Inter Press Service » Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 29 Jun 2016 17:50:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.12 Civil Society in Latin America Campaigns Against Trans-Pacific Partnershiphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-in-latin-america-campaigns-against-trans-pacific-partnership/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-in-latin-america-campaigns-against-trans-pacific-partnership http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-in-latin-america-campaigns-against-trans-pacific-partnership/#comments Mon, 20 Jun 2016 14:22:12 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145699 Activists from Chile, Mexico and Peru opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), during a meeting in January in the Mexican capital, which was also attended by representatives of civil society from Canada and the United States. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Activists from Chile, Mexico and Peru opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), during a meeting in January in the Mexican capital, which was also attended by representatives of civil society from Canada and the United States. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jun 20 2016 (IPS)

Civil society organisations from Chile, Mexico and Peru are pressing their legislatures and those of other countries not to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The free trade agreement, which was signed in New Zealand on Feb. 4, is now pending parliamentary approval in the 12 countries of the bloc, in a process led by Malaysia. Chile, Mexico and Peru are the three Latin American partners.

The treaty will enter into effect two months after it has been ratified by all the signatories, or if six or more countries, which together represent at least 85 percent of the total GDP of the 12 partners, have ratified it within two years.

“We are seeking a dialogue with like-minded parliamentary groups that defend national interests, and we provide them with information. We want to use the parliaments as hubs, and we also want dialogues with organisations from the United States, Canada and the Asian countries,” Carlos Bedoya, a Peruvian activist with the Latin American Network on Debt, Development and Rights (LATINDADD), told IPS.

Civil society groups in Peru created the “Our Rights Are Not Negotiable” coalition, to reject the most controversial parts of the agreement.

With similar initiatives, “A Better Chile without TPP” and “A Better Mexico without TPP”, non-governmental organisations and civil society figures are protesting the negative effects that the treaty would have on their societies.

The activists complain that the intellectual property chapter of the agreement stipulates a minimum of five years of data protection for clinical trials for Mexico and Peru. And in the case of biologics, the period is three years for Mexico and 10 years for Peru.

In Chile, in both cases it will be five years of protection, in line with its other free trade agreements.

These barriers delay cheaper, generic versions of drugs from entering the market for a longer period of time.

Another aspect criticised by activists is that the member countries must submit disputes over investments to extraterritorial bodies, like the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

The alliances against the TPP also criticise the provisions for Internet service providers to oversee content on the web in order to control the distribution of material that violates copyright laws.

Latin American activists complain as well about the U.S. demand that the partners reform domestic laws and regulations to bring them into line with the TPP, in a process separate from or parallel to ratification by the legislature.

In addition, they protest that Washington was given the role of certifying that each partner has faithfully implemented the agreement.

The TPP emerged from the expansion of an alliance signed in 2006 by Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore, within the framework of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. These countries were later joined by Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, the United States and Vietnam.

A girl holds a sign saying the TPP means Transferring Fully our Powers, during a protest against the trade agreement in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Courtesy of "A Better Chile without TPP"

A girl holds a sign saying the TPP means Transferring Fully our Powers, during a protest against the trade agreement in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Courtesy of “A Better Chile without TPP”

The agreement encompasses areas like customs, textiles, investment, telecommunications, e-commerce, dispute settlement, and labour and environmental issues.

The economies in the bloc represent 40 percent of global GDP and 20 of world trade.

The TPP “has negative effects on health and economic development. It won’t benefit our countries. But there will be a lengthy debate, because it contains issues that generate conflict,” Carlos Figueroa, a Chilean activist with his country’s coalition against the treaty, which encompasses 99 organisations, prominent individuals and five parliamentarians, told IPS.

Among its actions, the “A Better Chile without TPP” organises mass email campaigns to petition the government against the accord, promotes campaigns over the social networks, holds public demonstrations and is lobbying in parliament to block approval of the treaty.

In Mexico, conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto has enough votes in the Senate, which is responsible for ratifying international accords, to approve the treaty, with the votes from the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party, its ally the Green Party, and the opposition right-wing National Action Party.

In Chile, socialist President Michelle Bachelet’s centre-left alliance will be able to count on enough votes from the right to ratify the agreement.

And in Peru, the party of President-elect Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a former World Bank economist and Wall Street banker in favour of free trade, has only a small number of seats in Congress. But a rival right-wing party, Fuerza Popular, which has a broad majority in the legislature, will approve the TPP, after the new government takes office in July and the new lawmakers are sworn in.

But furthermore, in Peru, the content of any free trade agreement does not require legislative approval unless it goes beyond what was agreed in 2009 with the United States.

Despite attempts by governments of the countries in the bloc to promote the positive impacts of the TPP, recent reports call the supposed benefits into question.

“Global Economic Prospects; Potential Macroeconomic Implications of the Trans-Pacific Partnership”, a report published in January by the World Bank, projected that the treaty could boost the GDP of its members by 1.1 percent and their trade by 11 percent a year on average by 2030.

In the case of Canada, Mexico and the United States, which have their own free trade agreement, NAFTA, since 1994, the benefit is just 0.6 percent of GDP.

And for Mexico, the positive impact would be even more reduced, because the cuts in import duties give other members of the TPP greater access to the U.S. market, the document says.

Economists from Tufts University in the U.S. state of Massachusetts had a more negative view of the trade deal, predicting “increasing inequality and job losses in all participating economies.”

“Trading Down: Unemployment, Inequality and Other Risks of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement”, a study by the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University, estimates that the TPP would lead to employment loss in all member countries, with a total loss of 771,000 jobs, including 448,000 in the United States alone.

In Mexico, 78,000 jobs would be lost, and in Chile and Peru, 14,000.

The authors estimate that by 2025, Mexican exports will grow 6.2 percent and GDP one percent; Peru’s exports will grow 7.1 percent and GDP 1.4 percent; and Chile’s exports will grow 2.5 percent and GDP 0.9 percent.

For its part, the U.S. International Trade Commission stated May 18, in its report “Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement: Likely Impact on the U.S. Economy and on Specific Industry Sectors”, that by 2032 the TPP would boost the U.S. economy by an average of 0.01 percent a year and employment by 0.07 percent.

Enrique Dussel, coordinator of the China/Mexico Studies Center at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, questions Mexico’s involvement in the TPP without evaluating the consequences of further freeing up trade.

“There has been a 20-year learning process to know what works and what doesn’t,” he told IPS. “TPP partners without free trade agreements represent one percent of trade with Mexico and one percent of investment. The question is what do I do with the remaining 99 percent, what focus do I give trade and investment.”

NGOs in Latin America are hoping the U.S. election campaign will limit the debate on the TPP to Congress until the winner of the November elections takes office.

“That gives us a little time to fight against ratification. It will be a long battle,” said Bedoya.

Dussel anticipated three possible scenarios. “In two years it goes into effect; there will be no TPP; or in the United States the new president will call for substantial changes.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Closing the Gaps in Fight Against Wildlife Trafficking in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/closing-the-gaps-in-fight-against-wildlife-trafficking-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=closing-the-gaps-in-fight-against-wildlife-trafficking-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/closing-the-gaps-in-fight-against-wildlife-trafficking-in-latin-america/#comments Thu, 02 Jun 2016 16:57:46 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145408 Because of their biological wealth, Latin America and the Caribbean are a source and destination of trafficked species. In the photo, trafficked parrots in a cage after being seized. Credit: World Animal Protection

Because of their biological wealth, Latin America and the Caribbean are a source and destination of trafficked species. In the photo, trafficked parrots in a cage after being seized. Credit: World Animal Protection

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jun 2 2016 (IPS)

Although it violates the international conventions that regulate the wildlife trade, it is possible to go online and find websites to buy, for example, axolotl salamanders (Ambystoma mexicanum) or spiny softshell turtles (Trionyx spiniferus).

These websites reflect new trends in the trafficking of plant and animal species, which help fuel the smuggling of wildlife and form part of the ‘Deep Web’, made up of pages that search engines cannot find.

Despite the magnitude of the damage to biodiversity, Latin America and the Caribbean have made scant progress in fighting wildlife trafficking. The theme of this year’s World Environment Day, celebrated on Jun. 5, is Go Wild for Life.“People have to be taught that they should not purchase wild animals or plants. That would be enough to cut down trafficking to sustainable levels.” -- Juan Carlos Cantú

Because of their biological wealth, Mexico, Central America and the Amazon rainforest – which is shared by Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela – are the main sources of trafficked plant and animal species in the region.

“Latin America represents significant criminal activity, because there are several countries considered megadiverse, which makes this region highly vulnerable to trafficking,” Roberto Vieto, with World Animal Protection, told IPS.

Vieto, who is wildlife campaigns officer for Latin America at the London-based international animal welfare organisation, said wildlife trafficking has seen a resurgence in the region, driven by online trade.

The World Wildlife Crime Report, published May 26 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Venezuela headed the region in terms of seizures of trafficked wildlife in the 2004-2015 period.

This region accounted for 15 percent of global seizures, while North America represented 46 percent, the Asia-Pacific region 24 percent, Europe 14 percent and Africa one percent.

The seizures indicate that the main destinations for reptiles, mammals and birds trafficked from this region are the United States, Europe, and more recently, China.

UNODC reports that some 7,000 species have been discovered in seizures worldwide. And the European Union reported in February that wildlife trafficking generates anywhere between 8.9 and 22.25 billion dollars a year. That makes it one of the four main transnational criminal activities, along with drug, weapon and people trafficking.

Smuggling, forgery of documents, and the mixture of legal and illegal products are the favorite techniques used by traffickers of wild species. In the photo are small birds in tin cans and a cage, discovered during a seizure in Brazil. Credit: World Animal Protection

Smuggling, forgery of documents, and the mixture of legal and illegal products are the favorite techniques used by traffickers of wild species. In the photo are small birds in tin cans and a cage, discovered during a seizure in Brazil. Credit: World Animal Protection

Wildlife seizures are an indicator of the scale of the phenomenon. To cite just one example, authorities in Mexico seized more than 200,000 specimens between 2007 and 2011 and arrested 294 suspects.

Part of the SDGs

The elimination of wildlife trafficking forms part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), number 15 is dedicated to protecting ecosystems, and target number seven is “Take urgent action to end poaching and trafficking of protected species of flora and fauna and address both demand and supply of illegal wildlife products.”

“The problem is very serious,” said Juan Carlos Cantú, the representative in Mexico of the U.S.-based Defenders of Wildlife. “For certain species, trafficking is the only threat they face. International trafficking is focused on endemic species, the rarest ones, the ones that are the most threatened by extinction.”

In Latin America, there are legal vacuums, and laws against wildlife trafficking are not always adequately enforced.

One illustration of this: in its first “National report on the traffick of wild animals”, published in 2014, the Brazilian organisation Renctas concluded that more than one million caimans – related to alligators – are poached every year in wilderness areas in Brazil, and their hides are taken to neighbouring countries for processing and export.

In 2015, Defenders of Wildlife stated in its report “Combating Wildlife Trafficking from Latin America to the United States” that the five most frequently seized animals in the region are queen conches, sea turtles, caimans, crocodiles and iguanas.

The lucrative Chinese market poses an enormous threat to species like the totoaba, sea cucumbers and sharks. The capture of the totoaba, a fish that is endemic to the Gulf of California in northwest Mexico, whose swim bladder is considered a delicacy in Chinese cuisine, is a death sentence for the vaquita (Phocoena sinus), a rare species of porpoise only found in the same area.

Traffickers often use legal documents to hide illegal activities or forged permits to smuggle specimens. As UNODC notes, certain markets are especially vulnerable to the infiltration of illegally sourced or trafficked wildlife.

In the photo, an inspector from Mexico’s federal environmental protection agency carries a box of parrots seized in a 2011 operation against the trafficking of protected species of birds. Credit: PROFEPA

In the photo, an inspector from Mexico’s federal environmental protection agency carries a box of parrots seized in a 2011 operation against the trafficking of protected species of birds. Credit: PROFEPA

Smugglers and their clients take advantage of legal gaps in the region. For example, in Brazil it is illegal to sell wild animals, but it is legal to own them if they were raised in captivity.

Requests for protection

For the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, to be held in Johannesburg Sep. 24-Oct. 5, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras asked for the inclusion of four kinds of lizards from the Abronia genus in Appendix I – species for which CITES prohibits international trade.

In one illustrative case, Mexico asked for the inclusion of 13 species of rosewood (Dalbergia calderonii) in Apendix II - species in which trade must be controlled – to protect the tree from logging for timber.

Sharks are the perfect illustration of incoherent and contradictory regulations and laws. Most Latin American nations allow them to be sold, but ban their capture for the purpose of removal of their fins, which are in high demand in Asia and provide an incentive to blur the distinction between the legal and illegal markets.

The global gendarme

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), in effect since 1975, regulates more than 5,600 species of animals and 30,000 species of plants from overexploitation through international trade, in accordance with the degree of risk of extinction.

But the millions of species that aren’t covered by CITES can be illegally bred and raised and internationally traded.

Furthermore, national markets are also outside of the reach of the convention, if it cannot be proved that specimens or products have crossed international borders, in contravention of CITES.

In the case of Latin America, since at least 2010 most of the countries have not presented their biennial reports to CITES on how they are implementing the convention, despite the importance of oversight and monitoring in the fight against trafficking.

That gap is going to close, because in its annual meeting in Geneva in February, the CITES Standing Committee decided that its member states must provide statistical information every year on seizures, which will go into an annual report, the first of which will be published in October 2017.

Vieto and Cantú agree on the importance of raising public awareness so that people understand they must not buy wild animals. “Educational campaigns are needed to reduce the consumption of products, step up enforcement of existing regulations and laws, and bolster international cooperation,” to fill in gaps at a local level, said Vieto.

For Cantú, the key is reducing demand. “People have to be taught that they should not purchase wild animals or plants. That would be enough to cut down trafficking to sustainable levels,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Traditional Mexican Recipes Fight the Good Fighthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/traditional-mexican-recipes-fight-the-good-fight/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=traditional-mexican-recipes-fight-the-good-fight http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/traditional-mexican-recipes-fight-the-good-fight/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 11:54:49 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145330 AraceliMárquez prepares dishes based on Mexico’s rich, nutritional traditional cuisine, at a fair in the southeast of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

AraceliMárquez prepares dishes based on Mexico’s rich, nutritional traditional cuisine, at a fair in the southeast of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, May 27 2016 (IPS)

In a clay pot, Araceli Márquez mixes tiny Mexican freshwater fish known as charales with herbs and a sauce made of chili peppers, green tomatoes and prickly pear cactus fruit, preparing a dish called mixmole.

“I learned how to cook by asking people and experimenting,” the 55-year-old divorced mother of two told IPS. “The ingredients are natural, from this area. It’s a way to eat natural food, and to fight obesity and disease.”

Mixmole, which is greenish in color and has a distinctive flavour and a strong aroma that fills the air, is one of the traditional dishes of the town of San Andrés Mixquic, in Tlahuac, one of the 16 boroughs into which Mexico City, whose metropolitan region is home to 21 million people, is divided.

Márquez belongs to a cooperative named “Life and death in Tlahuac- heritage and tourist route”dedicated to gastronomy and ecotourism. The ingredients of their products and dishes, which are based on recipes handed down over the generations, come from local farmers.

Another dish on her menu is tlapique – a tamale (seasoned meat wrapped in cornmeal dough) filled with fish, chili peppers, prickly pear cactus fruit, epazote (Dysphaniaambrosioides) – a common spice in Mexican cooking – and xoconostles (Opuntiajoconostle), another kind of cactus pear native to Mexico’s deserts.

“We are trying to show people thelocal culture and cuisine.The response has been good, people like what we offer,” said Márquez, who lives in the town of San Bartolo Ameyalco, in Tlahuac, which is on the southeast side of Mexico City.

Márquez’s meals reflect the wealth of Mexican cuisine and the growing efforts to defend and promote it, in this Latin American country of 122 million people, which is one of the world’s fattest countries, meaning diabetes, hypertension, cardiac and stomach ailments are major problems.

Traditional Mexican cuisine, on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2010, revolves around corn, beans and chili peppers, staples used by native peoples long before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.

The local diet was enriched by the contributions of the invaders, and is now rich in vegetables, herbs and fruit – a multicultural mix of aromas, flavours, nutrients, vitamins and minerals.

Activists offer beans on downtown Reforma Avenue in Mexico City to promote consumption of this staple of the Mexican diet, produced with non-genetically-modified native seeds, and to boost food security. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Activists offer beans on downtown Reforma Avenue in Mexico City to promote consumption of this staple of the Mexican diet, produced with non-genetically-modified native seeds, and to boost food security. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Liza Covantes is also dedicated to reviving traditional cuisine based on local products. With that aim she helped found a bartering and products cooperative in Zacahuitzco, in the south of the capital, in 2015.

“We are a group of people working for the right to a healthy, affordable diet who got together to foment healthy eating. We’re exercising the right to food, health and a clean environment,” she told IPS.

The cooperative brings together 45 families who produce food like bread, cheese and vegetables. To sell their products, in November they opened a store, Mawi, which means “to feed” in the Totonaca indigenous language.

“We don’t accept anything with artificial ingredients,” said Covantes. The cooperative sells six-kg packages of food, which always include vegetables.

Mexico’s world-renowned cuisine is a significant part of this country’s attraction for tourists.

To cite a few examples of the rich culinary heritage, there are 200 varieties of native chili peppers in Mexico, 600 recipes that use corn, and 71 different kinds of mole sauce.

But this culinary wealth exists alongside the epidemic of obesity caused by the proliferation of sodas and other processed food high in added fats and sweeteners.

The 2012 National Survey on Health and Nutrition found that 26 million adults are overweight, 22 million are obese, and some five million children are overweight orobese. This generates growing costs for the state.

The survey also found that over 20 million households were in some category of food insecurity.

Referring to the country’s traditional cuisine, expert Delhi Trejo told IPS that “its importance lies in the diversity of the food.”

“We have a great variety of fruits, vegetables and grains; they’re important sources of fiber, vitamins, protein and minerals. Their costs are low and they have benefits to the environment,” said Trejo, the senior consultant on nutrition in the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Mexico office.

María Solís, who grows different varieties and colours of native corn, removes the kernels from a cob in San Juan Ixtenco, Tlaxcala state, during a traditional fair dedicated to corn, the country’s main crop, which originated in Mexico and forms the base of the national diet. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

María Solís, who grows different varieties and colours of native corn, removes the kernels from a cob in San Juan Ixtenco, Tlaxcala state, during a traditional fair dedicated to corn, the country’s main crop, which originated in Mexico and forms the base of the national diet. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

FAO declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses – one of the key elements in the Mexican diet.

But traditional cuisine not only has nutritional value; the preparation of foods employs more than five million people and the country’s 500,000 formal restaurants generate two percent of GDP in Latin America’s second-largest economy.

To improve nutrition and defend an important segment of the economy, in August 2015 the government launched a Policy to Foment National Gastronomy, aimed at fostering and strengthening the country’s gastronomic offerings, fomenting tourism and boosting local and regional development through restaurants and the value chain.

But its measures have not yet yielded clear dividends.

“The traditional diet would be a solution for diabetes or obesity,” independent researcher Cristina Barros told IPS. “It is indispensable to return to our roots…We are what we eat.”

The Dietary Guidelines launched by the United States in 2010 state that people with traditional plant-based diets are less prone to cancer, coronary disease and obesity than people with diets based on processed foods.

Márquez is calling for more support and promotion. “There is assistance, but it is not enough. I hope the federal programme brings results,” said the cook, whose goal this year is to make a Tláhuac recipe book.

For Trejo, the FAO consultant, part of the problem is that a segment of the population erroneously associates traditional food with what is sold by street vendors or food stalls.

“The country has to foster its gastronomy and do away with false ideas of combinations of fats, sugar and industrialised food that increasingly reach every corner of the country and put traditional cuisine at risk,” she said.

Initiatives in different parts of Mexico have pointed in that direction, like in the southern state of Chiapas, one of the country’s poorest, where several organizations launched in April 2015 the campaign “Pozol project: eating healthier as Mexicans”, aimed at fomenting the consumption of pozol, a nutritious fermented corn drink.

On Apr. 28, the Mexican Senate approved the draft of a Federal Law to Foment Gastronomy, which outlines measures to strengthen the sector. The bill is now pending approval by the lower house of Congress.

“Collectively we can defend these principles and create a social trend that boosts the nutritional values of our gastronomy, to also benefit local producers,” said Covantes.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Mexico Needs to Improve Control of Toxic Chemicalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/mexico-needs-to-improve-control-of-toxic-chemicals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-needs-to-improve-control-of-toxic-chemicals http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/mexico-needs-to-improve-control-of-toxic-chemicals/#comments Fri, 06 May 2016 07:15:24 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144997 Two Greenpeace technicians take water samples from a river that runs by the Pajaritos Petrochemical Complez in the Mexican city of Coatzacoalcos, where an Apr. 20 explosion in the Planta Clorados III plant left 32 people dead and 136 injured. Credit: Greenpeace Mexico

Two Greenpeace technicians take water samples from a river that runs by the Pajaritos Petrochemical Complez in the Mexican city of Coatzacoalcos, where an Apr. 20 explosion in the Planta Clorados III plant left 32 people dead and 136 injured. Credit: Greenpeace Mexico

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, May 6 2016 (IPS)

A recent explosion at a petrochemical plant in southeast Mexico highlighted the need to strengthen monitoring of hazardous substances, step up inspections of factories and update regulations in this country.

The Apr. 20 blast at the Clorados III plant in the Pajaritos Petrochemical Complex in the port city of Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz state, left 32 dead and 136 injured.

“One basic problem is the handling of toxic chemicals,” Robin Perkins, the Detox Programme leader at Greenpeace Mexico, told IPS. “This is a country with few regulations and the list of regulated and controlled substances is short. There is a lack of regulations, inspections and reviews.”

The plant, which belongs to Petroquímica Mexicana de Vinilo (PMC), a public-private petrochemical company, produces 170,000 tons a year of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which generates dioxins and furans, and has two incinerators.“We want the government to monitor and tell us what chemicals were there and what was released into the environment; there has to be short, medium and long-term monitoring; we need to know the impact on the workers, firefighters and surrounding communities; we’re talking about an impact on the entire ecosystem. It’s virtually impossible for there not to be an impact on the environment.” -- Robin Perkins

Dioxins and furans are environmental pollutants that belong to the so-called “dirty dozen” – a group of dangerous chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), POPs are present throughout the food chain and bio-accumulate in organisms.

Vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen, is found in gas and liquid form, and through inhalation or contact with skin it can cause dizziness, drowsiness, and headaches, while long-time exposure can lead to severe skin problems or liver damage.

Dioxin exposure has been linked to birth defects, miscarriage, learning disabilities, immune system suppression, lung problems, skin disorders and other health problems.

“It is important to monitor these kinds of chemicals, not only through environmental samples but also in the biota, and in exposed human populations, such as workers or local residents,” said Fernando Díaz-Barriga, a researcher at the Coordination for the Innovation and Application of Science and Technology at the public Autonomous University of San Luis Potosí.

To do that, he told IPS, “they must be detected in sediments and soils.”

For the past three decades, Díaz-Barriga has studied the impact of these substances on human health and the environment, including in the area of Pajaritos, and the result has always been the same: high levels of toxic compounds and elements.

In the wake of the explosion at the petrochemical plant, one of the worst environmental disasters in the history of Mexico due to the possible emission of dioxins, Greenpeace experts took samples of water, soil and dust in nearby communities, to detect pollutants.

The material is now being analysed at the University of Exeter in Britain and independent laboratories, and the results will be published in a few weeks.

Two weeks earlier, Díaz-Barriga had gathered samples of biota, soil and sediment around the Pajaritos complex, to identify POPs in the area, which is near the Gulf of Mexico and the mouth of a river.

The PVM company emerged in 2013 from an alliance between the private firm Mexichem, which holds a 54 percent share and runs the plant, and the state-run oil company Pemex, which owns 46 percent.

The accident was not an isolated incident.

 “We want the truth!” about what happened in an explosion of a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plant in a petrochemical complex in the city of Coatzacoalcos in southeast Mexico, reads a Greenpeace sign, while a technician takes a soil sample after the disaster. Credit: Greenpeace Mexico


“We want the truth!” about what happened in an explosion of a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plant in a petrochemical complex in the city of Coatzacoalcos in southeast Mexico, reads a Greenpeace sign, while a technician takes a soil sample after the disaster. Credit: Greenpeace Mexico

In Pajaritos there have been at least three accidents since 1991, and there are an average of 600 emergencies a y ear involving hazardous materials in Mexico, and at least one major disaster every 12 months, according to the environmental justice programme in the Federal Agency of Environmental Protection (PROFEPA).

International commitment

The explosion in the plant underscored the importance of Mexico living up to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, signed in 2001 and in effect since 2004.

The Convention is aimed at eliminating or reducing levels of nine chemicals used as pesticides, dioxins, furans and polychlorinated biphenyls – elements involved in the blast in Coatzacoalcos.

Every two years, parties to the convention meet to decide which additional chemicals should be added to the original “dirty dozen”. The next meeting is in 2017.

In Mexico, the Updating of the National Implementation Plan for the Stockholm Convention, which is reviewing the first plan from 2007, makes it clear how far the country still is from being up-to-date with respect to hazardous materials.

The evaluation for modernising the plan stresses the lack of a national network of laboratories for studying POPs, a formal programme for monitoring them, and a basic studies programme to identify trends involving these compounds.

Another problem is that the new industrial POPs that emerge are not studied, which means the country is not fully complying with the Stockholm Convention.

Greenpeace is calling for a longer list of regulated substances, a mandatory greenhouse gas emissions registry, and stricter penalties for polluters.

“We want the government to monitor and tell us what chemicals were there and what was released into the environment; there has to be short, medium and long-term monitoring; we need to know the impact on the workers, firefighters and surrounding communities; we’re talking about an impact on the entire ecosystem. It’s virtually impossible for there not to be an impact on the environment,” said Perkins.

On Apr. 28, PROFEPA closed down the Clorados III plant indefinitely, instructed the company to remove and safely confine substances like hydrochloric acid, ethane, and ethylene, and ordered it to carry out an impact study and a damage remediation programme.

In 2013, the government’s Registry of Emissions and Transference of Pollutants covered 3,523 establishments that reported 73 substances released into the air, water and soil or transferred in waste or discharge.

A food processor, an auto-maker, the Pajaritos complex, two oil refineries, two steel mills, three paper plants, seven chemical factories, 10 hazardous waste treatment plants and at least 35 cement plants reported dioxins and furans.

Of 135 substances identified as hazardous by various international bodies, 43 have been included in 13 laws in Mexico.

“The difficult thing is establishing new substances as the convention is updated,” said Díaz-Barriga. “The disaster in Pajaritos showed that we were right, that the monitoring programme is important. This is a problem of national priority.

“But the environmental issue has been pushed to the backburner, because it’s not a priority for the country; it only arises when these accidents happen.”

As part of the National Plan for the Stockholm Convention, Mexico plans to update and modify its regulations on the characteristics, handling, identification and classification of hazardous waste.

It also plans to expand the list of hazardous substances and establish stricter regulations with regard to emission limits on particulate matter from fixed installations.

The process will take at least two years.

The plan also establishes the modification of the General Law of Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection, in effect since 1988, with a special annex on POPs and chemical substances.

In addition, it proposes monitoring the presence of pesticides and other POPs in food, soil, water and air, and assessing the effective application of the measures, as well as a programme to hold companies accountable for proper handling of these pollutants.

By 2024, Mexico plans to have a programme to monitor POPs in the atmosphere and in breast milk, and to gauge the economic costs of these pollutants for the environment and health.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Rural Community Fights a Second Dam and a New Expropriation of Landhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/rural-community-fights-a-second-dam-and-a-new-expropriation-of-land/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rural-community-fights-a-second-dam-and-a-new-expropriation-of-land http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/rural-community-fights-a-second-dam-and-a-new-expropriation-of-land/#comments Tue, 08 Mar 2016 18:01:42 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144124 Part of the rural municipality of Chicoasén to be flooded by the second dam built in that area, in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. A large part of the local peasant farmers are fighting the new hydropower plant, pointing to the damages they say were caused by the Chicoasén 1 dam, built 40 years ago. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Part of the rural municipality of Chicoasén to be flooded by the second dam built in that area, in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. A large part of the local peasant farmers are fighting the new hydropower plant, pointing to the damages they say were caused by the Chicoasén 1 dam, built 40 years ago. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
CHICOASÉN, Mexico , Mar 8 2016 (IPS)

In 1976, the construction of a hydroelectric dam destroyed farmland in the rural municipality of Chicoasén in southern Mexico. Forty years later, part of the local population is fighting a second dam, which would deprive them of more land.

“They destroyed everything,” Antonio Herrera, one local resident of this municipality in the state of Chiapas, told IPS. “The land is useless now, it’s impossible to farm it. The dam has affected our lives a great deal.”

Herrera complained that local peasant farmers have been unable to reach their land since Mexico’s state-owned power utility Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE) granted a contract in January 2015 for the construction of the Chicoasén 2 dam on the Grijalva River. The project includes a plan to expropriate part of the ejido – formerly public land held in common by the inhabitants of a village and farmed cooperatively or individually.“We don’t have any information about the hydropower dam. We don’t know what will happen to the people who live along the riverbanks. The CFE says it has permission from the ejidatarios, but we haven’t given them permission. They are basing their arguments on a false (community) assembly, which has signatures from owners who are already dead.” -- Claudia Solís

A huge mechanical shovel digs up sand and gravel while Herrera, a member of the Chicoasén ejido committee, points to the work site in the distance, where the formerly green land is coated by brown.

The 240-MW dam, to be built at a cost of 300 million dollars, is scheduled to come onstream in July 2018.

IPS saw the environmental impact study that the CFE presented to the environment ministry. It states that the total surface area amounts to 234 hectares, 188 of which will be covered by the reservoir, located some 850 km south of Mexico City in this municipality of 5,159 people, the traditional territory of the Nahoa and Zoque indigenous peoples.

The CFE awarded the contract for the construction of the dam to a consortium of three Mexican companies and the Costa Rica-based subsidiary of the Chinese firm Sinohydro. The utility has already expropriated 69 hectares of land for the new dam. The owners of the land were paid 2,300 dollars per hectare.

In 1951, the government granted the local residents 3,400 hectares to create the ejido, which doubled in size in 1986 when they were given another 3,461 hectares. The land is owned by 460 ‘ejidatarios’ or members of the ejido, around 50 of whom have since died and passed on their land to their wives or children.

The first Chicoasén dam, 100 km from the second, expropriated land from the original ejido grant, and the second will take part of the land awarded in 1986.

When the CFE built the 2,400-MW Manuel Moreno Torres dam, better known as Chicoasén 1, in 1976, the company promised to pay for the land and provide piped water, a school and a health clinic.

But these promises were not fulfilled, the ejidatarios complain.

And now they are afraid history will repeat itself.

“We don’t have information about the hydropower dam,” Claudia Solís, the daughter of one of the ejidatarios, told IPS. “We don’t know what will happen to the people who live along the riverbanks. The CFE says it has permission from the ejidatarios, but we haven’t given them permission. They are basing their arguments on a false (community) assembly, which has signatures from owners who are already dead.”

Mainly elderly peasant farmers in Chicoasén, in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, who have land in an “ejido” – formerly public land that was granted to communities to farm individually or cooperatively – take part in a protest against the installation of a second hydroelectric dam in the area, which will affect their farms and their way of life. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Mainly elderly peasant farmers in Chicoasén, in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, who have land in an “ejido” – formerly public land that was granted to communities to farm individually or cooperatively – take part in a protest against the installation of a second hydroelectric dam in the area, which will affect their farms and their way of life. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

To block construction of the new dam, local residents have held demonstrations, community elders have gone on hunger strike, and legal action has been taken.

But the ejidatarios are divided, because one group supports the new dam.

The opponents are a majority in the community and are led by a group of elders who are dedicating their last remaining energy to defending their land and their way of life, taking to the streets with their canes, their straw ‘sombreros’ and their families.

In December 2014, 62 ejidatarios brought individual lawsuits, which were admitted by a federal judge in October 2015. And in March 2015 they filed a collective lawsuit, which was accepted by another federal judge in May 2015.

But work on the dam has not been brought to a halt.

The local population grows crops like maize, pumpkin, beans, watermelon and melon, fishes in the water of the reservoir and caters to tourists who visit the area.

Chiapas, a supplier of energy

Several large-scale energy projects have been built or are planned by the government or companies in the impoverished state of Chiapas.

Four dams already operating in the state represent 45 percent of the country’s hydroelectricity. Three others also produce energy in what is Mexico’s main river basin.

Construction of the dams has left its mark on local communities and has modified the natural water regimes, led to the loss of vegetation, displaced wildlife and destroyed their habitats, environmentalists and ejidatarios told IPS during the last protest held against the dam and a visit to the affected area.

In Mexico, 13 large hydroelectric dams generate more than 10,000 MW a year, of the total 65,000 MW produced in the country. There is only one new hydropower project in the 2015-2029 National Electric System Development Programme (PRODESEN), launched in July 2015: Chicoasén 2.

The Chicoasén 2 environmental impact study says the dam will directly affect five communities in the municipality and will indirectly affect another 10. It also acknowledges that the dam, the reservoir and the hypdropower plant will hurt the landscape, wildlife and surface drainage.

“We don’t want the dam,” said Herrera, whose family includes four other ejidatarios. “The CFE doesn’t listen to us, it doesn’t take us into account.”

In 2013, the Clean Development Mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change rejected the inclusion of Chicoasén 2 as a carbon offsetting project, under the argument that there was no clear demonstration of the emissions reduction, which the government estimated at 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide.

Besides the key role it plays in the generation of hydropower, since the 1970s Chiapas has become increasingly important in terms of oil production, and both the state-owned oil giant Pemex and the energy ministry included new fields in the state to be explored or put to tender, in their plans in 2015.

Twenty oilfields are operating in Chiapas, with a total of 278 million barrels of oil in reserves, and an impact on 38 Zoque communities in six municipalities.

And the 2015-2019 Five-Year Plan for the Expansion of the System for the Transportation and Storage of Natural Gas includes the projected 440-km Salina Cruz-Tapachula gas pipeline between the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, to be completed in 2018, but not yet put out to tender.

A survey carried out in the state by the energy ministry on the impact of oil industry operations on other economic activities found that it hurt agriculture, tourism and archaeological sites, as well as nine large environmental areas.

“Exploration for oil has an impact on forests, water resources, and indigenous communities,” Fabio Barbosa, a professor in the economy department of the Autonomous National University of Mexico, told IPS. “The conflicts that already exist will be aggravated, but oil companies aren’t stopped by social conflicts.”

Barbosa said oil industry plans are unsustainable. “If an important well is developed, environmental disasters created in other states can be repeated,” he warned.

Mexico’s law on fossil fuels, in effect since August 2014 as part of the reform that opened up the oil and power industries to private capital, stipulates that the energy ministry must hold non-coercive negotiations to obtain free, prior and informed consent from indigenous communities when energy projects are to be carried out in their territories.

In addition, companies must present a social impact assessment in order to obtain a permit for their projects.

But these requisites have not been enforced in Chiapas, according to local residents and social and environmental activists.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Mexico’s Chinampas – Wetlands Turned into Gardens – Fight Extinctionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/mexicos-chinampas-wetlands-turned-into-gardens-fight-extinction/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-chinampas-wetlands-turned-into-gardens-fight-extinction http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/mexicos-chinampas-wetlands-turned-into-gardens-fight-extinction/#comments Sat, 27 Feb 2016 19:25:46 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144016 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/mexicos-chinampas-wetlands-turned-into-gardens-fight-extinction/feed/ 0 Latin America’s Indigenous Peoples Find an Ally in the Popehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/latin-americas-indigenous-peoples-find-an-ally-in-the-pope/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-americas-indigenous-peoples-find-an-ally-in-the-pope http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/latin-americas-indigenous-peoples-find-an-ally-in-the-pope/#comments Mon, 15 Feb 2016 21:26:12 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143888 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/latin-americas-indigenous-peoples-find-an-ally-in-the-pope/feed/ 0 Mexico Creates First and Second-class Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/mexico-creates-first-and-second-class-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-creates-first-and-second-class-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/mexico-creates-first-and-second-class-migrants/#comments Mon, 25 Jan 2016 23:00:27 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143693 A group of Central American migrants walking along a trail in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, on the border with Guatemala, at the start of their long journey across Mexico on their way to the United States. Credit: Courtesy Médecins Sans Frontières – Mexico

A group of Central American migrants walking along a trail in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, on the border with Guatemala, at the start of their long journey across Mexico on their way to the United States. Credit: Courtesy Médecins Sans Frontières – Mexico

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jan 25 2016 (IPS)

The Mexican government’s decision to grant humanitarian visas to Cuban migrants stranded in Costa Rica contrasts sharply with the poor treatment received by the tens of thousands of Central American migrants who face myriad risks as they make their way through this country on their long journey to the United States, social organisations and activists complain.

Although migrant rights activists put the greatest blame on the United States, complaining that Cuban immigrants are given privileged treatment across the border, they also accuse Mexico of fomenting the differences.

Washington “promotes the irregular migration of Cubans,” activist Danilo Rivera told IPS from Guatemala City. “They have double standards, and Mexico plays into their interests. It contradicts the goal of achieving orderly, safe migration flows.”

“Mexico isn’t coherent, because it’s a country that produces migrants itself,” said Rivera, with the Guatemala-based Central American Institute for Social Studies and Development (INCEDES).

INCEDES belongs to the Regional Network of Civil Organisations for Migration (RROCM), which studies these issues and works with governments on immigration policies.

The 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, known as the “wet foot-dry foot policy”, grants Cuban immigrants U.S. residency one year and a day after they reach the country, regardless of whether their entry was legal or illegal.

Mexican Migrants in the U.S.

Tens of thousands of undocumented Mexican migrants also head to the United States. The Mexican authorities bitterly complain about the poor treatment this country’s citizens are given across the border, while they provide similar treatment to Central American immigrants here, human rights activists argue.

In a study published Jan. 20, the Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS) reported that the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States fell to 10.9 million in 2014, from 12 million in 2008.

Six million of the undocumented immigrants in the country are from Mexico. But CMS Executive Director Donald Kerwin said the Mexican-born undocumented population was about 600,000 smaller in 2014 than in 2010.

The report also said that between 1980 and 2014, the population of Mexican-born legal residents grew faster than the number of undocumented Mexicans.

The previously little-known route taken by Cubans from Ecuador to the United States drew international attention in November, when nearly 8,000 Cubans found themselves stuck at Costa Rica’s border with Nicaragua, after the government in Managua refused to let them in the country.

A solution to the crisis was negotiated and the governments of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico agreed to put an initial group of 180 of the migrants on a charter flight from Costa Rica to Guatemala – thus avoiding Nicaragua – as part of a pilot plan that got underway on Jan. 12.

The next day, the 139 men and 41 women were taken by bus to the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, on the border with Guatemala.

With the special humanitarian visas issued by the Mexican government’s National Migration Institute (INM), the Cubans were able to cross the country on their own, without being stopped by the migration authorities.

After the success of the test flight, the four governments involved in the negotiations agreed in a meeting in Guatemala to carry out more flights, after Feb. 4.

The possibility of issuing humanitarian visas is provided for in Mexico’s 2011 National Migration Law. The permits can be granted for a duration of 72 hours to 30 days, in cases where migrants are victims of a natural catastrophe, face danger in their country of origin, or require special treatment due to health problems.

In November, the last month for which official data is available, Mexico granted 1,084 humanitarian visas: 524 to Hondurans, 370 to Salvadorans, 146 to Guatemalans, 43 to Nicaraguans, and one to a Costa Rican.

That same month, the authorities in Mexico detained 73,710 Guatemalans, 53,648 Hondurans, 31,997 Salvadorans and 1,427 Nicaraguans, and deported 64,844 Guatemalans, 47,779 Hondurans, 27,481 Salvadorans and 1,188 Nicaraguans.

An estimated 500,000 undocumented migrants from Central America cross Mexico every year in their attempt to cross the 3,185-km border separating Mexico from the United States, according to estimates from organisations that work with migrants.

“No one cares about Central Americans migrants; they’re rejects from poor, violence-stricken countries,” Catholic priest Pedro Pantoja told IPS.

“Political negotiations, and a state of servitude to the United States, were behind the way the Cuban migrants issue was handled. The Cubans have everything in their favour; the Central Americans have nothing,” said Pantoja, the director of the Belén Posada del Migrante migrants’ shelter in Saltillo, the capital of the northeast Mexican state of Coahuila, which borders the United States.

The activist also complained about the “unequal response” by the Central American governments, which showed solidarity with the Cuban migrants while being “so insensitive, distant and utilitarian” towards migrants from Central America itself.

On their way across Mexico, Central American migrants face the risk of arbitrary arrest, extortion, theft, assault, rape, kidnapping and murder, at the hands of youth gangs and people trafficking networks, as well as corrupt police and other agents of the state.

Defenders of migrant rights have asked Mexico to issue humanitarian visas to minimise these risks.

And in an August report, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants also urged the government to issue humanitarian permits.

“We have called for a stop to the deportations. Mexico needs to make progress towards protecting migrants in transit, using safe-conduct passes to keep them from going through dangerous areas and to help them to avoid criminal groups. But the United States does not want the border area to become the impact zone,” Rivera said.

Activists blame the Southern Border Plan, implemented since August 2014 by the Mexican government with U.S. support, for the offensive against undocumented immigrants. The plan included the installation of 12 naval bases on rivers in the area, and three security cordons using electronic sensors and other security measures to the north of Mexico’s southern border.

So far, the United States has provided 15 million dollars in equipment and assistance, and an additional 75 million dollars in aid are in the pipeline.

The flow of Cubans without visas through Central America and Mexico to the United States is not likely to let up, even though in December the Ecuadorean government once again began to require a letter of invitation and other requisites to enter the country, after giving Cubans free access since 2014.

In September, the Costa Rican government reported that it had detained 12,000 undocumented Cubans in the previous 12 months.

Migrant rights activists plan to demand a response from Mexico regarding its double standards towards immigrants.

“We are not going to sit still. We’re going to demand that the INM (National Migration Institute) be held to account,” said Pantoja, a member of the INM’s Citizen Council, made up of representatives of civil society and academia.

Immigrant rights organisations will meet Jan. 25-28 in Chiapas and the neighbouring state of Tabasco to study the phenomenon and monitor migration flows and the performance of the local authorities.

They will also question the INM during the Citizen Council’s March session.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Mexican Government Ignores Social Impact of Energy Projectshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/mexican-government-ignores-social-impact-of-energy-projects/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexican-government-ignores-social-impact-of-energy-projects http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/mexican-government-ignores-social-impact-of-energy-projects/#comments Wed, 23 Dec 2015 17:03:38 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143430 The oil industry contracts granted by the Mexican government since 2014 have not included the social impact assessments required by law. The photo shows the Abkatun-A Permanente shallow-water platform in the Campeche Sound, where a fire broke out on Apr. 1, 2015 off the coast of the state of Campeche in southeastern Mexico. Credit: Courtesy of PEMEX

The oil industry contracts granted by the Mexican government since 2014 have not included the social impact assessments required by law. The photo shows the Abkatun-A Permanente shallow-water platform in the Campeche Sound, where a fire broke out on Apr. 1, 2015 off the coast of the state of Campeche in southeastern Mexico. Credit: Courtesy of PEMEX

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Dec 23 2015 (IPS)

Mexico’s hydrocarbons law stipulates that oil contracts must include a social impact assessment. But this has not been done in the case of the oilfields granted to the country’s former oil monopoly, Pemex, or to private companies since the industry was opened up to private investment.

Civil society organisations argue that concessions that do include a social impact asessment are illegal.

“The authorities have the obligation to carry out the consultations,” Manuel Llano, the founder of Cartocrítica, a Mexican NGO, told IPS. “One interesting detail is that the law says the evaluation must be conducted prior to the public tenders.”

Article 120 of the hydrocarbons law in effect since August 2014 states that the energy ministry must organise consultations to obtain free, prior and informed consent from indigenous communities that will be affected by oil industry projects in their territories.

And article 121 establishes that those interested in obtaining a permit for oil industry activity must present a social impact assessment (SIA) to the energy ministry. The energy reform opened up oil exploration, extraction, refining, transportation, distribution and sale of oil and its by-products to local and foreign private investment.“With respect to the shallow water projects, the government argues that there is no social impact, which is why the SIAs weren’t conducted. But one of the long-time conflicts is with fisherpersons because of the damage they suffer due to oil industry activity.” -- Aroa de la Fuente

After Pemex’s monopoly was broken up by the new law in August 2014, the state oil company was allowed to keep 83 percent of the country’s probable reserves and 21 percent of the prospective reserves, equivalent to 20 billion barrels of crude. This selection process was known as Round Zero.

On Jul. 15, the Mexican government opened up Round One and assigned two contracts for the exploration and drilling of deep sea oilwells off the coast of the southeastern states of Campeche, Tabasco and Veracruz. The contracts were signed on Sept. 4.

On Sept. 30, the energy ministry assigned three more contracts, and on Dec. 15 the third public tender was held.

“They haven’t done the assessments,” Aroa de la Fuente, a researcher with the FUNDAR Centre for Research and Analysis, told IPS. “With respect to the shallow water projects, the government argues that there is no social impact, which is why the SIAs weren’t conducted. But one of the long-time conflicts is with fisherpersons because of the damage they suffer due to oil industry activity.”

She questioned the argument that there are no social impacts, if no studies have been carried out to demonstrate this.

Since March, the guidelines for the SIAs have been open to public consultation in the Federal Regulatory Improvement Commission (COFEMER).

According to the “general administrative guidelines on social impact assessments in the energy sector”, drawn up by the energy ministry, the evaluations must assess the likely social impacts from oil industry activity and outline the social impact plans and measures to mitigate potentially adverse effects.

The guidelines require a baseline, representing a starting point for companies to compare actual with projected impacts. The baseline should be established before any oil industry activity begins. It should provide statistics in the following areas: demographic, migration, households and families, education, health services, jobs and labour conditions, social security, housing, main economic activities, local public finances, and tangible and intangible cultural heritage.

The company must also include the results from the analysis of stakeholders – individuals, communities, groups, organisations and institutions – taking into consideration their rights, interests and expectations, as well as their levels of involvement, importance and influence regarding the project.

The SIA must specify whether the impacts are short, medium, long-term or permanent; whether the adverse effects are mild, moderate or severe or the benefits are mild or strong; and whether the impacts are low, moderate, high or very high.

The comments about the SIA process reflect the resistance of companies, especially in the storage and distribution sectors, to conduct them.

The energy ministry estimates 176 million dollars in losses from the cancellation of projects due to the lack of SIAs.

The government argues that the first two public tenders did not require SIAs because they involved shallow water drilling. But the law does not make any such distinction.

Llano said SIAs are important for the defence of territory and for those who wish to legally challenge the areas that have been granted in concession.

The position taken by the government “is serious, because many of the wells are on land,” he said. “They are not complying with the law. They say the first two tenders are in offshore areas, which means no assessment is needed, but there is no legal foundation for this argument. What about the issues of the environment and fisherpersons?”

The expert complained that the government assumes that there are no affected groups, “when it is the assessment that must determine this.”

The government has already suffered its first setbacks. On Dec. 11, a federal judge ordered the permanent suspension of the construction of a wind park in the municipality of Juchitán, in the southern state of Oaxaca, after accepting a legal plea for protection filed by Binnizá indigenous communities.

Native groups and NGOs have fought the Energía Eólica del Sur wind park project by the company of the same name, which would generate 396 MW to be fed into power grids in the region. Their argument is that no free, prior and informed consent was sought.

The SIAs can be a useful tool for local populations. “In the public tenders for oil wells on land, the situation will become more complex, because people are going to try to defend themselves, and this is a mechanism that allows them to do so,” said de la Fuente.

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Mexico to Export Nixtamalisation of Grains to Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/mexico-to-export-nixtamalisation-of-grains-to-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-to-export-nixtamalisation-of-grains-to-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/mexico-to-export-nixtamalisation-of-grains-to-africa/#comments Fri, 18 Dec 2015 03:12:23 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143385 The corn is cooked with limewater to eliminate aflatoxins that cause liver and cervical cancer. Here a worker at the Grulin company is stirring the corn before it is washed, drained and ground, in San Luís Huexotla, Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The corn is cooked with limewater to eliminate aflatoxins that cause liver and cervical cancer. Here a worker at the Grulin company is stirring the corn before it is washed, drained and ground, in San Luís Huexotla, Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
TEXCOCO, Mexico , Dec 18 2015 (IPS)

Every day in the wee hours of the morning Verónica Reyes’ extended family grinds corn to make the dough they use in the tacos they sell from their food truck in Mexico City.

Sons, daughters-in-law and nephews and nieces divide the work in the family business that makes and sells cecina (dried, salted meat) tacos, longaniza (a kind of Spanish sausage), quesadillas and tlacoyos (thick stuffed oval-shaped corn dough tortillas).

“We cook the corn the night before and we grind it early in the morning, to serve people at 8:00 AM,” said Reyes, who has made a living selling food for years.

The family loads up the metal countertop, gas cylinders, tables, chairs, ingredients and over 60 kg of corn dough in their medium-sized truck before heading from their town of San Jerónimo Acazulco, some 46 km southwest of Mexico City, to whatever spot they have chosen that day to sell their wares.

When the taco truck packs up, it has sold just about all the food prepared that day.

The cooked corn dough takes on a yellow tone, an effect caused by a process called nixtamalisation – the preparation of corn or other grain, which is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater, and hulled.According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 25 percent of world food crops are contaminated with aflatoxins.

This technique dates back to before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in Mexico in the 15th century, when local indigenous people cooked corn this way.

Nixtamalisation significantly reduces aflatoxins – any of several carcinogenic mycotoxins produced by molds that commonly infect corn, peanuts and other crops.

“In Mexico aflatoxins are a serious problem,” Ofelia Buendía, a professor at the department of agroindustrial engineering at the Autonomous University of Chapingo, told IPS. “A major effort has been made to eliminate them. The most effective is the traditional nixtamalisation technique.”

She has specialised in “nixtamalising” beans, quinoa, oats, amaranth, barley and other grains, and in producing nutritional foods.

Mexico’s corn dough and tortilla industry encompasses more than 78,000 mills and tortilla factories, over half of which are concentrated in just seven of the country’s 31 states.

Nearly 60 percent of the tortillas sold were made with nixtamalised dough.

Corn is the foundation of the diet in Central America and Mexico, where the process of nixtamalisation is widely used.

But consumption of tortillas has shrunk in Mexico, from 170 kg a year per person in the 1970s to 75 kg today, due to the inroads made by fast food and junk food.

Mexico is now cooperating with Kenya in east Africa to transfer know-how and technology to introduce the technique, to help that country reduce aflatoxins.

Mexico and Kenya signed two cooperation agreements, one of which offers technical support and involves the sending of mills by Mexico’s International Development Cooperation Agency.

Kenya needs 45 million 90-kg bags of corn a year, and only produces 40 million.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 25 percent of world food crops are contaminated with aflatoxins, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that more than 4.5 billion people in the developing world have chronic exposure to them.

Studies by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) suggest that approximately 26,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa die every year of liver cancer associated with chronic exposure to aflatoxins.

At 3:00 AM, the machines are turned on in the processing plant of the Comercializadora y Distribuidora de Alimentos Grulin food processing and distribution company in the town of San Luís Huexotla, some 50 km east of Mexico City.

The work consists of washing the corn cooked the night before, draining it, and grinding it to produce the dough for making tortillas and toast, which are packaged and distributed to sales points in the area.

“Nixtamalisation respects the nutrients in the corn, although some are lost in the washing process,” José Linares, director general of Grulin, told IPS. “There are faster systems of nixtamalisation, but they’re more costly. The technology is shifting towards a more efficient use of water and faster processing.”

His father started out with one tortilla factory, and the business expanded until the Grulin company was founded in 2013.

Grulin processes between 32 and 36 50-kg balls of dough a day. One kg of corn produces 1.9 kg of dough.

The corn is cooked for 90 minutes and then passes through a tank of limewater for 30 seconds before going into tubs with a capacity of 750 kg, where it remains for 24 hours. It is then drained and is ready for grinding between two matching carved stones.

Officials from the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) have visited Mexico to learn about nixtamalisation and test corn products.

The experts who talked to the Kenyan officials said the technique could be adopted by nations in Africa.

“In Africa they want to know about the process, because of its tremendous uses for food. Some variables can be influenced, such as texture and taste,” said Buendía. “The Chinese eat tortillas, so this technique could be adopted. These opportunities cannot be missed.”

Besides cultural questions, the availability of water and generation of waste liquid – known as ‘nejayote’ – can be problems. For every 50 kg of corn processed, some 75 litres of water are needed. The nejayote, which is highly polluting because of its degree of alkalinity, is dumped into the sewer system.

Academic researchers are investigating how to make use of the waste liquid to produce fertiliser, to reuse it in washing the corn, and to make water use more efficient.

“It would be necessary to overcome the cultural barriers, and make sure the taste of lime isn’t noticeable….The technique is replicable,” said Grulin’s Linares.

In 2009, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service developed a biological control technology called AflaSafe, to fight aflatoxins in corn and peanuts. It is so far available in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Kenya, Senegal and Zambia.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez and Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Vertical Farming – Agriculture of the Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/vertical-farming-agriculture-of-the-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=vertical-farming-agriculture-of-the-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/vertical-farming-agriculture-of-the-future/#comments Sat, 05 Dec 2015 07:06:42 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143221 Nelson Pérez monitors the water temperature in the trays where lettuce grows in a controlled-environment farm in the town of Rio Hato, Panama. Vertical farms are beginning to catch on around the world, as a technique that boosts food security, in the face of the impacts of climate change. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Nelson Pérez monitors the water temperature in the trays where lettuce grows in a controlled-environment farm in the town of Rio Hato, Panama. Vertical farms are beginning to catch on around the world, as a technique that boosts food security, in the face of the impacts of climate change. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
RÍO HATO, Panama, Dec 5 2015 (IPS)

Infrared thermometer in hand, Nelson Pérez checks the water temperature in the trays where dozens of small lettuce plants are growing in a nutrient-rich liquid in this vertical farm in Panama.

The water, which contains calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and vitamins, must be kept at a steady 21 degrees Celsius, to obtain the best growth.

Pérez is the watchful carekeeper of the lettuce growing in trays in the controlled environment created by the Urban Farms company in the town of Río Hato, population 15,700, in the province of Coclé, some 125 km north of Panama City.

The vertical farm, the only one of its kind in Latin America, is an example of controlled-environment agriculture, a technology-based approach toward food production which often uses hydroponic methods. This kind of farming helps combat the effects of climate change on agriculture.

“Climate change has affected agricultural production,” said David Proenza, founder of Urban Farms. “So we saw a need to see what changes we could bring about, using technology.”

In 2010, Proenza heard about experiments with vertical farming in Asia and travelled to Japan, where he contacted researchers and members of the business community.

He brought the technique back to Panama, and he and his new partners decided to send an agronomist to be trained in Japan.

Until then, he was a conventional producer of watermelon and other crops.

“The farmer controls everything, from the seeds to the harvest,” he explained to IPS. “The idea is to produce and consume locally.”

Proenza set up a partnership with two other people, and receives guidance from an outside group. He employs two full-time and two temporary workers.

On his four-hectare property, Proenza dedicated a 12 by 17-square-metre space to setting up 60 hydroponic trays with a capacity for growing 30 to 36 plants each.

Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil, using mineral nutrient solutions in water.

After three days, the seeds are transplanted from the germination tray to the growing trays. Three weeks later the lettuce is picked, processed and packed for distribution to supermarkets.

The vertical farm produces some 2,000 heads of five different kinds of lettuce a month, without pesticides, preservatives or large extensions of land.

A computer programme controlled from a smartphone regulates the temperature of the room and the water, as well as the lighting and irrigation.

The low voltage grow lights, which stay on for 18 hours a day and cost 120 dollars each, produce red, yellow or blue light, each of which has a particular effect. The trays hold between 25 and 100 litres of water, depending on the size.

Controlled-environment agriculture encompasses vertical farms, urban gardens, and hydroponics.

Panama is highly vulnerable to climate change, exposed to intense storms, flooding, landslides and drought. The climate of this tropical Central American nation of four million people was previously divided into wet and dry seasons, but now the difference is less marked.

Río Hato is at one end of the Arco Seco or “dry arch”, an important area of food production for both export and domestic consumption.

Panama’s main crops are corn, rice, beans, melons, watermelons, oranges, bananas and coffee. Stockbreeding is also a key driver of the economy.

Agriculture accounts for around four percent of the country’s GDP.

Official statistics show that grain harvests have shrunk in 2014 and 2015, with the exception of corn, due to factors that experts blame on climate change.

The 2010 report “Panama: Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture”, produced by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and other international bodies, stated that climate change would cause this country agricultural losses amounting to between four and seven percent of GDP by 2050 and between eight and nine percent by 2100.

Gustavo Ramírez, a professor with the Cuautitlán Higher Studies Faculty at the Autonomous National University of Mexico, said vertical farming is viable in Latin America, but policies to stimulate it are lacking.

“With this system you can make better use of space,” he told IPS. “In urban areas, there are abandoned buildings that could be put to use, and there is much more space in rural areas.”

In Río Hato, Proenza, who has invested over 70,000 dollars in the farm, has tried growing strawberries, cucumbers, chili peppers, melons and watermelons, with positive results.

Vertical farming is in vogue in the United States, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. An Association for Vertical Farming has been created, and groups companies, universities and individuals. It has offices in Canada, China, India and several European countries.

This farming method offers an alternative in cities around the world, and in impoverished rural areas where people still go hungry.

In cities like Buenos Aires, Mexico City or Santiago, rooftop gardens where people grow their own fresh produce are now common.

To foment the sharing of knowledge, Proenza created the Foundation for the Development of Controlled Environment Agriculture, which organised the International Congress on Controlled Environment Agriculture here in May, which drew more than 350 researchers, academics and farmers from around the world. The next edition is slated for 2017.

“Farmers earn three times more than in the countryside,” said Proenza. “Vertical farms are 30 percent less expensive than traditional farming, and 15 percent cheaper than greenhouses. The risk is minimal,” added the entrepreneur, whose initiative won the second National Prize for Business Innovation, granted by the National Secretariat on Science and Technology, in 2014.

His plan is to expand the vertical farm by 400 square metres, adding varieties of parsley, basil, coriander, arugula and strawberries.

Ramírez recommended that governments refocus their agricultural policies and rethink priorities. “Governments must show an interest, and should focus policies on exploring this technique. We need better planning for production, distribution and logistics,” he said.

The local and regional markets that would be developed through vertical farming would have “an enormous impact,” he said, but “seed capital and technological packages would be needed, based on our own model.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Open Data – Still Closed to Latin American Communitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/open-data-still-closed-to-latin-american-communities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=open-data-still-closed-to-latin-american-communities http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/open-data-still-closed-to-latin-american-communities/#comments Wed, 04 Nov 2015 00:40:37 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142890 Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of ECLAC, and other heads of international agencies discuss the need for greater transparency on the part of governments, during the Open Government Partnership Global Summit in Mexico City. Credit: ECLAC

Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of ECLAC, and other heads of international agencies discuss the need for greater transparency on the part of governments, during the Open Government Partnership Global Summit in Mexico City. Credit: ECLAC

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Nov 4 2015 (IPS)

Open data policies in Latin America have not yet enabled communities to exercise their right to access to information, consultation and participation with regard to mining or infrastructure projects that affect their surroundings and way of life.

These rights are contained in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration states that “each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes.

“States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available. Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be provided.”

“In Latin America, the lack of open, timely information is a widespread problem,” said Tomás Severino, director of the Mexican NGO Cultura Ecológica.

The expert explained to IPS that “information is technical and specialised. Open data gives us the possibility to generate accessible information, to break it down and to disseminate it.”“The problem is severe; it is not enough to just be transparent. There is a question of timing. When do citizens need that information? After the fact? That’s a mistake. We need to think about how to make information available before decisions are reached, as well as information about the impact of those decisions.” -- Carlos Monge

The link between open data and projects that have an influence on local communities and the environment was one of the issues at the Open Government Partnership Global Summit held Oct. 27-29 in Mexico City.

Taking part in the summit were representatives of governments and civil society and academics from the 65 countries participating in the Partnership, created in 2011 under the aegis of the United Nations. Of that total, 15 countries are from Latin America.

During the summit’s forums and workshops, the delegates of organised civil society called for a strengthening of open data policies and faster progress towards compliance with Principle 10, which cannot happen unless there is movement towards total information openness.

It is common practice in the region for communities to be uninformed about the very existence of mining, oil, energy and other kinds of projects even when carried out in their immediate vicinity, as they are neither previously consulted nor given access to information. Permits and concessions are off their radar.

Countries in the region ratified the declaration on the application of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, signed during the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012.

According to information shared by participants during the open government summit in Mexico, the question of the environment is limited to instructions to disseminate public consultations in the environmental impact assessment process in the Second Plan of Action on open data 2013-2015.

Currently, Mexico is collecting proposals to design a third, more ambitious, plan.

One of its key focuses is “natural resource governance”, which encompasses climate change, fossil fuels, mining, ecosystems, the right to a healthy environment, and water resources for human consumption.

Representatives of civil society in Latin America discuss the application of open data policies and Principle 10 on access to information, participation and consultation on environmental issues, during one of the panels at the Open Government Partnership Global Summit held Oct. 27-29 in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Representatives of civil society in Latin America discuss the application of open data policies and Principle 10 on access to information, participation and consultation on environmental issues, during one of the panels at the Open Government Partnership Global Summit held Oct. 27-29 in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

For its part, Peru has been discussing since May a “strategy on openness and reuse of open government data” for the period 2015-2019, which would include environmental questions.

In August, Argentina presented the first part of its “second plan for open government 2015–2017”, which also fails to include major environmental considerations.

“The problem is severe; it is not enough to just be transparent,” said Carlos Monge, the representative in Peru of the U.S.-based non-governmental Natural Resource Governance Institute. “There is a question of timing. When do citizens need that information? After the fact?

“That’s a mistake. We need to think about how to make information available before decisions are reached, as well as information about the impact of those decisions,” he told IPS.

Monge complained that since 2014 countries like Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru have reformed their legislation to lower environmental standards, with the aim of drawing investment in the mining and oil industries, due to the drop in global demand for raw materials, one of the pillars of their economies.

The “Global Atlas of Environmental Justice” lists 480 environmental conflicts in 16 Latin American and Caribbean nations, related to activities like mining, fossil fuels, waste and water management, access to land and infrastructure development.

The initiative forms part of the European project “Environmental Justice Organizations, Liabilities and Trade” and is coordinated by the University of Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology and drawn up by experts from 23 universities and environmental justice organisations from 18 countries.

The majority of the disputes, the atlas says, are concentrated in Colombia (101), Brazil (64), Ecuador (50), Peru (38), Argentina (37) and Mexico (36).

When they are in the dark about infrastructure or mining or oil industry projects in their local surroundings, communities suffer what U.S. Professor Rob Nixon calls “slow violence” from environmental problems arising from the exploitation of natural resources, which generates conflicts and further impoverishes local populations.

Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), complained during the summit that local communities are not previously informed about extractive industry projects and said the region is not yet ready to meet open data requirements.

“It’s important for them to have information on concessions, contracts, impacts, revenue, consultations, so they are aware beforehand of the effects,” she told IPS.

The countries of this region agreed in November 2014 on the negotiation of a treaty on Principle 10, in a process facilitated by ECLAC, which is about to open a regional natural resource governance centre.

The second round of negotiations took place Oct. 27-29 in Panama, and the third is to be held in April 2016, in Uruguay.

Severino, who is taking part in Mexico’s open data initiatives and in the Principle 10 regional negotiating process, stressed the need to modify laws to bring them into line with these schemes.

“We need participation and consultation mechanisms,” he said.

Monge cited two processes that he said should be given institutional structures. “Zoning and consultation imply the generation of a lot of information. If they want to carry out a project, the information on money, water and territory should be made transparent,” he said.

The first refers to zoning of residential, industrial or ecological areas, by the municipal authorities, and the second involves asking local populations whether or not they want a project to go ahead.

“Consultation is one of the most effective instruments. Principle 10 addresses it before a project is carried out,” Bárcena said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Medicinal Plants Popular and Unprotected in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/medicinal-plants-popular-and-unprotected-in-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=medicinal-plants-popular-and-unprotected-in-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/medicinal-plants-popular-and-unprotected-in-mexico/#comments Wed, 28 Oct 2015 07:27:54 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142812 Clemente Calixto, a certified traditional healer, discusses the healing properties of a plant during a workshop in Mexico City. In his community in the southern state of Oaxaca, he uses different medicinal plants to make soap and ointments, and to heal a variety of ailments. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Clemente Calixto, a certified traditional healer, discusses the healing properties of a plant during a workshop in Mexico City. In his community in the southern state of Oaxaca, he uses different medicinal plants to make soap and ointments, and to heal a variety of ailments. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Oct 28 2015 (IPS)

“This plant heals 150 ailments, like diabetes, high blood pressure and gastritis. It’s prepared as an infusion or blended with water, and you take it every day,” says Clemente Calixto, a traditional indigenous healer in Mexico, holding up a green leafy branch.

Calixto, who belongs to the Mazateco indigenous community, is talking about palomilla or common fumitory (Fumaria officinalis), an herbaceous annual flowering plant in the poppy family – one of the more than 3,000 plants in frequent use in this Latin American country to treat a broad range of health problems.

“We work with medicinal plants. Some grow wild in the countryside and others we plant in yards and patios. We make soaps, ointments, cough syrups, dewormers,” Calixto told IPS.

The healer, from the town of Jalapa de Díaz in the state of Oaxaca, 460 km south of Mexico City, also uses chaya or tree spinach (Cnidoscolus chayamansa) and caña agria or spiked spiralflag ginger (Costus spicatus), which he said help heal kidney problems.

Calixto, one of the 30 registered traditional healers with credentials from the health authorities in his region, is one of thousands of herbalists who process, sell and prescribe medicinal plants in Mexico, where they enjoy only weak legal protection.

The Digital Library of Traditional Medicine, created by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), lists more than 3,000 species of plants in daily use. Many of them are sold fresh or dried.

In this Latin American country of 120 million inhabitants, eight out of 10 people use traditional plants or animal products to cure ailments.

“There is little legal protection,” Arturo Argueta, a professor at UNAM’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Humanities, told IPS. “We don’t have adequate legislation; there should be a federal law and institutions that are replicated at the level of the states to prevent biopiracy and grant recognition to this ancestral wisdom.”

In 1994 Argueta, a veteran researcher, and other colleagues published the first “atlas of plants used in Mexico’s traditional medicine”. Their research found that the sale of these plants is especially common in areas to the south of Mexico City, their habitual users come from all socioeconomic strata, and their prices are low.

“The most widely used are 50 herbs,” said the expert. “Many of them grow wild, and others are planted. Use expanded from exotic users in the south of the country to a much wider population.”

Several of the species are protected by Mexican law, as they are listed as threatened or endangered.

Traditional indigenous medicine is recognised in Mexico’s constitution as a cultural right of native peoples.

In addition, the health ministry’s office of traditional medicine, created in 2002, has a list of 125 species that can be prescribed in the national health system since reforms introduced in 2008 in the general health law, which incorporated and regulated traditional medicine.

The general health law recognises the existence of herbal medicine and the “regulations on health inputs” regulates the definition, registration, preparation, packaging, advertising and points of sale of herbal medicines and remedies.

The “regulations on health inputs” office issues credentials annually to traditional healers, authorising them to practice the healing arts that have passed from generation to generation.

Lorenza Euan, a Maya Indian, makes soaps, ointments, mosquito repellent, antibacterial gel, cough syrups and shampoo, together with four other women in the Maya Dzak – Maya medicine, in that tongue – cooperative in the town of Lázaro Cárdenas in the southeastern state of Quintana Roo.

“We inherited it from our ancestors. You heal with the plant’s stalks or roots,” she told IPS, holding up an ointment used to treat muscle pain or bruises, which has extracts from 18 varieties of plants, as an example of the products they make.

“We pick fresh plants, weigh them, wash them, crush them, and boil the mixture,” to prepare the products, she explained.

In their herb garden, the women in the cooperative grow around 25 different species, including nettles, arnica, aloe vera and basil.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) calls for the protection of traditional knowledge, the integration of alternative medicine in national health systems, the certification of those who practice traditional healing, and the fomenting of research.

Euan joins her voice to those who demand greater protection and greater recognition and promotion of traditional healing.

Mexico’s health ministry drew up a guide for strengthening health services using traditional medicine. It recognises as a threat the loss of biodiversity, caused by land-use change, deforestation and the depletion of natural resources.

In its “traditional medicine strategy: 2014-2023″, WHO states that as traditional medicine becomes more popular “it is important to balance the need to protect the intellectual property rights of indigenous peoples and local communities and their health care heritage while ensuring access to (traditional medicine) and fostering research, development and innovation.”

WHO also warns that while intellectual property “may support innovation and provide a stimulus to invest in research, it can also be abused to misappropriate” traditional medicine.

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) protects traditional medical knowledge against unauthorised use by third parties.

But WIPO’s Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore has not yet reached an agreement on an international legal instrument “for the effective protection of traditional cultural expressions and traditional knowledge, and to address the intellectual property aspects of access to and benefit-sharing in genetic resources.”

Meanwhile, the Mexican government has banned the use of some species of plants in infusions or vegetable oils because of the level of toxicity – a position rejected by traditional healers and experts.

The latest list, from 1999, prohibits 76 species, including some that are habitually used by herbalists and traditional medicine practitioners, such as calamus or sweet flag, hemp (a variety of cannabis), belladonna, wormseed, rue and salvia.

An updated version of the catalogue, expanded to 200 prohibited plant varieties, was prepared by the current government of conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto in September 2014, but has not yet gone into effect.

Argueta said the list is a “contradiction, because instead of informing about the problems, it acts in a punitive manner, without providing information.”

Calixto said: “We don’t agree that curative plants should be declared toxic.”

Euan also disagrees. “We don’t understand why they want to hurt us, when what we need is support,” she complained.

Argueta suggested that one solution would be to register traditional medicine as intangible cultural heritage with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

“We are dedicated to collecting quality information about this sector, to offer a complete, dignified image,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Minorities Speak Out in Latin American Population Conferencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/minorities-speak-out-in-latin-american-population-conference/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=minorities-speak-out-in-latin-american-population-conference http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/minorities-speak-out-in-latin-american-population-conference/#comments Sat, 10 Oct 2015 14:49:06 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142658 “Not one step back” in compliance with the region’s demographic agenda, demanded activists at the Second Session of the Regional Conference on Population and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, held Oct. 6-9 in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

“Not one step back” in compliance with the region’s demographic agenda, demanded activists at the Second Session of the Regional Conference on Population and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, held Oct. 6-9 in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Oct 10 2015 (IPS)

“The countries of Latin America have not fully committed themselves to the international conventions and have not given indigenous peoples access. Nor have their contents been widely disseminated,” to help people demand compliance and enforcement, said Guatemalan activist Ángela Suc.

The indigenous community organiser’s criticism is an alert regarding the pledges made at the Second Session of the Regional Conference on Population and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, organised Oct. 6-9 in Mexico City by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the United Nations population fund (UNFPA).

“We need land, territory, and access to culturally sensitive healthcare and education in line with our traditions and knowledge and in our languages,” Suc told IPS.

Suc, a representative of the Pocomchí people in the Guatemalan delegation to the conference, said the native population also experiences demographic phenomena such as migration and ageing, just like the non-indigenous population in the region.

The vicissitudes of native and black populations were part of the focus of the debates at the conference, which followed the one held in Montevideo in August 2013. A civil society gathering was also organised parallel to the official conference.

Participants discussed the problems still affecting these groups, such as poverty, discrimination, lack of opportunities, and high maternal and infant mortality rates.

More than 45 million indigenous people live in this region of around 600 million. They belong to over 800 native groups, according to the ECLAC report “Indigenous peoples in Latin America: progress in the last decade and pending challenges for guaranteeing their rights.”

Brazil heads the list, with 305 different native groups, followed by Colombia (102), Peru (85) and Mexico (78). At the other extreme are Costa Rica and Panama (nine), El Salvador (three) and Uruguay (two).

The countries with the largest numbers of indigenous people are: Mexico (nearly 17 million), followed by Peru (7.2 million), Bolivia (6.2 million), and Guatemala (5.9 million).

ECLAC reports the fragile demographics of many native peoples, who are at risk of actually disappearing, physically or culturally, as observed in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Peru.

The problems they face include forced displacement from their land, scarcity of food, pollution of their water sources, soil degradation, malnutrition and high mortality rates.

Birth rates are dropping in the region, with an average of 2.4 children per indigenous women in Uruguay, 4.0 in Nicaragua and Venezuela, and 5.0 in Guatemala and Panama.

Map of indigenous peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, drawn up by ECLAC, which estimates the number of native people at 45 million. Credit: ECLAC

Map of indigenous peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, drawn up by ECLAC, which estimates the number of native people at 45 million. Credit: ECLAC

Infant mortality rates among indigenous people are still higher than among the rest of the population. The biggest inequalities are found in Panama, Peru and Bolivia, in that order. And malnutrition is a major problem in Guatemala, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua.

The ECLAC report stresses that indigenous children grow up in material poverty and that violence against native children and women remains a major challenge.

Of the region’s 12.8 million indigenous children, 2.7 million are in Mexico, 2.4 million in Guatemala, and 2.2 million in Bolivia.

“Our demands have been set forth in different international platforms and are still valid,” Dorotea Wilson, general coordinator of the Network of Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women (RMAAD), told IPS.

“We are going to monitor, observe and follow up to ensure that countries assume these commitments and comply with them,” said the Nicaraguan activist, who also took part in the regional conference. She added that compliance with the measures in favour of minorities requires political will, as well as agreements between the authorities and civil society, and specific budgets.

More than 120 million afro-descendants also live in the region, including 97 million in Brazil, one million in Ecuador and 800,000 in Nicaragua, according to national census data that included specific questions about ethnic identity. In other countries there are no specific statistics, such as Colombia, which has a significant black population.

The report “Afro-descendant Youth in Latin America: Diverse Realities and (un)Fulfilled Rights”, produced by ECLAC in 2011, showed that teen motherhood among young blacks was more widespread than among the rest of the population, especially in Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama.

One of the problems discussed at the conference is the lack of demographic statistics on the region’s afro-descendant population.

In the Montevideo Consensus on Population and Development, which contains the conclusions reached by the first edition of the conference, the region’s countries pledged to take into account the specific demographic dynamics of indigenous people in the design of public policies, and guarantee their right to health, including sexual and reproductive rights, and to their own traditional medicines and health practices.

They also agreed to adopt the necessary measures to guarantee that indigenous women, children, adolescents and young people enjoy full protection and guarantees against all forms of violence and discrimination.

With respect to blacks, they agreed to tackle gender, race, ethnic and generational inequalities, guarantee the enforcement of their right to health, in particular sexual and reproductive health, and promote human development in this population group, while ensuring policies and programmes for improving women’s living conditions.

The plenary of the second conference approved the “Operational guide for the implementation and follow-up of the Montevideo Consensus on Population and Development”, which includes 14 provisions for indigenous and afro-descendant peoples.

Approval of the guide was hindered by the Caribbean delegations’ protest that they had not been given the document ahead of time – an obstacle that was not resolved until the early hours of the morning of the last day of the conference.

“To the extent that full participation by indigenous peoples exists, the guide will be complied with. This is a challenge for the State,” Suc said.

The process can be an engine driving progress in the U.N. International Decade for People of African Descent 2015-2024.

“The guide can be improved. We can influence the follow-up. But it is a challenge,” Wilson said.

The Political Declaration of the Social Forum held parallel to the official conference, which brought together social organisations from throughout the region, stressed that every indicator in the guide should be broken down by age, sex, gender, race and ethnicity.

But it also complained that two years after the approval of the Montevideo Consensus, the “ambitious, innovative agenda has not yet translated into substantive progress, and in some cases there have even been setbacks” in areas such as gender violence, hate crimes, high maternal mortality rates, a rise in teenage pregnancies, and discrimination.

Edited by Estrella Gutierrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Shale Drives Uncertain New Geoeconomics of Oilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/shale-drives-uncertain-new-geoeconomics-of-oil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shale-drives-uncertain-new-geoeconomics-of-oil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/shale-drives-uncertain-new-geoeconomics-of-oil/#comments Wed, 07 Oct 2015 13:04:09 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142623 Experts predict that in the long term, shale gas production will not be sustainable in the United States. The photo shows a shale gas well in Montrose, in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Experts predict that in the long term, shale gas production will not be sustainable in the United States. The photo shows a shale gas well in Montrose, in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
WASHINGTON, Oct 7 2015 (IPS)

The emergence of fracking has modified the global market for fossil fuels. But the plunge in oil prices has diluted the effect, in a struggle that experts in the United States believe conventional producers could win in the next decade.

The U.S. oil industry had peaked – when the discovery of new deposits and output from existing wells begins to fall – which made the country more dependent on imports. But the equation was turned around thanks to the new technique.“The bubble won’t explode, but it will progressively deflate. At current prices, we would see a relatively quick shrinking of capital availability for the shale sector, because those companies are producing at a loss.” -- David Livingston

The innovative technology of hydraulic fracturing or fracking and the discovery of large deposits of shale gas and oil, along with massive investment flows, led to predictions that the United States would become autonomous in fossil fuels this decade. But these forecasts have been undermined by the drop in prices.

“The world is entering a new era of uncertainty in the geoeconomics of oil,” said David Livingston, an associate in the Energy and Climate Programme of the U.S. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It is far from certain that the notoriously volatile oil market will become less cyclical.”

The analyst told IPS that as a result of domestic U.S. demand, “Companies will lose spare capacity, between what they can produce and what they produce, which is important, because the market is determined by that capacity.”

After 2003 international oil prices climbed, to 140 dollars a barrel in 2008, when the global financial crisis brought them down.

This decade they rallied, to around 100 dollars a barrel. But they have fallen again since late 2014, to about 40 dollars a barrel.

That means U.S. producers, in particular shale gas producers, are facing extremely low prices, overproduction, a lack of infrastructure for storing the surplus and a credit crunch for the industry’s projects, even though prices have gone down.

In addition, China’s economic slowdown and Europe’s stagnation are hindering the recovery in demand for energy.

The development of shale oil and gas has also put the U.S. industry on a collision course with the members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), especially since one of its widely touted objectives is to reduce imports from that bloc.

A warning about the danger of methane emissions in one of the shale gas Wells in Dimock, Pennsylvania. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A warning about the danger of methane emissions in one of the shale gas Wells in Dimock, Pennsylvania. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Since November 2014, OPEC has kept its production quotas stable, as part of a strategy imposed by the bloc’s biggest producer, Saudi Arabia, aimed at keeping prices low and discouraging the development of shale deposits, which are much more costly to tap into than the organisation’s conventional reserves.

In late 2014, the Norwegian consultancy Rystad Energy put the cost of producing a barrel of shale oil in the United States at 65 dollars a barrel, which means the industry is operating at a loss. The average cost of extracting a barrel of conventional oil in that country is 13 dollars, compared to five dollars in the Gulf.

For Miriam Grunstein, a professor at the Centre for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE) in Mexico, the outlook is very uncertain.

Fracking, public enemy

Fracking involves the massive pumping of water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into the well, a technique that opens and extends fractures in the shale rock deep below the surface, to release the natural gas. Environmentalists warn that the chemical additives are harmful to health and the environment.

The process generates large amounts of waste liquids containing dissolved chemicals and other pollutants that require treatment before disposal, as well as emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

This has led to widespread public opposition to fracking in U.S. communities where exploration for shale gas is going on.

“There are doubts for several reasons. First of all, due to the low prices,” she told IPS from Mexico, which has begun to explore its significant reserves of shale gas.

“Although it has forced many companies to improve their operating capacity, reduce investments and achieve greater efficiency, they are in an environment where they have to look for markets, in Europe or Asia. But that requires liquefaction infrastructure, which implies major investments,” she added, referring to the current situation faced by shale gas producers.

In June, the United States produced 9.3 million barrels per day of crude oil, about half of which was shale oil, according to data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The prospects for the industry are beginning to look less promising. In its Drilling Productivity Report published in late August, the EIA projected a fall in shale gas production in September, for the first time this year, to 44.9 billion cubic feet per day.

The agency stressed that output from new wells is not enough to offset the decline in existing wells.

For Livingston, “OPEC as an institution – and Saudi Arabia, its leader – is likely to emerge from this paradigm shift stronger than before in many ways. With its new strategy – one born out of necessity – the kingdom is emphasising market share, rather than price, while also moving to delegate the burden of balancing the world oil market to the U.S. shale industry.”

The United States would become the new “swing producer”, although without achieving the same power as the Gulf producers in influencing the market.

In the long run, total U.S. oil production will tend to drop, according to EIA projections. In 2020, crude oil production is expected to stand at 10.6 million barrels per day; in 2030, 10.04; and 10 years later, 9.43.

In the case of shale gas, projections are favourable, but at higher prices. In 2020, the country should be producing 15.44 trillion cubic feet per day; 10 years later 17.85; and in 2040, 19.58.

In total, the EIA forecasts that the country will produce 28.82 trillion cubic feet per day of natural gas in 2020; 33.01 in 2030; and 35.45 in 2040.

But the average price will go up. This year, the Henry Hub reference price for U.S. natural gas has stood at 2.93 dollars per million British thermal units (Btu), the heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water.

The price should go up to 4.88 dollars per Btu in 2020; to 5.69 in 2030; and to 7.80 in 2040.

“The bubble won’t explode, but it will progressively deflate. At current prices, we would see a relatively quick shrinking of capital availability for the shale sector, because those companies are producing at a loss,” said Livingston.

Grunstein said: “Saudi Arabia’s aim is to keep the United States from becoming a major exporter. The strong markets exert the most pressure. If demand does not recover, the demand-price ratio is awkward. Consumption is needed, and I don’t see where it would come from.”

Livingston said one option is to review the 1970s-era ban on exporting U.S. crude oil, because “If production rises, refineries can’t process it and therefore new markets are needed.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Mexican Government Depends More and More on Private Business Partnershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/mexican-government-depends-more-and-more-on-private-business-partners/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexican-government-depends-more-and-more-on-private-business-partners http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/mexican-government-depends-more-and-more-on-private-business-partners/#comments Mon, 28 Sep 2015 16:07:20 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142508 The Mexican government has increasingly turned to public–private partnerships (PPPs) to build energy industry infrastructure. The photo shows a gas pipeline belonging to Mexico’s state oil company, Pemex. Credit: Courtesy of Pemex

The Mexican government has increasingly turned to public–private partnerships (PPPs) to build energy industry infrastructure. The photo shows a gas pipeline belonging to Mexico’s state oil company, Pemex. Credit: Courtesy of Pemex

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Sep 28 2015 (IPS)

The Mexican government has increasingly turned to public–private partnerships (PPPs) to build infrastructure in the energy industry and other areas. But critics say this system operates under a cloak of opacity and is plagued by the discretional use of funds.

As the 2013 energy reform, which opened the industry to national and international private capital, is implemented, PPPs have become more and more frequent.

In the case of the state oil company Pemex, “it doesn’t form alliances with just anyone, only with corporate giants. It doesn’t talk much about those deals. They’re very hard to track,” said Omar Escamilla, a researcher on fossil fuels with the non-governmental Project on Organising, Development, Education, and Research (PODER).

The analyst told IPS that “The PPPs are formed with companies registered in tax havens, which makes it difficult for the Mexican justice system to hold them accountable or request reports on how the funds are used.”

“What is worrisome is who the partnerships are formed with, where the capital comes from, and what is the history of those companies,” he said.“The PPPs are formed with companies registered in tax havens, which makes it difficult for the Mexican justice system to hold them accountable or request reports on how the funds are used.”-- Omar Escamilla

The Law on Public–Private Partnerships, in effect since 2012 and amended in 2014, regulates long-term contractual arrangements by the public sector for the provision of services that use infrastructure partially or totally provided by the private sector.

The law requires that the contracts be put out to tender, and gives the state the power to declare the works of public utility and to expropriate land, while setting a minimum timeframe of 40 years for the contracts.

Mexico is in seventh place among developing countries in terms of the number of PPPs. In Latin America, only Brazil uses this scheme more frequently. The largest number of PPPs has involved the construction of roads, although they are also used in the construction of hospitals, prisons, airports, railroads and the energy industry.

According to the World Bank, “PPPs are typically medium to long term arrangements between the public and private sectors whereby some of the service obligations of the public sector are provided by the private sector, with clear agreement on shared objectives for delivery of public infrastructure and/ or public services.”

PPPs are seen as improving the equation between quality and prices for services, transferring risks to the private sector, improving incentives for efficient production, reducing public spending, and transferring debt to the private sector.

But critics say they bind governments to payments under lengthy contracts. They also argue that they can bring down spending on public services, mask the true extent of the public debt, disguise the privatisation of public services, and drive up costs.

At the federal level, Mexico has 29 PPPs, while different states have a combined total of 20.

The energy reform approved in December 2013, the biggest transformation of the industry in the last eight decades, opened up oil exploration, extraction, refining, transportation, distribution and sale of oil and its by-products to local and foreign private investment.

In the last 20 years, Pemex has turned to PPPs to build oil industry infrastructure, as a way to get around the legal and economic limitations of a state monopoly, says the study “Analysis of the business structure in Mexico’s oil industry,” published by PODER in June.

For example, in 1996 Pemex and the U.S.-based Sempra Energy formed a partnership to create Gasoductos de Chihuahua, which became the biggest player in Mexico’s natural gas industry, because it controls nine companies by means of two joint ventures and seven partner companies, all of which form part of Pemex’s organisational chart.

With the aim of developing three mature fields in the southern state of Tabasco, PMI Campos Maduros Sanma, a subsidiary of Pemex, formed a partnership in 2011 with the subsidiaries in Mexico of the private trasnational corporations Petrofac Limited (UK) and Schlumberger Limited (U.S.).

In 2013, Pemex transferred the Planta Clorados III petrochemical complex, one of the national petrochemical industry’s most important assets, to the local firm Mexichem, creating the company Petroquímica Mexicana de Vinilo. In the joint venture, Mexichem controls 55.1 percent of the shares and Pemex holds the rest.

Another case is Gasoductos de Chihuahua, the company that will be responsible for the operation and maintenance of the Los Ramones pipeline, the biggest investment in infrastructure for transporting gas in half a century, with a capacity to transport 3.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day over a distance of 900 km.

The pipeline will link central Mexico with the U.S. border in the north.

The gas pipelines that the Mexican government is building to provide gas industry infrastructure are actually the biggest business scheme for the private sector to form ties with Pemex in the natural gas industry, says the Poder report.

The Comisión Federal de Electricidad, a state power company, has followed a similar strategy with the construction and operation of wind power farms in the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas.

“Oversight, accountability and transparency are pending tasks, to carry out a comprehensive review of these mechanisms,” Arturo Oropeza, a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s Economic Research Institute, told IPS.

“There has been a lack of instruments for this, as well as a lack of an integral vision for understanding what happened. What is needed is a sectoral evaluation,” he said.

“Evaluating the environment for public-private partnerships in Latin America and the Caribbean”, published in April, lists Mexico among the countries with the best conditions for PPPs.

The list, which assessed 19 countries in the region based on 19 indicators involving electricity, transportation and water infrastructure, classified Mexico as the best-placed in terms of investment climate and worst in terms of the domestic context.

The report was produced by the Inter-American Development Bank; its private financing arm, the Multilateral Investment Fund; and the Intelligence Unit of the British magazine The Economist.

It states that issues like transparency represent a challenge to the development of more PPPs.

The report mentions the lack of significant independent oversight of compliance with contracts, and says the largest projects have been granted through direct negotiations in cases where there was only one interested party, even though the law requires that they be put out to tender.

Chile headed the list, with nearly 77 points out of a possible 100, followed by Brazil (75); Peru (70.5) and Mexico (nearly 68). Nicaragua, Argentina and Venezuela tailed the list.

Mexico has earmarked some 300 billion dollars for PPPs over the next three years.

In Escamilla’s view, the outlook in Mexico is not promising, given the increased use of PPPs.

“It’s important to generate frameworks for oversight and operability. PPPs should be held accountable with regard to how the partner was chosen, their profile, their history of bribes and fraudulent payments….And if these criteria are not met, the option is to look for other partners,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Activists Say Fracking Fails to ‘Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/activists-say-fracking-fails-to-keep-pennsylvania-beautiful/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=activists-say-fracking-fails-to-keep-pennsylvania-beautiful http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/activists-say-fracking-fails-to-keep-pennsylvania-beautiful/#comments Thu, 17 Sep 2015 21:12:59 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142404 Activist Ray Kimble has turned his home in Dimock Township, Pennsylvania into a symbol of opposition to fracking. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Activist Ray Kimble has turned his home in Dimock Township, Pennsylvania into a symbol of opposition to fracking. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MONTROSE, Pennsylvania, USA , Sep 17 2015 (IPS)

U.S. activist Vera Scroggins has been sued five times by the oil industry, and since October 2013 she has faced a restraining order banning her from any properties owned or leased by one of the biggest players in Pennsylvania’s natural gas rush, Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation.

“I feel like a half-citizen, because corporations can do whatever they want and citizens can’t. Corporations have broken environmental laws and keep working,” the retired real estate agent, who is a mother of three and grandmother of two, told IPS.

Since 2008 Scroggins, with the Shaleshock Media network of artists and media activists, has been fighting hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”, the technique used to produce shale gas, in the rural community of Montrose, Pennsylvania, population 1,600.

In Montrose, which is in Susquehanna County, there are some 1,100 wells in 600 gasfields, as well as 43 compressor stations, which help the transportation process of natural gas from one location to another.“There is polluted water, flow-back water, the transformation of rural areas damaged by the operation of wells. There are quite a few long-term legal and financial liabilities to ensure that that legacy is properly addressed.” -- Tyson Slocum

This infrastructure, owned by seven companies, is near homes and schools.

The Marcellus shale formation stretches across the northeastern U.S. state of Pennsylvania. It is one of the large shale gas deposits that have led to the United States being dubbed “Frackistan”.

Fracking involves the massive pumping of water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into a well, which opens and extends fractures in the shale rock deep below the surface, to release the natural gas trapped there on a massive scale. The technique is considered damaging to health and the environment.

Fracking generates enormous volumes of liquid waste that must be treated for reuse, as well as emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas that is far more potent than carbon dioxide, the most important cause of global warming.

“The wells pollute the water and the methane escapes into the air. Many people don’t know what’s going on, they don’t have information. I don’t feel safe with how fracking has been done,” said Scroggins, who lives in Montrose with her husband, a retired teacher. There is a gas well just one kilometre from their home.

Fracking, with its tall steel drilling rigs, has modified the local landscape, along with the constant traffic of trucks hauling soil, sand and water.

Activists complain that the development of industry in rural areas like Montrose is ruining the countryside, while the accumulation of methane can lead to explosions or respiratory ailments among local residents.

Shale drilling rig in Montrose, Pennsylvania. Many rural areas in this northeastern state have seen their lives disrupted by the development of shale gas and the controversial fracking technique used to produce it. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Shale drilling rig in Montrose, Pennsylvania. Many rural areas in this northeastern state have seen their lives disrupted by the development of shale gas and the controversial fracking technique used to produce it. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In its Annual Energy Outlook 2015, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that about 11.34 trillion cubic feet of dry natural gas was produced directly from shale gas in the United States in 2013 – about 47 percent of total U.S. dry natural gas production that year.

And about 4.2 million barrels per day of crude oil were produced directly from shale oil or tight oil resources in the United States in 2014 – 49 percent of total U.S. crude oil production.

Oil is the main source of energy in the United States, accounting for 36 percent of the total, followed by natural gas (27 percent), and coal (19 percent).

In Pennsylvania, gas production soared from 9,757 cubic feet in 2008 to 3.05 million in 2013.

In this state, the site of the first U.S. oil boom, 9,200 wells have been drilled, and over 16,000 permits for fracking have been granted.

The United States is the country that is most heavily exploiting shale gas and oil at a commercial level.

Fracking was given a boost in 2005, when the Energy Policy Act exempted the technique from seven major federal environmental laws, ranging from protecting clean water and air to preventing the release of toxic substances and chemicals into the environment.

With that backing, the industry unleashed a flood of lawsuits seeking to dismantle local and state environmental, health and contractual regulations adverse to its interests.

In the case of Pennsylvania, the state legislature approved the Oil and Gas Act (Act 13) in September 2012, which restricted local governments’ ability to zone and regulate natural gas drilling and required municipalities to allow oil and gas development in all zoning areas.

But city councils, local residents and environmental organisations fought the law, and in 2013 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down sections of it, saying they were unconstitutional and violated citizens’ environmental rights. This allowed local communities to once again apply zoning rules in granting permits for shale gas production.

Along the side of the road, the traveller constantly sees signs reading Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful. But what is happening in rural areas does not seem to be in line with the slogan.

Ray Kimble, a 59-year-old mechanic, has experienced that contradiction in Dimock Township, where he lives. He told IPS that in his community, which is near Montrose, the water has been polluted since 2009 by drilling and fracking operations.

“They have damaged the town. We don’t want them here,” said Kimble, who added that he has a chronic cough and his ankles are swollen from contact with toxic waste while he worked for the industry as a driver.

Now he refuses to drink the tapwater and dedicates his time to carrying clean water to families affected by the contamination.

Dimock, population 1,500, was featured in the prize-winning documentary “Gasland” by U.S. filmmaker Josh Fox, which exposed the damage caused by fracking and helped spawn the first lawsuits against the shale gas industry, which were settled out of court.

Kimble’s house is just over 150 metres from a gas well.

“There are short-term profits with shale gas, but what happens when the wells dry up and the waste is left?” activist Tyson Slocum remarked to IPS.

“There is polluted water, flow-back water, the transformation of rural areas damaged by the operation of wells. There are quite a few long-term legal and financial liabilities to ensure that that legacy is properly addressed,” said Slocum, the director of the Energy Programme of Public Citizen, a consumer interest group that has provided advice to people affected by fracking.

The industry is now facing the sharp drop in international oil prices, the credit crunch, and growing public opposition to fracking.

In the last eight months, some 400 towns and cities in 28 states have adopted vetoes or moratoriums on fracking. The most far-reaching decisions were taken in the states of Vermont, the first to ban fracking, in 2012, and New York, which did so in December.

“Why don’t they build a well besides a politician’s home? Citizens don’t want them near our houses,” said Scroggins.

“I hope there won’t be a major leak, because it will be devastating. But the industry doesn’t acknowledge it has done something bad,” the activist added.

Slocum says the states have bowed to the industry’s interests. “The balance between profits and public health has been vilified, the debate on jobs and economic benefits is secondary,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Latin America Lagging in ICT Sustainable Development Goalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/latin-america-lagging-in-ict-sustainable-development-goal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-lagging-in-ict-sustainable-development-goal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/latin-america-lagging-in-ict-sustainable-development-goal/#comments Fri, 28 Aug 2015 16:50:01 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142182 Map of broadband speed in Latin America in late 2014, according to a report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: ECLAC

Map of broadband speed in Latin America in late 2014, according to a report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: ECLAC

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 28 2015 (IPS)

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will include targets for information and communication technologies, such as strengthening the Internet. And Latin America will be behind from the start in aspects that are key to increasing its educational and medical uses, bolster security and expand bandwidth.

That lag is especially visible in the construction of Internet exchange points (IXPs) and the upgrade of the Internet protocol from IP version 4 (IPv4) to IP version 6 (IPv6).

In the first case, the construction of neutral IXPs allows faster handling of greater data flows, because they circulate in the national territory without the need for access outside the country. This reduces costs and improves the quality of service.

And IPv6 provides virtually infinite address space, better security, mobile computing, better quality service, and an improved design for real-time multimedia traffic. That represents enormous potential for social applications in areas like health and education.

But Lacier Dias, a professor with the Brazilian consultancy VLSM, said the advances made in his country have fallen short.

“Investment and infrastructure are lacking,” he told IPS. “It’s a challenge to expand it to the entire country, because of the size of the territory and the distance. Another challenge is offering broadband to all users.”

In the region, Brazil has the highest number of IXPs: 31, according to the 2014 study “Expansion of regional infrastructure for the interconnection of Internet traffic in Latin America”, drawn up by the Corporación Andina de Fomento (CAF), a regional development bank.

The progress made in Brazil is due to a public policy that foments this infrastructure, combined with an effective multisectoral agency, the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI), which administers the country’s network with the participation of the government, companies, academia and civil society.

In 2004, the CGI launched the “traffic exchange points” initiative to open more IXPs to connect universities and telecommunications and internet service providers.

The 31 IXPs cover at least 16 of Brazil’s 26 states, with a peak period aggregate traffic of 250 GB. An additional 16 potential IXP points have been identified, while at least 47 are under evaluation.

Growth of Internet users in Latin America, country by country, between 2006 and 2013. Credit: ECLAC

Growth of Internet users in Latin America, country by country, between 2006 and 2013. Credit: ECLAC

In Argentina, the first IXP was opened in 1998 and 11 now operate in five provinces. They connect more than 80 network operators through a hub in Buenos Aires. Total traffic is over eight GB per second.

The hub is managed by the Argentine Chamber of Databases and Online Services, which represents Internet, telephony and online content providers.

Mexico opened its only IXP in 2014, administered by the Consortium for Internet Traffic Exchange, made up of the University Corporation for Internet Development and Internet service providers.

The users of these sites include Internet providers, educational systems and state governments.

The 17 SDGs will be adopted at a Sep. 25-27 summit of heads of state and government at United Nations headquarters in New York, with 169 specific targets to be reached by 2030.

The ninth SDG is “Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation, and foster innovation”.

And target 9c is “Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020.”

In Latin America, unlike in Europe, regional IXPs do not yet operate to aggregate traffic between countries.

According to the “State of broadband in Latin America and the Caribbean 2015″ report launched in July by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), nearly half of the region’s population uses Internet.

Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, in that order, are the countries with the highest proportion of Internet users, while Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua have the lowest, in a region marked by an enormous gap in access between rural and urban areas.

With respect to broadband, or high-speed Internet access according to U.S. Federal Communications Commission standards, the ECLAC study indicates that Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Mexico report the largest number of connections over 10 MB per second, while Peru, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Bolivia have the smallest number.

Broadband speed in fixed and mobile connections in several countries of Latin America, compared to selected  In the industrialised North. Credit: ECLAC

Broadband speed in fixed and mobile connections in several countries of Latin America, compared to selected In the industrialised North. Credit: ECLAC

Meanwhile, the highest level of consumption of mobile broadband devices is found in Costa Rica, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela, and the lowest in Paraguay, Guatemala, Peru and Nicaragua.

“The region must become more interconnected, and in order for that to happen, regional traffic and IXPs must be fomented,” David Ocampos, Paraguay’s national secretary of Information and Communication Technologies, told IPS. “There is a lot to be done in terms of traffic exchange. There are no hubs. Infrastructure has to be built, with regional rings.”

Paraguay is now opening its first IXP.

Only 30 percent of the content consumed in Latin America is produced in one of the countries in the region, which can be attributed to the availability of broadband and to infrastructure like IXPs and IPv6, according to the study “The ecosystem and digital economy in Latin America” by the Telecommunications Studies Center of Latin America (CET.LA).

Of the 100 most popular sites in Latin America, only 26 were created in the region, although consumption of cyber traffic per user rose 62 percent in the last few years, higher than the global increase.

In the countries of Latin America, 150 billion dollars have been invested in telecoms in the past seven years, but another 400 billion are needed over the next seven years to close the digital gap.

CAF proposes the construction of three inter-regional IXPs, in Brazil, Panama and Peru, as well as three kinds of national connections in the rest of the region, to be included in the inter-regional ones.

With respect to IPv6, which was launched globally in 2012, Latin America and the Caribbean are slowly moving towards that standard.

In June 2014 the region officially ran out of the IPv4 address space it had been assigned.

Last year, Brazil had nearly 54 percent of the assigned regional space; Mexico 10 percent; Argentina 10 percent; Chile nearly six percent; and Colombia nearly four percent, according to the Latin American and Caribbean Internet Addresses Registry (LACNIC).

In the IPv6 protocol, Brazil leads the list, with 70 percent, followed by Argentina with nine percent; Colombia three percent; Chile 2.5 percent; and Mexico 2.3 percent.

“With IPv6 all Internet users can be covered, with third generation mobile networks. As of this year, Brazil is only buying technological equipment that supports IPv6,” said Dias of Brazil.

“Everyone is looking to IPv6; it’s the natural Internet upgrade. With more IXPs comes the step to IPv6. Broadband drives adoption of IPv6 and allows an increase in users,” said Campos of Paraguay.

ECLAC indicates that in 2013, fixed broadband penetration stood at nine percent in the region, and mobile at 30 percent. In 16 of the 18 countries studied there is more mobile broadband penetration than fixed.

The Union of South American Nations, which brings together 12 countries, is building a ring of more than 10,000 km of fiber optic to link the members of the bloc.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Pope Francis Joins Battle Against Transgenic Cropshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/pope-francis-joins-battle-against-transgenic-crops/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pope-francis-joins-battle-against-transgenic-crops http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/pope-francis-joins-battle-against-transgenic-crops/#comments Tue, 11 Aug 2015 06:51:30 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141938 There is no papal bull on transgenic crops in Laudato Si, the second encyclical of Pope Francis, “on the care of our common home” – planet earth. Credit: Norberto Miguel/IPS

There is no papal bull on transgenic crops in Laudato Si, the second encyclical of Pope Francis, “on the care of our common home” – planet earth. Credit: Norberto Miguel/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 11 2015 (IPS)

A few centuries ago, the biotechnology industry would have been able to buy a papal bull to expiate its sins and grant it redemption. But in his encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si”, Pope Francis condemns genetically modified organisms (GMOs) without leaving room for a pardon.

In his second encyclical since he became pope on Mar. 13, 2013 – but the first that is entirely his work – Jorge Mario Bergoglio criticises the social, economic and agricultural impacts of GMOs and calls for a broad scientific debate.

Laudato Si – “Praise be to you, my Lord” in medieval Italian – takes its title from Saint Francis of Assisi’s 13th-century Canticle of the Sun, one of whose verses is: “Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.”

It is the first encyclical in history dedicated to the environment and reflecting on “our common home” – planet earth.“In many places, following the introduction of these crops, productive land is concentrated in the hands of a few owners due to ‘the progressive disappearance of small producers, who, as a consequence of the loss of the exploited lands, are obliged to withdraw from direct production’.” – Laudato Si

The encyclical, which was published Jun. 18, acknowledges that “no conclusive proof exists that GM cereals may be harmful to human beings.” But it stresses that “there remain a number of significant difficulties which should not be underestimated.”

“In many places, following the introduction of these crops, productive land is concentrated in the hands of a few owners due to ‘the progressive disappearance of small producers, who, as a consequence of the loss of the exploited lands, are obliged to withdraw from direct production’,” it adds.

As a result, says the first Latin American pope, farmers are driven to become temporary labourers, many rural workers end up in urban slums, ecosystems are destroyed, and “oligopolies” expand in the production of cereals and inputs needed for their cultivation.

Francis calls for “A broad, responsible scientific and social debate…one capable of considering all the available information and of calling things by their name” because “It sometimes happens that complete information is not put on the table; a selection is made on the basis of particular interests, be they politico-economic or ideological.”

Such a debate on GMOs is missing, and the biotech industry has refused to open up its databases to verify whether or not transgenic crops are innocuous.

According to the encyclical, “Discussions are needed in which all those directly or indirectly affected (farmers, consumers, civil authorities, scientists, seed producers, people living near fumigated fields, and others) can make known their problems and concerns, and have access to adequate and reliable information in order to make decisions for the common good, present and future.”

Miguel Concha, a Catholic priest who heads the Fray Francisco de Vitoria Human Rights Centre in Mexico, said this country “is already a reference point in the fight for the right to a healthy environment, due to the determined efforts of social organisations. This encyclical reinforces our collective demand,” he told Tierramérica.

The priest said the encyclical warns of the social, economic, legal and ethical implications of transgenic crops, just as environmentalists in Mexico have done for years.

In a local market in Mexico, María Solís shows the different colours of native maize that she grows. Native crops are threatened by attempts to introduce large-scale commercial planting of GM maize in the country. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In a local market in Mexico, María Solís shows the different colours of native maize that she grows. Native crops are threatened by attempts to introduce large-scale commercial planting of GM maize in the country. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The document holds special importance for nations like Mexico, which have been the scene of intense battles over transgenic crops – in this country mainly maize, which has special cultural significance here, besides being the basis of the local diet.

That is also true for Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, which together with southern Mexico form Mesoamérica, the seat of the ancient Maya civilisation.

The pope is familiar with the impact of transgenic crops, because according to experts his home country, Argentina, is the Latin American nation where GMOs have done the most to alter traditional agriculture.

Soy – 98 percent of which is transgenic – is Argentina’s leading crop, covering 31 million hectares, up from just 4.8 million hectares in 1990, according to the soy industry association, ACSOJA.

The monoculture crop has displaced local producers, fuelled the concentration of land, and created “a vicious circle that is highly dangerous for the sustainability of our production systems,” Argentine agronomist Carlos Toledo told Tierramérica.

Just 10 countries account for nearly all production of GMOs: the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, India, China, Paraguay, South Africa, Pakistan and Uruguay, in that order. Most of the production goes to the animal feed industry, but Mexico wants GM maize to be used for human consumption.

In July 2013, 53 individuals and 20 civil society organisations mounted a collective legal challenge against applications to commercially plant transgenic maize, and in September of that year a federal judge granted a precautionary ban on such authorisations.

Since March 2014, organisations of beekeepers and indigenous communities have won two further provisional protection orders against commercial transgenic soybean crops in the southeastern states of Campeche and Yucatán.

On Apr. 30, 2014, eight scientists from six countries sent an open letter to Pope Francis about the negative environmental, economic, agricultural, cultural and social impacts of GM seeds, especially in Mexico.

In their letter, the experts stated: “…we believe that it would be of momentous importance and great value to all if Your Holiness were to express yourself critically on GM crops and in support of peasant farming. This support would go a long way toward saving peoples and the planet from the threat posed by the control of life wielded by companies that monopolise seeds, which are the key to the entire food web…”

Laudato Si indicates that the pope did listen to their plea.

“The encyclical is very encouraging, because it has expressed an ecological position,” Argelia Arriaga, a professor at the University Centre for Disaster Prevention of the Autonomous University of Puebla, told Tierramérica. “It touches sensitive fibers; the situation is terrible and merits papal intervention. This gives us moral support to continue the struggle.”

But legal action has failed to curb the biotech industry’s ambitions in Mexico.

In 2014, the National Service for Agri-Food Health, Safety and Quality (SENASICA) received four applications from the biotech industry and public research centres for experimental planting of maize on nearly 10 hectares of land.

In addition, there were 30 requests for pilot projects involving experimental and commercial planting of GM cotton on a total of 1.18 million hectares – as well as one application for beans, five for wheat, three for lemons and one for soy – all experimental.

SENASICA is also processing five biotech industry requests for planting more than 200,000 hectares of GM cotton and alfalfa for commercial and experimental purposes.

“This is an economic and development model that ignores food production,” said Concha, the priest who heads the Fray Francisco de Vitoria Human Rights Centre.

The participants in the collective lawsuit against GMOs, having successfully gotten federal courts to throw out 22 stays brought by the government and companies against the legal decision to temporarily suspend permits for planting, are now getting ready for a trial that will decide the future of transgenic crops in the country.

Arriaga noted that the focus of the encyclical goes beyond GM crops, and extends to other environmental struggles. “For people in local communities, the pope’s message is important, because it tells them they have to take care of nature and natural resources. It helps raise awareness,” the professor said.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Mexico’s Anti-Poverty Programmes Are Losing the Battlehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/mexicos-anti-poverty-programmes-are-losing-the-battle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-anti-poverty-programmes-are-losing-the-battle http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/mexicos-anti-poverty-programmes-are-losing-the-battle/#comments Wed, 05 Aug 2015 18:46:06 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141871 A mother eats lunch with her children in a rural Mexican school, as part of one of the programmes that fall under the umbrella of the Crusade Against Hunger. Credit: Government o Mexico

A mother eats lunch with her children in a rural Mexican school, as part of one of the programmes that fall under the umbrella of the Crusade Against Hunger. Credit: Government o Mexico

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 5 2015 (IPS)

While most of Latin America has been reducing poverty, Mexico is moving in the other direction: new official figures reflect an increase in the number of poor in the last two years, despite the billions of dollars channeled into a broad range of programmes aimed at combating the problem.

The negative impact of the 2014 fiscal reform, poorly-designed and mismanaged public policies, sluggish economic growth, and family incomes that have been frozen are all factors underlying the rise in the number of people living in poverty in the region’s second-most populous country, according to experts consulted by IPS.

“We have some well-designed social programmes, but many others have got off track,” said Edna Jaime, the head of México Evalúa, a think tank on public policies. “They claim to fight poverty and foment employment, but they have no effect. Many are captive; they serve political clientele instead of the public,” she told IPS.“If productivity and wages don’t go up, poverty won’t be reduced via the route of incomes. The provision of social services like healthcare, education and housing must be guaranteed, as well as more rational and better designed budgets for anti-poverty programmes and policies.” – Edna Jaime

The criticism is focused on initiatives like the Programme of Direct Support for the Countryside (PROCAMPO), which will shell out some four billion dollars in subsidies this year – money that will mainly benefit big agroexporters in northern Mexico, even though the programme was initially aimed at helping small-scale farmers weather the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in effect between Canada, Mexico and the United States since 1994.

Other targets of the criticism are the over 15 billion dollars a year in subsidies for gas and electricity, because they benefit the bigger consumers.

In Latin America’s second-largest economy, some seven billion dollars a year go into 48 federal programmes focused on production, income generation and employment services.

A similar amount goes towards financing Prospera, a programme to foment social inclusion – formerly known as Oportunidades and praised by international development agencies – and Seguro Popular.

Prospera is a conditional cash transfer programme which offers families cash grants conditional on school attendance and regular health checkups for children, while Seguro Popular extends health insurance to people not covered by other social security services.

According to the latest survey by the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL), published Jul. 23, 55.3 million people live in poverty in Mexico – three million more than in 2012 – equivalent to 46.2 percent of the population of 121 million.

Of the total number of people in poverty, CONEVAL found that 12 million have incomes of less than a dollar a day, and another 12 million have incomes of less than two dollars a day.

Mexico runs counter to the general trend as one of the few countries in the region that have not been successful in reducing poverty, along with Guatemala and El Salvador, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report 2014.

“Mexico is one of the few countries which, instead of reducing poverty, saw the progress made in the past decade grind to a halt. The elements that have hindered progress are the not so high economic growth, and the fact that spending does not have a redistributive effect,” the coordinator of the UNDP report in Mexico, Rodolfo de la Torre, told IPS.

Beneficiaries of one of the subsidies for farmers receive the assistance in a rural town in Mexico, as part of the Prospera social programme aimed at reducing poverty. But despite the billions invested in the war on poverty, the problem has grown in this country in the last two years. Credit: Government of Mexico

Beneficiaries of one of the subsidies for farmers receive the assistance in a rural town in Mexico, as part of the Prospera social programme aimed at reducing poverty. But despite the billions invested in the war on poverty, the problem has grown in this country in the last two years. Credit: Government of Mexico

The expert said the momentum behind some of the anti-poverty programmes has let up, “which means they have started to lose their effect on reducing poverty.”

The poverty measurement takes into account a number of factors: coverage of basic services like education, healthcare, social security, housing and food, and family income.

On Jul. 29, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) downgraded its forecast for GDP growth in Mexico this year from 3.0 to 2.4 percent – too low to generate the one million new jobs needed.

With respect to income, the current minimum wage of roughly five dollars a day is one of the lowest in Latin America, according to the Observatory of Wages at the private Ibero-American University in Puebla, in the central Mexican city of that name.

The rise in poverty highlights not only the shortcomings of Prospera, but also of the National Crusade Against Hunger, conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto`s flagship programme, which targets people living in extreme poverty and suffering from malnutrition.

The aim of the Crusade, which is concentrated in 400 municipalities and involves 70 federal programmes, is to reach 7.4 million people, 3.7 million of whom live in urban areas and the rest in the countryside.

But Jaime said implementing the strategy “is a very complex task” because of its design and multisectoral structure, and the risk of falling into clientelism. “There are instruments for assisting the poor that have proven themselves to be more effective. The Crusade has not had the desired success,” she said.

Jaime’s think tank México Evalúa, which forms part of the Citizen Action Against Poverty network, has publicly expressed its concern about the initiative ever since it was launched in January 2013, a month after Peña Nieto was sworn in.

For De la Torre, it hasn’t been an outright failure. But, he added, “this is a wakeup call to revise how it functions.”

“The entire burden of poverty reduction cannot fall on one programme,” the UNDP expert said. “Health and education policies also have a role to play. If new resources are not invested, the strategy is not going to bring about a shift in the focus on poverty reduction.”

As of early August, the government had not yet announced the Crusade’s specific targets for this year.

Meanwhile, CONEVAL is to present its medium-term assessment of the strategy in December.

With a grim economic outlook, and the government holding tight to its austerity policies, the experts suggest redesigning the structure of the budget and reviewing the management of social programmes.

“If productivity and wages don’t go up, poverty won’t be reduced via the route of incomes,” said Jaime. “The provision of social services like healthcare, education and housing must be guaranteed, as well as more rational and better designed budgets for anti-poverty programmes and policies.”

In the view of the UNDP, Mexico cannot wait for economic recovery to fight poverty.

“The way spending is channeled towards the neediest must be modified. The funds don’t reach the poorest of the poor; the programmes are not sensitive to regional deficiencies or deficiencies affecting particular groups or individuals,” De la Torre complained.

The UNDP is preparing studies on public spending on children, to identify in which stages of life there are budget gaps, and on the evolution of human development and the labour market’s contribution to that development.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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