I travelled to Paraguay from May 31 - June 10, 2009 with the Marin Interfaith Task Force on the Americas to explore the challenges facing their new president Fernando Lugo.
June 30, 2009
To: His Excellency President of the Republic of Paraguay
From: We the undersigned individuals and progressive organizations of the United States and friends of peace throughout the world.
Dear Mr. President,
First, we wish to congratulate you on your historic election to the presidency of Paraguay in 2008. We the signers of this letter are a group of citizens of the United States, part of a delegation from School of the Americas Watch, (SOAW, for its initials in English) here to learn about the history of Stroessner dictatorship and the existing realities in the country.
We communicate with you here, to make you aware of what we observed during our mission, which took place the beginning days of June, and we advocate certain policies and actions we consider necessary to change these situations.
We met with numerous working groups to discover and bring to light the crimes committed during the Stroessner dictatorship, such that those crimes are never again repeated. We were left with a very good impression of the selflessness and care of those people working for the memory of the nation in this regard. Many people in the U.S. do not realize the extent of support of our own government to that dictatorship, and how far reaching was the repression within Paraguay. On learning about this reality, we were very upset with the support of our government for the dictatorship of Stroessner, either direct or tacit.
As you undoubtedly know, since 1990, progressive people in the United States have struggled to close the School of the Americas of the United States Army (now called Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation-WHINSEC). This year we are close to victory and we appeal to you to give us your support and solidarity in this effort, by withdrawing the soldiers and officers of Paraguay from the Institute.
Five Latin American countries have already announced the withdrawal of its students from the School: Venezuela (2004), Argentina (2006), Uruguay (2006), Costa Rica (2007) and Bolivia (2008). The announcement of the withdrawal of Paraguay could be the final step in closing this pernicious institution. In 2007, we were only six votes short of closing the school in the U.S. Congress. Another vote in Congress to terminate funding for the school will take place this year, including with new members in the legislature. Our hope is that the withdrawal of a sixth country will give us the impetus to get increased support in our legislature and close the School of the Americas.
We want to mention to you that we visited the parts of Asuncion called Banados, and had profound conversations with Banados community leaders concerned with improving the lives and infrastructure of their neighborhoods. For example, roads and sewers there require immediate attention as these affect the health of the residents. We learned that the residents of these neighborhoods lack opportunities, and also suffer much discrimination. We were saddened to learn that one quarter of the population of Paraguay lives in extreme poverty with little hope that their children will have a better future.
Also, in a trip to the countryside, we met with members of campesino organizations and learned about their educational projects designed to directly benefit their own communities. We were saddened to learn of the negative impacts of agro-businesses on the environment, particularly the effects of soybean cultivation near communities adjacent to the plantations. We learned about the impact of spraying and chemical fertilizers, and about the unregulated use of such chemicals which end up displacing entire communities.
We talked with landless farmers who can not live with dignity or use their traditional methods of cultivation. These circumstances sometimes influence good people to take desperate measures.
We observed with concern that the press and also the government, rather than proposing solutions that would address the roots of the problem, have criminalized social protest, and that extrajudicial violence by large landowners has actually increased. Since 1989 more than a hundred peasant leaders have been killed, but these crimes have never been thoroughly investigated.
We also express our concern with the treatment of the proposed Bill before congress, "The Promotion and Protection of Investments made by domestic and foreign investors in the country", which could exacerbate attacks on the peasant sector and give impunity to the landowners and their private police.
We urge the President that, should this legislation be approved, that you use your presidential powers to veto it and also to promote a genuine agrarian reform and preserve the ecological richness of Paraguay for its future citizens.
In conclusion, and as citizens of the world, we hope that you can follow through with the promises made to the Paraguayan people during the election campaign. We certainly understand that there are many hurdles, but you have a powerful voice to advocate on behalf of the poor and to unite your followers.
During our brief stay we were greatly impressed by the energy, intelligence, and generosity of the people of Paraguay. They have put so much of their hope in you. It is now time for action. We the undersigned commit ourselves to support the new Paraguay through outreach to our fellow citizens and public officials about the challenges and also the great promise that is Paraguay.
Marc Becker, PhD, Professor of Latin American History, Truman State University, Madison Wisconsin
Katherine Borland, Ph.D., Assistant Dean, Ohio State University, Newark, Ohio
Theresa Cameranesi, RN, MSN, SOAW Council, San Francisco, California
William Collins, Executive Director of Veterans For Peace, and former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut
M. Frisco Gilchrist, Retired Missionary and Co-Director of the United Church of Christ, Indianapolis, Indiana
Alejandra Juarez, Candidate, Masters in Public Policy, Oregon State University, Corvalis, Oregon
Judy Balch Liteky, Professor Emeritus in Mathematics,
Margaret Morris, Volunteer, Sisters of the Good Shepard, Tekojoja Kuña Rembiapope, Itagua, Paraguay
Noel Ortega, National Coordinator of Student Trade Justice Campaign, Washington, DC
Susan Severin, Health Educator, San Anselmo, California
Dale Sorensen, Executive Director of the Marin Interfaith Task Force on The Americas, Larkspur, California.