Monday, December 29, 2008

WNU #972: Brazil Signs Arms Deal With France

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #972, December 28, 2008

1. Brazil: Arms Deal Signed With France
2. Argentina: Rights Violators Stay in Jail
3. Bolivia: Literacy Campaign Ends
4. Colombia: Government Spying on Emails
5. El Salvador: Armed Groups With Plastic Guns?
6. Links to alternative sources on: Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Mexico, Trade

ISSN#: 1084-922X. Weekly News Update on the Americas covers news from Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and written from a progressive perspective. It has been published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York since 1990. For a subscription, write to It is archived at

*1. Brazil: Arms Deal Signed With France
French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva signed a $12 billion strategic partnership agreement in Rio de Janeiro on Dec. 23, the second day of Sarkozy's official visit to Brazil. The two presidents also finalized nearly a dozen other agreements, covering space, nuclear energy, climate change, biodiversity, professional training and scientific and cultural cooperation. Sarkozy currently holds the rotating presidency of the 27-member European Union (EU), and his visit included the renewal on Dec. 22 of a strategic partnership agreement between Brazil and the EU. After the two-day official visit, Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni, were planning a vacation at a Brazilian resort.

The strategic partnership agreement includes building four diesel Scorpène submarines and the development of a nuclear-powered submarine; the submarine sales are reportedly worth as much as $6.7 billion euros (about $9 billion). Part of the first diesel submarine is to be built in Cherbourg, France, but the work will be completed in a new facility in Sepetiba, west of Rio de Janeiro, along with the other diesel vessels. The first Scorpène is scheduled to be finished in 2016, with the nuclear submarine due in 2024. France will also aid in the manufacture of 50 EC-725 transport helicopters in Brazil by the Helibras company; the helicopter deal, reportedly worth 1.899 billion euros (some $2.64 billion), includes technology transfer from France.

Lula, a leader of the leftist Workers Party, insisted that Brazil's goal was to have "military capability, not meaning to attack anyone, but to defend oneself." The agreement reflects Brazil's major efforts to build up its military force, especially to protect its Amazon resources and its deepwater oilfields, which are located some 300 km from the coasts. The agreement also shows Brazil's determination to reduce its dependence on the US. In the last five years, Brazil has increased its purchases of US arms by 38%, but purchases from France have gone up by 175%.

French companies will benefit most from the deal; they are getting about 6 billion euros (some $8.45 billion), more than all of France's arms exports in 2007 (5.7 billion euros). But French analysts say France is also seeking a strong ally outside Europe and the US, one that is less "controversial" than China or Russia and more politically stable than India. Another of France's concerns is its status as the last European country with territory in South America. Lula and Sarkozy agreed to inaugurate a bridge over the Oyapock river in 2010 to increase trade between French Guiana, which borders Brazil and Suriname. (O Globo (Brazil) 12/24/08 from correspondent; La Jornada (Mexico) 12/24/08 from DPA, Reuters; Le Monde (Paris) 12/24/08 from correspondent; L'Humanité (Paris) 12/24/08)

*2. Argentina: Rights Violators Stay in Jail
On Dec. 22 the second chamber of Argentina's federal appeals court confirmed that "there is no medical examination that would justify" releasing Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla, the first president of the 1976-1983 military regime, from prison. The ruling upholds an Oct. 10 decision by federal judge Norberto Oyarbide removing Videla from house arrest and sending him to the Campo de Mayo Federal Prison under the supervision of the Federal Penitentiary Service (SPF). Videla is being held on charges that the military regime had a systematic plan to keep pregnant detainees in secret detention centers until they gave birth. The babies were then adopted by military or police families or their friends; the mothers were killed.

The appeals court's decision came the same day that the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo group announced that it had found another of the adopted children, making a total of 96 identified so far. There are estimates that 400 to 500 babies were adopted in this manner. A total of about 30,000 people disappeared during the seven years of the US-backed military regime.

Less than a week earlier, on Dec. 18, another federal appeals panel ordered the release of 14 people charged with human rights violations during the military regime at the Navy Mechanics School (ESMA) in Buenos Aires, including Capt. Alfredo Astiz ("The Blond Angel of Death"). The court based its decision on the fact that the accused were held more than three years without a conviction. Raúl Plee, the prosecutor in the case, agreed that the lengthy detention was contrary to Argentine law but asked the court to reconsider because of the likelihood that the men would try to escape. On Dec. 19, following a public outcry about the release, the court suspended its decision. As of Dec. 22, the suspects remained in prison and the government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner had decided to impeach the judges that ruled for the officers' release. (La Jornada 12/23/08 from correspondent, 12/20/08 from AFP; BBC 12/19/08; Clarín (Buenos Aires) 12/20/08)

*3. Bolivia: Literacy Campaign Ends
On Dec. 20 the government of Bolivian president Evo Morales announced that a three-year literacy campaign had concluded successfully, making Bolivia the third Latin American country to end illiteracy, after Cuba (1961) and Venezuela (2005). The government said the campaign had succeeded with 819,417 (99.5%) of the 824,101 people who had been identified as illiterate. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) considers that a country has eliminated illiteracy as a social phenomenon when the illiteracy rate falls below 3.9%. However, the correspondent from the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada reported that some of the program's graduates "scarcely learned to sign their names and recognize some letters."

The campaign employed Cuba's "Yes I Can" audiovisual method, which is used in 38 countries, including Mexico and Haiti, with variations for local languages and conditions. Cuba supplied 30,000 televisions for the campaign, and 130 Cuban advisers and 47 Venezuelan advisers trained the 46,457 Bolivian facilitators and 4,810 supervisors. Bolivian education minister Rafael Aguilar said the cost to Bolivia was 260 million bolivianos ($36.7 million). According to Cuba's ambassador to Bolivia, Rafael Dausá, 85% of the people who benefited from the campaign were women. But the organizers were disappointed that most Bolivians chose to learn to read in Spanish rather than in the two main indigenous languages; only 13,599 completed the course in Quechua and 24,629 in Aymara. (LJ 12/20/08 from correspondent; Adital 12/22/08 from Prensa Presidencial de Bolivia)

*4. Colombia: Government Spying on Emails
The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), a US-based interfaith peace organization with an affiliate in Colombia, is charging that Colombian government agencies have intercepted more than 150 email accounts of nonviolent groups like the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, along with Colombian nongovernmental organizations. FOR says Colombia's police intelligence agency was intercepting groups' email from December 2006 until as recently as November 2008. In a letter to US ambassador William Brownfield, 14 US-based groups noted that in 2006 the US State Department gave the police intelligence agency a $5 million contract to provide "internet surveillance software." "As a result," the letter says, "US taxpayers were apparently paying for Colombian agencies to spy on legitimate US and Colombian humanitarian organizations."

The surveillance is especially dangerous for Colombian groups, since rightwing paramilitary squads, which often work closely with the police and the military, have a record of violence against human rights workers and labor organizers. The Colombian groups monitored were the Movement for Victims of States Crimes, the Colombian Network for Action on Free Trade, the Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective, and the Yira Castro human rights organization. (Prensa Rural (Colombia) 12/24/08)

In other news, the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) announced in a Dec. 21 letter to the Colombians for Peace organization that it is planning to release six hostages unilaterally in the near future: three police agents, one soldier, former Meta governor Alan Jará and former legislative deputy Sigifredo López. The FARC said it intended to release the prisoners to opposition senator Piedad Córdoba. Rightwing president Alvaro Uribe announced on Dec. 22 that he wanted to avoid a "political spectacle" and that the hostages should be turned over to the International Red Cross. (Adital 12/22/08)

*5. El Salvador: Armed Groups With Plastic Guns?
On Dec. 14 the Salvadoran government's National Security Council (CNS) held a press conference to present evidence that at least 40 armed groups were active in the country, with a total of 400 members. The evidence included photographs of residents of the community of Dimas Rodríguez, near El Paisnal in San Salvador department, allegedly receiving "military training." Many of the residents are former rebels who demobilized in 1992 as part of a peace deal between the government and the Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (FMLN), now an established political party. Residents said the photographs were from a "cultural event" they have held annually for the past 15 years to commemorate the community's rebel origins; the event includes a march of people dressed as rebels and carrying plastic rifles bought from a street vendor in downtown San Salvador.

FMLN supporters and human rights groups suggested that the government's charges reflected concern that the ruling Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) would lose ground to the FMLN in Jan. 18 legislative elections and Mar. 15 presidential elections. Polls show FMLN presidential candidate Mauricio Funes well ahead of the ARENA candidate. (Servicio Informativo "alai amlatino" 12/22/08 from ContraPunto and Federación Internacional de Derechos Humanos (FIDH))

6. Links to alternative sources on: Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Mexico, Trade

Bolivia: plot to assassinate Evo Morales?

Mercenaries at Large in Colombia

Colombia claims hit against Sinaloa Cartel

Colombia and Venezuela: Testing the Propaganda Model

Costa Rica: From 'Green' to Gold?

Nicaragua: indigenous rainforest community wins title to ancestral lands

Mexico: presidential guard, beauty queen busted in narco wars

Mexico: Zihuatanejo police chief busted for protecting Sinaloa Cartel

Mexico: army pledges to hit back after decapitations

Lipan Apache to Obama: stop border wall construction

Free Trade, the Good Cop, and Other Myths

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