Inter Press Service » Globalisation http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 23 Sep 2014 11:25:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Water: A Defining Issue for Post-2015http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/water-a-defining-issue-for-post-2015/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-a-defining-issue-for-post-2015 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/water-a-defining-issue-for-post-2015/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 11:25:23 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136832 A Sri Lankan boy bathes in a polluted river. South Asia, home to 1.7 billion people of which 75 percent live in rural areas, is one of the most vulnerable regions to water shocks. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A Sri Lankan boy bathes in a polluted river. South Asia, home to 1.7 billion people of which 75 percent live in rural areas, is one of the most vulnerable regions to water shocks. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
STOCKHOLM, Sep 23 2014 (IPS)

A gift of nature, or a valuable commodity? A human right, or a luxury for the privileged few? Will the agricultural sector or industrial sector be the main consumer of this precious resource? Whatever the answers to these and many more questions, one thing is clear: that water will be one of the defining issues of the coming decade.

Some estimates say that 768 million people still have no access to fresh water. Other research puts the number higher, suggesting that up to 3.5 billion people are denied the right to an improved source of this basic necessity.

As United Nations agencies and member states inch closer to agreeing on a new set of development targets to replace the soon-to-expire Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the need to include water in post-2015 development planning is more urgent than ever.

“In the next 30 years water usage will rise by 30 percent, water scarcity is going to increase; there are huge challenges ahead of us." -- Torgny Holmgren, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI)
The latest World Water Development Report (WWDR) suggests, “Global water demand (in terms of water withdrawals) is projected to increase by some 55 percent by 2050, mainly because of growing demands from manufacturing (400 percent), thermal electricity generation (140 percent) and domestic use (130 percent).”

In addition, a steady rise in urbanisation is likely to result in a ‘planet of cities’ where 40 percent of the world’s population will reside in areas of severe water stress through 2050.

Groundwater supplies are diminishing; some 20 percent of the world’s aquifers are facing over-exploitation, and degradation of wetlands is affecting the capacity of ecosystems to purify water supplies.

WWDR findings also indicate that climbing global energy demand – slated to rise by one-third by 2030 – will further exhaust limited water sources; electricity demand alone is poised to shoot up by 70 percent by 2035, with China and India accounting for over 50 percent of that growth.

Against this backdrop, water experts around the world told IPS that management of this invaluable resource will occupy a prominent place among the yet-to-be finalised Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in the hopes of fending off crises provoked by severe shortages.

“We are discussing the goals, and most member [states] agree that water needs better coordination and management,” Amina Mohammed, the United Nations secretary-general’s special advisor on post-2015 development planning told IPS on the sidelines of the annual Stockholm World Water Week earlier this month.

What is needed now, Mohammed added, is greater clarity on goals that can be mutually agreed upon by member states.

Other water experts allege that in the past, water management has been excluded from high-level decision-making processes, despite it being an integral part of any development process.

“In the next 30 years water usage will rise by 30 percent, water scarcity is going to increase; there are huge challenges ahead of us,” Torgny Holmgren, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), told IPS.

He added that the way the world uses water is drastically changing. Traditionally agriculture has been the largest guzzler of fresh water, but in the near future the manufacturing sector is tipped to take over. “Over 25 percent of [the world’s] water use will be by the energy sector,” Holmgren said.

For many nations, especially in the developing world, the water-energy debate represents the classic catch-22: as more people move out of poverty and into the middle class with spending capacity, their energy demands increase, which in turn puts tremendous pressure on limited water supplies.

The statistics of this demographic shift are astonishing, said Kandeh Yumkella, special representative of the secretary-general who heads Ban Ki-moon’s pet project, the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative.

Yumkella told IPS that by 2050, three billion persons will move out of poverty and 60 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities.

“Everyone is demanding more of everything, more houses, more cars and more water. And we are talking of a world where temperatures are forecasted to rise by two to three degrees Celsius, maybe more,” he asserted.

South Asia in need of proper planning

South Asia, home to 1.7 billion people of which 75 percent live in rural areas, is one of the most vulnerable regions to water shocks and represents an urgent mandate to government officials and all stakeholders to formulate coordinated and comprehensive plans.

The island of Sri Lanka, for instance, is a prime example of why water management needs to be a top priority among policy makers. With climate patterns shifting, the island has been losing chunks of its growth potential to misused water.

In the last decade, floods affected nine million people, representing almost half of Sri Lanka’s population of just over 20 million. Excessive rain also caused damages to the tune of one billion dollars, according to the latest data from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Ironically, the island also constantly suffers from a lack of water. Currently, a 10-month drought is affecting 15 of its 25 districts, home to 1.5 million people. It is also expected to drive down the crucial rice harvest by 17 percent, reducing yields to the lowest levels in six years. All this while the country is trying to maintain an economic growth rate of seven percent, experts say.

In trying to meet the challenges of wildly fluctuating rain patterns, the government has adopted measures that may actually be more harmful than helpful in the long term.

In the last three years it has switched to coal to offset drops in hydropower generation. Currently coal, which is considered a “dirty” energy source, is the largest energy source for the island, making up 46 percent of all energy produced, according to government data.

Top government officials like Finance Secretary Punchi Banda Jayasundera and Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga have told IPS that they are working on water management.

But for those who favour fast-track moves, like Mohammed and Yumkella, verbal promises need to translate into firm goals and action.

“If you don’t take water into account, either you are going to fail in your development goals, or you are going to put a lot of pressure on you water resources,” Richard Connor, lead author of the 2014 WWDR, told IPS.

The situation is equally dire for India and China. According to a report entitled ‘A Clash of Competing Necessities’ by CNA Analysis and Solutions, a Washington-based research organisation, 53 percent of India’s population lives in water-scarce areas, while 73 percent of the country’s electricity capacity is also located.

India’s power needs have galloped and according to research conducted in 2012, the gap between power demand and supply was 10.2 percent and was expected to rise further. The last time India faced a severe power crisis, in July 2012, 600 million people were left without power.

According to China Water Risk, a non-profit organisation, China’s energy needs will grow by 100 percent by 2050, but already around 60 percent of the nation’s groundwater resources are polluted.

China is heavily reliant on coal power but the rising demand for energy will put considerable stress on water resources in a nation where already at least 50 percent of the population may be facing water shortages, according to Debra Tan, the NGO’s director.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Only the Crazy and Economists Believe Growth is Endlesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/only-the-crazy-and-economists-believe-growth-is-endless/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=only-the-crazy-and-economists-believe-growth-is-endless http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/only-the-crazy-and-economists-believe-growth-is-endless/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 05:00:00 +0000 Justin Hyatt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136766 Degrowth demonstrators marching through the streets of Leipzig, September 2014. The placard reads: Exchange Share Give. Credit: Klimagerechtigkeit Leipzig (http://klimagerechtigkeit.blogsport.de/)

Degrowth demonstrators marching through the streets of Leipzig, September 2014. The placard reads: Exchange Share Give. Credit: Klimagerechtigkeit Leipzig (http://klimagerechtigkeit.blogsport.de/)

By Justin Hyatt
LEIPZIG, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

From the mid-20th century onwards, economic growth has come to count as a self-evident goal in economic policies and GDP to be seen as the most important index for measuring economic activities.

This was the premise underlying the recent Fourth International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equityheld in Leipzig to take stock of the “degrowth” movement’s progress in efforts to debunk the mantra of growth and call for a fundamental rethink of conventional economic concepts and practices.

Many followers of the movement, who argue that “anyone who thinks that growth can go on endlessly is either a crazy person or an economist”, base their philosophy on the findings of a 1972 book – The _Limits_to_Growth – which reports the results of a computer simulation of exponential economic and population growth with finite resource supplies.“In China, which is touted as a success story of economic growth, 75 percent of the results of this growth serves only 10 percent of the population, while the enormous Chinese urban centres have become so polluted that even the government would like to build eco-cities” – Alberto Acosta, economist and former President of the Constitutional Assembly of Ecuador

After Paris (2008), Barcelona (2010) and Venice (2012), this was the fourth such conference but, with some 3,000 participants, the largest so far. Hundreds of workshops, roundtable discussions and films or presentations were organised for the scientists, researchers, activists and members of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who gathered to discuss economic degrowth, sustainability and environmental initiatives, among others.

Internationally acclaimed Ecuadorian economist Alberto Acosta, who was President of the Constitutional Assembly of Ecuador in 2007-2008 told participants that in China, which is touted as a success story of economic growth, 75 percent of the results of this growth serves only 10 percent of the population, while the enormous Chinese urban centres have become so polluted that even the government would like to build eco-cities.

Acosta, who developed the Yasuní-ITT initiative, a scheme to forego oil exploitation in Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park, is also an advocate of buen vivir, arguing that extractivism is one of the most damaging practices linked to latter day capitalism, as more and more non-renewable natural resources are taken from the earth and lost forever, while producing gigantic quantities of harmful emissions.

To counter extractivism, Acosta calls for the adoption of buen vivir, which is based on the Andean Quechua peoples’ sumak kawsay (full life) – a way of doing things that is community-centric, ecologically-balanced and culturally-sensitive – and loosely translates as “good living”.

For Giorgos Kallis, an environmental researcher and professor at the University of Barcelona, degrowth needs to provide a space for critical action and for reshaping development from below, in an attempt to divert more time away from a capitalist and towards a care economy.

When asked if the concept of degrowth was not too radical or uncomfortable a message, Kallis said: “Yes, perhaps degrowth doesn’t sit well, but that is precisely the point, to not sit well – it is time to make this message relevant.”

Canadian author and social activist Naomi Klein, known for her criticism of corporate globalisation and author of No Logo – which for many has become a manifesto of the anti-corporate globalisation movement – joined the conference by Skype to tell participants that radical change in the political and physical landscape is our only real possibility to escape greater disaster and that reformist approaches are not enough.

One of the main driving forces behind the degrowth movement is Francois Schneider, one of the first degrowth activists who promoted the concept through a year-long donkey tour in 2006 in France and founded the Research and Degrowth academic association.

“Systemic change involves whole segments of society,” Schneider told IPS. “It doesn’t involve just one little part and we don’t expect a new decision from the European Parliament that will change everything. Dialogue is the key. And putting forward many different proposals.”

Taking the example of transport and mobility, he explained that it is useless to tackle the transformation of transport alone because “transportation is linked to energy and advertising is linked to the car industry.”

Vijay Pratap, Indian activist from the Gandhi-inspired Socialist youth movement era and member of South Asian Dialogues on Ecological Democracy (SADED) pleaded for the inclusion of marginalised majorities in the degrowth movement. Pratap told IPS that “unless we initiate the processes so that they can become leaders of their own liberation, no real post-growth society can come into being.”

While he was satisfied with what he said as a very egalitarian and democratic approach to the organisation of the conference, Pratap said that inclusion should be guaranteed for those who do not speak English, those who do not know how to navigate social networking sites and those who do not have access to international philanthropic donor agencies.“

According to Pratap, who participated as an organiser in the World Social Forum (WSF) gathering in Mumbai in 2004, this was one major lesson of the WSF process.

On the final day, Lucia Ortiz, a programme director for Friends of the Earth International and active in Brazilian social movements, did not mince her words in the closing plenary when she proclaimed that “degrowth is the bullet to dismantle the ideology of growth.”

The movement to dismantle this ideology will now continue in preparation for the next degrowth conference in two years’ time.

And Kallis is convinced that it will be even more successful than this year’s event. Commenting on the increase in participation from a few hundred in Paris in 2008 to the 3,000 in Leipzig, he quipped: “At this pace, in twenty years, we’ll have the whole world at our conference.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Half a Century of Struggle Against Underdevelopmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/half-a-century-of-struggle-against-underdevelopment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=half-a-century-of-struggle-against-underdevelopment http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/half-a-century-of-struggle-against-underdevelopment/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 04:55:17 +0000 Pablo Piacentini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136783

This is the fifth in a series of special articles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of IPS, which was set up in 1964, the same year as the Group of 77 (G77) and the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Pablo Piacentini is co-founder of IPS and current director of the IPS Columnist Service.

By Pablo Piacentini
ROME, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

The idea of creating Inter Press Service (IPS) arose in the early 1960s in response to awareness that a vacuum existed in the world of journalism, which had two basic aspects.

Firstly, there was a marked imbalance in international information sources. World news production was concentrated in the largest industrialised countries and dominated by a few powerful agencies and syndicates in the global North.

By contrast, there was a lack of information about developing countries in the South and elsewhere; there was hardly any information about their political, economic and social realities, except when natural disasters occurred, and what little was reported was culturally prejudiced against these countries. In other words, not much of an image and a poor image at that.A journalist specialised in development issues must be able to look at and analyse information and reality from the “other side.” In spite of globalisation and the revolution in communications, this “other side” continues to be unknown and disregarded, and occupies a marginal position in the international information universe

Secondly, there was an overall shortage of analysis and explanation of the processes behind news events and a lack of in-depth journalistic genres such as features, opinion articles and investigative journalism among the agencies.

Agencies published mainly ‘spot’ news, that is, brief pieces with the bare news facts and little background. Clearly this type of journalism did not lend itself to covering development-related issues.

When reporting an epidemic or a catastrophe in a Third World country, spot news items merely describe the facts and disseminate broadcast striking images. What they generally do not do is make an effort to answer questions such as why diseases that have disappeared or are well under control in the North should cause such terrible regional pandemics in less developed countries, or why a major earthquake in Los Angeles or Japan should cause much less damage and fewer deaths than a smaller earthquake in Haiti.

Superficiality and bias still predominate in international journalism.

While it is true that contextualised analytical information started to appear in the op-ed (“opposite the editorial page”) section of Anglo-Saxon newspapers, the analysis and commentary they offered concentrated on the countries of the North and their interests.

Today the number of op-eds that appear is much greater than in the 1960s, but the predominant focus continues to be on the North.

This type of top-down, North-centred journalism served the interests of industrialised countries, prolonging and extending their global domination and the subordination of non-industrialised countries that export commodities with little or no added value.

This unequal structure of global information affected developing countries negatively. For example, because of the image created by scanty and distorted information, it was unlikely that the owners of expanding businesses in a Northern country would decide to set up a factory in a country of the South.

After all, they knew little or nothing about these countries and, given the type of reporting about them that they were accustomed to, assumed that they were uncivilised and dangerous, with unreliable judicial systems, lack of infrastructure, and so on.

Obviously, few took the risk, and investments were most frequently North-North, reinforcing development in developed countries and underdevelopment in underdeveloped countries.

Pablo Piacentini

Pablo Piacentini

In the 1960s, those of us who created IPS set ourselves the goal of working to correct the biased, unequal and distorted image of the world projected by international agencies in those days.

Political geography and economics were certainly quite different then. Countries like Brazil, which is now an emerging power, used to be offhandedly dismissed with the quip: “It’s the country of the future – and always will be.”

At the time, decolonisation was under way in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. Latin America was politically independent but economically dependent. The Non-Aligned Movement was created in 1961.

IPS never set out to present a “positive” image of the countries of the South by glossing over or turning a blind eye to the very real problems, such as corruption. Instead, we wished to present an objective view, integrating information about the South, its viewpoints and interests, into the global information media.

This implied a different approach to looking at the world and doing journalism. It meant looking at it from the viewpoint of the realities of the South and its social and economic problems.

Let me give an example which has a direct link to development.

The media tend to dwell on what they present as the negative consequences of commodity price rises: they cause inflation, are costly for consumers and their families, and distort the world economy. Clearly, this is the viewpoint of the industrialised countries that import cheap raw materials and transform them into manufactured goods as the basis for expanding their businesses and competing in the global marketplace.

It is true that steep and sudden price increases for some commodities can create problems in the international economy, as well as affect the population of some poor countries that have to import these raw materials.

But generalised and constant complaints about commodities price increases fail to take into account the statistically proven secular trend towards a decline in commodity prices (with the exception of oil since 1973) compared with those of manufactured goods.

IPS’s editorial policy is to provide news and analyses that show how, in the absence of fair prices and proper remuneration for their commodities, and unless more value is added to agricultural and mineral products, poor countries reliant on commodity exports cannot overcome underdevelopment and poverty.

Many communications researchers have recognised IPS’s contribution to developing a more analytical and appropriate journalism for focusing on and understanding economic, social and political processes, as well as contributing to greater knowledge of the problems faced by countries of the South.

Journalists addressing development issues need, in the first place, to undertake critical analysis of the content of news circulating in the information arena.

Then they must analyse economic and social issues from the “other point of view”, that of marginalised and oppressed people, and of poor countries unable to lift themselves out of underdevelopment because of unfavourable terms of trade, agricultural protectionism, and so on.

They must understand how and why some emerging countries are succeeding in overcoming underdevelopment, and what role can be played by international cooperation.

They also need to examine whether the countries of the North and the international institutions they control are imposing conditions on bilateral or multilateral agreements that actually perpetuate unequal development.

World economic geography and politics may have changed greatly since the 1960s, and new information technologies may have revolutionised the media of today, but these remain some important areas in which imbalanced and discriminatory news treatment is evident.

In conclusion, a journalist specialised in development issues must be able to look at and analyse information and reality from the “other side.” In spite of globalisation and the revolution in communications, this “other side” continues to be unknown and disregarded, and occupies a marginal position in the international information universe.

An appreciation of the true dimensions of the above issues, the contrast between them and the information and analysis we are fed daily by the predominant media virtually all over the world – not only in the North, but also many by media in the South – leads to the obvious conclusion that there is a crying need for unbiased global journalism to help correct North-South imbalance.

To this arduous task and still far-off goal, IPS has devoted its wholehearted efforts over the past half century.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Free Economic Zone Plan Slammed as ‘Suicide’ Pact for Taiwan Farmershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/free-economic-zone-plan-slammed-as-suicide-pact-for-taiwan-farmers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=free-economic-zone-plan-slammed-as-suicide-pact-for-taiwan-farmers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/free-economic-zone-plan-slammed-as-suicide-pact-for-taiwan-farmers/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 12:14:50 +0000 Dennis Engbarth http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136580 A worker, farmer and doctor are hanged in the “Suicide Zone” outside of Taiwan’s national legislature, in a street theater protest by student groups against government efforts to establish “Free Economy Pilot Zones” across Taiwan. Credit: Dennis Engbarth/IPS

A worker, farmer and doctor are hanged in the “Suicide Zone” outside of Taiwan’s national legislature, in a street theater protest by student groups against government efforts to establish “Free Economy Pilot Zones” across Taiwan. Credit: Dennis Engbarth/IPS

By Dennis Engbarth
TAIPEI, Sep 11 2014 (IPS)

The Taiwan government’s plan to liberalise tariff-free imports of agricultural produce from China and other countries for processing in free economic pilot zones, which will then be exported as ‘Made in Taiwan’ items, may mean suicide for Taiwanese farmers if approved by the national legislature.

The Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) government of President Ma Ying-jeou conceived the Free Economic Pilot Zone (FEPZ) plan in 2012 as a way to urge Taiwanese investors in China to relocate value added operations back to Taiwan, through tax and other incentives.

In early 2013, the KMT government re-packaged the plan to feature components for the promotion of value-added agriculture and international medical services, among others, and submitted required changes in the legal code to implement the plan in a draft Free Economic Pilot Zone Special Act to the KMT-controlled Legislature in December 2013.

“The intention of the Ma government to lift the ban on Chinese agricultural commodities through the FEPZ special act violates his own promise in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, but dovetails with Beijing’s objective of cross-strait economic integration." -- Lai Chung-chiang, convenor of the Democratic Front Against Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement
The special act offers investors in FEPZs business tax exemptions, tariff-free importation of industrial or agricultural raw materials, eased entry and income tax breaks for foreign professional workers, including from China, and streamlined procedures for customs and quarantine checks, labour safety inspections and environmental impact assessments.

Social movement groups have warned that the China-friendly KMT government aims to use the FEPZ programme as a back door to realise full deregulation of trade between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China, and avoid the need for legislative ratification of trade pacts after the Sunflower citizen and student occupation movement in March derailed a controversial service trade pact between the two governments.

Lai Chung-chiang, convenor of the Democratic Front Against Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement, observed that the Sunflower movement spurred the formation of a consensus in Taiwan that the Legislature should enact a law strictly governing the negotiation of cross-strait agreements before reviewing the ‘trade in services’ agreement or other pacts with China.

Fearing indefinite delays in future China trade deals, the Ma government tried to ram a first reading of the draft FEPZ special act through the national legislature’s economic affairs committee in two extraordinary sessions in July and August, but opposition lawmakers blocked this push.

Lai told IPS that the core of the FEPZ concept is to arbitrarily grant tariff-free entry for raw materials and products from all countries into Taiwan’s six main seaports and its major international airport in order to display Taiwan’s interest to enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other regional free trade pacts.

Instead, this act will sell out Taiwan’s economic future, warned Lai, adding, “Our major trade partners will have no reason to engage in negotiations with us to further open their markets as our government will have surrendered all of our bargaining chips even before talks begin.”

“The intention of the Ma government to lift the ban on Chinese agricultural commodities through the FEPZ special act violates his own promise in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, but dovetails with Beijing’s objective of cross-strait economic integration,” Lai added.

Despite a high-powered advertising campaign, the Taiwan public is not visibly enthusiastic about the FEPZ plan. Nearly 63 percent of respondents in a poll carried out by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s Public Survey Center in June said they were worried about the scheme’s impact on Taiwan’s economy.

Labour organisations are leery of further liberalisation of foreign workers, including white-collar professionals from China, while medical and educational organisations object to plans to offer health and educational tourism programmes that would spur the commodification of public services.

Raw deal for local farmers

Made in Taiwan?

“As a Taiwanese farmer, I oppose the use of the ‘Made in Taiwan’ label, for which Taiwan farmers worked so hard, to endorse products made with Chinese raw materials,” Wu Chia-ling, a farmer working with the Yilan Organic Rice Workshop, told IPS.

Tsai Pei-hui, convenor of the Taiwan Rural Front, also said that the FEPZ “value-added agriculture” programme would damage Taiwan’s reputation by “contributing to the exploitation of farmers around the region and the world.”

“Growers of tea in China and Vietnam, coffee in Latin America and cocoa in Africa should not just be workers producing agricultural raw materials for purchase at low prices for processing abroad,” Tsai said, adding that Taiwan has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and should not follow in the footsteps of countries that have engaged in exploitative agricultural practices.
However, the most controversial segment is a so-called value-added agriculture plan promoted by Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Pao-chi.

Chen Chi-chung, a professor at the National Chung Hsing University Agricultural Policy Center, stated, “Taiwan may become the first producer of agricultural goods that will permit agricultural produce from all over the world, including China, to be used for processing in its own factories free of tariffs or business taxes.”

Article 42 of the draft special act would fully lift the current ban on import from China of 2,186 types of raw materials, including 830 types of agricultural commodities, while Article 38 would exempt FEPZ enterprises from tariffs, cargo levies and business income taxes. Article 41 would exempt most such commodities from customs or health inspections.

Moreover, makers of processed agricultural goods or foods exported from FEPZs will be able to attach ‘Made in Taiwan’ labels to their products.

Rural Life Experimental Farm Director Liao Chih-heng told IPS that instead of helping farmers cope with the unfair competition from producers in China due to state subsidies and lower labour and environmental costs, the Ma government is inviting such unfair competition into our home market.

Tai Chen-yao, a farmer of squash and lemons in Kaohsiung City in southern Taiwan, told IPS, “If Taiwan sells processed Chinese agricultural goods as Made in Taiwan, food processors as well as farmers will be hurt since there will be no way to guarantee the safety or quality of raw material and thus the food safety for consumers of such products.”

Su Chih-fen, Yunlin County Mayor for the opposition DPP, echoed these sentiments, telling IPS that a rising share of Taiwan farmers, including youth who are returning to the countryside, are absorbing new knowledge and creating innovative agricultural products that can out-compete imports, which may be cheaper but have higher food safety risks.

The value-added agriculture plan would deprive this emerging cohort of new style farmers of access to export markets and divert resources away from assisting the majority of farmers to upgrade, said Su, who is mayor of Taiwan’s agricultural capital.

Agriculture accounted for 1.7 percent of Taiwan’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013. Primary sector workers in agriculture, forestry, fishing and livestock accounted for nearly five percent of Taiwan’s 10.97-million-strong workforce or 544,000 persons as of May 2014.

Su further warned that the government’s plan would effectively punish farmers who kept their roots in Taiwan and have worked to upgrade and grow high quality produce.

In the wake of such widespread criticism, the official National Development Commission (NDC) has announced modifications including dropping the provision that 10 percent of agriculture value-added goods made with raw materials from China could be sold on the domestic market.

However, Chen Chi-chung declared that the changes, along with the NDC’s claim that processed foods made in the FEPZ using imported materials from China or other low-cost suppliers would not enter or affect Taiwan’s domestic market, were deceptive semantics.

Using imported raw agriculture materials, such as tea or peanuts, to make processed food products in Taiwan will surely reduce the demand for domestic agricultural products and thus the income of Taiwan farmers, said Chen.

According to the Council of Agriculture’s statistics, average annual income for a farm household in 2012 was about 33,200 dollars; however, the net income from farming activities was only 7,200 dollars.

KMT Legislative Caucus Convenor Fei Hung-tai told IPS that the majority KMT caucus aims to actively promote passage of the FEPZ statute during the upcoming session.

Noting that civil society organisations and opposition parties have called for the elimination of Articles 38, 41, 42 and other provisions harmful to the interests of Taiwan farmers, workers and public services, Lai told IPS, “If the KMT pushes passage of this act, it will have to either have to accept major concessions in the final content of the bill or face an intense backlash in civil society and public opinion.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Global Summit Urged to Focus on Trillion-Dollar Corruptionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/global-summit-to-focus-on-eradication-of-trillion-dollar-corruption/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-summit-to-focus-on-eradication-of-trillion-dollar-corruption http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/global-summit-to-focus-on-eradication-of-trillion-dollar-corruption/#comments Fri, 05 Sep 2014 18:15:17 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136512 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 5 2014 (IPS)

New analysis suggests that developing countries are losing a trillion dollars or more each year to tax evasion and corruption facilitated by lax laws in Western countries, raising pressure on global leaders to agree to broad new reforms at an international summit later this year.

These massive losses could be leading to as many as 3.6 million deaths a year, according to the ONE Campaign, an advocacy group that focuses on poverty alleviation in Africa. Recovering just part of this money in Sub-Saharan Africa, the organisation says, could allow for the education of 10 million more children“Whenever corruption is allowed to thrive, it inhibits private investment, reduces economic growth, increases the cost of doing business, and can lead to political instability. But in developing countries, corruption is a killer” – ONE Campaign
 a year, or provide some 165 million additional vaccines.

“Whenever corruption is allowed to thrive, it inhibits private investment, reduces economic growth, increases the cost of doing business, and can lead to political instability. But in developing countries, corruption is a killer,” a report on the findings, released Wednesday, states.

“When governments are deprived of their own resources to invest in health care, food security or essential infrastructure, it costs lives, and the biggest toll is on children.”

The new analysis focuses on a spectrum of money laundering, bribery and tax evasion by criminals as well as government officials. The lost money is not development aid but rather undeclared or siphoned-off business earnings – immense tax avoidance resulting in a decreased base from which governments can fund essential services.

International trade offers a key point of manipulation, the report says, with the extractive industries particularly vulnerable. In Africa alone, exports of natural resources grew by a factor of five in the decade leading up to 2012, offering clear prospects for growth alongside lucrative opportunities for corruption on a mass scale.

“Between 2002 and 2011 we saw an exponential increase in illicit financial flows across the globe,” Joseph Kraus, a transparency expert at the ONE Campaign, told IPS.

“Yet while we’re all familiar with corruption in developing countries, it takes two to tango – that money often ends up in the financial centres of the Global North. Those banks, lawyers and accountants are all essentially facilitators of that corruption, so in order to get at the root of this issue we need to go after the problems there.”

Real opportunity

Advocates including the ONE Campaign are currently stepping up pressure on industrialised countries to institute a series of across-the-board transparency measures. Some are aimed at corruption in developing countries, such as strengthening disclosure laws impacting on the extractives industry and bolstering “open data” standards to allow citizens increased oversight over their governments’ dealings.

Several other reforms would need to be carried out by developed countries, particularly those housing major financial centres such as the United States and United Kingdom. These would include new standards requiring governments to automatically exchange tax information, to mandate the publication of full information on corporate ownership, and to force multinational corporations to report on their earnings on a country-by-country basis.

In certain circles, such demands have been percolating for years. But current circumstances could offer unusual opportunity for such changes.

“In the last two years we’ve seen an acceleration of this agenda,” Kraus says. “Eighteen months ago, no one was talking about phantom firms or anonymous shell companies. But these issues have gained a lot of momentum in a short period of time, and there is real opportunity coming up.”

This new energy has been motivated particularly by concerns in advanced economies over shrinking government budgets in the aftermath of the global economic downturn. Yet developing countries arguably stand to benefit the most from substantive reforms, provided they’re structured accordingly.

Advocates of such changes are now looking ahead to a summit, on Nov 15 and 16 in Australia, of the members of the Group of 20 (G20) world’s largest advanced and emerging economies as well as two major meetings of finance ministers in the run-up to that event.

The G20 represent about two-thirds of the world’s population, 85 percent of global gross domestic product and over 75 percent of global trade.

The members of the G20 are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union.

The G20 has taken on a primary role in issues of global financial stability and, more recently, in pushing the automatic exchange of tax information between governments. A new global standard on such exchange could be approved by the G20 ministers in November, among other actions.

“For too long, G20 countries have turned a blind eye to massive financial outflows from developing countries which are channelled through offshore bank accounts and secret companies,” according to John Githongo, an anti-corruption campaigner in Kenya.

“Introducing smart policies could help end this trillion dollar scandal and reap massive benefits for our people at virtually no cost. The G20 should make those changes now.”

Coordinated response

In fact, many G20 countries have instituted some of these reforms on their own. The U.K. government, for instance, has taken unilateral action on publicising information on corporate ownership, while the United States was the first to pass strong transparency requirements for multinational extractives companies.

While such piecemeal national legislation can spur other countries to action, many feel only a comprehensive approach would have a chance at having a substantial impact. Further, many governments have pledged to act on these issues, but have yet to actually follow through.

“Illicit financial flows are a perfect example of a transnational problem, in that you have two legal regimes in which loopholes are being exploited,” Josh Simmons, a policy counsel at Global Financial Integrity, a Washington watchdog group that supplied data for the new ONE Campaign report, told IPS.

“So when an international cooperative body is able to identify these loopholes, they can get member countries to move in sync to address the situation. But if only one country tries to do so, businesses would probably just move elsewhere.”

Others are looking even more broadly than the G20. A paper released last month by researchers with the Center for Global Development, a think tank here, calls for the inclusion of anti-tax-evasion aims in the new global development goals currently being negotiated under the United Nations.

Indeed, even while there could be real movement at the G20 on several of these issues this year, the work on the other end of this equation – in developing countries – remains onerous.

“We need to get developing countries’ tax systems up to speed, strengthen their financial intelligence units and get their anti-laundering laws up to code. And that is proceeding, but much more under the radar given its complexity,” Simmons says.

“Still, that’s where people are actually bearing the brunt of this problem. Tax avoidance in the United States contributes to the national debt, but in developing countries it’s literally causing people to go hungry.”

Edited by Ronald Joshua

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OPINION: Sanctions and Retaliations: Simply Unconscionablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/sanctions-and-retaliations-simply-unconscionable/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sanctions-and-retaliations-simply-unconscionable http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/sanctions-and-retaliations-simply-unconscionable/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 05:16:42 +0000 Somar Wijayadasa http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136480 Independence Square in Kiev. In the aftermath of the revolution Ukraine now faces a difficult path to EU integration. Credit: Natalia Kravchuk/IPS.

Independence Square in Kiev. In the aftermath of the revolution Ukraine now faces a difficult path to EU integration. Credit: Natalia Kravchuk/IPS.

By Somar Wijayadasa
NEW YORK, Sep 4 2014 (IPS)

The crisis in Ukraine is a man-made disaster created by world leaders who have been trying to pull Ukraine apart – either towards Europe or Russia.

As geo-political tensions in the world rage unabated, world powers rush to impose sanctions that cause unintended consequences.

A Washington Post editorial, ‘The Snake Oil Diplomacy: When Tensions Rise, The US Peddles Sanctions’, published as far back as July 1998, stated, “No country in the world has employed sanctions as often as the United States has… it has imposed economic sanctions more than 110 times.”

Historically, the League of Nations, United Nations, United States and the European Union have resorted to mandatory sanctions as an enforcement tool when peace has been threatened and diplomatic efforts have failed.

“No country in the world has employed sanctions as often as the United States has… it has imposed economic sanctions more than 110 times.” -- Washington Post
During the 1990s, we witnessed a proliferation of sanctions imposed by the U.N. and U.S. against Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Liberia, Somalia, Cambodia, Haiti – to name a few.

These sanctions brought disastrous consequences – where those in power thrived and the poor suffered.

A few countries such as Iran, Iraq and North Korea scoffed at U.S. sanctions as they had resources or the will power to survive. Sanctions against China and India failed to change the leadership or hinder the country’s economic drive and growth.

But in most countries, especially Cuba, Iraq and Haiti, sanctions deteriorated their economic, social and healthcare systems.

At times, sanctions were used as an ulterior motive for “regime change” which is a violation of the U.N. Charter and the basic norms of international law.

Such a devious practice has nothing to do with protecting human rights, and promoting democracy and freedom.

Now, the sanctions against Russia – over the crisis in Ukraine – have boomeranged.

By April, “Maidan” protests ousted Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovytch. U.S. missiles near Russia and NATO’s efforts to expand into former Warsaw Pact countries angered Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia was blocked out of the G8.

The U.S. and the EU imposed sanctions on Russia when Crimea joined Russia after the Crimeans held a referendum to declare independence based on the right of nations to self-determination that is stipulated in Article 1 of the U.N. Charter.

The right to “self-determination” was applied when former Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia were divided, and when several small states like East Timor declared independence.

People in East Ukraine – 70 percent of who are ethnic Russians – felt violated when the Ukrainian Government decided to ban the Russian language from its official status.

They too invoked their right to self-determination and held a referendum to establish their own State.

The U.S. broadened sanctions when the Malaysian plane was downed in East Ukraine. No evidence surfaced from the black boxes, satellite images or OSCE inspectors’ revelations to prove culpability – unless it was a deliberate, pre-meditated act to blame a warring faction.

Also Western leaders claim that Russia provides weapons to the rebels in Ukraine. It may be true, but again the U.S. has not provided any evidence and Putin denies the charge. It’s like Iraq’s WMDs all over again.

More U.S. and EU sanctions against Russia froze the assets of Russians in power, banned their travel to EU countries, restricted Russian banks’ sales of debt or stocks in European markets, and targeted Russia’s defense, energy and financial sectors – to name a few.

On Aug. 7, in a radical response to Western sanctions, Russia retaliated by banning imports of beef, pork, poultry, fish, cheese, dairy products, fruit and vegetables from the European Union, United States, Australia, Canada, Norway, for one year.

Russia’s agriculture minister, Nikolai Fyodorov, said, “We now have the unique chance to improve our agricultural sector and make it more competitive.” He said that Russia has already identified other non-Western countries to import banned food items, and that he is confident that Russians will use locally available food.

From what we hear, European growth has slowed down; some countries creeping back into recession; U.S. investors have withdrawn over four billion dollars from Euro stocks; European farmers and Norway’s fishermen are affected and the EU has set aside 167 million dollars to compensate farmers for their loss of revenue; and companies that transport cargo to Russia have come to a halt.

While it is difficult to predict how this tit-for-tat will ultimately affect both Russian and Western economies, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that the sanctions have, in fact, harmed the West more than they have hurt Russia. He said, “In politics, this is called shooting oneself in the foot.”

Also the toll on human suffering is increasing. The U.N. claims that the war in Ukraine has already killed over 2,500 and injured nearly 5,000 people.

According to UNHCR, over 730,000 Eastern Ukrainians have fled to Russia. The Ukrainian government acknowledges that over 300,000 of its citizens are displaced inside Ukraine.

The U.N. Charter and international law provide for settling conflicts between states through negotiations based on mutual respect for each other’s independence, sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of the other.

This disaster can be resolved only if power-hungry world leaders renounce their arrogance and interventionism, and help Ukraine become a prosperous but neutral buffer nation between Western Europe and Russia. If not, the partition of Ukraine will be inevitable.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

 

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OPINION: Civil Society Calls For Impartial Inquiry on Air Crash and Catastrophe in Ukrainehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-civil-society-calls-for-impartial-inquiry-on-air-crash-and-catastrophe-in-ukraine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-civil-society-calls-for-impartial-inquiry-on-air-crash-and-catastrophe-in-ukraine http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-civil-society-calls-for-impartial-inquiry-on-air-crash-and-catastrophe-in-ukraine/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 10:30:09 +0000 Alice Slater http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136453 Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO chief, addresses a crowd in Austin, Texas. Credit: DVIDSHUB/Texas Military Forces/Photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Wilson/CC-BY-2.0

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO chief, addresses a crowd in Austin, Texas. Credit: DVIDSHUB/Texas Military Forces/Photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Wilson/CC-BY-2.0

By Alice Slater
NEW YORK, Sep 2 2014 (IPS)

It is ironic that at this moment in history when so many people and nations around the world are acknowledging the 100th anniversary of our planet’s hapless stumble into World War I, great powers and their allies are once again provoking new dangers where governments appear to be sleepwalking towards a restoration of old Cold War battles.

A barrage of conflicting information is broadcast in the various national and nationalistic media with alternative versions of reality that provoke and stoke new enmities and rivalries across national borders.

Moreover, NATO’s new disturbing saber-rattling, with its chief, Anders Rasmussen, announcing that NATO will deploy its troops for the first time in Eastern Europe since the Cold War ended, building a “readiness action plan”, boosting Ukraine’s military capacity so that, “ In the future you will see a more visible NATO presence in the east”, while disinviting Russia from the upcoming NATO meeting in Wales, opens new possibilities for endless war and hostilities.

The world can little afford the trillions of dollars in military spending and trillions and trillions of brain cells wasted on war when our very Earth is under stress and needs the critical attention of our best minds [...].
With the U.S. and Russia in possession of over 15,000 of the world’s 16,400 nuclear weapons, humanity can ill-afford to stand by and permit these conflicting views of history and opposing assessments of the facts on the ground lead to a 21st Century military confrontation between the great powers and their allies.

While sadly acknowledging the trauma suffered by the countries of Eastern Europe from years of Soviet occupation, and understanding their desire for the protection of the NATO military alliance, we must remember that Russia lost 20 million people during WWII to the Nazi onslaught and are understandably wary of NATO expansion to their borders in a hostile environment.

This despite a promise to Gorbachev, when the wall came down peacefully and the Soviet Union ended its post-WWII occupation of Eastern Europe, that NATO would not be expanded eastward, beyond the incorporation of East Germany into that rusty Cold War alliance.

Russia has lost the protection of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which the U.S. abandoned in 2001, and warily observes missile bases metastasizing ever closer to its borders, in new NATO member states, while the U.S. rejects repeated Russian efforts for negotiations on a treaty to ban weapons in space, or Russia’s prior application for membership in NATO.

Why do we still have NATO anyway? This Cold War relic is being used to fire up new hostilities and divisions between Russia and the rest of Europe.

Civil Society demands that an independent international inquiry be commissioned to review events in Ukraine leading up to the crash of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 and of the procedures being used to review the catastrophic aftermath, including this latest outbreak of hostile actions from NATO.

Indeed, Russia has already called for an investigation of the facts surrounding the Malaysian airplane crash. The international investigation should factually determine the cause of the accident and hold responsible parties accountable to the families of the victims and the citizens of the world who fervently desire peace and peaceful settlements of any existing conflicts.

More importantly, it should include a fair and balanced presentation of what led to the deterioration of U.S.–Russian relations since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the new hostile and polarized posture that the U.S. and Russia with their allies find themselves in today with NATO now threatening greater militarisation and provocations against Russia in Eastern Europe.

The United Nations Security Council, with U.S. and Russian agreement, has already passed Resolution 2166 addressing the Malaysian jet crash, demanding accountability, full access to the site and a halt to military activity, which has been painfully disregarded at various times since the incident.

One of the provisions of Resolution 2166 notes that the Council “[s]upports efforts to establish a full, thorough and independent international investigation into the incident in accordance with international civil aviation guidelines.”

Further, the 1909 revised Convention on the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes adopted at the 1899 Hague International Peace Conference has been used successfully to resolve issues between states so that war was avoided in the past.

Regardless of the forum where the evidence is gathered and fairly evaluated, all the facts and circumstances should be made known to the world as to how we got to this unfortunate state of affairs on our planet today and what might be the solutions.

All the members of NATO together with Russia and Ukraine are urged to end the endless arms race, which only feeds the military-industrial complex that U.S. President Eisenhower warned against.

They must engage in diplomacy and negotiations, not war and hostile alienating actions.

The world can little afford the trillions of dollars in military spending and trillions and trillions of brain cells wasted on war when our very Earth is under stress and needs the critical attention of our best minds and thinking, and the abundance of resources mindlessly diverted to war to be made available for the challenges confronting us to create a livable future for life on earth.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Why Principle Matters at UN Human Rights Councilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/why-principle-matters-at-un-human-rights-council/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-principle-matters-at-un-human-rights-council http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/why-principle-matters-at-un-human-rights-council/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 10:08:29 +0000 Mandeep S.Tiwana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136441

In this column, Mandeep Tiwana, a lawyer specialising in human rights and civil society issues and Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, argues that too often principle is being abandoned at the United Nations Human Rights Council and that every time this happens the legitimacy of the global governance institution suffers.

By Mandeep S.Tiwana
JOHANNESBURG, Sep 2 2014 (IPS)

The killings of hundreds of civilians, including scores of children, in Gaza – whose only fault was to have been born on the wrong side of the wall – was a major point of contention at the United Nations Human Rights Council at the end of July.

The high death toll caused by indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas by the Israeli military has resulted in what may very likely be war crimes. The United Nations has said that 70 percent of those killed in Gaza were civilians.

Mandeep Tiwana

Mandeep Tiwana

Yet Western democracies, normally proactive on human rights issues at the Council, chose to withhold their vote when a resolution urging immediate cessation of Israeli military assaults throughout the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem, and an end to attacks against all civilians, including Israeli civilians, was brought forward.

Notably, the resolution sought to create an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the context of military operations conducted since June 13, 2014.

When asked to vote on the above, Austria, France, Ireland, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom chose to abstain. The United States, whose foreign policy mission is to “shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just and democratic world and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere,” was ironically the only country in the 47 member U.N. Human Rights Council to have voted against the resolution.“Institutions of global governance should be able to offer a source of protection and support for people who are being repressed, marginalised or excluded at the national level. Yet, too often, they are captured by state interests which override genuine human rights concerns.”

Essentially, each country standing for election to the Human Rights Council is required to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” By any yardstick, looking at the wanton death and destruction that has rained down on the people of Gaza, destroying the homes and livelihoods of tens of thousands as well as vital public infrastructure, is a blatant abdication of responsibility.

In 2006, when the Human Rights Council was created, then U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan poignantly remarked that the true test of its ability would be the use that member states make of it. Eight years down the line, sadly the Council remains a house divided on the great human rights matters of the day.

Earlier this year in March, when the Human Rights Council passed a resolution aimed at addressing impunity for the widespread violations of international law committed during and after the Sri Lankan civil war, many of the countries strongly in favour of accountability for crimes committed in the Gaza conflict – such as Algeria, China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Viet Nam – voted against the Sri Lanka resolution. Conversely, Western democracies that abstained on the Gaza vote robustly supported action to tackle impunity in Sri Lanka.

This double standard represents perhaps the greatest challenge to the world’s premier human rights body.

Notably, the Human Rights Council was established in response to well-founded criticism of rampant politicisation of human rights issues by its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights.  At the Human Rights Council too, geopolitical interests of the more powerful states are driving selective blocking and support for human rights causes by elected member states, weakening respect for international standards. 

Notably, the formation of blocs presents a grave threat to the Council’s work. Its members have unfortunately slotted themselves into various informal groups such as the Western European and Others Group (WEOG),  African Group, Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) countries, and even a motley ‘Like-Minded Group’ that shares little in political culture and world view except that it largely opposes whatever the Western group comes up with.

These unfortunate political dynamics have weakened the ability of the Council to be a beacon for the advancement of human rights discourse. Tellingly, the issue of discrimination against and violations of the personal freedoms of sexual minorities including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) individuals remains another hotly contested area.

A regressively worded June 2014 resolution on the ‘protection of the family’ – which excludes LGBT individuals from the ambit of the family – witnessed en-masse voting in favour by the African, OIC and ‘Like-Minded Group’.

Worryingly, far too many countries are caught up in the herd mentality of en-masse voting coupled with advancement of strategic interests at the Human Rights Council. Too often, principle is being abandoned at the altar of politics. Every time this happens, the legitimacy of the global governance institution suffers, further exacerbating conflict.

A report by the global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, points out that in an ever more complex governance environment, where large problems are acknowledged to cross national borders, international level decision-making is starting to matter more.

Institutions of global governance should be able to offer a source of protection and support for people who are being repressed, marginalised or excluded at the national level. Yet, too often, they are captured by state interests which override genuine human rights concerns.

Civil society and the media have their work cut out to expose the hypocrisy and inconsistency that mars action on gross human rights violations in international forums like the Human Rights Council. States need to be held accountable and practice what they preach – on principle, and not only when it suits them. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Africa-U.S. Summit – Catching Up With China?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/africa-u-s-summit-catching-up-with-china/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-u-s-summit-catching-up-with-china http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/africa-u-s-summit-catching-up-with-china/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 13:07:35 +0000 Demba Moussa Dembele http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136304

In this column, Demba Moussa Dembele, director of the African Forum on Alternatives in Dakar, analyses the geopolitical reasons behind the recent summit in Washington between African leaders and the U.S. President and concludes that Africa has become the “new frontier” of global capitalism.

By Demba Moussa Dembele
DAKAR, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

A few years ago, nobody could have imagined that some 50 Heads of States and Prime Ministers from Africa would meet the President of the United States for a summit. Yet, the first Africa/United States Summit took place in Washington from August 4 to 6, making headlines around the world.

It is obvious that geopolitical considerations were behind this summit, with the shadow of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) hanging over the meeting.

Demba Moussa Dembele, chairperson of LDC Watch, speaks to IPS. Credit: Sanjay Suri/IPS

Demba Moussa Dembele

The United States would have never organised such a summit if the global balance of power had not been gradually shifting towards emerging powers, notably towards China and the BRICS.

Western economic domination is being eroded, as illustrated by the deepening crisis of the Eurozone and the worsening deficits of the United States. Meanwhile, the BRICS are increasing their economic and financial weight in the world economy, and represent about 20 percent of the world’s GDP and 17 percent of world trade, with China now the second economy behind the United States.

For most observers, the BRICS Summit in Fortaleza and Brasilia (Brazil) in mid-July heralds a new world monetary and financial order in the next decades or so. Observers from the South and the West are predicting the gradual shift to a new balance of monetary and financial order, with the BRICS at the centre.“Growing China-Africa ties are a disturbing development for Western countries, the European Union (EU) and the United States. They view these relations as a threat to their “traditional” neo-colonial relationships with Africa”

Indeed, the decision to set up the BRICS bank and the Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA) is seen as a serious challenge to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which have been the tools of Western countries for more than half a century. They will gradually become more and more irrelevant to developing countries, as these increasingly turn to BRICS’ financial institutions.

On the other hand, China and the other members of the BRICS group are challenging the hegemony of the U.S. dollar through several swap arrangements, aimed at boosting their trade by using their own currencies. One of the most significant arrangements is the swap between China and Russia, when one takes into account the 400 billion dollars gas deal signed between Russia’s Gazprom and the China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC).

The French online newspaper, Mediapart (July 5, 2014), reported that in the oil and gas sector, the top three investors in 2013 were all from the BRICS – PetroChina (50.2 billion dollars), Gazprom (44.5 billion dollars) and Petrobras (41.5 billion dollars). The first Western company was Total, which ranked seventh with 30.8 billion dollars.

It is obvious that these developments are of great concern to the United States, especially in light of the BRICS’ drive to strengthen their economic and financial relations with Africa and South America.

In a 2013 report, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) indicated that Africa’s trade with the BRICS had doubled since 2007 to 340 billion dollars in 2012. It projected that the trade would reach 500 billion dollars by 2015.

Trade between China and Africa is estimated at about 200 billion dollars in 2013. It has become Africa’s main trading partner. And most African countries are now turning to China for loans while Chinese companies are involved in building roads, bridges, and other infrastructures across Africa.

Growing China-Africa ties are a disturbing development for Western countries, the European Union (EU) and the United States. They view these relations as a threat to their “traditional”, neo-colonial relationships with Africa.

While the European Union has tried to lock African countries into Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) – as part of a scheme to create a free trade area (FTA) between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries – since 2007, the United States seems to be “wakening up” only now to the reality of the fast-changing economic landscape in Africa.

A Paris-based magazine, Jeune Afrique, wrote that with this Summit, Barack Obama was organising a “catch-up meeting”. The reason, said the magazine, was that the United States has lost too much ground to China and to a lesser degree to Europe. It is estimated that trade between Africa and the United States doubled between 2000 and 2010, while trade between Africa and China increased twenty-fold over the same period!

Most observers believe that without China building strong and growing economic and financial ties with Africa, the United States would not have thought about organising such a Summit. Clearly, China’s role in Africa has given a greater “respectability” to the continent and elevated its standing with Western countries, which are now looking at Africa through a new light.

Catching up for will not be an easy exercise for the United States. For one thing, its imports from Africa are essentially composed of crude oil, which accounts for 91 percent of total trade. Second, in its relations with Africa, security concerns have always topped the U.S. agenda.

This is why during the George W. Bush Administration, the United States set up “Africa Command” (AFRICOM) with the view to “helping” African countries fight “terrorism”. And the aim is to move AFRICOM headquarters – now in Germany – to Africa, preferably in the Gulf of Guinea, which is home to the bulk of African oil reserves. U.S. companies, like Chevron and ExxonMobil, have already invested billions of dollars in the area in order to control huge chunks of those reserves.

At the end of the Africa-U.S. Summit, Obama announced that 33 billion dollars will be invested in Africa between 2014 and 2017. But only seven billion dollars will come from public funds in order to boost trade between the United States and Africa, 14 billion dollars will come from the private banking and construction sectors, while 12 billion dollars are part of the “Power Africa” project aimed at bringing electricity to households and the industrial sector. This programme is financed by the World Bank and U.S. private companies such as General Electric.

So, the 33 billion dollars announcement is not really a “gift” made by president Barack Obama to African leaders, as some newspapers erroneously presented it. It will essentially serve the interests of U.S. private companies in their drive to compete against BRICS and European companies in Africa.

But, beyond “catching up” with China and the European Union, the Africa-U.S. Summit should be viewed in the context of the discourse on “Africa Rising”. Indeed, for neoliberal ideologues, Africa seems to hold the solution to the crisis of global capitalism.

In January 2014, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe toured Africa. In a speech at the headquarters of the African Union, in Addis Ababa, he was quoting as saying that “with its immense resources, Africa is holding the hopes of the world.” This was an echo to a report by the French Senate, released in December 2013, with the incredible title ‘Africa is our Future’.

This may explain French military adventures in Africa over the last several years, from Cote d’Ivoire to Libya, from Mali to the Central African Republic, among others.

Several forums are being organised to advise Western corporations to invest in Africa and tap into its resources. Apparently, Africa has become the “new frontier” of global capitalism, at the expense of its own people. As the renowned Egyptian economist Samir Amin used to say: “the West cares about Africa’s resources, not about its people.” (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Towards a Global Governance Platformhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-towards-a-global-governance-information-clearing-house/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-towards-a-global-governance-information-clearing-house http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-towards-a-global-governance-information-clearing-house/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 17:26:00 +0000 Ramesh Jaura http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136355 This is the third in a series of special articles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of IPS, which was set up in 1964, the same year as the Group of 77 (G77) and UNCTAD.]]>

This is the third in a series of special articles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of IPS, which was set up in 1964, the same year as the Group of 77 (G77) and UNCTAD.

By Ramesh Jaura
BERLIN/ROME, Aug 26 2014 (IPS)

Inter Press Service News Agency has braved severe political assaults and financial tempests since 1964, when Roberto Savio and Pablo Piacentini laid its foundation as a unique and challenging information and communication system.

Fifty years on, IPS continues to provide in-depth news and analysis from journalists around the world – primarily from the countries of the South – which is distinct from what the mainstream media offer. Underreported and unreported news constitutes the core of IPS coverage. Opinion articles by experts from think tanks and independent institutions enhance the spectrum and quality offered by IPS.

IPS coverage of the United Nations and its social and economic agenda is widely recognised as outstanding in the global media landscape. Credit: cc by 2.0

IPS coverage of the United Nations and its social and economic agenda is widely recognised as outstanding in the global media landscape. Credit: cc by 2.0

As the social media transforms the communication environment, IPS is determined to consolidate its unique niche and is tailoring its offer to adapt to the changes under way, while remaining true to its original vocation: make a concerted effort to right the systematic imbalance in the flow of information between the South and the North, give a voice to the South and promote South-South understanding and communication. In short, nothing less than turning the world downside up.

The fiftieth anniversary coincides with IPS decision to strengthen coverage not only from the U.N. in New York, but also from Vienna – bridging the U.N. there with the headquarters – as well as from Geneva and Nairobi, the only country in Africa hosting a major U.N. agency, the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

Turning 50 is also associated with a new phase in IPS life, marked not only by challenges emerging from rapid advance of communication and information technologies, but also by globalisation and the world financial crisis.

The latter is causing deeper social inequalities, and greater imbalances in international relations. These developments have therefore become thematic priorities in IPS coverage.

The consequences of “turbo-capitalism”, which allows finance capital to prevail over every aspect of social and personal life, and has disenfranchised a large number of people in countries around the world constituting the global South, are an important point of focus.

IPS has proven experience in reporting on the issues affecting millions of marginalised human beings – giving a voice to the voiceless – and informing about the deep transitional process which most of the countries of the South and some in the North are undergoing.

This latter day form of capitalism has not only resulted in dismissal of workers and catapulted their families into the throes of misery, but also devastated the environment and aggravated the impact of climate change, which is also playing havoc with traditional communities.

IPS also informs about the critical importance of the culture of peace and points to the perils of all forms of militarism. A Memorandum of Understanding between IPS and the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) provides an important framework for seminars aimed at raising the awareness of the media in covering cross-cultural conflicts.

Nuclear weapons that are known to have caused mass destruction in Hiroshima and Nagasaki 69 years ago, represent one of the worst forms of militarism. IPS provides news and analysis as well as opinions on continuing efforts worldwide to ban the bomb. This thematic emphasis has educed positive reactions from individual readers, experts and institutions dealing with nuclear abolition and disarmament.

As globalisation permeates even the remotest corners of the planet, IPS informs about the need of education for global citizenship and sustainable development, highlighting international efforts such as the United Nations Global Education First Initiative. IPS reports on initiatives aimed at ensuring that education for global citizenship is reflected in intergovernmental policy-making processes such as the Sustainable Development Goals and Post-2015 Development Agenda.

IPS reports accentuate the importance of multilateralism within the oft-neglected framework of genuine global governance. It is not surprising therefore that IPS coverage of the United Nations and its social and economic agenda is widely recognised as outstanding in the global media landscape.

This is particularly important because the news agency has come to a fork in the road represented by the financial crunch, which is apparently one of the toughest IPS has ever faced. However, thanks to the unstinting commitment of ‘IPS-ians’, the organisation is showing the necessary resilience to brave the challenge and refute those who see it heading down a blind alley.

At the same time, IPS is positioning itself distinctly as a communication and information channel supporting global governance in all its aspects, privileging the voices and the concerns of the poorest and creating a climate of understanding, accountability and participation around development and promoting a new international information order between the South and the North.

IPS has the necessary infrastructure and human resources required for facilitating the organisational architecture of an information and communication platform focused on ‘global governance’ (GGICP). Whether it is the culture of peace, citizen empowerment, human rights, gender equality, education and learning, development or environment, all these contribute to societal development, which in turn leads towards global governance.

In order to harness the full potential of communication and information tools, adequate financial support is indispensable. Projects that conform to the mission of IPS – making the voiceless heard by the international community, from local to global level – are one way of securing funds.

But since projects alone do not ensure the sustainability of an organisation, IPS is exploring new sources of funding: encouraging sponsorships through individual readers and institutions, enlightened governments and intergovernmental bodies as well as civil society organisations and corporations observing the UN Global Compact’s 10 principles in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption, which enjoy universal consensus.

Ramesh Jaura is IPS Director General and Editorial Coordinator since April 2014.

Edited by Phil Harris

The writer can be contacted at headquarters@ips.org

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Cuba Sees Its Future in Mariel Port, Hand in Hand with Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/cuba-sees-its-future-in-mariel-port-hand-in-hand-with-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuba-sees-its-future-in-mariel-port-hand-in-hand-with-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/cuba-sees-its-future-in-mariel-port-hand-in-hand-with-brazil/#comments Fri, 22 Aug 2014 13:16:51 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136278 The container terminal administrative building in the port of the Mariel special economic development zone in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The container terminal administrative building in the port of the Mariel special economic development zone in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Aug 22 2014 (IPS)

The Mariel special economic development zone, the biggest construction project undertaken in decades in Cuba, emerged thanks to financial support from Brazil, which was based on political goodwill, a strategy of integration, and business vision.

“Cuba would not have been able to undertake this project from a technical or economic point of view,” economist Esteban Morales told IPS. He added that the geographic setting makes the development zone strategic in terms of trade, industry and services in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Brazil financed the construction of the container terminal and the remodeling of the port of Mariel, which is equipped with state-of-the-art technology to handle cargo from Post-Panamax container ships that will begin to arrive when the expansion of the Panama Canal is completed in December 2015.

Post-Panamax refers to vessels that do not fit in the current Panama Canal, such as the supertankers and the largest modern container and passenger ships.

The port, 45 km west of Havana, is located along the route of the main maritime transport flows in the Western hemisphere, and experts say it will be the largest industrial port in the Caribbean in terms of both size and volume of activity.

Construction of the terminal, in the heart of the 465 sq km special economic development zone, has included highways connecting the Mariel port with the rest of the country, a railway network, and communication infrastructure, and the port will offer a variety of services.

In the special zone, currently under construction, there will be productive, trade, agricultural, port, logistical, training, recreational, tourist, real estate, and technological development and innovation activities, in installations that include merchandise distribution centres and industrial parks.

The special zone is divided into eight sectors, to be developed in stages. The first involves telecommunications and a modern technology park where pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms will operate – two sectors which will be given priority in Mariel, along with renewable energies, agriculture and food, among others.

The Cuban government is currently studying the approval of 23 projects from Europe, Asia and the Americas for Mariel, in the chemical, construction materials, logistics and equipment rental industries.

The terminal was inaugurated on Jan. 27, and during its first six months of operation it received 57 ships and some 15,000 containers – small numbers compared to the terminal’s warehouse capacity of 822,000 containers. Post-Panamax vessels can carry up to 12,600 containers, three times more than Panamax ships.

Another economist, Pedro Monreal, estimates that the cost per container will be cut in half.

The lower costs, he said, will improve the competitiveness of Brazil’s manufactured goods, to cite one example. Mariel, where a free trade zone will also operate, could become a platform for production and export by the companies, even for supplying Brazil’s domestic market.

Heavy machinery prepares the terrain for a railway that will form part of the new infrastructure linked to the special development zone in the port of Mariel – the biggest project undertaken in Cuba in decades: Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Heavy machinery prepares the terrain for a railway that will form part of the new infrastructure linked to the special development zone in the port of Mariel – the biggest project undertaken in Cuba in decades: Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Although Decree Law 313, which created the special economic development zone, was passed in September 2013, the remodeling of Mariel began three years ago, led by a joint venture formed in February 2010 by the Compañía de Obras e Infraestructura, a subsidiary of the private Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, and Quality Cuba SA.

The container terminal is run by Global Ports Management Limited of Singapore, one of the world’s biggest container terminal operators, which has been working with the Cuban firm Almacenes Universales S.A, which is the owner and user of the terminal, and responsible for oversight of its efficient use.

The relationship between Cuba and Brazil is a longstanding one. Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) did not hide his sympathies for the Cuban revolution, and has visited this country a number of times, first as a trade unionist and political party leader, and then as a president and former president.

Two packages of agreements signed in 2008 and 2010 between Lula and Cuban President Raúl Castro marked their interest in strengthening bilateral ties, an effort continued by current Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

When she attended the inauguration of the terminal, Rousseff said the project would take 802 million dollars in the first stage, plus 290 million for the second stage. The first of Brazil’s loans was initially to go towards construction of the road, but the local government decided to start with the port.

The credit was granted by Brazil’s National Bank of Economic and Social Development (BNDES). Havana provided 15 percent of the investment needed for the work.

“Cuba is a priority for our government, and Brazil is important to Havana,” the director general of the Brazilian Agency for the Promotion of Exports and Investments (APEX-Brazil), Hipólito Rocha, told IPS.

APEX-Brazil was created by Lula and Castro to promote joint business ventures with Cuba, the rest of the Caribbean and Central America.

Odebrecht is the most important company involved in Mariel, but diplomatic sources told IPS that a total of around 400 Brazilian companies are taking part in the project. “Between our countries there is affinity, political will, an interest in integration, but business matters are also important,” Rocha said.

He added that Cuba strictly lives up to its financial commitments with Brazil, and said bilateral relations “are solid, sustainable and bring benefits to our country as well.”

Analyst Arturo López-Levy said Brazil’s involvement in the Mariel project was decisive not only because of the investment. The political scientist, who lives in the United States, says the Brazilian government is sending a message to Washington and the European Union and other emerging powers that it backs the transformations underway in Cuba.

The presidents of China, Xi Jinping, and Russia, Vladimir Putin, also sent out signals when they visited Cuba in July, indicating their interest in expanding cooperation with Havana.

The two presidents stopped over in Cuba when they travelled to the sixth summit of the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), held Jul. 14-16 in Brazil.

The strengthening of ties promises greater access to the Chinese and Russian markets, attraction of investment in areas of common interest like the pharmaceutical and energy industries, and cooperation for the modernisation of strategic areas in defence, ports and telecommunications, López-Levy told IPS.

With respect to the possible interest of U.S. businesses in getting a foothold in the special economic development zone, and to an increase in pressure for the lifting of the five-decade U.S. embargo, the analyst said “the Cuban market awakens very limited interest in the United States.”

However, he said it was “clear” that U.S. investors are becoming more interested, especially Cuban-Americans.

“In order for this motivation to turn into political pressure against the embargo, the Cuban economy has to give out clear signs of recovery and of the government’s willingness, in key areas, to adopt a mixed economy with transparent guarantees for investors and export capacity,” he said.

Rocha has a somewhat different opinion.

“The embargo is going to collapse under its own weight,” he said. “Business will knock it down.”

It was seen as symbolic that the first ship that docked in the Mariel port after it began to operate brought food for Cuba from the United States – cash-only imports, which were authorised by the U.S. Congress in 2000.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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What’s More Important, the War on AIDS or Just War?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/whats-more-important-the-war-on-aids-or-just-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=whats-more-important-the-war-on-aids-or-just-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/whats-more-important-the-war-on-aids-or-just-war/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 07:20:13 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida and Mercedes Sayagues http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136087 The budgets of many African countries reflect greater interest in arms deals than in managing the deadly HIV epidemic. Credit: Thomas Martinez/IPS

The budgets of many African countries reflect greater interest in arms deals than in managing the deadly HIV epidemic. Credit: Thomas Martinez/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida and Mercedes Sayagues
JOHANNESBURG/NEW YORK, Aug 13 2014 (IPS)

They say there is a war on and its target is the deadly human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).   

This war runs worldwide but its main battleground is sub-Saharan Africa, where seven out of 10 HIV positive persons in the world live – 24.7 million in 2013. The region suffered up to 1.3 million AIDS-related deaths in the same year, according to the United Nations.

A ragtag army is fighting the war on AIDS. Sometimes it is comprised of well-dressed aid officials sitting in conference rooms allocating funds. At other times, it deploys shabby foot soldiers – community healthcare workers and AIDS activists – into desolate rural areas with no running water, let alone antiretroviral therapy.

With many competing health problems, funding for AIDS is a growing concern. Yet a look at the defence of budgets of several countries plagued by HIV portrays a startling picture of governments’ priorities, with huge military expenditures belying the argument that the key obstacle to winning the war against AIDS is money.

Nigeria's Military Budget Dwarfs AIDS Budget
 
With an HIV prevalence of three percent, Nigeria has the second largest number of people living with HIV in Africa – 3.4 million in 2012, according to UNAIDS.

Government’s response to the epidemic picked up last year but is still woefully inadequate. Many people are not accessing the treatment and care services they need, or at a steep price. Out of pocket expenditure for HIV and AIDS services accounts for 14 percent of household income, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Nigeria has US$600 million for AIDS until 2015, with donors shelling out 75 percent. This is an improvement: government provided only seven percent of total AIDS funding in 2010, compared to 25 percent now.
 
This year, the government is expected to allocate 373 million dollars to HIV programmes and 470 million in 2015, to meet the target of contributing half of AIDS financing needs.
But it remains to be seen if this will be done. Nigeria has many competing health priorities, and the recent Ebola fever outbreak will require extra funding and urgency.
Meanwhile, the proposed defence budget for 2014 awarded 830 million dollars to the Nigerian army, 440 million to its navy, and 460 million dollars to the air force.
 
In total, the country has allocated 2.1 billion dollars to defence this year, according to the Nigerian Budget Office.
 
This includes 32 million dollars for two offshore patrol vessels purchased from China, and 11.2 million dollars for the procurement of six Mi-35M attack helicopters, according to DefenceWeb.

And, as the 2015 deadline for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals looms large – with donor countries tightening their purse strings – health experts worry about financing for HIV prevention and AIDS treatment after 2015.

New funding for AIDS in low- and middle-incoming countries fell three percent from 2012 to 8.1 billion dollars in 2013, says a joint report by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) released in June.

Five of the 14 major donor governments – the U.S., Canada, Italy, Japan and the Netherlands – decreased AIDS spending last year.

And yet, while governments claim to be too cash-strapped to fight the AIDS war, funding for other wars seems much more forthcoming.

Spending on arms and on AIDS

Africa will need to do more with less to manage AIDS, concludes a 2013 UNAIDS report entitled Smart Investments.

In Kenya, a funding shortfall is expected soon, since the World Bank’s 115 million-dollar ‘Total War on HIV/AIDS’ project expired last month.

Meanwhile, the country’s defence budget is expected to grow from 4.3 billion dollars in 2012-2014 to 5.5 billion dollars by 2018, as the country stocks up on helicopters, drones and border surveillance equipment, according to the news portal DefenceWeb.

True, Kenya is under attack from Al-Shabaab terrorists. Still, five out of 10 pregnant Kenyan women living with HIV do not get ARVs to protect their babies.

Mozambique’s fighter jets

In Mozambique, a dearth of funding puts the country’s recent military expenditures into a harsh light.

Daniel Kertesz, the World Health Organization representative in Mozambique, told IPS the country’s six-year health program has a 200 million dollar finance gap per year.

Mozambique being very poor, it is difficult to see how the country – with 1.6 million infected people, the world’s eighth burden – will meet its domestic commitments.

“Today, Mozambique spends between 30 and 35 dollars per person per year on health. WHO recommends a minimum of 55-60 per person per year,” Kertesz said.

The same week, the government announced it had fixed eight military fighter jets, which it had discarded 15 years ago, in Romania, and is receiving three Embraer Tucano military aircraft from Brazil for free, with the understanding that purchase of three  fighter jets will follow.

According to a 2014 report by the Economic Intelligence Unit, Mozambique’s spending on state security is expected to rise sharply, partly owing to the acquisition, by the ministry of defence, of 24 fishing trawlers and six patrol and interceptor ships at the cost of 300 million dollars – equal to half the 2014 national health budget of 635.8 million dollars.

 The same week the refurbished fighter jets landed at Maputo airport, the press reported that the main hospital in Mozambique’s north-western and coal-rich Tete province went for five days without water.

Indeed, the country’s public health system is in such dire straits that the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) meets 90 percent of the health ministry’s annual AIDS budget.

Military Spending in Africa
Angola spent 8.4 percent of its 69 billion dollar budget on defence and just 5.3 percent on health in 2013.
In 2013, Morocco’s military expenses of 3.4 billion dwarfed its health budget of just over 1.4 billion dollars.
South Sudan spent one percent of its GDP on health and 9.1 percent on military and defence in 2012.

“The state budget for social programmes is not increasing at the same level as military, defence and security spending,” Jorge Matine, a researcher at Mozambique’s Centre for Public Integrity (CIP), told IPS.

“We have been pushing for accountability around the acquisition of commercial and military ships for millions of dollars,” he said.

A coalition of NGOs has requested the government to explain “its decision to spend that money without authorisation from Parliament when the country is experiencing severe shortages of personnel and supplies in the health sector,” Matine explained.

The coalition argues that, if defence spending remained as it was in 2011, the country would save 70 million dollars, which could buy 1,400 ambulances (11 per district, when many districts have only one or two) or import 21 percent more medicines.

A similar pattern unfolds across the continent where, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), military spending reached an estimated 44.4 billion dollars in 2013, an 8.3 percent increase from the previous year. In Angola and Algeria, high oil revenues fuel the buying spree.

The South Africa-based Ceasefire Campaign reported recently that arms deals with private companies are also on the rise in Africa, with governments expected to sign deals with global defence companies totalling roughly 20 billion dollars over the next decade.

Credit: Marshall Patstanza and Nqabomzi Bikitsha/IPS

Credit: Marshall Patstanza and Nqabomzi Bikitsha/IPS

Failing Abuja 

At the same time, the 2001 Abuja Declaration, whose signatories committed to allocating at least 15 percent of gross domestic product to health, has “barely become a reality”, Vuyiseka Dubula, general-secretary of the South Africa-based Treatment Action Campaign, told IPS.

 “Regardless of our calls, very few countries have even come close to 12 percent, including some of the richer African countries such as South Africa and Nigeria,” Dubula said.

Between 2000-2005, she added, “almost 400,000 people died from AIDS in South Africa; during that same period we spent so much money on arms we don’t need, and one wonders whether that was a responsible [use] of public resources.”

Mozambique is a sad example of Abuja failure. Back in 2001, Mozambique’s health budget represented 14 percent of the total state budget, tailing the Abuja target. It declined to a low of seven percent in 2011 and clawed to eight percent since.

“Financing mirrors the priorities of the government,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ethiopia’s minister of foreign affairs and former minister of health, told IPS. “We have seen that in countries that had the political will to turn around their health sectors, they upscale finance and really invest in the health sector.”

If this is true, the budgets of many African countries reflect greater interest in arms deals than in managing the deadly HIV epidemic.

Edited by: Mercedes Sayagues

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Youth Suicides Sound Alarm Across the Pacifichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/youth-suicides-sound-alarm-across-the-pacific/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youth-suicides-sound-alarm-across-the-pacific http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/youth-suicides-sound-alarm-across-the-pacific/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 15:50:23 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136071 Children sit outside an informal housing settlement in Vanuatu. Experts say a lack of economic opportunities is contributing to a wave of youth suicides in the Pacific Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Children sit outside an informal housing settlement in Vanuatu. Experts say a lack of economic opportunities is contributing to a wave of youth suicides in the Pacific Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Aug 12 2014 (IPS)

Suicide rates in the Pacific Islands are some of the highest in the world and have reached up to 30 per 100,000 in countries such as Samoa, Guam and Micronesia, double the global average, with youth rates even higher.

On International Youth Day, which this year focuses on ‘Youth and Mental Health’, young Pacific Islanders have highlighted the profound social and economic challenges they face in a rapidly changing world.

“Youths committing suicide seem to get younger and younger by the year,” Lionel Rogers of the Fiji-based advocacy and support group, Youth Champs for Mental Health, told IPS. “Stressors contributing to the growing trends of suicide are unemployment, social and cultural expectations, family and relationship problems, bullying, violence and abuse.”

“Many youths refuse to seek assistance from medical professionals due to the stigma associated with suicide and mental health. This along with our culture of silence has driven them further away and forced them to suppress their emotions.” -- Lionel Rogers of the Fiji-based Youth Champs for Mental Health
The Pacific Islands has an escalating youth population, with 54 percent of people in the region now aged below 24 years and those aged 15-29 years are at the greatest risk of taking their lives, according to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).

Tarusila Bradburgh, coordinator of the Pacific Youth Council, believes that “the burden of multiple issues that affect young people in the Pacific Islands is enormous and many are not well-equipped to cope.”

A decade ago there were an estimated 331,000 annual suicides in the region, accounting for 38 percent of the world total.

Anne Rauch, organisational development advisor for the Fiji Alliance for Mental Health said, “There is […] significant under-reporting of suicide deaths. On outer islands and remote areas the body is buried before an autopsy can be performed. There is a lot of family shame about suicide so doctors will sometimes sympathetically report the causes of death.”

In 2012, there were 160 reported suicides in Fiji with the majority under 25 years of age, but accurate statistics are not available.

Under-funded and under-resourced mental health services are struggling to address the issue, with suicide representing 2.5 percent of the disease burden in the Western Pacific region, nearly double the rate of 1.4 percent worldwide.

According to a 2008 report by the non-governmental organisation Foundation of the Peoples of the South Pacific International, a significant root cause of young people taking their lives is intergenerational conflict as modern lifestyles based on individual freedom and independence challenge centuries of conformism to traditional Pacific communal social hierarchies and conventions of behaviour.

In the tiny central South Pacific territory of Tokelau, located north of Samoa, a national health department report claims a significant factor in youth suicide is relationship breakdowns, including those between parents and children.

There were 40 attempted suicides in the territory, which has a population of 1,500, during a 25-year period ending in 2004, with 83 percent of fatalities involving people under 25 years, and physical punishment of youth by their elders contributing to 67 percent.

Rauch added, “There are an increasing number of young people [committing] suicide because of poor examination results and failure to reach the academic standards expected by parents.”

An equal challenge facing the vast majority of Pacific youth is poor prospects of employment and fulfilment of aspirations generated by exposure to affluent global lifestyles through the digital and mass media.

In the small economies of most Pacific developing island states, high population growth of up to 2.4 percent is far outpacing job creation, thus greater access to education for many is not translating into better chances of gaining paid employment.

In the southwest Pacific Island state of Papua New Guinea, there are an estimated 80,000 school leavers each year, but only 10,000 will secure formal jobs. Youth unemployment is an estimated 45 percent in the neighbouring Solomon Islands.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warns that “denial of economic and social opportunities leads to frustrated young people” and “the result can be a high incidence of self-harm” with “the loss of the productive potential of a large section of the adult population.”

According to SPC, actions to combat the tragic fallout of youth suicide for families, communities and a generation that has an important role to play in the region’s future should include measures to reduce the social stigma of mental illness and build the capacity of youth-friendly health and counselling services.

“Many youths refuse to seek assistance from medical professionals due to the stigma associated with suicide and mental health,” Rogers said. “This along with our culture of silence has driven them further away and forced them to suppress their emotions.”

Bradburgh advocates for all stakeholders, including communities and churches, to actively promote greater public understanding of mental illness, while governments need to invest in better mental health and outreach services.

“The more we openly discuss the issues in safe places and forums, the more knowledgeable we will be and better prepared to address the issue of suicide,” she said.

(END)

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Atom Bomb Anniversary Spotlights Persistent Nuclear Threathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/atom-bomb-anniversary-spotlights-persistent-nuclear-threat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=atom-bomb-anniversary-spotlights-persistent-nuclear-threat http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/atom-bomb-anniversary-spotlights-persistent-nuclear-threat/#comments Thu, 07 Aug 2014 04:00:23 +0000 Suvendrini Kakuchi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135976 The atomic bomb dome at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Japan was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Credit: Freedom II Andres_Imahinasyon/CC-BY-2.0

The atomic bomb dome at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Japan was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Credit: Freedom II Andres_Imahinasyon/CC-BY-2.0

By Suvendrini Kakuchi
TOKYO, Aug 7 2014 (IPS)

It has been 69 years, but the memory is fresh in the minds of 190,000 survivors and their descendants. It has been 69 years but a formal apology has yet to be issued. It has been 69 years – and the likelihood of it happening all over again is still a frightening reality.

As foreign dignitaries descended on Japan to mark the 69th anniversary of the atomic bombing Wednesday, the message from officials in the city of Hiroshima was one of urgent appeal to governments to seriously consider the enormous threat to humanity and the planet of another nuclear attack.

Survivors, known here as hibakusha, who have worked tirelessly since August 1945 to ban nuclear weapons worldwide, urged diplomats – including ambassadors from four of the nine nuclear weapons states (United States, Israel, Pakistan and India) – to heed the words of the 2014 Peace Declaration.

Representing the anguished wishes of aging survivors and peace activists, the declaration calls on policy makers to visit the bomb-scarred cities to witness first-hand the lasting devastation caused when the U.S. dropped its uranium bomb (Little Boy) on Hiroshima and its plutonium bomb (Fat Man) on Nagasaki three days later.

The Center for Arms Control and Non Proliferation reported earlier this year that the nine nuclear weapons states possessed a combined total of 17,105 nuclear weapons as of April 2014.
Some 45,000 people observed a minute of silence Wednesday in a peace park close to the epicenter of the bomb, which killed an estimated 140,000 people in Hiroshima before the second bomb claimed a further 70,000 lives in Nagasaki.

The tragic events came as Japan was negotiating its surrender in World War II (1939-45).

The presence of so many survivors, whose average age is estimated to be 79 years, provided stark evidence of the debilitating physical and psychological wounds inflicted on those fateful days, with many hibakusha and their next of kin struggling to live with the results of intense and prolonged radiation exposure.

In a tribute to their suffering, the Hiroshima Peace Declaration states, “We will steadfastly promote the new movement stressing the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and seeking to outlaw them.

“We will help strengthen international public demand for the start of negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention with the goal of total abolition by 2020,” the declaration added.

But the likelihood of this dream becoming a reality is dim, with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington reporting earlier this year that the nine nuclear weapons states possessed a combined total of 17,105 nuclear weapons as of April 2014.

The United States, the only state to deploy these weapons against another country, has steadfastly held out on issuing an official apology, claiming instead that its decision to carry out the bombing was a “necessary evil” to end World War II.

This argument is now deeply entrenched in global geopolitics, with states like Israel – not yet a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – vehemently protecting its arsenal as essential for national security in the face of protracted political tensions in the region.

Following Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, which resulted in 1,800 civilian casualties in the Palestinian enclave before a ceasefire brokered by Egypt came into effect Tuesday, some in the Arab community insist that Israel represents the biggest security threat to the region, and not vice versa.

China, a nuclear state with an inventory of 250 warheads and currently embroiled in a territorial dispute with Japan, was conspicuously absent from the proceedings.

With run-ins between East Asian nations in the disputed South China Sea becoming increasingly confrontational, peace activists here feel an urgent need to address tensions between nuclear weapons powers, including North Korea.

Professor Jacob Roberts at the Hiroshima Peace Research Institute told IPS, “The call is to ban nuclear weapons that kill and cause immense suffering of humans. By possessing these weapons, nuclear states represent criminal actions.”

He said the anti-nuclear movement is intensely focused on holding states with nuclear weapons accountable for not abiding by the 1968 NPT.

He cited the example of the Mar. 1 annual Remembrance Day held in the Pacific Ocean nation of the Marshall Islands, which suffered devastating radiation contamination from Operation Castle, a series of high-yield nuclear tests carried out by the U.S. Joint Task Force on the Bikini Atoll beginning in March 1954.

Thousands fell victim to radiation sickness as a result of the test, which is estimated to have been 1,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima blast.

In total, the U.S. tested 67 bombs on the territory between 1946 and 1962 against the backdrop of the Cold War-era nuclear weapons race with Russia.

In a bid to challenge the narrative of national security, the Marshall Islands filed lawsuits this April at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and separately in U.S. Federal District Court, against the nine nuclear weapon states for failing to dismantle their arsenals.

The lawsuits invoke Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which contains a binding obligation for five nuclear-armed nations (the U.S., UK, France, China and Russia) “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

As in Hiroshima, the United States has not apologized to the Marshall Islands but only expressed “sadness” for causing damage. A former senator from the Marshall Islands, Abacca Anjain Maddison, told IPS, “The U.S. continues to view the disaster as ‘sacrificing a few for the security of many’.”

The U.S. is not the only government to come under fire. Hiromichi Umebayashi, director of the Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (RECNA) at Nagasaki University, is a leading advocate for a nuclear-free zone in East Asia and a bitter critic of the administration of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which is alleged to be currently pushing the argument that nukes are necessary for national security.

Umebayashi is spearheading a campaign to stop Japan’s latest decision to work closely with the United States, under a nuclear umbrella, on strengthening the country’s national defence capacities.

“North Korea’s nuclear threat in East Asia is used by the Japanese government to push for more military activities. As the only nation to be atom bombed, Japan is making a huge mistake,” the activist told IPS.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Asia Looks to Innovation to Achieve Sustainabilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/asia-looks-to-innovation-to-achieve-sustainability/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=asia-looks-to-innovation-to-achieve-sustainability http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/asia-looks-to-innovation-to-achieve-sustainability/#comments Wed, 06 Aug 2014 14:46:03 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135956 Asia-Pacific will account for approximately 46 percent of annual installed solar PV capacity by 2015. Credit: Coralie Tripier/IPS

Asia-Pacific will account for approximately 46 percent of annual installed solar PV capacity by 2015. Credit: Coralie Tripier/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, Aug 6 2014 (IPS)

Innovation in the fields of renewable energy, food production, water conservation, education and health will be crucial for the developing economies of Asia to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The 17 SDGs, which will succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that are slated to expire in 2015, are aimed at fostering economic growth, environmental protection and ending poverty by 2030.

“As economic growth rises in Asia, more concentration is going into value addition and innovation is the principle vehicle for that,” Director-General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Dr. Francis Gurry tells IPS.

The Asian Development Outlook (ADO) Supplement, released late July, maintains the ADB’s April forecast of 6.2 percent growth in 2014 and 6.4 percent in 2015 for the region’s 45 developing economies.

“Many Asian countries have already become surprising contenders, for instance, China has emerged as one of the main innovators in sectors like drones, civil aviation, biotechnology and telecommunications." -- Bruno Lanvin, executive director of INSEAD Global Indices
“Clearly, there is a priority to make innovation work for sustainable development in these economies,” Gurry says.

Leading innovation performers in Asia include Japan, South Korea and Singapore, with China rapidly climbing up. Malaysia tops the middle-income countries’ category for innovation performance.

Amongst the other large Asian countries, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam have the potential to move up the ladder of innovation, according to the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2014.

Co-author of the GII and executive director of INSEAD Global Indices, Bruno Lanvin, says, “It is a good sign that innovation is taking a front seat in the design and hopefully the implementation of the SDGs.

“Many Asian countries have already become surprising contenders, for instance, China has emerged as one of the main innovators in sectors like drones, civil aviation, biotechnology and telecommunications,” he tells IPS.

However, Lanvin warns that in these countries with large populations, “if innovation doesn’t translate into improving the lives of its people, it is failing somehow.”

Given the region’s dichotomies such as rapid urbanisation with large rural agricultural populations and extreme vulnerabilities to climate change with growing resource intensities, experts say that innovation must occur right across the economy, if it is to meet the SDGs.

For instance, slum populations in the developing world mushroomed from 650 million in 1990 to 863 million in 2012. More than half of these slum dwellers reside in Asia.

This situation is set to worsen, with Asia home to 56 percent of the world’s biggest cities, including seven of the top 10 ‘megacities’, defined as urban centres with over 10 million residents.

“Our attention has to be on the ‘bottom of pyramid’ populations, both urban and rural, and innovations in technology and systems design have to cater to that segment,” New Delhi-based Zeenat Niazi,vice president of Development Alternatives Group and co-chair of Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA), tells IPS.

“The challenges will be to reach to the geographically spread-out populations with informal and inconsistent income streams; and attract the private sector to partner with governments and community groups to invest in sustainable growth,” she added.

The Asian region is today fast becoming the hot bed of innovation on and off the field. Lanvin cites Tata’s Nano car in India as a good example of localised, affordable innovation, which Asia is going to need.

In his opinion, in the next decade the Nano will be regarded a success in terms of adapting manufactured equipment to specific conditions and bringing down the cost of production.

But he says, “If you want to be a successful innovator in the Asian region, you have to be a very large company like Tata or Huawei. If Asian countries could give themselves the means to allow successful small enterprises to bring innovation to the market, we would see a lot of frugal, path breaking innovation, especially in the field of renewable energy.”

Indeed, renewable energy is the Holy Grail in Asia and countries in the region will need to invest significantly in renewable energy technologies to meet the urgency of the climate change challenge – for instance, Asia-Pacific countries absorbed 80 percent of the 366 billion dollars in damages caused by climate change in 2011, and many countries in the region are poised to absorb major food and energy shocks as a result of extreme weather patterns in the coming decade.

A new analysis by the market research company Frost & Sullivan entitled ‘Global Solar Power Markets’ estimates that the world solar photovoltaic (PV) market will be worth 137.02 billion dollars in 2020.

This year, global solar PV demand is dominated by the Asia-Pacific, which will account for approximately 46 percent of annual installed solar PV capacity. China, Japan, India and Australia will continue to be the top four countries driving regional demand.

With panel prices coming down drastically, Asian manufacturers are now looking at value chain integration and technical efficiencies to differentiate their products from other suppliers in the market, the analysis adds.

Increasing scarcity of water will also drive innovation in sustainable irrigation, water filtration and water recycling techniques.

“In Asia and the Pacific, where almost two billion people live on less than 2.50 dollars a day, innovation is essential for identifying solutions to persistent development challenges,” Caitlin Wiesen, manager of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) regional centre in Bangkok, tells IPS.

To help countries achieve development goals, the UNDP has put in place a system for rapid prototyping and testing of potential solutions. Currently, it is testing 16 new ideas across Asia and the Pacific.

One such prototype is being tested in Bhutan. Jigme Dorji, acting head of the Poverty and MDG Unit at UNDP-Bhutan, is working with U.S.-based Emerson College’s Engagement Lab, local techies and youth leaders to generate the content and develop an outreach strategy to maximise youth participation in a game that would engage all the stakeholders in a constructive dialogue about youth unemployment.

“We will evaluate the results of these prototypes and assist countries in turning the successful ones so they can achieve impact at scale,” Wiesen adds.

China, Vietnam, India, Malaysia and Thailand, are demonstrating rising levels of innovation because of improvements in institutional frameworks, a skilled labour force with expanded tertiary education, better innovation infrastructure, a deeper integration with global credit investment and trade markets, and a sophisticated business community – even though progress on these dimensions is not uniform across their economies, according to the GII report.

Many successful Asians, working as entrepreneurs with major global corporations and universities, are beginning to return to their home countries to nurture the next wave of innovations and create local jobs.

Adam Bumpus, assistant professor of Environment, Innovation and Development at the University of Melbourne, says, “There are a number of initiatives that are directly contributing to SDGs by increasingly linking countries in research and technology development. For example, the University of Melbourne is working on initiatives that link Australia, China, India and the U.S. on innovation and climate change.”

“Secondly, there are opportunities to piggyback sustainable development initiatives by using existing technology in new innovative ways. In the Pacific we have been looking at the role of mobile phones for sustainable development priorities like climate change,” Bumpus tells IPS.

 Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

(END)

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The ‘Global’ Land Rushhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-global-land-rush/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-global-land-rush http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-global-land-rush/#comments Mon, 04 Aug 2014 07:05:26 +0000 Anuradha Mittal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135890

In this column, Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute, an independent policy think tank on today’s most pressing social, economic, and environmental issues, argues that the time has come for a more holistic discussion of land deals that places transfer of land in both the developed and developing worlds along the same continuous spectrum.

By Anuradha Mittal
OAKLAND, United States, Aug 4 2014 (IPS)

The first years of the twenty-first century will be remembered for a global land rush of nearly unprecedented scale.

An estimated 500 million acres, an area eight times the size of Britain, was reported bought or leased across the developing world between 2000 and 2011, often at the expense of local food security and land rights.

When the price of food spiked in 2008, pushing the number of hungry people in the world to over one billion, it spiked the interest of investors as well, and within a year foreign land deals in the developing world rose by a staggering 200 percent.

Anuradha Mittal

Anuradha Mittal

Today, enthusiasm for agriculture borders on speculative mania. Driven by everything from rising food prices to growing demand for biofuel, the financial sector is taking an interest in farmland as never before.

The Oakland Institute has reported since 2011 how a new generation of institutional investors – including hedge funds, private equity, pension funds, and university endowments – is eager to capitalise on global farmland as a new and highly desirable asset class.

But the thing most consistently missed about this global land rush is that it is precisely that – global. Although media coverage tends to focus on land grabs in low-income countries, the opposite side of the same coin is a new rush for U.S. farmland, manifesting itself in rising interest from investors and surging land prices, as giants like the pension fund TIAA-CREF commit billions to buy agricultural land.

One industry leader estimates that 10 billion dollars in institutional capital is looking for access to U.S. farmland, but that figure could easily rise as investors seek to ride out uncertain financial times by placing their money in the perceived safety of agriculture.

In the next 20 years, as the U.S. experiences an unprecedented crisis of retiring farmers, there will be ample opportunity for these actors to expand their holdings as an estimated 400 million acres changes generational hands. And yet, the domestic face of this still unfolding land rush remains largely unseen.

For all their size and ambition, virtually nothing is known about these new investors and their business practices. Who do they buy land from? What do they grow? How do they manage their properties? In an industry not known for its transparency, none of these questions have a satisfactory answer.

For more than six years the Oakland Institute has been at the forefront of exposing the murky nature of land deals in the developing world. The challenge today is to begin a more holistic discussion that places transfer of land in both the developed and developing worlds along the same continuous spectrum.

Driven by the same structural factors and perpetrated by many of the same investors, the corporate consolidation of agriculture is being felt just as strongly in Iowa and California as it is in the Philippines and Mozambique.

Down on the Farm, a new report from the Oakland Institute, aims to increase awareness of the overlapping global and national factors enabling the new American land rush, while at the same time introduces the motives and practices of some of the most powerful players involved in it: UBS Agrivest, a subsidiary of the biggest bank in Switzerland; the Hancock Agricultural Investment Group (HAIG), a subsidiary of the biggest insurance company in Canada; and the Teacher Annuity Insurance Association College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF), one of the largest pension funds in the world.

Only by studying the motives and practices of these actors today does it become possible to begin building policies and institutions that help ensure farmers, and not absentee investors, are the future of our food system.

Nothing is more crucial than beginning this discussion today. The issue may seem small for a variety of reasons – because institutional investors only own an apparently tiny one percent of all U.S. farmland, or because farmers are still the biggest buyers of farmland across the country.

But to take either of these views is to become dangerously blind to the long-term trends threatening our agricultural heritage.

Consider the fact that investors believe that there is roughly 1.8 trillion dollars’ worth of farmland across the United States. Of this, between 300 and 500 billion dollars is considered to be of “institutional quality,” a combination of factors relating to size, water access, soil quality, and location that determine the investment appeal of a property.

This makes domestic farmland a huge and largely untapped asset class. Some of the biggest actors in the financial sector have already sought to exploit this opportunity by making equity investments in farmland. Frequently, these buyers enter the market with so much capital that their funds are practically limitless compared with the resources of most farmers.

Although they have made an impressive foothold, this is the beginning, not the end, of a land rush that could literally change who owns the country and our food and agricultural systems. Not only is there space in the market for institutional investors to expand, but there are also major financial incentives for them to do so.

If action is not taken, then a perfect storm of global and national trends could converge to permanently shift farm ownership from family businesses to institutional investors and other consolidated corporate operations. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

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Analysis: Ten Reasons for Saying ‘No’ to the North Over Tradehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/analysis-ten-reasons-for-saying-no-to-the-north-over-trade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=analysis-ten-reasons-for-saying-no-to-the-north-over-trade http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/analysis-ten-reasons-for-saying-no-to-the-north-over-trade/#comments Sun, 03 Aug 2014 19:09:16 +0000 Ravi Kanth Devarakonda and Phil Harris http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135903 By Ravi Kanth Devarakonda and Phil Harris
GENEVA/ROME, Aug 3 2014 (IPS)

India’s decisive stand last week not to adopt the protocol of amendment of the trade facilitation agreement (TFA) unless credible rules were in place for the development issues of the South was met with  “astonishment” and “dismay” by trade diplomats from the North, who described New Delhi’s as “hostage-taking” and “suicidal”. 

It obviously came as something of a shock for representatives of Northern interests that any party should have the brass neck to place the interests of its constituents on the negotiating table.

After all, why should such banal issues as food security and poverty get in the way of a trade agenda heavily weighted in favour of the industrialised countries?New Delhi was demanding nothing more than credible global trade rules to ensure that “development,” including the challenges of poverty, in the countries of the South take precedence over the cut-throat mercantile business interests of the transnational corporations in the North

In fact, it was India’s firm stand for permanent guarantees for public stockholding programmes for food security that turned this trade agenda upside down at the World Trade Organization (WTO) last week, putting paid to the adoption of the protocol of amendment for implementation of the contested TFA for the time being.

India and the United States failed Thursday at the WTO to reach agreement on construction of a legally binding decision on a “permanent peace clause” that would further strengthen what was decided for public distribution programmes for food security in developing countries at the ninth ministerial meeting in Bali, Indonesia, last year.

The Bali decision on food security was one of the nine non-binding best endeavour outcomes agreed by trade ministers on agriculture and development.

For industrialised and leading economic tigers in the developing world, the TFA – which would harmonise customs procedures in the developing world on a par with the industrialised countries – is a major mechanism for market access into the developing and poorest countries.

The failure to reach agreement came during a closed-door meeting between India and the United States organised by WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo in an attempt to break the impasse between the world’s two largest democracies.

New Delhi was demanding nothing more than credible global trade rules to ensure that “development,” including the challenges of poverty, in the countries of the South take precedence over the cut-throat mercantile business interests of the transnational corporations in the North.

Trade diplomats from several developing and poorest countries in Africa, South America, and Asia say India’s “uncompromising” stance will force countries of the North to return to the negotiating table to address the neglected issues in the Bali package concerning agriculture and development.

These issues are at the heart of unfinished business in the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) negotiations, the current round of trade negotiations aimed at further liberalising trade.

“It is important to keep the battle alive and India has ensured that the big boys cannot simply walk away with the trade facilitation agreement (TFA) without addressing the concerns on food security and other major issues,” one African official said.

The industrialised countries and some rising economic tigers in the developing world are unhappy that they cannot now take home the TFA without addressing the problem raised by India and other developmental issues in the Doha Development Agenda negotiations.

Many developing and poor countries in Africa and elsewhere were opposed to the TFA but they were “arm-twisted” and “muzzled” by the leading super powers over the last three months. African countries, for example, were forced to change their stand after pressure from the United States, the European Union and other countries.

The TFA was sold on false promises that it would add anywhere up 1 trillion dollars to the world economy. During the Bali meeting last year, the Economist of London, for example, gave two different estimates – 64 billion dollars and 400 billion dollars – as gains from the TFA, while the International Chamber of Commerce gave an astronomical figure of 1 trillion dollars without any rational basis.

“Those predicted gains [from TFA] evaporate when one looks at the assumptions behind them, such as the assumption that all countries in the world would gain the same amount of income from a given increase in exports,” said Timothy A. Wise and Jeronim Capaldo, two academics from the Global Environment and Development Institute at the U.S. Tufts University.

At one go, the TFA will provide market access for companies such as Apple, General Electric, Caterpillar, UPS, Pfizer, Samsung, Sony, Ericsson, e-Bay, Hyundai, Huawei and Lenova to multiply their exports to the poorest countries.

It would drive away scarce resources for addressing bread-and-butter issues in the poor countries and direct them towards creating costly trade-related infrastructure for the sake of exporters in the industrialised world.

Here are ten reasons why trade diplomats from the developing and poorest countries say India’s stand will bolster their development agenda:

1.  India’s stand on food security brings agriculture, particularly unfinished business in the DDA negotiations, back to centre-stage.

2.  The Doha trade negotiations were to have been concluded by 2005 but remain stalled because a major industrialised country put too many spanners in the negotiating wheel.

3.  Major industrialised countries have been cherry-picking issues from the DDA which are of interest to them while giving short shrift to core “developmental” issues.

4.  Issues agreed in the Doha negotiations, such as the ”July package” agreed on August 1, 2004, the Hong Kong  Ministerial Declaration of December 2005 and the un-bracketed understandings of the December 2008 Fourth Revised Draft Modalities for Agriculture, have all been pushed to the back burner because one major country does not want to live up to them.

5.  The Fourth Revised Draft Modalities for Agriculture provided an explicit footnote to enable the developing countries to continue with their public stockholding programmes for food security. That footnote was the result of sustained negotiations and a compromise solution among key WTO members such as the United States, the European Union, India, Brazil, Australia and China, but the United States refused to accept the footnote because of opposition from its powerful farm lobbies.

6.  Trade-distorting practices in cotton which are harming producers in Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad are supposed to be addressed “ambitiously”, “expeditiously” and “specifically” by the distorting countries in the North. But cotton is now being swept under carpet because a major industrialised country does not want to address the issue because of its farm programme.

7.  Trade facilitation was one of the Doha issues but not the main item of the agenda at all.  It was actually dropped from the Doha agenda in Cancun, Mexico, in 2003 and was brought back in 2004 due to pressure from the United States and the European Union. The core issues of the Doha agenda were agriculture, services and developmental flexibilities.

8.  A major industrialised country which pocketed several gains during the negotiations refuses to engage in “give-and-take” negotiations based on the above mandates and has turned the Doha Round upside down.

9.  Industrialised countries along with some developing countries have formed a coalition of countries willing to pursue what are called “plurilateral” negotiations, only to undermine the DDA negotiations which are multilateral and based on what is called a “single undertaking” (that is, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed). Currently, these countries are negotiating among themselves on services, expansion of information technology products and environmental goods even though these issues are being negotiated in the Doha Round.

10.  Delay in the adoption of protocol will pave way for a healthy debate to reinvigorate the multilateral trading system which is being undermined by those who created it in 1948. The developing and poor countries want credible and balanced multilateral trading rules to replace what was agreed over 25 years ago in order to continue their “developmental” programmes with a human face.

Herein lies the crux of the issue – are the major powers of the North prepared to go along with a global trading system that puts the interests of the majority of the world’s people before their own interests?

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Cameroon’s Muslim Clerics Turn to Education to Shun Boko Haramhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/cameroons-muslim-clerics-turn-to-education-to-shun-boko-haram/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cameroons-muslim-clerics-turn-to-education-to-shun-boko-haram http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/cameroons-muslim-clerics-turn-to-education-to-shun-boko-haram/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 08:34:44 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135844 Sheik Oumarou Malam Djibring, a member of Cameroon’s Council of Imams, called on the country’s Muslims to be vigilant against the extremist group Boko Haram and to report any strange and suspicious-looking individuals. Credit: Ngala Killian Chimtom/IPS

Sheik Oumarou Malam Djibring, a member of Cameroon’s Council of Imams, called on the country’s Muslims to be vigilant against the extremist group Boko Haram and to report any strange and suspicious-looking individuals. Credit: Ngala Killian Chimtom/IPS

By Ngala Killian Chimtom
YAOUNDE, Jul 31 2014 (IPS)

Motari Hamissou used to get along well with his pupils at the government primary school in Sabga, an area in Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon’s North West Region.

In the past, Hamissou also lived in peace with his neighbours. No one was bothered by his long, thick beard or the veil his wife, Aisha Hamissou, wore, or the religion they followed.

According to the 2010 general population census, Muslims constitute 24 percent of this Central African nation’s 21 million people, most of whom live in Cameroon’s Far North, North and Adamawa Regions; all on the border with Nigeria. Cameroon’s north western boarder runs along the length of Nigeria’s eastern boarder, stretching all the way to Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north — a stronghold of the Nigerian extremist group, Boko Haram.

But the intermittent attacks and abductions perpetrated by Boko Haram in Cameroon’s North West Region has destroyed the peace and accord that Hamissou enjoyed with his pupils and neighbours.

The most recent attack by the group was on Jul. 27 when the wife of Cameroon’s Vice Prime Minister Amadou Ali was kidnapped in the northern town of Kolofata. The group is said to have increased its attacks from Nigeria into neighbouring Cameroon. Since the group first took up arms five years ago for a Muslim state in Nigeria, more than, some 12,000 people in that West African nation have died in the crisis, according to figures from Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.

Now Hamissou’s own pupils call him “Boko Haram” in reference to the group. The name, Boko Haram, means “Western education is a sin” in the local Nigerian dialect, Hausa.

“They see our beards or the veils our wives [wear] and immediately link us to the sect,” Hamissou tells IPS.

“I am a teacher. I teach Western education. How can I teach Western education and at the same time say that it is forbidden? That’s incomprehensible,” he adds.

Arlette Dainadi, a 12-year-old schoolgirl who attends the same primary school that Hamissou teaches at, tells IPS some of her peers have gone as far as taking off her veil and shouting: “Boko Haram! Boko Haram!”

Aisha Hamissou tells IPS that even adults have taken to name-calling.

“I can’t move and interact freely with other people without being called names. People call me Boko Haram,” she explains, almost bursting into tears.

In a concerted effort to distance themselves from the extremist group, Muslim groups and leaders in Cameroon, including the Association of Muslim Students and the Cameroon Council of Imams, have been organising workshops, seminars and public demonstrations to sensitise the general public about their stance against the extremist sect.

Sheik Oumarou Malam Djibring, a member of Cameroon’s Council of Imams, tells IPS that Boko Haram’s campaign against Western education, as well as the atrocities it exacts on innocent people, has nothing to do with Islam.

“Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance. Departing from these precepts is actually against Islam,” he says.

Members of the Cameroon Council of Imams and Muslim leaders have embraced “Boko Halal”,”an Hausa idiomatic expression which means education is allowed or permitted as contained in the Quran.

Islamic teacher and religious leader Sheik Abu Oumar Bin Ali tells IPS that Muslim scholars have been major drivers of education.

“Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi was a leading Muslim scholar who founded the branch of mathematics known as algebra… So it’s stupid for anyone to link Muslim with a hatred for Western education,” he says.

But Ahmadou Moustapha, a traditional Muslim ruler in Cameroon’s Far North Region, tells IPS that Boko Haram has definitely been recruiting young Muslims in the region.

“They come here and forcefully whisk away our young people,” Moustapha explains.

“I believe they go and intoxicate them with their hate beliefs.”

According to Professor Souaibou Issa, from the University of Ngaoundere in Cameroon’s Adamawa Region, the group is even more dangerous because “you never know what their linkages are, you don’t know what exactly their focus is, and you don’t know who the actors are. There is widespread suspicion, and the states are fighting invisible enemies.”

Mallam Djibring called on the country’s Muslims to be vigilant and report any strange and suspicious-looking individuals.

Editing by: Nalisha Adams

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Trade Facilitation Will Support African Industrialisationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/trade-facilitation-will-support-african-industrialisation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trade-facilitation-will-support-african-industrialisation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/trade-facilitation-will-support-african-industrialisation/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 07:46:05 +0000 Roberto Azevedo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135805

In this column, Roberto Azevêdo, Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), argues that the Trade Facilitation Agreement delivered by the Bali package in December last year will support regional integration in Africa, complement the African Union's efforts to create a continental free trade area and will begin to remove some of the barriers which prevent full integration into global value chains.

By Roberto Azevedo
GENEVA, Jul 29 2014 (IPS)

In the 1960s, there were high hopes for the development of the newly-independent sub-Saharan African countries but these hopes were quickly dashed following a series of shocks which began in the mid-70s, with the first oil price spikes, followed by a severe decline in growth and increase in poverty in the 80s and early 90s. However, by the mid-1990s, economic growth had resumed in certain African countries. Economic reform, better macroeconomic management, donor resources and a sharp rise in commodity prices were having a positive effect.

WTO Director General Roberto Azevêdo. Credit: WTO/CC BY SA-2.0

WTO Director General Roberto Azevêdo. Credit: WTO/CC BY SA-2.0

In the 2000s, many African countries witnessed high economic growth performance and during that period some of the world’s fastest growing economies were in sub-Saharan Africa. Angola, Nigeria, Chad, Mozambique and Rwanda all recorded annual growth of over 7 percent.

In 2012 Africa’s exports and imports totalled 630 billion dollars and 610 billion dollars respectively, ­ a fourfold increase since the turn of the millennium. And the long term prospects for growth are good. The Economist Intelligence Unit has forecast average growth for the regional economy of around 5 percent yearly from 2013-16.

Despite all this, the continent still plays a marginal role in the global market, accounting for barely 3 percent of world trade. One significant reason – although, of course there are others – is that African economies are still narrowly based on the production and export of unprocessed agricultural products, minerals and crude oil.“There is little doubt that the regional [African] market offers good scope for African firms to diversify their production and achieve greater value addition”

Now, due to relatively low productivity and technology, these economies have low competitiveness in global markets – apart from crude extractive products. The low productivity of traditional agriculture and the informal activities continue to absorb more than 80 percent of the labour force. And growth remains highly vulnerable to external shocks.

This story of half a century of struggle, set-backs and progress shows two things:

One, the road to meaningful and inclusive development still seems long.

Two, we are in a better position than ever to make real, sustainable progress.

Many countries are striving to do more in turning their strength in commodities into strengths in other areas,­ using commodities as a means of spurring growth across various sectors. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa’s 2013 Economic Report echoes this ­ calling for the continent’s commodities to be used to support industrialisation, jobs, growth and economic transformation.

In line with this, I think there are a number of essential steps to take:

- diversification of economic structure, namely of production and exports;

- enhancement of export competitiveness;

- technological upgrading;

- improvement of the productivity of all resources, including labour; and

- reduction of infrastructure gaps.

Only by delivering in these and other areas can policymakers ensure that growth enhances human well-being and contributes to inclusive development. But how can we take these steps?

Of course I should say that although African countries share some common features, no unique set of policies, including those on trade and industrial policy, could ever fit for all in a uniform way. Even among the least-developed countries (LDCs), some are already exporters of manufactured products, although often they rely on a single product  while others are more dependent on commodities. Nevertheless, I think it is clear that some preconditions of success are universal.

African regional integration is of course very high on the policy agenda. There is little doubt that the regional market offers good scope for African firms to diversify their production and achieve greater value addition. Already now, manufactures constitute as much as 40 percent of intra-African exports, compared with 13 percent of Africa’s exports to the rest of the world.

The Bali Package, which World Trade Organisation members agreed in December last year, will help to resolve some problems. Inclusive, sustainable development was at the heart of the whole Bali project ­ and our African members played a crucial role in making it a success. It brought some progress on agriculture. It delivered a package to support LDCs. It provided for a Monitoring Mechanism on special and differential treatment.

And, in addition, Bali delivered the Trade Facilitation Agreement and this is a direct answer to some of the problems of fragmentation. Costly and cumbersome border procedures, inadequate infrastructure and administrative burdens often raise trade-related transaction costs within Africa to unsustainable levels, creating a further barrier to intra-African trade.

This Agreement will help to address some of these bottlenecks. It will support regional integration, and therefore complement the African Union’s efforts to create a continental free trade area. And it will begin to remove some of the barriers which prevent full integration into global value chains. As such it will create an added impetus for industrialisation and inclusive sustainable development.

And it is worth noting here that the Trade Facilitation Agreement broke new ground for developing and least-developed countries in the way it will be implemented.

Another vital issue here is the importance of agricultural development in industrialisation, and the role of industrial collaboration through regional cooperation. The contribution of the agriculture sector is of utmost importance for the establishment of a sound industrial base. It can provide a surplus to invest in industrial capacity building, and supply agricultural raw materials as inputs to the production process, especially for today’s highly specialised food processing industry.

Moreover, it can also significantly contribute to industrialisation by providing an ample supply of food products. This is because food constitutes a large share of what wage earners in African countries spend their money on. Its availability at low prices contributes to increase the purchasing power of wages, and therefore raise the competitiveness of a country in international markets. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

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Oil Lubricates Equatorial Guinea’s Entry into Portuguese Language Communityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/oil-lubricates-equatorial-guineas-entry-into-portuguese-language-community/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oil-lubricates-equatorial-guineas-entry-into-portuguese-language-community http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/oil-lubricates-equatorial-guineas-entry-into-portuguese-language-community/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 16:10:59 +0000 Mario Queiroz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135748 Equatoguinean President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has sidestepped accusations of human rights violations and won his country membership in the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). Credit: Embassy of Equatorial Guinea/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Equatoguinean President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has sidestepped accusations of human rights violations and won his country membership in the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). Credit: Embassy of Equatorial Guinea/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Mario Queiroz
LISBON, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

Evidently, oil talked louder. By unanimous resolution, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) admitted Equatorial Guinea as a full member, in spite of the CPLP’s ban on dictatorial regimes and the death penalty.

At the two-day summit of heads of state and government that concluded on Wednesday Jul. 23 in Dili, the capital of East Timor, Portugal was the last nation to hold out against the inclusion of the new entrant. Portuguese prime minister, conservative Pedro Passos Coelho, finally yielded to pressure from Brazil and Angola, the countries most interested in sharing in the benefits of Equatorial Guinea’s oil wealth.

The CPLP is made up of Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, and São Tomé and Príncipe.

“Obiang never thought entry to the CPLP would be possible, but in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, all the president’s goals are possible." -- Ponciano Nvó, a lawyer and distinguished defender of human rights
Between its independence in 1968 and the onset of oil exploration, Equatorial Guinea was stigmatised as a ferocious dictatorship.

But when the U.S. company Mobil began drilling for oil in 1996, the dictatorship of President Teodoro Obiang, in power since 1979, was afforded the relief of powerful countries “looking the other way.”

Gradually, the importance of oil took precedence over human rights and countries with decision-making power over the region and the world became interested in sharing in crude oil extraction. Oil production in Equatorial Guinea has multiplied 10-fold in recent years, ranking it in third place in sub-Saharan Africa behind Angola and Nigeria.

“The kleptocratic oligarchy of Equatorial Guinea is becoming one of the world’s richest dynasties. The country is becoming known as the ‘Kuwait of Africa’ and the global oil majors – ExxonMobil, Total, Repsol – are moving in,” said the Lisbon weekly Visão.

Visão said this former Spanish colony has a per capita GDP of 24,035 dollars, 4,000 dollars more than Portugal’s, but 78 percent of its 1.8 million people subsist on less than a dollar a day.

In the view of some members of the international community, “Since 1968 there have been two Equatorial Guineas, those before and after the oil,” Ponciano Nvó, a lawyer and distinguished defender of human rights in his country, told IPS during a three-day visit to Portugal at the invitation of Amnesty International.

In spite of average economic growth of 33 percent in the last decade, the enormous wealth of Equatorial Guinea has not brought better economic conditions for its people, although it has lent a certain international “legitimacy” to the regime, crowned now with the accolade of membership in the CPLP.

Since Equatorial Guinea’s first application in 2006, the CPLP adopted an ambiguous stance, restricting it to associate membership and setting conditions – like the elimination of the death penalty and making Portuguese an official language – that had to be met before full membership could be considered.

“Portugal should not accept within the community a regime that commits human rights violations; it would be a political mistake,” and also a mistake for the CPLP, Andrés Eso Ondo said in a declaration on Tuesday Jul. 22.

He is the leader of Convergencia para la Democracia Social, the only permitted opposition party, which has one seat in parliament. The other 99 seats are held by the ruling Partido Democrático de Guinea Ecuatorial.

In Portugal, reactions were indignant. The president himself, conservative Aníbal Cavaco Silva, remained wooden-faced in his seat in Dili while the other heads of state welcomed Obiang to the CPLP with a standing ovation. Meanwhile, in Lisbon, prominent politicians were heavily critical of the government’s accommodating attitude.

Socialist lawmaker João Soares said allowing Equatorial Guinea to join the CPLP is “shameful for Portugal and a monumental error,” while Ana Gomes, a member of the European Parliament for the same party, said it was unacceptable that the community should admit “a dictatorial and criminal regime that is facing lawsuits in the United States and France for economic and financial crimes.”

“The dead are not only those who have been sentenced to death in a court of law, some 50 persons executed by firing squad after being convicted; we should multiply that number by 100 to reach the figure for the people who have disappeared,” and who were victims of repression, Nvó told IPS.

In the 46 years since independence, “during the first government of Francisco Macías Nguema, all the opposition leaders were murdered in prison, without trial, having been accused of attempts against the president. The ‘work’ was carried out by the current president, when he was director of prisons and carried out a cleansing, before overthrowing his uncle,” he said.

Before oil was discovered, “Obiang never thought entry to the CPLP would be possible, but in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, all the president’s goals are possible,” he complained.

In Nvó’s view, joining the CPLP “is another step in Obiang’s strategy of belonging to as many international bodies as possible for the sake of laundering his image. He used to belong to the community of Hispanic nations, but then he came to believe that he would never get anywhere with Spain; then he joined La Francophonie, but that did not last because of his son’s troubles with the French courts.”

Now, however, the CPLP has been satisfied with a moratorium on the death penalty, which remains on the statute books. Its enforcement depends only on the fiat of the head of state. “It’s an intellectual hoax,” Nvó said.

The Equatoguinean foreign minister, Agapito Mba Mokuy, told the Portuguese news agency Lusa on Tuesday that his country “was colonised for a longer period by Portugal than by Spain (307 years under Portugal compared to 190 under Spain), so that the ties to Portuguese-speaking countries are historically very strong.”

“Joining the CPLP today is simply coming home,” he said.

In a telephone interview with IPS, former president of East Timor José Ramos-Horta said, “I agree with the forceful criticisms denouncing the death penalty and serious human rights violations that are committed in that country.” In his view the denunciations of the regime made by international organisations are to be credited.

However, Ramos-Horta believes that “concerted, intelligent, prudent and persistent action by the CPLP upon the regime in Equatorial Guinea will achieve the first improvements after some time.”

In exchange for admission, Ramos-Horta recommended the CPLP should establish an agenda to force Obiang to eliminate the death penalty, torture, arbitrary detentions and forcible disappearances.

It should also include, he said, improved facilities and treatment for prisoners; access to inmates by the International Red Cross; and later on, the opening of an office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Malabo.

One of the most critical voices raised against the events in Dili was that of political sciences professor José Filipe Pinto, who asserted that a sort of “chequebook diplomacy” had prevailed there, with Malabo offering to make investments in CPLP countries, relying on its resource wealth.

In his opinion, “an organisation must have interests and principles,” and he regretted that “some elites and the crisis conspired to exempt the latter.”

(END)

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