September 27, 2005

Bolivia: World News Round-up

MABB © ®
A series of interesting news, having to do with Bolivia, are making their way around the world. This post will briefly review some of these news.
The first report I'd like to call your attention to is the decision of the IMF and World Bank (WB) over the weekend to forgive 100% the debt of four Latin American countries, Bolivia, Guyana, Honduras and Nicaragua (along with many African countries). This proposal stems chiefly out of the initiative of the UK government, which made the appeal on this year's G-8 meeting in Scotland. Trevor Manuel, the Bank's policy making committee said:

"The (debt) agreement now carries the full weight of support of all member states of the IMF and the World Bank and sets the basis for the next moment. These agreements are premised firstly on 100 percent debt relief,"

In a first phase the initiative would provide multilateral debt cancellation worth about 40 billion dollars to 18 of the world's most impoverished nations, including Bolivia. This is, of course, good news for Bolivia.

While on the debt issue, Bolivia is doing relatively well, on other issues is not. The White House is deeply troubled about current events in Bolivia and it is taking some steps in anticipation. In a memorandum to the Secretary of State, the President identified several countries as major drug transit or illicit drug-producing country for the fiscal year 2006. One of these countries is Bolivia. In the directive President Bush says:

Pursuant to section 706(1) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2003 (Public Law 107 228)(FRAA), I hereby identify the following countries as major drug transit or major illicit drug producing countries: Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.

President Bush goes on to direct the secretary of state to pass this information to Congress. And, as a result of actions like these, Congress has taken the steps to call for a congressional hearing on the topic of "Hot Spots in Latin America". This hearing, sponsored by Chair of the Oversight Subcommittee U.S. Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), will be held tomorrow Wednesday. The background document speaks of the current and worrying situation in the region and describes it as:

Despite two decades of political and economic progress among many Latin American and Caribbean basin nations, systemic problems continue to plague the continent, including persistent poverty; violent guerrilla conflicts; autocratic leaders; drug trafficking, crime and corruption; weak judicial systems; political polarization; and the rise of virulent populism. Frustration and a growing lack of confidence by citizens in many countries are echoed in the respected Latinobarometro surveys for 2004 that indicate an erosion in public confidence in democratic governments over the past ten years.

Specifically about Bolivia, it says:

Bolivia and Ecuador have had a number of presidents ousted since 2000.

The hearing should provide an assessment of U.S. policies to advance and reinforce democratic reforms and democratic institutional capacity within Latin America, as well as assess the potential threats to the stability of those institutions.

At the same time, the US government is doing its part to make not only Bolivia uncomfortable, but Brazil and Argentina and Paraguay. The reason is the joint military exercises being carried out by U.S. and Paraguayan soldiers in the region close to the town of Pilar. The agreement allows for the participation of 400 U.S. troops over a year-and-a-half period. Critics to the military exercises say:

The US is "establishing a military base here to monitor natural gas reserves in neighboring Bolivia where leftists could soon take power. Others charge U.S. financial interest in a nearby fresh water reserve, one of the world's largest."

While the Paraguayan government explains it is simple terms:

"This is an opportunity for our forces to get professional training," Paraguayan Foreign Minister Leila Rachid told Reuters by telephone from Washington. "It's as simple as that."

And the US military says:

"We're doing the same exercises that we've been doing here for years. We aren't doing any more of them and we aren't doing any different ones," said Kevin Johnson, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Asuncion. "We have no interest in a base."

The uneasiness comes on the back of the US government's history of interventions in the region. Horacio Galeano Perrone, a former Paraguayan education minister and military analyst said:

"... the country offered a central location bordering Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia and an enormous but largely dormant airfield at the Mariscal Estigarribia base in the northern Paraguay that could prove attractive to U.S. forces at some point. The base includes an airstrip built by U.S. technicians in the 1980s during the dictatorship of Paraguayan strongman Alfredo Stroessner that is longer than the one at Asuncion's international airport and exceeds the needs of the Paraguayan air force and its fleet of six planes. "

In Bolivia itself there has been a lot of speculation on the ulterior motives of the US government. Many have uttered the very same criticism expressed by many in the region. Specially concerned are the people of MAS. They see this latest move as particularly troubling. The MAS has been an instrumental tool to stop the Bolivian Congress to even debate the issue of immunity for US troops from the International Tribunal. MAS' presidential candidate, Evo Morales, has made a campaign promise to abolish the current Coca eradication program implemented during the Banzer government. This program has been seen in Washington as one of the major victories in the war against drugs and the major counter argument against critics of this policy.

8 comments:

mcentellas said...

I think perhaps one of the less-talked-about reasons for US military presence in Paraguay is that that corner of South America is (for I've no idea what reason) a hot bed of al Qaeda activity for over a decade.

Mar said...

Miguel, the idea of al Qaeda is simply to reinforce the idea of potential danger tu the US, the only arabas around there are long established families that came in with the immigration from Buenos Aires, excuses are same as good though. As for "einforce democratic reforms" it really pisses me off, since almost none of the so called northern democracies can really be accountable... Thanks Mabb, you are a good source of info

MB said...

Thanks!
Some time ago I did some research on the connection between Al-Qaeda or other terrorist organizations and this region.

We are talking about a triangle made up of Ciudad del Este (Paraguay), Foz do Iguacu (Brazil) and Puerto Iguazu (Argentina). This area has been, for some time, settled by people of arab descent, mainly Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians, etc. These people have established themselves there and many of them are already born there. So we are also speaking of second generations.

The reason why this area calls attention to the governments (the US among them) is because it has long been a kind of no-man's land. For many reasons (some say that Stroessner wanted it that way) this area has developed into one of the largest areas where a contraband economy reigns. Additional to that, it is also known that this is a drug traffick road heavily used by criminals. There is also little policing done by none of the governments and so on.

In some reports from State I read that FBI agents found many indications of support by the arab community to terrorist organizations. In the form of donations and so on. There have even been arrests where police found evidence of transfers of money to Hizbolla and other organizations (I don't remember exactly).

So as you can see, if these reports are correct (I really don't have reason to doubt them), there is plenty of reason to worry about what goes on in this area.

Mar said...

MB I must give you credit. Whereas there is a worrying tendency of that frontier to "forget" any kind of law, what worries me are two things: the strong american-government belief that they are prone to intervene in any given territory (contraband has allways existed, but it only worries some countris when they overcome traditional commerce) and their worrisome tendency to identify any arab in the zone with potential terrorism...

MB said...

Thanks!

But, I see what you are saying Mar. Dangerous waters there. Profiling and interventionism!

Anonymous said...

Great round up of the international news on Bolivia
But, please, allow me to emphasize, that whatever direction your opinions take about the US involvement in South America DO NOT EXCLUDE HISTORICAL CONTEXT. The present events in Bolivia and surrounding countries have a history. And,there is nothing new about the US finding excuses, however dreadful they may sound, to ensure its corporate investments or potential investments in Latin America. In other words consider, please, the possibility of US PROPAGANDA. Through a study of history, I believe, lies that we are suppose to believe become a bit more visible.

Miguel said...

Dear ANONYMOUS commenter:

I really appreciate any oppinion you might express here. I would also EMPHASIZE to you not to be afraid of leaving your name. The disscussion here is guaranteed to be civil. :-) In other words, any oppinion will be respected and bad words, insults and the like will be deleted. Any challenge will be appreciated, but ignorant comments will be scorned!

Now, to your comment. It is not so much that I am ignoring history but rather assuming the readers are familiar with relevent historical events and thus able to understand the context in which those events are happening and those oppinions expressed.

There is no question that US propaganda plays a role. However, the point I am assuming readers are aware of is that the US as well as anybody will be acting based on their own interests. Thus finding propaganda justifyable.

It would not be realistic to expect the US acting in the interest of Bolivian citizens without first considering American citizens.

Anonymous said...

The definition of propaganda, according to my Longman’s edition (2003) is “information which is false or which emphasizes just one part of a situation, used by a government or political group to make people agree with them …” No, I’m sorry. The dissemination of false information in never excusable.

“Acting based on its own interests” means exactly what? In the interest of whom do governmental officials act? The people who they are supposedly serving? Ask yourself why would a democratic government feel/think it appropriate to lie to its people, when it is supposedly acting in the best interests of those people? Do you suppose the people of that government would disapprove? Thus, the necessary lie? Please don't forget that the elected officials of a democratic government are nothing more than the “servants” of the people it serves.

You claim that there are reports that indicate support of terrorist organizations? Please cite those reports about the “no-man’s land.” Or, at least gives a hint of their authenticity. The reason I say this is because I know other places that may be called “no-man’s land’ and there is little organization in those areas. Yes, they are dangerous places, but little organization. And, secondly, there is too much propaganda around to believe everything.