Inter Press Service » Labour Journalism and Communication for Global Change Tue, 22 Jul 2014 21:28:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 India’s Cut-Rose Sector Pushes Past Barriers Fri, 18 Jul 2014 12:33:35 +0000 Keya Acharya Rose growers in Bangalore, India, rely on sustainable rainwater harvesting techniques. Credit: Keya Acharya/IPS

Rose growers in Bangalore, India, rely on sustainable rainwater harvesting techniques. Credit: Keya Acharya/IPS

By Keya Acharya
BANGALORE, Jul 18 2014 (IPS)

Neat rows of pampered-looking rose plants, drip-irrigated and ‘misted’ by tiny sprinklers, grow inside temperature-controlled greenhouses with high domes opened periodically for fresh air, offering 10 million cut-rose stems for export each year.

The 25-hectare farm, located roughly 35 km outside the southern Indian city of Bangalore, belongs to Suvarna Florex, arguably India’s largest cut-rose exporter.

But though the plants are thriving, the industry is hassled by such thorny issues as the high royalty rates of its foreign-bred roses and steadily increasing input costs.

“This is a billion-dollar industry, controlled by European [mainly Dutch and French] breeders." -- Dr. Thilak Subbaiah, horticultural consultant
Occupying a niche in the flower market – hitherto dominated by traditional demand for loose flowers for cultural and religious occasions – the cut-rose industry in India is on the rise, registering a 17-20 percent increase last year alone, with growers exporting some 76.73 million tonnes, mainly roses, in 2012-2013.

Major export destinations are Europe, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Japan, Canada and Australia.

Until 2010, the Bangalore-based operation Karuturi commanded nearly 10 percent of the cut-rose market in Europe and expanded rapidly from rose farms in Kenya to agricultural crops in Ethiopia.

Tangled in a web of bankruptcy, violations of labour and taxation laws in Kenya and money troubles – among others – in Ethiopia, Karuturi faced a storm of criticism over its controversial acquisition on paper of 400,000 hectares of virgin lands in Ethiopia at a very inexpensive rate, beginning in 2010.

The move, which some called a ‘land grab’ and which resulted in the threat of displacement of thousands and the loss of livelihoods for many in the Gambella region of Ethiopia, quickly became synonymous with Karuturi’s notorious founder Sai Ramakrishna, whose reputation tainted India’s operations in Africa.

According to a disgruntled rose-grower and former chief of the forest services in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh, R. D. Reddy, Ramakrishna is “a playboy in all respects; one who speculated in stocks with borrowed money and lost heavily, and now the whole industry in India is being blamed because of him.”

Dr. Manjunatha Reddy, a Dubai-based Indian industrialist with a rose farm located just five km away from Karuturi’s flower operations in the Holata region, near the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, says that the ‘takeover on paper’ in the Gambella region is symptomatic of Ramakrishna’s speculative Ponzi-like financial schemes.

“His misdeeds have really turned public sentiment against Indian industry in Africa,” he told IPS, adding that a bad commercial reputation goes viral in a continent where local communities rely heavily on the land for their livelihoods.

Reddy says other Indian enterprises like telecommunications and farming have also been tarnished with the same negative image cast by Karuturi’s actions on the ground.

“We now have difficulty even in raising funds for agri-business from venture capitalists and investment brokers,” Reddy asserted.

Karuturi’s head offices in Bangalore did not respond to IPS’ repeated requests for an interview.

A matter of royalties

Other growers, situated in the elevated Deccan plateau lands surrounding the southern cities of Bangalore and Pune, dismiss Karuturi’s reputation as ‘immaterial’, nothing more than an embarrassment for the sector.

What’s really bothering major players in the industry, according to Suvarna Florex Managing Director Sridhar Chowdary, are the “huge royalties we have to pay foreign breeders for rose varieties.”

An ‘introduced industry’ stemming from the demand for cut-flowers in the international market, India’s flower sector was initially heavily in debt due to huge capital expenses incurred from the purchase of foreign greenhouse infrastructure imported from the Netherlands, along with Dutch patents for its roses.

On average, each grower incurred costs of up to 20 million rupees (roughly 332,000 dollars) per hectare of rose farm. Now, 20 years later, the cost of setting up a farm with indigenous technology costs less than half that amount.

“This is a billion dollar industry, controlled by European [mainly Dutch and French] breeders,” horticultural consultant Dr. Thilak Subbaiah told IPS.

“There is no way we can compete,” he stressed, adding that problem is made worse by Indian horticultural institutes’ lack of attention to breeding research.

According to Anne Ramesh, president of the South India Floriculture Association and chairman of Suvarna Florex, royalty rates for Indian growers average between 0.85 and 1.25 euros per plant for each variety of rose.

“This is the same rate as Kenya, which grows 100 percent [of its flowers] for export, whilst we grow half that percentage at best, the rest being for the domestic market,” he told IPS. “We find it unfair to have the same rate of royalty imposed on us.”

Small steps in a growing industry

As late as 2007 the industry at large was still complaining about a marked lack of awareness on exporters’ needs and a dearth of any government assistance.

Cold-chain systems for transportation, facilitated international flights, phyto-sanitary inspections and the lack of any financial incentives for the industry were among the top concerns over half a decade ago.

Recents developments, however, have stemmed some of the criticisms directed at the administration.

A cold-chain flower-auction centre set up in Bangalore, capital of the state of Karnataka, is described by rose-growers as one of the best in the world market. This, coupled with speedy transportation and easy facilitation at Bangalore’s Kempegowda International Airport, is putting a smile on many exporters’ faces.

In addition, the government has made some important concessions that have greatly reduced the burden on local growers.

“The South India Floriculture Association approached the government with our financial constraints and we subsequently got a one-time waiver of 50 percent of our heavy loans [in 2004-2005] incurred due to imported infrastructure,” Ramesh said.

“Today we have greenhouse-technology pioneers, we have employment at the village-level and small farmers who can put up greenhouses because of state and central government incentives. We managed to progress because the government saw the industry as a way to rural development,” he stated.

In the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu alone, the rose industry employs 10,000 women and 3,000 men.

Rural farmers now cater mostly to the domestic market, says Satish Aswathappa, co-owner of Nandi Floriculture, based in Devanahalli, about 40 km outside Bangalore city.

“We are farmers ourselves, we deal directly with other rural farmers who give us their roses and we have a same-day system of grading and sending the roses by public bus to Hyderabad [capital of Andhra Pradesh],” he added.

Environmental concerns also influence the industry, whether domestic or export-oriented.

Chowdary says protective environmental measures are perceived by growers as “survival technologies.”

Walking IPS around Suvarna Florex’s huge farm, Chowdary demonstrated how rainwater is collected in aqeducts and then channeled into a central pond, reducing dependency on groundwater.

There are also checkdams, plastic sheeted ‘ponds’ where rainwater is held in troughs, recharge measures around groundwater pumps and wells, and vermicomposting of plant leafage for manuring.

With groundwater sources steadily depleting due to overusage by consumers and mismanagement by the government, the quality of groundwater has also suffered, he said, which could be disastrous for rose-growers since the plants thrive best when fed uncontaminated water.

Rose growers guzzle water at the rate of millions of litres per week for a farm covering 25 hectares. Sustainable rainwater harvesting techniques are crucial, since an hour’s rain provides enough water to sustain a 25-hectare plot for two days.

Still, input costs remain high, since the use of chemicals has increased in “application and in price”, according to Subbaiah. “We also pay more than government-stipulated wages plus incentives just to ensure the [workers] turn up,” he added

Organic compost has depleted too as lands and cattle around the cities disappear into urbanisation.

Despite these problems, a steadily increasing domestic market means the industry will likely be around for a while.



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India’s Great Invisible Workforce Thu, 17 Jul 2014 20:58:10 +0000 Neeta Lal Millions of Indian women are confined to their homes performing domestic duties for which they receive no compensation. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Millions of Indian women are confined to their homes performing domestic duties for which they receive no compensation. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jul 17 2014 (IPS)

According to census data released this month, a whopping 160 million women in India, 88 percent of who are of working age (15 to 59 years), are confined to their homes performing ‘household duties’ rather than gainfully employed in the formal job sector.

Dubbed India’s ‘great invisible workforce’, this demographic is primarily involved in rearing families within the four walls of their homes.

This asymmetry in the workforce, experts say, reflects illiberal economic policies as well as complex social dynamics, which scupper the chances of women in the world’s so-called ‘largest democracy’ to realise their full income-generating potential.

The odds are heavily stacked against women in this vast country of 1.2 billion. Though more women are going out to work, India primarily remains a nation of stay-at-home wives who play a pivotal role in keeping families together in a country with virtually no government-aided social security.

Small wonder, then, that India ranks an abysmal 101st in a 136-nation survey titled ‘The Global Gender Gap Report, released by the World Economic Forum in 2013, which tracks international progress in bridging the gender gap worldwide.

“Policy makers should encourage women’s participation in powering the growth of Asia’s third largest economy, which can have a multiplier effect in eradicating poverty and illiteracy.” -- Aditi Parikh, a Mumbai-based demographer and sociologist
The index measures the “relative gaps between women and men” across countries in four key areas – health, education, economics and politics. With so many million women out of the workforce, India’s overall ranking reflects lopsided government policies that are failing to harness the full potential of a key demographic.

“The stay-at-home woman syndrome is a shocking loss to the country as well as to the women themselves,” says Aditi Parikh, a Mumbai-based demographer and sociologist.

“Policy makers should encourage women’s participation in powering the growth of Asia’s third largest economy, which can have a multiplier effect in eradicating poverty and illiteracy.”

Even though women achievers have earned admiration and respect in Indian society, gender-stereotyping results in most women facing a clash between work and family life, especially when they have to prioritise one over the other.

Despite a boom in the education sector, Indian women also remain less educated than men even though they make up nearly half the population.

The literacy rate for Indian women hovers at around 65 percent as per the 2011 census, compared to over 82 percent literacy among men.

This is an overwhelming reason for Indian women’s unemployment, say analysts.

Most Indian women comprise part of the country’s sprawling ‘informal’ sector‘, defined by the absence of decent working conditions as specified by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), lax labour laws and insufficient or insecure wages.

According to a 2011 ILO report, 83.8 percent of South Asian women are engaged in so-called ‘vulnerable employment’ that can in most cases be defined as casual labour or sporadic employment such as the manufacturing of garments and other handmade items produced within the worker’s own home.

Indian women workers represent a considerable share of this segment, which has expanded substantially over the last 20 years, researchers say.

While the percentage of women employed in the informal economy remains high, the number of Indian women engaged in formal, secure and recognised labour is still minimal. Only 14-15 percent of workers in the formal sector are women, a number that has remained stagnant for several years.

India also lags far behind the world’s average when it comes to female representation in management, with women occupying a miserable two to three percent of administrative and managerial positions nationwide.

According to Dr. Manasi Mishra, head of research at the Centre for Social Research (CSR), a New Delhi-based think tank, “Indian women usually tend to drop out at mid-career-level positions as they prioritise personal commitments and find it difficult to balance organisational demands, career aspirations and family commitments.”

Also, despite valiant efforts to build gender diversity in the workplace, corporate India still has less than five percent of women at top management and board levels. Only 50 percent of the women who graduate from business schools enter the workforce, says a CSR survey entitled ‘Women Managers In India – Challenges & Opportunities’.

The persistence of an invisible glass ceiling in the workplace and the prevalence of stereotyped gender roles also contribute to lower representation of women in higher-level positions, Mishra says.

“Society and organisations should work in synergy to prevent [women from dropping out] on the journey from education to employment,” she stressed.

Unfortunately, the problem is not specific to India. According to Ernst & Young’s 2013 Worldwide Index of Women as Public Sector Leaders, women make up about 48 percent of the overall public sector workforce, but represent less than 20 percent of public sector leadership across the G20 countries the consulting firm studied.

Diversity, according to the index, is crucial to delivering more effective governance and increased economic competitiveness.

Ernst & Young also found that the ratios of women in leadership roles vary widely. Over half of Germany’s public sector workforce is female (52 percent), but only 15 percent of women have leadership positions.

In Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, women make up 42 percent of the public sector workforce, but only three percent are leaders.

Russia, with the highest number of women represented across the public sector (71 percent), has just 13 percent female representation in leadership roles.

Here too, India languishes at the bottom of the pyramid with only 7.7 percent of its public sector leaders being female.

Experts say there is an urgent need for gender-sensitisation.

“The precondition for any effective social security policy aimed at women,” explains Amitabh Kumar, head of the media and communications division at CSR, “is the provision of economic security through ownership rights, and the securing of women’s right to resources such as land, housing, energy and technology.

“As long as the State takes no effective measures to ensure these very basic rights for women, we can’t expect even those social security policies aimed at women to have any effect.”

For the time being, it appears that India’s great invisible workforce will remain in the shadows until the government makes a determined effort to bring these women into the light.


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Uzbek Minorities Taking Advantage of New Russian Citizenship Rules Tue, 15 Jul 2014 20:26:08 +0000 Murat Sadykov A baker stencils patterns into dough to make non, a traditional Central Asian round flatbread, in Bukhara in July 2013. Russian speakers from all former Soviet republics, including Uzbekistan, can now obtain citizenship in Russia, where 2.3 million Uzbek migrants are alreayd working, according to Russia’s Federal Migration Service. Credit: Dean C.K. Cox/EurasiaNet

A baker stencils patterns into dough to make non, a traditional Central Asian round flatbread, in Bukhara in July 2013. Russian speakers from all former Soviet republics, including Uzbekistan, can now obtain citizenship in Russia, where 2.3 million Uzbek migrants are alreayd working, according to Russia’s Federal Migration Service. Credit: Dean C.K. Cox/EurasiaNet

By Murat Sadykov
TASHKENT, Jul 15 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Judging by the long line outside the Russian Embassy in Tashkent one recent afternoon, new Russian legislation offering citizenship to Russian-speakers is prompting lots of individuals in Uzbekistan to ponder emigration.

Some see a chance to escape economic woes; others, stymied by Uzbekistan’s own Byzantine bureaucracy, want to seize on an opportunity to obtain a proper passport.Many in Uzbekistan still watch Russian state television and are influenced by Kremlin propaganda.

Following Moscow’s March annexation of Crimea, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered citizenship basically to anyone hailing from the former Soviet Union, so long as they speak fluent Russian and renounce their current citizenship.

For migrant workers from Uzbekistan, Russian citizenship offers a solution to the status quo. Uzbekistan sends millions of migrants to Russia annually, who often work with semi-legal status.

According to Russia’s Federal Migration Service, there were 2.3 million Uzbek migrants in Russia as of March. (The real number is thought to be higher). A Russian passport can ease problems with police and employers.

Tashkent does not offer legal or other support to its citizens working in Russia. And though migrants’ remittances make up a sizable portion of the Uzbek economy – at least 16 percent according to Russian Central Bank data – Uzbek officials actively denigrate them.

Last year President Islam Karimov branded migrant workers “lazy” people who “disgrace” all Uzbeks. In May, Uzbekistan-based websites cited Uzbek consulates abroad as stating citizens permanently residing in foreign countries without consular registration could have their citizenship revoked.

The fact that Russia retains a generally positive image among Uzbek citizens is helping to spur interest in the citizenship programme. Many in Uzbekistan still watch Russian state television and are influenced by Kremlin propaganda.

A visit to the Russian consulate off Nukus Street in Tashkent one scorching afternoon recently vividly demonstrated just who is interested in Russian citizenship. Apart from a few Russian citizens trying to resolve consular issues, most people queuing in an alley outside the consular section were Uzbek citizens of various ethnic backgrounds, or stateless persons, many of them of Uzbek ethnicity.

“I want to get Russian citizenship to make it easier to work in Russia and live in Uzbekistan,” an ethnic Uzbek who moved from Tajikistan to Uzbekistan’s southern Kashkadarya Region in the early 2000s told

Since his arrival in Uzbekistan, he’s been living as a stateless person, making it difficult even to leave Uzbekistan, let alone obtain a Russian visa. (Russian visas are required for stateless persons, but not Uzbek citizens).

Indeed, many people in line were stateless people from other former Soviet republics who have been trying for years, and failing, to obtain Uzbek citizenship. Uzbekistan does not publish data on how many people it grants citizenship each year, but the number is thought to be in the single digits.

An ethnic Korean woman said she and her Tajik partner, who holds an Uzbek stateless person’s document, were queuing to obtain Russian citizenship to make it “easy” for him to live with her in Kazakhstan. She moved to Kazakhstan last year and intends to obtain a residence permit there. Living in Kazakhstan as a Russian citizen, in her opinion, is the best option for her partner.

Uzbekistan does not publish reliable figures on the country’s ethnic breakdown and has not conducted a census since 1989. According to figures published in the Ethnic Atlas of Uzbekistan in 2002, Uzbekistan was home to about two million members of ethnic minority groups in 2000, including 1.2 million ethnic Russians and sizeable numbers of Ukrainians, Koreans, Armenians, Tatars and others.

Many minorities are primarily Russian-speakers, and, thus, are prime candidates to apply for Russian citizenship.

One requirement that should be simple for many Uzbeks to prove – fluency in the Russian language – is difficult to demonstrate in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan does not have an authorized center for language testing, thereby requiring Uzbek residents to travel to neighbouring countries in order to take the 3.5-hour-long language exam.

In the line outside the Russian Embassy, an ethnic Armenian who is an Uzbek citizen and received an engineering degree in Russia four years ago said he hopes to use his diploma to obtain Russian citizenship and eventually find a job in Russia.

The Kremlin may have devised the new scheme to help boost its population after a state program on voluntary settlement of ethnic Russians abroad failed to attract immigrants from the former Soviet Union. That programme has managed to attract fewer than 150,000 people since its inception in 2007, according to the Russian Federal Migration Service, despite state support offered to qualified migrants. The Russian government had hoped for 700,000 by 2012, according to the Kommersant daily.

The new legislation may prove more successful in attracting skilled immigrants, as the queues outside the Russian Embassy seem to testify: In June the Embassy was accepting appointments for no earlier than October.

Editor’s note:  Murat Sadykov is the pseudonym for a journalist specialising in Central Asian affairs. This story originally appeared on

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OPINION: Why Asia-Europe Relations Matter in the 21st Century Mon, 14 Jul 2014 23:23:21 +0000 Shada Islam By Shada Islam
BRUSSELS, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

Hopes are high that the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting – or ASEM summit – to be held in Milan on October 16-17 will confirm the credibility and relevance of Asia-Europe relations in the 21st century.

ASEM has certainly survived many storms and upheavals since it was initiated in Bangkok in 1996 and now, with ASEM’s 20th anniversary in 2016 approaching rapidly, the challenge is not only to guarantee ASEM’s survival but also to ensure that the Asia-Europe partnership flourishes and thrives.

Talk about renewal and revival is encouraging as Asians and Europeans seek to inject fresh dynamism into ASEM through changed formats and a stronger focus on content to bring it into the 21st century.

ASEM’s future hinges not only on whether governments are ready to pay as much attention to ASEM and devote as much time and energy to their partnership as they did in the early years but also on closer engagement between Asian and European business leaders, civil society representatives and enhanced people-to-people contacts.  An ASEM business summit and peoples’ forum will be held in parallel with the leaders’ meeting.

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Significantly, the theme of the Milan summit – “Responsible Partnership for Sustainable Growth and Security” – allows for a discussion not only of ongoing political strains and tensions in Asia and in Europe’s eastern neighbourhood, but also of crucial questions linked to food, water and energy security.

Engagement between the two regions has been increasing over the years, both within and outside ASEM. Five of the 51 (set to rise to 52 with Croatia joining in October) ASEM partners – China, Japan, India, South Korea and Russia – are the European Union’s strategic partners. Turkey and Kazakhstan have formally voiced interest in joining ASEM, although approval of their applications will take time.  There is now a stronger E.U.-Asian conversation on trade, business, security and culture.

Exports to Asia and investments in the region are pivotal in ensuring a sustainable European economic recovery while the European Union single market attracts goods, investments and people from across the globe, helping Asian governments to maintain growth and development.  European technology is in much demand across the region.

Not surprisingly, Asia-Europe economic interdependence has grown.  With total Asia-Europe trade in 2012 estimated at 1.37 trillion euros, Asia has become the European Union’s main trading partner, accounting for one-third of total trade.  More than one-quarter of European outward investments head for Asia while Asia’s emerging global champions are seeking out business deals in Europe.  The increased connectivity is reflected in the mutual Asia-Europe quest to negotiate free trade agreements and investment accords. For many in Asia, the European Union is the prime partner for dealing with non-traditional security dilemmas, including food, water and energy security as well as climate change. Europeans, too, are becoming more aware of the global implications of instability in Asia.

ASEM’s connectivity credentials go beyond trade and economics.  In addition to the strategic partnerships mentioned above, Asia and Europe are linked through an array of cooperation accords. Discussions on climate change, pandemics, illegal immigration, maritime security, urbanisation and green growth, among others, are frequent between multiple government ministries and agencies in both regions, reflecting a growing recognition that 21st century challenges can only be tackled through improved global governance and, failing that, through “patchwork governance” involving cross-border and cross-regional alliances.

Discussions on security issues are an important part of the political pillar in ASEM, with leaders exchanging views on regional and global flashpoints.  Given current tensions over conflicting territorial claims in the East and South China Seas, this year’s debate should be particularly important.

Asian views of Europe’s security role are changing. Unease about the dangerous political and security fault lines that run across the region and the lack of a strong security architecture has prompted many in Asia to take a closer look at Europe’s experience in ensuring peace, easing tensions and handling conflicts.  As Asia grapples with historical animosities and unresolved conflicts, earlier scepticism about Europe’s security credentials are giving way to recognition of Europe’s “soft power” in peace-making and reconciliation, crisis management, conflict resolution and preventive diplomacy, human rights, the promotion of democracy and the rule of law.

In addition, for many in Asia, the European Union is the prime partner for dealing with non-traditional security dilemmas, including food, water and energy security as well as climate change. Europeans too are becoming more aware of the global implications of instability in Asia, not least as regards maritime security.

Meanwhile, over the years, ASEM meetings have become more formal, ritualistic and long drawn-out, with endless preparatory discussions and the negotiation of long texts by “senior officials” or bureaucrats. Instead of engaging in direct conversation, ministers and leaders read out well-prepared statements.  Having embarked on a search to bring back the informality and excitement of the first few ASEM meetings, Asian and European foreign ministers successfully tested out new working methods at their meeting in Delhi last November.

The new formula, to be tried out in Milan, includes the organisation of a “retreat” session during which leaders will be able to have a free-flowing discussion on regional and international issues with less structure and fewer people in the room.  Instead of spending endless hours negotiating texts, leaders will focus on a substantive discussion of issues.  The final statement will be drafted and issued in the name of the “chair” who will consult partners but will be responsible for the final wording.  There are indications that the chair’s statements and other documents issued at the end of ASEM meetings will be short, simple and to-the-point.

ASEM also needs a content update.  True, ASEM summits which are held every two years, deal with many worthy issues, including economic growth, regional and global tensions, climate change and the like. It is also true that Asian and European ministers meet even more frequently to discuss questions like education, labour reform, inter-faith relations and river management.

This is worthy and significant – but also too much.  ASEM needs a sharper focus on growth and jobs, combating extremism and tackling hard and soft security issues. Women in both Asia and Europe face many societal and economic challenges.  Freedom of expression is under attack in both regions.

ASEM partners also face the uphill task of securing stronger public understanding, awareness and support for the Asia-Europe partnership, especially in the run up to the 20th anniversary summit in 2016.

The 21st century requires countries and peoples – whether they are like-minded or not – to work together in order to ensure better global governance in a still-chaotic multipolar world.

As they grapple with their economic, political and security dilemmas – and despite their many disagreements – Asia and Europe are drawing closer together.  If ASEM reform is implemented as planned, 2016 could become an important milestone in a reinvigorated Asia-Europe partnership, a compelling necessity in the 21st century.

Shada Islam is responsible for policy oversight of Friends of Europe’s initiatives, activities and publications. She has special responsibility for the Asia Programme and for the Development Policy Forum. She is the former Europe correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and has previously worked on Asian issues at the European Policy Centre. 

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From Tigers to Barbers: Tales of Sri Lanka’s Ex-Combatants Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:56:12 +0000 Amantha Perera Aloysius Patrickeil, once a member of the feared Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), now spends his time giving his loyal customers haircuts in a small town in Sri Lanka's Northern Province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Aloysius Patrickeil, once a member of the feared Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), now spends his time giving his loyal customers haircuts in a small town in Sri Lanka's Northern Province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
KILINOCHCHI, Sri Lanka, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

People are willing to wait a long time for a few minutes in the hands of Aloysius Patrickeil, a 32-year-old barber who is part-owner of a small shop close to the northern town of Kilinochchi, 320 km from Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo.

Old men with bushy moustaches sit on chairs alongside youngsters sporting trendy haircuts and beards in the latest styles from Tamil movies, while mothers drag their kids into the long line for the barber’s coveted chair.

“He is the best in town,” Kalliman Mariyadas, a young man waiting his turn, says confidently.

“They want a better life, they want to live like ordinary people.” -- Murugesu Kayodaran, rehabilitation officer for the Kilinochchi District Divisional Secretariat
A few years ago, Patrickeil wasn’t such a famous man, nor did he wish to be one. Till 2009 he was a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the armed separatist group that fought a 26-year-long civil war with successive Sri Lankan governments for independence for the country’s minority Tamil population.

Patrickeil, now the father of a one-and-a-half year-old infant, was part of the LTTE’s naval arm known as the Sea Tigers until a military offensive decimated the rebel group in 2009.

Today, he is wary of divulging details of his past career.

“There is no point – what happened, happened. I don’t want to go back there,” he tells IPS, while massaging the head of one of his middle-aged clients.

His main aim now is to make sure his enterprise keeps making money. “People will always want to get haircuts, so it is a good job selection,” he says with a smile.

A beloved member of the community, he loves to talk of his shop and his future plans, but not so much about his violent past and involvement in a conflict that claimed some 100,000 lives on both sides.

A man transports bananas in the northern town of Jaffna, the political and cultural hub of Sri Lanka's Northern Province, which has reaped at least some of the peace dividends. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man transports bananas in the northern town of Jaffna, the political and cultural hub of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, which has reaped at least some of the peace dividends. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

When the Sri Lankan government declared victory over the Tigers in May 2009, after a bloody battle in the former rebel-held areas in the north and east of the country, close to 12,000 LTTE cadres either surrendered or were apprehended by military forces, according to government data.

By June this year over 11,800 were released following rehabilitation programmes of varying length, leaving 132 in detention.

Patrickeil himself was in detention, and then underwent rehabilitation (including vocational training) until February 2013; like thousands of other former militants, he must now navigate the former war zone as a civilian.

“They want a better life, they want to live like ordinary people,” says Murugesu Kayodaran, rehabilitation officer for the Kilinochchi District Divisional Secretariat.

But after years of war, violence and no sense of what “ordinary” life means, he tells IPS, this seemingly simple task is harder than it first appears.

Of the released ex-Tigers, most are engaged in manual labour in the north, according to data provided by the Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation. Other popular areas of employment include the fishing industry, the farming sector or the government’s civil defence department.

14652000325_ab5f725cb4_zCurrently, 11 percent of rehabilitated former LTTE fighters are listed as unemployed, more than two-and-a-half times the national unemployment rate.

Very few official programmes offer assistance. One government loan scheme provides individuals with up to 25,000 rupees (192 dollars), but so far only 1,773 who qualify for the programme have received the money, according to existing records.

An initiative undertaken by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) offers grants of 50,000 rupees (roughly 380 dollars), but since 2013 only 523 have received the modest sum.

“We try to help the most deserving cases after careful evaluation,” M S M Kamil, head of ICRC’s Economic Security Department, tells IPS. The lack of complimentary schemes, however, means that thousands are floundering without a steady income.

Kayodaran says that sustained long-term assistance is needed to foster careful reintegration of thousands of ex-combatants, many of whom still feel stigmatised.

“They feel they need financial independence to be able to feel normal like the others, but there are other underlying issues like depression, trauma and lack of family support that remain unaddressed,” he says.

A little help goes a long way

Just a few miles west of Patrickeil’s popular salon, 37-year-old Selliah Bavanan works alone in his tire repair shop in the small town of Mallavi. Also a former Tiger, he is evasive about his role in the group.

All he confides to IPS is that “the situation at the time demanded that we make the decision to join the group.”

Selliah Bavanan, an ex-LTTE cadre, now runs a tire repair shop in the Northern Province, and avoids talking about his past. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Selliah Bavanan, an ex-LTTE cadre, now runs a tire repair shop in the Northern Province, and avoids talking about his past. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now he keeps a close eye on the road that links Kilinochchi, the main financial hub in the region, with the western parts of the district.

“My primary customers are the big vehicles,” he states, adding that there are many that take the route these days, ferrying material for the large-scale development work taking place in areas that were held by the Tigers until early 2009.

When he received the ICRC grant earlier this year, Bavanan made an astute decision – he invested the money in equipment for his humble enterprise and has seen a sharp spike in customers ever since.

“I make between 1,500 and 3,000 rupees (about 11-21 dollars) daily; it is good money,” he insists, while repairing a large, punctured tire.

Patrickeil received a similar grant and invested the money in mirrors, scissors and other accessories for the shop that was owned by a friend. “I pay half my daily income to the owner,” says Patrickeil who also makes about 3,000 rupees per day in a region where the monthly cost of living is some 25,000-30,000 rupees (190-230 dollars).

Life on this small income is not easy, with many ex-combatants in the region supporting extended families. One injured former LTTE cadre that IPS spoke with was supporting a family of three, plus a younger brother and two ageing parents.

Those left disabled by the war, both civilians and ex-combatants, make up over 10 percent of the population of Sri Lanka's Northern Province, but very little official assistance is directed at them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Those left disabled by the war, both civilians and ex-combatants, make up over 10 percent of the population of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, but very little official assistance is directed at them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Officials like ICRC’s Kamil say that rehabilitated former female combatants find job options even more restrictive than their male counterparts.

Psychological assistance programmes for those traumatised by years of war are just getting off the ground in the former conflict areas, but none of them are designed specifically for ex-combatants.

There is also no official data on how many former LTTE members were wounded, but government records suggest that at least 10 to 20 percent of the Northern Province’s population of some 1.1 million people are war-injured, a large number of which were combatants during the conflict.

They say their biggest challenge now is social acceptance and financial independence. While the immediate outlook is bleak, many harbour aspirations of improved circumstances in the years to come.

“First there was war, then there was peace; now we have poverty, and hopefully the next stop will be prosperity,” says Patrickeil’s customer Mariyadas, standing up for his turn with the Sea Tiger-turned-barber.


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Young Latin Americans Face Spiral of Unemployment, Poverty Thu, 10 Jul 2014 18:33:29 +0000 Marianela Jarroud This is part of a series of special stories on world population and challenges to the Sustainable Development Goals on the occasion of World Population Day on July 11.]]> Ángel and Guadalupe Villalobos work near the University of Costa Rica in San José. He is a hairdresser at a beauty salon and she distributes fruit for a small business run by this brother and sister. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Ángel and Guadalupe Villalobos work near the University of Costa Rica in San José. He is a hairdresser at a beauty salon and she distributes fruit for a small business run by this brother and sister. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jul 10 2014 (IPS)

In Latin America, young people are the main link in the chain of poverty leading from one generation to the next. Civil society groups, academics and young people themselves say it is imperative to strengthen the connection between education today and decent employment tomorrow.

“The region’s youth is a subject in its own right, with great symbolic power. It is probably the age group that generates the richest range of identities and cultural expressions,” Martin Hopenhayn, head of the social development division of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), told IPS.“We have a great responsibility, because we are the future of this country." -- María Fernanda Tejada

One in four Latin Americans is aged between 15 and 29, according to the Santiago-based ECLAC. This makes it a young continent, “but not for long,” Hopenhayn said.

The population aged 0-15 has fallen markedly in the region, so in 20 years’ time it will have an ageing society.

“That’s why it is very important to invest now in young people, because in 20 years’ time we are going to need the non-aged population to be much more productive,” Hopenhayn said.

But investment in youth is relatively low in Latin America, especially when public and private investment in post-secondary education is compared with emerging countries in southeast Asia, or with European countries.

“Young people are the main link in the intergenerational transmission of poverty,” Hopenhayn said. This transmission will determine whether young people currently becoming economically independent will re-experience “the income poverty and job insecurity of previous generations, that is, of their parents,” he said.

The key mechanism to interrupt this intergenerational transmission is to improve the connection between education today and employment tomorrow, he said.

Investing in youth

The United Nations highlights that the present generation of youth worldwide is the largest in history, totalling 1.8 billion young people, most of whom live in the developing countries of the South.

Consequently, UNFPA is seeking to build awareness about the urgent need to increase resources devoted to youth. Its theme for World Population Day, celebrated this Friday Jul. 11, is “investing in young people.”

“We must reduce the gap in educational attainments between poor and non-poor young people,” by focusing investment on education for lower-income sectors, he said.

According to ECLAC figures, only 28 percent of young people aged 20-24 from the poorest 20 percent of the population have completed their secondary education; while among the richest 20 percent, about 80 percent have completed secondary education.

“At present, completing secondary education is the minimum requirement for a young person moving into the world of work and a lifelong career to have real expectations of achieving well-being and social mobility, and overcoming poverty,” Hopenhayn said.

Ángel and Guadalupe Villalobos, a brother and sister who have set up a small fruit distribution business of their own near the University of Costa Rica, in San José, are well aware of this fact.

Ángel, 21, finished his studies as a hairdresser in December 2013 and began working in January 2014. When his 22-year-old sister and her partner separated, the brother and sister started to distribute fruit in local beauty salons.

“Perhaps the main barrier is that if you are experienced and older, it is difficult to get a job, and if you are young, in spite of all your energy, it’s also difficult, but here (in the salon) they have offered me good opportunities,” Ángel told IPS.

Neither of them has started university and Guadalupe has not finished secondary school. In Costa Rica, with its 4.8 million people, 22 percent of young people work in the informal economy, which Ángel and Guadalupe intend to leave.

In Mexico, 37 million people are aged 15-29, out of a total population of 118 million. Nearly 26 percent of this age group are neither studying nor working, and almost 45 percent of them live in poverty.

“I am worried about the lack of opportunities and the prospect of unemployment,” 18-year-old María Fernanda Tejada told IPS. In August she will start studying internatioal relations at the Autonomous University of Mexico, in the capital city.

“We have a great responsibility, because we are the future of this country,” added Tejada, who is the eldest of four children.

In Santiago, 19-year-old Daniel Hurtado is studying medicine, in spite of the social expectation that he would probably work “in a call centre, or as a supermarket packer, in construction or as a waiter,” his father Hugo, himself a waiter, told IPS.

A wage earner in Chile, which has a population of 17.6 million, earns an average of 500 dollars a month, and generally has no chance to send children to university, where medical studies cost between 900 and 1,200 dollars a month. “It’s a gruelling effort,” said the father. “But we are breaking through the barrier,” said the son.

In Hopenhayn’s view, intervening in education is the best means to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty, because it is a mass phenomenon that is socially recognised, and has a major impact on the world of work.

According to a study by ECLAC and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), nearly one-third of young people in Latin America and the Caribbean live in poverty, which contravenes their human rights, enshrined in international treaties.

The study, published in 2012, says that the poverty and extreme poverty rates among young people aged 15-29 in the region are 30.3 percent and 10.1 percent, respectively. Together with under-15s, this group is the most vulnerable to poverty in the region.

Employment opportunities are limited for young people, who have an unemployment rate of 15 percent, while for those aged over 30, unemployment is only six percent.

Another factor is the high rate of informal employment in the region, which particularly affects young people.

“For instance, in Chile between 45 and 50 percent of workers are in informal employment, but in the 15-29 age group, 60 percent are informal workers,” sociologist Lucas Cifuentes, a researcher with the Work, Employment, Equity and Health programme at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO), told IPS.

He said, “undoubtedly employment is the lynchpin of social development,” and added that “it is impossible to overcome poverty without decent, dignified and protected work.”

In Hopenhayn’s view, recent years have brought about major institutional progress in youth policies, moderate progress in terms of investment in young people, and insufficient progress in investment in young people’s education.

While waiting for that to materialise, Latin American societies continue to seek their own alternative solutions to problems like inequality, and young people demand – in some countries, on the streets – investment to break the transmission of inequality in their generation.

With additional reporting from Emilio Godoy in Mexico City, and Diego Arguedas in San José.

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OPINION: Unleashing African Young People’s Potential Thu, 10 Jul 2014 17:24:30 +0000 Adebayo Fayoyin This is part of a series of special stories on world population and challenges to the Sustainable Development Goals on the occasion of World Population Day on July 11.]]> Girls attend school in South Africa. Healthy, educated young people can help break the cycle of poverty. Credit: UNFPA

Girls attend school in South Africa. Healthy, educated young people can help break the cycle of poverty. Credit: UNFPA

By Adebayo Fayoyin

An African proverb says “a child that we refuse to build today will end up selling the house that we may build tomorrow.”

The moral of this is clear. Unless we invest in our children and young people today, they might become a threat or a burden in the future.As the international community commemorates World Population Day on July 11, Africa’s growing youth population should be recognised as a ‘powerful force for change’ that requires greater investment today.

Judging by the current challenges confronting young people, the extent to which African countries are investing in the youth is unclear.

More young people

According to the Africa Regional Review for the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) the continent is experiencing substantial demographic shifts, which have seen about 21 million persons a year being added to the population since 1994.

Africa has the youngest population and will remain so for decades in a rapidly ageing world. By 2050 “the median age for Africa will increase to 25, while the average for the world as a whole will climb to about 38”.

The fertility rate on the continent is decreasing gradually and the new generation of young people will probably have fewer children than their parents. This demographic shift will also mean fewer elderly people and children to support than previous generations.

Undoubtedly, demography will greatly shape Africa’s position in the global markets for labour, trade and capital.

The phenomenon is what economists call a ‘demographic dividend’, which they argue is a one-time window of opportunity to create wealth and economic growth.

The future they want

But failure to invest in this demographic also comes with its own challenges.

Maternal mortality and HIV/AIDS are the two main causes of death among young women aged 15 to 24 years in sub-Saharan Africa.

Nearly everywhere, adolescents are inhibited from freely exercising their right to, for example, comprehensive sexuality education, contraceptives and sexual and reproductive health services.

Young men in South Sudan stand up for women's rights. Credit: UNFPA

Young men in South Sudan stand up for women’s rights. Credit: UNFPA

In many African counties, more than 40 per cent of young women aged 20 to 24 were married by age 18. Also in the countries with high child marriage rates – Niger, Mali, CAR, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Madagascar, Uganda, Senegal, Malawi, Cameroon and Libya – many girls are married off by age 15.

That is why investment in Africa’s youthful population from multiple angles, and primarily from the public and private sectors, is essential for realising the demographic dividend.

“Healthy, productive and fully engaged”

In his message for the World Population Day commemoration, UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehim says “we know that healthy, educated, productive and fully engaged young people can help break the cycle of intergenerational poverty and are more resilient in the face of individual and societal challenges”

Africa’s largely youthful population makes up the next generation of workers, parents, and leaders and their challenges can no longer be ignored. Getting the best from the increased youth bulge in Africa can only be assured when appropriate health and development plans, policies and programmes are put in place and adequately implemented.

Adebayo Fayoyin is the Regional Communications Advisor for the UNFPA East and Southern Africa Regional Office.

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U.S. Groups Reject Anti-Gay Discrimination Bill over Religious Exemption Wed, 09 Jul 2014 23:43:51 +0000 Julia Hotz President Barack Obama is expected to issue an executive order on employment discrimination in coming weeks. Credit: Bigstock

President Barack Obama is expected to issue an executive order on employment discrimination in coming weeks. Credit: Bigstock

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 9 2014 (IPS)

Civil rights groups across the United States have withdrawn their support from a major legislative proposal that would outlaw workplace discrimination against sexual minorities, warning that recent legal developments could exempt companies on religious grounds.

Five major legal advocacy groups are arguing that the legislation, known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), does not allow for total workplace protection. Rather, it “provides religiously affiliated organizations – including hospitals, nursing homes and universities – with a blank check to engage in workplace discrimination against LGBT people,” the groups note in a joint statement released Tuesday.“[LGBT people] want to be judged in the same way any other employee is judged: Can we do the work? If we can, we should be free from discriminatory treatment that targets us because of who we are.” -- Kate Kendell

Previously, the groups, which include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and prominent gay rights organisations, had supported ENDA. But their turnaround comes a week after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a contentious decision, known as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which allows private companies to withhold contraceptive coverage from their employees based on religious preferences.

“What we’ve seen in last week’s Supreme Court decision is a really concerted effort on the part of LGBT opponents to broadly endorse rights to discriminate,” Ian Thompson, a Washington representative of the ACLU, told IPS.

It is “unacceptable”, he noted, to “allow taxpayer-funded discrimination under the clause of religious exemption.”

It is significant to note that this religious exemption clause has always been included within ENDA. However, while the clause has long been a controversial component of the legislation, it is the provocative nature of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling that has encouraged legal advocacy groups to reject ENDA entirely.

Lucas Rivers, a prominent LGBT activist working in the U.S government, told IPS that “strong withdrawal [from ENDA] in the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision is the right move, as the Supreme Court’s decision has opened up doors to employment discrimination, whether it be women and their rights or gays and their rights.”

Yet other organisations have been voicing opposition to ENDA for much longer.

“We have been disturbed by the exemption in ENDA for years, and that concern has been very public,” Kate Kendell of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), an advocacy group, told IPS.

Kendell also notes that “[the NCLR] has received unanimous expressions of support from [the LGBT community]. Our community is bright – they get that the provision in ENDA would provide those who oppose our equality a license to discriminate.”

Kendell is careful to note that her organisation’s dispute is not with the legitimacy of religious belief.

“Our nation respects and accommodates a wide variety of religious faiths, a quality we fully embrace. But it is not acceptable for some to use religion as a bludgeon to do harm to others,” she says.

“[LGBT people] want to be judged in the same way any other employee is judged: Can we do the work? If we can, we should be free from discriminatory treatment that targets us because of who we are.”

Kendall says she’s uncertain about the future of ENDA, but expresses confidence that a stronger bill can eventually be drawn up.

“We don’t know what we can get unless we fight for it,” she says. “If we combine forces and lobby for better language, I have no doubt we can get a better bill.”

Urgent need

Still, some prominent groups do remain committed to ENDA.

The Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBT rights group, stated on Wednesday that it will continue to support ENDA for a “very simple reason … it will guarantee millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in all 50 states explicit, reliable protections from discrimination in the workplace.”

In regards to the bill’s religious exemption clause, the group says it is urging its allies in Congress to recognise that LGBT people “do not have the luxury of waiting for these protections,” while an “urgent need” for equality persists.

Meanwhile, some U.S. legislators have been looking for ways to directly counter the recent Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. New legislation, announced Wednesday, would seek to expressly forbid private companies from using religious exemption to deny employee contraception “or any other vital health service required by federal law”.

Although the new bill would have no direct impact on workplace discrimination for LGBT individuals, the proposal’s sponsors see it as a significant step towards separating religious preferences from employees’ fundamental rights.

“Particularly in light of the recent Hobby Lobby decision, we must be more careful than ever to ensure that religious liberty, a cherished American value intended to shield individuals from government interference, is not wielded as a sword against employees who may not share their employers’ religious beliefs,” Jerrold Nadler, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and one of the new bill’s co-sponsors, said Wednesday.

President Barack Obama is expected to issue an executive order on employment discrimination in coming weeks. As such, a similar fight is now brewing of that mandate’s details.

On Tuesday, a group of 100 progressive religious leaders urged the president to exclude any religious exemption from the order. Instead, the groups called on the president to remain committed to the principle of equality under the Constitution.

“If contractors were allowed to selectively follow employment or other laws according to their religious beliefs, we would quickly create an untenable morass of legal disputes,” the letter states.

“Furthermore, if selective exemptions to the executive order were permitted, the people who would suffer most would be the people who always suffer most when discrimination is allowed: the individuals and communities that are already marginalized.”

Some civil rights groups have applauded the letter. The ACLU’s Thompson told IPS that the move was “incredibly important” in the context of the broader equality debate.

“It shows is that religious leaders and faith organisations do not speak with simply one voice on these issues,” he says. “Rather, it shows that there are two sides to the faith community, and it is very helpful for the community’s pro-equality voices to come forward.”

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OPINION: Obama’s Quick Fix Won’t Solve the Regional Refugee Crisis Wed, 09 Jul 2014 19:36:38 +0000 Michelle Brane A migrant child is escorted by a U.S. immigration enforcement agent. Credit: cc by 2.0

A migrant child is escorted by a U.S. immigration enforcement agent. Credit: cc by 2.0

By Michelle Brané

In recent months, an unprecedented surge of refugee women and children has been traveling alone to the United States to seek protection at our southern border.

The vast majority are fleeing their homes in the Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and risking their lives as they make long and incredibly dangerous journeys to seek refuge on our soil.

The Women’s Refugee Commission has been closely monitoring this population since 2011. Through our research, we concluded over two years ago that without major changes in U.S. aid or foreign policy to the Central America region, the United States would continue to receive more vulnerable migrants due to the humanitarian crisis developing in the region.

Michelle Brané

Courtesy of Michelle Brané

Organised crime, forced gang recruitment, violence against women, and weak economic and social systems are all contributing to the pervasive insecurity in these countries.

The flow of refugees fleeing from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala has not only continued, but has increased dramatically and rapidly as violence in the region has escalated.

And refugees are not only coming to the United States. The United Nations has found that asylum requests in the the neighbouring countries of Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize have skyrocketed by 712 percent since 2009.

While some children may be seeking to reunite with their parents or family in the United States, the motivating factor forcing them from their homes is violence and persecution. The children we spoke with told us they feared they would die if they stayed in their home country, and although they might die during the journey, at least they would have a chance.

Particularly concerning about the recent surge is that the children making the perilous migration journey are now younger than in years past. It has become common for children as young as four to 10 years old to be picked up and arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol.

Additionally, a higher percentage of the children are girls, many of whom arrive pregnant as a result of sexual violence. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recently conducted research with this population and found that 58 percent of the children interviewed raised international protection concerns.

Children also come to the United States with their parents. Since 2012, the number of families arriving at the southern border of the United States has increased significantly. The vast majority of these families are made up of women with very young children and are fleeing the same violence and insecurity driving the refugee children.

Our country has a long and dedicated commitment to human rights, due process and the assurance that individuals who arrive at our borders seeking safety are not turned away without addressing their claims.

Under international and domestic law, we have an obligation to properly screen and provide protection for unaccompanied minors, trafficking victims and asylum seekers who arrive at our borders.

In recent months, however, the government has been unprepared and overwhelmed by the numbers of children and families in need. Rather than addressing the issue in a manner that is in line with our American ideals and recognising it as a regional refugee situation, the Obama administration is looking for a quick fix and compromising our values and the lives of women and children in the process by responding as though it were an immigration issue.

We are deeply concerned by the government’s recent announcement that it will drastically expand detention of families and will expedite the processing of asylum cases.

Harsh detention and deportation policies endanger the well-being of children and families, present a risk that individuals with legitimate claims to asylum and other forms of protection will be summarily returned to countries where their lives are seriously threatened, and do not work as a deterrent against future migration.

Additionally, the administration has proposed to roll back laws that are in place to protect children, in order to quickly and with no due process, deport kids back to the dangers they escaped.

This humanitarian refugee crisis is a complex human tragedy and needs both short-term and long-term attention. It requires a holistic approach that prioritises additional resources for addressing the root causes of this crisis, strengthening protection in the region, and reinforcing our protection and adjudication of claims, not blocking access to protection and sending women and children back to the dangerous situations they are fleeing without adequate due process.

The United States must not compromise its long-standing commitment to humanitarian principles in the hope of finding a quick solution.

Michelle Brané is director of the Migrant Rights & Justice Programme at the Women’s Refugee Commission. This article was originally published by New America Media – a network of ethnic news organisations in the U.S., and is reproduced here by arrangement with them.

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U.S. Moves to Address Chronic “Teacher Equity” Problem Wed, 09 Jul 2014 00:07:24 +0000 Julia Hotz The U.S. Department of Education has recently strengthened its focus on reducing nationwide racial and socioeconomic disparities within school discipline. Credit: Bigstock

The U.S. Department of Education has recently strengthened its focus on reducing nationwide racial and socioeconomic disparities within school discipline. Credit: Bigstock

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 9 2014 (IPS)

The U.S. government has moved to tackle longstanding patterns of inequitable teacher quality, specifically in terms of how low quality teachers tend to be assigned to poor and marginalised communities across the country.

Both students of colour and students in high-poverty schools are less likely than their counterparts to receive highly effective teaching. On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education launched an initiative aimed at addressing what Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls the “systemic inequities that short-change students in high-poverty, high-minority schools across our country.”"Students of colour and students of high-poverty status are more likely to attend schools where less money is spent and where less extracurricular activities are offered, so the problem is much larger than just the teachers.” -- Dwanna Nicole

The problem is not only the lack of a solid teacher support and development system. According to President Barack Obama, also speaking Monday, “the kids who need the most skilled teachers are the least likely to get them.”

The Department of Education will now require states submit comprehensive plans to assign “effective educators” to poor and minority students. To implement these plans, the federal government will be offering some 4.2 million dollars in grants.

The government will also publish regular profiles evaluating how states and districts are improving their teacher equity.

While education associations and advocates are applauding the move, many are questioning the initiative’s scope and details. Although the government’s announcement noted that it will mandate states to “ensure every student has effective educators”, it did not specify how officials would measure educator effectiveness.

“We think that it is a commendable short-term effort to help combat inequity in the classroom,” Dwanna Nicole, a policy advocate for the Advancement Project, an advocacy group, told IPS.

“At the same time, we believe the inequity issue is much larger. We know that students of colour and students of high-poverty status are more likely to attend schools where less money is spent and where less extracurricular activities are offered, so the problem is much larger than just the teachers.”

For instance, Nicole notes that the Department of Education has recently strengthened its focus on reducing nationwide racial and socioeconomic disparities within school discipline.

“But it would be great to see more resources devoted to that effort as well … We want school districts to understand the harsh consequences of these extreme policies,” she says.

“A lot of the time, young people also need additional support – this includes mental health support, after-school support. And we also want there to be better training available for teachers.”

Furthermore, rather than solely considering standardised test scores to be a measure of educator effectiveness, Nicole says that the government needs to take into account additional factors, such as teachers’ success with classroom management techniques.

The National Educators Association (NEA), a prominent labour union, also says that it “fully supports the idea that students in challenging schools must have fully prepared and effective educators.” Yet the group noted its concern over the Education Department’s lack of definition for an “effective educator”.

“The current federal law offers a big loophole that calls individuals still in teacher training as ‘highly qualified’,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said in a statement Monday.

175 billion dollars a year

Although inequity within teaching quality has existed for some time, recent estimates have suggested that this disparity could become costly to the country as a whole.

In 2011, researchers with the Center for American Progress (CAP), a think tank here, published a district-by-district evaluation. They concluded that “highly productive districts were more focused on improving student outcomes,” while low-productivity school districts were more likely to be comprised of “students from more disadvantaged backgrounds” – and had the potential to “cost the nation as much as $175 billion a year.”

CAP is slated to release updated findings on the issue on Wednesday. The centre’s executive vice president for policy, Carmel Martin, has thrown her support behind the new Department of Education initiative, characterising it as an “effort to ensure that excellent educators are teaching in the classrooms that need them most.”

Advocates are now turning their focus to how the states will respond. Education policy has become a politically explosive issue in recent years, with some conservatives urging the abolition of the Department of Education altogether.

“The U.S. Department of Education should expect states to report their data and set meaningful goals for addressing inequity where it exists. And it should hold states accountable for meeting those goals,” Daria Hall, the director of K-12 policy development at the Education Trust, an advocacy group, told IPS.

However, Hall also warned that the department should not mandate specific approaches for the states to follow in their attempts to achieve equity.

“The specific strategies are best developed by states and districts, as they’re the ones who are closer to the problems and best able to develop targeted responses,” she says.

“That said, it is important to find and elevate examples of strong, equity-focused local policies and practices, and that’s something the Department can and should do through guidance and technical assistance.”

In addition to using multiple measures to assess teacher effectiveness, Hall believes that a variety of teacher development opportunities should be afforded to educators.

“Forced placement will not be an effective strategy for achieving equitable access. So states and districts should be focused instead on putting in place policies and practices that draw strong teachers to the low-income students and students of colour who need them the most,” she says.

“This means focusing on effective hiring practices, strong school leadership, supportive school climate and culture, and opportunities for professional advancement for those teachers willing to take on the challenge of teaching in high-need schools.”

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Macau Gambling Away Its Future Tue, 08 Jul 2014 09:52:53 +0000 Martin Murphy A worker walks past Casino Lisbo, one of the largest casinos in Macau, China. Credit: Damon Garrett/CC-BY-2.0

A worker walks past Casino Lisbo, one of the largest casinos in Macau, China. Credit: Damon Garrett/CC-BY-2.0

By Martin Murphy
HONG KONG, Jul 8 2014 (IPS)

Macau’s gaming boom just keeps on giving. Gambling revenues soared to a new high of 45 billion dollars last year, a whopping 18.6 percent rise over 2012 and the city’s sixth straight year of record earnings.

Casinos in this former Portuguese colony, which returned to China in 1999, now earn seven times more than they do in Las Vegas.

Casino jobs, which pay 30 to 40 percent more than other sectors, employ nearly a quarter of the labour force. Add in casino-related positions like retailing and hospitality and about half the working population in this city of 600,000 is connected to the gaming industry. The result is an enviable unemployment rate of 1.8 percent.

So why not let the good times roll?

Macau’s mono-economy of gaming is creating a generation of workers steeped in the monotonous work of baccarat dealing and spinning roulette wheels, but with few of the transferable skills needed in today’s globalised knowledge economy.

With the economy and workforce increasingly dependent on Chinese gamblers from the mainland, however, there is little pressure for change —a situation that may suit Beijing just fine.

Some hit the jackpot, others pay the price

It should surprise no one that the city’s gaming boom, which produces 50 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), has spawned a dark side. Prostitution, organised crime and money laundering are daily affairs.

Not so obvious, though, are the multiple stress lines now tearing at a traditional society trying to cope with uncontrolled urban development, loss of green space, rising local gambling addiction and a general deterioration in the quality of life.

For the average resident, the challenges created by the gaming boom now outweigh its advantages. Poor transportation, worsening air pollution from casino shuttles serving the city’s 29 million visitors and soaring property prices are just a few of gaming’s by-products.
“Macau is a complete illusion of prosperity, because what we are building is only casinos, rooms, and some shops with famous brands.” -- legislator Jose Coutinho

Macau’s small and medium-sized businesses, about 95 percent of its enterprises, also pay a price in rising rents and loss of both staff and customers to the casinos. Adding to this are higher crime rates across almost every category.

Despite all the downsides, Macau’s casino executives and investors, including the big U.S. gaming houses, see unlimited possibilities for further growth and expansion. Their main complaint? A shortage of skilled labour.

With more mega casinos scheduled to open in 2016, Macau will need at least an additional 75,000 casino and hospitality workers, officials say.

Given that the city’s small and medium-sized businesses already struggle to compete against higher-paying casinos for limited talent, Macau will have to import not only casino workers, but also professionals from every walk of life.

But neither Macau nor the Chinese government seems to have a plan to deal with the city’s soaring labour deficit, nor is either willing to slam the breaks on what has become a runaway train of unregulated growth.

Worse, Macau is turning its back on policies meant to prepare its future generations for a more globalised, knowledge-driven economy. If trends continue, Macau risks morphing into a society of know-nothings —one whose future could be devoid of educated and skilled professionals, its pool of workers increasingly drawn to easy money to be made in the often mind-numbing work on casino floors.

Every few months, new reports present dire warnings. In December last year, one survey showed that nearly half of businesses polled “found difficulties in recruiting IT professionals” and predicted the shortage “could further worsen.”

Last April, an industry report cited the lack of accountancy professionals, with “only fractional increases” since 2007. Another complained of the city’s “lack of engineers and related professions.” All this points to a society at the breaking point, one that is mortgaging its future generations for short-term gains.

Even Macau’s lawmakers now complain that the boom has been building castles in the sand. Last year, legislator Jose Coutinho told the media, “Macau is a complete illusion of prosperity, because what we are building is only casinos, rooms and some shops with famous brands.”

But he and other critics hold a minority view in a legislature where 12 of the 33 members are indirectly elected by industry bodies and another seven are appointed by Macau’s Beijing-selected chief executive.

Betting it all on gaming

While Macau officials pay occasional lip service to the need to rebalance the economy and have floated a number of proposals, none so far have the transformative effect needed to set the city off in new directions.

One of the most talked about proposals recommends that Macau capture more of the region’s “meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions,” or MICE. But this has been slow to take off and relies disproportionately on the gaming sector.

For example, Macau’s biggest trade show is the Global Gaming Expo Asia. A plan to develop nearby Hengqin Island as a free trade zone will also do little to help the majority of Macau’s small businesses, given its emphasis on large-scale projects.

But the main obstacle to a more sustainable economic model is that Macau continues to grow fat on Chinese gambling, and Chinese leaders still see Macau as an important outlet for the country’s wealthy and middle class. The result is that no one in authority is even contemplating the day when China’s economy slows, the gamblers stop coming, and the boom ends, even though history has shown that the bigger the boom in a mono-economy, the greater the potential for a crash.

While China says it wants to see Macau rebalance its economy, Beijing’s reluctance to impose policy prescriptions or offer inducements to help it diversify is not surprising.

That’s because Macau may be right where Beijing wants it and China’s other peripheral regions to be—societies increasingly dependent on the mainland for their prosperity and therefore less willing to make annoying demands for such things as democracy and greater autonomy.


Martin Murphy is a former U.S. diplomat. He was head of the Economic-Political Section at the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong and Macau from 2009-2012. He can be found at

Read the original version of this article on Foreign Policy In Focus.

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Child Migrants Flee Central American Crisis Mon, 07 Jul 2014 18:54:49 +0000 Daniela Pastrana Garifuna children from Honduras relax at one of the shelters on Mexican migration routes. Credit: Courtesy of Migrant rights defenders

Garifuna children from Honduras relax at one of the shelters on Mexican migration routes. Credit: Courtesy of Migrant rights defenders

By Daniela Pastrana
IRAPUATO, Mexico, Jul 7 2014 (IPS)

In early May, the Irapuato Migrants’ House, in the centre-west Mexican state of Guanajuato, took in a group of 152 Garifuna Afro-Caribbean people from Honduras. Sixty of them were children.

“It was a Sunday,” said Bertha, the cook. “They had children of all ages, from babies on up. They were only here a few hours, they showered, ate and left. They did not talk much. I asked one of the women if these children go to school, and she just said: ‘No, we can’t right now,’ and nothing else,” she told IPS.“It is an appalling bloodletting. Children aged 13-16 are sent straight into sexual exploitation or slave labour, or they are massacred or disappeared, or become hired killers." -- Diego Lorente

Between May and June, this shelter took in over 400 children, mostly from Honduras. They travelled in large groups. Only once did they stay for more than four hours.

“They said very little, they did not tell us how they travelled, although we know they did not come on the train. They wouldn’t say what route they were taking, either,” Guadalupe González, the head of the shelter, told IPS.

Some 1,000 kilometres to the southeast, “La 72” migrants’ shelter in Tenosique, a municipality in the state of Tabasco on the border with Guatemala, is also experiencing a similar trend.

They began to see a marked increase in unaccompanied young migrants aged 14-18, women with small children, and groups of Garifunas, who were previously only occasionally to be found on the migrant route to the United States.

Mexico’s northern border with the U.S. is 3,152 km long, while in the south its border with Guatemala is 956 km long, and with Belize it is 193 km. The distance from south to north of the country is 3,200 km as the crow flies, but the six main migration routes are over 5,000 km long.

The same pattern that has been seen in other hostels has been found at the Belén Migrant Shelter in Saltillo, the capital of the northeastern state of Coahuila, on the U.S. border, where since May the passage of children has risen from an average of four a month, to four a day.

“Its an extremely alarming situation,” Father Pedro Pantoja, who runs the hostel and is an expert on migration affairs, told IPS.

It is still not clear what has provoked this exodus of Central American children, many of them on their own, which has overwhelmed the capacity of the U.S. Border Patrol and created a humanitarian crisis in the United States, according to President Barack Obama.

Advocates for migrants in Mexico attribute the surge to the spread of rumours about future regularisation for migrants who enter the U.S. as children.

This, at least, is what has prompted Delsy, a 20-year-old Honduran woman who looks several years younger, to head north, leaving behind her mother, four siblings and her 15-month-old son.

“Someone told me that if I declare I’m under 18, I can get into the United States from (the northwestern border city of) Tijuana. She said it’s a sure thing, because that’s how she got in,” Delsy told IPS at the Irapuato shelter, shortly before taking the train to the border.

Since October 2013, more than 52,000 children have been detained in the United States. In Texas and Arizona, two states on the border with Mexico, facilities at detention centres and military bases are filled to overflowing  and minors are overcrowded while they await deportation.

Organisations working for migrants’ rights, like the Fray Matías de Córdova Human Rights Centre (CDHFrayMatías) in the southern city of Tapachula, in the state of Chiapas, documented the systematic increase in the influx and detention of children since 2011.

However, none of the governments involved took measures to combat it. What did change was the place of origin, because Mexico was formerly the main country of origin of migrant children.

In contrast, from Oct. 1, 2013 to Jun. 15, 2014 the U.S. authorities detained 15,027 children from Honduras, 12,670 from Guatemala, 12,146 from Mexico and 11,436 from El Salvador, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The Washington-based Pew Research Centre linked the new places of origin of child migrants with indicators of violence.

“There is a humanitarian crisis, not only in the United States, but also in the northern triangle of Central America, and chiefly in Honduras, which is forcing children and victims of social and political violence to leave the region,” activist Diego Lorente of CDHFrayMatías told IPS.

The problem could be even worse than it seems, because thousands of child migrants who leave their homes never make it to the United States. Human rights organisations estimate that four out of 10 children who migrate do not even reach Mexico’s northern border.

Some are detained in Mexico. The government’s National Migration Institute reported that between Jan. 1 and Jun. 26, 2014, it had “rescued” 10,505 migrant children, who are in the process of being deported back to their countries.

But many more simply disappear in Mexican territory.

“It is an appalling bloodletting. Children aged 13-16 are sent straight into sexual exploitation or slave labour, or they are massacred or disappeared, or become hired killers,” said Pantoja of the Saltillo shelter.

In the United States, the law stipulates that children must be processed within 72 hours of their detention. The solution for most of them is for a relative to legally claim them, or to stay in shelters for a long time. When they reach their 18th birthday they must be deported.

On Jun. 30, Obama announced that his migration reform had met with stalemate in the House of Representatives, dominated by the rightwing opposition Republican Party, and that he would rely on executive action from now on to try to solve the crisis.

But there is no simple solution to the problem. According to the Honduran authorities, 3,000 children have dropped out of school so far this year in order to pursue the “American dream.”

“In Garifuna communities on the north coast of the country, many children are dropping out of classes because they are leaving the country with their parents or private persons, en route to the United States,” Honduran newspaper La Tribuna said on Jun. 28.

“The rumour spread like wildfire, and now there seems to be no stopping it,” said Guadalupe González at the Irapuato shelter, while two young Honduran women walk away, convinced that if they get to the border, all they have to do is say they are underage in order to get across it.

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OPINION: Fighting Killer Diseases Is Essential in the Post-2015 Agenda Mon, 07 Jul 2014 10:58:34 +0000 Laurent Huber By 2030, 80 percent of deaths from tobacco will be in the poorest countries in Asia, Africa and South America. Credit: Bigstock

By 2030, 80 percent of deaths from tobacco will be in the poorest countries in Asia, Africa and South America. Credit: Bigstock

By Laurent Huber
GENEVA, Jul 7 2014 (IPS)

Undeniably, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) helped lift specific health concerns onto the global agenda.

For example, maternal mortality, which is addressed in MDG 5, declined 45 percent from 1990 to 2013, while deaths of children under five (MDG 4) dropped from 12.4 million to 6.6 million worldwide from 1990 to 2012, (both statistics from the World Health Organisation).If trends do not change, by 2030 NCDs will be the leading global cause of disability.

Despite those impressive advances, the world is facing new development challenges. For this reason, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will replace the MDGs in 2015 must expand the list of health goals to include non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – the world’s #1 killer.

NCDs account for 60 percent (35 million) of all deaths. They include cancers, cardiovascular and lung disease, and diabetes, but they are not – as many people believe – ‘lifestyle’ diseases afflicting old people in rich countries. The largest burden – 80 percent, or 28 million deaths – occurs in low-middle-income countries (LMICs), making NCDs a major cause of poverty and an urgent development issue.

If trends do not change, by 2030 NCDs will be the leading global cause of disability. In addition, between 2011 and 2031 the diseases would have cost the world economy 30 trillion dollars, the equivalent of 98,400 dollars for every person in the United States.

Tobacco is the leading risk factor for NCDs. One hundred million people died from tobacco-related disease in the 20th century, and unless the global community acts decisively, one billion people will die in the 21st century. By 2030, 80 percent of deaths from tobacco will be in the poorest countries in Asia, Africa and South America.

In 2011, world leaders assembled for the first time at the United Nations to discuss the growing NCDs epidemic. The Political Declaration they issued concluded that the burden of NCDs “undermines social and economic development throughout the world”.

It noted that NCDs strike people in LMICs during their prime working years, and that close to half of all NCD deaths in these countries occur below the age of 70, and nearly 30 percent under age 60. As well, most NCDs deaths are preceded by long periods of ill health.

These illnesses, and early deaths of families’ main income earners, result in loss of productivity, which drags down economic growth and development.

Social determinants, such as education and income, influence people’s vulnerability to NCDs and exposure to risk factors. Individuals of lower education and economic status are increasingly exposed to NCDs risks and are disproportionately affected by them. For example, in countries such as Bangladesh, India and the Philippines, tobacco use is highest among the least educated and poorest segments of the populations.

At the same time, having an NCD may also contribute to social inequalities. The financial burden associated with these diseases increases the risk that families will be unable to send children to school and, under-educated, the risk grows that those children will live in poverty for the rest of their lives.

What can be done? There are four modifiable risk factors for the main NCDs: unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol and tobacco use. While work continues to adopt global tools to tackle the first three factors, there is consensus on how to fight the tobacco epidemic.

In 2003, the world’s governments adopted the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the first modern-day public health treaty. It contains a number of measures that Parties commit to implement, including: smoke-free public spaces, pictorial health warnings on packages, price and tax measures to increase the price of tobacco – which discourages consumption – and complete bans on tobacco advertising.

Today the FCTC has 178 Parties, representing nearly 90 percent of the world’s population. In the battle against NCDs, “There is no other ‘best buy’ for the money on offer”, said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan in 2011.

Recognising the potential of global tobacco control, the Political Declaration of the 2011 NCD Summit:

• Urged greater efforts from countries to implement the FCTC;
• Called on countries that are not Parties to the FCTC to accede to the Convention;
• Noted the importance of tobacco taxation as a strategy at the national level;
• Recognised the irreconcilable differences between the tobacco industry and public health policy.

Building on the Declaration, in May 2013 the World Health Assembly endorsed the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs, 2013-2020. It includes a target for cutting tobacco use: a 30 percent relative reduction in smoking prevalence by the year 2025.

A stand-alone goal, Attain healthy lives for all, has been proposed for the SDGs. Its sub-goals include: “By 2030 reduce substantially morbidity and mortality from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) through prevention and treatment…” and “Strengthen implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in all countries who have ratified the Convention and urge countries that have not ratified it to ratify and implement it”.

Including NCDs and the FCTC in the development goals that will be announced by the UN General Assembly in 2015 will also ensure that battling the tobacco epidemic becomes a national priority, and prevent millions of premature deaths.

Laurent Huber is Director of the Framework Convention Alliance.

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Cambodian Migrant Workers Pay for Thai Documentation Scramble Thu, 03 Jul 2014 13:00:28 +0000 Michelle Tolson Mr. Kong, left, is among thousands of Cambodia workers eager to find higher paying jobs in neighboring Thailand. Credit: Michelle Tolson/IPS

Mr. Kong, left, is among thousands of Cambodia workers eager to find higher paying jobs in neighboring Thailand. Credit: Michelle Tolson/IPS

By Michelle Tolson
Poipet, Cambodia, Jul 3 2014 (IPS)

Eight people, three women and five men, are crouched in the dirt in the center of a roundabout where the main road at Poipet –a major Cambodia border town– merges with the check point to Thailand. Dust swirls in the wind as they squint their eyes at the sun. Others playing the waiting game mill about on the road’s edges.

Last week a reported 220,000 Cambodian migrants hastily returned from Thailand in fear of a crackdown against undocumented workers, creating a migration crisis. The Cambodian government, United Nations and NGOs quickly mobilized to feed and transport them to their home towns.

This week Poipet is quiet, but a growing number or migrants have come back to the border since Thailand announced last Friday it opened a fast-track visa processing center at the border for undocumented workers. Their Thai construction employer, DC Company, is supposed to help them obtain official work permits for as little as 37 dollars.

I am here waiting for my employer to tell me he has the documents I need to cross,” Mr. Lin, a 36-year-old man from a village near Battambang, tells IPS.

“But I don’t know how much it is for a new document,” he adds.

Expensive documents

The Cambodian government, for its part, is trying to help the estimated quarter million repatriated undocumented migrant workers return to work and has introduced its own 4-dollar passport fee for students studying abroad and migrants, down from the previous 135 dollars charged.

Cambodia, as a least developed country (LCD), has one of the most expensive passports in the ASEAN region, contributing to the high rate of undocumented workers. Vietnamese passports cost just 12 dollars, while Laos and Thai ones go for 35 dollars and 30 dollars, respectively.

“Factories in Cambodia don’t pay you for two months sometimes. They smell bad, have fumes and are big and cold.” - Cambodian migrant worker Ms. Hun
Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) estimates that 50 to 55 percent of the 440,000 Cambodians that work in Thailand are undocumented.

In addition to passports, there are fees for foreign work permits.

“It costs 50 to 100 dollars to work in Thailand for two to four months, and 500 dollars for two years,” Mr. Kong, a young 19-year-old construction worker from Sisophon, tells IPS.

Like Lin and others interviewed for this story, Kong was only conformable providing part of his name, as policemen were closely watching the crowd and listening in on their statements.

According to Chaan Sokunthaea, Head of Women and Children Section and Alternative Dispute Resolution Sectionwith ADHOC, “the price for the work permit depends on the situation and the broker.” The Cambodian government is allowing brokers to help Cambodians get passports, enforcing a 49-dollar broker-fee limit, but the new scheme will take several weeks.

Speaking to IPS, Chaan said it was too early to comment on the process.

“Good money”

Kong was able to save money in Thailand as an undocumented worker because he didn’t owe a debt to a broker, he says. He made “good money” working in construction in Bangkok for a year, sending it home to his family by electronic wire.

“Because I was good at my job, sometimes I made 320 baht (about 10 dollars) a day,” he says. He managed to save 3,000 to 4,000 baht (92 to 120 dollars) a month.

All the families lingering by the border have tales of supporting elderly parents, aunts and uncles in the countryside, or they have children their grandparents are raising for them.

“There are no jobs in my village and we don’t have enough land to grow rice,” Mali, the 33-year-old wife of Lin, tells IPS.  The couple recounts leaving their 13-year-old daughter back home with their parents, where their foreign income puts her through school – a parent’s sacrifice to allow her to have a better life.

Like her husband, Mali works in construction. Mali earns 250 baht (approximately 7.70 dollars) a day. It’s 50 baht less than the men make, but she thinks this is “fair” because she is not as strong as they are. Still, she prefers it to working in garment factories in Cambodia.

“Factories in Cambodia don’t pay you for two months sometimes,” Ms. Hun, who works with Mali, tells IPS . “They smell bad, have fumes and are big and cold.”

With an average salary of just 100 dollars a month, making ends meet with factory work is near impossible for many.

As a result, “Most workers we talked to complained they have debt in [Cambodia]”, Tola Moeun, Head of Labor at Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC), tells IPS. “They need the Cambodian government to set up a minimum wage to allow them enough to live on.”

They avoid garment factory work in Thailand “because they check documents,” a tour guide going by “Jim”, who is translating for the women, says.

Other migrants work as farmers or fisher folk, another industry known for undocumented workers.

Mr. Gumroun, 41, is sitting on a bench with his family waiting for work papers from his Thai boss. They had worked together on a Thai farm harvesting sugar cane, mangos and corn. His 16-year-old son sits next to him and his older daughter sits nearby.

“I don’t want to leave my son at home because he has no mother. We have no family in our village so it is safer working with me,” Gumroun tells IPS. He earns 300 baht (about 9.20 dollars) a day, while his children earn 200 baht (about 6.16 dollars). In Cambodia, in comparison, they might only bring home 3 dollars a day.


ADHOC’s Chaan says workers fled Thailand because of a rumour they would be killed if found without documents. “According to our research, brokers told workers this to get money from them for documents.”

A quarter million workers needing papers represents a lot of cash.

Workers who fled back to Cambodia said they were cheated by taxi drivers and police to pay bribes, according to CLEC.

Several died in traffic accidents from the panic. Military fired guns at workers’ vans and trucks, further increasing the hysteria, ADHOC reported.

The Thai government claims it was merely addressing the sudden downgrade by the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report to tier three, which resulted from reports that migrant workers were enslaved on Thai fishing boats.

While various migrants told IPS they are “very afraid” of the new Thai junta, the realization that they can’t survive in Cambodia continues to drive them across the border.

And so, as the Cambodian government scrambles to meet the needs of returnees by starting the untried 4-dollar passport system, migrants are trickling back to the border.

They put their faith in their bosses to help them navigate the new Thai document system they think will be faster.

“Our bosses are good to us,” 29-year-old Mr. Ta from Battambang tells IPS. “They like Cambodians more than Thai workers because we work all day – 12 hours, only stopping to eat lunch.”



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Shoemaking Saves Zimbabwe’s Jobless Youth Thu, 03 Jul 2014 12:00:55 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo Makers of handmade shoes sit on the pavement in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital. There are almost 200,000 youth involved in unlicensed, backyard handmade shoe businesses across the country. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Makers of handmade shoes sit on the pavement in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital. There are almost 200,000 youth involved in unlicensed, backyard handmade shoe businesses across the country. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Jul 3 2014 (IPS)

For many young Zimbabweans like 19-year-old Shelton Mbariro, running an unlicensed, backyard handmade shoe business has become a way to escape unemployment in this southern African nation.

“We craft the shoes using raw hides that we get from abattoirs and cattle farms in and outside Harare, making strong and long-lasting shoes,” Mbariro tells IPS.

According to statistics from the Harare United Cobblers Association, an organisation of young shoemakers, Mbariro is one of 196,423 young people aged between 19 and 24 who have set up shop on street corners across towns and cities in Zimbabwe, offering a range of handmade shoes.

There are no clear figures about the total number of youth in the informal sector. However, in 2012 the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency said 3.7 million of the country’s 13.7 million Zimbabweans worked in the informal sector.

Handmade shoes for either men or women can cost anything from 25 to 40 dollars, with sandals costing about 10 dollars. According to shoemakers interviewed in Harare, these prices fluctuate, often falling during the day. However, the prices are linked to demand and increase during peak hours and at month end.

Despite the increased availability of cheap, Chinese-made shoes, these handmade shoes are popular because of their long lifespan, attractive designs and negotiable prices. They could also be popular because soon after Zimbabwe’s July 2013 elections, the country’s sole shoe manufacturing company, Bata, scaled down operations citing the country’s poor economic performance.

But Mbariro and even 21-year-old Shadrack Bvumb, another shoemaker from Harare, attract large numbers of customers.

“When business is good, mostly during month end, I pocket at least 100 dollars from my daily sales,” Mbariro says.

Making shoes by hand has become the way of life for youth here in a country where the economy continues to shrink amid perpetual closures of industries.

  • The National Social Security Authority’s Harare Regional Employer Closures and Registrations Report for July 2011 to July 2013 shows 711 companies shut down in Harare during that period, leaving 8,336 people jobless.
  • In 2013, over 2,300 workers lost their jobs after 165 companies embarked on staff rationalisation programmes, according to statistics from the country’s Ministry of Public Service Labour and Social Welfare.

“This is the way we now survive as you see us here selling these handmade shoes. We make them on our own and come here to sell them because it’s a waste of time to keep searching for unavailable jobs,” Bvumbi, who comes from Mabvuku, a high-density suburb in the Zimbabwean capital, tells IPS.

But local authorities say they hardly benefit from these young people, whom they accuse of evading tax and flouting council bylaws.

“As council, we get nothing from these shoemakers because they operate at undesignated points often evading council cops,” Harare City Council spokesperson Lesley Gwindi tells IPS.

Most street venders here have, at some time or another, engaged in running battles with council cops for selling their handmade shoes without licences.

It costs about 20 dollars to apply for a vendor’s licence in the city. If approved, the licence costs 120 dollars and is valid for a year.

But the young entrepreneurs say they cannot pay local authorities and get nothing in return.

“We make money on the streets where there are no designated points for us to do business. Council authorities here have no facilities for us,” Mbariro says.

Edmund Chiutsi, who heads the Harare United Cobblers Association, tells IPS: “There are no proper points for us in towns here to sell the shoes we make; there are no shelters and what should we pay councils for?” Instead, the association lobbies local and government authorities to recognise informal shoemakers’ strides in stimulating the economy and to allow them to safely operate in cities and towns.

Economists say young people are finding a way to survive the current economic crisis.

“Increasing retrenchments in workplaces and the increase of jobless young people fuels the rise of local innovators as people strive to fight against the tide of economic challenges here,” economist Daniel Mbewe tells IPS.

“Unemployed youth have shifted focus to the informal sector, often learning completely new skills in order to survive under harsh economic conditions,” adds Mbewe.

In 2011, the Ministry of Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment created the 11-million-dollar Youth Fund to assist young people start self-help projects.

But only two percent of young footwear makers benefitted from this, according to the Harare United Cobblers Association. And those who benefitted allegedly had links to ruling party politicians.

“We rather prefer to fight on our own and keep going,” Bvumbi says.

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Obama Proposes “Aggressive Deterrence” for Child Migrants Mon, 30 Jun 2014 23:07:33 +0000 Carey L. Biron A 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant heading to the U.S. Credit: Wilfredo Díaz/IPS

A 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant heading to the U.S. Credit: Wilfredo Díaz/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jun 30 2014 (IPS)

Facing what some have dubbed a refugee crisis, President Barack Obama is asking for new powers that would significantly speed up the deportation process for tens of thousands of unaccompanied children recently arrived at the southern U.S. border.

In a letter to lawmakers on Monday, the president requested some two billion dollars in increased funding, particularly to “surge” law-enforcement response. He also asked that laws be changed to allow federal agents to interview and deport within a matter of days many of 52,000 unaccompanied minors that have arrived in recent months from Central America, particularly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador."We could be sending back hundreds to thousands of children who will be in danger in their home countries." -- WOLA's Adam Isacson

While the president noted that “appropriate care” would be offered to those who have been apprehended, he also made clear that a central focus of new U.S. policy on the issue will involve stemming the sudden influx.

The U.S. will take “aggressive steps to … deter both adults and children from making this dangerous journey, increase capacity for enforcement and removal proceedings, and quickly return unlawful migrants to their home countries,” the president stated in the letter.

Indeed, the letter’s repeated use of the words “aggressive” and “deterrence” underscore not only the politics involved in the new policymaking, but also the siege-like mentality to which the president is now giving voice. The request came just hours before Obama announced that a broad attempt to overhaul the United States’ immigration system had failed, at least for this year, in the face of ardent political polarisation.

Congress is currently out of session, so the president stated that full details on his request would come after lawmakers reconvene in mid-July.

“What I don’t see here is any change in strategy – just a doubling-down on what they’ve done before. A lot of this looks like it will be aimed at helping those in charge of deporting people do their job more quickly,” Adam Isacson, a senior associate for regional security policy at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a think tank here, told IPS.

“That has some form of deterrent message, but the danger is we could be sending back hundreds to thousands of children who will be in danger in their home countries. It doesn’t appear that there will be any increase in [funding for] asylum lawyers.”

Weakening due process

Immigration advocates responded to the president’s proposal with immediate concern, warning that the move would force potentially endangered children into an untenable situation.

“Children will arrive traumatised, hungry, unable to speak the language, and yet they will be expected to articulate some fear of return if they’re to be allowed to come in to the U.S. That is grossly unfair and fails to recognise their capacities as children to negotiate these processes,” Wendy Young, the president of Kids in Need of Defense, a group that offers legal assistance in such situations, told journalists Monday.

“These children will have no access to counsel – nobody to advise them. It takes [Young’s office] hours and even days to understand the proceedings they’re facing, but to do this at the border with no assistance is simply impossible.”

Since the mid-1990s, federal officials have been unable to “fast track” deportations for migrant children from anywhere except for Mexico and Canada. The president’s proposal would now do away with this safeguard, to extend this authority to cover migrants from non-contiguous countries.

Yet advocates say nothing has changed with regard to the law’s original intent.

The president’s proposal would roll back the due process rights of the most vulnerable members of our society,” Marielena Hincapie, the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, a legal advocacy group, said in a press call following the president’s announcement.

“If Congress were to authorise these changes, the administration would be shunting children right back to the dangers the have escaped without having the opportunity to present their case in court.”

Migrants vs refugees

At the heart of the U.S. policy debate over the ongoing influx of minors is a war of contextualisation. Are children being pulled towards the United States due to lax U.S. policy or are they being pushed out of their home countries due to an increase in violence?

How lawmakers and the broader public analyse that question influences views on whether the government should be treating the issue as a migration problem or, as some are suggesting, a refugee crisis.

“The administration clearly thinks the [motivator] is something other than violence, or they wouldn’t be proposing new changes in law. But we found that kids are fleeing violence and fleeing for their lives,” Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Monday, discussing findings by his office from November.

Appleby suggests that organised crime networks in several Central American countries have significantly increased their influence over the past half-decade.

“Children are being specifically targeted by organised crime networks … at the threat of death,” he said. “This is what is really pushing these children more.”

Last week, the United Nations Refugee Agency offered testimony to the U.S. Congress on similar findings.

“Unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have multiple reasons for leaving, but fear of violence is the tragic, common factor,” Leslie E. Velez, a U.N. protection officer, told lawmakers, according to prepared remarks.

“Shockingly, 58 percent of the children cited violence in their home countries as at least one key reason for leaving. This number varied by country: El Salvador (72%), Honduras (57%) and Guatemala (38%).”

Velez also warned that unaccompanied children expressing such fears cannot be sent back to their home countries without “access to proper asylum procedures”. (The U.N. was unable to comment on President Obama’s new proposal by deadline.)

Root causes

A relatively unaddressed question remains how the United States will work to address these root causes of the new migration flows. Recent appropriations bills in Congress have significantly increased security aid for Central America, though it is not yet clear how this will be spent.

“My fear is that you’ll see a big build-up of border security capacities in those countries, adding new weaponry and lethal skills to unreformed security forces in a very non-transparent way,” WOLA’s Isacson says.

“We’ve seen it repeatedly in the past – in an atmosphere of impunity, adding more boots on the ground can be disastrous.”

President Obama has also directed two federal agencies to come up with new recommendations for dealing with the recent influx of child migrants. Those studies are expected by the end of the summer.

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After Losing Vote, U.S.-EU Threaten to Undermine Treaty Sat, 28 Jun 2014 00:29:13 +0000 Thalif Deen The United States and the EU have warned they would not cooperate with an intergovernmental working group (IGWG) which is to be established to lay down ground rules for negotiating a proposed treaty to prevent human rights abuses by transnational corporations. Credit: Omid Memarian/IPS

The United States and the EU have warned they would not cooperate with an intergovernmental working group (IGWG) which is to be established to lay down ground rules for negotiating a proposed treaty to prevent human rights abuses by transnational corporations. Credit: Omid Memarian/IPS

By Thalif Deen

The United States and the 28-member European Union (EU) have assiduously promoted – and vigourously preached – one of the basic tenets of Western multi-party democracy: majority rules.

But at the United Nations, the 29 member states have frequently abandoned that principle when it insists on “consensus” on crucial decisions relating to the U.N. budget – or when it is clearly outvoted in the 193-member General Assembly or its committee rooms."The division of the votes clearly shows that the countries who are host to a lot of TNCs, such as the EU, as well as Norway and the U.S., are against this proposal." -- Anne van Schaik

That’s exactly what happened Thursday at the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva which adopted, by majority vote, a proposal to negotiate a legally-binding treaty to prevent human rights abuses by transnational corporations (TNCs) and the world’s business conglomerates.

But following the vote, the United States and the EU, have warned they would not cooperate with an intergovernmental working group (IGWG) which is to be established to lay down ground rules for negotiating the proposed treaty.

Stephen Townley, the U.S. representative in the HRC, told delegates: “The United States will not participate in this IGWG, and we encourage others to do the same.”

There are also a host of practical questions about how an internationally binding instrument would apply to corporations, which are not subjects of international law, and how states would implement such an instrument, said Townley, special assistant to the legal adviser at the U.S. State Department.

The vote was 20 for, 14 against and 13 abstentions in the 47-member HRC. The United States and EU members, including France, Germany, UK, Italy, Ireland, Austria, Estonia and the Czech Republic, along with South Korea and Japan, voted against the resolution.

Spearheaded by Ecuador and South Africa, the resolution received positive votes from China, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan, Philippines and Algeria, amongst others.

The Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, along with Mexico, Peru and the Maldives, abstained.

Anne van Schaik, accountable finance campaigner with Friends of the Earth Europe, told IPS the voting list “makes clear we are up against powerful forces”.

“Who will not back away from using old bullying techniques?” she asked.

She said the EU has clearly stated it will not cooperate in implementing the proposal.

And after the vote, the United States said this legally binding instrument will not be binding for those who vote against it.

“So we can expect some fierce opposition,” Schaik said, even as the IGWG plans to hold its first meeting sometime next year.

“But we are cheerful because it is not every day public interest wins over corporate interests which are backed by the EU and the U.S.,” she added.

Both United States and the EU have argued that the three-year-old U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights is adequate as a yardstick to monitor the business practices – and malpractices – of corporations and big business.

“We have not given states adequate time and space to implement the Guiding Principles,” Townley told delegates.

He said “while we share and appreciate the concerns expressed by some delegations and civil society colleagues that we need to do more to improve access to remedy for victims of business-related human rights abuses, our concern is that this initiative [for a legally binding treaty] will have exactly the opposite effect.”

Philip Lynch, director of International Service for Human Rights, told IPS that in order to be effective, it is crucial that any treaty on business and human rights be negotiated with input from all relevant stakeholders and that it cover all business enterprises, not just transnational corporations.

“We consider it very important that the European Union participates in this negotiation process,” he said, since the EU is both the headquarters for many corporations, and global leaders in the implementation of the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

“We also hope that the negotiation of the treaty can complement and build on the consensus underpinning the Guiding Principles, which enjoy strong EU support,” he added.

Speaking of the proposed treaty, Schaik told IPS this is something that Friends of the Earth has campaigned for years, if not decades.

“We have always wanted the U.N. to take responsibility to develop such a mechanism, since they are the only international democratic decision-making body that is able to work on such a proposal.”

So, it is better than, for example, having legislation adopted by some countries, or regional bodies (if this would have been feasible at all), she added.

Secondly, Schaik said, what is very positive as well is that in the resolution, a roadmap is already laid out for the first steps of this working group.

“The division of the votes clearly shows that the countries who are host to a lot of TNCs, such as the EU, as well as Norway and the U.S., are against this proposal,” she noted.

Asked how the Western opposition could be countered, she pointed out the U.S. warned, even before the vote, that countries who voted against it would not be obliged to respect the resolution.

“This is of course total nonsense, but it does mean that both civil society, as well as the countries who voted in favour, will have to do what they can in order for this working group to be successful.”

She said: “We have built at very short time a coalition of more than 610 organisations and 400 individuals.”

She said the treaty alliance is already making plans on how to follow up on this victory, “and I think particularly for groups in Europe, the U.S. and Norway there is an important task to keep pressuring their countries to respect the resolution.

“We will campaign, set up email actions, present research, organise speaker tours and take to the streets, if necessary, to ensure the working group will be successful,” she said.

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Bolivia Charts Its Own Path on Coca Thu, 26 Jun 2014 14:25:36 +0000 Samuel Oakford A Bolivian cocalero shows his leaf-picking technique. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

A Bolivian cocalero shows his leaf-picking technique. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

By Samuel Oakford

This week, the U.N. reported that coca cultivation in Bolivia fell nine percent last year, and a massive 26 percent in the past three years.

Two mid-altitude regions – Yungas de La Paz and the Cochabamba Tropics – account for nearly all cultivation in Bolivia and both areas saw significant reductions in 2013. Remarkably, illegal cultivation in Bolivia’s national parks was cut in half, to only one thousand hectares.“A very small country challenged the basic premises of U.S. domination and policy implications, and it succeeded." -- Kathryn Ledebur

The nationwide decrease, to an area of only 23,00 hectares, or 12 miles, is widely regarded as a laudable achievement, but overlooked is the fact that Bolivia’s success has come on its own terms – not Washington’s – and with vital cooperation from many of the country’s small coca farmers.

“Bolivia reduced the crop through eradication efforts, but also with the participation of coca growers and farmers,”Antonino de Leo, U.N. Office for Drugs and Crime’s representative in Bolivia, told IPS.

“They are doing this in a climate of participation and dialogue – they call it social control,” he added. “Not only does the government have a target for illicit cultivation, but it’s the very same as what farmers and the union of farmers have.”

After his election in 2005, President Evo Morales, himself the former head of the country’s Cocalero union, began negotiating with farmers and their unions, working to convince them that mutually agreed upon cultivation totals would mean higher prices and a sustainable income for tens of thousands of subsistence growers.

Indeed, last year, the price of coca in Bolivia, already higher than in neighbouring Colombia and Peru, rose a further seven percent, from 7.40 dollars to 7.80 dollars per kg.

While the total value of Bolivia’s coca crop fell from 318 million dollars to 283 million dollars, farmers for the most part no longer live in fear of having their livelihoods destroyed by the severe eradication efforts that were funded by the U.S. and characterised drug policy in the Andean nation for decades.

A militarised response favours criminal gangs and armed factions and leads to a concentration of illicit wealth among those groups. In Bolivia, the annual coca allowance of one catousually 1600 square metres – is seen as a sort of minimum wage, rather than a bonanza for a small elite.

Unlike in Peru and especially in Colombia, where forced eradication, fumigation and seizures are still the preferred method of handling illegal coca production, farmers in Bolivia allow officials to visit and measure their mountainside fields – measurements that are then verified by satellite data.

Because of this, data reported by the government closely match U.S. figures (they were identical in 2012), while the two sets of numbers can vary wildly in neighbouring countries.

“Nothing is done entirely without friction, but it has done away with cycles of protest and violence and the deaths of coca growers,” Kathryn Ledebur, director of the Andean Information Network, told IPS. “There continue to be human rights violations, but in the past they would rip out all their coca and there was no plan for how they should eat in the meantime.”

In Colombia, the government destroys roughly 100,000 hectares every year. Because small farmers often have no economic alternative, they replant coca, and the cycle begins again.

Bolivia’s programme does have strict limits and well-defined geographic allotments for growing. Any plants found to be in excess of the cato or in areas not approved for cultivation are destroyed.

“Good practices show that in order to reduce illicit crops in a sustainable way and avoid the balloon effect, there is a need to combine eradication efforts with long-term participatory development programmes that create real opportunities for the farmers, and they need to be comprehensive,” said de Leo.

In 2008, Morales expelled U.S. ambassador Philip Goldberg; the following year the Bolivian government kicked the DEA out the country, and drug funding from the U.S. ceased.

The moves were a precursor to a carefully planned re-working of Bolivia’s obligations under the U.N. convention system that governs global drug policy. In 2011, the country took the unprecedented step of withdrawing from the 1961 convention on Narcotics Drugs, but the following year re-acceded – with the stipulation that Bolivia be allowed to maintain a legal domestic market for coca leaves.

The decision was accepted by the overwhelming majority of member states, who accepted that coca was a traditional plant used, without abuse, by millions of Bolivians.

Like various other efforts, including marijuana legalisation in several U.S. states, the decision served to chip away at a uniform and prohibitionist legal interpretation of the conventions. But unlike Uruguay, Washington and Colorado, Bolivia has official approval from the international community.

“If 15 years ago someone asked what would happen to an Andean country that loses all U.S. funding, we’d be talking about Marines coming in and things falling apart, but none of those things have happened,” said Ledebur.

“A very small country challenged the basic premises of U.S. domination and policy implications, and it succeeded,” she added.

Last year, the U.S.government cited Bolivia’s withdrawal from the conventions when it decertified it for failing “demonstrably to make sufficient efforts to meet its obligations under international counternarcotics agreements.” But in the same memorandum, authorities acknowledged the “pure potential cocaine production” of the country had decreased 18 percent in 2012.

While Bolivia may have made peace with its coca growers, it’s still the third largest producer of cocaine in the world. In 2013, the government destroyed over 5,000 cocaine production facilities and maceration pits and seized 20,400 kilogrammes of cocaine paste.

Fueling production in the Andes is the growth in demand in Brazil, today the second largest cocaine market in the world behind the U.S.

“As long as there is a solid demand for cocaine, it’s going to be very difficult to compete with coca – it will always be a very attractive crop,” said de Leo.

Though users are generally not criminalised for use to the extent in other countries, law 1008, a draconian, U.S.-influenced legislation signed in 1988 still underpins drug policy in the Bolivia. A lack of clarity in the law means a worker labouring inside a cocaine factory can be treated the same as a powerful “narcotraficante”.

Law enforcement efforts still tend to target the poorest members of Bolivia’s society. One survey found 60 percent of prisoners were earning less than 300 dollars every month before they were arrested.

“They pursue interdiction in a very traditional way,” said Ledebur.

Buoyed by his successes, Morales has announced a goal of further reductions in the coca crop, down to 14,700 hectares. To this point, curtailment has been sufficiently absorbed by growers, but greater cuts could run up against opposition. If farmers feel squeezed, Morales, the former coca grower, could find he’s bit off more than he can chew.

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In Latest Republican Split, Tea Party Takes on Export-Import Bank Thu, 26 Jun 2014 01:23:16 +0000 Jim Lobe By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jun 26 2014 (IPS)

U.S. Big Business is going all out to protect a favoured government agency, the 80-year-old Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im), from a full-fledged assault by the populist “Tea Party” wing of the Republican Party.

At stake is Congressional re-authorisation of the Bank, which provides loans, guarantees, and credit insurance to foreign buyers of U.S. exports. Last year, it approved nearly 4,000 such transactions with a record estimated value of 37.4 billion dollars in exports.“I think the business community is getting a little bit of a wake-up call because they’ve been thinking that Republicans are their friends on everything, and it just turns out that ideology is trumping pragmatism.” -- Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen

While the re-authorisation should easily pass the Senate, where it is supported by the majority Democrats and many, if not most, Republicans, the problem lies in the Republican-led House of Representatives, which has increasingly become a Tea Party stronghold.

Business groups were stunned over the weekend when the incoming House Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, announced he would oppose re-authorisation despite his two-decade-long record of supporting it.

When House Speaker John Boehner declined to take a position either pro or con, top executives of the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) went into overdrive on Capitol Hill.

“With Americans overwhelmingly focused on the need to create jobs and grow our economy, business owners are understandably perplexed by the inside-the-(Washington-)Beltway campaign against the Ex-Im Bank,” said Chamber president Thomas Donohue, in releasing a letter signed by more than 800 companies and industry associations in support of the re-authorisation.

Still, Tea Party advocates and lawmakers are not giving any ground. At a hearing on the Bank Wednesday, the chairman of the House Financial Services subcommittee, Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, charged that its programmes amounted to “corporate welfare” designed to benefit “some of the largest, richest, most politically connected corporations in the world.”

The battle has emerged as the latest focus of a persistent – and some say growing — split within the party between what is often referred to as “Wall Street” and “Main Street.”

Indeed, the Tea Party was born and energised by what its constituents viewed as the government’s giants “bail-outs” – under both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama — of Wall Street banks and other huge corporations following the Sep 2008 financial crisis.

The more-establishment and populist wing of the Republican Party have also clashed over immigration, fiscal, trade, and education policies. Consisting of both social conservatives and anti-government libertarians, the Tea Party – to the degree it has maintained any ideological coherence — has generally tried to move the Republican leadership to the far right.

While its forces have suffered a number of setbacks this spring during Republican primary elections for Congress, the surprise defeat earlier this month of Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who favoured slightly more-mainstream immigration and fiscal policies – by an obscure and poorly financed Tea Party challenger shocked Washington insiders.

The insurgent candidate, a college economics professor named Dave Brat, campaigned on an anti-government platform that strongly opposed liberalising immigration laws and what he called “crony capitalist programmes that benefit the rich and powerful.”

So strengthened were Tea Party forces within the House Republican caucus by Brat’s victory that many Capitol Hill observers credited it with McCarthy’s surprising reversal on Ex-Im funding. His change of heart appears to have been a condition for his election by key caucus members to succeed Cantor as Majority Leader.

Created in the early days of Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal”, Ex-Im has survived and prospered under Republican and Democratic presidents alike. This, despite complaints from the right that its operations amounted to government interference in the free market and, from the left, that the Bank’s support for exporters amount to “corporate welfare”, a phrase ironically adopted by then-Sen. Barack Obama to describe the Bank when he ran for president in 2008.

As originally conceived, its mission has been to create jobs at home by financing sales of U.S. exports to buyers overseas. Over the years, it has become a model for similar institutions, called export credit agencies (ECAs), established by dozens of other major exporting nations.

In recent decades, its single biggest beneficiary by far has been the Boeing Co., the giant Chicago-based aerospace firm, which has long depended on Ex-Im’s support in its competition with Europe’s Aerobus Industries. Other major beneficiaries include Caterpillar, General Electric, and Bechtel.

While much of the Bank’s opposition in the past has come from Democrats who, like Obama in 2008, described it as a corporate giveaway, the party’s lawmakers voted for it unanimously two years ago and still support it, as does the Obama administration which has made boosting U.S. exports a top priority since taking office.

The country’s biggest labour union federation, the AFL-CIO, has also strongly supported re-authorisation.

While left-wing criticism is now virtually non-existent, the Bank has long been a target for Tea Party adherents, whose mobilisation played a critical role in giving Republicans their majority in the House since the 2010 Congressional elections.

In 2012, they tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to kill the agency, arguing that the subsidies and other help provided by the Bank to U.S. exporters makes them “less and less competitive in the global market,” as their then-champion in the Senate, Jim DeMint, contended at the time.

DeMint, now head of the far-right Heritage Foundation, has, along with the Club for Growth, spearheaded the current campaign against re-authorisation.

The campaign gained more traction this week with the revelation by the Wall Street Journal that four Bank staff members have been suspended or removed amidst investigations into reported kickbacks.

But the major business groups are fighting back hard, arguing that U.S. companies would be placed at a severe disadvantage in competing for business abroad if the re-authorisation wasn’t approved.

“Failure to reauthorize Ex-Im would amount to unilateral disarmament in the face of other governments’ far more aggressive export credit programs, which have provided their own exporters with an estimated one trillion dollars in financing support in recent years,” according to the letter signed by the business organisations.

“Export credit agencies in China, France, Germany, Brazil, and Korea have provided significantly more support for their exporters than Ex-Im has provided to U.S. exporters – in some cases, more than seven times what Ex-Im Bank has provided on an annual basis.”

Most observers here believe that the Bank will be eventually be re-authorised, as the Chamber and NAM mobilise endorsements from small and medium-sized companies which have benefited from its largesse. That could include reducing the amounts Ex-Im can lend to foreign companies and limiting its authority to aid companies owned by foreign governments.

Democrats, meanwhile, are clearly enjoying this latest battle between the Tea Party and the business community.

“This is a perfect example of ideology run amok,” noted Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a rising star in the party, said Wednesday of the Tea Party’s campaign against the Bank. “I think the business community is getting a little bit of a wake-up call because they’ve been thinking that Republicans are their friends on everything, and it just turns out that ideology is trumping pragmatism.”

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Zimbabwe’s Unfolding Humanitarian Disaster – We Visit the 18,000 People Forcibly Relocated to Ruling Party Farm Wed, 25 Jun 2014 21:21:09 +0000 Davison Mudzingwa and Francis Hweshe More than 18,000 people live in the Chingwizi transit camp in Mwenezi district, about 150 kms from their former homes in Chivi basin as they wait to be allocated one-hectare plots of land by the government. Credit: Davison Mudzingwa/IPS

More than 18,000 people live in the Chingwizi transit camp in Mwenezi district, about 150 kms from their former homes in Chivi basin as they wait to be allocated one-hectare plots of land by the government. Credit: Davison Mudzingwa/IPS

By Davison Mudzingwa and Francis Hweshe
MASVINGO, Zimbabwe, Jun 25 2014 (IPS)

As the villagers sit around the flickering fire on a pitch-black night lit only by the blurry moon, they speak, recounting how it all began.

They take turns, sometimes talking over each other to have their own experiences heard. When the old man speaks, everyone listens. “It was my first time riding a helicopter,” John Moyo* remembers.

“The soldiers came, clutching guns, forcing everyone to move. I tried to resist, for my home was not affected but they wouldn’t hear any of it.”

So started the long, painful and disorienting journey for the 70-year-old Moyo and almost 18,000 other people who had lived in the 50-kilometre radius of Chivi basin in Zimbabwe’s Masvingo province.“We don’t want this life of getting fed like birds.” -- John Moyo, displaced villager from Chivi basin

When heavy rains pounded the area in early January, the 1.8 billion cubic metre Tokwe-Mukosi dam’s wall breached.

Flooding followed, destroying homes and livestock. The government, with the help of non-governmental organisations, embarked on a rescue mission. And even unaffected homes in high-lying areas were evacuated by soldiers.

According to Moyo, whose home was not affected, this was an opportunity for the government, which had been trying to relocate those living near Chivi basin for sometime.

“They always said they wanted to establish an irrigation system and a game park in the area that covered our ancestral homes,” he tells IPS.

For Itai Mazanhi*, a 33-year-old father of three, the government had the best excuse to remove them from the land that he had known since birth.

“The graves of my forefathers are in that place,” he tells IPS. Mazanhi is from Gororo village.

After being temporarily housed in the nearby safe areas of Gunikuni and Ngundu in Masvingo province, the over 18,000 people or 3,000 families were transferred to Nuanetsi Ranch in the Chingwizi area of Mwenezi district, about 150 kms from their former homes.

 Chingwizi is an arid terrain near Triangle Estates, an irrigation sugar plantation concern owned by sugar giant Tongaat Hulett. The land here is conspicuous for the mopane and giant baobab trees that are synonymous with hot, dry conditions.

The crop and livestock farmers from Chivi basin have been forced to adjust in a land that lacks the natural fertility of their former land, water and adequate pastures for their livestock.

The dust road to the Chingwizi camp is a laborious 40-minute drive littered with sharp bumps and lurking roadside trenches.

From the top of an anthill, a vantage point at the entrance of this settlement reveals a rolling pattern of tents and zinc makeshift structures that stretch beyond the sight of the naked eye. At night, fires flicker faintly in the distance, and a cacophony of voices mix with the music from solar- and battery-powered radio sets. It’s the image of a war refugee relief camp.

A concern for the displaced families is the fact that they were settled in an area earmarked for a proposed biofuel project. The project is set to be driven by the Zimbabwe Bio-Energy company, a partnership between the Zimbabwe Development Trust and private investors. The state-owned Herald newspaper quoted the project director Charles Madonko saying resettled families could become sugarcane out-growers for the ethanol project.

This plan was subject to scathing attack from rights watchdog Human Rights Watch. In a report released last month, the organisation viewed this as a cheap labour ploy.

“The Zimbabwean army relocated 3,000 families from the flooded Tokwe-Mukorsi dam basin to a camp on a sugar cane farm and ethanol project jointly owned by the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front [ZANU-PF] and Billy Rautenbach, a businessman and party supporter,” read part of the report.

Sugar cane fields like this one in Chisumbanje are planned to feed the ethanol project in Mwenezi district. The displaced villagers from Chivi basin fear they will be used as cheap labourers. Credit: Davison Mudzingwa/IPS

Sugar cane fields like this one in Chisumbanje are planned to feed the ethanol project in Mwenezi district. The displaced villagers from Chivi basin fear they will be used as cheap labourers. Credit: Davison Mudzingwa/IPS

The sugarcane plantations will be irrigated by the water from the Tokwe-Mukosi dam. Upon completion, the dam is set to become Zimbabwe’s largest inland dam, with a capacity to irrigate over 25,000 hectares.

Community Tolerance Reconciliation and Development, COTRAD, a non-governmental organisation that operates in the Masvingo province sees the displacement of the 3,000 families as a brutal retrogression. The organisation says ordinary people are at the mercy of private companies and the government.

“The people feel like outcasts, they no longer feel like Zimbabweans,” Zivanai Muzorodzi, COTRAD programme manager, tells IPS.

Muzorodzi, whose organisation has been monitoring the land tussle before the floods, says the land surrounding the Tokwe-Mukosi dam basin was bought by individuals, mostly from the ruling ZANU-PF party.

“Villagers won’t own the land or the means of production. Only ZANU-PF bigwigs will benefit,” Muzorodzi says.

The scale of the habitats has posed serious challenges for the cash-strapped government of Zimbabwe. Humanitarian organisations such as Oxfam International and Care International have injected basic services such clean water through water bowsers and makeshift toilets.

“It’s not safe at all, it’s a disaster waiting to happen,” a Zimbabwe Ministry of Local Government official stationed at the camp and who preferred anonymity tells IPS. “The latrines you see here are only one metre deep. An outbreak of a contagious disease would spread fast.”

Tendai Zingwe fears her child might contract diarrhoea due to poor sanitation conditions in Chingwizi camp. Credit: Davison Mudzingwa/IPS

Tendai Zingwe fears her child might contract diarrhoea due to poor sanitation conditions in Chingwizi camp. Credit: Davison Mudzingwa/IPS

Similar fears stalk Spiwe Chando*, a mother of four. The 23-year-old speaks as she sorts her belongings scattered in small blue tent in which an adult cannot sleep fully stretched out. “I fear for my child because another family lost a child due to diarrhoea last week. This can happen to anyone,” she tells IPS, sweating from the heat inside the tent. “I hope we will move from this place soon and get proper land to restart our lives.”

This issue has posed tensions at this over-populated camp. Meetings, rumour and conjecture circulate each day. Across the camp, frustrations are progressively building up. As a result, a ministerial delegation got a hostile reception during a visit last month. The displaced farmers accuse the government of deception and reneging on its promises of land allocation and compensation.

Children stampede for reading material at the Chingwizi transit camp. Most of the kids had their schooling disrupted due to the displacement. Credit: Davison Mudzingwa/IPS

Children stampede for reading material at the Chingwizi transit camp. Most of the kids had their schooling disrupted due to the displacement. Credit: Davison Mudzingwa/IPS

The government has promised to allocate one hectare of land per family, at a location about 17 kms from this transit camp. This falls far short of what these families own in Chivi basin. Some of them, like Mazanhi, owned about 10 hectares. The land was able to produce enough food for their sustenance and a surplus, which was sold to finance their children’s education and healthcare.

Mazanhi is one of the few people who has already received compensation from the government. Of the agreed compensation of 3,000 dollars, he has only received 900 dollars and is not certain if he will ever be paid the remainder of what he was promised. “There is a lot of corruption going on in that office,” he tells IPS.

COTRAD says the fact that ordinary villagers are secondary beneficiaries of the land and water that once belonged to them communally is an indication of a resource grabbing trend that further widens the gap of inequality.

“People no longer have land, access to water, healthcare and children are learning under trees.”

For Moyo, daily realities at the transit camp and a hazy future is both a painful reminder of a life gone by and a sign of “the next generation of dispossession.” However, he hopes for a better future.

“We don’t want this life of getting fed like birds,” says Moyo.

*Names altered for security reasons.

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