JFP 1/8: Paraguay abolishes public health user fees
Just Foreign Policy News
January 8, 2010
Mondoweiss: Israeli television confrontation is 'metaphor of the moral crisis' in Israel
A video clip of a contfontation between an Israeli television interviewer and a Palestinian Member of the Israeli Knesset is making the rounds of the internet.
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1) Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey says Americans should prepare to accept hundreds of U.S. casualties each month in Afghanistan, Army Times reports. McCaffrey predicts up to 500 casualties per month, as the winter thaw permits enemy and coalition forces to launch their respective offensives.
2) The wife of a Jordanian doctor who killed seven CIA employees in a suicide attack in Afghanistan says her husband was outraged over the treatment of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison and the U.S.-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, AP reports.
3) A brother of Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, the 32-year-old Jordanian of Palestinian heritage who killed seven Americans at a remote outpost in Afghanistan last week, said his brother had been "changed" by last year's three-week-long Israeli offensive in Gaza, the New York Times reports. The brother said that Mr. Balawi was arrested by the Jordanian authorities after volunteering with medical organizations to treat wounded Palestinians in Gaza. The family is itself of Palestinian origin, from a tribe in the Beersheba region.
4) Thousands of Afghans shouting "Death to America!" protested the killings of children Thursday, the latest in a string of controversial cases in which international forces have been blamed for civilian deaths, AP reports.
5) Yemen's government warned that any direct U.S. military action in Yemen could bolster the popularity of Islamist militants, the Washington Post reports. "If there is direct intervention by the United States, it will strengthen al-Qaeda," warned Rashad al-Alimi, Yemen's deputy prime minister for security and defense. "We cannot accept any foreign troops on Yemeni territory."
6) Some Yeminis, analysts, and human rights activists fear that a US focus on military aid to Yemen could backfire - spawning a more robust militant movement and potentially drawing the US into an Afghanistan-like war, the Christian Science Monitor reports. A potentially greater destabilizing influence than militancy in Yemen is water shortages, which are already the root of a large percentage of the inter-tribal fighting that plagues the country. The country is in desperate need of investment in new drip irrigation systems and water conservation measures.
7) A hatred of the government in southern Yemen is complicating U.S.-backed efforts to stem al-Qaeda's ambitions, the Washington Post reports. Southerners contend that the government has denied them their share of oil revenue, and has dismissed many southerners from military and government jobs. A wave of protests has roiled the south, prompting a government crackdown. A Human Rights Watch researcher warned that if the U.S. appears to side with the Yemeni government against its southern opponents, it could deepend links between the southern opposition and Islamist militants.
8) At least 15 parties will be banned from upcoming parliamentary elections in Iraq based on accusations of supporting Baathism, the Washington Post reports. The ban is a blow to efforts to bring Sunni critics of the government into the political system as a means of reducing violence, the Post says.
9) China's envoy to the UN said his government is not ready to impose tough new sanctions on Iran for defying demands that it suspend its uranium enrichment program, the Washington Post reports. U.S. and European diplomats have acknowledged that China and Russia are likely to approve only the mildest of new sanctions. One Security Council envoy said the US and its Western allies are planning to unveil a second round of their own sanctions against Iranian officials.
10) Paraguay's government has followed through on campaign promises to make public health services free of charge, Inter Press Service reports. On Christmas Day nearly all public health service fees were eliminated nationwide. [Pressing poor country governments to charge for public health services has been a policy pursued by the IMF and the World Bank with the support of the US Treasury Department; see "Is U.S. Treasury Above the Law? Failure of the U.S. Treasury Department to Comply with the Congressional Mandate to Oppose User Fees on Primary Health Care and Education at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank," http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/treasury_2001_06.htm - JFP.]
11) Under President Morales, Bolivia is making progress towards abolishing "forced labor and servitude," AP reports. Many ranchers are treating their workers better and have begun to pay the minimum wage of 647 bolivianos ($92) a month, after previously paying only half as much.
1) Surge in casualties predicted in Afghanistan
Gina Cavallaro, Army Times, Thursday Jan 7, 2010 13:21:21 EST http://www.armytimes.com/news/2010/01/army_casualties_010410w/
Americans should prepare to accept hundreds of U.S. casualties each month in Afghanistan during spring offensives with enemy forces. The dire forecast was made by retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, an adjunct professor of international affairs at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, in a periodic assessment of political and security issues he has conducted in the war zone since 2003.
"What I want to do is signal that this thing is going to be $5 billion to $10 billion a month and 300 to 500 killed and wounded a month by next summer. That's what we probably should expect. And that's light casualties," said McCaffrey, who is also president of his own consulting firm in Arlington, Va., and has conducted numerous trips to the war zones to assess the political and military challenges at hand.
As of Dec. 20, there had been 305 U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan in 2009, the large majority of those due to hostile action. The number of wounded as of the same date for 2009 was 2,102, with more than half of those unable to return to duty.
A month-by-month breakdown using data compiled by Army Times shows that in 2009, the highest number of wounded and dead in Afghanistan occurred from June, with 210 wounded and killed through October, when 318 were listed as wounded or killed.
October was the deadliest month for U.S. troops, with 50 killed in hostile action; but September saw the most wounded with 457 taken out of the fight.
McCaffrey predicts those numbers will go higher, up to 500 casualties per month, as the winter thaw permits enemy and coalition forces to launch their respective offensives.
2) CIA bomber's wife says war must go on against US
Selcan Hacaoglu, Associated Press, - Fri Jan 8, 7:24 am ET
Istanbul - The Turkish wife of a Jordanian doctor who killed seven CIA employees in a suicide attack in Afghanistan says her husband was outraged over the treatment of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison and the U.S.-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Defne Bayrak, the wife of bomber Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, said in an interview with The Associated Press that his hatred of the United States had motivated her husband to sacrifice his life on Dec. 30 in what he regarded as a holy war against the U.S.
3) Jordanian Bomber's Path Remains a Mystery to His Family
Stephen Farrell, New York Times, January 7, 2010
Amman, Jordan - The telephone rang at 7 a.m. on New Year's Eve, and then the heavily accented voice of a stranger - possibly an Afghan - told the man who answered what had happened to one of his sons who disappeared a year ago.
"They said that Humam had made a big operation against the C.I.A.," said a brother of Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, the 32-year-old Jordanian of Palestinian heritage who killed seven Americans at a remote outpost in Afghanistan last week. "He is a hero," the caller said, according to the brother.
It was only later that day, when the family learned more details about the deaths of the Central Intelligence Agency operatives, that the bomber's family became certain that Mr. Balawi, a doctor, was not, as they thought, tending to sick and injured Palestinians in Gaza but was at the center of a complex espionage operation that backfired to deadly effect.
Western government officials say Mr. Balawi was recruited by Jordanian intelligence agents and taken to Afghanistan to infiltrate Al Qaeda by posing as a foreign jihadi. There he attended a meeting with the C.I.A. and blew himself up, killing seven Americans and his Jordanian supervisor, a distant cousin of King Abdullah II.
So close a watch is being kept on the house that Mr. Balawi's youngest brother has been arrested, according to the family, and the brother who answered the door at the family home declined to give his first name, saying only that he was an engineer who had flown back from Dubai to look after his parents. He said that he feared "consequences" if he spoke in public and that the family had been repeatedly warned not to speak to the media.
He described Mr. Balawi as a "very good brother" and a "brilliant doctor," saying that the family knew nothing of Mr. Balawi's writings under a pseudonym on jihadi Web sites. He said, however, that his brother had been "changed" by last year's three-week-long Israeli offensive in Gaza, which killed about 1,300 Palestinians.
The brother said that Mr. Balawi was arrested by the Jordanian authorities after volunteering with medical organizations to treat wounded Palestinians in Gaza. The family is itself of Palestinian origin, from a tribe in the Beersheba region.
4) Civilian deaths in Afghanistan spark protests, impatience with continued violence
Deb Riechmann, Associated Press, Thu Jan 7, 6:03 PM
Kabul, Afghanistan - Thousands of Afghans shouting "Death to America!" protested the killings of children Thursday, the latest in a string of controversial cases in which international forces have been blamed for civilian deaths.
U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal has ordered troops to use airstrikes judiciously and fire cautiously to reduce civilian casualties. Still, each new report of civilians killed unleashes raw emotions that highlight a growing impatience with coalition forces' inability to secure the nation.
There are fears the problem could get worse with 37,000 U.S. and NATO reinforcements already starting to stream into the country as part of a military buildup.
More civilians die at the hands of insurgents, yet any time innocent victims are killed, the Taliban wastes no time in blaming foreign troops. "Every time the Taliban kills civilians, nothing happens. There is no protest. There is nothing," said Hroon Mir, an independent political analyst in Kabul. "But whenever there are civilian casualties from NATO or Afghan forces, then there is a reaction."
President Hamid Karzai has not been shy about denouncing the deaths - sometimes even before investigations can conclude whether civilians or militants were killed.
In a meeting this week with political analysts, Karzai said he would speak out boldly on the issue at a conference on Afghanistan Jan. 28 in London. "If you don't care about civilian casualties, you should not think about victory," Karzai said he would tell the international community, according to Waheed Mozhdah, independent political analyst in Kabul who attended the meeting.
The U.N. reports that 2,021 civilians were killed in the first 10 months of last year, the latest figures available. Of the total, nearly 1,400 were blamed on insurgents and 465 on U.S. and other pro-government forces, the U.N. said.
The Afghan Taliban had a statement of its own Thursday that asked who killed "school students, the adolescents in Narang district of Kunar province, nearly one week ago?"
The insurgents were referring to an incident late last month when the Afghan government and foreign military officials sparred over reports that 10 civilians died during a military operation in a remote area of Kunar in eastern Afghanistan.
Karzai expressed anger over the deaths, saying the victims included eight young students. He appointed a team to visit the province to investigate the deaths, which prompted hundreds of Afghans to protest and chant "death" to America.
The investigative team reported that eight students between the ages of 12 and 14 were among the dead discovered in a village house. NATO said that while it had no direct evidence to substantiate claims that civilians were killed, the international force had requested and welcomed a joint investigation to reach an "impartial and accurate determination" of what happened in the attack.
The incident in Kunar was the most serious allegation of accidental killings of civilians by Western forces since early December, when Afghan officials said 12 civilians were killed in an airstrike in neighbouring Laghman province. NATO initially said no civilians were killed or injured, but days later, Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, second-in-command to McChrystal, acknowledged that an alliance-led attack might have resulted in civilian deaths. An investigation continues into the incident, which prompted about 400 people to march in Mehtar Lam to protest the raid.
5) Yemen says there are limits to its military cooperation with United States
Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, Friday, January 8, 2010; A12
Sanaa, Yemen - In its strongest language yet, Yemen's government declared Thursday that there are limits to its military cooperation with the United States, warning that any direct U.S. action in this impoverished Middle Eastern nation could bolster the popularity of Islamist militants. "If there is direct intervention by the United States, it will strengthen al-Qaeda," warned Rashad al-Alimi, Yemen's deputy prime minister for security and defense. "We cannot accept any foreign troops on Yemeni territory."
The statement underscored the rising concern among Yemen's leadership about a domestic backlash that could politically weaken the government and foment more instability. In recent days, top Yemeni officials have publicly played down their growing ties to Washington, fearing that they will be perceived by their opponents as weak and beholden to the United States.
6) In Yemen, Locals Worry About Obama Policy on Al-Qaeda
From smoky halls to the rugged mountains of Yemen, locals are worried that their country - threatened more by poverty and water shortages than terrorism, they say - could turn into another Afghanistan.
Michael Horton, Christian Science Monitor, January 4, 2010 at 1:45 pm EST http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2010/0104/In-Yemen-locals-worry-about-Obama-policy-on-Al-Qaeda
Sanaa, Yemen - Amid an intensifying US effort to curb Al Qaeda activity in Yemen, locals in this impoverished country are worried that a focus on military aid alone could backfire - spawning a more robust militant movement and potentially drawing the US into an Afghanistan-like war.
With the reported surge in Al-Qaeda activity in Yemen, the Obama administration has reiterated its "partnership" with the increasingly vulnerable regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who faces a rebellion in the north and secessionists in the south. Gen. David Petraeus, who as head of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) is overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, announced on Jan. 1 that the US would double military aid to Yemen after allocating a reported $70 million in 2009.
It has been widely reported that the US is also providing the Yemeni government with intelligence and military trainers. Britain, meanwhile, has announced that it will fund an antiterror police force. Such a sole focus on suspected terrorism is seen as a mistake by some experts as well as locals.
"I think an exclusive focus on Al Qaeda to the exclusion of every other threat in Yemen is a mistake," says Gregory Johnsen, a Princeton PhD candidate who was recently in Yemen for his research on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). "Viewing this threat only through the prism of Al Qaeda induces exactly the kind of result the US is hoping to avoid."
Locals in two provinces often cited as Al Qaeda strongholds, Al-Jawf and Marib, are more concerned with severe poverty - an issue they say the central government has done little to alleviate. "This government does not care about us. Everything we have, we have to fight for - to get money for a school or medicine we have to block the road. This is all they listen to," says Ahmad al-Nasri. "By God the tribe is all we have, it is what protects us."
Mr. Johnsen says that development aid is "crucial" in Marib and Al-Jawf, but disputes the popular depiction of Yemen as a place with large areas that are totally ungovernable. "The government doesn't appear to be able to constantly control these areas," he acknowledges, citing recent flare-ups between tribal leaders and the government. "But the image of Yemen being a Wild West ... is not necessarily accurate."
A potentially greater destabilizing influence than militancy in Yemen is water shortages, which are already the root of a large percentage of the inter-tribal fighting that plagues the country.
The UN has ranked Yemen as one of the most water-scarce countries, and one local geology professor has estimated that Sanaa's wells will go dry by 2015 at current usage rates. The country is in desperate need of investment in new drip irrigation systems and water conservation measures.
"Look at these apricot trees," says Mohammad Faris, who owns an orchard on the outskirts of Sanaa that once flourished. "Half of them are dead from lack of water."
"We don't need more guns in this country," declares Mr. Faris as he stands among the parched remains of what used to be fertile ground. "This village needs a new water pump and we need new trees that drink less water."
Many locals emphasize that the country's primary need is development aid, which has in the past been hampered by international concerns about government corruption. But some say they're ready to fight if the US comes - a prospect that as yet looks unlikely, though Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) of Connecticut recently suggested that without preemptive action a future war may occur.
"We have a long history of fighting invaders here," says Ismail Hadi, a village elder in the rugged mountainous province of Hajjah, not far from the sectarian war being fought against Houthi rebels. As he looks out over his terraces of qat trees that cascade down towards a deep canyon, he adds, "We fought the Turks, we fought the Egyptians, God willing we will fight the Americans when they come."
7) Secession Drive Impedes U.S. Efforts Against Al-Qaeda
Yemen's internal divide complicates U.S. efforts against al-Qaeda, analysts say
Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, Friday, January 8, 2010; A01
Aden, Yemen - A hatred of the government in southern Yemen is complicating U.S.-backed efforts to stem al-Qaeda's ambitions across the region, according to Western and Yemeni officials, analysts and human rights activists.
The concerns highlight the extent to which the United States, as it deepens its military engagement here, is teaming up with a government facing internal divisions that in some ways are more complex than those in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Once two countries, Yemen unified in 1990. But a brief civil war broke out in 1994. From the north, President Ali Abdullah Saleh dispatched thousands of Yemeni mujaheddin who had fought in Afghanistan as well as Salafists, who follow a strict interpretation of Islam, to fight the southerners.
Ever since, tension has gripped this vast region. The government's resources are stretched thin here, as it also grapples with a Shiite rebellion in the north.
Southerners contend that the government has denied them their share of oil revenue, and has dismissed many southerners from military and government jobs. A wave of protests has roiled the south, prompting a government crackdown. Many members of the Southern Movement, a loosely knit coalition, now demand secession. "We no longer want our rights from the government. We want a separate north and south," said Ahmed Kassim, a secessionist leader who spoke in a hushed tone inside a car on a recent day in this southern port city.
In May, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the affiliate alleged to have masterminded the attempted bombing of an American jet on Christmas Day, declared its support for the southerners' demands for a separate state. The group's leader, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, promised to avenge the "oppression" faced by southerners.
Southern Yemen, nestled at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, edges the strategic Bab el-Mandab strait, one of the world's oil shipping choke points. It is also a gateway to Somalia, where the Islamist militant movement al-Shabab, which has ties to al-Qaeda, is fighting the U.S.-backed Somali transitional government.
Al-Qaeda militants have thrived in Yemen's southern and southeastern provinces. They are shielded by tribal alliances and codes in religiously conservative communities that do not tolerate outside interference, even from the government. A shared dislike of central authority and U.S. policies in the Middle East has strengthened al-Qaeda's bonds with southern tribesmen.
The resentment persists here in Aden, where al-Qaeda militants bombed the USS Cole in 2000, killing 17 American sailors.
Inside the dented white car, Kassim sat with another secessionist leader, Nasser Atawil. Now and then, they looked nervously out the window, concerned that Yemeni intelligence agents might overhear their conversation with a journalist. They complained that the names of streets had been changed to northern ones. They said northerners had taken buildings, farms and land from southerners. Northerners, they contended, gain entry into better universities and had better careers. Atawil, a retired army general, said his pension was half what his northern counterparts receive. "What the government is doing will make al-Qaeda stronger here," he said.
In another corner of Aden, the managing editor of Al Ayyam, the largest and most influential daily in the south, said the government has banned his paper for sympathizing with the Southern Movement's cause. "We are virtually under house arrest," Hani Bashraheel said. On Monday, journalists staged a sit-in to protest the shutdown. But clashes erupted between police and the paper's armed guards; a policeman and a guard were killed. On Wednesday, police arrested Hani and his father, Hisham Bashraheel, the paper's editor.
According to Human Rights Watch, Yemeni forces opened fire on unarmed protesters six times in 2008 and 2009, killing at least 11 and wounding dozens.
With the ongoing government repression, concern is growing that violence could increase - especially as the U.S.-backed war on al-Qaeda unfolds in the south. Since July, there have been more reports of protesters bringing weapons to rallies, according to Human Rights Watch. In November, al-Qaeda militants killed three senior security officials and four escorts in the southern province of Hadhramaut.
The recent alliance between a powerful tribal leader and former jihadist, Tariq al-Fadhli, and the Southern Movement also has escalated tensions. Fadhli, who is from the south, fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Then Saleh sent him to fight against the former Marxist forces in the south during the civil war. But in April, Fadhli broke ties with Saleh, injecting new momentum into the Southern Movement. Since then, protests against the government have intensified.
The government has accused Fadhli and the Southern Movement of colluding with al-Qaeda. They have denied this and accuse Saleh of using the specter of al-Qaeda to elicit support from the United States and its Middle East allies.
Still, some rights activists say an alliance is forming between some secessionists, Fadhli and al-Qaeda. Christoph Wilcke, a Human Rights Watch researcher for Yemen, said at least one al-Qaeda leader had joined Fadhli and the Southern Movement. He was killed in a U.S.-backed Yemeni airstrike last month, Wilcke said.
Any melding of the Southern Movement and al-Qaeda is far from established, he said. But that could change if the U.S.-backed war deepens without Washington pressuring Saleh to stop repression in the south. Angry southerners, meanwhile, have accused the government and the United States of killing a few dozen civilians in an airstrike last month. Yemeni officials say they killed militants and their relatives. "It will change the sympathies if they have a common enemy in the United States," Wilcke said. "Al-Qaeda will become more of an ally. This is exactly what we don't want to get into."
8) 15 Iraqi Parties Barred From Vote
Iraq bars 15 political parties with Baathist ties from upcoming elections
Leila Fadel and Qais Mizher, Washington Post, Friday, January 8, 2010; A10
Baghdad - At least 15 parties will be banned from upcoming parliamentary elections because they have been linked to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party or have promoted Baathist ideals, Iraqi officials said Thursday.
The decision by the Justice and Accountability Commission, in charge of cleansing high-level Baathists from the ranks of the government and security forces, seemed to be an attempt to purge candidates with links to the old political order, many of whom are popular among secular nationalist voters. The move is a blow to hopes of bringing opposition figures - who turned to violent resistance over the past seven years - into the political fold, part of the U.S. strategy to bolster the government.
Saleh al-Mutlak, a popular Sunni lawmaker who joined forces with Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite and former Baathist with links to the CIA, called the move "foolish" and warned that it may lead to a popular uprising in the streets. Mutlak, an agriculturist, has long been a defender of former Baathists and grew popular among Sunnis, most notably in the western Sunni province of Anbar, during provincial elections last year.
"The reaction from the street will be very strong," said Mutlak, whose party, the Iraqi National Dialogue Front, was barred from fielding candidates in the parliamentary elections, scheduled for March 7. "The list we are in now is very strong, and it might get the biggest bloc in the parliament. . . . They are afraid, and they will try to weaken us."
9) At U.N., China insists it's not 'right' time for sanctions on Iran
Colum Lynch, Washington Post, Wednesday, January 6, 2010; A07 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/05/AR2010010503427.html
United Nations - China's envoy to the United Nations said Tuesday that his government is not ready to impose tough new sanctions on Iran for defying the world body's demands that it suspend its uranium enrichment program. "This is not the right time or right moment for sanctions, because the diplomatic efforts are still going on," Zhang Yesui said at a news briefing as China assumed the rotating monthly presidency of the U.N. Security Council.
The Chinese remarks underscore the challenges the United States faces in rallying international backing for its effort to punish Iran for nuclear violations. The Obama administration has been preparing a package of targeted sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard Corps and other Iranian institutions it deems responsible for acquiring nuclear and ballistic-missile technology.
"It's no secret that China and the United States look at the utility of sanctions differently," said P.J. Crowley, a spokesman for the State Department. He said U.S. officials would keep pressing other countries to impose "additional sanctions" on Iran's ruling elite, but he added, "We want to do this in a way that can target specific entities within the Iranian government but not punish the Iranian people, who are clearly looking for a different relationship with their government."
U.S. and European diplomats have acknowledged that China and Russia are likely to approve only the mildest of new sanctions. One Security Council envoy said the United States and its Western allies are planning to unveil a second round of their own sanctions against Iranian officials, including some responsible for the violent post-election crackdown on opposition movements.
10) Paraguay: Public Health Care Free of Charge
Natalia Ruiz Díaz, Inter Press Service, Jan 6
Asunción, (IPS) - "Did you have to pay for anything?" is the obligatory question these days in the waiting room at the Mother and Child Hospital in Fernando de la Mora, on the outskirts of the Paraguayan capital, where people still have doubts that the public health services are free of charge, as the government had announced.
"They took great care of me. I had my baby by cesarean and the operation was free, and so was the medicine," Gloria Ramírez, who gave birth on Christmas - the day nearly all public health service fees were eliminated nationwide - told IPS.
The measure was one of the campaign promises of centre-left President Fernando Lugo, a former bishop who took office in August 2008. "Before I was admitted to hospital, I had planned on paying the fees. But luckily it was all practically free," said Ramírez.
Seven percent of Paraguay's population of 6.1 million currently have private health coverage, 20 percent are covered by the health services of the social security institute, the Instituto de Previsión Social, and the rest depend on the public health system.
But an estimated 40 percent of the population were unable to afford health care of any kind. "What we are doing is making health care a right, regardless of a person's ability to pay," Diego Gamarra, director general of health services in the Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare (MSPBS), told IPS.
The MSPBS gradually began to make some public health services free in September 2008, when fees for office or outpatient visits and emergency room visits were waived. Later, hospital admission fees were eliminated, along with charges for intensive care, post-op incision care, nebulizer treatments, treatment in an infant incubator, oxygen therapy, surgery and other services.
In late 2009, fees were removed for diagnostic tests in all specialties, and for dental and ophthalmological services. In his Christmas message, Lugo mentioned the steps taken to make public health care free of charge, as one of the main achievements of his government.
11) Bolivian Indians see rocky exodus from serfdom
Frank Bajak, Associated Press, Sunday, January 3, 2010
Lagunillas, Bolivia - Juan Vasquez didn't have much of a childhood. He never went to school, began to work as a ranch hand at age 12, married three years later and has nine children. But in all his 55 years, Vasquez says with moistening eyes, he never got paid - not unless a daily meal from a communal pot can be called compensation; or a twice-yearly allotment of used clothing. "I didn't know what it was to earn money," Vasquez says through a half-set of teeth stained evergreen from chewing coca leaf.
With re-election last month of Evo Morales, Bolivia's first Indian president, and with Indians of Vasquez's Guarani people winning seats in congress for the first time, the end may soon be at hand for a system the U.N. has classified as "forced labor and servitude."
Though the Guarani account for only about 85,000 of Bolivia's more than 6 million Indians, they have been the most downtrodden, and that makes them a priority for Morales in his mission of eradicating all vestiges of colonial repression.
For now, several thousand newly "liberated" Guarani, including Vasquez, live in a penniless limbo, waiting for the government to make good on its promises to give them land. But Bolivia already has taken giant steps toward ending a centuries-old legacy of what Morales calls endemic mistreatment of its third-largest ethnic group by white overlords.
Since the Dec. 6 election the government has seized ranches totaling 15,500 hectares (60 square miles) from two powerful white opposition leaders in Bolivia's eastern lowlands, stronghold of Morales' most bitter foes. The government said the land met the main criteria for confiscation - obtained by fraud and serving no "social or economic purpose."
With the electoral rise of the Guarani, the opposition's grasp on power is rapidly eroding in the Alto Parapeti region, at the intersection of Santa Cruz, Tarija and Chuquisaca states where the government says exploitation of the Guarani has been most severe.
Juan Vasquez is at the epicenter of the struggle. He walked away from one of five ranches encompassing 37,000 hectares (143 square miles) in the Alto Parapeti whose owners are fighting government expropriation orders. The government says it found servitude on those ranches. The ranchers, who include American Ronald Larsen and his son Duston, deny it.
The Guarani, Bolivia's third-largest ethnic group, are now rattling ranchers far beyond the Alto Parapeti.
Many ranchers are treating their workers better and have begun to pay the minimum wage of 647 bolivianos ($92) a month, after previously paying only half as much, says Walter Herrera, an official with the Guarani's Capitania, or local council, in Monteagudo in hills to the west. "A lot remains to be done, but the human rights situation is improving," he said.
But other ranchers have simply fired their workers with severance payments averaging $565, while as many as 350 Guarani families still live as peons on smaller ranches deeper in the hills, economic prisoners of their bosses, Herrera added.
A mission of the Organization of American States in June 2008 determined that "people of all ages, including boys, girls, adolescents and seniors" had for decades been subject to "excessive physical labor," in some cases under threat of corporal punishment. Mission members were also told that "in many cases, the (ranch) owners were either local political leaders or directly connected to them."
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