Inter Press ServiceEmilio Godoy – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 21 Jun 2018 15:23:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.6 Looking to the Sky for Solutions to Mexico’s Water Scarcityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/looking-sky-solutions-mexicos-water-scarcity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=looking-sky-solutions-mexicos-water-scarcity http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/looking-sky-solutions-mexicos-water-scarcity/#respond Wed, 20 Jun 2018 18:48:50 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156314 Twenty-five years ago, Mexican engineer Gustavo Rodriguez decided to collect rainwater to solve the scarcity of water in his home and contribute to the care of natural resources. “We did it to seek a better integration with the care of nature. We wanted to have a sustainable home,” this resident of the indigenous town of […]

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Photomontage by the organisation Isla Urbana, a pioneer in the promotion of rainwater harvesting as part of a new model in the management of water supply and consumption in Mexico, where the benefits of the system to get access to water are recreated in informal settlements in the west of the capital. Credit: Isla Urbana

Photomontage by the organisation Isla Urbana, a pioneer in the promotion of rainwater harvesting as part of a new model in the management of water supply and consumption in Mexico, where the benefits of the system to get access to water are recreated in informal settlements in the west of the capital. Credit: Isla Urbana

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jun 20 2018 (IPS)

Twenty-five years ago, Mexican engineer Gustavo Rodriguez decided to collect rainwater to solve the scarcity of water in his home and contribute to the care of natural resources.

“We did it to seek a better integration with the care of nature. We wanted to have a sustainable home,” this resident of the indigenous town of San Bartolo Ameyalco, on the west side of Mexico City, told IPS.

Rodriguez installed a roof catchment, cistern, filters and piping, a system that retains 90 cubic metres (m3) of water and meets for at least seven months a year the water needs of the 12 people who live in three houses on his land.

“We use between 80 and 90 liters per person per day,” said Rodríguez, who has also incorporated a biodigester to generate biomass as energy to increase the sustainability of his farm.

San Bartolo Ameyalco, which means “place of springs” in the Nahuatl language, with a population of some 20,000 people, is supplied with water from a spring connected to the local water network which it feeds. But many people lack piped water, even though tjey pay for it.

“There is trade in water in tanker trucks and this has caused tension with its management. There is access to water, but not all people receive it and this is because the valves are manipulated to get people to pay political favours” in exchange for the supply, said Rodriguez, who has not received piped water for four months.

Rain can help this Latin American country of 130 million people to cope with the water crisis projected by experts from 2030 onwards, while it is currently causing floods, landslides and generally ending up in the drains.

At the same time, it can help Mexico achieve the goal of ensuring availability and sustainable management of clean water and sanitation for all, the sixth of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be met by 2030.

The country receives an estimated 1.45 billion m3 of water per year in the form of precipitation, according to Mexico’s Water Statistics 2017.

Of the rainfall, 72 percent evaporates and returns to the atmosphere, 21 percent drains through water bodies and 6.3 percent infiltrates the subsoil and recharges aquifers, of which 105 out of 653 are overexploited.

In Mexico, rainwater ends up in the drains, when collecting it could supply water to households that lack the service. In the picture, a storm hits Mexico City on April 28, 2018. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In Mexico, rainwater ends up in the drains, when collecting it could supply water to households that lack the service. In the picture, a storm hits Mexico City on April 28, 2018. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

 

Between 1981 and 2010, 740 millimeters of annual rainfall fell on this nation, while in 2016, rainfall rose slightly to 744 millimeters.

Data from the government’s National Water Commission indicate that the average natural availability of the resource fell from 18,035 m3 per inhabitant per year in 1950 to 3,687 m3 in 2016.

Despite the decrease, availability is not a problem, according to the parameters set by the United Nations, which establishes that a country with less than 1,000 m3 per inhabitant per year has a shortage of water and a country with a range between 1,000 and 1,700 m3 per person of water supply suffers water stress.

Data from the non-governmental Oxfam in Mexico indicate that almost 10 million people have no water in their homes, in violation of the right to water established in the constitution since 2012.

In addition, Mexico is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as prolonged droughts and heavy rainfall within a wet season that traditionally goes from May to October. Several studies foresee a water crisis by 2040, especially from the centre to the north of the country.

There are 8.8 million people living in Mexico City proper and more than 20 million in Greater Mexico City, and on average almost 16 m3 of water per inhabitant per day are extracted and only about 11 are replaced.

Water shortages prompted Matilde Jiménez to seek rainwater collection for her home in the Cerrada del Bosque Xochitonalá shantytown in the Santa Cruz Alcapizca neighbourhood of Xochimilco, one of the 16 boroughs into which Mexico City is divided, on the south side of the city.

“We didn’t have water, and a neighbour heard about the Isla Urbana organisation, their people visited us and registered several neighbours to get collectors installed,” Jiménez, a homemaker who is studying creative writing, told IPS.

After paying 150 dollars, her home, where she lives with her husband and three children, now has a collection system that has provided them with about 11,000 litres since its installation, which covers more than five months of consumption. They no longer have to spend money to buy water from the tanker trucks.

A large rainwater collection tank that serves for irrigation, water for animal consumption and, once properly purified, human consumption. Neta Cero has installed more than 2,000 of these systems in four states of Mexico. Credit: Neta Cero

A large rainwater collection tank that serves for irrigation, water for animal consumption and, once properly purified, human consumption. Neta Cero has installed more than 2,000 of these systems in four states of Mexico. Credit: Neta Cero

Rainfall reduces the need to obtain or import water from conventional sources, allows for the creation of supplies at specific locations, and does not depend on the traditional system, thus reducing the vicious circle of dependency and crisis.

Seven out of 16 boroughs in the capital suffer from water insecurity, calculated from the degree of marginalisation, access to water and distribution of the resource, according to the non-governmental organisation Isla Urbana, a pioneer in the promotion of rainwater harvesting in the country.

This organisation estimates that 21,693 hectares of rooftops would contribute 16 million m3 per month. The city consumes 32 m3 per second, so rainfall could provide 20 percent of that demand.

Water scarcity has led several organisations to develop rainwater harvesting systems in remote areas of the country, such as the social enterprise Neta Cero.

“There are communities without access to water. What we are doing is solving these problems with these systems that represent a very important source for these communities,” its founder, Tirian Mink, from the United States, told IPS.

This social entrepreneur, who created the organisation in 2013, recalled how he himself built the first “spring-roof” that year in the town of Palo de Marca, in the municipality of Huautla de Jiménez, which has a population of over 31,000 people and is located in the southern state of Oaxaca.

“It was in a preschool, it was a very important learning experience. We installed it in a couple of weeks with local materials, the tank was filled in less than a week,” said Mink, who chose the site because of the high levels of water stress and heavy rainfall and where nine systems already operate to provide a supply of water to the community.

The water is stored in tanks with a capacity of between 200,000 and 500,000 litres, at a cost of between 4,800 and 146,000 dollars, depending on the complexity and size of the facility, and with a total capacity to collect up to five million litres. Neta Cero has already connected 2,315 systems in four states since 2013.

The Mexican government is implementing the National Programme for Rainwater Harvesting and Eco-techniques in Rural Areas, which in 2017 was implemented in 94 highly marginalised areas in eight of the country’s 32 states, with the installation of 944 rainwater harvesting systems.

The government of Mexico City has also installed hundreds of rainwater systems in an attempt to alleviate the crisis that threatens to worsen in the long term.

Engineer Rodríguez proposed the promotion of rainwater harvesting. “There is little awareness, aggravated by political patronage. Politicians need to be aware of the problem and its solutions. The problem is not technical, it is social, a problem of governance. There is a lack of incentives,” he said.

Mink proposed more funding for the installation and maintenance of systems.

“We seek interventions with greater impact with the least investment. The biggest impact is achieved with large systems, but one difficulty is that the water service is free of charge so there is no maintenance. That is a challenge, and to have sustainable systems” environmentally and financially, said Mink.

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Putting Tortillas on Mexico’s Tables Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/mexico-want-put-tortillas-table/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-want-put-tortillas-table http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/mexico-want-put-tortillas-table/#respond Wed, 30 May 2018 00:02:07 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155979 Agronomist Irene Salvador decided to learn the process of making corn tortillas in order to preserve and promote this traditional staple food in the Mexican diet, which has lost its presence and nutritional quality. “I wanted to make my own experience. It has been very enriching, because I have regained knowledge and learned other things. […]

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Irene Salvador arranges tortillas that she made on a table full of ears of corn of different varieties, during a forum on tortillas in Mexico City. An alliance has just emerged in the country to promote the production and consumption of this traditional food, due to its nutritional, social, economic and environmental benefits. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Irene Salvador arranges tortillas that she made on a table full of ears of corn of different varieties, during a forum on tortillas in Mexico City. An alliance has just emerged in the country to promote the production and consumption of this traditional food, due to its nutritional, social, economic and environmental benefits. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, May 30 2018 (IPS)

Agronomist Irene Salvador decided to learn the process of making corn tortillas in order to preserve and promote this traditional staple food in the Mexican diet, which has lost its presence and nutritional quality.

“I wanted to make my own experience. It has been very enriching, because I have regained knowledge and learned other things. I also did it because of the situation we are living in, importing food and renouncing our staple foods,” she told IPS.

Salvador began making tortillas in March, after harvesting four tons of blue-grain maize on two hectares of land on a family farm in the municipality of Juchitepec, in the state of Mexico, some 70 km southeast of the capital.

With this raw material, she has produced by hand every week up to 30 kg of tortillas, which are a round, fine and flat dough made with nixtamalised corn, which in different preparations has long been part of the meals in this Latin American country."New generations are losing the right to a quality tortilla. Consumption of tortillas in Mexico is dropping at an alarming rate, because the tortilla has changed, and there is easier access to processed food and junk food.” -- Rafal Mier

She sells them in her home in the municipality of Magdalena Contreras, one of the 16 boroughs that make up Mexico City, in the south of the capital, and is now thinking about buying a machine to expand her production.

Salvador, who toured four states to learn about the process and has invested about 6,000 dollars, struggled to sell the product in her neighbourhood, but as buyers began to try it, demand started growing.

The new Alliance for Our Tortilla, launched this month by organisations of food producers, corn planters and academics, is aimed at enterprises like hers.

The aim is to promote the activity and spread a traditional form of low-cost nutrition in this country of 130 million inhabitants. The tortilla, in different presentations, has become part of the gastronomy of many other countries, but it is becoming less and less part of the everyday life of many Mexican tables.

“New generations are losing the right to a quality tortilla. Consumption of tortillas in Mexico is dropping at an alarming rate, because the tortilla has changed, and there is easier access to processed food and junk food,” one of the promoters of the alliance, Rafael Mier, told IPS.

“The alliance seeks to reverse this situation,” said Mier, who is the director of the non-governmental Mexican Corn Tortilla Foundation.

The basic tenets of the alliance include the consumption of native grains, a fair price for tortillas, the defence of nixtamalisation – the ancestral technique for preparing maize to be made into tortillas – and the nutritional benefits of tortillas.

In 2017, five non-governmental organisations launched the “I want my tortilla 100 percent nixtamalised” campaign, in another initiative to save the product in which members of the new alliance took part.

Pre-Columbian heritage

Nixtamalisation, a combination of the Nahuatl words “nextli” (ash) and “tamalli” (corn dough), is the technique of cooking the grain with calcium hydroxide or lime, which dates back to the time before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in Mexico in the 15th century.

This method neutralises aflatoxins, a type of micro-toxins produced by certain fungi in crops such as maize, which can contaminate grains on the plant, during harvest or in storage, and can cause various types of cancer, according to scientific studies.

In addition, the cooking opens the grain cuticle which releases vitamins and facilitates the absorption of nutrients during its consumption.

Georgina Trujillo checks the white maize that she is cooking in the back room of the Cintli tortilla factory in Mexico City. The nixtamalisation of maize, which is cooked for hours with water and lime, releases its nutritional properties. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Georgina Trujillo checks the white maize that she is cooking in the back room of the Cintli tortilla factory in Mexico City. The nixtamalisation of maize, which is cooked for hours with water and lime, releases its nutritional properties. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The Mexican dough and tortilla industry encompasses around 80,000 establishments, including mills and tortilla factories or combinations of the two, accounting for one percent of the country’s GDP.

With the nixtamalisation process, one kg of maize becomes two kg of dough.

Maize is the staple food of Mesoamerica, the region that stretches from central Mexico down to Costa Rica. In Mexico, some 60 varieties of maize are grown, and the white, yellow, blue, red and bicolored grains – among others – are used to make tortillas.

But consumption of tortillas has dropped to less than half in Mexico: from 170 kg a year per person in the 1970s to 75 kg today, as fast food has expanded and eating habits have changed.

In February, official figures indicated that in the last year, adding the two harvest cycles, the country produced 23.8 million tonnes of white maize and imported 912,000 tonnes. Some12.9 million tonnes were used by people, of which 5.07 million were for self-consumption, and the rest was for export, seeds and livestock.

The harvest of yellow corn, mainly destined for industrial use, amounted to additional 3.04 million tonnes, while imports reached a historic 14.37 million.

Undernourishment and obesity

Advocates say increasing tortilla consumption can help Mexico achieve its goals of ending poverty, reaching zero hunger, and boosting health, well-being, responsible production and consumption and healthy terrestrial ecosystems, within the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be met by 2030.

In 2016, when the SDGs began to be implemented, there were 53.4 million people living in poverty in Mexico, including 9.4 million in extreme poverty, according to the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy. There were a total 24.6 million undernourished people.

In adolescents aged 12 to 19, the prevalence was 36 percent, and in adults aged 20 years and older, 72 percent.

By contrast, the National Health and Nutrition Survey Mid-way 2016 found a prevalence of overweight and obesity in the five to 11 age group, of 33 percent that year.

In adolescents aged 12 to 19, the prevalence was 36 percent and in adults aged 20 years and older, 72 percent.

The survey also found, among the three age groups, low proportions of regular consumption of most of the recommended food groups, such as vegetables, fruits and legumes.

Against this backdrop, several initiatives have emerged in the last two years to support the tortilla.

José Castañón also went through a learning process in the southern state of Oaxaca to learn about the relationship between maize and tortillas.

“I began to wonder: why not do something similar in Mexico City? I look for the junction between organic production, nutritional culture and fair trade. People come here because of values and health,” he told IPS.

Parallel to his audiovisual work, Castañón inaugurated in November 2017 the “Cintli” (ear of corn in Nahuatl) tortilla factory in a western neighbourhood of the capital, where he sells white and blue grain products from the municipality of Vicente Guerrero, in the southern state of Tlaxcala, including 16 varieties of tortillas.

The business, in which he has invested about 25,000 dollars and where two other people also work, processes about 70 kg of maize a day and sells retail tortillas to organic shops and restaurants, as well as dishes made with maize.

While the sector is committed to strengthening the culture of corn and tortillas, with initiatives such as the alliance, Salvador lamented that “there is a lack of information on the importance of the tortilla, and we really need it, because we are in the process of losing awareness.”

For Mier, the solution lies in tackling the marketing and supply of the grain. “Talking about differentiated markets and paying a reasonable price, encouraging more tortilla factories to use native maize,” he said.

According to Castañón, whose next move is to sell tortillas over the internet, it is necessary to promote the nutritional benefits of tortillas and the variety of flavours. “The issue must be put on the national agenda in an informed manner,” he said.

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Energy Cooperatives, Fogged Mirrors for Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/energy-cooperatives-fogged-mirrors-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=energy-cooperatives-fogged-mirrors-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/energy-cooperatives-fogged-mirrors-latin-america/#respond Thu, 24 May 2018 15:57:18 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155911 “It made me angry that a company from outside the region was making money from renewable energy and I wondered why people weren’t getting involved,” says Petra Gruner-Bauer, president of the German co-operative SolixEnergie. So Gruner-Bauer, founder of the organisation, began to raise awareness among her neighbours in Wörrstadt, a city in the western state […]

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Public buildings and businesses, such as this organic vineyard in the town of Ingelheim-Großwinternheim in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate, have embraced renewable energy in Germany to encourage citizen participation, create local employment, promote the local industry and protect the environment. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Public buildings and businesses, such as this organic vineyard in the town of Ingelheim-Großwinternheim in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate, have embraced renewable energy in Germany to encourage citizen participation, create local employment, promote the local industry and protect the environment. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
WÖRRSTADT, Germany, May 24 2018 (IPS)

“It made me angry that a company from outside the region was making money from renewable energy and I wondered why people weren’t getting involved,” says Petra Gruner-Bauer, president of the German co-operative SolixEnergie.

So Gruner-Bauer, founder of the organisation, began to raise awareness among her neighbours in Wörrstadt, a city in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate, about what a co-operative was, the importance of citizen participation and community benefits.

“I wrote down on a piece of paper the things that needed to be changed and tried to convince people, and they got involved. It’s the power of people. We are at the same time members and entrepreneurs, we focus on making sure that each person receives renewable energy,” she told IPS in an interview.

The cooperative, which has 116 members, was set up in 2011 and has already developed two solar panel projects and a wind farm, generating more than seven million kilowatt-hours a year, benefiting 5,000 people in a town of 30,000.

To become a co-op member, the minimum investment is 1,022 dollars, and this year the rate of return on capital is less than one percent.

This co-operative is one of 42 of its kind operating in the energy sector in Rhineland-Palatinate, a state that has been a pioneer in the development of alternative renewable energy sources in Germany, generating 10,000 jobs. Nearly 50 percent of the region’s energy supply is based on renewable sources.

At a national level, energy co-operatives currently comprise 900,200 members, with an investment of some 1.83 billion dollars.

In 2016, German individuals and co-operatives owned 31.5 percent of the renewable energy facilities, making it the segment that receives the most investment in the energy sector, according to a study published in February by the German consulting firm Renewable Energies Agency.

German co-operatives have been instrumental in the progress made towards the country’s energy transition by fostering citizen empowerment, producing energy locally, providinga source of socio-economic wellbeing and reducing polluting emissions.

Of the basket of alternative energies, 36 percent of electricity generation comes from renewable sources, such as wind power, biomass, solar, hydroelectric and waste.

The energy transition, through a gradual replacement of fossil fuels with environmentally friendly alternatives, is part of the mechanisms established at the global level to contain global warming.

“Energy co-operatives are a very safe and easy way to participate in the energy transition, investing little money. They are highly decentralised, they help strengthen the local value chain, encourage public support for the transition and unleash financial potential,” Verena Ruppert, president of the Network of Citizen Energy Co-operatives of the State of Rhineland-Palatinate, told IPS.

This network brings together 24 members, 22 of which are energy co-operatives, which in turn comprise 5,000 individuals and more than 200 businesses, communities and religious organisations. The members of the co-operatives have invested some 85 million dollars in solar roofs, wind farms, biogas plants and residential retrofit projects.

Based on wind and solar energy, Germany is moving towards a future based on alternative energy sources, such as with this private wind farm in the city of Wörrstadt, in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Based on wind and solar energy, Germany is moving towards a future based on alternative energy sources, such as with this private wind farm in the city of Wörrstadt, in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

These energy cooperatives have a favourable environment in Germany, which facilitates their leadership in this field, as is also the case in Australia, Denmark and the United States, leading models in the industry.

Hurdles faced in Latin America

In contrast to Germany, in Latin America these co-operatives have not taken off, except in a minority of countries, despite the benefits they offer.

In countries such as Mexico, Peru and Venezuela, laws related to co-operatives recognise their role in various sectors, such as energy, but electricity regulations create barriers blocking their development.

The legislation does facilitate a role for co-operatives in countries such as Argentina and the Dominican Republic, while Bolivia, Colombia and Costa Rica also have regulations aimed at promoting such participation.

In Argentina, a country of 44 million people, energy co-operatives date back to the 1990s and already cover 16 percent of the domestic market, with some 500 electric co-operatives comprising more than one million members, according to figures from the Buenos Aires Federation of Electric and Public Services Co-operatives.

In 2016, the government of the northern province of Santa Fe created the Prosumidores– a play on words combining “producers” and “consumers” -Programme, which finances citizens who go from being mere consumers to also becoming producers who generate electricity and sell their surplus to the grid.

Brazil, for its part, has provided financial incentives since 2016 for distributed (decentralised) small-scale solar energy systems to enable individuals and businesses to generate their own electricity.

Costa Rica has also promoted this model, with four co-operatives accounting for nine percent of national power distribution and six percent of Costa Rica’s electricity generation.

This is highlighted in a report published in September 2017, “Renewable Energy Tenders and Community [Em]power[ment]: Latin America and the Caribbean“, prepared by the international Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (Ren21).

These Costa Rican entities generate some 400 megawatts – mainly from hydroelectric power plants and a small volume of wind power -, comprise more than 200,000 members, provide electricity to some 400,000 customers and employ almost 2,000 workers.

Since 2015, Chile has also been promoting participatory generation through the government’s Energy Commune programme, which seeks to promote efficiency through the use of local renewable energies and for which it has created a community fund.

So far, the initiative manages eight projects in six municipalities and has organised two calls for proposals for more than 112 million dollars for the benefit of 34 communities.

The German transformation formally started in 2011, based on six laws that favour alternative generation through a surcharge for producers, the expansion of the electricity grid to encourage the incorporation of renewables and cogeneration to take advantage of energy wasted in fossil fuel facilities.

The reform of the Renewable Energy Law, in force since January 2017, set a fixed rate for the sector – fundamental for the progress made in renewables – and created auctions for all sources.

The changes reward those who generate electricity at a lower cost, impose generation caps, and limit the setting of fixed tariffs only for cooperatives and small producers.

But in Latin America, community energy ventures face legal, technical and financial barriers.

In Mexico, the Electricity Industry Law, in effect since 2014, makes it possible to launch local projects generating less than one megawatt, but virtually excludes them from the electricity auctions that the government has held since 2016.

At least 12 countries in the region organise renewable energy auctions that, because of their financial, technical and business requirements, exclude cooperatives, preventing them from further expansion.

That’s not the case in Germany, where they are now aiming for a new stage.

“The transition needs heating and transportation. We don’t want to focus only on power generation, but also on environmental protection,” said Gruner-Bauer, whose organisation is now moving into electric car sharing to reduce use of private vehicles.

Ruppert said they can cooperate with Latin American organisations. “But it’s a decision of the board of directors. We can help, but first we need to know the needs of co-operatives,” he said.

The REN21 report recommends reserving a quota for participatory citizen projects and facilitating access to energy purchase agreements, which ensures the efficiency of tenders and the effectiveness of fixed rates for these projects.

In addition, it proposes the establishment of an authority for citizen projects, capacity-building, promotion of community-based energy projects, and the establishment of specific national energy targets for these undertakings.

This article was made possible by CLEW 2018.

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Latin America Faces Uphill Energy Transitionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/latin-america-faces-uphill-energy-transition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-faces-uphill-energy-transition http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/latin-america-faces-uphill-energy-transition/#respond Thu, 19 Apr 2018 22:54:03 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155353 Latin America is facing challenges in energy efficiency, transportation and power generation to move towards a low carbon economy and thus accelerate that transition, which is essential to cut emissions in order to reduce global warming before it reaches a critical level. The region has made progress in the production of renewable energy, especially from […]

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Trump Begins to Reverberate in Mexico’s Presidential Electionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/trump-begins-reverberate-mexicos-presidential-elections/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-begins-reverberate-mexicos-presidential-elections http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/trump-begins-reverberate-mexicos-presidential-elections/#respond Wed, 04 Apr 2018 23:49:15 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155154 Statements by U.S. President Donald Trump against Mexico have begun to permeate the presidential election campaign in this Latin American country, forcing the candidates to pronounce themselves on the matter. In his most recent angry tweet, Trump said Apr. 1 that he would withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) if Mexico doesn’t […]

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Activists and academics from Canada, the United States and Mexico called in March in Mexico for an end to the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), because of its secrecy and because it fails to represent the interests of the people of the three nations. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

Activists and academics from Canada, the United States and Mexico called in March in Mexico for an end to the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), because of its secrecy and because it fails to represent the interests of the people of the three nations. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Apr 4 2018 (IPS)

Statements by U.S. President Donald Trump against Mexico have begun to permeate the presidential election campaign in this Latin American country, forcing the candidates to pronounce themselves on the matter.

In his most recent angry tweet, Trump said Apr. 1 that he would withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) if Mexico doesn’t work harder to stop illegal immigration and drug trafficking into the U.S.

The next few days will be crucial for the renegotiation of the trade deal between Mexico, the U.S. and Canada."After Trump's remarks, everything is up in the air. We will hear statements back and forth from the negotiating parties and the candidates. Any sign of having anything in common with Trump is political suicide for the candidates." -- Manuel Pérez Rocha

“After Trump’s remarks, everything is up in the air. We will hear statements back and forth from the negotiating parties and the candidates. Any sign of having anything in common with Trump is political suicide for the candidates,” said Manuel Pérez Rocha, Associate Fellow at the U.S. Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies.

The expert told IPS that “the important thing is to continue analysing the proposals of the candidates and see what positions they take with respect to NAFTA.”

The eighth, and presumably last, round of negotiations is scheduled to begin on Apr. 8 in Washington and end on Apr. 16.

After the seven previous rounds, the advances disclosed by the three partners have been scarce, in negotiations marked by rigid positions, tension and secrecy.

Of the 30 chapters that have been discussed, the negotiating teams have concluded the chapters on good regulatory practices, transparency, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, small and medium-sized businesses, competition and anti-corruption.

The priorities of the United States include new phytosanitary measures, greater protection of intellectual property, labour and environmental matters and the possible elimination of the dispute resolution chapter, which establishes special panels to address abusive trade practices.

Meanwhile, Mexico is focusing mainly on energy, electronic commerce and small and medium enterprises.

Canada, for its part, prioritises the inclusion of labour, environmental and gender standards, an increased migratory flow, indigenous rights, a revision of the dispute resolution mechanism, a more open government procurement market and higher wages.

The renegotiation of the treaty in force since 1994 also covers issues not included in the original text, such as energy, e-commerce and on-line activities.

The renegotiation of NAFTA was imposed by Trump, who included it in the campaign that took him to the White House in January 2017.

NAFTA and, above all, Trump’s outbursts about Mexico and Mexicans have begun to appear in the campaign for Mexico’s Jul. 1 presidential elections, although only the front-runner has addressed it explicitly.

Leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, heading the “Together We Make History” coalition, said on Apr. 1 that “we are not going to rule out the possibility of convincing Donald Trump of his mistaken foreign policy and in particular of his contemptuous attitude towards Mexicans, we will be very respectful of the government of the United States, but we will also demand respect for Mexicans.”

The three-time candidate for the Mexican presidency expressed his support for NAFTA, but clarified that “it would be best to sign agreements after Jul. 1,” when he hopes to finally win the presidency with the support of an alliance between the leftist National Regeneration Movement and Workers’ Party, together with the conservative Social Encounter Party.

A protest against U.S. President Donald Trump outside the U.S. embassy in Mexico City. Trump’s verbal attacks against Mexico and Mexicans have increased since March and are beginning to reverberate in the campaign for the Jul. 1 presidential elections. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A protest against U.S. President Donald Trump outside the U.S. embassy in Mexico City. Trump’s verbal attacks against Mexico and Mexicans have increased since March and are beginning to reverberate in the campaign for the Jul. 1 presidential elections. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The second in the polls, Ricardo Anaya, candidate for the “Mexico al Frente” coalition, formed by the right-wing National Action Party, the centrist Party of the Democratic Revolution, and the centre-right Citizen’s Movement, has not referred to the renegotiation.

Nor has the ruling party candidate José Meade, representing the conservative Institutional Revolutionary Party, the Ecologist Green Party and the New Alliance, mentioned NAFTA or Trump so far in the campaign.

None of the candidates have discussed Trump’s promise to build a border wall between the two countries.

“Mexico has to withdraw from negotiations to reform the treaty and wait for a new government to take over the process. We can’t tolerate all of these insults and threats from Trump,” academic Alberto Arroyo, a member of the non-governmental coalition Mexico Better without FTAs, told IPS.

The car industry, “maquilas” or for-export assembly plants, agro-exports and financial services are among the sectors that have benefited from the 24 years of free trade between the three countries.

According to academics and activists from the affected sectors, the big losers under NAFTA have been small-scale farmers, including producers of the staple products corn and beans, and the food sector in general.

NAFTA strengthened Mexico’s trade dependency on the U.S., which purchases more than 80 percent of Mexico’s exports.

Imports from the United States, meanwhile, climbed from 151 billion dollars in 1993 to 614 billion dollars in 2017 – a 307 percent increase. Meanwhile, its exports grew from 142 billion to 525 billion, a 270 percent rise.

“Any disruption to the economic relationship could have adverse effects on investment, employment, productivity, and North American competitiveness,” says the study “NAFTA Renegotiation and Modernization,” prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), a non-partisan legislative branch agency housed in the Library of Congress.

The report published in February adds that “Mexico and Canada could consider imposing retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports if the United States were to withdraw” from NAFTA.

In 2017, the United States a trade deficit of 89.6 billion dollars with its two partners, compared with 9.1 billion in 1993.

“It is not clear how the (Trump) administration would expect to reduce the trade deficit through the renegotiation,” says the paper.

In another of his attacks, Trump threatened to impose extraordinary tariffs on steel and aluminum imports unless NAFTA were renegotiated to terms more favorable to the U.S

According to Pérez Rocha, Mexicans would celebrate the end of NAFTA as “a net job destroyer, and for allowing transnational corporations to devastate the environment.”

He added that, in his opinion, the majority of Mexico’s 123 million people would support an end to the treaty “for destroying the livelihoods of millions in rural areas, for being an instrument of corporations for reversing sanitary and environmental policies, and for making Mexico the Latin American country with the most obesity.”

He called for postponing the renegotiation until the new administration takes office, because “this government has been unable to ensure the interests of Mexicans. We need a change to society, a new way of interacting with all social sectors.”

For his part, Arroyo, who is writing a study on NAFTA’s impact on the Mexican economy, called for a treaty that respects “human, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, the national sovereignty of each country and real economic development.”

The CRS report concludes that the outlook for the renegotiation is “uncertain”.

Today, the United States and Mexico are more and more similar to what English journalist Alan Riding once described as “distant neighbours.”

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Forest Communities Join Forces to Fight Land Degradation in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/forest-communities-join-forces-fight-land-degradation-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=forest-communities-join-forces-fight-land-degradation-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/forest-communities-join-forces-fight-land-degradation-mexico/#respond Fri, 09 Mar 2018 07:16:47 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154720 Forest communities play a fundamental role in Mexico in combating land degradation, but they need more support to that end. The owners of forests can make a contribution in this Latin American country where half of the territory suffers from some degree of soil impoverishment, to reach its goal of 8.5 million hectares rehabilitated by […]

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Automated Digital Tools Threaten Political Campaigns in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/automated-digital-tools-threaten-political-campaigns-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=automated-digital-tools-threaten-political-campaigns-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/automated-digital-tools-threaten-political-campaigns-latin-america/#respond Tue, 13 Feb 2018 01:37:48 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154285 The use of technological tools in political campaigns has become widespread in Latin America, accompanied by practices that raise concern among academics and social organisations, especially in a year with multiple elections throughout the region. The use of automated programmes – known as “bots” – to create profiles in social networks intended to offset critical […]

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Automated programmes, known as "bots", threaten to smear political campaigns, through massive deceitful messages, which can disrupt the democratic game. Credit: Phys.org

Automated programmes, known as "bots", threaten to smear political campaigns, through massive deceitful messages, which can disrupt the democratic game. Credit: Phys.org

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Feb 13 2018 (IPS)

The use of technological tools in political campaigns has become widespread in Latin America, accompanied by practices that raise concern among academics and social organisations, especially in a year with multiple elections throughout the region.

The use of automated programmes – known as “bots” – to create profiles in social networks intended to offset critical messages, propaganda, the spread of lies and hate campaigns on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp are already the digital daily bread in the region.

For Tommaso Gravante, an academic at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in the Sciences and Humanities at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, an emerging concern is detecting fake profiles on social networks using artificial intelligence or machine learning."The main problem is that regulating a discourse means deciding what is a lie and what is not, and that is a problem. In terms of freedom of expression, anything should be said and the limits should be minimal. Election laws must be updated to face the challenges of on-line campaigns, but I'm not sure whether that's a good idea." -- Catalina Botero

“Clearly, this gives the impression that these technologies impoverish the debate with superficial answers. There is a problem in companies that handle ‘big data’, such as Google. They accumulate information, but we do not know how it is managed. Complex algorithms are used. How it is managed is a mystery,” he told IPS.

Gravante was one of the five winners in 2017 of the Seventh Worldwide Competition for Junior Sociologists organised by the International Sociological Association, and is one of the editors of “Technopolitics in Latin America and the Caribbean”, published in 2017.

In 2018, six Latin American countries will hold presidential elections, while others are holding legislative elections or referendums. And technopolitics is part of the electoral landscape in the region.

As the July 1 presidential elections in Mexico approach, the use of social networks is already being seen, and the same is expected for Colombia’s elections in May and Brazil’s elections in October. Voters in Costa Rica, Paraguay and Venezuela will also elect new presidents this year.

“The two-way digital technology (anyone speaks-anyone hears) represents a great advantage for freedom of expression, as it not only enhances the possibility of informing but also of getting informed. But it also shows how the problems of society are appearing in the networks,” Colombian expert Catalina Botero told IPS.

The problem involves the potential reach of a message on the Internet, which also applies to its possible negative effects, said Botero, the current director of the non-governmental Karisma Foundation, which works for human rights in the digital environment, and a former special rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (2008-2014).

The use of social networks and digital media in political campaigns broke onto the scene in the United States in 2008, at the hands of Democrat Barack Obama (2009-2017), who won the presidential elections in November of that year.

Since then, there is a perception that new technologies can determine the tone, and therefore the outcome, of election campaigns.

That belief was consolidated even more with the use of big data and data mining in 2016 by current US President Donald Trump, to build electoral models and tailor messages.

As a result, political parties across the spectrum have sought advice in these fields, while marketing and digital imaging agencies have added those services to their portfolio.

Six out of 10 Latin Americans use a social network, according to a December study carried out for the Spanish newspaper El País by the consultancy firm Latinobarómetro and the Institute for the Integration of Latin America and the Caribbean, a unit of the Inter-American Development Bank.

Map of the 2018 elections in Latin America. Credit: ACE

Map of the 2018 elections in Latin America. Credit: ACE

Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Paraguay and Uruguay are the countries most connected to social media such as Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter.

In 2015, 43 percent of Latin American households had internet access, according to data from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Costa Rica head the list of the most connected households, while Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador are the least connected.

As several studies have shown, there are already practices in the region to manipulate information and guide political discourse, as has happened in countries such as the United States, Great Britain and Germany.

The 2017 study “Troops, Trolls and Trouble-Makers: A Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation” detected bots in 28 countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Venezuela.

The report, prepared by two researchers from the Computational Propaganda Research Project (COMPROP) of the University of Oxford Internet Institute in Britain, considers that governments and political parties promote these digital hosts, through official institutions or private providers.

Another 2017 analysis, “Computational Propaganda Worldwide”, also published at Oxford, found that bots and other forms of computer propaganda have been present in Brazil.

The study says they were used in the 2014 presidential elections, the 2016 impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016), and the municipal elections in Rio de Janeiro the same year.

“Highly automated accounts support and attack political figures, debate issues such as corruption and encourage protest movements,” says the report.

In Mexico, another report identified in 2016 the presence of bots in 2014 to block criticism of the government of conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto, in power since 2012.

“They want to create trends, but nobody knows how people can appropriate that discourse, although it can be stimulated with some provocations. The only antidote against this is to take to the streets, as a response to these manifestations, get organised neighborhood by neighborhood. The learning process is linked to social needs,” said Gravante.

In this respect, the expert argued that social conflicts enhance “empowerment processes”, in which “there has been impressive progress…In that sense, I am techno-optimistic,” he said.

The 2016 US elections won by Trump offer a preview of what is taking shape in Latin America.

In September 2017, Facebook said it found some 80,000 publications on controversial issues in the U.S. elections, created by Russian-linked agents, which reached more than 126 million people in the United States from June 2015 to May 2017.

Twitter, meanwhile, identified more than 50,000 Twitter accounts linked to Russia, which spread false information during the 2016 presidential elections in the United States.

For Botero, it is worrying how citizens can be involved in political processes that use digital media and the emergence of manipulation through networks, which can determine election results and, ultimately, impoverish democracy.

“WhatsApp chains are impacting the way people are informed and viralizing a lot of information that could be labeled as ‘fake news’. Their impact has not been measured,” she said.

The use of social networks is not regulated in the region, although most governments monitor their use, and in countries such as Costa Rica, Ecuador and Mexico the electoral authority reviews on-line advertising and propaganda.

“The main problem is that regulating a discourse means deciding what is a lie and what is not, and that is a problem. In terms of freedom of expression, anything should be said and the limits should be minimal. Election laws must be updated to face the challenges of on-line campaigns, but I’m not sure whether that’s a good idea,” said Botero.

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Uncertainty Surrounds Renegotiation of NAFTA and Its Consequences for Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/uncertainty-surrounds-renegotiation-nafta-consequences-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uncertainty-surrounds-renegotiation-nafta-consequences-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/uncertainty-surrounds-renegotiation-nafta-consequences-mexico/#comments Wed, 03 Jan 2018 16:32:20 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153721 The first few months of 2018 will be key to defining the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), whose renegotiation due to the insistence of U.S. President Donald Trump has Mexico on edge because of the potential economic and social consequences. After five rounds of ministerial negotiations, which began in August, the […]

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Climate Change Threatens Mexican Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/climate-change-threatens-mexican-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-threatens-mexican-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/climate-change-threatens-mexican-agriculture/#respond Thu, 14 Dec 2017 22:07:21 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153569 Azael Meléndez recalls the tornado that in May 2015 struck his hometown of San Gregorio Atlapulco, in Xochimilco, on the outskirts of Mexico City. “I had never seen anything like it, and I asked my parents, and they said the same thing,” the farmer told IPS. The tornado lifted fences protecting gardens in the area, […]

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Mexican agriculture has begun to feel the impacts of climate change, affecting the productivity of some staple foods in the local diet. The photo shows a vegetable street market, with products that go directly from the producers to consumers, in the west of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

Mexican agriculture has begun to feel the impacts of climate change, affecting the productivity of some staple foods in the local diet. The photo shows a vegetable street market, with products that go directly from the producers to consumers, in the west of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Dec 14 2017 (IPS)

Azael Meléndez recalls the tornado that in May 2015 struck his hometown of San Gregorio Atlapulco, in Xochimilco, on the outskirts of Mexico City.

“I had never seen anything like it, and I asked my parents, and they said the same thing,” the farmer told IPS.

The tornado lifted fences protecting gardens in the area, whose name means “place in the middle of the water” in the Nahuatl language, and which is located on the south side of greater Mexico City, which is home to 22 million people.

For Meléndez, who has a horticultural project with two other farmers, this is one of the manifestations of climate change, “which has devastated the area along with urbanisation.” The group uses the ancestral method of “chinampas” to grow lettuce, broccoli, radish, beets and aromatic herbs.

They grow crops on an area of about 1,800 square metres, harvesting about 500 kilograms of products per week, which they sell to 10 restaurants, in the wholesale market in the capital and tianguis (street markets)."Agriculture is highly dependent on local weather conditions and is expected to be very sensitive to climate change in the coming years. In particular, a warmer and drier environment could reduce agricultural production.” -- Eduardo Benítez

Water shortages, an unstable climate, proliferation of pests, infrequent but more intense rainfall, hail and the effects of human activities are affecting an area that is crucial for the supply of food and for climate regulation in the Mexican capital, says a study by the international environmental organisation Earthwatch Institute.

The system of chinampas, a Nahuatl word that means “the place of the fertile land of flowers”, was practiced by the native peoples long before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 15th century.

The Aztec technique is based on the construction of small, rectangular areas of arable soil to grow crops in the microregion’s wetlands, with fences made of stakes of ahuejote (willow), a water-tolerant tree typical of this ecosystem.

The chinampa method is used on a total of 750 hectares, where about 5,000 farmers work.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) classifies it as one of the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS), for preserving agrobiodiversity, helping farmers adapt to climate change, guaranteeing food security and fighting poverty.

But not only this microregion is affected by climate change. Indeed, it is difficult to find a place in Mexico that is not exposed to it.

The May report “Estimates of potential yields with climate change scenarios for different agricultural crops in Mexico”, by the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change, projected a decline in rainfall in the country.

The report, focused especially on crops of corn, beans, wheat, soybeans, sorghum and barley, found that water productivity is decreasing for most crops, which means water requirements will increase in the medium term. It also found yield loss for the seven crops, especially marked in the case of corn, beans and wheat.

In the southern state of Chiapas, farmers are already facing water shortages, sudden and heavy rains, floods and rising temperatures.

“The areas need water, we need water for the land, renewed soil, because that is the baseline. And it’s not exclusive to Chiapas, it is happening throughout Mexico,” Consuelo González, a farmer in Chiapas who grows corn on 40 hectares of land, told IPS.

González, a representative of a producers committee for her state, said there are also problems of deforestation and bad agricultural practices.

Chiapas, the second-poorest state in the country, has a sown area of 1.42 million hectares and 62 crops. Among its main products are corn, pastures, coffee, sugar cane, bananas, mangoes, beans and oil palm, which account for nearly 90 percent of the state’s total production.

The 12 most important crops produce 10.11 million tons. In the case of corn, the yield reaches 1.5 tons per hectare, half of the national yield of 3.2 tons, due to the size of the plots and low level of mechanisation.

In 2010, the region passed the Law for Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation in the State of Chiapas, and one year later it implemented the Climate Change Action Plan.

In its nationally determined contribution (NDC), incorporated two years ago in the Paris Agreement on climate change, Mexico included strengthening the diversification of sustainable agriculture among the measures to be adopted by 2030.

Among the instruments to achieve this goal, it establishes the conservation of germplasm and native species of corn and the development of agroecosystems through the incorporation of climatic criteria in agricultural programmes.

In its NDCs, the country pledged to reduce its polluting emissions by 22 percent by 2030, compared with 2013 levels.

That year, Mexican agricultural activity released 80.17 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. By 2020, emissions of this potent greenhouse gas are expected to reach 111 million.

By 2030, the goal is to curb agricultural and livestock emissions to 86 million tons.

“Agriculture is highly dependent on local weather conditions and is expected to be very sensitive to climate change in the coming years. In particular, a warmer and drier environment could reduce agricultural production,” said Eduardo Benítez, assistant representative of Programmes at the FAO Partnership and Liaison Office in Mexico.

Among other consequences of climate change, he mentioned to IPS a higher prevalence of fungi and pests, soil transformation, less availability of land and water for agriculture and alterations in agrobiodiversity.

“They give something, but it’s not enough,” Meléndez said about the government’s support for helping the “chinamperos” – farmers who grow crops using the chinampa method – adapt to climate change.

“It has cost us a lot of work. We carry out prevention work, such as using biological filters, to raise water in the channels to a certain level for irrigation. We try to regulate the temperature with meshes of different sizes that provide shade for the crops,” he explained.

One of the problems lies in the lack of coordination among Mexican institutions, as shown by the assessment of the Government’s 2014-2018 Special Programme on Climate Change (PECC), implemented by the government to address the phenomenon.

This analysis shows that the Information System of the Cross-cutting Agenda that operated between 2009 and 2012 is not working since the programme came into force in 2014, which prevents a “close follow up” of the progress of its 199 lines of action.

In addition, it found that the National Climate Change System has not addressed the question of connecting programmes, actions and investments at the federal, state and municipal levels, with the PECC.

González, based on her experience as a farmer, recommended silvopastoral (combining forestry and grazing) systems to maintain the plots. “There are areas that can be well preserved. We focus on soil conservation. Another solution is agroecology,” to restore soils and preserve resources, she said.

FAO and the government Agency for Marketing Services and Development of Agricultural Markets (ASERCA) are working on a project of early warnings for agriculture based on agrometeorological information to monitor the climate impacts on food production and availability.

The aim is for this data to be available to “policy-makers, financial and risk management institutions and mainly to producers. Thus, public policy can be oriented in actions such as the promotion and use of crop insurance or the activation of contingency funds,” said Benítez.

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Coal Pollution Continues to Spread in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/coal-pollution-continues-spread-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=coal-pollution-continues-spread-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/coal-pollution-continues-spread-latin-america/#comments Wed, 15 Nov 2017 22:23:29 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153053 Despite growing global pressure to reduce the use of coal to generate electricity, several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean still have projects underway for expanding this polluting energy source. These plans run counter to the climate goals voluntarily adopted by the countries in the region and to the commitment to increase clean and […]

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In the Nov. 11 Climate March through the main streets of the German city of Bonn, protesters called for an end to the use of coal as a power source, especially by German companies, such as RWE. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

In the Nov. 11 Climate March through the main streets of the German city of Bonn, protesters called for an end to the use of coal as a power source, especially by German companies, such as RWE. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

By Emilio Godoy
BONN, Nov 15 2017 (IPS)

Despite growing global pressure to reduce the use of coal to generate electricity, several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean still have projects underway for expanding this polluting energy source.

These plans run counter to the climate goals voluntarily adopted by the countries in the region and to the commitment to increase clean and renewable sources, as part of the Paris Climate Agreement, approved in December 2015.

“Latín America doesn’t have a major global role in the sector, but it does have influence on the region…Colombia (for example) exports lots of coal. The problem is that there are many projects in the pipeline and that’s a threat of locking-in dependency for years,” Heffa Schucking, head of the non-governmental organisation Urgewald, told IPS in the German city of Bonn.

The Global Coal Exit List (GCEL), drawn up by the German organisation, reflects the use of coal in the region, in a global context.“A speedy coal divestment by the financing industry isn't only a matter of avoiding stranded assets, but keeping a livable planet too.” -- Heffa Schucking

Urgewald presented the report during the 23rd annual Conference of the Parties (COP 23) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), taking place Nov. 6-17 in Bonn, a city that is part of what used to be Germany’s industrial belt, driven precisely by coal.

The list, a comprehensive database of some 770 companies participating in the thermal coal industry, points out that in Latin America and the Caribbean, the installed thermoelectric capacity based on coal amounts to 17,909 MW, most of which operates in Mexico (5,351 MW), Chile, (5,101 MW) and Brazil (4,355 MW).

However, new projects for the use of coal will add an additional 8,427 MW, of which Chile will contribute 2,647, Brazil 1,540, the Dominican Republic 1,070, Venezuela 1,000, Jamaica 1,000, Colombia 850 and Panama 320. These ventures will further expand the use of coal in the region, hindering its removal to combat climate change.

The GCEL identifies 14 companies based in the region, of which five are Brazilian, another five Colombian and one per country from Chile, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

It also identifies transnational corporations that operating in the coal industry in the region such as the U.S.-based AES and Drummond; Italy’s Enel, France’s Engie, the Anglo-Swiss Glencore, the Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton and the British Anglo American.

At COP 23, whose electricity comes partially from the lignite mine Hambach, near Bonn, the protests against coal have resonated, due to the major role it plays in the emission of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.

At the climate summit in Bonn, coal is a main focus of criticism from environmentalists and academics. In the image, a banner reads "coal to museums", during the hearings of the International Rights of Nature Tribunal, which were held on Nov. 7- 8 in the German city. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

At the climate summit in Bonn, coal is a main focus of criticism from environmentalists and academics. In the image, a banner reads “coal to museums”, during the hearings of the International Rights of Nature Tribunal, which were held on Nov. 7- 8 in the German city. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

Colombia extracts the largest volume of coal in the area – 90 million tons in 2016 – in a sector dominated by Drummond, Glencore, BHP Billiton and Anglo American.

Since 2013, coal extraction in Colombia has ranged between 85 and 90 million tons, mainly from open-pit mines and chiefly for export.

Meanwhile, thermoelectric generation from coal climbed to 1,369.5 MW in 2016.

Brazil produces about eight million tons of coal per year and operates 21 coal-fired thermoelectric plants, generating 3.71 million kilowatts, equivalent to 2.27 percent of the country’s installed capacity.

In 2015, Mexico produced about 7.25 million tons a year, the lowest level in recent years due to the fact that the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) has reduced its coal imports.

The country’s coal-fired power generation totaled 30.124 billion MW/h in 2015, 34.208 billion in 2016 and 24.274 billion in 2017, from three CFE plants.

Chile is one of the largest thermoelectric generators in the region, with 29 coal-fired power plants that produce 14,291 MW, equivalent to 61.5 percent of the national installed capacity.

Carlos Rittl, executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, a network of Brazilian environmental organisations, complained that his country lacks a clear policy on coal.

“There are renewable energy goals for 2030, but the electricity capacity continues to be auctioned for fossil fuels and more thermoelectric plants are being built. There is no link between the energy agenda” and the voluntary goals of reducing polluting gases in Brazil, Rittl stressed.

The Brazilian ecologist is one of the 20,000 participants at COP 23, who include academics and delegates from government, civil society, international organisations and the business community.

The GCEL covers 88 percent of the world’s coal production and 86 percent of coal-driven thermoelectric installed capacity.

In addition, the database identifies 225 companies that plan to expand coal mining, and 282 that project more power plants.

Of the 328 mining companies listed, 30 are responsible for more than half of the world’s coal production, and of the 324 thermoelectric plants, the largest 31 cover more than half of the global installed capacity.

The campaign seeks for investors to withdraw funds from the coal industry, in order to cancel new projects and gradually close down existing plants.

Colombia has 16.54 billion tons in coal reserves. Mariana Rojas, director of Climate Change in the Environment Ministry, acknowledged to IPS the difficulty of abandoning coal.

“Different strategies are being used for the different sectors. We want to encourage the increase of renewables in the energy mix; they have become more competitive due to the lower prices. But we cannot reach all sectors,” she said.

Coal was left out of the carbon tax created by the December 2016 tax reform – a reflection of the industry’s clout.

The report “Coal in Colombia: Who wins? Who loses? Mining, global trade and climate change“, drawn up in 2015 by the non-governmental Tierra Digna Centre for Studies on Social Justice, warned that the Andean country plans to continue mining coal until at least 2079.

Brazil already has another plant under construction with a capacity of 340 MW, and plans for at least six more facilities, that would generate 804 MW.

Mexico is in a similar situation, since the current mining permits would expire in 2062, for over 700 million tons in reserves.

Since 2015, the state-run company CFE has been holding online auctions of coal, to control the supply of more than two million tons per year and regulate the activity.

Urgewald’s Schucking called for turning off the financial tap for these projects. “A speedy coal divestment by the financing industry isn’t only a matter of avoiding stranded assets, but keeping a livable planet too.”

Germany has set a 2018 deadline for shutting down its last coal mines, while Canada announced that it would stop using coal by 2030 and Italy promised to do so by 2025.

“The first step is to eliminate subsidies for coal” and redirect them to solar and wind energy, Rittl proposed.

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Latin America Heads to Climate Summit with Uneven Progresshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/latin-america-heads-climate-summit-uneven-progress/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-heads-climate-summit-uneven-progress http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/latin-america-heads-climate-summit-uneven-progress/#respond Wed, 25 Oct 2017 02:16:57 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152700 Difficult to measure and unequal in their scope are the advances that the countries of Latin America will have to show, regarding their voluntary commitments to greenhouse gas emissions, during the climate summit to be hosted by Bonn, Germany in November. The so-called intended nationally-determined contributions (INDCs) are considered insufficient to reach the goal of […]

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Marginalised Minorities and Homeless Especially Hard-hit by Mexico’s Quakehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/marginalised-minorities-homeless-especially-hard-hit-mexicos-quake/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marginalised-minorities-homeless-especially-hard-hit-mexicos-quake http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/marginalised-minorities-homeless-especially-hard-hit-mexicos-quake/#respond Wed, 27 Sep 2017 23:45:17 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152266 Maricela Fernández, an indigenous woman from the Ñañhú or Otomí people, shows the damages that the Sept. 19 earthquake inflicted on the old house where 10 families of her people were living as squatters, in a neighbourhood in the center-west of Mexico City. The magnitude 7.1 quake, mainly felt in Mexico City and the neighboring […]

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A community of 35 Nahñú indigenous families, from the central state of Querétaro, set up a camp in front of the old building that they occupied in the center of Mexico City, which was heavily damaged by the Sept. 19 earthquake. In the photo can be seen the tent that serves as their kitchen and dining room. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

A community of 35 Nahñú indigenous families, from the central state of Querétaro, set up a camp in front of the old building that they occupied in the center of Mexico City, which was heavily damaged by the Sept. 19 earthquake. In the photo can be seen the tent that serves as their kitchen and dining room. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Sep 27 2017 (IPS)

Maricela Fernández, an indigenous woman from the Ñañhú or Otomí people, shows the damages that the Sept. 19 earthquake inflicted on the old house where 10 families of her people were living as squatters, in a neighbourhood in the center-west of Mexico City.

The magnitude 7.1 quake, mainly felt in Mexico City and the neighboring states of Mexico, Morelos and Puebla, caused structural damage to the building, which like many other buildings in the city is in danger of collapsing.

The two-storey building, inhabited by indigenous families since 2007, had already been damaged by the 8.0 magnitude earthquake that claimed at least 10,000 lives on September 19, 1985 in the Mexican capital, exactly 32 years before the one that hit the city a week ago."These are families who, because of their condition, have long occupied spaces in deplorable conditions, squatting for example on properties condemned since the 1985 earthquake…The recent earthquake left the properties uninhabitable. Authorities have told them that they cannot live in those buildings anymore.” -- Alicia Vargas

Since Sept. 19 “we have been sleeping outside, because the house is badly damaged and may collapse. We do not want to go to a shelter, because they could take the building away from us,” explained Fernández, a mother of two who works as an informal vendor.

The residents of the house, including 16 children, set up a tent on the sidewalk, where they take shelter, cook and sleep while looking after their battered house and belongings inside.

Fernández, a member of the non-governmental “Hadi” (hello in the Ñahñú language) Otomí Indigenous Community, told IPS that humanitarian aid received so far came from non-governmental organisations and individual citizens.

But she criticised what she described as disregard from the authorities towards them and the discrimination exhibited by some neighbors.

“It is unfair that they discriminate against us for being indigenous and poor. Nobody deserves that treatment,” she said.

The earthquake had a death toll of at least 331 people – mostly in Mexico City – while at least 33 buildings collapsed and another 3,800 were partially or totally damaged.

Most schools resumed classes on Monday Sept. 25, as did economic activity and administrative work, but thousands of students and employees are reluctant to return to their educational institutions and workplaces until they have guarantees that the buildings are safe.

A similar situation is faced by another Ñahñú community living in a different rundown, abandoned building in a neighborhood in the centre of the capital, which has a population of nearly nine million people and which exceeds 21 million when adding the greater metropolitan area.

After the earthquake they set up a camp in the street next to the building that is damaged but still standing, where they sleep, cook and eat. Their refusal to move to a shelter is due to the fear of eviction and the loss of their home and belongings.

The 10 Nahñús families who were living in an old house in Mexico City since 2007 are now living outside the building due to the structural damages caused by the Sept. 19 earthquake. They are staying there in order to protect their property and belongings and to demand support for access to housing. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

The 10 Nahñús families who were living in an old house in Mexico City since 2007 are now living outside the building due to the structural damages caused by the Sept. 19 earthquake. They are staying there in order to protect their property and belongings and to demand support for access to housing. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

“We have organised ourselves to prepare food and watch over our things. The government has not taken care of us. They always ignore indigenous people,” complained Telésforo Francisco Martínez, a member of the group of 35 families who inhabit the property.

The whiteness of three large tents and a smaller one contrasts with the black canvas that protects the entrance to the building. Two camping tents complete the makeshift camp, together with two campfires and a few small tables.

These indigenous people work in the informal sector, selling traditional crafts and art, cleaning cars on the streets or cleaning houses.

“We have not been able to work, so we have no income,” said Martínez, who cleans car windshields on the streets.

Since 1986, some 2,000 Ñahñú natives have migrated to Mexico City from the municipality of Santiago Mezquititlán in the central state of Querétaro, and they now live in eight shantytowns in neighborhoods in the center-west of the capital.

Mexico City attracts thousands of people from other parts of the country who leave their towns to seek an income in the informal economy and often live in slums on the outskirts of the city.

The Ñahñús, who numbered 623,098 in 2015, are one of 69 native peoples in Mexico, representing about 12 million people, out of a total population of 129 million.

About 1.2 million indigenous people live in the capital, according to data from the non-governmental Interdisciplinary Center for Social Development (Cides).

“These are families who, because of their condition, have long occupied spaces in deplorable conditions, squatting for example on properties condemned since the 1985 earthquake,” Cides director Alicia Vargas told IPS.

“The recent earthquake left the properties uninhabitable. Authorities have told them that they cannot live in those buildings anymore,” she said.

For Vargas, whose organisation works with these minorities, these groups have been “traditionally invisible, especially children” and their level of vulnerability is exacerbated by disasters and the exclusion and discrimination they suffer.

The Sept. 19 earthquake exacerbated the needs of vulnerable groups living in Mexico City, including the homeless, such as this woman sleeping on a sidewalk on the south side of the capital. Authorities have diverted assistance for the homeless to earthquake victims. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

The Sept. 19 earthquake exacerbated the needs of vulnerable groups living in Mexico City, including the homeless, such as this woman sleeping on a sidewalk on the south side of the capital. Authorities have diverted assistance for the homeless to earthquake victims. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

“The State’s response is to come and assess the properties and evict them, leaving them on the streets, with nothing. They have not offered them any alternative. There is no official response from any government housing body to temporarily resolve their situation,” the activist complained.

The homeless, forgotten as always

The homeless have also suffered from the earthquake, which has exacerbated their extreme poverty.

“It’s the same as with historically excluded groups: in times of disaster, they always do worse. The disaster is so severe that no one remembers these groups. On the street they are more on their own than ever,” the director of the non-governmental organisation El Caracol, Luis Hernández, told IPS.

After the earthquake, squads of 25 community workers with El Caracol, which works with street people, visited groups at risk in different Mexico City neighbourhoods.

The monitoring found that they had received food, but the services they traditionally have access to – such as preventive health care – are now unavailable to them, as these services have been reoriented to care for those affected by the deadly earthquake.

“That neglect exacerbates their vulnerability. No governmental or private institution has approached them to provide assistance. They have remained on the streets and have not been evacuated or taken to shelters,” said Hernández, who noted that many homeless people participated in the efforts to rescue people trapped in damaged buildings.

In Mexico City, 6,774 people are homeless and of these, 4,354 stay in public spaces, and 2,400 in public and private shelters, according to the Census of Homeless People in August, carried out by the Ministry of Social Development.

Of the homeless, 5,912 are men and 862 are women. The majority are between the ages of 18 and 49 and nearly 40 percent have come from other states seeking work.

IPS found at least four people on the street who had received no kind of assistance, and were wandering about without being aware of where they were or what had happened.

In recent years, organisations such as El Caracol have denounced violations of the rights of the homeless, such as eviction from bridges and avenues, without offering them alternative shelter.

Fernández and Martínez just want a decent place to live. “We want to live here…we want them to tear the house down and build housing,” said Fernandez.

Martínez, for his part, complained about the slow process of regularisation of ownership of the property. “We have already completed it and they have not given us an answer. We don’t want anything for free, we just want to be taken into account,” he said.

For Vargas, the cleaning of debris, the installation of temporary housing, the provision of basic services and a safe space for about 100 children are urgent needs.

“Perhaps given this situation they can have access to social housing. In the medium-term, what is necessary is the immediate resolution of the definition of land to build housing for these families, with accessible credits. The indigenous population are in the areas of highest risk in the city, with the worst overcrowding,” he said.

Hernández proposed developing protection policies during emergencies. “What we are worried about is that they could be evicted from their areas, unless it is due to safety issues caused by collapses or demolitions,” he said.

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Mercury Mining Awaits International Control in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/mercury-mining-awaits-international-control-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mercury-mining-awaits-international-control-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/mercury-mining-awaits-international-control-mexico/#respond Tue, 26 Sep 2017 19:30:22 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152208 For environmentalist Patricia Ruiz the only word that comes to mind is “devastating,” when describing the situation of mercury mining in her home state of Querétaro in central Mexico. “There are a large number of pits (from which the mercury is extracted), and there are the tailing ponds containing mining waste, all of which drains […]

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Artisanal gold mining in Latin America uses mercury, a practice that should be modified in countries that have ratified the international Minamata Convention for the control of this toxic metal. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Artisanal gold mining in Latin America uses mercury, a practice that should be modified in countries that have ratified the international Minamata Convention for the control of this toxic metal. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Sep 26 2017 (IPS)

For environmentalist Patricia Ruiz the only word that comes to mind is “devastating,” when describing the situation of mercury mining in her home state of Querétaro in central Mexico.

“There are a large number of pits (from which the mercury is extracted), and there are the tailing ponds containing mining waste, all of which drains into the rivers. These are people who don’t have other options, they risk their health, their family genetics. There are many people involved, who have no alternative employment,” said Ruiz, the founder of the Sierra Gorda Ecological Group.

Her non-governmental organisation is dedicated to protecting the 383,567-hectare Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, which is home to a rich ecosystem as well as100,000 people, distributed in five municipalities and 638 communities.

Querétaro and the northern state of Zacatecas have become major producers of mercury, the extraction of which is mainly in private hands and practiced without a license. The mercury is mostly exported to countries such as Bolivia and Colombia, where it is used mainly in the artisanal mining of gold.

The rise in production in Mexico was a consequence of export bans in the United States and the European Union since 2011, which prompted Mexico to step in to fill the gap.

Replacing mercury in artisanal mining is a challenge that Mexico is now facing in order to comply with the Minamata Convention, which entered into force on Aug. 16, and which will celebrate its first meeting of the Conference of the Parties in Geneva from Sept. 24-29.

The treaty prohibits new mercury mines and stipulates the phasing out of existing mines, the reduction of mercury use in a number of products and processes, the promotion of measures to curb emissions into the atmosphere and seepage into the soil and water, the regulation of artisanal and small-scale gold mining and proper management of contaminated sites.

The “Mexican Mercury Market Report”, produced in 2011 by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, estimated that there are nearly 27 million tonnes of mercury waste accumulated in mines and the chlor-alkali industry.

Primary mercury mines account for 43 percent of these deposits – some 11.75 million tons – while the secondary production of old deposits of mine waste or tailings in Zacatecas contribute another 14.9 million, and the chlor-alkali industry accounts for 240,000 tonnes in two plants.

A report by the governmental National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change (INECC), obtained by IPS, shows that eight of Mexico’s 31 states have mercury mines that feed the national trade in dental fillings, lamps and raw materials for artisanal gold mining, as well as the increasing exports.

Some 300 artisanal mercury mines operate in Querétaro, while extraction from tailings ponds is attractive due the value of amalgamated silver. Mercury mining in Querétaro is concentrated in three municipalities.

In that state, two regions, with a total of nine mining districts, contain mercury. Between 1995 and 2016, the state government supported three projects with potential mercury deposits.

In Zacatecas, four of 17 mining regions have mercury and six of 116 mining projects involve mercury exploration and exploitation.

Artisanal gold mining is active in 10 states, and more than 3,000 people work in this activity.

Mercury is obtained from cinnabar ore, which is crushed and fed into a furnace or kiln to be heated, generating toxic mercury vapor with toxic properties.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the main effect of exposure to fish and seafood contaminated by mercury in fetuses and infants is impaired neurological development. Mercury, which has
neurotoxic characteristics, accumulates in the body.

In Latin America, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and Uruguay have already ratified the Convention. But only Brazil has submitted its report to the secretariat of the mercury control treaty, as only nine other countries around the world and the European Union have done.

Measures to curb the production of mercury in other countries have turned Mexico into the second largest supplier in the world, after Indonesia. In July this country exported 75 tons to Bolivia and 9.55 to Chile, while sporadic sales were reported to Argentina, Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Panama and Paraguay.

In 2016, Bolivia was also the top destination, with 193 tons, while Colombia imported 41.5, even though it had banned the use of mercury in artisanal mining in 2013.

The coordinator of the non-governmental Center for Analysis and Action on Toxics and their Alternatives (CAATA), Fernando Bejarano, said that Mexico saw the upturn in mercury mining coming and did not take action.

“This is a social problem linked to poverty and we must treat it according to that perspective, and not only as an environmental issue. But there is no clear multisectoral approach. In the coming years production may grow even further,” the expert told IPS.

In his view, “Mexico lacks a clear policy on the handling of hazardous substances and people continue to be exposed to them.”

A report by the Federal Attorney General’s Office of Environmental Protection (Profepa), to which IPS had access, states that mining is carried out with no environmental damage mitigation or prevention of health effects.

Mines, the report adds, lack the infrastructure to prevent polluting emissions from the furnaces, and there is inadequate management of mining waste, which pollute water and soil.

Their “2015 studies on air quality and its impact in the central region of Mexico”, obtained by IPS, which assessed emissions from 83 mines, concluded that there is a risk of toxicity for workers in the mining area of Querétaro and the surrounding population, where it found high concentrations of the mineral.

INECC this year detected high concentrations of mercury in the basement of a shopping center in Zacatecas, where products for sale are stored.

For activist Patricia Ruiz, winner of at least five prizes in ecology, Mexico should work on a plan based on people´s needs.

“The semi-desert (of the region) offers possibilities. It can provide employment for many years and the mines would be shut down. It requires financial resources to be able to pay temporary employment and cover the pits,” she said.

Mexico, which anticipates designing a plan of action to modify artisanal gold mining, will have to adapt its legal framework to the Minamata Convention. It has already identified four sites and 15 communities contaminated with mercury.

“The state and municipal actors must be informed about the risks. There must be an orderly plan of transition. It is a national responsibility, we should not just wait for international resources to come,” Bejarano said.

In Geneva, CAATA and other NGOs will determine the presence of mercury in body creams from places such as Quéretaro.

Mexico is waiting for approval by the Global Environment Facility to finance a seven million dollar environmental risk reduction initiative in mining in Querétaro. At the end of the year, the government will complete an assessment of the country’s situation in this regard.

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Mexico’s Disaster Response System Severely Stretched by Quakehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/mexicos-disaster-response-system-severely-stretched-quake/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-disaster-response-system-severely-stretched-quake http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/mexicos-disaster-response-system-severely-stretched-quake/#comments Wed, 20 Sep 2017 23:51:32 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152172 Central Mexico faced Wednesday the challenge of putting itself back together after the powerful 7.1-magnitude quake that devastated the capital and the neighbouring states of Mexico, Morelos and Puebla the day before. In Mexico City the air smells of dust, destruction, death, panic and hope, brought by the quake, whose epicenter was in Morelos, 120 […]

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The Sept. 19, 2017 earthquake toppled nearly 50 buildings in Mexico City, and left many uninhabitable. Fire fighters carry out an inspection the day after in an apartment building that is still standing but will have to be demolished, in a neighbourhood in the centre of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The Sept. 19, 2017 earthquake toppled nearly 50 buildings in Mexico City, and left many uninhabitable. Fire fighters carry out an inspection the day after in an apartment building that is still standing but will have to be demolished, in a neighbourhood in the centre of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Sep 20 2017 (IPS)

Central Mexico faced Wednesday the challenge of putting itself back together after the powerful 7.1-magnitude quake that devastated the capital and the neighbouring states of Mexico, Morelos and Puebla the day before.

In Mexico City the air smells of dust, destruction, death, panic and hope, brought by the quake, whose epicenter was in Morelos, 120 km to the south of the capital. So far the official death toll is 230, with hundreds of people injured and 44 collapsed buildings in Mexico City.

“Everything is cracked, everything’s about to fall down. Now I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Verónica, who lived in a new building on the verge of collapse on the south side of the capital, told IPS with tears in her eyes.

The mother of three, who preferred not to give her last name, was living alone for the last two years. She managed to salvage a few important things, like documents, jewelry and a TV set. She is now staying with one of her daughters in another part of greater Mexico City, which has a population of nearly 22 million people.

In Mexico City, the municipalities of Benito Juárez and Cuauhtémoc – two of the 16 “delegations” into which the city is divided and which together are home to nearly one million people – were hit hardest, along with parts of the states of Morelos and Puebla.
The capital is built on a dried-up ancient lakebed, which makes it more susceptible to earthquake damage.

On Tuesday, the interior ministry declared a state of disaster in the capital and 150 municipalities in Guerrero, Morelos and Puebla that were affected by the quake, to free up funds from the National Fund for Natural Disasters (FONDEN).

Berenice Rivera works as a seamstress, and she and her co-workers were evacuated from the building as soon as the first tremors were felt. “I ran to pick my kids up at school and went home to check if everything was ok,” the mother of two told IPS.

Given the structural damage to a tall nearby building, Rivera does not believe she can continue to live in the housing complex where she lives along with some 80 neighbours. “We’re going to pull things out and see where we can move to, what else can we do?” she sighed.

Construction workers were among the first to get involved in the effort to rescue survivors, leaving the buildings where they were working and using their hands to remove rubble to find people who might be trapped underneath. It was the start of a wave of citizen solidarity and support that continues to grow along the streets and avenues of the city.

A rescue worker attempts to secure the perimeter of a building toppled by the Sept. 19, 2017 earthquake, to keep former residents from trying to get inside – something that has happened in many buildings knocked down or badly damaged by the quake in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Gody/IPS

A rescue worker attempts to secure the perimeter of a building toppled by the Sept. 19, 2017 earthquake, to keep former residents from trying to get inside – something that has happened in many buildings knocked down or badly damaged by the quake in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Gody/IPS

Just like after the 8.0-magnitude quake that left 25,000 people dead in Mexico City – according to unofficial figures – on Sept. 19, 1985, people mobilised en masse to remove rubble in the search for survivors, in a brave and often disorganised show of solidarity.

Although basic public services have been restored, economic, commercial and educational activities have come to a halt. The work is focused on finding survivors under the rubble, assessing the damage to buildings, and depending on the result, demolishing them and relocating the residents while planning the reconstruction effort.

But more buildings are at risk of collapse because of the damage suffered. In addition, the quake – which happened on the 32nd anniversary of the worst quake in the history of Mexico, during a drill on how to deal with a disaster of this kind – will have environmental and health effects.

“The situation is very difficult,” Mexican-American Juan Cota, who has been living in the capital since 2011 and works in the financial sector, told IPS. “There are damaged buildings that could collapse.”

Cota was in a café on the south-central side of the city when the quake began. His apartment survived, but some of his neighbours were not so lucky.

The Mexico City government has opened at least 41 shelters for survivors throughout the capital.

Mexico’s foreign minister, Luis Videgaray, tweeted that the United Nations would head the rescue and aid efforts.

According to its model for estimating earthquake damage, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) predicted up to 1,000 fatalities and economic losses between 100 million and one billion dollars.

The USGS stated that “Extensive damage is probable and the disaster is likely widespread. Estimated economic losses are less than 1% of GDP of Mexico. Past events with this alert level have required a national or international level response.”

The quake has further stretched the country’s disaster response system, already overwhelmed by the 8.1-magnitude quake that hit on Sept. 7, with an epicenter off the coast of the southern state of Chiapas, and which also affected the state of Oaxaca and Mexico City.

Over two million people were affected by that quake, including some 90 people who were killed, according to government statistics.

In August, the World Bank Group issued its largest ever catastrophe bond to Mexico.

The bonds are divided into three categories of insurance: Atlantic Ocean hurricanes, Pacific Ocean hurricanes and earthquakes, providing Mexico with financial protection of up to 360 million dollars against losses.

Similar bonds were issued in 2006, 2009 and 2012.

Each year, this Latin American country dedicates some 1.5 billion dollars to the reconstruction of public infrastructure and social housing affected by natural disasters. Between 2014 and 2015, FONDEN disbursed 137 million dollars to address the damage caused by hurricanes, heavy rains and flooding.

The earthquake has fanned the flames of the debate about the construction standards in force in Mexico City, which were upgraded after the 1985 tragedy. “They say they’re stricter, but look at that building. It’s new and it’s about to come down,” said Verónica.

Cota believes the standards are not always enforced, mainly because of corruption. “They ignore them…they have to be revised and enforced, because the earth will continue to shake and there will be more damage,” he said.

Tuesday’s earthquake occurred near the area where the Cocos Plate, off Mexico’s Pacific coast, is pushing underneath the North American Plate – a phenomenon that points to further quakes.

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Local Farmers and Consumers Create Short Food Supply Chains in Mexican Citieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/local-farmers-consumers-create-short-food-supply-chains-mexican-cities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=local-farmers-consumers-create-short-food-supply-chains-mexican-cities http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/local-farmers-consumers-create-short-food-supply-chains-mexican-cities/#respond Thu, 20 Jul 2017 18:51:59 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151382 Víctor Rodríguez arranges lettuce, broccoli, potatoes and herbs on a shelf with care, as he does every Sunday, preparing to serve the customers who are about to arrive at the Alternative Market of Bosque de Tlalpan, in the south of the Mexican capital. Farmers bring their organic vegetables from San Miguel Topilejo, a rural village […]

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Mauricio Rodríguez, a member of the association of Organic Vegetables’ Producers of San Miguel Topilejo "Del Campo Ololique", serves customers at his stall in the Tlalpan Alternative Market, in the south of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Mauricio Rodríguez, a member of the association of Organic Vegetables’ Producers of San Miguel Topilejo "Del Campo Ololique", serves customers at his stall in the Tlalpan Alternative Market, in the south of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jul 20 2017 (IPS)

Víctor Rodríguez arranges lettuce, broccoli, potatoes and herbs on a shelf with care, as he does every Sunday, preparing to serve the customers who are about to arrive at the Alternative Market of Bosque de Tlalpan, in the south of the Mexican capital.

Farmers bring their organic vegetables from San Miguel Topilejo, a rural village a few km away in the municipality of Tlalpan, where they grow chard, onions, radishes, beets and other produce as a group on a total of seven hectares.

Agriculture “is a family heritage handed down by our grandparents, we are the third generation, it gives us knowledge and tools for living. We farmers must continue to exist, because we form part of the food chain,“ said Rodríguez, 36, whose wife also works in the association.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, small-scale farming makes up nearly 81 per cent of agricultural holdings, provides between 27 and 67 per cent of food consumed domestically, occupies between 12 and 67 per cent of agricultural land and contributes between 57 and 77 per cent of regional agricultural employment.

He is one of eight members of the Organic Vegetables’ Producers association of San Miguel Topilejo “Del Campo Ololique”, which in the Nahuatl indigenous tongue means “place where things are well.“

Rodríguez, a father of two, says “the best thing to do was return to the roots and contribute to future generations,“ referring to the decision to engage in organic farming and create direct channels of distribution, instead of selling their crops to wholesalers, who used to pay them a pittance.

“We have made it through the hardest part, which was to keep the project alive. Now we have steady customers who want healthy products, they know what they are consuming. We have gained the trust of our customers,“ he explained.

The association emerged in 2003 and harvests some 700 kg of vegetables a week, which the members take on Sundays to the Tlalpan street market and two other alternative markets in Mexico City, and on Tuesdays to Cuernavaca, a city about 90 km south of the capital.

They also welcome visits to the farm by customers interested in seeing how they do things.

The group has added 1,000 metres of tomato greenhouses and 500 of cucumbers, thanks to a rainwater collection system that allows them to cultivate year round. They also make beet juice and ready-to-eat salads, to incorporate added value.

In Topilejo, which in Nahuatl means “he who holds the precious chieftain’s staff“ and where some 41,000 people live, the group also protects the forest and has built terraces to prevent mudslides.

The Ololique association is one of the five winners of the 2017 Fund for the Innovation of Short Agri-Food Chains, organised by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the non-governmental organisation Slow Food Mexico, which distributed some 34,000 dollars between five undertakings.

A total of 98 groups involved in sustainable commerce, eco-gastronomy and nutritional education ran in the competition held to promote traditional cuisine, agroecological food production, clean systems in small-scale agriculture, agricultural biodiversity of crops and wild species, as well as food security, sovereignty and resilience.

Short food supply chains are market mechanisms that imply a proximity between places of production and consumption, which offer products grown using sustainable agricultural practices, with fewer intermediaries and closer ties between producers and consumers.

The idea is that these mechanisms can bolster family farming, whose international year was celebrated in 2014, to promote agroecological practices, improve farmers’ incomes, protect the environment and bolster sustainable food.

“Short chains are mechanisms of commercialisation to sell directly to consumers or through only one intermediary,“ explained Mauricio García, coordinator of the Short Food Chains project in the FAO office in Mexico.

“Since the farmers know the consumers, they start growing in response to demand, and their products sell better. The consumer knows who the producers are and can see how they grow their food,“ he told IPS.

The expert said that this way “a connection“ is established that allows small-scale farmers to sell their products at a fair price and allows consumers to buy products knowing where they came from.

FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food estimate that small-scale agriculture produces 75 per cent of the country’s food. Of the more than five million farms in Mexico, over four million are family farms.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, small-scale farming makes up nearly 81 per cent of agricultural holdings, provides between 27 and 67 per cent of food consumed domestically, occupies between 12 and 67 per cent of agricultural land and contributes between 57 and 77 per cent of regional agricultural employment.

In this country of 129 million people, there are only 26 short food supply chain street markets, where farmers sell their produce directly to consumers in markets that they have set up themselves, according to the Platform of ‘Tianguis’ and Organic Markets of Mexico, and confirmed by FAO.

In 2017, the Mexican Agriculture Ministry’s Programme to Support Small-Scale Producers has a budget of 490 million dollars – a 29 per cent increase with respect to 2016.

One of the objectives of the Ministry’s 2013-2018 sectoral programme is to support the production and incomes of small-scale farmers in the poorest rural areas.

Rodríguez said that reaching more markets and consumers without intermediaries will require more support. “These projects are indispensable, because we defend agriculture, preserve our communities and protect the environment,“ he said.

The group plans to buy a solar dryer, add another four hectares of land in 2018, register their brand and design packaging and wrappers for their processed foods.

FAO and the Agriculture Ministry list some of the challenges for small-scale agriculture, such as human capital, limited capital goods and technologies, weak integration in production chains and degradation of natural resources.

They also include high vulnerability to weather shocks, low yields and serious constraints due to shortages of land and water.

García suggests a change in perspective for the public sector.

“We want strategic aspects to be financed in these projects, which already have a history and required very concrete things, in order for them to work better. They can have better products, with more added value to generate more resources and to be able to sustain their projects,“ he said.

He stressed that “these are replicable initiatives, we need to finance them, for them to thrive and to promote their replication.“

Since 2013, the more than 190 United Nations member states have been negotiating the “Declaration on the rights of peasants and other people living in rural areas.“

It addresses and promotes the rights to natural resources and to development, to participation, information about production, commercialisation and distribution, as well as to access to justice, work, and safety and health in the workplace.

In addition, it deals with rights to food and food sovereignty, to decent livelihoods and income, to land and other natural resources, to a safe, clean and healthy environment, to seeds and to biodiversity.

Meanwhile, organisations of farmers, rural associations and research centres have promoted, since 2015, that the UN declare a “Decade of Family Agriculture“.

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Mexico’s Methane Emissions Threaten the Environmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/mexicos-methane-emissions-threaten-environment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-methane-emissions-threaten-environment http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/mexicos-methane-emissions-threaten-environment/#respond Sat, 08 Jul 2017 17:27:48 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151219 Mexico is in transition towards commercial exploitation of its shale gas, which is being included in two auctions of 24 hydrocarbon blocks, at a time when the country is having difficulty preventing and reducing industrial methane emissions. Increasing atmospheric release of methane, which is far more polluting than carbon dioxide (CO2) and which is emitted […]

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Two chimney stacks (left) burning gas at the Tula refinery in the state of Tulio, adjacent to Mexico City. Burning and venting gas at facilities of the state group PEMEX increases methane emissions in Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Two chimney stacks (left) burning gas at the Tula refinery in the state of Tulio, adjacent to Mexico City. Burning and venting gas at facilities of the state group PEMEX increases methane emissions in Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jul 8 2017 (IPS)

Mexico is in transition towards commercial exploitation of its shale gas, which is being included in two auctions of 24 hydrocarbon blocks, at a time when the country is having difficulty preventing and reducing industrial methane emissions.

Increasing atmospheric release of methane, which is far more polluting than carbon dioxide (CO2) and which is emitted along the entire chain of production, is threatening the climate goals adopted by Mexico within the Paris Agreement which aims to contain global warming.

“Shale gas is the last gas that is left to exploit after reserves that are easier to access have been used up. Its production entails higher economic, environmental and energy costs. It is practically impossible for a shale gas well to be non-polluting,” researcher Luca Ferrari, of the Geosciences Institute at the state National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) told IPS.

The state-run but autonomous National Hydrocarbons Commission (CNH) issued a resolution on Jun. 22 calling for bids for the two auctions of 24 blocks of gas and oil in five basins, located in the north, southeast and south of the country. For the first time, shale gas reserves are included. Bidding will take place on Jul. 12, and total estimated reserves of 335 million barrels are being offered.

By refraining from producing non-conventional fuels (like shale gas) itself, the government is partially opening the energy sector to participation by private enterprise to supply the country’s industrial gas needs.

Mexico’s energy reform, introduced in August 2014, opened up exploitation, refining, distribution and sales of hydrocarbons, as well as electricity generation and sales, to national and foreign private sectors.

In shale gas deposits, hydrocarbon molecules are trapped in sedimentary rocks at great depths. Large quantities of a mixture of water, sand and chemical additives, which are harmful to health and the environment, have to be injected to recover shale gas and oil.

The “fracking” technique used to free shale gas and oil leave huge volumes of liquid waste that has to be treated for recycling, as well as methane emissions that are more polluting than CO2, the greenhouse gas responsible for most global warming.

Mexico, shale superpower

An analysis of 137 deposits in 41 countries by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) puts Mexico in sixth place worldwide for technically recoverable shale gas reserves, behind China, Argentina, Algeria, the United States and Canada, with reserves of 545 trillion cubic feet. The country occupies seventh place for shale oil.

However CNH quotes more moderate estimates of probable reserves, of the order of 81 trillion cubic feet.

“Current regulations are based on best practices, but the philosophy of environmental protection has been abandoned. Exploitation is deepening inequities in a negative way, such as environmental impact. It is irresponsible to auction reserves without a proper evaluation of environmental and social impacts,” researcher Ramón Torres, of UNAM’s Development Studies Programme, told IPS.

In March, the national Agency for Industrial Safety and Environmental Protection, responsible for regulating the hydrocarbons sector, published a regulatory package on exploitation and extraction of non-conventional reserves.

The regulations identify the risks of fracking fluid leaks, heightened demand for water, pollution caused by well emissions of methane and other volatile organic compounds, pollution caused by toxic substance release and by the return of injected fluid and connate water to ground level from the drill hole.

The regulations indicate that 15 to 80 percent of fracking fluid returns to the surface, depending on the well. As for atmospheric pollutants, they mention nitrogen oxides, benzene, toluene, methane and coal.

Measures are imposed on companies, such as verifying the sealing of wells, applying procedures for preventing gas leaks, and disclosing the composition of drilling fluids. Gas venting is prohibited, and burning is restricted.

Since 2003, Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) has used hydraulic fracking – applicable not only to shale extraction – to drill at least 924 wells in six of the country’s 32 states, according to CartoCritica, a non-governmental organisation. At least 28 of these were confirmed to be of non-conventional crude.

Gas emissions

Within this context, Mexico faces problems in reducing methane emissions.

In 2013 the country emitted 126 million tonnes of methane into the atmosphere, of which 54 million were from the stock rearing sector, 31 million from oil and gas, and 27 million from waste products. The rest was from electricity generation, industry and deforestation. Use of gas for electricity generation contributed at least 0.52 million tonnes.

Mexico, Latin America’s second largest economy, emitted a total of 608 million tonnes of CO2 during the same year.

Pemex Exploration and Production, a subsidiary of the state PEMEX group, reported that in 2016 its total methane emissions were 641,517 tonnes, 38 percent higher than the previous year.

Shallow water undersea extraction contributed 578,642 tonnes, land based fields 46,592 tonnes, hydrocarbon storage and distribution 10,376 tonnes, gas fields not associated with oil fields 5,848 tonnes, and non-conventional fields 57 tonnes.

In 2016, PEMEX changed the way it reported emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHG). Previously these volumes were reported by production region, making comparative analysis difficult.

In 2015, the Northeast Marine Region comprising the Gulf of Mexico, where the largest underwater oil deposits are located, emitted 287,292 tonnes.

The emissions reduction was presumably associated with reduced fossil fuel production due to a fall in international prices and PEMEX’s own lack of financial resources.

But between 2012 and 2014 emissions increased by 329 percent, leaping from 141,622 tonnes to 465,956 tonnes, presumably because of increased venting and burning of gas (whether or not associated with crude oil wells). PEMEX lacked the technology for gas recovery.

By reducing venting and burning, PEMEX was able to reduce its emissions between 2009 and 2011, after GHG emissions grew from 2007 to 2009.

In Ferrari’s view, the problem is a technical and economic one. “The first step is to prevent venting,” but that requires investment, he said.

According to the Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR) led by the World Bank, in 2015 Mexico burned 5 billion cubic metres of gas, putting it in eighth place in the world, the same as for venting intensity, the relation between cubic metres of gas burned to barrels of oil produced.

The aim of the GGFR is to eradicate such practices by 2030.

Mexico is one of 24 goverrnments participating in the initiative, together with French Guiana and Peru in the Latin American region. Thirty-one oil companies – not including PEMEX – and 15 multilateral financial institutions are also involved. The World Bank will publish its first report on burning and venting gas this year.

Torres and Ferrari agree that the volume of gas produced by hydraulic fracking will not be sufficient to satisfy domestic demand.

“The volume that can be exploited is small and insufficient,” said Torres. Ferrari’s calculations indicate that shale gas would only supply domestic needs for 10 months.

In May Mexico produced 5.3 billion cubic feet of gas per day, and imported 1.79 billion cubic feet. Meanwhile, it extracted 2.31 million barrels of crude per day.

In the same month, the Energy Ministry updated its Five Year Plan for Oil and Gas Exploration and Extraction 2015-2019 and set a new target to auction reserves of nearly 31 billion barrel equivalents of non-conventional fuels.

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Millions of Homes in Mexico Suffer from “Energy Poverty”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/millions-of-homes-in-mexico-suffer-from-energy-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=millions-of-homes-in-mexico-suffer-from-energy-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/millions-of-homes-in-mexico-suffer-from-energy-poverty/#respond Mon, 29 May 2017 18:23:18 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150643 Energy poverty afflicts millions of homes in Mexico, with many social, economic and environmental impacts for the country. These homes, located in both urban and rural areas in this Latin American country of 122 million people, have difficulty satisfying their needs for energy for cooking, lighting, heating and entertainment. “Not only is it a problem […]

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A house with a solar panel in the municipality of Tula, in Hidalgo, a state adjacent to Mexico City. Non-conventional renewable sources are considered an instrument to combat energy poverty. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A house with a solar panel in the municipality of Tula, in Hidalgo, a state adjacent to Mexico City. Non-conventional renewable sources are considered an instrument to combat energy poverty. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, May 29 2017 (IPS)

Energy poverty afflicts millions of homes in Mexico, with many social, economic and environmental impacts for the country.

These homes, located in both urban and rural areas in this Latin American country of 122 million people, have difficulty satisfying their needs for energy for cooking, lighting, heating and entertainment.

“Not only is it a problem of access, since the population needs other consumables, to cook, take a bath, for family entertainment. Access to energy is a key indicator of well-being and in this respect it is important to know how many families lack this service,” expert Boris Graizbord told IPS.“We have to regionalise the response, which requires a different combination of inputs and expenses. If we invest in solar water heaters or in other renewable energy sources, we’ll reduce spending on gas, we’ll decrease the power distribution. Those scenarios are possible if there is a decentralisation of power generation.“ -- Boris Graizbord

The academic from the Centre of Demographic, Urban and Environmental Studies at the public College of Mexico pointed out that some groups in small localities, even those who have their own incomes or remittances sent home by relatives in the United States, are unable to access natural gas or other energy sources.

The concept of energy poverty is new in Latin America, although it emerged in the 1990s in Britain, to describe the situation when a poor family spends more than10 percent of their income on energy.

But in countries such as Mexico the concept has been adapted to take into account cultural and social differences. Here the concept includes lack of access to energy, poor quality services, or energy inefficiency.

In a pioneering study, Graizbord and his colleague Roberto García, from the public College of the Northern Frontier, found that nearly 37 per cent of households –about 11 million homes– suffer from a shortage of energy in terms of “economic goods” such as thermal comfort, an efficient refrigerator or a gas or electric stove.

The study “Spatial characterisation of energy poverty in Mexico. An analysis at a subnational level,” published in 2016 in the magazine Economy, Society and Territory, found that the main factors behind the phenomenon are income level, the size of the town and of the house, and the educational level and gender of the head of the household.

This “represents a major social problem, due to the effect that the use of clean, affordable energy has on improving the quality of life and reducing poverty among the local population,” points out this study by Graizbord and García, who has worked on this issue in the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

The southern states of Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca present the highest average levels of energy poverty, as well as the highest overall poverty rates.

In Mexico, 46 per cent of the population lived in poverty in 2014, when the latest National Survey of Household Incomes and Expenditures was carried out – a rate that has likely increased since then, according to experts.

The Energy Ministry identifies the most important end uses in the residential sector as water heating, cooking, refrigerator, lighting, air conditioning/heat and entertainment.

In 2015, firewood produced 252,840 petajoules. The joule is the measuring unit for energy which equals one watt per second and estimates how much heat is necessary to carry out an activity. A petajoule represents one quadrillion (10^15) joules.

Gabriela Niño, climate change coordinator for the non-governmental organisation Polea, said there is a close link between energy poverty and its social and environmental impacts, such as the emission of polluting gases, soil degradation and deforestation.

“With biomass there is a big health risk, since people are exposed to local pollutants by burning biomass indoors,” she told IPS.

Since August 2014, Mexico has embarked on a major energy reform that opened up oil exploration, extraction, refining, transportation, distribution and sale of oil and its by-products to local and foreign private investment.

But the question remains whether these changes will result in a reduction of energy poverty, insofar as the government leaves important activities of the electricity sector in private hands, who are profit driven, and not focused on social objectives.

Also, the country has committed to the goals set by Sustainable Energy for All (SEforAll), the programme to be implemented during the United Nations 2014-2024 Decade of Sustainable Energy for All.

This global initiative intends to guarantee universal access to modern energy services, double the rate of improvement of global energy efficiency and increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

Also, like the rest of the international community, it has adopted one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals: SDG 7, which aims “to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all,” as part of the 2030 Agenda.

Graizbord proposes a response in Mexico differentiated by region, given the variations, including climatic, in different parts of the country.

“We have to regionalise the response, which requires a different combination of inputs and expenses. If we invest in solar water heaters or in other renewable energy sources, we’ll reduce spending on gas, we’ll decrease the power distribution. Those scenarios are possible if there is a decentralisation of power generation,” he said.

For Niño, addressing energy poverty poses several challenges.

“We have to research, generate indicators, identify causes and possible solutions, on how energy is generated, how it is used,” she said.

In her opinion, “the democratisation of energy should also be promoted, the government should generate actions that respond to a public policy objective, focused on access to new technologies, such as solar panels, for people who are isolated from the grid or who are not able to produce their own power or meet their needs.”

In Latin America and the Caribbean, 97 per cent of the population has access to energy. This means that 23 million people still lack electricity, according to data from late 2016 of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Nevertheless, the IDB predicts that this will be the first developing region to achieve universal energy access.

In Mexico, more than two million people have no electricity. According to the IDB, the countries in the region with the largest proportion of the population lacking energy access are Haiti – where only 40 percent have electricity – Honduras, Peru, and Mexico.

Meanwhile, leading the region in terms of greatest access are Uruguay, Costa Rica and Chile, in that order.

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Poor Rural Communities in Mexico Receive a Boost to Support Themselveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/poor-rural-communities-in-mexico-receive-a-boost-to-support-themselves/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poor-rural-communities-in-mexico-receive-a-boost-to-support-themselves http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/poor-rural-communities-in-mexico-receive-a-boost-to-support-themselves/#comments Thu, 11 May 2017 22:12:30 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150390 Jilder Morales, a small farmer in Mexico, looks proudly at the young avocado trees that are already over one metre high on her ejido – or communal – land, which already have small green fruit. “These were little-used lands. Now the people see that they can be worked. We seek a balance between a nutritional […]

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Jilder Morales tends to a young avocado plant on her plot of land within the ejido, where 55 farmers got together in 2014 to farm and improve their diet and incomes, in the poor farming town of Santa Ana Coatepec in southern Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Jilder Morales tends to a young avocado plant on her plot of land within the ejido, where 55 farmers got together in 2014 to farm and improve their diet and incomes, in the poor farming town of Santa Ana Coatepec in southern Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
HUAQUECHULA, Mexico, May 11 2017 (IPS)

Jilder Morales, a small farmer in Mexico, looks proudly at the young avocado trees that are already over one metre high on her ejido – or communal – land, which already have small green fruit.

“These were little-used lands. Now the people see that they can be worked. We seek a balance between a nutritional diet and an income, producing healthy food that brings in a profit,” said Morales, who told IPS that she starts her day as soon as the sun comes out, checking on her avocado trees, trimming her plants, applying fertiliser and making organic compost.

She is a member of the “Santa Ana for Production” association in the town of Santa Ana Coatepec, in the municipality of Huaquechula, in the southeastern state of Puebla, some 170 km south of Mexico City.

On August 2015, these small-scale producers planted avocado trees on 44 hectares of land in the ejido of El Tejonal, where 265 hectares belong to 215 ejido members. Of these, 55 are currently members of the association, which is close to achieving gender equality, with 29 men and 26 women, who play an especially important role.“It is a strategy to articulate other programmes, whose coordinated actions will generate greater impacts. PESA offers productive opportunities seeking to increase food production, while respecting natural resources, and improving the diet and health of the local population.” -- Fernando Soto

Each member was initially given 32 plants on the ejido, which is public land allocated for collective use – a widespread traditional system in rural Mexico.

The initiative is part of Mexico´s Strategic Programme for Food Security (PESA).

This programme, created globally by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 1994, was adopted by the Mexican government in 2002, and has been implemented since 2011 by the Agriculture Ministry together with the U.N. agency.

The aim is improving agricultural production and the diet and income of poor rural families and communities, such as Santa Ana Coatepec, in order to strengthen food security and help them gradually overcome poverty.

The association raises poultry to sell its meat and eggs, in addition to planting avocadoes, maize, sorghum and different vegetables. They also raise tilapia, a fish used widely in aquaculture in Mexico and other Latin American countries.

Santa Ana for Production was founded in 2014, together with the Community Foundation, one of the 25 rural development agencies (ADR) in Puebla implementing the PESA, which only supports groups of small-scale farmers and not individuals.

Last year, the Agriculture Ministry hired 305 ADRs in the 32 states (plus the capital district) into which Mexico is divided, to carry out the programme in selected low-income rural areas.

“Women who participate have the personal satisfaction that we ourselves are producing, that we are the workers,“ said Morales, a single woman with no children.

The group has been trained in fish farming techniques, agroecological practices, and nutrition, to produce their own food and to know what to eat. The first production goal is self-sufficiency, and the surplus production is sold or traded with local residents.

Santa Ana Coatepec, population 1,147, was chosen by FAO and the Mexican government to participate in PESA, due to the high poverty rate.

The Ministry of Social Development and the National Council of Assessment of Social Development Policies reported in 2015 that 80 per cent of the population in Huaquechula, population 26,514, lived in poverty, while 30 per cent lived in conditions of extreme poverty.

María Aparicio (front) feeds the tilapia in the tank that her association built thanks to the support and training by PESA, an association of small-scale producers in Santa Ana Coatepec, in the southern Mexican state of Puebla. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

María Aparicio (front) feeds the tilapia in the tank that her association built thanks to the support and training by PESA, an association of small-scale producers in Santa Ana Coatepec, in the southern Mexican state of Puebla. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The state of Puebla has the fourth largest number of ADRs, after Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas – the poorest states in Mexico.

María Aparicio, a married mother of three, knew nothing about fish farming, but became an expert thanks to the project, which has financed the association’s initiatives with a total of 263,000 dollars.

“We are creating knowledge for the region (of Puebla), for people to know how to raise tilapia,“ she told IPS.

First, the association installed a tank four metres deep, with a capacity of 4,500 cubic metres of water, obtained from the El Amate spring, 1.6 km from the town.

They laid a pipeline from the spring to the tanks, using the water also to irrigate the avocado trees, and maize and sorghum crops. The works took three months. The members pay 0.26 dollars per hour of water use.

The association raises Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), from the southeastern state of Veracruz, and so far have produced 1.6 tons of fish. Tilapia grows to 350 grams in five months, when it is big enough to be sold.

The fish farmers sell the fish at about four dollars per kilogram, with a production cost of about 1.8 dollars for each fish.

In June 2016, they installed three more tanks that are one metre deep and have a volume of 28 cubic metres, to raise “Rocky Mountain White” tilapia, a light-colored hybrid breed, investing 105 dollars. But in March they produced only 90 kilograms, much less than expected.

“We’re going to raise grey tilapia now. Our goal is to farm some 5,000 fish“ during each production cycle, said Aparicio, who returned to live in her town after working as an undocumented immigrant in the United States.

The group created a savings fund, fed by the profits of their different undertakings, to finance and expand their projects.

For Fernando Soto, FAO representative in Mexico, PESA generates “positive results“ of different types.

“It is a strategy to articulate other programmes, whose coordinated actions will generate greater impacts. PESA offers productive opportunities seeking to increase food production, while respecting natural resources, and improving the diet and health of the local population,” he told IPS in Mexico City.

These days, with the arrival of the first rains, the farmers have begun to prepare the land to plant maize and sorghum.

Watching their avocado trees and tilapia grow, the members of the association have new hopes for their future. “We will have food security, and we will generate employment,” said Morales.

“I see this and I cannot believe it. Soon all this will be full of plants and then we will harvest,” said Aparicio, looking at the avocado plantation with a hopeful expression.

PESA still has a long way ahead. An internal FAO report carried out in January stressed the importance of studying the factors that affect the survival and performance of the ADRs that support farmers at a local level, not only with quantitative measurements, but also with qualitative studies.

This study found that 270 ADRs do not register community promoters, 120 lack administrative staff, and 65 report no members.

“A higher chance of survival for the agencies and better prospects of stability in the employees’ jobs would have positive effects on the programme´s impact,” the document says.

Soto suggested promoting programmes to increase productivity in the southern and southeastern regions, strengthen the well-being and capacities of local people, contribute to preserving environmental assets, expand coverage under urban development systems, and strengthen productive infrastructure and regional connecting services.

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Expansion of Renewable Energies in Mexico Has Victims, Toohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/expansion-of-renewable-energies-in-mexico-has-victims/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=expansion-of-renewable-energies-in-mexico-has-victims http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/expansion-of-renewable-energies-in-mexico-has-victims/#respond Fri, 17 Feb 2017 22:34:19 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149013 The growing number of wind and solar power projects in the southern Mexican state of Yucatán are part of a positive change in Mexico’s energy mix. But affected communities do not see it in the same way, due to the fact that they are not informed or consulted, and because of how the phenomenon changes […]

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In Mexico, wind farms spark controversy due to complaints of unfair treatment, land dispossession, lack of free, prior and informed consent and exclusion from the electricity generated. In the photo, wind turbines frame the horizon of the northern city of Zacatecas. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In Mexico, wind farms spark controversy due to complaints of unfair treatment, land dispossession, lack of free, prior and informed consent and exclusion from the electricity generated. In the photo, wind turbines frame the horizon of the northern city of Zacatecas. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
KIMBILÁ, Mexico, Feb 17 2017 (IPS)

The growing number of wind and solar power projects in the southern Mexican state of Yucatán are part of a positive change in Mexico’s energy mix. But affected communities do not see it in the same way, due to the fact that they are not informed or consulted, and because of how the phenomenon changes their lives.

“We have no information. We have some doubts, some people say it’s good and some say it’s bad. We have heard what is said in other states,” small farmer Luis Miguel, a Mayan Indian, told IPS.

He lives in Kimbilá, a town in the municipality of Izmal, which is the site of an up-to-now failed private wind power venture that has been blocked by opposition from the area’s 3,600 inhabitants and in particular from the ejido or communal land where the wind farm was to be installed.“There is a lack of information going to the communities, who don’t know the scope of the contracts; (the companies and authorities) don’t explain to them the problems that are going to arise. Conflicts are generated, and manipulation is used to get the permits. Social engineering is used to divide the communities.” -- Romel González

“We fear that they will damage our crops,” said Miguel, whose father is one of the 573 members of the Kimbilá ejido, located in the Yucatán Peninsula, 1,350 km southeast of Mexico City.

The questioned project, run by the Spanish company Elecnor, includes the installation of 50 wind turbines with a capacity of 159 MW per year.

The company installed an anemometric tower in 2014, but the local population, who grow maize and garden vegetables, raise small livestock and produce honey for a living, did not find out about the project until January 2016.

Since then, the ejido has held two assemblies and cancelled another, without reaching an agreement to approve a 25-year lease on the lands needed for the wind farm.

Meanwhile, in February 2016, the members of the ejido filed a complaint against the Procuraduría Agraria – the federal agency in charge of protecting rural land – accusing it of defending the interests of the company by promoting community assemblies that were against the law.

The wind farm is to have an operating life of 30 years, including the preparatory phase, construction and operation, and it needs 77 hectares of the 5,000 in the ejido.

The company offered between five and 970 dollars per hectare, depending on the utility of the land for a wind farm, a proposition that caused unrest among the ejido members. It would also give them 1.3 per cent of the turnover for the power generated. But the electricity would not be used to meet local demand.

“We haven’t been given any information. This is not in the best interests of those who work the land. They are going to destroy the vegetation and 30 years is a long time,” beekeeper Victoriano Canmex told IPS.
This indigenous member of the ejido expressed his concern over the potential harm to the bees, “because new roadswould be opened with heavy machinery. They said that they would relocate the apiaries but they know nothing about beekeeping. It’s not fair, we are going to be left with nothing,” he said.

Canmex, who has eight apiaries,checks the beehives twice a week, together with four of his six children. He collects about 25 30-kg barrels of honey, which ends up on European tables. Yucatan honey is highly appreciated in the world, for its quality and organic nature.

Luis Miguel, a Mayan farmer from Kimbilá, in the southeastern state of Yucatán, Mexico, fears that the installation of a wind farm in his community will damage local crops of corn and vegetables.  Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Luis Miguel, a Mayan farmer from Kimbilá, in the southeastern state of Yucatán, Mexico, fears that the installation of a wind farm in his community will damage local crops of corn and vegetables. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Yucatán, part of the ancient Mayan empire, where a large part of the population is still indigenous, has become a new energy frontier in Mexico, due to its great potential in wind and solar power.

This state adopted the goal of using 9.3 per cent non-conventional renewable energies by 2018. In Yucatán, the incorporation per year of new generation capacity should total 1,408 MW by 2030.

Leaving out the big hydropower plants, other renewable sources account for just eight per cent of the electricity produced in Mexico. According to official figures, in December 2016, hydropower had an installed capacity of 12,092 MW, geothermal 873 MW, wind power 699 MW, and photovoltaic solar power, six MW.

According to the Mexican Wind Energy Association, which represents the industry, in Mexico there are at least 31 wind farms located in nine states, with a total installed capacity of 3,527 MW of clean energy for the northeast, west, south and southeast regions of this country of 122 million people.

Besides the lack of information, and of free, prior and informed consent, as the law and international conventions require, indigenous people complain about impacts on migratory birds, rise in temperatures in areas with solar panels and water pollution caused by leaks from wind towers.

For Romel González, a member of the non-governmental Regional Indigenous and Popular Council of Xpujil, a town in the neighboring state of Campeche, the process of energy development has legal loopholes that have to do with superficial contracts and environmental impact studies.

“There is a lack of information for the communities, who don’t know the scope of the contracts; (the companies and authorities) don’t explain to them the problems that are going to arise. Conflicts are generated, and manipulation is used to get the permits. Social engineering is used to divide the communities,” González told IPS.

He said that in the region, there are “previously untapped” natural resources that are attracting attention from those interested in stripping the communities of these resources.

The state is experiencing a clean energy boom, with plans for five solar plants, with a total capacity of 536 MW, and five wind farms, with a combined capacity of 256 MW. The concessions for the projects, which are to operate until 2030, have already been awarded to local and foreign companies.

In the first national power generation auction organised by the government in March 2016, four wind power and five solar power projects won, while in the second one, the following September, two new wind projects were chosen.

The change in the electricity mix is based on Mexico’s energy reform, in force since August 2014, which opened the industry to national and international private capital.

Local authorities project that by 2018, wind power generation will amount to 6,099 MW, including 478 from Yucatán, with the total increasing two years later to 12,823 MW, including 2,227 MW from this state.

Yucatán will draw a projected 52 million dollars in investment to this end in 2017 and 1.58 billion in 2018.

The Electricity Industry Law, in effect since 2014, stipulates that each project requires a social impact assessment. But opponents of the wind power projects have no knowledge of any assessment carried out in the state, while there is only evidence of two public consultations with affected communities, in the case of two wind farms.

“The electricity will not be for us and we don’t know what will happen later (once the wind farm is installed). That is why we have our doubts,” said Miguel.

People in Yucatán do not want to replicate the “Oaxaca model”. That is the southern state which has the largest number of wind farms, which have drawn many accusations of unfair treatment, land dispossession and lack of free, prior and informed consent.

“The authorities want to do this by all means, they are just trying to get these projects approved,” said Canmex.

González criticised the government for failing to require assessments. “We have asked for them and the government has responded that there aren’t any. The community response to the projects will depend on their level of awareness and social organisation. Some communities will react too late, when the project is already underway,” he said.

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Social Networks in Mexico Both Fuel and Fight Discontenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/social-networks-in-mexico-both-fuel-and-fight-discontent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=social-networks-in-mexico-both-fuel-and-fight-discontent http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/social-networks-in-mexico-both-fuel-and-fight-discontent/#respond Thu, 19 Jan 2017 19:38:01 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148584 The scene in the video is simple: a bearded man with a determined look on his face sitting in front of a white wall witha portrait of Emiliano Zapata, symbol of the Mexican revolution. “Mexicans to the battle cry, the moment has come to overthrow the corrupt political system we are under, it is now […]

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The social networks have played an important role in citizens’ initiatives to organise protests against the gas price hike in Mexico and in the government’s strategy to curb cyber-activism. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The social networks have played an important role in citizens’ initiatives to organise protests against the gas price hike in Mexico and in the government’s strategy to curb cyber-activism. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jan 19 2017 (IPS)

The scene in the video is simple: a bearded man with a determined look on his face sitting in front of a white wall witha portrait of Emiliano Zapata, symbol of the Mexican revolution.

“Mexicans to the battle cry, the moment has come to overthrow the corrupt political system we are under, it is now or never. We will show what we are made of. With just two steps we will be able to write a new history, which our children and grandchildren will also enjoy,” lawyer Amín Cholác says emphatically.

In the video titled “Mexicans to the cry of: Peña out!,” Cholác urges people to take part in demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience against the rise in fuel prices adopted Jan. 1 by the government of conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto.

“I made this video because we cannot stand it anymore, this country cannot take it any longer,” the founder of the non-governmental organisation Dos Valles Valientes, who lives in the southern state of Chiapas, told IPS.

The video has thousands of views on Youtube, and in other video networks, and has also spread over Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp.

“It has been well received, people from all over the country have joined, they have communicated via social networks or by phone. But I have also been threatened, they put an image of hitmen, they insulted my mother, but if I had been scared, I wouldn’t have done it,” said Cholác.

The activist, whose organisation fights increases in electricity rates, said “the networks are a double-edged sword. They have worked extraordinarily well for us, because they are very accessible and cheap. Whatsapp reaches every corner, as do text messages.”

But activists are also threatened through the networks, said Cholác, whose Facebook account was cloned twice. “I opened another one, and I promised myself that for every Facebook account that was cloned, I would open three,” he said.

The video’s wide dissemination reflects the growing use of the Internet in Mexico to drive political and social movements, such as the resistance to fuel price increases. But the social networks also serve to promote counter-attacks against citizen initiatives by the political powers-that-be and the spreading of misinformation and propaganda by the other side.

The up to 20 per cent hike in fuel prices unleashed the latent social discontent, with dozens of protests, looting of shops, roadblocks, and blockades of border crossings throughout the country, as well as a wave of lawsuits filed by trade unions and organisations of farmers, students and shopkeepers.

The simultaneous price rises for fuel, electricity and cooking gas were a spark in a climate of discontent over the public perception of growing impunity, corruption and social inequality.

The protests, which have waned somewhat but show no signs of stopping, have led to at least six deaths, the arrests of 1,500 people, and the looting of dozens of stores.

 Topics addressed by accounts implicated in the dissemination of fear messages in the social networks to neutralise the protests against the fuel price hikes in Mexico, which were also promoted over the same networks.  Credit: Courtesy of Rossana Reguillo


Topics addressed by accounts implicated in the dissemination of fear messages in the social networks to neutralise the protests against the fuel price hikes in Mexico, which were also promoted over the same networks. Credit: Courtesy of Rossana Reguillo

“The protests in response to the price rises arose from spontaneous calls disseminated on WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter. A call started to circulate for people to not fill their gas tanks for three days, and around new year’s day the calls for protests started, mainly along the border,” said Alberto Escorcia, with the group Loquesigue TV.

On Jan. 4, the group published an analysis of the rumours and calls to violence, which were fed by 650 Twitter accounts and more than 7,600 messages – allegedly false accounts used to fight back against the protests.

As a result of the group’s publications, Escorcia received threats, he told IPS.

According to a study carried out last year, in 2015 Internet penetration in Mexico was 59 per cent, in a population of 122 million, in spite of there being almost one mobile phone per inhabitant. This is an indication of the relative power of digital democracy in this country.

Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Twitter are the social networks preferred by Mexicans.

“Between Jan. 2 and 3 the ‘gasolinazo’ (the price rise) was going to be an important trending topic, because it is a noble theme, in the sense that it attracts a variety of sectors and affects society as a whole,” expert Rossana Reguillo told IPS.

“But on Jan. 4, the countertrend started. ‘Bots’ and ‘trolls’ gained visibility, giving rise to other trends. The (protests against the) gasolinazo started to lose ground,” said Reguillo, the head of the interdisciplinary laboratory Signa Lab, at the private Western Institute of Technology and Higher Education.

The lab examined Twitter and detected more than 10,000 accounts involved in the dissemination of some 15,000 messages aimed at neutralising the social unrest. Standing out in this effort were the online groups Legión Hulk and SomosSecta100tifika (which translates into ‘We are a scientific sect‘). The latter promotes the trending topic #GolpeDeEstadoMx (Pro Coup D’etat Mexico).

This counteroffensive shows how the citizens‘ online mobilisation triggers a response from the powers under attack, as well as threats against activists, such as the ones received by Cholác and Escorcia.

“We have found a pattern of fear-mongering and anonymous calls similar to what we saw ahead of the inauguration of Peña Nieto (in December 2012), when weeks before, rumours of looting began to circulate,” said Escorcia.

In his opinion, “this time there was greater damage, because the fear of going out and the encouragement for people to get involved in the looting spread from the web to the streets,” he said.

A precedent to this was the reaction sparked by the notorious quote by then Attorney-General Jesús Murillo, who said “I´ve had enough“ in November 2014, referring to the unresolved case of the forced disappearance in September of that year of 43 student teachers in Ayotzinapa, in the southern state of Guerrero.

That expression generated the trending topic on Twitter #YaMeCansé (“I‘ve had enough“), as well as an attempt to neutralise it.

A study “On the influence of social bots in online protests; Preliminary findings of a Mexican case study“, published last September by academics from Mexico and the United States, concluded that there was an important presence of bots, which simulate human beings, affecting discussions online about the case of the missing students.

This phenomenon is widespread, and in Latin America the experts consulted by IPS mention in particular the case of Brazil, during the lengthy process that lead to former president Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment and removal from office, in August 2016.

Their hypothesis is that companies dedicated to these services work for governments and political parties to silence online dissent.

In the case of Mexico, Escorcia said “there are companies that generate anything from online attacks to fake news items and political campaigns, which have worked for all kinds of organisations: left-wing, right-wing, and obviously for the PRI,” the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party.

For Reguillo, who has also been a victim of social network attacks on several occasions, the main question is who is behind this cyber activity.

“There is money involved here, it’s not a group of young people who say ‘let‘s crash the web‘. There is a clear strategy to silence debate, to invade the public space and turn Twitter into a battlefield. They destabilise the space for discussion,” she commented.

“Nobody can stop this. People have become aware and are protesting,” said Cholác, who is calling for mass demonstrations on Feb. 5.

Another fuel price hike scheduled for early February will spark further online battles.

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