Inter Press Service » Editors’ Choice http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 24 Feb 2017 23:36:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.15 The Peasant Farmer Who Stood Up to the President of Nicaraguahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-peasant-farmer-who-has-stood-up-to-the-president-of-nicaragua/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-peasant-farmer-who-has-stood-up-to-the-president-of-nicaragua http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-peasant-farmer-who-has-stood-up-to-the-president-of-nicaragua/#comments Fri, 24 Feb 2017 22:59:57 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149106 Francisca Ramírez, the head of the peasant movement that is leading the fight against the construction of an inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua, which has made her a victim of harassment by the administration of Daniel Ortega. Credit: Luis Martínez/IPS

Francisca Ramírez, the head of the peasant movement that is leading the fight against the construction of an inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua, which has made her a victim of harassment by the administration of Daniel Ortega. Credit: Luis Martínez/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Feb 24 2017 (IPS)

The unequal battle that small farmer Francisca Ramírez is waging against the Nicaraguan government of Daniel Ortega has become so well-known that people are calling for her security and her rights from the political heart of Europe.

Who is she and why did the European Parliament order Nicaragua on Feb. 16 to protect her life and rights, as well as those of thousands of peasant farmers in the centre-south of this impoverished Central American country?

Ramírez is a 40-year-old indigenous farmer who has lived all her life in the agricultural municipality of Nueva Guinea, in the Autonomous Region of Caribe Sur, 280 km from the capital.

She told IPS in an interview that her family has always lived in that rural area, which was the scene of bloody fighting during the 1980s civil war.

When she was eight, her father abandoned them and her mother had to work as a day labourer, while Ramírez took care of her five younger siblings.

Having survived the U.S.-financed war against the government of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (1979-1990), Ramírez learned agricultural work, got married at 18, had five children, and with the effort of the whole family, they acquired some land and improved their living conditions.

Ortega, who governed the country in that period, after overthrowing the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, returned to power in 2007. In January, he started a third consecutive term of office, after winning widely questioned elections where the opposition was excluded, supported by a civil-military alliance which controls all the branches of the state.

Ramírez was happy with her life until 2013. “They told us over the radio that they were going to build a canal and I thought that it was a very important thing because they said that we were no longer going to be poor,” she said.

Then, gradually, the news started to change her perception of the project to build the Great Nicaraguan Canal linking the Atlantic and the Pacific, granted in concession to the Chinese group HKND in 2013, and she started to ask questions that nobody answered.

One day, bad luck knocked on her door: delegations of public officials who her community had never seen before, accompanied by members of the police and the military, escorted delegations of people from China who made measurements and calculations about the properties of the farmers.

“The route of the canal runs through your property and all of you will be resettled,” they told her.

Law 840, passed in 2013 to give life to the over 50-billion-dollar mega-project, which she was barely able to understand with her three years of formal schooling, was very clear: they would be paid for their lands a price which the state considered “appropriate”.

So the resistance began. “At first everybody was happy, we thought that at last progress was coming, but when overbearing soldiers and police officers started to show up, guarding the Chinese, the whole community refused to let them in their homes and we started to protest,” she said.

Since then, she said the official response has not varied: repression, harassment and threats to farmers who refuse to give up their land.

Ramírez said that she became an activist in the National Council in Defence of Our Land, Lake and Sovereignty, a civil society initiative to organise the peasant movement to defend their lands and rights.

She started marching behind the rural leaders who led the first demonstrations against the canal.

One of the many demonstrations by small farmers who came to Managua from the southern Caribbean coastal region to protest the construction of an inter-oceanic canal that would displace thousands of rural families and cause severe environmental damage. Credit: Carlos Herrera/IPS

One of the many demonstrations by small farmers who came to Managua from the southern Caribbean coastal region to protest the construction of an inter-oceanic canal that would displace thousands of rural families and cause severe environmental damage. Credit: Carlos Herrera/IPS

Later on, the leaders were arrested, threatened, intimidated and repressed by the police and military, and Ramírez unexpectedly found herself leading the demonstrations in 2014.

Her leadership caught the attention of the national and international media, human rights organisations and civil society.

Soon, the peasant marches against the canal became a symbol of resistance and more people joined, turning the movement into the most important social force to confront Ortega since he took office again 10 years ago.

The peasant movement against the canal “is the strongest social organisation that exists today in Nicaragua. Within any movement, an authentic and genuine leadership emerges, and that is what Mrs. Ramírez represents,” sociologist Oscar René Vargas told IPS.

The president “is aware that the movement is the most important social force that his government is facing,” he said.

The admiration that Ramírez arouses, with her ability to organise and lead more than 90 demonstrations in the country, has irritated the authorities.

More than 200 peasant farmers have been arrested, about 100 have been beaten or wounded by gunfire, and the government has basically imposed a military state of siege in the area, where it refuses to finance social projects, according to the movement.

Police checkpoints along the entire route to Nueva Guinea and military barricades in the area give the impression of a war zone.

Ramírez has not escaped the violence and harassment: her house has been raided without a court order, her children and family persecuted and threatened by intelligence agents and police officers, her belongings and goods that she sells, such as food, confiscated and damaged, and she has been accused of terrorist activities.

One of the latest episodes occurred in December 2016, during a visit to Nicaragua by Organisation of American States (OAS) Secretary-General Luis Almagro, to discuss with Ortega the allegations of attacks on democracy.

To keep Ramírez and other leaders of the movement from meeting with Almagro, police convoys besieged the community and repressed members of the movement, she said.

They partially destroyed the main bridge out of the area, and suspected members of the movement’s Council were held at military checkpoints.

They even confiscated Ramírez’s work vehicles, used them to transport troops and later damaged them, according to Gonzalo Carrión, from the Nicaraguan Human Rights Centre.

“Ortega’s government has visciously mistreated Francisca Ramírez and the farmers who follow her. Her rights have been violated, from the right to protest to the right to freedom of movement, and we fear that they will violate her most sacred right: to life,” Carrión told IPS.

Walking along footpaths in the dark and crossing a deep river, where she almost drowned, Ramírez got around the military cordon and travelled, disguised and hidden in a truck, to Managua, where she was able to meet with Almagro on Dec. 1, 2016 and tell him of the abuses to which her community had been subjected for refusing to give up their lands.

On Feb. 16, the European Parliament issued a resolution condemning the lack of protection for human rights activists in Nicaragua, putting a special emphasis on the case of Ramírez, and lamenting the deterioration of the rule of law and democracy in this country.

The members of the European Parliament urged “the national and local police forces to refrain from harassing and using acts of reprisal against Francisca Ramirez for carrying out her legitimate work as a human rights defender.”

“Francisca Ramirez is a victim of abuses by the police in the country aiming at risking human rights defenders’ security and livelihood,” the European Parliament denounced.

“Ramírez, coordinator for the Defense of the Land, the Lake and Sovereignty, was in Managua to file a formal complaint over acts of repression, violations of the right to free circulation, and aggression experienced by several communities from Nueva Guinea on their way to the capital city for a peaceful protest against the construction of an inter-oceanic canal, projects which will displace local farmers activities and indigenous people from the premises of the construction,” the resolution states.

While the government remained silent about the resolution, social activist Mónica López believes that it represented a victory for the rural movement.

“Without a doubt, the resolution is a social and political victory for the peasant movement against the canal, a condemnation of Nicaragua, and a global warning about what is happening against indigenous peasant movements in Nicaragua,” López told IPS.

The government asserts that the canal project is moving ahead, although a year has passed with no visible progress, and it maintains that it will eradicate the poverty that affects more than 40 per cent of the 6.2 million people in this Central American country.

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Unrest Brings North-East Nigeria Next to Starvationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/unresolved-brinks-north-east-nigeria-to-starvation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unresolved-brinks-north-east-nigeria-to-starvation http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/unresolved-brinks-north-east-nigeria-to-starvation/#comments Fri, 24 Feb 2017 15:23:27 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149091 The military crackdown on Boko Haram has destroyed the economy around Lake Chad. Credit:Kristin Palitza/IPS

The military crackdown on Boko Haram has destroyed the economy around Lake Chad. Credit:Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 24 2017 (IPS)

Years of violence and unrest in North-East Nigeria have left millions of people at risk of starving to death. Both the violent up surging of Boko Haram and the government’s harsh military crackdown have left already historically marginalised communities with next to nothing.

Some towns have already seen all of their children aged less than five years of age die from starvation, according to Toby Lanzer, the UN’s coordinator for the region.

The violence, which began in North-East Nigeria has spilled over into the three other countries bordering Lake Chad: Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

A donor’s conference in Oslo, Norway on Friday raised $672 million dollars for the crisis – well short of the target of $1.5 billion.

IPS spoke to Sultana Begum, Oxfam Advocacy and Policy lead for the Lake Chad Basin crisis, who was in New York ahead of the donor’s conference.

The emphasis on responding militarily to the crisis has left already historically marginalised communities worse off, Begum told IPS.

“It isn’t just Boko Haram. It is the governments and the militaries of the region and the way that they are fighting this war,” she said. “In order to cut off Boko Haram from food and supplies, they have also cut off the lifeline of the civilian population.”

International governments have also been providing military and counter terrorism support in the region, says Begum, but she hopes they will also help support Nigeria to increase the humanitarian response through providing the funding needed to help people affected by the conflict.

“In order to cut off Boko Haram from food and supplies, they have also cut off the lifeline of the civilian population.” -- Sultana Begum, Oxfam

The military has also been funding vigilantes as a way to fight Boko Haram, a strategy which could potentially backfire and do further harm to local communities, according to a new report released Wednesday by the International Crisis Group.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian military has also been leading parts of the humanitarian response, such as running refugee camps, says Begum.

“New areas that the military has retaken, it is very militarized,” she says. “As soon as possible the military needs to hand (the camps) over to the civilian authorities, to humanitarians.”

However the vast majority of displaced people sheltered in the region are living in the homes of relatives, distant acquaintances and even strangers, who have opened their homes.

“These communities have been so incredibly generous some of them have taken 5, 6 families into their own homes,” said Begum.

“They’ve shared the little food that they have and they have very little themselves. They’ve really opened their hearts. Really they’re the heroes of the story, and they haven’t just been helping for 6 months, 5 months, many of them have been hosting these families in their homes for 2 to 3, sometimes 4 years. Some of the host communities hope that people will pay rent but people really can’t afford to pay rent.”

“There are some taking major, major risks to continue fishing.” -- Sultana Begum - Oxfam. Credit: Mustapha Muhammad/IPS.

“There are some taking major, major risks to continue fishing.” — Sultana Begum – Oxfam. Credit: Mustapha Muhammad/IPS.

Begum says that these communities are hosting some eighty percent of the people who are displaced in the region even though they themselves have their own struggles.

“If you look at Maiduguri, for example its an urban area, its an area that is historically been neglected. There are already issues to do with do people not having enough services like access to water, education.”

These host communities ”are really struggling themselves now,” says Begum. “They don’t have that much. There’s an economic crisis in Nigeria on top of everything else that’s going on. You know the price of food is really high. They have very little themselves and they need assistance.”

Sultana also notes that it’s important to recognise that people living on the edge economically may begin to see these groups as an option.

“When research has been done in terms of peoples’ motivations for joining Boko Haram, especially youth and young men in particular, the motivations are often to do with economics,” she said.

“Boko Haram offers them money. They offer them motorbikes. They offer them incentives. They offer them wives. You know these are all things that young men, they want. They need jobs, they need livelihoods and they want to get married and they want to have families and things like that. And those are opportunities they weren’t being offered.”

“So we’re hearing less about the ideological reasons why people are joining Boko Haram and more issues around the financial incentives.”

However in some cases the military crackdown has taken away what little economic opportunities these communities have.

Over the border in Niger, Begum says that emergency measures have destroyed the economy in the Diffa region.

“The two major economies are smoked fish and small pepper production.”

The small pepper “was so lucrative for the region,” people called it ‘red gold’.

“The emergency measures that were bought in banned fishing, banned the selling of fish, basically restricted peoples access to fuel and fertilizer, banned motorbikes, brought in curfews. So what that meant was that people stopped fishing. Most of these fishermen relied on fishing for 89 percent of their income,” she says.

“There are some taking major, major risks to continue fishing.”

“Some people have been killed by Boko Haram (or) they have been picked up by the military and accused of being Boko Haram, put into detention, or have disappeared.”

“The farmers are taking part in illegal trade. They are out trying to get hold of fuel and fertilizer illegally.”

This week the UN warned that North-East Nigeria alongside Yemen and Somalia, are at imminent risk of famine, after South Sudan on Monday became the first country to declare famine since 2012. In North-East Nigeria alone more than 5 million people now face serious food shortages, according to the UN.

In all of these four countries the current food crisis is considered man-made, the result of years of unresolved conflict.

However, despite their roots in conflict, much more than a military response is needed to end these crises.

Update: This article has been updated to include information about the funds raised in Oslo. An earlier headline has also been corrected.

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Humankind’s Ability to Feed Itself, Now in Jeopardyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/humankinds-ability-to-feed-itself-now-in-jeopardy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humankinds-ability-to-feed-itself-now-in-jeopardy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/humankinds-ability-to-feed-itself-now-in-jeopardy/#comments Wed, 22 Feb 2017 10:07:19 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149065 Women in the village of Rubkuai in Greater Unity State, South Sudan, on February 16, 2017. Credit: FAO

Women in the village of Rubkuai in Greater Unity State, South Sudan, on February 16, 2017. Credit: FAO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Feb 22 2017 (IPS)

Mankind’s future ability to feed itself is in jeopardy due to intensifying pressures on natural resources, mounting inequality, and the fallout from a changing climate, warns a new United Nations’ report.

Though very real and significant progress in reducing global hunger has been achieved over the past 30 years, “expanding food production and economic growth have often come at a heavy cost to the natural environment,” says the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report The Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends and Challenges, issued on Feb. 22, 2017.

“Almost one half of the forests that once covered the Earth are now gone. Groundwater sources are being depleted rapidly. Biodiversity has been deeply eroded.”

As a result, “planetary boundaries may well be surpassed, if current trends continue,” cautions FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva in his introduction to the report.

By 2050 humanity’s ranks will likely have grown to nearly 10 billion people. In a scenario with moderate economic growth, this population increase will push up global demand for agricultural products by 50 per cent over present levels, intensifying pressures on already-strained natural resources, The Future of Food and Agriculture projects.

At the same time, the report continues, greater numbers of people will be eating fewer cereals and larger amounts of meat, fruits, vegetables and processed food — a result of an ongoing global dietary transition that will further add to those pressures, driving more deforestation, land degradation, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Alongside these trends, the planet’s changing climate will throw up additional hurdles. “Climate change will affect every aspect of food production,” the report says. These include greater variability of precipitation and increases in the frequency of droughts and floods.

Zero Hunger?

The core question raised by the new FAO report is whether, looking ahead, the world’s agriculture and food systems are capable of sustainably meeting the needs of a burgeoning global population.

The short answer? Yes, FAO says, the planet’s food systems are capable of producing enough food to do so, and in a sustainable way, but unlocking that potential – and ensuring that all of humanity benefits – will require “major transformations.”

Saving lives. Changing lives. Feeding dreams. Credit: WFP

Saving lives. Changing lives. Feeding dreams. Credit: WFP

According to the report, without a push to invest in and retool food systems, far too many people will still be hungry in 2030 — the year by which the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda has targeted the eradication of chronic food insecurity and malnutrition, the report warns.

“Without additional efforts to promote pro-poor development, reduce inequalities and protect vulnerable people, more than 600 million people would still be undernourished in 2030,” it says. In fact, the current rate of progress would not even be enough to eradicate hunger by 2050.

Where Will Our Food Come From?

Given the limited scope for expanding agriculture’s use of more land and water resources, the production increases needed to meet rising food demand will have to come mainly from improvements in productivity and resource-use efficiency, says FAO.

However there are worrying signs that yield growth is leveling off for major crops. Since the 1990s, average increases in the yields of maize, rice, and wheat at the global level generally run just over 1 percent per annum, the report notes.

To tackle these and the other challenges outlined in the report, “business-as-usual” is not an option, The Future of Food and Agriculture argues.

“Major transformations in agricultural systems, rural economies and natural resource management will be needed if we are to meet the multiple challenges before us and realize the full potential of food and agriculture to ensure a secure and healthy future for all people and the entire planet,” it says.

“High-input, resource-intensive farming systems, which have caused massive deforestation, water scarcities, soil depletion and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, cannot deliver sustainable food and agricultural production,” adds the report.

More With Less

The core challenge is to produce more with less, while preserving and enhancing the livelihoods of small-scale and family farmers, and ensuring access to food by the most vulnerable.

“For this, a twin-track approach is needed which combines investment in social protection, to immediately tackle undernourishment, and pro-poor investments in productive activities — especially agriculture and in rural economies — to sustainably increase income-earning opportunities of the poor. “

Famine hits parts of South Sudan. UN agencies warn that almost 5 million people urgently need food, agriculture and nutrition assistance. Credit: FAO

Famine hits parts of South Sudan. UN agencies warn that almost 5 million people urgently need food, agriculture and nutrition assistance. Credit: FAO

According to the UN body, the world will need to shift to more sustainable food systems which make more efficient use of land, water and other inputs and sharply reduce their use of fossil fuels, leading to a drastic cut of agricultural green-house gas emissions, greater conservation of biodiversity, and a reduction of waste.

This will necessitate more investment in agriculture and agri-food systems, as well as greater spending on research and development, the report says, to promote innovation, support sustainable production increases, and find better ways to cope with issues like water scarcity and climate change, it underlines.

Along with boosting production and resilience, equally critical will be creating food supply chains that better connect farmers in low- and middle-income countries to urban markets — along with measures which ensure access for consumers to nutritious and safe food at affordable prices, such as such as pricing policies and social protection programs, it says.

On this, Kostas Stamoulis, FAO Assistant Director General for Economics and Social Development, said a media briefing, when asked about the most important challenge of tomorrow regarding food and agriculture, said that it is climate change. “This demands change in practice of agriculture and developing agriculture that is more adaptable to climate change.”

Kostas Stamoulis and the other two authors of the report, Rob Vos, Director of the Agriculture Economics Development Division, and Lorenzo Bellu, Team Leader, Global Perspective Studies, organised on Feb. 21, a briefing session for the media to explain the key issues the new document incudes.

Top Trends and Challenges

The FAO report identifies 15 trends and 10 challenges affecting the world’s food systems:

15 Trends:
• _A rapidly increasing world population marked by growth “hot spots,” urbanization, and aging
• _Diverse trends in economic growth, family incomes, agricultural investment, and economic inequality.
• _Greatly increased competition for natural resources
• _Climate change
• _Plateauing agricultural productivity
• _Increased conflicts, crises and natural disasters
• _Persistent poverty, inequality and food insecurity
• _Dietary transition affecting nutrition and health
• _Structural changes in economic systems and employment implications
• _Increased migration
• _Changing food systems and resulting impacts on farmers livelihoods
• _Persisting food losses and waste
• _New international governance mechanisms for responding to food and nutrition security issues
• _Changes in international financing for development.

10 Challenges:

• _Sustainably improving agricultural productivity to meet increasing demand
• _Ensuring a sustainable natural resource base
• _Addressing climate change and intensification of natural hazards
• _Eradicating extreme poverty and reducing inequality
• _Ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition
• _Making food systems more efficient, inclusive and resilient
• _Improving income earning opportunities in rural areas and addressing the root causes of migration
• _Building resilience to protracted crises, disasters and conflicts
• _Preventing trans-boundary and emerging agriculture and food system threats
• _Addressing the need for coherent and effective national and international governance

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Confusion over U.S. Travel Ban Grounds Foreign Correspondentshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/confusion-over-u-s-travel-ban-grounds-foreign-correspondents/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=confusion-over-u-s-travel-ban-grounds-foreign-correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/confusion-over-u-s-travel-ban-grounds-foreign-correspondents/#comments Mon, 20 Feb 2017 16:20:32 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149031 Confusion over the implementation of the US travel ban has left journalists unable to travel. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS.

Confusion over the implementation of the US travel ban has left journalists unable to travel. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Feb 20 2017 (IPS)

New restrictions on immigrants and refugees coming to the United States are also posing challenges for foreign correspondents covering news in the United States. Some have had to indefinitely postpone plans to report on conflicts in the Middle East while others have found an unfriendly reminder of their past treatment as journalists in less free countries.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration executive order sent shockwaves throughout the world as citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries and all refugees were barred from entering the country for 90 days and 120 days respectively.

Though the travel ban is temporarily on hold following a court decision to reject its reinstatement, President Trump stood by his policy, calling it “common sense” and promising to keep “the wrong people” out of the U.S. Trump announced Thursday that he would sign a new Executive Order next week which will address some of the legal issues raised by the U.S. courts.

Within the millions affected by the travel ban are journalists, many of whom were caught amidst the chaos and confusion as the initial Executive Order was implemented.

In the wake of the order, BBC journalist Ali Hamedani, an Iranian-born British citizen, was detained and questioned upon his arrival at Chicago’s O’Hare airport for over two hours.

“I was always dreaming to live here, to write stories here, to be able to travel to places and write whatever I wanted to write about without being persecuted,” -- Journalist Sama Dizayee.

He said his phone and computer were searched, including his social media accounts.

”It wasn’t pleasant at all. To be honest with you, I was arrested back home in Iran in 2009 because I was working for the BBC and I felt the same this time,“ he said.

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, a dual American and Iranian citizen, also expressed his fear about the “major” impact of the new policy on his family, stating: “This isn’t the America I promised [my wife] when we were finally set free.”

Rezaian spent nearly two years in an Iranian prison after being arrested on charges including espionage and propaganda against the government.

CNN editor and award-winning journalist Mohammed Tawfeeq, who is an Iraqi national and legal permanent resident of the U.S., was detained in Atlanta where he was subjected to additional screening. He promptly filed a federal lawsuit challenging the executive order.

“We are concerned when policies adopted by countries restrict the access and movement of journalists…We believe that journalists should be allowed to enter countries, to report on them regardless of where those countries are,” Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)’s Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch told IPS.

The ban also affects foreign correspondents covering the United Nations. Although there is a specific exception for journalists traveling as part of diplomatic delegations to the United Nations, the original executive order does not directly address any other media visas given to foreign media representatives traveling to or who are already in the country.

The restrictions have also concerned journalist Sama Dizayee, an Iraqi journalist who is a green card holding legal permanent resident in the U.S.

Dizayee told IPS that she had a trip planned to London but was forced to cancel it once the travel ban was implemented.

“I wake up and [saw] all of these people that were detained, deported back to their home countries…I was like oh my god I’m a legal resident here in America and I came all the way from Iraq here to pursue journalism, a dream that I always wanted and now my freedom is threatened,” she told IPS.

The Department of Homeland Security later clarified the policy in relation to green card holders, stating that U.S. permanent residents from one of the seven countries are not automatically barred from entry and will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Despite this, Dizayee, who initially had refugee status before becoming a permanent resident, said she still did not want to take the risk.

“Do I really want to become subject to extra screening and hours of being held at the airport? Do I really want to be profiled as a Muslim Iraqi here in the U.S.? This is not an experience I want to remember,” she said.

Dizayee told IPS that she has always been subjected to extra screening due to her background, waiting for hours to be released.

“That really stays with you…and it has now become a law with this travel ban,” she said.

Dizayee highlighted that the stakes are particularly high for journalists whose work is now limited due to the inability to travel.

“[Journalists] go places to cover stories—they go to Iraq, to Lebanon, we travel all the time,” she said, adding that she had planned to travel to Iraq to cover the Mosul battle.

“I can’t be there now, I can’t write that story,” Dizayee continued.

CPJ issued a safety advisory for journalists, recommending that those who are from one of the seven countries with media visas in the U.S. should not leave within the time period covered by the executive order.

Radsch also advised journalists not to travel with mobile or other devices or to make sure confidential or important information is backed up rather than on their devices.

“This order is helping to highlight the importance of [digital security] for journalists,” she told IPS.

The U.S. order has already emboldened other governments to implement similar policies, including the Iraqi government which approved a “reciprocity” measure banning Americans from entering the Middle Eastern country, further restricting information flow across borders and journalists’ ability to report.

Radsch highlighted the need to get clarity on how the order is impacting journalists and what the regulations are.

She also told IPS that journalists have been subject to secondary screening and questioning at the border before this new policy, including Canadian photojournalist Ed Ou who was pulled aside and interrogated for six hours on his way to cover the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. After refusing to surrender the password to his devices, Ed Ou was denied entry into the U.S.

Dizayee expressed uncertainty and apprehension regarding the future of the new travel restrictions.

“I was always dreaming to live here, to write stories here, to be able to travel to places and write whatever I wanted to write about without being persecuted,” she told IPS.

“I am not going anywhere for the next 90 days for sure,” Dizayee continued.

The immigration executive order, initially implemented at the end of January, was denounced by several human rights groups and politicians, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who said: “Discrimination on nationality alone is forbidden under human rights law. The US ban is also mean spirited, and wastes resources needed for proper counter-terrorism.”

Similarly, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Sarif, said the Trump Administration’s decision would be recorded in history as “a great gift to extremists and their supporters” while Swedish foreign affairs minister Margot Wallström said she was “deeply concerned” by a decision that “creates mistrust between people.”

Others expressed support for the move including Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who stated that “”it is vital that every nation is able to control who comes across its borders.”

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Of Arabs and Muslims and the Big Banhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/of-arabs-and-muslims-and-the-big-ban/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=of-arabs-and-muslims-and-the-big-ban http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/of-arabs-and-muslims-and-the-big-ban/#comments Mon, 20 Feb 2017 10:35:02 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149025 This article slightly updates a previous one that IPS had published regarding the recurrent confusion about who are Arabs and who, Muslims.]]> Arab countries in the Middle East and North of Africa. Dark Green: Arab majority population. Light Green: Arab minority countries | Credit: Public Domain.

Arab countries in the Middle East and North of Africa. Dark Green: Arab majority population. Light Green: Arab minority countries | Credit: Public Domain.

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Feb 20 2017 (IPS)

Now that President Donald Trump’s decision to ban citizens of seven Muslim majority countries from entering the United States continues to drift into legal labyrinths about its legality–or not, it may be useful to clarify some myths that often lead to an even greater confusion regarding the over-written, under-reported issue of who are Arabs and who Muslims.

To start with, it is a common belief – too often heralded by the mainstream media – that the Middle East is formed entirely of Arab countries, and that it is about the so-wrongly called Muslim, Arab World.

This is simply not accurate.

Firstly, because such an Arab World (or Arab Nation) does not actually exist as such. There is not much in common between a Mauritanian and an Omani; a Moroccan and a Yemeni; an Egyptian and a Bahraini, just to mention some examples. They all have different ethnic roots, history, original languages, traditions and religious beliefs.

Example: The Amazighs – also known as the Berbers – are an ethnic group indigenous to the North of Africa, living in lands stretching from the Atlantic cost to the Western Desert in Egypt. Historically, they spoke Berber languages.

There are around 25-30 million Berber speakers in North Africa. The total number of ethnic Berbers (including non-Berber speakers) is estimated to be far greater. They have been “Arabised” and “Islamised” since the Muslim conquest of North of Africa in the 7th century.

Secondly, because not all Muslims are Arabs, nor all Arabs are Muslims. Not to mention the very fact that not all Arabs are even Arabs. It would be more accurate to talk about “Arabised,” “Islamised” peoples or nations rather than an Arab World or Arab Nation.

Here are seven key facts about Muslims that large media, in particular the Western information tools, often neglect or ignore:

1. Not all Muslims Are Arabs

In fact, according to the most acknowledged statistics, the number of Muslims around the world amounts to an estimated 1.56 billion people, compared to estimated 2.2 billion Christians and 1.4 million Jewish.

Of this total, Arab countries are home to around 380 million people, that is only about 24 per cent of all Muslims.

2. Not all Arabs Are Muslims

While Islam is the religion of the majority of Arab population, not all Arabs are Muslims.

In fact, it is estimated that Christians represent between 15 per cent and 20 per cent of the Arab combined population. Therefore, Arab Muslims amount to just around one-fifth of all the world’s Muslims.

Arab Christians are concentrated mainly in the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon and Egypt, where they represent up to 13 per cent of the total population amounting to 95 million inhabitants according to last year’s census.

It is also estimated that there are more Muslims in the United Kingdom than in Lebanon, and more Muslims in China than in Syria.

3. Major Muslim Countries Are in Asia

According to the U.S-based Pew Research Center, this would be the percentage of major religious groups in 2012: Christianity 31.5 per cent; Islam 23.2 per cent; Hinduism 15.0 per cent, and Buddhism 7.1 per cent of the world’s total population.

Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center estimated that in 2010 there were 49 Muslim-majority countries.

South and Southeast Asia would account for around 62 per cent of the world’s Muslims.

According to these estimates, the largest Muslim population in a single country lives in Indonesia, which is home to 12.7 per cent of all world’s Muslims.

Pakistan (with 11.0 per cent of all Muslims) is the second largest Muslim-majority nation, followed by India (10.9 per cent), and Bangladesh (9.2 per cent).

The Pew Research Center estimates that about 20 per cent of Muslims live in Arab countries, and that two non-Arab countries – Turkey and Iran – are the largest Muslim-majority nations in the Middle East.

In short, a large number of Muslim majority countries are not Arabs. This is the case of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey.

3. Largest Muslim Groups

It is estimated that 75 to 90 per cent of Islam followers are Sunni, while Shii represent 10 to 20 per cent of the global Muslim population.

The sometimes armed, violent conflicts between these two groups are often due to political impositions. But this is not restricted to Arab or Muslim countries, as evidenced by the decades of armed conflict between Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland.

4. Muslims Do Not Have Their Own God

In Arabic (the language in which the sacred book, the Koran, was written and diffused) the word “table” is said “tawla;” a “tree” is called “shajarah;” and a “book” is “ketab.” In Arabic “God” is “Allah”.

In addition, Islam does not at all deny the existence of Christianity or Christ. And it does fully recognise and pay due respect to the Talmud and the Bible.

Probably the main difference is that Islam considers Christ as God’s closest and most beloved “prophet,” not his son.

5. Islamic “Traditions”

Islam landed in the 7th century in the Gulf or Arab Peninsula deserts. There, both men and women used to cover their faces and heads to protect themselves from the strong heat and sand storms. It is not, therefore, about a purely Islam religious imposition.

Meanwhile, in the Arab deserts, populations used to have nomadic life, with men travelling in caravans, while women and the elderly would handle the daily life of their families. Islamic societies were therefore actually matriarchal.

Genital mutilations are common to Islam, Judaism (male) and many other religious beliefs, in particular in Africa.

Likewise other major monotheistic religions, a number of Muslim clerics have been using faith to increase their influence and power. This is fundamentally why so many “new traditions” have been gradually imposed on Muslims. This is the case, for example, of denying the right of women to education.

As with other major monotheistic religions, some Muslim clerics used their ever-growing powers to promote inhuman, brutal actions. This is the case of “Jihad” fundamentalists.

This has not been an exclusive case of Muslims along the history of humankind. Just remember the Spanish-Portuguese invasion of Latin America, where indigenous populations were exterminated and Christianity imposed by the sword, for the sake of the glory of Kings, Emperors… and Popes.

6. The Unfinished Wars between the West and Islam (and Vice-Versa)

There is a growing belief among Arab and Muslim academicians that the on-going violent conflicts between Muslims and the West (and vice-versa) are due to the “unfinished” war between the Christian West and the Islamic Ottoman Empire, in spite of the fact that the latter was dismantled in the early 1920s.

This would explain the successive wars in the Balkans and the Middle East, for instance.

7. The “Religion” of Oil

It has become too common, and thus too given for certain, that oil producers are predominantly Arabs and Muslims. This is not accurate.

To start with, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was founded in (the under British mandate) Baghdad, Iraq, in 1960 by five countries: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. These were later joined by Qatar (1961), Indonesia (1962), Libya (1962), the United Arab Emirates (1967), Algeria (1969), Nigeria (1971), Ecuador (1973), Gabon (1975) and Angola (2007).

And here you are: OPEC full membership includes: Ecuador, Venezuela, Nigeria, Gabon and Angola. None of these is either Arab or Muslim. They are all Christian states. As for Iran and Indonesia, these are Muslim countries, but not Arab.

Then you have other major oil and gas producers and exporters outside the OPEC ranks: the United States [which produces more oil (13,973,000 barrels per day) than Saudi Arabia (11,624,000)]; Russia (10,853,000); China (4,572,000); Canada (4,383,000, more than United Arab Emirates or Iran or Iraq); Norway (1,904,000, more than Algeria) and Mexico, among others.

Again, none of these oil producers is Arab or Muslim.

In short, not all Muslims are Arabs (these are less than 20 per cent of the total); not all Arabs are Muslims, and… not all Arabs are even Arabs!

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Expansion of Renewable Energies in Mexico Has Victims, Toohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/expansion-of-renewable-energies-in-mexico-has-victims/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=expansion-of-renewable-energies-in-mexico-has-victims http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/expansion-of-renewable-energies-in-mexico-has-victims/#comments Fri, 17 Feb 2017 22:34:19 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149013 In Mexico, wind farms spark controversy due to complaints of unfair treatment, land dispossession, lack of free, prior and informed consent and exclusion from the electricity generated. In the photo, wind turbines frame the horizon of the northern city of Zacatecas. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In Mexico, wind farms spark controversy due to complaints of unfair treatment, land dispossession, lack of free, prior and informed consent and exclusion from the electricity generated. In the photo, wind turbines frame the horizon of the northern city of Zacatecas. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
KIMBILÁ, Mexico, Feb 17 2017 (IPS)

The growing number of wind and solar power projects in the southern Mexican state of Yucatán are part of a positive change in Mexico’s energy mix. But affected communities do not see it in the same way, due to the fact that they are not informed or consulted, and because of how the phenomenon changes their lives.

“We have no information. We have some doubts, some people say it’s good and some say it’s bad. We have heard what is said in other states,” small farmer Luis Miguel, a Mayan Indian, told IPS.

He lives in Kimbilá, a town in the municipality of Izmal, which is the site of an up-to-now failed private wind power venture that has been blocked by opposition from the area’s 3,600 inhabitants and in particular from the ejido or communal land where the wind farm was to be installed.“There is a lack of information going to the communities, who don’t know the scope of the contracts; (the companies and authorities) don’t explain to them the problems that are going to arise. Conflicts are generated, and manipulation is used to get the permits. Social engineering is used to divide the communities.” -- Romel González

“We fear that they will damage our crops,” said Miguel, whose father is one of the 573 members of the Kimbilá ejido, located in the Yucatán Peninsula, 1,350 km southeast of Mexico City.

The questioned project, run by the Spanish company Elecnor, includes the installation of 50 wind turbines with a capacity of 159 MW per year.

The company installed an anemometric tower in 2014, but the local population, who grow maize and garden vegetables, raise small livestock and produce honey for a living, did not find out about the project until January 2016.

Since then, the ejido has held two assemblies and cancelled another, without reaching an agreement to approve a 25-year lease on the lands needed for the wind farm.

Meanwhile, in February 2016, the members of the ejido filed a complaint against the Procuraduría Agraria – the federal agency in charge of protecting rural land – accusing it of defending the interests of the company by promoting community assemblies that were against the law.

The wind farm is to have an operating life of 30 years, including the preparatory phase, construction and operation, and it needs 77 hectares of the 5,000 in the ejido.

The company offered between five and 970 dollars per hectare, depending on the utility of the land for a wind farm, a proposition that caused unrest among the ejido members. It would also give them 1.3 per cent of the turnover for the power generated. But the electricity would not be used to meet local demand.

“We haven’t been given any information. This is not in the best interests of those who work the land. They are going to destroy the vegetation and 30 years is a long time,” beekeeper Victoriano Canmex told IPS.
This indigenous member of the ejido expressed his concern over the potential harm to the bees, “because new roadswould be opened with heavy machinery. They said that they would relocate the apiaries but they know nothing about beekeeping. It’s not fair, we are going to be left with nothing,” he said.

Canmex, who has eight apiaries,checks the beehives twice a week, together with four of his six children. He collects about 25 30-kg barrels of honey, which ends up on European tables. Yucatan honey is highly appreciated in the world, for its quality and organic nature.

Luis Miguel, a Mayan farmer from Kimbilá, in the southeastern state of Yucatán, Mexico, fears that the installation of a wind farm in his community will damage local crops of corn and vegetables.  Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Luis Miguel, a Mayan farmer from Kimbilá, in the southeastern state of Yucatán, Mexico, fears that the installation of a wind farm in his community will damage local crops of corn and vegetables. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Yucatán, part of the ancient Mayan empire, where a large part of the population is still indigenous, has become a new energy frontier in Mexico, due to its great potential in wind and solar power.

This state adopted the goal of using 9.3 per cent non-conventional renewable energies by 2018. In Yucatán, the incorporation per year of new generation capacity should total 1,408 MW by 2030.

Leaving out the big hydropower plants, other renewable sources account for just eight per cent of the electricity produced in Mexico. According to official figures, in December 2016, hydropower had an installed capacity of 12,092 MW, geothermal 873 MW, wind power 699 MW, and photovoltaic solar power, six MW.

According to the Mexican Wind Energy Association, which represents the industry, in Mexico there are at least 31 wind farms located in nine states, with a total installed capacity of 3,527 MW of clean energy for the northeast, west, south and southeast regions of this country of 122 million people.

Besides the lack of information, and of free, prior and informed consent, as the law and international conventions require, indigenous people complain about impacts on migratory birds, rise in temperatures in areas with solar panels and water pollution caused by leaks from wind towers.

For Romel González, a member of the non-governmental Regional Indigenous and Popular Council of Xpujil, a town in the neighboring state of Campeche, the process of energy development has legal loopholes that have to do with superficial contracts and environmental impact studies.

“There is a lack of information for the communities, who don’t know the scope of the contracts; (the companies and authorities) don’t explain to them the problems that are going to arise. Conflicts are generated, and manipulation is used to get the permits. Social engineering is used to divide the communities,” González told IPS.

He said that in the region, there are “previously untapped” natural resources that are attracting attention from those interested in stripping the communities of these resources.

The state is experiencing a clean energy boom, with plans for five solar plants, with a total capacity of 536 MW, and five wind farms, with a combined capacity of 256 MW. The concessions for the projects, which are to operate until 2030, have already been awarded to local and foreign companies.

In the first national power generation auction organised by the government in March 2016, four wind power and five solar power projects won, while in the second one, the following September, two new wind projects were chosen.

The change in the electricity mix is based on Mexico’s energy reform, in force since August 2014, which opened the industry to national and international private capital.

Local authorities project that by 2018, wind power generation will amount to 6,099 MW, including 478 from Yucatán, with the total increasing two years later to 12,823 MW, including 2,227 MW from this state.

Yucatán will draw a projected 52 million dollars in investment to this end in 2017 and 1.58 billion in 2018.

The Electricity Industry Law, in effect since 2014, stipulates that each project requires a social impact assessment. But opponents of the wind power projects have no knowledge of any assessment carried out in the state, while there is only evidence of two public consultations with affected communities, in the case of two wind farms.

“The electricity will not be for us and we don’t know what will happen later (once the wind farm is installed). That is why we have our doubts,” said Miguel.

People in Yucatán do not want to replicate the “Oaxaca model”. That is the southern state which has the largest number of wind farms, which have drawn many accusations of unfair treatment, land dispossession and lack of free, prior and informed consent.

“The authorities want to do this by all means, they are just trying to get these projects approved,” said Canmex.

González criticised the government for failing to require assessments. “We have asked for them and the government has responded that there aren’t any. The community response to the projects will depend on their level of awareness and social organisation. Some communities will react too late, when the project is already underway,” he said.

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Energy Access Builds Inclusive Economies and Resilient Communitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/energy-access-builds-inclusive-economies-and-resilient-communities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=energy-access-builds-inclusive-economies-and-resilient-communities http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/energy-access-builds-inclusive-economies-and-resilient-communities/#comments Thu, 16 Feb 2017 11:34:56 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148974 More girls in rural Bihar, India are going to school after mini-grid-powered household lights give mothers and children two extra hours of evening work and study time. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

More girls in rural Bihar, India are going to school after mini-grid-powered household lights give mothers and children two extra hours of evening work and study time. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Feb 16 2017 (IPS)

Jaipal Hembrum runs three one-man home enterprises – a bicycle repair shop, a tiny food stall and a tailoring unit in Kautuka, a remote village in eastern India. Sewing recycled clothes into mattresses late into the evening, the 38-year-old father of three girls says two light bulbs fed by a solar power system have changed his life.

Given the trajectory of development India is currently pursuing, energy access for its rural population could bring dramatic economic improvement. Yet 237 million people — a fifth of its 1.3 billion people, many of them in remote villages with few livelihood options — do not have any access to it.The challenge India faces is how to meet its energy requirements while also meeting its emission reduction commitment to the global climate deal.

The Delhi-based research organisation Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) stipulates that if even half of households deemed electrified through the national power grid are not receiving the guaranteed six hours uninterrupted supply, the number of people who are electricity-poor in India totals 650 million.

In this scenario, renewable energy-based mini-grids, particularly in remote villages, are considered the best option to manage local household and commercial energy demand efficiently by generating power at the source of consumption.

This is being proven true by the Rockefeller Foundation’s Smart Power for Rural Development (SPRD) initiative in two of India’s poorest states, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where 16 and 36 percent of households respectively are electrified. In India, 55 percent rural households have energy access, often of unreliable quality.

Started in 2014, the SPRD project has helped set up close to 100 mini-grid plants, covering the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and lately, in Jharkhand too. According to Rockefeller Foundation sources, these plants are serving a customer base of around 38,000 people. Over 6,500 households are benefitting, along with 3,800 shops and businesses, and over 120 institutions, telecom towers and micro-enterprises.

Over 2014 – 2017, the Rockefeller Foundation aims to make a difference to 1,000 energy-poor villages in India, benefitting around a million rural people. For this effort, the Foundation has committed 75 million dollars, partnering and funding Smart Power India (SPI) a new entity designed to work closely with a wide range of stakeholders who help scale-up the market for off-grid energy.

Jaipal Hembrum stitches old clothes mattresses in the evening by the light of a solar-powered bulb. The 50 dollars a day he earns is kept aside for schooling and marriages of his three daughters. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Jaipal Hembrum stitches old clothes mattresses in the evening by the light of a solar-powered bulb. The 50 dollars a day he earns is kept aside for schooling and marriages of his three daughters. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

What can mini-grids can do? Plenty

A recent evaluation of the mini-grids’ impact on communities they serve in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh already show a broad range of economic, social and environmental benefits.

Entrepreneurship and new businesses have grown, with 70 percent existing micro-businesses reporting increased number of costumers after connecting to the mini-grids and 80 percent planned to expand.

Nine in 10 household users said their children’s daily study time has increased by two hours since they got the lights. Women said they had increased mobility after dark and theft cases had fallen. Use of kerosene and diesel has fallen dramatically — to virtually zero, according to Khanna.

Micro-businesses like cyber cafes, fuel stations, mobile and fan repair shops, banks, schools and hospitals are the fastest growing commercial customer section of mini-grids constructed under Smart Power India.

In Shivpura village of Uttar Pradesh, where TARA Urja, a small energy service company (ESCO), started providing reliable electricity from a 30-KW solar plant, Sandeep Jaiswal set up a water purification processor in 2015. In just over a month he was rushing 1,200 litres of water on his new mini-truck to 40 customers. TARA, also a social business incubator, has financially supported Jaiswal with 530 dollars, in return for a one-year contract to source electricity from TARA.

Smart Power India supports the development of rural micro-enterprises through loans, community engagement and partnerships with larger companies with rural value chains, for instance, city malls that source vegetables from rural farms.

India confronts a demographic youth ‘bulge’ with 64 percent in the working age group in 2020, requiring 10 million new jobs every year in the coming decade. Using green mini-grids to create rural livelihoods can also reduce urban migration.

Innovating a business model that propels construction of mini-grids

Mini-grids are a decentralized system providing a renewable energy-based electricity generator with a capacity of 10 kilowatts or more, with a target consumer group it supplies through a stand-alone distribution network.

The sustainability of private companies in the rural power supply sector depends on generating sufficient revenue long-term. To make it profitable for smaller-scale ESCOs to bring electricity to rural parts of the developing world, the Smart Power model ensures fast-growing sectors with significant energy needs such as telecom towers in rural areas, to provide steady revenue. In return, the ESCOs provide contractual guarantee of reliable power supply to the towers.

“There is an opportunity to catalyze the telecommunication and off-grid energy sectors. Currently cell phone towers in rural areas are often powered by expensive diesel generators and companies are looking for cheaper alternatives, thereby creating the possibility for a strong anchor,” says Ashvin Dayal, Managing Director, Asia, of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Telecom towers — by becoming the ‘anchor’ customers – help make ESCOs bankable. They then can expand supply into rural household lighting and local enterprises.

Government figures say 2 billion litres of diesel is annually consumed by the 350,000  existing telecom towers in India, including those in remote rural regions. The challenge India faces is how to meet its energy requirements without compromising environmental sustainability, while meeting its emission reduction commitment to the global climate deal.

Solar power cost per unit has fallen in India to 0.045 cents, which makes it increasingly feasible to shift to renewable powered mini-grids, saving substantial subsidies spent on fossil fuels. The government in 2016 decided to construct 10,000 mini-grids in the next five years of 500 megawatt (MW) capacity, but this is clearly not enough, say experts.

India has a potential for 748,990 MW of solar power. Fourteen states, including Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, receive irradiance above the annual global average of 5 kilowatt-hours per square meter per day.

Around the world, approximately 1.3 billion people lack access to reliable and affordable means of electricity without which, growing their incomes, improving food security and health, educating children, accessing key information services becomes a major challenge. Energy access is critical to achieving several UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

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Corruption Brings Down an Empire: Odebrecht in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/corruption-brings-down-an-empire-odebrecht-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=corruption-brings-down-an-empire-odebrecht-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/corruption-brings-down-an-empire-odebrecht-in-brazil/#comments Thu, 16 Feb 2017 00:29:24 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148966 The American Airlines Arena, a stadium and entertainment complex in Miami, Florida, is one of the many projects carried out by Odebrecht in the United States, where prosecutors have begun to produce figures reflecting the scope of the company’s corruption. Credit: Odebrecht

The American Airlines Arena, a stadium and entertainment complex in Miami, Florida, is one of the many projects carried out by Odebrecht in the United States, where prosecutors have begun to produce figures reflecting the scope of the company’s corruption. Credit: Odebrecht

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 16 2017 (IPS)

People in Brazil have been overwhelmed by the flood of news stories about the huge web of corruption woven by the country’s biggest construction company, Odebrecht, which is active in dozens of fields and countries.

The business empire built by three generations of the Odebrecht family is falling apart after three years of investigation by the Lava Jato (car wash) operation launched by the Federal Public Prosecutor’s office in Brazil, which is investigating the corruption that diverted millions of dollars in bribes in exchange for major public works contracts from the state-run oil giant Petrobras.The business group had created a specialised bribe department. According to U.S. justice authorities, every dollar “invested” in bribes produced 12 dollars in contracts.

Marcelo Odebrecht, who headed the company from 2008 to 2015, was arrested in June 2015 and was initially sentenced to 19 years in prison.

In October he and the company reached plea bargain deals to cooperate with the investigation. A total of 77 former and present Odebrecht executives provided over 900 sworn statements to Lava Jato prosecutors, causing a political earthquake in Brazil and throughout Latin America.

In December, the U.S. Justice Department revealed that Odebrecht allegedly spent 1.04 billion dollars in bribes to politicians and government officials in ten Latin American and two African countries, including Brazil, which accounted for 57.7 per cent of the total.

The United States is carrying out its own investigation, which could end in criminal convictions, since several Odebrecht subsidiaries, such as the petrochemical company Braskem, operate there, and their shares are traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

That is also happening in the case of Petrobras, implicated in the corruption scandal and under investigation at the initiative of shareholders in the U.S.

The U.S. and Switzerland, where banks were allegedly used to funnel bribes or launder money, signed cooperation agreements with legal authorities in Brazil, as part of the ongoing offensive against corruption in Latin America’s giant.

The impacts are overwhelming. In Brazil, the revelations about Odebrecht are expected to provoke a tsunami in the political system. Two hundred parliamentarians and government officials may have received bribes, including senior members of the current administration and legislature.

The business group had created a specialised bribe department. According to U.S. justice authorities, every dollar “invested” in bribes produced 12 dollars in contracts.

That estimate is based on more than 100 projects carried out or in progress in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Venezuela, plus Angola and Mozambique in Africa.

Part of the Caracas valley seen from the San Agustín Metrocable, one of the many works assigned to Odebrecht in Venezuela during the government of Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), when the Brazilian company became the biggest construction firm in the country. Credit: Raúl Límaco/IPS

Part of the Caracas valley seen from the San Agustín Metrocable, one of the many works assigned to Odebrecht in Venezuela during the government of Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), when the Brazilian company became the biggest construction firm in the country. Credit: Raúl Límaco/IPS

The arrest warrant issued by a court in Peru against former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), who has been living in the United States, and allegations implicating current Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, are just the tip of the iceberg.

What was revealed by Odebrecht executives and former executives, as well as former directors of different departments, such as external affairs, infrastructure, industrial engineering or logistics, has not yet been made public.

New figures involving alleged bribes are expected to come out over the next few months, added to those already disclosed in the United States, including 599 million dollars distributed in Brazil, 98 million in Venezuela, 92 million in the Dominican Republic, 59 million in Panama and 50 million in Angola.

In Peru the total revealed so far is “only” 29 million dollars since 2005. The sum is small, considering that for the Southern Peru pipeline – still under construction – alone, the projected investments amount to seven billion dollars. The Peruvian government has decided to terminate the contract with Odebrecht for the project.

Besides Odebrecht, the Inter-Oceanic Highway, which runs across southern Peru from the Brazilian border to Pacific Ocean ports, is being built by three other Brazilian construction firms – Camargo Correa, Andrade Gutierrez and Queiroz Galvão – which are also under investigation for suspicion of corruption.

During the presidency of Alan Garcia (2006-2011), Peru and Brazil signed an agreement for the construction of five large hydropower plants in Peru, which was cancelled by his successor, Ollanta Humala (2011-2016), who, however, is suspected of receiving three million dollars from Brazil for his election campaign.

Odebrecht, which has a concession to manage Chaglla, the third biggest hydroelectric plant in Peru, with a capacity of 462 MW, was to be the main construction company in charge of building the new plants.

The growing wave of local and industry scandals sheds light on the reach of Odrebrecht’s tentacles. Braskem is accused of distributing 250 million dollars in bribes to sustain its leadership position in the Americas in the production of thermoplastic resins, with 36 plants spread across Brazil, Mexico, the United States, as well as Germany.

The empire, born in 1944 as a simple construction company, started diversifying in the last half century into activities as diverse as the sugarcane business, the development of military technologies or oil services, logistics or shipbuilding companies.

In the early 1970s the group built the Petrobras headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, sealing a connection that led to the current disaster which destroyed the reputation of the company that was so proud of its “Entrepreneurial Technology”, a set of ethical and operational business principles to which its fast expansion was attributed.

But Odebrecht’s success could actually be attributed to a strategic vision and a modus operandi that proved successful until the Lava Jato operation. Part of its methods included being “friends with the king”.

Angola is the best example. The current chairman of the company’s board of directors, Emilio Odebrecht, son of founder Norberto Odebrecht, meets every year with Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos in Luanda, to discuss projects for the country.

Officially, what they do is assess the projects carried out by the company and define new goals.

The explanation given for the special treatment received by Odebrecht is that it has such a strong presence in vital infrastructure works in the country in areas such as reconstruction, energy, water, highways and urbanisation.

Odebrecht has great prestige in Angola, since it built the Capanda hydroelectric plant on the Kwanza River between 1984 and 2007, facing delays and risks due to the 1975-2002 civil war. Now it is building the biggest plant in Angola, Lauca, also on the Kwanza River, with a capacity to produce 2,067 MW.

The conglomerate is ubiquitous in the country, managing the Belas Mall – an upscale shopping centre in the south of Luanda, Angola’s capital – implementing the water plan to supply the capital, developing the first part of the industrial district in the outskirts of Luanda, building housing developments and playing a key role in saving the national sugarcane industry.

In Cuba it also led the strategic project of expanding the Mariel Port and managing a sugar plant, to help boost the recovery of this ailing sector of the Caribbean nation’s economy.

In other countries, such as Panama, Peru and Venezuela, the number of works and projects in the hands of the Brazilian conglomerate is impressive, in fields as diverse as urban transport, roads and bridges, ports, power plants, fossil fuels, and even agriculture.

But that cycle of expansion came to an end. Heavily indebted, with a plummeting turnover and no access to loans, not even from Brazilian development banks, and carrying the stigma of corruption, the conglomerate is trying to cooperate with justice authorities in the involved countries, seeking agreements to allow it to keep operating and eventually recover.

Now it remains to be discovered whether Odebrecht is “too big to go bankrupt,” as was said of some banks at the start of the global crisis that broke out in 2008.

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The World Faces a ‘Terrible Lack of Trust’http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-world-faces-a-terrible-lack-of-trust/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-world-faces-a-terrible-lack-of-trust http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-world-faces-a-terrible-lack-of-trust/#comments Tue, 14 Feb 2017 09:51:32 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149045 Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By IPS World Desk
DUBAI/ROME, Feb 14 2017 (IPS)

The world faces a “terrible lack of trust,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said addressing the World Government Summit in the Emirati city of Dubai, and called for reconciliation between people, their governments and global multilateral institutions.

The UN chief’s speech has been one of the most strait full bold statements made in this 5th annual World Government Summit 2017 (WGS), which brought together some 4,000 world leaders and experts at the fifth annual conference in the Middle East (12-14 February).

Improving governance, and improving confidence between governments and people, is essential and it is a condition to improve the confidence in the relations between countries, Gutterres said while describing the progress globalisation has brought to parts of the world, but also “the rust belts” where people feel left behind by their governments.

“If one looks at today’s governance problems at the country level, between countries or at multilateral governance in the world, we face a terrible lack of trust… As a result, in a world in which everything is global, in which the problems are global – from climate change to the movement of people – there is no way countries can do it by themselves.”

Guterres stressed the need for global responses, and global responses need multilateral institutions able to play their role”, and called for a surge of diplomacy for peace with “honest brokers” who can address the root causes of conflict and an international community that is organised to respond.

The UN chief also singled out the Security Council, which he said no longer corresponds to the logic of today’s world in relation to what the world was after the Second World War when the UN and its main body for maintaining peace and security were created.

Speaking at the opening of the World Government Summit in Dubai, Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said economic openness is a ground reality.

“We, as Arabs, should not lean towards economic isolation as the global market is open,” he said, adding, “We should not lose hope that we can achieve Arab progress and development, despite challenges and problems surrounding us.“

The UAE prime minister underlined that success is not measured by the size of a population nor by the modernity of countries or oil resources, but by will and management.

Tolerance, a Fundamental Value

Against this backdrop, the UAE minister of State for Tolerance, Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, focused on her country’s policy of promoting tolerance and fighting extremism.

Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid Al Qasimi

Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid Al Qasimi


This year, more than ever, people from all over the world should continue their dialogue and together find ways to promote coexistence and acceptance – and counter the waves of division that are increasingly inciting hatred and extremism, she said.

“Extremism has no religion or nationality, and violent terrorist groups threaten the safety of all countries and people. Securing borders and strengthening immigration and refugee policies alone are not the answer.”

According to Sheikha Lubna, facilitating dialogue that builds understanding between cultures is important. But governments, too, have a critical role to play, the UAE minister of State for Tolerance stressed, reminding that in her country, for example, new policies and initiatives are promoting greater understanding among all people and bringing cultures together.

An ‘Incubator’ of Tolerance

“Recently, I had the honour to be entrusted with our newly-established National Programme for Tolerance as Minister tasked with strengthening the government’s role as an “incubator” of tolerance, promoting tolerance, coexistence and respect for others throughout the UAE.

The UAE’s philosophy of acceptance is deeply rooted in our history and heritage, she said. “We have always been a gateway to the world, a hub for trade, culture and industry.”

Sheikha Lubna also underlined the fact that the UAE is home to over 200 nationalities from almost every corner of the world, with 80 per cent of its population being expatriates.

“It fills me with pride to see people of many faiths and backgrounds coexisting peacefully,” she said. “That’s part of our history.”

The UAE’s minister of State for Tolerance added “Earlier this month, I accompanied nearly 30 Christian leaders, including American Evangelicals, Catholics and Arab Christians, on a visit to a key part of the UAE’s heritage, a 7th Century monastery west of our capital, Abu Dhabi.”

The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE’s founder and first president, was an advocate of peace among all cultures, a strong believer that hatred and terrorism have no place within humanity, Sheikh Lubna reminded.

Then she underlined the fact that today, the UAE is part of an international coalition combatting extremism, on and off the battlefield. “We and our partners have developed initiatives to counter extremist rhetoric, understand the root cause of dangerous ideology and provide hope and opportunity for those seeking a more peaceful path.”

Freedom for All to Practice Religious Worship

The UAE minister recalled that her country’s Constitution guarantees freedom for all to practice religious worship of their choosing. “The UAE’s anti-discriminatory law enacted in 2015 forbids discrimination against anyone because of nationality, race, class, culture, gender or religion.”

The WGS brings together prominent leaders from the public and private sectors, as well as international thought leaders and pioneers. They engage in inspirational, thought-provoking, and future-focused dialogues that aim to shape the future of governments and help improve the lives of citizens worldwide.

This year’s edition of the Summit gathered high representative from over 130 countries, with more than 100 key speakers and around 4,000 participants.

The Summit’s key themes included: Innovation of Government; the Future of Government; Government Services, and Smart Government.

The World Government Summit Organization regularly produces series of specialized studies and reports published for the first time in the region, seeking to be a platform for regional exchange of knowledge and expertise in the field of shaping the future governments.

Some key reports have dealt with the Future of Money; Best Government Emerging Technologies; Pro-Active Government and the Future of Cities.

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Mistrust Hindering Global Solutions, says Secretary Generalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/mistrust-hindering-global-solutions-says-secretary-general/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mistrust-hindering-global-solutions-says-secretary-general http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/mistrust-hindering-global-solutions-says-secretary-general/#comments Mon, 13 Feb 2017 23:55:31 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148935 By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 13 2017 (IPS)

The global lack of confidence and trust is undermining the ability to solve the world’s complex problems, said UN Secretary-General during an international conference.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

The 5th Annual World Government Summit (WGS), hosted by Dubai from February 12-14, has brought together over 4000 participants from more than 130 countries.

Speaking at the second day of the conference, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted the growing lack of confidence in institutions, as many people feel left behind from progress.

“It is clear that globalisation has been an enormous progress…but globalisation had its losers,” Guterres said, pointing to the example of frustrated youth in countries unable to find jobs or “hope.”

“Lots of people [feel] they were left behind and that the political establishments of their countries have not taken care of them,” he continued.

The former High Commissioner for Refugees cited the migration crisis in Europe, stating that countries’ inability to implement a fair and coordinated response spurred a sense of abandonment, fear and frustration among the public.

“This is the best ground for populists, for xenophobes, for those that develop forms of anti-Muslim hatred, or anti-Semitism…to play a role in our societies. And I think that it is not enough to condemn xenophobia, it is not enough to condemn populism, I think we need to be able to engage in addressing the root causes that lead to the fact that to be populist is so simple in today’s world,” Guterres told delegates, urging for reform to reconcile people with political institutions and to empower citizens and young people.

He also noted that the deep mistrust between countries is contributing to the multiplication of conflicts and the difficulties in solving them.

Most recently, the U.S. blocked the Secretary General’s appointment of former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as the new UN peace envoy in Libya after U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the UN has been “unfairly biased” for too long in favor of the Palestinian Authority.

Though he highlighted the need for impartiality, Guterres said that there was no valid reason to have rejected the nomination.

“[Fayyad] is the right person for the right job at the right moment…he has a competence that nobody denies and Libya requires the kind of capacity that he has and I think it’s a loss for the Libyan peace process and for the Libyan people that I am not able to appoint him,” he stated, adding that bringing an end to the conflict in Libya is in everybody’s interest.

When moderator and CNN anchor Becky Anderson asked about the new U.S. administration’s “America First” principle, Guterres noted the need for the UN to respect its values but also stressed the importance of multilateral solutions to global problems.

“In a world in which everything is global, in which the problems are global – from climate change to the movement of people – there is no way countries can do it by themselves. We need global responses, and global responses need multilateral institutions able to play their role,” Guterres stated.

“That is where the other gap of confidence becomes extremely important,” he continued, proposing reforms in the UN system to help build trust in such institutions.

Despite 2016 being a “chaotic” year, Guterres followed after French diplomat Jean Monnet in expressing his hope for the future.

“I’m not optimistic, I’m not pessimistic, I am just determined,” he concluded.

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Dubai Ruler Warns Against Economic Isolation at Summit Meetinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/dubai-ruler-warns-against-economic-isolation-at-summit-meeting/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dubai-ruler-warns-against-economic-isolation-at-summit-meeting http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/dubai-ruler-warns-against-economic-isolation-at-summit-meeting/#comments Mon, 13 Feb 2017 14:50:36 +0000 Razeena Raheem http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148932 By Razeena Raheem
ROME, Feb 13 2017 (IPS)

Speaking at the opening of the two-day World Government Summit in Dubai, Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said economic openness is a ground reality.

Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum

Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum

“We, as Arabs, should not lean towards economic isolation as the global market is open,” he told a gathering of nearly 4,000 global leaders and experts from 139 countries at the 5th annual World Government Summit.

“We should not lose hope that we can achieve Arab progress and development, despite challenges and problems surrounding us. The GCC’s (Gulf Cooperation Council) achievements over the past four years are equal to achievements made by the GCC over the past 40 years, he added.

He said success is not measured by the size of a population nor by the modernity of countries or oil resources, but by will and management.

“The GCC under the leadership of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, will have a major role and positive impact on the Arab level,” he added.

Referring to the rise of terrorism worldwide, he said: “We have those who kill others in the name of the Holy Quran, and they blow themselves up in the Arab, Europe and the US. But they have nothing to do with Islam, which is innocent and a religion of tolerance. Prior to Islam, tribes were fighting and invading each other. With the advent of Islam, a great civilisation was built, one that benefitted the entire world.”

Asked about the relationship with the United States and newly-elected President Donald Trump, Sheik Mohammad said: “Our relationship with the United States is a relationship between countries and governments, not with individuals. He went on to say that, “The UAE will continue to prioritize its interests to guide its foreign policy agenda.”

In his opening address, he also said the policy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is based on placing the interests of its people over any other considerations. The previous US administration committed a series of mistakes, such as the invasion of Iraq and supporting revolutions, he said.

“The UAE, like any other country, was subjected to plots, however this never prevented us from working hard and accomplishing achievements. I believe that there are conspiracies targeting countries, and this has existed for thousands of years. Each country works for their own interests, but this will not stop us,” Shaikh Mohammad added.

“Mankind creates civilisations, and the Arab people have the cultural fundamentals to rise again,” he added.

Among the keynote speakers on the opening day February 12 were the Founder and Chairman of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, who cautioned governments about the global ‘emotional turmoil’ saying, “If we want to go forward, we need a completely new system where the human-being is at the center, and societal advancement is the key.”

Speaking at a panel discussion, US economist and Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs, said the success of a government must be defined by its ability to facilitate the happiness and well-being of its citizens, and should replace old paradigms that focus overwhelmingly on economic performance.

Awa Marie Coll-Seck, Senegal’s Minister of Health & Social Interaction, was presented with the “2017 World’s Best Minister Award”.

The award was based on four parameters of excellence – innovation, leadership, impact, and reputation. She was honoured for her contributions towards the eradication of Ebola, reduction of child mortality rates and the prevention of malaria in Senegal.

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Innovative Credit Model Holds Out Lifeline to Farmers in Hondurashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/innovative-credit-model-holds-out-lifeline-to-farmers-in-honduras/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=innovative-credit-model-holds-out-lifeline-to-farmers-in-honduras http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/innovative-credit-model-holds-out-lifeline-to-farmers-in-honduras/#comments Wed, 08 Feb 2017 01:33:26 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148852 Employees of Grupo Ideal, a participatory company in the village of Paso Real, pull out tilapias ready to be sold, from the José Cecilio del Valle reservoir. An innovative credit system is helping family farmers in poor rural areas of Honduras, who have been excluded by the banking system. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Employees of Grupo Ideal, a participatory company in the village of Paso Real, pull out tilapias ready to be sold, from the José Cecilio del Valle reservoir. An innovative credit system is helping family farmers in poor rural areas of Honduras, who have been excluded by the banking system. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
PASO REAL, Honduras, Feb 8 2017 (IPS)

In this village in southern Honduras, in one of the poorest parts of the country, access to credit is limited, the banking sector is not supportive of agriculture, and nature punishes with recurrent extreme droughts.

But over the past two years, the story has started to change in Paso Real, a village of about 60 families, with a total of just over 500 people, in the municipality of San Antonio de Flores, 72 kilometres from Tegucigalpa.

A group of family farmers here, just over 100 people, got tired of knocking on the doors of banks in search of a soft loan and opted for a new financing model, which the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) decided to test in this impoverished Central American country.

The initiative involves the creation of development financing centres (FCD), so far only in two depressed regions in Honduras: Lempira, to the west, and the Association of Municipalities of North Choluteca (Manorcho), to the south.

Both areas form part of the so-called dry corridor in Honduras, that runs through 12 of the country’s 18 departments, which are especially affected by the impacts of climate change.

Paso Real is part of Manorcho, composed of the municipality of San Antonio de Flores plus another three –Pespire, San Isidro and San José – which have a combined population of more than 53,000 people in the northern part of the department of Choluteca, where people depend on subsistence farming and small-scale livestock-raising.

Rafael Núñez is one of the leaders of Grupo Ideal, a company that is an association of family farmers who also breed and sell tilapia, a freshwater fish very popular in Central America. In addition, they raise cattle and grow vegetables.

Núñez is pleased with what they have achieved. Even though his family already owned some land, “it was of no use because nobody would grant us a loan.”

“The banks would come to assess our property, but offered loans that were a pittance with suffocating interest rates. They never gave us loans, even though we knocked on many doors,” Nuñez told IPS.

“But now we don’t have to resort to them, we have gained access to loans at the development financing centre in Menorcho, at low interest rates,” he said, smiling.

Nuñez said that because the banks would not lend them money, they had to use credit cards at annual interest rates of 84 per cent, which were strangling them. Now the loans that they obtain from the FCD are accessible, with an annual interest rate of 15 per cent.

Farmer Rafael Núñez told Central American visitors how the banking system mistreats small farmers in Honduras, and how the introduction in their municipality, San Antonio de Flores, of a financial centre for development which the FAO is testing in two depressed areas in the country, has improved their lives.  Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Farmer Rafael Núñez told Central American visitors how the banking system mistreats small farmers in Honduras, and how the introduction in their municipality, San Antonio de Flores, of a financial centre for development which the FAO is testing in two depressed areas in the country, has improved their lives. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

“It has not been easy to get on our feet because the banking system here doesn’t believe in agriculture, let alone family farming. I collect the bank books that you see and someday I will frame them and I’ll go to those banks and tell them: thanks but we don’t need you anymore, we have forged ahead with more dignified options offered by people and institutions that believe in us,” said Nuñez with pride.

He shared his experience during a Central American meeting organised by FAO, for representatives of organisations involved in family farming and the government to get to know these innovative experiences that are being carried out in the Honduran dry corridor.

Nuñez showed the participants in the conference the tilapia breeding facilities that his association operates at the José Cecilio del Valle multiple-purpose dam, located in the village.

Grupo Ideal is a family organisation that divides the work among 11 siblings and offers direct jobs to at least 40 people in the area and generates indirect employment for just over 75 people. They are convinced that their efforts can be replicated by other small-scale producers.

Among the things that make him happy, Nuñez says they have started to improve the diet of people in the local area.

 

 

 Marvin Moreno, the FAO expert technician behind this solidarity-based and inclusive innovative microcredit model, which so far has helped change the lives of 800 poor families. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS


Marvin Moreno, the FAO expert technician behind this solidarity-based and inclusive innovative microcredit model, which so far has helped change the lives of 800 poor families. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

“We eat with the workers, we work with them, side by side, and at lunch they used to only bring rice, beans and pasta, but now they bring chicken, beef, tilapia and even shrimp,” he said.

One requirement for working in the company is that employees have to send their children to school. “This is an integral project and we want to grow together with the village because there are almost no sources of employment here,” he said.

Marvín Moreno, the FAO expert who has been the driving force behind the two experimental FCD finance centres, told IPS that the new model of financing has allowed families to organise to access opportunities to help them escape poverty.

Participating in the FCDs are local governments, development organisations that work in the area and groups of women, young people and farmers among others, which are given priority for loans.

The innovative initiative has two characteristics: solidarity and inclusiveness. Solidarity, because when someone gets a loan, everyone becomes a personal guarantor, and inclusive because it doesn’t discriminate.

“The priority are the poor families with a subsistence livelihood, but we also have families with more resources, who face limited access to loans as well,” Moreno said.

“It’s a question of giving people a chance, and we’re showing how access to credit is changing lives, and from that perspective it should be seen as a right that must be addressed by a country’s public policies,” he said.

Abel Lara, a Salvadoran small-scale farmer, highlighted the experience of the financial centres developed by FAO in Honduras, which he says show that concentrating on local solutions close to farmers is key for supporting family agriculture. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Abel Lara, a Salvadoran small-scale farmer, highlighted the experience of the financial centres developed by FAO in Honduras, which he says show that concentrating on local solutions close to farmers is key for supporting family agriculture. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

This view is shared by Abel Lara, a small-scale farmer from El Salvador, who after learning about the experience, told IPS that this “basket of funds that makes available loans with joint efforts only comes to prove that it is possible to get family agriculture back on its feet, from the communities themselves..”

The two FCDs established by FAO in Honduras have managed to mobilise about 300,000 dollars through a public-private partnership between the community, organisations and local governments.

That has enabled more than 800 small farmers to access loans ranging from 150 to 3,000 dollars, payable in 12 to 36 months.

In the case of Manorcho, César Núñez, the mayor of San Antonio de Flores, said that “people are starting to believe that the financial centre offers a real opportunity for change and our aim here is to help these poor municipalities, which are hit hard by nature but have potential, to move forward.”

In a country of 8.4 million people, where 66.5 per cent of the population lives in poverty, access to loans as a boost to family agriculture can change the prospects for some 800,000 poor families living in the dry corridor.

These experiences, according to FAO representative in Honduras María Julia Cárdenas, will be part of the proposals for regional dialogue that the Central American Agricultural Council will seek to put the development of family agriculture on the regional agenda.

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IFAD 2017 – It’s Women’s Turn in Rural Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/ifad-2017-its-womens-turn-in-rural-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ifad-2017-its-womens-turn-in-rural-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/ifad-2017-its-womens-turn-in-rural-development/#comments Mon, 06 Feb 2017 11:04:47 +0000 Mario Osava and Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148827 Josefina Stubbs, candidate for president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Credit: Courtesy of Josefina Stubbs

Josefina Stubbs, candidate for president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Credit: Courtesy of Josefina Stubbs

By Mario Osava and Baher Kamal
BRASILIA, Feb 6 2017 (IPS)

Josefina Stubbs, from the Dominican Republic, may become the first woman to preside over the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which is dedicated to eradicating rural poverty.

IFAD is a United Nations agency created in 1977 to invest in poor farmers in developing countries, who represent three-quarters of the world’s poor and undernourished.

Stubbs has accumulated 35 years of rural development experience, most recently in IFAD, as Regional Director of the Latin America and the Caribbean Division (2008-2014) and later as Associate Vice-President of the Strategy and Knowledge Department, before being nominated for president of IFAD by her country.

She holds a BA in Psychology and Master’s degrees in Sociology, Political Science and International Development, and has also worked for Oxfam and the World Bank.

The elections will take place on Feb. 14-15 during the IFAD annual meeting at the agency’s Rome headquarters. In her favour, Stubbs led, as vice president, the process of designing the agency’s Strategic Framework 2016-2025, besides her in-depth knowledge of how IFAD functions.

In its 40 years of experience, IFAD has earmarked 18.4 billion dollars for rural development projects that have benefited a total of 464 million persons. And the Fund’s soft loans and donations mobilised far greater sums contributed by governments and other national sources, as co-financing.

Boosting the crop yields of small farmers, protecting the environment, training poor peasant farmers, and empowering young people and women will be her priorities if she is elected president of IFAD.

She described her ideas and plans in this interview with IPS during her visit to Brasilia in the first week of February.

IPS: What direction and priorities will you adopt as president of IFAD if you are elected?

JOSEFINA STUBBS: I will dedicate myself to working with the governments of the IFAD member countries, in particular with low- and middle- income countries, so they can advance towards fulfilling the Agenda 2030 in the rural sector and achieving Sustainable Development, with two goals: food security and poverty reduction. Implementing the Agenda 2030 in the countryside, supporting women and young people, and protecting the environment will be vital for the future of the rural sector.

This requires increasing agricultural and non-farm productivity, to produce more and better, in order to supply a continually growing population, while stimulating small-scale farming to create more employment, services and income. A vibrant rural sector is needed to keep people in the countryside, especially the young.

We have to support women more strongly in the productive area, and in the processing of agricultural products as well, encouraging the creation of companies to amplify the benefits. This way new inclusive production chains are generated, and their active involvement in the market is bolstered. Organising farmers is key to boosting the volumes of production and trade, and to improving the quality standards of the products which reach increasingly demanding consumers.

Public policies are the umbrella under which IFAD can work more closely with governments. One example is Brazil, where we work with the national, state and municipal governments in policies to expand markets and transfer technologies. IFAD’s activities in Brazil were limited eight years ago, but now we have agreements with all nine states of Brazil’s Northeast region, providing financial support and technical assistance. This is an experience that should be strengthened and taken to other countries.

IPS: And is any region going to be given priority, Africa for example?

JS: IFAD’s priority lies where the rural poor are, training them and governments in the search for solutions. In Africa we have provided many resources and we have to keep doing so. The African economy is strongly tied to the rural sector, both because of the employment and because the urban and peri-urban markets demand more quality food. Africa has IFAD’s support because of its poverty rate, but so do Asian countries such as India, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

IPS: For the first time, three women are running for the presidency of IFAD. Researchers say that resources achieve more efficient results against poverty and hunger if they are given to women. What should IFAD do for rural women, who make up over 60 per cent of the agricultural workforce in regions of the South and are victims of inequality?

JS: Governments must be encouraged to ensure a greater presence of women in all of the activities financed by the Fund. But we must do it in an innovative way, breaking down traditional barriers to women’s access to public and private goods, loans, technology and the markets. We need to create new instruments specifically adapted to women’s lives, their needs, so that they can be useful to them. It is absolutely urgent to increase the participation of women and their role in the decision-making process about the investments that are made in their communities, and for them to be active subjects in the implementation of these investments.

IPS: But technical and scientific development has gone into large-scale agricultural production. Would it be suitable for poor women in rural areas?

JS: In agriculture, Brazil has demonstrated coexistence between large-scale and small-scale farmers. It already has new machinery for small-scale producers, such as tractors and harvesters, as well as irrigation. The progress made by the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) in improving the crops of small farmers is extraordinary. Brazil has developed important technologies for other countries. It has also made headway with productive infrastructure in communities. An example is machinery and refrigerated trucks for goat’s milk, suited for narrow roads. We need technologies adapted to small farms.

Food security depends on small-scale producers. In Africa 60 per cent of the basic food basket of the middle-class comes from local small-scale farmers. If we don’t increase this production, we lose the opportunity to promote food security in these countries. This has been proven. In the Dominican Republic, 80 per cent of basic products come from small-scale producers.

Increasing national productive capacity brings more benefits than spending on imports. It is a battle won which we have to make visible.

IPS: Does the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) share this view?

JS: The work of the three agencies based in Rome – IFAD, FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP) – must create synergy. They have a key role in supporting governments in meeting the goals of Agenda 2030 in the rural sector. With the specific mission of each agency, we must increase our impact – in investment for the rural poor through IFAD, by strengthening national and global policies that facilitate the achievement of food security and poverty reduction with the work carried out by FAO, and by reinforcinge the humanitarian responses in the rural sector, with the WPF has been doing for decades.

IPS: With regard to the environment, how can IFAD and small-scale farmers contribute to protecting nature and the climate?

JS: Climate change issues and the adequate management of environmental resources have to be seen in a broader perspective in the rural sector. I will keep defending ‘climate-smart agriculture’ with eco-friendly practices that also generate income. But in addition, we have to pay attention to the management of environmental resources such as water, energy, tourism, or agro-forestry, which also generate economic and environmental benefits for the rural and urban sectors. We must seek to empower communities, particularly indigenous communities, so they become effective and efficient managers of natural resources.

IPS: Water is another growing environmental problem.

JS: First of all, we have to safeguard our basins, reforest, preserve. Then we have to change the irrigation systems, replace flood irrigation with new techniques. Sometimes the solution is simple. Rainwater collection, such as in the Northeast of Brazil, is an example. Coming up with solutions implies listening to the local population, not imposing approaches to development that are not what people need.

IPS: How will IFAD keep up or accelerate poverty reduction, with the goal of eradicating it by 2030?

JS: By the deadline set for the Millennium Development Goals, one billion people had been lifted out of poverty. Now the challenge is to keep them afloat, but we still have one billion poor people in the world. We have to sustain our achievements and expand the results. We have to combine conditional cash transfer programmes with an increase in productivity, support for small-scale producers in their production and services companies, support for the expansion of access to technologies as an instrument to expand the benefits of development. We have to create a rural sector where the youth see a future and want to stay.

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World’s 40,000 MP’s Must Enjoy Their Rights – But Are They?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/worlds-40000-mps-must-enjoy-their-rights-but-are-they/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=worlds-40000-mps-must-enjoy-their-rights-but-are-they http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/worlds-40000-mps-must-enjoy-their-rights-but-are-they/#comments Mon, 06 Feb 2017 06:31:43 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148822 Map of IPU member States 2009. Credit: Joowwww - IPU. Public Domain

Map of IPU member States 2009. Credit: Joowwww - IPU. Public Domain

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Feb 6 2017 (IPS)

“Members of Parliament must be free to enjoy their human rights. If not, how can they defend and promote the rights of those who elected them? Yet, around the world vocal parliamentarians find themselves under threat. The 40,000-strong community of parliamentarians includes many men and women who have risked careers and even their lives to express their beliefs.”

This bold statement by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians, presages heated debates during the IPU 136th session, scheduled to take place in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 1-5 April.

In fact, “it is not rare to see that legal steps are taken to silence outspoken members of parliament,” says the Committee. There are a number of cases where individual parliamentarians, if not even the entire opposition, have been prevented from exercising their mandate,” the IPU Committee reports.

“Among the methods used are the undue revocation or suspension of the parliamentary mandate, politically motivated bankruptcy proceedings and revocation of the parliamentarian’s citizenship.”

In order to protect parliamentarians against abuses and thus defend the parliament institution, the IPU established in 1976 a Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians, which has since examined cases in over 100 countries and in many instances helped to provide those at risk with protection or redress.

This has taken a variety of forms, such as the release of a detained parliamentarian, reinstatement to a previously relinquished parliamentary seat, the payment of compensation for abuses suffered and the investigation of such abuses and effective legal action against their perpetrators, the IPU informs.

“Sometimes the abuse arises from the application of flawed legislation or parliamentary rules. A satisfactory solution may then require a change in these legal provisions so as to bring them into line with applicable human rights standards.“

The IPU Human Rights Committee cites the types of prejudice suffered by Parliamentarians, basing on cases it has considered.

According to a 2009 study, 121 Parliamentarians suffered “undue exclusion from political life; 99 of “lack of due process”; 93 from “arbitrary arrest, detention”, and 70 from undue restriction of freedom of speech”, let alone 31 cases of “murder, en forced disappearance,” as well as cases of “torture, ill-treatment”, “kidnaping and abduction.”

The IPU’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians also reports that often, parliamentarians have fallen victim to unfounded legal proceedings. Some of these proceedings are locked into paralysis.

“In cases in which proceedings have run their course, parliamentarians have frequently been prosecuted without any respect for fundamental fair trial standards. Irrespective of whether or not the case comes to trial, due process is at issue in each of these different scenarios.”

While freedom of expression is under threat in one way or another, the Committee informs, in all cases before the Committee, only a minority of the cases relate to undue action taken as a direct response to criticism voiced by parliamentarians.

“In such situations defamation laws provide for a very narrow interpretation of freedom of expression and are often used to deal with unwanted criticism.“

“If the violation is of a particularly serious nature, for instance in the case of the assassination or torture of a parliamentarian and/or if the authorities are not cooperating in a procedure, the Committee may render its reports and recommendations public by submitting them to the IPU Governing Council.” Here, a complete list of decisions on human rights cases adopted by the Governing Council in recent years.

The IPU Human Rights Committee is composed of 10 members of parliament, elected by the Governing Council in an individual capacity on the basis of their competence, commitment to human rights and availability. The Committee elects its own President and Vice-President.

“The protection and promotion of human rights are among the main goals of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Article 1 of the Organization’s Statutes defines human rights as an essential factor leading to democracy and development.”

Parliament is the State institution representing the people and through which it participates in the management of public affairs. It therefore bears a special responsibility in promoting and ensuring respect for human rights.

Here, the IPU helps parliaments and their members to live up to this responsibility in two ways.

First, the it strengthens parliaments’ action, notably through their human rights committees, in areas such as legislation, oversight and adoption of budgets for the promotion and protection of fundamental freedoms.

Second, by contributing to their concrete protection and redress when they are at risk, the IPU ensures that individual members of parliament enjoy their own human rights.

The coming IPU’s meeting in Dhaka will discuss, among others, the issue of Redressing inequalities: Delivering on dignity and well-being for all; the role of Parliament in preventing outside interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states, and promoting enhanced international cooperation of the Sustainable development Goals, in particular on the financial inclusion of women as a diver of development.

The IPU is the international organization of Parliaments (Article 1 of the Statutes of the Inter-Parliamentary Union). It was established in 1889.

The Union is the focal point for worldwide parliamentary dialogue and works for peace and co-operation among peoples and for the firm establishment of representative democracy.

To that end, it fosters contacts, co-ordination, and the exchange of experience among parliaments and parliamentarians of all countries, and considers questions of international interest and concern and expresses its views on such issues in order to bring about action by parliaments and parliamentarians.

It also contributes to the defence and promotion of human rights – an essential factor of parliamentary democracy and development; contributes to better knowledge of the working of representative institutions and to the strengthening and development of their means of action. The IPU works in close co-operation with the United Nations.

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Families of the “Disappeared” Search for Clandestine Graves in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/families-of-the-disappeared-search-for-clandestine-graves-in-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=families-of-the-disappeared-search-for-clandestine-graves-in-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/families-of-the-disappeared-search-for-clandestine-graves-in-mexico/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2017 23:52:55 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148775 Eight-year-old Juan de Dios Torres, whose five-year-old sister Zoe Zuleica Torres went missing in December 2016 on the outskirts of the northeastern city of San Luis Potosí, participates along with his mother in the brigade searching for the remains of missing people in the northwestern state of Sinaloa. Credit: Marcos Vizcarra/IPS

Eight-year-old Juan de Dios Torres, whose five-year-old sister Zoe Zuleica Torres went missing in December 2016 on the outskirts of the northeastern city of San Luis Potosí, participates along with his mother in the brigade searching for the remains of missing people in the northwestern state of Sinaloa. Credit: Marcos Vizcarra/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
NAVOLATO, Mexico, Feb 1 2017 (IPS)

Juan de Dios is eight years old and is looking for his younger sister, Zoe Zuleica Torres Gómez, who went missing in December 2015, when she was only five years old, in the northeastern state of San Luis Potosí. He is the youngest searcher for clandestine graves in Mexico.

With pick and shovel, in the last week of January he joined the Third National Brigade for the Search for Disappeared Persons, which on Monday Jan. 30 found the remains of a body in a grave hidden in a corn and sorghum field on the communal land in Potrero de Sataya, in the municipality of Navolato, in the northwestern state of Sinaloa.

It is the second body found by this brigade, made up of a handful of women and men who search in the ground for signs of their children, siblings and parents gone missing during the years of the so-called war against drug trafficking, together with human right defenders and Catholic priests.

“A problem that has not been recognised cannot be solved, nor can it heal,” said Juan Carlos Trujillo Herrera, who is behind the creation of the brigades, told IPS during the brigade’s work in Sinaloa.

“All the public prosecutor offices in the country are saturated with this issue, there is no structure in place that would allow us to think that the institutions are going to work. That is why we have had to go out to look ourselves for our family members,” insisted Trujillo, who is searching for four disappeared siblings.

On taking office in December 2006, right-wing president Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) militarised the security of the country to combat the drug mafias and threw Mexico into a spiral of violence from which it has not escaped.
One aspect reflects the seriousness of the problem: before that year, the Mexican government identified seven major drug cartels. Ten years later, there are nearly 200 organised crime groups operating in the country, according to information published this month by the Drug Policy Programme of the Centre for Economic Research and Teaching (Cide).

The data from Cide, one of the country’s most prestigious educational institutions, also registers at least 68 massacres in that period of time.

In 10 years, the so-called war on drugs launched by Calderón has left more than 177,000 murder victims, 73,500 of them during the administration of his successor, the also conservative Enrique Peña Nieto.

It has also left at least 30,000 missing people, although registers on disappearances vary greatly among the different authorities and civil society organisations.

In 2011, the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity headed by the poet Javier Sicilia brought to the forefront the issue of forced disappearance, reporting hundreds of cases in this country of 122 million people.

But it was in October 2014, with the forced disappearance of 43 rural student teachers in Ayotzinapa, in the southwestern state of Guerrero, and in January 2016, when five young people were detained and “disappeared” by state police in Tierra Blanca, in the state of Veracruz, that the country discovered that many of the disappearances attributed to organised crime were actually carried out by the authorities.

“That is why they did not look for them,” said Miguel Trujillo, Juan Carlos´ younger brother.

Since then, groups of family members who, desperate because of the absence of the state, started their own searches, have mushroomed around the country.

To do this, they train: they take courses in forensic anthropology, archeology, law; and they gear up: they buy caving equipment, they get trays to find small bones; they form crews and have become experts in identifying graves and bones.

The first brigades were organised in March 2016 in Veracruz, a state in eastern Mexico where several clandestine graveyards have been discovered, where the remains of160 people have been found so far.

There are now at least 13 brigades in the country. And since Jan. 24, different groups have gone out into the field in Tamaulipas, Veracruz and Sinaloa, where people belonging to brigades from five states arrived for a 12-day collective search.

“There are two different kinds of searches, for people who are alive or for people who are dead. I think this is where we’re failing, because we also have to look for people who are alive, but the thing is that nobody was doing this,” said Juan Carlos Trujillo.

The groups are supported by civil society organisations, such as the Marabunta Peace brigade, a group of young people from Mexico City who provide security for the families.

“It is very hard for young people to deal with these realities, for them to not get disillusioned with humanity, but escorting the groups gives them hope. Because when they realize that they are able to help, they find hope and they reaffirm themselves as builders of peace,” Miguel Barrera, the head of Marabunta, told IPS.

Sinaloa is the land of the cartel created by the powerful drug lord Joaquín “el Chapo” Guzmán, who was extradited to the United States on Jan. 19.

The brigade has made two findings: the one in Potrero Sataya and another in the municipality El Quelite, 10 km from port Mazatlán. The little boy from San Luis Potosí came with his mother, to help search for human remains.

“This is something we have to do because the government is not doing it and it was never going to,” said Mario Vergara, who founded the group The Other Disappeared from Iguala, the municipality where the students from Ayotzinapa disappeared, and now helps brigades all over the country.

“We are making progress in terms of organisation and we are going to continue. The people that remain in each state are going to learn how to coordinate to carry out better searches; we need to replicate the model in each state and engage the governments to help the search groups,” said Miguel Trujillo.

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We Need a New Social Movement Against Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/we-need-a-new-social-movement-against-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=we-need-a-new-social-movement-against-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/we-need-a-new-social-movement-against-inequality/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2017 23:22:32 +0000 Dr Dhananjayan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148771 Dr Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah is Secretary General of CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.]]>

Dr Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah is Secretary General of CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.

By Dr Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah
JOHANNESBURG, Feb 1 2017 (IPS)

Oxfam’s latest estimate that just eight super-rich people – down from 62 last year and 388 just six years ago – own more wealth than the poorest half of the world population is a clarion call to change the way we think about and try to tackle inequality.

Twenty years ago, as a young economics student, I was taught to look at the distribution of resources within and between nations. Most of the measures we looked at were averages: what is the average per capita income in a country; or what is the average rate of growth. Even when looking at inequality we used measures like the Gini coefficient that looked at distribution across a whole population. Oxfam’s work shows just how poor these standard economic measures have been at tracking what has really been going on when it comes to wealth.

Dr Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah

Dr Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah

The vastly unequal accumulation of wealth transcends national boundaries. While we spend a lot of time comparing the size of GDPs, it is now individuals, and not states, who are accumulating wealth in eye-watering quantities.

A little bit of inequality is to be expected; indeed one could argue it a normal part of economic life in a market-based system. But the tragedy of the current economic order is not just the extreme levels of inequality but also the social attitudes that have normalized it.

There are those who argue that efforts to reduce inequality will stifle competition and constrain enterprise and growth. Greed is good, they say. Haven’t you heard about trickle-down economics? Well, I’ve heard and, along with a growing number of others, I’m not buying it.

Even the World Economic Forum’s own Global Risk Report cites severe income inequality as the single greatest threat to social and political stability around the world. Contemporary capitalism is creating deeply unstable growth. The inequality it engenders is bad for humanity, not only in the sense that it is unjust, but in that it leads instrumentally to negative outcomes for society as a whole. It is a corrosive force, hampering our fight against poverty and sowing the seeds of social unrest.

The mandates of our governments are heavily, disproportionately, influenced by the priorities of this wealthy elite. The super-rich are rigging the rules of the game in their favour.

Governments are going to be neither able nor willing to tackle inequality until mass social mobilisation demands that they do so. We need to examine the attitudes and beliefs that perpetuate and increase inequality. We need to stop believing that what is happening now is normal, inevitable even. It’s not. We need to make extreme personal wealth an unacceptable reality and its defenders, pariahs. What matters most in the fight against inequality is how we think. We need to establish new norms around inequality, wealth and poverty.

A growing number of civil society organisations, trade unions and faith groups have come together to form a new Fighting Inequality Alliance. Our aim is to build upon work already begun by grassroots movements such as Occupy to change social norms around wealth accumulation. Only a global peoples’ movement can begin to counterbalance the power and influence of the 1%. Only a growing tide of peaceful protest can challenge inequality as a global social norm and force governments to respond.

Until we achieve this change in attitude, governments will not fundamentally alter the way they manage our economies. We won’t see tax havens eliminated, or all workers receiving a living wage. We won’t see increased government spending on public services funded by more progressive tax systems. We won’t see more transparent policymaking or meaningful strengthening of financial regulations.

We need a new global economy that works for the majority. But until the majority stand up and make themselves heard – until their influence overwhelms that of the wealthy elite – we will not achieve it.

Already, we are beginning to see exciting new thinking around wealth redistribution, such as this from Laurence Chandy at the Brookings Institute. But, what if, instead of focusing on redistribution solutions, we look to prohibit the accumulation of enormous personal wealth in the first place? While it is commendable that some of the world’s richest people including Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg will give away much of their fortunes not all billionaires will follow suit.

Were we to establish new rules, or norms, around how much wealth one individual can legitimately amass, some would no doubt argue that we would damage the economic growth incentive. But, we’re talking about marginal billions here. The innovators, the technology pioneers of our age, are not going to alter their investment decisions or risk tolerance should they stand to gain 1 billion rather than 10.

Nor is all this quite so radical as it might sound. Take the example of inheritance taxes. While the details of these law’s application may be contested, the legitimacy of its existence is not. We accept that there should be limits to how much wealth is hoarded inter-generationally. Why not something similar at the global level? My point is this: if we limit our thinking to taxing the super-rich or trying to encourage more billionaires to behave like Gates, Buffet or Zuckerberg, we may achieve some redistribution but not address the drivers of inequality. As the world heads towards its first trillionaire, we need to change the rules of the wealth game.

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Trump’s Muslim Ban a Test for Unity and Solidarityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/trumps-muslim-ban-a-test-for-unity-and-solidarity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-muslim-ban-a-test-for-unity-and-solidarity http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/trumps-muslim-ban-a-test-for-unity-and-solidarity/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2017 16:14:30 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148766 Outgoing African Union Chair described the Muslim ban as a test for unity and solidarity. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

Outgoing African Union Chair described the Muslim ban as a test for unity and solidarity. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

By Lyndal Rowlands
NEW YORK / UNITED NATIONS, Feb 1 2017 (IPS)

Outgoing African Union Chair Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has described the United States ban on refugees and immigrants from seven countries as “one of the greatest challenges and tests to our unity and solidarity.”

Speaking to African leaders on Monday Zuma asked why “the very country to whom our people were taken as slaves during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, have now decided to ban refugees from some of our countries.”

On Friday 27 January United States President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily ceasing entry to the United States for nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The order also suspended the entire U.S. refugee program for 120 days and indefinitely blocked all refugees from Syria from entering the United States.

African leaders are not the only ones who see the ban as a test of unity and solidarity.

Others see growing anti-Muslim sentiment as a rallying point for solidarity between different religious groups, with American Jews questioning the “terrible irony” of the bill being signed on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

IPS spoke with Fadi Hallisso, a former Jesuit from Syria and Said Sabir Ibrahimi, who was born in Afghanistan and is involved in interfaith solidarity events between Jewish and Muslim people living in New York.

“Religion is a powerful tool, but instead of using it for destruction and hatred, we are going to use it to build bridges between different communities to pave the way towards a better community for our kids,” -- Fadi Hallisso

Hallisso, is the co-founder of Basmeh and Zeitooneh a Syrian NGO, whose five founders include three Christians.

“Our work in Turkey and Lebanon is almost 100 percent with Muslim Syrians,” Hallisso told IPS. “I think working hand-in-hand with different people from different religious backgrounds is what we need right now.”

“Religion is a powerful tool, but instead of using it for destruction and hatred, we are going to use it to build bridges between different communities to pave the way towards a better community for our kids,” he said.

Trump’s order also states that once the U.S. refugee program resumes it will prioritise claims from religious minorities – prompting some to believe that Christian refugees from these Muslim majority countries will be prioritised.

However Hallisso, himself a Syrian Christian, disagreed that in the case of Syria Christians are more persecuted than Muslims.

“We are all human beings suffering from an impossible situation that we wish to have an end to soon,” he said.

Hallisso described the women’s marches that occurred the day after Trump’s inauguration as an important act of solidarity.

“I wish we can in the coming few months and years to expand this solidarity to become global solidarity movement,” he said. “If the people of goodwill do not work together and the bad guys would have the last say.”

Said Sabir Ibrahimi, who was born in Afghanistan and now lives in New York told IPS that he has seen a growing movement of people of different background in the United States bridging divides.

Ibrahimi is part of a group which organises interfaith solidarity events between Jewish and Muslim people living in New York.

“We sense open Islamaphobia and subtle anti-semitism – not to mention the anti-women rhetoric and more,” Ibrahimi told IPS.

“The good news is that some Muslim-Jewish and other faith or non-faith groups have come together to voice their concerns about this whole chaotic policy shift and we have witnessed these groups showing up in protests in large crowds, across the country, in unprecedented ways probably since the 1960s during the Vietnam war.”

Meanwhile, the White House has also been criticised for failing to mention Jewish people in its statement issued on Holocaust Memorial Day.

“I think it’s so bizarre to talk about the Holocaust and not mention Jewish people,” said Ibrahimi. “It was the Jewish people who had suffered the most during those horrific times of World War Two.”

He said that people are drawing connections and associating significance with the marginalisation of minorities in Nazi Germany and the events unfolding in the United States.

For some American Jews, it was no coincidence that the dramatic change in US immigration policy was announced on Holocaust Remembrance Day:

Jeremy Ben-Ami, President of Liberal Jewish advocacy group J Street said that it was a “terrible irony” that Trump signed the order on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“The fact that President Trump’s order appears designed to specifically limit the entry of Muslims evokes horrible memories among American Jews of the shameful period leading up to World War Two, when the United States failed to provide a safe haven for the vast majority of Jews in Europe trying to escape Nazi persecution,” said Ben-Ami.

Meanwhile, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that she was ready to register as a Muslim in response to Trump’s proposed Muslim Registry – which as yet has not been enacted:

“I was raised Catholic, became Episcopalian & found out later my family was Jewish. I stand ready to register as Muslim in #solidarity,” said Albright who came to the United States from Czechoslovakia as a refugee.

Hallisso expressed dismay that the United States a country “built on immigration,” and “built by immigrants escaping religious persecution in Europe” has begun “portraying all immigrants and refugees as potential terrorists.”

“To see this coming from Americans now, some American leaders, is for me devastating because it is like someone ignoring all of the history of his own country,” he said.

“But also it is problematic for us in the Middle East for a number of reasons, because for God’s sake, how do you expect countries like Lebanon and Jordan and Turkey to continue to receive more than a million refugees if 10,000 Syrian refugees coming to the United States are a problem?”

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Seeds Are Key to Improving Bean Production in Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/seeds-are-key-to-improving-bean-production-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=seeds-are-key-to-improving-bean-production-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/seeds-are-key-to-improving-bean-production-in-cuba/#comments Tue, 31 Jan 2017 22:58:31 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148751 Iraida Semino picks green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) on her farm La Maravilla, which belongs to the Roberto Negrín González Credit and Services Union in the municipality of La Lisa, on the outskirts of the Cuban capital. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Iraida Semino picks green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) on her farm La Maravilla, which belongs to the Roberto Negrín González Credit and Services Union in the municipality of La Lisa, on the outskirts of the Cuban capital. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Jan 31 2017 (IPS)

“You have to have good and varied seeds to test which one adapts best to each kind of soil,” says 71-year-old farmer Rubén Torres, who on his farm in central Cuba harvests 1.6 tons of organic beans every year, among other crops.

The importance that Torres places on seeds in order for the agricultural sector to meet local demand for beans, a staple of the Cuban diet, coincides with the assessment by researchers consulted by IPS, who propose promoting genetic improvement and the production of other kinds of legumes.

After two decades of selecting seeds, Torres produces and sells four varieties of black beans, four kinds of red beans and one kind of white bean. “And I have eight varieties for family consumption and for scientific research,” he told IPS.

Located in a livestock farming area on the outskirts of the city of Santa Clara, 268 km east of Havana, Torres’ plot of land is unusual in the area because he devotes most of his 17 hectares to growing beans and rice, which form the basis of the diet of the 11.2 million people in this Caribbean island nation.“When farmers go to plant they often don’t have seeds. That’s why I always give some of mine to those who need them. Without quality seeds, you can’t succeed.” -- Ruben Torres

Baños de Marrero, as his family farm is called, also has avocado and coconut trees and crops of maize and tomatoes. Other portions are covered with seedbeds and garden beds badly in need of repair where Torres produces 20 tons of ecological fertiliser from worm castings.

“When farmers go to plant they often don’t have seeds. That’s why I always give some of mine to those who need them. Without quality seeds, you can’t succeed,” said Torres, a participant in the Programme for Local Agrarian Innovation (PIAL), which since 2000 has helped empower farmers in 45 of the country’s 168 municipalities.

“There is a public company that sells seeds,” but in his opinion, “to get really good ones farmers have to guarantee them themselves.”

With the support of the Swiss development cooperation agency and the coordination of the state National Institute of Agricultural Science, PIAL started to teach family farmers in western Cuba how to obtain and select their own seeds. It has expanded and now is promoting participation by women and young people in farming.

“Without quality seeds, you really can’t make progress in terms of productivity,” agronomist Tomás Shagarodsky told IPS about a key aspect in raising yields in bean crops in Cuba, where there is potential for growing many more beans.

 Tomás Shagarodsky, a researcher at the “Alejandro de Humboldt” Tropical Agriculture Research Institute (INIFAT) points out that Cuba can and must produce more varieties of pulses apart from beans and chickpeas. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS


Tomás Shagarodsky, a researcher at the “Alejandro de Humboldt” Tropical Agriculture Research Institute (INIFAT) points out that Cuba can and must produce more varieties of pulses apart from beans and chickpeas. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

As part of the government’s agricultural reforms implemented since 2008, incentives were put in place for the production of beans, with the aim of boosting the surface area devoted to this crop in the different kinds of agricultural production units: state-run farms, cooperatives, and small private farms.

Between 2009 and 2014, the country grew on average 126,650 hectares per year of beans, obtaining an average of 118,830 tons. In 1996, 38,000 hectares yielded 9,000 tons of beans.

Now, the Agriculture Ministry’s Agro-Industrial Grains Group seeks to increase bean production between 15 and 20 per cent a year, in order to meet domestic demand and lower the high cost of beans in the farmers’ markets that operate according to the law of supply and demand.

Latin America, the bean powerhouse

The countries of Latin America account for more than 45 per cent of global production of beans, according to FAO figures.

The drought in recent years has hurt the yields of beans, which are a staple for the diet and economy of small farmers in the region.

Archeological studies reveal that beans are native to the Americas, with evidence dating back to 5000 to 8000 years. Mexico and Peru dispute the claim of being the birthplace of beans.

“Cuba currently has extensive bean crops, but it hasn’t reached its full yield potential,“ said Shagarodsky.

To achieve better harvests, he said the sector must solve “structural problems” such as shortages of resources, labour power and equipment, and more complex issues related to climate change and water scarcity.

In that sense, Shagarodsky, an agronomist and researcher at the state “Alejandro de Humboldt” Tropical Agriculture Research Institute (INIFAT), pointed out a vulnerability that is rarely discussed.

“We need young professionals devoted to improving seeds,” he said at INIFAT headquarters, located in the poor outskirts of Santiago de las Vegas, 18 km south of Havana.

“The stock of improved seeds has shrunk because the breeders who used to do this job have retired, have died or have left,“ said Shagarodsky, surrounded by the unpainted walls and deteriorated ceilings of the INIFAT central offices. “That has to change and more attractive salaries have to be paid,“ he said.

In live collections and cold chambers, INIFAT preserves the largest quantity of genetic resources in Cuba. In its germplasm bank it keeps 3,250 of the 18,433 samples safeguarded in the entire national network of institutions that share this mission. Legumes constitute 46 per cent of the resources preserved by INIFAT.

Seeds of different varieties of beans are preserved in the Tropical Agriculture Research Institute’s germplasm bank in Cuba, in addition to other pulses. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Seeds of different varieties of beans are preserved in the Tropical Agriculture Research Institute’s germplasm bank in Cuba, in addition to other pulses. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The institution safeguards 1,465 varieties of pulses, including pigeon peas (Cajanus cajan), peanuts, chickpeas, soybeans, lentils, peas and green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris).

In recognition of the important work it carries out, INIFAT was chosen in December to host the activities to end the International Year of Pulses, as 2016 was declared by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

FAO representative in Cuba Theodor Friedrich pointed out at this event that pulses contribute to food security in two senses: they have high protein value and they naturally fertilise soil with nitrogen.

In addition, he said “growing pulses is the only way to add nitrogen to the soil without resorting to fertilisers. And they have important nutritional properties,” such as zero cholesterol and gluten, and high content of iron, zinc and other nutrients.

For these and other reasons, FAO promotes the cultivation of pulses in the western provinces of Pinar del Río and Artemisa, in a project aimed at strengthening local capacities to sustainably produce biofortified basic grains adapted to climate change, including several kinds of pulses, by 2018.

“We eat all kind of pulses, from beans to chickpeas and lentils. They are very important for children because they fall under the category of vegetable proteins,” Misalis Cobo, who lives with her six-year-old son in the Havana neighbourhood of Cerro, told IPS.

“We get beans from the ration card and the rest I buy in markets and stores,” said the 37-year-old self-employed worker. “I can afford these purchases although they are expensive because they stretch a long way for us since it’s just my son and me. But large low-income families they’re expensive,“ she said.

Each person in Cuba receives a small monthly quota of beans at subsidised prices through the ration card. But to feed the family for an entire month, more beans and other pulses are needed, and must be bought at the state and private agricultural markets, and stores that sell imported goods.

Prices range from 0.5 cents of a dollar up to 1.2 dollars for half a kilogram of pulses, in a country where the average income is 23 dollars a month in the public sector, Cuba’s biggest employer by far.

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Riverbank Populations Displaced by Dams in Brazil Miss Old Way of Lifehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/riverbank-populations-displaced-by-dams-in-brazil-miss-old-way-of-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=riverbank-populations-displaced-by-dams-in-brazil-miss-old-way-of-life http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/riverbank-populations-displaced-by-dams-in-brazil-miss-old-way-of-life/#comments Sun, 29 Jan 2017 00:43:15 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148703 A boat under repair on the shore of the Sobradinho reservoir, which has a low water level due to the five years of drought which has plagued the semi arid interior of Northeastern Brazil. Bushes submerged by the dammed-up waters of the São Francisco river since the 1970s can be glimpsed. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A boat under repair on the shore of the Sobradinho reservoir, which has a low water level due to the five years of drought which has plagued the semi arid interior of Northeastern Brazil. Bushes submerged by the dammed-up waters of the São Francisco river since the 1970s can be glimpsed. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
SENTO SE, Brazil, Jan 29 2017 (IPS)

“Now we have internet and TV. Before, we didn’t even have electricity, but it was better,” said Lourival de Barros, one of the people displaced by the hydropower plants which have mushroomed aorund Brazil, mainly since the 1970s.

Barros was evicted from his home in Sento Sé towards the end of 1976. The town of 7,000 people was submerged under the waters of the Sobradinho reservoir just over a year later.

Three other towns, Casa Nova, Pilão Arcado and Remanso, also disappeared under water, along with dozens of riverside villages, in the state of Bahía in Northeastern Brazil.

In total, 72,000 people were displaced, according to social organisations, or 59,265 according to the company responsible for the project, the São Francisco Hydroelectric Company (CHESF).

The sacrifice was made for the sake of the country’s energy requirements and for the development of what was described by government leaders of the time, during the 1964-1985 military dictatorship, as an “irrelevant” region, marked by widespread illiteracy, a “subsistence economy,” and “primitive,” isolated people afraid of change.

To relocate the population of Santo Sé, a new city with the same name was built, with better houses, including indoor bathrooms and services such as electricity and sewage. But “we lost much more”, said Barros, a 70-year-old retired fisherman and small farmer with eight children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

“We had many fish in the river. In the reservoir at first we could fish 100 kg a day, but the fish declinednin the last 10 to 15 years, and now it’s hard to catch even 10 kg, just enough to feed the family,” he told IPS.

“There were 2,000 fishers and it was the livelihood of all of us. Today, there are at best 50 who are able to live off fishing,” even though 9,000 are registered in the trade association, many of them just to receive the unemployment payments during the spawning period when fishing is banned, he said. “They need it,” he added.

Barros laments that the fish native to the area have disappeared, while other Amazon species were introduced in the artificial lake, including one, the pavón (Cichla ocellaris), which eats all the others.

Retired fisherman and farmer 70-year-old Lourival de Barros, in his house in the town of Sento Sé, which he received as compensation for the loss of his nice house and other property in the old town, which was submerged by the Sobradinho dam four decades ago, whichburied a lifestyle that he still misses. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Retired fisherman and farmer 70-year-old Lourival de Barros, in his house in the town of Sento Sé, which he received as compensation for the loss of his nice house and other property in the old town, which was submerged by the Sobradinho dam four decades ago, whichburied a lifestyle that he still misses. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

He also complains that his family used to have five plots of land where they grew crops and he owned a mill to make manioc flour, for which they did not receive any compensation. “We lost everything,” he said.

Many flooded properties or assets have still not been compensated, said Adzamara Amaral, author of the book “Memories of a submerged city,” written in 2012 as the thesis for her journalism degree at the University of the State of Bahía.

Her own family is still fighting in court for compensation for 15,000 hectares registered as property of her grandfather, which was in her family for three centuries and included three houses and fruit orchards.

The new town built for the relocated population was deprived of its “riverine” spirit, as in the case of other “rebuilt” towns.

Also lost, besides the fish, was the traditional riverbank farming during the dry season, when water levels were down and crops were planted next to the river on the nutrient-rich soil replenished each year by the seasonal floods.

Large harvests of corn and beans were planted between April and October. “That is why the São Francisco river is known as the ‘Brazilian Nile,’ Amaral told IPS.

With the dam, the water flooded rocky areas or parts of the Caatinga – the semi-arid ecosystem exclusive to the Northeast – and modified the annual changes in the low and high water levels in the river, putting an end to dry season farming.

Relocation to the new Sento Sé, population 41,000 today, accentuated the isolation of the local inhabitants, among other reasons because the distance doubled with respect to Juazeiro, a city of 220,000 people, which is the economic and educational hub of the northern part of Bahía.

Gildalio da Gama (L), municipal secretary of environment up to December, and boat repairman João Reis on the banks of the resevoir in Sento Sé, where the inhabitants of the old town were resettled with almost no compensation, displaced by the Sobradinho hydropower plant on the São Francisco river in Northeastern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Gildalio da Gama (L), municipal secretary of environment up to December, and boat repairman João Reis on the banks of the resevoir in Sento Sé, where the inhabitants of the old town were resettled with almost no compensation, displaced by the Sobradinho hydropower plant on the São Francisco river in Northeastern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Now the town is 196 km away, 50 of which are along a dirt road filled with potholes that makes transportation difficult. That is the reason the irrigation agriculture company Fruitmag which employed 1,800 workers, pulled out of Sento Sé, arguing that the jolting of the trucks damaged the grapes.

“Paving the road is key to the development of the municipality, as is offering technical and university courses, which would prevent the exodus of young people, which has been reducing the local population in recent years,” said Amaral.

The new location of the town on the banks of the lake was meant to keep it near the shore even during the dry season, she said. But many people believe that the then mayor decided on the location so it would be near his farm.

Now, the shore of the Sobradinho reservoir has retreated some 600 metres from Santo Sé, after five years of drought.

“There are places where the water ebbs up to 10 km, like in Quixaba, a nearby town,” said João Reis, a 65-year-old metal worker from São Paulo, who worked for years in CHESF.

He has lived for 33 years in Sento Sé, his parents’ hometown, and he currently repairs boats in the São Francisco river. He says that with its fertile lands and marble and precious stone deposits, the municipality has “a great potential to prosper.”

One of eight wind farms built near Sento Sé due to the strong winds on the plateaus surrounding the town in Northeast Brazil, whose population was paradoxically displaced in the 1970s to build the biggest hydropower plant in the region.  Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

One of eight wind farms built near Sento Sé due to the strong winds on the plateaus surrounding the town in Northeast Brazil, whose population was paradoxically displaced in the 1970s to build the biggest hydropower plant in the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

To overcome its isolation, his colleague Djalma Vitorino, a boat specialist, proposes setting up a ferry service between Sento Sé and Remanso, another relocated town, on the other side of the reservoir. About 25 km or “an hour and a half of navigation” separate the two towns.

“They have a good hospital there where we can take our sick people,” as an alternative to Juazeiro, which is more than three hours away by road, Vitorino told IPS.

Built between 1973 and 1979 on the São Francisco river, the Sobradinho hydropower plant has the capacity to generate 1,050 MW, thanks to its reservoir of 34,000 cubic metres that covers 4,214 square km, the biggest in surface area and the third in water volume in Brazil.

In addition to the generation of electric power, accumulating so much water also gives it the functions of regulating the flow, optimising the operation of seven hydropower plants built downstream, and supplying water for the irrigation of crops in the surrounding area.

Its social impacts stood out because a highly populated area was flooded, in the 1970s, when the country was governed by an authoritarian military regime and environmental legislation was just starting to be developed. Moreover, social movements were weak or nonexistent.

To flood that much land, Sobradinho required the expropriation of 26,000 properties.

CHESF shelled out very low sums in the few cases of compensation it paid, mostly because “the local people did not have official title deeds or did not know how much their property was worth,” said 47-year-old Gildalio da Gama, who until December was secretary of environment in Sento Sé.

“Any money was a lot for people who always handled little money,” da Gama, who is now a primary school teacher on an island where his parents live, 150 km from the town, told IPS:

His grandfather was not compensated for his land because CHESF did not recognise the submitted documentation, he said.

New hydropower plants, such as Itaparica, inaugurated in 1988, downstream on the São Francisco river, meet the regulations, because of the pressure of environmentalists and social organisations. But forced displacement continues, generating noisier conflicts than in the past.

Protests have grown even more against hydropower plants in the Amazon rainforest, particularly the one in Belo Monte, a huge power plant with a capacity of 11,233 MW, inaugurated on May 2016.

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Measures Are Proposed to Address Violence in Mapuche Land in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/measures-are-proposed-to-address-violence-in-mapuche-land-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=measures-are-proposed-to-address-violence-in-mapuche-land-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/measures-are-proposed-to-address-violence-in-mapuche-land-in-chile/#comments Thu, 26 Jan 2017 23:07:42 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148691 Members of the Mapuche people during one of their demonstrations defending their rights, in particular their claim to theirancestral lands, in the region of La Araucanía, Chile. Credit: Fernando Fiedler/IPS

Members of the Mapuche people during one of their demonstrations defending their rights, in particular their claim to theirancestral lands, in the region of La Araucanía, Chile. Credit: Fernando Fiedler/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Jan 26 2017 (IPS)

The lands where the Mapuche indigenous people live in southern Chile are caught up in a spiral of violence, which a presidential commission is setting out to stop with 50 proposals, such as the constitutional recognition of indigenous people and their representation in parliament, in a first shift in the government´s treatment of native peoples.

President Michelle Bachelet received on Monday Jan. 23 the recommendations from the Presidential Advisory Commission to address the conflict in the La Araucanía region, home to most of the country’s Mapuche people, who make up nearly five percent of Chile’s population of just under 18 million people.

The Mapuche leaders and their supporters accuse the police deployed to the region of being “agitators” and of militarising the area, while logging companies and landowners call the local indigenous people “terrorists” and demand a heavy-handed approach towards them.

Among the proposals of the Commission, created in July 2016, are the creation of a national registry of victims of violence and compensation for them, support for the economic development of the Mapuche people – the largest native group in Chile – and solutions to return native land to the Mapuche people, in land disputes.“A historical debt is recognised with respect to the Mapuche people, but there is no analysis of what this debt consists of, let alone the deep current and historical causes of this now existing violence in La Araucanía” -- Jorge Aylwin

In addition, the Commission recommended that the president “publicly apologise, in representation of the Chilean government, for the consequences this conflict has had for the Mapuche people and any other victims of the violence in the region.”

The package of proposed measures comes in the wake of a dozen arson attacks early this year in rural areas of La Araucanía against logging company trucks and storehouses by unidentified perpetrators, who in some cases left pamphlets with demands by the Mapuche movement.

The attacks reached their peak around Jan. 3-4, dates marked in the indigenous struggle for their rights, in memory of Matías Catrileo (2008), a young Mapuche victim of a gunshot from the police, and of the elderly Luchsinger Mackay couple (2013), who died in their house when it was burnt down by unidentified assailants.

Chile´s manufacturers´ association, SOFOFA, to which the two main logging companies that extract timber in La Araucanía belong, said the region “is no longer governed by the rule of law” and that “the incapacity of the powers of government to respond and fulfill their functions of law enforcement and punishment of crimes is evident.”

“It is not an absence of the rule of law, it is a lack of respect and infringement of the human rights of these people. That is a serious thing. It is the government that undermines their rights. Talking of an absence of the rule of law is just an excuse to put the military in the territory,” Carlos Bresciani, a Jesuit priest who lives in the Tirúa village, in the area of conflict, told IPS.

“Here everything works fine, people live normally, they plant, they harvest, they run their errands, they work. The people who talk about an absence of the rule of law have never lived here. We are not at war. There are no bullets whizzing by or bombs destroying cities,” he said by telephone.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet receives the final report to address the urgent problems that face the Mapuche people, drafted by the Presidential Advisory Commission for La Araucanía, in a ceremony on Jan. 23, at the La Moneda Palace. Credit: Presidency of Chile

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet receives the final report to address the urgent problems that face the Mapuche people, drafted by the Presidential Advisory Commission for La Araucanía, in a ceremony on Jan. 23, at the La Moneda Palace. Credit: Presidency of Chile

Upon presenting the conclusions of the 20-member Commission, their leader, Catholic Bishop Héctor Vargas, said La Araucanía is a “wounded and fragmented region” that is facing a “gradual intensification of its problems.”

These problems, explained the bishop of Temuco, capital of La Araucanía, “involve a historical debt to the Mapuche people, the dramatic situation of the victims of rural violence, and the very worrying indicators which rank us as the poorest region in the country.”

La Araucanía and poverty

In the region, poverty by income fell from 27.9 to 23.6 per cent, but it is far above the national average of 11.7 per cent, according to the latest national survey.

Besides, the so-called multidimensional poverty affects more than 30 per cent of the people in the region, compared to a national average of 19.11 per cent.

In fact, in La Araucanía are five of the seven municipalities with the highest multidimensional poverty rates in Chile, and the average regional income is of 382 dollars a month, far below the national average of 562 dollars.

“The government has neglected this land and its people,” said Vargas, who added that these issues are difficult to address because “they generate contradictory positions and views and deep feelings of grief, impotence and resentment.”

The bishop called for an end to the violence “before hatred puts an end to us… If we want to disarm our hands, we have to first disarm our hearts.”

For José Aylwin, head of the non-governmental Citizen Observatory, the proposals of the Commission lack “a rights-based approach,” for example with respect to the occupied ancestral lands.

“A historical debt is recognised with respect to the Mapuche people, but there is no analysis of what this debt consists of, let alone the deep current and historical causes of this now existing violence in La Araucanía,” he told IPS.

”There is no reference to the violence carried out by the police against the Mapuche people or the promotion of the forestry industry which has resulted in the consolidation of a 1.5-million-hectare forest property to the south of the Bío Bío river,” said Aylwin.

The Commission´s proposal, he said, “acknowledges the existing political exclusion and proposes special forms of representation for indigenous people, but does not set forth other options such as autonomy and self-determination in areas of high indigenous density.”

“The bias towards productive development is clear, it refers to new productive activities, such as fruit orchards, but it includes wood pulp,” which is of interest to forestry companies, said the head of the Observatory.

Interior Minister Mario Fernández admitted during a parliamentary inquiry on Monday Jan. 23 that in La Araucanía “there is terrorism, but there is also an atmosphere of violence that has other roots.”

“We will not solve with repression or simple solutions a problem that has been going on for centuries. Rule of law doesn’t mean a right to repress, it means respecting the rights of people,” he said.

Bresciani stressed that the use of the word violence in La Araucanía “is tendentious and seeks to create a strained and clearly discriminatory climate around the social demands of the Mapuche people.”

“The term violence has been co-opted by right-wing business interests who want to create that scenario in order to justify further judicialisation and militarisation of the territory…therefore, measures of repression,” he said.

According to the priest, the violence in La Araucanía “is exercises by the political and extractionist neo-liberal economic model” and “there is an older cause which has to do with the usurpation of the lands that the Mapuche people used to have, which reduced them to poverty and humiliation.”

Bresciani considers that a solution will be found “when this conflict is seen as a political conflict, and not judicial or having to do with the police or with poverty. And from there, measures have to be taken to ensure the recognition of native peoples and return to them their lands.”

“They used to have 10 million hectares when they were invaded and now they have between 500,000 and 900,000,” he said.

Isolde Reuque Paillalef, one of the three women on the Commission and the only indigenous social leader, said “there is a new and knowledgeable vision,” after listening to the victims of violence on both sides.

But “it will also depend on who is supporting the most violent groups, because the violence is not just violence… there must be other interests involved,” she told IPS.

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