Brazilian Foreign Affairs Minister Celso Amorim expressed concern over the possibility Paraguay and United States sign a free trade agreement and called for transparency in the military cooperation agreement between both countries.
In an interview with Buenos Aires daily Clarin, Mr. Amorim said he was well aware that Paraguay is a sovereign country, but he pointed out the country also has responsibilities in the framework of the Mercosur agreement that also includes as full members, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.
When economic agreements are signed there are options and in this case Paraguay must understand that it will have to choose between Mercosur and other partners. An agreement limited to trade “is not compatible with the rest of the block’s members,” said Mr. Amorim.
The Brazilian top official statements follow the recent visit to Asuncion of United States Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who met with Paraguayan president Nicanor Duarte Frutos, which gave a significant thrust to bilateral relations.
Last August Paraguay and United States signed several agreements involving defense, terrorism, drugs and also advanced in a controversial program of military assistance and training in which US special forces are involved since last April and will extend to the end of next year.
The Paraguayan Congress, following on a request from the US government, voted to grant immunity from prosecution for the US forces and personnel. Apparently an FBI regional office is to be opened in the Asunción US Embassy.
“That’s why we are requesting more transparency about the content of the agreements signed between Paraguay, a Mercosur member and the United States”, emphasized Mr. Amorim who added that there was “no need for a US base in the region”.
The Paraguayan government has denied point blank that the United States is in the process of setting up a military base of a regional surveillance center, although social organizations and left wing groups fear that the presence of US troops in the country could represent the first steps towards that end.
Brazil’s official line on the issue is that “South American security and defense matters the more it is ensured by South America, the better for the whole region”.
“We see no reasons for having a US base in the region”, added Mr. Amorim.
The special immunity from prosecution has been extended by Paraguay to 400 US servicemen who in the coming 18 months will be involved in military exercises and social assistance programs.
Some political and strategy analysts both in United States and Brazil believe the US presence in Paraguay will not be limited in time or resources and that there’s actually a “hidden agenda”, given the fact that US engineers have in the past built several landing strips in strategic areas of the country bordering with Bolivia and Brazil.
This article appeared originally in Mercopress – www.mercopress.com.