Inter Press ServiceDaniel Gutman – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sun, 15 Jul 2018 22:31:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.7 The Voice of Argentina’s Slums, Under Threathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/voice-argentinas-slums-threat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=voice-argentinas-slums-threat http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/voice-argentinas-slums-threat/#respond Thu, 05 Jul 2018 02:23:54 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156545 Between the dimly-lit, narrow alleyways of Villa 21, only 30 minutes by bus from the centre of the Argentine capital, more than 50,000 people live in poverty. It was there that La Garganta Poderosa (which means powerful throat), the magazine that gave a voice to the “villeros” or slum-dwellers and whose members today feel threatened, […]

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One of the offices in Buenos Aires of La Poderosa, the social organisation that publishes the magazine La Garganta Poderosa and is involved in a number of activities, ranging from soup kitchens to skills training for adults and workshops for youngsters in the “villas” or slums in the capital and the rest of Argentina. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jul 5 2018 (IPS)

Between the dimly-lit, narrow alleyways of Villa 21, only 30 minutes by bus from the centre of the Argentine capital, more than 50,000 people live in poverty. It was there that La Garganta Poderosa (which means powerful throat), the magazine that gave a voice to the “villeros” or slum-dwellers and whose members today feel threatened, emerged in 2010.

“’Villeros’ don’t generally reach the media in Argentina. Others see us as people who don’t want to work, or as people who are dangerous. La Garganta Poderosa is the cry that comes from our soul,” says Marcos Basualdo, in one of the organisation’s offices, a narrow shop with a cement floor and unpainted walls, where the only furniture is an old metal cabinet where copies of the magazine are stored.

Basualdo, 28, says that it was after his house was destroyed by a fire in 2015 that he joined La Poderosa, the social organisation that created the magazine, which is made up of 79 neighbourhood assemblies of “villas” or shantytowns across the country.

From that time, Basualdo recalls that “people from different political parties asked me what I needed, but nobody gave me anything.”

“Then the people of La Poderosa brought me clothes, blankets, food, without asking me for anything in return. So I decided to join this self-managed organisation, which helps us help each other and helps us realize that we can,” he tells IPS.

Villa 21, the largest shantytown in Buenos Aires, is on the south side of the city, on the banks of the Riachuelo, a river polluted for at least two centuries, recently described as an “open sewer” by the Environment Ministry, which has failed to comply with a Supreme Court ruling ordering its clean-up.

Small naked cement and brick homes are piled on each other and crowded together along the narrow alleyways in the shantytowns and families have no basic services or privacy.

As you walk through the neighbourhood, you see sights that are inconceivable in other parts of the city, such as police officers carrying semi-automatic weapons at the ready.

Across the country, villas have continued to grow over the last few decades. Official and social organisation surveys show that at least three million of the 44 million people in this South American country live in slums, without access to basic services, which means approximately 10 percent of the urban population.

In this alleyway in Villa 21, a slum in the capital of Argentina, is located the house where nine-year-old Kevin Molina was hit and killed by a stray bullet in a shootout between drug gangs in 2013, and the police refused to intervene, according to reports. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

In this alleyway in Villa 21, a slum in the capital of Argentina, is located the house where nine-year-old Kevin Molina was hit and killed by a stray bullet in a shootout between drug gangs in 2013, and the police refused to intervene, according to reports. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

La Garganta Poderosa, whose editorial board is made up of “all the members of all the assemblies” of the villas, also grew, both in its monthly print edition and in its active participation in social networks and other projects, such as a book, radio programmes, videos and a film.

It has interviewed politicians such as former presidents Dilma Rousseff or Brazil and José “Pepe” Mujica of Uruguay or sports stars like Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona of Argentina, and has established itself as a cultural reference in Argentina, with its characteristic covers generally showing the main subjects of that edition with their mouths wide open as if screaming.

The writing style is more typical of spoken than written communication, using idioms and vocabulary generally heard in the villas, and the magazine’s journalism is internationally recognised and is studied as an example of alternative communication at some local universities.

The work this organisation carries out, as a means of creative and peaceful expression of a community living in a hostile environment, was even highlighted by the U.N. Special Rapporteur against Torture, Nils Melzer, who visited the villa in April.

However, recently, after the magazine denounced abuses and arbitrary detentions by security forces in Villa 21, the government accused it of being an accomplice to drug trafficking.

On Jun. 7, all media outlets were summoned by e-mail to a press conference at the Ministry of National Security, “to unmask the lies told by La Garganta Poderosa.”

 Activists from La Poderosa, on Avenida Iriarte, the main street of Villa 21 in Buenos Aires, on Jun. 1, as they leave for the courthouse to follow a trial against six police officers for alleged brutality against two teenagers from the slum. Credit: Courtesy of La Garganta Poderosa


Activists from La Poderosa, on Avenida Iriarte, the main street of Villa 21 in Buenos Aires, on Jun. 1, as they leave for the courthouse to follow a trial against six police officers for alleged brutality against two teenagers from the slum. Credit: Courtesy of La Garganta Poderosa

The next day, Minister Patricia Bullrich stated that the magazine and the social organisation that supports it are seeking to “free the neighbourhood so that it is not controlled by a state of law but by the illegal state.”

“This is a message that authorises violence against us. The minister showed images of our main leader, Nacho Levy, and since that day he has been receiving threats,” one of La Poderosa’s members told IPS, asking to remain anonymous for security reasons.

A few minutes walk from La Poderosa’s premises is the house where Kevin Molina, a nine-year-old boy, was shot in the head inside his house during a shootout between two drug gangs, in 2013.

“The neighbours called the police, but they didn’t want to get involved and said they would come and get the bodies the next day,” says the La Poderosa’s activist.

In recent weeks, the situation has become more tense.

Minister Bullrich’s accusation was a response to the repercussions from the arrest of La Garganta Poderosa photographer Roque Azcurriare and his brother-in-law. It happened on the night of May 26 and they were only released two days later.

Lucy Mercado and Marcos Basualdo, two members of La Poderosa's social organisation, pose in front of a mural in Villa 21, a slum in Buenos Aires, that pays tribute to Marielle Franco, the Brazilian politician and human rights activist who was murdered in March in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Lucy Mercado and Marcos Basualdo, two members of La Poderosa’s social organisation, pose in front of a mural in Villa 21, a slum in Buenos Aires, that pays tribute to Marielle Franco, the Brazilian politician and human rights activist who was murdered in March in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Using his cell-phone, Azcurriare tried to film police officers entering his house, which is located at the end of a short alleyway next to the house of Iván Navarro, a teenager who a few days earlier had testified about police brutality, during a public oral trial.

Navarro said that one night in September 2016, he and his friend Ezequiel were detained without cause in a street in the villa. He said the police beat them, threatened to kill them, stripped them naked, tried to force them to jump into the Riachuelo, and finally ordered them to run for their lives.

In connection with this case, which has been covered and supported by La Poderosa, six police officers are currently being held in pretrial detention awaiting a sentence expected in the next few weeks.

“Ivan Navarro was arrested because he was wearing a nice sports jacket. That’s how things are here in the villa. When someone is wearing brand-name sneakers, the police never think they bought them with their wages, but just assume that they’re stolen,” says Lucy Mercado, a 40-year-old woman born in Ciudad del Este, on the Triple Border between Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina, who has lived in Villa 21 since she was a little girl.

“It’s no coincidence that this is happening now. In April we had filed six complaints of torture by the police. And this very important oral trial. Never in the history of our organisation have we achieved anything like this,” another La Poderosa activist told IPS, who also asked not to be identified.

Azcurriare’s arrest gave more visibility in Argentina to the trial of the six police officers, to the point that on Jun. 1 there was a march from Villa 21 to the courthouse, in which hundreds of members of human rights organisations participated.

“We will no longer stay silent because it is not a question of harassing a charismatic reporter, but of systematically clamping down on all villa-dwellers,” La Garganta Poderosa stated on its social network accounts.

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Senegalese Immigrants Face Police Brutality in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/senegalese-immigrants-face-police-brutality-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=senegalese-immigrants-face-police-brutality-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/senegalese-immigrants-face-police-brutality-argentina/#respond Fri, 22 Jun 2018 15:09:34 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156365 Senegalese immigrants began to arrive in Argentina in the 1990s and most of them joined the group of street vendors in Buenos Aires and other cities. But in recent months, they have suffered police brutality, denounced as a campaign of racial persecution. “We always had a good relationship with the police. They even looked after […]

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China Generates Energy and Controversy in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/china-generates-energy-controversy-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=china-generates-energy-controversy-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/china-generates-energy-controversy-argentina/#comments Fri, 08 Jun 2018 08:04:43 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156109 As in other Latin American countries, in recent years China has been a strong investor in Argentina. The environmental impact and economic benefits of this phenomenon, however, are a subject of discussion among local stakeholders. One of the key areas is energy. A study by the non-governmental Environment and Natural Resources Foundation (FARN) states that […]

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Demonstrators protest the construction of two mega hydroelectric power plants on the Santa Cruz River in Argentine Patagonia, with Chinese investment of five billion dollars. Despite concerns about environmental impacts, the government of Mauricio Macri decided to go ahead with the projects. Credit: Courtesy of FARN

Demonstrators protest the construction of two mega hydroelectric power plants on the Santa Cruz River in Argentine Patagonia, with Chinese investment of five billion dollars. Despite concerns about environmental impacts, the government of Mauricio Macri decided to go ahead with the projects. Credit: Courtesy of FARN

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jun 8 2018 (IPS)

As in other Latin American countries, in recent years China has been a strong investor in Argentina. The environmental impact and economic benefits of this phenomenon, however, are a subject of discussion among local stakeholders.

One of the key areas is energy. A study by the non-governmental Environment and Natural Resources Foundation (FARN) states that China has mainly been financing hydroelectric, nuclear and hydrocarbon projects.

Just four percent of these investments are in renewable energies, which is precisely the sector where the country is clearly lagging.

“China’s main objective is to export its technology and inputs. And it has highly developed hydraulic, nuclear and oil sectors. There are no more rivers in China where dams can be built and this is why they are so interested in the dams on the Santa Cruz River,” María Marta Di Paola, FARN’s director of research, told IPS."What we attributed in the past to U.S. pressure we are now experiencing with China….The dams are a clear example of how this pressure for economic reasons could be trampling over the nation's environmental sovereignty.” -- Hernán Casañas

China is behind a controversial project to build two giant dams in Patagonia, on the Santa Cruz River, which was approved during the administration of Cristina Kirchner (2007-2015) and ratified by President Mauricio Macri, despite strong environmental concerns.

The dams would cost some five billion dollars, with a foreseen a capacity of 1,310 MW.

However, expert Gustavo Girado said that it is not China that refuses to get involved in renewable energy projects, but Argentina that has not yet made a firm commitment to the energy transition towards clean and unconventional renewable sources.

“Like any country with a lot of capital, China is interested in all possible businesses and takes what it is offered. In fact, in Argentina it also has a high level of participation in the RenovAr Plan,” explained Girado, an economist and director of a postgraduate course on contemporary China at the public National University of Lanús, based in Buenos Aires.

He was referring to the initiative launched by the Argentine government to develop renewable energies and revert the current scenario, in which fossil fuels account for 87 percent of the country’s primary energy mix.

Also participating in this industry are Chinese companies, which during the period January-September 2017 produced 25 percent of the total oil and 14 percent of the natural gas extracted in the country.

Since 2016, the Ministry of Energy has signed 147 contracts for renewable energy projects that would contribute a total of 4,466 MW to the electric grid, most of them involving solar and wind power, which are currently under development.

The goal is to comply with the law enacted in 2015, which establishes that by 2025 renewables must contribute at least 20 percent of the capacity of the electric grid, which today is around 30,000 MW.

In this sense, 15 percent of the power allocated through the RenovAr Plan has been to Chinese capital.

One mega project in renewable energies is the Caucharí solar park, in the northern province of Jujuy, which is to consist of the installation of 1,200,000 solar panels built in China, on a 700-hectare site.

The project has a budget of 390 million dollars, of which 330 million will be financed by the state-owned Export-Import Bank of China.

China is also behind Argentina’s intention to develop nuclear energy, since in 2017 it was agreed that it would finance the fourth and fifth nuclear power plants in this South American country, at a total cost of 14 billion dollars.

However, the Macri administration announced this month that it would indefinitely postpone the start of construction of at least the first of these plants, to avoid further indebtedness and reduce the country’s high fiscal deficit.

The decision is aimed at facilitating the granting of a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), after the crisis of confidence that resulted in a massive outflow of capital and which put the local economy in serious trouble.

On the other hand, other energy projects funded by Chinese capital are going ahead, including four other hydroelectric power plants and thermal plants powered by natural gas.

So far, the investments already committed by Beijing in the energy sector in Latin America’s third-largest economy total 30 billion dollars, in addition to projects in other areas, such as infrastructure, agribusiness or mining.

“The Chinese looked first at their continent, then at Africa, and for some years now they have their eyes on Latin America. First of all, they were interested in agricultural and mineral products, and today they are not only the region’s second largest trading partner, but also a good investor,” Jorge Taiana, Argentine foreign minister between 2005 and 2010, told IPS.

The veteran diplomat recalled a point made by then U.S. President George W. Bush at the 2005 Summit of the Americas (SOA) in the Argentine city of Mar del Plata, where the region refused to form the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

“He (Bush) told us,’I don’t know why they care so much about the FTAA, when what we need to discuss is how we defend ourselves against China’,” Taiana said.

He maintains that it depends on the decisions of Argentina and the rest of the countries in the region whether they will benefit from or be victims of China’s aggressive economic expansion.

“Foreign direct investment is always beneficial. The secret lies in what conditions the recipients put in place and what their development plan is,” he said.

“Argentina, for example, built its railways with English capital, and all the tracks converge in Buenos Aires because the English were only interested in getting the agricultural products to to the port. Those are the things that shouldn’t happen,” he added.

Environmental organisations are particularly critical of the dams on the Santa Cruz River, which begins in the magnificent Los Glaciares National Park and could affect the water level in Lake Argentino, home to the Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the country’s major tourist attractions.

However, the dam contract has a cross default clause whereby, if not built, Chinese banks could also cut off financing for railway infrastructure projects they are carrying out in Argentina.

“What we attributed in the past to U.S. pressure we are now experiencing with China,” said Hernán Casañas, director of Aves Argentinas, the country’s oldest environmental organisation.

“The dams are a clear example of how this pressure for economic reasons could be trampling over the nation’s environmental sovereignty,” he told IPS.

In this regard, Di Paola said that “China has occupied in Latin America the place previously occupied primarily by traditional financial institutions such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.”

“The problem is that it does not have the same framework of safeguards, so they are able to start infrastructure works without complying with environmental requirements,” he said.

But Girado sees things differently, saying “the financial institutions impose conditions on the countries that receive the credits, which China does not do. In that sense it is more advantageous.”

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Latin America Begins to Discover Electric Mobilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/latin-america-begins-discover-electric-mobility/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-begins-discover-electric-mobility http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/latin-america-begins-discover-electric-mobility/#respond Thu, 31 May 2018 23:07:59 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156009 With 80 percent of the population living in urban areas and a vehicle fleet that is growing at the fastest rate in the world, Latin America has the conditions to begin the transition to electric mobility – but public policies are not, at least for now, up to the task. That is the assessment of […]

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The podium at the conference in Argentina’s lower house of Congress, where representatives of UN Environment assured that public transport, which in Latin America has the highest rate of use in the world per capita, will lead the transition to electric mobility. Credit: Daniel Gutman / IPS

The podium at the conference in Argentina’s lower house of Congress, where representatives of UN Environment assured that public transport, which in Latin America has the highest rate of use in the world per capita, will lead the transition to electric mobility. Credit: Daniel Gutman / IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, May 31 2018 (IPS)

With 80 percent of the population living in urban areas and a vehicle fleet that is growing at the fastest rate in the world, Latin America has the conditions to begin the transition to electric mobility – but public policies are not, at least for now, up to the task.

That is the assessment of UN Environment, according to a conference that two of its officials gave on May 29 in Argentina’s lower house of Congress, in Buenos Aires.

The shift towards electric mobility, however, will come inexorably in a few years, and in Latin America it will begin with public passenger transport, said the United Nations agency’s regional climate change coordinator, Gustavo Máñez, who used two photographs of New York’s Fifth Avenue to illustrate his prediction.

The first photo, from 1900, showed horse-drawn carriages. The second was taken only 13 years later and only cars were visible."As at other times in history, this time the transition will happen very quickly. I am seeing all over the world that car manufacturers are looking to join this wave of electric mobility because they know that, if not, they are going to be left out of the market." -- Gustavo Máñez

“As at other times in history, this time the transition will happen very quickly. I am seeing all over the world that car manufacturers are looking to join this wave of electric mobility because they know that, if not, they are going to be left out of the market,” said Máñez.

Projections indicate that Latin America could, over the next 25 years, see its car fleet triple, to more than 200 million vehicles by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

This growth, if the transition to sustainable mobility does not pick up speed, will seriously jeopardise compliance with the intended nationally determined contributions adopted under the global Paris Agreement on climate change, according to Máñez.

The reason is that the transport sector is responsible for nearly 20 percent of the region’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

In this regard, the official praised the new president of Costa Rica, Carlos Alvarado, who called for the elimination of fossil fuel use and for the decarbonisation of the economy. Máñez also highlighted that “Chile, Colombia and Mexico are working to tax transport for its carbon emissions.

“This is an example of public policies aimed at generating demand for electric vehicles,” said Máñez, while another positive case is that of Uruguay, one of the countries in the region that has made the most progress in electric mobility, stimulating it with tax benefits.

“But the region still needs to do a great deal of work developing incentives for electric mobility and removing subsidies for fossil fuels,” he added.

In this respect, he asked Latin America to look to the example of Scandinavian countries, where electric vehicles already play an important role, thanks to the fact that their drivers enjoy parking privileges or use the lanes for public transport, in addition to other sustained measures.

There are very disparate realities in the region.

Thus, while electric vehicles have been sold in Brazil for years, the country hosting the conference is lagging far behind and only began selling one model this year.

An electric bus parked on a downtown street in Montevideo. Credit: Inés Acosta / IPS

An electric bus parked on a downtown street in Montevideo. Credit: Inés Acosta / IPS

In fact, the meeting was led by Argentine lawmaker Juan Carlos Villalonga, of the governing alliance Cambiemos and author of a bill that promotes the installation of electric vehicle charging stations, which is currently not on the legislative agenda.

“The first objective is to generate a debate in society about sustainable mobility,” said Villalonga, who acknowledged that Argentina is lagging behind other countries in the region in the transition to clean energy.

Argentina only started a couple of years ago developing non-conventional renewable energies, which in the country’s electricity generation mix are still negligible.

As for electric mobility, the government of the city of Buenos Aires hopes to put eight experimental buses into operation by the end of the year, as a pilot plan, in a fleet of 13,000 buses.

Combating climate change is not the only reason why electric mobility should be encouraged.

“Health is another powerful reason, because internal combustion engines generate a lot of air pollution. In Argentina alone, almost 15,000 people die prematurely each year due to poor air quality,” said José Dallo, head of the UN Environment’s Office for the Southern Cone, based in Montevideo.

“There is also the issue of energy security, as electricity prices are more stable than the price of oil,” he added.

In 2016, UN Environment presented an 84-page report entitled “Electric Mobility. Opportunities for Latin America,” which noted the change would mean a reduction of 1.4 gigatons in carbon dioxide emissions, responsible for 80 percent of GHG emissions, and savings of 85 billion dollars in fuels until 2050.

The report acknowledges that among the region’s obstacles are fossil fuel subsidies “and a lower electricity supply than in developed countries, where the boom in electric mobility has been concentrated so far.”

It also notes that Latin America is the region with the highest use of buses per person in the world, and that public transport “has a strategic potential to spearhead electric mobility.”

Along these lines, the experience of Chile through the Consortium Electric Mobility, a mixed initiative with the participation of the Ministry of Transport and scientific institutions from Chile and Finland, was also shared during the conference in Buenos Aires.

Engineer Gianni López, former director of the government’s National Environment Commission and a member of the Mario Molina Research and Development Centre, said that “in Chile the decision has already been taken to move public transport towards electric mobility.”

He explained that there will be 120 electric buses operating next year in Santiago and that the goal is 1,500 by 2025 – more than 25 percent of a total fleet of nearly 7,000 public transportation units.

“There are many aspects that make it easier to start with public buses than private cars,” Lopez said.

“On the one hand, buses run many hours a day so the return on investment is much faster; on the other hand, since they have fixed routes, it is easier to install recharging systems; and autonomy is not a problem because you know exactly how far they are going to travel each day,” he said.

One example of this is Uruguay, where electric taxis have been operating since 2014, and since 2016 a private mass transit company has a regular service with electric buses. In addition, a 400-km “green route,” with refueling stations every 60 km, was inaugurated last December.

As for the cost of electric vehicles, Máñez assured that China, which leads the production and sale of electric vehicles, is now close to reaching cost parity with conventional vehicles.

In this sense, the official also spoke of the need for Latin America to develop a technology that is currently underdeveloped.

He highlighted the case of Argentina, which is not only a producer of conventional vehicles, but in the north of the country has world-renowned reserves of lithium, a mineral used in batteries for electric vehicles.

The question is that lithium is exported as a primary product because this South American country has not developed the technology to manufacture and assemble the batteries locally.

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Will Climate Change Cause More Migrants than Wars?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/will-climate-change-cause-migrants-wars/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-climate-change-cause-migrants-wars http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/will-climate-change-cause-migrants-wars/#respond Thu, 17 May 2018 23:00:27 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155814 Climate change is one of the main drivers of migration and will be increasingly so. It will even have a more significant role in the displacement of people than armed conflicts, which today cause major refugee crises. This was the warning sounded by Ovais Sarmad, the Deputy Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention […]

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From the Syrian War to Argentina – Or How to Start a New Lifehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/syrian-war-argentina-start-new-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrian-war-argentina-start-new-life http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/syrian-war-argentina-start-new-life/#comments Mon, 07 May 2018 02:49:08 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155642 Fares al Badwan moved to Buenos Aires alone, from Syria, in 2011. He was 17 years old then and the armed conflict in his country had just broken out. Since then he has managed to bring over his whole family and today he cannot imagine living outside of Argentina. “I like the people here. No […]

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Argentina Aims for a Delicate Climate Balance in the G20http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/argentina-aims-delicate-climate-balance-g20/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentina-aims-delicate-climate-balance-g20 http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/argentina-aims-delicate-climate-balance-g20/#respond Fri, 20 Apr 2018 00:10:12 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155356 As president this year of the Group of 20 (G20) developed and emerging nations, Argentina has now formally begun the task of trying to rebuild a consensus around climate change. It will be an uphill climb, since the position taken by the United States in 2017 led to a noisy failure in the group with […]

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The Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development of Argentina, Rabbi Sergio Bergman, speaks during the opening of the Group of 20 (G20) Sustainability Working Group in Buenos Aires. Argentina, which chairs the Group this year, has the difficult task of seeking consensus on this thorny issue. Credit: Ministry of Environment of Argentina

The Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development of Argentina, Rabbi Sergio Bergman, speaks during the opening of the Group of 20 (G20) Sustainability Working Group in Buenos Aires. Argentina, which chairs the Group this year, has the difficult task of seeking consensus on this thorny issue. Credit: Ministry of Environment of Argentina

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Apr 20 2018 (IPS)

As president this year of the Group of 20 (G20) developed and emerging nations, Argentina has now formally begun the task of trying to rebuild a consensus around climate change. It will be an uphill climb, since the position taken by the United States in 2017 led to a noisy failure in the group with regard to the issue.

The G20 Sustainability Working Group (CSWG) held its first meeting of the year on Apr. 17-18 in Buenos Aires, in the middle of a balancing act.

Argentine officials hope a full consensus will be reached, in order to avoid a repeat of what happened in 2017 in Germany, when the final document crudely exposed the differences between the U.S. standpoint and the views of the other 19 members, with respect to climate change.

“Since the United States does not recognise the Climate Action Plan agreed in Hamburg (where the last G20 summit was held), we did not formally table it. But what we are doing is addressing the contents of that plan,” Carlos Gentile, chair of the G20 Sustainability Working Group, told IPS.

“Today the United States is participating and we are confident that this time a consensus will be reached for the G20 document by the end of this year,” added Gentile, who is Argentina’s secretary of climate change and sustainable development.

The official stressed, as a step forward for the countries of Latin America and other emerging economies, the fact that the main theme of the Working Group this year is adaptation to climate change and extreme climate events, with a focus on development of resilient infrastructure and job creation.

“We know that mitigation is more important for the developed countries, which is why it is a victory that they accepted our focus on adaptation,” said Gentile.

The Working Group commissioned four documents that will be discussed at the end of August at the second and last meeting of the year, which will be held in Puerto Iguazú, on the triple border between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.

Two of the papers will be on adaptation to climate change and will be produced by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and UN Environment.

The other two will be about long-term strategies, prepared by the World Resources Institute, an international research organisation, and how to align funding with the national contributions established in the Paris Agreement on climate change, by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

One of the highlights of the two days in Buenos Aires was that the countries that have already finalised documents on their long-term strategies (LTS) shared their experiences. Among these countries are Germany, Canada, the United States, Great Britain, Mexico and France.

The LTS are voluntary plans that nations have been invited to present, by the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, about their vision of how it is possible to transform their productive and energy mix by 2050 and beyond.

While the national contributions included in the Paris Agreement, established at COP 21 in December 2015, are included in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and are to be reviewed every five years, the LTS look much further.

“Each of the countries designed their LTS in their own way. Some countries said they used it as a way to send a signal to the private sector about what kinds of technologies are foreseen for the climate transition and others spoke about job creation,” said Lucas Black, climate change specialist for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The UNDP collaborates with the Global Resources Institute in its document on the LTS and it also plays a role in the agenda of issues related to the development of the G20, as an external guest.

What does not seem clear is where such ambitious transformation plans towards 2050 will find the resources needed to turn them into reality.

In this respect, Black acknowledged to a small group of journalists that for emerging economies it is particularly difficult to find the funds necessary for carrying out in-depth changes.

“The private sector, particularly in infrastructure, really needs long-term certainty. That is a crucial part of its decision to invest,” said the international official, who arrived from New York for the meeting.

For her part, María Eugenia Di Paola, coordinator of the UNDP Environment Programme in Argentina, said the financing for the transition must come from “a public-private partnership” and that “the incorporation of adaptation to climate change in the G20 agenda is mainly of interest to developing countries.”

This year’s G20 Leaders’ Summit will take place Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Buenos Aires and will bring together the world’s most powerful heads of state and government for the first time in South America.

By that time, which will mark the end of the presidency of Argentina, this country hopes to reach a consensus on climate change, an issue that was first addressed in the official G20 declaration in 2008.

Black believes it is possible.

“Obviously, the G20 countries have different views. During the German presidency there was no consensus on all points. But all G20 members have a strong interest in the issues discussed this week: adaptation to climate change and infrastructure, long-term strategies and the need to align financing with national contributions,” he said.

The Working Group meeting in Buenos Aires was opened by two ministers of the government of President Mauricio Macri: Environment Minister Sergio Bergman and Energy and Mining Minister Juan José Aranguren.

Before joining the government, Aranguren was for years CEO of the Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell in Argentina.

Argentina launched a programme to build sources of generation of renewable energy, which is almost non-existent in the country’s electricity mix but drives the most important projects in other areas of the energy sector.

Thus, for example, it was announced that in May Aranguren will travel to Houston, the capital of the U.S. oil industry, in search of investors to boost the development of Vaca Muerta, a gigantic reservoir of unconventional fossil fuels in the south of the country.

The minister has also been questioned by environmental sectors for his support for the construction of a gigantic dam in Patagonia and the installation of two new nuclear power plants.

“Latin America has a series of opportunities to build a more sustainable energy system, to improve infrastructure and to provide safe access to energy for the entire population,” Aranguren said in his opening speech at the Working Group meeting.

Bergman, meanwhile, said that “we have all the resources to address the challenge of climate change to transform reality and open the door to a secure and stable future for all.”

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Tunneling Through the Andes to Connect Argentina and Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/tunneling-andes-connect-argentina-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tunneling-andes-connect-argentina-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/tunneling-andes-connect-argentina-chile/#comments Fri, 13 Apr 2018 03:14:26 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155260 Visionaries imagined it more than 80 years ago, as a way to strengthen the integration between Argentina and Chile. Today it is considered a regional need to boost trade flows between the two oceans. Work on a binational tunnel, a giant engineering project in the Andes, is about to begin. The tunnel will be built […]

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View of the Agua Negra border crossing, which connects Argentina and Chile in the Andes mountain range. It is not suitable for trucks and is closed for a good part of the year, because it is 4,800 m above sea level and is often covered in snow. Credit: Courtesy of Rodrigo Iribarren

View of the Agua Negra border crossing, which connects Argentina and Chile in the Andes mountain range. It is not suitable for trucks and is closed for a good part of the year, because it is 4,800 m above sea level and is often covered in snow. Credit: Courtesy of Rodrigo Iribarren

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Apr 13 2018 (IPS)

Visionaries imagined it more than 80 years ago, as a way to strengthen the integration between Argentina and Chile. Today it is considered a regional need to boost trade flows between the two oceans. Work on a binational tunnel, a giant engineering project in the Andes, is about to begin.

The tunnel will be built at more than 4,000 m above sea level, along the longest border in Latin America and one of the longest in the world. Argentina and Chile share more than 5,000 km of border in the majestic Andes mountain range, which has hindered but never impeded transit of people and merchandise.

In colonial times, products were transported by mule from one side of the Andes to the other.

By the end of this year or the beginning of next year, the allocation of the contract for the construction of the Agua Negra Pass will be announced. The tunnel will be built along the central area of the border, linking the Argentine province of San Juan with the Chilean region of Coquimbo.

The aim is to cut transit time and freight costs.

The cost has been set at 1.5 billion dollars and 23 companies from Argentina, Chile, China, France, Spain, Switzerland, and the United States, grouped in 10 consortia, expressed an interest in building the tunnel, and the envelopes were opened in May 2017.

During a special meeting in March, the Agua Negra Tunnel Binational Entity (Ebitan), created by the two governments, completed an evaulation of the background presented by the 10 consortia, and the next step will be to announce which ones may take part in the tender.

The tunnel will take about 10 years to build, and is presented as the largest road work project in Latin America.

“The tunnel will be key to easier traffic to and from the Pacific Ocean, which will give us access to the Asian market,” Maximiliano Mauvecin, a businessman based in Córdoba, the second largest city in Argentina, in the centre of the country, told IPS.

“For that reason, when the project seemed to be failing in 2014, we organised the Central Bi-oceanic Corridor Network, with members of the business community not only from Chile and Argentina, but also from Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay,” explained Mauvecin, director of the Forum of Business Entities of the Central Region of Argentina.

To that end, he explained, “we generated trade missions and business rounds, with which we sought to engage the interest of governments once again.”

Argentina and Chile have 26 border crossings, but most lack adequate infrastructure for truck traffic and are closed for long stretches of the year because of weather conditions, as is the case of Agua Negra.

Bumpy road

The Agua Negra tunnel project has had advances and setbacks.

Momentum seemed to surge in August 2009, during a summit of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), founded in 2004 as a regional forum for coordinating actions towards integrated development among the 12 countries of the region, which are home to a combined total of more than 400 million people.

On that occasion an understanding was reached to build the tunnel, signed by the then presidents of Argentina and Chile, Cristina Fernández (2007-2015) and Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010 and 2014- March 2018).

It was also signed by the then president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), whose participation clearly reflected that it was a “regional integration project”, as the signatory governments described it.

The following year, the details of the initiative were formally shared at a summit of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) with the then presidents of Uruguay, José Mujica (2010-2015), and of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo (2008-2012), which along with Argentina and Brazil make up the bloc, of which Chile is an associate.

The binational tunnel will be a key part of the Porto Alegre-Coquimbo Central Bi-oceanic Corridor, between the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, and the Chilean port of Coquimbo, along more than 2,700 km of roads that are mainly paved already.

The Corridor crosses different provinces of central Argentina and can also be used by companies from other countries of the Atlantic Ocean basin keen on access to the Pacific Ocean.

In Chile there is so much anticipation for the arrival of goods to get into the Asian market, that at the beginning of this year a project was presented to upgrade and modernise the port of Coquimbo, to enable it to serve bigger ships, with an expected investment of 120 million dollars.

However, wine growers in the Elqui Valley, formerly known as the Coquimbo Valley, which is along the route after the Agua Negra Pass, have expressed concern about the increase in truck traffic that the tunnel will bring.

“There were always communication routes in the transverse valleys of the Andes mountain range. In the 19th century, cattle began to be brought in from San Juan and provinces of northern Argentina to Chile. And in 1932 or 1933, the government of Coquimbo asked an engineer to study the possibility of building a tunnel,” Chilean researcher Rodrigo Iribarren told IPS.

“Although it has a long history, it was not until the 1960s that it was opened as an international pass for vehicles,” added Iribarren, author of the book “Agua Negra; History of a Road” and head of the history museum of La Serena, the capital of Coquimbo, located on the Pacific coast about 470 km north of Santiago.

The pass was closed in 1978, when the dictators of Argentina, Jorge Videla (1976-1981), and Chile, Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), brought to a point of extreme tension a border conflict at the southern tip of the continent and were about to lead the two countries to war.

Although it was reopened in the 1990s, after the two countries had returned to democracy, it is not suitable for trucks and is closed much of the year, because traffic is blocked due to snow.

After the agreement between Fernandez, Bachelet and Lula, Ebitan was formed in 2010, and in 2013 23 companies expressed an interest in building the tunnel.

Financial solution

The funding problem was solved in April 2016, when the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) announced to the two governments that it would finance the project.

In October 2017, the regional credit agency approved an initial disbursement of 130 million dollars to Chile and 150 million to Argentina, within a credit line expandable to 1.5 billion dollars as the work progresses.

“The objective is to reduce, through the construction of this infrastructure, the transaction costs at the borders, to increase the competitiveness of the countries involved and promote the economic development of the region,” said José Luis Lupo, manager of the IDB’s department of Southern Cone countries.

According to Ebitan, the tunnel will shorten the border crossing by 40 km and three hours. It will also make it possible to keep the pass open year-round.

The road climbs today to 4,780 m, but the tunnel will begin at 4,085 m above sea level on the Argentine side and will descend to 3,620 m on the Chilean side.

There will be two completely separate passages, for the sake of safety, one running in each direction, with two 7.5-m wide lanes each. Of the 13.9 km tunnel, 72 percent will be in Argentina.

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Poland Sues Argentine Newspaper Under New Holocaust Lawhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/poland-sues-argentine-newspaper-new-holocaust-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poland-sues-argentine-newspaper-new-holocaust-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/poland-sues-argentine-newspaper-new-holocaust-law/#comments Tue, 27 Mar 2018 01:53:40 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155041 Can an official historical truth be universally imposed in defence of a nation’s reputation? Poland believes that it can, and launched a crusade against those who accuse the Polish State or citizens of complicity with the Holocaust. An Argentine newspaper was its first victim. An article about a massacre of Jews perpetrated by their own […]

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The monument in memory of the Jedwabne massacre, vandalised with pro-Nazi grafitti. In 1941, in that Nazi-occupied town in Poland, 1,600 Jews were massacred by their neighbours. Credit: Courtesy Página 12

The monument in memory of the Jedwabne massacre, vandalised with pro-Nazi grafitti. In 1941, in that Nazi-occupied town in Poland, 1,600 Jews were massacred by their neighbours. Credit: Courtesy Página 12

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Mar 27 2018 (IPS)

Can an official historical truth be universally imposed in defence of a nation’s reputation? Poland believes that it can, and launched a crusade against those who accuse the Polish State or citizens of complicity with the Holocaust. An Argentine newspaper was its first victim.

An article about a massacre of Jews perpetrated by their own neighbours in a Polish town during World War Two (1939-1945), which was not ordered by the Nazi occupiers, prompted a lawsuit in the Polish courts against the newspaper Página 12 in early March.

Just a few days earlier, an unusual law that caused an international controversy had entered into force in the eastern European country, creating penalties of up to three years in prison for those who claim, anywhere around the world, that Poland or the Poles were responsible for the crimes committed against the Jews in their territory during the Nazi occupation.

“The lawsuit was filed by a group linked to the Polish government. We are going to make an international case of this, not to make ourselves famous, but because they are trying to impose a kind of global censorship for which there are not many precedents around the world,” the chief editor of Página 12, Martín Granovsky, told IPS.

“The article published in Página 12 did not mean to say that all Poles were anti-Semitic or that there were no non-Jewish Poles killed under Nazism. We told about a case of neighbours who tortured and killed other neighbours,” he added.

Granovsky said the lawsuit – of which the newspaper has not yet been notified – will be fought in the courts as well as in the court of public opinion. To this end, Página 12 is contacting organisations that defend journalism and freedom of expression around the world.

The complaint against Página 12, a centre-left newspaper that was founded in the 1980s, after Argentina’s return to democracy following the 1976-1983 dictatorship, was filed by the Polish League Against Defamation, a non-governmental organisation created in 2012 with the aim of “initiating and supporting actions to correct false information about the history of Poland, in particular about the role of the Poles in the Second World War, their attitudes towards the Jews and the German concentration camps,” according to its website.

There is a patent similarity between the organisation’s aims and the philosophy that inspired the bill passed by the Polish parliament on Feb. 1 and signed into law by ultraconservative President Andrzej Duda five days later.

The law, according to a statement issued by Poland’s Foreign Ministry, seeks to “combat all forms of denial and distortion of the truth about the Holocaust, as well as attempts to underestimate (the responsibility) of the real perpetrators.”

“Accusing the Polish State and nation of complicity with the Third German Reich in Nazi crimes is wrong, deceptive and hurtful for the victims,” the text continues.

The U.S. State Department had released a statement, when the Polish parliament was about to sanction the law, saying that it “could undermine free speech and academic discourse.”

Mar. 4 headline in the Argentine newspaper Página 12, reacting to a lawsuit brought under a controversial Polish law that penalises anyone, anywhere around the world, who states that the Polish State or citizens were complicit in the Holocaust. Credit: Courtesy Página 12

Mar. 4 headline in the Argentine newspaper Página 12, reacting to a lawsuit brought under a controversial Polish law that penalises anyone, anywhere around the world, who states that the Polish State or citizens were complicit in the Holocaust. Credit: Courtesy Página 12

The questioning by the United States is of particular significance since it is the main ally of Poland, a country that has been accused of violations of the rule of law by the European Union, of which that country is a member.

In December, the EU began to take steps to sanction Warsaw for the enactment of laws that, it argued, sought to weaken judicial independence.

The U.S. State Department suggested that the attempt to restrict opinions about Poland’s role in the Holocaust will lead the country to greater international isolation, as it pointed out that the law could have repercussions “on Poland’s strategic interests and relations, including with the United States and Israel.”

For Damián Loreti, former director of Communication Sciences at the University of Buenos Aires, the Polish law on the Holocaust “violates all international standards in the field of freedom of expression and scientific research.”

“This is because it tries to impose an official historical truth, against which there can be nothing said to the contrary,” Loreti told IPS.

The academic said that “a country’s honour is not a legitimate legal subject to be protected by imposing restrictions on free speech, according to the European Convention on Human Rights, and it also violates United Nations resolutions.”

The op-ed that triggered the lawsuit was published by Página 12 on Dec. 18, 2017, under the title “Familiar Faces”. It was written by Federico Pavlovsky, a psychoanalyst who told IPS that he preferred not to make public statements while the case was making its way through the courts.

In his column, Pavlovsky describes “one of the cruelest and most incredible events recorded in the Second World War,” which occurred on Jul. 10, 1941 in Jedwabne, 190 km from Warsaw.

“That day, 1500 people killed or watched another 1600 being killed, the latter of whom were of Jewish origin,” reads the article, adding: “One of the peculiarities of this massacre is that in Nazi-occupied Poland, the Germans did not order the killing or participate in it, they merely authorised the sequence of events and took photographs.”

The op-ed basically collects the information made public in 2001 by historian Jan Gross in his book “Neighbours: the destruction of the Jewish community in Jedwabne, Poland”, which had a strong impact both in that country and in the United States.

Gross is a Pole born in 1947, the son of a Jewish father and Christian mother, who in 1969, during the communist regime, went into exile in the United States.

The Polish law punishes in particular anyone who speaks of “Polish concentration camps”, instead of clarifying that they were in Polish territory but were the responsibility of the Nazi regime, which was occupying the country.

“It is true that the Polish state had ceased to exist and that there was only a Polish government in exile in London, which fought the Nazis,” psychotherapist and writer Diana Wang told IPS. The daughter of Holocaust survivors, she was born in Poland in 1945 and has lived in Argentina since the age of two.

“However, Poland has a long tradition of anti-Semitism at a cultural level, and hundreds of thousands of Poles participated in the murder of Jews and appropriated their property,” added Wang, who heads Generations of the Shoah, an organisation dedicated to keeping alive the memory of the Holocaust in Argentina.

“It’s true that to talk about Polish concentration camps does not exactly represent the historical truth, because they were under the control of the Germans, but everyone has the right to say what they want,” said Wang, who after hearing about the lawsuit published an op-ed in Página 12 titled: “Poland can sue me too.”

Since the lawsuit was filed, the newspaper has published daily articles about the legal case and about the history of Jewish people in Jedwabne.

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How Can the Large-Scale Poaching in the South Atlantic Be Stopped?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/can-large-scale-poaching-south-atlantic-stopped/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-large-scale-poaching-south-atlantic-stopped http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/can-large-scale-poaching-south-atlantic-stopped/#respond Tue, 13 Mar 2018 00:08:58 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154783 The capture of a Spanish vessel illegally fishing in the so-called Argentine Sea made headlines, once again, although it is not news that hundreds of boats regularly pillage the South Atlantic, taking advantage of the lack of regulations and controls. The Playa Pesmar Uno vessel was captured by the Argentine Naval Prefecture – the country’s […]

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A satellite image shows the great concentration of ships along the boundary of the Argentine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), taking advantage of the lack of regulations to poach huge quantities of seafood. Credit: Courtesy of Milko Schvartzman

A satellite image shows the great concentration of ships along the boundary of the Argentine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), taking advantage of the lack of regulations to poach huge quantities of seafood. Credit: Courtesy of Milko Schvartzman

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Mar 13 2018 (IPS)

The capture of a Spanish vessel illegally fishing in the so-called Argentine Sea made headlines, once again, although it is not news that hundreds of boats regularly pillage the South Atlantic, taking advantage of the lack of regulations and controls.

The Playa Pesmar Uno vessel was captured by the Argentine Naval Prefecture – the country’s coast guard – on Feb. 4 while fishing without a permit in the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) – up to 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the coast – within the area known here as the Argentine Sea. It had 320 tons of fresh fish in its holds: Argentine hake, pollock, squid and ray.

The ship was transported with its crew of 34 to the Comodoro Rivadavia port in the southeast of the country, where it was released in late February, after paying a fine of just over one million dollars."All of the boats that fish inside the EEZ are subsidised by China, South Korea or Spain or other countries that years ago depleted their own fishing resources and, to keep these fishing fleets active, they send them to fish elsewhere.” -- Milko Schvartzman

“The capture of this and other boats is just the tip of an iceberg of a very serious problem. There are hundreds of ships from different countries poaching along the boundary of the EEZ. Although there is no specific data, it is evident that they are overfishing,” said Santiago Krapovickas, a conservation biologist who works in Puerto Madryn, in the southern province of Patagonia.

These boats – mainly from China, South Korea and Spain, according to information from the Under-Secretariat of Fisheries – take advantage of the fact that there is no regional regulation of fisheries outside the Argentine EEZ and therefore they do not have catch or seasonal limits or zonal quotas.

Sometimes, however, they cross the boundary and enter the EEZ, perhaps in search of better fishing, in a country with 5,000 km of Atlantic shoreline, to the east.

It is along the boundary of the EEZ that the Argentine Naval Prefecture captures boats, despite the fact that some of their vessels are over 30 years old.

The highest-profile case occurred in March 2016, when the Naval Prefecture reported that it shot and sank a Chinese fishing vessel and rescued the crew, after the vessel failed to obey repeated orders to stop.

“The border of the EEZ coincides with the edge of the Argentine continental shelf,” Krapovickas told IPS. “In this area, the ocean, due to its depth and the different marine currents, has abundant nutrients and there is a rich ecosystem, making it very easy to fish, especially Argentine shortfin squid (Illex argentinus), a species in high demand in the international market.”

“In the scientific community we have warned about this for years. But we have not managed to get anybody to do anything,” he added.

The Argentine State does not take action, but it knows where the fishing vessels are: since 2012, the National Institute for Fisheries Research and Development (Inidep) has been keeping track of them through satellite images from its headquarters in the port of Mar del Plata, 400 km south of Buenos Aires.

“It looks like a floating city. At around the 45th parallel south there is so much activity that sometimes it seems like they cover a bigger surface area than Buenos Aires,” computer engineer Ezequiel Cozzolino, who is in charge of the satellite system, told IPS.

A fishing boat stocks up in the port of Ushuaia, at the southern tip of Argentina. Only vessels with permits to fish in Argentine waters can dock at the country’s ports. Credit: Estremar

A fishing boat stocks up in the port of Ushuaia, at the southern tip of Argentina. Only vessels with permits to fish in Argentine waters can dock at the country’s ports. Credit: Estremar

“From mid December to June of the following year there are usually between 270 and 300 boats in the area. Eighty to ninety percent are jigging vessels, fishing only for squid. They fish at night, attracting squid with artificial lights,” he explained.

Marine conservation specialist Milko Schvartzman, who carries out his own satellite monitoring, said that sometimes there are more than 500 vessels.

“They are highly predatory of squid, which is one of the pillars of the marine ecosystem, because they are eaten by other species,” Schvartzman told IPS.

Schvartzman is working on a project for the protection of the South Atlantic for Oceans 5, an organisation linked to the foundation led by U.S. actor Leonardo Di Caprio.

The environmental organisation has denounced that the boats not only affect the marine environment but also violate human rights, as the crews sometimes work in slavery conditions.

There are no known studies on how these boats affect legal fishing in Argentina, which is a major source of foreign exchange, because most of the catch is exported.

According to official figures, seafood exports brought the country 1.978 billion dollars in 2017, and 1.724 billion dollars in 2016.

Schvartzman was one of the activists from European organisations who came in December to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires to publicly pressure for the elimination of subsidies for fishing practices that are destructive for the environment and small-scale fishers.

This is one of the targets within goal 14 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which addresses the sustainable use of the oceans.

This target sets out, by 2020, “to prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and refrain from introducing new such subsidies.”

Schvartzman says that “all of the boats that fish inside the EEZ are subsidised by China, South Korea or Spain or other countries that years ago depleted their own fishing resources and, to keep these fishing fleets active, they send them to fish elsewhere.”

But the WTO has not adopted any measure against the fishing subsidies. “It was India that raised opposition in Buenos Aires, which is incomprehensible since that country is also a victim of these fishing fleets which poach their resources,” said Schvartzman.

In Argentina, this issue is also worrying fishing companies, some of which formed an NGO at the end of last year, which they named Organisation for the Protection of Resources in the Southwest Atlantic (Opras).

“Our aim is to get international organisations to regulate this issue that has to do with marine resources, but we need support from the Argentine government which we do not have today,” said Alan Mackern, president of Estremar, a Norwegian fishing company based in Ushuaia, at the southern tip of Argentina.

Mackern told IPS that “what is happening cannot be allowed. Those of us who fish within the EEZ are subject to strict regulations and those that fish on the boundary do not meet standards and regulations and sell fish and shellfish on the market at lower prices, cuasing us harm.”

The companies are also concerned about a bill sent by the Argentine government to Congress to create marine protected areas within the EEZ.

“We have not been consulted. But marine fauna, logically, doesn’t know about limits, and we are concerned that fishing will be banned within the 200 nautical miles and it will end up generating more resources for those fishing outside,” said Mackern.

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Argentina’s Patagonia Rebels Against Oil Field Waste Pitshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/argentinas-patagonia-rebels-oil-field-waste-pits/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentinas-patagonia-rebels-oil-field-waste-pits http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/argentinas-patagonia-rebels-oil-field-waste-pits/#respond Thu, 01 Mar 2018 21:00:30 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154571 A project to install a huge deposit of oil field waste pits has triggered a crisis in the north of Argentina’s southern Patagonia region, and brought the debate on the environmental impact of extractive industries back to the forefront in this Southern Cone country. Catriel, in the province of Río Negro, about 1,000 km southwest […]

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The Comarsa oil waste deposit in the southwestern province of Neuquén, in Argentina, parked a social conflict due to the environmental impact, which led to a promise that it would be shut down. The one planned for the municipality of Catriel, in the neighbouring province of Río Negro, would be almost 20 times larger. Credit: Fabián Ceballos / Oil Observatory of the South

The Comarsa oil waste deposit in the southwestern province of Neuquén, in Argentina, parked a social conflict due to the environmental impact, which led to a promise that it would be shut down. The one planned for the municipality of Catriel, in the neighbouring province of Río Negro, would be almost 20 times larger. Credit: Fabián Ceballos / Oil Observatory of the South

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Mar 1 2018 (IPS)

A project to install a huge deposit of oil field waste pits has triggered a crisis in the north of Argentina’s southern Patagonia region, and brought the debate on the environmental impact of extractive industries back to the forefront in this Southern Cone country.

Catriel, in the province of Río Negro, about 1,000 km southwest of Buenos Aires, was a small town untilan oil deposit was discovered there in 1959. Since then, the population has boomed, with the town drawing people from all over the country, driving the total up to around 30,000 today.

The conflict broke out in 2016, when the city government announced a plan to set up a “special waste deposit” on 300 hectares of land, for the final disposal of waste from oil industry activity in the area.

This generated social division and resistance that ended last November, when opponents of the project were successful in their bid to obtain an amendment to the Municipal Charter – the supreme law at a local level – which declared Catriel a “protected area”, and prohibited such facilities due to the pollution."The establishment or installation of nuclear power plants, reservoirs, landfills, repositories of final or transitory disposal of contaminated material from the nuclear, chemical or oil industry, or any other polluting activity, is prohibited." -- Municipal Charter of Catriel

Mayor Carlos Johnston described the modification of the charter as “shameful” and asked the courts to overrule the amendment, arguing that those who drafted the new text overstepped their authority.

The court decision is still pending.

“At all times it was practically impossible to access information. When we went to ask, the city government gave us a document that had a map of where they want to install the plant and practically nothing else,” said Natalia Castillo, an administrative employee who is part of the Catriel Socio-Environmental Assembly, a community group that emerged to fight the project.

“We are very worried about the possible impact of the plant and we are trying to raise public awareness. The problem is that many people around here work in the oil industry and prefer not to meddle with this issue,”Castillo told IPS.

Mayor Johnston confirmed his position to IPS: “We have had environmental liabilities since 1959. It is our obligation, as the State, to address them. It would be much worse not to do it.”

“The environmental authorisation came from the provincial authorities. It may be that we have so far failed to provide enough information to society. But we value the work of environmental organisations and are ready for dialogue because this project is necessary,” he added.

Johnston said the waste that will be accepted at the plant will come from Catriel and other municipalities in the province of Río Negro.

However, environmental organisations suspect, due to the large size that is projected for the deposit, that it could receive waste from oil industry activity in the entire area and not just from the municipality.

Catriel happens to be located in the so-called Neuquén Basin, the main source of oil and gas in the country, and is very close to VacaMuerta, the unconventional oil and gas deposit in the neighbouring province of Neuquén, which fuels Argentina’s dreams of becoming a major fossil fuel producer.

The United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated the recoverable reserves in the 30,000-square-km Vaca Muerta at no less than 27 billion barrels of oil and 802 trillion cubic feet of gas.

The Argentine government also places its hopes in this field to bolster its hydrocarbon production, which has been declining for 20 years, and has forced the country to import fuel to make up for the deficit.

“The problem is that ‘fracking’, which is used to extract unconventional hydrocarbons, generates waste on a much larger scale than conventional exploitation,” said Martín Álvarez, a researcher at the non-governmental interdisciplinary Oil Observatory of the South (OPSur).

He explained that with this technology, which drills rocks at great depths through large injections of water and additives, “not only do the chemicals used to carry out the drilling and hydraulic fracturing come back to the surface, but also radioactive materials of natural origin that are in the subsoil.”

“There is a saturation of oil waste in the Neuquén Basin from fracking, which is a dirty technique. Then came this new business, waste disposal, which has a huge environmental impact because contaminants can seep into the groundwater,” added the expert.

Together with the Environment and Natural Resources Foundation and Greenpeace Argentina, two of the most influential environmental organisations in the country, OPSur requested access to information from different provincial bodies in Río Negro.

In addition, it issued a critical report, drawing attention to the size of the project. Covering 300 hectares, it would be almost 10 times larger than what is currently the biggest South American plant of its type, with an area of 34 hectares.

The document refers to Comarsa, an oil waste deposit that is only 135 km from Catriel, in the province of Neuquén, near the provincial capital. The installation has been questioned for years by residents, forcing the local authorities to promise to close it once and for all last November, although it has not yet happened.

The environmental organisations also complained that during the Mar. 31, 2017 public hearing where the project was discussed, many questions and objections raised by the participants were not answered.

They also questioned the approval of the environmental impact assessment conducted by the Rìo Negro Secretariat of Environment, “despite the rejection by different sectors in the community of Catriel.”

In the middle of this conflict, Catriel had to reform its Organic Charter, a task that is to be carried out every 25 years.

With the issue of the plant at the centre of the debate, the local ruling party, Juntos Somos Rio Negro (Together We Are Río Negro) won the elections with 35 percent of the vote and obtained six seats on the reform committee. But the other nine seats went to different opposition parties, which joined forces against the waste pit project.

“The establishment or installation of nuclear power plants, reservoirs, landfills, repositories of final or transitory disposal of contaminated material from the nuclear, chemical or oil industry, or any other polluting activity, is prohibited,” says Article 94 of the new Charter, which came into force on Jan. 1.

But the mayor argues that it must be revised because “it is not feasible.”

Johnston also rejected the possibility of calling a referendum on the authorisation to install the plant, as requested by the Catriel Socio-Environmental Assembly.

In a communiqué, the assembly asked: “What will happen when diseases become visible in the people who live in Catriel, due to the environmental contamination caused by the oil waste deposit?”

A fact that has not gone unnoticed is that the company that is to install the treatment plant is Crexell Environmental Solutions, which has strong political connections, to the point that its president, Nicolás Crexell, is the brother of a national senator for Neuquén, and nephew of the person who governed that province until 2015.

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Citizen-Generated Energy Enters the Scene in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/citizen-generated-energy-enters-scene-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=citizen-generated-energy-enters-scene-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/citizen-generated-energy-enters-scene-argentina/#respond Sat, 24 Feb 2018 23:19:19 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154477 The Argentine population can now generate their own energy through clean and unconventional sources and incorporate surpluses into the public grid, thanks to a new law. This is an important novelty in a country embarked on a slow and difficult process, with a still uncertain end, to replace fossil fuels. The law, passed by Congress […]

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Solar panels installed on covered bus stops of the public transport system in the city of Buenos Aires, on the 9 de Julio Avenue, with the emblematic obelisk in the background. Clean and unconventional energies comprise a negligible share of Argentina's energy mix, but different government initiatives seek to change this. Credit: Courtesy of Sustentator

Solar panels installed on covered bus stops of the public transport system in the city of Buenos Aires, on the 9 de Julio Avenue, with the emblematic obelisk in the background. Clean and unconventional energies comprise a negligible share of Argentina's energy mix, but different government initiatives seek to change this. Credit: Courtesy of Sustentator

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Feb 24 2018 (IPS)

The Argentine population can now generate their own energy through clean and unconventional sources and incorporate surpluses into the public grid, thanks to a new law. This is an important novelty in a country embarked on a slow and difficult process, with a still uncertain end, to replace fossil fuels.

The law, passed by Congress in November, was promulgated in December by President Mauricio Macri, who declared 2017 the “year of renewable energies”, in an initiative that as yet has no concrete results to show.

The new law was born with the aim of fomenting the generation and incorporation in the grid of clean and unconventional energy by many small nearby sources, citizens and other private actors, in what is known as distributed, dispersed or decentralised generation.

“There are still many unknowns about whether the distributed generation law will be effective. The essential thing is to see what decisions the government takes this year in terms of incentives,” industrial engineer Rodrigo Herrera Vegas told IPS, who in 2009 founded one of the pioneer clean energy companies in the country.“Distributed energy is a change of paradigm in energy production, which can be important for Argentina. The time of the passive user, who consumes and pays the energy bill, has ended, because that is no longer efficient." -- Juan Bosch

“Renewable energy equipment is not manufactured here and it pays very high import duties. So for someone who lives in Argentina it is too expensive today to buy solar panels, for example. It would take 12 or 13 years to recover the investment,” he added.

Argentina has had a hard time shifting to renewable power sources. They still represent a negligible share of the electric grid, which is made up of 64 percent thermal power plants fueled by oil or gas, 30 percent large hydroelectric plants, and four percent nuclear power plants, according to official data.

The good news is that, after the absolute failure of two laws creating incentives for renewable projects passed by the legislature in 2001 and 2006, for economic reasons, a third law approved in 2015 seems to be definitive.

Thanks to this law, between 2016 and 2017, the government held tenders and signed contracts with private investors for the construction of 147 renewable energy undertakings, with a total capacity of 4,466 megawatts (MW), in 22 of the country’s 23 provinces. The vast majority of these projects involve wind (2,466 MW) and solar (1,732 MW) power.

These facilities are expected to become operational in the next few years, which would be an important contribution to an electrical grid which today, with an installed capacity of around 30,000 MW, is already at its limit or does not meet demand, particularly on the hottest days of summer, when high consumption often causes power cuts in large cities.

According to the latest official data released, between March and August, months with relatively low electricity consumption, the inhabitants of Buenos Aires spent almost 16 hours without electricity on average.

Citizen-generated energy is added to the equation

“Distributed energy is a change of paradigm in energy production, which can be important for Argentina. The time of the passive user, who consumes and pays the energy bill, has ended, because that is no longer efficient,” said Juan Bosch, a lawyer who specialises in energy issues, who is also the president of SAESA, a company dedicated to unconventional energy and natural gas.

“Generation through large power plants in this country exceeds the transmission capacity at times of peak consumption, and that’s when production by private homes can make a difference, since energy is produced where it is consumed,” he told IPS.

The law aimed at “Fomenting Distributed Generation of Renewable Energy Integrated in the Public Power Grid” establishes the following goals: “energy efficiency, the reduction of losses in the grid, the potential reduction of costs for the electrical grid as a whole, environmental protection provided for in the National Constitution, and the protection of the rights of users in terms of equity and non-discrimination.”

It also requires that power companies “facilitate the injection” into the grid of surpluses that individual consumers may generate, and it prohibits companies from making any additional charge for doing so.

In any case, whoever adds energy to the grid will not obtain money for the energy they sell, but will be instead compensated by the company with discounts in subsequent billings.

Regarding the most critical issue in the implementation of the distributed energy system, which is how to make it economically attractive for users, the law creates a public fund to encourage its development, which the government is to set up with about 95 million dollars of its own funds.

For Juan Carlos Villalonga, a member of the lower house of Congress for the governing alliance Cambiemos who helped draft the law, “the first ones that are going to take advantage of this possibility in Argentina are productive undertakings, which have money to invest, and in many parts of the country today receive an electric service that is expensive and bad.”

Villalonga acknowledged to IPS that it will take a long time for residential users in Argentina to begin producing their own energy.

“They will do it when the prices of the necessary equipment are driven down, through different tools the State has to achieve this, such as increasing the price at which the energy generated by a user is purchased, or giving access to better financing,” he said.

The crisis affecting the energy sector has been recognised by the government.

According to data from the Ministry of Energy and Mining, on the coldest days of the Southern Cone winter, when residential heating systems drive up consumption of natural gas, up to 30 percent of the natural gas consumed is imported.

In the summer, when electricity consumption rises due to air conditioning, this South American country of 44 million people buys up to 10 percent of the energy used from its neighbours Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The government said it intends to raise the installed capacity of the electric system from the current 30,000 MW to 50,000 MW by 2025, of which 11,500 should come from renewable sources.

The goal for eight percent of electricity to come from renewable sources by December 31, 2017, as set by the law currently in force, was not met.

However, the second goal established by the law – to cover 25 percent of demand with renewables by 2025 – is expected to be achieved.

The figurehead of the dream of unconventional clean energy is the enormous Cauchari solar energy park which began to be built last year in the northwest province of Salta, and which will provide 300 MW.

China is playing a leading role in the project, financing more than 80 percent of a total budget of 390 million dollars. And the 1,200,000 solar panels that are being installed on 700 hectares of land were manufactured in the Asian giant.

The land on which the plant is being built belongs to an indigenous community, which was promised two percent of the profits.

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Argentina Continues to Seek Truth and Justice, Despite the Hurdleshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/argentina-continues-seek-truth-justice-despite-hurdles/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentina-continues-seek-truth-justice-despite-hurdles http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/argentina-continues-seek-truth-justice-despite-hurdles/#respond Sun, 21 Jan 2018 22:56:21 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153964 Thirty-four years after Argentina’s return to democracy, more than 500 cases involving human rights abuses committed during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship are making their way through the courts. This high number not only shows that the process of truth and justice is ongoing, but also reflects the delays and the slow process of justice. Since […]

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Outside the courtroom in the city of Buenos Aires, the relatives of victims of the dictatorship and human rights activists watched on a big screen the late November sentencing in the trial for the crimes committed during the de facto regime at the Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA). In the trial, which lasted five years, 29 people were sentenced to life imprisonment. Credit: Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS)

Outside the courtroom in the city of Buenos Aires, the relatives of victims of the dictatorship and human rights activists watched on a big screen the late November sentencing in the trial for the crimes committed during the de facto regime at the Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA). In the trial, which lasted five years, 29 people were sentenced to life imprisonment. Credit: Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS)

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jan 21 2018 (IPS)

Thirty-four years after Argentina’s return to democracy, more than 500 cases involving human rights abuses committed during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship are making their way through the courts. This high number not only shows that the process of truth and justice is ongoing, but also reflects the delays and the slow process of justice.

Since the human rights trials got underway again in 2003, after amnesty laws were overturned, 200 sentences have been handed down, but 140 of them have been appealed.

This was revealed by a December 2017 report by the Office of the Prosecutor for Crimes against Humanity, which stated that 856 people have been convicted and 110 acquitted.

At the same time, there are another 393 ongoing cases, but 247 are still in the initial stage of investigation of the judicial process, which precedes the oral and public trial.

“The trials for the crimes committed in Argentina’s 1976-1983 dictatorship have been an example for all of humanity, because there has no been no other similar case in the world. And it is very positive that the State is transmitting today the message that the trials are continuing,” Santiago Cantón, former executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), told IPS.Since President Mauricio Macri took office in December 2015, "the dismemberment or cutting of research areas and the emptying of prosecutors’ offices dedicated to these cases has been noted with concern." -- Daniel Feierstein

“However, the delays are serious, because we are talking about defendants who in most cases are over 80 years old,” said Canton, currently Secretary of Human Rights of the province of Buenos Aires, the country’s largest and most populous.

“It is important for everyone for the trials to be completed: so that the accused do not die surrounded by a mantle of doubt, and so that the victims and society as a whole see justice done,” he added.

The dictatorship was responsible for a criminal plan that included the installation of hundreds of clandestine detention, torture and extermination centres throughout the country. According to human rights organisations, 30,000 people were “disappeared” and killed.

After the return to democracy, then president Raúl Alfonsín (1983-1989) promoted the investigation and punishment of crimes. The culminating point was the famous trial of the military junta members, which convicted nine senior armed forces officers.

Thus, in 1985, former General Jorge Videla and former Admiral Emilio Massera, leading figures of the first stage of the dictatorship, the time of the most brutal repression, were sentenced to life in prison.

However, under pressure from the military, Congress passed the so-called Full Stop and Due Obedience laws in 1986 and 1987, which effectively put a stop to prosecution of rights abuses committed during the dictatorship. The circle was closed by then president Carlos Menem (1989-1999), who in 1990 pardoned Videla, Massera and the rest of the imprisoned junta members.

Not until 2001 did a judge declare the two laws unconstitutional, on the argument that crimes against humanity are not subject to amnesties.

That decision marked a watershed, reaffirmed in September 2003, when Congress, at the behest of then President Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007), revoked the amnesty laws.

The prosecution of “Dirty War” crimes was then resumed and the last hurdle was removed in 2005, when the Supreme Court ruled that no statute of limitations or pardon applied to crimes against humanity.

“It is very important that since 2003, 200 trials have been carried out, thanks to the effort and commitment of victims and relatives,” said Luz Palmás Zaldúa, a lawyer with the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), the organisation that pushed for the first declaration that the amnesty laws were unconstitutional, in 2001.

Palmás Zaldúa mentioned some trials in particular, such as the one involving Operation Condor, which ended in 2016 with 15 convictions, “in which it was proven that there was a plan of political repression implemented by the dictatorships in the Southern Cone of South America.”

He also highlights the trials involving abuses at the Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA), the dictatorship’s largest detention and torture centre, which ended last November with life sentences for 29 people.

“The so-called death flights, where the founders of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, for example, were thrown (alive) into the River Plate, were proven in those trials,” Palmás Zaldúa told IPS.

The lawyer, however, warned that the process of justice and memory “faces a number of difficulties, which are the responsibility of the three branches of the State.”

CELS was one of the 13 Argentine human rights organisations that denounced, in an October 2017 hearing before the IACHR in Montevideo, that the Argentine government had undermined or dismantled official bodies dedicated to reviewing dictatorship-era documents to provide evidence in the courts.

They also complained that Congress did not put into operation the bicameral commission that was to investigate economic complicities with the dictatorship, created by law in November 2015.

Since President Mauricio Macri took office in December 2015, “the dismemberment or cutting of research areas and the emptying of prosecutors’ offices dedicated to these cases has been noted with concern,” sociologist and researcher Daniel Feierstein told IPS.

In addition, “it would appear that a new judicial climate has been created which has led many courts to easily grant house arrest to those guilty of genocide, significantly increase the number of acquittals, and reject preventive detention at a time when its use is no the rise for less serious crimes,” added Feierstein.

“So the outlook is contradictory, with a process that seems to be ongoing but under changing conditions, which generate great uncertainty,” he said.

The report by the Public Prosecutor’s Office states that of the 2,979 people charged since the cases were resumed in 2003, 1,038 were detained, 1,305 were released, 37 went on the run, and 599 died – 100 after receiving a sentence and 499 while still awaiting sentencing.

A significant fact is that more than half of the prisoners (549) enjoy the benefit of house arrest, which in some cases has aroused strong social condemnation.

“Even if they go home, they are condemned by history, by society and in some cases even by their own families,” stressed Norma Ríos, leader of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights (APDH), in a dialogue with IPS.

“A few years ago, we would never have imagined all this. And perhaps the most important thing is that it has been broadly proven that we were not lying when we denounced the crimes committed by the dictatorship,” she added.

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Argentina’s Law on Forests Is Good, But Lacks Enforcementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/argentinas-law-forests-good-lacks-enforcement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentinas-law-forests-good-lacks-enforcement http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/argentinas-law-forests-good-lacks-enforcement/#comments Thu, 18 Jan 2018 07:52:07 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153918 Never in the parliamentary history of Argentina had something similar happened: one and a half million people in 2007 signed a petition asking the Senate to pass a law to reduce deforestation. The law was quickly approved, and promulgated on Dec. 26 of that year. But 10 years later, it has left a bittersweet taste. […]

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A 2017 demonstration in the capital of the province of Córdoba, Argentina, against government plans for laxer zoning and land-use management, which would have favoured deforestation, successfully blocked the initiative. Credit: Sebastián Salguero / Greenpeace

A 2017 demonstration in the capital of the province of Córdoba, Argentina, against government plans for laxer zoning and land-use management, which would have favoured deforestation, successfully blocked the initiative. Credit: Sebastián Salguero / Greenpeace

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jan 18 2018 (IPS)

Never in the parliamentary history of Argentina had something similar happened: one and a half million people in 2007 signed a petition asking the Senate to pass a law to reduce deforestation. The law was quickly approved, and promulgated on Dec. 26 of that year. But 10 years later, it has left a bittersweet taste.

Researchers and environmental organisations admit that the law had positive impacts and slowed down the destruction of the country’s native forests, caused to a large extent by the expansion of the agricultural frontier.

But they warn that deforestation continues in areas where it is banned, and that the national government has shown a strong lack of interest in enforcing the law, reflected in the lack of funds necessary to finance conservation policies.

“The most positive aspect of the law was that it brought visibility to the problems of indigenous and peasant communities, and society began to look with critical eyes on agricultural activity, which had always been identified as a positive factor, as Argentina is a country that depends on agro-exports,” José Volante, who has a PhD in agricultural sciences, told IPS.

“The expansion of the agricultural frontier entails the concentration of production in a few hands, advanced technology, little employment and expulsion of rural dwellers. The forest law was aimed at curtailing that model, and put on the table another approach that allows the incorporation of more people and is more socially and environmentally friendly,” added Volante, a researcher at the Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) in Salta.

Salta, in the northwest of the country, is one of the provinces that is crucial from the point of view of deforestation. A portion of the province forms part of the Gran Chaco, a vast arid subtropical region of low forests and savannas that extends into Paraguay and Bolivia, which in the last few decades has been experiencing a process called “pampanisation”.

Pampanisation is a local term given to the expansion of agriculture and livestock farming into areas near the pampas, the region of fertile grassland in central Argentina and Uruguay, driven by advances in biotechnology and favourable international commodity prices.

The area sown in Argentina went from 15 million hectares to more than double that in about 30 years. And the Chaco forests have been precisely the main victim, since not only agriculture has expanded there, but also livestock farming, which is often displaced from fertile areas to make room for crops.

More than half of that sown area is currently planted in genetically modified soy, resistant to herbicides, which was allowed into the market by the government in 1996. Since then it has boomed, pushing wheat and corn to second place, thanks to higher profitability.

Salta lost 415,000 hectares of native forest between 2002 and 2006, according to official data, but the process accelerated in 2007, when it was made public that the National Congress was close to passing a law that would place severe restrictions on the possibility of provincial governments to authorise logging and clear-cut activities.

According to global environmental watchdog Greenpeace, in 2007, Salta convened public hearings to authorise the clearing of 425,958 hectares of forest, a figure more than five times higher than the previous year, and which far exceeded the average annual deforestation in the entire country.

“Precisely the flurry of deforestation permits that provinces like Salta granted during 2007 is the best proof that the forestry law was seen as a tool for actually changing things,” Juan Carlos Villalonga, a lawmaker from the ruling Cambiemos alliance, told IPS.

“And to some extent it was, because although it seemed impossible, the deforestation rate in Argentina began to fall. We went from an average of approximately 300,000 annual hectares to 200,000 in 2016,” he added.

Villalonga entered into politics from Greenpeace, one of the approximately 30 organisations that in the second half of 2007, with an intense publicity campaign, achieved the feat of collecting a million and a half signatures to urge the Senate to pass the law protecting the forests.

The law had already been passed by the lower house, but it was bogged down by resistance from senators who saw it as an obstacle to productive development in their provinces.

Thanks to the grassroots pressure, the senators had no choice but to approve the law, against a backdrop of a national deforestation rate six times higher than the world average, according to a report by the Environment and Natural Resources Foundation (FARN).

But despite the entry into force of the law, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) ranked Argentina among the countries with the largest forest area lost between 2010 and 2015. The list also includes countries in Africa and Asia and three in South America: Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay.

Law 26,631 was an extraordinary case of participation by civil society in public policy, and today is an important tool for this country to meet its international commitments, in the fight against climate change and for the conservation of biodiversity.

The law recognises the environmental services provided by forests and instructs the provinces to carry out land-use planning and zoning in their forested areas, according to three categories.

Red areas are those of high conservation value that should not be transformed; yellow ones have medium value and can be used for sustainable activities; and green ones have low conservation value and can be transformed.

Argentina’s 23 provinces have already completed this process for a total of about 54 million hectares of forest, approximately 19 percent of the country’s land area.

In the face of rumors circulating recently in Argentina’s environmental circles, the national director of Forestry, Juan Pedro Cano, told IPS that the government does not intend to propose changing the law.

“On the contrary, we consider it a very positive law and we are working to improve its implementation,” Cano said.

“We have already created a trust fund to ensure that the national budget funds allocated to the Fund for the compensation of landowners who preserve their forests cannot be reassigned to other needs of the State, as happened in other years,” he added.

That fund should is to 0.3 percent of the national budget, according to the law, but the funds allocated to it have never come close to reaching that level, with a worrying downward trend seen in recent years, warned the FARN report.

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Argentina Pursues the Lithium Dreamhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/argentina-pursues-lithium-dream/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentina-pursues-lithium-dream http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/argentina-pursues-lithium-dream/#respond Thu, 11 Jan 2018 01:33:47 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153818 The government of Mauricio Macri dreams of Argentina becoming the world leader in lithium production. But it does not seem so clear that this aspiration, underpinned by the interest of multinational corporations, would also drive the development of local communities. With just two projects in operation, Argentina today contributes some 40,000 tons per year of […]

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The effort to search for lithium in the Salar de Caucharí-Olaroz, in the province of Jujuy, is a project developed by the Exar mining company, a joint venture between Canadian Lithium Americas Corp (LAC) and the Chilean Sociedad Química y Minera (SQM). In total, there are 53 projects in the exploration or project feasibility phases. Credit: Mining Chamber of Commerce of the Province of Jujuy

The effort to search for lithium in the Salar de Caucharí-Olaroz, in the province of Jujuy, is a project developed by the Exar mining company, a joint venture between Canadian Lithium Americas Corp (LAC) and the Chilean Sociedad Química y Minera (SQM). In total, there are 53 projects in the exploration or project feasibility phases. Credit: Mining Chamber of Commerce of the Province of Jujuy

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jan 11 2018 (IPS)

The government of Mauricio Macri dreams of Argentina becoming the world leader in lithium production. But it does not seem so clear that this aspiration, underpinned by the interest of multinational corporations, would also drive the development of local communities.

With just two projects in operation, Argentina today contributes some 40,000 tons per year of that key chemical element for batteries that are used around the world in, for example, cell phones and electric cars, representing 16 percent of global production, according to data from Argentina’s Energy and Mining Ministry (MinEM).

But these numbers are expected to increase significantly in the near future, because the main international companies engaged in this business – strongly linked to the energy transition from fossil fuels to clean sources – have already landed in Argentina.

Thus, in the last two years the sector has received nearly two billion dollars in foreign investment, and today there are no less than 53 projects in the phases of exploration or technical and economic feasibility studies, which cover a total area of 876,000 hectares in the northwest of the country, according to MinEM.

“In Argentina what we can do so far is extract lithium carbonate. The problem is that we do not have the technology or the patents for the assembly of the batteries,” economist Benito Carlos Aramayo told IPS.

“As a result, lithium will not change the production model of the northwest of the country, which is the production of raw materials. It will only expand it a little, because today we depend mainly on sugarcane and tobacco,” added Aramayo, assistant dean of the Faculty of Humanities at the National University of Jujuy.

The llama is the animal best adapted to the arid conditions of the Argentinean region of the Puna de Atacama. The photo shows a group of llamas near a salt flat where exploration for lithium is being carried out. Credit: Mining Chamber of Commerce of the Province of Jujuy

The llama is the animal best adapted to the arid conditions of the Argentinean region of the Puna de Atacama. The photo shows a group of llamas near a salt flat where exploration for lithium is being carried out. Credit: Mining Chamber of Commerce of the Province of Jujuy

Together with Salta and Catamarca, Jujuy is one of the northwestern provinces that account for most of the country’s lithium reserves. In fact, of the 53 projects that are expected to begin to operate soon, 48 are in these three provinces, in the Puna ecoregion.

The Puna is an arid zone, with salt flats that are over 4,000 meters above sea level, which is part of what has been called the “Lithium Triangle”, and includes northern Chile and southwestern Bolivia. In recent years, different scientific reports have pointed out that the region has approximately half of the world’s lithium reserves.

Chile has led the world market in recent years, but at present big investors in the sector seem to be looking towards Argentina, just as global demand for lithium is expected to rise threefold by 2025.

The intense exploratory activity carried out recently in the Argentine Puna increased the country’s lithium reserves, which in 2015 were estimated at 6.3 percent of the global total, compared to 13.8 percent today.

This growth was shown in a report jointly prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Argentina’s Geological and Mining Service (SEGEMAR), which was made public in late November 2017.

“Argentina can become the world’s leading lithium exporter,” said Tom Schneberger, vice president of FMC Lithium, which through its subsidiary Minera del Altiplano produces some 22,500 tons of lithium a year in the Salar del Hombre Muerto, in the northwestern province of Catamarca.

In November, Schneberger announced investments for 300 million dollars with the objective of doubling the production in the salt flat by 2019, and gave two reasons to justify the company’s expectation: increased global demand and the “clear rules” set by the Macri administration.

“The previous government’s policies offered few certainties,” he said.

The question is whether the exploitation of lithium reserves can bring benefits to the inhabitants of northwestern Argentina, a particularly impoverished area that has been increasingly in decline in recent years.

According to a paper by Aramayo, the province of Jujuy accounted for just 1.3 percent of Argentina’s GDP in 1980, and for only 0.6 percent this decade.

Historian Bruno Fornillo, who has researched what he calls “the geopolitics of lithium,” wrote that “the profits of the lithium energy industry – as in the case of the processing of all raw materials since the very start of capitalism – rise as you go up the value chain”.

Fornillo sees lithium as a possible tool for a new model of development and urges that local activity not be restricted to the extraction of the metal, but that it move towards the manufacturing of batteries, which requires a strong production of scientific knowledge.

This would, of course, involve the difficult task of breaking with the export and extractivist model.

“The extraction of lithium has things in common with other extractivisms, which are disguised as industries, but they are not, because they produce nothing, they only extract,” naturalist Claudio Bertonatti, an adviser to the Félix de Azara environmental foundation, told IPS.

“These industries have such economic power that they tend to overpower institutions in poor regions. And until a while ago they were associated with neoliberal governments, but lately we have realised that these companies have such power that the extractivism does not change, regardless of who is in the government,” he added.

The process of extracting lithium in the salt flats begins with the pumping of brine and continues with a long process of evaporation. Thus, using chemical substances, lithium is separated from other salts.

It is a similar method, although on an industrial scale, to the one used for generations to produce salt by the indigenous populations of the area, who have lived for thousands of years in the region where the lithium reserves are concentrated.

The indigenous property of many of the territories is also a source of conflict and, in fact, 33 communities from the provinces of Salta and Jujuy filed a claim in 2010 with Argentina’s Supreme Court, to try to assert their right to to be consulted, but was rejected by the highest court for formal reasons.

Later, in 2015, the same communities presented a consultation protocol that respects the principles and ancestral values of their peoples, the Kolla and Atacama, called Kachi Yupi (“Footprints of Salt”, in their native language). The document was delivered to the authorities to be used in any project that could affect them.

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Argentine Soldiers Rest in Peace in the Malvinas/Falkland Islandshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/argentine-soldiers-died-malvinasfalkland-islands-rest-peace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentine-soldiers-died-malvinasfalkland-islands-rest-peace http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/argentine-soldiers-died-malvinasfalkland-islands-rest-peace/#respond Thu, 04 Jan 2018 14:01:23 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153740 Julio Aro, a veteran of the 1982 Malvinas/Falklands war, returned to the islands in 2008. When he visited the Argentine Military Cemetery he found 121 tombs that read: “Argentine soldier only known by God”, and he resolved to return their identity to his fellow soldiers. Today he can say that, to a large extent, he […]

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Julio Aro in the Argentine Military Cemetery (or Darwin Cemetery), in Malvinas/Falkland Islands. The former combatant worked since 2008 with the aim of identifying the Argentine soldiers buried on the islands. Credit: Courtesy of Julio Aro

Julio Aro in the Argentine Military Cemetery (or Darwin Cemetery), in Malvinas/Falkland Islands. The former combatant worked since 2008 with the aim of identifying the Argentine soldiers buried on the islands. Credit: Courtesy of Julio Aro

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jan 4 2018 (IPS)

Julio Aro, a veteran of the 1982 Malvinas/Falklands war, returned to the islands in 2008. When he visited the Argentine Military Cemetery he found 121 tombs that read: “Argentine soldier only known by God”, and he resolved to return their identity to his fellow soldiers. Today he can say that, to a large extent, he has achieved his goal.

More than 35 years after the war between Argentina and Great Britain in the South Atlantic, 88 Argentine families are receiving news that those soldiers who never returned home – their sons, husbands, or brothers – were identified and are buried in the Darwin Cemetery.

“In some cases, the family members are given rings, crucifixes, gloves or other belongings that had been buried with the bodies. It’s very moving,” said Julio Aro in an interview with IPS.

“The families all react differently. Some are happy, some are sad… I met a father who still hoped his son would return from the islands. It has been 35 years of anguish because these people have been subjected to enormous cruelty,” he added.

The process of truth and reparations is expected to be concluded in March or April, when a ceremony will be held on the Malvinas/Falklands islands, with relatives of the fallen, where the names of the previously unidentified soldiers will be placed at each grave.

Increasingly weakened and up against the wall because of revelations of its human rights violations, the 1976-1983 Argentine military dictatorship invaded the Malvinas/Falkland Islands in 1982, in response to a long-standing nationalist aspiration shared even today by a large part of the population of this South American country: to recover the Islands occupied by Great Britain since 1833.

However, the British government of prime minister Margaret Thatcher reacted quickly sending troops to the South Atlantic, and in two months defeated Argentina, which suffered 649 casualties. Britain regained control of the islands, which aggravated the crisis facing the Argentine military government and paved the way for the country to return to democracy the following year.

The initiative to try to heal the wound that remained open for many families began in December 2016 with an agreement between Argentina and Great Britain, which gave rise to the so-called Humanitarian Project Plan (PPH).

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was entrusted to identify the Argentine soldiers buried in anonymous graves in the Malvinas/Falklands.

In June 2017, after a long period of interviews and collecting DNA samples from 107 relatives who had never recovered their loved ones, a team of 14 forensic experts from Argentina, Australia, Chile, Great Britain, Mexico and Spain disembarked in the Malvinas/Falklands.

Luis Fondebrider and Mercedes Doretti belong to the prestigious Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF), who together with forensic experts from other countries managed to identify 88 Argentine soldiers buried in the Malvinas/Falklands islands, 35 years after the war. Credit: Daniel Gutman / IPS

Luis Fondebrider and Mercedes Doretti belong to the prestigious Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF), who together with forensic experts from other countries managed to identify 88 Argentine soldiers buried in the Malvinas/Falklands islands, 35 years after the war. Credit: Daniel Gutman / IPS

For seven weeks, in the middle of the cold Southern hemisphere winter on the islands, the experts worked at the cemetery, exhuming 122 corpses (there were 121 graves, but one of them held two bodies), taking DNA samples at a morgue temporarily fitted out with hi-tech equipment, placing the remains in new coffins and burying them again in the same graves.

The genetic analysis of the samples and the comparison with the ones taken from the relatives were later carried out in the laboratory of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) in Córdoba, whose forensic experts participated in the whole process. In parallel, two other laboratories from Great Britain and Spain carried out a cross-comparison and confirmed the results.

The EAAF is a prestigious multidisciplinary team created in 1984 to identify the remains of victims of forced disappearance killed by Argentina’s military dictatorship.

Since then, the EAAF has been working in many countries around the world identifying remains of victims of human rights violations, supporting processes of truth, justice and reparation.

Forensic anthropologist Luis Fondebrider, director of the EAAF, explained to IPS that despite the time that had passed, the bodies in the Darwin cemetery were in relatively good condition due to the work carried out in 1982 by British colonel Geoffrey Cardozo.

“When the war ended, Cardozo spent six weeks gathering all the bodies of Argentine soldiers who were on the battlefield or in the cemetery of Puerto Argentino (Port Stanley, capital of the Malvinas/Falklands). Then he resolved to create a military cemetery, with geat dignity and respect for the fallen,” said Fondebrider.

Fondebrider said that each body, before being buried was wrapped together with its belongings in three bags by Cardozo, who also made a map with references to the cemetery and a report.

That map and report were safeguarded by Cardozo for decades. In 2008, the British officer gave it to former Argentine combatant Julio Aro, when he visited London invited by a group of local war veterans.

Aro was obsessed with the need to identify the Argentine soldiers buried in the Malvinas/Falklands, and Cardozo knew that the documents would be of great help.

“I had returned to the Malvinas more than 25 years after the war to find a bit of the person I had left there in 1982,” Aro said.

“And when I saw those tombs with that inscription, I could not stand it,” he recalled.

Aro then began knocking on doors, convinced that one day the families who had never heard again from their loved ones could obtain an answer.

In 2011, when everything seemed more difficult than ever, Gaby Cociffi, a journalist who had covered the war and got involved in the project, was given the email address of British rock star Roger Waters, who was on a world tour that attracted crowds and would be performing in Buenos Aires the following year.

Waters quickly became publicly involved in the cause and, when he was received at the Casa Rosada government house by the then Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, he raised the issue.

It was then that Fernández took the issue into her own hands, and on Apr. 2, 2012, on the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the Malvinas/Falklands war, she announced that she had sent a letter to the ICRC, asking it to intercede with Great Britain to try to identify the Argentine soldiers.” Now, finally, their families can have peace.

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Using Data to Combat Prejudice Against Immigrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/using-data-combat-prejudice-immigrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=using-data-combat-prejudice-immigrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/using-data-combat-prejudice-immigrants/#respond Sat, 16 Dec 2017 00:31:53 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153583 What are the contributions of migrants to trade, to the economy of their countries of destination and origin? This is an angle that is generally ignored in the international debate on the subject, which usually focuses more on issues such as the incidence of foreigners in crime or unemployment. In order to discuss these and […]

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Participants in the first Forum on Migration,Trade and the Global Economy held in the old Immigrants’ Hotel in Buenos Aires, where the Argentine government used to accommodate the thousands of Europeans arriving to the country in the 19th century and the early 20th century, a symbol of the positive reception that migrants once enjoyed. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Participants in the first Forum on Migration,Trade and the Global Economy held in the old Immigrants’ Hotel in Buenos Aires, where the Argentine government used to accommodate the thousands of Europeans arriving to the country in the 19th century and the early 20th century, a symbol of the positive reception that migrants once enjoyed. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Dec 16 2017 (IPS)

What are the contributions of migrants to trade, to the economy of their countries of destination and origin? This is an angle that is generally ignored in the international debate on the subject, which usually focuses more on issues such as the incidence of foreigners in crime or unemployment.

In order to discuss these and other questions, international experts met in Buenos Aires on on Thursday, Dec. 14, at the first Forum on Migration, Trade and the Global Economy.

Not coincidentally, but to highlight the links between both topics, the event was held a day after the end of the 11th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), also held in the Argentine capital.

“Migration is treated today in the world almost as a police matter. We stress the need to address the issue a different way, analysing the favourable economic outlook, especially in international trade,” said Aníbal Jozami, president of the Foro del Sur Foundation."Migration is a complex social and economic phenomenon, so you have to be very sophisticated in how you speak about migration to people. It's very difficult to explain that maybe those people are unemployed today, but in the future they will be bringing positive skills and knowledge to society." -- Marina Manke

This Argentine non-governmental organisation, which promotes diversity, organised the event together with the Geneva-based International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

There are some 244 million migrants in the world today – around three percent of the total population – according to figures provided by Diego Beltrand, the IOM regional director for South America.

The number of migrants grew by an estimated 300 percent over the last 50 years. Different kinds of evidence of their economic contribution, something that is usually ignored, were presented at the forum.

This lack of knowledge about the positive impact of migration is the reason why, Beltrand said, “freedom of trade has been widely recognised around the world, but not freedom of movement for people.”

According to a study presented by the IOM during the forum, migrants contribute nearly 10 percent of the world’s GDP and are especially helpful to their countries of origin at times of economic crisis through remittances, which exceed 15 percent of national GDP in countries such as El Salvador and Honduras.

The IOM also estimates that migrants generate six trillion dollars worldwide. Meanwhile, the remittances they send to their countries of origin reach 15 billion dollars per year, according to Resedijo Onyekachi Wambú, from the African Foundation for Development.

Another prejudice challenged was that most immigrants aspire to very basic jobs. Stefano Breschi, a professor at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, revealed that in the last two decades, high-skilled migration grew by 130 percent against an increase of just 40 percent for the low-skilled.

Why then do politicians from all destination countries of the world try to win votes by promising more restrictions against foreigners, against all empirical evidence?

For Marina Manke, head of the IOM’s Labour Mobility and Human Development Division, “Migration is a complex social and economic phenomenon, so you have to be very sophisticated in how you speak about migration to people. It’s very difficult to explain that maybe those people are unemployed today, but in the future they will be bringing positive skills and knowledge to society.”

Manke is a Russian woman married to a German man. She emigrated to Germany, which she visits every weekend as she now works in the Swiss city of Geneva.

“My family in Germany see a large number of migrants in Berlin and it worries them. We need to be patient. Maybe there is a negative impact in the short term but over long periods migration is a broadly positive phenomenon,” she told IPS.

The event was held in the old Buenos Aires Immigrants’ Hotel, a building near the port which has been turned into a museum. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Argentine government gave free accommodation there to families who had just arrived after long sea journeys.

Argentina is a country whose founders set their sights on attracting immigrants. The National Constitution, written in 1853, promises equal opportunities “for all men of the world who want to live on Argentine soil.”

Thus, between 1881 and 1914 more than four million foreigners arrived, who represented more than a quarter of the population in 1895, as can be read in the museum. The majority of these immigrants were from Italy, Spain and other European countries.

Today things have changed, and Europe is the destination sought by millions of immigrants as it tries to close its borders.

“The major problem in Europe is that we find that the data is not reflected in the public discourse. If you look for information, you generally find a neutral or positive picture of migration’s role in the labour market and economy,” said Martin Kahanec, professor of public policy at the Central European University in Budapest.

“In the debates related to Brexit in the UK, for instance, the narratives that migrants take our jobs or abuse our welfare were not supported by the data,” the Slovak expert told IPS.

“Although economic arguments are used in the debate, what really drives this debate is fear.”

Europe is the main destination for migrants from Africa, the continent that exports the most people. Every year, between 15 and 20 million young Africans join the labour market and a high proportion cannot find a job and are impelled to leave their country, according to figures provided during the forum, setting out on journeys where death can prevent them from reaching their destination.

South America, on the other hand, received praise for its recent immigration policies.

Since 2009, efforts were made to strengthen the regional integration process with freedom of movement agreements for citizens of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Uruguay.

This made it possible for more than two and a half million citizens from other countries in Latin America to obtain residency permits, according to data from the IOM Regional Office for South America, based in Buenos Aires.

In the case of Argentina, the National Director of Migrations, Horacio García, said that since 2012, more than 1,350,000 residence permits have been granted.

García, however, warned that it is necessary for the State to get involved in the integration of immigrants into the labour market, a topic that today is being neglected.

“It is necessary to identify those regions of the country where there are job opportunities, so so they can contribute to development, their skills are used and the pressure is taken off urban areas,” he said.

Like other countries in the region, Argentina recently received large numbers of immigrants from Venezuela who are fleeing the economic, political and social crisis in that country.

Argentine sociologist Lelio Mármora, who specialises in migration questions, estimated that in the last year and a half alone, some 40,000 Venezuelans have settled in Argentina.

However, openness towards immigrants is not common in the world. Mármora was one of those who most emphatically condemned the “difference between the freedom that exists for the movement of goods and for the movement of people.”

“Everyone applauded the fall of the Berlin Wall and today we have about 20,000 kilometers of walls and fences that prevent people from passing from one place to another,” he complained.

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Debate on Glyphosate Use Comes to a Head in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/debate-glyphosate-use-comes-head-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=debate-glyphosate-use-comes-head-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/debate-glyphosate-use-comes-head-argentina/#comments Fri, 08 Dec 2017 20:20:09 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153423 In and around the city of Rosario, where most of Argentina’s soybean processing plants are concentrated, a local law banned the use of glyphosate, the most widely-used herbicide in Argentina. But two weeks later, producers managed to exert enough pressure to obtain a promise that the ban would be overturned. This episode, which took place […]

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Academics discuss the impacts on health and the environment of the use of glyphosate in Argentine agriculture, during a Dec. 6 conference at the University of Buenos Aires. Concern about this topic is now on the country’s public agenda. Credit: Daniel Gutman / IPS

Academics discuss the impacts on health and the environment of the use of glyphosate in Argentine agriculture, during a Dec. 6 conference at the University of Buenos Aires. Concern about this topic is now on the country’s public agenda. Credit: Daniel Gutman / IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Dec 8 2017 (IPS)

In and around the city of Rosario, where most of Argentina’s soybean processing plants are concentrated, a local law banned the use of glyphosate, the most widely-used herbicide in Argentina. But two weeks later, producers managed to exert enough pressure to obtain a promise that the ban would be overturned.

This episode, which took place in November, reflects the strong economic interests at stake and the growing controversy surrounding the use of agrochemicals and their impact on people’s health and the environment.

“Agriculture in Argentine has undergone major changes in recent decades and consolidated its agroindustrial model, strongly based on soy, which displaced wheat and corn,” explained Emilio Satorre, professor and researcher at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) department of agronomy.

“The sown area climbed from 15 to 36 million hectares, 60 to 65 percent of which are covered with genetically modified (GM) soy, while the use of phytosanitary products increased threefold. This system generated great wealth for the country, but of course it produces greater risks,” he told IPS.

For Satorre, “society is increasingly exacting… and the environment and health have become a central focus.”

Glyphosate accounts for over half of the agrochemicals used, since the government authorised in 1996 commercial sales of GM soybean resistant to that herbicide, which was then produced exclusively by Monsanto, the US biotech giant with a large subsidiary in this South American country.

Along with direct seeding or no-till systems, which avoid soil tillage and mitigate erosion, glyphosate and GM soy form the foundation on which the phenomenal expansion of agriculture has been based in this country of 44 million people, where the agro-livestock sector represents about 13 percent of GDP.

This growth took place at the expense of the loss of millions of hectares of natural pastures in La Pampa, one of the world’s most fertile regions in the centre of the country, and of native forests in the Chaco, the northern subtropical plain shared with Bolivia and Paraguay.

Large-scale soy production expanded so much that it reached the edge of many urban areas.

One of them is Córdoba, the second-biggest city in the country, located in the central region. There, a group of women have put Ituzaingó – a working-class neighborhood – on the national map since 2002.

It was when they mobilised to protest about a large number of cases of cancer and malformations, which they blamed on the spraying of soy crops that grew up to a few metres from their homes.

The Mothers of Ituzaingó, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Córdoba, the second-biggest city in Argentina, have taken their fight against agrochemicals, because of its impact on the health of their community, to the emblematic Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires. Credit: Courtesy of Mothers of Ituzaingó

The Mothers of Ituzaingó, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Córdoba, the second-biggest city in Argentina, have taken their fight against agrochemicals, because of its impact on the health of their community, to the emblematic Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires. Credit: Courtesy of Mothers of Ituzaingó

With their struggle, the Mothers of Ituzaingó obtained a judicial ruling that banned fumigations closer than 500 metres from their houses, as well as the criminal conviction of an agricultural producer and a fumigator.

They became a beacon of hope for many social movements in the country.

“I started when my daughter, who was three years old, was diagnosed with leukemia. Today thanks to God she is alive and they haven’t sprayed here anymore since 2008, but we were poisoned for years and people are still getting sick,” said Norma Herrera, a homemaker who has five children and two grandchildren.

“It was a very hard struggle at the beginning. Over the years the facts have proved us right, but we were never able to get professionals to scientifically establish the connection between the spraying and the health problems,” Herrera told IPS.

Thanks to the social movement of which the Mothers of Ituzaingó were pioneers, a decision was reached Nov. 16 by the city council in Rosario to ban glyphosate.

The provision placed emphasis on a study carried out by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specialised cancer agency of the World Health Organisation, which declared the herbicide a “probable carcinogen” two years ago.

The decision took agricultural producers by surprise. At the time they seemed more worried about the uncertainty over whether the European Union would or would not renew the licence for the use of glyphosate, which was to expire on Dec. 15.

A negative decision would cause a severe economic impact for Argentina, the sector’s business chambers warned.

But on Nov. 27 the EU agreed in Brussels to renew the licence for the herbicide for five years, with the votes of 18 countries against nine and one abstention.

In 2016, Argentina’s agricultural exports totaled 24 billion dollars, equivalent to 46 percent of the country’s total exports, while soy meal, cornmeal and soy oil accounted for the main sales abroad.

Three days after the EU’s decision, the heads of rural entities went to Rosario’s city hall and convinced the same city councilors who had banned glyphosate that there was no “scientific evidence” warranting such a decision.

A few hours later, several city councilors said they had not discussed the issue with the necessary depth.

As a result, although the provision is not yet in force because it was not signed by the city government, a new municipal bill was drafted, which authorises spraying with the herbicide with certain precautions, and is set to be discussed this month.

“We consider it deplorable that the councilors have reversed the commendable decision to protect the health and environment of the population of Rosario, yielding to pressure from the soy lobby and showing who truly governs” said a group of more than 10 environmental and social organisations.of the region in a press release.

For Lilian Correa, head of Health and Environment at the UBA school of medicine, “the next generation of Argentinians must put on the table the cost-benefit equation of the current productive model. Today, the impact on health and the environment is not measured.”

Correa warned about the prevailing apathy in Argentina regarding the regulation and handling of toxic agrochemicals, citing the case of endosulfan, an insecticide banned in 2011 by the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

“When that happened, Argentina set a two-year deadline to sell off stocks of endosulfan. That was done to benefit a company, in an unethical and illegal manner,” Correa said during a Dec. 5 conference at the UBA agronomy department

In 2011, a four-year-old boy died in Corrientes, in the northeast of the country, poisoned when endosulfan was sprayed on tomato crops less than 50 metres from his house.

In December 2016, the owner of the tomato plantation in question became the first person tried in Argentina for homicide through the use of agrochemicals.

However, the court considered that no negligence could be proven in the use of the substance, which at that time was permitted, and acquitted him.

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Lawmakers Impose Gender Parity in Argentina’s Congress, By Surprisehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/lawmakers-impose-gender-parity-argentinas-congress-surprise/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lawmakers-impose-gender-parity-argentinas-congress-surprise http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/lawmakers-impose-gender-parity-argentinas-congress-surprise/#respond Fri, 01 Dec 2017 01:24:15 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153274 It was an unexpected move by a group of women in the lower house of the Argentine Congress. At one o’clock in the morning, during a long parliamentary session, they demanded the approval of a stalled bill for gender parity in political representation. There was resistance and arguments, but an hour later, the initiative became […]

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A group of women legislators in Argentina’s lower house, who in the early hours of the morning led a surprise vote that resulted in the approval of the law on gender parity in Argentina’s political representation, celebrate their achievement at the end of the historic session. Credit: Chamber of Deputies of Argentina

A group of women legislators in Argentina’s lower house, who in the early hours of the morning led a surprise vote that resulted in the approval of the law on gender parity in Argentina’s political representation, celebrate their achievement at the end of the historic session. Credit: Chamber of Deputies of Argentina

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Dec 1 2017 (IPS)

It was an unexpected move by a group of women in the lower house of the Argentine Congress. At one o’clock in the morning, during a long parliamentary session, they demanded the approval of a stalled bill for gender parity in political representation. There was resistance and arguments, but an hour later, the initiative became law by a large majority.

With votes from all the parties, a historic step was taken for Argentine politics: as of the next legislative elections, in 2019, all the lists of candidates for Congress must necessarily alternate male and female candidates, to ensure equal participation in both houses.

The law also stipulates that women have to make up half of the lists of candidates for national positions of the political parties, although in this case it does not require an alternation of women and men."This is the result of many years of efforts for politics to incorporate the voice and presence of women when it comes to making decisions that impact society as a whole." -- Deputy Victoria Donda

The surprise move in the early hours of the morning on Nov. 23 by female lawmakers revived a stalled bill that was already approved by the Senate 13 months ago, and by a committee in October, but was not scheduled for debate in the lower house this year.

When the session finally ended at almost four o’clock in the morning, the speaker of the lower house, Emilio Monzó of the ruling Cambiemos alliance, asked the euphoric women legislators who had taken part in the mission to take a group photo. And many others joined the picture to demonstrate their support.

“It was an intelligent strategy that cut across party affiliation to revive an issue that kept being put off. Once there was agreement to vote, almost everyone did so in favour of the measure. With what arguments could a lawmaker publicly justify voting against it?” asked Natalia Gherardi, executive director of the Latin American Team for Justice and Gender (ELA).

ELA is one of the many civil society organisations that have been demanding the approval of a gender parity law for more than 10 years, a period of time in which dozens of bills were presented.

Gherardi told IPS that this law “represents a new paradigm of parity democracy, which should not be limited to the legislative branch. Politics must reflect the diversity of society.”

Another stride forward in Latin America

In Latin America, Ecuador has been a path-breaker, after giving constitutional status to gender parity in elective posts in 2008.

Legislators who supported the new law at four o'clock in the morning on Nov. 23, 2017 took a group photo when the historic session in Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies ended, after passing a law that imposes gender parity in political representation. Credit: Chamber of Deputies of Argentina

Legislators who supported the new law at four o’clock in the morning on Nov. 23, 2017 took a group photo when the historic session in Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies ended, after passing a law that imposes gender parity in political representation. Credit: Chamber of Deputies of Argentina

A report on parity democracy in the region, by the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM), within the Organisation of American States (OAS), concluded that the region is the most advanced in the world with respect to laws that protect women’s political participation.

Argentina is the fifth country to regulate parity in parliamentary representation, after Ecuador, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Mexico.

But in total there are 15 countries in Latin America that have legislated on gender parity or have established quotas ranging from 20 to 50 per cent in elective posts.

However, these laws have not always been applied effectively, according to a document from the project “Atenea: Mechanism for the Acceleration of the Political Participation of Women in Latin America and the Caribbean” developed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UN Women and International Idea, aimed at promoting political parity in Latin America.

Argentina is a pioneer in the region, having passed the first female quota law, in 1991, which set a mandatory floor of 30 percent of women on the lists of candidates, “in proportions likely to lead to election.”

However, the report ”Political Parity in Argentina. Advances and Challenges “, presented this year by the Atenea project points out that, although the quota law favoured women’s access to politics, over the years the set quota of 30 percent became “a difficult ceiling to break through.”

Alejandra García, a gender associate at UNDP Argentina, told IPS that women’s political representation in the country “had been stagnant. That is why this new legislative step forward is very positive.”

García maintains that the quota laws “are affirmative action laws and have a temporary nature, while this new law is conceptually different, since it seeks to guarantee parity representation in a definitive way “.

The issue of gender parity in parliaments entered Argentine politics at the beginning of this century, when the regional legislatures of three of the country’s 23 provinces passed gender parity laws: Santiago del Estero, Córdoba and Río Negro.

The matter was revived last year, when four other provinces passed laws (Buenos Aires, Chubut, Salta and Neuquén), while at the national level the Senate approved the bill on gender parity.

It was on Oct. 19, 2016 when the issue of political parity had major repercussions, coinciding with massive marches of women throughout the country against sexist violence, under the slogan “Not one [woman] less”, in response to several femicides or gender-based murders.

However, at the same time, the lower house was discussing an electoral reform bill promoted by the government of President Mauricio Macri, which among other issues included changing the voting system from paper ballot to electronic, but did not include any changes regarding gender issues.

The parity bill now is only waiting to be signed into law by the executive branch, which is taken for granted after it was approved with 57 votes in favour and only two against in the Senate, and 165 positive votes, four negative and two abstentions in the Chamber of Deputies.

“This is the result of many years of efforts for politics to incorporate the voice and presence of women when it comes to making decisions that impact society as a whole,” said Deputy Victoria Donda.

This member of the progressive Free of the South Movement was the one who interrupted the programmed course of the session on the night of Nov. 22, to demand a vote on the gender parity bill, without the need for debate or speeches, which generated a discussion but was quickly accepted.

“The overwhelming vote in favour reflected the progress of the demands for equal rights,” added 40-year-old Donda, who is somewhat of a symbol of Argentine democracy.

This is because she is the daughter of disappeared parents, and was born in the Navy Mechanics School (ESMA), the most infamous of the torture centres run by Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship.

Donda was stolen at birth by the family of a member of the security forces and regained her true identity in 2003.

Still pending in Argentina with respect to gender parity in politics are the executive and judicial branches.

In 2016, there were just 13.6 percent women in ministerial positions, according to data from Atenea.
At the level of municipal governments, there is only official data from the eastern province of Buenos Aires, the largest and most populous, where only 2.9 percent of mayors are women.

The proportion rises to 31.7 percent in city councils, where the 30 percent quota established by national legislation is applied.

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The World is Losing the Battle Against Child Labourhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/world-losing-battle-child-labour/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-losing-battle-child-labour http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/world-losing-battle-child-labour/#comments Fri, 17 Nov 2017 22:06:46 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153085 The IV Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour,  which drew nearly 2000 delegates from 190 countries to the Argentine capital, left many declarations of good intentions but nothing to celebrate. Child labour is declining far too slowly, in the midst of unprecedented growth in migration and forced displacement that aggravate the situation, […]

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The IV Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour, held in the Argentine capital, concluded with an urgent call to accelerate efforts to eradicate this major problem by 2025, a goal of the international community that today does not appear to be feasible. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

The IV Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour, held in the Argentine capital, concluded with an urgent call to accelerate efforts to eradicate this major problem by 2025, a goal of the international community that today does not appear to be feasible. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Nov 17 2017 (IPS)

The IV Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour,  which drew nearly 2000 delegates from 190 countries to the Argentine capital, left many declarations of good intentions but nothing to celebrate.

Child labour is declining far too slowly, in the midst of unprecedented growth in migration and forced displacement that aggravate the situation, said representatives of governments, workers and employers in the Buenos Aires Declaration on Child Labour Forced Labour and Youth Employment.

The document, signed at the end of the Nov. 14-16 meeting, recognises that unless something changes, the goals set by the international community will not be met.

As a result, there is a pressing need to “Accelerate efforts to end child labour in all its forms by 2025,” the text states.

In the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), target seven of goal eight – which promotes decent work – states that child labour in all its forms is to be eradicated by 2025."The increase in child labour in the countryside has to do with informal employment. Most of the children work in family farming, without pay, in areas where the state does not reach.” -- Junko Sazaki

“For the first time, this Conference recognised that child labour is mostly concentrated in agriculture and is growing,” said Bernd Seiffert, focal point on child labour, gender, equity and rural employment at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

“While the general numbers for child labour dwindled from 162 million to 152 million since 2013, in rural areas the number grew: from 98 to 108 million,” he explained in a conversation with IPS.

Seiffert said: “We heard a lot in this conference about the role played by child labour in global supply chains. But the majority of boys and girls work for the local value chains, in the production of food.”

The declared aim of the Conference, organised by the Argentine Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security with technical assistance from the International Labour Organisation (ILO), was to “take stock of the progress made” since the previous meeting, held in 2013 in Brasilia.

Guest of honour 2014 Nobel Peace Prize-winner Kailash Satyarthi said he was “confident that the young will be able to steer the situation that we are leaving them,” but warned that it would not make sense to hold a new conference in four years if the situation remains the same.

Satyarthi was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work in his country, India, in defence of children’s rights, and in particular for his fight against forced labour, from which he has saved thousands of children.

“We know that children are used because they are the cheapest labour force. But I ask how much longer we are going to keep coming to these conferences to go over the same things again. The next meeting should be held only if it is to celebrate achievements,” he said.

Junko Sasaki, director of the Social Policies and Rural Institutions Division at FAO, said “the increase in child labour in the countryside has to do with informal employment. Most of the children work in family farming, without pay, in areas where the state does not reach.”

“We must promote the incorporation of technologies and good agricultural practices to allow many poor families to stop having to make their children work,” she told IPS.

According to the ILO, as reflected by the final declaration, 71 percent of child labour is concentrated in agriculture, and 42 percent of that work is hazardous and is carried out in informal and family enterprises.

“There are also gender differences. While it is common for children to be exposed to pesticides that can affect their health, girls usually have to work more on household chores. In India, for example, many girls receive less food than boys,” said Sazaki.

Children were notably absent from the crowded event, which brought together government officials and delegates of international organisations, the business community and trade unionists.

Their voice was only heard through the presentation of the document “It’s Time to Talk”, the result of research carried out by civil society organisations, which interviewed 1,822 children between the ages of five and 18 who work, in 36 countries.

The study revealed that children who work do so mainly to help support their families, and that their main concern is the conditions in which they work.

They feel good if their work allows them to continue studying, if they can learn from work and earn money; and they become frustrated when their education is hindered, when they do not develop any skills, or their health is affected.

“We understand that children who work have no other option and that we should not criminalise but protect them and make sure that the conditions in which they perform tasks do not put them at risk or prevent their education,” said Anne Jacob, of the Germany-based Kindernothilfe, one of the organisations that participated in the research.

For Jacob, “it is outrageous that the problem of child labour should be addressed without listening to children.”

“After talking with them, we understood that there is no global solution to this issue, but that the structural causes can only be resolved locally, depending on the economic, cultural and social circumstances of each place,” she told IPS.

The participants in the Conference warned in the final declaration that armed conflicts, which affect 250 million children, are aggravating the situation of child labour.

Virginia Gamba, special representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, explained that “modern armed conflicts use children as if they were disposable materials. Children are no longer in the periphery of conflicts but at the centre.”

In this respect, she pointed out that hundreds of thousands of children are left without the possibility of access to formal education every year in different parts of the world. Her office counted 750 attacks on schools in the midst of armed conflict in 2016, while this year it registered 175 in just one month.

“To fight child labour and help children, we have to think about mobile learning and home-based education. Education must be provided even in the most fragile situations, even in refugee camps, since that is the only means of providing normality for a child in the midst of a conflict,” said Gamba.

In the end, the Conference left the bitter sensation that solutions are still far away.

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder warned that the concentration of child labour in rural work indicates that it often has nothing to do with employers, but with families.

It is easy for some to blame transnational corporations or governments. But the truth is that it is everyone’s fault, he concluded.

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