Inter Press ServiceActive Citizens – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 22 Aug 2017 13:25:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.1 A Hostage to Parliament, Temer Sacrifices Indigenous Rights to Save Himselfhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/hostage-parliament-temer-sacrifices-indigenous-rights-save/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hostage-parliament-temer-sacrifices-indigenous-rights-save http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/hostage-parliament-temer-sacrifices-indigenous-rights-save/#respond Mon, 07 Aug 2017 22:19:48 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151600 This article is part of special IPS coverage for the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, celebrated on August 9

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Guaraní Indians Hamilton Lopes and his daughter stand in front of their shack where their family lives precariously on lands which have not yet been demarcated and where they face a threat of expulsion, along the border between Brazil and Paraguay. In this area, large landowners have taken their lands, causing the greatest number of murders and suicides of indigenous people. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Guaraní Indians Hamilton Lopes and his daughter stand in front of their shack where their family lives precariously on lands which have not yet been demarcated and where they face a threat of expulsion, along the border between Brazil and Paraguay. In this area, large landowners have taken their lands, causing the greatest number of murders and suicides of indigenous people. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 7 2017 (IPS)

Brazilians now have new reasons to yearn for and at the same time fear the parliamentary system of government. It facilitates quick solutions to political crises such as the one that is currently affecting the country, but it also further empowers reactionary forces and has led to backsliding on gains such as indigenous rights.

In a country with a presidential system of government, the “semi-parliamentarism” which many people, including President Michel Temer, identify in the current administration, is working against indigenous people and other sectors that have little say in parliament.

“The national Congress forms part of a conservative system, a ‘democracy’ which never took indigenous representation into account,” lamented Marcos Terena, coordinator of the World Indigenous Nations Games, also known as the Indigenous Olympics, and a veteran activist of the Terena people, who live in west-central Brazil.

Native people are suffering an offensive against their rights, which has intensified since Temer took office.

Temer, who went from vice-president to president in May 2016 after the impeachment and removal of Dilma Rousseff, who was elected in 2014 and accused of fiscal fraud, totally depends on mainly conservative parliamentary groups.

This dependence started with how he rose to power, because a two-thirds majority in both houses was required to remove Rousseff. But it has been heightened since May 17, when the scandal broke out that made Temer the country’s first sitting head of state to be formally charged with a crime.

A conversation recorded by Joseley Batista, owner of JBS, the world’s largest meat processing company, was the basis for a formal accusation of corruption against Temer by the federal prosecution office.

On Aug. 2, the lower house of Congress rejected a corruption charge against Temer for alleged bribe-taking, which saved him from a possible Supreme Court trial might have removed him from office. But the federal prosecution office is preparing new charges of obstruction of justice and activity in a criminal organization, drawing out the parliamentary and judicial battle for the current presidency, which ends on Jan. 1, 2019.

To ensure the backing of the ruralist parliamentary group, which according to their website has 214 representatives and 24 senators – 40 per cent of parliament – Temer is granting its members a number of benefits and the approval of legal measures, to the detriment of native peoples, the environment and fiscal austerity.

Headed by large landowners, cattle ranchers and producers of grains for export markets, this bloc sees indigenous lands, whose demarcation is ensured by the 1988 constitution, as an obstacle to the expansion of agriculture.

According to the last census, there were 896,917 indigenous people in Brazil in 2010, or 0.47 per cent of the population of 190.7 million at the time. But they occupy more than 13 per cent of the national territory, which the powerful ruralist caucus considers excessive.

A constitutional amendment that would submit the demarcation of indigenous lands to approval by Congress is one of the ruralist bloc’s proposals, which would likely prevent the creation of new protected areas to ensure the physical and cultural survival of native peoples.

Submitted in the year 2000, the initiative has been shelved until now. “I think that even the ruralists themselves recognise that the conditions for it to be passed do not exist,” said Marcio Santilli, founder of the Socio-environmental Institute (ISA), the non-governmental organisation that has the largest database on indigenous people in the country.

Lucimario Apolonio Lima, a chief of the Xocó indigenous people, is struggling to find new livelihoods for his people, after a dam cut off their traditional activities of agriculture and fishing, which depended on the waters of the São Francisco River, in Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Lucimario Apolonio Lima, a chief of the Xocó indigenous people, is struggling to find new livelihoods for his people, after a dam cut off their traditional activities of agriculture and fishing, which depended on the waters of the São Francisco River, in Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A constitutional amendment requires approval by a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament, which has become more difficult to obtain with a governing coalition weakened by accusations of corruption, not only against Temer, but also against his chief ministers and parliamentary leaders.

“The biggest threat, more than a risk, is the time frame, a concept with which they want to limit the entire public administration,” on the indigenous issue, Santilli told IPS.

This time frame is October 1988, when the constitution was approved. The rights of indigenous peoples were to be limited to the area occupied at that time, according to an interpretation by the Supreme Court, when it ruled in 2009 on the demarcation of the Raposa Sierra do Sol indigenous reserve, in the state of Roraima, in the far north of Brazil.

The ruralist caucus wants this to be the general criteria followed. Up to now what have been demarcated are “lands traditionally occupied” by indigenous people, as stated in the constitution. Anthropological studies are carried out identify the territory to be demarcated, in a process carried out by the National Indigenous Foundation (Funai), which answers to the executive branch.

The Attorney General’s office, which advises the executive branch, pronounced itself in favour of the validity of the time framework, “extending the threat” to prevent new demarcations, said Santilli, who presided Funai in the 1990s.

According to data from ISA, Brazil has 480 indigenous lands already approved, but there are still 72 declared and 44 identified which are still pending demarcation, in addition to other 108 in process of identification, the initial phase of the process.

There is a huge lag, because the constitution established that all the areas were to be demarcated within a five-year period – in other words, by 1993.

A time frame makes no sense in “a country that was 100 per cent indigenous” when, in 1500, “the native people encountered the unknown world of the ‘coloniser’ which caused the extermination of thousands of natives and their communities, generating a national debt which cannot be subject to a moratorium,” Terena told IPS.

Indigenous activist Marcos Terena is seen surrounded by people from the Terena people during a meeting in Campo Grande, the capital of the western Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. Credito: Mario Osava/IPS

Indigenous activist Marcos Terena is seen surrounded by people from the Terena people during a meeting in Campo Grande, the capital of the western Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. Credito: Mario Osava/IPS

Besides, the offensive against indigenous rights and lands has brought violent conflicts. From 2003 to 2015, 891 indigenous people were murdered in Brazil, an annual average of 68, according to the latest report by the Catholic Indigenous Missionary Council. The violence has intensified in recent years, with 137 murders in 2014 and 138 in 2015.

The current context encourages “anti-indigenous groups to promote proposals that range from changes to the sacred national constitution to attempts to block a budget capable of addressing indigenous demands,” Terena asserted.

Another ruralist threat is to close down Funai, the government body which implements indigenous policies and has suffered constant budget cuts that curtail its functions, such as the anthropological studies and the defence of demarcated territories.

The loosening of measures against mining and the construction of roads, hydroelectric plants and power transmission lines on indigenous lands are other means of pressure exercised by the ruralists and by companies that seek to “break down or weaken” indigenous peoples’ exclusive rights to use their lands, said Santilli.

“There is an ‘anything goes’ mentality, against an absurd backdrop of weakness of the president, accused of corruption and with only five per cent approval in opinion polls,” who is incapable of defending the diluted rights of the minorities and the environment against the private interests of legislators, he lamented.

The ruralist caucus reflects a distortions in parliamentary representation. Landowners make up a small sector of the population with disproportionate political power, in contrast to the millions of small-scale farmers, who are practically absent in Congress.

The economical clout of the former and the electoral rules, which assign a larger proportion of legislators to small states in Brazil’s hinterland with rural economies than to the most urbanised states, go a long way to explaining the power of the conservatives, said Santilli.

Weakened, Temer is distributing “prizes, incentives, public posts and advantages, paying the price for being saved, but when the money is finished, there will be an exodus,” predicted Antonio Queiroz, head of the Inter-Union Department of Parliamentary Advisory, which supplements the legislative work in Brasilia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there is still a long way to go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rights of indigenous peoples and communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast Pools Efforts Against Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/costa-ricas-caribbean-coast-pools-efforts-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=costa-ricas-caribbean-coast-pools-efforts-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/costa-ricas-caribbean-coast-pools-efforts-climate-change/#comments Mon, 24 Jul 2017 03:18:10 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151406 Jonathan Barrantes walks between the rows of shoots, naming one by one each species in the tree nursery that he manages, in the south of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coastal region. There are fruit trees, ceibas that will take decades to grow to full size. and timber species for forestry plantations. The tree nursery run by […]

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Not Just Numbers: Migrants Tell Their Storieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/not-just-numbers-migrants-tell-stories/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=not-just-numbers-migrants-tell-stories http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/not-just-numbers-migrants-tell-stories/#respond Mon, 17 Jul 2017 09:52:11 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151317 Every single day, print and online media and TV broadcasters show images and footage of migrants and refugees adrift, salvage teams rescuing their corpses–alive or dead, from fragile boats that are often deliberately sunk by human traffickers near the coasts of a given country. Their dramas are counted –and told– quasi exclusively in cold figures. […]

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By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jul 17 2017 (IPS)

Every single day, print and online media and TV broadcasters show images and footage of migrants and refugees adrift, salvage teams rescuing their corpses–alive or dead, from fragile boats that are often deliberately sunk by human traffickers near the coasts of a given country. Their dramas are counted –and told– quasi exclusively in cold figures.

Every now and then a reporter talks to a couple of them or interviews some of the tens of humanitarian organisations and groups, mostly to get information about their life conditions in the numerous so called “reception centres” that are often considered rather as “detention centres” installed on both shores of the Mediterranean sea.

How to participate in IOM “i am a migrant” campaign


Answer a few questions:
- Country of origin/ current country/occupation,
- At what age did you leave your country and why (and where did you go to)?
- What was your first impression?
- What do you miss from your country?
- What do you think you bring to the country you're living in?
- What do you want to do/what do you actually do for your country of origin? (Example) What's your greatest challenge right now?
- Do you have a piece of advice you'd like to give to the people back in your country?
- And to those living in your host country?
- Where is home for you?
- Share a high-resolution picture of yourself

SOURCE: IOM

It is a fact that their numbers are shocking: 101,417 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2017 through 9 July, the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) has reported. Of this total, 2,353 died.

Beyond the figures, migrants and refugees live inhumane drama, are victims of rights abuse, discrimination, xenophobia and hatred–often encouraged by some politicians. Let alone that tragic realty that they fall easy pry to human traffickers who handle them as mere merchandise. See: African Migrants Bought and Sold Openly in ‘Slave Markets’ in Libya..

On top of that, another UN organisation—the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that the Central Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe is among the world’s deadliest and most dangerous migrant routes for children and women.

“The route is mostly controlled by smugglers, traffickers and other people seeking to prey upon desperate children and women who are simply seeking refuge or a better life,” it reports. See: A Grisly Tale of Children Falling Easy Prey to Ruthless Smugglers.

On this, Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe, said that this route “is mostly controlled by smugglers, traffickers and other people seeking to prey upon desperate children and women who are simply seeking refuge or a better life.”

Moreover, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has estimated that 7 of 10 victims of human traffickers are women and children.

True that statistics help evaluate the magnitude of such an inhumane drama. But, is this enough?

1,200 Migrants Tell Their Dreams and Realities

2,716 kms from home. “I’ll probably go back to Senegal to use what I have learnt here (Niger) to contribute to my country’s development and to Africa as a whole” – Fatou. Read her story. Credit: IOM/Amanda Nero

In a singular initiative, IOM launched “i am a migrant” – a platform to promote diversity and inclusion of migrants in society.

3,385 kms from home. “Before, they used to ask how I came here. Now they ask migrants why they came” – Jasmine. Occupation: Law-maker. Current Country: Republic of Korea. Country of Origin: Philippines. Read her story. Credit: IOM

It’s specifically designed to support volunteer groups, local authorities, companies, associations, groups, indeed, anyone of goodwill who is concerned about the hostile public discourse against migrants, says IOM.

i am a migrant” allows the voices of individuals to shine through and provides an honest insight into the triumphs and tribulations of migrants of all backgrounds and at all phases of their migratory journeys.”

“While we aim to promote positive perceptions of migrants we do not shy away from presenting life as it is experienced. We seek to combat xenophobia and discrimination at a time when so many are exposed to negative narratives about migration – whether on our social media feeds or on the airwaves.”

The IOM campaign uses the testimonials of migrants to connect people with the human stories of migration. Thus far, it has seen 1,200 profiles published. The anecdotes and memories shared on the platform help us understand what words such as “integration”, “multiculturalism” and “diversity” truly mean.

Through stories collected by IOM teams around the world, “diversity finally finds a human face.” While inviting migrants to share their stories with its teams, IOM informs that “i am a migrant” is part of the UN TOGETHER initiative that promotes respect, safety and dignity for everyone who has left home in search of a better life.

Read their stories here.

From the Ashes of World War II

IOM is among the world’s most experienced international agencies dealing with migrants. No wonder– it rose from the ashes of World War Two over 65 years ago.

“In the battle-scarred continent of Europe, no government alone could help survivors who wanted no more than an opportunity to resume their lives in freedom and with dignity. The first incarnation of IOM was created to resettle refugees during this post-war period,” it reminds.

The agency’s history tracks the man-made and natural disasters of the past over 65 years – Hungary 1956; Czechoslovakia 1968; Chile 1973; the Viet Nam boat people 1975; Kuwait 1990, Kosovo and Timor 1999; the 2003 invasion of Iraq; the 2004 Asian tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and Haiti’s 2010 earthquake.

Now under the United Nations umbrella as part of its system since 2016, IOM quickly grew from a focus on migrant and refugee resettlement to become the world’s leading inter-governmental organisation dedicated to the well-being, safety and engagement of migrants.

Over the years, IOM has grown into 166 member states. Its global presence has expanded to over 400 field locations. With over 90 per cent of its staff deployed in the field, it has become a lead responder to the world’s worst humanitarian emergencies.

Shall these facts –and the stories migrants tell—help awaken the consciousness of those European politicians who ignore the fact that their peoples were once migrants and refugees as a consequences of wars their predecessors provoked? And that the migration agency was born for them?

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Governments Support Trump’s Aim to Block Central American Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/governments-support-trumps-aim-block-central-american-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=governments-support-trumps-aim-block-central-american-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/governments-support-trumps-aim-block-central-american-migrants/#respond Mon, 03 Jul 2017 07:01:58 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151112 Trying to make it into the United States as an undocumented migrant is not such an attractive option anymore for Moris Peña, a Salvadoran who was deported from that country in 2014. “The situation in the United States is getting more and more difficult,” the 39-year-old construction worker from Chalchuapa, a city in the west […]

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Chilean President’s Apology to the Mapuche People Considered “Insufficient”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/chilean-presidents-apology-mapuche-people-considered-insufficient/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chilean-presidents-apology-mapuche-people-considered-insufficient http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/chilean-presidents-apology-mapuche-people-considered-insufficient/#respond Thu, 29 Jun 2017 01:27:00 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151087 Chilean President Michelle Bachelet’s formal apology to the country’s Mapuche Indians, for the “mistakes and atrocities” committed against them by the Chilean state, is seen by indigenous and social activists in the central region of Araucanía – the heartland of the Mapuche people – as falling short. Native leaders in that region are calling for […]

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Representatives of the Mapuche, Lonko and Machi people attend the raising of the flag in the Plaza de Armas in Vilcún, 700 km south of Santiago, one of the numerous ceremonies held in Chile on Jun. 24, declared a national holiday as We Tripantu, the Mapuche new year. Credit: Mirna Concha/IPS

Representatives of the Mapuche, Lonko and Machi people attend the raising of the flag in the Plaza de Armas in Vilcún, 700 km south of Santiago, one of the numerous ceremonies held in Chile on Jun. 24, declared a national holiday as We Tripantu, the Mapuche new year. Credit: Mirna Concha/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Jun 29 2017 (IPS)

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet’s formal apology to the country’s Mapuche Indians, for the “mistakes and atrocities” committed against them by the Chilean state, is seen by indigenous and social activists in the central region of Araucanía – the heartland of the Mapuche people – as falling short.

Native leaders in that region are calling for concrete actions and policies with regard to key questions such as their demands for self-determination, respect for their rights to their ancestral land, water use rights, and an end to violence against indigenous people.

The latest incident took place on Jun. 14, when members of the carabineros militarised police used tear gas during a raid in a school in the town of Temucuicui, which affected a number of schoolchildren and local residents.

On Jun. 27, lawyers at the government’s National Human Rights Institute filed legal action on behalf of the schoolchildren in that Mapuche town of 120 families, in the region of Araucanía.“While the question of relations between the state and indigenous people is fundamentally political, any kind of self-determination must necessarily be accompanied by management of and access to economic resources. These are the most marginalised parts of the country, and are also paradoxically where the most profitable industries operate. That is immoral.” -- Carlos Bresciani

“This apology and acknowledgment that mistakes, and especially atrocities, have been committed is important,” said Adolfo Millabur, mayor of the town of Tirúa, the hub of the Mapuche people’s ancestral territory, with respect to the Jun. 23 request for forgiveness by the socialist president, during the launch of a Plan for Recognition and Development of Araucanía.

“I think it is positive that a president of Chile has recognised mistakes and above all atrocities committed after the Chilean state’s invasion of Mapuche territory started in 1860, in the misnamed ‘Pacification of Araucanía’,” he said.

The “Pacification of Araucanía” was a brutal military campaign by the Chilean army and settlers that ended in 1881 with the defeat of the Mapuche people, leaving tens of thousands of indigenous people dead and leading to the reduction of Mapuche territory from 10 million to just half a million hectares.

But Millabur called for “concrete measures to repair the damage caused” and said “the demilitarisation of the area would be a good gesture.”

“Children are suffering, there are victims of all kinds, Mapuche people have died, and there is no indication of how the state is going to act in the immediate future, if it is going to continue to militarise the area as it is doing now,” he added.

The Association of Municipalities with Mapuche Mayors acknowledged in a communiqué that Bachelet’s apology “is aimed at gaining a better understanding between the Mapuche people and the state.”

But it also said “this gesture must be accompanied by concrete developments such as new forms and methods of dialogue, a different approach by the police in our communities…fair trials for our brothers and sisters, and the non-application of the anti-terrorism law.”

The mayors were referring to the prosecution of Mapuche activists accused of setting trucks on fire, and the continuous raids on Mapuche homes and buildings, such as the one in the school in Temucuicui.

Mapuche activists have been arrested and prosecuted under the 1984 anti-terrorism law, put in place by the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) and still in force, which allows witnesses to conceal their identity while testifying, and provides for longer periods of arrest on remand and extremely heavy sentences.

According to the last census, from 2012, 11 percent of Chile’s population of 17.7 million people identify themselves as indigenous.

Of the country’s 1.9 million indigenous people, 84 percent are Mapuche. Smaller native communities in Chile include the Aymara, Atacameño, Pehuenche and Pascuense people.

Catholic priest Carlos Bresciani, the head of the Jesuit mission in Tirúa, told IPS that “it is laudable that the president apologised, but asking for forgiveness is not enough if it is not accompanied by fair reparations.”

 During the launch of a new plan for the region of Araucania, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet apologised to the Mapuche people on Jun. 23 in the name of the Chilean state, for the “mistakes and atrocities” committed against them. Credit: Chilean Presidency


During the launch of a new plan for the region of Araucania, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet apologised to the Mapuche people on Jun. 23 in the name of the Chilean state, for the “mistakes and atrocities” committed against them. Credit: Chilean Presidency

Bresciani also believes greater dialogue with the Mapuche people will be possible “if more political questions such as self-determination or autonomy are put on the table, and if the dialogue includes all sectors, no matter how radical they might be.”

The priest was referring to the low level of representation of Mapuche leaders on the Araucania Presidential Advisory Commission, appointed by Bachelet in January 2015, which wrapped up its work in January with a package of proposals that included a suggested apology by the president.

“If she wants to talk about collective rights, (Bachelet) should be reminded of the treaties signed by Chile, such as convention 169 of the ILO (International Labour Organisation) and the United Nations Declaration on the rights of indigenous people which, among other things, declares their right to self-determination or autonomy, terms that are absent from her plan for Araucanía,” Bresciani said.

Jorge Pinto, a history professor at the Universidad de La Frontera, a university in Temuco, the capital of Araucanía, who sat on the commission set up by Bachelet, told IPS that the government’s new plan for that region is “sound and complete” and interpreted the apology as a gesture aimed at reactivating dialogue.

“We need more dialogue,” said Pinto. “I agree with the president’s call for more dialogue, without repression, because repression brings more violence.”

But the academic urged “talks with the different actors from the region who have been left out so far.”

He also said “it is not enough to guarantee rights to land ownership and water use. Control over their land by indigenous people and autonomy in managing resources are also necessary.”

“No one is proposing that the forestry and hydroelectric companies pull out of the region,” said Pinto. “What we are saying is that agreements must be reached with the local communities affected by hydropower dams, logging companies and mines, and not with the authorities.”

Jesuit missionary Bresciani said “the main issue is not poverty or marginalisation; it’s political.”

“The proposals talk about economic or development policies,” the priest said. “While the question of relations between the state and indigenous people is fundamentally political, any kind of self-determination must necessarily be accompanied by management of and access to economic resources. These are the most marginalised parts of the country, and are also paradoxically where the most profitable industries operate. That is immoral.”

According to Bresciani, the extreme poverty in Araucanía “is the result of a systematic and planned policy to appropriate resources, under an unsustainable extractivist model. The measures proposed are not aimed at modifying these structural policies, but at continuing to offer money to turn the communities into clients of the existing system.”

Social activists and indigenous leaders admit the value of some of the initiatives included in Bachelet’s plans, such as the official declaration of Jun. 24 – We Xipantu, the Mapuche new year – as a national holiday, and a stronger effort to teach Mapuzungún, the Mapuche language, in schools in their communities.

They also applaud the proposal to explicitly recognise native communities in the projected new constitution, which would replace the current one, which dates back to 1980 and is a legacy of the Pinochet dictatorship which successive democratic governments have failed to replace, implementing limited reforms instead.

Activists say however, that the measures taken so far have been inadequate, and point out that Bachelet’s term ends in just nine months.

That will make it difficult to bring about real actions in areas such as land ownership and water use rights, which are key to a regional economy dominated by the interests of large logging, hydropower and mining companies.

Former right-wing president Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014), who is the favorite in the opinion polls for the November elections as the likely candidate for the Chile Vamos alliance, supports Bachelet’s apology to the Mapuche people.

“I agree with the apology because I believe that throughout history, many injustices have been committed against the Mapuche people,” said Piñera. He added, however, that “the apology is just a gesture, and does not solve any problem.”

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“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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June 26 - International Day in Support of Torture Victims

Prisoners held at S-21, the Khmer Rouge regime's main torture centre, on display at what is now a genocide museum in Phnom Penh. Credit: Irwin Loy/IPS

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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Nicaragua canal: less than 3 years from the projected completion of a canal running from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, there's no trace of progress

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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