From Volume 6, Issue Number 7 of EIR Online, Published Feb. 13, 2007

Ibero-American News Digest

Calderon, PAN Plan Assault on Mexican Constitution

At a weekend retreat Feb. 3-4, Mexico's usurper President Felipe Calderon and members of his National Action Party's (PAN) legislative bloc hammered out a 20-point agenda for the next three months, a top priority of which is "altering" Article 27 of the Constitution, which grants the Mexican state full sovereignty over all sub-soil natural resources. This is to allow national and foreign private capital to "invest" in the Pemex oil firm, the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) and the LFC electricity company—all state owned—and ultimately move toward privatization. Various PAN leaders loudly protest they have no intention of privatizing the revered Pemex, but simply want to make certain "legal modifications" to bring in new investment and "modernize" the company. It would be great, one PAN legislator proposed, to have Pemex form "strategic alliances" with private foreign energy multinationals, for example.

Were such "modernization" to be approved, it would allow foreign looters to grab vital national energy resources, while eliminating all protection for the general welfare. Privatizing the pension system for state-sector workers, the ISSSTE, is also high on the list of reforms.

Many Mexican patriots understand what is at stake in this battle. PRI deputy Adolfo Rios warned that the principles embedded in Mexico's Constitution, the 90th anniversary of whose founding is celebrated this year, are "more relevant than ever," because they are the best defense against a "unjust, neoliberal and globalized system." The country must find "its own national mission," Rio said, rather than be an instrument of policies that come from abroad. The document, "How to Constitute a New Mexico: A Preamble for our Constitution; a New Politics Begins," written by the LaRouche Youth Movement and now being widely circulated in the country, outlines precisely the sense of national mission to which Rios was referring, but also locates the current battle in the context of the international financial blowout and the historical conflict between republicanism and oligarchism.

Brazil Conference To Make Ethanol a 'Globalized Commodity'

With U.S. backing, the Brazilian government is organizing an international conference, to take place in late February, to establish technical guidelines for world ethanol production. The plan is to classify ethanol as a "globalized" international commodity that can be traded on markets just as oil and soy are today. On Feb. 7, Brazil's new ambassador to the U.S., Antonio Patriota, confirmed that the conference will be taking place following his meeting in Brasilia with Foreign Minister Celso Amorim and U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns.

Those invited will include European Union nations, China, India, South Africa, and the U.S. The Brazilian government reportedly sent a memo to the U.S. six months ago suggesting the conference, but the Bush Administration only showed interest in it more recently. Burns, along with Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Tom Shannon, were in Brazil in early February, laying the groundwork for Bush's upcoming visit to Brazil in the early part of March, in which cooperation in ethanol production will be a top agenda item. According to the daily Valor Feb. 6, Bush thinks that biofuel promotion will be the way to "regain the influence" the United States has lost those Ibero-American nations "that have distanced themselves from the United States" in recent years. The Inter-American Ethanol Commission, which the President's brother Jeb, the former governor of Florida, helped set up in December 2006, even suggests that ethanol will be the vehicle for "forging Latin American integration." Not likely.

On Feb. 8, Burns signed an agreement with President Lula da Silva's Chief of Staff Dilam Rousseff, by which the two countries will launch a pilot project for ethanol production in some Caribbean country. Rousseff was reportedly euphoric over the meeting with Burns, noting that while Burns called it a "good" bilateral relationship, she thought it could become "a great one." Rousseff emphasized that "the primary actor [in this project] should be the private investor," an idea welcomed by Burns.

Biofuel Drive Is Malthusianism

In an article published in the Argentine daily Infobae Profesional Feb. 5, reporter Martin Burbridge warned that Malthusian theory has reared its ugly head with the current drive for biofuels development. Production of food for human consumption will be increasingly crowded out by production of those raw materials used for biofuels—corn, sugar cane, soy, and vegetable oils, among others. Burbridge fails to note that Malthus actually promoted the idea of starving people, but does correctly conclude that there will be food scarcity, and what is available will be so expensive that poorer sectors of the population won't be able to afford it. He uses the example of how the dramatic corn price increase has driven up the price of tortillas in Mexico, and points out that some economists are now using the term "ethano-inflation" to describe the way that the biofuel craze has driven up the prices of many food and meat products in which corn, vegetable oils or soy are either components or used in animal feed.

Cargill Is Behind Mexico's Tortilla and Corn Crisis!

Victor Suarez, chief coordinator of Mexico's National Association of Agricultural Marketing Companies (ANEC), charged Feb. 4 that the international food cartel Cargill played a major role in the crisis of corn scarcity and price speculation that led to the recent 50% increase in the price of tortillas—a basic staple in the Mexican diet. "Cargill is aware of what's happening in the world corn market.... [I]t knew of the pressures in international prices and it bought huge quantities of the Sinaloa spring harvest. This caused scarcity in white corn for human consumption, and the company was able to raise the value of the 600,000 tons it bought in Sinaloa."

Suarez explained, however, that Cargill was only able to act as it did because of the free-trade policies imposed on Mexico beginning in the 1980s, when President Carlos Salinas de Gortari dismantled the state-owned agricultural marketing agency, Conasupo. Then, by handing Cargill control over production and marketing of corn—the primary food item in the Mexican diet—Salinas and his successors in effect turned that cartel into a "private Conasupo." The current free-trade model puts small grain producers and processors in Mexico in direct competition with giant corporations like Cargill and Maseca (leading tortilla maker in Mexico), a decision taken by the government's Economics and Agriculture ministries.

The ANEC leader also warned that it's not appropriate to simply "satanize Cargill," since it could not have the influence it has in Mexico without the public policy that favored these giant cartels. He charged that the state had a constitutional responsibility to protect the nation's food supply. "This is a matter of national security," he said. The state must immediately intervene so that the national chain of food production and supply not be left "in the hands of the free market." Otherwise, he warned, shortages and speculation crises will ensue.

Ecuador's Fin Min: 'Country Risk' Rating Is Fraudulent

Who authorized international lending agencies or banks to determine a nation's "country risk" rating? That was the question Ecuador's Finance Minister Eduardo Patino asked in a Feb. 6 interview with Radio Centro. Confirming the report that the Correa government would shortly be paying off the $33 million it owes to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Patino noted that "country risk"—Ecuador's rating stands currently at 822—is "an indicator produced by some people.... No one has authorized them to do so, but they happen to control a large part of international financing." (In fact, it is JP Morgan Chase that dreamed up—and controls—the so-called "country risk" rating which is used purely as a political bludgeon to force developing-sector nations to accept austerity policies.)

"More than country risk," Patino said, "I'm worried about a country at risk," referring to the large debt service payments that Ecuador was making prior to Rafael Correa taking office on Jan. 15. The IMF "has a lot of influence in the world, but we aren't going to let it guide us; we won't obey it. We are going to pay off the balance of the debt we owe it, and then we will say: 'Thanks. See you later.' " To date, the governments of Brazil and Argentina have both paid off the entirety of the debt they owed to the IMF.

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