Ibero-American News Digest
Kirchner Slams Beef Cartels for Price Gouging
Argentine President Nestor Kirchner has halted beef exports for six months to all but a few markets, in a dramatic move against the cartels and speculators responsible for jacking up the beef price by 26% this year10% on March 8 alone. After consultation with the President March 8, Finance Minister Felisa Miceli announced the "emergency" measures, which also include a 10% increase in taxes on exports of higher-quality cuts of meat. The government will continue to meet its "Hilton quota" of high-quality cuts to the European Union, and to governments with which it has bilateral accords. But 600,000 tons that would normally be exported will now be directed to the internal market to increase supply and bring down the price.
The price of meat has been climbing steadily day by day, for no explicable reason except speculation. Large producers have been withholding cattle from market to drive the price up. Addressing a crowd in Avellaneda March 8, Kirchner said he had had enough. As soon as February's lower inflation rate was announced, he noted, "suggestively, the meat price started going up, and up. If they think this is a President who will sit with his arms crossed, they are mistaken," Kirchner warned. "Beef goes first to Argentines at prices they can afford. We're not interested in exporting beef at the expense of the hunger, and the pocketbook, of Argentines."
The free-marketeer large exporters and foreign-owned slaughterhouses are protesting that the government is interfering with the "market," and will cause thousands of farm hands to lose their jobs. But the Argentine Agrarian Federation (FAA), representing small and medium-sized producers, welcomed the state's move and urged it to devise an "integral plan" for the cattle-raising sector. "There is no logical explanation" for the price increase, said FAA vice president Ulises Forte. "There is some dark hand operating here, which obviously doesn't involve small and medium-sized producers."
Spanish Oil Company Execs on the Lam in Bolivia
Bolivian authorities in the city of Santa Cruz raided the offices of the Andina company, an affiliate of the Spanish oil giant Repsol-YPF on March 9. Repsol has been cooking its books in Bolivia (and other countries), misreporting its reserves, and is accused additionally of engaging in contraband of 230,000 barrels of oil, worth $9.2 million. The two Andina/Repsol executives whom authorities were seeking in connection with the case were not found in the company's Santa Cruz offices, and are now considered fugitives from justice.
Regional Leaders Press U.S. To Talk with Chavez
"There are no plans to see the Venezuelan President," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told journalists March 9, before she headed off for Chile, where she and Hugo Chavez both attended the inauguration of President Michelle Bachelet on March 11. Rice did announce that she will meet Bolivian President Evo Morales while in Chile, however.
The same day Rice was saying no, Venezuela's Ambassador to Chile, Victor Delgado, reiterated that Chavez is open to meeting with Rice. "Human beings, open-minded and open-hearted, like President Chavez, do not have any problem. Let us remember that the last time he referred to Condoleezza, he sent her a kiss," Delgado said. (He did refrain from repeating Chavez's earlier suggestion that someone should get Condi a boyfriend, to aid world peace.)
In February 2006 Congressional hearings, Rice had described Chavez as "particularly dangerous" and called for unity against his "Latin brand of populism that has taken countries down the drain." Regional leaders are trying to get the Bush team to back off from this isolationist policy. Outgoing Chilean President Ricardo Lagos warned, in an interview with the Chilean daily La Tercera on March 5, that it is "an error to demonize him." Chavez may have "a certain view of things, but this doesn't mean he is a destabilizing force in the Americas."
For his part, Brazilian President Lula da Silva revealed in an interview in the Feb. 24 issue of the London Economist, that he has urged Bush to sit down and dialogue face-to-face with Chavez, to defuse tensions between the two countries. "The U.S. needs Venezuela ... and Venezuela needs the U.S.," Lula said. "If there were errors in the past, we must now construct a path to the future, as if we were rebuilding a bridge that had been destroyed. And Iyou may think I'm a dreamer herebut, I really believe this is possible, because Brazil would do everything we can to avoid conflict in South America."
Uruguay Accelerates Free-Trade Drive with the U.S.
A special congressional commission of Uruguayan President Tabare Vasquez's ruling Frente Amplio-EP coalition has produced a document which calls for changing the current program of government to include the desirability of negotiating bilateral trade deals with governments outside the four-nation customs union, Mercosur, to which it belongs. As it is now written, the program states that trade deals within Mercosur are a priority. On March 26, a full plenary session of the Frente Amplio will discuss the document, and debate is expected to be heated.
This occurs against the backdrop of the orchestrated border dispute between Argentina and Uruguay over the building of two paper mills in Uruguay, which has heightened tensions within Mercosur. Argentine President Nestor Kirchner and Vasquez have so far not met to discuss that conflict, although there was some hope they would do so at the March 11 inauguration in Santiago of incoming Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.
Wall Street and London financiers find Uruguay a useful tool to deploy against the integration initiatives of the South American "Presidents' Club." Although Vasquez is considered to be a "leftist," as early as June 2005 his Deputy Finance Minister Mario Bergara boasted to a seminar of the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) in Washington that the days of popular mobilizations against privatization of state companies are over, and that it is now possible to impose the structural reform advocated by the International Monetary Fund that the Frente Amplio once denounced. Bergara, like Finance Minister Danilo Astori, lavished praise on the Chilean model, contrasting it to what he characterized as Kirchner's "disastrous" public-sector policies. In an interview published March 1 with the Spanish magazine Contrapunto, Vasquez emphasized that Uruguay's position on the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) at the November 2005 Summit of the Americas was not one of rejection. "Rather, our proposal was to discuss the possibility of the FTAA, on a different basis."
Uruguay's Industry Minister Jorge Lepra, a former executive of Texaco-Uruguay, was in Washington for five days of meetings March 6-10, to discuss setting up a binational commission that would do the groundwork for an eventual free-trade agreement. These moves against Mercosur are certain to provoke disagreement among more nationalist factions of the Frente Amplio, to which Foreign Minister Reynaldo Gargano belongs.
Colombian LaRouchistas Issue Call To Stop Aznar Plan
Colombians should help LaRouche defeat Dick Cheney by rejecting former Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar's lunatic call for Colombia to join NATO in a war on Islam, Senate candidate Max Londono, president of the LaRouche Association of Colombia, urged in a statement released by his campaign March 7. Londono is running for Senate on the Alas Equipo Colombia slate, one of the coalitions backing the re-election of President Alvaro Uribe Velez.
In his campaign statement, Londono wrote, "During his recent visits to Washington, Brussels, and Madrid, Aznar proposed that Colombia join U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's global war against Islam. Aznar, Cheney's closest ally in Spain, says NATO must be transformed into a global force against Islam, and that Colombia should join this new crusade, as an 'associate' of the restructured NATO.
"Aznar and Cheney have not the slightest interest in bringing peace to Colombia, unless it is the peace of the grave, that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has brought to the Middle East. They just want to seize our country as a base of operations for their drive to unleash a fratricidal war among the nations of South America, so that they can crush the great infrastructure projects that our nations need to integrate and develop, even before they have begun. Our future lies with the physical integration of South America, and not with the integration of the would-be imperial troops of NATO! That is why the central focus of my campaign for Senate is to pull together the political support to integrate Colombia both with the rest of the Americas, and internally, through great railway and development corridors...."
Coca: Breakfast of Champions!
Peruvian Presidential contender and "ethno-fascist" Ollanta Humala is proposing to address the problem of child malnutrition in his country by feeding schoolchildren bread cooked with coca every morning. Why bother with real food when you have all that coca leaf growing everywhere?
If Humala wins the election, 27 million loaves of bread made with 5% flour from coca leaf, the raw material of cocaine, would be prepared daily for distribution at school breakfasts around the country. Humala's aide Daniel Abugattas told the press that a 1970s study found coca leaf to be high in protein and vitamins. The reference may be to a 1975 study by a group of Harvard professors, which claims that coca leaves weighing 100 grams contain 18.9 calories of protein, 45.8 mg of iron, 1540 mg of calcium and vitamins A, B1, B2, E and C.
Former Peruvian Interior Minister Fernando Rospigliosi said other studies have proven that these nutrients cannot be absorbed from the coca leaf, which when chewed, releases a stimulant that supposedly staves off hunger and fatigue. The debate on whether the coca leaf is addictive still rages.
Humala's idea is not original. One month ago, Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca declared that "coca has more calcium than milk. It should be part of the school breakfast." Move over, Wheaties!