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Ibero-American Leaders Debate Common Food Strategy, As Famine Looms over Central America

April 24, 2008 (EIRNS)—As details emerge about the desperate food crisis in Central America, where famine is about to become a reality, Ibero-American Presidents are meeting on an emergency basis, to forge a common strategy to address the region's urgent need for greater quantities of cheap food.

In an April 23 interview with Venezuelan TV, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa announced that he has discussed this issue with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez and also with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro. "The key is to have adequate management of the inventory to address the region's food shortage," Correa said, "because we fear that we're facing a world food crisis."

The same day, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez met in Caracas with leaders from Cuba, Bolivia, and Nicaragua — all members of the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America (ALBA) — to set up a $100 million program to combat rising food prices, as well as create agro-industrial programs to produce basic grains, beef, and milk within the region.

The crisis in Central America is dire, with famine looming over several nations whose ability to produce food has been deliberately destroyed by years of globalization and free trade. The case of Guatemala, a country targetted for big biofuels production today, is exemplary of what's happening in the region. Ten years ago, it was self-sufficient in food production. But over time, this was replaced by huge projects to produce sugar-cane and African palm oil for export. These had no need for the rural labor force, which subsequently migrated to the cities to live in slums. Sugar-cane production increased by 99% between 1990 and 2005, while production of beans, corn, and wheat—basic staples in Guatemala's diet—declined dramatically during the same timeframe: beans by 26%, corn by 22%, and wheat by 99%!.

Today, one-half of all malnourished people in Central America are Guatemalan — 3 million people, the majority of whom are children under the age of five. This pattern is repeated throughout the region — in Nicaragua and Honduras, where leaders fear that growing social protest over food prices will affect their ability to govern.

Central American Agriculture Ministers are scheduled to meet in emergency session on April 25 in Panama, and then again in Managua on April 26, where they will present details of the dire regional situation to representatives of the ALBA. The agenda for both meetings is focussed on increasing production of basic grains, and creating "new financial instruments" to pay for this. According to Nicaragua's Agriculture Minister, all are agreed that increased food production must be marketed, at fair prices, first to the countries in the region.

Central American heads-of-state will then meet on May 7, possibly with Presidents of ALBA countries, to announce specific proposals to address the crisis.