July 05, 2007

Asunción Photo Album

Posted by Tony Phillips at 06:22 PM | Comments (0)

July 03, 2007

TP at the Yacht-y Club

Asunción Paraguay: 29th. June 2007 The form asked whether we would be arriving by commercial jet or private plane. In our case transport was provided by the Brazilian discount airline GOL. Two hours behind schedule, at 6:00PM on the 28th of June, we landed with a bump on a mid-winter’s night in Asunción.

We were in Paraguay; the umbiliculum of South America …

It had taken our coordinator at the UBA masters program a full week to get us accredited. We had come to Asunción with the plan to check out the inner goings-on of a MERCOSUR Presidential Summit with their guests – invited presidents from associated countries: Bachelet of Chile, Morales of Bolivia, and the ever more interesting Correa of Ecuador. The only one missing was Hugo but he had some submarines to buy in Moscow.

The next day, this time at 6:30AM, a cold and overdressed Irishman and a suited Brazilian, both carrying UBA cards, trudged to the heavy security of the Paraguayan Foreign Office, downtown Asunción. The security personnel were there but no one else; the foreign office itself had migrated to the Asunción Yacht Club. There, cadres of Latin American Presidents (and one vice-president) were taking breakfast.

The presidents had come in the previous night with their foreign office staff and security teams, some direct from the Caracas football tournament: “Copa de las Américas”. It was a busy week. They were there for the MERCOSUR summit. The flying visit consisted of various meetings, bilateral talks and the signing of accords. Later that morning were the televised speeches then it was off to watch their respective countries play their afternoon football matches from the comfort of their private jets. While the Presidents stayed at the Yacht Club Hotel, 15 miles of town, we stayed in the crumbling Palace of ex-dictator Lopez, in the gritty dark downtown.

We called our contact on her mobile phone and were told to come straight to the club. She asked for the number of the taxi so security wouldn’t shoot us on our way out. The Brazilian promised the driver a good tip if he didn’t spare the horses, so it was off at break neck speed through the shantytowns along the river Parana. We passed through the cordons. The military and police were everywhere.

The indigenous were in town protesting for land rights. They slept in a plaza in homemade tents consisting of black plastic sheets, with fires for smoky heat in the cold snap; the presidents, on the other hand were at the Yacht Club so, so were we!

Lovely Guaranie waitresses puttered around the military generals and chancellors munching their eggs and bacon. We took three helpings to justify the cost; just 30,000 guaranies each, a bargain at half the price!

The Argentine Foreign Office was at the next table by the window, the Uruguayans alongside, and the Chancellor of Brazil was trying to work out how to get milk out of the strange thermos (a cultural exchange in itself). I guess they wanted to blunt the actions of the Paraguayan coffee before they faced the microphones and the cameras.

I was suffering from sleep deficit and frostbite but after six coffees I felt ready to attend to a few necessities. Running the gauntlet of the ominous Paraguayan security, it was off to pray for toilet paper. The images of Guaranie serving girls and Venezuelan press secretaries taking the edge off an overdose of testosterone in the person of the Paraguayan military police.

Outside the window in this land-locked empire there wasn’t a yacht to be seen just a naval launch on the river and lots of men with guns. We were in! It was time for the Presidential part of the summit to begin.

The rest was to be history …

Posted by Tony Phillips at 01:27 PM | Comments (3)