Category: Latest News

In the Shadow of Paraguay’s Coup

By: Benjamin Dangel/Counterpunch.org/August 7, 2012

Rain or shine, every Thursday in Asunción, Paraguay, activists gather to protest the right-wing government of Federico Franco which came to power in a June 22 parliamentary coup against left-leaning president Fernando Lugo. These weekly protests represent a new spirit and strategy of protest in post-coup Paraguay.

The coup gave birth to new corporate agreements, repression of citizens’ rights and crackdowns on press freedoms. It also unwittingly created a new panorama of leftist social struggles and movements.

These movements for democracy have risen up against the coup government and the renewed state and corporate assaults on human rights, the environment and small farmers. Some activists are protesting politically-motivated layoffs, while others are demanding a new constitution. Beyond questioning the Franco government, these movements are putting forth a progressive agenda in the debate about what kind of country Paraguayans want, regardless of who is in power.

Collective Resistance

“What we are seeing are self-organized protests that are organized collectively,” Gabriela Schvartzman Muñoz, the spokeswoman for Movimiento Kuña Pyrenda, a socialist and feminist political movement which organizes the Thursday protests in the capital, explained in a phone interview from Asunción.

This more collectively-organized form of mobilization is a relatively new phenomenon in Paraguayan social movements, and has marked the new protests for democracy in the country.

“Before it was the president of the union that organized people for a strike, or a campesino [small farmer] leader marching ahead of a mobilization. Now we don’t see this kind of traditional leadership,” Muñoz explained. “Behind these citizens’ marches, there is no political leader, there is no leader of an organization; these are more spontaneous mobilizations.” Such protests involve “the participation of people who were invisible before, and are now protagonists.”

The resistance to the coup is dispersed around the country and typically involves small urban protests (largely in Asunción) that have utilized colorful marches, art, theater, music, and poetry as expressions of resistance. Notably, youth have led much of the organizing in this movement, and social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter have played a key role in bringing people together against the coup government.

“This [urban movement] represents a fresh breeze within the weak and demobilized social sector,” Paraguayan human rights lawyer Orlando Castillo explained to me in an interview. “Paraguay is now in a very interesting period, where a new range of possibilities could strengthen social processes.”

Outside the nation’s landlocked borders, the waves of Paraguayan migrants whose numbers have skyrocketed in the last eight years are also mobilizing against Franco’s coup. Castillo said, “These people have organized to make the resistance global. Outside of the country, this is the international face against the coup.”

A Fight for Sovereignty

Nationally, the Franco government has not improved the outlook for much of the impoverished country’s working class. “The social situation has basically remained the same [since the coup]: poverty and extreme poverty affect nearly 57% of the population,” Raúl Zacarías Fernández, a sociologist and Director of the Department of Social Sciences at the Universidad Católica de Paraguay said in Revista Debate. According to the sociologist, those in the landless movement fighting for their own land “are reorganizing and preparing for occupations.”

Meanwhile, Franco has not met with a single social, urban or campesino organization since taking office. Instead, according to his official agenda, he has focused on meetings with business leaders. In the short time that he has been in office, Franco has fast-tracked controversial deals with Monsanto and the Montreal-based Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA) mining company, deals which critics charge will threaten human and environmental rights, and the economic sovereignty of the nation. These moves have motivated numerous protests and debates around the country.

Speaking of the deal with RTA and Monsanto, Paraguayan economist Luis Rojas told IPS News that “It’s worrisome that a government that was not elected by popular vote is bringing in these foreign investments without any kind of control.” In the case of deals with both companies, Franco is moving ahead without studies that are typically required for such agreements.

On July 30th, the “No to Rio Tinto Alcan’s Coup” campaign was launched by ex-president Lugo, and Ricardo Canese, an engineer and leader of the Guasu Front social organization. They are seeking to prevent the company from arriving in the country, and are working on gathering 100,000 signatures against the RTA deal, which they said paved the way for the coup.
In response to the deal the Franco government recently struck with Monsanto supporting genetically-altered cotton seeds, campesino leader Jorge Galeano told the AP that the use of this seed “goes against the economy of small farmers” and will utilize agro-chemicals that only benefit large-scale production. “This is a commercial condition that violates the concept of our fight for Paraguay’s agricultural sovereignty,” Galeano said.

A number of protests and strikes have also been organized by workers and unions to denounce the Franco government’s politically-motivated firing of state employees in a wide range of agencies, ministries, hydroelectric plants and public media outlets. The workers say they are being dismissed for their support for Lugo, or their leftist political beliefs. The fact that this purging of public employees is being committed by an administration that was not democratically-elected has further incensed workers and their supporters.

Out of the Dictator’s Shadow

Much of these recent political and social changes can be traced to the shadow of the Alfredo Stroessner dictatorship (1954-1989), which still hangs over the nation. After the fall of the dictatorship in 1989, many of the same politicians from the regime simply re-entered politics with new roles, Castillo said. “While the dictatorship left, the system of power remained intact.” And this power structure – feudal, repressive, elitist and conservative – continues to define Paraguayan politics today.

“What the coup has succeeded in doing is basically re-positioning the political actors, unmasking them, allowing rural and urban citizens to be able to distinguish between those who propose to change the status quo and those who want to maintain it,” Castillo explained.

Such renewed political awareness has manifested itself in various ways. According to Muñoz, the coup proved that the 1992 constitution was worthless, as it was manipulated by politicians who used it to conduct an illegitimate parliamentary coup. “And so the people say ‘No!’ We have to begin to plant another model of democracy, another model of society, and people are already talking about organizing a national constitutional assembly where we can discuss these issues.”

She said the country’s current crisis would not be solved with the presidential elections scheduled for April of 2013. The solution, according to Muñoz, would emerge when citizens can sit down to discuss their future in a constitutional assembly. “There is an urgent need now,” she said, “to develop stronger mechanisms which guarantee that the rights of the citizens are not violated… We are moving toward this, we’re discussing a new paradigm.”

Benjamin Dangel is editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America.
Email: BenDangl(at)gmail(dot)com.

read more

Extractive Industry Tarnishes Canada’s Reputation

Press release/Latin America and Caribbean Solidarity Network/July 31, 2012

 

On August 1st 2012, there will be a Continental Day of Action to highlight the exploitive practices of Canada’s extractive industry including oil, gas, mining of precious metals and energy resources. Close to 70 organizations representing impacted communities, labour, students, NGOs, solidarity groups, and environmental organizations in 35 cities across the Americas will conduct coordinated actions. The aim of this campaign is to raise public awareness about the negative impacts of Canada’s extractive industry on indigenous and farming communities both globally and here in Canada.

Canada is a global mining giant that leaves a massive ecological footprint on the earth’s surface.  Sixty per cent of the world’s exploration and mining companies are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. These corporations account for over 3200 projects around the world.

“We are a mining union.  We support responsible mining with well-paid jobs, good health and safety records, protection of the environment and respect for the communities, “says Ken Neumann, the United Steelworkers’ National Director for Canada. “But that is not how mining is been done in other parts of the world.”

Across Canada, on August 1st, there will be letter-writing campaigns to public forums, street protests and theatre.

This unprecedented action demonstrates the broad and collective opposition to Harpers corporate driven polices and points to a
growing and diverse coordinated hemispheric movement to hold the extractive industry accountable for systematic abuses. Increasingly, this industry, which lacks binding legislative regulation and operates under a self-regulated banner of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), is contributing to human rights violations, environmental degradation and the tarnishing of Canada’s global reputation.

As Harper said at the recent summit of the Americans in Cartagena, Colombia, “Looking to the future, we see increased Canadian mining investment throughout the Americas – something that will be good for our mutual prosperity and is therefore a priority of our government.”
Not everyone agrees with Harpers vision of prosperity.
According to Raul Burbano from Common Frontiers and one of the organizers of the Continental Day of Action, 
“It’s exactly these types of corporate-driven policies that we are confronting. Looking to the future, what many communities see is increased displacement, re-militarization, destruction of community-based  livelihoods, human rights violations, lack of community consultation, long -term health impacts and irreversible loss of biodiversity.’’

Events and actions are planned across eleven cities in Canada. In Toronto, a carnival-style solidarity event will be held at on the south side of Queens Park on August 1st from 12.00 p.m. to 2.00 p.m. Organizers across Canada will educate people about the injustices  of Canada’s extractive industry, the urgent need for legally-binding  accountability, an end to abuses and the need to put people before profits.

WHY CANADA?

• 60% of the world’s publicly traded mining companies are listed  on the Toronto Stock Exchange. These corporations account for over 3200  exploitation projects in over 100 countries. Canada is the largest stakeholder  in the resource extraction industry in the Americas accounting for 37% of the  total investment.

•Canadian financial markets in Toronto and Vancouver are the  world’s largest source of equity capital for mining companies undertaking  exploration and development.

•Canadian-based mining operations have deeply impacted  territories, communities, and life. Resource exploration and exploitation  activities have caused displacement, widespread destruction of livelihoods (compromising water and food security), caused long- term health issues ,  disregarded sacred indigenous territories and rights, exacerbated human rights  violations especially in contexts of internal conflict, and contributed to the  criminalization of artisanal miners, union and environmental activists and  community activists. Large-scale mining explorations and exploitations have also  led to an irreversible loss in biodiversity.

•Despite the fact that large-scale mining is usually presented as a driving force of sustainable development by mining companies, governments throughout the Americas, and international institutions such as the World Bank,  the long-term negative impacts on peoples and territories contrast with the  vague promises of jobs, and national economic growth and development.

OUR DEMANDS:

Divestment: The Canadian government should  divest public funds from resource extraction industries. (i.e pension funds invested in GoldCorp and other corporations) and call for public funds to be invested in social programs like free education, affordable housing and universal healthcare.

 Regulation: The Canadian government should enable legislation that establishes corporate accountability standards for
Canadian corporations operating abroad. This legislation should penalize corporations linked to human rights violations and should allow foreign nationals to pursue legal action for damages in Canadian courts (Bills C-300 and C-323).

Stop Complicity: Stop utilizing public institutions to assist with high profile public relations campaigns conducted by resource extraction companies (such as the Museum of Natural History in Ottawa, Simon Fraser University, University of Toronto, York University, CIDA-funded projects such as the Devonshire initiative.

Binding Community Consent Mechanisms: That governments and courts of the region respect and adhere to the internationally recognized right of free prior and informed consent for Indigenous communities.

People Before Profit: End free trade agreements and  bilateral investment treaties that enshrine the right of corporations over  citizens and communities.

 

LIST OF ACTIONS ACROSS CANADA:

  • Toronto, Ontario- Queen Park (south side) Common Frontiers, United SteelWorkers, LACSN, MISN and other solidarity groups. A carnival type solidarity event will be held with street theatre and interactive games for the whole family www.facebook.com/events/219956138127157/
  • London, Ontario – The Latin American-Canadian Solidarity Association (LACASA) will be delivering the verdict issued by the People’s International Health Tribunal against Goldcorp to the offices of local MP’s – Susan Truppe’s office 546 King St. (at William, one block west of Adelaide, north side) @ 11:30 and Ed Holder office 390 Commissioners Rd (south, near Wonderland @ 3:00 pm
  • Guelph, Ontario Community group – Film and discussion from Mountain top removal to the mega quarry – 86 Wyndham Street N @ Today 6:30- 8-30 pm
  • Vancouver B.C – Mining Justice Alliance – Gathering outside GOLDCORP’s corporate headquarters 666 Burrard Street Vancouver, @ 4:30 PM at 666 Burrard St. www.miningjusticealliance.wordpress.com/
  • Vancouver, Sunshine Coast – Community Groups will gather at Brookman Park, Davis Bay – on the bridge across Chapman Creek @ 5 PM www.facebook.com/events/500858113263175/
  • Prince Albert, Saskatchewan – Discussion and screening of Under Rich Earth
  • Montreal, Quebec, – Le Comite pour les droits humans en amerique Latine (CDHAL) et le Project Accompagnement Quebec Guatemala (PAQG) 2055 Rue Peel @ 6 pm www.facebook.com/events/136100973197156/
  • Montreal, Quebec – Le Projet Accompagnement Solidarité Colombie (PASC) and CLASSE- Conférences: “Des raisons de s’indigner…y’en – Les conférences auront lieu au CEDA (Comité d’Éducation aux Adultes de la Petite-Bourgone et St-Henri, 2515 rue Delisle à Montréal. Près du métro Lionel-Groulx.) @ 7pm www.bloquonslahausse.com/calendrier/conferences/
  • Quebec City, Quebec – Community groups – Gathering Latin America Park at the end of a walk from the Assemblée nationale parliament building @ 2:00PM www.reseauforum.org/grille-calendrier/node/6405
  • Fredericton, NB – Various anti-shale gas/fracking groups will rally at the Legislature grounds, corner of Queen St & St John St) (early August ) @ 2:30 www.knowshalegasnb.ca/
CONTACT:

Raul Burbano Common  Frontiers Coordinator 416 522  8615

Caren Weisbart Maritimes-Guatemala  Solidarity Network 647  466 6643

 

read more

Page 3 of 3123
top