Thursday, November 10, 2005

THIS BLOG HAS MOVED TO A NEW ADDRESS

Hello Upside Down Blog Readers,

This blog has moved to a new address, from now on, please go to

http://upsidedownworld.org/blog/

Thanks,
Ben

Monday, October 31, 2005

Current US Military Operations in Paraguay Merit Close Watching

Recently published articles offer some new insights into what the US military may be doing in Paraguay:

In a Washington Times article, Walder Goes, a political consultant with close ties to politicians in Brasilia, is quoted as saying, "There is no doubt in my mind that the U.S. at least wants that base in Mariscal [Paraguay] because they believe there are Arab terrorists in Paraguay…I'll bet there's a U.S. base there in a few years.”
As I mentioned in my piece, the US states that current military operations in Paraguay are focusing on humanitarian work. However, The Washington Times article points out that “of the 13 military exercises at the base in Mariscal, only two involved medical training.”

It also explains that “U.S. Special Forces units are to arrive in Paraguay next year for educational courses and counterterrorism training, including Operation Commando Force 6 scheduled for July through September.” This is beyond the initial time frame granted to the US by the Paraguayan senate and suggests that the US may indeed have plans to set up long-term military operations in the region.


I argue in my previous article
that the threat of terrorism in the triple border region where Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil meet is being used by the US as an excuse for military operations in the region. A quote from the Times article backs up this argument: Luiz Moniz Bandeira, a Brazilian-U.S. foreign affairs analyst who has written several books on Washington-Brasilia military relations, said “I wouldn't dismiss the hypothesis that U.S. agents plant stories in the media about Arab terrorists in the Triple Frontier to provoke terrorism and justify their military presence."

Other disconcerting news comes from Jim Shultz, the director of the Democracy Center in Cochabamba, Bolivia who said recently that a “source of mine here claims that the US government has been carefully cultivating relationships with “anti-Evo [Morales]” forces in the Bolivian military, presumably for some sort of US-backed coup down the road.”

Prensa Latina reports that the “US FBI Director Robert Mueller arrived in Paraguay Wednesday to check on preparations for installation of a permanent FBI office in Asuncion…to cooperate with security organizations to fight international crime, drug traffic and kidnapping.”

As the political situation in Bolivia becomes more precarious, US operations in nearby Paraguay merit close watching.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

It's an Upside Down World! Here are some things a citizen can do

Here is a very short list of suggestions for social action which I sent to an UpsideDownWorld.org reader who was interested in doing more in solidarity from the US with the hopeful social movements in Latin America and working to reverse the negative impacts of US foreign policy in the region:

Find out how your congress person and senator voted on CAFTA, the Central American free trade agreement which was passed by two votes this past summer. Free trade agreements like this facilitate corporate exploitation in poor countries, export US jobs abroad, promote sweat shop labor and don’t address the needs of the people. Once you find out how your political representative voted, you can call them up and talk with them more about the FTAA, (the Free Trade Area of the Americas) which is a larger trade “agreement” planned span across all of South America. The last vote showed that the vote for the FTAA will be a close one – if it even gets that far. Your conversations with your representative in the government could play a key part in stopping the FTAA. For more on how to do this, go to www.stopcafta.org

In the case of Paraguay, I've spoken with a human rights organizer there who is trying to spread the word about what the US military is doing in his country. (links) There is a lot of misinformation being distributed in Paraguay and it's hard for people to know what to believe regarding the US operations. This human rights activist, Orlando Castillo, would like English speaking folks to investigate US government documents and websites to find out what the US is really doing in Paraguay, what their intentions are etc. Once we find this out, we can send him the info, (I’d be happy to translate it into Spanish) and he can then use it to convince his fellow country people about what the US really is doing – which can lead to a broader resistance movement in Paraguay against the US military's activities there. Interested in working on this? Email me: ben(at)upsidedownworld.org

More info. on another opportunity to do solidarity work from abroad for a troubling situation in Honduras can be found HERE

The School of the Americas is a place in Georgia where Latin American assassins, dictators and torturers were trained by US specialists. This school still operates and the movement in the US to close it is a big one. Go to www.soaw.org for more info. on organizing efforts near you to protest the School of the Americas in Georgia this November.

If you’re tired of the lack of real coverage of Latin American issues and topics, make your own media. You can write for UpsideDownWorld.org, start your own blog for free at blogger.com, publish work on the indymedia.org sites and so on. Writing letters to editors at your town or city’s newspaper is another great option. Often the smaller the town, the bigger the stir and discussion a controversial letter can create.

You could also go to the Social Forum in Venezuela this winter. I am helping to organize a delegation there through the other publication I edit TowardFreedom.com. Want to go? Click HERE.
for more info.

There is also always the option of following in the footsteps of Bolivian activists; when the government doesn't represent our demands, blockade roads until the politicians listen...

Our inaction and apathy enables the large corporations and imperialist governments to do what they do. They want us to think we’re powerless, which of course, we are not.

Have some more ideas? Please list them as a comment below.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Operation Bolivian Freedom

In 2000, U.S. President George W. Bush, said, “Never before in its history has the United States been so dependent on foreign oil. In 1973, the country imported 36% of its oil needs. Today, the country imports 56% of its crude oil.”

According to the Bush administration, wherever there are desired natural resources there are terrorist threats which work as an excuse for imperialist intervention, both covert and overt.

Peter Goss, director of the CIA, stated last February that the agency has “evidence” of meetings between Colombia’s FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and Osama Bin Laden’s network to coordinate terrorist attacks in the region. Colombia is the fifth largest provider of oil to the US, and neighboring Venezuela is the fourth. Keeping a close watch on this black gold requires strong territorial control over these resource rich areas. This excuse of a terrorist threat is a common one.

In the case of Paraguay, the US is justifying its current military presence in the country by citing Islamic terrorist activity in the triple border region where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet, an area rich in natural gas and water reserves.

The US troop activity in Paraguay, and rumors of the development of a new US base there, have angered neighboring countries.

From Russia's Pravda paper: “Paraguay has became a serious headache for its larger neighbours and partners in the Mercosur bloc, Argentina and Brazil, since the tiny landlocked South American nation admitted having reoriented its foreign policy toward a closer approach to Washington…diplomats did not rule out the possible establishment of a permanent US military base in the country. Paraguay will withdraw from the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR) if the United States opens a permanent military base in the country, a Paraguayan diplomatic source said on Thursday.”

US intervention in Latin America isn’t anything new. In the case of Chile in 1973, Venezuela in 2002 and Haiti in 2004 the US funded and helped planned coups against leaders that weren’t warm to US interests in the region. Hired guns, or Private Military Corporations, are also a common strategy. If the Pentagon wants to send thousands of troops to Paraguay, they have to get it approved by Congress. But if a private company is contacted for the job, Congress doesn’t have to know about it. For this reason and others, a bond exists between military officials and multinational businesses (who profit the most from resources exploitation); both often hire private armies to do their dirty work. In Latin America, these hired guns rarely conduct direct intervention. More often than not, they offer strategic advice and training. In recent years, eight US citizens have died in Colombia, but because they were working for private corporations, the Pentagon escapes responsibility.

US troops are already operating in Paraguay. Will the US goes as far as invading Paraguay or neighboring Bolivia, where the gas reserves are located? Is “Operation Bolivian Freedom” next on the Bush agenda?

For more information on this topic see a couple of articles I just finished:

What is the US Doing in Paraguay?

US Military in Paraguay Prepares to Spread Democracy

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Grassroots Solutions in New Orleans Crisis Similar to Solidarity in 2001 Argentine Economic Crash

In December 2001 in Argentina, the economy collapsed. Citizens weren’t able to take money out of their bank accounts, countless workers were laid off. Hunger and homelessness swept the country. A cry directed at the government filled the streets throughout this crisis: “Que se vayan todos ya!”

In English this basically means, “Throw the bums out!”

In the eyes of many Argentines, the federal government had done little to nothing to solve the economic crisis. A common rumor at the time, (which was likely to have been true), was that the only public employees that were receiving a paycheck were the police and military, whose main job at the time was to control protests and strikes.

Demonstrations filled the streets as diverse classes demanded solutions. The country went through four presidents in two weeks. Yet the government still did nothing. As a result, people took matters into their own hands. They organized among their neighborhoods to help each other out with food and clothing. Alternative forms of currency were developed, urban gardens sprang up everywhere, workers occupied and ran bankrupt factories and businesses, grassroots health clinics and barter markets emerged across the country.

The crisis in New Orleans is very different from the one Argentina suffered through. However, one thing is similar – in both cases the federal government failed the people in a desperate time of need. The result in Argentina was a grassroots revolution, based on neighborly solidarity and a need to survive.

As the crisis continues in New Orleans, many citizens have taken matters into their own hands as well. Stories abound in the press of citizens in New Orleans banding together to search for survivors, rebuilding schools, starting their own rescue missions and setting up makeshift hospitals to take care of the sick. There is now a large number of grassroots hurricane relief groups operating on the ground.

And Democracy Now! reports that: Independent media activists are setting up a low-power radio station at the Houston Astrodome to provide critical information to hurricane Katrina evacuees.

As global warming increases the likelihood of similarly destructive natural disasters, oil becomes more scarce and free market policies continue to impoverish American citizens, it will be important to learn from the lessons of the 2001 Argentine crisis, and while demanding solutions from the government, also turn to each other and organize!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Rumsfeld Visits Paraguay, Threatens to "Spread Democracy"

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld arrived in Paraguay on August 16th amidst controversy over the current US military operations in the country. Hundreds of US troops have arrived in Paraguay and have been granted total immunity by the country’s government. Reports of the development of a military base near the border with Bolivia have raised concerns among citizens and human rights groups in the region. The US is also installing an FBI headquarters in Asuncion, Paraguay’s capital.

Protests against Rumsfeld’s arrival took place in Paraguay. “We want to protest because we believe that when North Americans arrive in a country they stay there indefinitely,” said Orlando Castillo of the human rights group, Servicio Paz y Justicia (SERPAJ)

Rumsfeld met with Paraguayan president Nicanor Duarte Frutos and said countries in the region should help strengthen democracy in Bolivia and suggested that Cuba and Venezuela have been involved in Bolivia in "unhelpful ways," the Washington Post reported.

"Any time you see issues involving stability in a country, it is something that one wishes would be resolved in a democratic, peaceful way," Rumsfeld told reporters en route to Paraguay. "There certainly is evidence that both Cuba and Venezuela have been involved in the situation in Bolivia in unhelpful ways." Rumsfeld did not offer any evidence of such involvement.

Many Latin American experts
dispute Washington's view of Venezuelan and Cuban influence, saying turmoil in Bolivia is due to home-grown factors like widespread poverty and growing political muscle of impoverished indigenous groups.

Protests in Bolivia have ousted two presidents within the last two years. These social conflicts have revolved around an unpopular plan to privatize and export the country’s massive gas reserves for a low price. Protesters want the gas nationalized so money from the sale of the gas can go to funding much needed hospitals, schools, better roads and so on.

During his visit, Rumsfeld also said he was worried about terrorist activity in and around Paraguay, particularly in the tri-border region where Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay meet. The Washington Post continues: The tri-border area has teemed with cocaine traffickers and smugglers, and defense officials said it might also harbor groups that finance international terrorism. One defense official who briefed reporters Tuesday said Hezbollah and Hamas, radical Islamic groups in the Middle East, "get a lot of funding" from the tri-border area. The official said further unrest in the region could leave a political "black hole" that would erode other democratic efforts."

It’s Rumsfeld third trip to the region in 10 months. "The kinds of problems that the hemisphere faces are problems that don't lend themselves to single-nation solutions," the Pentagon chief said while embarking on the three-day Latin American trip. He said drug trafficking and terrorist activity in the region could not be combated alone, and was eager to drum up allies.

Chavez denies trying to destabilize Bolivia and other countries by backing what one U.S. official has called antidemocratic groups. In turn, Chavez has accused the United States of spreading lies to try to isolate his government. Chavez has spent the past year courting a growing group of moderate leftist presidents in Latin America by urging more unity among countries in the region and less with the United States.

Though officials in Washington love to say Chavez and Fidel are funding/supporting popular uprisings in Bolivia and elsewhere in the region, I’ve never seen any proof of it, and Rumsfeld didn’t offer any on his recent trip to Paraguay.

In another blog entry I discussed this theory, and made a couple of points about it:

I was in Bolivia during the gas war conflict in 2003, when ex-president Sanchez de Lozada was kicked from office and the gas exportation plan was postponed. I met Evo Morales (current left-leaning presidential hopeful) and other indigenous and leftist leaders throughout the conflict. Evo shares his apartment with other people because he could not afford a better place to stay. His "office" in Cochabamba is a worn out union building with cracks in the walls.

During the Gas War, eighty people died and four hundred were wounded during the conflict, which lasted over a month. They were protesting because they wanted to, not because they were paid to.

I imagine that if anyone was to accuse Hugo Chavez of funding/supporting rebellions in Bolivia, it would be an ex-president of Bolivia, ousted by protesters. That’s not the case with Carlos Mesa, who was forced from office this past May after months of road blockades and protests. The Argentine newspaper “Clarin also carried an interview with former Bolivian President Carlos Mesa, who said that although the sympathy between Mr Chavez and Mr Morales was widely known, he had not seen any evidence of Venezuelan interference."

What Rumsfeld doesn’t admit is that it is the free trade agreements like CAFTA and the FTAA, the harmful influence of the IMF, World Bank, US corporations and US foreign policy in the region that is fomenting rebellion. The discontent in Latin America with these policies is very grassroots, from the ground up. Chavez doesn’t have to create this “leftist instability” – it’s already there. The more the the U.S. interferes in the region, the more likely their actions will backfire, no matter how many times they repeat lies.

It’s interesting that, according to the Bush administration, wherever there seems to any massive amount of gas or oil, (Bolivia has the second largest gas reserves in South America) there seems to be a terrorist threat, or a “need to spread democracy.”

---
For more on this topic, check out a longer article I wrote entitled, "What is the US Military Doing in Paraguay?"

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Blog from Guatemala, Part III: The Return Home

The following blog entry is from UpsideDownWorld.org assistant editor Cyril Mychalejko, who just returned from a trip in Guatemala:

I arrived back in the States from Guatemala on Monday, July 18th. Even though I was there for about 10 days, it was a little tough making the transition back. It was an intense and informative delegation which left me struggling to digest everything I saw and learned. It made me think about how trivial some things that I may get stressed out about here are compared to the struggles people are dealing with in Guatemala.

Yet there are a lot of positive things going on in the region. A tremendous amount of work is being done to try to bring those responsible for the genocide that took place there to justice, as well as give families who suffered closure regarding the deaths/disappearances of their loved ones through the exhumation process of the mass graves left in the wake of the period referred to as "The Violence." One thing that does need attention though is finding a way to bring the U.S. government to justice for their role in the genocide, which starts with the CIA and United Fruit Company's role in the 1954 coup which abruptly ended Guatemala's flirtation with a democratic government which in turn was a catalyst for the civil war, in addition to military aid and training through programs such as the School of the Americas (former Guatemalan military leader, Rios Mont being one of its graduates).

Regarding the Glamis Mining project, if one good thing has come out of it, it is that it has strengthened communities in their resistance against the company and the "Upside Down" development championed by the World Bank, northern governments, multinational corporations and free trade agreements. The community organizing, education and mobilizations against such corporate globalization offer hope. Another world is possible and it’s happening on the grassroots level in Guatemala. The community consultations in places like Sipacapa and also San Miguel (scheduled to take place soon where Glamis' mine is located), which was just brought to my attention by Sandra Cuffe of Rights Action, offer a framework.

I would like to thank Rights Action for sponsoring this delegation and for all of the good work they support in places like Guatemala and Honduras. I urge everyone to visit their website. I would also like to thank everyone on the delegation. I learned a lot from them and I wish them all the best with the work they are doing in the US and Canada. I hope to have a follow-up to my Glamis article, which will be co-authored by Sandra Cuffe, ready for publication the next week or so... stay tuned.

Check out his previous entries here and here