Inter Press Service » Civil Society http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 25 May 2017 22:29:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.18 Why the G7 Must Fund Health & Nutritionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/why-the-g7-must-fund-health-nutrition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-the-g7-must-fund-health-nutrition http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/why-the-g7-must-fund-health-nutrition/#comments Thu, 25 May 2017 21:42:57 +0000 Grace Virtue http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150593 Grace Virtue, Ph.D., is a social justice advocate and senior communications advisor for ACTION global health partnership. ]]> flags_

By Grace Virtue
TAORMINA, Italy, May 25 2017 (IPS)

The G7 Summit, held annually among the leaders of the world’s most powerful economies (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the EU), plays an important role in shaping responses to global challenges—theoretically at least.

The format of the Summit continues to be modeled off the first one, held in 1975 when French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing invited his counterparts to an informal meeting in Rambouillet to discuss the economic crisis triggered by the oil shock of 1973–1974. Leaders adopt a relaxed approach, discussing candidly the main issues on the international agenda.

Their aides (the so-called Sherpas) draft a joint declaration which is signed by the leaders and enshrined as high-level political pledges. Before and during, the Sherpas are lobbied fiercely by civil society trying to get their issues of concern in the joint communiqué released by the Summit.

This year’s Summit begins May 26 in Taormina, Italy. It is arguably one of the most charged and uncertain atmosphere for a meeting of traditional western democratic political leaders. The United States, which normally plays a leading role, is hamstrung by its government, led by Republican President Donald Trump, who, among his many challenges, is currently under investigation by his own law enforcement agencies to determine whether his campaign was complicit in Russian interference in the general election of 2016, which landed him a shock victory over former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee.

Outside of ethical and perhaps legal challenges, Trump, since his inauguration in January, has unleashed a set of policy proposals deliberately targeted at rolling back social justice gains under Barack Obama, his predecessor and even before. From proposed cuts to signature programs like the Affordable Care Act and food stamps for needy families, and hostile policies toward immigrants, the administration’s programs are causing deep uncertainty and anxiety at home and abroad. Trump’s lack of interest and understanding of the outside world, rounds off a list of flaws that justifies completely questions about his capacity or suitability to lead the free world toward any progressive end.

This year’s summit also comes with the shadow of Brexit—the United Kingdom’s decision to exit the European Union; a French President, the youngest in the country’s history and a mere three weeks in his presidency; looming elections in the UK and Germany; a continued migrant crisis as desperate people flee wars and famines in Africa and the Middle East, and this week’s horrific terrorist attack in Manchester, England. Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity like we have not seen since the height of the Cold War, are the watchword of this G7 Summit.

So, when the leaders gather at their hilltop hideaway tomorrow, there is much that is new and worrying to be discussed and great energy will likely be consumed navigating these new and unpredictable dynamics. This does not augur well for those concerns that are so devastating but so old and entrenched, that they are not news anymore—no longer sexy enough grab the headlines, if they ever were. I speak here of diseases of poverty like tuberculosis and chronic starvation and malnutrition in parts of Africa.

In 2015, 10.4 million people were sickened with TB; 1.8 million of them died—more than HIV and malaria combined. Tuberculosis is the world’s only airborne drug-resistant epidemic and is responsible for one-third of the world’s antimicrobial resistance (AMR) deaths. By 2050, estimates show drug-resistant TB (DR-TB) will claim an additional 75 million lives at a global economic cost of US$16.7 trillion.

Since its establishment in 2002 by G7 countries, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund) has saved more than 20 million lives through its support for AIDS, tuberculosis (TB), and malaria programs in countries and communities most in need. Vulnerable communities, including migrants and refugees, are at increased risk of diseases like TB and HIV/AIDS because of overcrowded living and working conditions, poor nutrition, and lack of access to care. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which all G7 countries signed on to, called for the eradication of HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria by 2030.

To achieve this, G7 leaders must continue to invest in the Global Fund. Concerned civil society groups like ACTION global health partnership in Taormina advocating to the end, are hoping they will. Other major ask of G7 leadership include accelerated efforts to eradicate malnutrition and ensure proper nutrients for every child, particularly in the first 1000 days of life. Coupled with the inability to access proper healthcare by the world’s poorest people, malnutrition is one of the greatest barrier to human development and global prosperity

It is obvious that there are many complicated issues facing the G7 leaders, but, investing in health and nutrition should not be controversial—it should be fundamental.

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Gateway Portals and the Quest for Sustainable Urbanizationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/gateway-portals-and-the-quest-for-sustainable-urbanization/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gateway-portals-and-the-quest-for-sustainable-urbanization http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/gateway-portals-and-the-quest-for-sustainable-urbanization/#comments Wed, 24 May 2017 15:27:58 +0000 Joan Erakit http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150570 125th Station, Broadway. Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Citizen Driven Planning

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s In A Narrative?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Survivors of the El Mozote Massacre Have New Hopes for Justice in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/survivors-of-the-el-mozote-massacre-have-new-hopes-for-justice-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=survivors-of-the-el-mozote-massacre-have-new-hopes-for-justice-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/survivors-of-the-el-mozote-massacre-have-new-hopes-for-justice-in-el-salvador/#comments Tue, 23 May 2017 21:32:13 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150557 Sofia Romero Pineda, 55, and her grandson hold the few portraits she preserves of some of her family members killed during the military operation which slaughtered some 1,000 inhabitants of El Mozote and neighboring villages in eastern El Salvador. The portraits are of Simeona Vigil, her grandmother; Florentina Pereria, her mother; and Maria Nelly Romero, her sister. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Márquez estimates that 100 of her relatives were murdered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reflections on 2017 World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/reflections-on-2017-world-day-for-cultural-diversity-for-dialogue-and-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reflections-on-2017-world-day-for-cultural-diversity-for-dialogue-and-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/reflections-on-2017-world-day-for-cultural-diversity-for-dialogue-and-development/#comments Mon, 22 May 2017 05:38:04 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150497 Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (“The Geneva Centre”)]]>

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (“The Geneva Centre”)

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, May 22 2017 (IPS)

More than 7 billion people live on this planet spread among 7 continents, 194 states of the United Nations (UN) and numerous other non-self-governing territories. The world is made up of a mosaic of people belonging to different cultural and religious backgrounds. Our planet has been a cultural melting pot since time immemorial.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

According to the UN, the world population is expected to rise to 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion people in 2100. The projected rise of the global population will further reinforce the world’s cultural wealth and the opportunities for dynamic interchange between cultures and civilizations.

The 2017 World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development is an important opportunity to advance the goals of the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. This landmark Convention aims to “protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions” and to further enhance cultural diversity around the world.

The 2001 UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity likewise reminds us of the importance of moving “from cultural diversity to cultural pluralism” through social inclusion and cultural empowerment enabling social cohesion to flourish. Harmonious relationships between peoples start with cultural interaction and cultural empathy.

While we place great importance in preserving the diversity of cultures as a common heritage of mankind, we fear that the world is on the brink of entering into a phase of fragmentation and irreconcilable division.

The inflow of migrants to Europe has been used as an excuse to justify the rise of right-wing populism. Migrants are often scapegoated for the failures of societies although their contributions to the economic and social development of societies and to cultural diversity are well documented. Differences related to cultures and to religions are presented as obstacles and as being damaging to modern societies. This has given rise to discrimination, marginalization, bigotry and social exclusion leaving the impression that cultural diversity is a threat, and not a source of richness.

While the flow of migrants and refugees to rich Western countries constitutes a very small one-digit percentage of the population, they are increasingly resented. Yet it has been difficult to increase development assistance resources from rich economies to help stabilize people on the move who are present in countries neighbouring their country of origin. The latter, while much poorer, have welcomed a much higher, double-digit, percentage of migrants and refugees in relation to their own population.

With a view to proposing an alternative solution to enhance cultural diversity and to reversing this trend, I co-chaired a panel debate that was held on 15 March 2017 at the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG) on the theme of “Islam and Christianity, the Great Convergence: Working Jointly Towards Equal Citizenship Rights.”

During the deliberations, one of the panellists made a salient remark that captured the essence of the debate. It was emphasized that we should never fear “the stranger, in his or her difference, because he or she will be a source of richness.”

Echoing this view, I believe that in modern societies, progress can be ascribed to the celebration of cultural diversity and to the acceptance of the stranger. The driving force behind the success of the United States of America (USA) was the country’s openness towards migrants aspiring to live the American Dream. It allowed building a prosperous society that leveraged the talent of different people regardless of religious or cultural differences.

Embracing cultural diversity, open-mindedness and tolerance enabled the US to become a symbol of success and prosperity.

Taking inspiration from this example, I would like to emphasize that we need to cultivate a climate where cultural diversity is considered a synonym for progress and development. Exclusion and marginalization of people owing to cultural differences do not belong in an open, tolerant and prosperous society.

Hence the need to intensify dialogue between and within societies, civilizations and cultures. We need to learn more about each other, to build mutual bonds and to break down the walls of ignorance that have insulated societies.

The term “the beauty of the world lies in the diversity of its people” captures the essence of the 2017 World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. Let difference beget not division but an urge to celebrate diversity and pluralism.

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Punishment for Human Rights Abusers Is Irrevocable Achievement for Argentine Societyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/punishment-for-human-rights-abusers-is-irrevocable-achievement-for-argentine-society/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=punishment-for-human-rights-abusers-is-irrevocable-achievement-for-argentine-society http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/punishment-for-human-rights-abusers-is-irrevocable-achievement-for-argentine-society/#comments Fri, 12 May 2017 22:27:50 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150403 Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires on May 10 to protest a Supreme Court ruling that made it possible to reduce the prison sentences of dictatorship-era human rights abusers – a verdict neutralised by a new law passed by Congress on May 10. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Poor Rural Communities in Mexico Receive a Boost to Support Themselveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/poor-rural-communities-in-mexico-receive-a-boost-to-support-themselves/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poor-rural-communities-in-mexico-receive-a-boost-to-support-themselves http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/poor-rural-communities-in-mexico-receive-a-boost-to-support-themselves/#comments Thu, 11 May 2017 22:12:30 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150390 Jilder Morales tends to a young avocado plant on her plot of land within the ejido, where 55 farmers got together in 2014 to farm and improve their diet and incomes, in the poor farming town of Santa Ana Coatepec in southern Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When It Comes to Fracking, Argentina Dreams Bighttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/when-it-comes-to-fracking-argentina-dreams-big/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-it-comes-to-fracking-argentina-dreams-big http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/when-it-comes-to-fracking-argentina-dreams-big/#comments Tue, 09 May 2017 00:53:36 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150346 Two drilling rigs in the Loma Campana deposit, in Vaca Muerta, in the Neuquén Basin, in south-west Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In France, ‘Us and Them’ Amid Electionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/in-france-us-and-them-amid-elections/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-france-us-and-them-amid-elections http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/in-france-us-and-them-amid-elections/#comments Sat, 06 May 2017 10:55:07 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150325 A scene from the exhibition in Paris at the Musée de l’Homme: “How do we categorise others?” Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

A scene from the exhibition in Paris at the Musée de l’Homme: “How do we categorise others?” Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, May 6 2017 (IPS)

Launched in the run-up to the French presidential elections, a daring exhibition in Paris is sparking dialogue about the origins and nature of racism, both in Europe and elsewhere.

Titled “Nous et les Autres: Des Préjugés aux Racisme” (Us and Them: From Prejudice to Racism), the exhibition’s aim is clear: to have visitors emerge with a changed perspective — especially in a climate of divisive politics that have created tensions ahead of the second and final round of the presidential elections on Sunday, May 7."It makes no scientific sense to attribute a moral value to differences among people.” --Evelyne Heyer

“We hope that visitors will leave different from how they entered,” says Bruno David, president of France’s National Museum of Natural History and of its anthropology branch the Musée de l’Homme, which is hosting the exhibition.

“That’s the objective. What we’re doing is in the tradition of the museum, a humanist tradition, asking questions of society,” he adds.

Many residents of France are in fact wondering how the country reached its current stage, with an extreme-right candidate again making it to the second round of French presidential elections.

Marine Le Pen, the former leader of the National Front party (she has temporarily stepped down from leading the party during the elections), won 21.5 percent of the votes in the first round, placing after independent candidate Emmanuel Macron (24 percent), and beating the candidates of the formerly mainstream conservative and socialist parties, François Fillon and Benoît Hamon.

Polls predict that Le Pen will lose in the second round — like her father Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002 – and that Macron will be president. But she is still expected to garner around 40 percent of the vote, with her anti-immigration and anti-globalisation platform.

Xenophobia and using cultural differences to promote hatred and discrimination have especially caused concern among institutions with a commitment to human rights and equality, as the museum says it is.

“The first network of the Resistance [during World War II] was born here,” David said in an interview at the museum, which opened in 1937 and is located in the landmark buildings of the Trocadéro area, overlooking the Eiffel Tower. (An infamous visitor to the site was Adolf Hitler in 1940.)

“The exhibition is in line with our principles. It is not militant, because we’re a museum and our approach is scientific, but it is fairly courageous, especially during this time,” David told IPS.

Using photos, film, sculptures and installations in an interactive manner, the exhibition highlights how “differences” have been used throughout history to “imprison individuals in readymade representations and to divide them into categories”.

It stresses that “as soon as these ‘differences’ are organized into a hierarchy and essentialized, racism is alive and thrives.”

The curators have organized the display into three parts, focusing on the processes of categorization, on the historical development of institutional racism and on the current political and intellectual environment.

“It is natural to categorize,” says Evelyne Heyer, co-curator of the exhibition and a professor of genetic anthropology. “But it’s the moral value that we give to differences that determine if we’re racist or not. It makes no scientific sense to attribute a moral value to differences among people.”

Heyer says that based on genetic study, humans have fewer differences among them than breeds of dogs, for example, and that the “categorisation of race is inappropriate to describe diversity”.

The exhibition attempts to give scientific answers to questions such as “if there are no races, why does human skin colour vary,” and it presents information tracing the origins of mankind to the African continent.

Apart from the scientific aspect, the curators have put much emphasis on the historical and international facets of “racialization”, focusing for instance on Nazi Germany and the “exaltation of racial purity”; the treatment of the indigenous Ainu people in Japan; the divisions between Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda; and segregation in South Africa and the United States.

During the opening night, as people crowded in front of a screen showing footage of civil rights struggles in the United States, a Paris-based African American artist commented, “I remember that so well.”

When a French spectator responded, “But you don’t look that old”, the artist stated firmly: “I am. I was there,” and so a conversation began.

The curators are hoping that the exhibition will engender long-term dialogue across political divides, but in the end the conversation might only continue among the already converted, say some skeptics, who also wonder about the display’s target audience: who exactly is “us” or “them”?

Still, for anyone wanting to learn more about the consequences of racism and discrimination, the exhibition presents a range of statistics.

It provides information, for instance, about the lack of access to employment for certain “groups” in France (job applicants with North African-sounding names often don’t receive responses to letters), as well as figures showing that the population most subjected to racism in the country are the Roma.

“Racism is difficult to measure, but many studies have been done on access to employment and on people’s views of those they consider different,” says historian and co-curator Carole Reynard-Paligot. “We want people to see these statistics and to ask questions.”

She said that she and her colleagues also wished to show the move from individuals’ racism to state racism, to examine how this developed and the part that colonization and slavery have played.

Throughout the exhibition, which runs until Jan. 8, 2018, the museum is organizing lectures, film screenings and other events. From May 10 to July 10, it is presenting works by photographers from French territories, Brazil, Africa and the United States in a show titled “Impressions Mémorielles”. This is to commemorate the French national day (May 10) of remembrance of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.

Meanwhile, other museums are also taking steps to counter the anti-immigration mindset. The Paris-based Musée national de l’histoire de l’immigration (National Museum of the History of Immigration) has invited the population to visit its “Ciao Italia!” exhibition, either “before or after” they vote on Sunday.

This museum, which like the Musée de l’Homme has been controversial in the past because of its “colonialist” displays, says the Sunday free access will be an opportunity to learn about the story of Italian immigration to France from 1860 to 1960.

It will also be a chance to “discover … the numerous contributions of immigrants to French society”, the museum adds.

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Social Forum Calls for Fight Against Corruption, to Defend the Amazonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/social-forum-calls-for-fight-against-corruption-to-defend-the-amazon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=social-forum-calls-for-fight-against-corruption-to-defend-the-amazon http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/social-forum-calls-for-fight-against-corruption-to-defend-the-amazon/#comments Wed, 03 May 2017 21:53:04 +0000 Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150273 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/social-forum-calls-for-fight-against-corruption-to-defend-the-amazon/feed/ 0 Reflections on World Press Freedom Dayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/2017-world-press-freedom-day-message-by-dr-hanif-hassan-ali-al-qassim-chairman-of-the-geneva-centre-for-human-rights-advancement-and-global-dialogue/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=2017-world-press-freedom-day-message-by-dr-hanif-hassan-ali-al-qassim-chairman-of-the-geneva-centre-for-human-rights-advancement-and-global-dialogue http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/2017-world-press-freedom-day-message-by-dr-hanif-hassan-ali-al-qassim-chairman-of-the-geneva-centre-for-human-rights-advancement-and-global-dialogue/#comments Wed, 03 May 2017 06:54:15 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150261 The author is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue]]>

The author is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, May 3 2017 (IPS)

This year’s theme for the 2017 World Press Freedom DayCritical Minds for Critical Times: Media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies” is one of the most important days honouring press freedom.

Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

Inevitably, the impact of media has the power to transform societies through enlightenment and active citizenry.

Observers occasionally refer to the media as the fourth estate owing to its influential role to further enhancing the plurality of opinions and ideas.

A free press is indispensable for facilitating good governance and transparency. It strengthens the accountability of governments as citizens can critically assess the activities of incumbents through information provided by the media.

Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights defends freedom of expression and the right to information. It enables press freedom to become a reality:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Some cite as a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad that “the ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr.”

However, significant challenges lay ahead limiting the freedom of the press.

Firstly, journalists have had at times to pay a high toll for the expression of truth as they see it.

Thus according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 1,200 journalists have been killed since 1992.

Among these victims, 65% were murdered, 22% perished owing to crossfire and combat, whereas 12% lost their lives owing to dangerous assignments.

Many of those murders remain unresolved and the perpetrators are rarely brought to justice as “complete impunity” prevails in 86% of the cases.

The 2016 World Press Freedom report issued by Reporters Without Borders suggests that violent extremism has put significant constraints on the ability of the press to operate freely and carry out their duties.

The conflicts in Yemen, Libya, Iraq and Syria, the report underlines, have enabled insurgents to “create black holes for reporting.”

Journalists have the right to work free from the threat of violence and of fear in their capacity as transmitters of information to the public.

Their lives should not be put at stake for merely putting Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration into practice.

Secondly, the accountability of media needs to be strengthened so that it represents the public’s interests.

After the so-called “War on Terror”, hate speech and online bigotry have rapidly been on the rise targeting specifically religious minorities.

This has been followed by a misconceived conflation between terrorism, Islam and the Arab identity, which has given rise to marginalization, bigotry and discrimination.

At the same time losses of lives as a result of violence or military action may be reported selectively thus implying unacceptable differences in the value of human lives according to where the losses occur.

During the Geneva Centre’s panel debate on 15 March on the theme of “Islam and Christianity, the Great Convergence: Working Jointly Towards Equal Citizenship Rights” that was held at the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG), it was suggested by the panellists to better harness the power of media by promoting positive stories about religion and culture.

It was also proposed that we, as global citizens, should never fear the stranger as differences enrichen our societies.

I believe that media can play a more influential role in addressing prevailing misconceptions and misunderstandings that exist between people.

Journalists need to refrain from the use of contemporary phobic language triggering social exclusion and religious intolerance.

Incitements to hatred, violence and bigotry should be condemned as it exacerbates religious divisions within communities.

The spread of fake news and fabricated stories in social media contradict the goals of freedom of opinion or of expression.

A return to the founding principles of press freedom and journalism – accountability, transparency and independence of news media – is the first step to stop the flow of misinformation that is on the rise.

When the Emir Abd el Qader el Jazairy – the founder of contemporary Algeria – visited a printing press in Paris in 1852, he made the following observation on the power of the press:

What comes out of it resembles a drop of water coming from the sky: if it falls into the half-opened shell, it produces the pearl; if it falls into the mouth of the viper, it produces venom.”

Media has a “moral and social responsibility” in “combating discrimination and in promoting intercultural understanding (…)” as stipulated in Principle 9 of the Camden Principles on Freedom of Expression and Equality.

By reversing the trend of offering simplistic and misconceived generalizations not grounded in reality, media could become a catalyst for social inclusion by implanting a culture of peace, harmony and tolerance.

This would be in line with the objectives laid out in the 2002 “Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence” and in UN HRC Resolution 16/18 entitled “Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief.”

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http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/2017-world-press-freedom-day-message-by-dr-hanif-hassan-ali-al-qassim-chairman-of-the-geneva-centre-for-human-rights-advancement-and-global-dialogue/feed/ 0
A Free and Diverse Media is Essential to Protecting Democracy in the 21st Centuryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/a-free-and-diverse-media-is-essential-to-protecting-democracy-in-the-21st-century/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-free-and-diverse-media-is-essential-to-protecting-democracy-in-the-21st-century http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/a-free-and-diverse-media-is-essential-to-protecting-democracy-in-the-21st-century/#comments Tue, 02 May 2017 13:31:24 +0000 Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150249 Kashmiri journalists at a rare protest against a government clampdown on freedom of expression. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Kashmiri journalists at a rare protest against a government clampdown on freedom of expression. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah
LONDON, May 2 2017 (IPS)

Images of protestors flooding the streets – whether in Caracas, Bucharest, Istanbul or Washington DC – send a powerful message to those in power, especially when they are plastered across newspaper front pages.

In far too many countries, the response has been to shut down the space for citizens to organise and undermine the ability for dissent to be reported. Even in the most mature of democracies, the ability of citizens to organise and mobilise, and the freedom of journalists to report when they do, are being undermined. In an era of rising populism and spreading curbs on fundamental freedoms, we need to do more to protect civic rights and press freedom.

When people hit the streets to express dissent, headlines are not always guaranteed.

In some countries, journalists risk imprisonment, disappearance or death for reporting on voices of dissent. In other places, the few powerful interests that control mainstream media channels are in cahoots and play down the scale or importance of protest. And the world over, independent and smaller media outlets – that are critical to diverse media – are struggling to stay afloat.

The first, and most worrying reason why protests don’t make the nightly news is because in many countries around the world journalists who cover protests are putting themselves at risk. In countries where civic participation is restricted or closed, journalists, like activists, risk losing their jobs, their freedom and even their lives reporting on protests.

In countries where civic participation is restricted or closed, journalists, like activists, risk losing their jobs, their freedom and even their lives reporting on protests.
According to the CIVICUS Monitor attacks on journalists are one of the three most commonly reported violations of civic space, alongside the detention of human rights defenders and the use of excessive force during protests. The Monitor, which measures the openness of civic space in 195 countries, found that journalists are most often attacked as a result of their political reporting on protests, conflict reporting, and for exposing government corruption.

Civil society and media exist in an ecosystem where attacks on one are likely to have an impact on the other. Where human rights defenders and civil society organisations find their freedoms under threat, so to do journalists. Policing media coverage is just one of the ways that governments close or repress civic space.

While social media and citizen journalists and bloggers have made it more difficult for mainstream media outlets to ignore mass demonstrations, some media outlets actively seek to undermine the renewed interest they generate. Media Matters for America, a monitoring agency, has recorded repeated instances of corporate media in the United States making false claims, such as that protests are staged or protestors are paid. Instead of interviewing citizens participating in the marches, cable news programs turn to their usual group of pundits for comment. For example, after the recent Science March, some cable television shows hosted panels featuring climate change deniers and no actual scientists.

In some cases journalists have forgotten that the voices of ordinary citizens, are just as important, if not more important, than the voices of powerful politicians and wealthy elites. And even where journalists do seek to quote representatives from civil society they too often turn to the same narrow set of voices for comment, since smaller non-governmental organisations often lack the media resources of larger international organisations.

Another important reason why journalists do not cover protests is because they do not have the resources to do so. The economic pressures on commercial media are also harming press freedom. Independent, diverse media often lack the financial resources of media owned by wealthy corporations or governments with their own political agendas. Many media outlets now rely on donations or membership models to survive.

All of these restrictions have led many activists to turn to reporting on protests themselves. Some of the most powerful journalism now comes from citizen bloggers, often providing invaluable news from closed political spaces and behind the battle lines.

As the boundaries between citizen and professional journalists blur it is becoming increasingly important to protect the space for all of those people who seek to inform, expose and educate.

Whether it is protestors, journalists, civil society organisations, human rights defenders, or climate scientists we need to protect the ability for people to be able to express dissent. And we need to stand together.

Without journalists, scientists marching in the street, would not be able to be able to share their messages with the world. Without photojournalists, vast underestimates of crowd sizes from officials may continue to be used to undermine popular movements.

Asking questions, speaking truth to power, shining a light on corruption. These simple actions carry increased risks in 2017, as powerful elites seek to cement their positions of power. In this febrile political environment, civic space and press freedom feel more important than ever.

 

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Protection of Journalists Fails in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/protection-of-journalists-fails-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=protection-of-journalists-fails-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/protection-of-journalists-fails-in-latin-america/#comments Sat, 29 Apr 2017 23:26:45 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150224 Mexican photographer Rubén Espinosa places a plaque in honour of Regina Martínez, on Apr. 28, 2015, in the central square of Xalapa, the capital of the southern state of Veracruz, to commemorate the third anniversary of the journalist’s murder. On July 2015, Espinosa was also killed. Credit: Roger López/IPS

Mexican photographer Rubén Espinosa places a plaque in honour of Regina Martínez, on Apr. 28, 2015, in the central square of Xalapa, the capital of the southern state of Veracruz, to commemorate the third anniversary of the journalist’s murder. On July 2015, Espinosa was also killed. Credit: Roger López/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Apr 29 2017 (IPS)

Mexican journalist Cecilio Pineda Brito covered drug trafficking issues in a region of the southern state of Guerrero where criminal groups are extremely powerful.

In September 2015 he survived an attempt on his life, and because he was deemed at “very high risk” he became a beneficiary of the federal mechanism for protection for human right defenders and journalists created in December 2012.

The protection measures he was assigned consisted basically of police patrols. They offered him a place in a shelter in Mexico City, but he refused.

In October 2016, the protection measures were cancelled; five months later, Pineda Brito became the first journalist murdered in 2017 in the most dangerous country for reporters in Latin America.“In addition to Mexico, Honduras, Brazil and Colombia, the situation in Paraguay and Venezuela, in particular, reflects the deterioration of freedom of expression in the region.” -- Ricardo González

Pineda Brito’s Mar. 2 murder was followed by six weeks of terror in which three more journalists were killed and two others survived after being shot, in different parts of this country of 127 million people.

The highest-profile murder was that of Miroslava Breach, on Mar. 26, a veteran journalist who covered political news for the La Jornada newspaper in the northern state of Chihuahua along the U.S. border.

But Pineda Brito’s killing reflected the inefficacy of institutional mechanisms for protecting journalists in the region.

“Last year it became clear that the state’s protection model exported from Colombia to Mexico and recently to Honduras had failed,” said Ricardo González, Security and Protection Officer of the London-based international organisation Article 19, which defends freedom of expression.

“The cases of journalists murdered in Mexico, who were under the protection of different state mechanisms, as well as the Freedom of the Press Foundation’s refusal to take part in the assessment of cases under the Colombian mechanism are things that should be of concern,” he told IPS.

For González, the lack of a functioning justice system and redress makes the model “ineffective, apart from financially unsustainable.”

The numbers in Mexico prove him right: according to Article 19’s latest report, of the 427 assaults on the media and journalists registered in 2016, 99.7 per cent went unpunished.

Meanwhile, the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression has only managed to secure a conviction in three cases.

Most of the attacks were against journalists who work for small media outlets outside the country’s capital, and at least half of them were committed by state agents.

The federal protection mechanism currently protects 509 people – 244 journalists and 265 human right defenders).

But even though the dangers are growing rather than decreasing, the government and the legislature cancelled the funds available for protection, and since January the mechanism has been operating with the remnants of a trust fund whose 9.5 million dollars in reserves will run out in September.

According to Article 19, violence against the press is still one of the main challenges faced in Latin America, and something to be reflected on when World Press Freedom Day is celebrated on May 3.

“In addition to Mexico, Honduras, Brazil and Colombia, the situation in Paraguay and Venezuela, in particular, reflects the deterioration of freedom of expression in the region,” said González.

Map of the World Press Freedom Index, released Apr. 26 by Reporters Without Borders, where Cuba (173rd of 180 countries) and Mexico (147th) are the worst positioned in Latin America, while Uruguay (25th) and Chile (33rd) top the regional ranking.  Credit: RWB

Map of the World Press Freedom Index, released Apr. 26 by Reporters Without Borders, where Cuba (173rd of 180 countries) and Mexico (147th) are the worst positioned in Latin America, while Uruguay (25th) and Chile (33rd) top the regional ranking. Credit: RWB

In the same vein, the 2017 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday Apr. 26 warns about the political and economic instability seen in several countries of Latin America, where journalists who investigate questions that affect the interests of political leaders or organised crime are attacked, persecuted and murdered.

“RWB regrets the pernicious and continuous deterioration of the situation of freedom of expression in Latin America,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of the RWB Latin America desk, presenting the Index.

“In the face of a multifaceted threat, journalists often have to practice self-censorship, and even go into exile, to survive. This is absolutely unacceptable in democratic countries,” he added.

The RWB report underscores the case of Nicaragua, the country that experienced the largest drop in the index because since the controversial re-election of President Daniel Ortega, the independent and opposition press has suffered numerous cases of censorship, intimidation, harassment and arbitrary arrests. The country fell 17 spots, to 92nd among the 180 countries studied.

The report also describes Mexico as another worrisome case: in 15 years it dropped from 75th to 147th on the Index, putting it next to Syria and Afghanistan. Mexico is still torn apart by corruption and the violence of organised crime, says RWB.

In fact, it is the second worst ranked Latin American country, after Cuba, which is 173rd, after dropping two spots.

At a regional level, the countries best-positioned in the ranking are Uruguay (25th, after falling five), Chile (33rd, after dropping two) and Argentina (50th, after going up four).

Increasingly sophisticated means of control

Despite the threats and risks, independent journalism is making progress in the region. In 2016, the organisation Sembramedia created the first directory of native digital media in Latin America which has listed more than 500 independent platforms.

But at the same time, the means of control of the independent press are getting more sophisticated, said González.

Legal, labour and online harassment, as well as indirect censorship through the control of state advertising are tools that governments and political and economic groups use ever more frequently around the region.

In Mexico, the most emblematic case is that of journalist Carmen Aristegui, who was fired together with her investigative journalism team from the MVS radio station after publishing an investigation about corruption implicating President Enrique Peña Nieto.

But there are even more unbelievable cases, such as a judge’s order for psychological tests for political scientist Sergio Aguayo, after he published well-substantiated information about massacres in the Mexican state of Coahuila, connected to former governor Humberto Moreira.

The organisation FUNDAR Centre for Analysis and Research has documented that this country’s central government and 32 state governments spend an average of 800 million dollars a year on official advertising and announcements in the media.

Another Mexican organisation committed to the defence of digital rights, R3D, reported that various regional governments have bought programmes from Hacking Team, an Italian cybersecurity firm that sells intrusion and surveillance capabilities to governments and companies on websites, social networks and email services.

According to R3D, online intimidation and monitoring have increased in Mexico during the Peña Nieto administration.

This pattern repeats itself in other Latin American countries, where attacks are increasing and presenting new challenges.

“In the last year, we have seen how the risks of violence which in the past were limited to questions such as drug trafficking are now faced by those who cover issues related to migration and human trafficking, the environment or community defense of lands against the extractive industries,” said González.

Another flashpoint is the coverage of border issues. “Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States has had quite a negative effect in terms of freedom of the press, both domestically and internationally, in the entire region,” he said.

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The UN Needs to Bring Parliamentarians on Boardhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/the-un-needs-to-bring-parliamentarians-on-board/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-un-needs-to-bring-parliamentarians-on-board http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/the-un-needs-to-bring-parliamentarians-on-board/#comments Fri, 28 Apr 2017 16:24:49 +0000 Andreas Bummel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150205 Andreas Bummel is the Director of ‘Democracy Without Borders’ and Coordinator of the Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly]]> Evo Morales Ayma (shown on screens), President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

Evo Morales Ayma (shown on screens), President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

By Andreas Bummel
BERLIN, Apr 28 2017 (IPS)

In pursuit of the Agenda 2030 the UN is playing an increasingly important role. Its Charter was declared in the name of “We, the Peoples.“ Elected representatives, however, who are interested in the affairs of the UN and its entities will discover that there are hardly any arrangements in place that would allow them to be involved.

In 1992, governments agreed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro that public participation in decision-making is important and defined nine major groups that should be engaged, including, for example, indigenous peoples, local authorities, business and industry, women or non-governmental organizations.

In consequence, many UN entities and UN-driven negotiations such as the climate talks give those groups an opportunity to be included. It’s one of many symptoms for the neglect of parliamentarians in intergovernmental affairs that they are not among them.

In 2004 the Panel on UN-Civil Society Relations suggested the creation of an Elected Representatives Liaison Unit at the UN but nothing happend.

In any case, much more is needed. It is no longer acceptable that UN decision-making primarily, if not exclusively, represents only the executive branch of national governments. It is now widely recognized that representative parliaments are an indispensable element of good and democratic governance.

Why should this insight not apply to the UN as well?

There has been a growing trend towards stronger interaction of parliamentarians across national borders. Today, there are more than 100 international parliamentary institutions such as Parliamentarians for Global Action, the OECD Global Parliamentary Network or the Parliamentary Network on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The oldest of them is the Inter-Parliamentary Union that was created more than a century ago in 1889.

The group of formal parliamentary organs is the most developed. Examples are the European Union’s European Parliament or the African Union‘s Pan-African Parliament. In the UN system, however, no such body exists.

Although the IPU and other networks have slowly managed to establish a relationship with the UN, their formal status and political influence in the world organization are marginal at best.

The UN and its General Assembly, the most universal body in the international order, must seriously begin to add a parliamentary dimension to its formal structure.

A group of lawmakers and representatives of civil society organizations, encouraged by former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, concluded ten years ago that there needs to be a parliamentary organ formally embedded into the UN’s structure, a UN Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA).

To advance this goal, they launched the Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly as an informal international platform that brings together all like-minded forces, and coordinates their efforts at all levels.

No question, a UNPA is a complex undertaking which necessarily means that there are differing opinions if it comes to details. Nonetheless, the campaign’s international appeal, a political statement that is endorsed by all campaign supporters, has proven to create focus and unity.

Since its publication in 2007, around 1,500 members of parliament signed the document, in addition to thousands of other individuals from over 150 countries, among them innumerous distinguished personalities from public administration, science, civil society and culture.

Since the campaign’s launch pro-UNPA resolutions were adopted, for instance, by the Canadian House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, the Pan-African Parliament, the Latin-American Parliament, the Senate of Argentina, the Chamber of Deputies of Argentina, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the Parliament of Mercosur. The foreign ministers of Malta and Italy voiced support.

Through a UNPA, elected representatives who are directly accountable to their constituents would be able to play a role in the world organization. They could provide oversight of international decision-making and serve as a link between the world’s citizens, civil society, and the UN.

The assembly would allow for participation of parliamentarians who do not belong to governing parties. Giving the opposition a voice at the world level could strengthen democratic forces in countries in transition. The assembly could provide additional international accountability and oversight for government action on the Sustainable Development Goals.

A UNPA can provide innovative means of multi stakeholder inclusion in the UN’s work through public hearings, leveraging its convening capacity, or co-option of independent experts, rapporteurs, investigative bodies or advisory members in addition to collaborating with civil society organizations.

The campaign’s policy is that a UNPA could be of a hybrid nature, composed of members who are either sitting members of national or regional parliaments or directly elected for this purpose.

Starting as an advisory body, it should be incrementally provided with genuine rights of information, participation and control vis-à-vis the UN and the organizations of the UN system, including the international financial institutions and the World Trade Organization. A UNPA could provide the UN and the wider system of global governance with unprecedented democratic legitimacy.

In a first step the campaign advocates the establishment of a UNPA by means which do not require a change of the UN’s Charter, which is either by a decision of the UN General Assembly according to Article 22 of the UN’s Charter, or by a new international treaty.

Along similar lines, two years ago the Commission on Global Security, Justice, and Governance, which is co-chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Nigerian Foreign Minister Ibrahim Gambari, recommended the creation of a UN Parliamentary Network as a step towards “the creation of a standing, formally constituted UN second chamber.”

It is crucial to recognize that in our times democratic deliberation, participation and decision-making can no longer be confined to the nation-state. If we want to save and strengthen democracy, we cannot ignore the interconnections between national and global democratization.

As the late Boutros Boutros Ghali said: “We need to promote the democratization of globalization, before globalization destroys the foundations of national and international democracy. The establishment of a Parliamentary Assembly at the United Nations has become an indispensable step to achieve democratic control of globalization.”

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New Generation Rallies to Climate Cause in Trinidadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/new-generation-rallies-to-climate-cause-in-trinidad/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-generation-rallies-to-climate-cause-in-trinidad http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/new-generation-rallies-to-climate-cause-in-trinidad/#comments Wed, 26 Apr 2017 20:28:20 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150167 Marchers form a heart shape at the 2015 climate marc, in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, organised by youth activists from IAMovement. Credit: IAMovement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How to Undermine Democracy – Curtail Civil Society Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/how-to-undermine-democracy-curtail-civil-society-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-to-undermine-democracy-curtail-civil-society-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/how-to-undermine-democracy-curtail-civil-society-rights/#comments Tue, 25 Apr 2017 14:07:39 +0000 Cathal Gilbert, Dom Perera, and Marianna Belalba CIVICUS http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150141

By Cathal Gilbert, Dom Perera, and Marianna Belalba, CIVICUS
JOHANNESBURG, Apr 25 2017 (IPS)

Recent elections and referendums in a growing number of countries from Turkey to the USA and beyond are producing leaders and policies, which directly threaten some of the core principles of democracy.  In an increasing number of established and fledgling democracies, we see ruling parties violating the fundamental freedoms to speak-out, rally behind a cause and get involved in a social movement.

New research shows that these key conditions for a vibrant and open civil society are being violated to varying degrees in over 106 countries. A new online tool, the CIVICUS Monitor, finds that in many of these countries, governments are denying their citizens safe space to voice dissent, most often by detaining activists, using excessive force during protests and persecuting journalists.

The CIVICUS Monitor provides ratings on fundamental civic freedoms in all UN Member States, plus Palestine and Kosovo, and is designed to track and evaluate the state of civil society rights, in as close to real time as possible.  The online tool shows how almost six billion people live in countries where civic space – in other words the fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression – are obstructed, repressed or closed.

 

Civic space rating categories# countries with ratingDescription of rating
Open26  (Examples: New Zealand, Sweden, Portugal)The state both enables and safeguards the enjoyment of civic space for all people. Levels of fear are low as citizens are free to form associations, demonstrate in public places and receive and impart information without restrictions in law or practice.
Narrowed63 (Examples: USA, Argentina, South Africa)While the state allows individuals and civil society organisations to exercise their rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression, violations of these rights also take place. These rights are impeded by occasional harassment, arrest or assault of people deemed critical of those in power.
Obstructed51 (Examples: Nigeria, Kuwait, Armenia)Civic space is heavily contested by power holders, who impose a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental rights. Although civil society organisations exist, state authorities undermine them, including through the use of illegal surveillance, bureaucratic harassment and demeaning public statements.
Repressed35 (Examples: Russia, China, Mexico)Civic space is heavily constrained. Active individuals and civil society members who criticise power holders risk surveillance, harassment, intimidation, imprisonment, injury and death. Although some civil society organisations exist, their advocacy work is regularly impeded and they face threats of de-registration and closure by the authorities.
Closed20 (Examples: Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Ethiopia)There is complete closure – in law and in practice – of civic space. An atmosphere of fear and violence prevails, where state and powerful non-state actors are routinely allowed to imprison, seriously injure and kill people with impunity for attempting to exercise their rights to associate, peacefully assemble and express themselves.

 

To provide meaningful assessments and ratings on the state of civil society in 195 countries, analysis is based on a coherent set of qualitative inputs on legislative developments, judicial outcomes, intelligence from activists and research partners on the ground and civil society consultations. By collating and cross-checking a variety of data sources, the CIVICUS Monitor, is able to assess and compare the conditions for citizens and civil society groups across the world.

Each ratings category represents a group of countries in which there is a diversity of nuanced yet comparable civic space conditions. For instance, North Korea and Ethiopia both receive a closed rating, but the exact nature and number of human rights violations differ between countries. By looking at all violations collectively on a per country basis, we are able to see the different degrees of civil society persecution on a macro level. Detailed narratives on individual country pages also allow us to describe which groups are being targeted, and examine the obstacles and opportunities for civic activism.

Evidence on national, regional and global trends related to civic space are critical for intergovernmental bodies and human rights mechanisms to monitor the state of civil society and hold governments accountable. Monitoring civic space also provides a useful proxy indicator for countries´ levels of development, democracy and ability to reduce inequality – on average, countries towards the better end of our civic space scale also rate highly on human development, equality and electoral democracy indices.

In 2017, we are facing no shortage of grand challenges ― humanitarian crises on scales unseen since World War II, rising global temperatures, spiraling economic inequality, the spread of populist politics. The solution to these is more democracy and respect for human rights, not less. We simply cannot hope to solve these global problems if governments and other non-state actors, continue to suffocate the one thing that can provide lasting solutions ― people’s innate sense of creativity, resilience and justice, qualities which emerge time and time again when civil society is set free to play its role in a democratic society.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Politicians Hijack Macedoniahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/politicians-hijack-macedonia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=politicians-hijack-macedonia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/politicians-hijack-macedonia/#comments Tue, 18 Apr 2017 12:28:19 +0000 Frank Mulder http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150014 Thousands of people gather daily in the center of Skopje, Macedonia to express their support for the president. Credit: Aleksandra Jolkina/IPS

Thousands of people gather daily in the center of Skopje, Macedonia to express their support for the president. Credit: Aleksandra Jolkina/IPS

By Frank Mulder
SKOPJE, Apr 18 2017 (IPS)

The political crisis in Macedonia is deepening. With the president and former coalition preventing the formation of a new government, the state threatens to disintegrate in a climate of corruption and nationalism.

The television is turned up loud in a hamburger shop in a suburb of Skopje called Šutka. The ethnic Albanian owner and his workers follow the parliamentary debate live. Their faces, however, are full of contempt. While the owner is preparing an impressively filled bread for less than a euro, he shakes his head despondently."Let's be open: the dispute with the EU about the name is partly the reason for all this mess." --Aleksander Kržalovski

“Those politicians are only getting more and more nationalistic,” one of his clients explains.

Outside we hear the call to prayer. The majority of the people here in Šutka are Muslim. A Roma woman with red-streaked hair is selling ten euro jeans from her market stall. A man with a fluffy salafi-like beard and prayer trousers sells knick-knacks ranging from facial masks and incense sticks to Albanian Korans from beneath a Zlatan Dab Pilsener umbrella.

Filibuster

It looks like nonsensical chatter, what happens on television, but it’s not. What we see is a so-called filibuster, which means politicians preventing any decision-making by just keeping on talking. The right-wing party VMRO-DPNME doesn’t want the social democrats to form a government because that would grant the Albanian minority too many rights.

This has had a disastrous effect on the small Balkan country, which a few years ago was still a promising economy. Since the collapse of Yugoslavia there haven’t been any serious tensions between the Macedonian orthodox majority (about one and a half million) and the Albanian Muslim minority (about half a million), except for limited clashes in 2001.

But corruption has grown since then, along with nationalist rhetoric. In this climate a kind of mini-Watergate scandal has broken out, starting two years ago. Leaked secret service documents showed that ruling VMRO politicians had tapped the phone conversations of 20,000 people, for dubious ends. The country burst out in revolt. Finally, last December, after protests and diplomatic pressure, new elections were held.

VMRO won most of the seats again. Yet, they didn’t manage to form a coalition. The quarrelling Albanian parties, brought together by Albania, decided to strike a coalition deal with the social democrats. To which President Gjorge Ivanov, member of the VMRO, responded with a veto, and the VMRO parliamentarians with a filibuster. Their motive is, they say, that the new coalition wants to accept Albanian as official language, and they will not allow this to happen.

‘Captured state’

“It went very well in Macedonia,” says Samuel Žbogar, ambassador on behalf of the European Union in Skopje. “But the last few years we’ve seen a serious backsliding. We call it a ‘captured state’. Independent institutions like the judiciary are used by politicians.”

The European Union itself is partly to be blamed for the misery. For years, Macedonia has been tempted to enact reforms with a carrot called EU Membership, but year after year Greece has demanded that the country change its name first, for fear of territorial claims on its own Macedonia province.

“People feel deeply hurt,” a source within the European representation in the country says. “They have long been a EU candidate member but are overtaken by other countries.” It is an invitation for countries like Russia to step into the void, although this consists more of vocal instead of financial support – so far.

Fake majority

Thousands of people, mostly grey-haired, gather daily in the center of Skopje to express their support for the president. “Ma-ke-donia! Ma-ke-donia!” they chant, waving red-yellow flags and whipped up by nationalist songs.

“We reject the fake majority of the social democrats and the Albanian parties,” says one young demonstrator, dressed in red and yellow and wearing a 130-year-old cap from anti-Ottoman rebels. He smells strongly of of alcohol but is sure about his case. “The Albanian parties are directed by Albania. We can’t let a neighboring country decide what happens here, can we? They want to create a Great Albania. They want the Macedonian country to disappear. We cannot let this happen.”

This is nonsense, says Nasser Selmani, an ethnic Albanian and president of the Association of Journalists in Macedonia. “I am a Macedonian, this is my country. I don’t belong to Albania, I belong here.” Yet others have more to lose if the state should collapse, he explains. “We have Albania with which we have good relations. But what do the ethnic Macedonians have? Do you think there is anyone who would acknowledge their identity? Greece and Bulgaria won’t.”

The breakdown of the state is not unthinkable. Because of the stalemate, the necessary decisions can’t be made anymore. In a few months, local elections are scheduled. If they don’t take place, the local authorities lose their legitimacy, too.

What also will end in June is the mandate of the Special Prosecutor researching the wiretapping scandal. This is the real reason that politicians have hijacked the country, insiders say. They want to escape prosecution by any means possible.

“They are using the fear of Albanians for their own interest,” says Selmani. “They are using more and more nationalist language. The orthodox church is also promoting this. The cathedral in Skopje is even the gathering place for the daily protests.”

Conservatives

In the big cathedral, however, beneath beautiful icons, all looks peaceful. Evening prayer is silently attended by not more than four people. Even among orthodox believers the Macedonian church, which has declared itself independent from the Serbian orthodoxy, is known as a very nationalistic branch. But demonstrators are not there.

A young orthodox priest in Skopje is willing to explain what he thinks about the current crisis, if only on the basis of anonymity. He serves tea with pieces of Turkish fruit. “We have a separation between church and state. We don’t call for demonstrations here and we don’t give any voting advice. That’s forbidden. But if you ask me personally, I’m against Albanian as an official language. I originally come from a region without Albanians. What if all public servants would be obliged to speak Albanian because it’s an official language? That would be impossible. Our only language is Macedonian.”

On the wall behind the black-robed priest there is a small Macedonian flag with an orange-black Saint George Ribbon, a Russian nationalist symbol. When I ask him what he hopes what will happen, he says, “I hope the crisis will soon be over. That we can live in peace with each other again, without politics being between the people.” The priest doesn’t seem radical, rather very conservative.

Alexander

Through the window of a restaurant in Skopje I look down at the paragon of nationalistic Balkan kitsch, made possible by millions of taxpayers’ money. Between the statues of the Macedonian hero Alexander the Great, to the left, and the Father of Alexander, to the right, we see nobody less than the mother of Alexander, in fourfold. Alexander in her belly, Alexander at her breast, Alexander on her lap, and Alexander around her neck. It’s all completely over the top. It’s the way the current leaders want to bring the people together, at least the ethnic Macedonians.

Inside the restaurant I have a conversation with Aleksander Kržalovski, leader of the Macedonian Centre for International Cooperation, which is the second largest NGO of the country and funder of many small NGOs. He is critical of the current nationalistic wave, he says.

“But it doesn’t make sense to demonize the more conservative population. Many left-wing organisations are very radical. They don’t want to work with fascists, they say. We, instead, believe in cooperation. It’s necessary to bridge the divide between different groups.

“To be honest, it’s unfair to blame right-wing politicians for everything,” Kržalovski continued. “The social democrats use very polarizing rhetoric as well. And many Albanians show no respect for the progress we’ve seen, the rights they have got. Many don’t want to wave the Macedonian flag or sing the national anthem. That raises suspicion. Some people have seen their house burnt down by ethnic Albanians three times, in 2001. And now they see them having a much higher birth rate. It’s understandable that people have fear.”

This doesn’t mean that we have to accept corruption, he says. “Impunity has to end now, that’s very important. But let’s not blame one party. And let’s be open: the dispute with the EU about the name is partly the reason for all this mess. We see that reflected in the diminishing support for the EU in the polls that we do. The EU clearly hasn’t done the job.”

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“We Can’t Protest So We Pray”: Anguish in Amhara During Ethiopia’s State of Emergency http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/we-cant-protest-so-we-pray-anguish-in-amhara-during-ethiopias-state-of-emergency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=we-cant-protest-so-we-pray-anguish-in-amhara-during-ethiopias-state-of-emergency http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/we-cant-protest-so-we-pray-anguish-in-amhara-during-ethiopias-state-of-emergency/#comments Mon, 17 Apr 2017 00:02:36 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149986 Woman and child outside a Gonder church with crosses marked in ash on foreheads. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Woman and child outside a Gonder church with crosses marked in ash on their foreheads. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
BAHIR DAR, Apr 17 2017 (IPS)

As dawn breaks in Bahir Dar, men prepare boats beside Lake Tana to take to its island monasteries the tourists that are starting to return.

Meanwhile, traffic flows across the same bridge spanning the Blue Nile that six months ago was crossed by a huge but peaceful protest march.“They were waiting for an excuse to shoot.” --Priest in Bahir Dar

But only a mile farther the march ended in the shooting of unarmed protesters by security forces, leaving Bahir Dar stunned for months.

Events last August in the prominent Amhara cities of Bahir Dar (the region’s capital) and Gonder (the former historical seat of Ethiopian rule) signalled the spreading of the original Oromo protests to Ethiopia’s second most populace region.

By October 9, following further disasters and unrest, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front party declared a six-month state of emergency, which was extended at the end of this March for another four months.

Ethiopian national flags and regional Amhara flags flutter along the bridge over the Blue Nile on the road going east from Bahir Dar that the protesters took last year. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Ethiopian national flags and regional Amhara flags flutter along the bridge over the Blue Nile on the road going east from Bahir Dar that the protesters took last year. A mile on from the bridge the peaceful march descended into tragedy with shots fired into the crowd. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

On the surface, the state of emergency’s measures including arbitrary arrests, curfews, bans on public assembly, and media and Internet restrictions appear to have been successful in Amhara.

Now shops are open and streets are busy, following months when the cities were flooded with military personal, and everyday life ground to a halt as locals closed shops and businesses in a gesture of passive resistance.

Speaking to residents, however, it’s clear discontent hasn’t abated. Frustrations have grown for many due to what’s deemed gross governmental oppression. But almost everyone agrees that for now, with the state of emergency in place, there’s not much more they can do.

“Now it’s the fasting period before Easter, so people are praying even more and saying: Where are you God? Did you forget this land?” says Stefanos, who works in Gonder’s tourism industry, and didn’t want to give his name due to fear of arrest by the Command Post, the administrative body coordinating the state of emergency.

“Because people can’t protest, they are praying harder than ever.”

The four-month extension to the state of emergency contains less sweeping powers than before. Now police need warrants to arrest suspects or search their homes, and detention without trial has officially been ended. But grievances remain about what happened before.

“Someone will come and say they are with the Command Post and just tell you to go with them—you have no option but to obey,” Dawit, working in Gonder’s tourism industry, says of hundreds of locals arrested. “No one has any insurance of life.”

Outside Gonder churches, beggars line streets hoping for alms. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Outside Gonder churches, beggars line streets hoping for alms. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Locals recall how if young men gathered in too large a group they risked getting arrested.

“The regime has imprisoned, tortured and abused 20, 000-plus young people and killed hundreds more in order to restore a semblance of order,” says Alemante Selassie, emeritus law professor at the College of William & Mary and Ethiopia analyst. “Repression is the least effective means of creating real order in any society where there is a fundamental breach of trust between people and their rulers.”

Across Gondar, many unemployed men seek distraction by chewing the plant khat, a stimulant that motivates animated conversation about security force abuses and the dire local economic situation.

“If you kill your own people how are you a soldier—you are a terrorist,” says 32-year old Tesfaye, chomping on khat leaves. “I became a soldier to protect my people. This government has forgotten me since I left after seven years fighting in Somalia. I’ve been trying to get a job here for five months.”

Beyond such revulsion and frustration, some claim the state of emergency has had other psychological impacts.

“Continued fear and distrust of the [ruling] regime by the Ethiopian people,” says Tewodrose Tirfe of the Amhara Association of America. “Continued loss of hope for a better form a government where basic human rights of the Ethiopians are respected.”

For many the memories of what happened during protests last summer are still raw, especially for Bahir Dar residents.

Tens of thousands gathered in Bahir Dar’s centre on August 7 before marching along the main northeast-running road out of the city toward the Blue Nile River, carrying palm tree leaves and other greenery as symbols of peace.

After crossing the bridge there are various versions about what happened next.

Some say a protester attempted to replace Ethiopia’s current federal national flag flying outside a government building with the older, pan-Ethiopian nationalistic flag—now banned in Amhara—an argument ensued and the guard shot the protester.

Others say that protesters threw stones at the building—the guard fired warning shots in the air—then protesters tried entering the compound—the guard fired at them.

But there is less uncertainly about what happened next.

“Security forces suddenly emerged from buildings and shot into the march for no reason,” says an Ethiopian priest, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They were waiting for an excuse to shoot.”

It’s estimated 27 died that day, the death toll rising to 52 by the end of the week. A total of 227 civilians have died during unrest in the Amhara region, according to government figures, while others claim it’s much higher.

“Two people on my right side dropped dead,” says 23-year-old Haile, marching that day. “One had been shot in the head, one in the heart.”

Such violence was unprecedented for Bahir Dar, a popular tourist location, known for its tranquil lake and laid-back atmosphere.

“The city went into shock for months,” says the Ethiopian priest.

But as the months have passed, normal daily life has gradually reasserted itself.

“People are tired of the trouble and want to get on with their lives,” says Tesfaye, a tour operator. “But, then again, in a couple of years, who knows.”

Many criticise the government for failing to address long-term structural frictions between Ethiopia’s proclaimed federal constitution and an actual centralist developmental state model, as well as failing to resolve—with some saying it actively stokes—increasing ethnic tensions.

“Three years ago I went to university and no one cared where you were from,” says Haile, a telecommunication engineer in Bahir Dar. “Now Amhara and Tigray students are fighting with each other.”

“Federalism is good and bad,” says Haile’s friend Joseph, who is half Tigrayan and half Amhara. “Ethiopia has all these different groups proud of their languages and cultures. But [on the other hand] even though my father is Tigray, I can’t go and work in Tigray because I don’t speak Tigrayan.”

Joseph pauses to consider, before continuing.

“This government has kept the country together, if they disappeared we would be like Somalia,” he says. “All the opposition does is protest, protest, they can’t do anything else.”

Finding such a view in Gonder is much harder.

“The government has a chance for peace but they don’t have the mental skills to achieve it,” says tourist guide Teklemariam. “If protests happen again they will be worse.”

The main road between Gonder and Bahir Dar winds up and down steep hillsides, surrounded by mountains, cliffs and tight valleys stretching to the horizon.

Ethiopia’s vertiginous topography has challenged foreign invaders for centuries. But it’s potentially a headache for domestic rulers too, added to which militarism is a traditional virtue in the Amhara region.

In Gonder, men talk admiringly of an Amhara resistance movement which conducted hit-and-run attacks on soldiers when they occupied the city, before withdrawing into the surrounding mountains.

“The farmers are ready to die for their land,” the Ethiopian priest says. “It’s all they have known, they have never been away from here.”

According to Gonder locals, armed farmers have been fighting Ethiopian security forces for months.

“I saw dozens of soldiers at Gonder’s hospital with bullet and knife wounds,” says Henok, a student nurse, who took part in the protests. “The government controls the urban but not the rural areas.”

Off the main streets in Gonder, Ethiopia, poverty becomes starker. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Off the main streets in Gonder, Ethiopia, poverty becomes starker. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Young men like Henok talk passionately of Colonel Demeke Zewudud, a key member of Amhara resistance arrested by the government in 2016, and even more so about Gobe Malke, one of the leaders of the farmer insurrection until he was killed this February, allegedly at the hands of his cousin in the government’s payroll.

“If the government wants a true and real form of stabilization, then it should allow for a true representative form of governance so all people have the representation they need and deserve,” Tewodrose says.

“But the concern of the TPLF is the perception from the international community, so they can continue to receive and misuse foreign aid.”

In his role with the Amhara Association of America, Tewodrose presented a report to a U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing March 9 about “Democracy Under Threat in Ethiopia”. The report also detailed 500 security forces killed during fighting in Amhara—Gonder locals claim many more.

“Before I die I just want to see Ethiopia growing peacefully and not divided by tribes,” says 65-year-old grandmother Indeshash, housebound in Gonder due to ongoing leg problems. “If my legs worked I would have protested.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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