Inter Press Service » Active Citizens http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 05 Feb 2016 23:42:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 Women of Haitian Descent Bear the Brunt of Dominican Migration Policyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/women-of-haitian-descent-bear-the-brunt-of-dominican-migration-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-of-haitian-descent-bear-the-brunt-of-dominican-migration-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/women-of-haitian-descent-bear-the-brunt-of-dominican-migration-policy/#comments Fri, 05 Feb 2016 02:49:07 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143793 Two women selling fruit, grains and vegetables in the Little Haiti street market in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. They allowed their picture to be taken but preferred not to talk about their situation. Fear is part of daily life for Haitian immigrants in this country. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

Two women selling fruit, grains and vegetables in the Little Haiti street market in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. They allowed their picture to be taken but preferred not to talk about their situation. Fear is part of daily life for Haitian immigrants in this country. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

By Ivet González
SANTO DOMINGO, Feb 5 2016 (IPS)

A middle-aged woman arranges bouquets of yellow roses in a street market in Little Haiti, a slum neighbourhood in the capital of the Dominican Republic. “I don’t want to talk, don’t take photos,” she tells IPS, standing next to a little girl who appears to be her daughter.

Other vendors at the stalls in the street market, all of them black women, also refuse to talk. “They’re afraid because they think they’ll be deported,” one woman whispers, as she stirs a pot of soup on a wood fire on the sidewalk.

That fear was heightened by the last wave of deportations, which formed part of the complicated migration relations between this country and Haiti – the poorest country in the Americas, with a black population – which share the island of Hispaniola.

According to official figures, the Dominican Republic’s migration authorities deported 15,754 undocumented Haitian immigrants from August 2015 to January 2016, while 113,320, including 23,286 minors, voluntarily returned home.

“This process has a greater impact on women because when a son or a daughter is denied their Dominican identity, the mothers are directly responsible for failing to legalise their status,” said Lilian Dolis, head of the Dominican-Haitian Women’s Movement (MUDHA), a local NGO.

“If the mother is undocumented then the validity of her children’s documents is questioned,” she told IPS.

“And in the case of Haitian immigrant women, it’s not enough to marry a Dominican man even though the constitution grants them their husband’s nationality,” said Dolis, whose movement emerged in 1983. “That right is often violated.”

The latest migration crisis broke out in 2013 when a Constitutional Court ruling set new requirements for acquiring Dominican citizenship.

The aspect that caused an international outcry was the fact that the verdict retroactively denied Dominican nationality to anyone born after 1929 who did not have at least one parent of Dominican blood, even if their births were recorded in the civil registry.

This affected not only the children of immigrants, but their grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.

Tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent were left in legal limbo or without any nationality, international human rights groups like Human Rights Watch complained.

In response to the international outrage, the Dominican government passed a special law on naturalisation that set a limited period – May 2014 to February 2015 – for people born to undocumented foreign parents between 1929 and 2007 to apply for citizenship.

Antonia Abreu, one of the few street vendors who agreed to talk to IPS about the harsh reality faced by Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic, at her street stall where she sells flowers in the Little Haiti neighbourhood in Santo Domingo. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

Antonia Abreu, one of the few street vendors who agreed to talk to IPS about the harsh reality faced by Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic, at her street stall where she sells flowers in the Little Haiti neighbourhood in Santo Domingo. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

But only 8,755 people managed to register under this law.

At the same time, the authorities implemented a national plan for foreigners to regularise their status, from June 2014 to June 2015.

Under this plan, 288,466 undocumented immigrants, mainly of Haitian descent, applied for residency and work permits. But only about 10,000 met all the requirements, and only a few hundred were granted permits.

Since August, the police have been carrying out continuous raids, and undocumented immigrants are taken to camps along the border, to be deported to Haiti.

“Most Haitian women work outside the home; very few can afford to be homemakers,” said Antonia Abreu, a Haitian-Dominican woman who has sold floral arrangements for parties, gifts and funerals in the Little Haiti market for 40 years.

Abreu, known by her nickname “the Spider”, said “women sell clothes or food, they apply hair extensions, they’re domestic employees and some are sex workers. Many are ‘paleteras’ (street vendors selling candy and cigarettes) who suffer from police abuse – the police take their carts and merchandise when they don’t have documents.”

“Those who work as decent people have integrated in society and contribute to the country,” she told IPS.

Among the unique mix of smells – of spices, open sewers, traditional foods and garbage – many women barely eke out a living in this Haitian neighbourhood market, selling flowers, prepared foods, fruit and vegetables, clothing, household goods and second-hand appliances.

The small neighbourhood, which is close to a busy commercial street and in the middle of the Colonial City, Santo Domingo’s main tourist attraction, has been neglected by the municipal authorities, unlike its thriving neighbours.

No one knows exactly how many people live in Little Haiti, which is a slum but is virtually free of crime, according to both local residents and outsiders.

Most of the people buying at the market stalls in the neighbourhood are Haitian immigrants, who work in what are described by international rights groups as semi-slavery conditions.

The street market is also frequented by non-Haitian Dominicans with low incomes, in this country of 10.6 million people, where 36 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, according to World Bank figures from 2014.

A Haitian immigrant in the rural settlement of Mata Mamón in the Dominican Republic, where she works as a ‘bracera’ or migrant worker in agriculture. Haitian women who work on plantations in this country are invisible in the statistics as well as in programmes that provide support to rural migrants, activists complain. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

A Haitian immigrant in the rural settlement of Mata Mamón in the Dominican Republic, where she works as a ‘bracera’ or migrant worker in agriculture. Haitian women who work on plantations in this country are invisible in the statistics as well as in programmes that provide support to rural migrants, activists complain. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

“Undocumented immigrants can’t work, study or have a public life,” Dolis said. “They go directly into domestic service or work in the informal sector. And even if they have documents, Haitian-Dominican women are always excluded from social programmes.”

In this country with a deeply sexist culture, women of Haitian descent are victims of exclusion due to a cocktail of xenophobia, racism and gender discrimination, different experts and studies say.

“They are made invisible,” said Dolis. “We don’t even know how many Haitian-Dominican women there are. The census data is not reliable in terms of the Dominican population of Haitian descent, and the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) survey is out-of-date.”

The activist was referring to the last available population figures gathered by the National Survey on Immigrants carried out in 2012 by the National Statistics Office with UNFPA support.

At the time, the survey estimated the number of immigrants in the Dominican Republic at 560,000, including 458,000 born in Haiti.

The lack of up-to-date statistics hinders the work of Mudha, which defends the rights of Haitian-Dominican women in four provinces and five municipalities, with an emphasis on sexual and reproductive rights.

The movement is led by a group of 19 women and has 62 local organisers carrying out activities in urban and rural communities, which have reached more than 6,000 women.

Mudha says the Dominican authorities have never recognised the rights of women of Haitian descent. “They’ve always talked about immigration of ‘braceros’ (migrant workers), but never ‘braceras’ – that is, the women who come with their husbands, or come as migrant workers themselves,” Dolis said.

Since the mid-19th century Haitians have worked as braceros in the sugarcane industry, the main engine of the Dominican economy for centuries. But today, they are also employed in large numbers in the construction industry, commerce, manufacturing and hotels.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Cameron at large: Want Not to Become a Terrorist? Speak Fluent English!http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/cameron-at-large-want-not-to-become-a-terrorist-speak-fluent-english/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cameron-at-large-want-not-to-become-a-terrorist-speak-fluent-english http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/cameron-at-large-want-not-to-become-a-terrorist-speak-fluent-english/#comments Thu, 04 Feb 2016 11:57:02 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143783 A plaque targeting Prime Minister David Cameron, as demonstrators protest in Oxford Street, London, 26 March 2011.  Credit: Mark Ramsay | Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/neutronboy/5562337245/ | Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

A plaque targeting Prime Minister David Cameron, as demonstrators protest in Oxford Street, London, 26 March 2011. Credit: Mark Ramsay | Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/neutronboy/5562337245/ | Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

By Baher Kamal
Cairo, Feb 4 2016 (IPS)

“Do you speak English fluently? No? Then you risk to become a terrorist!.” IPS posed this dilemma to some young Muslim women living in Cairo, while explaining that this appears to be UK prime minister David Cameron’s formula to judge the level of Muslim women’s risk to fall, passively, into the horrific trap of extremism.

Here you have some answers: “He must be kidding, I can’t believe that…,” says Egyptian university student Fatima S.M.

“This is just insulting! What does language have to do with such a risk?,” responds Fakhira H. from Pakistan who is married to an Egyptian engineer.

“This pure colonialism, Cameron still dreams of the British Empire,” reacts Nigerian Afunu K. who works at an export-import company in Cairo.

“Oh my God! We knew that Muslim women are victims of constant stigmatisation everywhere, in particular in Western countries… But I never expected it to be at this level,” said Tunisian translator Halima M.

Of course this is not at all about any scientific survey-just an indicative example of how Muslim women from different countries and backgrounds see Cameron’s recent surprising statement: Muslim women who fail to learn English to a high enough standard could face deportation from the UK, the prime minister said on 18 January.

Cameron suggested that poor English skills can leave people “more susceptible” to the messages of groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (DAESH).

“After two and a half years they should be improving their English and we will be testing them,” the UK prime minister stated. “We will bring this in October and it will apply to people who have come in on a spousal visa recently and they will be tested.”

Cameron’s comments came as his Conservative government launched a $28.5 million language fund for Muslim women in the United Kingdom as part of a drive to “build community integration.”

Current British immigration rules require that spouses be able to speak English before they arrive in the UK to live with their partners. “…They would face further tests after two and a half years in the UK, said Cameron, before threatening them: “You can’t guarantee you will be able to stay if you are not improving your language.”

The number of Muslim living in the UK is estimated to be around 2.7 million out of Britain’s total population of 64 million.

The British government estimates that around 190,000 Muslim women (about 22% of the total) living in the UK speak little or no English.

“… If you are not able to speak English, not able to integrate, you may find, therefore, you have challenges understanding what your identity is, and therefore you could be more susceptible to the extremist message,” the UK prime minister affirmed.

Cameron further explained that a lack of language skills could make Muslims in the U.K. more vulnerable to the message of extremist groups. “I am not saying there is some sort of causal connection between not speaking English and becoming an extremist, of course not,” he said.

Significantly, Cameron’s cabinet did not ratify last summer the so-called Istanbul Convention, a pan-European convention establishing minimum standards for governments to meet when tackling violence against women. The UK had signed up on this Convention three and a half years ago. The Convention entered into force eighteen months ago.

The UK prime ministers’ statements came under fire in his own country.

This is about a “dog-whistle politics at its best,” said the UK Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron.

Cameron’s idea is “lazy and misguided”… a “stereotyping of British Muslim communities,” reacted Sayeeda Warsi, former Conservative Party co-chair. “I think it is lazy and sloppy when we start making policies based on stereotypes which do badly stigmatise communities.”

Andy Burnham, the Home Affairs spokesman for the Labour Party shadow cabinet, accused Cameron of a “clumsy and simplistic approach” that is “unfairly stigmatising a whole community.”

“Disgraceful stereotyping,” said Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the UK-based Ramadhan Foundation.

These are only a few selected reactions of a number of figures who have the chance for their voices to be heard.

But imagine you are a Muslim woman and live in the United Kingdom. Like any other woman, you already face many daily hurdles in this world of flagrant gender inequality.

Then recall that these challenges are augmented by the fact that you are a foreigner. Your religion in this case puts additional heavy stigmatisation weight in your mind and on your shoulders.

What would you think?

(End)

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Women’s Rights First — African Summithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/womens-rights-first-african-summit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-rights-first-african-summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/womens-rights-first-african-summit/#comments Mon, 01 Feb 2016 15:33:37 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143743 Mahawa Kaba Wheeler during a press conference in Addis Ababa. Photo: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

Mahawa Kaba Wheeler during a press conference in Addis Ababa. Photo: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

By Baher Kamal
CAIRO, Feb 1 2016 (IPS)

Despite the enormous challenges facing Africa now, the leaders of its 1.2 billion plus inhabitants have decided to spotlight the issue of Human Rights With a Particular Focus on the Rights of Women in their 26th summit held in Addis Ababa on 21-31 January this year. Why?

In an interview to IPS, Mahawa Kaba Wheeler, Director of Women, Gender and Development at the African Union Commission (AUC), explains that time has come to act to alleviate the multitude of barriers to gender equality: “These include, among others, economic exclusion and financial systems that perpetuate the discrimination of women; limited participation in political and public life; lack of access to education and retention of girls in schools; gender-based violence, harmful cultural practices, and exclusion of women from peace tables either as lead mediators or part of negotiating teams of conflicting parties,” she argued.

The African Union believes that removing these barriers that impede women from fully enjoying their human rights can empower the continent, she added. Asked about women’s social, economic and political role in the continent, the Director of Women, Gender and Development says that Africa is at a turning point emerging as “one of the fastest growing developing regions in the world, registering economic growth levels ranging from 2 per cent-11 per cent.”

“Women make enormous contributions to economies, whether in business, agriculture, as entrepreneurs or employees, or by doing unpaid work at home. But they also remain disproportionately affected by poverty, discrimination and exploitation,” explained the Director.

Mahawa Kaba Wheeler, Director of Women, Gender and Development at the African Union Commission. Photo: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

Mahawa Kaba Wheeler, Director of Women, Gender and Development at the African Union Commission. Photo: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

Women’s socio-economic disadvantages are reflected in pervasive violence, gender inequalities in earned income, property ownership, access to services including health and education as well as time use. To date, women in Africa, like women elsewhere, have not been included as full, equal and effective stakeholders in processes that determine and impact on their lives, Kaba Wheeler said.

“For example, women continue to have less access to education than men; they have less employment and advancement opportunities; their role and contribution to national and continental development processes are not always recognised nor fully rewarded; and they continue to be conspicuously absent from crucial decision-making positions,” she elaborated.

Kaba Wheeler also explained that the focus on these rights is an opportunity for the AU to take stock of how far it has come in addressing some of the impediments to women’s full enjoyment of their human rights.

This is also meant “to assess the extent of implementation of its gender and women’s rights instruments, consolidate the gains already made over the years and consider future priority areas of action to accelerate the effective and efficient implementation of commitments made on gender equality and women’s empowerment, ” she stated.

Kaba Wheeler recalls that the theme for the 26th African Union Summit in January 2016 derives from the declaration of 2016 as the “African Year of Human Rights, with a Particular Focus on the Rights of Women,” as this year marks “important milestones” in the continental and global women’s agenda for gender equality and women empowerment.

Among others, continentally, it is the 30th anniversary of the coming into force of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights in 1986 and the beginning of the second phase of the African Women’s Decade 2010-2020.

“Globally, 2016 commemorates 36 years since the adoption of The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), described as the international bill of rights for women, and the 21st anniversary of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which is the key global policy on gender equality.”

Regarding the main reasons why African women still face such huge hurdles, Kaba Wheeler cited a number of factors that create barriers between the present condition and gender equality in Africa: “Key amongst those is that African culture is largely patriarchal. Because of this, family control and decision-making powers belong to males. Since decision-making powers belong to males, the ability to make policy as well as the power to influence social norms also belongs to males.”

Consequently, she adds, “the male policy makers often maintain a firm grip on the traditional, gender-specific roles. This creates a sort of self-serving cycle, from which Africa is not yet free. Not unlike the women in many western states, the traditional role of women in Africa is that of the home-maker.”

As for women’s political participation in Africa, Kaba Wheeler explained to IPS that a huge progress has been made in the participation of women in politics since the transformation of the Organization of African Unity to the African Union.

In fact, she says, 15 African states rank in the top 37 amongst world classification for women’s participation in national parliaments with more than 30 per cent: Rwanda (63.8 per cent) , Seychelles (43.8 per cent), Senegal (42.7 per cent), South Africa (42 per cent), Namibia (41 per cent), Mozambique (39.6 per cent), Ethiopia (38.8 per cent), Angola (36.8 per cent ), Burundi (36.4 per cent ), Uganda (35 per cent) , Algeria (31 per cent) , Zimbabwe (31.5 per cent), Cameroon (31.3 per cent), Sudan (30.5 per cent ) and Tunisia (31.3 per cent).

But while Rwanda is the world leader in women’s parliamentary representation, it is lagging behind when it comes to women in executive positions. It is overtaken by Cape Verde, which has the highest number of women occupying ministerial positions in Africa. Out of 17 government ministers in Cape Verde, 9 are women, amounting to 52.9 per cent representation, Kaba Wheeler adds.

“It should also be noted that out of 54 African Heads of State and Government, three are women – the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; the President of Mauritius, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, and the Interim President of the Central Africa Republic, Catherine Samba Panza.”

In this regard, Kaba Wheeler explains that the AU envisions a 50 per cent representation of women in decision-making and member states are expected to use that as the yardstick. On that note, the AU adopted the gender parity principle at its first summit in 2001.

“To date, the AU is the only multilateral body that has maintained gender parity at its topmost decision-making level. In addition to the chairperson of the AUC, there are five women and five male commissioners and efforts are made to allow for the gender parity principle to percolate other AU organs and institutions such as the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights as well as the African Court- where women are in the majority, ” according to Ms Wheeler.

The AU recognises that, with women being half of the African population, achievement of gender parity would create a ripple effect through many sectors of society as more women would be inspired to aim for leadership positions.

“Not only would having women in leadership positions lead to a better quality of life for women themselves, but also for their families in general and children in particular. There can be no true democracy in a country where women are underrepresented in decision making positions,” she emphasised.

But while acknowledging the great strides that have been achieved in women’s political participation, women still continue to experience significant discrimination related to their participation in public and political life.

In some AU member states, she adds, national legislation and constitutions adversely affect women’s participation in public and political life by limiting their participation through exclusionary or discriminatory clauses.

“In Africa, structural impediments to gender equality are embedded within the constitutional texts, containing provisions that specifically subjugate constitutional equality to religious principles or exclude family and customary law from constitutional non-discrimination.”

Although many of the same constitutions articulate a commitment to gender equality, the exclusion of personal or customary law from constitutional protection can severely undermine that commitment to equality, because many issues that commonly affect women are located within the legal spheres regulated by these customary and personal legal systems, Kaba Wheeler underlined.

Asked to further develop on the situation of African women whose role is key in the field of food production, agriculture and food security, Kaba Wheeler explains that their contribution does not match the benefits they derive from the sector in general and little investment is directed to benefit them.

“While African women produce more than 60 per cent of agriculture, constitutes over 50 per cent of the rural population and remain the main custodians of food security, there is very little investment in their lot to yield commensurate results, tap their resources and help them unleash their potential.”

Although they spend 80 per cent of their time either in agricultural production and auxiliary process including informal sector business, their contribution to food production, family care and welfare activities as well as in the informal sector is not captured in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and unaccounted for in the Statistics of National Accounts, says Kaba Wheeler.

“In addition to women not owning land, they have no access to agricultural infrastructure including land rights, modern farming technology, farm inputs, credit, extension services and training. Majority of them have no access to physical infrastructure also because they are based in rural areas with no access to good roads, water, electricity among others.”

In that regard, she adds, even when they produce agricultural crops, they lack access to markets and loose most of their outputs between the farm and the market through wastage, or sell their produce to middle men at a throw away price due to the high transportation costs.

“Because of the majority of women do not own land, they produce the bulk of the agricultural produce as tenants on the land they still have no land rights on the land and also no inheritance rights.”

Access to land for women remains one of the critical impediments to women’s economic, social and political empowerment in Africa.

According to the Seventh Report of the AUC Chairperson on the Implementation of the AU-SDGEA (Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa), African women own roughly 1 per cent of the land, despite farming and producing most of the food from the land.

Dual application of laws-customary and civil/common laws, conflict of various laws, as well as inadequate harmonisation of family laws- in relationship to marriages and inheritance, land rights, and property laws is a major issue across Africa, Kaba Wheeler explains.

On the other hand, the lack of equal opportunity in education, particularly higher education is responsible for the low levels of women in the job market, including in the formal agricultural sector… Most of the women in the job market occupy low cadre job which earn little income compared to their male counterparts, says Ms Wheeler.

As a result, women have no disposable income and are not able to accumulate any savings and generate investible income. Majority of them are therefore, predominantly in the agricultural sector where they are predominantly involved in producing food for the family and the meagre income they generate from selling surplus food does not lift them from poverty. Women constitute the majority of people in our continent who live below US $1 a day.

Regarding women’s health, Kaba Wheeler explains that in Africa, gender related challenges manifest themselves in various ways including with unacceptably high maternal, new born and child morbidity and mortality: “Maternal health status is indeed a key indicator not only of the status of women but also of the health status (and well being) of society as a whole. The 2012 Status Report on Maternal New born and Child Health of the AU Commission noted that globally, more than half a million women die each year due to pregnancy and childbirth related causes. ”

Some specific data: 99 per cent of these deaths were identified to occur in developing countries, of which 50 per cent occur in Africa (specifically outside the North African region). For every death, at least another 20 women suffer illnesses or injuries related to childbirth or pregnancy.

“The lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth in Africa (excluding North Africa) is 1 in 22 women, compared with about 1 in 8,000 women in the developed world. Furthermore evidence abounds that 80 per cent of those deaths could be prevented by simple, low-cost and quality interventions.”

(End)

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Hydropower at Front and Centre of Energy Debate in Chile, Once Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/hydropower-at-front-and-centre-of-energy-debate-in-chile-once-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hydropower-at-front-and-centre-of-energy-debate-in-chile-once-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/hydropower-at-front-and-centre-of-energy-debate-in-chile-once-again/#comments Wed, 27 Jan 2016 00:09:26 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143702 General Carrera Lake, the second-largest in South America, in the Aysén region in Chile’s southern Patagonia wilderness, a place of abundant water resources.  Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

General Carrera Lake, the second-largest in South America, in the Aysén region in Chile’s southern Patagonia wilderness, a place of abundant water resources. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jan 27 2016 (IPS)

The Chilean government’s approval of a hydroelectric dam in the Patagonia wilderness has rekindled the debate on the sustainability and efficiency of large-scale hydropower plants and whether they contribute to building a cleaner energy mix.

“Hydroelectricity can be clean and viable, but we believe every kind of energy should be developed on a human scale, and must be in accordance with the size and potential of local communities,” Claudia Torres, spokeswoman for the Patagonia Without Dams movement, told IPS.

She added that “there are different reasons that socioenvironmental movements like ours are opposed to mega-dams: because of the mega-impacts, and because of the way this energy is used – to meet the needs of the big mining corporations that are causing an environmental catastrophe in the north of the country.”

The movements fighting the construction of large dams in the southern Patagonian region of Aysén suffered a major defeat on Jan. 18, when the plan for the 640 MW Cuervo dam was approved.

This South American nation of 17.6 million people has a total installed capacity of 20,203 MW of electricity. The interconnected Central and Norte Grande power grids account for 78.38 percent and 20.98 percent of the country’s electric power, respectively.

Of Chile’s total energy supply, 58.4 percent is generated by diesel fuel, coal and natural gas. The country is seeking to drastically reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuels, to cut costs and to meet its climate change commitments.

Large-scale hydropower provides 20 percent of the country’s electricity, while 13.5 percent comes from unconventional renewable sources like wind and solar power, mini-dams and biomass.

Chile has enormous potential in unconventional renewable sources. In 2014, the government of Michelle Bachelet adopted a new energy agenda that set a target for 70 percent of Chile’s electric power to come from renewables by 2050.

In terms of water resources, Chile has 6,500 km of coastline, 11,452 square km of lakes, and innumerable rivers.

Aysén, in the extreme south of the country, has abundant water resources – fast-flowing rivers, numerous lakes, and distinctive lagoons. General Carrera Lake, the second-largest in South America after Bolivia’s Titicaca, is found in that region.

To generate hydroelectricity, the authorities and investors have their eyes on the wild rivers of Patagonia, a remote, untamed, unspoiled and sparsely populated wilderness area at the far southern tip of Chile.

But vast segments of civil society reject large hydropower dams, which they consider obsolete and a threat to the environment and to local communities.

However, Professor Matías Peredo, an expert on hydropower at the University of Santiago de Chile, says that thanks to the country’s abundant water resources, hydroelectricity is “one of the energy sources with the greatest potential for development.”

“It’s always good to diversify the energy mix, and well-managed hydroelectricity is quite sustainable,” he told IPS.

The expert argued that a properly managed hydropower dam “is better from an environmental and social point of view than a string of small dams that together provide the same number of MW of electric power.”

Ensuring that a hydroelectricity plant is well-managed means avoiding major fluctuations, Peredo said.

“Hydropower generation in Chile depends on demand and the plant’s load capacity….In other words, the plant can only operate with prior authorisation from the Superintendencia de Electricidad y Combustibles (the country’s power regulator), and depending on the availability of water,” he said.

“This combination means the hydroelectric plant operates on and off, thus generating large fluctuations in flow, which is a major stress for the ecosystem,” he said.

The law to reform the energy industry and foment unconventional renewable sources includes in this category hydropower dams of up to 20 MW – in other words, mini-dams.

Environmental organisations like Ecosistemas maintain that large hydroelectric dams have extremely negative social and environmental impacts.

These include the flooding of large areas of land, which destroys flora and fauna, and the modification of rivers, which causes bioecological damage.

And the negative social impacts of large dams are proportional to the multiple environmental impacts, displacing millions of people: between 40 and 80 million people were forcibly evicted for the construction of large dams worldwide between 1945 and 2000, according to the World Commission on Dams (WCD).

“It is important to diversify the energy mix, for local use, with good support, clean energy sources, and considerably fewer impacts, while strengthening consumption and development in the territories,” said Torres, the Patagonia Without Dams activist, from Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysén region.

“Decentralised power generation is key” to moving forward in terms of clean, sustainable energy, she said, adding that the people of Aysén are seeking to expand the use if wind, solar and tidal power in the region.

Peredo agreed that the decentralisation of power generation is of strategic importance.

“Distributed generation (power generation at the point of consumption) must without a doubt be discussed in this country. It makes a lot of sense for electricity to be produced locally,” he said.

In 2014 the Patagonia Without Dams movement won a major victory when the government cancelled the HidroAysén project, which would have built five large hydropower dams on wilderness rivers in Aysén to generate a combined total of 2,700 MW of energy.

But now the movement was dealt a blow, with the approval by a special Committee of Ministers of the construction of the Cuervo dam – a decision that can only be blocked by a court decision.

The project, developed by Energía Austral, a joint venture between the Swiss firm Glencore and Australia’s Origin Energy, would be built at the headwaters of the Cuervo River, some 45 km from the city of Puerto Aysén, the second-largest city in the region after Coyhaique, for a total investment of 733 million dollars.

Energía Austral is studying the possibility of a submarine power cable and an aerial submarine power line, to connect to the central grids.

The controversy over the plant has heated up because it would be built in the Liquiñe-Ofqui geological fault zone, an area of active volcanoes.

“It poses an imminent risk to the local population,” Torres warned.

Peredo said “the project was poorly designed from the start, and will not be managed well.”

“They failed to take into consideration important aspects, such as the connection of the Yulton and Meullín rivers at some point, which could have disastrous consequences for the ecosystem,” he said.

Opponents of the dam say they will go to the courts and apply social and political pressure, in a year of municipal elections.

“We have one single aim: to keep any dams from being built in Patagonia, and that’s what’s going to happen,” Torres said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Mexico Creates First and Second-class Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/mexico-creates-first-and-second-class-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-creates-first-and-second-class-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/mexico-creates-first-and-second-class-migrants/#comments Mon, 25 Jan 2016 23:00:27 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143693 A group of Central American migrants walking along a trail in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, on the border with Guatemala, at the start of their long journey across Mexico on their way to the United States. Credit: Courtesy Médecins Sans Frontières – Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mexican Migrants in the U.S.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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India Needs to “Save its Daughters” Through Education and Gender Equalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/india-needs-to-save-its-daughters-through-education-and-gender-equality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-needs-to-save-its-daughters-through-education-and-gender-equality http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/india-needs-to-save-its-daughters-through-education-and-gender-equality/#comments Fri, 08 Jan 2016 07:42:22 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143540 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/india-needs-to-save-its-daughters-through-education-and-gender-equality/feed/ 0 Cuba Needs a Law Against Gender Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/cuba-needs-a-law-against-gender-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuba-needs-a-law-against-gender-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/cuba-needs-a-law-against-gender-violence/#comments Thu, 31 Dec 2015 01:22:46 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143478 Members of the Red de Artistas Únete artists network, which organised a “no to gender violence” flash mob on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Members of the Red de Artistas Únete artists network, which organised a “no to gender violence” flash mob on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Dec 31 2015 (IPS)

Activists and researchers dedicated to the study of gender violence in Cuba insist on the need for a comprehensive law to protect the victims and prevent the problem, which was publicly ignored until only a few years ago in this socialist Caribbean island nation.

Legislation is necessary “because even when the ideal in our society is justice and equality, there are social expressions of violence against women that have been kept invisible, which contributes to the impunity enjoyed by the abusers,” psychologist Valia Solís told IPS.

Solis, with the non-governmental Christian Centre for Reflection and Dialogue – Cuba (CCRD), based in Cárdenas in the western province of Matanzas, added that the law should not be limited to providing for prison terms, because violence requires a preventive approach in order to keep the behavior and its consequences from getting worse.

Several articles of the Cuban constitution, the penal code and other legislation refer to gender equality. But there are no specific laws aimed at fighting sexist violence, or adequate instruments to protect the victims.

People who face gender-related mistreatment are “in a state of vulnerability, and a law could attenuate this,” said Aida Torralbas, a professor and researcher at the university of the eastern province of Holguín, who said the phenomenon is largely unnoticed and surrounded by impunity.

In her view, although a punitive response is not the best option, because it addresses the problem after the act, it is important because it recognises gender violence as something that must be punished and that hurts the integrity of another person. Torralbas concurs with other academics that education is an essential factor in combating the problem.

“That’s why a law of this kind must also take into account the possibility of educating society in non-patriarchal and non-sexist values that modify ways of thinking and acting,” she said. The expert also argued that it is important to strengthen training of judicial system and law enforcement personnel with respect to how to deal with these issues.

“It’s a fact that the police themselves do not know how to handle these questions,” Mercedes Abreu, a social worker with the Integral Neighbourhood Transformation Workshop (TTIB) of Pogolotti, in the Havana district of Marianao, told IPS.

The TTIBs were created in 1988 to carry out social work in poor neighbourhoods in the capital, and are under municipal government administration.

“Women themselves often do not know that they’re the victims of violence in the family, in the workplace, in the community. Ignorance leads us to turn a blind eye to this problem,” said Abreu, who also said the Cuban population “has very little legal awareness.”

From left to right: Yamila Delgado, Nidia Tamayo, Lidia Santos and Alina Sabor, victims of domestic violence who belong to the group “Women with a purpose”, in the offices of the Integral Neighbourhood Transformation Workshop (TTIB) in the Libertad neighbourhood in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

From left to right: Yamila Delgado, Nidia Tamayo, Lidia Santos and Alina Sabor, victims of domestic violence who belong to the group “Women with a purpose”, in the offices of the Integral Neighbourhood Transformation Workshop (TTIB) in the Libertad neighbourhood in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The TTIBs and civil society organisations have helped pull out of the closet a reality that is the product of Cuba’s patriarchal culture, which runs counter to the progress made towards equality such as equal wages for men and women, the massive incorporation of girls and women in education and the labour market, and free, universal access to abortion on demand.

For example, since 2007, the “Oscar Arnulfo Romero” Centre for Reflection and Solidarity (OAR) and other groups have been organising an annual National Day for Non-Violence Against Women, to coincide with the 16 days of global activism between Nov. 25 and Dec. 10.

Without underestimating the impact achieved by this activism, Abreu believes the question of violence must be addressed continually from different angles. “We can’t just focus on it during the week of activism against violence. Progress can’t be made this way,” said the social worker, who has worked for several years in a low-income neighbourhood.

In her view, the efforts must involve families, schools, the family doctor, social workers, the Federation of Cuban Women, decision-makers, the media, churches, activists, lawyers, judges and the police.

Elaine Saralegui, a theologian and pastor of the Metropolitan Church in Cuba, in the western province of Matanzas, told IPS that “violence has to do with the established order and with the relations between people or groups in unequal positions of power.”

She said laws were needed to protect and promote free expression of gender identity. “When we talk about gender, people generally think about men and women, and we tend to ignore other expressions of gender that don’t fit in the heteronormative mindset,” she said.

Lawyer Indira Fajardo speaking during the event “You are more: Reflections on gender violence in Cuba” in the Multifactorial Panel during the National Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women 2015, whose theme was “Prevention of and attention to gender violence as a health, social and rights problem” in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Lawyer Indira Fajardo speaking during the event “You are more: Reflections on gender violence in Cuba” in the Multifactorial Panel during the National Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women 2015, whose theme was “Prevention of and attention to gender violence as a health, social and rights problem” in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

She said the country needs “laws that can offer legal protection across the board, explicitly, where each one of the faces of the people hurt by heteronormativity, patriarchal sexism and gender violence are taken into consideration.”

“So we’re talking about heterosexual women, but also about people with different sexual orientations and gender identities,” she said.

In 2012, the first National Conference of the governing Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) included the rejection of gender and domestic violence in its objectives, in what was seen as an important official recognition of the issue.

The PCC is organising its seventh congress for April 2016, with an agenda that includes assessment of compliance with the agreements reached at the party’s sixth congress and First National Conference. The last congress, in 2011, approved a programme of reforms to update the country’s socialist model of development.

Next year, the governmental Women’s Studies Centre and the National Statistics and Information Office plan to carry out a national survey on gender equality, although it is not clear whether gender violence will be included in the questions.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean now have laws against gender violence, although only eight have earmarked specific funds in the national budget.

Meanwhile, 14 countries have created a separate criminal classification for femicide – gender-motivated murders – and two have established that it is homicide aggravated by gender hostility in their legislation.

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Indigenous Villagers Fight “Evil Spirit” of Hydropower Dam in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/indigenous-villagers-fight-evil-spirit-of-hydropower-dam-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-villagers-fight-evil-spirit-of-hydropower-dam-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/indigenous-villagers-fight-evil-spirit-of-hydropower-dam-in-brazil/#comments Mon, 21 Dec 2015 17:28:52 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143410 Juarez Saw is the chief of the Sawré Muybu village on the Tapajós River between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the state of Pará, Brazil. Credit: Gonzalo H. Gaudenzi/IPS

Juarez Saw is the chief of the Sawré Muybu village on the Tapajós River between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the state of Pará, Brazil. Credit: Gonzalo H. Gaudenzi/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
SAWRÉ MUYBU, Brazil , Dec 21 2015 (IPS)

At dusk on the Tapajós River, one of the main tributaries of the Amazon River in northern Brazil, the Mundurukú indigenous people gather to bathe and wash clothes in these waters rich in fish, the staple of their diet. But the “evil spirit”, as they refer in their language to the Sao Luiz Tapajós dam, threatens to leave most of their territory – and their way of life – under water.

“The river is like our mother. She feeds us with her fish. Just as our mothers fed us with their milk, the river also feeds us,” said Delsiano Saw, the teacher in the village of Sawré Muybu, between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the northern Brazilian state of Pará.

“It will fill up the river, and the animals and the fish will disappear. The plants that the fish eat, the turtles, will also be gone. Everything will vanish when they flood this area because of the hydroelectric dam,” he told IPS.

The dam will flood 330 sq km of land – including the area around this village of 178 people.

According to the government’s plans, the Sao Luiz Tapajós dam will have a potential of 8,040 MW and will be the main dam in a complex of hydropower plants to be built along the Tapajós River and its tributaries by 2024.

But the 7.7 billion-dollar project has been delayed once again because of challenges to the environmental permitting process.

“The accumulative effect is immeasurable. Environmental experts have demonstrated that it will kill the river. No river can survive a complex of seven dams,” Mauricio Torres, a sociologist at the Federal University of Western Pará (UFOPA), told IPS."No river can survive a complex of seven dams.” -- Sociologist Mauricio Torres

The Tapajós River, which flows into the Amazon River, runs 871 km through one of the best-preserved areas in the subtropical rainforest, where the government whittled away at protected areas in order to build the hydroelectric dams, which are prohibited in wildlife reserves.

The area is home to 12,000 members of the Mundurukú indigenous community and 2,500 riverbank dwellers who are opposed to the “megaproject” – a Portuguese term that the native people have incorporated in their language, to use in their frequent protests.

The Mundurukú have historically been a warlike people, and although they have adopted many Brazilian customs in their way of life, they still wear traditional face paint when they go to the big cities to demonstrate against the dam.

Village chief Juarez Saw complains that they were not consulted, as required by International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, which has been ratified by Brazil.

The process of legalisation of their indigenous territory has been interrupted by the hydropower project.

“We aren’t leaving this land,” he told IPS. “There is a law that says we can’t be moved unless an illness is killing indigenous people.”

The village is located in a spot that is sacred to the Mundurukú people. And they point out that their ancestors were born here and are buried here.

“This is going to hurt, us, not only the Mundurukú people who have lived along the Tapajós River for so many years, but the jungle, the river. It hurts in our hearts,” said the village’s shaman or traditional healer, Fabiano Karo.

The interview is taking place in the ceremonial hut where the shaman heals “ailments of the body and spirit.” He fears being left without his traditional medicines when the water covers the land around the village – and his healing plants.

Academics warn that the flooding will cause significant losses in plant cover, while generating greenhouse gas emissions due to the decomposition of the trees and plants that are killed.

 A little girl in Sawré Muybu, an indigenous village on the Tapajós River between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS


A little girl in Sawré Muybu, an indigenous village on the Tapajós River between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

This biodiversity-rich river basin is home to unique species of plants, birds, fish and mammals, many of which are threatened or endangered.

“The impact will be great, especially on the aquatic fauna, because many Amazon River basin fish migrate from the lower to the upper stretches of the rivers to spawn,” ecologist Ricardo Scuole, at the UFOPA university, explained to IPS.
“Large structures like dikes, dams and artificial barriers generally hinder or entirely block the spawning migration of these species,” he said.

The village of Sawré Muybu currently covers 300 hectares, and the flooding for the hydroelectric dam will reduce it to an island.

María Parawá doesn’t know how old she is, but she does know she has always lived on the river.

“I’m afraid of the flood because I don’t know where I’ll go. I have a lot of sons, daughters and grandchildren to raise and I don’t know how I’ll support them,” Parawá told IPS through an interpreter, because like many women in the village, she does not speak Portuguese.

A few hours from Sawré Muybu is Pimental, a town of around 800 inhabitants on the banks of the Tapajós River, where people depend on agriculture and small-scale fishing for a living.

This region was populated by migrants from the country’s impoverished semiarid Northeast in the late 19th century, at the height of the Amazon rubber boom.

Pimental, many of whose inhabitants were originally from the Northeast, could literally vanish from the map when the reservoir is created.

“With the impact of the dam, our entire history could disappear underwater,” lamented Ailton Nogueira, president of the association of local residents of Pimental.

The consortium that will build the hydroelectric dam, led by the Eletrobrás company, has proposed resettling the local inhabitants 20 km away.

But for people who live along the riverbanks, like the Mundurukú, the river and fishing are their way of life, sociologist Mauricio Torres explained.

“Their traditional knowledge has been built over millennia, passing from generation to generation,” he told IPS. “It is at least 10,000 years old. When a river is dammed and turned into a lake, it is transformed overnight and this traditional knowledge, which was how that region survived, is wiped away.”

The Tapajós River dams are seen by the government as strategic because they will provide energy to west-central Brazil and to the southeast – the richest and most industrialised part of the country.

“The country needs them. Otherwise we are going to have blackouts,” said José de Lima, director de of planning in the municipality of Santarém, Pará.

But the Tapajós Alive Movement (MTV), presided over by Catholic priest Edilberto Sena, questions the need for the dams.

“Why do they need so many hydropower dams on the Tapajós River? That’s the big question, because we don’t need them. It’s the large mining companies that need this energy, it’s the São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro markets that need it,” he told IPS.

It’s evening in Sawré Muybu and the families gather at the “igarapé”, as they call the river. While people bathe, the women wash clothes and household utensils.

From childhood, boys learn to fish, hunt and provide the village with water. For the community, the river is the source of life.

“And no one has the right to change the course of life,” says Karo, the local shaman.

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Haina, a Dominican City Famous Only for Its Pollutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/haina-a-dominican-city-famous-only-for-its-pollution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=haina-a-dominican-city-famous-only-for-its-pollution http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/haina-a-dominican-city-famous-only-for-its-pollution/#comments Tue, 15 Dec 2015 07:35:55 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143357 A view of Gringo beach and, in the background, the city of Bajos de Haina, the Dominican Republic’s main industrial hub and port, and the third-most polluted city in the world. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

A view of Gringo beach and, in the background, the city of Bajos de Haina, the Dominican Republic’s main industrial hub and port, and the third-most polluted city in the world. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

By Ivet González
BAJOS DE HAINA, Dominican Republic , Dec 15 2015 (IPS)

Rubbish covers the beaches and clutters the rivers, the garbage dump is not properly managed, and more than 100 factories spew toxic fumes into the air in the city of Bajos de Haina, a major industrial hub and port city in the Dominican Republic.

“We’ve only made it into the news as one of the world’s most polluted places,” lamented Adriana Vallejo, a schoolteacher who talked to IPS in the Centro Educativo Manuel Felix Peña, a school that teaches the arts in this city 80 km to the south of Santo Domingo.

Vallejo was referring to the list of the 10 most polluted places on earth drawn up periodically by the New York-based Blacksmith Institute (which has changed its name to Pure Earth).

The Institute’s latest report, from 2013, listed Bajos de Haina in third place, after Dzerzhinsk, Russia, and Chernobyl, Ukraine, which suffered one of the worst environmental disasters in history, caused by the catastrophic nuclear accident in 1986.

“Those up above are not paying attention to the environmental problem,” said Vallejo, referring to the ruling classes and the authorities. “We, from here down below, can do practically nothing.”

According to the “Map of Poverty in the Dominican Republic 2014”, 33 percent of households in this city of 159,000 people are poor.

“Private companies contribute a little to improving things, but only with small gestures, such as facilities at the school that were refurbished by the oil refinery (the only one in this Caribbean island nation). We haven’t seen a real desire for Haina to change,” said the teacher, who has lived here for 25 years.

“When the situation gets out of hand, we hold protest marches,” she said. “The people have had to take to the streets to fight serious problems like burning in the garbage dump, which enveloped Haina in a curtain of smoke.”

The manufacturing, chemical products, pharmaceutical, metallurgical and power plants and the oil refinery emit every a combined total of 9.8 tons of formaldehyde, 1.2 tons of lead, 416 tons of ammonium, and 18.5 tons of sulfuric acid annually.

The mouth of the Ñagá River, whose waters have darkened as a result of industrial waste and which has become more narrow due to the loss of the mangroves lining the banks, in the Dominican Republic coastal city of Bajos de Haina. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

The mouth of the Ñagá River, whose waters have darkened as a result of industrial waste and which has become more narrow due to the loss of the mangroves lining the banks, in the Dominican Republic coastal city of Bajos de Haina. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

The city’s thermoelectric complex produces more than 50 percent of the electricity available for the economy and the country’s 9.3 million inhabitants.

In this city, 84 hazardous substances have been identified, 65 of which are major toxics.

Factories dump waste into the rivers and the sea. And noise pollution is another problem affecting human health.

Scientific studies warn that a majority of local residents suffer from ailments such as asthma, bronchitis, the flu and acute diarrhea.

In this city of 50 square km, the main environmental woes are air, water and noise pollution, problems caused by the open-air dump, and municipal solid waste scattered everywhere.

Where tons of garbage now cover a wide open area, there was a forest 30 years ago, “where I used to wander as a kid,” said high school math teacher Juan Ventura, who took IPS to the dump. “People who used to live around here back then are nostalgic and sad; we miss what was once a natural area that used to be known as El Naranjal.”

“The city’s garbage is brought here, with absolutely no kind of health policies. For decades, they even brought in part of the garbage from Santo Domingo. The only thing they did was burn it, and the entire local population had to breathe the nauseating smoke.

“It’s pathetic that the local authorities have no serious policy for recycling, and some local residents scavenge waste materials on their own, without any protective measures,” he said, pointing to around a dozen men and women sorting through bags of garbage for scraps of material, plastic and metal, to classify and sell them to recycling companies.

One of the women, her hands filthy from scavenging, told IPS that she is involved in this informal activity because of the money she can earn.

The woman, who is originally from neighbouring Haiti, said she makes between 22 and 44 dollars a day collecting plastic that she resells – a considerable sum in a country where the minimum monthly wage is 231 dollars.

The authorities say Haina is suffering from the legacy of years of nearly non-existent environmental legislation.

The neighbourhood Paraíso de Dios or God’s Paradise turned into a living hell during the 20 years that the Metaloxa car battery recycling smelter operated there with no environmental controls or oversight. Local residents in the area where the plant used to operate have extremely high blood lead levels.

For a decade the community put up a battle until Metaloxa was forced to pull out in 1999, when the Public Health Ministry finally took action.

But many locals suffered irreversible damage to their health.

Residents of this city complain that enforcement of the 2000 law on the environment and natural resources is lax.

“There is no respect for the environment,” Mackenzie Andújar, a 41-year-old plumber who lives in the area of Gringo beach, told IPS. “There is no control over factories here; they dump their toxic waste out of chimneys and into the water. The situation in Haina has only gotten worse in recent years.”

The Ñagá River, which flows into the sea at Gringo beach, is filthy and narrow as a result of garbage dumps and deforestation. Plastic bottles, cardboard, old clothes and other trash is strewn over the sand dunes, while children splash in the water. The view from the beach is the furnaces and smokestacks of the nearby factories.

“The locals are uncultured; when a dog or other animal dies, they throw the corpse into the river or on the beach, instead of burying it,” said Andújar.

The environmental crisis, the high population density, the poor living conditions and the lack of services infrastructure make this a conflict-ridden area, according to the 2011 study titled “a socioeconomic and environmental diagnosis on the management of solid household waste in the municipality of Haina”

“The environmental problems in our community are hard to deal with, but we also have social contamination caused by crime and young people’s lack of interest in studying,” said music student Juan Elías Andújar.

“In school they talk to us about ecological issues,” he told IPS. “We have a group called ‘Guardians of Nature’, to raise social awareness and carry out actions like clean-ups of beaches. Haina could change if each person were willing to make an effort.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Pacific Islands’ Marine Reserve: Safe Haven for Depleted Tuna and New Holiday Spothttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/pacific-islands-marine-reserve-safe-haven-for-depleted-tuna-and-new-holiday-spot/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islands-marine-reserve-safe-haven-for-depleted-tuna-and-new-holiday-spot http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/pacific-islands-marine-reserve-safe-haven-for-depleted-tuna-and-new-holiday-spot/#comments Mon, 14 Dec 2015 06:55:56 +0000 Christopher Pala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143329 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/pacific-islands-marine-reserve-safe-haven-for-depleted-tuna-and-new-holiday-spot/feed/ 0 Brazil’s Amazon River Ports Give Rise to Dreams and Nightmareshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/brazils-amazon-river-ports-give-rise-to-dreams-and-nightmares/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazils-amazon-river-ports-give-rise-to-dreams-and-nightmares http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/brazils-amazon-river-ports-give-rise-to-dreams-and-nightmares/#comments Fri, 11 Dec 2015 22:48:18 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143303 The U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill’s port terminal on the banks of the Tapajós River in the northern Brazilian city of Santarém, where large cargo vessels dwarf the traditional small fishing boats of the Amazon basin. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill’s port terminal on the banks of the Tapajós River in the northern Brazilian city of Santarém, where large cargo vessels dwarf the traditional small fishing boats of the Amazon basin. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
SANTARÉM, Brazil, Dec 11 2015 (IPS)

River port terminals in the northern Brazilian city of Santarém are considered strategic by the government. But what some see as an opportunity for development is for others an irreversible change in what was previously a well-preserved part of the Amazon rainforest.

In the evening light on the Tapajós River, whose green-blue waters mix with the darker muddy water of the Amazon River in Santarém, it’s not easy to ignore the silos that overshadow what used to be a public beach, where passenger boats and fishing vessels typical of this part of the Amazon jungle state of Pará tie up.

The port terminal of the U.S. commodities giant Cargill began to operate in 2003 as a centre for the storage, transshipment and loading of soy and corn, in this city of nearly 300,000 people.

The cargo ships and convoys of barges carrying grains are headed for the Amazon River and then the Atlantic Ocean on their way to Europe or China, the biggest markets for Brazil’s main agribusiness exports.

This country is the world’s second-largest producer of soy, after the United States, and the biggest exporter. In the 2014-2015 harvest it produced 95 million tons, 60.7 million of which were exported.

Municipal authorities argue that the river port terminals generate jobs and tax revenue, while they drive the construction and services industries, hotels and fuel supplies.

But Edilberto Sena, a Catholic priest who is the president of the Tapajós Movement Alive, holds a very different view.

“Cargill’s arrival has been a tragedy for Santarém,” he told IPS. “When they began to build the port they argued that it would bring jobs, and while they were building it did create 800 jobs. But as soon as it was completed, most of the workers were fired, and now it employs between 150 and 160 people.”

With a current capacity to export five million tons of grain, the port of Santarém was built to ease the congestion in ports in southern Brazil like Santos in the state of São Paulo, or Paranaguá in the state of Paraná.

This port and the transshipment terminal in Mirituba – 300 km to the south of Santarém – have also cut distances by land and sea for the shipment of soy from the neighbouring state of Mato Grosso, the country’s largest soy producer.

The installation was built by the U.S. agribusiness and food company Bunge, which was later joined by Cargill and other transnational corporations.

“These ports make Brazil more competitive,” the director of planning in the Santarém city government, José de Lima, told IPS.

As an example, he pointed out that with respect to the port in Santos, from Santarém to the port city of Shanghai, China, “the distance was cut from 24,000 km to 19,500 km, and going through the Panama Canal will reduce the cost from 159 to 147 dollars per transported ton.”

As of 2020, with an investment of around 800 million dollars, the transnational corporations project that they will export 20 million tons a year of grains through the Amazon basin.

A fisherman carries the day’s catch in the market in the city of Santarém, from the beach now overshadowed by the silos of the river port at the confluence of the Tapajós and Amazon Rivers in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Gonzalo Gaudenzi/IPS

A fisherman carries the day’s catch in the market in the city of Santarém, from the beach now overshadowed by the silos of the river port at the confluence of the Tapajós and Amazon Rivers in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Gonzalo Gaudenzi/IPS

Nelio Aguiar, the Santarém secretary of planning, stressed the strategic importance of these ports for the agroexport sector. “Brazil’s GDP is growing, based on agribusiness, which is supporting our economy,” he told IPS.

Most of the cargo arrives by truck, over the BR-163 highway in the process of being repaved, which ends at Cargill’s port terminal.

Currently, during the soy and corn harvest some 350 trucks a day arrive. But Lima estimates that the number will rise to 2,000 a day when other port terminals set to be built in the city are in operation.

That is what worries social organisations and academics who have fought the construction of the port.

“Because the city was not adapted to receive so much cargo traffic, it has caused disruptions and we have seen an increase in the number of accidents due to the intensification of truck traffic,” Raimunda Monteiro, the rector of the Federal University of Western Pará, told IPS.

But despite a number of lawsuits challenging the legality of the Cargill port, construction went ahead with the support of local authorities.

“It destroyed a beach in Santarém and there were also a number of indirect impacts because it attracted more soy producers, who expanded across the Santarém plan. These impacts were not foreseen in the environmental impact study,” Ibis Tapajós, a lawyer who works with social movements, told IPS.

To decongest truck traffic, the city government projects the construction of new access roads and truck parking lots outside of the city.

But there is concern about environmental effects such as contamination of the river and pollution from motor vehicle emissions and from the chemical fertilisers carried by the ships.

“The Cargill port is a clear example of the violation of socioenvironmental rights by large corporations,” said Tapajós.

The construction of at least six new port terminals in Santarém is in the study phase. Two would be next to the Cargill terminal and four would be in the area around Maica Lake.

The most advanced project on the lake – now in the phase of obtaining environmental permits – is to be built by EMBRAPS, a private company.

“Maica Lake is an extremely fragile ecological area,” said Monteiro. “It is at one end of a 50-km series of lakes and canals at the mouth of the Tapajós river and its confluence with the Amazon River.”

The EMBRAPS port is to be built in the Green Area neigbhourhood on the lake, in an area that floods during the rainy season and is without water in the dry season.

There are already signs warning “no trespassers, private property,” and the 480 fisherpersons on the lake are worried about the impact on their activity due to the circulation of the cargo vessels and because a large area will be covered over with soil.

“They’re going to practically privatise the lake,” Ronaldo Souza Costa, the president of the Association of Local Residents of the Perola Neighourhood of Maicá, told IPS. Thirty percent of the fish eaten in Santarém comes from the lake.

“As far as we can tell, there will be a major impact on our fishing, mainly in this area, where we fish in the wintertime. They will mark off no-trespassing areas,” said Raimundo Nonato, the administrator of the Maicá market.
The Santarém city government says the installations will be on dry land and that the companies are not interested in the lake but in the Amazon River, which the waters flow into and which is deep enough for large vessels.

“The entire operation of the trucks will be on ramps. It will not affect the water in the lake at all,” said Aguiar.

But because the local communities have not yet been formally consulted about this and other port projects, fears are growing.

“From what we know, if the ships come near us, our boats will be in trouble because of the big waves, which will be dangerous for our small vessels,” local fisherwoman Telma Almeida told IPS.

After unloading her fish, Almeida casts off and sets out on the Amazon River once again in her small boat. Her silhouette becomes tiny and dim in the shadow of a large cargo vessel.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Women Leaders agree COP21 Must Have “Gender-Responsive” Deal.http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/women-leaders-agree-cop21-must-have-gender-responsive-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-leaders-agree-cop21-must-have-gender-responsive-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/women-leaders-agree-cop21-must-have-gender-responsive-deal/#comments Tue, 08 Dec 2015 13:04:35 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143259 "Women Leaders at COP 21 in Paris Raise the Banner for Gender Awareness in Any Climate Deal." Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

"Women Leaders at COP 21 in Paris Raise the Banner for Gender Awareness in Any Climate Deal." Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
PARIS, France , Dec 8 2015 (IPS)

53-year old Aleta Baun of Indonesia’s West Timor province is a proud climate warrior. From 1995 to 2005 she successfully led a citizens’ movement to shut down 4 large marble mining companies that polluted and damaged the ecosystem of a mountain her community considered sacred. After their closure in 2006, she became a conservationist and restored 15 hectares of degraded mountain land, reviving dozens of dried springs and resettling 6,000 people who were displaced by the mining.

On Monday, on the eve of the Gender Day at the ongoing UN Climate Change Summit (COP21) in Paris, Baun who is better known as or ‘Mama Aleta’ in West Timor, had a strong message for the negotiators: for a climate deal to be effective on the ground, it also had to be gender equal and recognize women’s climate leadership.

Running a landscape restoration project is costly. Baun has so far spent about 50,000 dollars pooled by community members and local NGOs. The project needs much more for completion. But this is a challenge as official funding has not come forth. This dismays Baun who feels that although women were setting great examples of climate leadership, it is not officially recognized by governments and international policy makers.

For example, she said, there was no official communication between the Indonesian delegation of negotiators at the COP and grassroots women climate activists like her. “We don’t know who the negotiators are and we don’t know what they are negotiating. We feel that we, the indigenous women, are alone in this fight against climate change,” she said.

Baun’s dismay and disappointment was shared by several other women leaders who expressed their thoughts on the draft climate policy at the COP. The draft, tabled at the end of the first week for formal negotiations, was “far from ideal,” said a woman leader because it had “too many brackets that made the text too complicated.”

“The purpose of the many sections is not clear. Also, some crucial components are missing. For example, gender equality is there, but indigenous people are not. One very important thing is inter-generational equity. For us, this is a core issue and it’s really not clear,” said Sabina Bok of Women in Europe for a Common Future.

Farah Kabir, head of ActionAid in Bangladesh agreed as her country has been hit by extreme weather events like flooding and sea disasters that have affected millions of women from poor communities. “The draft policy has lack of clarity on several of these points,” she said.

Presently, the key demands of most women leaders at the COP21 included commitment by all governments to keep global warming under 1.5 Celsius to prevent catastrophic climate change, including in all climate actions the recognition of human rights, gender equality, rights of indigenous peoples and intergenerational equity and provide new, additional and predictable gender-responsive public financing.

But, the negotiators seemed divided on the global warming target, which dismayed Kabir. “It is not clear whether the deal will stop global warming at 1.5 degree or at 2 degrees, the later will be catastrophic for women as that will mean more disasters and more suffering for women who are already the most vulnerable people.”

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) estimated that women comprise one of the most climate vulnerable populations. As the impact of climate change on women grows bigger, the vulnerability of women across the world is also growing and there is a sheer need for allowing women greater access to renewable technologies, said many. However, these technologies also had to be safe and gender responsive, so that they responded to both the daily and different needs and priorities of women. Alongside, investment is the need to train women in how to use these technologies.

Investments are also needed to facilitate women’s leadership in both mitigation and adaptation measures, said Neema Namadamu, a women leader from northern DRC. “In Congo, women are busy planting trees to help re-grow our rain forests. First, we need assured investments into initiatives like this that is a direct flight against climate change. The hair-splitting negotiations can continue after that,” said Namadamu, founder of Mama Shuja, a civil society organization that trained grassroots Congolese women in climate action and fighting gender violence using digital media tools.

However, to ensure women’s greater access to climate finance, renewable technologies and adaptation capacity, the climate draft needed to have a sharper gender focus, felt Mary Robinson, former Prime Minister of Ireland and one of the greatest women climate leaders.

“There will be a climate deal in Paris. It will not be a ‘great’ deal, but a fairly ambitious one. But its extremely important to have a climate agreement that is ambitious, fair and also gender-fair. We definitely need an agreement that will exhilarate more women’s leadership. If we had more women’s leadership, we would have been where we are now,” Robinson said.

(End)

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Native Seeds Help Weather Climate Change in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/native-seeds-help-weather-climate-change-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-seeds-help-weather-climate-change-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/native-seeds-help-weather-climate-change-in-el-salvador/#comments Mon, 30 Nov 2015 22:34:40 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143159 Domitila Reyes, 25, picks a cob of native corn in a field in the Mangrove Association, one of the two small farmer organisations that produce these seeds for the government’s Family Agriculture Plan in El Salvador. The seeds are not only high yield but are also more tolerant of the climate changes happening in this Central American country. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Domitila Reyes, 25, picks a cob of native corn in a field in the Mangrove Association, one of the two small farmer organisations that produce these seeds for the government’s Family Agriculture Plan in El Salvador. The seeds are not only high yield but are also more tolerant of the climate changes happening in this Central American country. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
JIQUILISCO /SAN MIGUEL, El Salvador , Nov 30 2015 (IPS)

Knife in hand, Domitila Reyes deftly cuts open the leaves covering the cob of corn, which she carefully removes from the plant – a process she carries out over and over all morning long, standing in the middle of a sea of corn, a staple in the diet of El Salvador.

Reyes is taking part in the “tapisca” – derived from “pixca” in the Nahat indigenous tongue, which means harvesting the field-dried corn.

The process will end, weeks later, with the selection of the best quality seeds, in order to ensure food sovereignty and security for poor peasant farmers in this Central American country of 6.3 million people.

Some 614,000 Salvadorans are farmers, and 244,000 of them grow corn or beans on small farms averaging 2.5 hectares in size, the Ministry of Agriculture and Stockbreeding reports.

In rural areas, 43 percent of households are poor, compared to 29.9 percent in urban areas, according to the latest annual survey by the Ministry of Economy.

“I see that the harvest is good, even though the rain was causing problems,” Reyes, 25, told IPS. She earns 10 dollars a day “tapiscando” or harvesting corn.

Climate change has modified the production cycles in this country, which is experiencing lengthy droughts in the May to October wet season and heavy rain in the November to April dry season. The erratic weather has ruined corn and bean crops.“High quality seeds are strategic for the country, because they make it possible for farming families to grow their crops in periods of national and global crisis, given the problem of climate change.” -- Alan González

But Reyes, covered head to toe to protect herself from the sun in jeans, a long-sleeved blouse and a hat, is relieved that the high-quality or “improved” seeds have managed to resist the effects of the changing climate.

“This corn has withstood it better…the rain hurt it but not very much. Other seeds wouldn’t have survived the blow,” she told IPS in the middle of the cornfield.

Reyes is one of the nearly two dozen workers who, under the burning sun, are harvesting corn on this seven-hectare field, one of several that belong to the Mangrove Association in Ciudad Romero, a rural settlement in the municipality of Jiquilisco in the eastern department of Usulután.

The region is known as Bajo Lempa, named after the river that crosses El Salvador from the north, before running into the Pacific Ocean. In that region there are 86 communities, with a total population of 23,000 people.

Many of the inhabitants are former guerrilla fighters of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), which fought the country’s right-wing governments in the 1980-1992 armed conflict that left a death toll of around 75,000, mainly civilians.

The Mangrove Association is one of the two producers of open-pollinated (the opposite of hybrid) native seeds in El Salvador. The other is the Nancuchiname Cooperative, also in the Bajo Lempa region.

They sell their annual output of 500,000 kilos of seeds to the government for distribution to 400,000 small farmers, as part of the Family Agriculture Plan (PAF). Each farmer receives 10 kg of seeds of corn and beans, as well as fertiliser.

“One achievement by our organisation is that the government has accepted us as a supplier of native seeds to the PAF,” said Juan Luna, coordinator of the Mangrove Association’s Agriculture Programme.

The hard-working hands of Ivania Siliézar, 55, pick improved beans she grew on her three-hectare farm on the slopes of the Chaparrastique volcano in the eastern Salvadoran department of San Miguel. Thanks to these native seeds, her output has doubled. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The hard-working hands of Ivania Siliézar, 55, pick improved beans she grew on her three-hectare farm on the slopes of the Chaparrastique volcano in the eastern Salvadoran department of San Miguel. Thanks to these native seeds, her output has doubled. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Luna told IPS that with these seeds, Salvadoran small farmers are better prepared to confront the effects of climate change and ensure food security and sovereignty.

In this country, 12.4 percent of the population – around 700,000 people – are undernourished, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The Mangrove Association and another three cooperatives in the area produce 40 percent of the improved seeds purchased by the PAF, whether native or the H59 hybrid variety developed by the government’s Enrique Álvarez Córdova National Centre for Agricultural and Forest Technology (CENTA).

The rest are produced by cooperatives in other regions of the country.

“The seeds produced by CENTA are high quality genetic material adapted to growing everywhere from sea level to 700 metres altitude,” FAO resident coordinator in El Salvador, Alan González, told IPS.

Two farmers carry dry leaves of corn, after the harvest of field-dried corn, on a parcel of land belonging to the Mangrove Association, one of the cooperatives that produce native corn seeds in El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Two farmers carry dry leaves of corn, after the harvest of field-dried corn, on a parcel of land belonging to the Mangrove Association, one of the cooperatives that produce native corn seeds in El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

He added that the effort to promote this kind of seeds as a tool to weather the effects of climate change and strengthen food security and sovereignty are part of the Hunger Free Mesoamerica programme launched by FAO in 2014 in Central America, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.

“High quality seeds are strategic for the country, because they make it possible for farming families to grow their crops in periods of national and global crisis, given the problem of climate change,” said González.

Up to 2009, PAF purchased seeds from only five companies. But that year the FMLN, which became a political party after the 1992 peace deal, was voted into office and modified the rules of the game in order for small farmers to participate in the business, through cooperatives.

Another of the advantages of these improved seeds, besides their resistance to drought and heavy rains, is their high yields. FAO estimates that productivity has increased by 40 percent in the case of beans and 30 percent in the case of corn, which has boosted the food and nutritional security of the poorest families.

“We produce more, and we earn a bit more income,” said Ivania Siliézar, 55, who produces an improved variety of bean in the village of El Amate in the department of San Miguel, 135 km east of San Salvador.

Siliézar told IPS that she took the time to count how many bean pods one single plant produces: “More than 35 pods; that’s why the yield is so high,” she said proudly.

The variety of bean grown by her and 40 other members of the Fuentes y Palmeras cooperative is called chaparrastique, and was also developed by the CENTA technicians. The name comes from the volcano at whose feet this and six other cooperatives grow the bean, which they sell in local markets, as well as to the PAF.

Siliézar grows her crops on her farm that is just over three hectares in size, and in the last harvest of the year, she picked 1,250 kg of beans, a very high yield.

Similar excellent results were obtained by all 255 members of the seven cooperatives, who founded a company, Productores y Comercializadores Agrícolas de Oriente SA (Procomao), and have managed to mechanise their production with the installation of a plant that has processing equipment such as driers.

The plant was built with an investment of 203,000 dollars, financed by Spanish development aid and support from FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the San Miguel city government, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Stockbreeding. It has the capacity to process three tons of beans per hour.

Cooperatives grouping another 700 families from the departments of San Miguel and Usulután also set up three similar companies.

“We have had pests, but thanks to God and the quality of the seeds, here is our harvest,” Siliézar said happily.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Private Nature Reserves in Latin America Seek a Bigger Rolehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/private-nature-reserves-in-latin-america-seek-a-bigger-role/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=private-nature-reserves-in-latin-america-seek-a-bigger-role http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/private-nature-reserves-in-latin-america-seek-a-bigger-role/#comments Fri, 20 Nov 2015 14:27:09 +0000 Fabíola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143070 The Punta Leona private reserve on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, where the owners voluntarily protect biological diversity and use a small part of the property for ecotourism. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

The Punta Leona private reserve on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, where the owners voluntarily protect biological diversity and use a small part of the property for ecotourism. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabíola Ortiz
PUNTA LEONA, Costa Rica , Nov 20 2015 (IPS)

Private voluntary nature reserves in Latin America should be seen as allies in policies on the environment, climate change mitigation and the preservation of biological diversity in rainforests, say experts.

“Private reserves in Latin America are not included in conservation policies; they should be integrated in our national strategies,” said Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, vice-president of conservation policies in Conservation International (CI) in Costa Rica.

Rodríguez, a former Costa Rican minister of environment, energy and mines (2002–2006), was addressing 150 environmentalists, promoters of voluntary conservation agreements, and ecotourism business owners, during the 11th Latin American Congress of Networks of Private Reserves, held Nov. 9-13 in the Punta Leona private nature reserve and tourism destination.

In his view, the private sector should play a more central role and governments and the owners of private nature reserves should work together to achieve compliance with the Aichi Biodiversity Targets adopted in Nagoya, Japan in 2010.

During the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, 193 United Nations members established 20 targets to fight the loss of biodiversity, with a 2020 deadline.

“We are losing our natural capital due to climate change and the big gap between private and public conservation,” said Rodríguez. “The owners of private reserves should become political actors, to help meet the Aichi Targets.”

The global cost of financing efforts towards the targets is estimated at 150 to 440 billion dollars a year, according to figures from the Convention itself. But currently, CI says, the world is only channeling 45 billion dollars towards that end.

Rodríguez says private conservation efforts could help mitigate the shortfall in funds.

With that aim, the Latin American Alliance of Private Reserves was formally created Nov. 6 – the first of its kind in the world. It groups 4,345 private reserves in 15 countries, with a combined total of 5,648,000 hectares of green areas.

The 11th Latin American Congress of Networks of Private Reserves held No. 9-13 in the Punta Leona nature reserve on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

The 11th Latin American Congress of Networks of Private Reserves held No. 9-13 in the Punta Leona nature reserve on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

“The idea is to form a conservation chain,” Martin Keller of Guatemala, the president of the new alliance, told IPS. “Private areas can form a chain with national parks and expand national conservation systems. They are also a mechanism to absorb drastic climate changes.”

He argues that there should be no borders for private reserves in the region. “We are joining together in something magnificent, and formalising associations with international institutions so that they include us in environmental projects,” he said.

During the congress in Costa Rica, a pilot programme to encourage the sale of carbon credits was announced, with the donation of 200 hectares of land by a member of the Alliance. The programme will have an estimated 3,600 tonnes of carbon.

Keller hopes Latin America will begin to sell carbon as a bloc, starting in 2017.

“We have dreams and a passion for conserving nature,” the president of the Costa Rican Network of Nature Reserves, Rafael Gallo, who is donating the 200 hectares for the pilot plan, told IPS. “We want the sale of carbon to be a mechanism for private conservation at a global level.”

Gallo has an 800-hectare property on the Banks of the Pacuare River along Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. Of that total, 700 hectares are a forest reserve. It is located in Siquirres, 85 km east of San José, near the Barbilla National Park, which forms part of the La Amistad Biosphere Reserve.

“The market is still just getting off the ground, a ton of carbon is worth three dollars,” said Gallo, who believes the mechanism will become viable when the price of a ton reaches 10 dollars.

The countries in the Alliance are Argentina, Belize, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay and Peru. Uruguay and Venezuela also have private reserves, but they have not yet set up local networks – a necessary step before they can join.

Keller said he hopes the initiative will expand to the entire hemisphere, including the Caribbean island nations, Canada and the United States.

Private reserves in the northern Costa Rican province of Heredia. A pilot project for carbon credits will be carried out on one such reserve, thanks to a donation of 200 hectares of land by its owner. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Private reserves in the northern Costa Rican province of Heredia. A pilot project for carbon credits will be carried out on one such reserve, thanks to a donation of 200 hectares of land by its owner. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Private reserves would like to benefit from multilateral institution programmes, and with that in mind they have made contact with U.N. partners involved in one way or another with conservation issues, such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

“We want to be a regional bloc, we want to be heard at an international level, and we want incentives for property owners to continue joining forces to support conservation – because we would have a massive impact as a bloc,” Claudia García de Bonilla, executive director of the Association of Private Natural Reserves of Guatemala, told IPS.

Voluntary conservation areas are set up by ecotourism businesses, academic institutions, research bodies, or organic agricultural producers, and their advocates see them as green shields against climate extremes and the loss of biodiversity.

“Forests are a sponge, absorbing storms and hurricanes. We have to keep expanding our ecological corridors,” Bonilla said.

The representative of private green areas in Chile, Mauricio Moreno, underscored benefits that nature reserves belonging to individuals or private bodies can offer a global vision of conservation.

“These areas are refuges protected with a great deal of goodwill and effort,” he told IPS. “They complement the public networks. There are reserves that border natural parks and thus create much bigger areas that make it possible to conserve species of animals. With a public and private effort, integral conservation is possible.”

According to Ariane Claussen, an engineer in renewable natural resources at the University of Chile, the budget assigned to public protected areas in the region is insufficient, which makes it difficult for countries to have the capacity to act on their own in the preservation of biodiversity.

“Rather than seeing private reserves as independent, they should be seen in an integrated manner,” she told IPS. “If these people didn’t decide to practice conservation, they would be using that land in different ways, for unsustainable monoculture or stockbreeding.”

She said “the property owners dedicate a small portion of this land to (economic) development like tourism, because they need an income.”

Claussen, along with another Chilean colleague, Tomás González, stressed the Latin American initiative Huella, aimed at voluntary cooperation in technical planning for conservation, environmental education and ecological activism in the region.

Private reserves cover gaps left by the state, she said. “The idea is that they take part in conservation as buffer zones and link up the ecosystems of public protected areas that are isolated and fragmented,” she explained.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Latin American Legislators Find New Paths to Fight Hungerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/latin-american-legislators-find-new-paths-to-fight-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-american-legislators-find-new-paths-to-fight-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/latin-american-legislators-find-new-paths-to-fight-hunger/#comments Thu, 19 Nov 2015 22:40:02 +0000 Aramis Castro and Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143061 Peruvian lawmaker Jaime Delgado reads out the final declaration of the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean, in Lima. From left to right: John Preissing, FAO representative in Peru; Ecuadorean lawmaker María Augusta Calle; and Uruguayan legislator Bertha Sanseverino, with other participants in the meeting. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

Peruvian lawmaker Jaime Delgado reads out the final declaration of the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean, in Lima. From left to right: John Preissing, FAO representative in Peru; Ecuadorean lawmaker María Augusta Calle; and Uruguayan legislator Bertha Sanseverino, with other participants in the meeting. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

By Aramis Castro and Milagros Salazar
LIMA, Nov 19 2015 (IPS)

With eight specific commitments aimed at pushing through laws and policies on food security and sovereignty, family farming and school feeding programmes, legislators from 17 countries closed the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean.

During the Nov. 15-17 Forum in the Peruvian capital, the delegates of the national chapters of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger (PFH) reasserted their determination to promote laws to “break the circle of poverty and enforce the right to food” in the region.

The more than 60 legislators who took part in the Forum, including guests from Africa and Asia, stated in the final declaration that of all of the world’s regions, Latin America and the Caribbean had made the greatest progress in reducing hunger, cutting the proportion of hungry people by more than half, in the context of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which had a 2015 deadline. “After six years of debate, we understand the concept of food sovereignty to mean eliminating injustice to preserve the environment and biodiversity.” -- María Augusta Calle

But after stressing these results, John Preissing, representative of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Peru, called on the legislators not to be content “with averages” that hide inequalities between and within countries.

He also stressed that “it will be much more difficult” for the region to reduce the proportion of hungry people to two or three percent, than what they already managed to do: to cut the percentage from 32 to seven percent.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, some 37 million of the region’s 600 million people are still hungry, of a total of 795 million hungry people around the world, the Forum participants were told.

The final declaration emphasised that it is essential that the PFH work together with the governments of each country to create programmes and pass laws aimed at eradicating hunger, and to promote the three main areas for doing so: food security and sovereignty, family farming, and school feeding.

To advance in these three complementary areas, eight specific accords were reached, including the need for PFH legislators to participate in the debate on public budget funds, in order to guarantee that governments finance programmes against hunger.

The final declaration included the conclusions of the working groups on these three central themes, where one of the key issues was the importance of promoting public policies to benefit small farmers.

In another agreement, the lawmakers committed themselves to backing a new concept of food sovereignty.

“After six years of debate, we understand the concept of food sovereignty to mean eliminating injustice to preserve the environment and biodiversity,” Ecuadorean lawmaker María Augusta Calle, who the Forum ratified in her post as regional coordinator of the PFH, told IPS.

Members of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean sign the final declaration of the Sixth Forum at the end of the Nov. 15-17 gathering in Lima, Peru. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

Members of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean sign the final declaration of the Sixth Forum at the end of the Nov. 15-17 gathering in Lima, Peru. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

The next step, according to Calle, is to deliver the accords – especially the ones linked to food sovereignty – to the heads of state and government of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), during the summit to be held in January 2016 in Ecuador.

“They asked us to draw up the concept of food sovereignty that has been debated here,” said Calle.

The parliamentarians also agreed to support CELAC’s plan for its member countries to reach the goal of “zero hunger” by 2025 – five years before the deadline established by the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved by the international community in September.

Uruguayan legislator Bertha Sanseverino, the subregional coordinator of the PFH in South America, told IPS that the Forum established long-term commitments to “eradicate hunger by 2025” in the region.

She said that meeting this goal will require “a complex effort to design public policies and laws.”

One hurdle standing in the way of the many initiatives launched by the PFH national chapters, said Sanseverino, is the inevitable and democratic renewal of parliament. “Sometimes they have a good Parliamentary Front, but those legislators serve out their terms, and the following year you come up against the need to put the Front together again,” she said.

The FAO’s Preissing said eradicating hunger in the region is “an uphill task….But we can do it, there is evidence here, there are commitments,” he added optimistically.

The Forum expressed its support for small-scale community agriculture, as well as traditional knowledge and practices of Latin America’s indigenous peoples, as instruments of healthy, diverse diets.

It also warned about a food-related problem that is new in the region, and has begun to affect the population of Latin America – the junk food craze, which is bringing problems that did not previously exist, like widespread obesity.

Before the Sixth Forum came to an end, all of the participants sent a communiqué to the president of the host country, Ollanta Humala, urging him to approve the regulations for the bill on the promotion of healthy eating, which was signed into law in May 2013, and whose implementation has been blocked by his failure to do so.

“This law has been a pioneer in Latin America, and they (the participants in the Forum) are surprised that since we were pioneers, the law has not been codified,” the coordinator of the Peruvian chapter of the PFH, Jaime Delgado, told IPS, pointing out that the law had served as a model for countries like Ecuador.

He added that the PFH is trying to make sure that the 2016 budget about to be approved includes funds earmarked for the fight against poverty, while he complained that “there are programmes that do not benefit small farmers,” who are the main link in the country’s food security chain.

Next year, the members of the regional front will meet in Mexico, in a new edition of the parliamentary forum.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Gay Cruising Spots a Challenge for HIV/AIDS Prevention in Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/gay-cruising-spots-a-challenge-for-hivaids-prevention-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gay-cruising-spots-a-challenge-for-hivaids-prevention-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/gay-cruising-spots-a-challenge-for-hivaids-prevention-in-cuba/#comments Fri, 13 Nov 2015 22:21:02 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142997 At night, groups of people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) community gather in meeting spots like this one in the El Vedado neighbourhood in Havana, Cuba. Others go to cruising spots for quick anonymous sex. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

At night, groups of people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) community gather in meeting spots like this one in the El Vedado neighbourhood in Havana, Cuba. Others go to cruising spots for quick anonymous sex. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Nov 13 2015 (IPS)

When night falls, young men can be seen sitting on a dismantled bus stop on a remote hill far from the centre of the Cuban capital. Later they climb uphill to have sex with other men in the thick forest.

“On my way home from work, I go by that place, and I always see people gathered at the old bus stop,” 36-year-old biologist Daniel Hernández told IPS. The spot he was talking about is near the Calixto García Hospital in Havana’s El Vedado neighbourhood.

“People have lost their inhibitions. I can see they’re more out in the open in that area, where everyone knows why people go there. They’re not so afraid anymore,” said Hernández, who is himself gay and says he has occasionally gone there and to similar gay cruising spots in Havana.

Remote, isolated spots in Cuba’s cities, like forests, coastal areas or abandoned buildings, are colonised at night by men seeking quick anonymous sex with other men.

These cruising spots, known here as “potajeras”, represent a challenge for the work of prevention of HIV/AIDS, say activists, researchers and men who have sex with men (MSM) who spoke to IPS.

“I have witnessed unprotected group sex. All kinds of people go there, and not everyone has an awareness about the epidemic,” said Hernández, who described the potajeras as “key to the spread” of HIV/AIDS.

In his view, gay meeting places are necessary, but “not the remote spots that exist, where people are extremely unprotected due to the risk of infection and violence.”

The HIV/AIDS adult prevalence rate is low – just 0.1 percent, or 19,500 people – in this Caribbean island nation of 11.2 million people, up from 16,479 in late 2013.

MSM make up 70 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS. But women represent a growing proportion: 21 percent today, up from 18.5 percent in 2013, according to official figures.

Curbing the slow steady growth of new cases is a challenge that requires a greater prevention effort in this socialist island nation where healthcare is free and universal, including antiretroviral treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS.

The good news is that on Jun. 30, Cuba became the first country across the globe to receive World Health Organisation (WHO) validation for eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.

“In health promotion interventions we emphasise the risks of having sex in a place without minimum conditions,” said Avelino Matos, coordinator of community work with the MSM-Cuba Project, a network of 1,800 volunteer health promoters who have been working for 15 years to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS among the most vulnerable segment of society.

In these remote areas, “there’s no light and people are nervous, so it’s impossible to negotiate the use of a condom,” Matos told IPS.

The entrance to a nightclub in Havana’s El Vedado neighbourhood, which offers drag queen shows and is a meeting place for people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) community. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The entrance to a nightclub in Havana’s El Vedado neighbourhood, which offers drag queen shows and is a meeting place for people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) community. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The project, which falls under the umbrella of Cuba’s National Center for the Prevention of STDs and HIV/AIDS and is active in all 15 provinces, monitors MSM cruising and gathering spots, with an emphasis on the 49 municipalities that have top priority because they have the highest HIV/AIDS rates.

Matos described gay hangouts or socialising places – by contrast with cruising spots – as public spaces where MSM gather to meet each other, chat, and arrange dates.

He said the project’s health promoters are present around the country, although the ones in the capital are the best-known.

According to Matos, the project’s prevention work does get results, and today is using new strategies, targeting gay meeting spots in parks and on city street corners and in the growing number of gay bars, cafes and private parties.

But he lamented that they barely reach the potajeras, although in some provinces ingenious interventions have been carried out.

In the daytime, activists hang bags of condoms on tree branches, for example, in cruising spots in the central province of Villa Clara and the eastern provinces of Holguín and Granma.

And in a shantytown in the western province of Mayabeque, the project provided training in health promotion to two-seater bicycle taxi drivers, the form of transportation used to reach the cruising spots. The drivers were also given condoms, to hand out to their passengers.

Matos said it is difficult to reach bisexual men with HIV/AIDS prevention messages, because they face more prejudice than homosexuals. “That’s why they are less likely to admit to their sexual orientation; many hide their meetings with men and maintain relationships with women,” he said.

Homophobia is a major factor contributing to the spread of HIV and others STDs in the cruising sites.

“These are places in the here and now. But with this I don’t mean that everyone who engages in cruising has unprotected sex,” said Jorge Carrasco, a young journalist who in 2013 reported on the main cruising spots in Havana, such as the Playa del Chivo beach and areas around the Calixto García Hospital.

“Because of the anonymity, a lot of sick people feel better there, because they can have quick sex without the need to talk about their lives with the other person,” said the 25-year-old reporter, who defends these places as “cultural spaces” that are legal under Cuba’s current laws.

Carrasco warned of other dangers in these places, where assaults and even murders are reported, as well as police abuses. “The police, instead of only arresting the thieves, also arrest the homosexuals,” said the reporter, who recommended more training for the national police.

Amaya Álvarez, a legal adviser at the governmental National Sex Education Centre (CENESEX), told IPS that “the largest number of legal complaints by the homosexual and transgender population in the meeting places are in response to the interaction with law enforcement bodies like the police.”

For that reason, she said, CENESEX organises awareness-raising workshops for police officers.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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School Meals Bolster Family Farming in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/school-meals-bolster-family-farming-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=school-meals-bolster-family-farming-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/school-meals-bolster-family-farming-in-brazil/#comments Mon, 09 Nov 2015 21:04:38 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142946 Children between the ages of five and seven eating lunch in the João Baptista Cáffaro School cafetería in the impoverished Engenho Velho neighbourhood in the city of Itaboraí, 45 km from Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Children between the ages of five and seven eating lunch in the João Baptista Cáffaro School cafetería in the impoverished Engenho Velho neighbourhood in the city of Itaboraí, 45 km from Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ITABORAÍ, Brazil, Nov 9 2015 (IPS)

“That law should have existed since the end of slavery, which threw slaves into the street without offering them adequate conditions for working and producing, turning them into semi-slaves,” said Brazilian farmer Idevan Correa.

The law he was referring to, which was passed in 2009, requires that at least 30 percent of the funds that municipal governments receive from the National Fund for the Development of Education go towards the purchase of food produced by local family farmers.

The formula is one of those discoveries that later seem obvious, self-evident, normal.

Besides guaranteeing small farmers an important market for their produce, “it improved the quality of the food,” the mother of two students, Jaqueline Lameira, who represents families on the Itaboraí School Feeding Council, which oversees the quality of school meals, told IPS.

Itaboraí, a municipality of 230,000 people in the southeast state of Rio de Janeiro, 11 percent of whose residents are rural, dedicates more than the required minimum.

Over 40 percent of school breakfasts and lunches served in the municipal schools are made up of food produced by local small farmers, said Inaiá Figueiredo, in charge of nutrition in the city government’s Secretariat of Agriculture, Supplies and Fishing.

That proportion was just seven percent when the current municipal administration took office in 2012, she told IPS.

The food offered in the school meals was diversified, with a larger proportion of fresh produce, including typical local vegetables that are highly nutritious but not widely consumed, she explained, adding that each meal includes at least three kinds of vegetables.

“For dessert there’s fruit, never candy, and the juice doesn’t have sugar, but locally produced honey,” she said.

School cook Penha Maria Flausina opens the bags of fresh fruit and vegetables recently delivered from local family farms in the João Baptista Cáffaro municipal school, which serves 500 primary students in a poor neighborhood in Itaboraí, a city in southeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

School cook Penha Maria Flausina opens the bags of fresh fruit and vegetables recently delivered from local family farms in the João Baptista Cáffaro municipal school, which serves 500 primary students in a poor neighborhood in Itaboraí, a city in southeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“The kids eat everything, they ask for seconds; there’s one who only comes to school because of the meals,” Penha Maria Flausina, the cook at the João Baptista Caffaro School in a poor neighbourhood of Itaboraí told IPS, laughing.

She showed IPS the maize, okra, squash and fresh fruit in the school pantry.

This is the result of a lengthy process that began in 1986 with the First National Conference on Food and Nutrition, further editions of which were held in 2004, 2007, 2011 and in the first week of November 2015 in Brasilia, with 2,000 participants.

The National Council on Food and Nutritional Security (CONSEA) was created in 1993, with representatives of civil society and the government. The Organic Law on Food and Nutritional Security was passed in 2006.

Three years later, under that legal framework, a new law linked the National School Feeding Programme (PNAE) and family farming, after overcoming stiff resistance in the legislature, economist Francisco Menezes told IPS.

“The enormous school meals market, today made up of 45 million students, was dominated by companies, some of them contracted by municipal governments for all of the schools,” said Menezes who, as president of CONSEA from 2004 to 2007, played a key role in the drafting and approval of the law.

“Higher prices and lower quality” are typical when suppliers enjoy a monopoly, he said.

It took the law three years to make its way through Congress, where it was blocked by legislators interested in that market themselves or financed by companies that supplied it, which in the end still had control of 70 percent of sales to school meal programmes, although that is a ceiling that was set.

Forging a new path

But in this huge country of 206 million people, the effectiveness of the law has been irregular. “There are municipal governments that comply with it, others don’t, and there are some in the south of Brazil that achieved 100 percent supplies from family farming,” said Menezes.

But there is also fraud, he admitted.

“Strong” municipal councils inhibit irregularities, but they are also subject to pressure, said the expert. Because of that, “everything depends on family farms organised in associations and cooperatives, so that if one producer fails, other members are there to step in to guarantee supplies,” he added.

But the law is essential, because “it turned the school meals programme into a state policy, making setbacks more unlikely to occur,” he said.

Rural leader Idevan Correa examines one of his new orange trees. He decided to plant an orange grove again thanks to a Brazilian law that requires that at least 30 percent of the food consumed in schools come from local family farms. The municipality of Itaboraí was famous for its oranges until a pest reduced production. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Rural leader Idevan Correa examines one of his new orange trees. He decided to plant an orange grove again thanks to a Brazilian law that requires that at least 30 percent of the food consumed in schools come from local family farms. The municipality of Itaboraí was famous for its oranges until a pest reduced production. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Correa, the farmer who would have liked the law to have been in place since slavery was abolished in 1888, told IPS it was smart to set the minimum quota for supplies from family farms at 30 percent.

“It’s a first, experimental step; small farmers can’t increase their production overnight, they have to do it gradually,” said Correa, the president of the Association of Rural Producers of the Fourth District of Itaboraí, who inherited a 100-hectare farm that his father received during the agrarian reform process in the 1950s.

He also agrees with the annual limit of 20,000 reals (5,200 dollars) for each farmer’s sales to the municipal government, although that was not ideal for him this year as he could have sold above that quota with his production of maize, beans, potatoes and fruit.

“It’s better this way, more farmers can sell; if the quota were to be expanded a lot, very few would be able to sell,” he said.

“At the start of the current municipal administration, in 2012, only nine or 10 farmers were taking part in the school feeding programme; now that number is 54,” agronomist Ana Paula de Farias, technical adviser to the local Secretariat of Agriculture, Supplies and Fishing in Itaboraí, told IPS.

There are some 300 farms in the municipality, but most of them raise cattle.

Another problem in expanding the number of suppliers for the school meals programme is that many of them do not have the required documents, she explained.

Furthermore, technical assistance was necessary to help farmers begin to grow organic products, or at least to significantly reduce their use of pesticides and herbicides, and to adapt to the specific needs of meals for children, such as guava fruits in small uniform sizes, in order to provide one for each child without having to cut them into pieces.

“The most important lesson in this learning process was planting without agrochemicals,” said Correa. “You learn as you go along, living up to the requirements of the programme. We used to plant more to earn more, since we weren’t in a position to compete with the big companies; now we try for better quality, and we’re more careful, because it’s food for local children.”

Sales to schools gave a boost to local small farmers, even though there is a quota, he said, because the programme pays retail “supermarket prices,” and there are no costs for transportation because the municipal government sends out its own trucks, while in the big agricultural market farmers have to deal with middlemen who pay less and charge to cover their own costs.

Exportable model

Brazil’s experience in linking family farms and school feeding programmes has already been exported to several countries in Latin America and in Africa, including Bolivia, Mali, Mozambique and Senegal.

It is also one of the models used by the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean, an initiative that emerged in 2009 with technical support from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

Brazil’s law will be studied during the Nov. 15-17 Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger, to be held in Lima with the participation of legislators from throughout the region as well as guest lawmakers from Africa and Asia.

Brazil’s Food Purchase Programme, based on an earlier law from 2003 and geared towards supplying social assistance networks, has also been replicated abroad, as an example of a public policy that has been doubly successful: in bolstering food security while strengthening family agriculture.

In addition, the area of food security has served to develop a multi-disciplinary approach involving various ministries, such as those of agriculture, health and education, which tend to act in an isolated fashion, said Menezes.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Central America Seeks Recognition of Its Vulnerability to Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/central-america-seeks-recognition-of-its-vulnerability-to-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-america-seeks-recognition-of-its-vulnerability-to-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/central-america-seeks-recognition-of-its-vulnerability-to-climate-change/#comments Fri, 30 Oct 2015 23:21:17 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142859 In its national contribution, Costa Rica said the sector most vulnerable to climate change is road infrastructure. This highway, which connects San José with the Caribbean coast, and which crosses the central mountain chain, is closed several times a year due to landslides. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

In its national contribution, Costa Rica said the sector most vulnerable to climate change is road infrastructure. This highway, which connects San José with the Caribbean coast, and which crosses the central mountain chain, is closed several times a year due to landslides. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Oct 30 2015 (IPS)

For decades, the countries of Central America have borne the heavy impact of extreme climate phenomena like hurricanes and severe drought. Now, six of them are demanding that the entire planet recognise their climate vulnerability.

An initiative that has emerged from civil society in Central America wants the new binding universal climate treaty to acknowledge that the region is especially vulnerable to climate change – a distinction currently given to small island developing states (SIDS) and least developed countries (LDCs).

In the climate Oct. 19-23 talks in Bonn, Germany, the proposal found its way into the draft of the future Paris agreement. If it is approved, Central America could be given priority when it comes to the distribution of climate financing for adaptation measures – which would be crucial for the region.

“Civil society – and I would dare to say the governments – have been demanding this because it could give the region access to windows of financing, technology and capacity strengthening,” said Tania Guillén, climate change officer at Nicaragua’s Humboldt Centre.“Civil society – and I would dare to say the governments – have been demanding this because it could give the region access to windows of financing, technology and capacity strengthening.” -- Tania Guillén

These contributions, the expert told IPS, “should go towards the benefit of vulnerable communities” in this region. But for now, only SIDS and LDCs have a priority.

Semantic disputes have taken on great importance, a month before the start of the Nov. 30-Dec. 11 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris, where the new climate treaty is to be approved.

That is because the language used will form part of the foundations on which the legal bases of the agreement will be set.

Central America’s 48 million people live on the isthmus that separates the Pacific Ocean from the Caribbean Sea, along whose length stretches a mountain chain and an arid dry corridor.

Nearly half of the region’s inhabitants – 23 million, or 48 percent – live below the poverty line, according to official statistics.

The issue of climate vulnerability – the set of conditions that make a society or ecosystem more likely to be affected by extreme climate events – has been on Central America’s agenda for years, since Hurricane Mitch’s devastating passage through the region in 1998 forced a rethinking of risk management.

As part of this process, the Vulnerable Central America, United for Life Forum was born in 2009 – a civil society collective that has pushed for the region to be declared particularly subject to the consequences of climate change.

Over the last year, climate impacts have caused human and material losses throughout Central America, from the catastrophic mudslide in Cambray on the outskirts of Guatemala City to the sea level rise threatening Panama’s Guna Yala archipelago in the Caribbean Sea.

The most widely extended of these impacts has been the drought associated with the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a climate phenomenon which complicated agricultural conditions in Central America’s so-called dry corridor.

The corridor is an arid stretch of dry forest where subsistence farming is the norm and where rainfall was 40 to 60 percent below normal in the 2014-2015 dry season.

Central America accounts for just 0.6 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. This means it sees reducing its vulnerability to climate change as more urgent than mitigation measures.

If successful, the call for the region to be recognised as especially vulnerable would make it a priority for climate change adaptation financing and technology.

But it will not be easy to reach this goal in the negotiations, as it is hindered by other countries of the developing South and even by some in this region itself.

The tension first arose within the Central American Economic Integration System (SICA), which held three meetings during the October climate change talks in Bonn, but failed to reach a consensus on the initiative, due to internal opposition from Belize.

“It must be pointed out that (SICA members) Belize and the Dominican Republic are SIDS, which means that to avoid problems with that negotiating bloc they did not back the proposal,” Guillén said.

In his view, “the painful thing is what Belize is doing, because the Dominican Republic is in a different situation,” since it is not actually part of the Central American isthmus, but is a Caribbean island nation.

Although Belize is on the mainland, it joined the SIDS in the climate talks.

The head of the Guatemalan government’s delegation to the climate talks, Edwin Castellanos, confirmed to IPS that no consensus was reached within SICA.

For that reason, “the proposal was made by El Salvador, as current president of SICA, but it was not made in the name of SICA because member countries did not back the motion.” It was also signed by Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.

Castellanos also noted that there are other countries seeking to be included on the list of the most vulnerable countries, an issue that was addressed within the powerful Group of 77 and China negotiating bloc, which represents the countries of the developing South.

“When Central America presented this initiative, Nepal followed it with a similar proposal for mountainous countries. The problem is that this starts off a list that could be interminable, and which already includes the LDCs, islands, and most recently, Africa,” the negotiator said.

He acknowledged that the initiative came from Central American civil society, and mentioned in particular the Mexico and Central America Civil Society Forum held Oct. 7-9 in Mexico City, ahead of COP21.

Alejandra Granados, a Costa Rican activist who took part in the civil society forum, told IPS that the proposal was set forth by Alejandra Sobenes of the Guatemalan Institute for Environmental Law and Sustainable Development (IDEADS), and that “each organisation sent it to the negotiators for their respective countries” prior to the meeting in Bonn.

The Central American countries that have already submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to the UNFCCC agreed on including adaptation components to which governments have committed themselves.

El Salvador and Nicaragua have not yet presented their INDCs, the commitments that each nation assumes to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions to fight global warming.

Granados said that, if Central America is recognised as especially vulnerable, the countries of the region will have to work hard together with local communities to improve their adaptation plans prior to 2020, when the new treaty will go into effect.

“This recognition is not an end in itself; it is a major responsibility that the region is assuming, because it is as if at an international level all eyes turned towards the region and said: ‘Ok, what are you waiting for, to do something? You wanted this recognition, now assume your responsibility to take action’,” said the Costa Rican activist, who heads the organisation CO2.cr.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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