most powerful and enduring slogans: occupation is the only solution. MST leaders told the movement that they would only win land through grass-roots mobilisation and the organisation of daring and dangerous land occupations. Today MST activists often boast (not altogether accurately) that every hectare of the seven million or so they farm today was conquered through land occupations. This mentality that goals can only be achieved through struggle has permeated the movement, even affecting the internal balance of power. Even though rural trade unions only allowed heads of household (which generally meant men) to affiliate, the MST decided from the beginning to permit women and young people to become full members. It was an important advance but not, by itself, sufficient to guarantee gender equality: women members found that within the movement they were expected to conform to a patriarchal culture dominated by sexist peasant values. So, as one woman leader confided to me, ‘We decided to “occupy” the MST.’ And indeed they did, filling all the available political space and gradually opening up the movement to full participation by women. ‘It’s an ongoing struggle,’ another activist said recently. ‘But we’re getting there.’

Today self-reliance has become one of the main characteristics of the MST. This does not mean that the MST sees itself as isolated from the rest of society. On the contrary, it believes it is involved in a broad struggle to ‘democratise’ the state, in the sense of making the state break its age-old links with the ruling elites and respond to the needs of the mass of poor Brazilians. To do this, the MST must maintain its own independence from government.

The MST and PT

There has traditionally been a certain mistrust between the MST and the PT, partly because petistas have resented the MST’s wariness of them, along with all politicians. But today some petistas realise that perhaps they might have done better to follow some of the MST’s precepts. When Lula became president, he demanded total loyalty from all petistas, with some federal deputies being expelled from the party for failing to support a key government bill on social welfare reform. But from the beginning this was a dangerous tactic: Lula was elected by an alliance of parties and formed a coalition government. As a result, Lula frequently adopted policies that ran counter to the PT’s programme.

If the PT had retained some degree of independence and turned down Lula’s demand for blind loyalty, the party would be in a stronger position. It is not the PT but the MST that is today a beacon for the left worldwide. No one within the MST expects the future to be easy, partly because it will take a decade, at least, to rebuild the left in Brazil. But the MST has remained faithful to its principles and will be able to seize opportunities, whenever they arise. 

Agile Ecuador government riles friends and foes December 22, 2008

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

W. T. Whitney Jr.
People’s Weekly World, 15 Dec 2008
Pursuing social justice and national independence, the government of President Rafael Correa has gained new adversaries while prodding old foes. Having won a 57 percent majority in a run-off vote, Illinois-trained economist Correa, candidate of the populist Alianza Pais party, became president in January 2007.

Correa, no shrinking violet, is forcing the U.S. military to leave Manta Airbase, advocates “socialism of the 21st century,” and with Venezuelan and Bolivian counterparts resists U.S. imperialism. Last week in Tehran he and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
entered into joint banking, energy, trade and scientific projects. Ecuador is requesting loans from Iraq, according to Foreign Minister Maria Elsa Viteri.

In the same vein, Correa responded in kind to a reprimand last week from Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos complaining that Ecuador did little to fight leftist FARC insurgents in Colombia. Diplomatic relations with the U.S. puppet Colombian government were broken last March when Colombia attacked a FARC encampment in Ecuador.

Now, Correa’s government has challenged an ally in the struggle for Latin American unity. Two months ago Ecuador ousted Brazil’s Odebrecht Company because of an unfinished dam project, in the process reneging on four contracts for other company projects worth $700 million. On Nov. 21, Ecuador announced refusal to pay on a $550 million loan provided by Brazil’s state-owned National Bank of Economic and Social Development that had gone directly to Odebrecht.

In response, President Lula da Silva withdrew Brazil’s ambassador in Quito, the first such recall since 1870. Foreign Minister Celso Amorim threatened cessation of trade between the two countries.

International lenders were put on alert in mid-November when Ecuador delayed a $30.6 million interest payment on $3.9 billion in outstanding bonds. A 30-day moratorium period was used to study the possibility of default on all $10.3 billion in foreign debt obligations. Correa and advisors studied a report released Nov. 21 by an international, independent team of debt analysts, a year in the making.

Correa viewed the report as documenting an “illegitimate, corrupt, and illegal debt,” beyond government control. Hugo Arias, one of its authors, indicated that 80 percent of the debt emanated from old debt refinanced, and that $127 billion in principle alone has been paid over decades on loans originally worth $80 billion. Ally Venezuela holds most of the outstanding bonds.

President Correa is following the lead of former Cuban President Fidel Castro who at a conference on foreign debt on Aug. 1, 1985 asked, “Must debts to the oppressor be paid by the oppressed?”
The current debt crisis coincides with a 60 percent drop in oil revenues for Latin America’s fourth largest oil exporter. Ecuador’s government must delve into foreign cash reserves when prices dip below $76 per barrel. Plans to fund social programs through oil earnings inexorably went awry.

A back-up plan to use mining revenues, particularly from gold and copper, to cover state obligations boomeranged. On Nov. 17 demonstrations broke out nationwide led by indigenous and peasant groups opposed to a proposed mining law. Protesters concerned about diminished water and soil quality, land rights and local autonomy rejected promises that mining royalties set at 5 percent would pay for social projects.

Two days later 10,000 indigenous and leftist marchers blocked traffic on the Pan American Highway. Chants and banners called dramatically for water rights. Appealing to the new constitution, community leader Jose Cueva spoke for many marchers: “The president needs to first pass a food sovereignty law, a water law and a biodiversity law. Then we can have a national dialogue over what to do about mining.”

President Correa railed against “romantic notions, novelty, fixations or whatever, to say no to mining,” especially when we are “seated on hundreds of billions of dollars.” Calling for “environmentally, socially and economically responsible” mining, he denounced “infantile” and “fundamentalist” ideas.

The indigenous and social movements had been crucial to the 65 percent popular vote in September putting a new, government-orchestrated constitution into effect, one that embraced indigenous rights. Recently in disarray, CONAIE, the main indigenous federation, has revived.

Under the constitution, Correa and 5,993 other elected officials face re-election in 2009. CONAIE and other social movements have been instrumental over the past decade in overthrowing three presidents.

Morales urges action over Cuba December 17, 2008

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 latin-american-presidentsMorales, far left,  said Latin American leaders
should express ‘solidarity’ with Cuba [AFP]


December, 17, 2008

“If the United States does not raise the blockade, we will remove our ambassadors until the United States government lifts its economic blockade on the Cuban people,” he said.

Morales expelled the US ambassador to Bolivia in September, accusing him of siding with violent opposition protests.

Both Morales and Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan leader, have expressed hope that Barack Obama, the US president-elect, will remove the embargo on Cuba.

On Tuesday, leaders attending the Mercosur summit in the resort town of Costa Do Sauipe also issued a special statement demanding an end to the US sanctions which have been imposed on Cuba since 1962.

The regional meeting, aimed at solidifying South American unity, includes senior officials from 33 countries including Raul Castro, the Cuban president, on his first foreign tour abroad.

‘Political violation’

Raul Castro said he was in ‘no hurry’ to
mend US diplomatic relations [AFP]

Speaking on Tuesday, Raul Castro, the Cuban president, said that leaders at the Mercosur summit had supported a request to demand the US “cease this illegal and unjust political violation of the human rights of our people”.

Castro said in his speech to the other leaders that regional integration was needed in Latin America to help it advance against what he said was the failure of US-backed policies.

Castro, 77, took over as Cuban leader from his brother, Fidel, in February.

The summit is the largest in the Western hemisphere to exclude US representation and has been hailed as a sign that Latin America is demanding a new independence from Washington.

“The presence of Cuba is a very strong signal that America is no longer the boss in Latin America,” Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, said as he arrived.

‘Concessions’ demanded

On Monday, Castro told Al Jazeera that the US must make concessions first if the two countries are ever to restore diplomatic ties severed for more than 40 years.

Reports say Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the Brazilian president, could mediate between Washington and Havana.

Castro, said the “era of unilateral concessions was over”, and insisted that Cuba had only ever defended itself against the US.

“We have never hurt the United States, we have only defended ourselves. We are the ones who have been hurt so we are not the ones who have to make a gesture. Let them do it,” he said on Monday.

The Cuban leader said he was in “no hurry” to mend diplomatic relations with the US, which were severed in 1961, following the overthrow of the US-backed government by Fidel’s revolutionary movement.

“More than 70 per cent of Cubans were born under the blockade which has been in place for almost 50 years,” Castro said.

“I’m 77-years old but I feel good and young. In other words, if this doesn’t get resolved now, we’ll wait another 50 years.”


Evo Morales, the Bolivian president, has said that all
Latin American nations should expel US ambassadors in their country’s until the American economic embargo against Cuba is ended.

Speaking on Wednesday at the end of a two-day summit of Latin American leaders in Brazil, Morales said it would be a “radical move” to express “solidarity” with the Carribbean nation.

Obama Should Make a Clean Break With the Past on Latin America December 3, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America.
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Bolivian President Evo Morales talks with the press in Washington, DC. Morales has stated that he hopes to improve diplomatic relations with the US under an Obama administration. (Photo: Reuters)

    President-elect Obama’s historic triumph was welcomed in Latin America by left-of-center governments who saw it as a continuation of their own electoral victories. Even before the election, President Lula da Silva of Brazil said, “Just as Brazil elected a metal worker, Bolivia elected an Indian, Venezuela elected Chavez and Paraguay a bishop, I think that it would be an extraordinary thing if, in the largest economy in the world, a black man were elected president of the United States.”

    Obama has an opportunity to forge a new relationship with the region after his predecessor drove US-Latin American relations into a ditch. But it will require a major change in Washington’s attitude toward our southern neighbors.

    Most importantly, as the Brookings Institution recently noted, the Obama administration will have to abandon Bush’s efforts to divide the left-of-center governments into a “good left” and “bad left,” rewarding the former and punishing the latter. Most recently, the Bush administration decided to punish Bolivia by suspending their trade preferences and threatening tens of thousands of jobs there – allegedly for not cooperating in the “war on drugs.”

    Bolivia’s President Evo Morales was in Washington this month and met with Sen. Richard Lugar. Senator Lugar is the most influential Republican on foreign policy issues and is very close to President-elect Obama – who, according to rumors here, offered him the position of secretary of state. Lugar issued a very positive press statement on the meeting with Evo: “The United States regrets any perception that it has been disrespectful, insensitive, or engaged in any improper activities that would disregard the legitimacy of the current Bolivian government or its sovereignty,” he said. “We hope to renew our relationship with Bolivia, and to develop a rapport grounded on respect and transparency.”

    Although Evo Morales handed this statement to the Washington Post, neither the meeting with Lugar nor Lugar’s statement made it into the print edition of the Post’s article on Evo’s visit. This indicates that the Obama administration will have to confront not only the State Department, but also some of the major media if it wants to change relations with Latin America.

    Bolivia expelled the US ambassador in September because of Washington’s support for opposition groups there. The US State Department spent $89 million in Bolivia last year. Some of it went to opposition groups; we don’t know exactly how much because our government does not provide full disclosure. Washington is also supplying millions of dollars to undisclosed organizations in Venezuela, where it supported a military coup in 2002. Imagine if China or Russia were pumping $100 billion (the equivalent here) into in the United States, and some billions went to undisclosed groups. We would not allow that.

    The consensus in Washington is that we have the right to do all kinds of things in Latin American countries that we would never permit here. The new governments there do not agree. They also think they have the right to an independent foreign policy. Brazil’s foreign minister went to Iran this month, where he publicly defended Iran’s right to enrich uranium, and announced that expanding commercial and other ties to Iran were “a foreign policy priority” for Brazil. The State Department and US media ignored these statements because they came from Brazil, but when Venezuela does the same thing, it is considered impermissible.

    These are the kinds of double standards that the Obama administration will have to abandon if it wants a new relationship with Latin America. The left governments of Latin America have all reached out to our new president-elect with great hopes and expectations. It will now be up to our new government to break with the past, and respect the sovereignty and dignity of our neighbors to the south. That’s all they are asking for.


    This article has previously been published by McClatchy Newspapers.

    Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, DC. (www.cepr.net