Inter Press Service » Active Citizens http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 29 Apr 2017 23:38:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.17 New Generation Rallies to Climate Cause in Trinidadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/new-generation-rallies-to-climate-cause-in-trinidad/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-generation-rallies-to-climate-cause-in-trinidad http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/new-generation-rallies-to-climate-cause-in-trinidad/#comments Wed, 26 Apr 2017 20:28:20 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150167 Marchers form a heart shape at the 2015 climate marc, in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, organised by youth activists from IAMovement. Credit: IAMovement

Marchers form a heart shape at the 2015 climate march, in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, organised by youth activists from IAMovement. Credit: IAMovement

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Apr 26 2017 (IPS)

As two environmental activist groups in Trinidad and Tobago powered by young volunteers prepare to ramp up their climate change and sustainability activism, they are also contemplating their own sustainability and how they can become viable over the long-term.

IAMovement and New Fire Festival both began their environmental activism in earnest less than three years ago.“Young people are really inspired by the festival and they got involved willingly, just to be a part of it because there is a feeling that it is needed.” --Gerry Williams

IAMovement captured the Trinidadian public’s imagination with its climate change march in 2014 and the iconic heart shape formed by 150 marchers who joined them, an emblem reprised by the 450 who joined IAMovement in 2015 in the country’s capital city of Port-of-Spain for the march that coincided with COP21 in Paris.

For the group’s first event in 2014, timed to coincide with the rallies being held worldwide during UN climate talks in New York, “people came, interested, but not sure what to expect. But from the beginning the conversation was very positive about what we can do and the solutions available to us,” said IAMovement’s Managing Director Jonathan Barcant.

New Fire Festival, run by the NGO T&T Bridge Initiative, began its engagement with climate change activism in 2016 with the launch of an ecologically sustainable music festival that emphasises reducing, reusing, and sustaining. This followed a successful run as organisers of an underground music festival designed to give more exposure to talented but marginalised artists and musicians.

Founder of New Fire Festival, Gerry Williams said, “We decided we needed to do something a bit more impactful…It’s more than just an entertainment event. It is based on the transformational festival model.”

Since their launch, both organisations are seeing more and more young people rallying to their side and offering to work as volunteers. “We have had about 50 volunteers over the last three years, and we have a growing list of people who are interested [in volunteering],” Barcant said.

Williams likewise said, “It’s really a small team of people who came together to make it happen. This generation is basically expecting, hoping, longing for something new to happen on our landscape. Many people said they had always dreamed of doing something like this or being part of it. A lot of it is volunteer work.

“Young people are really inspired by the festival and they got involved willingly, just to be a part of it because there is a feeling that it is needed.”

This groundswell of support has incited New Fire Festival and IAMovement to want to move their organisations to another level, as they make ever more ambitious plans to engage with climate change activism and environmental sustainability issues. But to ensure the long-term viability of their organisations and their plans, they are interested in providing proper remuneration to those who work on their projects.

“One reason we are restructuring is because we got so many requests to volunteer now, that I can finally say we have the capacity to do so,” Barcant said. IAMovement operates “as a full grassroots non-profit. This is the first year we are getting real funding where we can pay a project coordinator.

“As young people giving more and more of ourselves we need to look at sustainable growth if we are going to keep growing. As the demands grow, as more and more work is required of us, we need to be paid as well.” He said the plan was to “have people with full salaries to coordinate projects. Up to now it has been totally voluntary.”

In similar vein, Williams of New Fire Festival observed, “I do not get a salary from the organisation or from New Fire Festival. This year we have only managed to break even to cover our costs. Last year, we had to dip into our pockets.

“Because it is a non-profit, even when the festival is eventually earning profits we will have an obligation to treat with that money a certain way. It’s not that we can pocket it or give to shareholders,” he said. For this reason, the NGO behind New Fire Festival is preparing to launch a for-profit enterprise using discarded shipping pallets to make fine furniture.

IAMovement is raising revenue through donations on its Web site, funding from European embassies operating in Trinidad and Tobago, grants from multinational agencies, as well as crowdfunding to cover the cost of its environmental projects. The organisers of New Fire Festival are also interested in launching a business that would green events for event organisers.

The year has begun on a high note for both organisations. IAMovement is in the process of hosting a series of 40 climate talks at schools and other venues, where their low-budget film on climate change, entitled “Small Change”, will be shown.

The film was shown at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival last year and will be screened at other festivals, including the National Film Festival for Talented Youth, described as “one of the world’s largest and most influential festivals for emerging filmmakers.” It was created by IAMovement member, 23-year-old Dylon Quesnel.

The film presents IAMovement’s argument that Trinidad and Tobago can derive major social and economic benefits by moving away from an economy based on fossil fuels to one based on renewable energy and care of the environment.

IAMovement will also be planting the country’s first edible roof on the Ministry of Education building, which was designed to accommodate such a project.

New Fire Festival concluded the second edition of its annual festival early in April. The festival was held in the lush surroundings of Santa Cruz in Trinidad’s famous Northern Range and attracted approximately 2,000 paying visitors, nearly three times the attendance in 2016, its first year.

At the festival, visitors were given access to workshops on eco-sustainability topics. They were also discouraged from entering the festival with disposable water bottles. “We do our best to avoid disposables. Even where we use disposable items they are compost-type items,” Williams said.

“Consumption is one of the biggest drivers of climate change. We have to alter our consumption habits,” he said. “We hope that the festival will be an inspiring experience to all…that outside of the festival and having fun they will incorporate some of it into their lives.”

Thirty-two-year-old Sasha Belton, who attended IAMovement’s climate talk and film showing at MovieTowne in March, said, “It definitely raised awareness, made you realise how much you take for granted…It inspired me to be more aware of my own actions and how you should be [environmentally responsible] recycling and sharing information with others.”

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No Trace of the Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/no-trace-of-the-nicaraguan-interoceanic-canal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-trace-of-the-nicaraguan-interoceanic-canal http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/no-trace-of-the-nicaraguan-interoceanic-canal/#comments Tue, 25 Apr 2017 23:40:11 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150149 In April 2017, three years after this road was created to mark the official start of the construction of the Great Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal in Brito, on the country’s Pacific ocean western coast, it remains unpaved, and is only used by horses from nearby farms. Credit: José Adán Silva/ IPS

In April 2017, three years after this road was created to mark the official start of the construction of the Great Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal in Brito, on the country’s Pacific ocean western coast, it remains unpaved, and is only used by horses from nearby farms. Credit: José Adán Silva/ IPS

By José Adán Silva
PUNTA GORDA/BRITO, Nicaragua, Apr 25 2017 (IPS)

Less than three years from the projected completion in Nicaragua of a canal running from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, there is no trace of progress on the mega-project.

IPS traveled to both ends of the routet: Bluefields, on the Caribbean coast in eastern Nicaragua, 383 km from Managua, and Brito, on the Pacific coast in the southern department of Rivas, 112 km from the capital.

In the South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, IPS traveled by boat from Bluefields, the regional capital, to the town of Punta Gorda to the south.“About two years ago, foreigners used to come and travel around by helicopter and boat from the mouth of the Punta Gorda River all the way upstream. They were escorted by the army and would not talk with anyone, but they have not returned." -- Anonymous indigenous leader

There are 365 small scattered indigenous settlements along the banks of the rivers, in a region divided into two sectors: the Southern Triangle, facing the sea, and the Daniel Guido Development Pole, along the banks of the Punta Gorda River – the Caribbean extreme of the projected canal.

According to the plans of the Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKND) group, in charge of the project to build the Great Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal, in this sparsely populated jungle area bordering the territory of the Rama indigenous people, a deep-water harbour must be built, as well as the first locks on the Caribbean end for the ships that cross to or from the Atlantic Ocean.

The entire Great Canal project, according to HKND, is to include six sub-projects: the canal, the locks, two harbours, a free trade zone, tourist centres, an international airport, and several roads.

Other connected works are a hydroelectric power plant, a cement factory, and other related industrial facilities to ensure the supply of materials and the successful completion of the canal in five years, counting from 2014, when the project officially got underway.

But in Punta Gorda there are no infrastructure works, no HKND offices, and among the local population nobody is willing to openly talk about the subject.

“The silence is a matter of caution, people think you might be a government agent,” a local indigenous leader of the Rama and Kriol Territorial Government (GTR-K), an autonomous organisation of indigenous communities that own the lands that will be affected by the canal, told IPS on condition of anonymity.

In the days prior to IPS’ visit to the region, army troops and the police carried out operations against drug trafficking, and there was an overall sense of apprehension.

The members of the GTR-K are divided between supporting and opposing the project, but negotiations with the government representatives have been tense and conflict-ridden, to the extent that complaints by the local indigenous people demanding respect for their ancestral lands have reached the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

“About two years ago, foreigners used to come and travel around by helicopter and boat from the mouth of the Punta Gorda River all the way upstream. They were escorted by the army and would not talk with anyone, but they have not returned,” said the indigenous leader of this remote territory that can only be accessed by boat or helicopter.

Silence on the subject is not just found among the locals. There is no talk anymore at a government level about what was once a highly touted project.

Fishermen and stevedores on one of the docks on the Punta Gorda River, near where it runs into the Caribbean Sea, the projected Caribbean extreme of the interoceanic canal, where local residents have not seen any visible sign of progress on the works officially launched more than two years ago. Credit: José Adán Silva/ IPS

Fishermen and stevedores on one of the docks on the Punta Gorda River, near where it runs into the Caribbean Sea, the projected Caribbean extreme of the interoceanic canal, where local residents have not seen any visible sign of progress on the works officially launched more than two years ago. Credit: José Adán Silva/ IPS

However, Vice President Rosario Murillo, the chief spokesperson of the government of her husband Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua since 2007, announced this month that with Taiwan’s support, a deep-water harbour, not connected to the plan for the canal, would be built in the same area with an investment that has not yet been revealed.

María Luisa Acosta, coordinator of the Legal Aid Centre for Indigenous Peoples, told IPS that the Special Law for the Development of Infrastructure and Transportation in Nicaragua Relating to the Canal, Free-Trade Areas and Associated Infrastructure, known as Law 840, was passed in June 2013 without consulting local indigenous and black communities.

A year later, on July 7, 2014, HKND and the Nicaraguan government announced the route that had been chosen for the canal, running from the Rivas Isthmus across Lake Cocibolca, also known as Lake Nicaragua, to Punta Gorda.

The route would negatively affect the indigenous communities of Salinas de Nahualapa, Nancimí, Veracruz del Zapotal, Urbaite de las Pilas and San Jorge Nicaraocalí, along the Pacific, while in the Caribbean region it would impact the Creole communities of Monkey Point and Punta Gorda, as well as the Rama people of Wiring Kay, Punta de Águila and Bangkukuk Tai, home to the last speakers of the Rama language.

According to leaders of different indigenous communities, government representatives began to pressure them to give their consent over their lands to allow the canal to be built, giving rise to a still lingering conflict.

The canal is to be 278 km in length – including a 105-km stretch across Lake Cocibolca – 520 metres wide and up to 30 metres deep.

It was to be built by the end of 2019, at a cost of over 50 billion dollars – more than four times the GDP of this Central American country of 6.2 million people, 40 per cent of whom live in poverty.

The construction of a harbour, the western locks and a tourist complex is projected in Brito, a town on the Pacific coast in the municipality of Tola.

The town is named after the Brito River, a natural tributary of Lake Cocibolca, which winds through the isthmus until flowing into the Pacific Ocean. The works were officially inaugurated in Brito in December 2014.

The president of HKND, Wang Jing, together with Nicaraguan government officials, appeared in the media next to the construction equipment to inaugurate the work on a 13-km highway, which would be used to bring in the heavy machinery to build the initial infrastructure.

It was the last time Wang was seen in public in Nicaragua.

There is no new paved highway, just a dirt road which in winter is difficult to travel because it turns into a muddy track.

No heavy machinery is in sight, or vehicular traffic, workers or engineering staff.

Here, as in Punta Gorda, people avoid talking about the canal, and if they do it is on condition of anonymity and in a low voice.

“In Rivas we drove out the Chinese with stones when they tried to come to measure the houses, and after that, the police harassed us. They disguised themselves as civilians – as doctors, vendors and even priests, to see if we were participating in the protests,” said one local resident in Brito, who was referring to the 87 protest demonstrations held against the canal in Nicaragua.

In Managua, Telémaco Talavera, the spokesman for the state Commission of the Great Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal, said briefly to a small group of journalists, including IPS, that studies on the canal continue and that “the project is moving ahead as planned.”

However, Vice President Murillo announced in January that a 138-km coastal highway would be built along the Rivas Isthmus, to cater to the tourism industry and improve transportation, at a cost of 120 million dollars – with no mention of the canal.

One month later, government machinery was moved to Rivas to begin building the road where the canal was supposed to go.

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Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Coast Improves Readiness for Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/nicaraguas-south-caribbean-coast-improves-readiness-for-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nicaraguas-south-caribbean-coast-improves-readiness-for-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/nicaraguas-south-caribbean-coast-improves-readiness-for-climate-change/#comments Sat, 22 Apr 2017 01:41:32 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150081 A dock in the coastal community of Laguna de Perlas, in the municipality of Bluefields, which owes its name to its location along the longest coastal lagoon in Nicaragua, 40 km north of the city. Coexistence with maritime, river or lake water is part of life in the South Caribbean Region, but climate change is compelling the local population to make changes. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

A dock in the coastal community of Laguna de Perlas, in the municipality of Bluefields, which owes its name to its location along the longest coastal lagoon in Nicaragua, 40 km north of the city. Coexistence with maritime, river or lake water is part of life in the South Caribbean Region, but climate change is compelling the local population to make changes. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

By José Adán Silva
BLUEFIELDS, Nicaragua , Apr 22 2017 (IPS)

The effects of climate change have hit Nicaragua’s Caribbean coastal regions hard in the last decade and have forced the authorities and local residents to take protection and adaptation measures to address the phenomenon that has gradually undermined their safety and changed their way of life.

Bluefields, the capital city of Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Autonomous Region, has endured a series of hurricanes, floods due to heavy rains or storm surges, droughts, environmental pollution and general changes in temperatures, which have caused economic damages to the local population.

The latest catastrophic event along Nicaragua’s eastern Caribbean coast was Hurricane Otto, which was a category 2 storm on the five-point Saffir-Simpson scale when it hit in October 2016.

The structural damages and heavy flooding were the same as always, but something changed for the better: there were no fatalities, wounded or missing people in Nicaragua.“The population in this area has suffered a lot due to climate change, not only because of the hurricanes and flooding from the sea and rivers, but due to the climate variability. They have lost crops because of droughts or too much rain. They used to know how to interpret the signs of rain, but not anymore.” -- Guillaume Craig

The 10,143 people from the 69 coastal communities directly affected in the South Caribbean Region survived with no injuries, having taken refuge in shelters set up by the governmental National Agency for Disaster Management and Prevention (SINAPRED).

This was due to the gradual development of social awareness in the face of climatic events, according to Ericka Aldana, coordinator of the non-governmental international organisation Global Communities’ climate change project: “Citizens Prepared for Climate Change”.

“Historically, Nicaragua’s South and North Caribbean regions have been hit by natural disasters due to their coastal location and environment surrounded by jungles and big rivers which have served as means of transport. But with climate change the vulnerability increased, and it was necessary to make an effort to change the mindset of the population,” Aldana told IPS.

Her organisation, together with the civil and military authorities, have organised conferences, discussion forums and environmental awareness campaigns, in addition to prevention and coastal community rescue plans in the entire South Caribbean Region.

The two autonomous Caribbean coastal regions represent 52 per cent of the territory of Nicaragua and are home to 15 per cent of the country’s 6.2 million people, including a majority of the indigenous and black populations.

Aldana said that in the coastal communities, especially Corn Island and Little Corn Island, located in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Bluefields, the waves changed due to the intensity and instability in wind patterns.
This makes it difficult to maneuver fishing boats, alters fishing cycles, drives away the fish, and erodes the coasts of the two small islands.

On Little Corn Island, local resident Vilma Gómez talked to IPS about the threats posed and damages caused by the change in ocean currents, winds and waves.

As an example, she said that she has seen almost four km of coastline submerged due to the erosion caused by waves over the last 30 years.

The municipality of Corn Island, comprised of the two islands separated by 15 km, with a total area of 13.1 square kilometres, is one of the most populated areas in Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Autonomous Region, with about 598 people per square kilometre.

Part of the central region of the city of Bluefields, in Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Autonomous Region, from the access pier to Bluefields lagoon, with buildings at the water’s edge. The municipalities’ urban and rural residents learned to raise their houses on pilings, among other measures to face the increasingly frequent floods. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Part of the central region of the city of Bluefields, in Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Autonomous Region, from the access pier to Bluefields lagoon, with buildings at the water’s edge. The municipalities’ urban and rural residents learned to raise their houses on pilings, among other measures to face the increasingly frequent floods. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Gómez said that on her island, infrastructures such as seawalls was built with government funds, to contain the coastal erosion, the damage in wetlands, the shrinking of the beaches and the impact on tourism, which together with fishing make up 90 per cent of the municipality’s economic activity.

But in her opinion, they are futile efforts in the face of the strength of the sea. “I believe that if this continues this way, in a few years the island will become uninhabitable, because the sea could swallow it entirely after contaminating the water sources and arable lands,” lamented Gómez.

Other communities located near Bluefields Bay and its tributaries suffer ever more frequent storm surges and sudden floods, that have destroyed and contaminated the wetlands.

But once the shock and fear were overcome, the population started to try to strengthen their capacities to build resilience in the face of climate change, said Aldana.

Guillaume Craig, director of the environmentalist organisation blueEnergy in Nicaragua, is involved in the project “Citizens Prepared for Climate Change”, in which authorities, civil society and academia together in Bluefields carry out campaigns to strengthen the Caribbean communities’ response capacity to the impacts of climate change.

“The population in this area has suffered a lot due to climate change, not only because of the hurricanes and flooding from the sea and rivers, but due to the climate variability. They have lost crops because of droughts or too much rain. They used to know how to interpret the signs of rain, but not anymore,” Craig told IPS.

As a result, he noted that “the wells dry out in January, when that used to happen in April, the rains in May sometimes fall in March, or do not occur until July. It is crazy, and the local people did not know how to handle it.”

After years of training and campaigns, the locals learned to apply techniques and methods to save water, plant crops resistant to the changes, and techniques for building in coastal areas, which started to suddenly flood due to storm surges or heavy rains.

Climate change has already cost the communities a great deal: a fall in the production of basic grains, a loss of biological diversity and forest resources, water shortages, degradation of soils, salinization of wells, floods in low-lying coastal areas and landslides, among other phenomena.

“The rise in temperatures is affecting people’s health and producing cardiac problems, increasing the populations of vectors that carry diseases, erosion by sea waves and loss of soil, and increasing energy consumption and the risk of fires. The rise in the water level is driving up the risks,” said Craig.
Bluefields, originally a pirate base of operations, is 383 km from the capital city, Managua, and can only be reached by air or by boat along the Escondido River from the El Rama port, located on the mainland 292 km from the capital.

The population of just over 60,000 people is multi-ethnic: Creoles, mestizos (mixed-race), Rama and Garifuna peoples, and descendants of English, French or Asian immigrants.

It faces a bay that serves as a barrier to the sea’s direct waves, and is surrounded by rivers and lakes that connect the region with the Pacific Ocean and the North Caribbean. The elevation above sea level is barely 20 metres, which makes it especially vulnerable.

Marlene Hodgson, who lives in the impoverished coastal neighborhood of El Canal, on the outskirts of the city, told IPS that she and her family have been suffering from the bay’s swells for years.

“Sometimes we did not expect it and all of a sudden we had water up to the waist. Now we have raised the house’s pilings with concrete and dug canals and built dikes to protect it. But we have also become aware of when they come and that allows us to survive without damages,” said the woman of Creole ethnic origin.

After the storms, many houses in the area were abandoned by their occupants, who moved to higher and less vulnerable lands.

The phenomenon also disrupted the economy and the way of life of the traditional fishers, said Alberto Down.

“Just 20 years ago, I would throw the net and in two hours I would get 100 fish,” he told IPS. “Now I have to spend more in fuel to go farther out to sea and I have to wait up to eight hours to get half of that. And on some occasions I don’t catch anything,” said the fisherman from the 19 de Julio neighbourhood, one of the most vulnerable in this area forever threatened by the climate.

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Fishing Village Fights Iron Mine in Northern Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/fishing-village-fights-iron-mine-in-northern-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fishing-village-fights-iron-mine-in-northern-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/fishing-village-fights-iron-mine-in-northern-chile/#comments Tue, 11 Apr 2017 22:09:39 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149913 Punta de Choros, a picturesque cove in northern Chile, has become a major tourist draw, and the number of restaurants, lodgings and whale-watching boat tours has climbed. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Punta de Choros, a picturesque cove in northern Chile, has become a major tourist draw, and the number of restaurants, lodgings and whale-watching boat tours has climbed. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
LA HIGUERA, Chile, Apr 11 2017 (IPS)

In Punta de Choros, a hidden cove on Chile’s Pacific coast, some 900 fishers do not yet dare celebrate the decision by regional authorities to deny the Dominga port mining project a permit due to environmental reasons.

The fishers, from the northern region of Coquimbo, are afraid that the government will unblock the project, in which the Chilean company Andes Iron planned to invest 2.5 billion dollars for the extraction of iron ore, promising 9,800 jobs in the building phase and 1,400 in the production phase.

The project would affect several nature reserves, and the local fishers also question the effects from the traffic of cargo ships and from a desalination plant.“More than a political problem, what we have here is a problem with the environmental assessment. There were a series of irregularities and that means that the impacts on one of the world’s 36 top biodiversity hotspots cannot be assessed.” -- Liesbeth Van der Meer

And as they said in interviews with IPS, they also doubt that the cabinet of ministers will uphold the decision by the regional environmental authorities, who rejected the plan for the Dominga mine, controlled by the Délano family.

Andes Iron will file an appeal this month to the cabinet – which will reach the final decision – asserting the positive aspects of the project, which is to extract 12 million tons a year of iron concentrate and other 150,000 tons of copper concentrate.

The 10,000-hectare project would involve an open-pit mine with a useful life of 26.5 years, a plant and a tailing disposal facility. It would also require a port to export the minerals to China, Japan and other markets.

“It is an area rich in benthic resources (bottom dwellers) and in algae and microorganisms. We want the mining project to be redesigned. Development is needed, especially in a poor area like this, but it has to be well done,” geographer and park ranger Paulina Correa, head of the Humboldt Penguin National Reserve, told IPS.

“We have low-impact tourism here. Many people make a living from this and protect it. We want development that protects the environment,” said Correa, lamenting that the mining project has divided the community between those who make a living from fishing and tourism, and those who live in the foothills of the Andes mountains.

Punta Choros has an official permanent population of 238, but that figure is multiplied by ten during tourist season, with the influx of workers employed by a dozen restaurants and lodgings that cater to the tourists drawn by the spectacular beaches, whale watching and traditional seafood cuisine.

The project was initially approved by the Coquimbo regional environmental authority, which stated that the mine complied with “the applicable environmental regulations,” and that the company “had corrected any errors, omissions and inaccuracies.”

Oscar Rebolledo, deputy director of the Coquimbo environmental authority, said “the measures proposed (by the company) take responsibility for the effects and circumstances” that may result from the mining project.

Signs against the Dominga iron mine are seen all over Punta de Choros, where fishers point to the growing catches, nature reserves crucial to the planet’s biodiversity, and the presence of large marine mammals, to argue against the extractive project in this village in northern Chile. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Signs against the Dominga iron mine are seen all over Punta de Choros, where fishers point to the growing catches, nature reserves crucial to the planet’s biodiversity, and the presence of large marine mammals, to argue against the extractive project in this village in northern Chile. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

But Coquimbo Governor Claudio Ibáñez disagreed, and on Mar. 9 cast the vote that broke the tie between six regional secretariats, rejecting the project.

“What the company proposes in terms of environmental reparations or redress is inadequate to properly ensure the right to live in an environment free of pollution, the protection of the environment, the conservation of nature and the preservation of the environmental heritage,” said Ibañez, explaining his decisive vote.

He said he was aware that Dominga represents “an important possibility for economic and social development,” but added that he is just as aware that “we are putting at risk one of the world’s most important nature reserves and the habitat of dozens of species.”

Local fisherman and diver Josué Ramos, a member of the Los Choros fishing association, began making a living harvesting surf clams (Mesodesma donacium) in 1996. He told IPS that in 2000 the clam became locally extinct, and two years later a restocking programme started to be implemented.

World biodiversity hotspot
The area where the open-pit mining project is to be developed includes the Humboldt Penguin National Reserve, created in the year 1990 to protect this species (Spheniscus humboldti), which is listed as vulnerable. The reserve is home to 80 per cent of the species’ entire population.

The area is also home to other endangered species: the Peruvian diving petrel (Pelecanoides garnotii), a seabird that can dive 80 metres deep, and mammals such as the South American sea lion (Otaria flavescens) and the rare marine otter (Lontra felina). The reserve includes three islands where several species of threatened endemic flora grow, which are under protection due to the fragility of the ecosystem.

Also in the area is the Choros-Damas Island Marine Reserve, with 49 species of flowers, including the yellow añañuca (Rhodophiala bagnoldii). Near the Chañaral island, whale watchers in the summertime see bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) and blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus).

“Just 10,000 clams, of the 100,000 that were projected, were restocked. But 14 years later, the effort had produced results. Today there is an 18-km beach with a 10-km productive area, and the clams are expanding,” he said.

“The year 2015 was the first year they started harvesting while simultaneously studying and monitoring the biomass. We extracted 670 tons and from a management area controlled by local people 95 tons were harvested. In 2016, the number increased to 832 tons in the main area and my trade association extracted 156 tons,” said Ramos.

“With the awareness that has been generated, we have obtained better results in the management areas, the seabeds to which the state gave us exclusive access to use and protect. Along 30 km of coastline, there are six management areas, which represent 70 per cent of the production of benthic resources in the region,” he said.

Ramos is opposed to Dominga because “they overexploit, export and then the prices rule. To obtain a ton of iron ore, which currently fetches 52 dollars, they leave 100 tons of tailings with chemical compounds. We harvest a ton of clams for 1.5 million dollars, and we only lift the sand, we don’t change it in any way.”

The local fisherman has “no expectation” that the cabinet will uphold the local environmental authority’s rejection of Dominga and believes that “the cursed progress” is going to prevail.

“Two ministers that vote have already resigned,” he added, in reference to the recent resignations of the ministers of transport, Andrés Gomez Lobos, and the environment, Pablo Badenier.

On Mar. 30, representatives of Andes Iron met with a dozen shepherds in the Casa Dominga, in the municipality of La Higuera. Although the meeting was closed, IPS saw the minutes.

“We are going to fight with everything we have. There is injustice here and we are not going to give in,” a representative of the company told the shepherds, who are in favour of the mine, and who took turns reporting on their interviews with local radio stations to discuss the positive aspects of the project.

At the end of the meeting, Omar Alfaro, with the La Higuera association of shepherds, told IPS that thanks to a framework agreement, “the Dominga project would improve the productive sectors, and when the mine closed down, we would be left with greater development in activities like agriculture, shepherding and fishing.”

Alfaro took part in a community meeting where the framework agreement was signed, which commits the company to pay “a minimum of 1.3 billion and a maximum of 2.6 billion pesos (between two and four million dollars) a year for projects, once the mine starts producing,” he said.

The agreement includes “the genetic improvement of livestock and the possibility of reforesting and recovering the native forest, deteriorated by prolonged droughts,” he said.

About the water the mine will use, Alfaro said that “a hydrogeologist explained the situation to us” stating that Dominga “is going to re-inject water into the same river basin.”

“We are hopeful that our institutions will be respected. I believe the project is important for the country, and the cabinet has a huge opportunity to revert and organise the technical instruments that have been used by the environmental institutions,” Iván Garrido, general manager of the Dominga project, told the online newspaper Pulso.

He urged the cabinet “to assess the report” by the Coquimbo environmental authority, which was favourable to the company.

Liesbeth Van der Meer, executive director of the non-governmental organisation Océana Chile, believes that the project will be rejected in the end.

“More than a political problem, what we have here is a problem with the environmental assessment. There were a series of irregularities and that means that the impacts on one of the world’s 36 top biodiversity hotspots cannot be assessed,” she told IPS.

If Dominga is approved, it will amount to “a crime against our natural heritage,” she said.

Van der Meer said he hoped “that not all development in Chile will be extractivist,” and called for respect for fishers and tourist operators in Punta de Choros, where the number of visitors soared from 900 in 1998 to 50,000 in 2016.

Mining is crucial to the Chilean economy and attracts more than one-third of all foreign investment, in a country that is the leading world producer of copper and other minerals, such as rhenium, lithium and iodine, as well as an important producer of several other minerals.

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El Salvador Passes Pathbreaking Law Banning Metal Mininghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/el-salvador-passes-pathbreaking-law-banning-metal-mining/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=el-salvador-passes-pathbreaking-law-banning-metal-mining http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/el-salvador-passes-pathbreaking-law-banning-metal-mining/#comments Mon, 03 Apr 2017 23:04:26 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149791 César Augusto Jaco, a member of an environmental community network, takes part in one of the demonstrations in support of the new law that bans metal mining in El Salvador, on March 29, in front of parliament. The measure, the first of its kind in the world, responds to a lengthy struggle by environmentalists and local communities. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

César Augusto Jaco, a member of an environmental community network, takes part in one of the demonstrations in support of the new law that bans metal mining in El Salvador, on March 29, in front of parliament. The measure, the first of its kind in the world, responds to a lengthy struggle by environmentalists and local communities. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Apr 3 2017 (IPS)

El Salvador, Central America’s smallest country, has become the first country in the world to pass a law banning metal mining in all its forms, setting a precedent for other nations in the world to follow, according to activists and local residents.

“This is historic; we are sending a signal to the world that countries can take a different path and say ‘no’ to the mining industry,” Edgardo Mira, an environmental activist with the National Council Against Metal Mining, an umbrella group of local organisations, told IPS.

With 69 votes out of 84, the members of the single-chamber Legislative Assembly passed on March 29 the landmark law, whose 11 articles amount to a blanket ban on mining, whether underground or surface.

Dozens of jubilant activists gathered early that day outside parliament to demand the approval by the plenary session of the ban agreed the day before by the legislature’s Environment and Climate Change Committee.““This is historic; we are sending a signal to the world that countries can take a different path and say ‘no’ to the mining industry.” -- Edgardo Mira

“I have visited the old mines which were active last century, where you can clearly see the impacts, such as acid drainage in the rivers, which would happen in the rest of the country,” retiree César Augusto Jaco, from the populous neighborhood of Cuscatancingo in the capital, told IPS.

Holding a sign with a yellow background and an image of a skull in black, the 76-year-old member of the Network of Community Environmentalists of El Salvador, said outside parliament: “Mining is disastrous, there’s no way it’s not going to damage our water sources.”

The risk of damaging the country’s groundwater reserves has been one of the main reasons driving the struggle of activists against the extractive industry, which uses millions of litres of water to obtain gold.

El Salvador is one of the most environmentally vulnerable countries, according to international agencies.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the Latin American Water Tribunal, the International Water Association and the Global Water Partnership (GWP) concur that the country is heading toward a situation of water stress, researcher, José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA) researcher Andrés McKinley told IPS.

The law also prohibits the use of cyanide, mercury and other elements used in mining But it offers a two-year grace period to small-scale miners, so they can find another source of income.

Mira, from the National Council, estimated the number of artisanal miners at about 300, mostly in the San Sebastián mine in Santa Rosa de Lima, in the eastern department of La Unión.

Because the law is retroactive, it blocks all pending exploration permits.

The 2015 report “The Threat of Metal Mining in a Thirsty World,” written by McKinley and published by the UCA, documents the cases of countries where the activity has been restricted, but not banned outright.

Costa Rica, the report notes, passed a law in 2012 that banned open pit metal mining, while still allowing underground mining.

In 2002, the government of the province of Oriental Mindoro, in the Philippines, passed a 35-year moratorium on mining projects, and in 2011, the province of Zamboanga did the same with open-pit mining.

In 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) vetoed the Pebble mine in the state of Alaska, to protect the largest habitat in the world of red or sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka).

Earlier, in 1989, the then president of Venezuela, Carlos Andrés Pérez, imposed a 50-year moratorium on all mining activity in the southern state of Amazonas. But that did not stop the expansion of illegal mining in that jungle region, while the current government reverted the measure de facto, allowing mining activity in the area.

“El Salvador is the first country in the world to evaluate the costs and benefits of the mining industry for the country and to exercise its right to say no,” McKinley told IPS.

The approval of the law was a product of many factors that combined to convince lawmakers to finally respond to the longstanding call from activists and local communities for a ban.

Among them, the pressure from environmentalist organisations that have struggled to that end for over a decade, and from the Catholic Church, which endorsed the popular demand.

On March 9, San Salvador’s archbishop, Luis Escobar Alas, led a march against metal mining to parliament, where they handed over a bill drawn up by the UCA, which formed the basis of the law that was finally adopted.

“The Catholic Church has enormous power in El Salvador, and its support for the struggle by local communities did not start this year, but in 2007, when it took a stance, at the Episcopal Conference, with its document Let’s Take Care of Everyone’s Home,” said McKinley.

The law is the culmination of years of struggle by environmental organisations and community leaders against, above all, the El Dorado mine in the central department of Cabañas, operated by the Pacific Rim company, now OceanaGold since it was acquired in 2013 by the Australian-Canadian corporation.

The company sued El Salvador for 250 million dollars in the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), after the rightwing Salvadoran government of the time cancelled its exploration permit in 2008.

The two successive governments of the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front have maintained this de facto moratorium since 2009.

In October 2016, ICSID ruled in favour of El Salvador, and ordered the company to pay eight million dollars in legal expenses, which it has failed to do.

And in a new setback, the body ruled on March 28 that the corporation must also pay interest on the debt, at a monthly rate between two and five per cent, on back payments dating to October.

These rulings also contributed to generating a climate conducive to approval of the ban.

“We are celebrating the triumph of our struggle, and our celebration continues out there in the communities where the people have been fighting,” Rina Navarrete, the coordinator of the Friends of San Isidro Cabañas Association, told IPS.i

She added that the accomplishment was a vindication of the work by “the fallen martyrs in this struggle against the mining corporation” – a reference to Ramiro Rivera, Marcelo Rivera (not related) and Dora Alicia Sorto, environmentalists killed by hitmen between June and December 2009, in the town of Cabañas.

Navarrete, a single mother of two who lives in the municipality of Llano de la Hacienda, in Cabañas, has taken up the work of the late Marcelo Rivera.

The activists were shot presumably because of their opposition to the activities of Pacific Rim in that area, although this has not been confirmed by the legal authorities.

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Brazilian Dam Causes Too Much or Too Little Water in Amazon Villageshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/brazilian-dam-causes-too-much-or-too-little-water-in-amazon-villages/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazilian-dam-causes-too-much-or-too-little-water-in-amazon-villages http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/brazilian-dam-causes-too-much-or-too-little-water-in-amazon-villages/#comments Sat, 01 Apr 2017 21:42:59 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149744 A chicken coop in the village of Miratu, flooded because the Xingu River rose much more than was announced by Norte Energía, the company that built and operates the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, whose main reservoir is some 20 km upstream from the Juruna community in Brazil’s northern Amazon jungle region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A chicken coop in the village of Miratu, flooded because the Xingu River rose much more than was announced by Norte Energía, the company that built and operates the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, whose main reservoir is some 20 km upstream from the Juruna community in Brazil’s northern Amazon jungle region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTAMIRA, Brazil, Apr 1 2017 (IPS)

The Juruna indigenous village of Miratu mourned the death of Jarliel twice: once on October 26, when he drowned in the Xingu River, and the second time when the sacred burial ground was flooded by an unexpected rise in the river that crosses Brazil’s Amazon region.

Their cries are also of outrage against the Norte Energía company, the concession-holder for the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, which determines the water flow in the Volta Grande stretch of the Xingu River, a 100-km area divided in three municipalities, with five indigenous villages along the riverbanks.

Jarliel Juruna, 20, was very good at what he did: catch ornamental fish, which have been increasingly scarce since the dam was inaugurated in November 2015. Apparently the need to dive deeper and deeper to find fish and help support his family contributed to the fatal accident, according to his siblings Jailson and Bel.

The company had ensured that the rise in water level in that area would be moderate, since the flow was divided between the Volta Grande and a canal built to feed the main Belo Monte generating plant, near the end of the curve in the river known as Volta Grande or Big Bend.

The markers showing how high the water would rise were surpassed early this year, due to heavy rains and a limited diversion of the water to be used by the hydroelectric plant, which will be the third largest in the world in terms of capacity once it is completed in 2019.

The unexpected rise also caused material losses. Boats and equipment were carried away by the high water. “My manioc crop was flooded, even though it was on land higher than the markers,” said Aristeu Freitas da Silva, a villager in Ilha da Fazenda.

Despite the excess of water, this village of 50 families is suffering a lack of drinking water.

“The river is dirty, we drink water from a well that we dug. The three wells drilled by Norte Energía don’t work because the water pump broke eight months ago,” said Miguel Carneiro de Sousa, a boatman hired by the municipality to ferry students to a nearby school.

The school in Ilha da Fazenda only goes up to fourth grade, and in Brazil education is compulsory up to the ninth grade.

Bel Juruna, a Juruna indigenous leader from the village of Miratu along the Volta Grande of the Xingu River. The 25-year-old woman is an impressive defender of indigenous rights, against the Belo Monte hydropower plant and inefficient government authorities, in this territory in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Bel Juruna, a Juruna indigenous leader from the village of Miratu along the Volta Grande of the Xingu River. The 25-year-old woman is an impressive voice in the defence of indigenous rights, against the Belo Monte hydropower plant and inefficient government authorities, in this territory in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Deiby Cardoso, deputy mayor of Senador José Porfirio, one of the municipalities in Volta Grande, admitted that water supply is a municipal responsibility, and promised that the problem would be resolved by late April.

He did so during a Mar. 21 public hearing organised by the public prosecutor’s office in the city of Altamira, to address problems affecting Volta Grande. IPS attended the hearing as part of a one-week tour of riverbank and indigenous villages in this area.

Taking over the Xingu River for energy purposes, to the detriment of its traditional users, such as indigenous and riverine peoples, has cost Norte Energía many obligations and complaints in its area of influence in the northern state of Pará, where local people sometimes confuse its role with that of the government.

The company is required to carry out a plan for compensation and mitigation of social and environmental impacts, with conditional targets, and the number of complaints about non-compliance is increasing.

Local residents of Ilha da Fazenda had reasons to complain at the hearing. The health post is filthy and abandoned, the ambulance boat has a broken motor, and the electricity produced by the village generator is only available from 6:00 to 10:00 PM.

The deputy mayor accepted the complaints about the delays, which he said were due to the short period that the municipal government has been in power, since January.

The dilapidated, unkempt health post in Ilha da Fazenda, one of the villages on the banks of the Xingu River affected by the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, in the state of Pará in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The unkempt health post in Ilha da Fazenda, one of the villages on the banks of the Xingu River affected by the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, in the state of Pará in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

But holding the key to the Xingu River, opening or closing spillways and activating or shutting off its turbines, Norte Energía dictates the water level downstream, especially in the Volta Grande. At the hearing, it seemed clear that they do it without considering the human and environmental impacts.

“The water level drops and rises all of a sudden, without warning,” complained Bel Juruna, a 25-year-old community leader and defender of indigenous peoples’ rights who talked to IPS during the visit to the village of Miratu.

“These abrupt fluctuations in the volume of water released in the Volta Grande produce changes in the water level in the river that confuse the aquatic fauna, disoriented by the availability of space to feed and breed,” said ecologist Juarez Pezzuti, a professor at the Federal University of Pará.

And once the hydroelectric plant starts to operate normally, the water flow will be permanently reduced, he added.

The local people are informed daily, through phones installed by the company in many houses, about the volume of water that enters Volta Grande. But this information about cubic metres per second means nothing to them.

“The information has to be useful,” adding the water level in the river in each village, the local indigenous people told the authorities present at the hearing, who included prosecutors, public defenders and heads of the environmental and indigenous affairs agencies.

There is a “failure of communication” that Energía Norte needs to fix, it was agreed during the hearing, where there were no representatives of the company.

Indigenous houses, practically submerged by the unexpected rise of the Xingu River. These traditional houses of the Juruna people give support to the “canoada”, a tourist and political event that the native people organize each September along the Volta Grande, in the northern Amazon state of Pará in Brazil.  Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Indigenous houses, practically submerged by the unexpected rise of the Xingu River. These traditional houses of the Juruna people give support to the “canoada”, a tourist and political event that the native people organize each September along the Volta Grande, in the northern Amazon state of Pará in Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Safety of navigation is another demand by the Juruna and Arara native people, who live on the banks of the Volta Grande. The damming of the river exacerbated the “banzeiros” (turbulence or rapids), which have already caused one death, early this year.

The local indigenous peoples are demanding large vessels, one for each of the five villages, to cross the reservoir to Altamira, the capital of the Medio Xingú region, without the risks that threaten their small boats.

They are also asking for support equipment for the most turbulent stretches of the Volta Grande, from August to November, when small dangerous rocky islands emerge due to the low water level.

The reduced water flow has made navigation difficult in the Volta Grande, the traditional transport route used by local people, increasing the need for land transport.

An access road to the routes that lead to Altamira is a chief demand of the Arara people.

“It was a condition of the building permit for Belo Monte, to this day unfulfilled. We have been waiting for that road since 2012,” protested José Carlos Arara, leader of the village of Guary-Duan.

They rejected the handing over of a Base of Operations that Norte Energía built for the National Indian Foundation, the state body for the defence of indigenous rights, to protect their territory. “With no land access, we won’t accept the base, because it will be incomplete,” said Arara, supported by leaders of other villages.

To improve territorial protection and the participation of indigenous people in the committees that deal with indigenous issues and those involving Volta Grande within the programmes of compensation and mitigation of impacts of Belo Monte is another common demand, submitted to the hearing in a letter signed by the Arara and Juruna people.

The need for protection was stressed by Bebere Bemaral Xikrin, head of the association of the Xikrin people, from the Trincheira-Bacajá indigenous land.

Since mid-2016, the waters of the Bacajá River have been dirty, which has killed off fish. The reason is the “garimpo” or informal surface mining along tributary rivers of the Bacajá, on the outskirts of the Xikrin territory.

And things will get worse with the construction of a road to bring in machinery for the garimpeiros or informal miners, if the Protection Plan, which was to be ready in 2011 “but hasn’t made it from paper to reality, is not fully implemented soon,” said Bebere Bemaral.

The Xikrin people do not live along the Volta Grande, but everything that happens in that stretch of the Xingu River affects the Bacajá, a tributary of the Xingu, which this people depend on for survival, he explained.

The rivers which were the lifeblood of local indigenous and riverine people became a risk factor with the implementation of a hydropower megaproject, to which could be added the Belo Sun mining project, also on the banks of the Volta Grande.

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Fishing Villages Work for Food Security in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/fishing-villages-work-for-food-security-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fishing-villages-work-for-food-security-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/fishing-villages-work-for-food-security-in-el-salvador/#comments Mon, 20 Mar 2017 20:17:45 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149499 Rosa Herrera returns to the village after spending the morning digging for clams in the mangroves that border Isla de Méndez in Jiquilisco bay, in the southeastern department of Usulután. The struggle to put food on the table is constant in fishing villages in El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Rosa Herrera returns to the village after spending the morning digging for clams in the mangroves that border Isla de Méndez in Jiquilisco bay, in the southeastern department of Usulután. The struggle to put food on the table is constant in fishing villages in El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
ISLA DE MÉNDEZ, El Salvador, Mar 20 2017 (IPS)

After an exhausting morning digging clams out of the mud of the mangroves, Rosa Herrera, her face tanned by the sun, arrives at this beach in southeastern El Salvador on board the motorboat Topacio, carrying her yield on her shoulders.

For her morning’s catch – 126 Andara tuberculosa clams, known locally as “curiles”, in great demand in El Salvador – she was paid 5.65 dollars by the Manglarón Cooperative, of which she is a member.

“Today it went pretty well,” she told IPS. “Sometimes it doesn’t and we earn just two or three dollars,” said the 49-year-old Salvadoran woman, who has been harvesting clams since she was 10 in these mangroves in the bay of Jiquilisco, near Isla de Méndez, the village of 500 families where she lives in the southeastern department of Usulután.“I have left my life in the mangroves, I was not able to go to school to learn to read and write, but I am happy that I have provided an education for all my children, thanks to the clams.” -- Rosa Herrera

Isla de Méndez is a village located on a peninsula, bordered to the south by the Pacific ocean, and to the north by the bay. Life has not been easy there in recent months.

Fishing and harvesting of shellfish, the main sources of food and income here, have been hit hard by environmental factors and by gang violence, a problem which has put this country on the list of the most violent nations in the world.

For fear of the constant raids by gangs, the fishers shortened their working hours, particularly in the night time.

“We were afraid, so nobody would go out at night, and fishing this time of year is better at night, but that is now changing a little,“ said Berfalia de Jesús Chávez, one of the founding members of the Las Gaviotas Cooperative, created in 1991 and made up of 43 women.

But the gang was dismantled and, little by little, life is returning to normal, said the local people interviewed by IPS during a two-day stay in the village.

“Climate change has also reduced the fish catch, as have the la Niña and el Niño climate phenomena,” said María Teresa Martínez, the head of the cooperative, who added however that fishing has always had periods of prosperity and scarcity.

Ofilio Herrera (L) buys a kilo of fish freshly caught by Álvaro Eliseo Cruz off the coast of Isla de Méndez, a fishing village in southeastern El Salvador. Cruz caught 15 kilos of fish this day, including red porgy and mojarras, which he uses to sell in the market and feed his family. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Ofilio Herrera (L) buys a kilo of fish freshly caught by Álvaro Eliseo Cruz off the coast of Isla de Méndez, a fishing village in southeastern El Salvador. Cruz caught 15 kilos of fish this day, including red porgy and mojarras, which he uses to sell in the market and feed his family. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The women in Las Gaviotas are making an effort to repair their three canoes and their nets to start fishing again, a real challenge when a good part of the productive activity has also been affected by the violence.

Fishing and selling food to tourists, in a small restaurant on the bay, are the cooperative’s main activities. But at the moment the women are forced to buy the seafood to be able to cater to the few visitors who arrive at the village.

Sea turtle project suspended due to lack of funds

Another project that was carried out in Isla de Méndez but has now been suspended was aimed at preserving sea turtles, ensuring the reproduction of the species and providing an income to the gatherers of turtle eggs.

All four species that visit El Salvador nest in Jiquilisco bay: the hawkbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), leatherback or lute (Dermochelis coriácea), olive or Pacific ridley (Lepidochelys olivácea) and Galápagos green turtle (Chelonia agassizii).

In 2005, this bay, with the biggest stretch of mangroves in the country, was included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, and in 2007 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) declared it the Xiriualtique – Jiquilisco Biosphere Reserve.

The gatherers were paid 2.5 dollars for 10 turtle eggs, which were buried in nests until they hatched. The hatchlings were then released into the sea.

But the project was cancelled due to a lack of funds, from a private environmental institution, to pay the “turtlers”.

“Our hope is that some other institution will help us to continue the project,” said Ernesto Zavala, from the local Sea Turtle Association. To this septuagenarian, it is of vital importance to get the programme going again, because “those of us who cannot fish or harvest clams can collect turtle eggs.”

“Now tourists are beginning to come again,” said a local resident who preferred not to give his name, who had to close his restaurant due to extortion from the gangs. Only recently did he pluck up the courage to reopen his small business.

“Before, at this time, around noon, all those tables would have been full of tourists,” he said, pointing to the empty tables at his restaurant.

In Isla de Méndez, each day is a constant struggle to put food on the table, as it is for rural families in this Central American country of 6.3 million people.

According to the report “Food and Nutrition Security: a path towards human development”, published in Spanish in July 2016 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the prevalence of undernourishment – food intake insufficient to meet dietary energy requirements – in El Salvador stands at 12.4 percent of the population.

The United Nations are still defining the targets to be achieved within the Sustainable Development Goals, but in the case of El Salvador this prevalence should at least be cut in half, Emilia González, representative of programmes at the FAO office in El Salvador, told IPS.

“Sometimes we only manage to catch four little fishes for our family to eat, and nothing to sell, but there is always something to put on the table,” said María Antonia Guerrero, who belongs to the 37-member Cooperative Association of Fish Production.

“Sometimes what we catch does not even cover the cost of the gasoline we use,” she said.

Because of the cooperative’s limited equipment (just 10 boats and two motors), they can only go fishing two or three times a week. When fishing is good, she added, they can catch 40 dollars a week of fish.

The local fishers respect the environmental requirement to use a net that ensures the reproduction of the different species of fish.

“We do it to avoid killing the smallest fish, otherwise the species would be wiped out and we would have nothing to eat,” said Sandra Solís, another member of the cooperative.

González, of FAO, said one of the U.N.’s agency’s mandates is to strive for food and nutrition security for families, adding that only by empowering them in this process can their standard of living be improved.

“We have worked a great deal in these communities for families to be the managers of their own development,” she said.

In this community, efforts have been made to develop projects to produce organic compost and to treat solid waste, said Ofilio Herrera with the Community Development Association in Area 1.

More ambitious plans include setting up a processing plant for coconut milk and cashew nuts and cashew apples, he added.

Rosa Herrera, meanwhile, walks towards her house with a slight smile on her face, pleased with having earned enough to feed her daughter, her father and herself that day.

As a single mother, she is proud that she has been able to raise her seven children, six of whom no longer live at home, on her own.

“Because I had to work to get food I was not able to go to school. We were eight siblings; the younger ones studied, and the older ones worked. My father and mother were very poor, so the older of us worked to support the younger ones. Four of us did not learn to read and write. The others learned as adults, but I didn’t,” she said.

“I have left my life in the mangroves, I was not able to go to school to learn to read and write, but I am happy that I have provided an education for all my children, thanks to the clams,” she said.

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Children Tapped to End Child Marriage in Indonesiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/children-tapped-to-end-child-marriage-in-indonesia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-tapped-to-end-child-marriage-in-indonesia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/children-tapped-to-end-child-marriage-in-indonesia/#comments Tue, 14 Mar 2017 14:47:42 +0000 Kanis Dursin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149407 Lenny N. Rosalin, Deputy Minister for Child Growth and Development of Indonesia’s Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection. Credit: Kanis Dursin/IPS

Lenny N. Rosalin, Deputy Minister for Child Growth and Development of Indonesia’s Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection. Credit: Kanis Dursin/IPS

By Kanis Dursin
JAKARTA, Mar 14 2017 (IPS)

The Indonesian government is tapping children as advocates against child marriage in this Southeast Asian country where over 340,000 girls get married before they reach 18 years old every year.

Lenny N. Rosalin, Deputy Minister for Child Growth and Development of the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection, said her agency has been working with the National Child Forum across the country to explain the impacts of child marriage on health, education, and economic condition.“What is clear is that child marriage can be prevented if we explain its risks to children and parents." --Lenny N. Rosalin

National Child Forum, locally known as Forum Anak Nasional, is designed to be a venue for children under 18 years to air their aspirations on development programmes, from the planning to monitoring and the evaluation stage. According to its website, Forum Anak is now present in 33 of Indonesia’s provinces, 267 regencies and municipalities, 300 sub- districts, and 197 villages across the country.

“We are empowering children to be able to say no to child marriage and to tell other kids to do the same when asked to get married by their parents,” Rosalin told IPS in an interview in Jakarta.

Annually, around 340,000 Indonesian girls get married before they turn 18 years old, according to a survey published by the National Statistics Agency (BPS) in 2016. The publication, the first of its kind, was funded by the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The figure shows child marriage has fallen two-fold in the past three decades. However, according to the Council of Foreign Relations, Indonesia is one of ten countries in the world with the highest child marriage rate and the second after Cambodia in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The exact number of children engaged in child marriage is difficult to gauge, however, as most of them have no birth certificate to prove their age.

In 2013, at least 50 million children under 18 years had no birth certificates, or 62 percent of the country’s children of 85 million at that time, according to the Indonesian Commission on Child Protection (KPAI). Indonesian children under 18 years now stand at around 87 million.

Forum Anak members are also taught to alert the Women Empowerment and Child Protection office in their area if they feel they cannot convince peers to say no to parents who force them to get married.

“When we receive reports of children being forced to get married, we invite local religious leaders and influential figures to convince parents of child-bride-to-be to cancel the wedding,” said Rosalin.

She claimed the strategy has worked so far but could not give an estimate of how many children have been spared from that practice since January 2016, when her ministry was tasked with preventing and eradicating child marriage in Indonesia, saying they were yet to hold a national meeting to evaluate and collect data.

“What is clear is that child marriage can be prevented if we explain its risks to children and parents,” Rosalin said.

Indonesia’s 1974 marriage law sets the legal marriage age at 16 years old for girls and 19 years for boys, contradicting the child protection law that bans parents from marrying off children below 18 years old. Worse still, the legislation also allows children under 16 years to get married as long as their parents apply for and the state court grants dispensation to them.

Budi Wahyuni, deputy chairwoman of the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), said ideally the legal marriage age should be raised to 21 years old, or at least 18 years as stipulated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Under the current situation, however, the court must be selective in granting dispensation for children under 16 years old to get married.

“For example, a dispensation is given to a bride who is already pregnant only,” Wahyuni said.

The marriage law gives no clear stipulation under what circumstances the court may grant a dispensation to children under 16 years to get married.

Several child activists here filed a judicial review with the Constitutional Court in 2015, seeking to raise the minimum marriage age from 16 years to at least 18 years old. The court, however, threw out the petition, arguing that it was the domain of the House of Representatives (DPR).

There are many reasons why parents marry off their children. First and foremost is a long-held belief that it is better to become a widow as a child than to delay marriage, according to Listyowati, Executive Director of Kalyanamitra Foundation, a non-governmental organization that promotes the rights of women.

“Many people still think that when a girl already had her first menstruation, she is already mature and ready to become a wife and mother. In such communities, girls who delay marriage are branded as old virgins even if they are still under 18 years old,” said Listyowati.

“The term old virgin has such a negative connotation that both girls and their parents feel humiliated when called so, putting pressure on them to get married early. For them, it’s better to become a child widow than to delay marriage,” said Listyowati.

Poor families, according to Listyowati, see child marriage as a way to ease economic burden as the girl moves out and stays with her husband.

“The sad thing is parents who got married while they were still children tend to marry off their young kids also,” lamented Listyowati.

Child marriage carries several risks and consequences, including high maternal and infant mortality rate. Children who get married usually drop out of school immediately and engaging in sexual activity at a very young age also runs the risk of cervical cancer.

In 2015, Indonesia’s mother mortality rate was recorded at 359 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015, compared to only 228 in 2000. According to the National Population and Family Planning Board, at least 82 percent of the deaths involved young mothers aged 14 to 20 years old. Meanwhile, the country’s infant mortality rate stood at 22 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2015.

The Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection has also set up so-called Family Learning Centers, known by its Indonesian name Puspaga, at provincial and regency capitals and municipalities where government-appointed psychologists and psychiatrists provide free counseling, including the issue of child marriage.

On top of that, the government encourages schools, provinces, regencies, and municipalities to become more child-friendly, with indicators including 12-year mandatory schooling, zero child labor, and zero child marriage.

“When all children attend 12 years of mandatory education, then there will be no more child marriage or child labor,” said Rosalin of the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection.

“Around 1,400 schools around the country have pledged to become child-friendly schools,” she added.

Listyowati of Kalyanamitra Foundation praised the Indonesian government’s move to engage children in its campaign against child marriage in the country. However, the move may prove inadequate if the marriage law still allows children to get married.

“The move should be followed up with a change in legislation. The marriage law must be amended to raise legal marriage age to at least 18 years old,” Listyowati stressed.

“The government must start introducing sex education. I know it’s still a taboo to talk about sex education, especially to children. In fact, some quarters see it as a way to teaching children how to engage in sexual activities but children have to know the risks of engaging in sexual activities at a very young age,” she said.

Rosalin said her ministry has submitted the draft of a government regulation on marriage in lieu of law to the office of the Presidential Advisory Council to replace the current marriage law.

“The draft is seeking two things. First, we want to increase the legal marriage age to 21 years old, or at least 18 years old, and secondly, scrap any sort of dispensation that may give room to child marriage,” Rosalin said.

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Another Town in El Salvador Votes No to Mininghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/another-town-in-el-salvador-votes-no-to-mining/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=another-town-in-el-salvador-votes-no-to-mining http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/another-town-in-el-salvador-votes-no-to-mining/#comments Wed, 01 Mar 2017 22:31:23 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149184 Voter at Cinquera Consultation, Feb 26. 2017. Credit: Aruna Dutt

Voter at Cinquera Consultation, Feb 26. 2017. Credit: Aruna Dutt

By Aruna Dutt
Cabañas, El Salvador, Mar 1 2017 (IPS)

The citizens of Cinquera municipality in Cabañas delivered a resounding vote against mining, on Sunday February 26th, when 98 percent of residents voted in favour of becoming El Salvador’s fifth “territory free of mining.”

“Mining companies have a wide field with major extension in other countries, and often they need to use the comparative law of other countries to be able to apply their practices here in El Salvador. But the truth is that El Salvador is a country so small that industrial mining is not viable,”Attorney for the Defense of Human Rights, William Iraheta told IPS.

El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America, but also has the highest population density, with 300 people per square kilometer. It is also the fourth most vulnerable country to climate change according to GermanWatch, with 95% of the population living in a high-risk zone.

(ANA MARINA ALVARENGA, diputada FMLN departamento de Cabañas, speaking at Cinquera mining consultation) Credit: Aruna Dutt

Ana Marina Alvarenga, FMLN, speaking at Cinquera mining consultation. Credit: Aruna Dutt

Last year, the national government declared a water emergency. The Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) concluded that only two percent of the country`s surface water is fit for human consumption and for the growth of aquatic life. Currently, those living in rural areas pay to have bottled water shipped by private companies. El Salvador’s environmental crisis and contamination of the population’s water, two-thirds of which comes from the Lempa River, has also been caused by the disparaging practices of metal mining in northeastern El Salvador.

The case of the Canadian mining company, Pacific Rim, and San Sebastian River pollution are the most visible examples of this destructive legacy.

(Acid Drainage from Abandoned mine in San Sebastian River, Credit: Aruna Dutt

Acid Drainage from Abandoned mine in San Sebastian River, Credit: Aruna Dutt

Between 1998 and 2003, 29 exploration licences were granted to mining companies, the most prominent being the Canadian company, Pacific Rim – now OceanaGold. When the government of El Salvador refused to provide mining permits to Pacific Rim’s proposed El Dorado mine because it failed to meet the government’s environmental requirements, the company sued the Salvadoran Government in 2009 for $77 million through a World Bank trade tribunal, the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes. Such demands are based on provisions of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and the Salvadoran Investment Law. The Salvadoran Government won the lawsuit last October after spending millions on defense, but Pacific Rim/Oceana Gold has yet to pay up.

Even though the State of El Salvador recently won the case against the Canadian/Australian mining company, Oceana Gold, the struggle of the Salvadoran people for the defense of their environment continues.

“Currently it is the executive government, the president, who has been refusing mining projects, but there is no guarantee that these projects will be stopped in the future without a law,” said Ana Marina Alvarenga, FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) congresswoman for the department of Cabañas at the Cinquera consultation.

“The position of our FMLN party supports the creation and passing of a law at the national level that definitely prohibits mining in our country. It is part of the legislative agenda or of the legislative platform for the FMLN 2015 to 2018 period to approve this law of prohibition of the metallic mining.”

International Observers at Cinquera Consultation, Feb 26th, 2017. Credit: Aruna Dutt.

International Observers at Cinquera Consultation, Feb 26th, 2017. Credit: Aruna Dutt.

As a way to pressure the Salvadoran government to implement a law definitively banning mining in El Salvador, social movements together with organised communities have been organizing to bring community consultations.

“Cabañas is located in the upper basin of the Lempa River, and in this sense any mining project that is in Cabañas, unfortunately will bring negative consequences for all departments through which the river Lempa runs, which is the majority,” said Alvarenga.

Since 2005, coinciding with the emergence of opposition to mining in Cabañas, the El Dorado Foundation has been operating in Cabanas as the public face of Pacific Rim/OceanaGold in El Salvador.

The foundation makes donations to local schools, sponsors health clinics, offers computer and English classes, and promotes business training for women, among other activities allowing the mining company to act as a benefactor to the surrounding communities.

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“Mining Contaminates and Kills” Mural in Cinquera. Feb 26, 2017. Credit: Aruna Dutt

 

“The communities understand the impacts of mining but have become dependent on these services they provide,” says Vidalina Morales, President of the Association of Economic and Social Develop (ADES), who is also a member of the National Round-table against Metal Mining in El Salvador (La MESA) and has worked directly on mining issues as an organiser in Cabañas communities since 2006.

The foundation’s work is intended to enhance the company’s public reputation and cultivate support for the proposed El Dorado mine project.

Of particular concern is the threat of angry and potentially violent reprisals from people or groups receiving benefits, or who expect to receive benefits, should the mining project proceed. As determined by the regional court, Pacific Rim has been responsible for violence in Cabanas which has already claimed five lives, including three environmentalists: Marcelo Rivera, Ramiro Rivera, Dora Sorto and her unborn baby, and Juan Francisco Durán. The climate of fear resulting from these assassinations and other threats of violence is still palpable in the communities today.

“Although these companies may have financial and resource capital, the capital we have is community organising” said Pedro Cabezas, a representative of International Allies Against Mining, and the Association for the Development of El Salvdador (CRIPDES).

Attorney for the Defense of Human Rights, Wulan Iraheta, overseeing the Cinquera consultation process. Feb 26th, 2017. Credit: Aruna Dutt

Attorney for the Defense of Human Rights, William Iraheta, overseeing the Cinquera consultation process. Feb 26th, 2017. Credit: Aruna Dutt

The election on Sunday was historic for the municipality of Cinquera, being  the first municipality of Cabañas, a largely agricultural territory bordering Honduras,  that initiated this process of popular consultation (consulta popular). Organised by the mayor’s office, along with the social organizations of the municipality of Cinquera, the direct vote resulted in 52% participation and 98% of votes against mining.

Community consultations (consultas) are a new phenomenon in El Salvador, but not a new phenomenon in Latin America. There have been consultas all through Mexico, Central America, South America, and there are different legal figures which communities utilise to hold consultas. A figure in El Salvador’s municipal code allows local municipalities to hold referendums to consult with communities on issues that truly affect them in their personal or family life.

Counting the votes, Cinquera, Feb 26. 2017. Credit: Aruna Dutt

Counting the votes, Cinquera, Feb 26. 2017. Credit: Aruna Dutt

Consultations are also a strategy to keep communities engaged and maintain the debate on both a national and local level. They involve an extensive organising process including petitions, campaigns, and work in every community in the municipality Said Cabezas.

It is also a process of educating the population at the grassroots level and keeping them informed about the issue of mining and involved in the process of using local democracy tools to defend their territory.

Vidalina Morales, ADES, at Cinquera Consulta, Feb 26, 2017. Credit: Aruna Dutt

Vidalina Morales, ADES, at Cinquera Consulta, Feb 26, 2017. Credit: Aruna Dutt

“The subject of mining is seen to bring development to the communities. If the companies come, it’s true, they bring it as a profit: by units of work, development to the communities,” Attorney for the Defense of Human Rights, William Iraheta told IPS.

“But that is only the beginning – and at the end is a disaster. They deplete natural resources and at the end, only leave disaster for the communities. Since this directly affects communities, they must take into account, and have information on both sides of the argument to be able to decide what is viable for the community. ” Iraheta said.

Bernardo Belloso, President of CRIPDES which was part of the preparation of the popular consultation, said that it is not enough to have this municipal ordinance.

“We hope that this experience will also serve for other municipalities, ” said Belloso, “We want a more secure society for our future generations. It is important that the entire Salvadoran population take a position in order to defend the territory and defend the few natural resources that remain and our sovereignty, ” he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article included a misspelling of William Iraheta’s name.

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The Peasant Farmer Who Stood Up to the President of Nicaraguahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-peasant-farmer-who-has-stood-up-to-the-president-of-nicaragua/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-peasant-farmer-who-has-stood-up-to-the-president-of-nicaragua http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-peasant-farmer-who-has-stood-up-to-the-president-of-nicaragua/#comments Fri, 24 Feb 2017 22:59:57 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149106 Francisca Ramírez, the head of the peasant movement that is leading the fight against the construction of an inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua, which has made her a victim of harassment by the administration of Daniel Ortega. Credit: Luis Martínez/IPS

Francisca Ramírez, the head of the peasant movement that is leading the fight against the construction of an inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua, which has made her a victim of harassment by the administration of Daniel Ortega. Credit: Luis Martínez/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Feb 24 2017 (IPS)

The unequal battle that small farmer Francisca Ramírez is waging against the Nicaraguan government of Daniel Ortega has become so well-known that people are calling for her security and her rights from the political heart of Europe.

Who is she and why did the European Parliament order Nicaragua on Feb. 16 to protect her life and rights, as well as those of thousands of peasant farmers in the centre-south of this impoverished Central American country?

Ramírez is a 40-year-old indigenous farmer who has lived all her life in the agricultural municipality of Nueva Guinea, in the Autonomous Region of Caribe Sur, 280 km from the capital.

She told IPS in an interview that her family has always lived in that rural area, which was the scene of bloody fighting during the 1980s civil war.

When she was eight, her father abandoned them and her mother had to work as a day labourer, while Ramírez took care of her five younger siblings.

Having survived the U.S.-financed war against the government of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (1979-1990), Ramírez learned agricultural work, got married at 18, had five children, and with the effort of the whole family, they acquired some land and improved their living conditions.

Ortega, who governed the country in that period, after overthrowing the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, returned to power in 2007. In January, he started a third consecutive term of office, after winning widely questioned elections where the opposition was excluded, supported by a civil-military alliance which controls all the branches of the state.

Ramírez was happy with her life until 2013. “They told us over the radio that they were going to build a canal and I thought that it was a very important thing because they said that we were no longer going to be poor,” she said.

Then, gradually, the news started to change her perception of the project to build the Great Nicaraguan Canal linking the Atlantic and the Pacific, granted in concession to the Chinese group HKND in 2013, and she started to ask questions that nobody answered.

One day, bad luck knocked on her door: delegations of public officials who her community had never seen before, accompanied by members of the police and the military, escorted delegations of people from China who made measurements and calculations about the properties of the farmers.

“The route of the canal runs through your property and all of you will be resettled,” they told her.

Law 840, passed in 2013 to give life to the over 50-billion-dollar mega-project, which she was barely able to understand with her three years of formal schooling, was very clear: they would be paid for their lands a price which the state considered “appropriate”.

So the resistance began. “At first everybody was happy, we thought that at last progress was coming, but when overbearing soldiers and police officers started to show up, guarding the Chinese, the whole community refused to let them in their homes and we started to protest,” she said.

Since then, she said the official response has not varied: repression, harassment and threats to farmers who refuse to give up their land.

Ramírez said that she became an activist in the National Council in Defence of Our Land, Lake and Sovereignty, a civil society initiative to organise the peasant movement to defend their lands and rights.

She started marching behind the rural leaders who led the first demonstrations against the canal.

One of the many demonstrations by small farmers who came to Managua from the southern Caribbean coastal region to protest the construction of an inter-oceanic canal that would displace thousands of rural families and cause severe environmental damage. Credit: Carlos Herrera/IPS

One of the many demonstrations by small farmers who came to Managua from the southern Caribbean coastal region to protest the construction of an inter-oceanic canal that would displace thousands of rural families and cause severe environmental damage. Credit: Carlos Herrera/IPS

Later on, the leaders were arrested, threatened, intimidated and repressed by the police and military, and Ramírez unexpectedly found herself leading the demonstrations in 2014.

Her leadership caught the attention of the national and international media, human rights organisations and civil society.

Soon, the peasant marches against the canal became a symbol of resistance and more people joined, turning the movement into the most important social force to confront Ortega since he took office again 10 years ago.

The peasant movement against the canal “is the strongest social organisation that exists today in Nicaragua. Within any movement, an authentic and genuine leadership emerges, and that is what Mrs. Ramírez represents,” sociologist Oscar René Vargas told IPS.

The president “is aware that the movement is the most important social force that his government is facing,” he said.

The admiration that Ramírez arouses, with her ability to organise and lead more than 90 demonstrations in the country, has irritated the authorities.

More than 200 peasant farmers have been arrested, about 100 have been beaten or wounded by gunfire, and the government has basically imposed a military state of siege in the area, where it refuses to finance social projects, according to the movement.

Police checkpoints along the entire route to Nueva Guinea and military barricades in the area give the impression of a war zone.

Ramírez has not escaped the violence and harassment: her house has been raided without a court order, her children and family persecuted and threatened by intelligence agents and police officers, her belongings and goods that she sells, such as food, confiscated and damaged, and she has been accused of terrorist activities.

One of the latest episodes occurred in December 2016, during a visit to Nicaragua by Organisation of American States (OAS) Secretary-General Luis Almagro, to discuss with Ortega the allegations of attacks on democracy.

To keep Ramírez and other leaders of the movement from meeting with Almagro, police convoys besieged the community and repressed members of the movement, she said.

They partially destroyed the main bridge out of the area, and suspected members of the movement’s Council were held at military checkpoints.

They even confiscated Ramírez’s work vehicles, used them to transport troops and later damaged them, according to Gonzalo Carrión, from the Nicaraguan Human Rights Centre.

“Ortega’s government has visciously mistreated Francisca Ramírez and the farmers who follow her. Her rights have been violated, from the right to protest to the right to freedom of movement, and we fear that they will violate her most sacred right: to life,” Carrión told IPS.

Walking along footpaths in the dark and crossing a deep river, where she almost drowned, Ramírez got around the military cordon and travelled, disguised and hidden in a truck, to Managua, where she was able to meet with Almagro on Dec. 1, 2016 and tell him of the abuses to which her community had been subjected for refusing to give up their lands.

On Feb. 16, the European Parliament issued a resolution condemning the lack of protection for human rights activists in Nicaragua, putting a special emphasis on the case of Ramírez, and lamenting the deterioration of the rule of law and democracy in this country.

The members of the European Parliament urged “the national and local police forces to refrain from harassing and using acts of reprisal against Francisca Ramirez for carrying out her legitimate work as a human rights defender.”

“Francisca Ramirez is a victim of abuses by the police in the country aiming at risking human rights defenders’ security and livelihood,” the European Parliament denounced.

“Ramírez, coordinator for the Defense of the Land, the Lake and Sovereignty, was in Managua to file a formal complaint over acts of repression, violations of the right to free circulation, and aggression experienced by several communities from Nueva Guinea on their way to the capital city for a peaceful protest against the construction of an inter-oceanic canal, projects which will displace local farmers activities and indigenous people from the premises of the construction,” the resolution states.

While the government remained silent about the resolution, social activist Mónica López believes that it represented a victory for the rural movement.

“Without a doubt, the resolution is a social and political victory for the peasant movement against the canal, a condemnation of Nicaragua, and a global warning about what is happening against indigenous peasant movements in Nicaragua,” López told IPS.

The government asserts that the canal project is moving ahead, although a year has passed with no visible progress, and it maintains that it will eradicate the poverty that affects more than 40 per cent of the 6.2 million people in this Central American country.

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Alternative Mining Indaba Makes Its Voice Heardhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/alternative-mining-indaba-makes-its-voice-heard/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=alternative-mining-indaba-makes-its-voice-heard http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/alternative-mining-indaba-makes-its-voice-heard/#comments Sat, 18 Feb 2017 04:00:11 +0000 Mark Olalde http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149007 A delegate from the Alternative Mining Indaba dances during a protest march on Feb. 8, 2017. About 450 representatives of civil society mining-affected communities attended the conference in Cape Town. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

A delegate from the Alternative Mining Indaba dances during a protest march on Feb. 8, 2017. About 450 representatives of civil society mining-affected communities attended the conference in Cape Town. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

By Mark Olalde
CAPE TOWN, South Africa, Feb 18 2017 (IPS)

“Comrades, we have arrived. This cherry is eight years awaited. We have made it to this place,” Bishop Jo Seoka told the crowd, pausing to allow for the whistles and cheers.

Seoka, the chairman of a South African NGO called the Bench Marks Foundation, presided over the crowd of protesters that was busy verbally releasing years of frustration at the continent’s mining industry. The protest on Feb. 8 was part of the Alternative Mining Indaba (AMI) held in Cape Town.“We want transparency, we want accountability and, most importantly, we want participation of the people affected by mining." --Mandla Hadebe

The annual gathering brings together residents of mining-affected communities and civil society representatives to discuss common problems caused by the mining industry in Africa. On its third and final day, the AMI took to the streets to deliver its declaration of demands to industry and government representatives.

While police temporarily blocked the march from reaching the convention center hosting the Mining Indaba, the industry’s counterpart to the AMI, protesters were angry after years of having their side of the story largely ignored.

They marched up to the line of police and private security guarding the doors to the conference hall and demanded to speak with members of the Mining Indaba.

“As citizens and representations (sic) citizen-organisations we wish to express our willingness to work with African governments and other stakeholders in the quest to harness the continent’s vast extractive resources to underpin Africa’s socio-economic transformation and the [Africa Mining Vision] lays a foundation for this,” the declaration stated.

“I very much appreciate the willingness to engage in dialogue, and I think this is the first step towards establishing a common vision,” Tom Butler, CEO of the International Council on Mining & Metals, told the crowd before signing receipt of the declaration and handing it over for the managing director of the Mining Indaba to also sign.

Alternative Mining Indaba participants dance and sing struggle songs during their march on Feb. 8, 2017. Individual countries have begun holding their own alternative indabas, with South Africa’s first country-specific conference held this year in Johannesburg. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

Alternative Mining Indaba participants dance and sing struggle songs during their march on Feb. 8, 2017. Individual countries have begun holding their own alternative indabas, with South Africa’s first country-specific conference held this year in Johannesburg. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

While Butler came to the AMI to give a presentation on the mining industry’s behalf, few other members of government or the industry made an attempt to engage with the AMI. The Mining Indaba’s Twitter account even blocked some AMI delegates who took to social media to air their grievances.

The official Mining Indaba is a place for mining ministers, CEOs of mining houses and other industry representatives to network and strike deals. During the event, South Africa and Japan, for example, signed a bilateral agreement to boost collaboration along the mining value chain.

“This Indaba has affirmed South Africa’s status as a preferred investment destination,” Mosebenzi Zwane, the country’s minerals minister, said in a statement following the event. “As government, we are heartened by this and recommit to ensuring the necessary regulatory and policy certainty to attract even more investment into our country.”

In his opening address at the Mining Indaba, Zwane also announced that the draft of the new Mining Charter, a document guiding the country’s mining industry, would be published in March.

The AMI, however, was born as a community-level response to the fact that such decisions are usually made without consulting those most impacted by mining.

“They are going to find this huddled mass of people,” Mandla Hadebe, one of the event organizers, said of the protest’s goals in the first year. Only 40 delegates were present.

An Alternative Mining Indaba delegate from Swaziland sings protest songs. There was a feeling of triumph among the delegates after achieving even a degree of acknowledgement from industry representatives. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

An Alternative Mining Indaba delegate from Swaziland sings protest songs. There was a feeling of triumph among the delegates after achieving even a degree of acknowledgement from industry representatives. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

In its eighth year, the AMI has grown to about 450 participants representing 43 countries. Delegates came from across Africa – from Egypt to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Malawi – as well as the rest of the world – from Cambodia to Bolivia and Australia – to share their stories.

“It just shows that our struggles are common and that we’ve decided to unite for a common purpose,” Hadebe said of the growth. “We want transparency, we want accountability and, most importantly, we want participation of the people affected by mining.”

A number of panels dedicated to community voices gave activists a platform to share their stories and methods of resistance. Translators in the various conference rooms translated among English, French and Portuguese, a necessity as well as a tacit nod to the ever-present effects of the same colonialism that brought mining.

“What we heard first were promises,” a woman from Peru recounted. “Thirty years passed, and now I call the second part of this process ‘the lies.’”

“We are trying to build a critical mass that is angry enough to oppose irresponsible mining,” a delegate from Kenya explained.

Some panels addressed specific issues facing Africa’s extractive industry. One discussion explained the need to move away from indirect taxes toward direct ones focused on mining houses. The presenter, a member of Tax Justice Network-Africa, said that an increase in government audits had led to a surge in tax revenue since 2009, a rare success story.

Another panel dealt with the realities of impending job loss due to widespread mechanization, while others took on the need for governments to strike better deals with international corporations.

Side events provided forums for more nuanced learning on topics such as the corruption involved with mining on communal land. At the showing of a documentary following South African land rights activist Mbhekiseni Mavuso, delegates from other countries such as Sierra Leone compared and contrasted their own forced relocations.

Mavuso said, “We are regarded as people who do not count. We have now become what we call ‘victims of development,’ and so that is also making us to become victims of democracy. We are fighting, so let us all stand up and fight.”

Occasionally, delegates took to the microphone to lament continued talk with minimal action. Much of the AMI focused on the Africa Mining Vision, a document produced by the African Union. While its goal is to make mining beneficial for all Africans, the document is a high-level policy discussion lacking a direct connection to affected communities.

The three-day conference has outgrown its ability to delve deeply into every issue impacting the represented countries, so delegates have taken the idea to their home nations. In the past year, Madagascar, Angola, Swaziland and others held their first country-specific alternative indabas.

Only a week before the AMI, South Africa hosted its first such conference in Johannesburg.

Despite many delegates expressing feelings of helplessness or anger, the march to the Mining Indaba provided a temporary sense of victory.

After finally obtaining some level of acknowledgment from industry representatives, the AMI participants danced and took selfies outside the Mining Indaba, far from the townships and rural villages adjacent to mines.

As the delegates boarded busses to depart the event, the vehicles shook from stomping and singing, and some protesters leaned out the windows to shout their last parting sentiments on behalf of mining-affected communities around the country and the continent.

*Mark Olalde’s mining reporting is financially supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the Fund for Environmental Journalism and the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

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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/#comments Fri, 17 Feb 2017 22:34:19 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149013 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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World’s 40,000 MP’s Must Enjoy Their Rights – But Are They?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/worlds-40000-mps-must-enjoy-their-rights-but-are-they/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=worlds-40000-mps-must-enjoy-their-rights-but-are-they http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/worlds-40000-mps-must-enjoy-their-rights-but-are-they/#comments Mon, 06 Feb 2017 06:31:43 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148822 Map of IPU member States 2009. Credit: Joowwww - IPU. Public Domain

Map of IPU member States 2009. Credit: Joowwww - IPU. Public Domain

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Feb 6 2017 (IPS)

“Members of Parliament must be free to enjoy their human rights. If not, how can they defend and promote the rights of those who elected them? Yet, around the world vocal parliamentarians find themselves under threat. The 40,000-strong community of parliamentarians includes many men and women who have risked careers and even their lives to express their beliefs.”

This bold statement by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians, presages heated debates during the IPU 136th session, scheduled to take place in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 1-5 April.

In fact, “it is not rare to see that legal steps are taken to silence outspoken members of parliament,” says the Committee. There are a number of cases where individual parliamentarians, if not even the entire opposition, have been prevented from exercising their mandate,” the IPU Committee reports.

“Among the methods used are the undue revocation or suspension of the parliamentary mandate, politically motivated bankruptcy proceedings and revocation of the parliamentarian’s citizenship.”

In order to protect parliamentarians against abuses and thus defend the parliament institution, the IPU established in 1976 a Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians, which has since examined cases in over 100 countries and in many instances helped to provide those at risk with protection or redress.

This has taken a variety of forms, such as the release of a detained parliamentarian, reinstatement to a previously relinquished parliamentary seat, the payment of compensation for abuses suffered and the investigation of such abuses and effective legal action against their perpetrators, the IPU informs.

“Sometimes the abuse arises from the application of flawed legislation or parliamentary rules. A satisfactory solution may then require a change in these legal provisions so as to bring them into line with applicable human rights standards.“

The IPU Human Rights Committee cites the types of prejudice suffered by Parliamentarians, basing on cases it has considered.

According to a 2009 study, 121 Parliamentarians suffered “undue exclusion from political life; 99 of “lack of due process”; 93 from “arbitrary arrest, detention”, and 70 from undue restriction of freedom of speech”, let alone 31 cases of “murder, en forced disappearance,” as well as cases of “torture, ill-treatment”, “kidnaping and abduction.”

The IPU’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians also reports that often, parliamentarians have fallen victim to unfounded legal proceedings. Some of these proceedings are locked into paralysis.

“In cases in which proceedings have run their course, parliamentarians have frequently been prosecuted without any respect for fundamental fair trial standards. Irrespective of whether or not the case comes to trial, due process is at issue in each of these different scenarios.”

While freedom of expression is under threat in one way or another, the Committee informs, in all cases before the Committee, only a minority of the cases relate to undue action taken as a direct response to criticism voiced by parliamentarians.

“In such situations defamation laws provide for a very narrow interpretation of freedom of expression and are often used to deal with unwanted criticism.“

“If the violation is of a particularly serious nature, for instance in the case of the assassination or torture of a parliamentarian and/or if the authorities are not cooperating in a procedure, the Committee may render its reports and recommendations public by submitting them to the IPU Governing Council.” Here, a complete list of decisions on human rights cases adopted by the Governing Council in recent years.

The IPU Human Rights Committee is composed of 10 members of parliament, elected by the Governing Council in an individual capacity on the basis of their competence, commitment to human rights and availability. The Committee elects its own President and Vice-President.

“The protection and promotion of human rights are among the main goals of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Article 1 of the Organization’s Statutes defines human rights as an essential factor leading to democracy and development.”

Parliament is the State institution representing the people and through which it participates in the management of public affairs. It therefore bears a special responsibility in promoting and ensuring respect for human rights.

Here, the IPU helps parliaments and their members to live up to this responsibility in two ways.

First, the it strengthens parliaments’ action, notably through their human rights committees, in areas such as legislation, oversight and adoption of budgets for the promotion and protection of fundamental freedoms.

Second, by contributing to their concrete protection and redress when they are at risk, the IPU ensures that individual members of parliament enjoy their own human rights.

The coming IPU’s meeting in Dhaka will discuss, among others, the issue of Redressing inequalities: Delivering on dignity and well-being for all; the role of Parliament in preventing outside interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states, and promoting enhanced international cooperation of the Sustainable development Goals, in particular on the financial inclusion of women as a diver of development.

The IPU is the international organization of Parliaments (Article 1 of the Statutes of the Inter-Parliamentary Union). It was established in 1889.

The Union is the focal point for worldwide parliamentary dialogue and works for peace and co-operation among peoples and for the firm establishment of representative democracy.

To that end, it fosters contacts, co-ordination, and the exchange of experience among parliaments and parliamentarians of all countries, and considers questions of international interest and concern and expresses its views on such issues in order to bring about action by parliaments and parliamentarians.

It also contributes to the defence and promotion of human rights – an essential factor of parliamentary democracy and development; contributes to better knowledge of the working of representative institutions and to the strengthening and development of their means of action. The IPU works in close co-operation with the United Nations.

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Families of the “Disappeared” Search for Clandestine Graves in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/families-of-the-disappeared-search-for-clandestine-graves-in-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=families-of-the-disappeared-search-for-clandestine-graves-in-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/families-of-the-disappeared-search-for-clandestine-graves-in-mexico/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2017 23:52:55 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148775 Eight-year-old Juan de Dios Torres, whose five-year-old sister Zoe Zuleica Torres went missing in December 2016 on the outskirts of the northeastern city of San Luis Potosí, participates along with his mother in the brigade searching for the remains of missing people in the northwestern state of Sinaloa. Credit: Marcos Vizcarra/IPS

Eight-year-old Juan de Dios Torres, whose five-year-old sister Zoe Zuleica Torres went missing in December 2016 on the outskirts of the northeastern city of San Luis Potosí, participates along with his mother in the brigade searching for the remains of missing people in the northwestern state of Sinaloa. Credit: Marcos Vizcarra/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
NAVOLATO, Mexico, Feb 1 2017 (IPS)

Juan de Dios is eight years old and is looking for his younger sister, Zoe Zuleica Torres Gómez, who went missing in December 2015, when she was only five years old, in the northeastern state of San Luis Potosí. He is the youngest searcher for clandestine graves in Mexico.

With pick and shovel, in the last week of January he joined the Third National Brigade for the Search for Disappeared Persons, which on Monday Jan. 30 found the remains of a body in a grave hidden in a corn and sorghum field on the communal land in Potrero de Sataya, in the municipality of Navolato, in the northwestern state of Sinaloa.

It is the second body found by this brigade, made up of a handful of women and men who search in the ground for signs of their children, siblings and parents gone missing during the years of the so-called war against drug trafficking, together with human right defenders and Catholic priests.

“A problem that has not been recognised cannot be solved, nor can it heal,” said Juan Carlos Trujillo Herrera, who is behind the creation of the brigades, told IPS during the brigade’s work in Sinaloa.

“All the public prosecutor offices in the country are saturated with this issue, there is no structure in place that would allow us to think that the institutions are going to work. That is why we have had to go out to look ourselves for our family members,” insisted Trujillo, who is searching for four disappeared siblings.

On taking office in December 2006, right-wing president Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) militarised the security of the country to combat the drug mafias and threw Mexico into a spiral of violence from which it has not escaped.
One aspect reflects the seriousness of the problem: before that year, the Mexican government identified seven major drug cartels. Ten years later, there are nearly 200 organised crime groups operating in the country, according to information published this month by the Drug Policy Programme of the Centre for Economic Research and Teaching (Cide).

The data from Cide, one of the country’s most prestigious educational institutions, also registers at least 68 massacres in that period of time.

In 10 years, the so-called war on drugs launched by Calderón has left more than 177,000 murder victims, 73,500 of them during the administration of his successor, the also conservative Enrique Peña Nieto.

It has also left at least 30,000 missing people, although registers on disappearances vary greatly among the different authorities and civil society organisations.

In 2011, the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity headed by the poet Javier Sicilia brought to the forefront the issue of forced disappearance, reporting hundreds of cases in this country of 122 million people.

But it was in October 2014, with the forced disappearance of 43 rural student teachers in Ayotzinapa, in the southwestern state of Guerrero, and in January 2016, when five young people were detained and “disappeared” by state police in Tierra Blanca, in the state of Veracruz, that the country discovered that many of the disappearances attributed to organised crime were actually carried out by the authorities.

“That is why they did not look for them,” said Miguel Trujillo, Juan Carlos´ younger brother.

Since then, groups of family members who, desperate because of the absence of the state, started their own searches, have mushroomed around the country.

To do this, they train: they take courses in forensic anthropology, archeology, law; and they gear up: they buy caving equipment, they get trays to find small bones; they form crews and have become experts in identifying graves and bones.

The first brigades were organised in March 2016 in Veracruz, a state in eastern Mexico where several clandestine graveyards have been discovered, where the remains of160 people have been found so far.

There are now at least 13 brigades in the country. And since Jan. 24, different groups have gone out into the field in Tamaulipas, Veracruz and Sinaloa, where people belonging to brigades from five states arrived for a 12-day collective search.

“There are two different kinds of searches, for people who are alive or for people who are dead. I think this is where we’re failing, because we also have to look for people who are alive, but the thing is that nobody was doing this,” said Juan Carlos Trujillo.

The groups are supported by civil society organisations, such as the Marabunta Peace brigade, a group of young people from Mexico City who provide security for the families.

“It is very hard for young people to deal with these realities, for them to not get disillusioned with humanity, but escorting the groups gives them hope. Because when they realize that they are able to help, they find hope and they reaffirm themselves as builders of peace,” Miguel Barrera, the head of Marabunta, told IPS.

Sinaloa is the land of the cartel created by the powerful drug lord Joaquín “el Chapo” Guzmán, who was extradited to the United States on Jan. 19.

The brigade has made two findings: the one in Potrero Sataya and another in the municipality El Quelite, 10 km from port Mazatlán. The little boy from San Luis Potosí came with his mother, to help search for human remains.

“This is something we have to do because the government is not doing it and it was never going to,” said Mario Vergara, who founded the group The Other Disappeared from Iguala, the municipality where the students from Ayotzinapa disappeared, and now helps brigades all over the country.

“We are making progress in terms of organisation and we are going to continue. The people that remain in each state are going to learn how to coordinate to carry out better searches; we need to replicate the model in each state and engage the governments to help the search groups,” said Miguel Trujillo.

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Measures Are Proposed to Address Violence in Mapuche Land in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/measures-are-proposed-to-address-violence-in-mapuche-land-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=measures-are-proposed-to-address-violence-in-mapuche-land-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/measures-are-proposed-to-address-violence-in-mapuche-land-in-chile/#comments Thu, 26 Jan 2017 23:07:42 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148691 Members of the Mapuche people during one of their demonstrations defending their rights, in particular their claim to theirancestral lands, in the region of La Araucanía, Chile. Credit: Fernando Fiedler/IPS

Members of the Mapuche people during one of their demonstrations defending their rights, in particular their claim to theirancestral lands, in the region of La Araucanía, Chile. Credit: Fernando Fiedler/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Jan 26 2017 (IPS)

The lands where the Mapuche indigenous people live in southern Chile are caught up in a spiral of violence, which a presidential commission is setting out to stop with 50 proposals, such as the constitutional recognition of indigenous people and their representation in parliament, in a first shift in the government´s treatment of native peoples.

President Michelle Bachelet received on Monday Jan. 23 the recommendations from the Presidential Advisory Commission to address the conflict in the La Araucanía region, home to most of the country’s Mapuche people, who make up nearly five percent of Chile’s population of just under 18 million people.

The Mapuche leaders and their supporters accuse the police deployed to the region of being “agitators” and of militarising the area, while logging companies and landowners call the local indigenous people “terrorists” and demand a heavy-handed approach towards them.

Among the proposals of the Commission, created in July 2016, are the creation of a national registry of victims of violence and compensation for them, support for the economic development of the Mapuche people – the largest native group in Chile – and solutions to return native land to the Mapuche people, in land disputes.“A historical debt is recognised with respect to the Mapuche people, but there is no analysis of what this debt consists of, let alone the deep current and historical causes of this now existing violence in La Araucanía” -- Jorge Aylwin

In addition, the Commission recommended that the president “publicly apologise, in representation of the Chilean government, for the consequences this conflict has had for the Mapuche people and any other victims of the violence in the region.”

The package of proposed measures comes in the wake of a dozen arson attacks early this year in rural areas of La Araucanía against logging company trucks and storehouses by unidentified perpetrators, who in some cases left pamphlets with demands by the Mapuche movement.

The attacks reached their peak around Jan. 3-4, dates marked in the indigenous struggle for their rights, in memory of Matías Catrileo (2008), a young Mapuche victim of a gunshot from the police, and of the elderly Luchsinger Mackay couple (2013), who died in their house when it was burnt down by unidentified assailants.

Chile´s manufacturers´ association, SOFOFA, to which the two main logging companies that extract timber in La Araucanía belong, said the region “is no longer governed by the rule of law” and that “the incapacity of the powers of government to respond and fulfill their functions of law enforcement and punishment of crimes is evident.”

“It is not an absence of the rule of law, it is a lack of respect and infringement of the human rights of these people. That is a serious thing. It is the government that undermines their rights. Talking of an absence of the rule of law is just an excuse to put the military in the territory,” Carlos Bresciani, a Jesuit priest who lives in the Tirúa village, in the area of conflict, told IPS.

“Here everything works fine, people live normally, they plant, they harvest, they run their errands, they work. The people who talk about an absence of the rule of law have never lived here. We are not at war. There are no bullets whizzing by or bombs destroying cities,” he said by telephone.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet receives the final report to address the urgent problems that face the Mapuche people, drafted by the Presidential Advisory Commission for La Araucanía, in a ceremony on Jan. 23, at the La Moneda Palace. Credit: Presidency of Chile

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet receives the final report to address the urgent problems that face the Mapuche people, drafted by the Presidential Advisory Commission for La Araucanía, in a ceremony on Jan. 23, at the La Moneda Palace. Credit: Presidency of Chile

Upon presenting the conclusions of the 20-member Commission, their leader, Catholic Bishop Héctor Vargas, said La Araucanía is a “wounded and fragmented region” that is facing a “gradual intensification of its problems.”

These problems, explained the bishop of Temuco, capital of La Araucanía, “involve a historical debt to the Mapuche people, the dramatic situation of the victims of rural violence, and the very worrying indicators which rank us as the poorest region in the country.”

La Araucanía and poverty

In the region, poverty by income fell from 27.9 to 23.6 per cent, but it is far above the national average of 11.7 per cent, according to the latest national survey.

Besides, the so-called multidimensional poverty affects more than 30 per cent of the people in the region, compared to a national average of 19.11 per cent.

In fact, in La Araucanía are five of the seven municipalities with the highest multidimensional poverty rates in Chile, and the average regional income is of 382 dollars a month, far below the national average of 562 dollars.

“The government has neglected this land and its people,” said Vargas, who added that these issues are difficult to address because “they generate contradictory positions and views and deep feelings of grief, impotence and resentment.”

The bishop called for an end to the violence “before hatred puts an end to us… If we want to disarm our hands, we have to first disarm our hearts.”

For José Aylwin, head of the non-governmental Citizen Observatory, the proposals of the Commission lack “a rights-based approach,” for example with respect to the occupied ancestral lands.

“A historical debt is recognised with respect to the Mapuche people, but there is no analysis of what this debt consists of, let alone the deep current and historical causes of this now existing violence in La Araucanía,” he told IPS.

”There is no reference to the violence carried out by the police against the Mapuche people or the promotion of the forestry industry which has resulted in the consolidation of a 1.5-million-hectare forest property to the south of the Bío Bío river,” said Aylwin.

The Commission´s proposal, he said, “acknowledges the existing political exclusion and proposes special forms of representation for indigenous people, but does not set forth other options such as autonomy and self-determination in areas of high indigenous density.”

“The bias towards productive development is clear, it refers to new productive activities, such as fruit orchards, but it includes wood pulp,” which is of interest to forestry companies, said the head of the Observatory.

Interior Minister Mario Fernández admitted during a parliamentary inquiry on Monday Jan. 23 that in La Araucanía “there is terrorism, but there is also an atmosphere of violence that has other roots.”

“We will not solve with repression or simple solutions a problem that has been going on for centuries. Rule of law doesn’t mean a right to repress, it means respecting the rights of people,” he said.

Bresciani stressed that the use of the word violence in La Araucanía “is tendentious and seeks to create a strained and clearly discriminatory climate around the social demands of the Mapuche people.”

“The term violence has been co-opted by right-wing business interests who want to create that scenario in order to justify further judicialisation and militarisation of the territory…therefore, measures of repression,” he said.

According to the priest, the violence in La Araucanía “is exercises by the political and extractionist neo-liberal economic model” and “there is an older cause which has to do with the usurpation of the lands that the Mapuche people used to have, which reduced them to poverty and humiliation.”

Bresciani considers that a solution will be found “when this conflict is seen as a political conflict, and not judicial or having to do with the police or with poverty. And from there, measures have to be taken to ensure the recognition of native peoples and return to them their lands.”

“They used to have 10 million hectares when they were invaded and now they have between 500,000 and 900,000,” he said.

Isolde Reuque Paillalef, one of the three women on the Commission and the only indigenous social leader, said “there is a new and knowledgeable vision,” after listening to the victims of violence on both sides.

But “it will also depend on who is supporting the most violent groups, because the violence is not just violence… there must be other interests involved,” she told IPS.

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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/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2017 19:38:01 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148584 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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Ordinary Citizens Help Drive Spread of Solar Power in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/ordinary-citizens-help-drive-spread-of-solar-power-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ordinary-citizens-help-drive-spread-of-solar-power-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/ordinary-citizens-help-drive-spread-of-solar-power-in-chile/#comments Sat, 14 Jan 2017 00:44:14 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148502 Panels at the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first plant in Chile financed with shares sold to citizens, are ready to generate 10 KW, 75 per cent of which will be consumed by the participating households while the remainder will go into the national grid. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Panels at the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first plant in Chile financed with shares sold to citizens, are ready to generate 10 KW, 75 per cent of which will be consumed by the participating households while the remainder will go into the national grid. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Jan 14 2017 (IPS)

Chile, Latin America’s leader in solar energy, is starting the new year with an innovative step: the development of the country´s first citizens solar power plant.

This South American country of nearly 18 million people has projects in non-conventional renewable energies (NCRE) for a combined total of nine billion dollars over the next four years, in the effort to reduce its heavy dependency on fossil fuels, which still generate more than 55 per cent of the country’s electricity.

Socialist President Michelle Bachelet’s 2014 Energy Agenda involves the participation of international investors, large power companies, the mining industry, agriculture, and academia.

Now ecologists have come up with the first project that incorporates citizens in the production and profits generated by NCRE, in particular solar power.

The small 10-KW photovoltaic plant will use solar power to generate electricity for the participating households and the surplus will go into the national power grid.

This will allow the “citizen shareholders“ taking part in the initiative to receive profits based on the annual inflation rate plus an additional two per cent.

“The objective is to create a way for citizens to participate in the benefits of solar power and the process of the democratisation of energy,“ said Manuel Baquedano, head of the Institute of Political Ecology, which is behind the initiative.

The Buin 1 Solar Plant will start operating commercially this month in Buin, a suburb on the south side of Santiago. Its main client is the Centre for Sustainable Technology, which from now on will be supplied with the power produced by the plant.

“In Chile we have experienced an important development of solar energy, as a consequence of the pressure from citizens who did not want more hydroelectric dams. This paved the way for developing NCREs,“ Baquedano told IPS.

“But solar power development has been concentrated in major undertakings, with solar plants that mainly supply the mining industry. And the possibility for all citizens to be able to benefit from this direct energy source had not been addressed yet.”

General map of the location of the Centre for Sustainable Technology, where future technicians in non-renewable energies study, and which is the main client of the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first citizen solar power plant in Chile. Credit: Courtesy of Camino Solar

General map of the location of the Centre for Sustainable Technology, where future technicians in non-renewable energies study, and which is the main client of the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first citizen solar power plant in Chile. Credit: Courtesy of Camino Solar

The environmentalist said “we decided to organise a business model to install these community solar power plants using citizen investments, since there was no support from the state or from private companies.”

The model consists of setting up a plant where there is a client who is willing to buy 75 per cent of the energy produced, and the remaining power is sold to the national grid.

The Buin 1 Solar Plant required an investment of about 18,500 dollars, divided in 240 shares of some 77 dollars each. The project will be followed by similar initiatives, possibly in San Pedro de Atacama, in the north of the country, Curicó in central Chile, or Coyhaique in Patagonia in the south.

The partners include engineers, journalists, psychologists, farmers, small business owners, and even indigenous communities from different municipalities, interested in replicating this model.

The subway, another example

A symbolic illustration of progress made with solar power is the Santiago Metro or subway. It was announced that 42 per cent of the energy that it will use as of November 2017 will come from the El Pelicano solar power project.

This plant, owned by the company SunPower, is located in the municipality La Higuera, 400 km north of Santiago, and it cost 250 million dollars to build.

“The subway is a clean means of transport… we want to be a sustainable company, and what is happening now is a major step, since we are aiming for 60 per cent NCREs by 2018,” said Fernando Rivas, the company´s assistant manager of environment.

El Pelícano, with an expected generation of 100 MW, “will use 254,000 solar panels, which will supply 300 gigawatt hours a year, equivalent to the consumption of 125,000 Chilean households,” said Manuel Tagle, general manager of SunPower.

Dionisio Antiquera, a farmer from the Diaguita indigenous community from northern Chile, who lives in Cerrillos de Tamaya, in Ovalle, 400 km north of Santiago, bought a share because “I like renewable energy and because it gives participation to citizens, to the poor.“

“There are many ways of participating in a cooperative,” he told IPS by phone.

Jimena Jara, assistant secretary for the Ministry of Energy, underlined the progress made in the development of NCREs and estimated that “investment in this sector could reach about nine billion dollars between 2017 and 2020.“

“Considering the projects that are currently in the stage of testing in our power grids, more than 60 per cent of the new generation capacity between 2014 and the end of 2016 will be non-conventional renewable energies,” she told IPS.

”Chile has set itself the target for 70 per cent of power generation to come from renewable sources by 2050, and 60 per cent by 2035. We know that we are making good progress, and that we are going to reach our goal with an environmentally sustainable and economically efficient energy supply,” said Jara.

This boom in NCREs in Chile, particularly solar and wind power, is underpinned by numbers, such as the reduction of the cost of electricity.

As of November 2016, the annual average marginal cost of energy in Chile´s central power grid, SIC, which covers a large part of the national territory, was 61 dollars per mega-watt hour (MWh), a fall of more than 60 per cent with respect to 2013 prices.

SIC´s Power Dispatch Center said that this marginal cost, which sets the transfer value between generating companies, is the lowest in 10 years, and was lower than the 91.3 dollars per MWh in 2015 and the nearly 200 MWh in 2011 and 2012, caused by the intensive use of diesel.

David Watts, of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile Electrical Engineering Department, told IPS that “solar and wind energy have offered competitive costs for quite some time,” and for this reason have permanently changed Chile´s energy mix.

“In the past, Chile did not even appear in the renewable energy rankings. Now it ranks first in solar power in Latin America and second in wind power,” he said.

The expert said “this energy is spreading and we expect it to continue to do so over the next couple of years, when the battery of projects that were awarded contracts in the last tendering process of regulated clients,” those which consume less than 500 KW, come onstream.

Once the economy recovers from the current weak growth levels, “we hope that a significant proportion of our supply contracts with our non-regulated clients (with a connected power of at least 500 KW) will also be carried out with competitive solar and wind power projects,“ said Watts.

“There is no turning back from this change. From now on, some conventional project may occasionally be installed if its costs are really competitive,“ he said.

Watts, who is also a consultant on renewable energies at the Ministry of Energy, pointed out that the growth in solar and wind power was also driven by changes in the country’s legislation, which enabled energy to be offered in blocks, and permitted the simultaneous connection of NCREs to the grid.

The report New Energy Finance Climatescope, by Bloomberg and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), ranked Chile as the country that invests the most in clean energies in Latin America, only surpassed by China in the index, which studies the world’s major emerging economies.

Commenting on the report, published on December 14, Bachelet said “we invested 3.2 billion dollars last year (2015), focusing on solar power, especially in solar photovoltaic installations, and we are also leading in other non-conventional renewable energies.”

“We said it three years ago, that Chile would change its energy mix, and now I say with pride that we have made progress towards cleaner and more sustainable energies,“ she said.

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Looting and Unrest Spread in Mexico Over Gas Price Hikehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/looting-and-unrest-spread-in-mexico-over-gas-price-hike/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=looting-and-unrest-spread-in-mexico-over-gas-price-hike http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/looting-and-unrest-spread-in-mexico-over-gas-price-hike/#comments Wed, 11 Jan 2017 22:07:56 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148484 Exasperated by the government's performance in economic and social matters, thousands of Mexicans have protested since January 1 against the rise in oil prices, in demonstrations that have already left at least six dead, and led to looting and roadblocks. One of the demonstrations had its epicentre in the symbolic Independence Angel, on Paseo de la Reforma, in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Exasperated by the government's performance in economic and social matters, thousands of Mexicans have protested since January 1 against the rise in oil prices, in demonstrations that have already left at least six dead, and led to looting and roadblocks. One of the demonstrations had its epicentre in the symbolic Independence Angel, on Paseo de la Reforma, in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jan 11 2017 (IPS)

“We are absolutely fed up with the government’s plundering and arbitrary decisions. We don´t deserve what they’re doing to us,“ said Marisela Campos during one of the many demonstrations against the government´s decision to raise fuel prices.

Campos, a homemaker and mother of two, came to Mexico City from Yautepec, 100 km to the south, to protest the recent economic decisions taken by the administration of conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto.

“Everything’s going to go up because of the gasolinazo“ – the popular term given the 14 to 20 per cent increase in fuel prices as of Jan.1, said Campos, while she held a banner against the measure, in a Monday Jan. 9 demonstration.

The measure unleashed the latent social discontent, with dozens of protests, looting of shops, roadblocks, and blockades of border crossings throughout the country, carried out by trade unions, organisations of farmers, students and shopkeepers.“It is too big of an increase. It is a very big, direct and precise blow to people's pockets. They are feeling it. People do not understand the reform, because they don't read laws, not even those on taxes.“ -- Nicolás Domínguez

The simultaneous price hikes for fuel, electricity and domestic gas were a spark in a climate of discontent over growing impunity, corruption and social inequality.

The protests, which show no signs of subsiding, have led to at least six deaths, some 1,500 people arrested, and dozens of stores looted.

“We are opposed to Peña Nieto’s way of governing. The price rises and budget cutbacks have been going on since 2014. Now there will be an increase in the cost of the basic food basket and transport rates,“ Claudia Escobar, who lives on the south side of Mexico City, told IPS during another demonstration.

Escobar, a mother of three, decided to join the protests because of what she described as “serious social disintegration and turmoil.“

In response to the social discontent, the government argued that the price rises were in response to the increase in international oil prices since the last quarter of 2016, and insisted that without this measure, budget cuts with a much more damaging social impact would have been necessary.
But the rise has its origin more in the elimination of a fuel subsidy which up to 2014 absorbed at least 10 billion dollars a year, as well as in the state-run oil company Pemex’s limited productive capacity.

To this must be added the government’s tax collection policy, where taxes account for 30 per cent of the price of gasoline.

In addition, energy authorities seek to make the fuel market more attractive, because its freeing up is part of the energy reform which came into force in 2014, and opened the oil and power industries to private capital.

Peña Nieto, in office since December 2012, promised Mexicans that this energy reform would guarantee cheap gasoline for the domestic market.

Pemex’s oil extraction has been in decline since 2011, and in 2016 it fell 4.54 per cent in relation to the previous year.

In November, crude oil production amounted to 2.16 million barrels a day, the lowest level in three decades, due to an alleged lack of resources to invest in the modernisation of infrastructure.

Gas and diesel production suffered a similar decline over the past two years, with a 15.38 per cent decrease between 2015 and 2016, when Pemex refined 555,200 barrels equivalent a day of both fuels combined.

This forced a rise in fuel imports, mainly from the United States, with Mexico importing in November 663,300 barrels equivalent a day, 15.88 per cent more than in the same month the previous year.

Traditionally, Pemex contributed 33 per cent of the national budget, but the collapse in international prices since 2014, and its contraction in activity, reduced its contribution to 20 per cent, which compels the government to obtain income from other sources.

For Nicolás Domínguez, an academic at the state Autonomous Metropolitan University, the government is facing the complex situation with “simplistic and incomplete“ explanations.

“It is too big of an increase. It is a very big, direct and precise blow to people’s pockets. They are feeling it. People do not understand the reform, because they don’t read laws, not even those on taxes.“ he told IPS.

But the public “do understand when they go shopping and they can’t afford to buy what they need. That makes them angry. And when they ask for explanations, the government tells them that in United States gasoline prices have gone up, that they have gone up everywhere.”

The common prediction of critics of the gasolinazo is its impact on the cost of living, which in the last few months has been spiraling upwards, with inflation standing at around 3.4 per cent by the end of the year, according to still provisional figures.

The non-governmental organisation El Barzón, which groups agricultural producers, warns that the price of essential goods could climb by 40 per cent over the next months.

“It is likely that there will be serious repercussions on national agricultural production and in households,“ the organisation’s spokesman, Uriel Vargas, told IPS. He predicted that the impact of the rise in fuel prices will be “an increase in the levels of inequality, which are already a major problem.”

For Vargas, “the government must take action to avoid a rise in prices.“

According to 2014 official figures, 46 percent of Mexico’s 122 million people were living in poverty – a proportion that has likely increased in the last two years, social scientists agree.

The gasolinazo canceled out the four percent rise in the minimum wage adopted this month, which brought the monthly minimum to 120 dollars a month.

As demonstrated by the Centre for Multidisciplinary Analyses of the Mexico National Autonomous University, the minimum monthly wage, earned by about six million workers, does not satisfy basic needs.

In its “Research Report 126. The minimum salary: a crime against the Mexican people,“ the Centre concluded that the minimum wage has lost 11 per cent in buying power since Peña Nieto took office.

The study states that it takes three minimum wages just to put food on the table.

To make matters worse, Mexico’s economic growth will range only between 1.5 and 2 per cent, and a further weakening of the economy is possible, according to several projections, due to the impact of the protectionist policies of Donald Trump, who will take office as U.S. president on Jan. 20.

In an attempt to calm things down, Peña Nieto presented this Monday Jan. 9 an “Agreement for Economic Strengthening and Protection of the Domestic Economy,“ which includes a 10 per cent cut in the highest public sector wages.

But for observers, these are merely bandaid measures.

“What the government wants is to calm people down. These are small remedies and what people want is a drop in gas prices. The question is what direction do they want Mexico to move in. If it is about improving the well-being of families, this is not the best way. If the demonstrations spread, the government will have to back down,“ said Domínguez.

For people such as Campos and Escobar, the starting point is reversing the increase in oil prices.

“We will persist until the rise is reverted and there is a change,“ said Campos, while Escobar added “we hope that they understand that we will not stay quiet.“

On February 4 there will be another price adjustment, another spark to the burning plain that Mexico has become.

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“Soares Is Dead: Long Live Soares!” Cries Portugalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/soares-is-dead-long-live-soares-cries-portugal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=soares-is-dead-long-live-soares-cries-portugal http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/soares-is-dead-long-live-soares-cries-portugal/#comments Tue, 10 Jan 2017 16:12:25 +0000 Mario Dujisin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148459 Mario Soares in 1975. Credit: Dutch National Archives

Mario Soares in 1975. Credit: Dutch National Archives

By Mario Dujisin
LISBON, Jan 10 2017 (IPS)

The death of Mario Soares, former Portuguese prime-minister, president, and historic leader of Lusitanian socialism, demonstrated just how united the Portuguese are with regards to his past and his historical projection.

Analysts, politicians and foreign journalists have also pointed out that the degree of Soares’ international reputation and prestige was never matched by any other Portuguese public figure.Soares became one of the central figures in the resistance to Salazar, and he was soon to share prison cells with independence leaders from Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and former Portuguese India.

Even his most ardent political opponents have paid homage to him, naming Soares as the undisputed patriarch of democracy. For his role during the democratization process up until his death last Saturday at age 92, Soares was considered a kind of “Father of the Nation”, in its 1974 democratic-constitutional incarnation.

With his death, Europe says goodbye to the last of the great leaders that marked the second half of the twentieth century, a condition he shares with figures of the caliber of Willy Brandt, Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer, Jean Monet, Jacques Delors, Olof Palme, Helmuth Kohl, François Mitterrand and Helmuth Schmidt.

During the 1950s the young Lisbon lawyer began to distinguish himself, as noted in a file of the International and State Defense Police (PIDE), the repressive arm of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar’s corporatist dictatorship. In the file, Soares is described as a “defender of communists and terrorists of the overseas provinces,” the official denomination for the Portuguese colonies in Africa, India and the Far East.

From defender to actor, Soares became one of the central figures in the resistance to Salazar, and he was soon to share prison cells with independence leaders from Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and former Portuguese India.

He went through PIDE concentration camps in the former African island colonies of Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe, right before heading for France in a long and forced exile. This was to be his last residence before his return to Portugal with the triumph of the “Captain’s Revolution” on April 25th 1974.

During the ensuing revolutionary period pro-communist and radical military sectors took center stage, allowing Soares to side with the moderate left.

The political battle was settled by late 1975, as Soares defeated the most revolutionary sectors of the Armed Forces. The latter lacked external support in a Europe where Conservatives, Socialists and Social Democrats shared fears of Portugal becoming communist.

When PS won the 1976 elections, Soares became the first head of a democratically-elected government, famously admitting his tenure “for some time, will put socialism in the drawer.”

It was his role in the Portuguese democratization process that earned him the title of “father of the nation”.

Until the death of his wife Maria de Jesus Barroso in July 2015, Soares was lucid and in good physical shape. He was frequently spotted climbing the many stairs and alleys of Lisbon with admirable agility.

Over the years, he increasingly shifted leftwards and became critical of neoliberal globalization, while also taking part in public demonstrations against the Iraq invasion or previously against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for its attack on Serbia.

He never forgave Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder for promoting the so-called “Third Way”, which according to Soares dealt a fatal blow to the socialist and social democratic project for Europe.

His opinion articles, published weekly in various Portuguese media, were translated into Spanish by IPS columnist service and published in several countries.

The death of his lifelong companion was unbearable to him, sending him on a steady path of deterioration that increased on a day to day basis.

In a message addressed to the Portuguese government and Soares’ family, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Portugal “owes its democracy, freedom and respect for fundamental rights to Mario Soares.”

His legacy, concluded the UN head, “far exceeds Portugal’s borders,” describing Soares as “one of the few political leaders of true European and world stature.”

Analysts agree Soares’ main trait, which accompanied him throughout his life, was the he never shied away from a political battle. And in that battle, he always stood on the same side of the trench: that of democracy, freedom, and unconditional support for human rights.

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Native Seeds Sustain Brazil’s Semi-Arid Northeasthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 21:51:57 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148428 Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, better known as Mundinho, a 76-year-old farmer who lives in the Apodi municipality in Northeast Brazil, shows a visiting farmer a bottle of bean seeds which he stores and protects. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, better known as Mundinho, a 76-year-old farmer who lives in the Apodi municipality in Northeast Brazil, shows a visiting farmer a bottle of bean seeds which he stores and protects. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
APODI, Brazil, Jan 6 2017 (IPS)

In his 76 years of life, Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo has endured a number of droughts in Brazil’s semi-arid Northeast region. And he remembers every one of them since 1958.

“The worst one was in 1982 and 1983, the only time that the river dried up,” said Pinheiro do Melo, who has lived near the river since 1962. “The one in 1993 was also very bad,” he told IPS, because neither Bolsa Familia nor Networking in Brazil’s Semi-Arid Region (ASA) existed yet, which contribute to a less traumatic coexistence with droughts like the current one, which has dragged on for five years.

Bolsa Familia is a government cash-transfer programme which helps some 13.8 million poor families in Brazil, half of whom are in the Northeast. ASA is a network of 3,000 social organisations which promotes the collection of rainwater, as well as techniques and know-how suited to rural life in a climate of irregular rainfall.

Water is not so scarce for Pinheiro do Melo and his neighbours because of their proximity to the Apodi river, because even when it dries up, they can get water from the cacimbas, which are water holes in the riverbed or along the banks.

Mundinho, as he is known, besides making an effort to obtain water on the high-lying land where he lives in a rural area in the Apodi municipality, in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, is dedicated to a task that is vital to the sustainability of small-scale farming in the semi-arid interior of Northeast Brazil, an ecosystem known as the Sertão. He is a “guardian” of native seeds.

In bottles and small plastic barrels, he stores the seeds of corn, bean, sorghum, watermelon and other locally planted species, in a shack next to his house, in the middle of land that is now sandy and covered with dried-up vegetation.

More than a thousand homes that serve as “seed banks”, and 20,000 participating families, make up the network organised by ASA to preserve the genetic heritage and diversity of crops adapted to the climate and semi-arid soil in Brazil’s Northeast.

Saving seeds is an age-old peasant tradition, which was neglected during the “green revolution”, a period of agricultural modernisation which started in the mid-20th century and involved “an offensive by companies that produced the so-called ‘improved’ seeds,” which farmers became dependent on, said Antonio Gomes Barbosa, a sociologist who is coordinator of ASA’s Seed Programme.

Native seeds stored in recycled plastic bottles, in a shack on his farm specially built by Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, who proudly guards native seeds that contribute to food security in Northeast Brazil, in the midst of a drought that has dragged on for over five years. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Native seeds stored in recycled plastic bottles, in a shack on his farm specially built by Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, who proudly guards native seeds that contribute to food security in Northeast Brazil, in the midst of a drought that has dragged on for over five years. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The strategy, adopted in 2007, of disseminating technologies for harvesting rainwater for production, in search of food security, lead ASA to the awareness that small producers needed to always have seeds available, he told IPS.

A study carried out among 12,800 families found that “the semi-arid Northeast has the greatest variety of seeds of food and medicinal plant species in Brazil.” Of the 56 million people who live in the Northeast, more than 23 million live in the semi-arid parts of the region, in this South American country of 208 million.

According to the survey, the family and community tradition of storing seeds and passing them down from one generation to the next contributed to this diversity of seeds, as did migrants who returned to the semi-arid Northeast from southern São Paulo and east-central Brazil, bringing seeds native to those areas.

What ASA did was to identify the houses which had stored seeds, create a network of them and help multiply the number of these traditional seed banks, in order to salvage, preserve, increase stocks and distribute native seeds, Barbosa said.

Antonia de Souza Oliveira, or Antonieta as she is known, participates in seed bank number 639, according to ASA’s records, in Milagre, a village of 28 families on the Apodi plateau, which is crossed by the river of the same name.

The community seed bank “has 17 guardians and stocks mainly of corn, bean and sorghum seeds,” she said.

Antonia de Souza Oliveira in front of the seed bank in Milagre, a rural settlement of 28 families in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, which has become famous for the strong participation of women in the village’s collective activities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Antonia de Souza Oliveira in front of the seed bank in Milagre, a rural settlement of 28 families in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, which has become famous for the strong participation of women in the village’s collective activities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The strong presence of women in the activities in this community prompted former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) to choose Milagre to inaugurate a line of credit for women participating in the National Programme to Strengthen Family Farming (PRONAF).

A model case, highlighted by ASA, is the seed bank in Tabuleiro Grande, another rural settlement in the municipality of Apodi, in Rio Grande do Norte. There, a family initiative stores seeds of 450 varieties of corn, beans and other legumes and herbs.

Antonio Rodrigues do Rosario, 59, heads the fourth generation that maintains the “family bank”.

The native seed movement is in conflict with the green revolution, where seeds are distributed by the government or are sold by biotech corporations “in great quantities but with little variety,” said Barbosa.

“We don’t need this kind of distribution, just local initiatives in every area to rescue local seeds, with great diversity and dissemination,” said Barbosa.

The movement is about knowledge accumulated by local families with experience in adaptation to each specific place, soil and climate, based on the intended type of production and resistance to pests and drought.

Antonio Gomes Barbosa, coordinator of the Native Seeds Programme of the movement Networking in the Brazilian Semi Arid, which brings together more than 3,000 organisations. This initiative is key to food security and biodiversity in agriculture in Northeast Brazil, especially during the prolonged drought currently plaguing the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Antonio Gomes Barbosa, coordinator of the Native Seeds Programme of the movement Networking in the Brazilian Semi Arid, which brings together more than 3,000 organisations. This initiative is key to food security and biodiversity in agriculture in Northeast Brazil, especially during the prolonged drought currently plaguing the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“There are many varieties of corn that address different needs; you can produce more leaves to feed animals, or more corn for human consumption,” he said.

“Family gardens are laboratories, where experiments are carried out, genetic improvements and testing of resistance and productivity of seeds. The garden is where women participate the most, teaching their children as well,” Barbosa said.

“In the severe 1982-1983 drought, a variety of fast-growing potato, which in 60 days was reproduced and stored by a grandmother, saved many lives,” he said.

The exchange of materials and knowledge within and among communities is also an important part of maintaining the diversity of native seeds. ASA works to bolster this exchange, promoting contact among small farmers from different areas.

“Native seeds are at the centre of resistance to the impositions of the market, in order to overcome the dependence on big suppliers,” said Barbosa.

Climate change boosts the importance of native seeds from the semi-arid region. “There is no agricultural poison to combat the rise in temperatures,” he said, half-jokingly.

The Semi-Arid Seeds Programme proved the “great creative capacity and ability to experiment of family farmers in the Northeast,” Barbosa told IPS in the nearby municipality of Mossoró.

It also showed their tendency towards autonomy. “Farmers follow their own experience, more than the advice of agronomists, because they always choose the safest bet.”

But there are two threats that concern ASA’s seed movement. One is the “genetic erosion” which could be caused by the current drought, which in some areas has lasted for seven years.

Isolated rains tempt farmers to plant. Knowing they could lose their entire crop, they never use all of their seeds. But the seeds are gradually lost, with each deceptive rainfall, which puts their entire stock of seeds at risk.

Another threat is posed by transgenic seeds, which farmers involved in ASA reject. The presence of genetically modified corn was detected in some crops in the northeastern state of Paraíba, apparently a consequence of contamination from seeds brought in from other regions.

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