The recent trip by President Hugo Chávez to Russia has been seen as part of the arms race in which the Bolivarian leader is engaged. However, facts indicate that Venezuela is far behind Washington's two main allies in the region, Colombia and Chile, in the purchase of weapons.
Although Venezuela garners the headlines, as it turns out it is not the country at the forefront when it comes to acquiring armaments. In recent years Chile has purchased weapons valued at US$2.785 billion, Venezuela at US$2.200 billion, and Brazil, greatly lagging, occupies third place at US$1.342 billion. A recent report in the industry magazine Military Power Review affirms that the trans-Andean country has risen from fourth to third place in the "military capacity" ranking for South America, displacing Argentina from that position and approaching Peru, which continues to occupy second place.
Venezuela also rose one place, but continues to lag a considerable distance behind the most powerful countries militarily. Taking into account Defense spending as a percentage of Gross National Product (GNP), Chile takes first place as well, with 3.8% in 2005, followed by Colombia with 3.7%, a country which also benefited from a large amount of military aid from the United Status that amounts to US$3 billion since 2001 due to Plan Colombia and Plan Patriota. In 2005 Venezuela was still behind, with 1.6% of GNP in military expenditures, very similar to the percentage in the country before the arrival of Hugo Chávez's government.
Arms and Copper
There is a permanent rise in the price of copper, parallel to that of petroleum, which increased by 400% between 2002 and 2006 in the international market. This explains to a large degree what the Instituto Nueva Mayoría in Argentina assesses as a "steady but gradual process" of rearming in the last 15 years, accelerated since 2003. In its report "Rearming: The Paradigmatic Cases of Chile and Venezuela and Their Regional Impact," the above mentioned think tank maintains that the Chilean Defense Ministry retains a large degree of autonomy when it comes to formulating its policies thanks to the Secret Copper Law that earmarks a certain percentage of the exports of the metal to the armed forces.
The Chilean military reduced its personnel in the last decade from 120,000 to 40,000, and it reorganized and created eight brigades, giving priority to mobility and fire power. Chile acquired 100 German Leonard II heavy tanks, retaining the ability to acquire several more, and 28 F-16 airplanes equipped with AMRAAN missiles and air-air laser bombs, unknown until now in the region. Of even larger impact is its purchase of two modern Scorpene Franco-German submarines as well as eight missile frigates, maritime patrol airplanes, and oil tankers. "Media experts have concluded that taking into account the relative sizes of Brazil and Chile's GNP, the latter spends six times more economic resources on military equipment than the main power in the region," says Nueva Mayoría.
Venezuela Defends Itself
While Chile maintains excellent relations with the United States, its main provider of sophisticated weaponry reserved only for allies, since 2006 Caracas has withstood an embargo by the superpower in military weapons, equipment, and spares parts. Israel and Sweden could join this boycott. Since the May 2006 naval maneuvers carried out in the Caribbean by the United States, Holland, and Great Britain, alarms went off in Chávez's country because they were the largest undertaken in the region since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. In August of that same year it became known that the U.S. National Intelligence Agency had created a special post for specific intelligence and operations tasks for Cuba and Venezuela.
As of that time Caracas began purchasing weapons, but it had to resort to countries that do not have good relations with Washington, among them Russia, China, and Iran, although also Spain. Already more than 52,000 AK-103 machine guns have been delivered of the 100,000 bought from Russia to replace Belgian FALs dating back to the 1950s. It also seeks to buy anti-air M1 Tor missiles (similar to the ones just acquired by Iran), 24 SU-30 jetfighters, 30 transport and attack Mi-35 helicopters, all from Russia, and half a dozen Military Corvettes and a dozen Spanish transport airplanes.
Until now Venezuela has spent US$3 billion in weapons and now there is speculation that it could acquire between five and nine conventional submarines (diesel-electric). According to military analysts, despite the fact that the submarines are not of the latest generation, they "constitute a potential threat to any naval or amphibious operation," as shown by the Falkland Islands War, when a single, old Argentine submarine created enormous difficulties for the British forces.
Although it doesn't amount to talk about a regional arms race, the truth is that Chávez appears to be developing a defense strategy. From the Iraq experience he has learned the importance of armed militias in the development of an asymmetric war in the face of a possible invasion. That explains the massive purchase of machine guns, which he might be in the position of manufacturing if negotiations to erect a plant in Venezuela come to fruition. At the same time, if he chooses to buy the submarines he might be indicating that the country may be preparing itself for an eventual blockade by sea that could disrupt petroleum exports.
In any case, it is best to take the above facts with a grain of salt. Venezuela depends as much on petroleum exports as the United Status depends on imports from that country. Imports of Venezuelan crude increased from US$15.2 billion in 2001 to US$34 billion in 2005. Venezuela is already the third largest exporter of petroleum to the United States, having displaced Saudi Arabia from that position.
In Costa Rica the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with the United States ran up against a huge opposition movement. The opposition stems from the fact that Costa Rica has developed extensive social services and the public knows that they have a lot to lose. Some of the nation's influential intellectuals have also dedicated themselves to study the agreement and share the analyses with the rest of the population. Finally, our somewhat effective democratic institutions have worked to delay the process in the Legislative Assembly, opening up more spaces for citizen involvement.
A popular referendum has been called for Oct. 7 to decide the future of the agreement. There are serious questions as to how it is being conducted, including doubts about the impartiality of the Electoral Tribunal, which instituted voting rules that do not guarantee fair participation in the vote. For example, there is no fiscal control of media outlets, most of which have expressed a clear bias in favor of the agreement's approval; nor are there rules as to the use of the president's and ministers' time and resources in producing propaganda in favor of approval. Efforts have been made to silence opposition from the public universities but no mechanism has been created to give media access to those sectors opposed to the agreement.
Nevertheless, there is a large social movement opposing the agreement. Diverse in nature, it is composed of a wide range of organizations and has created many ways of disseminating opinions. The strong presence of the movement against ratification of CAFTA will not end with the approval or rejection of the agreement, but could well be the seed of broader social transformation.
The following paragraphs analyze what CAFTA would mean for Costa Rica.
Main Negative Effects of CAFTA
Put succinctly, CAFTA hands Costa Rica over to the multinational corporations. This is evident throughout the entire text of the agreement, but the following aspects illustrate the overall effect of the agreement:
- Biodiversity: Chapter 15 on Intellectual Property permits patenting the genes of living organisms, and Chapter 10 on investment prohibits, among other things, requiring knowledge transfer from multinational companies, thus making it possible for the multinationals to conduct research into our native species and maintain any knowledge they might acquire in secrecy. The benefits of these rules go to the huge pharmaceutical and the cosmetic industries and Costa Rica loses control over its own resources.
- Water and Natural Resources: Chapter 10 on investment, Chapter 17 on the environment, and Chapter 20 on dispute resolution, taken together and in the best of interpretations, enable multinational corporations to sue the Government of Costa Rica should it take measures they might consider "equivalent to expropriation" or that "affect their earnings" (Article 10.7.1, appendix 20.2). With this, businesses' access to the water and natural resources, and their "right" to profits take precedence over any measure (whether human or social) that might be taken by the government or municipalities.
- Culture and Knowledge: Chapters 15 on Intellectual Property and 10 on investment also enable multinationals to take ownership of seeds and of traditional knowledge of plants and animals.
- The Markets: The first chapters of CAFTA allow the importation of subsidized products from the United States, without requiring import tariffs in Costa Rica. This will be the last straw for the already damaged food production industry, and along with it put an end to any hope of food sovereignty. Mexico is a good example of this, as nearly two million agricultural jobs have already disappeared since Mexico signed NAFTA with the United States and Canada, replaced by food imported from the United States.1 Nevertheless, this has not guaranteed lower national food prices; in fact the price of essential foodstuffs has risen while ruining the livelihoods of rural workers.2
- Current Public Investment: CAFTA would open up the Costa Rican telecommunications and insurance industries, as well as involvement in other public services, such as water, electricity, and education. For the same reasons as with water and natural resources (above): in the least unfavorable interpretation, multinational companies maintain the right to sue the state for means which they may consider "equivalent to expropriation" or which "affect their profits"—restrictions or regulation in those areas thereby preventing the state from maintaining them under public dominion (see Annex II Non-Conformant Measures, Costa Rican list).
- Abundant and Cheap Labor Force: The right to work does not appear anywhere in CAFTA. To the contrary, the agreement negates any right to require minimal employment levels in transnational companies. Neither does CAFTA guarantee labor rights; except in five specific instances, the country is committed to prevent violations "if commerce is affected" (see Chapter 16 on Labor). That is to say, if it harms the transnational companies and not if it harms the workers.
- National Sovereignty and the application of legislation (use of law and regulations). The ability to legislate is handed over because CAFTA puts itself above all national laws so no new law can be approved—nor can those in place retain their vigilance—where they contradict CAFTA. The ability to apply laws is affected by the right of the transnational companies to take their demands before a court of arbitration. Judges in these tribunals, ignorant of Costa Rican laws, jurisprudence, or legal interpretation, could modify both the decisions of internal courts and of state organisms at any level, taking into account only that which is stipulated in the agreement and not the Costa Rican Constitution and laws. The ability of the State to regulate the activities of multinational companies would be affected by the aforementioned stipulations when it comes to public services and natural resources.
The damage done by the whole agreement is the hand-over of the country to the multinationals. The essence of this is found in Article 9.14 (repeated in 10.9.3.c), which says that measures can be taken to protect health and life, as long as they do not affect commerce.
Impacts on the Poor
The impact of the above on the poor majority and on workers is evident. Nothing in CAFTA favors any sector of the economy except the multinational corporations. What is more, Costa Rica is the only Central American country that did not make any provisions to protect its most vulnerable sectors, i.e. small producers, impoverished women, native peoples, low-income sectors, etc.
Furthermore, given that women already constitute a disadvantaged sector, a treaty that does not protect its most vulnerable sectors particularly affects women. For example, female small farmers, who are responsible for the evolution of the genetic variety of foodstuffs and traditionally charged with feeding their communities, may now encounter obstacles in the continuation of their traditional practices, not only because the Intellectual Property stipulations in CAFTA enables the multinational companies to patent plants and animal species, but also because the treaty reinforces multinational property rights on their seeds. Rural women farmers would also be affected if CAFTA were approved because it would permit the entrance of subsidized farm products from the United States, without tariffs to compete with their production.
It is also clear that this is bad news for wage-earning women workers, since the treaty reduces work opportunities in general and closes doors to women in particular. Women already have a higher unemployment rate and a greater presence in the "informal" employment sector in Costa Rica.
We are told that CAFTA increases exports and increases Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and that this will increase employment. Nevertheless, none of this reasoning is true. On the one hand, CAFTA does not guarantee an increase in exports nor in FDI. In fact, last year Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, with the agreement in place, actually saw their exports to the United States decrease.3
No increase in foreign investment is guaranteed. Last year foreign investment in Costa Rica, without the treaty in place, was greater than that which was invested in all of the other Central American countries put together.4 Also, an increase in exports and in FDI does not guarantee that employment rates will rise. Between 1994 and 2006 in Costa Rica FDI rose by 500%, exports by 300%, and nevertheless unemployment also rose. This is because FDI displaced national production, and in doing so sometimes generated more unemployment than employment.5 This also was a result of an increased rate of displacement of national producers and employees. All such effects would be exaggerated if the agreement were to be approved.
Protection of labor rights are also not taken into account, as member countries only commit to support a few labor rights and even then only when commerce is not affected (see article 16.2.1.a). As with the right to health and life, not to mention labor rights, all are subordinate to commercial interests.
CAFTA would affect domestic workers and housewives in particular because of its negative impact on public services and on those dependent on basic foodstuffs. As far as public services go, in Costa Rica the telecommunications and insurance industries would be opened up, which will affect access to telephone services (which have clearly become more expensive when they pass out of state control into the hands of multinational companies). Nor are these the only services; water, electricity, and education will be subjected to its rules.
None of these three cases are exempt from the application of the norms of the treaty; either the service is subject to the agreement as is the case with electricity, or the supposed exclusion is conditional only for so called "social services" (see Annex II Non-Conformant Measures, Costa Rican list), not guaranteeing water or education. In this way multinational companies could use CAFTA to prioritize foreign investments above national interests.
For example in the case of water, it might mean that priority is given to suppliers of golf courses or hotels rather than prioritizing community use. In education it might mean sharing the education budget as currently happens in Chile. Yes, health services are excluded from some general norms, but, neither health nor any other service is absolved from the right given to multinationals to sue the state, in a court of arbitration for "measures tantamount to expropriation" or "measures that affect profits."
Simply put, in all cases the ability of the state to regulate services for public interest is diminished, and the treaty encourages multinational control, therefore encouraging profit making rather than the provision of universal public services.
Greater multinational control of services is thereby encouraged, and international experience has shown that this control does little to improve the quality of services but does lead to an increase in prices. A recent local example can be seen in Nicaragua, where electricity was put in the hands of a Spanish multinational, which in turn has lead to blackouts.
As for basic consumption, by opening the national market in basic foodstuffs, leading to possible displacement of national production, the effects will extend not just to producers, but affect the consumer as well. The experience of Mexico, as we have said above, is that once local producers are displaced from the market, the prices to the consumer increase, and furthermore all profits remain in the hands of intermediaries or the companies exporting from the United States.6
CAFTA and the Women of Costa Rica
Women in Costa Rica are mainly domestic workers. If we add in those who work in the "informal sector,"7 which is not a stable source of employment but really a last recourse for those who have little other choice, the resulting group encompasses more than 80% of all Costa Rican women over the age of 15.8
As to those who work outside the home in more formal settings, the majority work in assembly plants (maquiladoras), largely in the clothing sector; some also work in education and as domestic servants. The clothing industry has awful labor conditions: entailing extremely intensive piecemeal work, the dangers of injury and shift-work, little protection, and no freedom to form unions. On top of this, the way wages are set leads to more intensive work and an increase in the length of the workday while overtime goes unrecognized.
In education, workers in the public sector have full workers rights, although wages are low and the work intense.
We can predict negative impacts all-around in the sectors mentioned above if the trade agreement is approved. In the clothing industry, we can already see effects in the industrial sector with or without CAFTA, by the way in which the industry has been restructured on an international level. The multinationals control the chains of production and the sales and marketing. Countries such as Costa Rica only work the seams and finishing work, all of which is performed under the control of the multinationals. It really doesn't matter from the point of view of the multinationals if the production is done in Central America, India, China, or Vietnam. They can move production plants or change contractors from one country to another.
With the 2005 global elimination of the import quotas approved at the World Trade Organization (WTO), competition from clothes originating from Asia has displaced Central American and Mexican production. CAFTA doesn't protect clothing made in these countries and it remains obvious that this pattern will continue. In fact, just this last year clothing exports into the United States fell from all countries in Central America except Nicaragua.9 The same is true of Mexican clothing exports.10
In the education sector it is expected that CAFTA would lead to a growth in private education, where wages are lower and labor rights are not respected; among such rights is the right to organize, which might otherwise offer some protection.
Above all one finds Nicaraguan migrants working in the domestic service sector. The agreement stipulates that member countries do not further their commitments with respect to migrant workers (Art. 184.108.40.206), so their current lack of protection will no doubt continue.
Public Services and CAFTA
When it comes to public services, one of the principal policy aims of CAFTA is expansion of multinational activity in public services. This expansion changes the way Costa Rica has traditionally provided these services, moving from a philosophy of solidarity and concern for the people, to the profit motive and a lack of regard for human necessity. Services cease to be considered a means to attend to the needs of the population or a way to provide for human rights, and instead public services are treated like any other merchandise—they are provided only to those with the means to pay for them.
If this happens, more sectors of the population will find themselves excluded from access to such services. In this case, the women, domestic workers entrusted with the survival of their families and access to services, will be further burdened trying to find alternatives to that which, until now, has been provided—medical attention, public education, drinking water, electricity, and telephones.
To sum up, CAFTA is a legal instrument that favors multinational expansion without limits, leaving the most underprivileged sectors of our population totally unprotected, among them women and the poor.
- Source INEGI, available at http://www.inegi.gob.mx/.
- Vargas, Oscar René. ¿Qué es el CAFTA? Un tratado entre desiguales Centroamérica-Estados Unidos, UPOLI, Managua, 2003.
- See http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/statistics/country/index.html.
- CEPAL, Estimate based on official data available 24 April 2007.
- COMEX based on numbers available in the BCCR and PROCOMER found at http://www.comex.go.cr/estadisticas/inversion/IED%202006.pdf; INEC: Home polling.
- See footnote No.2.
- These are the domestic servants whose workers rights are most often violated, beginning with recognition of the minimum wage.
- INEC 2006, main results Home polling, multiple choice 2003 en http://www.inec.go.cr and OIT: Labour panorama 2004 pages: 98-99, in www.oit.org.pe/portal/documentos/texto_completo_2004.pdf, revisado en noviembre de 2006.
- CEPAL (Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe) 2007. Istmo Centroamericano: evolución económica durante 2006 y perspectivas para 2007, 16/04/2007.
- INEGI 2005: Industria maquiladora de exportación . Economic Statistics, monthly publication, September, p. 25.
Nuevo del Programa de las Américas:
Una gran parte del disgusto actual de la administración Bush es que el presidente boliviano Evo Morales ha estado haciendo enormes esfuerzos para separar a su país de la dependencia económica con los Estados Unidos. Sus esfuerzos en reforzar a la Comunidad Andina de Naciones (CAN) y la reciente firma de el "Tratado de Comercio de los Pueblos" con Venezuela, Nicaragua y Cuba indican el deseo del partido político boliviano Movimiento Al Socialismo (MAS) de enfrentarse a Washington mediante un reforzamiento de las alianzas económicas y políticas que trabajan fuera de la influencia directa de los EEUU.
Para entender las sensibilidades bolivianas hacia la ayuda estadounidense y sus condiciones, es importante mirar hacia atrás a lo que le pasó al gobierno de izquierda anterior en ese país, el cual se ajustó sus políticas a las de la cooperación estadounidense.
A menos y hasta que las políticas de Washington hacia Latinoamérica sean desafiadas exitosamente dentro de los Estados Unidos, hay límites reales en cuanto al mejoramiento de las condiciones económicas que el gobierno de Bolivia puede proveer a su pueblo.
Stephen Zunes es profesor de Politica en la Universidad de San Francisco y colaborador del Programa de las Américas del CIP, www.ircamericas.org. Traducido por Gracia Tenorio-Pearl.
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La alianza entre indios zapatistas, trabajadoras sexuales y travestis enseña la potencia del cambio social en clave cultural, anclado en la vida cotidiana. En México, uno de los eslabones fuertes del patriarcado y del machismo más prepotente, el Subcomandante Marcos abrió las puertas al debate sobre la discriminación en un tema urticante.
¿Qué sentido tiene en la lógica revolucionaria clásica, recorrer miles de kilómetros para reunirse en un remoto poblado con un puñado de putas y travestis? El Subcomandante Marcos se empeñó desde enero del año pasado en realizar ese tipo de encuentros en el marco de La Otra Campaña, en el entendido de que se trata de buscar nuevas formas de hacer política.
Brigada Callejera de Apoyo a la Mujer es el colectivo mexicano que ha sido capaz, en los últimos 15 años, de tejer una amplia red de trabajo social con prostitutas y travestis, denominada Red Mexicana de Trabajo Sexual. Eso implicó superar el papel de víctimas y convertirse en sujetos que buscan ser reconocidos como trabajadores por sus pares y no como seres que han “caído” en el oficio más viejo del mundo por ignorancia, pobreza o sumisión. Un breve recorrido por sus emprendimientos revela la profundidad de un trabajo emancipatorio.
Raúl Zibechi es analista internacional del semanario Brecha de Montevideo, docente e investigador sobre movimientos sociales en la Multiversidad Franciscana de América Latina, y asesor a varios grupos sociales. Es colaborador mensual con el Programa de las Américas (www.ircamericas.org).
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Los acometedores esfuerzos que ha venido realizando Wal-Mart para coartar la sindicalización de sus empleados se encuentra bajo fuego a lo largo del hemisferio. Los trabajadores denuncian cómo la cadena de tiendas viola sistemáticamente las leyes internacionales del trabajo que protegen el derecho del trabajador a la libre asociación y a la organización sindical. Aun siendo la empresa privada que más empleos da, Wal-Mart ha sentado un precedente de pésimas condiciones laborales para sus empleados, tanto en Estados Unidos como en otros países.
Es posible que Wal-Mart ya tenga un enemigo digno materializado en los delegados sindicales que están dispuestos a luchar por mejorar las condiciones laborales y sindicalizar a más trabajadores de tiendas. Los trabajadores de las tiendas en Argentina también están luchando por lograr representación sindical independiente, y, a pesar de la presión que soportan, están avanzando hacia las deseadas mejoras.
Marie Trigona es una periodista que trabaja en Argentina y quien frecuentemente escribe para el Programa de las Américas (www.ircamericas.org). Si desea contactarla, puede hacerlo en la siguiente dirección: mtrigona(a)msn.com. Traducido por Aline Sánchez Espino.
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Zihuatanejo, que yace en la costa del Pacífico mexicano, en el Estado de Guerrero, ha atravesado un largo camino desde que los saqueadores europeos la penetraron, cuando era una bahía virgen. Hoy proyecta la dualidad del superdesarrollo y del subdesarrollo. Lujosas villas cubren algunos cerros, mientras que de otros apenas se sujetan barrios paupérrimos. En este municipio, se tienen registrados 400 casos de dengue en lo que va de este año. El centro de la ciudad se encuentra congestionado por embotellamientos antes inimaginables y grandes cadenas comerciales compiten con los pequeños negocios. Un malecón de roca incompleto bloquea la salida de aguas residuales que fluyen hacia la bahía.
Anclados en la bahía, los cruceros desembarcan a sus pasajeros en pequeñas lanchas que los llevan al cercano muelle municipal. El proyecto para la construcción de una gran terminal para cruceros que se conectará a la Playa Principal, tiene a los lugareños en pie de batalla.
Kent Paterson es un periodista independiente que se dedica a cubrir el sureste de los Estados Unidos, México y América Latina, es analista del Programa de las Américas, con página web: www.ircamericas.org. Ha visitado Zihuatanejo desde hace 17 años. Le asistió en la investigación para este artículo el Fondo de Investigación Periodística. Las fotografías y la traducción las proporcionó S.O.S Bahía.
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La Corte Suprema de Chile dispuso, el pasado mes de septiembre, declarar fundada la demanda del Estado peruano para que Alberto Fujimori sea extraditado al Perú a efectos de ser procesado por graves acusaciones de corrupción, abuso de poder y delitos de lesa humanidad contra los derechos humanos. El proceso representa un golpe contra la impunidad y abrirá una nueva oportunidad para que los peruanos relean la verdadera historia de los 90 y la imposición del modelo autoritario neoliberal, desnacionalizador y mutilador de los derechos sociales y económicos de las mayorías empobrecidas y manipuladas con un clientelismo descarado.
Sin duda, resaltan las implicancias políticas. Por delante, la posibilidad de terminar con la impunidad de crímenes cometidos desde las más altas esferas del poder, que es lo más significativo, aunque todavía esta pendiente el desenlace final.
Javier Diez Canseco fue miembro del congreso peruano, y analista para el Programa de las Américas en www.ircamericas.org.
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Por este medio me permito saludarle y agradecerde el artículo que escribió Laura Carlsen llamado: "El Ejemplo de Costa Rica" en el cual expone de una manera muy objetiva lo que sucede en mi querido país.
Sabe yo forme parte de un comite patriotico en el cual hicimos visitas a zonas alejadas de mi país, y fue muy desilusionante cuando se dan los resultados ya que se pierde por una cantidad mínina. Pero aun así nos queda la esperanza de un buen cambio en este pais, nos unimos más los que realmente estamos preocupados por eso y trabajamos hombro a hombro para concretarlo.
En este momento la gente sigue unida, y se buscan estrategias para un cambio fuerte en el país, cambios sociales de bienestar para todos y no solo para quienes tiene de una manera egoista el poder económico.
Espero siga escribiendo que ese servidor leerá sus articulos.
Daniel Morux V