Luis Prat (prat@chem.ucsb.edu)
Wed, 31 Jan 1996 10:33:43 -0800

Ekintza Zuzena: In Latin America there is a tradition of military
dictatorships and generally a much more obvious presence of the army in the
social life. How does this condition the antimilitary struggle?

Paraguayan objector: It depends on the situation in each country. In
Paraguay, for example, Stroessner's dictatorship was the last one to fall.
Since then the army has kept its infrastructure intact and only retired the
oldest generals. The military has the same political and economic power.
Don't forget that in Latin America the military class owns many businesses,
"legal" (enterprises, industries or banks) as well as illegal (smuggling,
drug traffick or extorsion). It is difficult to work in this context. The
military is very feared and its presence is very noticeable in society. In
these times of alleged democracy, the only thing that's guaranteed is
freedom of expression. This allows people their opinions, but from that to
mobilization against the military there's a long way.

EZ: How has this transition from a dictatorial state to a democratic one
been made and how is it valued?

OP: In Paraguay the first thing general Rodriguez, promoter of the coup
against Stroessner,did was to sign a letter of intent to pay the IMF which
carries obvious social consequences. After the coup there's a social drop.
The media get busy telling us that we are in a democracy and all is well.
After defeating the common enemy people calm down and little by little the
social fabric is destroyed. Other influences are the fall of the Berlin wall
and the loss of strength by the left. But after a decade people ask: "What
about economic democracy?". Now we can talk, but every day there are more
social cutbacks, the pockets of poverty increase, and worker's
demonstrations or land occupations are harshly repressed. The Latin American
people are starting to become conscious of this situation. We only have to
look at the social upheavals that have happened in Argentina, Venezuela or

EZ: In any case it seems that they're selling the idea that with this
transition it will be difficult to return to a military involvement ...

OP: I don't think so. In Chile, for instance, the military power remains as
before and finds it difficult to adapt. If the democratic proccess were
broken it wouldn't be a tragedy for them. But without a doubt the prototype
is Fujimori. Who says you can't have a coup-d'etat, dissolve Congress and
not have the support of the USA?. It all depends on what you're going to do.
Democracy and civil liberties always take a second place. In Paraguay
there's a general that amasses great power and every time there's a hot
political movement he mobilizes or garrisons the troops under his command.
This scares people, and it changes the situation and the electoral results.

EZ: What is the background and the development of the conscientious objector
movement in Paraguay?

OP: Objection appears in 1993, with the first 5 objectors, after a period of
planning and the creation of a minimal social cushion. The social response
was pretty good and this has caused the number of objectors today to
increase to about 400. As a significant fact we may cite a survey from 1993
in which 86% of the young people were against compulsory military service,
54% were against any type of service and 48% of the population thought the
army had no reason for being in such a small country as Paraguay, with 5
million people and 406,000 km2. Even so, we're the most militarized country
in Latin America, with 54 soldiers for every 10,000 inhabitants, as compared
to 0.25 nurses or 5 doctors.

EZ: What is your social message and your strategy?

OP: In 1994 we formed the Conscientious Objector Movement, defining
ourselves as a political, antimilitaristic and alternative movement. We
planned our strategy based on civil, political and organized disobedience,
non-collaboration with the entities that oppress us and non-violence. We
proposed three campaigns: 1) against compulsory military service, with two
themes, such as denouncing conscripts' deaths in the barracks (there is a
death under strange circumstances every month) and the struggle against the
system of forced recruitment, which is based on the fact that if the
military doesn't reach its quota, they come out to the streets and take
young people that can't produce their military card. They equally recruit
children between 10 and 17 years old. This has forced us to present a
complaint before the UN against illegitimate depravation of freedom and
against the presence of children in the barracks.
2) Another campaign spreads conscientious objection.
3) The campaign against military spending. In 1994 we asked for a reduction
of 25% in the military budget, which is spent on, among other things, the
building of a parades ground that cost 2.5 million dollars from the national
budget. In this initiative we had the support of all the social collectives
of Paraguay, organized around the peasant, student, neighborhood and
worker's movement.

EZ: How's the legal situation?

OP:The constitution recognizes conscientious objection, and now they are
trying to regulate the civil service. The law is a copy of the spanish one,
with conscientious objector courts and penalties of military inprisonment
for the insumisos. Of course we reject this law because we don't believe
that to perform civil service is the solution to the country's social
problems. Rather we believe that a redistribution of the wealth is needed
and not that young people for being young have to wash the image of the
state and patch up the holes that a military regime has left in society.

EZ: Tell us about other experiences happening in Latin America ...

OP: In Guatemala there is CONAVIGUA (National coordinator of guatemalan
widows) that are working against forced recruitment and for conscientious
objection. In Panama there's an antimilitary movement that fights for the
departure of american military forces. In Colombia there is a Collective for
Conscientious Objectors, although the military doesn't want to hear about
bad examples and today there is an objector in prison with a one year
sentence. In Bolivia there are many soldiers' deaths and there is a
collective that, without questioning the army and compulsory military
service, works for a compulsory civil service. In Brasil military service is
not extended to the whole country, it works within the zones of influence of
large military bases. There is the possibility of objection, but within the
army and without carrying weapons. In Ecuador the army is now very
legitimate after the so-called war it waged against Peru and which has
destroyed the social fabric with a stupid nationalism. Besides they achieved
100% of the objectives of the conflict. The army has obtained 25% of the
profits from oil, not having to account to Parliament for its expenditures
and the recruitment of women after 1997. There isn't much information from
Peru, because the fascist Fujimori regime accuses anyone who raises its
voice with collaboration with the Shining Path. In Chile objection is
starting and today there is a network formed by some churches. In Argentina
the army is professional. Menen chose this way for electoral motives and
following the recommendation of the IMF that advised the reduction and
professionalization of the armed forces. At the Latin American level there
is coordination between the different collectives through the Red de
Objecion de Conciencia de Latinoamerica y el Caribe (Latin American and
Caribbean Conscientious Objectors Network), there have been some
international meetings and we publish communally the magazine _Objetando_.

EZ: What is the attitude of the army towards conscientious objection and
what political changes are happening

OP: In Paraguay the opposition parties try to wrest political power from the
army, try to make it more professional, to remove its affiliation to any
party. For their part the military has started to speak strongly against
objection and even consider military service under threat. In other
countries the army tries to find a new place. The meeting of Latin American
defense ministers in Miami is very significant, they talked about the new
function for the armies in these times. It is clear that their direction
will be internal repression, hiding behind themes such as narcotraffick.

EZ: In some places there have been cases of the military supporting popular

OP: There have been cases, such as in Ecuador, in which the army refused to
repress land occupation conflicts, saying they were needy people and that
the army's function was not that. This ligitimizes them even more, to which
a lower number of corruption cases also contributes. We have to take into
account, however, that these militaries have been trained in the "School of
America", organized by the USA which, as we know, are experts in
manipulating public opinion. Of course we can't speak of "popular armies"
nor "red" military. The army has a mission determined by its own structure.

Whether we agree with armed struggle or not, one of the great problems that
this type of conflict has brought is that they have become an end unto
themselves and not a means to achieve demands. These are always forgotten in
the end. In those countries where there are guerrillas or in the case of
Ecuador, the army plays up this type of thing a lot, so that people will
worry more about them than about their everyday problems. In this sense, I
believe that the Zapatista Army has worked very well. It's a movement that
one day raises up in arms to make its voice publicly heard, but further on
plays another field. I think that's the most salvageable of the EZLN: the
main actor is not the armed struggle, but its ten points program. In
Paraguay, for example, the Chiapas upraising means, for the social
movements, something like the flag of hope, above all for the peasants. In
other countries such as Brasil, we observe that there are movements such as
Los Sin Techo (The ones without roofs) or Los Sin Tierra (the ones without
land) that are developing a struggle that in the mid to long run may give
birth to new armed upraisings. In any case, I think that the armed struggle
is a consequence of domination and social inequality. The solution consists
of the same things we ask: society's demilitarization and the distribution
of the military budget into social ends such as health and education. With
solidary policies, not individualistic or neoliberal, I can assure you
nobody would upraise.

EZ: Paraguay is perhaps one of the Latin American countries less heard from
in Europe, why do you think that is so?

OP: Because we're 5 million people and our market is very small. We do not
sell, therefore we're not important to the media. We are always tailing
behind Argentina or Brasil, and our economy doesn't affect anyone in the
exterior. The few news that appear do so in the context of Mercosur, over
which the USA and the European Union maintain a conflict to achieve
influence. On the european side there are multiple inversions of capital and
the historic links with Spain are heavily sold. On the part of North America
there are many projects to attempt a unified America. In Paraguay american
influence is evident, suffice it to say that we don't have any type of
relations with Cuba.


@@@@@@@@@@ ****
* /\ *
Luis J. Prat * /__\ *
* / \ *
University of California * *
Chemistry Dept. ****
Santa Barbara CA 93106
(805) 893-3295
(805) 893-4120 FAX

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