Ibero-American News Digest
Panama: Violent Clashes Over Social Security Privatization
Four days of protests against government moves to privatize Panama's Social Security and medical insurance plan, have involved violent clashes with police, and are rapidly moving toward an indefinite general strike. At the same time, Panama's Congress ignored a 10,000-person protest, and on May 25, voted up the privatization "reform" package in the first of two required debates. More than 240 workers and students have already been arrested, and scores injured as well. The Social Security system serves 75% of the Panamanian population.
Eduardo Rios, who has written three books on the Panamanian Social Security System, told EIR on May 26 that the "reforms" include raising the retirement age, increasing the number of years you must contribute to qualify for retirement, and moving the Social Security funds from the National Bank, to private banks. "From the banks' standpoint, this is even better than the Chilean scheme," said Rios, who is also a former labor leader, and founding member of the Schiller Institute's Trade Union Commission. "Instead of individual accounts, they get the whole thing in one fell swoop; they don't have to bother with administering anyone's pensionthe government does it for themand all they have to pay is minimum interest, if that," Rios added.
The New York Times of May 26 obligingly argues the government's viewpoint, that "The social security system's reserves are inadequate for its future pension commitments, and the government needs pension reform to rein in a hefty budget deficit. Cleaning up public finances is key to Torrijos' ambitious plan to expand the country's interoceanic canal, whose locks are too small for a new generation of vast vessels." President Torrijos, whose party holds a majority of the 78 seats of the national assembly, is planning to ram the reform through, come what may.
Bolivian Upheaval Continues; Military on Alert
In Bolivia, three more departments (provinces) have joined with Santa Cruz in its separatist drive, as the impoverished municipality of El Alto, adjacent to the capital La Paz, remained paralyzed in the last week of May, amidst a strong military/police deployment to protect both the international airport and the fuel plant which supplies La Paz. A 15,000-person demonstration addressed by cocalero leader Evo Morales in the capital on May 23 vowed to continue daily protests, and gave the Congress four days to convene a Constituent Assembly to "transform and unite the country."
In a May 23 statement, the Armed Forces warned that the situation "is generating uncertainty among the citizenry, and far from leading to a solution to problems, is increasing the risk of confrontation among the regions." The military stated that it will be on alert "for the purpose of guaranteeing respect for order and the legitimately constituted government." The military said it would be carefully monitoring any "de facto measures" intended to prevent the country's "constitutional process" from functioning.
Argentine President Calls for National 'Industrial Mission'
"Argentina cannot have a weak President"; it is still "in hell," and must "consolidate an industrial mission" to get out, said President Nestor Kirchner, in a broad-ranging interview with the daily Clarin published May 22. The interview was granted on the occasion of the second anniversary of his taking office on May 25, 2003.
Kirchner noted that he took office at a crucial "inflection point, at a very tough moment. Four years aren't much, looking at it in historical terms, but I hope that ... it will be said that [I] took the steps to provide the necessary leadership."
He pointed out that the Argentine people don't have an infinite capacity to keep paying the debt: "How long can Argentine society keep up this effort?" As for current negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, Kirchner said they are being carried out in a very serious way, but "cannot be done from a standpoint of unreality.... We have just come from a very difficult swap, with excellent negotiations, but there are multilateral agencies that don't like what Argentina has done." The debt swap "will not be reopened," he underscored. "We must respect what we have said." Negotiations will go on for as long as necessary with the Fund, Kirchner said, "because the country is engaging in a sovereign discussion."
The priority now is to "consolidate an industrial project. It must be understood that our recovery is gradual.... We must reindustrialize the country."
OAS Recognizes Ecuadoran Government
The Organization of American States (OAS) issued a six-paragraph document May 20, giving de facto recognition to the Palacio government in Ecuador. The document was the result of long weeks of negotiations over whether the new government should be recognized. The previous government of President Lucio Gutierrez was ousted on April 20.
President Alfredo Palacios has vowed to finish out his ousted predecessor's term, which ends in 2007. This was initially not to the liking of the Bush Administration, which called instead for early elections. When little backing was forthcoming for that proposal, the U.S., together with Peru, attempted to get the OAS to add a clause to its resolution on Ecuador mandating the designation of a person or group of persons, and even "special mechanisms," to monitor the advance of democracy in Ecuador. That proposal was defeated in the final negotiations over wording of the support resolution.
Thus far, the Palacios government has continued to maintain a firmer line toward international creditors. On May 23, just as an IMF mission to Ecuador began its "evaluation" of the country's economic policies, Economics Minister Rafael Correa rejected IMF "insinuations" as to what policies it must adopt. The IMF mission would be informed of the government's plan to suspend layoffs of government officials, suspend "repurchasing" of foreign debt with oil revenues, and suspend restriction on public spending, he reported. Correa added that all of these agreements with the IMF had been made by the Gutierrez government, and that the relationship that Ecuador will maintain with the IMF from here on in "will be that of any sovereign country ... based on mutual respect."
Bush Administration on Hot Seat Over Posada Case
The May 13 formal request by the Venezuelan government for the extradition of Cuban-Venezuelan fugitive Luis Posada Carriles, on charges that he was the co-author of the October 1976 bombing of a Cubana airplane in which 73 people died, has the Bush Administration squirming. Posada had entered the U.S. via Mexico in March using a false passport, and was seeking asylum from the Bush Administration for services rendered.
Cuban President Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez are making appropriate political hay over this one: Posada Carrilles has a decades-long history as an assassin and terrorist for the Dulles brothers' wing of the CIA, extending from his recruitment to anti-Castro operations in the early 1960s, through his role in George H.W. Bush's Contra drug-running crew, to his attempted hit on Fidel Castro in Panama in 2000. He was jailed in Venezuela from 1978 to 1985, when he conveniently "escaped" from jail.
The bombing of the Cuban airliner was carried out as a part of Augusto Pinochet's Operation Condor apparatus. In fact, the U.S. FBI established that the bombing was planned at the same June 11, 1976 meeting of Cuban exiles, attended by Posada and fellow exile Orlando Bosch, where the assassination of former Chilean Defense Minister Orlando Letelier was planned. The Cubana airplane was blown up over the Caribbean just 15 days after Letelier was assassinated on the streets of Washington. (Bosch has lived comfortably in the U.S. since President George Bush, Sr.'s Administration overruled the Justice Department's 1989 deportation order against him; the DOJ order identified Bosch as "a terrorist, unfettered by laws or human decency.")
Posada was arrested by U.S. immigration agents on May 17, but so far, he faces only charges of illegally entering the country. William P. Rogers, the former Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, today a senior partner at Arnold & Porter, warned the Bush Administration, in a recent interview with the Inter-American Dialogue, that "the costs of a failure to extradite Mr. Posada Carriles are not trivial.... It will not be helpful for this country, now that the boot is on the other foot, to be seen as manipulating the legal process of extradition for political purposes."