Inter Press ServiceActive Citizens – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 23 Jun 2017 19:09:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 “Torture Works” — in All the Wrong Wayshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/torture-works-wrong-ways/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=torture-works-wrong-ways http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/torture-works-wrong-ways/#respond Fri, 23 Jun 2017 19:09:46 +0000 Victor Madrigal Borloz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151031 Victor Madrigal-Borloz is Secretary-General of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, Copenhagen, representing 153 centres in 76 countries, and a Hilton Humanitarian Prize Laureate

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Victor Madrigal-Borloz is Secretary-General of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, Copenhagen, representing 153 centres in 76 countries, and a Hilton Humanitarian Prize Laureate

By Victor Madrigal-Borloz
COPENHAGEN, Jun 23 2017 (IPS)

“Torture works” might rank among the most sweeping generalisations ever uttered, one brutal in its disregard of the pain and suffering created by this abhorrent practice. Indeed, torture works, but to all the wrong ends.

Torture is effective at creating enormous pain, severe trauma, and lasting damage. Victims suffer psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, withdrawal and self-isolation, confusion, flashbacks, memory lapses and other cognitive symptoms; as well as fatigue, insomnia and recurrent nightmares.

This can naturally lead to permanent physical impairment and is psychologically scarring, leaving victims with long-lasting illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and deep depression.

In rehabilitation centers worldwide, victims of torture report suicidal feelings and of being easily frightened and suspicious, making it extremely difficult to maintain social relationships, or to work and function in society. They often describe being disconnected from the world and from the feeling of being less than human.

In addition to psychiatric disorder, it is strongly believed that PTSD results in later serious medical problems such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and possibly dementia.

So, if the intent is to inflict severe pain and lasting suffering, torture is the tool.

Torture is also an effective mechanism to corrode the social fabric. The necessary conditions for torture include alienation — the mechanism through which the perpetrator ceases to regard his or her victim as human.

What this does to a society is difficult to describe in the abstract, but easy to perceive in any conversation with a Chilean, a Cambodian, a Croatian or a Congolese survivor of torture. All will describe how it has taken decades, and will take many more, to restore the trust among neighbors, and sometimes even family.

So, if the goal is to divide communities, torture will do.

Torture, not surprisingly, also ensures long lasting damage to democratic structures. In states in which torture is systematic or widespread, human rights defenders are invariably under threat. Justice is carried out at the peril of the prosecutor. The independence of judges is curtailed. How can you expect people to speak freely, to claim their rights or to organize politically if the response from the state is torture?

So, as a way to weaken democracy, torture does the trick. What does torture not achieve?

Torture does not work to produce reliable intelligence, to solve crime or to prevent terrorism. In her foreword to the Senate’s Intelligence Committee on the CIA Detention and Interrogation Program, Senator Diane Feinstein registered this conclusion pristinely: “Prior to the attacks of September 2001, the CIA itself determined from its own experience with coercive interrogations that such techniques ‘do not produce intelligence,’ ‘will probably result in false answers,’ and had historically proven to be ineffective.”

Yet the global consensus on an absolute prohibition of torture is vociferously questioned. Despite the vacuum of evidence of benefits, politicians across the political spectrum jump to vouch for the necessity of torture.

This shift in public discourse away from a universal and total prohibition of torture is now leading to other challenges. Traditional national donors are shrinking from their commitments and responsibilities by decreasing or stopping funding. This at a time of unprecedented demand for the crucial services performed by human rights organisations.
Despite these challenges, dedicated staff at rehabilitation centres continue, often at great personal sacrifice and sometimes at great risk, to provide outstanding physical and psychological treatment while assisting their clients to re-integrate into societies.

There is a lot of pending work in relation to torture victims. The member centres of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims treat some 100,000 victims around the world every year, but we know that this is a minuscule proportion of all affected children, women and men.

Our movement is resilient. Today, we speak with one voice to let demagogues and extremists know that, more than ever, we stand resolutely for what is right, and we are ready to work with anyone wishing to improve the lives of torture victims. We invite the support of those members of the public who share our aspiration to safer societies and understand that torture is not the answer, and who recognize that all victims of this despicable crime have the right to full rehabilitation to rebuild their lives.

As the world marks the United Nations International Day in Support of Torture Victims, Monday June 26, please join your voice to ours at http://irct.org

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

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Men Who Commit Femicide Lose Rights Over Their Children in Argentina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Large Landowners Jeopardise Indigenous Revival in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/large-landowners-jeopardise-indigenous-revival-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=large-landowners-jeopardise-indigenous-revival-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/large-landowners-jeopardise-indigenous-revival-in-brazil/#respond Wed, 31 May 2017 23:50:27 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150689 The attack with guns and machetes that left at least 10 Gamela indigenous people wounded, in the northeastern state of Maranhão, highlighted the growing threats against the resurgence and survival of native people in Brazil. On Apr. 30, dozens of armed men attacked indigenous people who were occupying an estate in the municipality of Viana, […]

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Representatives of indigenous peoples in Brazil, who gather every year in April at the Free Land Camp on the Esplanade of the Ministries in Brasilia, in a protest against the legislators who undermine their rights to land, health and education. The National Congress is seen in the background. Credit: José Cruz/Agência Brasil

Representatives of indigenous peoples in Brazil, who gather every year in April at the Free Land Camp on the Esplanade of the Ministries in Brasilia, in a protest against the legislators who undermine their rights to land, health and education. The National Congress is seen in the background. Credit: José Cruz/Agência Brasil

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 31 2017 (IPS)

The attack with guns and machetes that left at least 10 Gamela indigenous people wounded, in the northeastern state of Maranhão, highlighted the growing threats against the resurgence and survival of native people in Brazil.

On Apr. 30, dozens of armed men attacked indigenous people who were occupying an estate in the municipality of Viana, which they claim as their ancestral land. Two of the injured suffered deep cuts on their hands.
The uneven battle was reminiscent of the massacres that decimated Brazil’s native population over the course of five centuries. But it was merely the most brutal part of an offensive unleashed on multiple fronts by large landowners, who consider the amount of land granted to indigenous people excessive.

“This is the worst moment in terms of government indigenous policy since the (1964-1985) military dictatorship,” said Marcio Santilli, a founding member of the non-governmental Social-Environmental Institute (ISA) and former president (1995-1996) of the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI), the government indigenous rights agency.
The government of President Michel Temer, in office since May 2016, is behind “an unprecedented setback in the entire system of protection of the environment, native peoples and farm workers,” the ISA and 59 other non-governmental organisations complained in an “open letter” released on May 9.

The offensive has included a 55 per cent cut in FUNAI’s budget this year, the appointment of an army general, Franklimberg de Freitas, as head of the agency, and legislative measures that seek to revoke the indigenous right to the lands where they have traditionally lived, recognised in Brazil’s constitution.

A constitutional amendment, under discussion since 2000, aims to transfer from the executive to the legislative branches the authority to make the final decision regarding the demarcation of indigenous lands.

Approval of the amendment would block the process of demarcation of native land promoted by the 1988 constitution, since Congress is traditionally conservative and is currently dominated by the Agricultural Parliamentary Front (APF), vehemently opposed to assigning more land to indigenous people.

The multi-party block, also known as the rural caucus, is comprised of 257 lawmakers – half of the lower chamber – and 16 senators – one-fifth of the Senate – according to the Inter-union Department of Parliamentary Advisory.

“President Temer, who is very unpopular, is hostage to the Congress and vulnerable to the pressures of the parliamentarians,” Santilli told IPS, to explain his concern with respect to the initiatives set forth by the current administration, whose term ends the first day of 2019.

Justice Minister Osmar Serraglio was legal coordinator of the APF until February, when he was appointed to head the ministry that is currently responsible for indigenous policy, as FUNAI answers to the Justice Ministry.
The president of the APF, lawmaker Nilson Leitão, as rapporteur for the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry on FUNAI and Land Reform, is calling for the prosecution of dozens of leaders of non-government organisations (NGO), anthropologists, public prosecutors and government officials for alleged fraud in the demarcation of indigenous lands.

“It is a paradox that he intends to criminalise those who want to comply with the constitution” by ensuring indigenous access to lands that were traditionally theirs, Santilli remarked.

“We are all defending the constitution, from different

A Guaraní family who live precariously on lands not yet demarcated, under the constant threat of expulsion, in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, near the border with Paraguay. The largest indigenous population in Brazil is concentrated in this area, where large landowners have taken possession of native lands, leading to the highest number of murders and suicides of indigenous people. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A Guaraní family who live precariously on lands not yet demarcated, under the constant threat of expulsion, in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, near the border with Paraguay. The largest indigenous population in Brazil is concentrated in this area, where large landowners have taken possession of native lands, leading to the highest number of murders and suicides of indigenous people. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

viewpoints,” said Leitão, explaining that the parliamentary commission examined several cases and concluded in a 3,385-page report that there are proven illegalities that must be prosecuted.

“There was an improper use of public resources,” the legislator told IPS. “Some NGOs even bought firearms for indigenous people, and in some demarcations the indigenous people did not even want the entire area that was allocated to them.”

His report attacks several NGOs that “received huge sums of money from abroad” and encouraged “invasions of rural properties” claimed as indigenous lands, ignoring the legal property claims of the owners.

“The method of demarcation has defects, everything that has been done lately is being questioned by the justice system,” Leitão said. Also, in his opinion, FUNAI was weakened when it was “taken over by officials with a biased ideology.”

But his main criticism is that the land is “the only focus of FUNAI and indigenous people,” while they ignore issues such as “taking care of the health and education” of native peoples.

As a consequence, the rural bloc lawmaker said that “in the last 10 years the death rate among indigenous people rose 168 percent, not due to war or violent conflicts, but because of diseases,” and 40 per cent of the deaths were of children under five.

It has nothing to do with a shortage of land, he argued, pointing out that there were 817,963 indigenous people – 0.4 per cent of the total population – in Brazil according to the 2010 census, occupying 117 million hectares, or 13.7 per cent of the national territory. In 2010 the population was just over 190 million people, compared to today’s 211 million, according to current projections.

Minimising the importance of the land issue is in the interest of the rural bloc, in permanent conflict with the contenders for land, whether indigenous people or peasant farmers demanding to be settled on land under the government’s land reform programme.

But all experts consider land the key factor for the survival of native peoples.

The current rural bloc offensive, which is favoured by their majority in Congress, threatens to put an end to the indigenous resurgence promoted by Brazil’s return to democracy in 1985 and the constitution approved three years later.

The indigenous population stood at just 294,131 in 1991, when the first official census to incorporate that ethnic identification was carried out. By 2000 the number had more than doubled, to 734,127, and in 2010 it had reached 817,963.

This increase responded to the demarcation of over 80 per cent of the 480 areas already recognised as belonging to indigenous people in Brazil since 1988. There are still 224 areas to be officially demarcated, half of them already identified and the rest still in process.

“The population growth will continue to be reflected in the 2020 census, despite the escalation of violence,” predicted Cleber Buzatto, executive secretary of the Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI), a Catholic Church organisation.

Many native groups are involved in a revival of their identities and are trying to recover their ancestral lands. This is the case of the Gamela people, who occupied estates seeking to demarcate their territory themselves, in the face of the slow pace of the government’s action, as part of an initiative that triggered the violent reaction by large local landowners, said Buzatto.

The indigenous population, despite the adversities, continue to mobilise for their constitutional rights.

Currently there are 252 native peoples, speaking 150 different languages, of the 1,200 that were spoken when the Portuguese colonialists arrived in 1500, according to ISA. The largest groups are the Guaraní, Tikuna, Terena and Yanomami.

The Free Land Camp, an annual demonstration held in Brasilia, drew nearly 4,000 indigenous people Apr. 24-28, to protest against “violence, setbacks and threats by the Brazilian state,” and defend their rights guaranteed by the constitution and international treaties.

“There is a series of ongoing threats and actions that are related to, and that reinforce, each other,” with a rural bloc representative in the Justice Ministry, and attempts to modify the constitution to invade indigenous lands, disqualify the demarcation system and ensure impunity for the aggressors, said Buzatto.

These actions also affect the environment and human rights, fomenting resistance movements.

Criticism of the positions taken by the Brazilian government, particularly with respect to indigenous questions, were expressed in the United Nations Human Rights Council, when it subjected the country to the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva on May 5. “That is something that gives us hope,” said the secretary of CIMI.

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Gateway Portals and the Quest for Sustainable Urbanizationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/gateway-portals-and-the-quest-for-sustainable-urbanization/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gateway-portals-and-the-quest-for-sustainable-urbanization http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/gateway-portals-and-the-quest-for-sustainable-urbanization/#respond Wed, 24 May 2017 15:27:58 +0000 Joan Erakit http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150570 On a busy Friday afternoon, the number 1 subway train heading north through Manhattan’s Westside comes out of a dark tunnel –and if one takes a minute to release oneself from communication devices—one can catch sight of the approaching 125th street in the distance, the crosswalk buzzing with yellow cabs. The train station at 125th […]

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125th Station, Broadway. Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

By Joan Erakit
NEW YORK, May 24 2017 (IPS)

On a busy Friday afternoon, the number 1 subway train heading north through Manhattan’s Westside comes out of a dark tunnel –and if one takes a minute to release oneself from communication devices—one can catch sight of the approaching 125th street in the distance, the crosswalk buzzing with yellow cabs.

The train station at 125th street and Broadway that sits high above the commotion below on a green arch bridge is the first clue that a passenger has reached Harlem, the gateway portal to the historic New York City neighborhood.

Last week, the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization and UN-Habitat organized a discussion at the United Nations headquarters that brought together stakeholders from the private sector, the UN system, government, academia and civil society to share ideas for creating and sustaining gateway portals — ultimately emphasizing the need to utilize urbanization as a tool for development.

Whilst many in the room were probably used to such discussions taking the route of creating bustling cities that could accommodate the highest number of urbanites in order to support political, economic and cultural agendas, it was refreshing to instead witness a focus on urban planning through gateway portals that put infrastructure center stage.

A gateway portal is an emblem of a city and can be everything from a bridge, plaza, or historic site that often welcomes one into a city or specific neighborhood. California’s Golden Gate Bridge is the most famous, linking Marin County to San Francisco in an architectural piece designed by engineer Joseph Strauss in the 1930s.

As one heads east of California, other gateway portals across the United States start popping up such as the Minneapolis Stone Arch Bridge that crosses the Mississippi River, connecting the southern and northern parts of the Midwest City. Arriving in New York, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island join the historic Manhattan Bridge as portals to the urban jungle – each depicting an intentional narrative of its own.

Famed architect Santiago Calatrava, a man known for his extraordinary body of work was invited to the discussion last week where he not only shared various projects, but also highlighted the necessity of portals. In his own words he mentioned that, “bridges are important pieces of infrastructure and gateway portals are to a city what infrastructure is to Sustainable Development.”

If this is true then city planners, architects and government officials are now tasked with the challenging job of thinking critically of where and how they place gateway portals. Instead of just creating entrances that mark an area and alert taxi drivers to charge toll fees, planners now have the opportunity to address issues of sustainability by utilizing smart, inclusive design that goes beyond just a pretty facade.

In 2013, author Charles Montgomery published a book called ‘Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design’, an anthropological text on what it meant to create sustainable spaces that were not only focused on developing a city, but also on underscoring the temperament of its citizens in relation to that development. If people were generally happy and continued to live happy lives within urban bustling communities, then was it possible that their surroundings would eventually be transformed socially, economically and politically?

“Urban spaces and systems do not merely reflect altruistic attempts to live the complex problem of people living close together, and they are more than an embodiment of the creative tensions between competing ideas,” he wrote. “They are shaped by struggles between competing groups of people. They apportion the benefits of urban life. They express who has power and who does not. In doing so, they shape the mind and soul of the city,” he concluded.

Citizen Driven Planning

The premise of the conversation last week was straightforward: development cannot succeed without conscious urbanization. This, meaning that urbanization for development needed to include a citizen driven approach to planning and design that accounted for inclusion, health, resiliency and equality.

According UN Habitat, it is estimated that around 54% of people now live in urban areas and as this number steadily grows, the question of how to sustainably house, provide and protect a large population in such dense spaces has become a top priority for both the UN system and government officials.

A timely discussion as Habitat III concluded last year in Quito, Ecuador with the goal of adopting a new urban agenda that would offer a set of action oriented global standards that would guide the way in which we designed and sustained our cities – citizen driven urbanization would need to prioritize these global standards when building or reshaping gateway portals.

Additionally, such plans would also need to uphold the fact that gateway portals established the economic and political power of the city, and to be citizen driven would essentially mean that the portals were of service to the people who used them daily, and not the other way around.

Frederick Douglas Plaza, Harlem.  Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

Frederick Douglas Plaza, Harlem. Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

What’s In A Narrative?

During the 5th and 6th centuries, grandiose gates and high towering walls that circled a city – sometimes serving as a safety barrier in the chance of attack – illustrated the gateway portal. The narrative of a powerful gate or great wall such as the one in China laid forth the cities ambitions and easily communicated its priorities.

In 2017 with more and more people moving into urban areas, we are forced to ask ourselves what sort of narrative we’d like to have. When one arrives in Harlem, what narrative is being shared once you’ve crossed the threshold of the gateway portal on 125th street and begin your descent into the colorful street below?

New York City Commissioner Feniosky Pena-Mora spoke during the panel last week about the plans that the De Blasio administration drawn up towards creating sustainable, healthy public spaces with the agenda of changing the narrative of its city.

“We often say that we want to create spaces that work for everyone – diversity is key,” he said, continuing, “We must design to invite, and design to delight.”

This – NYC’s actual design mantra – when applied to redefining gateway portals is to simply put the citizen at the center of the vision. Yes, happiness is key, sustainability is key but city planners must also focus on creating spaces that encourage openness.

In the end, it cannot be disputed: gateway portals emphasize the importance of a city. They provide a first impression and a lasting one if curated with intent. It is with this measure that city planners and government officials must consider portals as the ‘opening line’ of their cities narrative.

Sustainable urbanization can most certainly be an effective tool for development, but must not be approached with naiveté. As the Executive Director of UN Habitat Dr. Clos put during his remarks last week, “when you address one problem, you generate two more.”

Addressing one gateway portal at a time, a city’s quest for sustainable urbanization becomes an actual possibility rather than just a city plan.

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Survivors of the El Mozote Massacre Have New Hopes for Justice in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/survivors-of-the-el-mozote-massacre-have-new-hopes-for-justice-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=survivors-of-the-el-mozote-massacre-have-new-hopes-for-justice-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/survivors-of-the-el-mozote-massacre-have-new-hopes-for-justice-in-el-salvador/#respond Tue, 23 May 2017 21:32:13 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150557 Except for a house with its walls riddled with holes made by bursts of machine gun fire, nobody would say that the quiet Salvadoran village of El Mozote was the scene of one of the worst massacres in Latin America, just 35 years ago. “Many of us who live here are descendants of those who […]

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Sofia Romero Pineda, 55, and her grandson hold the few portraits she preserves of some of her family members killed during the military operation which slaughtered some 1,000 inhabitants of El Mozote and neighboring villages in eastern El Salvador. The portraits are of Simeona Vigil, her grandmother; Florentina Pereria, her mother; and Maria Nelly Romero, her sister. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Sofia Romero Pineda, 55, and her grandson hold the few portraits she preserves of some of her family members killed during the military operation which slaughtered some 1,000 inhabitants of El Mozote and neighboring villages in eastern El Salvador. The portraits are of Simeona Vigil, her grandmother; Florentina Pereria, her mother; and Maria Nelly Romero, her sister. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
EL MOZOTE, El Salvador, May 23 2017 (IPS)

Except for a house with its walls riddled with holes made by bursts of machine gun fire, nobody would say that the quiet Salvadoran village of El Mozote was the scene of one of the worst massacres in Latin America, just 35 years ago.

“Many of us who live here are descendants of those who managed to survive the massacre,” 21-year-old university student Nancy García, who is from this village of about 700 people in the rural municipality of Meanguera, in the eastern department of Morazán, told IPS.

Shelved since 1993 in the Salvadoran justice system, the case known as the El Mozote Massacre was reopened in September 2016, providing a historic opportunity to try soldiers and officers accused of killing more than 1,000 inhabitants of this village and neighbouring hamlets.

The reopening of the case was made possible by a July 2016 Supreme Court ruling that declared unconstitutional the 1993 Amnesty Law which prevented the prosecution of those accused of serious human rights violations during the 1980-1992 Salvadoran armed conflict.“I cried when I saw the officers sitting there. I imagined them organising the operation and murdering my family, my parents, my 11-year-old little brother, Adolfo Arturo, my pregnant sister.” -- María Dorila Márquez

One of the survivors of the massacre was 79-year-old Juan Antonio Pereira, who was 35 when the military raided Los Toriles, a hamlet near El Mozote. He remembers the four days of terror, from Dec. 10-13, 1981.

From his hiding place behind some bushes, he said he watched the soldiers order people from their homes at gunpoint, including members of his family, and line them up to shoot them.

“You can’t imagine how sad it is to see your family being killed,” the peasant farmer told IPS. He watched his 35-year-old wife, Natalia Guevara, and their two children – José Mario, 10, and Rosa Cándida, 14 – as they were shot to death.

Investigations to clarify the events were launched in 1990, but the case was amnestied in 1993.

Now, the lawyers from the María Julia Hernández Legal Protection organisation and the Centre for Justice and International Law (Cejil), as well as local residents belonging to the El Mozote Association for the Defence of Human Rights, are working together to find those responsible for the massacre and bring them to justice.

Legal Protection tried to reopen the case in 2006, but the initiative was rejected because the Amnesty Law was still in force.

“This is not about vengeance, or about going against the armed forces, but against some elements that were involved in serious human rights violations. What we want is for this not to remain unpunished,” lawyer Wilfredo Medrano, from Legal Protection, told IPS.

On Mar. 29, a court in San Francisco Gotera, the capital of the department of Morazán, held a hearing to notify seven high-ranking army officers implicated in the massacre of the charges against them, which include murder, rape, deprivation of liberty and acts of terrorism.

Among those officials were Generals Guillermo García, a former minister of defence (1979-1983), and Rafael Flores Lima, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The investigation will be based on much of the documentary and testimonial evidence already collected when the case was first filed in 1990.

According to the testimonies of the survivors of the El Mozote Massacre in El Salvador, government troops locked women and children in this now rebuilt small church and murdered them in cold blood. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

According to the testimonies of the survivors of the El Mozote Massacre in El Salvador, government troops locked women and children in this now rebuilt small church and murdered them in cold blood. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

“I cried when I saw the officers sitting there. I imagined them organising the operation and murdering my family, my parents, my 11-year-old little brother, Adolfo Arturo, my pregnant sister,” 60-year-old María Dorila Márquez, president of the El Mozote Association for the Defence of Human Rights, who was 25 at the time of the massacre, told IPS.

Márquez estimates that 100 of her relatives were murdered.

The military leadership considered the local population collaborators of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) guerrillas – a claim that is denied by the survivors and family members of the victims.

After the 1992 peace deal that put an end to the war, the FMLN became a political party. It has governed the country since 2009, having won two consecutive presidential elections.

On May 6, the same court notified three other officers, who had not been present at the previous hearing, of the charges against them.

“I feel terrible when I talk about this, I remember my murdered father, I have so much anger… If I were closer to those soldiers I would kick them,” said Santos Jacobo Chicas, 40, a native of the village of Cerro Pando, interviewed by IPS at the end of the hearing.

He and other relatives of several victims attended the court proceedings.

“Whoever gave the orders should pay, should go to prison,” he said.

He recalled how the soldiers of the Atlacatl rapid response battalion, an elite force trained by the United States military, killed his cousin’s two-day-old baby boy.

“They set him on fire,“ he said. It is estimated that more than 400 children were slaughtered during the operation.

For her part, Sofía Romero Pereira, 55, who was 19 in 1981, said that at least 35 relatives of hers were killed, including her father and four of her eight brothers and sisters.

She survived because her father, Daniel Romero, managed to get her and three other sons and daughters out of the village, before the troops entered El Mozote, taking them to the town of San Miguel, in a neighboring department.

But when he returned to get the rest of the family, he was caught in the middle of the military raid and was not able to rescue the rest: Ana María, 16; Jesús, 14; María Nelly, 11; and Elmer, just one year old. Ana María was taken to a nearby hill, where she was raped and later murdered, Romero said.

“They should at least admit that they did it, they should apologise, I would forgive them…what good is prison?” she said.

The lawyers from Legal Protection have also requested reopening the case of Óscar Arnulfo Romero, archbishop of San Salvador, who was assassinated on March 24, 1980, while giving mass in the country´s capital.

Meanwhile, the Movement of Victims of Terrorism in El Salvador has asked the Attorney General’s Office to reopen cases of crimes attributed to the guerrillas during the armed conflict.

These include the killings of three US Marines, allegedly executed when their helicopter was shot down by the guerrillas in 1991, while flying over the municipality of Lolotique in the eastern department of San Miguel.

Other cases involve four more Marines, who were shot in a restaurant in San Salvador in 1985, as well as the murders of mayors and other public officials, and of children killed by land-mines placed by the insurgents.

If the petition is accepted, criminal charges would be brought against members of the former guerrilla leadership and officials of the current government, including Salvadoran President Salvador Sánchez Cerén.
“Generally those who demand justice are leftist victims … and we are the voice of the victims of the war that have been forgotten, not only from the right, but also all of those who have been forgotten,” Fernán Álvarez, a lawyer for the Movement of Victims of Terrorism, told IPS.

The 12-year war in this Central American country, with a current population of 6.3 million people, left about 70,000 dead and 8,000 missing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Social Forum Calls for Fight Against Corruption, to Defend the Amazonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/social-forum-calls-for-fight-against-corruption-to-defend-the-amazon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=social-forum-calls-for-fight-against-corruption-to-defend-the-amazon http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/social-forum-calls-for-fight-against-corruption-to-defend-the-amazon/#respond Wed, 03 May 2017 21:53:04 +0000 Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150273 Corruption has penetrated the Amazon rainforest like an illness that infects everything, said Ruben Siqueira, coordinator of the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), during the VIII Panamazonic Social Forum (FOSPA), which brought together in the Peruvian Amazon jungle representatives of civil society from eight Amazon basin countries. The forum, which drew more than 1,600 participants to […]

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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/#respond Wed, 26 Apr 2017 20:28:20 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150167 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 […]

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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 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 […]

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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/#respond Sat, 22 Apr 2017 01:41:32 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150081 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 […]

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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/#respond Tue, 11 Apr 2017 22:09:39 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149913 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 […]

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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 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 […]

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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 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 […]

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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 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 […]

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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 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 […]

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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 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 […]

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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 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 […]

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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 “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 […]

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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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