Secret NAFTA security summit held in Banff

From CBC, Sept. 21:

A North American security meeting was secretly held in Banff last week, attracting high-profile officials from the United States, Mexico and Canada.

The North American Forum was hosted with the help of the Canada West Foundation and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.

Among the attendees at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel affair was Stockwell Day, Canada’s minister of public safety.

The gathering may not have made headlines, but it is still the talk of Banff.

Taxi driver Chris Foote said he first learned of the meeting when he stopped into a submarine shop for a late night snack last week and heard rumours U.S. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld was in town.

“Here they are talking in my backyard, no media to tell Canadians, Mexicans and Americans about what’s going on. [I am] completely outraged,” he said. “This is an assault on democracy.”

John Larson, a spokesperson for the North American Forum, said reporters were not told about the conference. He won’t confirm who attended the meeting nor will he give any concrete details about what was discussed.

“The participants joined the conference essentially knowing that it would be a private function,” said Larson.

Mel Hurtig, author and founder of the Council of Canadians, obtained internal documents about the Sept. 12-14 forum revealing that the gathering was called Continental Prosperity in the New Security Environment.

Rumsfeld was slated to be a keynote speaker and topics on the agenda included North American energy strategy and security co-operation.

“We’re talking about such an important thing, we’re talking about the integration of Canada into the United States. For them to hold this meeting in secret and to make every effort to avoid anybody learning about it, right away you’ve got to be hugely concerned,” Hurtig said.

Hurtig says questions should be raised in the House of Commons about why Canadians are being kept in the dark on meetings attended by officials like Day.

Was this linked to the North American Forum on Integration? In related news, a Sept. 28 press release from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC:

CSIS’s Mexico Project will host Mariano Herran Salvatti, general prosecutor of the state of Chiapas, and Manuel Angel Castillo, professor-researcher with El Colegio de Me’xico, for a discussion that will provide the Washington policymaking community with a deeper understanding of the various challenges that Mexico confronts in managing its southern border.

See our last posts on Mexico, Chiapas, and the militarization of NAFTA. As for Canadian authorities, they seem to think they face a terrorist threat, but also face their own internal indigenous struggles.

  1. Herran Salvatti: Chiapas under government control
    El Universal reported Oct. 3 on Mariano Herran Salvatti’s comments before the CSIS. The account noted that Herran Salvatti asserted that the federal or state government has a presence in every municipality of Chiapas, even those considered “Zapatista.” (WW4 REPORT notes that the Zapatistas have actually carved out new “autonomous municipalities” in remote parts of the state, which assuredly do not have a permanent state or federal government presence, so this remark would appear to be an obfusctation.)

    Asked by an audience member about the supposed presence of current or former members of the Kaibiles, the elite Guatemalan military force, in Chiapas, Herran Salvatti replied that only the Guatemalan government knows who the Kaibiles are and he had no information. He acknowleged the possibility that ex-Kaibiles have formed outlaw units as enforcers for the narco mafias in Chiapas, in the style of Mexico’s Zetas.

  2. Nuclear summit in Acapulco
    Talli Nauman writes for El Universal, Oct. 2:

    While continental leaders secretly discussed the North American energy agenda’s implications for security and environmental protection this September in Banff, Canada, another important exchange over nuclear power security was taking place in Acapulco.

    The Canadian confab was the second North American Forum held from Sept. 12 to 14. Its precursor happened in October 2005 in Sonoma, Calif., also behind closed doors.

    The Acapulco event was the occasion of the First Pan-American Congress of the International Radiation Protection Agency, Sept. 3 to 8.

    These distant private meetings about distinct energy sub-sectors had several things in common. They were held by bigwigs determining the security of our hemisphere’s power supply. They were hush-hush affairs without public scrutiny. They have major implications for our environment and health. And they were revealed in their aftermath by stalwart whistle blowers from the respective host countries.

    The forum, entitled “Continental Prosperity in the New Security Environment”, was co-chaired by former Mexican Treasury Secretary Pedro Aspe Armella, former U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz, and former Alberta state Premier Meter Lougheed. The whistle blower was political analyst Mel Hurtig.

    The congress, dubbed “Challenges and Trends for the American Continent Regarding Radiological Protection, Nuclear Safety, and the Environment”, was sponsored by Cristanini S.P.A, General Electric, International Atomic Energy Organization, Pan-American Health Organization, NUKEM Corp. and VICONT S.A. de C.V. The whistle blower was National Autonomous University physicist mathematician and former Laguna Verde Nuclear Plant employee Bernardo Salas Mar.

    Both revelations give us reason to wonder where in the world Mexico’s energy and environment policy will wind up in the impending administration. We know that the shadow government of presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador would defend the oil and electricity sector from the privatization advocated by the current administration and heavyweights in the North American Forum. But official president-elect Felipe Calderón Hinojosa’s position on the inextricably related subjects remains to be clearly etched.

    The most likely scenario is that CalderĂłn will follow a policy of continuity, paying only lip service to clean, renewable energy resources, as does his fellow National Action Party member, President Vicente Fox. He will probably cow tow to the pressures at the North American Forum that entail more fossil fuel dependence to assuage the U.S. appetite for Canadian and Mexican petroleum products.

    But wouldn’t it be sweet if he failed to heed the call of the oil industry’s vested interests at Banff? He could instead cotton to the concepts also set forth there by the likes of 1995 Mexican Nobel Chemistry Award winner Mario Molina and Michoacan state government International Affairs Adviser Carlos Heredia, who identify reasons for realignment of energy and trade relations.

    Much of what Molina had to offer in Banff regarding diversification of power sources to benefit humankind, he had set forth in the 2004 Western Governors Association North American Energy Summit in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where some of the same dignitaries attended: for example, longtime Mexican Energy Secretariat official Ernesto Cordero, currently coordinator for public policy issues. Praise be that attending energy security and environment meetings with Molina has become de rigueur. The question remains as to when the politicians will find ways to incorporate his counsel into their work plans.

    Juan Camilo Mouriño, general coordinator of the president-elect’s transition team, was at Banff to hear speeches scheduled not only by Molina, but by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and U.S. Energy Department Deputy Secretary Clay Sell.

    Meanwhile in Acapulco, Mexican Energy Undersecretary José Alberto Acevedo announced a new nuclear plant construction project to begin in 2007 at Laguna Verde, without environmental and risk studies and at a cost of US$800 million, or more than 12 times the amount for a similar power boost at Vermont Yankee plant in the United States, according to Salas.

    Salas’ presentation on “Nuclear Safety Considerations in Mexico” warned scientists, authorities, and industry representatives assembled that prominent experts have established ongoing overdoses of radioactive releases and cover-ups at the sole site of commercial atomic power generation in the country, located on the Gulf of Mexico in Veracruz state.

    If his colleagues were serious about nuclear security, they should have called for further investigation and remediation of dangerous irregularities, based on the report he was qualified to make by the technical committee of the congress. Instead they charged him with irresponsibility and anecdotal findings, during a question-and-answer session in which they seemed defensive and determined to smudge his reputation.

    Trying to hide facts about our energy supplies and to develop para-national power policies in darkened rooms goes against every hope of converting to rational use and conservation of natural resources, whether in Acapulco or in Banff.

    The best response is probably to insist on accountability and opportunities to participate in the decision-making.

  3. G8 in Monterrey; solar summit in Veracruz
    Talli Nauman writes for El Universal, Oct. 9:

    National Solar Energy Week is like a breath of fresh air, set as it is against the backdrop of politicking over privatization of the Mexican petroleum industry in the upcoming presidential administration. The occasion fuels hope for clean alternatives to the dirty business of oil exploitation.

    While the National Solar Energy Association (ANES) was holding its event Oct. 2 to 6 in Veracruz, the Group of Eight rich nations plus a dozen others were having their second G8+5 Ministerial Meeting on Climate Change, Clean Energy and Sustainable Development Oct. 3 to 5 in Monterrey.

    The association’s agenda was the most recent addition to an ongoing 30-year effort to structure a national training program to help everyone — from kids to scholars to decision makers to end-users of electricity — understand the utility of solar and wind power in cost effectiveness for health and environment. Once the awareness is raised, great strides can be made in that realm.

    ANES board member Eduardo Rincón Mejía, a professor at the Mexico State Autonomous University, speaks for many of Mexico’s most brilliant minds when he notes that the country’s abundance of sun and wind can provide for all its energy requirements for several centuries to come, if only we could somehow shift away from the current 90 percent dependence on fossil fuels.

    Rincón says that Mexico has to get on the stick and move over to renewable energy sources within a 20-year time span if it expects any real development. “The advantages of such a change include the generation of hundreds of thousands of permanent jobs, a huge reduction in pollutant emissions, the reduction of deforestation and desertification, important savings on fossil resources, and the advancement of science and technology in the country,” he says. It also would help decrease “the sense of urgency for the emigration of poor inhabitants from rural regions to other countries, … to diminish the import of fossil processed fuels, and to mend the water supply problem, among other economical, health and social benefits,” he adds.

    Although some clean energy technologies are costly, many cheap, reliable and efficient systems could be put to work immediately, with the spin-off of a boost for domestic industries. These systems include water and air heating and cooling, solar hot plates and ovens for cooking, wind generators and photovoltaic applications.

    For example, almost 30 million people nationwide consume food prepared using wood, which is bad for the forests and for people’s lungs. Meanwhile, countless millions more use LP gas for cooking and water heating, which results in major emissions of carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons and other pollutants. All the while, effective solar cookers and water heaters have been designed in Mexico. If only consumers could get them.

    One project, partnering the Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature (FMCN), the World Health Organization, World Bank Development Marketplace, U.S. EPA, and the non-profit Solar Household Energy, Inc., has sponsored the manufacture and distribution of at least 500 passive solar crock pots in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve of Querétaro state, in Oaxaca state and in Nuevo Leon state.

    Now FMCN is working with Energía Portatil, S.A. and Lindblad Expeditions to encourage the latter’s tour group members to donate toward subsidizing the cost of these hot pots for 1,000 families in the rural communities of the Gulf of California region in northwest Mexico.

    Only the use of renewable energies can guarantee sustainable development for Mexico, but publicity and availability of more economical technologies are important to assure massive use here and in the rest of the world, concludes RincĂłn.

    If the G8+5 got the message, the funding for that could flow. Their meeting was a follow up on the climate change mitigation plan they hashed out in Gleneagles, Scotland, last year. The drafters of the eight richest countries are from the United States, Canada, Russia, Germany, Italy, France, United Kingdom and Japan. The +5 are China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico.

    As it stood, the Gleneagles Plan of Action failed to address short term mechanisms for easing climate change woes and funding for same, especially in the more vulnerable countries, such as Mexico. Environmentalists have called on the G8+5 to abandon illusive expectations for revitalizing the atomic industry to the benefit of the rich, nuclear equipped nations and focus instead on helping developing countries with renewable resource innovations in energy conservation.

    This is really a matter of life and death, not to mention environmental justice and equitable distribution. The rich countries emit 73 percent of the C02 greenhouse gas and use 61 percent of the petroleum, while the poor ones feel the brunt of the climate change effects, which are already claiming 160,000 victims a year and are expected to claim double that by 2020.

    It is imperative to bring the National Solar Energy Week message down to earth for the policy makers and purse string pullers to get it.