Visit to Paraguay Dec 2015 - Jan 2016

Well folks, hope you all turned another page in the calendar in relative peace. I thought I did too, until the night of the fifth January.

I was in the last leg of my data collection tour. My plan? A peek into the 'white' Brazil, fly low over Uruguay, tango up and down the Argentine pampas and finally, scamper home through the Andean slopes of Bolivia and Peru. In Ecuadorian tradition, to deserve such a trip, my suitcase must have done 100 circles around the block on New Year's Eve. Guess it squared the block like Usain Bolt, and did it anti-clockwise, because, by the second new week, I had crash-landed on my bed in Ecuador!

My dreams of thanking Galeano at his tomb (his 'We say no' tipped the balance in favor of my apprehensive 1993 entry into Mundo Latino) and of having a minute of 'mate' with Mujica will have to wait.

If my battered, protesting body would hold, all I can offer you now is the last few pages from my polit-eco diary. In this participative-academic exercise, you -reviewers- will dig up the references to clarify the matters. The pun, fun and the pinch, in this narrative, are all intentional.

On the fifth night of the New Year, I was heading towards my last interview in Paraguay, in CECTEC Agroecology school in Pirapey 40. 

The day before, I had gladly 'tereré'd (drinking the traditional herbal tea, prepared with fresh/ cold water in the heat of the day) with my campesino friend in Arroyos y Esteros. I passed-over the warning on bugs in his well water, as this lightly rolling topography had evoked in me memories of southern Sri Lanka, where we always used wells. However, a late peek at the well, with its litter-strewn mud walls, disturbed my conscience. I hoped the 'yerba mate' would 'cure' water, like lime juice. If not, a long-walk -my panacea for intestinal bugs, would do the trick.

The bug got the better of me. Early that morning, still in the bus, I started sweating, with my head spinning, and then a chill swept over me. When the official called my destination at 6am, I could barely stand. I pleaded for a time-out at the tiny police station and later managed to get a moto-car to deliver my pathetic self to the school.

A forested island in a sea of soya fields, CECTEC school is an oasis, one of the most eye-pleasing and mind-calming educational institutions I have seen. Over 30 years, it has been producing agro-technicians with strong agroecology background and supporting local farmers to swim against the government onslaught of soya and 'agri-cides'. Half my pains evaporated just entering this refreshing paradise. Had an interview with a local farmer family, got a 2-hr guided tour of the farm school and then did a slide/ video show for the kids in the night. I thought one more day in this sane environment would help me regain my strength. However, only 2 hours into the trip to Ciudad del Este the day after, my head spinning returned.

I landed a cheap room in Ciudad and planned to goof-off a couple of days to give recovery time for my body. Seeing nothing other than a jungle of shopping malls in Ciudad, I crossed the river Paraná to Foz do Iguazú, on Brazilian side. No heavy flooding here, compared to one of the worst ever in Asunción, on the edge of river Paraguay. The whole region got almost double the average rain in November and December. In river Paraná, world's 6th largest Itaipu reservoir, just upstream of Foz do Iguazu, managed to absorb the flood, but barely, having to open all the spills at the peak. River Paraguay has no dam in it, yet, and this rain fell just downstream of its natural regulating basin, the Gran Pantanal.

So, Asunción got its third flood of 2015, and will stay flooded at least till March 2016. Paraguay currently has the world's highest rate of deforestation (per land available): the eastern third, the most humid, has little forest to speak of, and the area is now regularly experiencing tornado-type winds. 

The government-backed timber-cattle-soya mafia is rapidly razing down the other two-thirds in Chaco, whose already scarce rain is declining further now. Make your own judgment, please.

Having seen a Buddhist temple in the city map of Foz, I wanted to walk there to escape the burning heat and the city hustle. OK, you can say that one seeks the religion only when in trouble. I did not gather any flowers or incense, but bought some bread to share with the monk if he goes hungry in this meat-loving world. Yet, on the way, I learned that the temple is open only during office hours! So, I decided to worship instead the Itaipu dam nearby.

Its 14000 MW is equally shared by Paraguay and Brazil. Yet Paraguay, with only a 7M population, sells back Brazil 80% of its share right at the plant. Stroessner, before his ousting, had pretty much given that away 'free' to Brazil, probably in exchange for some secret benefits, including of course, the unextraditable refugee status he enjoyed till death. Lugo, who came to power in 2008 simply because the 'Colorados' were squabbling among themselves, managed to renegotiate that dirty deal, this time with Lula, and tripled Paraguay's benefits from power generation. If a war erupts between the two countries (not too far from the reality, because Paraguay is still tending to her wounds from the last, which almost wiped out her male population), who will control this monster? Nope, it is France! It will sell the booty to recover European investments. They never lose a penny.

Well, two weeks after Fernando Lugo uttered the blasphemous word 'agrarian reform', a dozen farmers were mysteriously massacred in Curuguaty and Lugo was crucified during a tragi-comic parliamentary session. Not a leaf moved in protest and the crooks regained power. I was among the 50-odd witnesses to a street theatre that re-enacted in Asunción such dirty politics in the guise of a X'mas carol.

My next stop was the World Natural Heritage site, Iguazú Falls, bordering Brazil and Argentina. At least on the Brazilian side, they have cleared the park of all human settlements and set up a completely sterilized, safety-guaranteed and steeply-priced show of artificial adventure. Steadily plummeting 'Real' had made the basic ticket somewhat accessible to the average latino neighbor, but the rest of the packages are exotically priced to keep them limited to the white brazil and the gringo-european tourist.

Today's 'selfie' tourism fits right into this setup, as the visitor doesn't bother to look at this monumental natural wonder of 275-odd water falls, but at the camera's eye, with a self-glorifying smile. So she would never see the imminent danger awaiting this treasure.

Just like the HDTV would color-wash the maggot-infested FIFA cadaver, it was the 2014 world cup that hid from the public eye, the 33-times increase in Iguazu flow that destroyed the park walking passages and made the Falls look a mere rapid. Brazilian authorities, if at all, did pay lip service blaming heavy rains, but never admitted that it was not the rain, but the greedy five hydropower dams upriver that were forced to release that torrent of water, which destroyed the sixth Baixo-Iguazu dam being built mere 70km up the falls, and almost ruined the natural wonder.

As you can see, my goofing-off was not at all relaxing. My blood kept boiling over, which did not help the body to recover at all. I suspected having caught Dengue, Chikungunya or Yellow Fever, so prevalent in the zone. Yet did not want to go into a Hospital with no friend to watch over me. So I had no option than to return home. 

I assumed that the closest International Airports would be in Sao Paulo, Santa Cruz/Bolivia or Asuncion. Foz do Iguazú too has an airport, but having been to its rudimentary bus terminal, I thought the airport would be no better.

Little did I know how the State-sponsored-racketeering works. They had made it a major air-transit hub, using the facade of being in the middle of hugely popular tourist sites of Iguazu Falls and Itaipu Dam. To those they added an immense duty-free zone, in Ciudad del Este, the easiest way to white-wash money laundering operations.

Brazilians come here in caravans of chartered buses, as the feeling of not having to pay tax to buy (your smartest phone may cost US$60) is too hard to resist. Besides, robbing a thief (in this case, the government) has its sweet air of revenge. The Brazilian border police would bark at me in the bus or at that poor black kid pulling out a pound of rotten meat from his bag, but would just wink and let pass thousands of cars stacked up with the booty.  

On the other side of this coin lies the government-promoted, fast-expanding, soya and cattle farms, covering thousands of hectares in each of the three countries. All this allows a legal cover to a sky congested with thousands of Cessna planes; mostly unregistered, according to the rumors. You are tempted to think here they are used for pizza home delivery! Of course, the local Cessna agent is none other than Paraguayan President's dad. Given the near-saint nature of local politicians, I bet you can easily fill in the blanks of the rest of the story.

If you think that state-sponsored-racketeering is an American disease, listen to the Sri Lankan Finance Minister. Only days ago, he publicly announced With a straight face, that on 26th December, his government allowed a deposit of US$ 500M from an unnamed businessman (let's call him Papa Noel, who is in the legal business of reindeer transport service). And Papa Noel will leave behind a tree a similar package in a matter of days. If anybody has any doubts about the legality of those sacred greenbacks, just ask a judge.

Well, I too became a beneficiary of those operations: found space in a direct Boeing 767 flight to Lima from Iguazu Falls for $500+ that Sunday night! Hooked that up with another from Lima to Guayaquil and I was in Ecuador on Monday morning.

They say I have an infection in urinary tracts. That means a long bed rest, which may be what my body needed too. The urge is too strong to be in the heat of the debate over the fate of El Quimbo Hydro Dam of Huila, Colombia, which I helped ignite, but that too will have to wait a while. In the meantime, will try update you with some of those write ups. Happy reading!

kashyapa A. S. Yapa
Riobamba, Ecuador.

16th jan 2016.

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