From Volume 7, Issue 2 of EIR Online, Published Jan. 8, 2008

Ibero-American News Digest

Final Stage of NAFTA Promises More Ruin, More Migration

Jan. 3 (EIRNS)—The Dec. 27 edition of La Jornada reported warnings by PRI Congressman Edmundo Ramírez, that the number of Mexicans trying to cross into the United States will increase by 10% in 2008, due to the implementation of the final stage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Ramírez heads the Working Group on Migratory Affairs of Mexico's Chamber of Deputies.

On Jan. 1, 2008, under NAFTA, Mexico lifted tariff protection for 1,100 of the nation's most basic agricultural commodities, which include corn, beans, sugar, milk, and other subsidized foods.

NAFTA and its free-trade policies must be scrapped entirely, economist Lyndon LaRouche says, and replaced by sovereign cooperation among Mexico, the United States, and Canada, on building great regional water management projects, for example, which will create jobs, provide water and electricity, and open new areas for agriculture.

Mexican farmers have been warning for a year that should the tariffs be lifted as scheduled, the poorest farmers will face bankruptcy, portending even greater chaos along the U.S.-Mexican border. For starters, an umbrella group of 300 peasant/farmer associations—the National Campaign in Defense of Food Sovereignty and Reactivation of the Mexican Countryside—announced that they would form a human chain on Jan. 1-2 to block the five bridges of the Ciudad Juárez/El Paso border crossing, where grain shipments are concentrated. On Jan. 2-3, protest demonstrations by peasant organizations occurred in several cities around the country.

Six million Mexicans left the countryside in the first 14 years of NAFTA's implementation, as 5 million jobs in agriculture were lost, even before this final blow to agriculture, leaders of the Food Sovereignty movement told La Jornada (Dec. 27). Poverty became concentrated in communities where only elderly, women, and children now live, since the men have gone to the United States, in search of jobs. One peasant a day loses his life trying to cross the border.

Starvation is looming, because Mexico already imports 40% of the food its people eat. In 1997, Mexico produced 250,000 tons of beans, but only 50,000 this year. Imports of corn are expected to devastate states such as Chiapas, whose farmers cannot compete with cheaper U.S. and Canadian corn. As one farm organizer put it, "NAFTA has become a nightmare." It will mean the death of agriculture in the state, he warned.

Catholic Church: NAFTA Liberalization Endangers Mexico

Jan. 2 (EIRNS)—Monsignor José Guadalupe Martín Rabago, the archbishop of León, Guanajuato, issued a sharp warning on Dec. 31, that the lifting of all tariffs on imports of over 1,000 agricultural products into Mexico, which went into effect on Jan. 1 under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), poses "a grave and real risk" to the country.

Martín Rabago's warning was echoed in a Jan. 1 editorial by the Information Service of the Archdiocese of Mexico City. For years, Mexican agriculture has not received the attention and support it requires, and under the new NAFTA regime, many could be forced to abandon their lands. This is unacceptable in a country where millions suffer hunger, the editorial said.

The monsignor reproached government authorities for ignoring the conditions already created in Mexico's countryside under 14 years of NAFTA, and demanded that they now assume their responsibility to defend Mexico's marginalized farmers.

Food Price Inflation Slams Ibero-American Nations

Jan. 4 (EIRNS)—Food price inflation is hitting several Ibero-American nations, affecting staples in consumers' basic monthly market basket. Inflation figures for 2007 that have just been released in several countries reflect those food price increases, as well as the higher prices for oil, gasoline, and electricity.

Chile's inflation rate of 7.3% for 2007, which far surpassed the 2.6% predicted, reflected sharp increases in the prices of fruits and vegetables during the Winter months, as well as the higher oil price. Venezuela ended 2007 with an inflation rate 22.5% higher than 2006, earning it South America's highest inflation rate. Domestic food prices soared in Venezuela.

In Honduras, the government is considering freezing food prices, after the price of a 100-pound bag of flour jumped from 475 to 650 lempiras.

In Mexico, food price increases and shortages of staples are causing alarm. In the state of Querétaro, tortilla producers will increase the price of this essential food item by 20-30%, due to the increased cost of electricity and gas. In Sinaloa, tortilla producers are expected to do the same, and cattle ranchers have warned that the price of a kilo of beef will jump by 30%, attributed to the higher price of gasoline used for transportation.

Prices of such staples as rice, tuna, oil, beef, vegetables, milk, and eggs rose during the first half of December, and again just in the first three days of January. In supermarkets, there are shortages of processed foods, as well as of fruits and vegetables, and according to government officials, the price hikes in these products are ten times higher than the going inflation rate.

U.S. Stalling on Credentials for Argentine Ambassador

Dec. 31 (EIRNS)—The Bush Administration is stalling on granting diplomatic credentials to Argentina's new ambassador in Washington, Héctor Timerman, who will replace outgoing Ambassador José Octavio Bordón. Timerman is a very close political ally of current President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and former President Néstor Kirchner, and the delay in granting him credentials is highly unusual.

The delay is directly linked to the extremely tense relations between the United States and Argentina, resulting from a Miami-based Federal prosecutor's charge this month that $800,000 smuggled into the country by Venezuelan-American Guido Antonini Wilson, from Caracas last August, was intended for Cristina Fernández's Presidential campaign. President Fernández de Kirchner characterized the accusation as an "intelligence operation," and slammed the Bush Administration for carrying out dirty tricks against her government.

According to Diario Panorama, Timerman had asked the U.S. ambassador in Buenos Aires, Earl Anthony Wayne, to make a positive gesture toward Argentina, both by granting Timerman's diplomatic credentials and agreeing to extradite Guido Antonini Wilson to Argentina for questioning. So far, neither of these has occurred.

Russia Offers Nuclear Power to Uruguay

Dec. 31 (EIRNS)—Russia's ambassador to Uruguay today offered to provide that nation with one of its new generation of small, floating nuclear power plants. Although Uruguay has legislation on the books banning the use of nuclear energy, Amb. Sergei Koshkin said, the law would not have to be amended, if the plant were towed to the coast, and were offshore. It would be owned and operated by Russia, and Uruguay could buy the electricity, according to RIA Novosti.

Koshkin stated that this is a "long-term plan, but it is being actively discussed." Although this would bring nuclear power to Uruguay, and likely be a step in reversing the anti-nuclear law, the fight that is needed is to not only bring a foreign plant, that will be owned and run by Russia, but to plan to build a power plant in Uruguay itself, and train engineers and skilled manpower, to join the international nuclear renaissance.

Uruguay has become increasingly interested in nuclear energy as a viable energy source, and in 2007 sent a delegation to Finland to inspect that country's nuclear plants and discuss possible cooperation in the field. It also has agreements with Argentina, whereby the latter will assist in educating scientists in the nuclear sector.

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