Paraguay: coup backers push for US military bases

A group of US generals reportedly visited Paraguay for a meeting with legislators on June 22 to discuss the possibility of building a military base in the Chaco region, which borders on Bolivia in western Paraguay. The meeting coincided with the Congress's sudden impeachment the same day of left-leaning president Fernando Lugo, who at times has opposed a US military presence in the country. In 2009 Lugo cancelled maneuvers that the US Southern Command was planning to hold in Paraguay in 2010 as part of its "New Horizons" program.

More bases in the Chaco are "necessary," rightwing deputy José López Chávez, who presides over the Chamber of Deputies' Committee on Defense, said in a radio interview. Bolivia, governed by socialist president Evo Morales, "constitutes a threat for Paraguay, due to the arms race it's developing," according to López Chávez. Bolivia and Paraguay fought a war over the sparsely populated Chaco from 1932 to 1935, the last major war over territory in South America.

The US has been pushing recently to set up military bases in the Southern Cone, including one in Chile and one in Argentina's northeastern Chaco province, which is close to the Paraguayan Chaco, although it doesn't share a border with Paraguay. Unidentified military sources say that the US has already built infrastructure for its own troops in Paraguayan army installations near the country's borders with Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil; for example, an installation in Mariscal Estigarribia, some 250 km from Bolivia, has a runway almost 3.8 km long, in a country with a very limited air force. (La Jornada, Mexico, July 1, from correspondent in Argentina)

The Chaco is thought to have some oil reserves. Richard González, a representative of Texas-based Crescent Global Oil, announced on June 28 that the company was investing $10 million in the region, starting with exploratory drilling in September or October of this year. The announcement came after Crescent's representatives met with Federico Franco, who was Lugo's vice president before being appointed president by Congress. Supporters of Lugo's ouster claim the investment by the US company could ease Paraguay's total dependence on foreign oil. Venezuela, which supplies 30% of Paraguay's oil, cut off shipments after the removal of the elected president. (Prensa Latina, June 29; La Nación, Paraguay, June 29)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 1.

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