Ibero-American News Digest
Death of Ecuador Minister Raises Suspicion of Foul Play
On Jan. 24, just nine days after President Rafael Correa took office with a commitment to organize regionally to take on globalization, Defense Minister Guadalupe Larriva died in a strange helicopter accident. President of the Ecuadorean Socialist Party and the first woman ever to serve as Defense Minister, Larriva died when the military helicopter in which she was travelling apparently collided with another military helicopter near the Manta air base, where the U.S. Southern Command regional anti-drug operations are based. Whether or not that was relevant to the crash, it is one of the hottest issues within Ecuador, and Correa has promised that U.S. lease rights at the base will not be renewed when the agreement expires in 2009. Six others died in the crash, including Larriva's teenage daughter, who was accompanying her.
Already, people are pointing to previous assassinations of political leaders by "aviation crashes" in the region, including Ecuadorean President Jaimes Roldos's death in a 1981 airplane crash. The explanation given for the Jan. 24 crash is shot through with holes.
President Correa announced the next day that his government will request that "friendly countries" join a committee to investigate the crash, so that there would no doubts as to the cause of it. Correa spoke personally with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who agreed to send air crash specialists, and Brazilian investigators and technicians from the French company (Eurocop) which made the helicopters involved. Larriva's son, a mechanical engineer, and a representative of the President will also participate.
Ecuador Questions Legitimacy of Debt; Financiers Rattled
Investors are worried about a Citigroup report on comments by Ecuador's Finance Minister, Ricardo Patino, who told some of Citigroup's investors that "much" of Ecuador's debt is illegitimate, and therefore won't be paid. Patino told the "investors" that the government might only pay 40% of the debtor 40 cents on the dollar.
To pull that off, Ecuador must have regional support. On a visit to Brazil, Patino proposed, among other things, that Brazil join Ecuador in putting together a debt coordination committee with other Ibero-American countries, a Jan. 23 Ministry of Finance press release reports. The idea is that this commission could back these nations in their debt renegotiations. Patino reported "positive results" from his visit, including promises of credits for certain small infrastructure projects, but no word on the joint debt committee. Also, on Jan. 27, an Argentine government delegation met with Ecuador's Finance Minister to share the Kirchner government's experience in its own debt restructuring, and dealings with the predatory vulture funds that resisted the restructuring from start to finish.
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Thomas Shannon, told a Center for Strategic and International Studies meeting in Washington that same day, that the United States would employ a "hemispheric strategy," to keep Ecuador from creating "a new debt crisis in the Americas." He said he "hoped" that Correa's government would "engage," and not take actions that would "immediately pitch Ecuador into conflict with those institutions and those countries that could help it most."
The number two at Ecuador's Central Bank, Fernando Uzcategui, raised the specter of a run on the banks in a Jan. 26 interview with Wall Street's Bloomberg wire service. "Ecuador's banks have reserves to weather any run on deposits that President Rafael Correa [sic] might trigger with his threat to default on foreign debt," Bloomberg reported, none too subtly. On Jan. 22, the Central Bank placed inserts in local papers, protesting that they aren't agents of foreign interests as Correa charges, but insisting their autonomy cannot be violated.
Further unnerving those financier interests threatened by Correa's attacks on autonomous central banks, was the report that officials from Argentina, Ecuador, and Venezuela will be meeting in February to discuss the official founding of the "Bank of the South." The idea is to pool national reserves to provide financing for the region, without going through the International Monetary Fund et al., and knocking down the power of the central banks. Ecuador's Finance Ministry reported on Jan. 23 that the Venezuelan government has promised $3 billion to fund the bank, and the Argentines support the initiative. Ecuador's Finance Minister, Ricardo Patino, raised the issue with Brazilian officials, during his Jan. 23 visit. But, so far, Brazilian officials have been cool to the idea.
Mexico Being Pushed into Biofools Death
Sources in the Rural Development Committee of the Mexican Federal Congress reported to EIR that heavy pressure is being exerted on the Chamber of Deputies to "urgently" pass the Biofuels Law, which the Senate has already passed. Committee chairman, PRD (Workers' Party) member Carlos Navarro, held off the onslaught by arguing that experts haven't proved that ethanol has all the virtues it's made out to have, but he is under fire on this, including from within his own party. Already, there are big ethanol campaigns being geared up in the principal irrigation districts of the country. Such is the case in the state of Sinaloa, which produces 4 million tons of corn a year, where people are talking about using half of that crop2 million tonsfor eight ethanol plants intended for the state. Similarly, on Jan. 25, it was announced that more than 100,000 hectares in Sonora's Valle del Yaqui are to be planted with corn earmarked for ethanol.
Meanwhile, the government's fraudulent "price agreement" with tortilla makers has not reduced the price as claimed. According to the government's own report, as of Jan 22, the average price of tortillas in the country was still at 9.28 pesos a kiloup 43% from Jan. 1. The Calderon government response was to escalate its "implement NAFTA early" operation, increasing the amount of foreign corn to be imported without tariffs.
Organizing for the Jan. 31 labor, farm, and resistance movement march against tortilla shock is expanding, with Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announcing he will lead the contingent from the PRD and its coalition parties from the election. Lopez Obrador is promising that the resistance will stop the implementation of the next phase of NAFTA, scheduled to go into force on Jan. 1, 2008, when all tariffs on corn and beans are to be lifted. Reality is, however, that the Calderon government is using the "tortilla crisis" as a pretext to implement that change, now.
Colombia Looks at Nuclear, Following LYM Campaign
The nuclear affairs department of Colombia's Mines and Energy Ministry has announced plans to reactivate the small nuclear reactor on the campus of the National University in Bogota, which will make Colombia once again the only Andean nation with an operational nuclear reactor, El Tiempo reported Jan. 13. The U.S.-manufactured IAN-R1, used primarily for neutron production and research, was shut down in 1998 after the narco-administration of Ernesto Samper Pizano eliminated the Institute of Nuclear Science and Alternative Energies (Inea), which sustained it. Although IAN-R1 had been operative for more than three decades, it had just received a new nucleus of enriched uranium at the time it was shut down, which has required maintenance and extreme security for the past nine years despite the reactor's dormant state. The current Uribe government has decided that it would cost seven times more to permanently close the facility and decontaminate the area than to reactivate it. Pressured by the International Atomic Energy Agency to make up its mind, Uribe's government happily voted in favor of reactivation.
The practical considerations aside, the fact is that this latest decision comes after two years of intense organizing on the part of the LaRouche Association and LaRouche Youth Movement in Colombia on behalf of a nuclear-generated economic recovery. During those two years, LaRouche organizers have circulated approximately 300,000 leaflets with an atoms-for-peace infrastructure program, not only on campuses, but among Congressmen, at public and private events, and on the streets of the country's ten largest cities. High-level contacts have been made in ministries, in Congressional offices, on university campuses, and among scientists, around the urgency of developing nuclear energy.
At one event in April 2006, Energy Minister Luis Ernesto Mejia responded to the challenge of one LaRouche organizer that the world was going nuclear while Colombia has closed its Institute of Nuclear Affairs, as follows: "It is true that Colombia must not turn its back on nuclear energy for economic development. We need to air the debate, but unfortunately, there is no budget for a serious plan." Nonetheless, an advisor to the ministry subscribed to a LaRouche publication, to stay tuned.
There is also a new institution in the country, called the Colombian Center for Education and Encouragement of Atomic Energy (CEFOCA), whose members have sought out LaRouche organizers on street deployments, inspired by literature and posters urging the development of nuclear energy. And one Senator, who was challenged at an event by LaRouche organizers, presented the Senate with a proposal to relaunch a nuclear energy program in Colombia, just weeks after that encounter.