US Military Exercises continue in Paraguay, dangerously disguised

The United States embassy, in the eleven months under President Fernando Lugo and at the start of an important process in the country, has become the government’s principal and prodigious collaborator in what has been called the process of change.

A Process of Change, which involves several contradictions, and should mainly be understood from two very distinct points of view; that of the government sector, and that of the social movements the latter of which see themselves increasingly removed from this process – an aspect I won’t touch on here beyond giving brief mention to.

In just 11 months President Lugo’s process has received 422,000 dollars of support directly from the US embassy. In this climate and after 2 years, US military exercises in Paraguay have returned, but they have so under the guise of ‘diplomatic collaboration’ through ‘civil servants’ of the US embassy.

Since December 2006, Paraguay hasn’t re-signed any immunity agreement with the US forces that would allow them to perform military exercises. In the past, these exercises primarily consisted of supposed medical care and the construction of social infrastructure Medical Readiness Training Exercises (MEDRETES) and the anti-corruption program Nuevos Horizontes (New Horizons).

Faced with this lacking agreement, the US embassy, now headed by Liliana Ayalde, has found a better way to continue carrying out the said exercises (the goal of which is none other than to establish a presence in the Southern Cone) through technical cooperation with the Paraguayan Armed Forces, so that they carry out the MEDRETES but alongside embassy officials, who are distinguished North American troops veiled as civil servants in the diplomatic office.

The modification of the strategy for carrying out Joint Military Exercises, and with it the monitoring of social movements, is occurring owing to the fact that the entry of foreign troops is dependent on the acceptance of the National Senate. Such a proposal would become a public issue given that it would provoke reactions from both regional and national social movements as well as the Mercosur governments. Moreover it would generate a reaction from Itamaraty, the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Relations, with whom Paraguay is currently negotiating the Treaty of Itaipú.

Given this situation, the government has allowed the embassy to collaborate on health missions with the national army. This would involve US officials – ‘technicians’, who would in reality be military troops at the embassy’s disposition, but who, on being registered as embassy personnel, would have free reign of the country, which is even more serious.

Thus it is that since November 2008, the denominated Exercises, or Plan Ñepohano (Healing/Medical Attention Plan), are being carried out. The National Army and embassy officials, or rather civilian military men, are participating in these exercises as well as civilian DEA forces and their counterparts from the National Anti Narcotics Office (DINAR). The latter two are supposedly giving anti-drugs talks, but in reality they are studying and monitoring local leaders, as well as establishing connections between them and drug trafficking – a way of bringing about degrees of repression.  

On 24th November Plan Ñepohano 03 was carried out in a neighboring city of Asunción called San Antonio, a place where the suburban movement, those called sin techos (homeless), is expanding, reaching 2,342 people during the days of the plan’s unfolding. [1]The sin techos are urban and suburban squatter movements comprising of rural peasants displaced from their lands. An important sector is coopted by the Colorado party whereas another is affiliated with the Government.

But the embassy plan extends to various other locations in the country, carrying out military expeditions in Cerrito Chaco, in the city of Presidente Hayes. Also, Operativos Nuevos Horizontes has been carried out in both locations (but of course without that name) constructing and equipping classrooms. A similar operation occurred in the city of Lima in San Pedro.

The second Operation Ñepohano 04 was carried out south of the capital in the province of Itapúa, in the town of capitán Meza near the border with Argentina. The operation happened last February and, just as in November, it involved a great number of people. All of these were aided by the famous ‘cure-all’ pills, which have already been pointed out in the report entitled ‘Informe de la Misión de Observación a Paraguay,’ carried out in 2006 by the Campaign for the Demilitarization of the Americas, in which miscarriages and hemorrhages in women were decried.

These military exercises, dressed up as diplomatic cooperation, are entangled in a vast network that the new ambassador, Liliana Ayalde, has established with the national government. In less than 10 months, she has taken advantage of more than 3 opportunities to visit the Interior Minister Rafael Filizzola, she has met with all of the main national authorities and, as if it were nothing, no sooner had the Foreign Minister Héctor Lacognata arrived from Cuba, than she had managed to hold a meeting with him.   

The agenda of the meeting between the diplomat and the minister was not made known indicating that it was merely a courtesy visit, although a very suggestive one given that it followed the government’s proclamations regarding the implementation of the Cuban education and health models.

This causes concern for the Yankee embassy which has fostered military medical cooperation which, although aids the objective of national infiltration, also has the goal of undermining the approximating of these areas with the Cuban and Venezuelan governments in particular.

Consequently, given the rise in the number of people benefiting from Operativo Milagro (Operation Miracle), the embassy has made important donations to national ophthalmologic institutions, enabling surgery to be performed for free.

Since October 2007 the program ‘Opérese en casa, con seguridad y responsibilidad’ (Operate at home, with safety and responsibility) is being promoted in coordination with the Sociedad Paraguaya de Oftalmología (Paraguayan Society of Ophthalmology), benefiting from this with the hope that the latter will declare itself against Operativo Milagro as well as Cuban professionals in general, and that it will organize a campaign to this effect. [2]

This rethinking of the strategy for infiltration of the country is much more dangerous than the traditional Military Exercises. This is because its methods go unnoticed by social monitoring, are presented as support for the new government and aim to inspire the trust of the population.

This strategy enables the entry of military personnel into national territory without any controls, and although none were required in the permission given by the national congress, they were however relying on sovereign control and social monitoring which nowadays is disappearing.

The national government should be aware of this new strategy, which among others has produced one its first successes – the information sent by the local DEA to its office in Washington about the rural leader Elvio Benítez, who they name as a drug trafficker.[5]

Fernando Lugo’s government should reconfigure its relationship with ambassador Ayalde, who is extremely skillful in managing diplomatic relations and social policies, entwining them with US security theory; well we can’t forget her curriculum as director of USAID in Bolivia and, before coming to Paraguay, her 5 years in Colombia working with the Democratic Security policy.

Although President Lugo can’t completely break off his relationship with the United States, it would be wise to control it and not allow foreign officials to have free reign of the country. This can be dangerous for the government given the history of destabilization and bloodless coups associated with diplomatic headquarters in this country.

Orlando Castillo Caballero is a Human Rights lawyer, Conscientious Objector, antimilitarist and member in a personal capacity of CADA.

[1]  See ‘Apoyo directo e inmediato de la Embajada de los EE.UU. a los 100 días del Presidente Lugo’, at (Spanish only).

[2] See ‘Cirugías de cataratas sin costo recibe apoyo de Embajada estadounidense’ (Spanish only)

[3] See ‘Senad registró a Elvio Benítez por un caso de Narcotráfico’ ABC Color 10 de Junio de 2009, en (Spanish only).

[4] See ‘ESTADOS UNIDOS Y SU GUERRA DE BAJA INTENSIDAD en América Latina. El caso argentino. Los golpes blandos’. Stella Calloni, en Revista Zoom, Política y Sociedad en Foco.