Inter Press Service » Active Citizens http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Wed, 16 Apr 2014 09:32:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Soaring Child Poverty – a Blemish on Spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/soaring-child-poverty-blemish-spain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=soaring-child-poverty-blemish-spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/soaring-child-poverty-blemish-spain/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 19:05:23 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133550 “I don’t want them to grow up with the notion that they’re poor,” says Catalina González, referring to her two young sons. The family has been living in an apartment rent-free since December in exchange for fixing it up, in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. Six months ago González, 40, and her two sons, […]

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Families demonstrating to demand respect for their right to a roof over their heads, before the authorities evicted 13 families, including a dozen children, from the Buenaventura “corrala” or squat in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

Families demonstrating to demand respect for their right to a roof over their heads, before the authorities evicted 13 families, including a dozen children, from the Buenaventura “corrala” or squat in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

By Inés Benítez
MALAGA, Spain, Apr 9 2014 (IPS)

“I don’t want them to grow up with the notion that they’re poor,” says Catalina González, referring to her two young sons. The family has been living in an apartment rent-free since December in exchange for fixing it up, in the southern Spanish city of Málaga.

Six months ago González, 40, and her two sons, Manuel and Leónidas, 4 and 5, were evicted by the local authorities from the Buenaventura “corrala” or squat – an old apartment building with a common courtyard that had been occupied by 13 families who couldn’t afford to pay rent. The evicted families included a dozen children.

Since then, she told IPS, her sons “don’t like the police because they think they stole their house.”

Spain has the second-highest child poverty rate in the European Union, following Romania, according to the report “The European Crisis and its Human Cost – A Call for Fair Alternatives and Solutions” released Mar. 27 in Athens by Caritas Europa.

Bulgaria is in third place and Greece in fourth, according to the Roman Catholic relief, development and social service organisation.

The austerity measures imposed in Europe, aggravated by the foreign debt, “have failed to solve problems and create growth,” said Caritas Europa’s Secretary General Jorge Nuño at the launch of the report.

“We’re doing ok. The kids are already pre-enrolled in school for the next school year,” said González, a native of Barcelona, who left the father of her sons in Italy when she discovered that “he mistreated them.”

She started over from scratch in Málaga, with no family, job or income, meeting basic needs thanks to the solidarity of social organisations and mutual support networks.

According to a report published this year by the United Nations children’s fund UNICEF, in 2012 more than 2.5 million children in Spain lived in families below the poverty line – 30 percent of all children.

UNICEF reported that 19 percent of children in Spain lived in households with annual incomes of less than 15,000 dollars.

“Child poverty is a reality in Spain, although politicians want to gloss over it and they don’t like us to talk about it because it’s associated with Third World countries,” the founder and president of the NGO Mensajeros de la Paz (Messengers of Peace), Catholic priest Ángel García, told IPS.

Spain’s finance minister Cristóbal Montoro said on Mar. 28 that the information released by Caritas Europa “does not fully reflect reality” because it is based solely on “statistical measurements.”

But in Málaga “there are more and more mothers lining up to get food,” Ángel Meléndez, the president of Ángeles Malagueños de la Noche, told IPS.

Every day, his organisation provides 500 breakfasts, 1,600 lunches and 600 dinners to the poor.

For months, González and her sons have been taking their meals at the “Er Banco Güeno”, a community-run soup kitchen in the low-income Málaga neighbourhood of Palma-Palmilla, which operates out of a closed-down bank branch.

According to Father Ángel, child poverty “isn’t just about not being able to afford food, but also about not being able to buy school books or not buying new clothes in the last two years.”

“It’s about unequal opportunity among children,” he said.

The crisis in Spain is still severe. The country’s unemployment rate is the highest in the EU: 25.6 percent in February, after Greece’s 27.5 percent.

In 2013, the government of right-wing Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy approved a National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2013-2016, which includes the aim of reducing child poverty.

Caritas Europa reports that at least one and a half million households in Spain are suffering from severe social inclusion – 70 percent more than in 2007, the year before the global financial crisis broke out.

“Entire families end up on the street because they can’t afford to pay rent,” Rosa Martínez, the director of the Centro de Acogida Municipal, told IPS during a visit to the municipal shelter. “More people are asking for food. They’re even asking for diapers for newborns because they are in such a difficult situation.”

Of the nearly 26 percent of the economically active population out of jobs, half are young people, according to the National Statistics Institute, while the gap between rich and poor is growing.

As of late March, 4.8 million people were unemployed, according to official statistics. The figures also show that the proportion of jobless people with no source of income whatsoever has grown to four out of 10.

Social discontent has been fuelled by austerity measures that have entailed cutbacks in health, education and social protection.

A report on the Housing Emergency in the Spanish State, by the Platform for Mortgage Victims (PAH) and the DESC Observatory, estimates that 70 percent of the families who have been, or are about to be, evicted include at least one minor.

“The right to equal opportunities is dead letter if children are ending up on the street,” José Cosín, a lawyer and activist with PAH Málaga, told IPS.

Cosín denounced the vulnerable situation of the children who were evicted along with their families from the Buenaventura corrala on Oct. 3, 2013.

Fifteen of the people who were evicted filed a lawsuit demanding respect of the children’s basic rights, as outlined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which went into effect in 1990.

The Convention establishes that states parties “shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.”

The number of families in Spain with no source of income at all grew from 300,000 in mid-2007 to nearly 700,000 by late 2013, according to the report Precariedad y Cohesión Social; Análisis y Perspectivas 2014 (Precariousness and Social Cohesion; Analysis and Perspectives 2014), by Cáritas Española and the Fundación Foessa.

And 27 percent of households in Spain are supported by pensioners. Grown-up sons and daughters are moving back into their parents’ homes with their families, or retired grandparents are helping support their children and grandchildren, with their often meagre pensions.

“When times get rough, the social fabric is strengthened,” said González. She stressed the solidarity of different groups in Málaga who for three months helped her clean up and repair the apartment she is living in now, which is on the tenth floor of a building with no elevator, and was full of garbage and had no door, window panes or piped water.

González complained that government social services are underfunded and inefficient, and said she receives no assistance from them.

Like all young children, her sons ask her for things. But she explains to them that it is more important to spend eight euros on food than on two plastic fishes. It took her several weeks to save up money to buy the toys. Last Christmas she took them to a movie for the first time.

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Colombia’s Breadbasket Feels the Pinch of Free Trade http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/colombias-breadbasket-feels-pinch-free-trade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=colombias-breadbasket-feels-pinch-free-trade http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/colombias-breadbasket-feels-pinch-free-trade/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 18:11:21 +0000 Helda Martinez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133521 “Things are getting worse and worse,” Enrique Muñoz, a 67-year-old farmer from the municipality of Cajamarca in the central Colombian department of Tolima, once known as the country’s breadbasket, said sadly. “Over the past five decades, the situation took a radical turn for the worse,” activist Miguel Gordillo commented to IPS, referring to what is […]

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The home of a poor farming family in the mountains of Cajamarca, in the central Colombian department of Tolima. Credit: Helda Martínez/IPS

The home of a poor farming family in the mountains of Cajamarca, in the central Colombian department of Tolima. Credit: Helda Martínez/IPS

By Helda Martínez
IBAGUÉ, Colombia , Apr 8 2014 (IPS)

“Things are getting worse and worse,” Enrique Muñoz, a 67-year-old farmer from the municipality of Cajamarca in the central Colombian department of Tolima, once known as the country’s breadbasket, said sadly.

“Over the past five decades, the situation took a radical turn for the worse,” activist Miguel Gordillo commented to IPS, referring to what is happening in Tolima, whose capital is Ibagué, 195 km southwest of Bogotá.

“Fifty years ago, Ibagué was a small city surrounded by crops – vast fields of cotton that looked from far away like a big white sheet,” said Gordillo, head of the non-governmental Asociación Nacional por la Salvación Agropecuaria (National Association to Save Agriculture).

Seeds, also victims of the FTAs

Miguel Gordillo mentioned another problem created by the FTAs: seeds.

In 2010, the Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA), a government institution, prohibited farmers from saving their own seeds for future harvests, the expert pointed out.

ICA established in Resolution 970 that only certified seeds produced by biotech giants like Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont, the world leaders in transgenic seeds, could be used.

The measure “ignores a centuries-old tradition that started with indigenous peoples, who always selected the best seeds for planting in the next season. Today, in the areas of seeds, fertilisers, agrochemicals, we are at the mercy of the international market,” Gordillo said.

“In Tolima we planted maize, tobacco, soy, sorghum and fruit trees, and the mountains that surrounded Cajamarca were covered with green coffee bushes protected by orange trees, maize and plantain, and surrounded by celery,” Muñoz said.

His voice lost in the past, he said the farms in the area also had “piggies, chickens, mules, cows; everything was so different.”

Gordillo said, “In the north of the department we had fruit trees of all kinds, and the rivers were chock full of fish. There’s still rice, some maize, coffee…but even the fish have disappeared.

“In short, in five decades the look of this agricultural region has changed, and today it’s all freeways, residential complexes, gas stations, and here and there the odd field with crops,” he complained.

As a result, everything changed for Muñoz. “My wife and I are now supported by our kids who work, one in Ibagué and two in Bogotá. On the farm we have a cow, whose milk we use to make cheese that we sell, and we plant food for our own consumption.”

Muñoz plans to take part in the second national farmers’ strike, on Apr. 27, which the government is trying to head off.

The first, which lasted from Aug. 19 to Sep. 9, 2013, was held by coffee, rice, cotton, sugar cane, potato and cacao farmers, who demanded that the government of Juan Manuel Santos revise the chapters on agriculture in the free trade agreements (FTAs) signed by Colombia, especially the accord reached with the United States.

The national protest was joined by artisanal miners, transport and health workers, teachers and students, and included massive demonstrations in Bogotá and 30 other cities.

Clashes with the security forces left 12 dead, nearly 500 injured and four missing.

Colombia has signed over 50 FTAs, according to the ministry for economic development.

The highest profile are the FTA signed in 2006 with the United States, which went into effect in May 2012, and the agreement with the European Union, that entered into force in August 2013, besides the FTAs with Canada and Switzerland. Another is currently being negotiated with Japan.

In 2011, Colombia founded the Pacific Alliance with Chile, Mexico and Peru, and Panama as an observer. It also belongs to other regional integration blocs.

“Colombia’s governments, which since the 1990s have had the motto ‘Welcome to the future’, lived up to it: that future has been terrible for Tolima and the entire country,” Gordillo said.

In the last four years, coffee farmers have held strikes until achieving subsidies of 80 dollars per truckload of coffee.

In this South American country of 48.2 million people, agriculture accounts for 6.5 percent of GDP, led by coffee, cut flowers, rice and bananas. But that is down from 14 percent of GDP in 2000 and 20 percent in 1975.

“Agriculture is doing poorly everywhere, and Tolima is no exception,” the department’secretary of agricultural development, Carlos Alberto Cabrera, told IPS.

“Rice, which is strong in our department, is having a rough time,” he said. “In coffee, we are the third-largest producers in the country, and we hope to become the first. There’s not much cotton left. In sorghum we are the second-largest producers. Soy is disappearing, tobacco too, and many products are now just grown for the food security of our farmers.”

In the search for solutions, “we have invited ministers and deputy ministers to the region, but their response has been that we should plant what sells, to stay in the market of supply and demand,” he said.

But Cabrera said that in the case of Tolima, the FTAs weren’t a problem. “We haven’t felt any effect, because the only thing we export is coffee. Rice is for national consumption, and sorghum goes to industry,” he said.

Gordillo, meanwhile, criticised that when ministers visit the department, “they say farmers should plant what other countries don’t produce, what they can’t sell to us. In other words, they insist on favouring others. They forget that the first priority should be the food security of our people, and not the other way around.”

Because of this misguided way of looking at things, he said, “our farmers will hold another national strike. People from Tolima and from many other regions of the country will take part, because the government isn’t living up to its promises, and all this poverty means they have to open their eyes.”

The government says it has fulfilled at least 70 of the 183 commitments it made to the country’s farmers after last year’s agriculture strike.

The farmers were demanding solutions such as land tenure, social investment in rural areas, protection from growing industries like mining and oil, and a fuel subsidy for agricultural producers.

The government says it earmarked 500 million dollars in support for agriculture in the 2014 budget.

In the last few weeks, the ministry of agriculture and rural development has stepped up a campaign showing off its results, and President Santos has insisted in public speeches that “a new farmers’ strike is not justified.”

The authorities are also pressing for dialogue to reach a national pact with farmers, as part of their efforts to ward off the strike scheduled for less than a month ahead of the May 25 presidential elections, when Santos will run for a second term.

Small farmers and other participants in a Mar. 15-17 “agricultural summit” agreed on eight points that should be discussed in a dialogue, including agrarian reform, access to land, the establishment of peasant reserve zones, prior consultation on projects in farming and indigenous areas, protection from FTAs, and restrictions on mining and oil industry activities.

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Biofortified Beans to Fight ‘Hidden Hunger’ in Rwanda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/biofortified-beans-fight-hidden-hunger-rwanda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=biofortified-beans-fight-hidden-hunger-rwanda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/biofortified-beans-fight-hidden-hunger-rwanda/#comments Sun, 06 Apr 2014 16:36:24 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133453 Joane Nkuliye considers herself an activist. She is part of a select group of farmers producing biofortified crops on a commercial scale in Rwanda.  Nkuliye owns 25 hectares in Nyagatare district, Eastern Province, two hours away from the capital, Kigali. She was awarded land by the government and moved there in 2000, with plans of […]

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Joane Nkuliye, a rural entrepreneur from Rwanda’s Eastern Province, grows biofortified beans on a commercial scale. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Joane Nkuliye, a rural entrepreneur from Rwanda’s Eastern Province, grows biofortified beans on a commercial scale. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
KIGALI, Apr 6 2014 (IPS)

Joane Nkuliye considers herself an activist. She is part of a select group of farmers producing biofortified crops on a commercial scale in Rwanda. 

Nkuliye owns 25 hectares in Nyagatare district, Eastern Province, two hours away from the capital, Kigali. She was awarded land by the government and moved there in 2000, with plans of rearing cattle. But she soon realised that growing food would be more profitable and have a greater impact on the local community as many of the kids in the area suffered from Kwashiorkor, a type of malnutrition caused by lack of protein.

“I have a passion for farming. We are being subsidised because very few people are doing commercial farming,” the entrepreneur, who is married with five children and has been farming for over 10 years, told IPS.

Biofortification on a Global Scale

Every second person in the world dies from malnutrition. In order to fight the so-called hidden hunger — a chronic lack of vitamins and minerals — biofortification aims to increase nutrition and yields simultaneously.

HarvestPlus is part of the CGIAR Consortium research programme on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), which helps realise the potential of agricultural development to deliver gender-equitable health and nutritional benefits to the poor.

The HarvestPlus programme is coordinated by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture and the International Food Policy Research Institute. It has nine target countries: Nigeria, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Brazil has also begun introducing biofortified crops.

The director of HarvestPlus, Howarth Bouis, told IPS that the goal was to reach 15 million households worldwide by 2018 and ensure that they were growing and eating biofortified crops such as cassava, maize, orange sweet potato, pearl millet, pumpkin and beans.

“It is always a challenge but it’s much easier than it was before, because we have the crops already. Years ago I had to say we wouldn’t have [made an] impact in less than 10 years. Now things are coming out and it has been easier to raise money,” Bouis said.

Four years ago, she was contacted by the NGO HarvestPlus, which is part of a CGIAR Consortium research programme on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health. The NGO is considered a leader in the global effort to improve nutrition and public health by developing crops and distributing seeds of staple foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals.

HarvestPlus provided Nkuliye with seeds, packaging, outlets for distribution and know-how. Now she grows biofortified beans on 11 of her 50 hectares of land.

“After harvesting beans I grow maize as an intercrop. I also grow sweet bananas, pineapples and papaya. I harvest 15 tonnes of food; I talk in terms of tonnes and not kilos,” she smiled.

Nkuliye was invited by HarvestPlus to speak at the Second Global Conference on Biofortification held in Kigali from Mar. 31 to Apr. 2, which was a gathering of scientists, policymakers and stakeholders.

Rwanda has ventured into a new agricultural era as it boosts its food production and enhances the nutrition level of the crops grown here.

In this Central African nation where 44 percent of the country’s 12 million people suffer from malnutrition and micronutrient deficiency, biofortified foods, like beans, are seen as a solution to reducing “hidden hunger” — a chronic lack of vitamins and minerals.

One in every three Rwandans is anaemic, and this percentage is higher in women and children. An estimated 38 percent of children under five and 17 percent of women suffer from iron deficiency here. This, according to Lister Tiwirai Katsvairo, the HarvestPlus country manager for the biofortification project, is high compared to other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Biofortified beans have high nutritional levels and provide up to 45 percent of daily iron needs, which is 14 percent more than commonly-grown bean varieties.

They also have an extra advantage as they have proved to produce high yields, are resistant to viruses, and are heat and drought tolerant.

Now, one third of Rwanda’s 1.9 million households grow and consume nutritious crops thanks to an initiative promoted by HarvestPlus in collaboration with the Rwandan government. The HarvestPlus strategy is “feeding the brain to make a difference,” Katsvairo said.

The national government, which has been working in partnership with HarvestPlus since 2010, sees nutrition as a serious concern. According to Rwanda’s Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources Agnes Kalibata, five government ministers are working cooperatively to address nutrition issues here.

She said that biofortified crops ensured that poor people, smallholder farmers and their families received nutrients in their diets. Around 80 percent of Rwanda’s rural population rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.

“Beans in Rwanda are our staple food, they are traditional. You cannot eat a meal without them. Beans that are biofortified have the main protein that will reach everybody, they are the main source of food,” she said.

Katsvairo explained that Rwanda has 10 different varieties of biofortified beans and that Rwandan diets comprise 200 grams of beans per person a day.

“Our farmers and population cannot afford meat on a daily basis. In a situation like this we need to find a crop that can provide nutrients and is acceptable to the community. We don’t want to change diets,” Katsvairo told IPS.

The ideologist and geneticist who led the Green Revolution in India is an advocate of what he calls “biohappiness”. Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan became famous for the Green Revolution that increased food production and turned India into a sustainable food producer.

“I am an enthusiast of biofortification. It is the best way to add nutrients like iron, zinc and vitamin A. In the case of biofortification it is a win-win situation,” he told IPS.

According to Swaminathan, who has been described by the United Nations Environment Programme as “the Father of Economic Ecology”, the concept of food security has grown and evolved into nutritious security.

“We found it is not enough to give calories, it is important to have proteins and micronutrients.”

Swaminathan says it is also a way of attacking silent hunger — hunger caused by extreme poverty.

“It fortifies in a biological matter and not in chemical matter, that is why I call it biohappiness,” said the first winner of the World Food Prize in 1987. He  has also been acclaimed by TIME magazine as one of the 20 most influential Asians of the 20th century.

According to Katsvairo, Rwanda has become an example to other sub-Saharan countries as the issue of nutrition is now part of public strategic policy here.

“Rwanda is still at the implementation stage but it is way ahead of other African countries,” confirmed Katsvairo.

Meanwhile, Nkuliye aims to expand her farm over the next few years and increase her crop of biofortified beans.

“I wanted to improve people’s lives. My husband is proud of me but I feel I haven’t done enough yet,” she said. Currently, she employes 20 women and 10 men on a permanent basis and hires temporary workers during planting and harvesting.

She first started her business with a three-year bank loan of five million Rwandan Francs (7,700 dollars). Now, she has applied for 20 million Rwandan Francs (30,800 dollars).

“I want to buy more land, at least 100 hectares. What I am producing is not enough for the market,” Nkuliye explained. While she harvests tonnes of produce to sell to the local market, she says it is not enough as demand is growing.

But she is proud that she has been able to feed her community.

“I have fed people with nutritious beans, I changed their lives and I have also changed mine. We have a culture of sharing meals and give our workers eight kilos of biofortified food to take to their families,” she said.

Fabíola Ortiz was invited by HarvestPlus and Embrapa-Brazil to travel to Rwanda.

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Rural Costa Rican Women Plant Trees to Fight Climate Change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/rural-costa-rican-women-plant-trees-fight-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rural-costa-rican-women-plant-trees-fight-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/rural-costa-rican-women-plant-trees-fight-climate-change/#comments Wed, 02 Apr 2014 13:39:21 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133379 Olga Vargas, a breast cancer survivor, is back in the countryside, working in a forestry programme in the north of Costa Rica aimed at empowering women while at the same time mitigating the effects of climate change. Her recent illness and a community dispute over the land the project previously used – granted by the […]

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Olga Vargas next to the greenhouse with which the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association began to revitalise its sustainable business, whose priority is reforestation. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Olga Vargas next to the greenhouse with which the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association began to revitalise its sustainable business, whose priority is reforestation. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
PITAL, Costa Rica , Apr 2 2014 (IPS)

Olga Vargas, a breast cancer survivor, is back in the countryside, working in a forestry programme in the north of Costa Rica aimed at empowering women while at the same time mitigating the effects of climate change.

Her recent illness and a community dispute over the land the project previously used – granted by the Agrarian Development Institute, where the women had planted 12,000 trees – stalled the reforestation and environmental education project since 2012 in Pital, San Carlos district, in the country’s northern plains.

But the group is getting a fresh start.

“After the cancer I feel that God gave me a second chance, to continue with the project and help my companions,” Vargas, a 57-year-old former accountant, told IPS in the Quebrada Grande forest reserve, which her group helps to maintain.

She is a mother of four and grandmother of six; her two grown daughters also participate in the group, and her husband has always supported her, she says proudly.

Since 2000, the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association, made up of 14 women and presided over by Vargas, has reforested the land granted to them, organised environmental protection courses, set up breeding tanks for the sustainable fishing of tilapia, and engaged in initiatives in rural tourism and organic agriculture.

But the top priority has been planting trees.

A group of local men who opposed the granting of the land to the women from the start demanded that the installations and business endeavours be taken over by the community.

The women were given another piece of land, smaller than one hectare in size, but which is in the name of the Association, and their previous installations were virtually abandoned.

“I learned about the importance of forest management in a meeting I attended in Guatemala. After that, several of us travelled to Panama, El Salvador and Argentina, to find out about similar initiatives and exchange experiences,” said Vargas, who used to work as an accountant in Pital, 135 km north of San José.

The most the Association has earned in a year was 14,000 dollars. “Maybe 50,000 colones [100 dollars] sounds like very little. But for us, rural women who used to depend on our husband’s income to buy household items or go to the doctor, it’s a lot,” Vargas said.

The Association, whose members range in age from 18 to 67, is not on its own. Over the last decade, groups of Costa Rican women coming up with solutions against deforestation have emerged in rural communities around the country.

These groups took up the challenge and started to plant trees and to set up greenhouses, in response to the local authorities’ failure to take action in the face of deforestation and land use changes.

“Climate change has had a huge effect on agricultural production,” Vargas said. “You should see how hot it’s been, and the rivers are just pitiful. Around three or four years ago the rivers flowed really strong, but now there’s only one-third or one-fourth as much water.”

In Quebrada Grande, the Agrarian Development Institute dedicated 119 hectares of land to forest conservation, which the Womens’ Association has been looking after for over a decade. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

In Quebrada Grande, the Agrarian Development Institute dedicated 119 hectares of land to forest conservation, which the Womens’ Association has been looking after for over a decade. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

In San Ramón de Turrialba, 65 km east of San José, six women manage a greenhouse where they produce seedlings to plant 20,000 trees a year.

Since 2007, the six women in the Group of Agribusiness Women of San Ramón have had a contract with Costa Rica’s electric company, ICE, to provide it with acacia, Mexican cedar, and eucalyptus seedlings.

The group’s coordinator, Nuria Céspedes, explained to IPS that the initiative emerged when she asked her husband for a piece of the family farm to set up a greenhouse.

“Seven years ago, I went to a few meetings on biological corridors and I was struck by the problem of deforestation, because they explain climate change has been aggravated by deforestation,” said Céspedes, who added that the group has the active support of her husband, and has managed to expand its list of customers.

Costa Rica, which is famous for its forests, is one of the few countries in the world that has managed to turn around a previously high rate of deforestation.

In 1987, the low point for this Central American country’s jungles, only 21 percent of the national territory was covered by forest, compared to 75 percent in 1940.

That marked the start of an aggressive reforestation programme, thanks to which forests covered 52 percent of the territory by 2012.

Costa Rica has set itself the goal of becoming the first country in the world to achieve carbon neutrality by 2021. And in the fight against climate change, it projects that carbon sequestration by its forests will contribute 75 percent of the emissions reduction needed to achieve that goal.

In this country of 4.4 million people, these groups of women have found a niche in forest conservation that also helps them combat sexist cultural norms and the heavy concentration of land in the hands of men.

“One of the strong points [of women’s participation] is having access to education – they have been given the possibility of taking part in workshops and trainings,” Arturo Ureña, the technical head of the Coordinating Association of Indigenous and Community Agroforestry in Central America (ACICAFOC) , told IPS.

That was true for the Pital Association. When they started their project, the women received courses from the Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje (national training institute), which made it possible for two illiterate members of the group to take their final exams orally.

Added to these community initiatives are government strategies. More and more women are being included in state programmes that foment agroforestry production, such as the EcoMercado (ecomarket) of the National Forest Finance Fund (Fonafifo).

EcoMercado is part of the Environmental Services Programme of Fonafifo, one of the pillars of carbon sequestration in Costa Rica.

Since Fonafifo was created in the mid-1990s, 770,000 hectares, out of the country’s total of 5.1 million, have been included in the forestry strategy, with initiatives ranging from reforestation to agroforestry projects.

Lucrecia Guillén, who keeps Fonafifo’s statistics and is head of its environmental services management department, confirmed to IPS that the participation of women in reforestation projects is growing.

She stressed that in the case of the EcoMercado, women’s participation increased 185 percent between 2009 and 2013, which translated into a growth in the number of women farmers from 474 to 877. She clarified, however, that land ownership and the agroforestry industry were still dominated by men.

Statistics from Fonafifo indicate that in the EcoMercado project, only 16 percent of the farms are owned by women, while 37 are owned by individual men and 47 percent are in the hands of corporations, which are mainly headed by men.

But Guillén sees no reason to feel discouraged. “Women are better informed now, and that has boosted participation” and will continue to do so, she said.

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Behind Bars for Being Young, Poor and Wearing a Hat http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/behind-bars-young-poor-wearing-hat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=behind-bars-young-poor-wearing-hat http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/behind-bars-young-poor-wearing-hat/#comments Wed, 19 Mar 2014 08:52:31 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133074 Just being young, dark-skinned, poor, and wearing a hood or cap exposes you to arrest as a suspected offender in the Argentine province of Córdoba. Arbitrary police detentions are based on the misdemeanour of “loitering”, meant to prevent crime but in fact a violation of constitutional rights. José María Luque, known as Bichi, has lost […]

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Some 15,000 people took part in the Marcha de la Gorra (March of Hats) on Nov. 20, 2013, in Córdoba, Argentina, protesting police discrimination against poor, dark- skinned young people. Credit: Courtesy of Colectivo de Jóvenes por Nuestros Derechos

Some 15,000 people took part in the Marcha de la Gorra (March of Hats) on Nov. 20, 2013, in Córdoba, Argentina, protesting police discrimination against poor, dark- skinned young people. Credit: Courtesy of Colectivo de Jóvenes por Nuestros Derechos

By Fabiana Frayssinet
CÓRDOBA, Argentina, Mar 19 2014 (IPS)

Just being young, dark-skinned, poor, and wearing a hood or cap exposes you to arrest as a suspected offender in the Argentine province of Córdoba. Arbitrary police detentions are based on the misdemeanour of “loitering”, meant to prevent crime but in fact a violation of constitutional rights.

José María Luque, known as Bichi, has lost count of the number of times he has been detained by the police for these reasons in Córdoba, the capital of the province of the same name.

Luque is 28 years old and lives in a poor neighbourhood. He was first arrested when he was 13 and on his way home from school with a friend, dressed in school uniform. He was kept in custody for a week.

Misdemeanours versus human rights



Codes of Misdemeanours, dealing with illegal conduct that does not amount to crime, exist in all of Argentina’s 23 provinces and in the City of Buenos Aires. In 33 percent of these jurisdictions, the police make arrests, investigate and enforce penalties, which contributes to abuses and human rights violations.

In 2003, the International Court of Human Rights convicted the Argentine state of the illegal detention in 1991 of 17-year-old Walter Bulacio at a concert in Buenos Aires, under its misdemeanour code. The young man died as a result of police brutality. The Court ordered the country to bring its internal laws in line with the American Convention on Human Rights and other international legislation.

The codes were mostly adopted under authoritarian regimes in the 20th century, but were updated when democracy returned. In the view of many human rights organisations, one of the related problems is that they are being quietly introduced into criminal law, which has national scope, establishing de facto provincial “minor crimes” rules.

Moreover, many of them are vague about the misdemeanours, which adds to their discretional nature, and they deny the right to a defence, to freedom of movement, to personal freedom, to due process and to be heard by the natural judge, that is, a competent authority determined by law, among other juridical and human rights anomalies.

Sources: Federación Argentina LGBT (Argentine LGBT Federation) and Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (Civil Rights Association).

“They stopped us, asked for our documents and arrested us. Just like that. They made up a criminal charge against me: attempted robbery and possession of a firearm. They let me go when the charges were dismissed,” he told IPS.

Now Luque is a member of the Colectivo de Jóvenes por Nuestros Derechos (Young People’s Collective for Our Rights), which fights police abuse. He says he is lucky because his family paid for a lawyer, and he has no criminal record.

But that is not what happens to many young people arrested under Cordoba’s Código de Faltas (Code of Misdemeanours), which came into force in 1994 and was reformed in 2007.

A study conducted by the National University of Córdoba and the Spanish University of La Rioja found that 95 percent of people detained under the Code of Misdemeanours do not have access to a lawyer.

“If you have a misdemeanour on your police record, you cannot get a certificate of good conduct, which most companies require in order to hire an employee,” Luque said.

The code penalises behaviours that supposedly harm civil coexistence, such as disturbing the peace in a public place, not providing proof of identity, resistance to authority, drunkenness, begging or vagrancy.

The study indicates that nearly 70 percent of offenders are charged with “merodeo” (loitering), a controversial misdemeanour that allows police to pick up suspects who, in an Oxford Dictionary definition, “stand or wait around without apparent purpose” or “stand or wait around with the intention of committing an offence.”

Article 98 of the code establishes fines or up to five days imprisonment for those who hang around vehicles or urban or rural buildings “with a suspicious appearance or without a proper reason, causing disquiet among proprietors, residents, passersby or neighbours.”

“It’s a completely subjective and arbitrary rule. There is no explanation of what to do in order not to arouse suspicion and be arrested,” said Luque, who has worked since he was a teenager and is now a master pizza maker.

Bichi and other young people of similar social extraction tend to wear particular garments that identify them: coloured hats or caps, jogging pants and flashy trainers.

But the police interpret these cultural identifiers as a presumption of guilt.

“Many of those arrested wear hats. Hats are suspect,” said Luque, one of the organisers of La Marcha de la Gorra (March of Hats), which has taken place every November for the past seven years to demand the repeal of the Code of Misdemeanours. In 2013, 15,000 people took part.

“Whatever they say, the loitering rule is used so that the police can arrest darker-skinned people from the shanty towns who are wandering around wearing hats,” lawyer Claudio Orosz, the representative in Córdoba of the human rights organisation Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (Centre for Legal and Social Studies), told IPS.

In Orosz’s view, the code is a reflection of a “conservative and timorous” society that has inherited the “repression and genocide” of the 1976-1983 Argentine dictatorship.

This prosecution lawyer for crimes against humanity said that the culture is the reason why the poor are subjected to the “Kafkaesque labyrinth” of loitering rules.

According to the university study, people arrested for misdemeanours are mainly underprivileged young people aged 18 to 25. In 2011, 73,000 people were detained in the province, 43,000 of them in the city of Córdoba.

“It’s the usual thing: if you come from a poor area and you are poor, you dress in a certain way, you have certain features and a certain skin colour, then you are automatically considered a danger to society,” said Luque.

One of the most questionable aspects of the code is that powers that should be reserved for judges are handed over to police superintendents.

This is ironic because the Cordoban police “structure and support the major crime problems that cause most damage to society,” such as “human trafficking, drug trafficking, car theft and arms sales,” said Agustín Sposato, another member of the youth collective.

Aggravating circumstances, according to Orosz, are the unreliable systems for fingerprinting and carrying out police record searches in Cordoban police stations.

“Sometimes they take three days to find out if whether the detainee has a record and to release them, which is really illegitimate deprivation of freedom,” he said.

“It’s a system of social control, formalised by the police, that undermines the basic checks and balances of constitutional law,” he said.

In Orosz’s view, “the Code of Misdemeanours gives enormous power of selectivity and social control to the police, without the proper judicial control.”

Luque is well aware of the fact. “The times I was detained, I experienced that sense of illegitimate deprivation of freedom, of being kidnapped, of not knowing when I was going to get out, of not knowing how to let my loved ones know where I was. The impotence was very great, very dark, very ugly,” he said.

The governor of Córdoba, José Manuel De la Sota, on Feb.1 sent a bill to reform the Code of Misdemeanours to the provincial parliament, where it is being debated.

In the view of Sergio Busso, the leader of the parliamentary party for the ruling Unión Por Córdoba, the rule on loitering should be preserved because it is important in the fight against rising public insecurity in the province.

Busso told IPS that the code “is an instrument to regulate and punish illegal behaviours that harm the rights of individuals or of society as a whole, but that do not amount to crimes.”

But he admitted the code needs to be reformed, so that “arrests and fines may be applied only in special situations, and are replaced instead by alternative and secondary penalties, such as community service.”

He also said the enforcing authority should be changed. The new bill provides for specialist prosecutors or judges to decide misdemeanour cases, rather than police, “in order to separate those who judge from those who execute procedures,” and to ensure “an independent view.”

According to Orosz, this has already been tried, and it failed because the justice system collapsed under the avalanche of cases.

Busso said the reform bill requires loitering to be the subject of a complaint by an identified citizen. But Orosz said such a complainant would be “equally subjective.”

In Orosz’s view, the Code of Misdemeanours should be repealed and replaced by a code of coexistence establishing “the desired behaviours, and conflict resolution mechanisms that do not necessarily involve jail time,” like community mediation programmes.

Sposato, for his part, said the proposed reforms “are just window dressing, to ease the climate of social conflict” in the province.

“What is at stake is people’s lives, their rights, and the possibility of equality for all of us in the province,” he concluded.

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Rapping to Uganda’s News Beat http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/rapping-ugandas-news-bulletins/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rapping-ugandas-news-bulletins http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/rapping-ugandas-news-bulletins/#comments Tue, 18 Mar 2014 08:41:57 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132936 “People in Ukraine took over power. “Celebrated a few days, then the party went sour…” raps Sharon Bwogi, aka Lady Slyke, on NewzBeat, a weekend show that airs on Uganda’s channel NTV in both English and the local language Luganda.  It might sound strange — hearing a news item on the political situation in Ukraine being rapped. But […]

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Daniel Kisekka (l), aka Survivor and Sharon Bwogi (r), aka Lady Slyke, are presenters on NewzBeat, a Ugandan news programme that raps the news. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Daniel Kisekka (l), aka Survivor and Sharon Bwogi (r), aka Lady Slyke, are presenters on NewzBeat, a Ugandan news programme that raps the news. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Mar 18 2014 (IPS)

“People in Ukraine took over power.

“Celebrated a few days, then the party went sour…” raps Sharon Bwogi, aka Lady Slyke, on NewzBeat, a weekend show that airs on Uganda’s channel NTV in both English and the local language Luganda. 

It might sound strange — hearing a news item on the political situation in Ukraine being rapped. But a new show in this East African nation, where half of its 36.4 million people are below the age of 15 and media censorship restricts the information people receive, hopes to grab the audience’s attention through “rhyme and reason”.

NewzBeat airs on Uganda’s free-to air channel NTV and is recorded in an independent studio in a suburb outside the country’s capital, Kampala. The team records one segment between four and five minutes – which takes about half an hour to film using two cameras, a green screen and a few other pieces of equipment – every week.

Each episode includes a mix of four or five international and local stories and includes a human interest, sport and entertainment piece.

Bwogi co-hosts hosts NewzBeat with Daniel Kisekka, aka Survivor, and the show also features 13-year-old anchor MC Loy. She is still in school but acts as the show’s “special correspondent”, making her one of, if not the youngest, “rapping journalist”.

She recently filed a piece on female boxers in Kampala’s Katanga slum for International Women’s Day. The programme, “borrowed” from hip-hop mad Senegal in West Africa, has only been on air for two weeks in Uganda.

“Right now it’s a mixed bag. Obviously the hip-hop fans are crazy about it but there are people who don’t understand it because hip-hop is not big here, it’s just getting there,” Kisekka, a hip-hop veteran who’s been rapping since 1988, tells IPS.

“[But] it encompasses so many things. It’s informative, it’s entertaining, it’s educational.”

He claims most youth aged under 30 are not interested in news and current affairs.

“It has been like that for such a long time,” says Kisekka. “But hip-hop is very popular with them. When we do a hip-hop show they say ‘I didn’t know this happened’. It’s only because we put it in the language they understand.”

Arnold Ntume, 23, stumbled across NewzBeat while channel surfing and is now a regular viewer.

“I was like ‘oh what’s this?’” the videographer tells IPS.

“It’s a different idea in Uganda. I learn more. And there’s some news that we don’t get on the other stations, mostly stories about our real lives.”

Uganda does not have a great track record when it comes to media freedom, which could explain why news consumption among young people may be low.

Last May, two privately-owned newspapers and radio stations were shut down by police for 11 days after reporting on a letter, allegedly written by an army general, that claimed that President Yoweri Museveni was grooming his son to succeed him.

According to the Press Freedom Index Report 2013, released by the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda earlier this month, space for reporters to operate freely in the country has continued to shrink.

Senior researcher at Human Rights Watch’s Africa division Maria Burnett tells IPS that over the years the organisation has documented and raised concerns about the “ways in which the Ugandan government limits free expression under the dubious guise of keeping public order and security.

“We have documented intimidation and harassment of journalists and station managers, especially those who are critical of the government, present opposing political views, or expose state wrongdoing, such as corruption or failure to investigate crimes outside Kampala.

“Uganda’s media regulatory system has shown clear partisan tendencies on several occasions. This is all very troubling because the bedrock of free speech is the right to criticise those in powerful positions,” Burnett says.

NewzBeat is upfront about not being objective but also stresses, speaking in rap terms, “the street party is the only party we affiliate ourselves with.”

Kisekka says the show aims to cover issues that aren’t predominantly given air time on other stations.

“There are some things that are never covered [in Uganda], like corruption. There are some topics that are off limit but we have to cover them,” he says.

Uganda has been generating international headlines of late, after Museveni signed a draconian anti-gay law and another bill which supposedly criminalised women wearing miniskirts and led to attacks on females across the country.

NewzBeat delved into both issues.

“We talked a little about it [the anti-gay law]. We don’t want to overdo it because we know how people feel about this thing,” says Bwogi.

Other items that have been covered include Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s 90th birthday, the trouble in Central African Republic and South Sudan, the Sochi Winter Olympics and climate change.

Once the team decides on the editorial lineup, the creative process starts.

“I love it because I’m doing rhyme but I’m telling a story,” Bwogi, who started rapping in 1999, teaches poetry and song writing and is a fashion designer, tells IPS.

“It was what we were already doing but it was just a matter of getting different topics from different countries.”

She says although the news is delivered in hip-hop the audience can still understand it.

“We don’t do it so fast like it’s a race,” says Bwogi.

“People like it, they say it’s something they’ve never seen it before. Some are just getting into it.”

Kisekka says writing the material is often difficult.

“You have to obey the rules of hip-hop. The material has to remain the same. You can’t change the news,” he says.

However, Kisekka says, “I think the process [of writing the script] is better than the end finished product.”

Kisekka says the team hopes to increase its human interest coverage in the future.

“We expect to get sponsors and get more reporters and then expand it to beyond four [minutes], so we can have people who go to northern Uganda [and other places] and get the stories from the people,” he says.

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Uganda’s Human Rights Record Plunges With Signing of Anti-Gay Law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/ugandas-human-rights-record-plunges-signing-anti-gay-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ugandas-human-rights-record-plunges-signing-anti-gay-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/ugandas-human-rights-record-plunges-signing-anti-gay-law/#comments Tue, 25 Feb 2014 09:00:28 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132017 Uganda’s gays are bracing themselves for a spate of arrests and harassment as the country’s draconian anti-gay bill was signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni on Monday, Feb. 24. One gay man from Kamapla told IPS after the signing of the bill that there was nothing that he could do now and “the only […]

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Uganda’s gays are bracing themselves for a spate of arrests and harassment as the anti-gay bill was signed into on Monday, Feb. 24, 2014. Pictured here are participants of Uganda’s second Gay Pride parade held in August 2013. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Uganda’s gays are bracing themselves for a spate of arrests and harassment as the anti-gay bill was signed into on Monday, Feb. 24, 2014. Pictured here are participants of Uganda’s second Gay Pride parade held in August 2013. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Feb 25 2014 (IPS)

Uganda’s gays are bracing themselves for a spate of arrests and harassment as the country’s draconian anti-gay bill was signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni on Monday, Feb. 24.

One gay man from Kamapla told IPS after the signing of the bill that there was nothing that he could do now and “the only thing [left] is to try my best and [leave the country] for a safer place.”

“There’s no one who says I want to become gay, especially here in Uganda. You’re just born with it. You do not choose,” he added.

What the Anti-Homosexuality Bill says:

Under the new law, the penalty for same-sex conduct is now life imprisonment.

The “attempt to commit homosexuality” incurs a penalty of seven years as does “aiding and abetting” homosexuality.

A person who “keeps a house, room, set of rooms, or place of any kind for purposes of homosexuality” also faces seven years’ imprisonment.

The law also criminalises the “promotion” of homosexuality. A person could go to prison simply for expressing a peaceful opinion. Local and international nongovernmental organisations doing advocacy work on human rights issues could now be at risk of criminal sentencing of up to seven years.

Source: Human Rights Watch

The new bill, officially named the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, strengthens existing punishments for those caught having gay sex and prescribes jail terms up to life for “aggravated homosexuality” — including sex with a minor or where one partner is HIV positive. The bill also includes the “offence of homosexuality” – this is where a person convicted of homosexuality is liable to life imprisonment.

Human rights lawyer John Francis Onyango, who has represented many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual and intersex (LGBTI) Ugandans, said he had “definitely” seen an increase in arrests of LGBTI people since the bill was passed by parliament on Dec. 20.

“And also many gay persons are living in apprehension about their security, their freedom and capacity to associate,” he told IPS, adding that he was currently representing the LGBTI community in court on a number of cases. Before the signing of the anti-gay bill into law, this East African nation already had some laws against those caught having gay sex.

Museveni defied international condemnation by signing the bill during a packed public ceremony at State House on Feb. 24.

It took many by surprise as Museveni said only late last week that he would put the legislation on hold while he sought advice from U.S. scientists on whether homosexuality is caused by nature or nurture.

But member of parliament Sam Okuonzi, who chairs the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, told IPS that Museveni had been under “tremendous pressure” from a growing chorus of MPs, religious leaders and locals to sign the bill. ”There is nothing that has united this country so completely and so strongly as this bill,” he said.

MP Stanley Omwonya told IPS after Museveni had approved it: “It’s really (about) preserving our culture. We want our people to be morally upright.”

Human rights activists have long vowed to challenge the law in court, arguing that it violates international human rights standards and is unconstitutional. Ugandan gay rights activist and winner of the 2011 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, Frank Mugisha, tweeted: “Signing the anti-gay bill Museveni scores at his own goal post – we shall challenge this law & the old law.”

In another post he said “@YKMusevenii knows we shall over turn this law in the constitutional court & with our determination we wont stop at nothing.”

Onyango said that the “the Anti-Homosexuality Bill also raises broader concerns about mainstream human rights organisations, about their shrinking space for operation of the civil society organisations (CSOs).” According to the bill, if an NGO “promotes homosexuality” then it can be closed and its directors or leaders prosecuted.

In a statement released on Monday, Feb. 24, Human Rights Watch said Museveni had dealt a “dramatic blow to freedom expression and association in Uganda.”

Just over a week ago, U.S. President Barack Obama warned Museveni that enacting the legislation would “complicate our valued relationship with Uganda”. In the past Obama has sent U.S. troops as advisors to Uganda to help the country fight the rebel Lords Resistance Army (LRA) and track down its leader, Joseph Kony. The LRA has been responsible for mass murder, rape and kidnapping in Uganda’s north.

Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, the European Union and South African Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu also released statements or spoke out over the anti-gay bill, with some warning there may be aid cuts if it was brought into force.

According to one report on Feb. 24, Norway and Denmark immediately said they were freezing or diverting aid while Austria said it was reviewing assistance. Canada, the White House and the United Nations released a strong statement condemning the law. The EU said approving the legislation was “draconian” while the United Kingdom said it was “deeply saddened and disappointed”.

Ugandan lawyer and human rights activist Adrian Jjuuko told IPS that the country should brace itself for aid cuts. But he stressed that Uganda needed “sanctions that don’t affect the common person but rather the people passing the law.”

“There are some aspects of aid that could be cut, rather than other aspects of aid. You wouldn’t cut aid that goes to healthcare, you can’t cut aid that goes to education,” said Jjuko, who is the executive director of NGO Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum.

“Maybe in terms of military spending and things like that…if that’s the kind of aid that’s cut, that’s the cut that will be felt because it goes directly to the president, his personal interests and ambitions, rather than the people of Uganda.”

He said that to cut aid over the issue of the anti-gay bill alone would be like turning a blind eye to other human rights violations in Uganda.

“The gay issue is not the only issue in this country,” Jjuuko said. “Seen as a whole issue, Uganda’s human rights record is going down.”

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Chagos Islanders ‘Will Not Give Up’ Fight to Return Home http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/chagos-islanders-will-give-fight-return-home/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chagos-islanders-will-give-fight-return-home http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/chagos-islanders-will-give-fight-return-home/#comments Thu, 20 Feb 2014 10:03:07 +0000 Nasseem Ackbarally http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131810 “The Marine Protected Area (MPA) created around the Chagos archipelago is a new obstacle that the British government has placed in our path to prevent us from going back to our homeland,” claims Olivier Bancoult, leader of the Chagos Refugees Group (CRG). For the past 40 years, the Chagossians have been fighting to return to […]

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The Chagossians pictured here when they visited the archipelago in 2006. Many are still fighting to return to the islands they were evicted from almost 40 years ago. Courtesy: Chagos Refugees Group (CRG).

The Chagossians pictured here when they visited the archipelago in 2006. Many are still fighting to return to the islands they were evicted from almost 40 years ago. Courtesy: Chagos Refugees Group (CRG).

By Nasseem Ackbarally
PORT LOUIS, Feb 20 2014 (IPS)

“The Marine Protected Area (MPA) created around the Chagos archipelago is a new obstacle that the British government has placed in our path to prevent us from going back to our homeland,” claims Olivier Bancoult, leader of the Chagos Refugees Group (CRG).

For the past 40 years, the Chagossians have been fighting to return to their home in Chagos archipelago, a set of 55 islets situated 1,200 km north of the Indian Ocean Island of Mauritius.

They lived there for five generations until the early 1970s when the archipelago was excised from Mauritius by the United Kingdom. The Chagossians were evicted and the archipelago now forms part of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).

How the Chagossians lost their archipelago

The U.K., which was the colonial power in the region at the time, granted Mauritius independence in 1968, but kept control of the archipelago and evicted the Chagossians.

An island, Diego Garcia, on the archipelago was leased to the United States for 50 years as a military base.

The lease agreement between the U.K. and U.S. ends in 2016, however, it comes up for negotiation this year.
 However, the Chagossians feel that the 2010 creation of the MPA, which does not allow for human settlement on the Chagos archipelago or travel there unless one is in possession of a permit from the U.K. government, prevents their resettlement.

“We’ll not give up,” Bancoult tells IPS as he prepares for a new legal battle against the British government, which will be heard by the High Court of Justice in London on Mar. 30.

Bancoult was four when he and his mother, Rita, came to Mauritius. In 1983 he created the CRG to defend the rights of his community and over the years the organisation has staged numerous public demonstrations and hunger strikes.

The MPA covers almost 545,000 square kilometres and aims to protect the natural resources of the Chagos archipelago by implementing strict controls over fishing, habitation, damage to the environment and the killing, harming and collecting of animals.

The U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) designated the archipelago as an area that needs to be preserved “on the basis that the archipelago is one of the most precious, unpolluted, tropical ocean environments left on earth.”

A map of the Chagos archipelago which shows the proposed Marine Protected Area. Courtesy: Nasseem Ackbarally

A map of the Chagos archipelago which shows the proposed Marine Protected Area. Courtesy: Nasseem Ackbarally

Following a feasibility study in 2002, the FCO concluded that resettlement on the Chagos archipelago was unfeasible due to the islands’ low elevation and “the islands are already subject to regular overtopping events, flooding and erosion of the outer beaches.” It also said that “as global warming develops, these events are likely to increase in severity and regularity.”

However, scientists Richard Dunne and Barbara Brown, who have been working on coral reefs in the Indian Ocean for several decades, do not agree.

Dunne tells IPS that the British government has been presenting these findings to Parliament, court and the public for the last 10 years as an argument against the resettlement of the Chagossians back in their homeland.

“We now know that the feasibility study was scientifically flawed and that little reliance can be placed upon its conclusions,” he says, adding that this may be partly the reason why the FCO is undertaking a new feasibility study this year.

“The Chagos are low-lying coral islands with a mean elevation above sea-level of only about two metres. As a consequence, they are like the Maldives to the north — very susceptible to changes in mean sea-level, storms, erosion and flooding,” he says.

But Dunne sees no reason why the Chagossians cannot return to the archipelago.

“The Chagossians have lived on these islands for nearly two centuries, and on the scientific evidence that we have today, there is no reason that they should not continue there for at least the foreseeable future, by which I mean the next four or five decades.”

Bancoult believes his people can live in such an environment.

“How come Europeans, Americans and other wealthy people from elsewhere are staying for months on Diego Garcia, Peros Banhos and Solomon Islands which are part of archipelago, while Chagossians cannot live there?” he asks.

Simon Hughes, secretary of the Chagos Conservation Trust (CCT), an organisation that has been working to conserve the biodiversity and marine ecosystem of the Chagos archipelago for the last 20 years, denies the MPA was designed to keep Chagossians from returning.

“The MPA is only three years old. Neither would the MPA be a very effective tool for this purpose. Its framework can be revised to accommodate a local population if there is one in future,” he tells IPS.

“Since under the law of BIOT there is no right of abode in the territory and all visitors need a permit, the creation of a marine protected area has no direct immediate impact on the Chagossian community,” Hughes adds.

The CCT also argues that sea level rise and erosion continue to be a problem for the islands.

According to the CCT, the benefits of an MPA around the Chagos are manyfold. It says the absence of a settled human population, the strict environmental regime and the minimal footprint of the military base on Diego Garcia have enabled a high level of environmental preservation to have occurred.

“The islands, reef systems and waters around the Chagos in terms of preservation and biodiversity are among the richest on the planet and they contain about half of all the reefs of the Indian Ocean which remain in good condition,” Hughes explains.

British lawyer and lead counsel for the Chagossians, Richard Gifford, tells IPS that the Chagos is a magnificent place to live but “obviously, there are problems to address in restoring the infrastructure, the economy, the housing and the transport but the prospects are extremely positive.”

Most of the original 1,500 Chagossians have passed away. Currently, the remaining 682 are determined speak out about the MPA.

“We are working on our own resettlement plan that we will submit to the three governments involved — Mauritius, the U.K. and the U.S. — later this year,” Bancoult says.

Olivier Bancoult, leader of the Chagos Refugees Group (CRG), feel that the 2010 creation of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) created around the Chagos archipelago, prevents the resettlement of the Chagossians. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

Olivier Bancoult, leader of the Chagos Refugees Group (CRG), feel that the 2010 creation of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) created around the Chagos archipelago, prevents the resettlement of the Chagossians. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

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Descendants of Slaves Report Military Abuses in Brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/descendants-slaves-report-military-abuses-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=descendants-slaves-report-military-abuses-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/descendants-slaves-report-military-abuses-brazil/#comments Tue, 14 Jan 2014 19:15:44 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130204 Residents of the small community of Rio dos Macacos, made up of descendants of slaves in the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia, reported to United Nations bodies that they were attacked by military personnel from the Aratu naval base, which occupies part of their land. Ednei dos Santos, one of the leaders of the quilombo […]

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A protest by the residents of Rio dos Macacos against the occupation of their land and violations of their rights by the Aratu naval base. Credit: Coha.org

A protest by the residents of Rio dos Macacos against the occupation of their land and violations of their rights by the Aratu naval base. Credit: Coha.org

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 14 2014 (IPS)

Residents of the small community of Rio dos Macacos, made up of descendants of slaves in the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia, reported to United Nations bodies that they were attacked by military personnel from the Aratu naval base, which occupies part of their land.

Ednei dos Santos, one of the leaders of the quilombo – the term given to remote communities in Brazil originally founded by runaway or freed slaves – and his sister Rosimeire say they were beaten by members of the navy on Jan. 6, in front of her daughters, before they were detained.

Human rights organisations secured their release four hours later.

Ednei dos Santos, 28, told IPS that the incident was just the latest of the frequent threats and intimidation against the 70 families living in the quilombo.

On Friday, Jan. 10, human rights groups presented the case to the U.N. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent and three U.N. special rapporteurs. They are also preparing to file a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

The families of Rio dos Macacos have been struggling for five decades to gain legal title to their land, which is located on the São Tomé de Paripe peninsula on the fringes of the municipalities of Simões Filho and Salvador, the capital of Bahia.

There is evidence that the quilombo has existed for 150 years, and indications that slaves took refuge on the land there as early as 238 years ago.

In Brazil, slavery was not abolished until 1888, decades after the country’s independence from Portugal, in 1822.

The 300-hectare area has been at the centre of a legal dispute since the 1960s, when the navy built a base there as well as a village for the families of navy personnel, during the 1964-1985 military dictatorship.

Two years ago, the courts ruled in favour of the community’s claim to the land, but the state appealed the sentence.

In the meantime, the quilombolas – as the residents of quilombos are known – have to walk or drive through the navy village to reach their community.

“The violence is constant; they stop us from coming and going – even ambulances are frequently kept from reaching the community to provide medical assistance,” Ednei dos Santos said.

He and his 35-year-old sister said they were hit, punched and threatened with firearms by navy personnel. She said she was also the victim of sexual assault.

The incident began when they were accosted by military personnel from the navy village as they drove back from a nearby town, where they had registered Rosimeire’s two daughters, aged six and 17, for the coming school year.

“A sergeant, who had already threatened us before, and five other armed men, smashed open the door to my car and started to hit me,” Ednei said. “They also hit my sister, until leaving her partly undressed. The girls were terrified.”

Ednei and Rosimeire dos Santos were detained, and were only allowed to leave when officials from the government’s Special Secretariat for Policies on Promotion of Racial Equality and lawyers from Afro-Brazilian movements showed up.

The Aratu naval base happens to be a favourite vacation spot for Brazilian presidents to spend the year-end holidays. President Dilma Rousseff was there until Jan. 5, the day before the incident reported by the dos Santos.

“We don’t trust the government anymore,” Rosimeire dos Santos, who was hospitalised after the attack, told IPS. “People don’t understand that in today’s Brazil, torture is still occurring, just like in times of slavery. We are still fighting for our freedom.

“I don’t go out with my daughters anymore because I’m afraid that they’ll kill me in front of them. They told us that when they were out of uniform, they were going to burst open our heads with bullets.

“Two men got on top of me, one of them put my head between his legs, with my pants down and my breasts uncovered. It was total humiliation; holding a gun to my head they spit on my face,” said an anguished Rosimeire.

She warned that people could get killed in Rio dos Macacos if the routine violence the residents face isn’t brought to a halt.

“Our territory is not for sale, we’re not going to swap it and it’s not up for negotiation. I was born and raised here, and this is where my mother has our family buried,” she said, with emotion.

A report completed in August 2012 by the National Institute of Colonisation and Agrarian Reform confirmed that residents of the community were descendants of slaves from plantations that produced sugar for the Aratu mill in colonial times.

But despite the fact that the Brazilian constitution specifies that quilombos are entitled to collective ownership of the land they have historically occupied, the community of Rio dos Macacos has not yet been issued title to their 300 hectares.

In October 2012, a federal court ruled that the navy must pull out of the area. But the ruling has been appealed by the state.

Meanwhile, the public defender’s office demanded on Jan. 8 that the navy urgently clarify the incident involving the dos Santos.

The next day, a group of social movements issued a statement deploring the attacks on the community and defending legal recognition of the quilombo and the local residents’ right to their land

It also demanded that a road be built so residents could go in and out of the quilombo without having to pass through the navy village, to avoid the aggressive military control over access to the community.

On Jan. 10, three of the organisations filed complaints about the incident to three U.N. special rapporteurs – in the Field of Cultural Rights, on the Right to Adequate Housing, and on the situation of Human Rights Defenders – as well as to the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, which visited Brazil in December.

“In the community you can’t tell that the military dictatorship is over,” Marisa Viegas, a lawyer with Justiça Global, one of the human rights groups that brought the complaints, told IPS. “The military continue to use repression against the local residents, who are unable to achieve minimal living conditions.”

Her organisation has been assisting the Rio dos Macacos community for the past decade.

According to Viegas, two activists who defend the human rights of the quilombolas were attacked.

She said cultural and housing rights and freedom are under attack in the community, and the quilombolas are not allowed to freely move about, receive visitors or build decent housing.

Pointing out that the constitution guarantees the quilombolas’ right to their land, the activist said that “in practice the contrary is happening, with people being pressured to leave.”

Viegas said the state has failed to live up to international commitments to not violate, and to not tolerate violations of, the rights of residents of communities like the quilombos.

“In this case it is the state itself committing the violations, which is doubly serious,” she said.

A communiqué issued by the navy stated that an investigation of the complaint filed about the incident involving the dos Santos was being carried out with support from the public prosecution service, “to determine what happened, and the circumstances and responsibilities.”

The institution also stated that the inquiry would be conducted “with transparency and in an impartial manner.” It added that the military personnel accused of attacking the dos Santos had been temporarily suspended.

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Fashion Backward: Cambodian Government Silences Garment Workers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/fashion-backward-cambodian-government-silences-garment-workers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fashion-backward-cambodian-government-silences-garment-workers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/fashion-backward-cambodian-government-silences-garment-workers/#comments Thu, 09 Jan 2014 04:48:29 +0000 Michelle Tolson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130009 “Cambodian garment workers have two handcuffs and one weapon [against them]. One handcuff is a short-term contract [10 hours a day, six days a week]. Even if they get sick, if they get pregnant they feel they have to get an abortion so they don’t lose their jobs. “The second handcuff is the low wage,” […]

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Police raiding Canadia Industrial Park in Phnom Penh on Jan. 3, 2014. Credit: Courtesy LICADHO

Police raiding Canadia Industrial Park in Phnom Penh on Jan. 3, 2014. Credit: Courtesy LICADHO

By Michelle Tolson
PHNOM PENH, Jan 9 2014 (IPS)

“Cambodian garment workers have two handcuffs and one weapon [against them]. One handcuff is a short-term contract [10 hours a day, six days a week]. Even if they get sick, if they get pregnant they feel they have to get an abortion so they don’t lose their jobs.

“The second handcuff is the low wage,” Tola Moeun, head of the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC), which advocates for workers rights, told IPS from the organisation’s headquarters on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. “The weapon used against them is violence, both mental and physical.”

About 90 percent of garment workers are young women, mostly in their teens and twenties.

His words, which came just days before mass protests broke out in the Cambodian capital, proved prophetic as garment workers took to the streets Dec. 24 until their demonstrations were brutally quashed by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s private military the first weekend in January, resulting in five fatalities and over 30 serious injuries.

In the days leading up to the protest, the Labour Ministry had approved an increase in the minimum wage for garment workers, from 80 to 95 dollars a month. But trade unions and workers protested, saying it was not enough to live on, and demanded a monthly minimum wage of 160 dollars.

Chrek Sophea, interim coordinator of the Workers’ Information Centre (WIC), which helps factory workers organise, told IPS workers cannot survive on the government’s proposed wage, and that it is in violation of Cambodia’s labour laws.

According to a 1997 law, “The minimum wage must ensure every worker of a decent standard of living compatible with human dignity.”

Tola agreed. “The minimum is for eight hours, so most work 10 hours to get a higher income to have just enough to sleep in a shared room. Most workers are in debt, borrowing about 50 dollars each month, and can only pay 10 dollars interest on the loan each month.” Workers struggle to send money home to their families in the countryside.

The Messenger Band (MB), made up of six former garment workers who write songs in the traditional Cambodian folk style, also supported the protest. Sothary Kun, a singer known as “Ty Ty”, told IPS “problems of debt and migration and the difficulty of workers to earn money and repay debt for their families reach into the hearts of audiences very quickly because they have experienced it all themselves.”

Launched a decade ago, MB works with WIC as part of the United Sisterhood Alliance, a collaborative of grassroots groups serving farmers, factory workers and sex workers.

“MB and WIC discussed the strategy of supporting peaceful protests by garment workers demanding a minimum wage of 160 dollars a month, so it is very important for us to be there together with the workers,” Kun said.

MB’s songs are the oral histories of the working poor. “We sang a number of songs to encourage and keep workers together while they were protesting in front of the Labour Ministry. We also distributed lyrics of songs related to workers, so that they could sing along,” Kun explained.

The peaceful events took a dark turn last Thursday. Chrek said “I witnessed the workers’ peaceful strike at around 9:30AM on Jan. 2, when my colleagues and I travelled around the factory compounds located on the outskirts, including the place where the clash happened.

“I stopped by and saw them gathering in front of the Canadia Special Economic Zone near the local market. Workers who joined the strike were singing and dancing and chanting their message.”

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), protesting the results of the July elections, which they say were rigged, joined the garment worker protest with chants of “Hun Sen Must Go”, and as the crowds swelled to tens of thousands, international media attention was drawn.

The military stepped in the night of Jan. 2, brutally beating and arresting labour leaders and protesting monks. Pictures of the bloodied trade unionists were widely shared on social media, which seems to be the point when the protests veered out of control.

By the early hours of Friday Jan. 3, young men allegedly armed with Molotov cocktails and machetes had replaced the women protesters. Hun Sen’s private military stormed the scene with live ammunition, shooting over 30 people, killing five and seriously injuring the rest.

Srun Srorn with the CamASEAN youth group told IPS “It is possible people in the crowds were hired or ordered to create violence, and those people were not shot, or just created violence and then escaped.”

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) calls the opposition “extremist”. But activists speculate that agitators, termed Hun Sen’s ‘Third Hand’, may have caused the violence.

Thida Khus, director of SILAKA, which supports women’s organising, told IPS “Some of our men noticed this strategy in the first [CNRP] demonstration last September. These agitators have been used in all the previous events, including the [Jan. 4] crackdown at Democracy Park, trying to justify the shooting at unarmed protesters.”

CNRP lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua mentioned Hun Sen’s Third Hand on her Facebook page. She told IPS “Throughout the three-month protest, CNRP has appealed for non-violence. CNRP, including its top leadership, went through non-violence training and took to Democracy Square where thousands of people came regularly to express their opinions. Our rallies have never been violent.”

By Monday Jan. 6, it was discovered that the five young men killed were in fact garment workers and another 35 in the hospitals were also factory workers.

During the crackdown, a number of protesters were also arrested, including labour leaders. The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (LICADHO) reports that 23 detainees are being held in an unknown location.

The government has sinced banned public gatherings of 10 or more people.

WIC, which is careful to not take political sides, became concerned when the garment protesters joined with the CNRP. As a non-partisan women’s organiser, Chrek believes both sides need to focus on working together, not blaming each other.

“It creates an environment of instability, fear, tension and anger. Our country has been through a lot of painful experiences resulting from violent responses.

“The current political chaos showed that political parties, both ruling and opposition, do not have a real commitment to solving problems, and often innocent and ordinary citizens and the powerless are affected. I call on all parties, including union leaders, the opposition party and the ruling party to act together in a mature manner addressing the current situation by setting problems aside.”

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Sawhoyamaxa Battle for Their Land in Paraguay http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/sawhoyamaxa-battle-land-paraguay/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sawhoyamaxa-battle-land-paraguay http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/sawhoyamaxa-battle-land-paraguay/#comments Tue, 07 Jan 2014 21:34:49 +0000 Natalia Ruiz Diaz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129942 The Sawhoyamaxa indigenous community in Paraguay have spent over 20 years fighting to get back their land, which they were pushed off by cattle ranchers. They started the new year by collecting signatures to press Congress to pass a bill that would expropriate their ancestral territory from ranchers, in order for the state to comply […]

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The indigenous hip hop group Bro MC'S from Brazil, during the Todos por Sawhoyamaxa intercultural festival in the Paraguayan capital in December. Credit: Natalia Ruiz Díaz/IPS

The indigenous hip hop group Bro MC'S from Brazil, during the Todos por Sawhoyamaxa intercultural festival in the Paraguayan capital in December. Credit: Natalia Ruiz Díaz/IPS

By Natalia Ruiz Diaz
ASUNCIÓN, Jan 7 2014 (IPS)

The Sawhoyamaxa indigenous community in Paraguay have spent over 20 years fighting to get back their land, which they were pushed off by cattle ranchers.

They started the new year by collecting signatures to press Congress to pass a bill that would expropriate their ancestral territory from ranchers, in order for the state to comply with a 2006 ruling by the Inter-American Court of Justice ordering the restitution of their land.

“More than 20 years after being expelled from our ancestral land and living [in camps] along the side of the road, watching the cows occupy the place where we used to live, we decided to return because that land is ours,” the Sawhoyamaxa said in a message accompanying the petition drive.

“Che rohenói, eju orendive, aldeia unida, mostra a cara” (I am calling you, come with us, the people united, show your face) thousands of people sang at the “Todos con (everyone with the) Sawhoyamaxa” intercultural festival in Asunción in mid-December.

The event launched the start of their new crusade demanding enforcement of the Inter-American Court sentence, which ruled that they be given back their territory and that they be provided with basic services, such as medical care and clean water.

The “Che rehenói” chorus was heard over and over again in a mix of Guaraní (one of Paraguay’s two official languages, along with Spanish) and Portuguese, sung by the hip hop ban Brô MC’S, whose members belong to the Jaguapirú Bororó indigenous community from Brazil.

The goal set by the Sawhoyamaxa leaders is to gather 20,000 signatures, to pressure Congress to approve the expropriation of the land.

The epicentre of the community’s two-decade struggle is the Santa Elisa settlement, where the largest group of families are camped out along the side of the road 370 km north of Asunción en Paraguay’s semiarid Chaco region.

They are living “in extreme poverty, without any type of services, and waiting for the competent bodies to decide on the land claim they filed,” according to the 2006 Court ruling.

The Sawhoyamaxa form part of the Enxet linguistic family. There are 19 indigenous groups belonging to five language families in Paraguay, spread out in 762 communities mainly in the east of the country and the Chaco region, a vast dry forest area.

According to the 2012 census, 116,000 of Paraguay’s 6.7 million people – or 1.7 percent of the population – are indigenous, with over half of that group belonging to the Guaraní people. However, the overwhelming majority of the population is “mestizo” – people of mixed European (principally Spanish) and native (mainly Guaraní) descent.

The Sawhoyamaxa, who had no title deeds to the land where they had always lived, were displaced from their land, which was taken over by large cattle ranchers.

“They don’t want us to progress in our way of life,” the leader of the community, Carlos Cantero, told IPS. “We want the land to dedicate ourselves to our ancestral activities, like hunting and gathering in the forest.”

He was referring to the powerful cattle industry, which has successfully lobbied to block implementation of the 2006 binding sentence handed down by the Inter-American Court, an autonomous Organisation of American States (OAS) body.

Cantero said it was important for the situation to be resolved immediately because “there is still a little forest left on our land, some swamps and streams; but if the state does not take a stance on this soon, those reserves are going to disappear.”

Cattle ranchers have steadily advanced on Paraguay’s Chaco region, where in November 549 hectares a day were deforested, according to the local environmental organisation Guyra Paraguay.

The Chaco scrub forest and savannah grassland, which covers 60 percent of Paraguay but accounts for just eight percent of the population, makes for good cattle pasture.

Since the 19th century, the worst dispossession of indigenous people of their lands in this landlocked South American country occurred in the Chaco, especially after the 1932-1935 Chaco War with Bolivia, when the government sold off huge tracts of public land to private owners.

Today, less than three percent of the population owns 85 percent of Paraguay’s arable land, making this the Latin American country with the greatest concentration of land ownership.

The Sawhoyamaxa community is fighting for 14,404 hectares of land.

In a largely symbolic move, when the final deadline set by the Inter-American Court expired in March, the native community began to “recover” their land, setting up small camps on the property to which they are waiting to be awarded a collective title.

Their fight for the return of their ancestral lands dates back to the early 1990s. After exhausting all legal recourse available in Paraguay, they took the case to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission in 2001, which referred it to the Court.

The Sawhoyamaxa case is one of three in which the Inter-American Court has handed down rulings against the Paraguayan state in defence of the country’s native people. None of the resolutions has been fully complied with.

After the 2006 sentence, the government attempted to acquire the land in question in order to live up to the resolution and return the property to the native community. But it failed, due to the refusal by the rancher who holds title to the property, Heribert Roedel, whose 60,000-hectare estate includes the land claimed by the Sawhoyamaxa.

“The other route for expropriation is through the legislature, for which a bill was introduced, currently being studied in the Senate,” said Oscar Ayala, a lawyer with Tierraviva, which supports indigenous communities in Paraguay.

This local non-governmental organisation and Amnesty International Paraguay are the main civil society supporters of the cause of the Sawhoyamaxa.

The bill Congress is debating was presented by the government in August for the expropriation of the land, in order to fulfil the Inter-American Court order.

According to Ayala, there is a more positive environment than in the past. “The impression we have is that there is greater openness” for an eventual solution and for justice to be done in the case, he said.

On Dec. 18, the Senate commission for audit and oversight of state finances pronounced itself in favour of expropriation of the land.

“This first favourable ruling is a good indicator; these questions are always complex because caught up in the middle is that deeply rooted economistic view of land, but in this case those issues are no longer in debate,” Ayala said.

The bill will now go to the agrarian reform and finance commissions and then on to the Senate floor, before being sent to the lower house.

Some 120 families – around 600 people, half of them children and adolescents – are living in the Santa Elisa settlement.

The Court also ordered the state to provide food and healthcare assistance to the community. But while the situation in this respect has improved in the new settlements, much more needs to be done.

“We have a health promoter but no health post,” Cantero said. “The worst affected are the children, who are suffering from dehydration because of the bad quality of the water.”

The settlements receive clean water every month, but it is not enough, and they depend on rainwater, which is scarce in the semiarid Chaco.

To find a solution, Sawhoyamaxa men and women have been knocking on doors everywhere, showing people papers that describe the history of their community, their struggle, and the Court ruling, in search of support.

“We won’t stop until we are living on our land; our very survival depends on that,” Cantero said.

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Mexican Communities On Guard Against Thirst for Oil http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/mexican-communities-guard-thirst-oil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexican-communities-guard-thirst-oil http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/mexican-communities-guard-thirst-oil/#comments Tue, 31 Dec 2013 12:59:05 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129811 The Terra 123 oil and gas well in the southeastern Mexican state of Tabasco was in flames since late October, just 1.5 km from a community of 1,500 Oxiacaque indigenous villagers, who were never evacuated. The gas leak, which Pemex only managed to get under control on Dec. 21, caused irreversible damage, said Hugo Ireta, […]

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Bird covered with oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Credit: Susan Keith/IPS

Bird covered with oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Credit: Susan Keith/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Dec 31 2013 (IPS)

The Terra 123 oil and gas well in the southeastern Mexican state of Tabasco was in flames since late October, just 1.5 km from a community of 1,500 Oxiacaque indigenous villagers, who were never evacuated.

The gas leak, which Pemex only managed to get under control on Dec. 21, caused irreversible damage, said Hugo Ireta, an activist with the Santo Tomás Ecological Association, dedicated to working with local populations in Tabasco that have suffered environmental, health and economic impacts of the state-run oil company’s operations.

The reform of articles 25, 27 and 28 of the constitution, approved by Congress in December, paved the way for private national and foreign investment in the oil industry.

The government will now be able to grant private companies permits for prospecting and drilling – a mechanism used in several countries of Latin America, such as Argentina, Ecuador and Peru, where conflicts with local communities are frequent.

“If it has been difficult with Pemex, with the private companies it’s going to be sheer anarchy; the companies are going to be in paradise. Nigeria has serious problems, and the same thing is going to happen to us,” Ireta told IPS, alluding to the armed groups that siphon oil from pipelines to sell on the black market in that West African country.

The Association and local populations affected in Tabasco will file legal charges against Pemex for damage to property in 2014.

An analysis of samples taken in May, August and September for the future lawsuit found lead, cadmium and aluminium in the water at the Chilapa drinking water plant, which operates in the Tabasco municipality of Centla and serves 21 communities.

Residents of the villages of Cunduacán and Huimanguillo brought a collective lawsuit against Pemex in June.

There is oil activity in 13 of the 17 Tabasco municipalities, where daily output amounts to 500,000 barrels per day.

The number of oil spills has been on the rise since 2008. Between 2000 and 2012 more than 26,000 barrels of oil were spilled in Veracruz, and more than 28,000 in Tabasco, according to the government’s National Hydrocarbons Commission.
Hidalgo in the east and Puebla in the southeast, as well as the roads leading to Mexico City, are also vulnerable to damage caused by the oil industry.

The industry releases into the environment heavy metals, ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, volatile organic compounds, hydrogen, hydrogen sulfide, salts, ammonium, cadmium and acids.

“The communities have fought for reparations and Pemex says there has been no damage, even though the impact has been documented,” Ireta said. “The environmental problems generate social problems, and the authorities aren’t responding to society’s demand for a healthy environment.”

Now that Mexico has opened up its oil industry to private foreign capital, there is a risk that these kinds of problems will mushroom, while pressure on water, large amounts of which are needed to extract shale gas, will mount.

“The government does not have the technical or human capacity to stand up to transnational corporations,” said Waldo Carrillo, a veterinarian who raises livestock and hunts white-tail deer on his ranch in Piedras Negras, in the northern state of Coahuila. “The populace has no idea about what shale gas is or the impacts of extracting it.”

In that area lies the Cuenca de Burgos, a gas deposit that also extends to the states of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas, and which includes shale gas.

“What we want is to inform society from another perspective. We want to warn people of the risks,” said Carrillo, one of the founders of the environmental organisation Amigos del Río San Rodrigo, which is fighting to preserve the ecosystem of the San Rodrigo river.

“The government talks about jobs, investment and growth, but it isn’t seeing things from that other side. It basically has an optimistic discourse,” he said.

The state-run Mexican Petroleum Institute acknowledges that the public has a negative image of shale gas, which it attributes to “limited or poorly handled information.”

Since 2011, PEMEX has drilled at least six wells for shale gas in the northern states of Nuevo León and Coahuila. And it is preparing for further exploration in the southeastern state of Veracruz. It also plans to drill 20 wells by 2016, with an investment of over two billion dollars. Foreign oil companies have their eyes on the new wells.

Enormous quantities of water and a broad range of chemicals are required in the hydraulic fracturing or fracking process used to extract shale gas.

In Coahuila, water is not abundant. In 2010 the state suffered an intense drought. The groundwater recharge volume is 1.6 billion cubic metres per year, but groundwater consumption is 1.9 billion cubic metres per year, according to the state government.

In nine of the 28 aquifers in Coahuila extraction exceeds recharge, the National Water Commission reported.

“People need more information,” said Carrillo, whose organisation is preparing an intense awareness-raising campaign on shale gas and fracking for 2014.

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An Argentine Town that ‘Celebrates’ Garbage http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/argentine-town-celebrates-garbage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentine-town-celebrates-garbage http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/argentine-town-celebrates-garbage/#comments Mon, 16 Dec 2013 16:39:55 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129574 Towns traditionally celebrate their most characteristic aspect. So the town of Bouwer in central Argentina decided to “celebrate” garbage. But the “first provincial festival of pollution and against discrimination” is not a reason for pride, but a mechanism of resistance by a town that wants to stop being “an area of environmental sacrifice” in the […]

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“Area of sacrifice” – a sign put up by local residents in Bouwer, Argentina to protest the garbage and toxic waste dumped in their town. Credit: Courtesy of Bouwer Sin Basura

“Area of sacrifice” – a sign put up by local residents in Bouwer, Argentina to protest the garbage and toxic waste dumped in their town. Credit: Courtesy of Bouwer Sin Basura

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BOUWER, Argentina , Dec 16 2013 (IPS)

Towns traditionally celebrate their most characteristic aspect. So the town of Bouwer in central Argentina decided to “celebrate” garbage.

But the “first provincial festival of pollution and against discrimination” is not a reason for pride, but a mechanism of resistance by a town that wants to stop being “an area of environmental sacrifice” in the central province of Córdoba.

In the festival, to be held Feb. 22 in this working-class town of 2,000 inhabitants located 17 km south of the provincial capital, Córdoba, “there will be ‘asado con cuero’ [beef barbecued in its hide over an open fire, a traditional meal] and different artists,” the signs say.

For 28 years, Bouwer was known as the site of a garbage dump that accumulated, in nine different landfills without protective membranes – 12 million tons of waste from the capital and surrounding municipalities.

After years of struggle by local residents, the dump was closed in 2010. But no clean-up was carried out to reduce the environmental and health impacts, as the townspeople and local government of Bouwer are demanding.

“Besides affecting our quality of life, the dump is still polluting the water and the soil, from surface runoff, and the atmosphere, from the gases that are emitted,” the municipal environmental adviser, Adolfo González, tells Tierramérica.

But the festival won’t only feature the dump, Nayla Azzinnari, the press secretary for the Bouwer Sin Basura (Garbage-Free Bouwer) movement, comments to Tierramérica.

These include a vehicle pound, a hazardous waste incinerator (which is now closed), a lead smelter whose open smokestack created health problems for local residents between 1984 and 2005, a shipment of 12 tons of DDT and other dangerous pesticides that arrived in 2005 but were removed due to the protests by the locals, and a pit containing toxic industrial waste.

And as if this weren’t enough, fields of genetically modified soy surrounding the town are constantly sprayed with toxic agrochemicals, like in the rest of the rural areas in Córdoba province.

“It’s a cocktail of pollutants…we can’t accept any new sources,” says González.

But there are new reasons for the festival. The Córdoba city and provincial governments plan to open a new dump 600 metres from the first, which will receive some 2,500 tons of waste a day from the city and adjacent municipalities.

“It sounds like a joke: closing down one dump and opening another in the same place,” Mónica Rescala, another member of Bouwer Sin Basura, tells Tierramérica.

In the Cornelio Saavedra rural school, which stands next to the old dump and around 1,000 metres from the site of the new one, schoolchildren, teachers and mothers like Rescala are watching a video explaining the risks posed by the landfill.

“We were shocked by the stench and the number of pests in the school: flies, mosquitoes, huge rats. We couldn’t work in such an unhealthy environment,” the school principal, María Teresa Destéfanis, tells Tierramérica.

The cruel irony is that the school has no garbage collection service.

Part of the Bouwer dump. Credit: Courtesy of Bouwer Sin Basura

Part of the Bouwer dump. Credit: Courtesy of Bouwer Sin Basura

In October, Bouwer Mayor Juan Lupi declared a public health emergency.

From 2000 to 2012, infant mortality in Bouwer stood at 22 deaths per 1,000 live births.

That rate, obtained from the records of births and deaths in the civil registry, is nearly two times the provincial average of 11 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2010.

The perinatal mortality rate (stillbirths or newborns who die in their first week of life) stood at 25 for every 1,000 – two and a half times the provincial rate.

But no epidemiological studies have been carried out here, despite the fact that the numbers of cases of respiratory and skin ailments, cancer, miscarriages and premature births in Bouwer are also alarming.

“We started to see malformations in animals, which became particularly noticeable around 2008: dogs with cleft lip and cleft palate, pigs that are born without hair and with their stomachs and testicles full of water, cats without claws, chickens without feet,” Rescala says.

The Foundation for the Defence of the Environment (FUNAM) warns that living next to a sanitary landfill “is dangerous because the gases can cause cancer of the bladder, stomach, liver, prostate, lungs, cervix and uterus, leukaemia, changes in embryonic and foetal development, low birth weight and even birth defects.”

“Dumps mainly emit methane and carbon dioxide, but also nonmethane organic compounds, which include toxic, carcinogenic gases,” FUNAM says.

“In these polluted landfills, which have no membrane, the volatile substances in the waste, many of which are toxic and carcinogenic, can be carried by the wind long distances. And the stench is nauseating,” the organisation adds.

According to González, approval is about to be obtained for landfarming – a bioremediation treatment process used in the management and disposal of petroleum refinery waste products. The site would be installed two and a half km from Bouwer.

González sums up: “Our town has been chosen as a place of environmental sacrifice.”

The schoolchildren make drawings about the video they watched. “I don’t want there to be garbage here,” says 10-year-old Alan Serrano.

“Living in the enormous dump, there’s nowhere to play football,” he complains. “I want to run around free on the streets, but I have to stay home, and always with mosquito screens so the flies and the dengue mosquitoes don’t come in.”

The report that described the outskirts of Bouwer as “optimum” for the installation of a new dump was carried out by the National University of Córdoba, at the request of the city government of the provincial capital.

But the university’s secretary of science and technology, Joaquín Navarro, clarifies to Tierramérica that it was “just the first part of the study.”

The second part, on specific socioenvironmental aspects of the focal areas [which has involved work on the ground by teams] is in the final stages…the draft document is being corrected after being revised by the municipal government,” he says.

But in the first part of the report, it becomes clear that Bouwer is a highly vulnerable part of the province.

The unemployment and illiteracy rates are among the highest in the province, 63.3 percent of the population has no health coverage – the highest proportion among the areas studied – and nearly 24 percent of local residents have unmet basic needs.

While academics and government technicians analyse the report, and quietly argue that “the garbage has to be dumped somewhere,” the local residents of Bouwer know that there are other solutions.

“Everyone should become aware and start to recycle,” says Rescala, who recycles nearly 100 percent of her trash, even though she is surrounded by dumps.

“We know that no place can be sacrificed. This time it’s Bouwer, but it could be any town next,” she says.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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U.S. Urged to Change Policy on Support to Victims of Sexual Violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/u-s-urged-change-policy-support-victims-sexual-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-urged-change-policy-support-victims-sexual-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/u-s-urged-change-policy-support-victims-sexual-violence/#comments Thu, 12 Dec 2013 20:26:40 +0000 Ramy Srour http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129519 The U.S. government is being urged to roll back a longstanding policy that has banned foreign aid funding from being used for health care services for victims of sexual violence in conflict situations. A group of leading U.S. and African NGOs gathered here Wednesday to launch a global campaign that, if successful, would provide millions […]

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By Ramy Srour
WASHINGTON , Dec 12 2013 (IPS)

The U.S. government is being urged to roll back a longstanding policy that has banned foreign aid funding from being used for health care services for victims of sexual violence in conflict situations.

A group of leading U.S. and African NGOs gathered here Wednesday to launch a global campaign that, if successful, would provide millions of women and girls in crisis and conflict areas around the world with post-rape access to comprehensive health care.

The Centre for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), an advocacy group, was joined by the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch in calling on the administration of President Barack Obama to clarify or repeal four-decade-old legislation, known as the Helms Amendment, that forbids U.S. foreign aid recipients from using this funding to perform abortions “as a method of family planning.”

“The 1973 Helms Amendment is a law that says no funds are allowed for abortions overseas as a matter of family planning – full stop,” Serra Sippel, the president of CHANGE, told IPS. “But when we talk about abortion in the case of rape, that’s not family planning, so the law [actually] doesn’t forbid foreign assistance to pay for these cases.”

At the new campaign’s launch, Sippel said nearly 50 women between the ages of 15 and 49 are raped every hour in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), “where rape is used as a war weapon.”

Unwanted pregnancies resulting from rapes in conflict situations have become a particularly visible feature of the ongoing violence in the DRC, where people living in the eastern part of the country remain subject to marauding militias in a war that has claimed nearly three million lives. This situation is exacerbated by the ongoing social stigma surrounding rape across many parts of Africa.

“I will tell you about a 20-year-old girl who was raped and who, since abortion in the DRC is illegal, kept the baby, hiding her pregnancy because rape causes so much shame there,” Justine Masika Bihamba, the founder of the Women’s Synergy for Victims of Sexual Violence (SFVS), a network of 35 women’s rights organisations in the DRC, told IPS.

“But when she gave birth, she went with her mom – who didn’t want her to keep the child – and wrapped the baby in flannel and abandoned it along the road.”

When a hunter passed by and found the baby, he called for help.

“But everyone was afraid,” Bihamba continued, “and no one had the courage to come and cover the child. When they brought it to the hospital, they found out that the child was dehydrated and was about to die.”

The story underscores how difficult it can be for rape survivors to move on with their lives. Often, Bihamba said, women try to hide a post-rape pregnancy because evidence of her assault would brand her as “inferior” to other women, perhaps making it difficult later on to find a husband.

Changing the law

The new campaign, “Break the Barriers”, is now set to step up pressure on the Obama administration to support and allow access to safe abortion services for the millions of women and girls who face sexual violence in areas plagued by conflict. Currently, the confusion surrounding the Helms Amendment makes this difficult.

The problem, advocates suggest, is that the law has been interpreted by U.S. government agencies, including the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), to include post-rape abortions, despite the fact that the text only refers to family-planning purposes.

(USAID was unable to respond to requests for comment by deadline.)

“President Obama doesn’t actually need congressional action to do this,” CHANGE’s Sippel said. “We are simply asking him to clarify, through an executive order, that the law doesn’t bar funding for abortions in cases of life endangerment.”

Yet others say more drastic change is required.

“We think that the Helms law is just bad law,” Liesl Gerntholtz, the executive director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, told IPS. “It deprives women of critical services and it really doesn’t advance human rights in any way.”

Gerntholtz says the Helms Amendment should be repealed.

Future roadmap

But the U.S. government has also recently taken a series of measures that recognise sexual violence as a frequent characteristic of conflict. In 2011, the Obama administration issued an executive order, the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, which sought to “protect women from sexual and gender-based violence and to ensure equal access to relief and recovery assistance.”

Yet advocates point out that women’s security worldwide remains unacceptably weak. Recent U.N. statistics find that the first half of 2013 saw 705 registered cases of sexual violence in the DRC alone, while the World Health Organisation notes that nearly 50,000 women and girls continue to die from unsafe abortions every year.

The Obama administration also recently embraced U.N. Security Council Resolution 2122, adopted in October, which is set to strengthen women’s participation in “all phases of conflict prevention, resolution and recovery,” in addition to ensuring better access to comprehensive reproductive services.

But, activists say, more needs to be done.

“We would like to see the U.S. develop a roadmap and strategies that will enable [reproductive services] to reach the most vulnerable,” Ruth Ojiambo Ochieng, the executive director of the Uganda-based Isis-WICCE, a women’s rights group, told IPS.

But while the newly launched campaign puts a strong emphasis on what the U.S. government could and should do, there are obstacles to what U.S. activism can achieve. Perhaps most importantly, abortion remains illegal in many countries.

In the DRC, for instance, abortion is criminalised by two articles of the country’s criminal code, which punish “women who get an abortion, but also anyone who assists them with the practice,” SFVS’s Bihamba told IPS.

Even if the Helms Amendment were to be repealed or clarified, U.S. and international humanitarian agencies would likely face legal hurdles in the provision of abortion on the ground.

Still, advocates hope that a strong U.S. stance on the issue will send an important signal globally.

“An executive order coming from the [Obama administration] would show the world that the U.S. government is stepping up to recognising that women who have been raped need access to abortion services,” CHANGE’s Sippel told IPS. “Global leadership by the U.S. government can really help push [countries] like the DRC to move forward and change their laws.”

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Mundurukú Indians in Brazil Protest Tapajós Dams http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/munduruku-indians-brazil-protest-tapajos-dams/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=munduruku-indians-brazil-protest-tapajos-dams http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/munduruku-indians-brazil-protest-tapajos-dams/#comments Thu, 12 Dec 2013 19:42:29 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129517 It took them three days to make the 2,000-km journey by bus from their Amazon jungle villages. The 10 Mundurukú chiefs and 30 warriors made the trek to the capital of Brazil to demand the demarcation of their territory and the right to prior consultation in order to block the Tapajós hydroelectric dam, which could […]

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Mundurukú chiefs and warriors protest in Brazil’s lower house of Congress Tuesday Dec. 10, 2013. Credit: Luis Macedo/Acervo/Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies

Mundurukú chiefs and warriors protest in Brazil’s lower house of Congress Tuesday Dec. 10, 2013. Credit: Luis Macedo/Acervo/Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec 12 2013 (IPS)

It took them three days to make the 2,000-km journey by bus from their Amazon jungle villages.

The 10 Mundurukú chiefs and 30 warriors made the trek to the capital of Brazil to demand the demarcation of their territory and the right to prior consultation in order to block the Tapajós hydroelectric dam, which could flood several of their villages.

“No one from the government has come to talk to us,” Juarez Saw, the 45-year-old chief of Sawre Muybu, one of the affected Mundurukú villages, told IPS by phone from Brasilia. “For us, the land is our mother. It is where we live and raise our kids and grandkids. We have nowhere to go if the government forces us off.”

The Brazilian government, which is already building the Belo Monte mega-dam on the Xingú river in the northeastern Amazon state of Pará, also wants to construct another huge hydropower complex on the Tapajós river, in the same state.

The complex, in the heart of Amazonia and in an area of significant gold deposits, is to involve the construction of five dams in the Tapajós basin, with an estimated power potential of 10,700 MW.

Seven conservation units are green areas on the map, scattered between the three largest cities along the Tapajós river: Santarém (population 300,000); Itaituba (population 130,000); and Jacareacanga (population 40,000).

The 6,133 MW São Luiz do Tapajós hydropower dam will be the largest. The other dams planned in the complex are Jatobá, on the same river, and Jamanxin, Cachoeira do Caí and Cachoeira dos Patos, on the Jamanxin river.

The complex is to begin to operate between 2017 and 2020, according to the state-run company Empresa de Pesquisa Energética.

Some 13,000 Mundurukú Indians will be affected along the Tapajós river, and the project will also impact the Kayabi and Apiaká communities – bringing the number of indigenous people impacted by the dams to 20,000.

The Mundurukú chiefs and warriors came to Brasilia on Tuesday Dec. 10 and Wednesday Dec. 11 to demand that the government make faster progress demarcating their lands along the middle stretch of the Tapajós river.

Until the demarcation process has been completed, people from the villages along the middle stretch of the river run the risk of being displaced, with their land flooded.

On Tuesday, the indigenous demonstrators protested against the dams on the Tapajós and the nearby Teles Pires river, in the lower house of Congress and outside the attorney general’s office, where they called for the repeal of decree 303.

The decree, which the attorney general’s office issued in July 2012, created the regulations to be followed by public defenders and prosecutors in legal proceedings on the demarcation of indigenous land throughout the country, with the stated aim of ensuring legal stability.

But the decree also laid out the foundations for the state to install in the reserves equipment, communication networks, streets and the constructions necessary to provide public services like healthcare and education.

This aspect of the decree limits indigenous people’s control over who has access to and uses their territory, while infringing on their right to prior consultation about activities and economic projects carried out in their territories, according to the Catholic Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI).

“We are once again shouting out against hydroelectric complexes in the region,” CIMI executive secretary Cleber César Buzatto told IPS from Brasilia. “It is a difficult situation – we perceive that the government has made a political decision not to demarcate any indigenous land.”

In his view, the conflict-ridden situation has been aggravated by “the inertia of the executive branch, which is not moving forward with the administrative procedures” set out by the constitution, such as demarcation of indigenous land and indigenous people’s right to prior consultation.

“We are confident in the native people’s power of resistance to defend and secure their rights. The central question is that the government must recognise these rights and demarcate the land of the Mundurukú along the middle stretch of the Tapajós river – the area that will be affected by the São Luiz hydropower plant,” Buzatto said.

The delegates came from different villages on the upper Tapajós river, where there is already one demarcated reserve, and on the middle stretch of the river, where the villagers do not yet hold legal title to their land.

“Our main struggle is for demarcation,” Saw told IPS. “We haven’t come to make threats. They don’t pay any attention to us – only when we come to Brasilia. It’s very tiresome to come here and return without any answers.”

His village, Sawre Muybu, was founded in 2008 and is home to 20 families – 150 people. It is located 50 km from Itaituba along the BR-230 trans-Amazonian highway – or over one hour away by river.

According to the chief, before the villages were founded along the middle stretch of the Tapajós, the Mundurukú lived in riverbank communities where they were losing their traditions and customs.

“We are in Brasilia to find out why the president of the National Indian Foundation [the government agency FUNAI] doesn’t want to sign the anthropological report,” he said.

Saw said the first anthropological report documenting the Mundurukú people’s roots on the land along the middle stretch of the Tapajós river was carried out in 2007, but was never delivered.

A new study had to be conducted, which has been ready since the middle of the year, waiting to be signed by FUNAI president Maria Augusta Assirati, in order for the demarcation to go ahead.

Saw said the people of Sawre Muybu found out in 2010 from Movimento Tapajós Vivo activists that the village could be flooded.

During their visit to the capital, the indigenous protesters stayed at a CIMI rural property 40 km outside of the city.

CIMI head Buzatto said “they came to us seeking support to demand these things from the government which, unfortunately, does not recognise that it is failing to respect the rights of the people in that region.”

In response to questions from IPS, FUNAI said the agency’s president had not planned on meeting with the Mundurukú chiefs and warriors but decided to meet with them on Wednesday as a result of their protests.

In May, the Mundurukú invaded and occupied for two weeks a plant of the company building the Belo Monte dam located 830 km by road from their territories, in solidarity with the people affected by that project, and to call for the suspension of the construction of hydropower dams on their rivers as well.

In June, they came to Brasilia to negotiate with the government. But because they did not agree to send only a limited group of delegates, the authorities sent two airplanes to transport 144 representatives.

Shortly afterwards, that same month, they took hostages – three biologists who were studying the local flora and fauna for the environmental impact studies for the dams. With that protest measure, they managed to delay the process until August. And before the study could get underway again, the government and FUNAI had to give prior notice to the indigenous community.

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Battling Extractive Industries in Romania http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/battling-extractive-industries-romania/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=battling-extractive-industries-romania http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/battling-extractive-industries-romania/#comments Tue, 10 Dec 2013 17:27:19 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129448 Authorities in Romania have been attempting to bulldoze through public opposition to push through controversial extractive projects such as gold mining at Rosia Montana and shale gas drilling at Pungesti. However, amendments to the national mining law, which would have given Rosia Montana Gold Corporation extraordinary powers to implement its project to build Europe’s biggest […]

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Fifty Greenpeace activists were arrested on Dec. 9 during a symbolic action of "digging for gold" in front of the Romanian parliament. Credit: Courtesy of Greenpeace Romania

Fifty Greenpeace activists were arrested on Dec. 9 during a symbolic action of "digging for gold" in front of the Romanian parliament. Credit: Courtesy of Greenpeace Romania

By Claudia Ciobanu
BUCHAREST, Dec 10 2013 (IPS)

Authorities in Romania have been attempting to bulldoze through public opposition to push through controversial extractive projects such as gold mining at Rosia Montana and shale gas drilling at Pungesti.

However, amendments to the national mining law, which would have given Rosia Montana Gold Corporation extraordinary powers to implement its project to build Europe’s biggest gold mine in the Apuseni mountains, failed to be passed by the Romanian parliament Dec. 10 mainly because of a lack of quorum.

Tuesday’s vote was part of a long-term strategy by the Romanian government to give the project a green light despite public opposition and legal objections.

While the parliament voted, hundreds of protesters occupied the headquarters of the ombudsman in Bucharest and camped outside the offices of political parties in the western city of Cluj.

If the law had been adopted, projects involving the extraction and processing of mineral resources could have been declared “of exceptional public interest” allowing project promoters to receive extraordinary powers, such as the right to conduct expropriations, skip permitting procedures for working on archaeological sites, and be reissued permits within 60 days if they were cancelled by courts.

The new law represented a means for the authorities to push the Rosia Montana project – and potentially others like it – in a less than transparent manner after a previous attempt to give special powers to Gold Corporation had been dropped due to public pressure.

In August, the Romanian government led by Social Democratic Prime Minister Victor Ponta proposed a draft law that declared the Rosia Montana gold project one “of national interest” and gave Gold Corporation extraordinary powers – expropriations, automatic reissuing of permits, etc.

The draft law sparked massive protests in Romania starting Sept. 1, with tens of thousands taking to the streets for weeks in a row across the country.

Faced with such discontent, the special parliamentary commission analysing the Rosia Montana law rejected the text in November, arguing that the project would be illegal on multiple counts.

In appearance, the decision by the special commission meant the project had been rejected.

Yet as the commission announced its conclusions, the Romanian parliament – dominated by Ponta’s party – was preparing amendments to the mining law which meant potentially giving all mining companies the same controversial extraordinary powers intended to be granted to Gold Corporation.

The political bet was that the amended mining law would be passed under the radar, as the text did not single out Rosia Montana and some of the public thought the project dead with the rejection of the first law.

It was only on Monday Dec. 9 that the public learned that the mining law would be voted on by parliament the next day. The full text of the new law was not available to the public at the time of the Tuesday Dec. 10 vote.

On Monday, the mining law was debated by parliamentary commissions. According to Stefania Simion, a lawyer who has been working for years on the Rosia Montana case and who observed the proceedings, most of the parliamentarians did not have a chance to study the amendments and there was virtually no debate.

In the Rosia Montana case, Romanian authorities are using secrecy and legal artifice to try to push through a project facing significant public opposition.

In the case of drilling for shale gas at Pungesti, in the eastern county of Vaslui, they are relying instead on policing.

During the months of battle over Rosia Montana, at the other end of the country a new campaign was born: in October, as U.S. energy giant Chevron was preparing to start exploratory works for shale gas in Pungesti, locals mobilised to stop the company’s operations. They set up a camp next to the land where Chevron was preparing to install exploratory drills and tried to block access by machinery to the site.

The villagers, mostly farmers, were worried about the impacts that fracking – hydraulic fracturing, the technique used to extract natural gas from shale – on a perimeter inside their village could have on their lands and water. Some told the Romanian media they had seen movies about the negative effects of fracking in U.S. communities.

Opposition to shale gas exploration – albeit not massive – has grown gradually in Romania over the past two years as successive governments gave exploration permits to several companies; rejecting fracking was one of the themes brought up by protesters during the January 2012 anti-austerity protests and this year’s Rosia Montana demonstrations.

When locals in Pungesti started protesting against Chevron in October, anti-Rosia Montana activists were already mobilised in major cities and ready to offer some support.

The villagers’ attempts to block Chevron operations and the police response were broadcast live on the internet from the early days. The national media also reported on Pungesti, after being criticised for failing to properly cover the anti-Rosia Montana mobilisation.

In their turn having learned from the Rosia Montana case, Romanian authorities responded decisively from the start to prevent the opposition from escalating. For weeks now, the hundreds of villagers protesting at Pungesti are outnumbered by military police deployed on the ground. Tens of people have been arrested. Protesters complain of police brutality and systematic harassment.

“As I camped at Pungesti last Friday, I saw the police attacking people, I witnessed at least four people who had to be saved by the crowds from police abuse,” retired engineer Gherghina Vladescu told IPS.

Responding to the accusations of police brutality in Pungesti, Romania’s minister of interior, Radu Stroe, told the national media Dec. 8: “Others were violent too, they broke down fences…Everyone is free to protest in this country as long as they do it peacefully.”

The minister was referring to the protesters’ tearing down Dec. 7 of a wire fence protecting the area for which Chevron was granted the exploration permit.

In November, villagers from Pungesti submitted an official complaint to the National Anti-Corruption Agency in which they accuse the mayor of Pungesti, who leased land to Chevron, of obtaining property rights over it through an illegal land exchange.

Since protests began at Pungesti, Chevron has suspended operations repeatedly saying that it “is committed to having constructive and positive relations with communities where it conducts operations”. Each time, it resumed works; this month, it filed criminal complaints against villagers for destruction of property.

On Dec. 8., Romanian authorities declared Pungesti “a special public safety zone”. This was needed to justify the ongoing police practices of checking all cars coming into Pungesti, keeping guard outside homes, ID-ing people at will and removing protesters from the site.

Claudiu Craciun, one of the prominent figures in the Rosia Montana and shale gas protest movements, said the situation in Pungesti brought to mind a dystopian future: “Imagine for a second a country where hundreds of industrial perimeters are permanently guarded by tens of thousands of police and private contractors.”

Resistance will continue, he said, adding, “The more the government tries to appear in charge of things, the weaker it is. Legitimacy and the use of force are in an inverse proportionality relation to one another.”

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Argentine Protesters vs Monsanto: “The Monster is Right on Top of Us” http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/argentine-protesters-vs-monsanto-monster-right-top-us/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentine-protesters-vs-monsanto-monster-right-top-us http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/argentine-protesters-vs-monsanto-monster-right-top-us/#comments Mon, 02 Dec 2013 13:51:28 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129198 The people of this working-class suburb of Córdoba in Argentina’s central farming belt stoically put up with the spraying of the weed-killer glyphosate on the fields surrounding their neighbourhood. But the last straw was when U.S. biotech giant Monsanto showed up to build a seed plant. The creator of glyphosate, whose trademark is Roundup, and […]

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Troops at the entrance to the construction site where Monsanto is building a factory in Malvinas Argentinas. Credit: Screen capture from a video on the Acampe protesters’ Facebook page

Troops at the entrance to the construction site where Monsanto is building a factory in Malvinas Argentinas. Credit: Screen capture from a video on the Acampe protesters’ Facebook page

By Fabiana Frayssinet
MALVINAS ARGENTINAS, Córdoba, Argentina , Dec 2 2013 (IPS)

The people of this working-class suburb of Córdoba in Argentina’s central farming belt stoically put up with the spraying of the weed-killer glyphosate on the fields surrounding their neighbourhood. But the last straw was when U.S. biotech giant Monsanto showed up to build a seed plant.

The creator of glyphosate, whose trademark is Roundup, and one of the world’s leading producers of genetically modified seeds, Monsanto is building one of its biggest plants to process transgenic corn seed in Malvinas Argentinas, this poor community of 15,000 people 17 km east of the capital of the province of Córdoba.

The plant was to begin operating in March 2014. But construction work was brought to a halt in October by protests and legal action by local residents, who have been blocking the entrance to the site since Sept. 18.

On the morning of Saturday Nov. 30, troops arrived at the plant, as seen in this video posted on Facebook, and escorted several trucks out of the construction site. The trucks had forced their way past the roadblock on Thursday Nov. 28, when members of the construction union stormed into the camp set up by local residents, with the aim of breaking the blockade. More than 20 people were injured in the clash.

The protesters don’t like to describe themselves as environmentalists, and do not identify with any specific political party. Most of them are women.

In Malvinas Argentinas, one of the poorest districts in the province, everyone knows someone with respiratory problems or allergic reactions that coincide with the spraying of fields around Córdoba, one of the biggest producers of transgenic soy in this South American country, which is the world’s third largest producer of soy.

Doctors have also reported a rise in cases of cancer and birth defects.

But the final stroke was Monsanto’s plans for a local seed plant.

“I’m participating because I’m afraid of illness and death,” María Torres, a local resident, told Tierramérica*. “My son is already sick, and if Monsanto comes things will get worse,” she added, in the midst of a protest that this reporter accompanied in mid-November.

Her 13-year-old son was at home, with sinusitis and a nosebleed. “In Malvinas, a lot of people have the same symptoms,” she said.

A boy taking part in the march from the Malvinas Argentinas central square to the construction site where Monsanto is trying to build a seed plant. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A boy taking part in the march from the Malvinas Argentinas central square to the construction site where Monsanto is trying to build a seed plant. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Most of the spraying is done with Monsanto’s Roundup glyphosate-based weed-killer.
According to the University Network for Environment and Health – Physicians in Fumigated Towns, nearly 22 million hectares of soy, corn and other transgenic crops are sprayed in 12 of Argentina’s 23 provinces, whose towns are homes to some 12 million of the country’s nearly 42 million people.

Eli Leiria was also in the protest march. She is suffering from problems like weight loss. Doctors found glyphosate in her blood. “They say it’s as if a tornado had hit my body,” she said.

Biologist Raúl Montenegro of the National University of Córdoba, who won the Right Livelihood Award or Alternative Nobel Prize in 2004, explained to Tierramérica that there was no official monitoring of morbidity and mortality to determine whether the growing health problems observed by doctors are the effect of pesticides.

Nor are there adequate controls of pesticide levels in the blood, or environmental monitoring to detect traces in water tanks, for example, added Montenegro, president of the Environment Defence Foundation (FUNAM).

“That makes Argentina, and Brazil too, a paradise” for companies like Monsanto, he said.

The state agencies that authorise the use of pesticides base their decisions “mainly on technical reports and data from the companies themselves,” he said.

In 2009, Argentine President Cristina Fernández created the National Commission for Research on Agrochemicals, to study, prevent and treat their effects on human health and the environment.

But Argentina is also a “paradise” for transgenic crops, whose authorisation depends on “technical information mainly provided by the biotechnology corporations,” Montenegro said.

A plant that produces genetically modified seeds “is not a bread factory…they make poison,” said schoolteacher Matías Marizza of the Malvinas Assembly Fighting for Life.

Montenegro complained that the Córdoba Secretariat of the Environment authorised construction of the plant without taking into account studies by an independent interdisciplinary commission.

In the case of transgenic crops, there are “external pesticides,” like the ones that are sprayed on the fields, and pesticides “that come from inside the seeds,” such as the Cry1Ab protein in Monsanto’s MON810 GM maize, said Montenegro.

Each MON810 corn seed contains between 190 and 390 ng/g of the protein, whose impacts on health and biodiversity are not clear.

“In Canada it was found that pregnant and non-pregnant women had insecticide protein in their blood,” added the biologist, saying this runs counter to Monsanto’s claim that the proteins are degraded in the digestive tract.

According to a study by the University Network, the seeds to be processed by the plant in Malvinas Argentinas will be impregnated with substances such as propoxur, deltamethrin, pirimiphos ethyl, trifloxystrobin, ipconazole, metalaxyl and especially clothianidin, an insecticide banned by the European Union.

For now, the Monsanto plant construction site is blocked by five camps, where men and women – some there with their children – take turns keeping the trucks out.

Daniela Pérez, a mother of five, told Tierramérica that “this was a quiet town,” where people barely complained about problems like the lack of paved roads.

“Now what is at stake is the health of the children,” she said. “We feel so impotent…there is no one defending us.”

Soledad Escobar has four children who attend a school located next to the lot where the plant is being built.

“I’m worried about the silos and the chemical products they use,” she said. “Because of the changes in the climate, it’s now windy year-round in Córdoba and the school is right next door – I live across the street.”

Another protester, Beba Figueroa, said “What the TV and newspapers are saying, that there are political parties involved in this, isn’t true…most of us are mothers who are scared for our children.”

The demonstrators said many local residents were not taking part out of fear of losing their municipal jobs and the social assistance they receive from the government.

The protest that Tierramérica accompanied from the town square to the camps had a festive atmosphere, with colourful murga musical theatre groups, typical of the Argentine and Uruguayan carnival – a sharp contrast with the tension and violent clashes that would break out a few days later.

Like other people in this impoverished district, Matías Mansilla, his wife and their baby came out to the doorway of their humble home to watch the “carnival for life”. Mansilla didn’t take part, but he said he supports the cause “because of the illnesses that have appeared.”

A survey by two universities and the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) found that 87 percent of respondents in Malvinas Argentinas wanted a plebiscite to be held, to let voters decide whether the Monsanto plant should be built, while 58 percent were opposed to the factory.

Neither the provincial government nor the company responded to Tierramérica’s request for an interview.

On its website, Monsanto claims it is committed to “sustainable agriculture.” A communiqué issued in September stated that the company had the “necessary permits” from the local authorities in Malvinas Argentinas for the construction of the plant, and that the environmental impact assessment was being studied by the provincial government.

Monsanto complained about “dirty campaigns that manipulate the technical data to generate fear…and lies, in the name of environmentalism…that mask spurious interests.”

In April, the provincial high court dismissed a request for protective measures, presented by local residents in an attempt to block construction of the plant.

In the last few months, the police have cracked down on the protesters on several occasions. The demonstrators have also received threats.

Malvinas Argentinas forms part of a growing global movement against Monsanto. The protests in this district have drawn up to 8,000 people, Marizza said. And it’s no wonder, he added: “The monster is right on top of us.”

* This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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Paraguay’s ‘Indignados’ Win a Round Against Congress http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/paraguays-indignados-win-round-congress/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=paraguays-indignados-win-round-congress http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/paraguays-indignados-win-round-congress/#comments Fri, 29 Nov 2013 22:58:06 +0000 Natalia Ruiz Diaz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129169 A few hours before a human chain was to surround the Paraguayan Congress on Thursday, Senator Víctor Bogado, accused of fraud and misuse of public funds, was stripped of his parliamentary immunity from prosecution. On Nov. 15, an earlier vote in which 23 of the 45 members of the Senate voted for the ruling Colorado […]

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The “toilet paper roll” protest in the Plaza de Armas, which kicked off Paraguay’s “indignados” movement. Credit: Natalia Ruíz Díaz/IPS

The “toilet paper roll” protest in the Plaza de Armas, which kicked off Paraguay’s “indignados” movement. Credit: Natalia Ruíz Díaz/IPS

By Natalia Ruiz Diaz
ASUNCION, Nov 29 2013 (IPS)

A few hours before a human chain was to surround the Paraguayan Congress on Thursday, Senator Víctor Bogado, accused of fraud and misuse of public funds, was stripped of his parliamentary immunity from prosecution.

On Nov. 15, an earlier vote in which 23 of the 45 members of the Senate voted for the ruling Colorado Party lawmaker to keep his immunity triggered the first social media-organised protest against corruption, which ultimately ended up forcing Congress to hold a second vote and reverse the decision.

Under pouring rain, dozens of protesters gathered in front of Congress in the Plaza de Armas Thursday evening to celebrate the first victory of the demonstrations, instead of forming a human chain in protest.

And while the number of demonstrators was smaller than in the previous protests in the plaza because of the torrential rains, the police presence was heavy, with hundreds of officers and anti-riot water cannons. At times there were more police than demonstrators in the downpour.

Natalia Paola Rodríguez, a 35-year-old lawyer and university professor, arrived late “because the torrent almost swept my car away.” But she told IPS she needed to be there “to share the excitement; what we did is really important” for this country of 6.6 million people – the second-poorest country in South America after Bolivia, and one of the most unequal.

The #15Npy movement's five-point programme of demands:

1. A ceiling of 10 minimum salaries for high-level political positions.

2. Loss of office, prosecution and punishment for authorities in the three branches of government found guilty of influence peddling and nepotism.

3. Transparent access to public information.

4. An end to the closed party-list voting system, which gives corrupt politicians access to public office.

5. No public transit fare hikes.

Hugo Galeano, a 23-year-old student, also defied the weather, “because the celebration had to be here.”

“Public pressure twisted the arm of one of the branches of government,” a euphoric Galeano told IPS. “This isn’t over, this will become an ongoing thing,” he added, before walking off, chanting along with the rest of the protesters.

Topo Topone R. is the alias used on the social networks by lawyer Alejandro Recalde, one of the people behind Paraguay’s protest movement, which has labelled itself #15Npy, along the lines of Spain’s 15 May (15M) movement of “indignados” or angry protesters.

The movement debuted in the Nov. 15 demonstration in the Plaza de Armas, when hundreds of protesters lobbed toilet paper rolls at the legislature, to “clean up” Congress. The protest, which got heavy media coverage, was followed by others.

Topo, 40, explained to IPS that the aim of the movement is to become a kind of citizen oversight mechanism to keep an eye on the authorities, through constant demonstrations and public participation.

“We will be wherever citizens feel alone because there is no organisation or political party fighting for their demands, until the corrupt political class, which uses the people instead of serving them, is eliminated,” he said.

A taxi driver who did not want to give his name told IPS that “we got tired of the abuses,” before pointing out that “my colleagues contributed a lot to this triumph.” Taxi drivers were the first to refuse to provide service to the 23 senators who defended Bogado in the first vote in Congress. The boycott was then joined by restaurants and other businesses in Asunción.

#15Npy is a movement organised over the social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, as well as political blogs, one of them created by Topo himself shortly after left-wing president Fernando Lugo was removed from office in June 2012 through a controversial impeachment trial.

José Carlos Rodríguez, a sociologist and political analyst, said the term “popular uprising” was not fitting in this case.

“Paraguay’s ‘indignados’ are an expression of a new middle class, which has moral grievances. They are different from the movements that have emerged in the Arab countries and in Brazil. In the Arab countries, the focus was the dictatorships, and in Brazil the protesters were demanding rights,” he told IPS.

But like the waves of demonstrations in North Africa, Spain or Brazil, the movement in Paraguay has been organised through the social media.

A precedent for #15Npy was the “after office revolucionario” (after-office revolutionary) protests held during the Lugo administration (2008-2012) to back the president’s veto of a scandalous increase in the electoral court’s budget, which had been approved by Congress, dominated by the right-wing Colorado Party and other opposition forces.

Public pressure forced the legislature to backtrack at that time too, and it cancelled the budget hike. That led to the emergence of the new contemptuous slang terms “senarratas” and “dipuchorros”, which mix up the terms “senator”, “deputy”, “rat” and “thief”.

Rodríguez believes the protests will continue. “The people are going to go for more,” he said, adding that the Bogado case is only the tip of an iceberg of impunity enjoyed by the political leadership, which Paraguayans are fed up with.

Politics in Paraguay has historically been infamous for the high levels of corruption, impunity, nepotism and perks. And in the eyes of the citizens, Congress is the biggest culprit.

A broad range of people are participating in #15Npy – from office workers and students to artists, civil servants, taxi drivers, shopkeepers and ordinary people.

Some come from a background of activism in trade unions, social organisations or even political parties. But the great majority form part of the anonymous public, which up to now had been more resigned than participative in the face of realities such as living in one of the most unequal and corrupt countries in South America.

There are no leaders in the movement, only people who serve as reference points in different groups that communicate through Facebook and Twitter. On the networks they have already made it clear that Bogado’s loss of immunity will not bring the protests to a halt.

The next one will be a mid-December march on the courthouse, the seat of justice, “one of the branches of the state where corruption flourishes, and which provides citizens with anything but justice,” Topo said.

Both he and the demonstrators in the plaza stressed that President Horacio Cartes, a business tycoon in office since August, “should also take note” of the protests.

“Either he stops the repression of campesinos [small farmers] and only thinking about privatising and addresses the people’s demands, or we will go after him,” the taxi driver said.

“We are going to work at the grassroots level and go after the three branches of government; our agenda isn’t marked by anyone,” said Professor Rodríguez, who is very active in #15Npy.

Rodríguez the political scientist said these movements “produce a change in consciousness, but they do not directly bring about transformations.” In the case of Paraguay, the analyst said the support that the demonstrations received from the press and sectors of the business community played a key role.

In the Plaza de Armas Thursday evening, the protesters called for the resignation of the 23 senators who defended Bogado. The political scientist said “demands are always maximalist, you have to call for things even if you won’t get them, but basically the big victory is that Congress has changed, and it’s not going to be the same from here on out.”

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Femicides in Brazil Hit Civil War Proportions http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/femicides-brazil-hit-civil-war-proportions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=femicides-brazil-hit-civil-war-proportions http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/femicides-brazil-hit-civil-war-proportions/#comments Thu, 28 Nov 2013 16:47:48 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129144 The number of femicides – gender-related murders – in Brazil has reached civil war-like proportions. In just 10 years 40,000 women were killed in this country merely for being women. Every year, between Nov. 25 and Dec. 10, the international community and women’s rights groups organise 16 days of activism against gender violence. The idea […]

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In a protest, the mother of a young pregnant woman murdered in Pernambuco demands Brazilian women’s right to a life free of violence. Credit:  Emanuela Castro/IPS

In a protest, the mother of a young pregnant woman murdered in Pernambuco demands Brazilian women’s right to a life free of violence. Credit: Emanuela Castro/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov 28 2013 (IPS)

The number of femicides – gender-related murders – in Brazil has reached civil war-like proportions. In just 10 years 40,000 women were killed in this country merely for being women.

Every year, between Nov. 25 and Dec. 10, the international community and women’s rights groups organise 16 days of activism against gender violence.

The idea originated with the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership, which in 1991 urged that the interval between Nov. 25 – International Day Against Violence Against Women – and Dec. 10 – International Human Rights Day – be dedicated to this issue.

In Brazil this year the activities have taken on special importance because on Dec. 3-4 a meeting will be held in the southern city of Porto Alegre to draft the civil society shadow report to be presented to the committee on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), when it meets in February in Geneva.

The alternative civil society report is aimed at providing support for the CEDAW committee’s assessment of the Brazilian government’s actions to combat trafficking in women and improve women’s health.

“These days of activism give greater visibility to the gender rights agenda,” Ingrid Leão, the coordinator in Brazil of the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women’s Rights (CLADEM), told IPS. “Violence against women has come out from under the rug, and society now sees it as a reality and not something that people have invented.”

A study by the Avante Brasil Institute found that 40,000 women were murdered in this country of 200 million people between 2001 and 2010. In 2010 alone, a femicide was committed every hour, 57 minutes and 43 seconds, which translates into 4.5 homicides per 100,000 women.

And the projection for this year in Brazil is 4,717 femicides, which are defined as “the killing of females by males because they are female.”

But violence against women is broader than that, noted Leão, who cited other manifestations, such as psychological, economic, sexual or symbolic.

A law stiffening penalties for domestic violence has been in effect in Brazil since 2006.

It is known as the “Maria da Penha Law” for the name of a pharmacist who was beaten by her husband for 14 years. In 1983 he tried to kill her twice, leaving her paraplegic after shooting her in the back while she was sleeping, and then trying to electrocute her in the shower when she returned from the hospital.

With CLADEM’s support, Penha filed a complaint before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). It was the first gender violence case taken up by the regional body which forms part of the Organisation of American State, and led to a 2001 landmark ruling that held the Brazilian state guilty of negligence and failure to take action against domestic violence.

Besides CEDAW, which was adopted by the members of the United Nations in 1979, Brazil signed the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women in 1994.

“How can we still live with this level of violence against women, despite 40 years of denunciations of this problem?” Télia Negrão, an expert with the National Feminist Network for Health and Sexual and Reproductive Rights, remarked to IPS.

She said there is no typical profile of a domestic violence victim, because the problem cuts across all social classes, races and age groups. “All women, just because of their gender, are vulnerable and are objects of violence,” she told IPS.

But Negrão, who is also the head of the Coletivo Femenino Plural, a women’s rights group, stressed that the degree of vulnerability is exacerbated by social inequality, poverty, low educational level, limited labour opportunities, low incomes and living in areas where levels of violence are high.

“These women have few social instruments to resort to. For women without a degree of autonomy it is harder to escape from a violent situation,” she said.

In August 2013, President Dilma Rousseff enacted a law requiring all public hospitals to provide treatment against sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS for rape victims.

The victims must also be given access to emergency contraception, and in case of pregnancy, they have the right to an abortion, which is generally illegal in Brazil.

“Full citizenship means the enforcement of human rights. We have achieved a great deal, but not enough,” argued Negrão, who since 1985 has taken part in monitoring Brazil’s compliance with international conventions.

In the shadow report for the CEDAW committee, “we will include concrete incidents [of discrimination] that the Brazilian state won’t mention, because no government wants to expose itself in the international sphere,” she commented.

In its 2012 meeting the CEDAW committee stressed two points: internal and international trafficking of women, for which it called for concrete measures, and the need for unified legislation regarding women’s health.

In a report released in early October, the Secretariat for Women’s Policies ascribed to the Office of the President underlined that reports of trafficking increased by over 1,500 percent in the first half of the year, from the same period in 2012.

Between January and June, the dedicated 180 hotline for victims received 263 calls, of which 173 referred to cases involving international human trafficking and the rest to cases inside Brazil. In 34 percent of the cases, the victim’s life was considered to be at risk.

“The pace with which measures related to trafficking are being adopted is very slow, and the responses are too. We do not currently have the capacity to assess the magnitude of the problem,” Negrão said.

Estela Scandola, a civil society representative on the National Committee to Fight Human Trafficking, told IPS that Brazil has not managed to put into practice a state policy to address the crime.

“We have a government policy thanks to a decree. We need external pressure. Trafficking in persons highlights flaws in a country’s development process,” she said.

She argued that it is civil society’s role to denounce the Brazilian state’s failure to implement adequate policies to tackle trafficking.

“The impression is that getting anything done takes a long time. The red tape is never-ending,” she complained, referring to the delay in implementing the Second National Plan to Combat Trafficking in Persons and in creating the National Committee against Trafficking, which has been held up by a lack of funds.
Scandola said the civil society report to the CEDAW committee would underscore the lack of adequate policies.

She said the authorities have the means to prevent trafficking and exploitation of women in high-risk areas, such as the big hydropower dams and other infrastructure construction projects around the country, which have attracted large numbers of workers from other regions.

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Taking Efforts to Fight Prejudice in Cuba to the Barrios http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/taking-efforts-fight-prejudice-cuba-barrios/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=taking-efforts-fight-prejudice-cuba-barrios http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/taking-efforts-fight-prejudice-cuba-barrios/#comments Mon, 25 Nov 2013 14:14:00 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129055 From a very young age, Irma Castañeda has braided her curly hair and cared for it with natural recipes inherited from her mother, ignoring the widespread conception that black women’s hair is “ugly” or “bad”. Gently, with skilful hands, she aims to chip away at something much more complex: the silence surrounding the issue of […]

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Members of La Muñeca Negra, a group that makes papier-mâché figures inspired by Afro-Cuban deities. Credit: Ernesto Pérez Zambrano/IPS

Members of La Muñeca Negra, a group that makes papier-mâché figures inspired by Afro-Cuban deities. Credit: Ernesto Pérez Zambrano/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Nov 25 2013 (IPS)

From a very young age, Irma Castañeda has braided her curly hair and cared for it with natural recipes inherited from her mother, ignoring the widespread conception that black women’s hair is “ugly” or “bad”.

Gently, with skilful hands, she aims to chip away at something much more complex: the silence surrounding the issue of race, a subject that was taboo for decades in official rhetoric, according to which racism was eradicated by the Cuban revolution in 1959.

In the Balcón Arimao barrio in the largely black municipality of La Lisa, on the west side of Havana, Castañeda and nine other women have launched an effort to improve self-esteem, teaching hairdressing techniques and traditional cosmetics recipes for black skin, because they are not available in stores.

“Whether it is straightened or worn in an Afro or dreadlocks, hair can look beautiful on a black woman, who has the right to have resources for taking care of her image,” Castañeda told IPS.

“We want to break the stereotype that we black women are less beautiful, without trying to look like white models,” added Castañeda, an educator by profession and promoter of the project Rizos (Spanish for “Curls”).

For these hairdressers, facial masks and tweezers are tools for raising awareness around problems faced by people of African descent, who officially account for 36 percent of Cuba’s population of nearly 11.2 million, although researchers such as Esteban Morales estimate the non-white population at around 60 percent.

Rizos is one of a number of initiatives of the Afrodescendent Neighbourhood Network (Red Barrial Afrodescendiente, RBA), which is reviving anti-racist activism in Havana.

About a year ago, activists from various urban communities founded the RBA to take research and debate about the race question into the neighbourhoods. Every month, in a community centre in La Lisa, lectures are given to train 35 local leaders.

All of these people, who work in different jobs and have different educational levels, assume the responsibility of taking what they learn to their families, neighbourhoods, and workplaces.

Marlene Bayeux, a 63-year-old former veterinarian, says she knows what it feels like to be underestimated. “To be respected as a professional, I had to overcome a racist boss, but if I had been equipped with the arguments that I learned in the network’s workshops, I would have saved myself a lot of grief,” she told IPS.

Bayeux feels that she contributes to the cause as part of La Muñeca Negra (The Black Doll) – a group of artisans who create papier-mâché figures inspired by female Afro-Cuban deities.

Another group sews black rag dolls, but they are dressed as flight attendants, doctors, nurses, and soldiers, instead of the typical religious or slave woman rag dolls.

While small, these efforts are important because of the direction they are moving in, historian Daisy Rubiera told IPS. She is part of the Cuban chapter of the regional network of African Descendants from Latin America and the Caribbean (ARAC), created in September of last year.

Rubiera described the work being carried out by academia and intellectuals as insufficient; for years, they have been talking, carrying out research and even making money on the issue, but they have not managed to really reach the wider public, she said.

“The historic causes of racial discrimination do not appear in the official texts, so they go unnoticed by the majority,” said Rubiera, who is an advisor to the RBA.

Maritza López, who is the RBA’s coordinator and has extensive experience in social work in poor neighbourhoods, said discussions need to happen with the people most affected, who are in the streets and not in bookstores, theatres or academic seminars.

“Academic activism opened up the road, but the intellectuals need to come down to our neighbourhoods to transmit their knowledge and wisdom in terms that people can understand,” López told IPS.

In Cuba, racial discrimination is manifest above all in subtle personal, social, and cultural prejudice and attitudes. It is low-key because public displays of racism are not socially acceptable.

“Sometimes black people do not perceive that they are being discriminated against because socially, the problem is accepted as natural,” said retired high school teacher Hildelisa Leal.

Segregation and discrimination are also reflected by the fact that blacks or people of mixed-race are a majority among the poor and a minority in decision-making posts and emerging economic sectors such as tourism and self-employment, according to researcher María del Carmen Zabala.

According to her studies, less than 20 percent of Cubans who leave the country in search of a better future are non-whites. For that reason, most of the remittances sent home by immigrants – an essential source of income for much of the population – go to white families.

According to the 2002 census, while unemployment stood at 2.9 percent among whites, it rose to 6.3 percent among the black and mixed-race workforce. And with respect to higher education, 4.4 percent more whites than non-whites held a degree.

These figures have not been updated with information from the 2012 census.

President Raul Castro has referred to increasing the presence of blacks in political office.

In the legislative National Assembly elected this year, 37 percent of seats are held by non-whites.

In January 2012, the ruling Communist Party declared its intention of “confronting prejudice and discriminatory conduct based on skin colour that runs counter to the Constitution and law and hurts national unity.”

However, activists are demanding more resounding actions in this nation, which has the second-highest proportion of blacks in Latin America after Brazil.

Tato Quiñones, a leading member of the citizens’ project Cofradía de la Negritud (roughly, Brotherhood of Blackness), is proposing a specific legal structure for prosecuting acts of racial discrimination.

In an award-winning essay, researcher Zuleica Romay suggested a general law against discrimination.

Learning about the cultural and historic roots of racism has helped Damayanti Matos, a member of the RBA, feel more empowered.

“I became aware of my rights – it used to seem normal for people to address me as ‘negra’ (black woman),” she told IPS. “Now I know that behind that innocent gesture, there is a history of discrimination.”

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