Monday, July 2, 2012

WNU #1135: Paraguayan Coup Backers Push for US Bases

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1135, July 1, 2012

1. Paraguay: Coup Backers Push for US Military Bases
2. Chile: Students Protest Profiteering in Education
3. Mexico: The PRI Regains the Presidency
4. Mexico: New Facts Emerge on Fast and Furious
5. Haiti: Quake Victims March to Protect Their Homes
6. Links to alternative sources on: Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, US/immigration, US/policy

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. It is archived at For a subscription, write to Follow us on Twitter at

Note: There will be no Update on July 9, 2012. Publication will resume the following week.

*1. Paraguay: Coup Backers Push for US Military Bases
A group of US generals reportedly visited Paraguay for a meeting with legislators on June 22 to discuss the possibility of building a military base in the Chaco region, which borders on Bolivia in western Paraguay. The meeting coincided with the Congress’s sudden impeachment the same day of left-leaning president Fernando Lugo, who at times has opposed a US military presence in the country. In 2009 Lugo cancelled maneuvers that the US Southern Command was planning to hold in Paraguay in 2010 as part of its “New Horizons” program.

More bases in the Chaco are “necessary,” rightwing deputy José López Chávez, who presides over the Chamber of Deputies’ Committee on Defense, said in a radio interview. Bolivia, governed by socialist president Evo Morales, “constitutes a threat for Paraguay, due to the arms race it’s developing,” according to López Chávez. Bolivia and Paraguay fought a war over the sparsely populated Chaco from 1932 to 1935, the last major war over territory in South America.

The US has been pushing recently to set up military bases in the Southern Cone, including one in Chile and one in Argentina’s northeastern Chaco province, which is close to the Paraguayan Chaco, although it doesn’t share a border with Paraguay [see Update #1129]. Unidentified military sources say that the US has already built infrastructure for its own troops in Paraguayan army installations near the country’s borders with Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil; for example, an installation in Mariscal Estigarribia, some 250 km from Bolivia, has a runway almost 3.8 km long, in a country with a very limited air force. (La Jornada (Mexico) 7/1/12 from correspondent in Argentina)

The Chaco is thought to have some oil reserves. Richard González, a representative of Texas-based Crescent Global Oil, announced on June 28 that the company was investing $10 million in the region, starting with exploratory drilling in September or October of this year. The announcement came after Crescent’s representatives met with Federico Franco, who was Lugo’s vice president before being appointed president by Congress. Supporters of Lugo’s ouster claim the investment by the US company could ease Paraguay’s total dependence on foreign oil. Venezuela, which supplies 30% of Paraguay’s oil, cut off shipments after the removal of the elected president. (Prensa Latina 6/29/12; La Nación (Paraguay) 6/29/12)

*2. Chile: Students Protest Profiteering in Education
Joined by mineworkers and other supporters, tens of thousands of Chilean students marched in Santiago on June 28 to protest the highly privatized educational system put in place during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The protesters say the government of rightwing president Sebastián Piñera is stalling in talks over their demand for free, high-quality education, a demand that triggered a seven-month student strike in 2011. Despite rain and cold weather, the march was the largest demonstration so far in the current school year [see Update #1130], according to organizers, who estimated the crowd at 120,000. There were also protests in other cities, including Concepción, Copiapó, Valparaíso and Valdivia.

As has happened repeatedly in marches by Chilean students, the generally peaceful and festive demonstration ended with acts of vandalism by hooded youths. Police agents used tear gas and water cannons on protesters and arrested dozens.

A week before the June 28 protest, the Chamber of Deputies’ Committee on Education issued a report showing that seven supposedly nonprofit private universities and one public institution had circumvented laws that require them to reinvest any profits back into the institutions. In some of the cases, the universities set up “mirror corporations” which owned the buildings used by the schools and charged them rent. The legislative committee referred the schools to Public Ministry head Sabás Chaguán, who will appoint a special prosecutor “due to the magnitude of the apparent crimes.” (AP 6/28/12 via; La Jornada (Mexico) 6/29/12 from correspondent)

*3. Mexico: The PRI Regains the Presidency
On July 1 Mexicans went to the polls to elect a new president, and all 128 senators and all 500 legislative deputies in the federal Congress. New governors were being voted on in six of the 31 states--Chiapas, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Morelos, Tabasco and Yucatán—while the Federal District (DF, Mexico City) was choosing a new head of government, the 66 DF Assembly members and the 16 delegates who represent the city’s delegaciones (boroughs). Some 79 million Mexicans were eligible to vote. (La Jornada (Mexico) 7/1/12)

Shortly before midnight Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) president Leonardo Valdés announced the results of the rapid count for the presidential race. According to the IFE, former México state governor Enrique Peña Nieto, the candidate of a coalition including the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), had won with 37.93-38.55% of the votes counted. Former DF head of government Andrés Manuel López Obrador, running for the center-left Progressive Movement coalition, received 30.90-31.86% of the votes, and Josefina Vázquez Mota, representing the center-right National Action Party (PAN) came in third with 25.10-26.03%. Gabriel Quadri, candidate of the centrist New Alliance Party (Panal), only won 2.27-2.57% of the votes. Valdés said turnout was a little above 62%. (Prensa Latina 7/2/12)

The PAN has held the presidency for the last 12 years. Before the PAN’s victory in 2000, the PRI had held the presidency and dominated the country's politics for 71 years, making Mexico virtually a one-party state.

Although Peña Nieto regularly led in opinion polls, his popularity began to slip when a student movement known as #YoSoy132 (“I’m number 132”) emerged in May to question his record as México state governor and, especially, his favorable coverage on television. The British daily The Guardian ran several articles indicating that the country’s largest network, Televisa, may have taken money to have its news programs promote Peña Nieto in 2005 and 2006, his first two years as governor [see Updates #1132, 1133].

In her latest exposé, published June 26, Guardian correspondent Jo Tuckman wrote that according to documents and unidentified sources, in 2009 Televisa set up a secret unit known as “team Handcock” that “commissioned videos promoting [Peña Nieto] and his PRI party and rubbishing the party's rivals.... The documents suggest the team distributed the videos to thousands of email addresses, and pushed them on Facebook and YouTube, where some of them can still be seen.” Televisa was careful to make sure the videos didn’t appear to come from the network, according to one source. “Team Handcock” members were “encouraged not to use their Televisa email addresses or Televisa IPs to distribute material,” Tuckman wrote.

At least one US company was apparently paid to advise Televisa’s campaign--Blue State Digital. In one document that the Guardian saw, an employee of the US company inquired about payment for “several tasks for Televisa,” including “many conference calls and meetings to discuss the web strategy for Handcock.” Blue State Digital helped develop the internet strategy for US president Barack Obama's successful 2008 presidential campaign. (The Guardian 6/26/12)

*4. Mexico: New Facts Emerge on Fast and Furious
The US House of Representatives voted on June 28 to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena for documents relating to Operation Fast and Furious, a bungled program in which the Arizona office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) inadvertently let about 2,000 firearms pass into Mexico during 2009 and 2010 [see Update #1134]. The ATF is an agency of the Justice Department, which the attorney general heads.

This was the first time in US history that Congress cited a sitting member of the president’s cabinet for contempt, but it would have little practical effect unless the Justice Department chose to enforce the contempt citation. Holder and the department insist they are withholding the documents legally, since US president Barack Obama has invoked executive privilege in the case.

The 255-67 vote on the contempt motion in the House, which is controlled by the Republicans, was clearly intended to hurt President Obama, a Democrat, as he runs for reelection on Nov. 6. Only 17 Democrats supported for the motion, and about 100 walked out of the chamber to protest the vote. What is “curious” about the move, as the correspondent for the Mexican daily La Jornada notes, is that the gun lobby was energetically promoting it; the politically powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) warned the 435 members of the House that voting to support Holder might cause them problems when they stand for reelection in November.

The scandal would seem to focus attention on lax gun control laws in the US which allow “straw buyers” to purchase weapons in states like Arizona and then smuggle them to drug cartels in Mexico, but the Republicans and the gun lobby have come up with a conspiracy theory that would put the onus on supporters of gun control. Republican politicians claim the Obama administration purposely let the guns go to the drug cartels so that the resulting bloodbath in Mexico could be used to justify strict federal gun control legislation. As many as 50,000 Mexicans have died in drug-related violence since the end of 2006. (LJ 6/29/12)

A June 27 investigative piece by Fortune magazine reporter Katherine Eban undercuts the conspiracy theory. Based on interviews she held with ATF agents and documents she obatined, Eban concluded that ATF officials in Arizona wanted to arrest the straw buyers and confiscate the weapons but were prevented from doing this by the local US Attorney’s office. The Arizona ATF group only let illegally purchased guns “walk” on one occasion, in June 2010, when agent John Dodson provided six AK Draco pistols to suspected gun trafficker Isaiah Fernandez. Seven months later, in February 2011, agent Dodson--who was feuding with his boss, David J. Voth--suddenly started acting as a whistleblower. Dodson appeared on CBS News claiming the ATF had purposely “walked” all the guns and that he had opposed the practice [see Update #1070].

Eban wrote that the investigation of Fast and Furious by the House over the last year has seriously damaged ATF efforts to stop the flow of guns from Arizona to Mexico; between 2010 and 2011, gun seizures by the ATF in Phoenix dropped by 90%. She noted that Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who has led the investigation, “has a personal history on this issue: In 1972, at age 19, he was arrested for having a concealed, loaded .25-caliber automatic in his car.”

But while Eban’s reporting seems to clear the ATF of some of the responsibility, it implicates other operatives of the Justice Department: the US attorneys in Arizona who refused to prosecute straw buyers. More revelations may come in a few months when the Justice Department’s inspector general produces a report on the case. “Among the discoveries,” Eban wrote, is the fact that “Fast and Furious’ top suspects—Sinaloa Cartel operatives and Mexican nationals who were providing the money, ordering the guns, and directing the recruitment of the straw purchasers—turned out to be FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] informants who were receiving money from the bureau.” Like the ATF, the FBI is an agency of the Justice Department. (Fortune 6/27/12 via CNN Money)

*5. Haiti: Quake Victims March to Protect Their Homes
More than 1,000 Haitians marched through downtown Port-au-Prince on June 25 to protest a plan to destroy homes they have built on hillsides overlooking the city. Haitian police and members of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) fired tear gas canisters to disperse the protesters when they tried to approach the National Palace; some protesters threw rocks at the police and at passing cars. This was the second demonstration on the issue in a week.

The protesters came from poor neighborhoods on the capital’s southern flank, such as Jalousie in the generally well-to-do Pétionville section and Morne l’Hôpital in the Carrefour Feuilles neighborhood. The Environment Ministry reportedly wants to have some 400 houses razed in these improvised communities so that the hills can be reforested and channels can be dug to prevent the flash flooding that affects Port-au-Prince during the rainy season; the hillside dwellers themselves sometimes lose their homes and even their lives in the floods.

But many of the residents are among the hundreds of thousands who lost their homes in the devastating earthquake that struck southern Haiti in January 2010 earthquake. Some built on the hillsides after they were driven out of displaced persons camps without any provisions to get them new housing, and they are furious that the government of President Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”) is now planning to drive them out of their new homes. “Martelly wants to destroy houses while he doesn’t build any,” some protesters shouted, alluding to the promises the president made when he took office last year that he would build housing to replace homes lost in the quake.

During the march demonstrators threw rocks at the construction site for the Oasis Hotel—a luxury facility financed partly by the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, which former US presidents Bill Clinton (1993-2001) and George W. Bush (2001-2009) set up ostensibly to aid earthquake victims [see Update #1080]. (Associated Press 6/25/12 via Boston Globe; AlterPresse (Haiti) 6/26/12; Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) 6/26/12)

According to the International Organization for Migration (OIM), an intergovernmental agency, there are now 390,276 displaced people living in camps in the area affected by the earthquake, a 7% decline since April. The government has been offering financial aid to get people to leave six of the largest camps; for example, a family is supposed to receive 20,000 gourdes (about $470) if it leaves the encampment near the National Palace in the Champ de Mars park. But the Haitian Platform of Human Rights Organizations (POHDH) considers this no substitute for a program to provide adequate housing. Especially in the camps on private property, many people have left because of threats or physical violence, according to the group, which estimates that 100,000 families have been arbitrarily forced out of the camps. (AlterPresse 6/27/12)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, US/immigration, US/policy

E'a: Alternative News Source From Paraguay

Paraguay’s Political Crisis

Monsanto Strikes in Paraguay  

Pressure from the Region Could Be Decisive in Paraguay’s Crisis

Can Morales survive Bolivia's social unrest?

Bolivia: Second Tipnis March Arrives in La Paz

Bolivia: mining engineers "kidnapped" by Aymara comunarios

Iran, Brazil aid Bolivian "drug war"

Peru: gold miners shut down Puno

Peru: Cajamarca protesters symbolically bury President Humala —despite threats

Ecuador to withdraw troops from School of the Americas

Judicial Reform in Colombia?

Colombia: indigenous mobilization against military base

Five More Indigenous Venezuelans Murdered

Venezuela: indigenous leaders assassinated

"Historical Moment" as Venezuela Becomes a Full Member of Mercosur

‘We Are All Barillas’: A new moment in Guatemala’s anti-extraction movement

Mexico’s youth movement forges ahead

Tricks, Treats and Titillations: Mexico’s Elections in an Era of Climate and Culture Change

Third March to Protest PRI Candidate (Mexico)

Pity (Some of) the Poor Pollsters: Mexico Prepares to Vote

Mexico City airport shoot-out leaves three dead

Car bomb in Nuevo Laredo (Mexico)

Behind the Numbers: Haiti’s Homeless Population Drops

A Palestine-Mexico Border (US/immigration)

Latin America: how the US has allied with the forces of reaction

Honduras: What's in it for the United States?

U.S. Prison Industrial Complex Moves South of the Border

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