Inter Press ServiceDaniel Gutman – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 18 Jan 2018 00:16:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.5 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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Argentina Aims to Be a Leader in Mining, But Obstacles Aboundhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/argentina-aims-leader-mining-obstacles-abound/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentina-aims-leader-mining-obstacles-abound http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/argentina-aims-leader-mining-obstacles-abound/#respond Sat, 04 Nov 2017 19:52:23 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152890 Argentina does not have the mining tradition of other South American countries, but this could begin to change. The government wants to draw 30 billion dollars in foreign investment to tap the great mining potential along the eastern slope of the Andes mountain range, stretching from north to south. However, added to the complexities involved […]

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A lithium mine in the Salar de Cauchari-Olaroz, in the Andean highlands of the province of Jujuy, in northwestern Argentina. The government says it aims to attract 30 billion dollars in investment to develop mining. Credit: Chamber of Mining of the Province of Jujuy

A lithium mine in the Salar de Cauchari-Olaroz, in the Andean highlands of the province of Jujuy, in northwestern Argentina. The government says it aims to attract 30 billion dollars in investment to develop mining. Credit: Chamber of Mining of the Province of Jujuy

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Nov 4 2017 (IPS)

Argentina does not have the mining tradition of other South American countries, but this could begin to change. The government wants to draw 30 billion dollars in foreign investment to tap the great mining potential along the eastern slope of the Andes mountain range, stretching from north to south.

However, added to the complexities involved in the task of seducing big capital, there is a major obstacle: the resistance of the environmental movement against large-scale mining, which in many parts of the country has mobilised entire communities and which has chalked up several major victories.

“We have a great opportunity to develop a resource that Argentina possesses and which could be even more important than what agriculture generates,” President Mauricio Macri said in June at the Casa Rosada, the seat of government, during an event also attended by governors and vice-governors of 12 of the country’s 23 provinces.

On that occasion, Argentina signed the Federal Mining Agreement, which establishes uniform guidelines for the entire country in terms of royalties to be charged by the provincial governments, and minimal regulation of environmental protection.

But, above all, the government was seeking to send out a signal of commitment to the activity and to dispel the doubts of investors, in a country where mining has been rejected by many communities.

Under Argentina’s constitution, natural resources belong to the provinces, which set the rules with regard to environmental protection.

Currently, there are seven provinces that have, due to social pressure, regulations that prohibit open-pit mining or the use of cyanide and other hazardous substances, which are usually used to separate valuable metals from rock.

The pioneer in the anti-mining movement was the southern province of Chubut, in Patagonia, which passed a law in 2003, after the population of the city of Esquel protested to keep out a Canadian mining company that sought to extract gold and silver.

The pressure forced the call for a plebiscite, in which more than 80 percent of voters rejected the mine. That milestone is considered the birth of the anti-mining movement in the country.

“The social movement against mining is one of the best organised and most powerful in Latin America,” said Enrique Viale, founder of the Argentine Association of Environmentalist Lawyers.

“That is the main concern of the national government and of companies, as evidenced by the fact that the Federal Mining Agreement stipulates that schools should teach the economic importance of mining. It seeks to indoctrinate the young, which we reject,” Viale told IPS.

President Mauricio Macri (front) and governors of different Argentine provinces in La Casa Rosada, seat of the government, when they signed the Federal Mining Pact, which sent out a signal for the enormous investments that they intend to attract to the sector. Credit: Presidency of the Nation

President Mauricio Macri (front) and governors of different Argentine provinces in La Casa Rosada, seat of the government, when they signed the Federal Mining Pact, which sent out a signal for the enormous investments that they intend to attract to the sector. Credit: Presidency of the Nation

From the beginning of his term, Macri has been a staunch advocate of mining. In February 2016, when he had only been in office for two months, he eliminated taxes on mineral exports, as he also did for most agricultural commodities.

He also authorised all companies to transfer dividends abroad, which was restricted until 2015, as part of measures aimed at fomenting investment and the creation of employment.

However, the latest recent mining figures are not optimal.

Mining exports in 2016 totaled 3.619 billion dollars, six percent more than in 2015, while in the first eight months of this year exports reached 2.186 billion dollars, 0.8 percent less than in the same period of 2016.

This data is from a report by the economic consultancy firm Abeceb, which adds that there are 84,000 jobs in the sector, although there has been a 1.8 percent decline in jobs in the third quarter of this year.

Mining potential

Argentina has granted mining rights over 266,000 square kilometers (almost 10 percent of the country's territory), mostly in the Andes mountain range that constitutes the natural border with Chile, but according to the Secretariat of Mining Development there is mining potential in over 750,000 square kilometres of the national territory.

The main reserves are copper, gold, silver and lithium.

Argentina’s mining potential is reflected by the fact that there is only one active copper mine, but 10 projects in an advanced stage of exploration and 85 in the initial stage, and only seven active gold mines and more than 200 in the stage of exploration.

According to official data, the most advanced exploration projects have total combined reserves of 53.5 million tons of copper, 66.6 million ounces of gold and 2.4 million ounces of silver.

Javier Cao, Abeceb project leader, clarified that, “without these measures favorable to mining, the latest numbers would surely have been worse”.

The expert told IPS that “we must bear in mind that several large mines were reaching the end of their useful life when the government took office. And that reality was offset. They were able, for example, to extend the life of the Alumbrera mine.”

This is the largest open pit mine in the country, which since 1997 has been producing copper, gold and molybdenum in the province of Catamarca, in the northwest of the country.

Cao added that it also conspires against investments in places where the government has not yet defined which are the mountainous areas with glaciers.

This generates uncertainty about the application of the 2010 Glacier Protection Law which prohibits mining on glaciers.

“No one is going to invest the huge sums that mining requires, with the risk of being told later that it is on a glacier and it is being closed down,” he said.

The law requires a “national inventory of glaciers”, which neither the previous government of Cristina Fernández (2007-2015) nor the current administration have carried out, which keeps delaying its enforcement.

That is one of the main arguments of those who question the government because they maintain that it prioritises mining over the preservation of the environment.

Pía Marchegiani, of the Environment and Natural Resources Foundation (FARN), said “the Federal Mining Agreement stipulates the control of activities carried out on glaciers, while the law, which has not yet been applied, prohibits mining there absolutely.”

“These kinds of issues show us that the official discourse favorable to environmentally sustainable mining does not reflect the reality,” she added in her conversation with IPS.

Marchegiani said that the main foreign investors in the mining industry in Argentina are Australia, Canada and the United States, while China still has very little weight, although its involvement is expected to grow, as it has elsewhere in Latin America.

That is precisely the door that the Argentine government wants to open.

In September, Undersecretary of Mining Development Mario Capello traveled to China with businessmen from the sector, and said that “mining has become a new pillar of the relationship between the two countries.”

In different cities in China, Capello presented the government’s program “Mining, a state policy”, with a digital presentation in which it claims that 750,000 of Argentina’s 2,800,000 square kilometers have a “high mining potential.”

This year, a Chinese company, Shandon Gold, already bought, for 960 million dollars, a 50 percent share of the Veladero gold and silver mine in the northwestern province of San Juan, which was operated by the Canadian company Barrick Gold, and was questioned by social and political sectors for repeated cyanide spills that affected water courses more than 4,000 meters above sea level.

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Argentina’s Biodiesel Plagued by Commercial and Environmental Challengeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/argentinas-biodiesel-plagued-commercial-environmental-challenges/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentinas-biodiesel-plagued-commercial-environmental-challenges http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/argentinas-biodiesel-plagued-commercial-environmental-challenges/#respond Wed, 18 Oct 2017 07:00:49 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152563 The Argentine biodiesel industry, which in the last 10 years has become one of the most powerful in the world, has an uncertain future, faced with protectionist measures in the United States and Europe and doubts in the international scenario about the environmental impact of these fuels based on agricultural products. In August, the U.S. […]

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A view of Enresa, one of Argentina’s biodiesel plants. The country's biofuel production capacity is four million tons, but more than half is idle, due to a lack of external markets and limitations in domestic consumption. Credit: Courtesy of CEPREB

A view of Enresa, one of Argentina’s biodiesel plants. The country's biofuel production capacity is four million tons, but more than half is idle, due to a lack of external markets and limitations in domestic consumption. Credit: Courtesy of CEPREB

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Oct 18 2017 (IPS)

The Argentine biodiesel industry, which in the last 10 years has become one of the most powerful in the world, has an uncertain future, faced with protectionist measures in the United States and Europe and doubts in the international scenario about the environmental impact of these fuels based on agricultural products.

In August, the U.S. government blocked in practice the import of Argentine biodiesel, which is made exclusively from soybeans, by imposing high import duties, arguing dumping, or unfair competition with local soybean producers.

One month later, Argentina recovered, at least partially, from the economic effect of this measure, when the European Union (EU) complied with a World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruling and lowered – although they did not eliminate – the anti-dumping tariffs they had imposed on the product in 2013.

“We are convinced that there is protectionism hidden behind false arguments. The decision by the Donald Trump administration not only affects consumers in the U.S., where fuel prices are already on the rise, but also delays the replacement of oil,” said Gustavo Idígoras, international relations consultant for the Argentine Chamber of Biofuels.

In his view, “the lowering of tariffs in the EU allows us to recover a commercial opportunity that had been closed arbitrarily, but it will not replace the U.S. market.”

The EU had heavily invested in biofuels until 2012, but began to reduce its use since 2015, when it considered that devoting agricultural raw materials to transport fueled deforestation and accelerated climate change.

This reasoning was disputed in his dialogue with IPS by Idígoras, who was a commercial attaché for Argentina before the EU in Brussels between 2004 and 2009.

“The use of biodiesel generates 70 percent savings in emissions of greenhouse gases, as international studies show, and is a fundamental tool in the fight against global warming,” he argued.

Argentina, a major soy producer since the commercialisation of the first transgenic seeds from biotech giant Monsanto was authorised in the 1990s, began to develop its biodiesel industry in 2007.

That year, a law to promote biofuels came into force, requiring a certain proportion to be included in petroleum-based fuels sold in the country.

“Today the country has an installed capacity to produce 4.4 million tons per year of biodiesel, 70 percent of which is produced by 10 transnational corporations.

“This country is the third largest producer of soybean oil biodiesel, after the United States and Brazil, but it is the leading exporter of biofuels, taking all raw materials into account,” explained Julio Calzada, director of Economic Studies at the Rosario Stock Exchange (BCR).

Most of the biodiesel-producing plants are near the central city of Rosario, where soy exports are shipped out from its river port to the Atlantic Ocean.

However, more than half of the national production capacity is currently idle.

The domestic market consumes 1.2 million tons, due to the obligation to incorporate 10 percent of biofuel into diesel.

Although the industry is pressing the government of Mauricio Macri to increase the proportion, automotive companies are lobbying in the opposite direction, arguing that it could affect the performance of the engines.

The country also produces ethanol, from maize and sugarcane, but in an amount that only covers domestic use. In 2016, according to official data, it produced 815 million litres, destined almost entirely to be mixed with fuel sold in the country, which according to the 2007 law should include 12 percent biofuel.

In 2016, Argentine exports of biodiesel amounted to 1.6 million tons which generated 1.175 billion dollars, according to data from the BCR.

However, more than 90 percent of that was exported to the United States, which in August brought purchases to a halt when it slapped an average tariff of 57 percent on Argentine biodiesel.

The reason given was that Argentina’s production of biodiesel is locally subsidised, since its exports are not taxed, unlike soybeans and soybean oil which do pay export taxes amounting to 30 and 27 percent of their value, respectively.

The decision left the Argentine government in a particularly uncomfortable position, because it was adopted only a few days after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was given a friendly reception in Buenos Aires, where he praised the economic reforms carried out by President Mauricio Macri, in power since December 2015.

The Argentine Foreign Ministry rejected the U.S. decision in an Aug. 24 statement, saying that biodiesel “derives its success (in the U.S. market) from the recognised competitiveness of the soybean production chain in our country” and announced negotiations to try to reverse the Washington measure.

However, not only have they not been successful so far, but reportedly, in the near future the United States could raise import duties on Argentine biodiesel, due to the alleged unfair competition.

The EU also accused Argentina of dumping – selling at a lower price than normal – when it imposed a 24 percent tariff on Argentine biodiesel in 2013 – a rate that had been miscalculated, according to the WTO’s March 2016 ruling, which the EU complied with last month.

However, it is not only economic issues but also environmental ones that cast a shadow of uncertainty on the future of Argentine biodiesel.

“Beyond the fact that using crops for fuel goes against food uses, Argentine biodiesel is not green at all,” said Hernán Giardini, coordinator of the Greenpeace Argentina Forests campaign.

“The emissions avoided by the substitution of oil could be less than those generated to transport soybeans, which in Argentina is done by truck. In addition, soy accounts for more than half of all deforestation in recent years,” he told IPS.

On the other hand, Jorge Hilbert, an international consultant at the National Institute of Agricultural Technology, said that the environmental criticism against Argentine biodiesel actually arise from economic and political interests.

“Argentine biofuels are meeting the goals of emission reduction agreed at a global level, given the characteristics of our agricultural system,” he told IPS.

Hilbert claimed that “80 percent of the grains used are grown in the Rosario area, in soils with more than 100 years of agriculture, where there are no problems of deforestation or biodiversity.”

“The oil used for biodiesel is a byproduct of the soybean that Argentina produces in such quantity that there is no market for it. Its use in biofuel does not compete with food use,” he argued.

For Daniel Lema, an economist who specialises in agriculture, “U.S. and European producers are affected by Argentine biodiesel, and the problem is that our tax scheme gives them an argument for applying protectionist measures.

“Argentina should unify its taxes on all by-products of soy in order to not lose markets,” he told IPS.

Lema warned about another source of uncertainty with regard to biofuel. “Biodiesel faces another obstacle: it is more expensive than diesel derived from petroleum, and for the time being consumers have shown no signs of being willing to pay more in exchange for reducing emissions of polluting gases,” he said.

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Finally, Argentina Has a Law on Access to Public Informationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/finally-argentina-law-access-public-information/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=finally-argentina-law-access-public-information http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/finally-argentina-law-access-public-information/#respond Thu, 28 Sep 2017 23:53:41 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152281 After 15 long years of public campaigns and debates in which different political, social and business sectors held marches and counter-protests, Argentina finally has a new law that guarantees access to public information. This step forward must now be reflected in reality, in this South American country where one of the main social demands is […]

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The director of the new Agency for Access to Public Information in Argentina, Eduardo Bertoni – a former IACHR special rapporteur for Freedom of Expression - presented his plans at the Aug. 17 public hearing where his appointment was discussed. Credit: Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers

The director of the new Agency for Access to Public Information in Argentina, Eduardo Bertoni – a former IACHR special rapporteur for Freedom of Expression - presented his plans at the Aug. 17 public hearing where his appointment was discussed. Credit: Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Sep 28 2017 (IPS)

After 15 long years of public campaigns and debates in which different political, social and business sectors held marches and counter-protests, Argentina finally has a new law that guarantees access to public information.

This step forward must now be reflected in reality, in this South American country where one of the main social demands is greater transparency on the part of the authorities.

The Law on the Right of Access to Public Information, which considers “all government-held information” to be public, was approved by Congress in September last year and enters into force Friday Sept. 29.

Eduardo Bertoni stressed the importance of the new law. He is the academic appointed by the government of President Mauricio Macri to lead the new Agency for Access to Public Information, which will operate within the executive branch, although “with operational autonomy,” according to the law.

“There are already 113 countries that have right of access to information laws and 90 countries have incorporated it into their constitutions,” Bertoni said during the public hearing where his appointment was discussed.

Bertoni, a lawyer with a great deal of experience regarding the right to information, served as Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIADH) between 2002 and 2005.

“We must now encourage society to demand more information from the authorities. And it is essential to push for better organisation of the public archives, because if we do not find the information people seek, we will fail,” he added.

The text is broad in terms of the list of institutions legally bound to respond to requests for access to information: besides the various branches of the state, it includes companies, political parties, trade unions, universities and any private entity to which public funds have been allocated, including public service concessionaires.

The Agency was created to ensure compliance with the law. Its functions include advising people who seek public information and assisting them with their request.

“This was clearly a pending issue for Argentina. It is incomprehensible that the governments of Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and Cristina Fernández (2007-2015) did not push for approval of this law, which should be an incentive for provinces and municipalities to do the same, since very few have regulations on access to public information,” Guillermo Mastrini, an expert on this question, told IPS.

For Mastrini, a former director of Communication Sciences at the University of Buenos Aires, “this does not change the worrying scenario with respect to the right to information, since the government is regulating by decree issues related to audiovisual communication services in a way that does not favor plurality and transparency.”

The bill was sent to Congress by the government a few months after Macri took office in December 2015, and passed with large majorities in both legislative chambers.

Until now, at the national level, there was only decree 1172, signed in 2003 by Kirchner with the aim of “improving the quality of democracy”, which was not only below the status of a law, but only covered the executive branch with regard to the obligation to provide information.

José Crettaz, a journalist and the coordinator of the Center for Studies on the Convergence of Communications, told IPS that “Néstor Kirchner’s decree, which applied to the executive branch, worked very well at first, but then public officials began to leave most requests for information unanswered.”

“Now we are seeing a huge step forward, since the law encompasses all branches of the state, and I see a government with a different attitude. The decisive thing will be how the law is implemented. The only valid criterion should be: if there is public money involved, it is public information,” he said.

The law was passed after dozens of bills on access to information were introduced in Congress in recent years. The first was presented under the government of Fernando de la Rua (1999-2001), with the support of a network of civil society organisations, but with little backing from journalists.

The initiative obtained preliminary approval from the lower house of Congress in 2003, passed to the Senate and then the main Argentine media outlets joined the public campaign demanding that it be approved. However, they later distanced themselves from the bill.

They did so, Bertoni recalled in a paper written in 2011 for the World Bank, when a senator warned that the media should also respond to requests for information submitted by any member of the public, as they receive state advertising, which is considered a subsidy.

In 2004, the Senate approved the bill, but with modifications that included private entities among the subjects obligated to provide information, and sent it back to the lower house, where it was shelved. Another bill was passed by the Senate in 2010, but it also failed to prosper.

Now one thing that stood out is that just two days before the law went into effect, the government modified it through a questioned channel: based on “a decree of necessity and urgency”, putting the new Agency in the orbit of the chief of the cabinet of ministers.

“The government thus gave a lower status to the Agency, which according to law was to depend directly on the Presidency of the Nation; the decision, moreover, cannot be taken by decree when Congress is in session,” said Damián Loreti, professor of Right to Information at the University of Buenos Aires.

“That the law is in force is good. But I am concerned about a number of things, such as not including among its objectives a guarantee for the exercise of other rights, such as housing or sexual and reproductive rights. The model law of the Organisation of American States was not followed,” he told IPS.

For Sebastián Lacunza, the last director of the Buenos Aires Herald, a well-respected English-language newspaper that closed this year, “in a country that does not have a culture of transparency, there is a risk that the law will fail.”

“This government promised a regeneration of the country’s institutions, but in some aspects it ended up aggravating the shortcomings of the previous administration, which was not prone to being open with information,” he told IPS.

In his view, “in a context of global crisis in the media industry and a shrinking of plurality of information, the most important thing is that there is an active state that combats the concentration of the media in a few hands.”

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Indigenous Land Conflicts Finally Garner Attention in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/indigenous-land-conflicts-finally-garner-attention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-land-conflicts-finally-garner-attention http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/indigenous-land-conflicts-finally-garner-attention/#respond Fri, 22 Sep 2017 16:36:36 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152204 The territorial claims of hundreds of indigenous communities, which extend throughout most of Argentina’s vast geography, burst onto the public agenda of a country built by and for descendants of European colonisers and immigrants, accustomed to looking at native people as outsiders. It all started with the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado, a 28-year-old artisan who […]

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An indigenous demonstration in the city of San Miguel de Tucumán, demanding justice for the murder of Javier Chocobar, leader of a Diaguita indigenous community that is fighting against the exploitation of a quarry in northern Argentina. Credit: Courtesy of ANDHES

An indigenous demonstration in the city of San Miguel de Tucumán, demanding justice for the murder of Javier Chocobar, leader of a Diaguita indigenous community that is fighting against the exploitation of a quarry in northern Argentina. Credit: Courtesy of ANDHES

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Sep 22 2017 (IPS)

The territorial claims of hundreds of indigenous communities, which extend throughout most of Argentina’s vast geography, burst onto the public agenda of a country built by and for descendants of European colonisers and immigrants, accustomed to looking at native people as outsiders.

It all started with the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado, a 28-year-old artisan who on Aug. 1 participated in a protest in the southern Patagonian province of Chubut by Mapuche indigenous people, who were violently evicted by security forces. Since then, there has been no news of his whereabouts.

This mobilised broad sectors of society, and brought out of the shadows a conflict that in recent years has flared up into violence on many occasions, but which historically has been given little attention.

“I hope the sad incident involving Santiago Maldonado will help Argentina understand that it is necessary and possible to find legal and political solutions for theindigenous question,” said Gabriel Seghezzo, director of the Foundation for Development in Justice and Peace (Fundapaz) .

“It is imperative to work to defuse conflicts, because otherwise, the violence will continue,” added the head of Fundapaz, anorganisation that works to improve the living conditions of communities living in the Argentine portion of the Chaco, a vast subtropical forest that extends to Paraguay and Bolivia.

Fundapaz was one of the organisations that worked for more than 20 years on a territorial claim of rural lands in the northwestern province of Salta, which ended in 2014, when the local government transferred ownership of 643,000 hectares to the families that lived there.

Communal ownership of over 400,000 hectares was recognised for members of the Wichi, Toba, Tapiete, Chulupí and Chorote indigenous peoples, while the rest was granted in joint ownership to 463 non-indigenous peasant families.

The case, however, was merely one happy exception, since the vast majority of the country’s indigenous communities still do not have title to their lands.

Ten years ago, the government launched the National Programme for the Survey of Indigenous Territories, in which 1,532 communities were registered. To date, only 423 of them have been surveyed, although they do not yet have title deeds, while there are another 401 in process.

According to the National Institute of Indigenous Affairs (INAI), these 824 communities are demanding that 8,414,124 hectares be recognised as their ancestral lands. That is bigger than several countries in the continent, such as Panama or Costa Rica, but it is only about three percent of the 2,780,400 square km of the Argentine territory.

In the remaining communities, the survey has not even started.

This means the constitution, which recognises “the ethnic and cultural pre-existence of indigenous peoples” and guarantees not only “respect for their identity and the right to a bilingual and intercultural education”, but also “the communal possession and ownership of the lands they traditionally occupy,” is not being fulfilled.

These principles were incorporated in the constitution during the latest reform, in 1994, and marked a tremendous paradigm shift for a nation that has historically seen native people as an alien element, to be controlled.

"Where is he?" That is the question repeated on numerous posters on walls in Buenos Aires and other cities in Argentina regarding the Aug. 1 of Santiago Maldonado during a demonstration in the southern region of Patagonia. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

“Where is he?” That is the question repeated on numerous posters on walls in Buenos Aires and other cities in Argentina regarding the Aug. 1 of Santiago Maldonado during a demonstration in the southern region of Patagonia. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

In fact, up to 1994, Argentina’s laws actually instructed the authorities to “preserve the peaceful treatment of Indians and promote their conversion to Catholicism.”

However, the extraordinary progress on paper seems to have brought few concrete improvements for native people, whose proportion in the Argentine population is difficult to establish.

In the last National Census in 2010, 955,032 people identified themselves as belonging to or descended from an indigenous group, which represented 2.38 percent of the total population at that time of 40,117,096.

But the number of indigenous people is believed to be higher, since many people are reluctant to acknowledge indigenous roots, due to the historical discrimination and stigma that native people have suffered. The largest indigenous groups are the Mapuche in the south, the Tobas in the Chaco region, and the Guarani in the northeast.

“Since the constitutional reform that recognised indigenous peoples’ rights, we have had 23 years of absolute failure of public policies to solve the indigenous question. There has been a terrible postponement of the issue by all government administrations in this period,” said Raúl Ferreyra, a professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Buenos Aires.

For Ferreyra, “land disputes have clear roots in the uncontrolled advance of soy monoculture in the north of the country, and the passage to foreign hands of vast swathes of land in the south.”

“What we need is dialogue, but there is a lack of will and of tools,” he told IPS.

What happened with the land question is a good example of the gap between rules and reality.

In November 2006, the national Congress passed Law 26,160 on Indigenous Communities, which declared an “emergency with regard to the possession and ownership of indigenous territories” for four years.

During that period, which was to be used to determine which are the ancestral lands of the communities, as a preliminary step to the granting of title deeds, evictions were banned, even if a court order existed.

However, little progress was made on the survey, despite the fact that Congress voted for an extension of the original term of four years twice, for a total of 11 years.

The latest extension expires in November and dozens of social organisations across the country have called for its renewal until 2021, while Congress will begin debating the fate of the law on Sept. 27.

The demand was backed by hundreds of intellectuals, in a public letter in which they pointed out that “in Argentina, the recognition of indigenous peoples’ collective rights over their ancestral territories is increasingly irreconcilable with the expansion of profitable lands for capital.”

According to a study by global rights watchdog Amnesty International, there are 225 conflicts in the country involving indigenous communities, nearly all of them over land.

In 24 of them there were acts of violence with the intervention of the security forces, and even deaths. One case was the 2009 murder of Javier Chocobar, the leader of a Diaguitacommunityin the northwestern province of Tucumán, which is still unsolved.

“In all these years, many judges have continued to order evictions of indigenous communities despite the law prohibiting it. That is why we believe that if the emergency is not extended, the situation will get worse, “explained BelénLeguizamón, coordinator of the Indigenous Rights area of the Lawyers Association for Human Rights and Social Studies in Northwest Argentina (ANDHES).

In her view, “the law is an umbrella with holes, but an umbrella nonetheless.”

“The survey of Argentina’s indigenous territories should already have been completed, and today we should be studying the granting of title deeds on lands. We have to work against the strong discrimination that not only exists on the part of authorities and the mainstream media, but also among some sectors of society,” Leguizamón told IPS.

As an example, she noted that “schools in Argentina still teach that indigenous people belong to a past that no longer exists.”

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Latin America Discusses How to Finance the Sustainable Development Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/latin-america-discusses-finance-sustainable-development-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-discusses-finance-sustainable-development-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/latin-america-discusses-finance-sustainable-development-agenda/#respond Fri, 08 Sep 2017 21:52:37 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151998 Is it possible for the financial sector of Latin America and the Caribbean not only to think about earning money but also to contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development? The answer was sought in Buenos Aires, Argentina, at a regional roundtable on sustainable finance, the United Nations Environment Finance Initiative. “How to mobilise […]

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Canadian economist Eric Usher, director of the United Nations Environment Finance Initiative (UNEP FI), explains to financial sector executives from Latin America and the Caribbean their ideas for its institutions to promote the Sustainable Development Goals, atn a meeting in Argentina´s capital. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Canadian economist Eric Usher, director of the United Nations Environment Finance Initiative (UNEP FI), explains to financial sector executives from Latin America and the Caribbean their ideas for its institutions to promote the Sustainable Development Goals, atn a meeting in Argentina´s capital. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

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

Is it possible for the financial sector of Latin America and the Caribbean not only to think about earning money but also to contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development? The answer was sought in Buenos Aires, Argentina, at a regional roundtable on sustainable finance, the United Nations Environment Finance Initiative.

“How to mobilise sufficient funds is obviously one of the critical aspects of the agenda for sustainable development,” said Eric Usher, a Canadian economist with experience in the renewable energies sector and current director of the initiative, known as UNEP FI.

“Of course, profit maximisation is a tool for delivering economic development and it should be. But there’s a role for governments to play, to create the right framework and the enabling environment, to make sure that the private sector makes money doing the right things,” he told IPS, during the roundtable on Sept. 5-6, which brought together dozens of representatives of banks, investment funds and international bodies.

“I don’t think there is any discrepancy or problem with making money on sustainable development. The public and private sectors need to work together so we can deliver in a way that creates the most benefits,” said Usher.

UNEP FI is a global partnership between U.N. Environment and more than 200 financial entities – 129 banks, 58 insurance companies and 26 investment funds – from some 60 countries, created in the context of the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit. The meeting in Buenos Aires meant a return, after 25 years, to the region where the initiative first emerged.“If the risk assessment is comprehensive, it should not be purely financial and short-term. For example, when a bank carries out an analysis before investing in a renewable energy project, it should take into account the kind of energy mix the country is moving towards.” -- María Eugenia Di Paola

The Latin America and Caribbean round table will be followed by four other regional roundtables this year: North America (in New York), Europe (Geneva), Africa and the Middle East (Johannesburg) and Asia and the Pacific (Tokyo).

Financial bodies and business chambers from many countries explained in Buenos Aires the progress they have made in recent years with regard to the introduction of questions such as environmental and social risk or the calculation of carbon footprints in the assessment prior to granting loans, as well as their own energy efficiency goals or the reduction of paper consumption.

It became clear, nonetheless, that the certainties are still outweighed by the unanswered questions regarding the financial sector’s participation in the 2030 Agenda, which the U.N. member countries have been working towards since 2016, through the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

“We are barely at the start of the journey and this is not easy,” admitted Mario Vasconcelos, director of institutional relations of the Brazilian Federation of Banks (Febraban), which represents 123 financial institutions, 29 of which, he explained, have committed to finance productive projects to contribute to reducing carbon emissions.

“There are many business opportunities in the transition towards a low-carbon economy, which has already begun,” Vasconcelos said with enthusiasm.

Forty financial institutions in the region have signed the UNEP Statement of Commitment by Financial Institutions (FI) on Sustainable Development. UNEP FI has been working mainly towards building expertise in the sector about how to identify social and environmental risks in investment projects, so that these can be considered along with the economic risks.

This is perhaps the most difficult task, as Beatriz Ocampo, manager of Sustainability of Grupo Bancolombia, the most important private bank in Colombia, acknowledged to some extent.

“If you tell bankers they have to finance projects that contribute towards the fight against climate change, they will not understand what you are talking about. That is why it is important to establish what sustainable finance means,” she said.

In this sense, the region still has a long way ahead.

In Argentina, for example, questions related to sustainable finance are not a priority for most banks, due to the fact that there is no involvement by the state, and the adoption of these criteria is completely voluntary.

This was the conclusion of a report carried out in 2016 by UNEP FI together with CAF – the Development Bank of Latin America – on the basis of a survey which found that only 39 per cent of Argentine banks have implemented social environmental management systems.

One of the most commented topics during the meeting in Buenos Aires was the speech by Javier González Fraga, president of the Banco de la Nación Argentina, the largest public financial entity in the country.

He was the first speaker in the meeting and was critical of the financial sector while he praised environmentalists, which took many by surprise.

“The financial logic of these days does not allow us to protect the environment. We must not let economists, and especially not financial experts, express their opinion about the planet we are going to leave to our grandchildren,” he said.

González Fraga is a centre-right economist with vast experience, who presided over Argentina’s Central Bank during the presidency of Carlos Menem (1989-1999) and was appointed by the current president Mauricio Macri as head of Argentina’s only national bank.

In dialogue with IPS, González Fraga, who has postgraduate degrees from Harvard and the London School of Economics, expressed a conviction that “we must go about finance a different way, especially public banks.”

“Many years of experience have shown me that the classical or neoliberal theory will in no way solve environmental problems. The government must lead the way and have institutions such as state banks head up the process of change in approach,” he said.

González Fraga also condemned the U.S. government’s decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

“We see on TV what happened in Texas with Hurricane Harvey and it is clear that there is no need to explain what the future might hold, because it is already happening today. Donald Trump can say many things, but the reality in the U.S. can’t be denied, and people on the streets are starting to play an increasingly important role in the environmental issue,” he said.

For María Eugenia Di Paola, coordinator of Environment for the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) in Argentina, financial institutions in the region should not find it so difficult to add social and environmental criteria to economic factors, in risk assessment.

“If the risk assessment is comprehensive, it should not be purely financial and short-term. For example, when a bank carries out an analysis before investing in a renewable energy project, it should take into account the kind of energy mix the country is moving towards,” she told IPS.

“This way, the financial sector will acquire a perspective more attuned to the 2030 Agenda. And the climate catastrophes are already occurring, so that the concepts of medium and long term are very relative,” Di Paola said.

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Will Renewable Energies Finally Get Their Chance in Argentina?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/will-renewable-energies-finally-get-chance-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-renewable-energies-finally-get-chance-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/will-renewable-energies-finally-get-chance-argentina/#respond Mon, 14 Aug 2017 12:39:10 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151672 The first thing anyone who looks at any official document this year in Argentina will read is: “2017, the year of renewable energies.” This indicates the importance that the government gives to the issue, although translating the slogan into reality does not seem as easy as putting it in the headings of public documents. Renewable […]

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Will Renewable Energies Finally Get Their Chance in Argentina?

The solar farm in Arribeños, a locality in the province of Buenos Aires, which began to inject 500 Kw into the Argentinian power grid in August. Credit: Argentine Chamber of Renewable Energy

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Aug 14 2017 (IPS)

The first thing anyone who looks at any official document this year in Argentina will read is: “2017, the year of renewable energies.” This indicates the importance that the government gives to the issue, although translating the slogan into reality does not seem as easy as putting it in the headings of public documents.

Renewable sources of energy today make up an insignificant proportion of Argentina’s energy mix. But under a law passed in 2015, with the consensus of all political sectors, this scenario is to be reverted in the next few years.“The main driver of these initiatives is that Argentina has a large energy deficit and needs new power from all sources: from hydroelectric plants as well as the two new projected nuclear plants, while increasing its production of natural gas and also boost production from renewable sources.” -- Javier Cao

The objective is not only based on commitments of turning to clean sources of energy undertaken by Argentina within the framework of global agreements to combat climate change, but also on the need, imposed by the economy, to expand and diversify the energy mix.

For years, Argentina has been spending a fortune to import fossil fuels, although the amount has decreased, from seven billion dollars in 2014 to less than three billion dollars last year.

However, that did not happen due to increased productivity or a diversification of local sources, but because of a fall in international oil prices.

“Fossil fuels form an absurdly large portion of our energy mix. We have to change that,” Daniel Redondo, the government’s secretary of strategic energy planning, acknowledged in July in front of an auditorium of experts.

“We are going to live up to the law on renewable energies, which stipulates that 20 per cent of our energy should come from clean source by 2025,” he added.

According to official data, Argentina’s primary energy supply is based on 51 per cent natural gas and 33 per cent oil.

With respect to power generation, thermal plants which use fossil fuels cover 64 per cent of the supply, while 30 per cent comes from hydroelectric plants. The country’s three nuclear plants provide four per cent of the total.

Since 2016, the government has signed 59 contracts with private investors to develop renewable energy projects around the country. These initiatives, which should begin functioning next year, involve an overall investment of about four billion dollars, according to the Energy Ministry.

These projects will jointly add 2,423 megawatts (MW) to the energy supply, which the state has assumed the commitment to buy and incorporate into the national grid, which currently has some 30,000 MW of installed capacity.

China, a decisive player in the energy sector

Besides these projects, which form part of the government’s RenovAr Programme, the governor of the northern province of Jujuy, Gerardo Morales, announced that he signed a contract with the Power China company for the construction and financing of a 300-MW solar farm in the Salar de Cauchari, some 4,000 metres above sea level.

The contract was signed during President Mauricio Macri’s visit to China in May, when Morales was part of the official delegation. According to the governor, it will be “the biggest solar farm in Latin America.”

The first thing anyone who looks at any official document this year in Argentina will read is: “2017, the year of renewable energies.”

President Mauricio Macri signs contracts for renewable energy projects, together with members of his administration and representatives of the Buenos Aires city government. Credit: Argentine Presidency

During the visit, China consolidated its role as a key player in the renewal of the power industry in Argentina. In Beijing, an agreement was reached for the Asian giant to finance 85 per cent of the construction of two nuclear plants, with an investment of 14 billion dollars.

Before the visit, they had agreed for China to finance the construction of two hydroelectric plants in Argentina’s southern region of Patagonia, at a cost of nearly five billion dollars. But the two mega-projects are still on hold by a Supreme Court order, in response to a complaint filed by environmental organisations.

The government is keen on solving this situation, as the Chinese investors have threatened to apply a “cross-default” clause and block their investments in other projects.

Energy Ministry officials reiterate in every public forum in which they participate that the goal is for 20,000 MW of power to be added to the electric grid by 2025, and for half of this to come from renewable sources.

To finance this, the government created the Fund for the Development of Renewable Energies (Foder), which was endowed with 800 million dollars from the state, in addition to another 480 million approved by the World Bank to finance the projects.

The ones that are already underway are mainly wind and solar power projects, since Argentina has favourable conditions for the former in the windy southern region of Patagonia, and for the latter in the high plateaus of northwestern Argentina, where solar radiation is intense.

There are also small-scale hydroelectric and biogas projects.

“This is the first time that Argentina is really moving forward in the development of renewable energies. Today we have what we used to lack: financing,” said Javier Cao, an expert in renewable energies for the economic consulting firm Abeceb.

“The main driver of these initiatives is that Argentina has a large energy deficit and needs new power from all sources: from hydroelectric plants as well as the two new projected nuclear plants, while increasing its production of natural gas and also boost production from renewable sources,” he told IPS.

Will the third time be the charm?

Argentina’s dream of developing renewable energies is not new, but up to now all the efforts made had failed.

The first law that declared renewables a matter of “national interest” was passed by Congress in 1998. But the financial incentives created by that law were destroyed by the late 2001 economic and political crisis that led to the resignation of President Fernando de la Rúa.

In 2006 a second law was enacted, which set a target: eight per cent of the electric power consumed was to come from renewable sources by 2016. But once again, it failed, due to problems with financing.

The third, which will hopefully be the charm, was passed in 2015, with votes from lawmakers who backed then president Cristina Fernández (2007-2015) as well as members of the opposition, in a rare example of consensus.

This law created tax and customs incentives for investors and included among renewable sources hydroelectric dams up to 50 MW of capacity, in contrast to the ceiling of 30 MW set by the previous law.

In addition, it established the obligation to reach the target of eight per cent renewable energies in the electric grid by Dec. 31, 2017 – a deadline that will not be reached. However, the government hopes to meet the target by 2019.

The government does hope to reach the second target set by the law, on time: 20 per cent renewables by 2025.

“One of the challenges in this respect is decentralising production,” said Marcelo Álvarez, president of the Argentine Chamber of Renewable Energies, which represents companies in the sector.

Towards that end, Congress is expected to pass a new power distribution law this year, which will allow users who generate renewable power to sell their surplus to the grid, which would be a real innovation in Argentina.

“We already have achieved a unified text for the bill in the Energy Commission of the Chamber of Deputies, with the participation of technical advisers from all the parties and technicians from the executive branch,” said Juan Carlos Villalonga, a former Greenpeace environmental activist who is now a lawmaker for the governing alliance Cambiemos.

“The take-off of renewable energies will be one of the legacies of this government,” said Villalonga.

Within the Paris Agreement on climate change, signed by 196 member states in December 2015, Argentina committed itself to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 15 per cent before 2030, a level criticised as low, but to which this country would add another 15 per cent if it receives special funds.

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Latin America Discusses How to Make Environmental Rights a Realityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/latin-america-discusses-make-environmental-rights-reality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-discusses-make-environmental-rights-reality http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/latin-america-discusses-make-environmental-rights-reality/#respond Fri, 04 Aug 2017 01:35:07 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151563 The final declaration of the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 stated that “Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens.” However, this rarely happens in Latin America and the Caribbean. That was acknowledged by most countries in the region, which 25 years later are drafting a supranational […]

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Delegates from 24 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean pose next to Argentine authorities, after the opening of the seventh meeting of the negotiating committee on a regional agreement that will enable access to information, participation and justice in environmental matters, held in Buenos Aires. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Delegates from 24 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean pose next to Argentine authorities, after the opening of the seventh meeting of the negotiating committee on a regional agreement that will enable access to information, participation and justice in environmental matters, held in Buenos Aires. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Aug 4 2017 (IPS)

The final declaration of the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 stated that “Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens.” However, this rarely happens in Latin America and the Caribbean.

That was acknowledged by most countries in the region, which 25 years later are drafting a supranational legal instrument with the aim of making public access to information and to environmental justice a reality for people in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Delegates from 24 countries are taking part Jul. 31 to Aug. 4 in the Seventh Meeting of the Negotiating Committee of the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean, known as Principle 10 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.“Social conflicts over environmental issues resulted in 200 deaths last year around the world, 60 per cent of which were documented in Latin America. The most violent region has been the Amazon rainforst, where 16 people died for defending their land.” -- Danielle Andrade

This week’s meeting in Buenos Aires, organised by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the government of Argentina, is to be the second-to-last debate on Principle 10, and is being held behind closed doors.

The final document is to be approved in November or December in an as-yet undetermined city.

But there is still a long way to go.

At the current meeting it has become clear that the debate on how far public participation should go has not come to a conclusion, although the ECLAC-sponsored negotiations began in November 2014.

The main sticking point is whether or not the document will be binding on signatory states.

If an agreement is reached for a binding document, it would set minimum standards for the participating countries to guarantee public participation in environmental matters.

If the decision is that it should be non-binding, it could merely become yet another declaration of principles that changes nothing.

The UN special rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, John Knox of the United States, said “the instrument should be binding, even though that would make it harder to reach a consensus.”

“If it isn’t binding, the impression will be that instead of taking a step forward, we took a step back,” he said.

Knox was a special guest speaker during the opening of the meeting, which was held at Argentina’s Foreign Ministry, with the presence of three Argentine cabinet ministers and Costa Rica’s deputy minister of environment, Patricia Madrigal.

The Costa Rican official took part on behalf of the Negotiating Committee board, which is presided by her country and Chile, and is also composed of Argentina, Mexico, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

In the same vein as Knox, the Argentine expert on environmental law, Daniel Sabsay, a speaker at a special session on the implementation of the future agreement, said he was “worried by the prospect that the text will just end up as another grand declaration, without any actual results.”

Rights of indigenous peoples and communities

The draft of the Regional Agreement makes several references to indigenous peoples and establishes that it will acknowledge the right to consultation, and prior, free and informed consent, which has been recognised in most national legislations, and in the International Labour Organisation Convention 169, which regulates the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.

It also stipulates that information must be delivered in indigenous languages, and that native people must receive special assistance to access information, since they are identified as a vulnerable group.

In addition, it establishes that, in every project with an environmental impact, the State has the obligation to identify the directly affected communities and promote their informed participation in the decision-making processes.

“The drafts that have been released until now set out no concrete instruments which countries are required to enforce and which would empower civil society. If it is not binding, it will not be useful,” he told IPS.

The debate is taking place against a backdrop of escalating disputes over land and natural resources, around the world and in this region in particular.

“Social conflicts over environmental issues resulted in 200 deaths last year around the world, 60 per cent of which were documented in Latin America. The most violent region has been the Amazon rainforst, where 16 people died for defending their land,” said Danielle Andrade of Jamaica, chosen as a civil society representative in the negotiations.

This situation shows the failure of governments to address the concerns of local communities in the face of extractive or land use projects that affect them.

Principle 10 of the Río Declaration establishes that States must facilitate and promote social participation in debates on environmental issues, making information widely available and guaranteeing access to legal and administrative proceedings.

The consensus is that Latin America in general has sufficient regulations in this respect. In fact, Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said that “since 1992, 20 countries in the region have incorporated in their constitutions the right to a healthy and sustainable environment.”

The issue, it seems, is how to put into practice those rights which are only on paper.

“Nearly every country has environmental laws, but they have problems enforcing them. That is why we believe the creation of a committee for implementation of the treaty is crucial, to which people in the region could turn with their environmental conflicts, and which should include public participation, and should have powers to intervene,” Andrés Nápoli of Argentina, another civil society representative in the negotiations, told IPS.

The agreement that is being negotiated is inspired by the so-called Aarhus Convention, approved in 1998 in that city in Denmark, within the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). The Convention was especially useful for Eastern Europe countries, which had abandoned Communism a few years before, and had few environmental regulations.

“The countries of Latin America have been developing environmental laws since the 1990s, and recently some English-speaking Caribbean nations have being doing so,” said Carlos de Miguel, head of ECLAC’s Policies for Sustainable Development Unit.

“For that reason, the aim is enhancing the capacities of countries to ensure the rights established in the existing laws. Some countries have not been able to implement their environmental legislation, not because they don’t want to, but due to a lack of training and of financial resources,” he told IPS.

De Miguel said “we expect an ambitious agreement, that includes the creation of the institutions that will enforce it. We hope it will be signed not only by the 24 countries that are negotiating, but by all 33 countries in the region.”

The countries taking part in the discussions include all of the nations of South America except for Venezuela, Guyana and Surinam, and all of the countries of Central America with the exception of Nicaragua, while Caribbean island nations like Barbados and Cuba are absent.

Among the articles that are under discussion in Buenos Aires are article 6, which defines the scope of the right to information; 7 and 8, on the participation of citizens in decision-making processes; and 9, which regulates access to justice.

The last meeting will discuss the articles that define the institutions created by the treaty and whether or not to create an enforcement committee that, according to the majority, will define its effectiveness.

“It is essential to establish mechanisms to ensure that participation is real and ensure the most vulnerable populations have access to information, because official bodies and NGOs on their own cannot mobilise participation,” said Leila Devia, head of the Basel Convention Regional Centre for South America, at the special session on implementation.

That convention, which has 186 member States, deals with the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal.

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China Seeks to Export Its Green Finance Model to the Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/china-seeks-export-green-finance-model-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=china-seeks-export-green-finance-model-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/china-seeks-export-green-finance-model-world/#respond Wed, 26 Jul 2017 03:05:44 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151431 Hand in hand with UN Environment and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) disembarked in the Argentine capital to prompt this country to adopt and promote the agenda of so-called green finance, which supports clean or sustainable development projects and combats climate change. The PBOC, which as China’s central bank […]

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Ma Jun, chief economist at the People’s Bank of China, together with Rubén Mercado, from the United Nations’ Development Programme (UNDP) in Argentina. The high-ranking Chinese official promoted Beijing’s green finance while in Buenos Aires. Credit: UNDP

Ma Jun, chief economist at the People’s Bank of China, together with Rubén Mercado, from the United Nations’ Development Programme (UNDP) in Argentina. The high-ranking Chinese official promoted Beijing’s green finance while in Buenos Aires. Credit: UNDP

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jul 26 2017 (IPS)

Hand in hand with UN Environment and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) disembarked in the Argentine capital to prompt this country to adopt and promote the agenda of so-called green finance, which supports clean or sustainable development projects and combats climate change.

The PBOC, which as China’s central bank regulates the country’s financial activity and monitors its monetary activity, has been particularly interested in Argentina, because next year it will preside over the Group of 20 (G20) industrialised and emerging economies.

In 2018, Buenos Aires will become the first Latin American city to organise a summit of the G20 forum, in which the major global powers discuss issues on the global agenda.

“China started to develop strategies to promote green finance international collaboration in the G20 framework in 2016, the year when it took over the presidency. And Germany took over this year the presidency and decided to continue. We are looking forward to Argentina to continue with this topic of green finance in 2018,” said Ma Jun, chief economist at the PBoC, in a meeting with a small group of reporters at the UNDP offices in Buenos Aires. “Once the companies begin to release the environmental information, we’ll see that money will begin to change direction. Some of the money which is invested in the polluting sector will be redirected to the green companies. And that costs governments zero. It’s only a requirement for the companies to disclose their environmental information.” -- Ma Jun

Ma, a distinguished economist who has worked at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the Deutsche Bank, was the keynote speaker at the International Symposium on Green Finance, held Jul. 20-21 at IDB headquarters in Buenos Aires.

At that event, he told representatives of the public sector and private companies from a number of countries that over the past three years China has been making an important effort for its financial system to underpin a change in the development model, putting aside polluting industries and supporting projects that respect the environment and use resources more efficiently.

Ma, a high-ranking PBoC official since 2014, surprised participants in the Symposium stating that in 2015, China decided to change its development model because of the enormous environmental impact it had, which is reflected in the estimate he quoted: that “a million people a year die in China due to pollution-related diseases.“

He said four trillion yuan – approximately 600 billion dollars – will be needed to finance investments in environmentally sustainable projects over the next few years in China.

Simon Zadek, co-director of the UN Environment Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System, concurred with Ma.

He explained that the UN agency he co-heads promotes the “mobilisation of private capital towards undertakings compatible with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the commitments made in the Paris Agreement on climate change, by the financial markets, banks, investment funds and insurance companies.“

He added that “many countries have taken steps in that direction and China is one of the most inspiring, most ambitious at an internal level and most active in promoting international cooperation.“

“Financial markets and capital should take environmental and climate issues into account now, not tomorrow. We are hoping for Argentina’s leadership next year on this matter and we are ready to collaborate if it decides to do so,“ said the UN Environment official.

The Symposium was held a few days after this year’s G20 summit, which was hosted Jul. 7-8 by Hamburg, Germany.

During the summit the discrepancy became evident between the rest of the heads of government and U.S. President Donald Trump, who does not believe in climate change and withdrew his country from the Paris Agreement, which in December 2015 set commitments for all governments to reduce global warming.

In Hamburg, a meeting was held by the Green Finance Study Group (GFSG), created in 2016, the year China presided over the G20, and which is headed by Ma and Michael Sheren, senior advisor to the Bank of England, with UN Environment acting as its secretariat.

There are two main issues that the GFSG currently promotes for the financial industry to consider when deciding on the financing of infrastructure or productive projects: setting up an environmental risk analysis and using publicly available environmental data.

“PBoC, the largest Chinese bank, has verified that to invest too much in the polluting sector is not beneficial. The costs are higher and the profits lower, because lots of policies are more and more restrictive in the polluting sector,” Ma said, noting that the bank began to carry out environmental risk analysis two years ago.

For the chief economist, “the other focus is to allow financial markets to distinguish who is green and who is brown,” referring to the predominant model of development, based on draining natural resources and not preserving ecosystems.

“Once the companies begin to release the environmental information, we’ll see that money will begin to change direction. Some of the money which is invested in the polluting sector will be redirected to the green companies. And that costs governments zero. It’s only a requirement for the companies to disclose their environmental information,” added Ma.

An important part of the initiative is the promotion of the emission of so-called green bonds, to finance projects of renewable energy, energy saving, treatment of wastewater or solid waste, the construction of green buildings that emit less pollutants and reduce their energy consumption, and green transport.

But the promotion of green finance does not foresee the arrival of special funds for that purpose to countries of the developing South.

In fact, the “greening of the financial system“ mainly depends on the private sector, especially where the state has limited fiscal capacity, according to the conclusions of the G20’s GFSG.

For Rubén Mercado, UNDP economist in Argentina, governments can facilitate undertakings that are beneficial to the environment by changing policies, without the need for spending additional funds.

“The key issue is that of relative prices. In Argentina we have subsidised fossil fuels for years. Perhaps we would not even have to subsidise renewable forms of energy, but simply reduce our subsidies for fossil fuels so that the other sources can be developed,“ he said.

Ma took a similar approach, pointing out that “You don´t need to spend money, you just need to eliminate the subsidies” that are traditionally granted to fossil fuel producers, which hamper investments in clean energies.

In the Symposium in Buenos Aires a study was released about the economies of Germany, China and India, which revealed that in the last year they have invested in renewable energies just 0.7, 0.4 and 0.1 per cent of GDP, respectively.

“The massive demand for green financing simply cannot be met by the public sector or the fiscal system,” said Ma.

“In a country like China, 90 percent is being covered by the private sector. Globally, my feeling is that in the OECD countries the fiscal capacity is probably higher. Maybe more than 10 percent could be provided by governments,” he said.

“But in other economies with weaker fiscal capacity, the rate should be even lower than in China.”

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Argentina Plans Billions of Dollars in Railway Projectshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/argentina-plans-billions-dollars-railway-projects/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentina-plans-billions-dollars-railway-projects http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/argentina-plans-billions-dollars-railway-projects/#respond Wed, 12 Jul 2017 03:11:50 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151244 Development in Argentina in the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century was closely tied to that of the railway. The eighth largest country in the world, Argentina’s economy grew through exporting agricultural and livestock products, and the railways were key to founding centres of population and transporting […]

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After decades of decline, Argentina has a recovery plan for its railways, involving investments of billions of dollars, for freight and passenger transport

One of the new locomotives, imported from China to modernise Argentina’s freight railway network, being unloaded in the port of Buenos Aires in May. Credit: Ministry of Transport

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jul 12 2017 (IPS)

Development in Argentina in the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century was closely tied to that of the railway. The eighth largest country in the world, Argentina’s economy grew through exporting agricultural and livestock products, and the railways were key to founding centres of population and transporting goods to the ports.

“The railways had an enormous social and cultural impact, and often arrived in areas where there was little or no population. Around the middle of the last century there were 48,000 kilometres of track, at which point the railway system was nationalised as Ferrocarriles Argentinos (Argentine Railways), the largest railway company in the world,” historian Eduardo Lazzari told IPS.

But by 1950, decline had set in. Branch lines were closed and the track network was almost halved, in this country with an area of 2.8 million square kilometres and an estimated population of 43.5 million.

This decline is viewed by some Argentines as a cause, by others as a consequence, but nearly all of them see it as symbolic of the fate of the country, which has suffered countless economic crises in recent decades, and where according to official figures one-third of the population lives in poverty.. “We have to think about what kind of railway we want, because for many years the main problem has not been lack of investment but bad management. It makes no sense to try to go back to the railway system the country once had, because needs have changed." -- Alberto Muller

Argentina now has a recovery plan for the railways, involving investments of billions of dollars and addressing both freight carriage as well as passenger transport in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area, where 15.2 million people live, representing 35 percent of the country’s total population.

There are also plans, on a lower key, to renovate intercity rail links in this, the third largest economy of Latin America.

“In the last few years there have been investments on a scale that I have never seen before, especially in the metropolitan railway network. Some of them have not been particularly well planned,” transport expert Alberto Muller, the head of a research centre at the Faculty of Economic Sciences of the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) told IPS.

Muller voiced the doubts entertained by many experts in the field about the priorities that have been adopted. “We have to think about what kind of railway we want, because for many years the main problem has not been lack of investment but bad management. It makes no sense to try to go back to the railway system the country once had, because needs have changed,” he said.

In 2008 the state began to buy new railway carriages for metropolitan trains, which it had not done since 1985.

The railway sector was privatised in the 1990s as part of the neoliberal reforms undertaken by the government of Carlos Menem (1989-1999).

The visible deterioration in services and infrastructure began to be reversed in recent years, when the state recovered ownership of the majority of branch lines.

But it took a major tragedy to give the railways top political priority and accelerate investments.

On a Wednesday morning in February 2012 a train carrying 1,200 passengers on the Sarmiento line drove into Once, one of the four main stations in Buenos Aires used daily by thousands of suburban commuters. The brakes failed and it crashed into the buffers..

The crash killed 51 people and led to a trial that riveted the nation and sentenced transport officials and private railway company administrators to prison terms.

In their verdict, the judges determined that the accident had been caused by the “deplorable lack of maintenance that affected safety conditions.”

The weight of public opinion led to 1.2 billion dollars being spent by 2015 to modernise the metropolitan railway lines.

In 2016, in the first year of the government of president Mauricio Macri, an investment plan was announced for nearly 14.2 billion dollars up to 2023. The goal is that trains entering and leaving Buenos Aires should have a daily passenger transport capacity of five million people, compared with their current capacity of 1.2 million passengers.

The plan will be financed by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), credits from Brazil’s National Development Bank, and contributions from the Argentine Treasury.

Multimillion dollar investments are also planned to modernise the freight railroad network.

China will contribute four billion dollars to the renewal of more than 1,500 kilometres of track in Belgrano Norte and San Martin, carrying freight from the north and west of the country to the ports of Rosario, on the Parana river, and Buenos Aires, on the Rio de la Plata, to be shipped for export.

The agreement includes the purchase of 3,500 railway carriages and 107 locomotives from China.

“The railroad must play a key role in Argentina’s economic recovery,” Transport Minister Guillermo Dietrich said on May 30 upon receiving 10 of the Chinese locomotives.

As for intercity railways, services between Buenos Aires and the city of Mar del Plata were reinaugurated on July 3. The 400 kilometre journey takes nearly seven hours, giving rise to heavy criticism.

A 60-year-old newsreel video, showing the same journey taking four and a half hours, rapidly went viral on the social networks.

“Argentine society has a nostalgic vision of the railroads, and official policies tend to go along with this, which is a mistake. Intercity trains, for example, have little chance of surviving because this is a very large and relatively underpopulated country, and so the costs are too high,” Jorge Wadell, the co-author of “Historia del Ferrocarril en Argentina” (History of the Railroad in Argentina), told IPS.

One of the most important works in progress is laying the Sarmiento line, which was the scene of the 2012 disaster, underground. This railway line connects the centre of the capital with the west of the conurbation, and practically cuts the City of Buenos Aires in two. At present there are dozens of level crossings that are dangerous and complicate rail traffic.

The project has a budget of three billion dollars and involves digging a 22-kilometre long tunnel with tracks for two trains, one in each direction.

The initiative has been on the drawing board for decades and while many people have called for its completion, some experts have criticised the concept.

“At present there are four tracks on the Sarmiento line, but with the tunnel there will only be two, and all the trains will have to stop at all the stations, so there will be no more fast trains. Nowhere in the world is railway capacity being reduced in this way,” the head of the Instituto Ciudad en Movimiento, Andres Borthagaray, told IPS.

The other major project is the Regional Express Network, consisting of the construction of 20 kilometres of tunnels and a network of underground stations to link the different railway lines arriving in Buenos Aires from the suburbs.

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China Drives Nuclear Expansion in Argentina, but with Strings Attachedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/china-drives-nuclear-expansion-argentina-strings-attached/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=china-drives-nuclear-expansion-argentina-strings-attached http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/china-drives-nuclear-expansion-argentina-strings-attached/#respond Tue, 27 Jun 2017 23:30:36 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151073 Two new nuclear power plants, to cost 14 billion dollars, will give a new impetus to Argentina’s relation with atomic energy, which began over 60 years ago. President Mauricio Macri made the announcement from China, the country that is to finance 85 per cent of the works. But besides the fact that social movements quickly […]

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The first of Argentina’s three existing nuclear plants, Atucha I, is located 100 km from Buenos Aires. China has offered to finance 85 percent of the 14 billion dollar cost of two other plants. Credit: CNEA

The first of Argentina’s three existing nuclear plants, Atucha I, is located 100 km from Buenos Aires. China has offered to finance 85 percent of the 14 billion dollar cost of two other plants. Credit: CNEA

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jun 27 2017 (IPS)

Two new nuclear power plants, to cost 14 billion dollars, will give a new impetus to Argentina’s relation with atomic energy, which began over 60 years ago. President Mauricio Macri made the announcement from China, the country that is to finance 85 per cent of the works.

But besides the fact that social movements quickly started to organise against the plants, the project appears to face a major hurdle.

The Chinese government has set a condition: it threatens to pull out of the plans for the nuclear plants and from the rest of its investments in Argentina if the contract signed for the construction of two gigantic hydroelectric power plants in Argentina’s southernmost wilderness region, Patagonia, does not move forward. The plans are currently on hold, pending a Supreme Court decision.“China has an almost endless capacity for investment and is interested in Argentina as in the rest of Latin America, a region that it wants to secure as a provider of inputs. Of course China has a strong bargaining position and Argentina’s aim should be a balance of power.“ -- Dante Sica

Together with Brazil and Mexico, Argentina is one of the three Latin American countries that have developed nuclear energy.

The National Commission for Atomic Energy was founded in 1950 by then president Juan Domingo Perón (1946-1955 and 1973-1974) and the country inaugurated its first nuclear plant, Atucha I, in 1974. The development of nuclear energy was halted after the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, by then-president Raúl Alfonsín (1983-1989), but it was resumed during the administration of Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007).

According to the announcement Macri made during his visit to Beijing in May, construction of Atucha III, with a capacity of 745 MW, is to begin in January 2018, 100 km from the capital, in the town of Lima, within the province of Buenos Aires.

Atucha I and II, two of Argentina’s three nuclear power plants, are located in that area, while the third, known as Embalse, is in the central province of Córdoba.

Construction of a fifth nuclear plant, with a capacity of 1,150 MW, would begin in 2020 in an as-yet unannounced spot in the province of Río Negro, north of Patagonia.

Currently, nuclear energy represents four per cent of Argentina’s electric power, while thermal plants fired by natural gas and oil account for 64 per cent and hydroelectric power plants represent 30 per cent, according to the Energy Ministry. Other renewable sources only amount to two per cent, although the government is seeking to expand them.

Besides diversifying the energy mix, the projected nuclear and hydroelectric plants are part of an ambitious strategy that Argentina set in motion several years ago: to strengthen economic ties with China, which would buy more food from Argentina and boost investment here.

During his May 14-17 visit to China, Macri was enthusiastic about the role that the Asian giant could play in this South American country.

“China is an absolutely strategic partner. This will be the beginning of a wonderful era between our countries. There must be few countries in the world that complement each other than Argentina and China,” said Macri in Beijing, speaking to businesspeople from both countries.

During his May 14-17 visit to China, Argentina President Mauricio Macri announced the construction of two new nuclear power plants. Argentina, Brazil and Mexico are the three Latin American countries that use nuclear energy. Credit: Argentine Presidency

During his May 14-17 visit to China, Argentina President Mauricio Macri announced the construction of two new nuclear power plants. Argentina, Brazil and Mexico are the three Latin American countries that use nuclear energy. Credit: Argentine Presidency

“Argentina produces food for 400 million people and we are aiming at doubling this figure in five to eight years,“ said Macri, who added that he expects from China investments in “roads, bridges, energy, ports, airports.“

Ties between Argentina and China began to grow more than 10 years ago and expanded sharply in 2014, when then president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2015) received her Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Buenos Aires, where they signed several agreements.

These ranged from the construction of dams in Patagonia to investments in the upgrading of the Belgrano railway, which transports goods from the north of the country to the western river port of Rosario, where they are shipped to the Atlantic Ocean and overseas.

On Jun. 22, 18 new locomotives from China arrived in Buenos Aires for the Belgrano railroad.

However, relations between China and Argentina are not free of risks for this country, experts warn.

“China has an almost endless capacity for investment and is interested in Argentina as in the rest of Latin America, a region that it wants to secure as a provider of inputs. Of course China has a strong bargaining position and Argentina’s aim should be a balance of power,“ economist Dante Sica, who was secretary of trade and industry in 2002-2003, told IPS.

“They are buyers of food, but they also want to sell their products and they generate tension in Argentina´s industrial structure. In fact, our country for several years now has had a trade deficit with China,“ he added.

Roberto Adaro, an expert on international relations at the Centre for Studies in State Policies and Society, told IPS that “Argentina can benefit from its relations with China if it is clear with regard to its interests. It must insist on complementarity and not let China flood our local market with their products.“

Adaro praised the decision to invest in nuclear energy since it is “important to diversify the energy mix“ and because the construction of nuclear plants “also generates investments and jobs in other sectors of the economy.“

However, there is a thorn in the side of relations between China and Argentina regarding the nuclear issue: the project of the hydroelectric plants. These two giant plants with a projected capacity of 1,290 MW are to be built at a cost of nearly five billion dollar, on the Santa Cruz River, which emerges in the spectacular Glaciers National Park in the southern region of Patagonia, and flows into the Atlantic Ocean.

In December, when the works seemed about to get underway, the Supreme Court suspended construction of the dams, in response to a lawsuit filed by two environmental organisations.

The three Chinese state banks financing the two projects then said they would invoke a cross-default clause included in the contract for the dams, which said they would cancel the rest of their investments if the dams were not built.

To build the two plants, three Chinese and one Argentine companies formed a consortium, but after winning the tender in 2013, construction has not yet begun.

Under pressure from China, the government released the results of a new environmental impact study on Jun. 15 and now plans to convene a public hearing to discuss it, so that Argentina’s highest court will authorise the beginning of the works.

Added to opposition to the dams by environmentalists is their rejection of the nuclear plants. In the last few weeks, activists from Río Negro have held meetings in different parts of the province, demanding a referendum to allow the public to vote on the plant to be installed there.

They have even generated an unusual conflict with the neighbouring province of Chubut, where the regional parliament unanimously approved a statement against the nuclear plants. The governor of Río Negro, Alberto Weretilnek, asked the people of Chubut to “stop meddling.“

“Argentina must start a serious debate about what these plants mean, at a time when the world is abandoning this kind of energy. We need to know, among other things, how the uranium that is needed as fuel is going to be obtained,“ the director of the Environment and Natural Resources Foundation, Andrés Nápòli, told IPS.

Argentina now imports the uranium used in the country’s nuclear plants, but environmentalists are worried that local production, which was abandoned more than 20 years ago, will restart.

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Men Who Commit Femicide Lose Rights Over Their Children in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/men-commit-femicide-lose-rights-children-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=men-commit-femicide-lose-rights-children-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/men-commit-femicide-lose-rights-children-argentina/#respond Fri, 16 Jun 2017 00:37:22 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150908 In January 2008, Rosana Galliano was shot to death in Exaltación de la Cruz, a rural municipality 80 km from Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires. Her ex-husband, José Arce, who was sentenced to life in prison, had hired hitmen to kill her. Nine years later, Arce was put under house arrest, for health reasons, and lives […]

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Men Who Commit Femicide Lose Rights Over Their Children in Argentina

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

In January 2008, Rosana Galliano was shot to death in Exaltación de la Cruz, a rural municipality 80 km from Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires. Her ex-husband, José Arce, who was sentenced to life in prison, had hired hitmen to kill her.

Nine years later, Arce was put under house arrest, for health reasons, and lives with their children, two boys aged 12 and 13.

Women’s organisations hold that there are dozens of similar situations in Argentina, where society is becoming more aware of cases of gender-based violence.“In most cases, the woman files a complaint, but there is no support or monitoring in place to know what happens to her afterwards. And when the judges issue a restriction order, it is not enforced and the woman is defenceless.” -- Mabel Bianco

People have responded by taking to the streets: since 2015, an extraordinary social mobilisation, which has continued to this day, has installed the issue on the public agenda and forced politicians to address the phenomenon of the high rate of femicides, the term given murders of women for gender-based reasons.

The case of Rosana Galliano’s children was the main catalyst for a law passed by Congress on May 31, which strips parents who kill, injure or sexually abuse their partners of parental rights.

“We have received queries about a number of cases similar to that of Rosana Galliano’s children, which don’t make it to the media because the families of the murdered women don’t want to go public,” said Ada Rico, who heads La Casa del Encuentro, a Buenos Aires-based organisation that combats violence, abuse and discrimination against women.

“We submitted a draft law in 2014 aimed at removing parental responsibility from those who commit femicide,” she told IPS. “It was discussed together with seven similar drafts and a consensus was reached. It is a law that is likely to be copied by other countries.”

In the face of the lack of official statistics, La Casa del Encuentro began in 2008 to gather media reports on gender-based murders of women in this South American country of nearly 44 million people.

That same year these murders were officially defined as femicides, during a meeting of the Committee of Experts of the Follow-up Mechanism of the Belem do Pará Convention, the Inter-American instrument signed in 1994 to prevent and punish violence against women.

 Demonstrators march along the Avenida de Mayo in Buenos Aires, behind a big banner that reads “Students demand ‘Not one less’” during the massive march against gender violence in the Argentine capital on Jun. 3. Credit: Ana Currarino/IPS


Demonstrators march along the Avenida de Mayo in Buenos Aires, behind a big banner that reads “Students demand ‘Not one less’” during the massive march against gender violence in the Argentine capital on Jun. 3. Credit: Ana Currarino/IPS

The Argentine Congress followed suit in 2012, stipulating life in prison for men guilty of murders involving gender-based violence.

Up to then, murders resulting from domestic violence were treated as manslaughter, punishable with a maximum of 25 years in prison.

However, this change did not lead to a decline in violence against women in this country. La Casa del Encuentro’s figures show that femicides have remained fairly stable, at a high level: 255 in 2012, 295 in 2013, 277 in 2014, 286 in 2015 and 290 last year.
Among the hundreds of cases, one completely changed life in the town of Rufino, in the province of Santa Fe, and shook the entire country.

Chiara Páez, a 14-year-old girl, disappeared one Sunday in May 2015.

A large part of the town’s 20,000 people went out to search for her. But eventually the police found her body buried at the house of her boyfriend’s grandparents. Her 16-year-old boyfriend confessed that he had beat her to death. The autopsy revealed that Chiara was pregnant and that she had taken medication to have an abortion.

A few days later, hundreds of thousands of people marched through the streets of Buenos Aires and other large cities to demand a stop to male violence against women. “Not one less” (“Ni una menos”) was the slogan devised by a group of feminist activists and journalists, which was taken up immediately by a good part of Argentine society.

Since then, huge “Not one less” marches have become an annual event. The last one was held on Jun. 3 on the Avenida de Mayo avenue, and one of the main speakers was Nora Cortiñas, renowned leader of the human rights group Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.

The pamphlet handed out at the demonstration noted that many women are murdered after reporting that they are victims of domestic violence, which makes the government responsible for their protection and their deaths, “as much as the murderers.”

“Not One Less” was the slogan of the Jun. 3 march against gender-based violence in Buenos Aires. Credit: Ana Currarino/IPS

“Not One Less” was the slogan of the Jun. 3 march against gender-based violence in Buenos Aires. Credit: Ana Currarino/IPS

They also demanded an end to discrimination against women in the labour market, and called for legal, safe, free of charge abortion.

“Violence against women will not rapidly decline since it is mainly linked to cultural factors very marked in society, such as the greater value put on men in all fields,” Dr. Mabel Bianco, the head of the Foundation for Women’s Studies and Research, told IPS.

“We are still lacking answers from the government. A protocol that unifies the steps to be followed nationwide in the face of complaints of gender-based violence must be designed,” she said.

She said that “in most cases, the woman files a complaint, but there is no support or monitoring in place to know what happens to her afterwards. And when the judges issue a restriction order, it is not enforced and the woman is defenceless.”

One of the results of the social mobilisation was the start of official record-keeping on femicides in 2015. The Supreme Court keeps these figures, and in late May it presented the statistics from 2016: 254 women were murdered for gender-based reasons, 19 more than in 2015.

In this year’s report, the Court for the first time differentiated between “biological females” and trans women, who were the victims of five of the femicides last year.

Meanwhile, Congress did not stop with the parental responsibility law. The same day it was passed, the Senate gave preliminary approval to two other bills focused on gender-based violence.

One of them establishes financial support by the state for women who cannot afford to leave their abusive partners. The other one implements a subsidy for the families who raise children whose mothers have been victims of femicides. The two draft laws are now pending approval in the lower house of Congress.

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Punishment for Human Rights Abusers Is Irrevocable Achievement for Argentine Societyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/punishment-for-human-rights-abusers-is-irrevocable-achievement-for-argentine-society/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=punishment-for-human-rights-abusers-is-irrevocable-achievement-for-argentine-society http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/punishment-for-human-rights-abusers-is-irrevocable-achievement-for-argentine-society/#respond Fri, 12 May 2017 22:27:50 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150403 What at first was terrible news that outraged a large proportion of Argentine society, who see the conviction and imprisonment of dictatorship-era human rights violators as an irrevocable achievement for democracy, became a cause for celebration a week later. An unexpected ruling handed down by the Supreme Court on May 3 initially opened the door […]

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Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires on May 10 to protest a Supreme Court ruling that made it possible to reduce the prison sentences of dictatorship-era human rights abusers – a verdict neutralised by a new law passed by Congress on May 10. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires on May 10 to protest a Supreme Court ruling that made it possible to reduce the prison sentences of dictatorship-era human rights abusers – a verdict neutralised by a new law passed by Congress on May 10. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, May 12 2017 (IPS)

What at first was terrible news that outraged a large proportion of Argentine society, who see the conviction and imprisonment of dictatorship-era human rights violators as an irrevocable achievement for democracy, became a cause for celebration a week later.

An unexpected ruling handed down by the Supreme Court on May 3 initially opened the door to hundreds of members of the military and civilians in prison for crimes against humanity committed during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship to seek a reduction of their sentences, which would in some cases even allow them to immediately be released.

However, the wave of outrage that arose in human rights groups spread in the following days throughout society, leading to changes that came about at a dizzying pace that made it unlikely for the court ruling, which applied to one particular case, to be used as a precedent for other human rights abusers to obtain a reduction in their sentences.“I don’t recall in the history of Argentina any other time that Congress has reacted so quickly to a legal ruling. And I am convinced that the entire justice system is going to rebel against this Supreme Court ruling.” -- Andrés Gil

“It won’t go any farther than this. In the Argentine justice system, the Supreme Court’s decisions are not binding on lower courts. After the strong social repulsion and after all political sectors spoke out against the early release of human rights violators, this will end with Muiña,” Jorge Rizo, chairman of the Buenos Aires Bar Association, told IPS.

It was the case of Luis Muiña, a civilian in prison for his participation in kidnappings and torture in 1976, that sparked the massive protest demonstrations held over the past week.

In a divided ruling, the Supreme Court decided to apply the “two for one” law that compensates for time spent in pre-sentence custody, to reduce Muiña’s 13-year sentence to the nine years he has already served.

But exactly a week later, on May 10, Congress passed a law supported by all political sectors which established that the two-for-one law was not applicable in cases involving genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity.

A few hours later, hundreds of thousands of people filled the Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires, reminiscent of the biggest rallies in the country’s history.

Many wore white headscarves, a symbol of the Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights groups, who in April celebrated the 40th anniversary of their first march in the Plaza de Mayo square to demand that their “disappeared” sons and daughters be returned to them.

According to human rights organisations, 30,000 people were killed or “disappeared” by the regime.

A big banner on the stage read: “Never again! No freedom for human rights abusers”. The main speaker at the massive rally was Estela de Carlotto, the longtime head of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who have so far found 122 of their grandchildren, stolen by the dictatorship and raised under false identities.

“Just like with the Nazis, wherever they go we will go after them,” Carlotto chanted along with the crowd estimated by the organisers at 400,000 people.

“Fortunately, society has taken a firm stance,” said the activist, adding that the quick action by Congress “fills us with hope and gratitude.”

“Never again! No freedom for human rights abusers”, read a big banner in the massive rally where hundreds of thousands of Argentinians, wearing white headscarves representing the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights group, demanded full punishment for dictatorship-era human right violators. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

“Never again! No freedom for human rights abusers”, read a big banner in the massive rally where hundreds of thousands of Argentinians, wearing white headscarves representing the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights group, demanded full punishment for dictatorship-era human right violators. Credit: Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo

In the demonstration there was in the air a strong rejection of the government of conservative President Mauricio Macri, even though it did not play any role in the trial. Many protesters held signs linking the president to the Court’s decision, a connection also insinuated in Twitter by former president Cristina Fernández (2007-2015), who at the moment was traveling through Europe.

The government had a somewhat unclear response to the Supreme Court ruling. It initially left the response exclusively in the hands of Human Rights Secretary Claudio Avruj who, although responsible for this area, is not a high-ranking official. Perhaps over-cautiously, he urged people to be “respectful of the verdict.”

But as the negative repercussions grew, the government began to reject the ruling, through more important figures. And once Congress passed the law, Macri himself congratulated the lawmakers, and said he was opposed to “any tool that favours impunity, and especially when this tool is applied to crimes against humanity.”

The Supreme Court ruling was divided, three-to-two. The majority was made up of Elena Highton, Horacio Rosatti and Carlos Rosenkrantz – the latter two named to the Court last year on Macri’s recommendation.

The two-for-one law, which stated that every day spent in pre-sentence custody counted for two days after two years had been served, was designed to help Argentina address the large proportion of people in prison who have not yet been tried and sentenced. But the 1994 law was repealed in 2001 as it had failed to achieve its aim.

But the three Supreme Court justices argued that the most beneficial law for the accused must be applied in penal law, even in cases involving crimes against humanity.

“The sentence, technically, goes against international law,” said Gastón Chillier, executive director of the Social and Legal Studies Centre (CELS), a human rights organisation created during the dictatorship.

“The law which was passed promptly by Congress is a result of the cross-cutting nature of the reaction against the ruling. From now on, the justice system will have to be very autistic to ignore the rejection that the sentence generated,” Chillier told IPS.

One of the founders of CELS, lawyer Marcelo Parrilli, filed criminal charges accusing the three magistrates of prevarication, or knowingly handing down a decision contrary to the law.

Soon after, federal prosecutor Guillermo Marijuán considered that there were grounds to launch a judicial investigation. And the Front for Victory (FPV) political faction headed by former president Fernández sought to impeach Highton, Rosatti and Rosenkrantz.

But it did not all end there, since a well-known constitutionalist lawyer, Andrés Gil, asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to order Argentina to abstain from reducing the sentences of those convicted of human rights violations.

Gil told IPS: “I don’t recall in the history of Argentina any other time that Congress has reacted so quickly to a legal ruling. And I am convinced that the entire justice system is going to rebel against this Supreme Court ruling.”

“Those who signed that decision did not realise that the trial and punishment of those responsible for human rights abuses during the last dictatorship now form part of the heritage of the Argentine people,” he added.

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When It Comes to Fracking, Argentina Dreams Bighttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/when-it-comes-to-fracking-argentina-dreams-big/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-it-comes-to-fracking-argentina-dreams-big http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/when-it-comes-to-fracking-argentina-dreams-big/#respond Tue, 09 May 2017 00:53:36 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150346 Since a US Energy Information Administration (EIA) report announced in 2011 that Argentina had some of the world’s biggest shale oil and gas reserves, the dream of prosperity has been on the minds of many people in this South American nation where nearly a third of the population lives in poverty. The question that hangs […]

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Two drilling rigs in the Loma Campana deposit, in Vaca Muerta, in the Neuquén Basin, in south-west Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Two drilling rigs in the Loma Campana deposit, in Vaca Muerta, in the Neuquén Basin, in south-west Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, May 9 2017 (IPS)

Since a US Energy Information Administration (EIA) report announced in 2011 that Argentina had some of the world’s biggest shale oil and gas reserves, the dream of prosperity has been on the minds of many people in this South American nation where nearly a third of the population lives in poverty.

The question that hangs in the air is whether it is really possible for Argentina to become South America’s Saudi Arabia, or if it is just a fantasy.

Six years after the release of the report, although Argentina is still, like then, a net importer of oil and natural gas, the hope would appear to remain intact for centre-right President Mauricio Macri.

When Macri visited the United States on Apr. 25-27 he stopped over in Houston, Texas, described as the “Oil Capital of the World”. There, he urged the executives of the world’s top energy companies to make the huge investments that Argentina needs to exploit its reserves.“Today in Argentina there are more than 1,500 boreholes that are being exploited by the fracking method, not just in Vaca Muerta, but also in other deposits in the area. In the next years, this number is expected to multiply.” --
Diego de Rissio

“Argentina is among the countries with the greatest potential in the world. We want the best companies to come and partner with us,” Macri told oil executives at lunch in Houston on Apr. 26, before flying to Washington, where he met with his US counterpart Donald Trump at the White House.

“The delays in exploiting non-conventional fossil fuels in Argentina are inherent to the process, from a technical standpoint. The oil and gas industry operates in the long term,” said Martín Kaindl, head of the Argentine Oil and Gas Institute (IAPG), a think tank supported by oil companies in the country.

“We have to do things well for this opportunity to become a source of wealth for Argentina,” he told IPS.

So far, however, what seems to have grown more than the investments are the social movements opposed to hydraulic fracturing or fracking, in which rock is fractured by the high-pressure injection of ‘fracking fluid’ (primarily water, as well as sand and chemicals,) to release natural gas and oil from shale deposits..

This process has environmental and socioeconomic effects, according to experts quoted by environmentalists.

The greatest achievement so far by the opponents of fracking in Argentina came on Apr. 25, when the legislature of the central-eastern province of Entre Ríos banned fracking and other non-conventional methods.

It became the first province in the country to reach this decision, which was preceded by local laws in dozens of municipalities. Entre Ríos has no oil industry tradition, but it is included in the long-run exploration plans of Argentina’s state-controlled company YPF.

“Entre Ríos is a province that lives mainly off of agriculture and tourism, where there is a tradition of environmental activism”, sociologist Juan Pablo Olsson, who is part of the Argentina Free of Fracking movement, told IPS.

“We must not forget that a few years ago, there were up to 100,000 people protesting against the pulp mills on the international bridge,” he added, referring to the 2005-2010 conflict with Uruguay over the construction of two paper factories, due to the environmental impact on the Uruguay River, which separates the province of Entre Ríos from the neighbouring country.

Pear trees in blossom in a farm in Allen, a city in the province of Río Negro, located next to a shale gas deposit. Fruit producers and other traditional sectors of that province are concerned about the negative impacts of the oil and gas industry in Vaca Muerta. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Pear trees in blossom in a farm in Allen, a city in the province of Río Negro, located next to a shale gas deposit. Fruit producers and other traditional sectors of that province are concerned about the negative impacts of the oil and gas industry in Vaca Muerta. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

According to the latest EIA data, Argentina has recoverable shale reserves that amount to 802 trillion cubic feet of gas and 27 billion barrels of oil. It is only second to China in shale gas reserves, and in fourth position after the US, Russia and China, in shale oil.

Of these reserves, 38 per cent of the gas and 60 per cent of the oil are concentrated in the geological formation of Vaca Muerta, where commercial exploitation began in 2013, in the Loma Campana deposit, by YPF and US company Chevron in the province of Neuquén.

This 30,000-sq- km deposit is located in the area known as the Neuquén Basin (a sedimentary basin which has traditionally been the main oil-producing area in Argentina), spreading over four provinces (Neuquén, Río Negro, Mendoza and La Pampa) in the country’s southwest.

The extraordinary potential of Vaca Muerta is one of the few things in which the current president and his centre-left predecessor, Cristina Fernández (2007-2015) have agreed on, with neither having made any reference whatsoever to the environmental risks posed by fracking.

The former president did not hide her enthusiasm when talking about the deposit, which in 2013 she suggested renaming as “Vaca Viva” (living cow) , instead of “Vaca Muerta” (dead cow), since “we are now extracting oil from it.”

Macri, meanwhile, said that Vaca Muerta “is changing the country’s energy future,” since it has “abundant, cheap and exportable” resources.

This was in January, when he announced the signing of an agreement with oil industry trade unions which allows a reduction of up to 40 per cent of labour costs, to attract investments.

Later, the president decreed a minimum price for shale gas, higher than the market price, reinforcing the strategy launched by his predecessor of maintaining domestic fossil fuel prices at levels making it possible to tap into non-conventional deposits.

In addition, during his stay in Washington he announced a 35 per cent reduction in the import tariffs on used oil industry machinery, which will favour the arrival of equipment that fell into disuse in the U.S-Mexican Eagle Ford Formation, due to the fall in international prices.

The minister of Energy and Mining, Juan José Aranguren, who went to Houston with Macri, said that currently between six and eight billion dollars a year are invested in Vaca Muerta, but that the government’s goal is to reach 20 billion in 2019.

“Today in Argentina there are more than 1,500 boreholes that are being exploited by the fracking method, not just in Vaca Muerta, but also in other deposits in the area. In the next years, this number is expected to multiply,” Diego di Risio, a researcher from the Oil Observatory of the South, an organisation of professionals from different disciplines interested in the energy issue, told IPS.

“But we believe that the environmental and social impacts should be debated, since it is a fruit-producing agricultural region,” said di Risio. One of the localities engaged in the production of fruit near Vaca Muerta, where shale oil is being extracted, is Allen, in the province of Río Negro.

Juan Ponce, a fruit jam manufacturer in Allen, told IPS: “Oil production overrode fruit-producing farms. There were 35 fruit warehouses, and now there are only five left.”

He also told IPS by phone that “most people buy bottled water, because our water is not drinkable anymore, despite the fact that we have the longest river in the Patagonia region, the Rio Negro.”

“The best evidence of the pollution that is being generated by the oil and gas extraction is that the owners of surrounding farms are receiving subsidies from the companies, since they can no longer produce good quality fruit,” he added.

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Argentina and UAE Agree to Strengthen Economic Tieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/argentina-and-uae-agree-to-strengthen-economic-ties/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentina-and-uae-agree-to-strengthen-economic-ties http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/argentina-and-uae-agree-to-strengthen-economic-ties/#respond Fri, 17 Mar 2017 23:01:25 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149473 Argentina and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) agreed Friday Mar. 17 to explore the possibility of this South American country receiving investment from the Gulf nation, particularly tourism and health, while they pledged to strengthen bilateral relations and increase trade. This was reported by Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra and her counterpart from the UAE, […]

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Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra and her counterpart from the UAE, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, give a press conference after their working meeting in the foreign ministry in Buenos Aires. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra and her counterpart from the UAE, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, give a press conference after their working meeting in the foreign ministry in Buenos Aires. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

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

Argentina and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) agreed Friday Mar. 17 to explore the possibility of this South American country receiving investment from the Gulf nation, particularly tourism and health, while they pledged to strengthen bilateral relations and increase trade.

This was reported by Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra and her counterpart from the UAE, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, during the latter’s official visit to Buenos Aires.

The two ministers held a working meeting at the San Martin Palace, the headquarters of Argentina’s foreign ministry, then gave a brief press conference before having lunch with Argentine Vice President Gabriela Michetti.

“This week started and ended for us with the United Arab Emirates, which shows the importance that both countries put on this relationship and the shared interest in reinforcing our friendship,” Malcorra said.

She was referring to the visit to Argentina early this week by a high-level delegation from the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), considered the second-largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, headed by Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed al Nahyan, that came to learn about the present economic situation and business climate in the country.

The delegation was received in the Casa Rosada, the seat of the central government, by President Mauricio Macri. The members of the delegation also met with Malcorra, Michetti, the president of the Central Bank, Federico Sturzenegger, and the ministers of the treasury, finance and energy and mines.

In addition, they held meetings with business representatives from different sectors of the economy: oil, steel, agriculture, food, real estate, energy and finance, among others.

A broad UAE delegation headed by UAE Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Mohammed Sharaf also visited Argentina this week.

Malcorra wore black at Friday’s meeting to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Mar. 17, 1992 terrorist attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, which left 22 dead and dozens injured.

During the news briefing, Minister Al Nayhan expressed his solidarity referring to the incident and said he hoped nations “will work more effectively to put a stop to terrorism.”

He had a message of political support for President Macri, congratulating the government on its determination “to take the very brave steps it has been taking to ensure that Argentina becomes the country it deserves to be, generating openness, not only for tourists but also for investors and for its different partners and allies.”

Since Macri, of the centre-right Cambiemos alliance, took office in December 2015, one of his priorities has been to generate the conditions for drawing foreign investors to Argentina and improving the country’s access to global credit markets.

The measures he has taken to that end include an agreement to pay 4.65 billion dollars to holdout hedge funds, creditors that have been in conflict with Argentina since the late 2001 default declared in the midst of the severe economic crisis that led to the resignation of then president Fernando de la Rúa.

This is the second time that the UAE foreign minister has visited Buenos Aires since Macri became president. The first visit was in early February 2016, when the main aim was to meet the new authorities here.

In November 2016, an Argentine delegation headed by Vice President Michetti visited the UAE and held several meetings, with the aim of “attracting investment and generating jobs for our countries,” as the vice president stated at the time.

In the trade balance between the two countries Argentina – which mainly sells food to the Gulf nation – has a surplus of 133.6 million dollars.

“Although it is true that trade between our countries has not yet reached the levels that we would like, our presence will help it grow and will bring about a greater presence of the United Arab Emirates in terms of investment in Argentina. We have also been exploring opportunities to reach cooperation accords involving third parties, and we are optimistic,” said the Emirati foreign minister.

For her part, Malcorra referred to the sectors in which Argentina could receive investment from the UAE.

She especially mentioned “tourism, not only to draw a significant number of visitors from the Emirates, but also as an opportunity for investment in the hotel industry,” and “health, since the Emirates has become a model health centre, which draws people from the entire region; we are looking at the possibility of exchange and complementarity in this area.”

The Argentine minister also reported that a memorandum of understanding was signed regarding visas, “to facilitate the exchange between the two countries.”

During the visit, Malcorra gave Minister Al Nahyan a letter from Macri in which the president promised that Argentina would take part in the Expo 2020, the world fair to be held in Dubai between October 2020 and April 2021, which is expected to be visited by 25 million people, 70 percent of them from abroad.

The Emirati minister came to Argentina from Brazil, the other leg of his current South America tour, where he signed three agreements on Thursday Mar. 16 with his Brazilian host and counterpart, Aloysio Nunes. Al Nahyan will return from Buenos Aires to Brazil, where he will inaugurate the UAE consulate-general in São Paulo on Tuesday Mar. 21.

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