Ibero-American News Digest
'Presidents' Club' Meets Amidst Regional Tensions
The Presidents of Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and Colombia met in various bilateral and trilateral combinations this week in Brazil, to further a number of integration initiatives and to try to get a handle on a growing number of regional conflictsall of them triggered in one way or another by the international financial crisis.
Most immediate is the threatened rupture of the nearly-40-year-old Andean Community of Nations, which includes Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez announced last week that he was pulling his country out of the pact, which he labelled "dead" because of "unilateral decisions" by Colombia and Peru to sign bilateral Free Trade Agreements with the United States. Chavez offered to stay within the pact if Colombia and Peru pulled out of the FTAs, which both governments refused to do. Bolivian President Evo Morales, after denouncing Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo as a "traitor," proposed an Andean Presidential summit to address the crisis, which Colombia's Uribe enthusiastically endorsed.
Before Uribe's meeting with Brazilian President Lula da Silva, his Foreign Minister Carolina Barco suggested they might ask Lula to mediate in the Andean brawl. The communiqué following the Lula-Uribe meeting reports the two Presidents had a "frank exchange of points of view on regional integration processes," as well as discussing bilateral trade initiatives and integration projects.
The other major regional trade pact, Mercosurwhich includes Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and its newest associate member, Venezuelais also disrupted by the still-unresolved brawl between Argentina and Uruguay over the latter's plans to build two pulp mills on the river between the two countries. Uruguay is demanding that the OAS take up the issue, and has refused to send one of its ministers to a Mercosur meeting in Argentina, claiming that Mercosur is currently non-functional, while Argentina is threatening to take the case to the International Court at The Hague. Both Uruguay and Paraguay are reportedly seeking bilateral Free Trade Agreements with Washington, as well.
Colombian Energy Minister: 'Yes' to Nuclear Energy
At the annual meeting of Colombia's National Association of Auto-Parts Manufacturers (Asopartes), held April 19 in Bogota, LaRouche organizer Miriam Redondo challenged Energy Minister Luis Ernesto Mejia, to explain how the country is going to develop its nuclear energy capacity as an efficient new energy source, if Colombia has no nuclear engineering program, and the Nuclear Affairs Institute is shut down. His response was notable:
"I want to answer your question using a phrase I recently heard from the Saudi Arabian Energy Minister, and that is, that anyone today who is not researching the nuclear frontier is lacking a vision of progress. I want you to know that, while the Nuclear Affairs Institute is effectively closed down, we do have a research reactor ... which we are working on moving forward with.... We are also studying the possibility of educating youth, as you correctly propose, which is absolutely necessary."
At this point, a youth in the audience asked about the danger of radiation and referred to Chernobyl. The minister smiled and said, "This is a really very small experimental project, but at this point, nuclear energy is being used for radioactive material in medicine and other highly beneficial fields. It is totally necessary for Colombia to enter this field, since our oil reserves are only for seven years and with hydrocarbon imports, the government spent 2 billion pesos in 2005, which could reach 5 billion in 2006 because of the increase in international prices...."
Debate on Nuclear Energy Intensifies in Chile
Chile's inability to import natural gas from Argentina, which has a policy of supplying its domestic market first before exporting, has led to severe energy shortages in the country, and panic in the private sector. Thus, voices are now being heard calling for something Chile has yet to develop: nuclear energy.
At a conference on energy efficiency in Chile on April 12, Bruno Philippi, president of the industrial association Sofofa, noted that nuclear energy "is one of the few reliable alternatives" available to Chile. Former Presidents Eduardo Frei and Ricardo Lagos have also stated that Chile will have to consider nuclear energy.
Even the rabidly free-market El Mercurio, voice of Chile's synarchists, editorialized on April 21 that "Chile shouldn't rule out nuclear energy automatically." Conservation and "efficient energy use" won't work, the daily argued, uncharacteristically warning that this would condemn too many people to poverty. As a country grows, so does energy consumption, it said. To reduce consumption would mean also halting economic growth.
Chile currently has two research reactors. But at the end of 2004, the French nuclear firm Areva, which is 87% state-owned, stepped up its activity in the country, holding a number of seminars to promote nuclear energy.
Kirchner: Thank God We Don't Think Like the IMF!
The IMF and Argentina "are like black and white; we think differently.... Things went so badly for us with the Fund, I'd be worried were we to think alike!" This was Argentine President Nestor response April 21 to reports that IMF Managing Director Rodrigo Rato complained to Finance Minister Felisa Miceli in Washington about the Argentina's economic policy. Rato demanded that Kirchner raise public utility rates, change the exchange-rate policy, and stop trying to control prices, among other things.
"Of course the Fund isn't going to applaud what we're doing," Kirchner told his audience. "The Fund disagrees with what Argentina is doing, but we no longer depend on the Fund for anything. Had we paid attention to Rato, to the Fund, and everyone else, we know how it would have turned out for the Argentines. We have our own path, our own conceptions, we paid our debt, and we have an absolute, sovereign economic independence. And we Argentines made that decision!" Kirchner warned that he wouldn't change his policy on controlling prices, and "we aren't going to ask [the Fund] for permission.... Don't worry, we're not going to pay attention to what the Fund says, because we know about the poverty and indigence that Argentines suffered when we did."
Panama Announces Historic Expansion of the Canal
Evoking the memory of his father, Gen. Omar Torrijos, the highly popular nationalist President of Panama who, in 1977, established Panamanian ownership of the Canal, current Panamanian President Martin Torrijos gave a nationally televised address in which he proposed a $5.3 billion widening of the huge 50-mile waterway, to enable it to handle the giant container ships that are becoming increasingly common in today's global trade. The project, which will be put to a national referendum later this year, will provide thousands of new jobs and "define our future and give reality to Omar Torrijos' dream," he said.
The Canal, which currently handles 5% of world trade, much of it between Asia and the U.S., is facing competition from other trade routes, said Torrijos, who stressed that "it would be unforgiveable" if Panama did not step up and meet the challenge. The plan is to build a new set of giant locks, more than 50 meters wide, which would create a third lane of traffic capable of handling the larger ships.
While the Torrijos proposal addresses the immediate need for expanding cargo transport through the Canal, it does not meet the need to build an entirely new inter-oceanic canal across the isthmus.
High Court Lets Kissinger Walk in Pinochet Coup Murders
The Federalist Society-dominated U.S. Supreme Court let Henry Kissinger off the hook, refusing on April 12 to hear an appeal of the 2001 suit accusing him of orchestrating the 1970 assassination of Chilean Gen. Rene Schneider. Schneider, who had spoken out against any military action to prevent Salvador Allende from taking power, was kidnapped and murdered in October 1970 by individuals belonging to fascist paramilitary groups financed by the CIA. After Gen. Augusto Pinochet overthrew Allende in 1973, he pardoned the individuals who had participated in the Schneider murder.
U.S. intelligence documents declassified in 2001 linked Kissinger, then National Security Advisor, to the Schneider murder. A suit filed in a District of Columbia circuit court that same year by Rene and Raul Schneider Arce, sons of the murdered general, charged Kissinger, who had authority over the CIA, with the "execution, torture, degrading and cruel treatment, arbitrary detention, and conduct resulting in wrongful murder" of their father.
The D.C. court threw out the 2001 case, claiming that it had no authority to "second guess" a President's foreign policy decisions.
Kissinger's Justice Department lawyer Paul Clement recommended that the Supreme Court not get involved, with an argument constituting a flagrant defense of the Nixon-Kissinger government's role in the Pinochet coup: "Adjudicating those claims would necessarily require a court to evaluate the reasonableness of the President's broader decision, at the height of the Cold War, to take actions to prevent a Marxist-led government from taking power in Chile," Clement argued.
Rene Schneider told La Tercera April 18 that he wasn't surprised that the Justices wouldn't hear the appeal. "It would be unusual for a U.S. court, the majority of whose Justices are Republicans, to convict Kissinger," he said.