Inter Press Service » Latin America & the Caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 28 Mar 2017 16:25:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.16 Costa Rican Town Fears That the Sea Will Steal Its Shiny New Facehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/costa-rican-town-fears-that-the-sea-will-steal-its-shiny-new-face/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=costa-rican-town-fears-that-the-sea-will-steal-its-shiny-new-face http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/costa-rican-town-fears-that-the-sea-will-steal-its-shiny-new-face/#comments Tue, 28 Mar 2017 01:03:15 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149674 Reynaldo Charles and Ezequiel Hudson talk with Eliécer Quesada (left to right) about the state of the breakwater on which they are standing. This is the part where the waves reach closest to the houses, and at high tide the water crosses over the new bicycle lane and the street and reaches the homes, in the town of Cienaguita on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. Credit: Diego Arguedas/IPS

Reynaldo Charles and Ezequiel Hudson talk with Eliécer Quesada (left to right) about the state of the breakwater on which they are standing. This is the part where the waves reach closest to the houses, and at high tide the water crosses over the new bicycle lane and the street and reaches the homes, in the town of Cienaguita on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. Credit: Diego Arguedas/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
CIENEGUITA, Costa Rica, Mar 28 2017 (IPS)

Two years have gone by since the new government initiative which subsidises community works changed the face with which the coastal town of Cienaguita, on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, looks out to the sea.

In place of a battered path between the beach and the first houses, the investment allowed the construction of a paved coastal street with a bicycle lane, playgrounds for children and a sports space where groups of young people exercise around mid-morning, since March 2015.

“The boulevard has brought about a 180-degree change in this part of the community,” 67-year-old community leader Ezequiel Hudson told IPS about the new recreational spaces available to the 5,400 inhabitants of this town next to the city of Puerto Limón, in the centre of the country’s Caribbean coast.

However, the 2.5 million-dollar investment is threatened by coastal erosion and the rise in the level of water in the sea, which occasionally floods the new street.

Local residents of Cienaguita are worried about the effects that climate change may have on their town.“We have documented a rise in the sea level and in wind and wave speeds.” -- Omar Lizano

The most conservative estimates put the sea level rise between 20 and 60 centimetres by 2100, but new studies point to a still higher increase, which would irremediably damage the life of the whole town, whose inhabitants make a living fishing or working on the docks of Puerto Limón.

“A few days ago the sea rose, and covered the whole street,” said Reynaldo Charles, head of the town’s Association for Integral Development, on a mid-March tour through the area with IPS.

Community leaders and local residents are afraid that the waves will erode the foundations of the road and bicycle lane and end up destroying the new streeet, which everyone is so proud of. Charles and Hudson report that most of the almond trees that adorned the avenue have already disappeared.

The impact is uneven. In some places, the beach is full of sticks that the tide has washed up, and in the most critical areas, the waves have completely devoured the sand and stop just a dozen metres from the first houses.

It was not always like this. Local residents say that until a few years ago, the beach was 50 metres wide and children used to play there and adults would fish, in this town located 160 kilometres east of the capital, which is reached by a long, steep road which winds its way across the Cordillera Central mountains.

But now, the waves reach the doors of the houses at high tide and residents have to protect their homes with sandbags.

“This has to be solved now or in a matter of a few years, because this is a question of prevention,” 68-year-old retiree Eliécer Quesada told IPS, while looking at the breakwater that stops the Caribbean sea just a few steps from his house.

In front of him there is practically no beach, just the constant breaking of waves against the rocks placed there a few years ago by the state power utility, ICE, to protect underground cables.

However, ICE has moved the internet cables inland to protect them and local residents worry that they will receive no more help from the power company in the future.

“Go see what it’s like in the Netherlands or Belgium, with huge breakwaters and dikes which even have roads running along them,” said Quesada, who worked as a sailor his whole life and visited ports around the world.

The rest of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coastline has similar problems with erosion, said oceanographer Omar Lizano, of the University of Costa Rica’s Centre for Research in Marine Sciences and Limnology (CIMAR).

“This phenomenon is happening all along our Caribbean coast and I suppose that the same thing will happen in Nicaragua, Panama and in the entire Caribbean region,” the expert in waves and ocean currents told IPS.

For several years, Lizano has been monitoring the beaches on the Caribbean and observing how the waves have gained metres and metres of sand.

This Central American country of 4.7 million people has coastline along the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean sea to the east.

“We have documented a rise in the sea level and in wind and wave speeds,” said the CIMAR expert.

In Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coastal region, for example, the Cahuita National Park has lost dozens of metres of turtle nesting beach, which poses a threat to the turtle populations that spawn in the area.

A study published in 2014 by the Climate Change and Basins Programme of the Center for Tropical Agricultural Research and Education (CATIE) determined that the sea rises on average two millimetres per year along the coast of the eastern province of Limón, which covers the country’s entire Caribbean coast, and whose capital is Puerto Limón.

The report analysed the climate vulnerability of the coastal areas of Central America’s Caribbean region and concluded that the Costa Rican districts overlooking the sea have a high to very high adaptation capacity.

This is partly thanks to the level of community organisation, with groups such as the one headed by Charles, and the institutional support which translates into concrete actions, like the breakwater built by ICE and another one built nearby by the Council of Port Administration and Economic Development of the Atlantic Coast.

The people of Cienaguita are asking for more resources to design new protective structures, which could even be transformed into a seaside promenade for the community. Quesada advocates mitigating the erosion with tetrapods, a very stable tetrahedral concrete structure used as armour unit on breakwaters.

Lizano said the situation is not sustainable for much longer. Other countries can invest in infrastructure to protect their people, such as breakwaters or seawalls, or fill in the beaches to buy time, but this is not feasible for Costa Rica because of the high costs.

“If we can’t afford to do this, the only thing we can do is move to higher ground. This is our adaptation measure,” said the oceanographer.

Community leader Charles said he has asked for help from Puerto Limón municipal authorities and from national agencies, but they all claim that they do not have the necessary funds.

Costa Rica is in the initial stages of its National Adaptation Plan, a broad document that will define the path that the country will take to protect itself from the worst impacts of climate change, and urban settlements and coastal areas shall be priorities.

“I think we need to start to talk very seriously about the vulnerability of coastal communities like Cienaguita or Chacarita (on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast),” Pascal Girot, the head of climate change in the Ministry of Environment and Energy, told IPS.

This can lead to more concrete actions, he said. “They will be badly affected by the rise in the sea level,” said Girot, who will lead the national climate adaptation process.

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Trinidad Pushes for Shift to Cleaner Fuelhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/trinidad-pushes-for-shift-to-cleaner-fuel/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trinidad-pushes-for-shift-to-cleaner-fuel http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/trinidad-pushes-for-shift-to-cleaner-fuel/#comments Sun, 26 Mar 2017 16:20:43 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149643 CNG fuel signs at the NP Ramco service station, on the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway, Orange Grove, Trinidad. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

CNG fuel signs at the NP Ramco service station, on the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway, Orange Grove, Trinidad. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

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

The Trinidad and Tobago government has invested about 74 million dollars in the first phase of a 295-million-dollar project to encourage more drivers to use Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), described by experts here as a preliminary step in the country’s transition to using more sustainable forms of energy.

Use of CNG would represent a major behavioural shift for Trinidadians and Tobagonians whose country’s economy has relied heavily on exports of major fossil fuel reserves, giving it one of the highest per capita incomes in Caricom as well as placing it among the top ten emitters of carbon per capita in the world.The economic downturn has made maintaining generous fossil fuel subsidies an unsustainable proposition.

The shift to CNG “starts a certain behaviour because [CNG] is the cleanest fuel Trinidad and Tobago has which is affordable,” said the president of NGC-CNG, Curtis Mohammed.

In 2013, the government mandated the National Gas Company (NGC) to promote the sale and use of CNG. NGC formed NGC-CNG in January 2014 to carry out the mandate. In keeping with its mandate NGC-CNG has offered substantial incentives to both public and private vehicle owners to retrofit their vehicles for the use of CNG, including thousands of dollars in free CNG to school buses and taxis. The government has also given substantial tax incentives to buyers of CNG-fuelled vehicles.

Mohammed said the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC), which is Trinidad and Tobago’s government-run bus service, has plans to eventually convert its entire fleet to CNG vehicles. The country’s Finance Minister Colm Imbert in his 2016-2017 Budget report also said that the association representing the privately owned public service vehicles, known as maxi taxis, has committed to introducing approximately 1,200 OEM CNG vehicles over the next three years.

However, “while CNG offers a cheaper and cleaner option for transportation fuel, it is to be recognized that it is a transitionary fuel and the deployment of renewable energy sources are more sustainable…the 10% renewable energy target signals Government’s intention to gradually move away from traditional fuels to more sustainable sources,” explained head of the Multilateral Environmental Agreements Unit, in Trinidad and Tobago’s Ministry of Planning and Development, Kishan Kumarsingh, in an e-mail interview.

Though CNG has been an option under consideration for many years, a combination of factors over the past couple of years has increased interest among citizens in shifting from heavy domestic use of fossil fuels to the use of CNG for transport and eventually to renewables.

The government had for decades provided generous fuel subsidies that made owning and driving a vehicle in the country affordable for a large portion of its population. However, the government saw its revenues decline by 35 per cent between 2014 and 2016, that is, from 8.4 billion dollars in 2014 to 5.5 billion in 2016.

“Because of the collapse in oil and gas prices, we have lost 20 billion in annual revenue since 2014,” Minister Imbert was reported as saying in his 2016-2017 budget speech.

Thus, the economic downturn has made maintaining the generous fuel subsidies an unsustainable proposition and the government has gradually removed most of them.

Retrofitting to use CNG is a cheaper alternative for drivers who travel substantial distances. CNG retails at 15 cents per litre, compared to 46 cents per litre for super gasoline, 85 cents per litre for premium and 25 cents per litre for diesel. The government still subsidises the price of diesel which is used by public transport.

Another factor is Trinidad and Tobago’s active engagement over the years in initiatives to combat climate change, with the country being a signatory to the 2015 COP21 Paris agreement.

“The country has adopted a National Climate Change Policy and is currently implementing a range of projects aimed at addressing climate change nationally such as reducing emissions and assessing climate vulnerability. Trinidad and Tobago has taken a proactive approach and was the first Caribbean country to submit its NDC [Nationally Determined Contributions] to the UN as well as among the first countries to formulate and adopt a National Climate Change Policy,” Kumarsingh said in an e-mail.

Included in government’s plans are “a feed-in-tariff to allow for renewable energy to be generated and to be fed into the national power grid,” he said. However, “the current legislative and policy structure limits the wide deployment of renewable energy mainly due to very old legislation.”

Kumarsingh said, “As a first step, the enabling environment from a policy and legislative perspective has to be in place. Once that policy and legislative framework is established, opportunities for installation of generation capacity from renewable energy sources, and therefore opportunities for job creation and income generation, can be more fully explored.”

The members of the Energy Chamber, representing more than 400 gas and petrochemical industry companies in Trinidad and Tobago, also see opportunities opening up with the removal of the fuel subsidy. Dr. Thackwray Driver, CEO of the Energy Chamber said, “You would see opportunities for electric vehicles as well. Trinidad’s electricity is very cheap…Because of the decreasing price of renewable energy we might reach a point where…electricity vehicles would be more attractive.”

He said there was “a lot of interest” in energy efficiency and renewable energy among Energy Chamber members.

Dr Driver said the Chamber had always advocated for the removal of subsidies because they encouraged “wasteful use of valuable resources which could be sold on international markets…In other countries you see people are less wasteful in using fuel. When there are higher prices to pay for it, they buy cars that are more fuel efficient, they tend to make more fuel-efficient decisions. People in Trinidad do not worry about fuel efficiency.”

With regard to renewables becoming a major source of energy locally, Dr Driver said, “I think given the structure of Trinidad and Tobago’s economy, it will remain relatively small for the next decade:” He added that the domestic sector was likely to see a 10-15 per cent uptake of renewables in the next decade or two.

Meanwhile, “I think right now the biggest interest is in energy efficiency, because there is a huge opportunity in the electricity sector to improve energy efficiency…Once we get energy efficiency up that is where we will see the deployment of grid-scale renewable energy,” Dr. Driver said.

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New Recipe for School Meals Programmes in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/new-recipe-for-school-meals-programmes-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-recipe-for-school-meals-programmes-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/new-recipe-for-school-meals-programmes-in-latin-america/#comments Thu, 23 Mar 2017 22:51:52 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149606 Tito Díaz, FAO subregional coordinator for Mesoamerica, speaks as a panelist during the Mar. 20-22 “School feeding as a strategy to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals” meeting in the Costa Rican capital. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/ IPS

Tito Díaz, FAO subregional coordinator for Mesoamerica, speaks as a panelist during the Mar. 20-22 “School feeding as a strategy to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals” meeting in the Costa Rican capital. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/ IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Mar 23 2017 (IPS)

Sunita Daniel remembers what the school lunch programmes were like in her Caribbean island nation, Saint Lucía, until a couple of years ago: meals made of processed foods and imported products, and little integration with the surrounding communities.

This changed after Daniel, then head of planning in the Agriculture Ministry, visited Brazil in 2014 and learned about that country’s school meals system, which prioritises a balanced, healthy diet and the participation of family famers in each town.

“I went back to the government and said: This is a good example of what we can do,” said Daniel.

Today, the small island state puts a priority on purchasing from local producers, especially family farmers, and is working on improving the diet offered to schoolchildren.

Saint Lucia is not unique. A new generation of school meals programme that combine healthy diets, public purchases of products from local farmers, and social integration with local communities is transforming school lunchrooms and communities throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

The model followed by these projects is Brazil’s National School Feeding Programme, which has taken shape over recent years and is now at the heart of a regional project, supported by the Brazilian government.

Currently, the regional initiative is seeking to strengthen school meal programmes in 13 Latin American and Caribbean countries, through triangular South-South cooperation that receives the support of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Delegates from the countries participating in the project, and representatives of the FAO and the Brazilian government, met Mar. 20-22 in the Costa Rican capital to take part in the “School feeding as a strategy to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”, and share their experiences.

“This kind of workshop strengthens everyone – the Brazilian programme itself, countries and governments,” said Najla Veloso, regional coordinator of the project for Strengthening School Feeding Programmes in Latin American and the Caribbean. “It works as a feedback system, to inspire change.”

Brazil’s system focuses on guaranteeing continuous school feeding coverage with quality food. The menus are based on food produced by local farmers and school gardens.

In Brazil, “we’re talking about offering healthy food every day of the school year, in combination with dietary and nutritional education and purchases from family farmers,” Veloso told IPS during the three-day meeting.

In Brazil, a country of 208 million people, more than 41 million students eat at least one meal a day at school, said Veloso, thanks to coordination between the federal government and state and municipal authorities.

“This does not exist in any other country in the world,” said the Brazilian expert.

Students at a school in an indigenous village in western Honduras work in the school garden, where they learn about nutrition and healthy eating. Since 2016 Honduras has a law regulating a new generation oschool meals programme, which focuses on a healthy diet and serves fresh food from local family farmers and school gardens. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Students at a school in an indigenous village in western Honduras work in the school garden, where they learn about nutrition and healthy eating. Since 2016 Honduras has a law regulating a new generation oschool meals programme, which focuses on a healthy diet and serves fresh food from local family farmers and school gardens. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Taking Brazil’s successful programme as a model, the regional technical cooperation project was launched in 2009 in five countries, a number that climbed to 17. At the present time, 13 new-generation projects are receiving support as part of the regional initiative, which is to end this year.

According to Veloso, more than 68 million schoolchildren in the region, besides the children in Brazil, have benefited from the innovative feeding programmes, which have also boosted ties between communities and local farmers.

Today, the project is operating in Belize, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Lucía, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

The project has had varied results and has followed different formats in each country, as shown by the delegates who shared their experiences in San José.

In the case of Saint Lucía, for example, the authorities forged an alliance with the private sector to raise funds and provide food to between 8,000 and 9,000 schoolchildren aged five to 12, said Daniel.

In Honduras, grassroots participation enabled cooperation between the communities, the municipal authorities and the schools, Joselino Pacheco, the head of the School Lunch programme, described during the meeting.

“We didn’t have a law on school feeding until last year, but that didn’t stop us because our work comes from the grassroots,” the Honduran delegate said.

The law, which went into effect in September 2016, built on the experience of a government programme founded in 1998, and is backed up by social organisations that support the process and which are in turn supported by the regional project, Pacheco told IPS.

Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay, like Honduras, have specific laws to regulate school feeding programmes.

In the case of Costa Rica, the country already had a broad school meals programme, so the authorities decided to focus on expanding its capacities by including innovative elements of the new generation of initiatives aimed at achieving food security.

“A programme has been in place since 2015 to open school lunchrooms during the mid-term break and at the beginning and the end of the school year,” said Costa Rica’s first lady, Mercedes Peñas, a renowned expert in municipal development.

A pilot plan in 2015 was carried out in 121 school lunchrooms in the 75 most vulnerable districts. By 2016 the number of participating schools had expanded and 200,000 meals were served in the first 40 days of the school year.

This is spending that not only produces short-term results, improving nutrition among schoolchildren, but also has an impact on public health for decades, said Ricardo Rapallo, technical coordinator of FAO’s Hunger-Free Mesoamérica programme.

“If we don’t work on creating healthy eating habits among children, it is more difficult to change them later,” said Rapallo.

School meals programmes are essential in achieving economic, social and environmental development in Latin America, the speakers agreed, describing school feeding as a fundamental component for achieving several of the 17 SDGs, which have a 2030 deadline.

“The experience of a school feeding programme, together with a programme for public purchases from family farmers, makes the 2030 agenda possible,” said Tito Díaz, FAO subregional coordinator for Mesoamerica, during one of the meeting’s panels.

Daniel described one inspirational case. In Belle Vue, a town in southwestern Saint Lucía, the school lunchroom inspired women in the community to start their own garden.

“They came and said, what can we provide. And a lot of their children went to the school,” said Daniel, who is now director of the school meals programme in Saint Lucía and a liaison on the issue between FAO and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

The school set up a daycare center for toddlers and preschoolers so the local mothers could work in the garden. As a result, some 30 mothers now earn a fixed income.

Veloso explained that although the programme is due to close this year, they are studying what needs and opportunities exist, to decide whether to launch a second phase.

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Local Solutions to Rebuild Oldest Cuban City in Hurricane Matthew’s Wakehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/local-solutions-to-rebuild-oldest-cuban-city-in-hurricane-matthews-wake/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=local-solutions-to-rebuild-oldest-cuban-city-in-hurricane-matthews-wake http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/local-solutions-to-rebuild-oldest-cuban-city-in-hurricane-matthews-wake/#comments Thu, 23 Mar 2017 08:43:47 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149577 The veranda of a house which has been used to provide shelter for four families, including the family of retiree Dania de la Cruz. In the eastern Cuban city of Baracoa, 167 people are still living in shelters after Hurricane Matthew destroyed their homes in October 2016. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The veranda of a house which has been used to provide shelter for four families, including the family of retiree Dania de la Cruz. In the eastern Cuban city of Baracoa, 167 people are still living in shelters after Hurricane Matthew destroyed their homes in October 2016. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
BARACOA, Cuba, Mar 23 2017 (IPS)

Clearings with fallen trees in the surrounding forests, houses still covered with tarpaulins and workers repairing the damage on the steep La Farola highway are lingering evidence of the impact of Hurricane Matthew four months ago, in the first city built by the Spanish conquistadors in Cuba.

Baracoa, a 505-year-old world heritage city in eastern Cuba, located in a vulnerable area between the coast, mountains and the rivers that run across it, is showing signs of fast recovery of its infrastructure, thanks in part to the application of its own formulas to overcome the effects of the Oct. 4-5, 2016 natural disaster.

“The ways sought to deal with the situation have been different, innovative. Necessity led us to involve the local population in addressing a phenomenon which affected more than 90 per cent of the homes,” said Esmeralda Cuza, head of the office in charge of the recovery effort in the people’s council of Majubabo, an outlying neighborhood along the coast.

Standing next to a mural announcing the delivery of bottles of water donated to the families affected by the hurricane, the 64-year-old public official, with experience in dealing with disasters since 1982, told IPS that “more local solutions were sought” before, during and after Hurricane Matthew hit the province of Guantánamo.

Internationally renowned for its effectiveness in protecting human lives during climate disasters, Cuba’s disaster management model is also undergoing changes within the current reforms carried out by the government of Raúl Castro, which includes local responses during the evacuation of local residents and the rebuilding process.

“We had some experience in this, but never with the magnitude and organisational level of this one,” said Cuza, referring to what the strongest hurricane in the history of Guantánamo meant for this city.

Workers unload materials for the reconstruction of a building damaged by Hurricane Matthew, on the seaside promenade of the historic city of Baracoa, in the eastern province of Guantánamo,  Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Workers unload materials for the reconstruction of a building damaged by Hurricane Matthew, on the seaside promenade of the historic city of Baracoa, in the eastern province of Guantánamo, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In a city where most houses have lightweight roofs, the hurricane wreaked havoc in 24,104 of the 27,000 houses in the municipality of Baracoa, population of 81,700.

The local government reports that 3,529 homes were totally destroyed, 3,764 were partially destroyed, 10,126 lost their roofs, and 6,685 suffered partial damage to the roofs.

This figure does not include multi-family buildings that were also damaged. One of these, located on the seafront, is waiting to be demolished. In addition, 525 government buildings were affected, as well as the power and communication networks, water pies, roads and bridges.

Authorities say 85 per cent of the city has been restored, including 17, 391 houses that have been repaired.

“At least here all the houses have roofs,” said Cuza, talking about the restoration of the 1,153 damaged houses in Majubabo. In the rest of Baracoa, 90 per cent of the damaged roofs were fixed, and you can still see some houses with no roofs or covered with tarpaulins on a drive through the city.

Like everyone else, the office headed by Cuza is waiting for more materials to finish restoring the damaged interior of the houses.

In the case of homes that were completely destroyed, authorities provided the so-called “temporary housing facility“, which consists of basic construction materials. With this support and salvaged materials, 3,466 families rebuilt part of their homes to be able to leave the shelters and shared houses where they were initially placed.

The remains of boats and bushes destroyed by Hurricane Matthew scattered on a beach in Baracoa bear witness to the violence of the biggest climate disaster ever to hit the province of Guantánamo, in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The remains of boats and bushes destroyed by Hurricane Matthew scattered on a beach in Baracoa bear witness to the violence of the biggest climate disaster ever to hit the province of Guantánamo, in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

This set of measures seems to be the reason for the rapid improvement in the city´s landscape, through which foreign tourists stroll. With painted facades and big signboards, the 283 rental houses and state-run tourist facilities have been operating since early November, when high season started.

International aid

Contributions from the rest of the Cuban provinces, Cubans abroad and international cooperation have been arriving since October for the communities affected by Hurricane Matthew in the east of the country.

For example, the United Nations is carrying out a plan that aims to mobilise 26.5 million dollars to address the urgent needs of 637,608 people in Guantánamo and the neighbouring province of Holguín. This UN programme has received contributions from the governments of Canada, Switzerland, Italy and South Korea.

The Cuban government has also received assistance from Japan, Pakistan and Venezuela, as well as from companies in China and the United States and from international cooperation organisations, such as the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

Some parts of the seafront promenade are still impassable while workers fix the two-kilometre wall, which barely defended the city from the waves. Because of their vulnerability to the sea, 21 coastal communities are to be relocated before 2030, including Baracoa.

“The construction materials programme was launched to respond to the demand,“ said Rodolfo Frómeta, who is in charge of the state-run company that groups 12 small factories of natural rock materials and blocks, which plans to produce earthquake-resistant concrete slabs for roofs this month.

Baracoa has the largest number of these factories, which also operate in the affected neighbouring municipalities of Imías and Maisí. Up to February, the 22 factories in the area had produced 227,500 blocks, using artisanal moulds and rocks collected from the surrounding land and surface quarries.

“We only import the cement and steel,” said Frómeta, referring to the factories, of which three are state-run and the rest are private. “But all of them receive government support, like these mills that grind stones,“ he told IPS in Áridos Viera, a company in Mabujabo.

A psychologist by profession, Amaury Viera founded in 2015 this private enterprise, with the aim of turning it into a cooperative. Eight workers obtain sand, granite, gravel and stone powder. “Our main activity now is making blocks, some 800 a day, although we want to increase that to 1,200,“ said Viera.

With his bag full of tools, the young bricklayer and carpenter Diolnis Silot is heading home for lunch. “I have worked in the construction of 35 houses since Matthew, two were fully rebuilt and the rest involved replacing lightweight roofs. Most of them received state subsidies,” he told IPS.

Rodolfo Frómeta, in charge of the local company that groups 12 small local factories of natural rocky materials and blocks, next to a stone mill, near the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Rodolfo Frómeta, in charge of the state company that groups 12 small local factories of natural rocky materials and blocks, next to a stone mill, near the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A few metres away, the owner of a private cafeteria, Yudelmis Navarro, is installing a new window and making other improvements to his house. “The hurricane carried away the roof and some things from indoors. The government replaced the roof for free and now I am doing the smaller-scale repairs at my own expense,“ he said.

“People who expect everything for free will not solve very much,“ Navarro said.

On crutches, retiree Dania de la Cruz, one of the 167 people still living in shelters in the municipality, watches people going home for lunch, from the doorway of the large house where she lives with her daughter and three other families. “I used to live with my daughter along the Duaba river, on a farm, where I lost almost everything. I won’t go back there. We don’t know when or where we will have our new house,” she said.

“The longest-lasting damages were in agriculture and housing,” said Luis Sánchez, the mayor of Baracoa. He stressed that the recovery strategy included modernising the new infrastructure and making it more resistant, for example in communications.

So far, he said, 3,900 low-interest bank loans were approved for people to rebuild their homes, in addition to 700 subsidies, and more than 10,000 allowances for low-income families. Some families paid for the rebuilding out of their own pocket.

“And we have gained experience in evacuation,“ said Sánchez, who mentioned the use of traditional shelters in caves and rural buildings known as “varas en tierra” made of wood and thatched roofs that reach all the way to the ground.

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Disabled Caribbeans Find Freedom in Technologyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/disabled-caribbeans-find-freedom-in-technology/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=disabled-caribbeans-find-freedom-in-technology http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/disabled-caribbeans-find-freedom-in-technology/#comments Thu, 23 Mar 2017 00:02:03 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149574 There is still need for better educational opportunities, housing, medical care, and everything that is extended to other citizens in the Caribbean. Credit: Bigstock

There is still need for better educational opportunities, housing, medical care, and everything that is extended to other citizens in the Caribbean. Credit: Bigstock

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Mar 23 2017 (IPS)

Visually impaired Kerryn Gunness is excited about the possibilities offered by a new free app that would serve as his eyes and enable people like him to enjoy greater independence.

The Personal Universal Communicator (PUC) app is part of a new generation of cheaper assistive technologies making their way onto the market which allow people with disabilities to use technology that was formerly too expensive, but provided them with greater independence."We want to ensure that our citizens are able to make effective use of technology to transform their lives. People with disabilities are part of that." --CTU Secretary General Bernadette Lewis.

Gunness had the opportunity to do a test run of the app with its accompanying Internet-based Video Assistance Service (VAS) as part of a pilot project being launched by the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), under the umbrella of its ICT for People with Disabilities initiative. Regional statistics suggest that about five per cent of the populations in the Caribbean have a disability.

With this app, Gunness said, “I am able to be independent, manage my affairs, feel comfortable just like my sighted peers.”

Consultant to the CTU, Trevor Prevatt, explained to IPS, “The service is a VAS. It is built on the capability of your smart phone. You have medication to take, you can call [the service’s] agent who will tell you ‘Okay, hold up the bottle’. You put your phone on it and the agent will be the eyes for the person.”

“If a hearing person wants to communicate with a deaf person, she calls the agent who will sign or text or transcribe what you are saying to the deaf person.”

Assistive technologies definitely make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities, who would otherwise enjoy almost no independence, says Roseanna Tudor, Operations Manager at the Barbados Council for the Disabled (BCD). She described the cost of those technologies as “prohibitive”.

However, as communications technology continues to evolve, the CTU is seeking to harness the opportunities presented by this new generation of technology to increase the independence of people with disabilities.

“The technical revolution has precipitated convergence of formally distinct disciplines…if we are going to exploit the full potential of technology, we have to deal with all sectors of our national community….We want to ensure that our citizens are able to make effective use of technology to transform their lives. People with disabilities are part of that,” said CTU Secretary General, Bernadette Lewis.

For this reason, the CTU launched its series of ICT for People with Disabilities workshops, beginning in Jamaica in 2013, “to raise awareness of the ICT tools that are readily available for people with disabilities.”

Prevatt said, “The basis of the Caribbean Video Assistance Service (CVAS) is really a video relay service that has existed abroad for quite some time but it has been an expensive proposition; you needed proprietary equipment. The technology has changed so radically that you just download an app now and you access the service.”

Lewis explained that a pilot project will be conducted by the CTU “to collect as much data as we can. Based on the information from the pilot we will determine the best way to roll out the CVAS.” She explained that there is a lot of data available on the service which is based on proprietary equipment, but very little for the free service based on the app.

Among the information the pilot project would seek to capture is whether an agent from one country would be able to interpret correctly what a deaf person from another country is saying so as to relay it correctly, given differences in local vernacular in each island. Because of resource limitations, the service would start with an agent in Trinidad and Tobago, the home base of the CTU.

The cost of the service to the visually or hearing impaired would be the cost of using the Internet, Prevatt said.

However, the CTU is in negotiations with network operators to route the calls from other islands to the VAS centre in such a way that they do not incur international charges, Lewis said. “The network operators are very enthusiastic about the service,” she added.

She described regional governments as being “gung-ho” about the service and expressing an interest in having it implemented in their countries.

The CTU’s members are regional governments. “And governments have obligations to all of their citizens, so we are helping our members to fulfil their obligations to their citizens,” Lewis said.

Barbados, like Trinidad and Tobago, has signed the convention on the rights of the disabled. However, equality in all areas of life remains a work in progress for the disabled community in both countries.

Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, states that: “States Parties to this Convention recognize the equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community, with choices equal to others, and shall take effective and appropriate measures to facilitate full enjoyment by persons with disabilities of this right and
their full inclusion and participation in the community…”

Forty-eight-year-old Rose-Ann Foster-Vaughan, Administrative Project Officer with the BCD, said while Barbados is making strides towards those objectives, there was still need for “better educational opportunities, housing, medical care; everything that is extended to other citizens.”

Foster-Vaughan, who lives with cerebral palsy, drew attention to the BCD’s efforts to have legislation passed that would ensure designated parking areas for the disabled. “We had a petition of over 12,000 signatures to take to the Parliament to legislate it. We have not heard anything in over a year.”

Tudor explained that the parking legislation has been awaiting approval by the Barbados Parliament for more than 10 years.

Employment continues to present particular challenges for people with disabilities. The 2012 Social Panorama report, by Economic Commission of Latin America and the Caribbean, states that while “The census data available for 18 Latin American and Caribbean countries show that type of disability has a considerable impact on the economic activity undertaken by persons with disabilities.”

Nevertheless, “In all cases, the percentage of persons aged 15 and over with one or more forms of disability who are economically active is much lower than the percentage for persons without any disabilities.”

Gunness thinks the CVAS would greatly enhance the job prospects of people with disabilities. “The service would put you on a par with your sighted counterparts. It would add and enhance what we are hoping for,” he said.

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Fishing Villages Work for Food Security in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/fishing-villages-work-for-food-security-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fishing-villages-work-for-food-security-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/fishing-villages-work-for-food-security-in-el-salvador/#comments Mon, 20 Mar 2017 20:17:45 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149499 Rosa Herrera returns to the village after spending the morning digging for clams in the mangroves that border Isla de Méndez in Jiquilisco bay, in the southeastern department of Usulután. The struggle to put food on the table is constant in fishing villages in El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Rosa Herrera returns to the village after spending the morning digging for clams in the mangroves that border Isla de Méndez in Jiquilisco bay, in the southeastern department of Usulután. The struggle to put food on the table is constant in fishing villages in El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
ISLA DE MÉNDEZ, El Salvador, Mar 20 2017 (IPS)

After an exhausting morning digging clams out of the mud of the mangroves, Rosa Herrera, her face tanned by the sun, arrives at this beach in southeastern El Salvador on board the motorboat Topacio, carrying her yield on her shoulders.

For her morning’s catch – 126 Andara tuberculosa clams, known locally as “curiles”, in great demand in El Salvador – she was paid 5.65 dollars by the Manglarón Cooperative, of which she is a member.

“Today it went pretty well,” she told IPS. “Sometimes it doesn’t and we earn just two or three dollars,” said the 49-year-old Salvadoran woman, who has been harvesting clams since she was 10 in these mangroves in the bay of Jiquilisco, near Isla de Méndez, the village of 500 families where she lives in the southeastern department of Usulután.“I have left my life in the mangroves, I was not able to go to school to learn to read and write, but I am happy that I have provided an education for all my children, thanks to the clams.” -- Rosa Herrera

Isla de Méndez is a village located on a peninsula, bordered to the south by the Pacific ocean, and to the north by the bay. Life has not been easy there in recent months.

Fishing and harvesting of shellfish, the main sources of food and income here, have been hit hard by environmental factors and by gang violence, a problem which has put this country on the list of the most violent nations in the world.

For fear of the constant raids by gangs, the fishers shortened their working hours, particularly in the night time.

“We were afraid, so nobody would go out at night, and fishing this time of year is better at night, but that is now changing a little,“ said Berfalia de Jesús Chávez, one of the founding members of the Las Gaviotas Cooperative, created in 1991 and made up of 43 women.

But the gang was dismantled and, little by little, life is returning to normal, said the local people interviewed by IPS during a two-day stay in the village.

“Climate change has also reduced the fish catch, as have the la Niña and el Niño climate phenomena,” said María Teresa Martínez, the head of the cooperative, who added however that fishing has always had periods of prosperity and scarcity.

Ofilio Herrera (L) buys a kilo of fish freshly caught by Álvaro Eliseo Cruz off the coast of Isla de Méndez, a fishing village in southeastern El Salvador. Cruz caught 15 kilos of fish this day, including red porgy and mojarras, which he uses to sell in the market and feed his family. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Ofilio Herrera (L) buys a kilo of fish freshly caught by Álvaro Eliseo Cruz off the coast of Isla de Méndez, a fishing village in southeastern El Salvador. Cruz caught 15 kilos of fish this day, including red porgy and mojarras, which he uses to sell in the market and feed his family. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The women in Las Gaviotas are making an effort to repair their three canoes and their nets to start fishing again, a real challenge when a good part of the productive activity has also been affected by the violence.

Fishing and selling food to tourists, in a small restaurant on the bay, are the cooperative’s main activities. But at the moment the women are forced to buy the seafood to be able to cater to the few visitors who arrive at the village.

Sea turtle project suspended due to lack of funds

Another project that was carried out in Isla de Méndez but has now been suspended was aimed at preserving sea turtles, ensuring the reproduction of the species and providing an income to the gatherers of turtle eggs.

All four species that visit El Salvador nest in Jiquilisco bay: the hawkbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), leatherback or lute (Dermochelis coriácea), olive or Pacific ridley (Lepidochelys olivácea) and Galápagos green turtle (Chelonia agassizii).

In 2005, this bay, with the biggest stretch of mangroves in the country, was included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, and in 2007 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) declared it the Xiriualtique – Jiquilisco Biosphere Reserve.

The gatherers were paid 2.5 dollars for 10 turtle eggs, which were buried in nests until they hatched. The hatchlings were then released into the sea.

But the project was cancelled due to a lack of funds, from a private environmental institution, to pay the “turtlers”.

“Our hope is that some other institution will help us to continue the project,” said Ernesto Zavala, from the local Sea Turtle Association. To this septuagenarian, it is of vital importance to get the programme going again, because “those of us who cannot fish or harvest clams can collect turtle eggs.”

“Now tourists are beginning to come again,” said a local resident who preferred not to give his name, who had to close his restaurant due to extortion from the gangs. Only recently did he pluck up the courage to reopen his small business.

“Before, at this time, around noon, all those tables would have been full of tourists,” he said, pointing to the empty tables at his restaurant.

In Isla de Méndez, each day is a constant struggle to put food on the table, as it is for rural families in this Central American country of 6.3 million people.

According to the report “Food and Nutrition Security: a path towards human development”, published in Spanish in July 2016 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the prevalence of undernourishment – food intake insufficient to meet dietary energy requirements – in El Salvador stands at 12.4 percent of the population.

The United Nations are still defining the targets to be achieved within the Sustainable Development Goals, but in the case of El Salvador this prevalence should at least be cut in half, Emilia González, representative of programmes at the FAO office in El Salvador, told IPS.

“Sometimes we only manage to catch four little fishes for our family to eat, and nothing to sell, but there is always something to put on the table,” said María Antonia Guerrero, who belongs to the 37-member Cooperative Association of Fish Production.

“Sometimes what we catch does not even cover the cost of the gasoline we use,” she said.

Because of the cooperative’s limited equipment (just 10 boats and two motors), they can only go fishing two or three times a week. When fishing is good, she added, they can catch 40 dollars a week of fish.

The local fishers respect the environmental requirement to use a net that ensures the reproduction of the different species of fish.

“We do it to avoid killing the smallest fish, otherwise the species would be wiped out and we would have nothing to eat,” said Sandra Solís, another member of the cooperative.

González, of FAO, said one of the U.N.’s agency’s mandates is to strive for food and nutrition security for families, adding that only by empowering them in this process can their standard of living be improved.

“We have worked a great deal in these communities for families to be the managers of their own development,” she said.

In this community, efforts have been made to develop projects to produce organic compost and to treat solid waste, said Ofilio Herrera with the Community Development Association in Area 1.

More ambitious plans include setting up a processing plant for coconut milk and cashew nuts and cashew apples, he added.

Rosa Herrera, meanwhile, walks towards her house with a slight smile on her face, pleased with having earned enough to feed her daughter, her father and herself that day.

As a single mother, she is proud that she has been able to raise her seven children, six of whom no longer live at home, on her own.

“Because I had to work to get food I was not able to go to school. We were eight siblings; the younger ones studied, and the older ones worked. My father and mother were very poor, so the older of us worked to support the younger ones. Four of us did not learn to read and write. The others learned as adults, but I didn’t,” she said.

“I have left my life in the mangroves, I was not able to go to school to learn to read and write, but I am happy that I have provided an education for all my children, thanks to the clams,” she said.

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Argentina and UAE Agree to Strengthen Economic Tieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/argentina-and-uae-agree-to-strengthen-economic-ties/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentina-and-uae-agree-to-strengthen-economic-ties http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/argentina-and-uae-agree-to-strengthen-economic-ties/#comments Fri, 17 Mar 2017 23:01:25 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149473 Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra and her counterpart from the UAE, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, give a press conference after their working meeting in the foreign ministry in Buenos Aires. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra and her counterpart from the UAE, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, give a press conference after their working meeting in the foreign ministry in Buenos Aires. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Mar 17 2017 (IPS)

Argentina and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) agreed Friday Mar. 17 to explore the possibility of this South American country receiving investment from the Gulf nation, particularly tourism and health, while they pledged to strengthen bilateral relations and increase trade.

This was reported by Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra and her counterpart from the UAE, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, during the latter’s official visit to Buenos Aires.

The two ministers held a working meeting at the San Martin Palace, the headquarters of Argentina’s foreign ministry, then gave a brief press conference before having lunch with Argentine Vice President Gabriela Michetti.

“This week started and ended for us with the United Arab Emirates, which shows the importance that both countries put on this relationship and the shared interest in reinforcing our friendship,” Malcorra said.

She was referring to the visit to Argentina early this week by a high-level delegation from the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), considered the second-largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, headed by Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed al Nahyan, that came to learn about the present economic situation and business climate in the country.

The delegation was received in the Casa Rosada, the seat of the central government, by President Mauricio Macri. The members of the delegation also met with Malcorra, Michetti, the president of the Central Bank, Federico Sturzenegger, and the ministers of the treasury, finance and energy and mines.

In addition, they held meetings with business representatives from different sectors of the economy: oil, steel, agriculture, food, real estate, energy and finance, among others.

A broad UAE delegation headed by UAE Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Mohammed Sharaf also visited Argentina this week.

Malcorra wore black at Friday’s meeting to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Mar. 17, 1992 terrorist attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, which left 22 dead and dozens injured.

During the news briefing, Minister Al Nayhan expressed his solidarity referring to the incident and said he hoped nations “will work more effectively to put a stop to terrorism.”

He had a message of political support for President Macri, congratulating the government on its determination “to take the very brave steps it has been taking to ensure that Argentina becomes the country it deserves to be, generating openness, not only for tourists but also for investors and for its different partners and allies.”

Since Macri, of the centre-right Cambiemos alliance, took office in December 2015, one of his priorities has been to generate the conditions for drawing foreign investors to Argentina and improving the country’s access to global credit markets.

The measures he has taken to that end include an agreement to pay 4.65 billion dollars to holdout hedge funds, creditors that have been in conflict with Argentina since the late 2001 default declared in the midst of the severe economic crisis that led to the resignation of then president Fernando de la Rúa.

This is the second time that the UAE foreign minister has visited Buenos Aires since Macri became president. The first visit was in early February 2016, when the main aim was to meet the new authorities here.

In November 2016, an Argentine delegation headed by Vice President Michetti visited the UAE and held several meetings, with the aim of “attracting investment and generating jobs for our countries,” as the vice president stated at the time.

In the trade balance between the two countries Argentina – which mainly sells food to the Gulf nation – has a surplus of 133.6 million dollars.

“Although it is true that trade between our countries has not yet reached the levels that we would like, our presence will help it grow and will bring about a greater presence of the United Arab Emirates in terms of investment in Argentina. We have also been exploring opportunities to reach cooperation accords involving third parties, and we are optimistic,” said the Emirati foreign minister.

For her part, Malcorra referred to the sectors in which Argentina could receive investment from the UAE.

She especially mentioned “tourism, not only to draw a significant number of visitors from the Emirates, but also as an opportunity for investment in the hotel industry,” and “health, since the Emirates has become a model health centre, which draws people from the entire region; we are looking at the possibility of exchange and complementarity in this area.”

The Argentine minister also reported that a memorandum of understanding was signed regarding visas, “to facilitate the exchange between the two countries.”

During the visit, Malcorra gave Minister Al Nahyan a letter from Macri in which the president promised that Argentina would take part in the Expo 2020, the world fair to be held in Dubai between October 2020 and April 2021, which is expected to be visited by 25 million people, 70 percent of them from abroad.

The Emirati minister came to Argentina from Brazil, the other leg of his current South America tour, where he signed three agreements on Thursday Mar. 16 with his Brazilian host and counterpart, Aloysio Nunes. Al Nahyan will return from Buenos Aires to Brazil, where he will inaugurate the UAE consulate-general in São Paulo on Tuesday Mar. 21.

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Brazil and the UAE Determined to Explore New Bilateral Frontiershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/brazil-and-the-uae-determined-to-explore-new-bilateral-frontiers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazil-and-the-uae-determined-to-explore-new-bilateral-frontiers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/brazil-and-the-uae-determined-to-explore-new-bilateral-frontiers/#comments Thu, 16 Mar 2017 23:00:49 +0000 Doris Calderon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149459 The UAE’s foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan (2nd-L), and his Brazilian counterpart Aloysio Nunes (3rd-R) sign agreements in Itamaraty Palace, Brazil’s foreign ministry. Credit: Doris Calderón/IPS

The UAE’s foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan (2nd-L), and his Brazilian counterpart Aloysio Nunes (3rd-R) sign agreements in Itamaraty Palace, Brazil’s foreign ministry. Credit: Doris Calderón/IPS

By Doris Calderon
BRASILIA, Mar 16 2017 (IPS)

The foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, made his fifth visit to Brazil Thursday, Mar. 16, in search of new opportunities to exploit the enormous potential in relations between the two countries.

In statements to reporters in the Itamaraty Palace, the headquarters of Brazil’s foreign ministry, after a working meeting with his Brazilian counterpart Aloysio Nunes, Al Nayhan said he was “very pleased about the strengthening of ties of friendship between the two countries seen year by year.”

“There are great opportunities between the UAE and Brazil, not only in the economy and trade, but also in other sectors, like tourism. We are particularly interested in increasing the presence of Brazilian nationals in our country,” he added.

He said he was pleased that 60,000 Brazilians a year visit the UAE, making the Persian Gulf country the third destination for tourists from Latin America’s giant. “Brazil is opening up and finding new horizons in other parts of the world,” he said.

Al Nahyan, who has been foreign minister since 2006, commented that the Middle East currently finds itself in a complex moment, making it necessary to jointly take on challenges like fighting violence and terrorism.

Brazil’s foreign minister said they discussed a wide variety of questions on the regional and global agenda, as well as bilateral issues.

Nunes stressed that the latest visit by Al Nahyan, who also came to Brazil in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2014, “shows the high priority that the two countries put on bilateral relations and cooperation.”

The Brazilian official was referring to the mutual interest of the private sector in the two countries in long-term projects in strategic areas like infrastructure, industry and services, and to investment in Brazil by the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), considered the second-largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, worth nearly one trillion dollars.

The two ministers signed three bilateral accords during the meeting. Two of them were visa waiver agreements, and another involved the strengthening of air travel services between the two countries.

The UAE is home to the largest community of Brazilians in the Gulf: 4,500.

Al Nahyan’s agenda also included meetings with Brazilian President Michel Temer, Senate head Eunicio Oliveira, and the ministers of defence, Raul Jungmann, and industry, trade and services, Marcos Pereira.

The Emirati minister will visit Argentina on Friday Mar. 17, before returning to Brazil on Mar. 21, to participate in the inauguration of the new UAE consulate-general in São Paulo.

Relations between the two countries were formally established in 1974. The Brazilian Embassy in Abu Dhabi opened in 1978, and in 1991 the UAE opened its first embassy in Latin America, in Brasilia.

Ties grew stronger in recent years thanks to the number of visits by high-level Brazilian officials to the UAE: 31 ministers and 14 state governors since 2007, it was noted on Thursday.

The new emphasis on bilateral ties began in December 2003, with the visit to the UAE by then president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), at the head of a broad delegation of government officials and business leaders.

Ten years later, in 2013, then vice president Temer made an official visit to the Emirati cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Since 2008, the UAE haaçs become Brazil’s second-largest trading partner in the Middle East, after Saudi Arabia, in terms of bilateral trade.

The UAE is currently one of the biggest Middle Eastern importers of Brazilian goods, such as chicken, refined sugar, aluminum oxides and hydroxides, and cast-iron pipes.

Brazil imports from the UAE products like sulphur and electrical control panels and distribution boards.

More than 30 Brazilian companies have offices in the UAE, a business hub which re-exports products to third countries and large markets, such as Saudi Arabia, India, Iran and Pakistan.

Bilateral trade soared from 300 million dollars in 2000 to three billion dollars in 2015.

In 2014, the two nations reached a defence accord that included the exchange of technology, cooperation in military instruction and training, weapons, crisis management, and logistical support in United Nations peacekeeping missions.

It was the first treaty of its kind signed by Brazil with a Middle Eastern country.

A new phase has now been launched in the promotion of trade and the exchange of people to make Brazil the UAE’s main ally in Latin America.

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Caribbean Stakes Future on Climate-Smart Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/caribbean-stakes-future-on-climate-smart-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-stakes-future-on-climate-smart-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/caribbean-stakes-future-on-climate-smart-agriculture/#comments Thu, 16 Mar 2017 00:43:53 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149439 The massive rice industry in Guyana, which provides employment for at least 100,000 people, is just one area of the Caribbean’s agriculture sector under threat from climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The massive rice industry in Guyana, which provides employment for at least 100,000 people, is just one area of the Caribbean’s agriculture sector under threat from climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Mar 16 2017 (IPS)

As Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries continue to build on the momentum of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Marrakech in 2016, special emphasis is being placed on agriculture as outlined in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

The historic climate agreement was approved on Dec. 12, 2015 at COP21. INDCs is the term used under the UNFCCC for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that all countries which are party to the convention were asked to publish in the lead up to the conference.Nearly all of the countries in the Caribbean have experienced prolonged droughts, posing significant challenges to food production in one of the regions most vulnerable to climate change.

In their INDCs, the countries of CARICOM, a 15-member regional grouping, have prioritized adaptation in the agricultural sector, given the need to support food security.

They are now shifting their focus from climate planning to action and implementation. To this end, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) hosted a Caribbean Climate Smart Agriculture (CCSA) Forum here recently to raise awareness of best practices, by promoting and supporting climate change actions, while providing a space for dialogue among relevant actors and allowing them to discuss the challenges and successes of  Climate Smart Agriculture.

Climate Smart Agriculture has been identified as offering major wins for food security, adaptation and mitigation in the Caribbean.

“Agriculture is a priority sector,” Pankaj Bhatia, Deputy Director of the World Resource Institute’s Climate Programme, told participants.

As countries move forward with their plans, he recommended they participate in NDC Partnership, a global initiative to help countries achieve their national climate commitments and ensure financial and technical assistance is delivered as efficiently as possible.

“Much work still needs to be done by countries to create more detailed road maps, catalyse investment, and implement the plans to deliver on their climate commitments,” said Bhatia, who helps to manage one of the largest climate change projects of the World Resources Institute (WRI).

“It’s worth exploring the options and how the NDC Partnership can offer support,” Bhatia added.

As of February 2017, there were approximately 40 countries involved in the NDC Partnership, as well as intergovernmental and regional organizations such as the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), European Bank, the World Bank, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

A farmer manually irrigates a cornfield in Barbados. In recent years, nearly all of the countries in the Caribbean have been experiencing prolonged drought, posing significant challenges to food production in one of the regions most vulnerable to climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A farmer manually irrigates a cornfield in Barbados. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The major pillars of the Partnership to drive ambitious climate action include sharing knowledge and information and facilitating both technical and financial support, thus encouraging increased efficiency, accountability and effectiveness of support programmes.

The Partnership develops knowledge products that fill critical information gaps and disseminates them through a knowledge sharing portal.

Another speaker, Climate Change Specialist in the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Climate Change Office, John Furlow, emphasized the importance of participation from multiple sectors in the process of creating Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAPs), using Jamaica as a case study for how this was done effectively.

“In 2012, the then prime minister of Jamaica asked USAID to help Jamaica develop a national climate policy. Rather than starting with climate impacts, we wanted to start with what Jamaica defined as important to them,” Furlow explained.

“The national outcomes in the vision document listed agriculture, manufacturing, mining and quarrying, construction, creative industries, sport, information and communication technology, services and tourism.

“So, we wanted to bring in the actors responsible for those economic sectors for discussion on how they would address climate and hazard risk reduction in a national policy,” he added.

Furlow continued that the goal is to get climate change out of the environment ministry and into the ministries responsible for the sectors that are going to be affected.

This, he said, has the potential of putting developing countries in the driver’s seat in locating “multiple sources of funding – domestic, bilateral aid funding and multi-lateral aid funding” – so countries can take a role in what’s going on within their borders.

The Climate Change Policy Framework for Jamaica outlines the strategies that the country will employ in order to effectively respond to the impacts and challenges of climate change, through measures which are appropriate for varying scales and magnitudes of climate change impacts.

It states that relevant sectors will be required to develop or update, as appropriate, plans addressing climate change adaptation and/or mitigation.

Within the Policy Framework there are also Special Initiatives based on new and existing programmes and activities which will be prioritized for early implementation.

Each year the Caribbean imports 5 billion dollars worth of food and climate change represents a clear and growing threat to its food security with differing rainfall patterns, water scarcity, heat stress and increased climatic variability making it difficult for farmers to meet demand for crops and livestock.

In recent years, nearly all of the countries in the Caribbean have been experiencing prolonged drought, posing significant challenges to food production in one of the regions most vulnerable to climate change.

Organizers of the CCSA Forum say there are many common agriculture-related topics in the NDCs of the English-speaking Caribbean countries, including conservation and forestry, water harvesting and storage, and improved agricultural policies.

All but one of the Caribbean countries included the issue of agriculture in their respective INDC. The sector is addressed in the INDCs with the priority being on adaptation. However, more than half of the countries also included conditional mitigation targets that directly or indirectly relate to agriculture.

The commitments made by all the countries denote the priority of the sector in the region’s development goals and the need to channel technical and financial support for the sector.

IICA said agriculture also has great potential to achieve the integration of mitigation and adaptation approaches into policies, strategies and programmes.

It also noted that the commitments made by each country, both through the Paris Agreement and in their respective INDCs, provide a solid foundation for tackling the global challenge of climate change with concrete actions keyed to national contexts and priorities.

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Books: A Writer Speaks of Childhood Spent During a “Dirty War”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/books-a-writer-speaks-of-childhood-spent-during-a-dirty-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=books-a-writer-speaks-of-childhood-spent-during-a-dirty-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/books-a-writer-speaks-of-childhood-spent-during-a-dirty-war/#comments Tue, 14 Mar 2017 13:03:45 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149399 Laura Alcoba. Credit: F. Mantovani - Editions Gallimard

Laura Alcoba. Credit: F. Mantovani - Editions Gallimard

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Mar 14 2017 (IPS)

Laura Alcoba is an Argentine-born writer and translator who lives in Paris, France. Her first book, Manèges (The Rabbit House), described Argentina’s “Dirty War” of the 1970s from a child’s perspective, when even the very young knew what could happen “if your political sympathies drew the attention of the dictatorial military regime”. Thousands were killed, tortured, and abducted, and many names remain among “los desaparecidos”.

In the powerful and widely acclaimed memoir, readers see events through the eyes of the young Alcoba, whose father is imprisoned, forcing her and her mother to live in hiding with other members of the resistance movement.

Alcoba followed this affecting story with Le bleu des abeilles (The Blue of the Bees), which recounts her move to Europe to join her mother who had been granted refuge in France. At the age of ten, the author discovered a new country and language, and the book depicts a child’s experiences with living in exile, even as her father remained imprisoned “at home”.

This year Alcoba has published La Danse de l’Araignée (The Dance of the Spider / Gallimard Press), her fifth book and the latest in the trilogy of memoirs. In the following interview, she speaks with Jamaican writer Alecia McKenzie (an IPS correspondent) about her new work, her natal country, and her life in France as an author. (The interview is translated from French.)

McKenzie: How would you describe La Danse de l’Araignée? What can readers expect?

Alcoba: In La Danse de l’Araignée, the 12-year-old narrator lives with her mother and a friend of her mother named Amalia, in France, on the outskirts of Paris. These two women and the young girl are Argentine refugees. The story takes place at the beginning of the 1980s. The narrator in the book is on the threshold of adolescence and all the The past resonates in us and around us. You cannot turn your back. When it is painful, when it brings wounds, to ignore the past could be toxic, even very dangerous sometimes.
changes it brings – anxiety and dreams. Her head is also full of the correspondence that she has with her father, a political prisoner in Argentina. Despite the separation and the physical absence, the father is very much present thanks to the epistolary exchange. In one of his letters, he speaks to her of a spider that could serve as a pet, as a companion. A huge spider, a hairy tarantula, which makes her dream.  But how can a man play his role as a father even when he’s absent? In La Danse de l’Araignée, the challenges and obstacles are so many: distance, the prison where her father is, censorship (the letters are read by the prison administration and have to pass certain controls to enter or leave the prison). However, the narrator and her father manage to speak with each other, and the father/daughter relationship becomes a reality.

A.M.: Why have you told your story as a trilogy, rather than as a one-volume memoir?

L.A.: I didn’t set out to write a trilogy.  These three books came one after the other. A few years following the publication of Manèges (The Rabbit House), it seemed to me that the little girl who narrated the story in my first book – about her life under dictatorship in a house where there was a printing press behind a rabbit-breeding enterprise – should regain the words. To speak of exile, this time, and also the way in which an absent person could be at the centre of a child’s existence:  that’s what I did with Le Bleu des abeilles, where I evoked the correspondence that I maintained for a long time with my father. We wrote once a week to each other for two and a half years.

But after the publication of this book, I realized that the little girl hadn’t said everything there was to say. I felt that she needed to continue her story. Something important happens in La Danse de l’Araignée.  My latest book marks the end of the narrator’s exile: it’s after what is recounted here that she can fully put down roots in her new country. Furthermore, the age of the narrator in La Danse de l’Araignée particularly interests me. This age when one is between two worlds:  that of a child and that of burgeoning adulthood.

A.M.:  In The Rabbit House, you began the prologue by noting that you thought you would write this story only when you were very old, but then one day you “couldn’t bear to wait any longer”. How did this day come about? What made you begin to “remember the past in much more detail”?

L.A.: In my first book, I recount a very painful period, under the Argentine dictatorship. A tragic story where several people lost their lives and in which a mother and her daughter are separated: Diana Teruggi and Clara Anahí Mariani. Diana Teruggi was assassinated in November 1976, and her daughter, who was then a baby of three months, was carried off by soldiers. As a child, I lived with my mother in the house of Diana Teruggi and her husband, before these events. Diana was then pregnant. The army was looking for my mother. We had to hide…

I remember very well what we lived through in this house, where several people lost their lives in a tragic way after our departure. For a long time, I had wanted to write about these events. I told myself that if I wanted to become a writer, I needed to find the courage to begin with this. That this story and no other had to be the first stone. But I couldn’t stop saying “later”. Still, I felt a sense of urgency at a certain moment. I had to write, immediately. I

Alcoba's lastest book (Gallimard)

Alcoba’s lastest book (Gallimard)

think the birth of my daughter can explain this feeling. I started writing my first book at the moment that my daughter reached exactly the same age that Clara Anahi was when her mother was assassinated. That, without doubt, contributed to a sort of closeness between Diana and myself, and the memory of Diana came alive. Suddenly I could see her again. Her beauty, her smile, her strength. It was necessary to save a trace of all that, which I could give to others in writing this book.

A.M.:  The events are all portrayed with gripping clarity and intensity in the books. How do you balance “truth” and “memory” as a writer?

L.A.: I tried to bring up all the images from memory (the visual dimension is very important in my writing – it’s always the starting point).  Using these images, I look for the child that I was, and especially her voice. But this voice is that of a character. It’s not me remembering myself from the present. It’s the child who speaks – a child that I no longer am, a child who has to be a creation since she speaks in the present for herself.  But this child, I look for her and I create her through the images of the past that I manage to bring to light. There can of course be some distortions. My books are not testimonies. I see them as the result of a sort of quest.

The intensity with which children and adolescents live in relationship to the world is very special. For them, everything is new, everything is discovery.  I think that the intensity comes from my making a child speak, that I try to give form to the past from this point of view, from this «distance ».

A.M.: Yet, how much of your books is bearing witness, so that atrocities committed are not forgotten?

L.A.: The past resonates in us and around us. You cannot turn your back. When it is painful, when it brings wounds, to ignore the past could be toxic, even very dangerous sometimes. All my writing speaks of this, I think.  But if you have to give the hurtful past its place, if you have to listen to it and draw lessons from it, this is also to free yourself from it.

A.M.: You write in French, but you translate books from Spanish. How do you relate to the two languages?

I really need these two languages, which I love deeply. I pass from one to the other ceaselessly. I love translating. But for my literary work, it’s French that comes most naturally. Perhaps because Spanish is tied to fear, as I was growing up. When I was a child, during the Argentine dictatorship, it happened often that I didn’t know what I could say and what I had to keep hidden. So I preferred to keep quiet, it was wiser. It’s because of this that, although I dearly love my maternal language, I’m very grateful for French, very happy of the freedom that I’ve found using it.

A.M.: How have the books been received in Argentina, and in Latin America generally?

L.A.: In Argentina, my books have been received with a lot of warmth and sympathy. Each week, I receive messages from readers, often young people. The reception to the books in Spain, Latin America and particularly Argentina has really touched me.

A.M.: What’s next for you as a writer?

L.A.: I’m currently writing a book that requires a lot of research and which I hope to finish in a year. But perhaps it will take two more years. It’s a story that occurs between Latin America and Europe. For this novel, I’m working on a true story that requires me to consult many books and to call on others for their memories.

Laura Alcoba and other writers from Latin America and the Caribbean will discuss their work at the Maison de l’Amerique Latine in Paris on March 15, 2017.

This piece was originally published on the culture site SWAN

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SPARKS Plugs Gap in Caribbean Climate Researchhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/sparks-plugs-gap-in-caribbean-climate-research/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sparks-plugs-gap-in-caribbean-climate-research http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/sparks-plugs-gap-in-caribbean-climate-research/#comments Sat, 11 Mar 2017 00:06:07 +0000 Zadie Neufville http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149365 Big data is used by scientists in the Caribbean to forecast drought conditions for farmers and other farming interests. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

Big data is used by scientists in the Caribbean to forecast drought conditions for farmers and other farming interests. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

By Zadie Neufville
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Mar 11 2017 (IPS)

On Nov. 30 last year, a new high-performance ‘Super Computer’ was installed at the University of the West Indies (UWI) during climate change week. Dubbed SPARKS – short for the Scientific Platform for Applied Research and Knowledge Sharing – the computer is already churning out the ‘big data’ Caribbean small island states (SIDS) need to accurately forecast and mitigate the effects of climate change on the region.

Experts are preparing the Caribbean to mitigate the devastating impacts – rising seas, longer dry spells, more extreme rainfall and potentially higher impact tropical cyclones – associated with climate change. The impacts are expected to decimate the economies of the developing states and many small island states, reversing progress and exacerbating poverty. Observers say the signs are already here.The system will help scientists to "better evaluate potential risk and impacts and effectively mitigate those risks as we build more resilient infrastructure." --UWI Professor Archibald Gordon

Before SPARKS, regional scientists struggled to produce the kinds of credible data needed for long-term climate projections. Only a few months ago, UWI’s lack of data processing capacity restricted researchers to a single data run at a time, said Jay Campbell, research fellow at the climate research group . Each data run would take up to six months due to the limited storage capacity and lack of redundancy, he said noting: “If anything went wrong, we simply had to start over.”

Immediately, SPARKS answered the need for the collection, analysis, modelling, storage, access and dissemination of climate information in the Caribbean. Over the long term, climate researchers will be able to produce even more accurate and reliable climate projections at higher spatial resolutions to facilitate among other things, the piloting and scaling up of innovative climate resilient initiatives.

So, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) produces its next global assessment report in 2018, there will be much more information from the Caribbean, making SPARKS a critical tool in the region’s fight against climate change.

Not only has the new computer – described as one of the fastest in the Caribbean – boosted the region’s climate research capabilities by plugging the gaping hole in regional climate research, UWI Mona’s principal Professor Archibald Gordon said, “It should help regional leaders make better decisions in their responses and adaptation strategies to mitigate the impact of climate change”.

The experts underscore the need for “big data” to provide the information they need to improve climate forecasting in the short, medium and long term. Now, they have the capacity and the ability to complete data runs that usually take six months, in just over two days.

The system will help scientists to better “evaluate potential risk and impacts and effectively mitigate those risks as we build more resilient infrastructure,” Gordon said.

As the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) reported in June 2016 as “the 14th consecutive month of record heat for land and oceans; and the 378th consecutive month with temperatures above the 20th century average,” regional scientists have committed to proving information to guide Caribbean governments on the actions they need to lessen the impact of climate change.

The region has consistently sought to build its capacity to provide accurate and consistent climate data. Efforts were ramped up after a September 2013 ‘rapid climate analysis’ in the Eastern Caribbean identified what was described as “a number of climate change vulnerabilities and constraints to effective adaptation”.

The USAID study identified among other things “the lack of accurate and consistent climate data to understand climate changes, predict impacts and plan adaptation measures”. To address the challenges, the WMO and the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH), with funding from USAID, established the Regional Climate Centre in Barbados.

The launch of the new computer is yet another step in overcoming the constraints. It took place during a meeting of the IPCC at UWI’s regional headquarters at Mona – significant because it signalled to the international grouping that the Caribbean was now ready and able to produce the big data needed for the upcoming 2018 report.

Head of the Caribbean Climate Group Professor Michael Taylor explained in an interview that the credibility and accuracy of climate data require fast computer processing speeds, fast turn-around times as well as the ability to run multiple data sets at higher resolution to produce information that regional decision-makers need.

“Climate research and downscaling methods will no longer be limited to the hardware and software,” he said, trying but failing to contain his excitement.

SPARKS also puts Jamaica and the UWI way ahead of their counterparts in the English-speaking Caribbean and on par with some of the leading institutions in the developed world. This improvement in computing capacity is an asset for attracting more high-level staff and attracting students from outside the region. Crucially, it aids the university’s push to establish itself as a leading research-based institution and a world leader in medicinal marijuana research.

“This opens up the research capability, an area the university has not done in the past. Before now, the processing of big data could only be done with partners overseas,” Professor Taylor said.

Aside from its importance to crunching climate data for the IPCC reports, SPARKS is revolutionising DNA sequencing, medicinal, biological and other data driven research being undertaken at the University. More importantly, UWI researchers agree that a supercomputer is bringing together the agencies at the forefront of the regional climate fight.

What is clear, SPARKS is a “game-changer and a big deal” for climate research at the regional level and for UWI’s research community.

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Bolivia Passes Controversial New Bill Expanding Legal Coca Productionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/bolivia-passes-controversial-new-bill-expanding-legal-coca-production/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bolivia-passes-controversial-new-bill-expanding-legal-coca-production http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/bolivia-passes-controversial-new-bill-expanding-legal-coca-production/#comments Thu, 09 Mar 2017 01:23:05 +0000 Franz Chavez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149340 Coca leaf growers from the traditional region of Yungas, in northwest Bolivia, surround the legislature in the city of La Paz, demanding an expansion of the legal cultivation area by the new law. Credit: Franz Chávez.

Coca leaf growers from the traditional region of Yungas, in northwest Bolivia, surround the legislature in the city of La Paz, demanding an expansion of the legal cultivation area by the new law. Credit: Franz Chávez.

By Franz Chávez
LA PAZ, Mar 9 2017 (IPS)

A new bill in Bolivia, which will allow the amount of land allocated to producing coca to be increased from 12,000 to 22,000 hectares, modifying a nearly three-decade coca production policy, has led to warnings from independent voices and the opposition that the measure could fuel drug trafficking.

Since 1988, the amount of land authorised for growing coca has been 12,000 hectares, according to Law 1,008 of the Regulation of Coca and Controlled Substances, which is line with the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

This United Nations Convention pointed the way to a phasing-out of the traditional practice among indigenous peoples in the Andean region of chewing coca leaves, which was encouraged during the Spanish colonial period, when the native population depended heavily on coca leaves for energy as they were forced to extract minerals from deep mine pits.

But the traditional use of coca leaves instead grew in Bolivia. According to the president of the lower house of Congress, Gabriela Montaño, some 3.3 million of the country’s 11 million people currently use coca in traditional fashion.

Citing these figures, lawmakers passed the new General Law on Coca on Feb. 24. The bill is now awaiting President Evo Morales’ signature.“This law is making available to the drug trafficking trade more than 11,000 metric tons of coca leaves per year, the average yield from the 8,000 hectares which the law grants to producers.” – Public letter signed by local intellectuals.

Morales originally rose to prominence as the leader of the seven unions of coca leaf growers in the central region of Chapare, in the department of Cochabamba, fighting against several conservative governments that wanted to eradicate coca cultivation, in accordance with Law 1,008 and the U.N. Convention.

The law had enabled the anti-drug forces, financed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), to wage an all-out war against coca cultivation. The struggle against the law catapulted Morales as a popular figure and later as a politician and the country’s first indigenous president, in January 2006.

Montaño estimates that annual production amounts to 30,900 metric tons, 24,785 of which are used for medicinal purposes, in infusions or rituals, she said.

The remaining 6,115 tons are processed into products, or used for research and export, she said.

Assessing compliance with the 1961 Convention, medical doctor and researcher Franklin Alcaraz told IPS that in South America, only Ecuador has managed to eradicate the practice of chewing coca leaves.

On Feb. 28, some fifty intellectuals signed a public letter titled: “Public Rejection of the General Law on Coca”, which stated that “this law is making available to the drug trafficking trade more than 11,000 metric tons of coca leaves per year, the average yield from the 8,000 hectares which the law grants to producers.”

Bolivia was one of the 73 signatory countries to the 1961 Convention where clause “e” of article 49 declared that the practice of chewing coca leaves would be banned within 25 years of the (1964) implementation of the accord.

In January 2013, Bolivia recovered the right to practice traditional coca chewing, when it won a special exemption to the 1961 Convention. Its request was only voted against by 15 of the 183 members of the U.N., including Germany, Japan, Mexico, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Wives of coca leaf farmers from Yungas during a vigil at the gates of the La Paz police station, where dozens of leaders were taken, accused of inciting disturbance during the demonstrations held to demand an expansion of the legal cultivation area in their region in northwest Bolivia. Credit: Franz Chávez.


Wives of coca leaf farmers from Yungas during a vigil at the gates of the La Paz police station, where dozens of leaders were taken, accused of inciting disturbance during the demonstrations held to demand an expansion of the legal cultivation area in their region in northwest Bolivia. Credit: Franz Chávez.

In a January 2014 communique, the representative of the United Nations Office On Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonino De Leo, stated that the exemption “only applies to the national territory.”

The new bill repeals the first 31 articles of the 1988 law and legalises 22,000 hectares for cultivation – 10,000 more than before.

In practice, the new legal growing area is just slightly larger than the 20,200 hectares of coca which UNODC counted in 2015, according to its July 2016 report on the country.

President Morales has defended the increase in the legal cultivation area and reiterated his interest in carrying out an old project for the industrialisation of coca leaves.

On Feb. 28, Morales expressed his support for the new bill and accused conservative governments of supporting the demonisation and criminalisation of coca leaf chewing at an international level.

Montaño said that in 2006, when Morales first took office, 17,000 hectares of coca were grown in the Chapare region. Ten years later, UNODC registered only 6,000 hectares devoted to coca production.

She said that under Morales, the reduction of coca crops has been negotiated and without violence, in contrast to the repression by conservative governments that generated “blood and mourning”.

Before Congress passed the law, coca producers from the semitropical region of Yungas, in the department of La Paz, held violent protests in the capital.

Between Feb. 17 and Feb. 23, hundreds of demonstrators surrounded Murillo square in La Paz, where the main buildings of the executive and legislative branches are located, demanding 300 additional hectares, on top of the 14,000 presently dedicated to coca in Yungas.

There are an estimated 33,000 coca farmers in Yungas, and 45,000 in Chapare.

In the midst of clashes with the police, destruction of public property and the arrest of at least 143 organisers, talks were held with the government, which ended up giving in to the demands.

The settlement also granted growers in the Chapare region an additional 1,700 hectares, on top of the 6,000 currently registered and monitored by UNODC.

Political analyst Julio Aliaga told IPS that traditional use of coca leaves only requires 6,000 hectares, rather than the 22,000 hectares that the government of the leftist Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) is about to legalise.

This figure of 6,000 hectares is drawn from a European Union study on demand for coca leaves in Bolivia for infusions, chewing or in rituals. This study was not mentioned by the authorities or MAS legislators.

“Bolivia has a large surplus of coca which goes toward drug trafficking. The cocaine ends up in Africa, Europe and Russia, and the new colossal market of China,” Aliaga said.

Samuel Doria Medina, the leader of the opposition centre-left National Unity (UN), questioned the 80 per cent expansion of the lawful cultivation area and told IPS that the measure is “a clear sign of an interest in increasing the production of narcotic drugs.“

“The new policy will be indefensible before multilateral drug control agencies,“ since the UNODC certified that “94 per cent of the coca production from Chapare goes toward the production of cocaine,” he said.

In his opinion, the new law provides an incentive for the drug trafficking mafias to sell drugs in Bolivia, “with the well-known violence that this business entails.”

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Unemployment and the Informal Economy – Key Challenges for Women in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/unemployment-and-the-informal-economy-key-challenges-for-women-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unemployment-and-the-informal-economy-key-challenges-for-women-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/unemployment-and-the-informal-economy-key-challenges-for-women-in-latin-america/#comments Mon, 06 Mar 2017 07:54:57 +0000 Jose Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149266 Two women working in a textile plant in the capital of Colombia. Nearly half of women of working age in Latin America and the Caribbean, 126 million, form part of the labour force. But they face a growing rate of unemployment, which could climb above 10 percent this year, a level not seen in two decades. Credit: J. Bayona/OIT

Two women working in a textile plant in the capital of Colombia. Nearly half of women of working age in Latin America and the Caribbean, 126 million, form part of the labour force. But they face a growing rate of unemployment, which could climb above 10 percent this year, a level not seen in two decades. Credit: J. Bayona/OIT

By Jose Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs
LIMA, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

The participation of women in the labour market in Latin America and the Caribbean has steadily grown over the last few decades. But in 2017, as unemployment and informal work are on the rise, there is a continued need to push hard for gender equality in order to create more and better employment for the 255 million women of working age in this region.

Almost half of these women, 126 million, are already part of the labour force – a very important achievement that took many years to reach. Once more, however, it must be stressed that we cannot let down our guard.

Over the past year, as the wave of slow growth and in some cases of economic contraction which struck the region impacted on the labour market, generating a sharp rise in unemployment and also a decline in the quality of employment with respect to some indicators, it has become evident that this situation affects women to a larger extent.

The regional average unemployment rate for women shot up to levels not seen for over a decade in Latin America and the Caribbean, to 9.8 per cent – on the brink of two digits. If projections of slow economic growth for this year prove correct, the average rate could climb above 10 per cent in 2017.

José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, ILO regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: ILO

José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, ILO regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: ILO

The unemployment rate for women grew 1.6 percentage points, compared to 1.3 percentage points for men. Of the five million people who joined the ranks of the unemployed, 2.3 million were women. This means that about 12 million women are actively looking for work, without success..

The participation of women in the labour force has continued to expand over the last year. At a national level (rural+urban), women’s participation has gone from 49.3 per cent to 49.7 per cent. An increase is always good news. However, it still remains well below the participation of men, which is 74.6 per cent.

The downside was that the demand for labour fell from 45.2 to 44.9 per cent in the case of women. It also dropped in the case of men, although the level remains much higher, at 69.3 per cent.
The latest ILO (International Labour Organisation) Labour Overview of Latin America and the Caribbean also noted that the decline in economic activity has been reflected in a drop in the number of wage-earners, a rise in the number of self-employed workers, and a decrease in formal sector wages, all of which are signs of an increase in labour informality.

The most recent estimates available regarding informality among women indicate that almost half of the female labour force works under these conditions, which generally mean labour instability, low incomes, and a lack of protection and rights.

Several aspects to be taken into account when analysing women’s labour participation have been identified, such as the fact that about 70 per cent of women who work do so in the retail trade and services sector, often in precarious conditions, for example, without contracts.

In addition, 17 million women in the region work as domestics. Women make up 90 per cent of domestic workers. In this sector, the levels of informality are still very high, around 70 per cent.

This description of the characteristics of women’s insertion in the labour market would not be complete without pointing out a notable aspect mentioned by the regional report on “Decent work and gender equality” by several United Nations agencies presented in 2013: in this region, 53.7 per cent of female workers have more than ten years of formal education, in contrast to just 40.4 per cent of men.

Moreover, 22.8 per cent of women in the labour force have tertiary education (complete or incomplete), by comparison to 16.2 per cent of men.

However, this does not prevent the persistence of a significant wage gap. A report by ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) noted that in 2016, according to available data, women earned 83.9 per cent of what men earned in similar jobs. The gap is still wider among men and women with higher educational levels.

These figures should serve as a wake-up call.

This issue is already part of the sustainable development goals set for all countries in the 2030 Agenda. Particularly, in Goal #5: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”, and is key for Goal #8 on economic growth and decent work. For the ILO, gender equality is a cross-cutting objective, present in all its activities.

We are facing a structural challenge, which must involve economic, social, and, as we know, cultural changes as well. It is necessary for governments as well as social actors to make the achievement of greater equality between men and women a top priority.

Formulas have to be sought to improve women’s productivity, stimulating their participation in more dynamic sectors, of medium to high productivity, while at the same time identifying the causes of labour market segregation.

To continue advancing towards equality in the labour market, it is necessary to resort to a combination of actions aiming at gender equality, including: active employment policies; network and infrastructure for caregiving and new policies for services for child care and care of dependent persons; strategies to promote the division of household responsibilities; improved education and vocational training; incentives for women entrepreneurs; increased social security coverage; and determined action to prevent and combat violence against women, including in the workplace.
Equality in employment remains one of the most important challenges for achieving a better future for workers in the region.

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Caribbean Awaits Trump Moves on Climate Funding, Paris Dealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/caribbean-awaits-trump-moves-on-climate-funding-paris-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-awaits-trump-moves-on-climate-funding-paris-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/caribbean-awaits-trump-moves-on-climate-funding-paris-deal/#comments Sun, 05 Mar 2017 13:56:30 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149250 Torrential rains from trough systems in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in November 2016 resulted in landslides like this one, which swept one structure away and threatened nearby houses. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Torrential rains from trough systems in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in November 2016 resulted in landslides like this one, which swept one structure away and threatened nearby houses. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Mar 5 2017 (IPS)

Caribbean leaders worry that with climate change sceptic Donald Trump in the White House, it will be more difficult for small island developing states facing the brunt of climate change to secure the financing necessary to adapt to and mitigate against it.

Mere days after Trump’s inauguration, the White House ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to delete a page about climate change from its website. It has also also signalled its intention to slash the budget of the NOAA, the U.S.’s leading climate science agency, by 17 percent.“I have listened to President Trump after the election and he had said that he is keeping an open mind on the question of man-made climate change.” --PM of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves

If Trump follows through on his campaign promise to roll back his predecessor, Barack Obama’s, green legacy, it seems inevitable that Caribbean and other small island developing states will feel the effects. Trump had also explicitly vowed to stop all US payments to UN climate change programmes.

In this archipelagic nation, the Ralph Gonsalves administration spent some 3.7 million dollars in November 2016 – about 1 per cent of that year’s budget – cleaning up after a series of trough systems.

The sum did not take into account the monies needed to respond to the damage to public infrastructure and private homes, as well as losses in agriculture resulting from the severe weather, which the government has blamed on climate change.

“The United States is one of the major emitters of greenhouse gases and, for us, the science is clear and we accept the conclusion of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change,” Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves told IPS.

He said his nation’s commitment is reflected not only in the fact that St. Vincent and the Grenadines was one of the early signatories to the Paris Agreement at the end of COP 21, but was also one of the early ratifiers of the agreement.

The Paris Agreement sets out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius. During the election campaign, Trump vowed that he would pull the U.S. out of the deal if elected, although there appears to be some dissent within the administration on the issue.

It was reported this week that Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which oversaw the Paris deal, is visiting the US and had requested a meeting with Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, and other officials over the commitment of the new administration to global climate goals.

So far, Espinosa says she has been snubbed, and a state department official told the Guardian there were no scheduled meetings to announce.

The official added: “As with many policies, this administration is conducting a broad review of international climate issues.”

Small island developing states have adopted the mantra “1.5 to stay alive”, saying that ideally global climate change should be contained to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrialisation levels if their islands are to survive.

Gonsalves is hopeful that Trump would modify the policies outlined during the election campaign.

“I have listened to President Trump after the election and he had said that he is keeping an open mind on the question of man-made climate change,” he told IPS.

Gonsalves noted, however, the developments regarding the removal of climate change references from the White House website, adding, “But I would actually wait to see what would actually happen beyond what takes place on the website.”

The prime minister noted to IPS that the United States is an extremely powerful country, but suggested that even if Washington follows through on Trump’s campaign pledges, all is not lost.

“The United States of American has a population of 330 million people. Currently, in the world, there are seven and a half billion people … There is a lot of the world out there other than 330 million [people] and the world is not just one country — though a hugely important country.”

But Kingstown is not just waiting to see where Trump goes with his policy on climate change.

Come May 1, consumers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines will begin paying a 1 per cent “Disaster Levy” on consumption within the country. The monies generated will be used to capitalise the Contingences Fund, which will be set up to help offset the cost of responding to natural disasters.

In presenting his case to lawmakers, Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, said that there have been frequent severe natural disasters in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, particularly since 2010, resulting in extensive loss and damage to houses, physical infrastructure and economic enterprises.

“The central government has incurred significant costs in providing relief and assistance to affected households and businesses and for rehabilitation and replacement of damaged infrastructure. Indeed, we have calculated that no less than 10 per cent of the public debt has been incurred for disaster-related projects and initiatives, narrowly-defined,” he told Parliament during his Budget Address in February.

As part of the Paris Agreement, developed countries said they intend to continue their existing collective goal to mobilise 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 and extend this until 2025. A new and higher goal will be set for after this period.

Gonsalves said it was not anticipated that the Paris Agreement would have been signed and ratified by November 2016. “But it was done. The anticipation was that it was going to take several years longer, so they put the commitments from 2020.

“Now, what are we going to do between 2017 and 2020?” he told IPS, adding that one practical response is to push for the pledges to come forward.

As Caribbean nations do what they can, locally, to respond to the impact of climate change, they are hoping that global funding initiatives for adaptation and mitigation do not take on the usual sluggish disbursement practices of other global initiatives.

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit told leaders of the 15-member Caribbean Community at their 28th Inter-Sessional Meeting in Guyana in mid-February that it was critical the Green Climate Fund be more readily accessible for countries trying to recover from the aftermaths of climate-driven natural disasters.

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Guyana’s New Oil Fields Both Blessing and Cursehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/guyanas-new-oil-fields-both-blessing-and-curse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=guyanas-new-oil-fields-both-blessing-and-curse http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/guyanas-new-oil-fields-both-blessing-and-curse/#comments Fri, 03 Mar 2017 21:54:31 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149240 In November 2009, Guyana made a deal with Norway, which agreed to pay up to 250 million dollars over the course of five years if Guyana maintained its low deforestation rate. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

In November 2009, Guyana made a deal with Norway, which agreed to pay up to 250 million dollars over the course of five years if Guyana maintained its low deforestation rate. The country has been lauded for its low-carbon development path. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
GEORGETOWN, Mar 3 2017 (IPS)

The recent discovery of large volumes of oil offshore of Guyana could prove to be a major headache for the country, as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and other Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) members press for keeping global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels as provided for in the historic Paris Climate Agreement.

Exxon Mobil recently announced the successful drilling of a deep-water exploration well that may soon confirm that the seafloor beneath Guyana’s coastal waters contains one of the richest oil and natural gas discoveries in decades.“If you are now finding plenty of oil, and basically to keep temperatures down we are saying no more carbon fuels, then who are you going to sell it to?" --Dr. Al Binger of the Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency

Experts now estimate that one of its offshore fields alone, known as Liza, could contain 1.4 billion barrels of oil and mixed natural gas.

But in the face of a changing climate fueled by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, Dr. Al Binger, interim executive director of the Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREE), said Guyana should not get too excited about the discovery.

“Guyana finds themselves inside AOSIS, the group that is fighting to keep temperatures under 1.5 degrees C, and now they are going to want to sell carbon which is going to get burned. I think they are going to have a lot of head-scratching to figure out ‘is this a blessing or is this a curse?’” Binger told IPS.

“If you are now finding plenty of oil, and basically to keep temperatures down we are saying no more carbon fuels, then who are you going to sell it to?” he said. “I don’t know how much they are going to be able to sell because they are trying to meet the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) requirements to actually keep the temperatures below 1.5 degrees C.”

Countries across the globe adopted an historic international climate agreement at the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris in December 2015. The INDCs are publicly outlined post-2020 climate actions countries intend to take under the agreement.

The climate actions communicated in these INDCs largely determine whether the world achieves the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement: to hold the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees C, to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees C, and to achieve net zero emissions in the second half of this century.

The rallying cry of AOSIS has been “1.5 to Stay Alive”, saying it represents a level of global warming beyond which many vulnerable small island states will be overwhelmed by severe climate impacts.

The scientific findings based on low-emission scenarios (also examined by the IPCC in its fifth assessment report) show that it is both physically and economically feasible to limit warming to below 1.5 degrees C by 2100, after temporarily exceeding 1.5 degrees C in the 2050s (but still staying well below 2 degrees C).

Binger said holding warming below 2 degrees C requires early and rapid action with the level of action in the next ten years very similar to 1.5 degrees C. By 2030, action towards 1.5 degrees C needs to be faster than for 2 degrees C, he said.

“So, if you have a lot of carbon, what are you going to do with it? We keep emitting carbon and now we are reaching a stage where we just basically can’t emit anymore because there is no space for it if we are going to stay in temperatures that we can survive,” Binger said.

With an average global temperature increase of under 1 degree C, small islands have already experienced impacts including severe coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion, marine habitat degradation, and power tropical storms.

Binger explained that limiting warming to below 1.5 degrees C by 2100 requires a reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions by 70 to 95 percent relative to 2010 levels by 2050. This is significantly deeper than the 40 to 70 percent by 2050 for 2 degrees C.

Total greenhouse gas emissions have to reach global zero by 2060 to 2080 for 1.5 degrees C compared to 2080 to 2100 for 2 degrees C.

“If we have to decarbonise and we have to go to zero carbon fuels, then the only carbon we could actually burn would be some portion of what we sequester,” Binger said.

In November 2009, Guyana made a deal with Norway, which agreed to pay up to 250 million dollars over the course of five years if Guyana maintained its low deforestation rate. It was the first time a developed country conscious of its own carbon-dioxide emissions had paid a developing country to keep its trees in the ground.

Under the initiative, developed by the United Nations and called REDD+ (for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation plus conservation), Guyana can continue logging as long as biodiversity is protected.

Guyana is one of the poorest countries in the region and officials have been banking on the production of oil, expected to begin around 2020, to turn around the economy.

Early rough estimates by experts of how much recoverable oil Guyana could have range to more than four billion barrels, which at current prices would be worth more than 200 billion dollars.

Binger could not comment on what advice, if any, Guyana might be receiving from AOSIS or the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC).

“I don’t know what AOSIS is saying to them. I guess AOSIS is maybe saying, ‘nice you have oil, but we are trying to get rid of carbon so we don’t know why you are trying to find more’,” Binger said.

“There are quite a few reports out that we can’t burn a lot of the hydrocarbons, so what’s down there will have to stay down there unless they are going to use it to make things like plastic, chemicals, fertilizers. Anything that is going to be a combustion project is going to have issues with basically how much more carbon we emit relative to where we need to be to stabilize global climate,” he added.

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The Labour Market Is the Key to Equality for Women in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/op-ed-the-labour-market-is-the-key-to-equality-for-women-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-the-labour-market-is-the-key-to-equality-for-women-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/op-ed-the-labour-market-is-the-key-to-equality-for-women-in-latin-america/#comments Fri, 03 Mar 2017 10:30:06 +0000 alicia-barcena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149212 Rural workers in the Bajo Lempa region of El Salvador. In Latin America and the Caribbean, 78.1 per cent of employed women work in low productivity sectors, which implies lower pay, less contact with technology and innovation, and in many cases poor quality jobs. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS.

Rural workers in the Bajo Lempa region of El Salvador. In Latin America and the Caribbean, 78.1 per cent of employed women work in low productivity sectors, which implies lower pay, less contact with technology and innovation, and in many cases poor quality jobs. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS.

By Alicia Bárcena
SANTIAGO, Mar 3 2017 (IPS)

Latin America and the Caribbean is the only region in the world where, for the past four decades, states have continuously met to discuss and commit themselves politically to eradicating discrimination and gender inequality and moving towards guaranteeing women the full exercise of their autonomy and human rights.

Since the first Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, held in Havana in 1977, the region has been through years of political, economic, social and cultural changes, which have meant progress for women in the region but which also have shown the persistence of inequality.

We have overcome a number of obstacles, collectively giving rise to exceptional developments. But there is still a wide wage gap in the region, as well as pending issues in terms of sexual and reproductive rights and the challenge of achieving greater political participation for women.

The sustainable development goal involving gender equality, born from the synergy between the Regional Gender Agenda and the 2030 Agenda, leads us to focus our attention and action on the structural basis of inequality in our societies.

In the first place, we look at socio-economic inequality and poverty and the necessary transformation of the prevailing development model towards one that incorporates new patterns of sustainable production and consumption, and of redistribution of wealth, income and time.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, 78.1 per cent of employed women work in sectors defined by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) as low productivity sectors, which implies lower pay, less contact with technology and innovation, and in many cases poor quality jobs.

The labour market is the master key to equality; the redistribution of income and the guaranteeing of rights begin there. The proportion of women in the labour market has increased in countries in the region. However, in the last 10 years women’s participation in the labour force in the region has remained stagnant around 53 per cent, revealing a ceiling on the incorporation of women in remunerated work.

In its latest studies, ECLAC has shown that a rise in the proportion of women in the labour market would contribute to the reduction of poverty in the region, with paradigmatic cases such as El Salvador, where poverty could be reduced by up to 12 percentage points if more women earned an income.

ECLAC Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena. Credit: Lorenzo Moscia/ECLAC

ECLAC Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena. Credit: Lorenzo Moscia/ECLAC

To understand the barriers that women face it is crucial to analyse two key aspects of economic autonomy. On the one hand, access to their own monetary resources, and on the other hand, the dimension of time use.

In the region, the proportion of women without an income of their own amounts to about 30 per cent; that is to say, one in three women in Latin America and the Caribbean still lack their own source of income. This is without a doubt a great challenge for the autonomy of women who depend on other members of the household to satisfy their needs and those of their families.

Moreover, 26 per cent of women over 15 earn less than the minimum wage. As a result, more than half of the women in the region either have no income of their own or earn so little that real economic autonomy is impossible.

Proposals such as a universal basic income or the enforcement of a minimum wage in certain female-dominated sectors which today have no legal protection are tools that would boost women’s access to their own income.

With respect to time use, it has been demonstrated that women across the region invariably have a larger total workload than men. The traditional sexual division of labour, very marked in the region, assigns non-remunerated work mainly to women, and makes it virtually their exclusive responsibility.

This is one of the main obstacles for women to join the labour market and have access to personal and professional development. The reduction of the workday and policies to promote shared responsibility in care-giving are tools that could modify and help balance the current inequality in the workload between women and men.

Along with indicators on time use, putting a monetary value on housework and unpaid caregiving in the household and including it in the national accounts has been a powerful tool for making women’s contribution to national economies visible.

Estimates indicate that the value of unpaid work represented 24.2 per cent of Mexico’s GDP in 2014, 20.4 per cent of Colombia’s GDP in 2012, 18.8 per cent of Guatemala’s GDP in 2014, and 15.2 per cent of Ecuador’s GDP in 2012.

Figures reveal that if unpaid housework and caregiving was given a market value, approximately one-fifth of the wealth quantified in the national accounts would be produced in the households, mainly by women.

This information clearly points to the need to design public policies aimed at achieving equality, which recognise women’s contribution to the economy through unpaid work and promote shared responsibility and a more equitable distribution of the workload.

What are needed are public policies to avoid reproducing gender stereotypes, taking into account the different roles that women play, and strengthening their insertion in the labour market and their professional development at the highest level, to capitalise on their training and skills in sectors of higher productivity. This would undermine the foundations of the horizontal and vertical segmentation that characterises the labour market for women today.

In October 2016, the governments gathered at the XIII Regional Conference on Women agreed to implement the Montevideo Strategy and put into effect the premises established in previous agreements, and to comply with the Sustainable Development Goals included in the 2030 Agenda.

This synergy raises the challenge of implementing gender equality as a key cross-cutting component of every public policy, in pursuit of fulfilling the 2030 Agenda.

The time has come for a shift in the gender paradigm in our countries, to put an end to patriarchal society. It is time to pave the way for equality in all its forms and in all possible scenarios, to respect and view women beyond our gender, for all our capabilities and for our continuous struggle for the construction of a more just and equitable society, not just for all women, but for everyone.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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Caribbean Leaders Want Swifter Action on Climate Fundinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/caribbean-leaders-want-swifter-action-on-climate-funding/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-leaders-want-swifter-action-on-climate-funding http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/caribbean-leaders-want-swifter-action-on-climate-funding/#comments Wed, 01 Mar 2017 12:14:50 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149170 Prime Minister of The Bahamas Perry Christie says special consideration needs to be given by international financial institutions to the unique circumstances of his country. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Prime Minister of The Bahamas Perry Christie says special consideration needs to be given by international financial institutions to the unique circumstances of his country. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ROSEAU, Dominica, Mar 1 2017 (IPS)

When Tropical Storm Erika hit the tiny Caribbean island of Dominica on Aug. 27, 2015, it killed more than two dozen people, left nearly 600 homeless and wreaked damages totaling more than a billion dollars.

The storm dumped 15 inches of rain on the mountainous island, caused floods and mudslides and set the country back 20 years, according Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit. The island was inadequately prepared for a storm such as Erika. Many roads and bridges were simply not robust enough to withstand such high volumes of water.“It is critical that there must be relatively quick access to this Fund by those it is intended to assist." --Dominica's Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit

In a national address shortly following the storm, Skerrit said that hundreds of homes, bridges and roads had been destroyed and millions of dollars in financial aid were needed to help the country bounce back.

“In order to get back to where we were before Tropical Storm Erika struck, we have to source at least 88.2 million dollars for the productive sector, 334.55 million for infrastructure and 60.09 million for the social sectors,” Skerrit said.

Dominica’s neighbours in the Caribbean were the first to deliver aid in the form of medical assistance, telecommunications engineers, and financial aid, and were followed by essential supplies and manpower from Venezuela and doctors and nurses from Cuba.

Now, 18 months later, Skerrit said the island is still in the initial recovery stages of the devastation wrought by the storm, and he is pleading for swift action from international funding agencies for his country and its Caribbean neighbours which have been impacted by severe storms in recent years.

“Of particular importance to us is the Green Climate Fund (GCF) which has been established to assist in adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change,” Skerrit told IPS.

“It is critical that there must be relatively quick access to this Fund by those it is intended to assist. As laudable as it is, it will be of minimal impact if disbursement is as sluggish as has been the experience with other institutions and agencies.

“The increasing intensity and frequency of these climatic events force us to face the reality of climate change. Hardly any of us in the region has been untouched in some form by the effects of the phenomenon and this emphasizes the need for the implementation of the measures contained in the Paris Agreement,” Skerrit added.

The GCF was established with a mission to advance the goal of keeping earth’s temperature increase below 2 degrees C.

The Fund is a unique global initiative to respond to climate change by investing in low emissions and climate-resilient development.

The GCF was established by 194 governments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries, and to help adapt vulnerable societies to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. Given the urgency and seriousness of the challenge, the Fund is mandated to make an ambitious contribution to the united global response to climate change.

The Belize-based Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) was accredited as a regional implementing entity by the Board of the GCF in 2015.

CCCCC Executive Director Dr. Kenrick Leslie said it speaks to the high caliber of work being done in the region and the strength of the centre’s internal systems.

“We will now move forward with a set of ambitious and bankable projects that we have been developing under a directive from CARICOM Heads,” he said.

As the first regionally accredited organization, the CCCCC is now the interface and conduit for GCF funding to the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) of the Caribbean.

Skerrit, who wrapped up his tenure as chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in February, said he visited Haiti and The Bahamas during his chairmanship of the 15-member regional grouping to see first-hand the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew.

Last year, Hurricane Matthew rapidly intensified from a tropical storm to hurricane status as it moved over the Caribbean Sea. Matthew continued to intensify to a Category 5 storm and into one of the strongest in Atlantic basin history, which made landfall and devastated portions of The Bahamas, Haiti, Cuba, and the eastern United States.

“In both countries, the extent of the damage was severe,” said Skerrit, who was accompanied by the CARICOM Secretary-General, Ambassador Ambassador Irwin LaRocque and the Executive Director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), Ronald Jackson.

He noted that the Government of Haiti reported more than 500 deaths along with 1.5 million people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, including 120,000 families whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged.

The worst of the devastation occurred in the agricultural belt, which affected the food supply of the country.

“Agriculture and fishing were also badly affected in The Bahamas along with homes and infrastructure on the three islands which were hardest hit,” Skerrit described.

“The damage was estimated at more than 500 million dollars. It is my hope that the recovery process is well underway to reconstructing the lives and livelihoods of all those affected.”

Prime Minister of The Bahamas Perry Christie described how his country also faced a 600-million-dollar assessed impact from a Category 4 hurricane (Joaquin) in 2015 and encroachment by the sea with Hurricane Matthew a year later.

The Bahamian leader said special consideration needs to be given by the international financial institutions to the unique circumstances of the country.

“Our people are spread over a hundred thousand square miles of ocean [and] as we modernize we began to feel the effects of having rich people in our countries drive our economy and the measure of our economy on the basis of per capita income. And we were being graduated to the point where we are not qualified for concessionary loans,” he explained.

“There is this paradigm that lumps the country together and does not take into consideration the unequal development that exists in our country. The people who live on the island of New Providence are entirely different to those on the remote islands.

“We are judged harshly. When there is a 600-million-dollar assessed impact from a hurricane, and an encroachment by the sea as happened with Hurricane Matthew, the country has to withstand the impacts and then you are downgraded because they say there is no assurance you are going to be able to have the revenue. These are the challenges that the countries in our region face,” Christie added.

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Community Stations Fight for Frequencies in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/community-stations-fight-for-frequencies-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=community-stations-fight-for-frequencies-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/community-stations-fight-for-frequencies-in-el-salvador/#comments Mon, 27 Feb 2017 07:58:13 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149116 Sandra Juárez, holding a microphone, rehearses together with two colleagues from Izcanal Radio and Television to record a programme. This station is the only community TV station in El Salvador, which can only be viewed by subscription, but that could change with the advent of the digital system in the country. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Sandra Juárez, holding a microphone, rehearses together with two colleagues from Izcanal Radio and Television to record a programme. This station is the only community TV station in El Salvador, which can only be viewed by subscription, but that could change with the advent of the digital system in the country. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
NUEVA GRANADA, El Salvador, Feb 27 2017 (IPS)

The Izcanal Radio and Television set is simple and austere, but this TV station made history in El Salvador, being the first, and until now the only one, to make the leap from community radio to community TV channel, in 2006.

It has done this through a local cable TV station, not an open signal channel, but that could change very soon.

“Our greatest wish is to compete for Izcanal to have its frequency and broadcast on an open signal channel; that’s our dream,” said Wilfredo Hernández, news coordinator at the Izcanal station, which was born in February 1993 in Nueva Granada, a town in the eastern department of Usulután.

Izcanal’s signal reaches across this town to 35 surrounding municipalities, but to receive it you have to pay for cable TV service. “The right to freedom of expression has to do with access to different sources of information and spaces for participation, and when the media system is exclusive and corporate, there is no way to guarantee this right.” -- Leonel Herrera

Its programming is focused on showing positive developments and initiatives in the community, revolving around themes such as local development, women and gender, environment, a culture of peace and migration.

“The major media outlets don’t show the good things that are happening in the communities, we offer this option,” said Sandra Juárez, coordinator of programming and content, while she edited an audio file on a computer.

Hernández and Juárez hope that radio and television, which are currently dominated by private commercial stations, will become more open and democratic, but to achieve that the authorities would have to generate the appropriate conditions.

They told IPS that the legal and operational foundations are in place to open up to new alternative projects, which would lead to a strengthening of the freedom of expression.

The government of leftist President Salvador Sánchez Cerén has announced the launch of digital TV in 2018, a new technology which will optimise the bandwidth and could make way for new stations, especially community, public and academic stations, among others.

For the shift from analogue to digital, the authorities chose the ISDB-Tb model, known as the “Japanese-Brazilian” model, used throughout Latin America, except in Colombia and Panama.

Social organisations grouped together in the Network for the Protection of the Right to Communication (RedCo) are fighting for El Salvador’s General Superintendency of Electricity and Telecommunications (Siget), the regulator of the sector, to promote the incorporation of these new players in the TV frequencies and also to open spaces on the jam-packed radio spectrum.

The expansion of the radio spectrum gained momentum following the reform of the Telecommunications Law in May 2016, which acknowledges community and other non-profit stations, and established alternate mechanisms for them to participate in the allocation of frequencies, such as direct allocation and a tendering process.

Wilfredo Hernández, during the broadcast of one of the radio news programmes of Izcanal Radio and Television, a project that emerged in 2003 in Nueva Granada, in eastern El Salvador. The community station was the only one to expand towards a TV channel. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Wilfredo Hernández, during the broadcast of one of the radio news programmes of Izcanal Radio and Television, a project that emerged in 2003 in Nueva Granada, in eastern El Salvador. The community station was the only one to expand towards a TV channel. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

When the 1980-1992 civil war ended, a score of community stations were operating, initially broadcasting without a license from private frequencies, which led to crackdowns by the police.

In 2008, they managed to secure, through third parties, an FM license, which they fractioned and divided into zones to broadcast their programming, although with interference.

For years they struggled for the elimination of the auction system, imposed by the now reformed 1997 Telecommunications Law, a scheme that prevented community stations from competing on an equal footing.

In 2015, the Supreme Court came down on their side, ruling that something other than the auction system should exist, to guarantee the participation of these actors, in response to appeals on the grounds of unconstitutionality filed by social organisations in 2012 and 2013 against this mechanism and other aspects of the law in force at the time.

The inclusion of these new players in radio and television would give the country’s media a more pluralistic and inclusive character, which would strengthen freedom of expression, said Leonel Herrera, head of the Association of Participatory Radios and Programmes of El Salvador (Arpas).

“The right to freedom of expression has to do with access to different sources of information and spaces for participation, and when the media system is exclusive and corporate, there is no way of guaranteeing this right,” Herrera told IPS.

But the idea of extending the allocation of frequencies faces heavy opposition from commercial radio stations, controlled by five corporate consortiums, which account for 92 per cent of the spectrum, according to Siget.

The segment for open TV is almost entirely in private hands, although of the 42 existing stations, seven are not commercial and are run by religious organisations, and two others are state-run.

Uncertain future

But the entry of new players, in radio as well as in television, cannot be taken for granted, and if the current system remains as it is, blocking the entry of other participants, the media will become even more concentrated in fewer hands, said Herrera.

In the case of television, the digital platform and its greater bandwidth would allow diversification, but Herrera argued that the existing license-holders intend to keep the extra bandwidth for their channels.

In radio, the panorama is even more complex, because the radio spectrum is full and the commercial consortiums refuse to give space to community stations, although there are proposals to divide the frequency bandwidth to double the space.

“Siget must comply and make room, otherwise the reform that acknowledges community radio stations will only remain on paper,” said Izcanal’s Hernández.

A request from IPS for an interview with the superintendent of the regulator, Blanca Coto, received no answer.

An opportunity for new licenses in radio could open this year, during the renewal of frequencies, a process which takes place every 20 years. Until the reform in 2016, they were automatically renewed, a mechanism which practically ensured the concessionaires a license for life..

Now they must meet requisites such as keeping up with payments, failing to commit serious infringements, and making proper use of the broadcast signal.

But RedCo argues that with these standards almost every station will manage to get its license renewed, and that other aspects should be taken into account, such as whether the license was originally obtained in a transparent, legal manner.

A report from the Presidential Secretariat of Participation, Transparency and Anti-corruption revealed in September 2016 that 60 per cent of the concessions granted before the 1997 Telecommunications Law have no paper trail to verify their allocation.

The then regulatory body used to grant frequencies as an award for political favours or to benefit relatives or friends of the right-wing National Republican Alliance (Arena), in power from 1989 to 2009.

If Siget includes this transparency factor proposed by the organisations that make up RedCo, some licenses may not be renewed, giving community stations a chance.

But even if community stations are granted radio and TV licenses, this would not be enough to bring about a more democratic media system. To do that, the state must back up these measures with public policies aimed at promoting and developing community radio, said the interviewees.

The RedCo organisations have submitted a Proposal for a Public Policy in Communications, to contribute to a debate that, in the end, should generate clear measures to democratise the media in El Salvador.

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The Peasant Farmer Who Stood Up to the President of Nicaraguahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-peasant-farmer-who-has-stood-up-to-the-president-of-nicaragua/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-peasant-farmer-who-has-stood-up-to-the-president-of-nicaragua http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-peasant-farmer-who-has-stood-up-to-the-president-of-nicaragua/#comments Fri, 24 Feb 2017 22:59:57 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149106 Francisca Ramírez, the head of the peasant movement that is leading the fight against the construction of an inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua, which has made her a victim of harassment by the administration of Daniel Ortega. Credit: Luis Martínez/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tax Evasion Lessons From Panamahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/tax-evasion-lessons-from-panama/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tax-evasion-lessons-from-panama http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/tax-evasion-lessons-from-panama/#comments Tue, 21 Feb 2017 14:44:28 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149048 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. ]]>

Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LAMPUR, Feb 21 2017 (IPS)

Unlike Wikileaks and other exposes, the Panama revelations were carefully managed, if not edited, quite selective, and hence targeted, at least initially. Most observers attribute this to the political agendas of its main sponsors. Nevertheless, the revelations have highlighted some problems associated with illicit financial flows, as well as tax evasion and avoidance, including the role of enabling governments, legislation, legal and accounting firms as well as shell companies.

US President Obama criticized ‘poorly designed’ laws for allowing illicit money transfers worldwide. He noted that “Tax avoidance is a big, global problem…a lot of it is legal, but that’s exactly the problem”.

US President Obama criticized ‘poorly designed’ laws for allowing illicit money transfers worldwide. He noted that “Tax avoidance is a big, global problem…a lot of it is legal, but that’s exactly the problem”.

The political tremors generated by the edited release of 1.1 million documents were swift. No one expected Iceland’s prime minister to resign in less than 48 hours, or that the then British prime minister would soon publicly admit that he had benefited from the hidden wealth earned from an opaque offshore company of his late father.

Panama Papers
The Panama Papers help us understand how shell companies and trusts operate. The documents, from the law firm Mossack Fonseca, involved 210,000 legal entities. The Panama-based law firm has worked with some of the world’s biggest banks — including HSBC, Société Générale, Credit Suisse, UBS and Commerzbank — to set up thousands of offshore companies to circumvent tax and law enforcement authorities worldwide.

The accounts enabled by just one law firm in Panama is the tip of a massive iceberg still hidden from public view as many other such firms in different locations provide similar services. High net-worth individuals and corporations have a far greater ability to evade taxes by paying tax advisers, lawyers and accountants, and by opening undeclared companies and financial accounts in low-tax jurisdictions. The expose shows that the firm aided public officials, their cronies and large corporations to avoid taxes.

Not surprisingly, Mossack Fonseca claims it has never been accused or charged in connection with criminal wrongdoing. This only underscores the fact that Panama’s financial regulators, police, judiciary and political system are very much part of the system. Similarly, many clients believe that they have not violated national and international regulations.

‘Offshore’ tax havens

Total global wealth was estimated, by a 2012 Tax Justice Network (TJN) USA report, entitled The Price of Offshore Revisited, at US$231 trillion in mid-2011; this was roughly 3.5 times the global GDP of US$65 trillion in 2011. It conservatively estimated that, of this, US$21 to US$32 trillion of hidden and stolen wealth has been stashed secretly, ‘virtually tax-free’, in and ‘through’ more than 80 secret jurisdictions.

According to Oxfam, at least US$18.5 trillion is hidden in undeclared and untaxed tax havens worldwide, with two thirds in the European Union, and a third in UK-linked sites. After the Panama Papers leak, Oxfam revealed that the top 50 US companies have stashed US$1.38 trillion offshore to minimize US tax exposure. The 50 companies are estimated to have earned some US$4 trillion in profits across the world between 2008 and 2014, but have only paid 26.5 per cent of it in US tax.

In a 5 April 2016 speech, following the US Treasury’s crackdown on corporate tax ‘inversions’, US President Obama criticized ‘poorly designed’ laws for allowing illicit money transfers worldwide. He noted that “Tax avoidance is a big, global problem…a lot of it is legal, but that’s exactly the problem”.

It was also estimated that this costs poor countries over US$100 billion in lost tax revenues every year. Oxfam also found that tax dodging by transnational corporations alone costs the developing world between US$100 to US$160 billion yearly. If ‘profit shifting’ is taken into account, about US$250 to US$300 billion is lost. After all, many countries and institutions actively enable—and profit handsomely from—the theft of massive funds from developing countries.

More so now than ever before, the term ‘offshore’ for tax havens refers less to physical locations than to virtual ones, often involving “networks of legal and quasi-legal entities and arrangements”. Private banking ‘money managers’ provide all needed services — including financial, economic, legal, accounting and insurance services — to facilitate such practices, making fortunes for themselves by doing so. Thousands of shell banks and insurers, 3.5 million paper companies, more than half the world’s registered commercial ships over 100 tons, and tens of thousands of ‘shell’ subsidiaries of giant global banks, accounting firms and various other companies operate from such locations.

Reforming tax havens?
In recent years, amid increased public scrutiny, the global tax haven landscape has changed. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Paris-based club of rich nations, has been developing a global transparency initiative to crack down on tax haven secrecy. But Panama is refusing to participate seriously, with the OECD tax chief calling it a jurisdiction “that welcomes crooks and money launderers”.

To qualify for the OECD’s ‘white list’ of approved jurisdictions, almost 100 countries and other jurisdictions have agreed, since 2014, to impose new modest disclosure requirements for international customers. Hence, the Swiss government has now relaxed confidentiality-cum-secrecy provisions, allowing information sharing about illegal or unauthorized deposits with other countries, subject to certain conditions. Consequently, the world of illegal and unaccounted cash has moved in response.

Facilitating tax evasion
Only a handful of nations have declined to sign on. The most prominent is the US. Another is Panama. As Panama has dodged, delayed and diluted compliance with OECD regulations, many accounts moved to Panama from other signatory tax havens. As Bloomberg noted earlier in 2016, “Panama and the U.S. have at least one thing in common: Neither has agreed to new international standards to make it harder for tax evaders and money launderers to hide their money.”

Rothschild, the centuries-old European financial institution, is now moving the fortunes of wealthy foreign clients out of offshore havens subject to the new international disclosure requirements, to Rothschild-run trusts in Nevada, which are exempt.

It has acknowledged that the US itself is the world’s single greatest tax haven, while the UK plays a disproportionately greater role as a tax haven, considering the smaller size of its population and economy. A TJN study found that the US continues to facilitate financial secrecy and tax evasion. “Due to lax requirements…, it is far easier to set up an anonymous shell company in the US than it is in well-known tax havens”, according to the Financial Transparency Coalition.

The US does not accept a lot of international standards, and can get away with it because of its economic and political clout, but is probably the only country that can continue to do that. It has taken steps to keep track of American assets abroad, but not of foreign assets in the US.

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