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.”

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