Ibero-American News Digest
PRI Convention Removes Opposition to Energy Privatization
At its 19th National Assembly on March 4, Mexico's largest opposition party, the PRI, voted to remove from its party statutes the binding resolution against opening the state-run national energy industries (oil and electricity) to private capitalincluding foreign capital. An attempt by nationalists to hold the line by citing Article 27 of Mexico's Constitution, which establishes state control over the nation's energy resources, was also shot down.
Foreign financiers hailed the vote as "a PRI U-turn" on energy policy which opens the door to foreign investment in Mexico's coveted oil and electricity industries. President Vicente Fox's Interior Secretary Santiago Creel immediately announced that he was ready to meet with PRI Secretary General Roberto Madrazo at any time, to concretize what he considered PRI support for "structural reforms" that would open the door wide to privatization.
Foreign interests and the Mexican right wing shouldn't crow too quickly, the outspoken PRI Sen. Manuel Bartlett warned, in numerous media interviews. "There was no mandate for privatization." Bartlett reported that Madrazo's faction had rammed through the change in policy in a stacked caucus meeting attended by only a third of the 1,872 convention delegates. Those who did this have "betrayed the country" to transnational interests who demand Mexicans give up "this horrible thing which is called nationalism," said Bartlett, but a reform of Article 27 of the Constitution would be required to permit foreign takeover of Mexico's energy resources, and we will not allow it.
Bartlett heads the Senate Constitutional Committee, and for two years, has led an unyielding opposition to the Fox government's repeated schemes to satisfy the international financiers' demands that Mexico hand over its energy resources.
Two additional comments are in order:
First, Madrazo's move to kiss up to the banks and the Bush Administration, whose support he hopes to line up for his 2006 Presidential bid, occurred in the run-up to the March 23 Crawford Ranch summit of Presidents Fox, Bush, and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martins, at which some expect the creation of a North American Energy Community to be on the table.
Second, the PRI's whore faction has displayed impeccably bad timing, in making its move at a moment when the drive inside the United States to turn Bush into a lame duck and revive FDR-style nation-building policies, as called for by the LaRouche movement, is rapidly gaining momentum.
IMF to Mexico: Prepare Yourself for Oncoming U.S. Crisis
Agustin Carstens, the former Mexican Treasury official who is now No. 3 at the IMF, "recommended" on March 4, that Mexico reinforce its domestic economy, in order to face "external shocks," coming in particular from the United States. Carstens told the Mexican Bank Association's annual meeting that it is probable that the "corrections" adopted by the U.S. government to reduce its fiscal and current account deficits, would generate periods of financial and monetary instability in the international markets, and it is therefore "urgent" that Mexico create a more favorable environment for foreign investment. He singled out the need to cut labor rights "as soon as possible," and said any surplus gained from the high price of oil must be used to pay down the debt.
Mesa Rallies Bolivians Against Effort to Topple Him
Faced with another round of protests shutting down the country, Bolivian President Carlos Mesa went before the nation on March 6, to announce that he would submit his resignation to Congress, so that it would decide whether he should continue in office or not. As of March 11, it appeared that Mesa's gamble to gain some leverage to govern over a disintegrating economy and nation had momentarily succeeded. Without addressing the international breakdown crisis which is driving Bolivia's troubles, however, the respite may not last long.
The crisis was triggered by the March 3 call by the head of the coca growers, Evo Morales, for his MAS party and allies to blockade the roads and cities of Bolivia, until their demands, particularly for a 50% royalty on hydrocarbon exploitation, be met. Coca growers marched on the oil fields, and threatened to sabotage pipelines.
People took to the streets in cities around the country to demand that Mesa be reconfirmed. Leaders in the city of Oruro summarized the fears of many, when they told local media that Mesa is the last bulwark against "the savage opposition of the ultra-right with the ultra-left" which has called into question the viability of the nation, creating the conditions for dictatorship.
Bolivia's South American neighbors also mobilized, with Mesa receiving personal calls from Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, Brazilian President Lula da Silva, and even Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. (Chavez had thrown his support behind Evo Morales up until now, inviting him repeatedly to Caracas.) The presence of other South American nations, and Brazil in particular, in Bolivia, can play an important role as "a factor for reconciliation, for development," Lula da Silva's Special Adviser on Foreign Relations, Marco Aurelio Garcia, told media on March 6.
On March 8, Congress voted to reject Mesa's resignation, and two days later, thousands answered his call for demonstrations "against the blockades."
Proposed New Central American Military Force a Dangerous Move
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's drive to set up a standing supranational military force to police Ibero-America took a giant step forward on March 4, with the announcement that the Central American nations have agreed to set up a regional "Rapid Response Force" to combat "emerging threats," such as youth gangs (known as maras), and drug- and arms-trafficking.
The announcement was made at the end of a six-hour meeting on March 4 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in which Defense, Security, and Government Ministers of the area participated. The proposal for the force was first raised at a Feb. 1 Central American Presidents summit, by Honduran President Ricardo Maduro, who, like Salvadoran President "Tony" Saca, is a proponent of a military solution to the gang crisis. (Maduro and Sacasa both also count neo-con Jose Pinera partner Mark Klugman among their advisors. See last week's EIR Online digest.) Concrete proposals from each country for the structure of the force, and what each would contribute to its functioning, are to be presented at a follow-up meeting of the ministers on April 28. The ministers made clear that they are not discussing merely coordinating national intelligence and deployments, but establishing a force equipped with "planes, ships, and cars."
Both the Nicaraguan and Honduran Defense Ministers stated that the United States is expected to cough up money for the force.
Rumsfeld has been officially pressing the for creation of a supranational military force in the Americas to impose order on "ungoverned areas," since the November 2002 Defense Ministerial of the Americas. Efforts to rope in Chile and Argentina to take the lead in setting up such a force in South America have been stalled, so it appears Rumsfeld and crew are using their Central American satrapies to set the precedent.
Kirchner Launches Boycott Against Shell Oil
Argentine President Nestor Kirchner called for a national boycott of the Anglo-Dutch Shell Oil Company, after it raised the price of gasoline and diesel oil by between 2.4% and 4.2% on March 8.
Gone are the days when one sector could walk away "with the income of all Argentines," he warned, speaking March 9 at the Presidential Palace before a group of children who had just been given uniforms for public school. "There are some" who don't want Argentina to change, he said. Kirchner told the children, "It's like the gasoline price increase which a company named Shell just announced a few hours ago, but from whom no Argentine has to buy anything. We have to say, 'Shell, No!' As President, I will say it, because they want to charge us more than they should." Let's launch a campaign, Kirchner told the children. "We won't buy anything from them, not one can of oil, and let them understand that we Argentines will no longer tolerate these types of actions. There is nothing better we can do than to launch this 'national boycott' against those who are abusing our people. Let the people respond as they should, without violence."
In a series of statements from March 9-10, Kirchner underscored that "it's all right for companies to make profits, but those have to go along with the well-being of the entirety of Argentina's citizenry." He lambasted private sector interests whose actions have recently led to higher consumer pricesprice hikes which the IMF is using to demand imposition of new, harsh austerity.
What people have to understand, Kirchner said, is that a "normal" Argentina is one in which the growth of one sector will mean that all sectors can grow "as a way of creating an Argentina that will represent the whole." Now that "certain subjects" have been dealt with (i.e., the debt restructuring), "our central objective will be the building of an Argentina for all."
Not Much 'Mexican' Left in Mexican Bank Association
The directors elected to head the Mexican Association of Banks at its annual meeting on March 4, says it all: Heading the "Mexican" association is the director general of Spain's Banco Santander, Serfin Marcos Martinez. He replaces the outgoing chair, who was from Citibank-Banamex, Manuel Medina Mora. Also joining the board of directors are the director generals of Spain's BBVA-Bancomer, Jaime Guardiola; the American JP Morgan, Eduardo Cepeda; Canada's Scotiabank, Anatolle Vonhan; and the sole representative of a still-Mexican-owned bank, Banco Invex's Juan Guichard.
The bankers revealed at the convention that they have been meeting, one-by-one, with Mexican Presidential hopefuls for 2006, to deliver the message that whoever is elected must stick to a market economy and guarantee "financial stability."