Inter Press Service » Latin America & the Caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 01 Sep 2014 10:55:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Growing Calls for Reforms of El Salvador’s Privatised Pension Systemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/growing-calls-for-reforms-of-el-salvadors-privatised-pension-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=growing-calls-for-reforms-of-el-salvadors-privatised-pension-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/growing-calls-for-reforms-of-el-salvadors-privatised-pension-system/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 18:24:22 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136420 Manuel Campos, a 56-year-old taxi driver, is not covered by either the public or private pension system in El Salvador. His only hope is that his children will support him in his old age. Credit: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Manuel Campos, a 56-year-old taxi driver, is not covered by either the public or private pension system in El Salvador. His only hope is that his children will support him in his old age. Credit: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

Two of the promises made 16 years ago when El Salvador’s pension system was privatised have failed to materialise: There was no expansion of social security coverage and no improvement in pensions. Now pressure is growing for a reform of the system.

Although 20-year-old Kevin Alexis Cuéllar is one of the 2.7 million people enrolled in the private Pensions Savings System (SAP), he has no coverage.

Cuéllar, who is self-employed and does not have steady work, told IPS that he does not pay into the private account which will supposedly provide his pension when he retires. Men in El Salvador retire at the age of 60 and women at 55.

The system established in 1998 has run up against the reality of employment conditions in this Central American nation of 6.2 million people.

A 2013 report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) found that 65.7 percent of the economically active population works in the informal economy. Based on statistics from 2011, that is equivalent to 1,269,000 people.

Cuéllar operates a sound system at business events promoting brand awareness. Forced to drop out of school to work before finishing the eight years of basic education, it will not be easy for him to find formal employment in this country, which has no specific plans to reduce the size of the informal sector.

The situation worries him. “The time will come when I won’t be able to work, because of old age or sickness, and we’ll be left without a pension,” he told IPS.

That fear is shared by the tens of thousands of families who have no social security coverage.“It was clearly the business deal of the century, the right to a pension was commodified, to the benefit of financial groups.” -. Trade unionist Francisco García

Expanding coverage “is one of the pending challenges” of the private system, María Elena Rivera, a researcher at the Guillermo Manuel Ungo Foundation (FundaUngo), told IPS.

Although 2.7 million people are enrolled in the private pension scheme, only 653,257 are active contributors, according to figures from July. The rest are not formally employed.

That means only one out of four people of working age are active contributors to the private pension savings scheme, Rivera said.

The government of rightwing president Armando Calderón dismantled the public social security system in 1998 and created the private pensions scheme, in the midst of a wave of privatisations sweeping Latin America.

Under the new scheme, contributions from workers and employers generate a payment of 13 percent of the monthly salary that goes into the employees’ individual accounts.

These individual savings will produce, after 25 years of contributions, the money that will pay the pensions of workers once they reach retirement age.

Other Latin American countries like Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Peru also privatised their pension systems.

Participation in the SAP was mandatory for workers under the age of 36. Their individual accounts are run by pension fund administrators (AFP).

Men over 55 and women over 50 had to stay in the public system, which is to disappear as that generation gradually retires and passes away.

In the public pay-as-you-go system, all workers pay into the same fund, which is financed on the basis of solidarity between generations.

Those who were between the ages of 36 and 50 in 1998 could choose between the public or private systems.

“It was clearly the business deal of the century, the right to a pension was commodified, to the benefit of financial groups,” the secretary of the Workers’ Union of the National Institute for Public Employees’ Pensions (SITINPEP), Francisco García, told IPS.

The union wants to return to a mixed system, with the state controlling the pension system, and the AFPs as optional.

The government of leftwing President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, in office since June, said the private system has failed. But it has not given any indication of what reforms it will push through in the next few months – although it has ruled out a return to a public social security system.

In July, SAP had just under 7.5 billion dollars in accumulated contributions. Those funds were initially to be invested in El Salvador’s stock market, and the yield would go into the employee’s account.

Investing the funds in the stock market was also supposed to help drive the country’s productive development, by giving a boost to key sectors of the economy, generating more formal sector jobs and making it possible to expand coverage. In addition, the pensions would be improved.

The minimum retirement and disability pension is 207 dollars a month.

But the local stock market is too small to help productive enterprises get off the ground, analysts say, and formal employment did not receive the expected boost, nor did pensions grow.

Manuel Campos, a 56-year-old taxi driver, who is not enrolled in either the public or private pension systems, only hopes that once he is too old to work, or if he falls ill, his three children will help support him.
“If I didn’t have that hope, maybe I would have to do what so many people are doing today: beg on the streets,” Campos told IPS while waiting for customers on a street in San Salvador.

In another part of the capital, 40-year-old Sandra Escobar is preparing lunch that she will sell at noon in the business where she works as a cook: a small tin shack on the side of the road.

“My idea is to save up, little by little, to have something for my old age. But it’s hard,” said Escobar, while cooking beef in a frying pan.

When most of the younger workers opted for the private system in 1998, the government assumed the burden of the underfinanced public system, which according to the latest data, from 2012, was around 420 million dollars a year.

That is the amount needed to pay the pensions of the employees who stayed in the public system: 100,247 as of October 2012, according to a document from the Salvadoran Association of Pension Fund Administrators (ASAFONDOS), which represents the two AFPs.

In 2006, the legislature approved the Fideicomiso de Obligaciones Previsionales (pension trust fund), through which the AFPs are legally obligated to invest part of the funds in bonds issued by the state, and thus obtain the resources for paying pensions.

But these bonds have low returns, 1.4 percent a year, not enough to significantly increase the pensions of workers. Legally, El Salvador’s AFPs cannot invest in the international stock market, where they would obtain higher returns.

IPS was unable to obtain an interview with the president of ASAFONDOS, René Novellino. But a report he published in 2013 proposed approving a gradual opening up of the system, with clear limits and strong oversight, to investment in international stock markets, among other measures.

FundaUngo is calling for a national dialogue, so all of the sectors can set forth proposals for reforming the system.

In the meantime, soundman Kevin Cuéllar, cook Sandra Escobar and taxi driver Manuel Campos continue to face the reality of informal employment, with no prospects for receiving a pension when they reach retirement age.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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The Age of Survival Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-age-of-survival-migration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-age-of-survival-migration http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-age-of-survival-migration/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 12:41:53 +0000 Diana Cariboni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136410 A 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant heading to the U.S. Credit: Wilfredo Díaz/IPS

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

By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

“Survival migration” is not a reality show, but an accurate description of human mobility fuelled by desperation and fear. How despairing are these migrant contingents? Look at the figures of Central American children travelling alone, which are growing.

The painful journeys of children and teenagers from Central America to the United States border sounded alarms this year.While Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and parts of Mexico are like hell on Earth, the Refugee Convention is not easily applicable in these cases, and moves to broaden or amend it have failed so far.

More than 52,000 children —mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador— were detained when they crossed the border without their parents in the last eight months, says the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

While it is an unprecedented crisis, Gervais Appave, special policy adviser to the International Organisation for Migration’s director general, frames it “within a more general global trend”, which could be defined as “survival migration”.

Children travelling from the Horn of Africa to European countries, through Malta and Italy, or seeking to reach Australia by boat from Afghanistan, Iran and Sri Lanka, are just two examples.

The European agency dealing with borders, Frontex, reported an increase in the “phenomenon of unaccompanied minors claiming asylum in the European Union (EU)” during 2009 and 2010.

According to Frontex, the proportion of children migrating alone “in the overall number of irregular migrants that reach the EU is worryingly growing.”

Appave told IPS it is impossible to identify a single cause for the spread of this child migration. But he pointed out there is a “very effective and ruthless smuggling industry”. There is “a psychological process that kicks in if you have a critical mass of people moving. Then others will try to follow because this is seeing as ‘the’ solution to go forth,” he said.

The muscle of smugglers and traffickers is apparent in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. But nobody flees without a powerful reason.

According to a report published in July by the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, 85 percent of the new asylum applications received by the United States in 2012 came from these three countries, while Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize registered a combined 435 percent increase in the number of individual applications from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

A broader definition of refugee

Exactly 30 years ago, with Central America engulfed by civil wars and authoritarian regimes, the Latin American Cartagena Declaration enlarged the international concept of refugee.

This made it possible to include people who had fled their country because their lives, safety or freedom were threatened “by generalised violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violations of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order.” Many Latin American countries adopted this regional concept.

In 2004, the countries adopted an action plan and a regional programme of resettlement. In July this year, governments of Central America and Mexico met in Nicaragua to discuss how to tackle the displacement forced by transnational mafias. The goal to protect vulnerable migrants must rest on the principle of shared responsibility of the involved states, they agreed.

A new Latin American plan on refugeees, asylum and stateless people for the next decade will be adopted in December in a meeting in Brazil to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Cartagena Declaration.

While in recent weeks there have been fewer children crossing the U.S. southern border, “this phenomenon has been here since years ago,” Adriana Beltrán, WOLA’s senior associate for citizen security, told IPS.

Criminal gangs, mafias and corruption are major drivers, agree Beltrán and José Guadalupe Ruelas, director of Casa Alianza – Honduras, an NGO working to promote children’s rights.

Killings, extrajudicial executions, extortion and fear “have grown dramatically” in Honduras, Ruelas told IPS.

The country has 3.7 million children under 18, and one million do not attend school; half million suffer labour exploitation; 24 out of 100 teenage girls get pregnant; 8,000 boys and girls are homeless, and other 15,000 fled the country this year, according to official statistics.

“Five years ago, there were 43 monthly murders and arbitrary executions of children and under-23 youths,” he said. Now the monthly average is 88, according to Casa Alianza’s Observatorio de Derechos de los Niños, Niñas y Jóvenes.

Moreover, the perception of security is altered. When people in the “colonias” (poor neighbourhoods) see an ambulance, they “immediately presume a murder or a violent death, instead of a life about to be saved or an ill person to be cured,” and if they see a police or a military patrol, “they think there will be heavy fire and deaths.”

These terrified people mistrust state institutions. Only last year, 17,000 families left their homes following gangs’ threats, “and the state could do nothing to prevent it.”

“They are displaced by the war,” Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández said in June.

The 1951 U.N. Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol establish that a refugee is a person who fled his or her country due to persecution on the grounds of political opinion, race, nationality or membership to a particular social group.

While Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and parts of Mexico are like hell on Earth, the Convention is not easily applicable in these cases, and moves to broaden or amend it have failed so far. Instead, the 1984 Cartagena Declaration (see sidebar) offers a more flexible refugee definition for the region.

Through a 10-point plan of action, the UNHCR asks governments to include refugee considerations in migration policies, particularly when dealing with children, women and victims of trafficking.

According to a 2008 law, U.S. authorities must screen all cases of children under 18 who crossed the border alone to determine whether they are victims of trafficking or abuse, to provide them with legal representation and ensure due process. But the agencies in charge are overloaded and lack adequate resources.

“Some sectors want to change this law and, despite the fact that there have not been deportations, Washington has not clearly indicated yet which stance will take,” said Ruelas.

With elections set for November, it is highly unlikely the political parties will keep this issue out of the electoral fight, he added.

Beyond the urgency of this refugee crisis, underlying causes are a much more complicated issue.

It is not just violence or poverty, but “incredibly weak criminal justice institutions penetrated by organised crime,” said Beltrán.

Ruelas points out the “wrongful” militarisation of Honduras, which will further erode the state’s ability to control its territory. “Despite more soldiers patrolling the streets, criminals feel free to threaten and murder in the colonias,” he said.

According to Beltrán, the United States’ ad hoc assistance through the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) is excessively focused on the “anti-drug fight”, when the region requires more investment in prevention policies, particularly at the local level.

“Washington needs to refocus its policies toward the region, but Central American governments can’t evade their own responsibility,” she added.

Their fiscal revenues, for example, are among the lowest in Latin America, thus undermining their capacity to provide services and respect human rights.

However, the crisis of migrant children is providing a golden opportunity to reexamine all of these larger issues, Ruelas says. “We need a human security, one which regains the public space for the citizens.

“When people control the territory,” he argued, “because the police protect and support them, they gain the chance to rebuild a more peaceful community life.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at dia.cariboni@gmail.com

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Mexico’s Wind Parks May Violate OECD Ruleshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/mexicos-wind-parks-may-violate-oecd-rules/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-wind-parks-may-violate-oecd-rules http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/mexicos-wind-parks-may-violate-oecd-rules/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:38:06 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136392 Communities in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca complain that the wind parks being built in their territory violate their human rights. Credit: Courtesy of the Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Isthmus in Defence of Land and Territory

Communities in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca complain that the wind parks being built in their territory violate their human rights. Credit: Courtesy of the Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Isthmus in Defence of Land and Territory

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 28 2014 (IPS)

Four wind farm projects in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, operated or financed by European investors, could violate Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) rules, say activists.

Three of the parks are being developed by Electricité de France (EDF) and the fourth is financed by public funds from Denmark and the Netherlands.

Benjamin Cokelet, founder and executive director of the Project on Organizing, Development, Education, and Research (PODER), said the wind farms have committed several violations of human rights, which should be examined by the OECD – made up of the nations of the industrialised North and two Latin American countries, Chile and Mexico.

“EDF’s three wind farm projects claim that the community consultations took place, but we have not seen any evidence that these permits were obtained,” the head of PODER, which is based in New York and Mexico City, told IPS.

The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises contain recommendations for responsible business conduct in areas such as human rights, employment and industrial relations, environment, combating bribery and extortion, consumer interests, and taxation.

With respect to the environment, it says businesses should “provide the public and workers with adequate, measurable and verifiable…and timely information on the potential environment, health and safety impacts of the activities of the enterprise”.

Windy isthmus

The Isthmus of Tehuantepec has the strongest potential for wind power in Mexico. Currently more than 1,900 MW are generated by 26 wind parks in the country, where Spanish companies have taken the lead.

In this oil-producing country, renewable energies account for nearly seven percent of total supply, without including large hydroelectric dams. But the government has set a target for renewable energy sources to represent 23 percent of consumption in 2018, 25 percent in 2024 and 26 percent in 2027.

Wind energy is projected to produce 15,000 MW by the start of the next decade.

It also says companies should “engage in adequate and timely communication and consultation with the communities directly affected by the environmental, health and safety policies of the enterprise and by their implementation.”

EDF, through its subsidiary EDF Energies Nouvelles (EDF EN), owns the Mata-La Ventosa wind farms. Another subsidiary is co-owner of the Bii Stinu park, while a third operates the Santo Domingo wind farm.

The three projects are in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the southern state of Oaxaca, which is the shortest distance between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.

The Mata-La Ventosa farm generates 67.5 MW, Bii Stinu 164 and Santo Domingo 160.

The other project that has been questioned is Mareña Renovables, with a generating capacity of 396 MW, in the Oaxaca coastal community of San Dionisio del Mar, on the Pacific Ocean.

This project is currently at a standstill because of legal action brought by members of the community whose land it is being built on.

According to PODER statistics, in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which is 200 km wide and has a surface area of 30,000 square kilometers, there are at least 20 wind park projects, controlled by 16 different companies.

The isthmus is also home to 1,230 agrarian communities, mainly indigenous “ejidos” or communal lands. Of the five indigenous people on the isthmus, the largest groups are the Zapotecs and Ikoots.

Reports from PODER indicate that conditions are favourable to business and negative for the local communities.

“The irregularities show collusion between public and private actors,” the organisation says.

The result is asymmetrical relationships and abusive leasing arrangements, characterised by the concealment of the permanent damage that the wind parks cause to farmland, the lack of fair compensation for damage, and extremely low rental payments for the land.

One problem was the lack of translators and interpreters for the local indigenous languages in the negotiations between the companies and the communities.

The right of local and indigenous communities to free, prior and informed consent is enshrined in the International Labour Organisation Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

But this right has not been respected by the companies building the wind farms in the isthmus, PODER says.

Cokelet said the companies have thus failed to comply with international social and environmental standards.

In December 2013 the EDF EN joined the United Nations Global Compact, a set of 10 voluntary, non-binding principles in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption for public or private signatories. In December this year, the EDF EN must present its report on compliance with these principles.

Construction of the Mareña Renovables wind farm complex was brought to a halt in 2013 by court rulings favourable to the affected communities.

The project consists of two wind parks that would produce a total of 396 MW, with an investment of 1.2 billion dollars. The project is partly owned by PGGM, the Netherlands’ largest pension management company.

The project also has nearly 75 million dollars in financing from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and a 20 million dollar loan for the electricity purchaser from Denmark’s official Export Credit Agency (EKF).

In December 2012 the international Indian Law Resource Center filed a complaint on behalf of 225 inhabitants of seven indigenous communities with the IDB’s Independent Consultation and Investigation Mechanism (ICIM).

The complaint seeks damages given the absence of adequate consultation with the communities at the start of the project and the lack of measures in its design and execution aimed at avoiding negative impacts.

In September 2013, the IBD’s Panel of the Compliance Review Phase admitted the complaint. The panel is now preparing the investigation of the case, in order to draw up a report and proceed to oversee compliance with its provisions.

EDF’s Mata-La Ventosa also received a 189 million dollar loan from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group. In addition, the IFC channeled another 15 million dollars from the Clean Technology Fund (CTF).

Roberto Albisetti, IFC manager for Mexico and Central America, acknowledged to IPS the risk of complaints against the wind farms in Oaxaca, although he said the IFC’s independent grievance mechanism, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), had not received any up to now.

“The handling of the communities has been very serious,” he said. “We invested a lot of money in the consultation processes, because it is better to prevent than to face complaints later.”

In 2010, the IFC disbursed 375 million dollars for the construction of Eurus, another wind park in Oaxaca, which generates 250 MW.

Mareña Renovables, PGGM’s project, is also exposed to international legal action, on another flank.

Fomento Económico Mexicano (Femsa), Coca Cola’s bottler in Mexico, would be the biggest consumer of the electricity generated by the wind park. Femsa is the second-largest shareholder in the Dutch brewing company Heineken International.

Femsa also signed the U.N. Global Compact, in May 2005, and is to present its compliance report in March 2015. Heineken, meanwhile, joined in January 2006 and handed in its report in July.

Cokelet said Denmark’s EKF export credit agency, which also signed the Global Compact, could face legal action before the OECD for violating its principles to promote sustainable lending in the provision of official export credits to low-income countries.

Heineken and PGGM, which could also face complaints of violating OECD guidelines and principles, are in the same position, he added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Brazil to Monitor Improvement of Water Quality in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/brazil-to-monitor-improvement-of-water-quality-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazil-to-monitor-improvement-of-water-quality-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/brazil-to-monitor-improvement-of-water-quality-in-latin-america/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 21:25:32 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136376 A technician from the State Environmental Institute of Rio de Janeiro monitors water quality in the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon in this Brazilian city. Credit: Agência Brasil/EBC

A technician from the State Environmental Institute of Rio de Janeiro monitors water quality in the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon in this Brazilian city. Credit: Agência Brasil/EBC

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 27 2014 (IPS)

Problems in access to quality drinking water, supply shortages and inadequate sanitation are challenges facing development and the fight against poverty in Latin America. A new regional centre based in Brazil will monitor water to improve its management.

One example of water management problems in the region is the biggest city in Latin America and the fourth biggest in the world: the southern Brazilian megalopolis of São Paulo, which is experiencing its worst water crisis in history due to a prolonged drought that has left it without its usual water supplies – a phenomenon that experts link to climate change.

To prevent such problems, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Brazil’s national water agency (ANA) signed a memorandum of understanding, making the institution the hub for water quality monitoring in Latin America and the Caribbean.“Access to good quality water is one of the key issues for eliminating poverty and is also one of the main problems faced by developing countries. This has serious consequences for the health of the population and the environment.“ -- Marcelo Pires

ANA will also promote regional cooperation to strengthen monitoring and oversight.

“Brazil will be a hub for the region and will act as a coordinator for training programmes carried out together with other countries,” Marcelo Pires, an expert on water resources in the strategic management of ANA, told Tierramérica.

“Monitoring, sample collection methods and data analysis are very useful for decision-makers” when it comes to water management, he said.

The regional hub will also play a strong role in the establishment of national centres in each country.

“We don’t yet have a precise assessment of the situation, but we know there are advanced monitoring centres in Argentina, Chile and Colombia,” Pires said.

ANA will also be the nexus with UNEP to disseminate information on the quality of water resources, according to the parameters set by the U.N. Global Environment Monitoring System (GEMS) Water Programme.

That programme has created a global network of more than 4,000 research stations with data collected in some 100 countries.

Since 2010, Brazil’s water agency has been implementing a national water quality programme in the country’s 26 states and federal district, inspired by GEMS.

Pires said access to clean water, as well as the provision of sanitation to the entire population, is a basic condition for the country’s development.

The northern Brazilian city of Santarém, on the banks of the Tapajós river, a tributary of the Amazon river, dumps a large part of its waste in the area around the port. The lack of sanitation means the river is highly polluted. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

The northern Brazilian city of Santarém, on the banks of the Tapajós river, a tributary of the Amazon river, dumps a large part of its waste in the area around the port. The lack of sanitation means the river is highly polluted. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

“Access to good quality water is one of the key issues for eliminating poverty and is also one of the main problems faced by developing countries. This has serious consequences for the health of the population and the environment,” the expert said.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said the inefficient management of water resources and international cooperation among countries of the developing South were “fundamental steps” for the sustainable use of water.

“Guaranteeing infrastructure for water and sanitation is a basic condition for economic development. This challenge is made even more complex as a result of the impacts of climate change. All of this reinforces the need to adapt to the global reality,” Steiner said, announcing the agreement with ANA.

The memorandum of understanding between the two institutions was made known this month, although it was signed in July during a visit by Steiner to Brazil. It will initially be in effect until late 2018, when it could be extended.

A study carried out by ANA found that over 3,000 towns and cities are in danger of experiencing water shortages in Brazil starting next year. That is equivalent to 55 percent of the country’s municipalities.

Water shortages are a frequent aspect of life in Latin America, as is unequal distribution of water. In addition, the quality of both water and sanitation is precarious.

“Our outlook is not very different from that of our neighbours,” Pires said.

To illustrate, he noted that only 46 percent of the sewage from Brazilian households is collected, and of that portion only one-third is treated, according to the latest survey on basic sanitation.

“Brazil has a sanitation deficit. People coexist on a day-to-day level with polluted rivers. That is reflected in public health and even in the treatment of water to supply households,” Pires said.

Climate change, another variable

Climate change-related impacts also make greater integration in terms of water management necessary among the countries of Latin America, because it means episodes of drought are more frequent and more pronounced, which results in lower water levels in reservoirs.

In Latin America, 94 percent of the population has access to clean water – the highest proportion in the developing South – according to a May report by the World Health Organisation (WHO). But 20 percent of Latin Americans lack basic sanitation services.

There is also a high level of inequality in access to clean water and sanitation, between rural and urban areas.

The World Bank, for its part, notes that climate change generates a context of uncertainty and risks for water management, because it will increase water variability and lead to more intense floods and droughts.

The consequence will be situations like the one in greater São Paulo, where one-third of the population of 21 million now face water shortages, while incentives are provided to people who manage to cut water consumption by 20 percent.

Different São Paulo neighbourhoods have been rationing water supplies to residents since February.

Alceu Bittencourt, president of the Brazilian Association of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering in São Paulo, told Tierramérica that this is the worst water crisis in the history of the city and is evidence of climate variability.

He added that most cities and towns in Latin America have not put in place a response to these changes in the climate.

“It will take two or three years to get back to normal. This exceptional situation indicates that climate change is changing the rainfall patterns,” he commented, referring to the worst drought in southern Brazil in 50 years.

Since Jul. 12, the water that has reached the taps of at least nine million residents of São Paulo comes from the “dead volume” of the Cantareira system of dams, built in the 1970s, which collects the water from three rivers. The dead volume is a reserve located below the level of the sluices, and is only used in emergencies.

According to official projections, the reserve will be exhausted in October if the drought does not end, which would further aggravate the crisis that is already affecting every category of water consumer, Bittencourt explained.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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Climate Policy Goes Hand-in-Hand with Water Policyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/climate-policy-goes-hand-in-hand-with-water-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-policy-goes-hand-in-hand-with-water-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/climate-policy-goes-hand-in-hand-with-water-policy/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 21:16:20 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136373 Guyana beverage manufacturer Banks DIH Limited treats all waste water, making it safe for disposal into the environment. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Guyana beverage manufacturer Banks DIH Limited treats all waste water, making it safe for disposal into the environment. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Aug 27 2014 (IPS)

Concerned that climate change could lead to an intensification of the global hydrological cycle, Caribbean stakeholders are working to ensure it is included in the region’s plans for Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).

The basis of IWRM is that the many different uses of finite water resources are interdependent. High irrigation demands and polluted drainage flows from agriculture mean less freshwater for drinking or industrial use.

Contaminated municipal and industrial wastewater pollutes rivers and threatens ecosystems. If water has to be left in a river to protect fisheries and ecosystems, less can be diverted to grow crops."This is a very big deal for us because under predicted climate change scenarios we’re looking at things like drier dry seasons [and] more intense hurricanes." -- Natalie Boodram of WACDEP

Meanwhile, around the world, variability in climate conditions, coupled with new socioeconomic and environmental developments, have already started having major impacts.

The Global Water Partnership-Caribbean (GWP-C), which recently brought international and regional stakeholders together for a conference in Trinidad, is aimed at better understanding the climate system and the hydrological cycle and how they are changing; boosting awareness of the impacts of climate change on society, as well as the risk and uncertainty in the context of water and climate change and especially variability; and examining adaptation options in relation to water and climate change.

“Basically we’re looking to integrate aspects of climate change and climate variability and adaptation into the Caribbean water sector,” Natalie Boodram, programme manager of the Water, Climate and Development Programme (WACDEP), told IPS.

“And this is a very big deal for us because under predicted climate change scenarios we’re looking at things like drier dry seasons, more intense hurricanes, when we do get rain we are going to get more intense rain events, flooding.

“All of that presents a substantial challenge for managing our water resources. So under the GWP-C WACDEP, we’re doing a number of things to help the region adapt to this,” she added.

Current variability and long-term climate change impacts are most severe in a large part of the developing world, and particularly affect the poorest.

Through its workshops, GWP-C provides an opportunity for partners and stakeholders to assess the stage of the IWRM process that various countries have reached and work together to operationalise IWRM in their respective countries.

Integrated Water Resources Management is a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in order to maximise economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.

IWRM helps to protect the world’s environment, foster economic growth and sustainable agricultural development, promote democratic participation in governance, and improve human health.

GWP-C regional co-ordinator, Wayne Joseph, said the regional body is committed to institutionalising and operationalising IWRM in the region.

“Our major programme is the WACDEP Programme, Water and Climate Development Programme, and presently we are doing work in four Caribbean Countries – Jamaica, Antigua, Guyana and St. Lucia,” he told IPS.

“We’re gender-sensitive. We ensure that the youth are incorporated in what we do and so we provide a platform, a neutral platform, so that issues can be discussed that pertain to water and good water resources management.”

The Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN) is a non-profit, civil society body that focuses its resources on empowering Caribbean young people and their communities to develop programmes and actions to address socioeconomic and environmental issues.

Rianna Gonzales, the national coordinator of the Trinidad and Tobago Chapter, has welcomed the initiative of the GWP-C as being very timely and helpful, adding that the region’s youth have a very important role to play in the process.

“I think it’s definitely beneficial for young people to be part of such a strategic group of people in terms of getting access to resources and experts…so that we will be better able to communicate on water related issues,” she told IPS.

The CYEN programme aims at addressing issues such as poverty alleviation and youth employment, health and HIV/AIDS, climatic change and global warming, impact of natural disasters/hazards, improvement in potable water, conservation and waste management and other natural resource management issues.

The GWP-C said the Caribbean region has been exposed to IWRM and it is its goal to work together with its partners and stakeholders at all levels to implement IWRM in the Caribbean.

“A very significant activity for the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States has been to prepare a Water Sector Model Policy and Model Water Act which proposes to remedy the key water resources management issues through new institutional arrangements and mechanisms that include water and waste water master planning, private sector and community partnership and investment mechanisms,” GWP-C chair Judy Daniel told IPS.

IWRM has not been fully integrated in the policy, legal and planning frameworks in the Caribbean although several territories have developed/drafted IWRM Policies, Roadmaps and Action plans. Some of these countries include: Antigua and Barbuda; Barbados; Dominica; Grenada; Guyana, Jamaica; The Bahamas; Trinidad and Tobago; and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Amid Crisis, Puerto Rico’s Retirees Face Uncertain Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/amid-crisis-puerto-ricos-retirees-face-uncertain-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=amid-crisis-puerto-ricos-retirees-face-uncertain-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/amid-crisis-puerto-ricos-retirees-face-uncertain-future/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 11:02:49 +0000 Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136354 Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the U.S. Its relationship with the United States has been denounced as colonial by both the independence and pro-statehood movements. Credit: Arturo de la Barrera/cc by 2.0

Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the U.S. Its relationship with the United States has been denounced as colonial by both the independence and pro-statehood movements. Credit: Arturo de la Barrera/cc by 2.0

By Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero
SAN JUAN, Aug 27 2014 (IPS)

A feeling of insecurity has overtaken broad sectors of Puerto Rican society as the economy worsens, public sector debt spirals out of control, and the island’s creditworthiness is put in doubt.

To tackle this economic crisis, the administration of governor Alejandro Garcia-Padilla has adopted a number of measures that have been extremely unpopular with civil society and labour unions."Capital is on the offensive all over the world. But in Puerto Rico it's worse because it is a colony of the United States." -- Retired telephone company worker Guillermo De La Paz

Retirees have been particularly affected. In 2013, the government passed Law 160, which drastically changed the retirement system of public employees. It puts an end to the previous retirement system, established by Law 447 of 1951, under which every public sector worker was entitled to a full pension after 30 years of service, regardless of age.

But Law 160 changes that. The size of monthly pension payments is no longer guaranteed, and employees must work more years in order to get full benefits.

“The retirement system has been compromised,” said labour attorney Cesar Rosado-Ramos in a position paper for the Working People’s Party (PPT).

“It is unheard of, abusive and unjust that people with 30 years of service now have to keep working for four, five, 10 or even 15 additional years in order to receive a full pension. This means the working class will have to spend a lifetime working and if you survive you get a miserable retirement plan.”

The PPT was formed in 2009 by current and former members of the Movement Toward Socialism and the Socialist Front. Its first electoral participation was in the 2012 general elections but it did not get enough votes to elect any candidate.

Public school teachers were spared from Law 160. They sued and last April the PR Supreme Court ruled key parts of the law unconstitutional because they violated teachers’ contracts. Thus the teachers’ retirement was saved, but the court ruling upheld other parts of the law that reduce their Christmas bonuses, summer pay and medical benefits.

“The retirement age of public employees has been raised and their [retirement] benefits have been reduced to poverty level,” economist Martha Quiñones told IPS.

Ramón Marrero, an emergency doctor who works in the city of Cayey, was forced to continue working just when he was due for retirement. He was going to retire after 18 years of work, but with the new law he has to stay on for three more years to get a full pension.

“One has life projects for when retirement comes. When all of a sudden the date for retirement is postponed, all of these projects and plans are turned upside down,” said Marrero, who commutes to work from the nearby town of Cidra.

Quiñones, who teaches at the University of Puerto Rico, pointed out that private sector workers and pensioners are also in for a raw deal. “Many of those private pensions are tied to Puerto Rico government bonds, which have recently been downgraded by Moody’s and Standard and Poor. When the value of these bonds is affected, pensions are reduced.”

Many public sector retirees are politically active, not only defending their benefits and pension plans from the ever present threat of privatisation, but also protesting the government’s neoliberal austerity policies, which affect all of society.

“The local ruling class seeks to reverse the gains and livelihoods of workers to what they used to be in a bygone era,” said labour activist Jose Rivera-Rivera, president of the retirees chapter of the UTIER labour union.

“In order for the neoliberal system to establish its superiority it must erase the last two centuries of labor struggle and solidarity. It’s the new stage of capitalism, they want us to start from zero.”

“Capital is on the offensive all over the world. But in Puerto Rico it’s worse because it is a colony of the United States,” retired telephone company worker Guillermo De La Paz told IPS. “Here the exploiters can experiment in ways they cannot do in a sovereign country.”

Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the U.S. Its relationship with the United States has been denounced as colonial by both the independence and pro-statehood movements.

The Puerto Rico Telephone Company was public until it was privatised by then governor Pedro Rosselló in 1998. Privatisation opponents paralysed the island in a two-day general strike in July of that year, but to no avail.

“For the rich there is no crisis,” said De La Paz. “I mean, we’ve got [billionaire] Henry Paulson urging rich people to come here to avoid taxes.”

Rivera-Rivera believes that in order to get Puerto Rico out of its economic crisis and protect retirement benefits, the government could start by taxing the rich.

“Our government is supposedly in crisis because it cannot pay its debt, but the previous administration [Governor Luis Fortuño, 2009-2012] practically eliminated the fiscal responsibility of major corporations and rich people in its 2009 tax reform. It wasn’t justified, they were already enjoying major tax breaks.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Threat of Hydropower Dams Still Looms in Chile’s Patagoniahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/threat-of-hydropower-dams-still-looms-in-chiles-patagonia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=threat-of-hydropower-dams-still-looms-in-chiles-patagonia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/threat-of-hydropower-dams-still-looms-in-chiles-patagonia/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 21:09:32 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136360 The Aysén region in Chile’s southern Patagonia wilderness has some of the largest freshwater reserves on the planet thanks to its swift-running rivers, innumerable lakes, and lagoons like the one in this picture, located 20 km from Coyhaique, the regional capital. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The Aysén region in Chile’s southern Patagonia wilderness has some of the largest freshwater reserves on the planet thanks to its swift-running rivers, innumerable lakes, and lagoons like the one in this picture, located 20 km from Coyhaique, the regional capital. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
COYHAIQUE, Chile , Aug 26 2014 (IPS)

After its victory in a nearly decade-long struggle against HidroAysén, a project that would have built five large hydroelectric dams on wilderness rivers, Chile’s Patagonia region is gearing up for a new battle: blocking a quiet attempt to build a dam on the Cuervo River.

The dam would be constructed in an unpopulated area near Yulton lake, in Aysén, Chile’s water-rich region in the south. The aim is to ease the energy shortage that has plagued this country for decades and has prompted an accelerated effort to diversify the energy mix and boost the electricity supply.

However, the Cuervo River project is “much less viable than HidroAysén, because of environmental and technical reasons and risks,” Peter Hartmann, coordinator of the Aysén Life Reserve citizen coalition, told Tierramérica, expressing the view widely shared by environmentalists in the region.

The big concern of opponents to the new hydroelectric initiative is that it could be approved as a sort of bargaining chip, after the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet cancelled HidroAysén on Jun. 10.

Endorsement of the Cuervo River dam will also be favoured by an Aug. 21 court ruling that gave the project a boost.

The Cuervo Hydroelectric Plant Project is being developed by Energía Austral, a joint venture of the Swiss firm Glencore and Australia’s Origin Energy. It would be built at the headwaters of the Cuervo River, some 45 km from the city of Puerto Aysén, the second-largest city in the region after Coyhaique, the capital.

It would generate a total of approximately 640 MW, with the potential to reduce the annual emissions of the Sistema Interconectado Central de Chile (SIC) – the central power grid – by around 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide.

Energía Austral is studying the possibility of a submarine power cable or an aerial submarine power line.

In 2007, the regional commission on the environment rejected an initial environmental impact study presented by the company.

Two years later, Energía Austral introduced a new environmental impact study, for the construction of a hydropower complex that would include two more dams: a 360-MW plant on the Blanco River and a 54-MW plant on Lake Cóndor, to be built after the Cuervo River plant.

“Cuervo appeared when HidroAysén was at its zenith, and the Cuervo River dam was a second priority for the Patagonia Without Dams campaign,” said Hartmann, who is also the regional director of the National Committee for the Defence of Flora and Fauna (CODEFF).

“In the beginning there was diligent monitoring of the project, from the legal sphere, but we ran out of funds and the entire focus shifted to HidroAysén as the top priority, and not Cuervo,” he added.

According to the experts, the Cuervo River plant would pose more than just an environmental risk, because it would be built on the Liquiñe-Ofqui geological fault zone, an area of active volcanoes.

For example, a minor eruption of the Hudson volcano in October 2011 prompted a red alert and mass evacuation of the surrounding areas. Mount Hudson is located “right behind the area where the Blanco River plant would be built,” Hartmann said.

“Energía Austral is doing everything possible not to mention the Hudson volcano, because it knows what it’s getting involved in,” he added.

In response to such concerns, the company has insisted that the plant “will be safe with regard to natural phenomena like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.” It adds that “the presence of geological fault lines is not exclusive to the Cuervo River.”

It also argues that in Chile and around the world many plants have been built on geological fault lines or near volcanoes, and have operated normally even after a seismic event.

The national authorities approved the construction of the Cuervo dam in 2013. But shortly afterwards the Supreme Court accepted a plea presented by environmental and citizen organisations to protect the area where it is to be built, and ordered a thorough study of the risks posed by construction of the plant.

However, on Aug. 21 the Court ratified, in a unanimous ruling, the environmental permits that the authorities had granted for construction of the dam. The verdict paves the way for final approval by the government, which would balance out its rejection of HidroAysén.

“The state is not neutral with respect to energy production; we are interested in seeing projects go forward that would help us overcome our infrastructure deficit,” Energy Minister Máximo Pacheco said in June.

And in July he stated that “Chile cannot feel comfortable while hydroelectricity makes up such a small share of our energy mix, given that it is a clean source of energy that is abundant in our country.”

Chile has an installed capacity of approximately 17,000 MW, 74 percent in the SIC central grid, 25 percent in the northern grid – the Sistema Interconectado Norte Grande – and less than one percent in the medium-sized grids of the Aysén and Magallanes regions in the south.

According to the Energy Ministry, demand for electricity in Chile will climb to 100,000 MW by 2020. An additional 8,000 MW of installed capacity will be needed to meet that demand.
Chile imports 60 percent of the primary energy that it consumes. Hydropower makes up 40 percent of the energy mix, which is dependent on highly polluting fossil fuels that drive thermal power stations for the rest.

Currently, 62 percent of the new energy plants under construction are thermal power stations. And 92 percent of those will be coal-fired.

Regional Energy Secretary Juan Antonio Bijit told Tierramérica that independently of Aysén’s enormous hydropower potential, “if we analyse the energy mix, it is highly dependent on thermal power, so the most logical thing would appear to be to increase supply in the area of hydroelectricity.”

He said the Aysén region “currently produces around 40 MW of energy, which only covers domestic consumption.”

But, he said, “we have significant potential” in terms of hydroelectricity as well as wind and solar power.

“The region’s capacity for electricity generation is quite strong,” he said. “However, we have to study how we will generate power, and for what uses.”

Bijit said the region’s contribution of energy to the rest of the country “should be analysed together with the community.”

“We can’t do things behind closed doors; we have to talk to the people,” he said. “That was done in a workshop prior to the decision reached on HidroAysén and now we are doing it with the Energía Austral project and others,” he said.

“The idea is that the people should be participants in what is being done or should be done in the field of energy,” he added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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OPINION: Boosting Resilience in the Caribbean Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-boosting-resilience-in-the-caribbean-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-boosting-resilience-in-the-caribbean-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-boosting-resilience-in-the-caribbean-countries/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 10:42:20 +0000 Jessica Faieta http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136332 By Jessica Faieta
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 26 2014 (IPS)

Having lived and worked for more than a decade in four Caribbean countries, I have witnessed firsthand how Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are extremely vulnerable to challenges ranging from debt and unemployment to climate change and sea level rise.

Such aspects make their paths towards sustainable development probably more complex than non-SIDS countries. That was my experience, working closely with governments, civil society organisations and the people of Belize, Cuba, Guyana and Haiti – where I led the U.N. Development Programme’s (UNDP) reconstruction efforts after the devastating January 2010 earthquake.In addition to saving lives, for every dollar spent in disaster preparedness and mitigation, seven dollars will be saved when a disaster strikes.

That’s why the upcoming UN Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), taking place in Samoa, Sep. 1-4 is so important. It will provide an opportunity to increase international cooperation and knowledge sharing between and within regions. And it takes place at a key moment, ahead of the Climate Change Summit at the UN General Assembly, to be held on Sep. 23.

Climate change—and all natural hazards, in fact—hit Small Island Developing States hard, even though these countries haven’t historically contributed to the problem. Extreme exposure to disasters such as flooding, hurricanes, droughts, landslides and earthquakes place these countries at a particularly vulnerable position.

In the Caribbean, two key sectors, agriculture and tourism, which are crucial for these countries’ economies, are especially exposed. Agriculture provides 20 percent of total employment in the Caribbean. In some countries, like Haiti and Grenada, half of the total jobs depends on agriculture. Moreover, travel and tourism accounted for 14 percent of Caribbean countries’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2013 – the highest for any region in the world.

According to Jamaica’s Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, during the period 2000-2010 the country was impacted by 10 extreme weather events which have led the country to lose around two percent of its GDP per year. Moreover, sea levels have risen 0.9 mm per year, according to official figures. This causes Jamaicans, who live largely on the coast, not only to lose their beaches, but it also increases salinity in fresh waters and farming soil.

Courtesy of UNDP

Courtesy of UNDP

Also, when I visited Jamaica in July, the country was facing one of the worst droughts in its history. This had already led to a significant fall in agricultural production, higher food imports, increased food prices and a larger number of bush fires – which in turn destroy farms and forested areas.

Clearly, if countries do not reduce their vulnerabilities and strengthen their resilience – not only to natural disasters but also to financial crises – we won’t be able to guarantee, let alone expand, progress in the social, economic and environmental realms.

Preparedness is essential—and international cooperation plays a key role. UNDP is working closely with governments and societies in the Caribbean to integrate climate change considerations in planning and policy. This means investing in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction and preparedness, particularly in the most vulnerable communities and sectors.

In Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago, where I also met recently with key authorities, UNDP is working with the government to enhance climate change preparedness on three fronts: agriculture, natural disasters and promoting the use of renewable energy resources, which is critical to reduce the dependency on imported fossil fuels.

Knowledge-sharing between and within regions is also vital. UNDP has been working with governments in the Caribbean to share a successful practice that began in Cuba in 2005. The initiative, the Risk Reduction Management Centres, supports local governments’ pivotal role in the civil defence system.

In addition, experts from different agencies collaborate to map disaster-prone areas, analyse risk and help decision-making at the municipal level. Importantly, each Centre is also linked up with vulnerable communities through early warning teams, which serve as the Centre’s “tentacles”, to increase awareness and safeguard people and economic resources.

This model has been adapted and is being rolled out in the British Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

In Jamaica, for example, in hazard-prone St Catherine’s Parish on the outskirts of Kingston, a team has been implementing the country’s first such Centre, mapping vulnerable areas and training community leaders to play a central role in the disaster preparation and risk reduction system.

In Old Harbor Bay, a fishing community of 7,000 inhabitants, UNDP, together with the government of Jamaica, has provided emergency equipment and training for better preparation and evacuation when hurricanes or other disasters strike.

Boosting preparedness and increasing resilience is an investment. In addition to saving lives, for every dollar spent in disaster preparedness and mitigation, seven dollars will be saved when a disaster strikes.

However, it is also crucial to address vulnerability matters beyond climate change or natural disasters. Small Island Developing States—in the Caribbean and other regions— are often isolated from world trade and global finance. The international community needs to recognise and support this vulnerable group of countries, as they pave the way to more sustainable development.

Jessica Faieta is United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and UN Development Programme (UNDP) Director for Latin America and the Caribbean www.latinamerica.undp.org @jessicafaieta @undplac

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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Breakthroughs and Hurdles in Colombia’s Peace Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/breakthroughs-and-hurdles-in-colombias-peace-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=breakthroughs-and-hurdles-in-colombias-peace-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/breakthroughs-and-hurdles-in-colombias-peace-talks/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 20:50:21 +0000 Constanza Vieira http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136327 The first delegation of victims of Colombia’s armed conflict offer a press conference after their talks with the government and FARC negotiators on Aug. 16 in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The first delegation of victims of Colombia’s armed conflict offer a press conference after their talks with the government and FARC negotiators on Aug. 16 in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Constanza Vieira
BOGOTA, Aug 25 2014 (IPS)

Three major advances were made over the last week in the peace talks that have been moving forward in Cuba for nearly two years between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas, while the decades-old civil war rages on.

On Saturday Aug. 16, a group of relatives of victims of both sides met face-to-face in the Cuban capital. It was the first time in the world that victims have sat down at the same table with representatives of their victimisers in negotiations to put an end to a civil war.

And on Thursday Aug. 21 an academic commission was set up to study the roots of the conflict and the factors that have stood in the way of bringing it to an end.

That day, the unthinkable happened.

High-level army, air force, navy and police officers flew to Cuba, under the command of General Javier Alberto Flórez, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In the 24-hour technical mission they met with their archenemies, the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which emerged in 1964) to discuss “how to implement a definitive bilateral ceasefire, and how the FARC would disband and lay down their arms,” said President Juan Manuel Santos.

Santos described the participation of active officers in the talks, as part of a subcommission installed on Friday Aug. 22, as “a historic step forward.”

Twelve victims, of the 60 who will travel to Havana in five groups, met for nearly seven hours on Aug. 16 with the FARC and government negotiators, who included two retired generals, one of whom was Jorge Enrique Mora Rangel, an army officer accused of human rights abuses.At one extreme, former rightwing President Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010) proposes the creation of a higher court to review the sentences handed down against members of the security forces from 1980 to 2026, and to release them while the sentences are revised. At the other extreme, the FARC do not recognise Colombia’s legal system as having the authority to try the guerrillas, once a peace agreement is reached.

The group of 12 was made up of six relatives of victims of crimes of state and of the far-right paramilitaries (which partially demobilised in the last decade), four victims of the FARC, and two victims of two or three different armed actors.

It was “a unique experiment that has not been seen anywhere else,” according to Fabrizio Hochschild, representative of the United Nations in Colombia.

In previous forums in Colombia, thousands of family members of victims have expressed their main demands: the truth about what happened to their loved ones, improvements in the mechanisms for reparations, guarantees that what happened will not be repeated, and justice.

The negotiators gave the task of selecting the groups of victims’ relatives to the U.N., Colombia’s National University, and the Catholic bishops’ conference. They were chosen from an official universe of 6.7 million victims and survivors, including 5.7 million victims of forced displacement, most of whom are small-scale farmers.

In the Colombian conflict, the last civil war in Latin America, the dead number at least 420,000 since 1946, including more than 220,000 since 1958, according to commissions for the historic memory set up in 1962 and 2012.

The creation of a Historical Commission on the Conflict and Victims (CHCV), at the behest of the negotiating table, was announced Thursday Aug. 21.

The commission consists of six academics and one rapporteur named by each side, for a total of 14 historians, sociologists, anthropologists, economist and political scientists.

The CHCV will analyse the origins of the armed conflict, the aspects that have stood in the way of a solution, and the question of who is responsible for its impacts on the population.

The rapporteurs will produce a joint report, by late December, although they will not “attribute individual responsibilities” and the report “must not be written with the aim of achieving specific legal effects,” the negotiating table stipulated.

This is not a truth commission, which should emerge once a peace agreement is signed. But it is a firm step in that direction.

Meanwhile, the aspect that appears to be foremost in the mind of public opinion in Colombia is neither the question of truth nor how to guarantee that the atrocities won’t happen again; it is the question of justice.

At one extreme, former rightwing President Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010) proposes the creation of a higher court to review the sentences handed down against members of the security forces from 1980 to 2026, and to release them while the sentences are revised.

At the other extreme, the FARC do not recognise Colombia’s legal system as having the authority to try the guerrillas, once a peace agreement is reached.

That position is based on a certain logic: if the guerrilla group is part of the negotiations, along with the state, and both have committed crimes, the state “cannot be both judge and jury,” the FARC negotiator, a commander whose nom de guerre is Pablo Catatumbo, told IPS in Havana.

At the same time, the families of victims of forced disappearance do not accept impunity.

The victims’ families asked the negotiators on both sides not to get up from the table until an agreement is reached.

But the fragility of the peace talks, held under the principle of “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” is evident.

There are still 28 pending aspects in the three points that have been agreed, of the six points on the agenda for the talks. It will be difficult to reach a consensus on these unresolved aspects, which are marked in red: 14 sub-points in the area of agriculture, 10 in political participation and four in the area of illegal drugs.

The CHVC is to make recommendations for reaching agreement on these sub-points.
Besides its interest in the question of justice, the public wants the FARC to demobilise and lay down their arms.

General Mora Rangel said in June “they must demobilise and hand over their weapons…they have to do so to join society and Colombia’s democratic system.”

But according to peace analyst Carlos Velandia, there will be no demobilisation, no laying down of arms, and no reinsertion.

There will be no photo ops of a “mass demobilisation”, like the ceremonies held in the mid-2000s showing the paramilitaries handing in their weapons, he said. Instead armed structures will be transformed into political structures, although the mechanism has not been worked out yet, he added.

And unlike in the case of the paramilitaries, “there won’t be thousands of insurgents stretching out their hands for ‘Papá State’ to help them,” he said.

Despite the obstacles, “the problem doesn’t lie over there, where both sides are taking a proactive stance,” a Catholic priest who is well-informed on what is going on in the talks in Havana told IPS.

The problem lies in Colombia, he said, where Uribe – now an extreme-right senator and a leader of the opposition in the legislature – had an enormous influence on public opinion during his two terms as president.

Uribe is “working on” businesspersons, bankers, large-scale merchants, and some journalists, to win them over in his fierce campaign against the peace talks, the priest said.

“Santos isn’t a leader, he’s a follower. If the country turns against him, he’ll abandon the peace process,” he maintained.

If there is strong public support for an eventual peace deal, the powerful oligarchy’s pressure on Santos could convince him to block a referendum on the peace agreement.
But if Uribe and victimisers who do not want to be more openly identified by the victims manage to foment rejection of the peace talks among voters, they would not object to a referendum on an eventual peace accord.

A precedent for this was set in Guatemala, where turnout for a referendum on a peace deal that put an end to 36 years of civil war – 1960-1996 – was extremely low, and among the few voters who did show up, a majority rejected the peace agreement.

In Colombia’s peace talks in Havana, the mechanism of a popular referendum is the sixth point on the agenda, which is still pending, and Santos has not referred to it in public.

To block these maneuvers, “there have to be more and more decisions aimed at recognising the legitimacy of the talks, including acts of truth and forgiveness. That will make it more likely, although not more sure, that the peace process will move forward successfully,” because “the more people who can forgive, the closer we are to seeing peace win out,” the priest said.

Different sectors of society agree on the need for “a new social pact” to approve the accords and work out the pending aspects marked in red. For the FARC and many others, on the left or the far right, these pacts should be reached through a constituent assembly that would rewrite the constitution. But Santos would appear to be leaning towards a referendum instead.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Migrants Deported from the U.S. in Limbo on the Mexican Borderhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/migrants-deported-from-the-u-s-in-limbo-on-the-mexican-border/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migrants-deported-from-the-u-s-in-limbo-on-the-mexican-border http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/migrants-deported-from-the-u-s-in-limbo-on-the-mexican-border/#comments Sat, 23 Aug 2014 21:40:12 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136301 A migrant deported from the United States sleeps under a bridge on the stretch of the Tijuana River known as El Bordo, at the northwestern tip of Mexico, next to the border. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

A migrant deported from the United States sleeps under a bridge on the stretch of the Tijuana River known as El Bordo, at the northwestern tip of Mexico, next to the border. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
TIJUANA, Mexico, Aug 23 2014 (IPS)

The areas under the low bridges over a section of the canalised channel of the Tijuana River that runs along the border between Mexico and the United States have become enormous open-air toilets.

Along the entire two-km stretch from the eastern part of Tijuana to the wall on the U.S. border, hundreds of people sleep in makeshift tents of cardboard and cloth, tunnel-like holes, and sewage ditches and on the bridges and the sides of the levees. The banks are strewn with trash washed down by the Tijuana River, which stinks from the sewage.

The stench is dizzying. At 7:00 AM, the junkies, who can get heroin here for two dollars a dose, are happy to be given a few chocolates, which help curb their sugar craving. “This is the city of El Bordo,” one of them tells IPS with a crooked smile, his hand stretched out.

This is the “city” of people who have no one. The underside of the border bridges and the banks of the concrete-lined channel are home to hundreds of deported homeless migrants who have decided to wait for a better moment to cross this tightly sealed border, and who survive cleaning windshields, offering to carry people’s bags outside of supermarkets, doing odd construction jobs, collecting refuse to sell for recycling, or panhandling on the streets of the border city of Tijuana.

“The population that inhabits El Bordo is an illustration of the extreme conditions that the most vulnerable deportees can face in Mexico,” says the study “Estimates and Characteristics of the Population Residing in El Bordo on the Tijuana River Channel”.

The report, produced by the Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF), counted between 700 and 1,000 people living in El Bordo in August-September 2013.In the last five years more and more families have been broken up as a result of deportations. One statistic reflects the magnitude of the phenomenon: while in 2007 only 20 percent of those deported were sent back without their families, that proportion climbed to 77 percent in 2012.

It adds that the residents of El Bordo are mainly male addicts (some began to use drugs here) in their forties, who were deported in the last four years and have no identity documents. Most of them have left children behind in Mexico or the United States.

According to the report, half of them speak English, and overall they have similar levels of schooling as the rest of the population of Tijuana. It adds that only six percent say they want to return to their place of origin in Mexico.

“These results reflect that deportations from the United States to Mexico are causing families to separate, and are specifically separating parents from their homes, which causes a rupture in the lives of individuals and families, and puts an end to the possibility of integration in the country of residency by the rest of the members of the family,” says the study, coordinated by Laura Velasco, a researcher in COLEF’s Department of Cultural Studies.

Tijuana is at the northwestern tip of Mexico, 2,780 km from Mexico City. It is in the state of Baja California across the border from San Diego, California. In 2012, the city received 59,845 of the 409,849 people deported by the government of Barack Obama.

Since Obama’s second administration began in 2009, more than two million people have been deported – seven people per hour in 2012 – which means the administration has deported more people than any other government.

Tijuana, population 1.7 million, has more drug addicts than any other city in Mexico, in proportional terms. It is the headquarters of weakened drug cartels, and is considered one of the most violent and dangerous cities in the world.

For decades it was the main gateway for migrants to the United States.

But the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington prompted a shift in U.S. migration policy and the Mexican border began to be sealed off, forcing undocumented immigrants to seek out increasingly remote and hazardous routes, while the number of Border Patrol agents climbed from 3,500 in 2005 to 21,000 in 2013.

Mexico and the U.S. are separated by a 3,500-km border. Baja California, which borders the city of San Diego and the state of Arizona, receives one-third of the deportees and is the state with the largest number of foreign residents.

In the state capital, Mexicali, 177 km east of Tijuana, the heat of August – up to 50 degrees Celsius – can kill, and people who don’t have air conditioners sleep on rooftops.

Mexicali has its “mini Bordo”: the Montealbán condominium complex, severely damaged by an earthquake in 2010, on the eastern shore of the now non-existent Nuevo River, a few metres from the historic old city.

Some 80 local homeless people and deported immigrants, basically all of them addicts, live in the condemned buildings.

Bodies have been found in the ruins. The latest was discovered on Apr. 15. And there are constant fires and police raids.

“I live here because there is nowhere else to go,” Josué, a 33-year-old from Guatemala, told IPS.

“I felt overwhelmed in the shelter, there are so many people,” said Josué, who was deported Aug. 1, 2013 and has only one thing on his mind: returning to the United States.

He has already tried to cross the border in Nogales, in the state of Sonora, but he didn’t make it. He was told it was easier here, and he’s just waiting “for the heat to end” to try again. “I was 10 years old when I got to California; I have nothing in Guatemala,” he said.

Another COLEF study on the characteristics of deported immigrants, in this case Mexican women, sounds the alert about the health problems they face.

“There is an alarmingly high rate of symptoms of emotional problems among the deportees – nearly 20 times higher than among those who return voluntarily,” says the study, based on research on the health of deportees being carried out by Letza Bojórquez, a researcher with COLEF’s Department of Population Studies.

Drawing on statistics from the Border Survey of Mexican Migration, the study found that 40 percent of the migrant population living on the streets reported emotional problems and 12 percent answered “yes” to the question of whether they had ever thought about taking their life.

In the last five years more and more families have been broken up as a result of deportations. One statistic reflects the magnitude of the phenomenon: while in 2007 only 20 percent of those deported were sent back without their families, that proportion climbed to 77 percent in 2012.

“The problem here is that there is no policy providing for attention to the deportees,” activist Sergio Tamai, director of the Albergue Hotel Migrante, a shelter in Mexicali, and one of the heads of the organisation Ángeles sin Fronteras, told IPS. “Hundreds of deportees started to arrive and there was no institution prepared to receive them.”

Between August and November 2013, Tamai led a protest in Tijuana, with 800 people camping out in the Plaza Constitución to demand programmes providing assistance to migrants, deportees and the homeless.

Lobbying of the authorities by civil society organisations and religious groups has brought some results.

On Aug. 7, the state legislature of Baja California passed a law for support for the rights of and protection of migrants in the state, which requires that the state system for the integral development of the family provide social assistance to unaccompanied minor children and adolescents, and that a state registry of migrants be created.

It was the first state to do so, after the Mexican Congress approved the creation of a new migration law in 2011, which replaced the 1947 law and provides legal recourse for Central American migrants making their way through Mexico.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Aug 22 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rocha has a somewhat different opinion.

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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U.S., Brazil Nearing Approval of Genetically Engineered Treeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-brazil-nearing-approval-of-genetically-engineered-trees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-brazil-nearing-approval-of-genetically-engineered-trees http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-brazil-nearing-approval-of-genetically-engineered-trees/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 23:35:52 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136255 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

The U.S. and Brazilian governments are moving into the final stages of weighing approval for the commercialisation of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees, moves that would mark the first such permits anywhere in the world.

The Brazilian government is slated to start taking public comments on such a proposal during the first week of September. Similarly, U.S. regulators have been working on an environmental impact assessment since early last year, a highly anticipated draft of which is expected to be released any day.

Technician Christine Berry checks on futuristic peach and apple “orchards”. Each dish holds tiny experimental trees grown from lab-cultured cells to which researchers have given new genes. Credit: USDA Agricultural Research Service

Technician Christine Berry checks on futuristic peach and apple “orchards”. Each dish holds tiny experimental trees grown from lab-cultured cells to which researchers have given new genes. Credit: USDA Agricultural Research Service

Despite industry claims to the contrary, critics warn that the use of genetically engineered (GE) trees would increase deforestation. The approvals could also spark off a new era of such products, which wouldn’t be confined solely to these countries.

“If Brazil and the United States get permission to commercialise these trees, there is nothing to say that they wouldn’t just export these products to other countries to grow,” Anne Petermann, the executive director of the Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP) and the coordinator of the Campaign to Stop GE Trees, a network that Wednesday announced a new global initiative, told IPS.

“These GE trees would grow faster and be more economically valuable, so it’s easy to see how current conventional plantations would be converted to GE plantations – in many parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia. Further, both Europe and the U.S. are currently looking at other genetically engineered trees that bring with them a whole additional range of potential impacts.”

While the United States has thus far approved the use of two genetically modified fruit trees, the eucalyptus is the first GE forest tree to near release. Similar policy discussions are currently taking place in the European Union, Australia and elsewhere, while China has already approved and is using multiple GE trees.

The plantation approach

The eucalyptus is a particularly lucrative tree, currently the most widely planted hardwood in the world and used especially to produce pulp for paper and paper products.

In the United States, the trees would also likely be used to feed growing global demand for biofuels, particularly in the form of wood pellets. In 2012 alone, U.S. exports of wood pellets increased by some 70 percent, and the United States is today the world’s largest such producer.

U.S. regulators are currently looking at two types of eucalyptus that have been genetically engineered to withstand frosts and certain antibiotics, thus allowing for plantations to be planted much farther north. The company requesting the approval, ArborGen, says the introduction of its GE seedlings would quadruple the eucalyptus’s range in the United States alone.

ArborGen has estimated that its sales could see 20-fold growth, to some 500 million dollars a year by 2017, if GE trees receive U.S. approval, according to a comprehensive report published last year by the Washington-based Center for Food Safety. Likewise, Brazilian analysts have suggested that the market for eucalyptus products could expand by some 500 percent over the coming two decades.

Yet the eucalyptus, which has been grown in conventional plantations for years, has been widely shown to be particularly problematic – even dangerous – in monoculture.

The eucalyptus takes unusually high levels of water to grow, for instance, and is notably invasive. The trees are also a notorious fire hazard; during a devastating fire in the U.S. state of California in the 1990s, nearly three-quarters of the blaze’s energy was estimated to come from highly combustible eucalyptus trees.

In addition, many are worried that approval of the GE proposals in the United States and Brazil would, inevitably, act as a significant boost to the monoculture plantation model of production.

“This model has been shown to be very negative for local communities and nature, expelling and restricting the access of people to their territories, depleting and contaminating water sources – especially in the Global South,” Winifridus Overbeek, coordinator of the World Rainforest Movement, a global pressure group, told IPS from Uruguay.

“Many of these plantations in Brazil have hindered much-needed agrarian land reform under which hungry people could finally produce food on their own lands. But under the plantation model, most of the wood produced is destined for export, to attend to the ever-increasing paper demand elsewhere.”

Overbeek says Brazilian peasants complain that “No one can eat eucalyptus.”

More wood, more land

Despite the rise of digital media over the past decade, the global paper industry remains a behemoth, responding to demand for a million tonnes of paper and related products every day. That amounted to some 400 million tonnes of paper used in 2010, according to the World Wildlife Fund, and could increase to 500 million tonnes per year by the end of the decade.

A key argument from ArborGen and others in favour of genetically engineered trees, and the plantation system more generally, is that increased use of “farmed” trees would reduce pressure on native forests. Indeed, ArborGen’s motto is “More Wood. Less Land”.

Yet as the world has increasingly adopted the plantation approach, the impact has been clear. Indonesia, for instance, has allowed for the clear-cutting of more than half of its forests over the past half-century, driven particularly by the growth of palm plantations.

According to U.N. data, plantations worldwide doubled their average wood production during the two decades leading up to 2010.  But the size of those plantations also increased by some 60 percent.

“While it sounds nice and helpful to create faster-growing trees, in reality the opposite is true. As you make these things more valuable, more land gets taken over for them,” GJEP’s Petermann says.

“Especially in Brazil, for instance, because we’ve seen an intensification of wood coming from each hectare of land, more and more land is being converted.”

In June, more than 120 environmental groups from across the globe offered a vision on comprehensive sustainability reforms across the paper sector, traditionally a key driver of deforestation. That document, the Global Paper Vision, encourages users and producers to “refuse fibre from genetically modified organisms”.

“Theoretically, arguments on the benefits of GE trees could be true, motivated by increasing competition for wood resources,” Joshua Martin, the director of the Environmental Paper Network (EPN), a U.S.-based umbrella group that spearheaded the vision document, told IPS.

“But ultimately this is an attempt to find a technological solution – and, we feel, a false solution given the dangers, both known and unknown, around this experimental use. Instead, we advocate for conservation and reducing consumption as logical first steps before manipulating nature and putting natural systems at risk of contamination.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Caregiving Exacerbates the Burden for Women in Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/caregiving-exacerbates-the-burden-for-women-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caregiving-exacerbates-the-burden-for-women-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/caregiving-exacerbates-the-burden-for-women-in-cuba/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 19:46:05 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136246 Women buying food at a farmers market in the Playa neighbourhood of Havana. More than 98 percent of the unpaid domestic work and family care in Cuban homes falls to women. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Women buying food at a farmers market in the Playa neighbourhood of Havana. More than 98 percent of the unpaid domestic work and family care in Cuban homes falls to women. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

Hortensia Ramírez feels like she needs more hands to care for her 78-year-old mother, who suffers from arteriosclerosis, do the housework, and make homemade baked goods which she sells to support her family.

She starts her day at 6:00 AM, putting the sheets that her mother wet during the nighttime to soak, before preparing the dough for the pastries and making lunch for her two sons; one works in computers and the other is in secondary school.

“Two years ago I quit my job as a nurse because my mother couldn’t be alone, and although I have a brother who helps with the expenses, I provide the day-to-day care,” the 57-year-old, who separated from her second partner shortly before her mother started to need round-the-clock care, told IPS.

“Since then my life has been reduced to taking care of her, but it’s more and more complicated to put food on the table and to get her medication – and don’t even mention disposable diapers on my limited income…Well, let’s just say I end my day exhausted.”

Like the majority of middle-aged Cuban women, Ramírez feels the burden of domestic responsibilities and family care, exacerbated by economic hardship after more than 20 years of crisis in this socialist country.

The burden of caretaking traditionally falls to women, which sustains gender inequalities and makes women vulnerable to the reforms undertaken by the government of Raúl Castro since 2008, aimed at boosting productivity and the efficiency of the economy, but without parallel wage hikes.

The reduction of the number of boarding schools where students combine learning with agricultural work in rural areas, the closure of workplace cafeterias, and cutbacks in the budget for social assistance have left families on their own in areas where they used to receive support from the state, and which affect, above all, the female half of the population of 11.2 million.

“The state is passing part of the burden of caregiving and healthcare and education to families, but economic development should take into account the contributions made by families,” economist Teresa Lara told IPS.

If no one cooks, takes care of the collective hygiene, helps children with homework or cares for older adults and the ill, then the workforce won’t grow, the expert said.

Cuban women in the labour market

- In Cuba there are 6,976,100 people of working age, and the active population amounts to 5,086,000. Of the 3,326,200 women of working age, 1,906,200 have remunerated work.

- Women who work in the public sector are mainly concentrated in services, where they total 1,071,400.

- Over 31,000 Cuban women belong to cooperatives, 175,500 work in the private sector, and of this group, 73,300 are self-employed.

- And of the 1,854,753 homemakers, 92 percent are women.

- Of the 67,664 unemployed women in the country, 19,360 were heads of households.

Sources: Statistical Yearbook 2013 of the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) and Census on Population and Housing 2012

But these tasks, which almost always fall to women, remain invisible and unpaid.

Cuban women dedicate 71 percent of their working hours to unpaid domestic work, according to the only Time Use Survey published until now, carried out in 2002 by the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI).

The study, whose results remain valid today according to experts, found that for every 100 hours of work by men, women worked 120, many of them multitasking – cooking, cleaning, washing and caring for children.

Based on those tendencies, Lara estimates that unremunerated domestic work and caregiving would be equivalent to 20 percent of GDP – a larger proportion than manufacturing.

And that percentage could be even higher today given the complexity of daily life in Cuba, the economist said.

Without laundries, dry cleaning services, industries that produce precooked foods or other services that ease domestic tasks at affordable prices, Cuban families have to redouble their efforts to meet household needs.

To that is added the rundown conditions of homes for the elderly and public daycare centres and the reduction of the state budget for social assistance, from 656 million dollars in 2008 to 262 million in 2013, according to the national statistics office (ONEI).

Women often end up stuck in lower level jobs, or dropping out of the job market altogether, because of the burden of caretaking for children, the ill or the elderly, on top of the other household duties.

Many women find it hard to cope financially with the burden of caregiving, in a country where the average monthly salary is 20 dollars a month while the minimum amount that a family needs is three times that, even with subsidised prices for some food items and services.

ONEI statistics show that the female unemployment rate rose from two percent in 2008 to 3.5 percent in 2013, parallel to the drastic pruning of the government payroll, which could soon bring the number of people left without a job up to one million.

Although the number of areas where private enterprise or self-employment is permitted was expanded, they do not guarantee social security coverage. Nor do they tap into the expertise accumulated by women, who make up over 65 percent of the professional and technical workforce in this Caribbean island nation.

Sociologist Magela Romero says that burdening women with the social role of caretaker buttresses the unequal power relations between the genders, with economic, emotional, psychological and sexual consequences for women.

A qualitative study of 80 women from Havana carried out by the university professor in 2010, which IPS saw, concluded that a number of those interviewed were caught up in an endless cycle of caregiving: after they completed their studies they spent the rest of their lives raising children and taking care of parents, parents-in-law, grandparents, grandchildren, spouses and other family members.

This situation is especially complex in a country with an aging demographic, where 18 percent of the population is over 60 and 40 percent of households include someone over that age.

Adriana Díaz, an accountant, was only able to work in her profession for less than a decade.

“First my kids were born, and I raised them. Then I got divorced and I went back to work for four years, which were the best years of my life. But when my mother fell seriously ill, I quit again,” the 54-year-old told IPS.

Nearly nine years taking care of her mother round the clock left Díaz with a bad back and cardiovascular problems. Besides the fact that she is entirely dependent on her children, who moved abroad.

Social researcher María del Carmen Zabala says the gender gaps in employment that are a by-product of the fact that the responsibility for caregiving falls almost exclusively on women require policies that specifically address women, in line with the changes currently underway in the country.

Citing the rise in the proportion of female-headed households to 45 percent, according to the 2012 Census on Population and Housing, Zabala said specific policies targeting these families are needed, because they are especially vulnerable.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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A Life Reserve for Sustainable Development in Chile’s Patagoniahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/a-life-reserve-for-sustainable-development-in-chiles-patagonia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-life-reserve-for-sustainable-development-in-chiles-patagonia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/a-life-reserve-for-sustainable-development-in-chiles-patagonia/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 22:45:32 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136213 A stand at the crafts fair in the city of Coyhaique. The production of locally-made ecological crafts from Patagonia is part of the development alternative promoted by the Aysén Life Reserve project. Credit: Marianela Jarraud/IPS

A stand at the crafts fair in the city of Coyhaique. The production of locally-made ecological crafts from Patagonia is part of the development alternative promoted by the Aysén Life Reserve project. Credit: Marianela Jarraud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
COYHAIQUE, Chile, Aug 19 2014 (IPS)

The people of Patagonia in southern Chile are working to make the Aysén region a “life reserve”. Neighbouring Argentina, across the border, is a historic ally in this remote wilderness area which is struggling to achieve sustainable development and boost growth by making use of its natural assets.

“The Aysén Life Reserve mega citizen initiative emerged as a theoretical proposal to have a special region with a special development model, one based on inclusive sustainable development, with and for the people of the region,” activist Peter Hartmann, the creator of the concept and of the coalition that is pushing the project forward, told IPS.

“Many people say we want to chain off the region, but our aim is to use its good qualities, versus the megaprojects of the globalised world, which want to destroy them,” he said.

The southern region of Aysén is one of the least populated – and least densely populated – areas in Chile, with 105,000 inhabitants. This chilly wilderness area of vast biodiversity, swift-flowing rivers, lakes and glaciers also offers fertile land and marine resources that are exploited by large fishing companies.“The model we are building is aimed at strengthening economic development on a local scale, in a democratic fashion, and not with models imposed on us – development that is cooperative and economically and environmentally sustainable in time, under the premise that we are all just passing through this life and that you have to give back what you take.” -- Claudia Torres

“We are tiny and insignificant in this enormous territory,” Claudia Torres, a designer and communicator who was born and raised in Aysén, told IPS with visible pride.

Patagonia covers a total extension of approximately 800,000 sq km at the southern tip of the Americas, 75 percent of which is in Argentina and the rest in Aysén and the southernmost Chilean region of Magallanes.

Patagonia is made up of diverse ecosystems and is home to numerous species of flora and fauna, including birds, reptiles and amphibians that have not yet been identified. It is also the last refuge of the highly endangered huemul or south Andean deer.

Although it is in the middle of a stunning wilderness area, Coyhaique, the capital of Aysén, 1,629 km south of Santiago, is paradoxically the most polluted city in Chile, because in this region where temperatures are often below zero, local inhabitants heat their homes and cook with firewood, much of which is wet, green or mossy, because it is cheaper than dry wood.

It is one of the poorest and most vulnerable regions of the country, where 9.9 percent of the population lives in poverty and 4.2 percent in extreme poverty.

But these figures fail to reflect the poverty conditions suffered by families in the region, the regional government’s secretary of social development, Eduardo Montti, told IPS.

“We are lagging in terms of being able to ensure basic living standards and essential services for the community and to make it possible for the different actors to develop in equal conditions as the rest of the country,” he said.

But, he added, in May the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet established a plan for remote or impoverished areas which recognises the disparities with respect to the rest of the country, thus helping to more clearly identify the most urgent needs.

He said that in this region it is important “to move ahead in tourism enterprises, strengthen small local economies, share and participate in the development of our local customs, and help make them known to the world.”

“Many people say we want to chain off the region, but our aim is to use its good qualities, versus the megaprojects of the globalised world, which want to destroy them,” says Peter Hartmann, creator of the Aysén Life Reserve initiative in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

“Many people say we want to chain off the region, but our aim is to use its good qualities, versus the megaprojects of the globalised world, which want to destroy them,” says Peter Hartmann, creator of the Aysén Life Reserve initiative in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Torres, an active participant in the Citizen Coalition for the Aysén Life Reserve, said the region is “one of the few that still have the chance to come up with a different kind of development.”

This is one of the few areas in the world that has largely kept its original wilderness intact. Much of the territory is under different forms of protection, including the Laguna San Rafael National Park, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve that contains a coastal lagoon and glaciers. The region as a whole is also seeking world heritage site status.

“The model we are building is aimed at strengthening economic development on a local scale, in a democratic fashion, and not with models imposed on us – development that is cooperative and economically and environmentally sustainable in time, under the premise that we are all just passing through this life and that you have to give back what you take,” Torres said.

She added that the project “is a dream and we are working to achieve it. Because people here understand that life itself is part of what makes it special to live here. For example, in this region you can still drink water from a river or a lake, because you know you won’t have problems.”

In her view, cities become dependent on, and vulnerable to, supplies from outside, and “the more independent you are, the better chances you have of surviving.”

“We don’t see this as a life reserve exclusive to Patagonians, but for the whole country. For example, I don’t have problems with the region sharing water with areas that suffer from drought.” But water for crops, drinking, or living – not for big industry, she clarified.

Chile’s Patagonians have a powerful ally in this endeavour: the Argentine side of Patagonia is fighting against the use of watersheds shared with Chile, by mining corporations.

“There is a common element in this big fight: water,” Torres said.

The two sides of the Andes share a long history of close ties and traditions which makes Patagonia one single territory, of great value because of its biodiversity – but highly vulnerable as well.

“We don’t feel like Chile, we feel like Patagonia…Chilean and Argentine,” Torres said.

From the start, the Aysén Life Reserve has shown that it is more than just an idea on paper. Hartmann pointed out that three community-based sustainable tourism enterprises have been established, financed by the Fondo de las Américas (FONDAM).

“We trained the communities in how to take care of their own territory, and in community-based tourism. That gave rise to a successful school for tourism guides,” he said proudly.

“Artisanal fishers from Puerto Aysén have also been making an effort to make their work more sustainable; there are exemplary garbage collection projects, and many crafts are being produced using local products, which is super sustainable,” he added.

Then there is “Sabores de Aysén” (Tastes of Aysén), a stamp that certifies quality products and services reflecting the region’s identity and care for nature. There is also a solar energy cooperative with a steadily growing number of members.

The Life Reserve project, Hartmann said, has two dimensions: awareness-raising and citizen participation. An Aysén Reserva de Vida label was created for sustainable products or processes, to make them more attractive to local consumers and visitors.

The idea of making the region a “Life Reserve” is cross-cutting and has managed to win the involvement of varied segments of society – a positive thing in a region that was highly polarised after 10 years of struggle against the HidroAysén hydroelectric project, which would have built large dams on wilderness rivers but was finally cancelled by the government in June.

The local population was also divided by the mass protests over the region’s isolation and high local prices of fuel and food that broke out in 2012, under the government of rightwing President Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014).

“There is greater awareness, and that is a step forward,” Torres said. “That means there is growing appreciation for what this region has to offer.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Despite Current Debate, Police Militarisation Goes Beyond U.S. Bordershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/despite-current-debate-police-militarisation-goes-beyond-u-s-borders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-current-debate-police-militarisation-goes-beyond-u-s-borders http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/despite-current-debate-police-militarisation-goes-beyond-u-s-borders/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 23:27:13 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136197 "Hands Up, Don't Shoot": A rally in support of Michael Brown. Credit: Shawn Semmler/cc by 2.0

"Hands Up, Don't Shoot": A rally in support of Michael Brown. Credit: Shawn Semmler/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

The shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in the southern United States earlier this month has led to widespread public outrage around issues of race, class and police brutality.

In particular, a flurry of policy discussions is focusing on the startling level of force and military-style weaponry used by local police in responding to public demonstrations following the death Aug. 9 of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.“We have a lot of military equipment and hardware looking for a place to end up, and that tends to be local law enforcement.” -- WOLA's Maureen Meyer

The situation has galvanised support from both liberal and conservative members of Congress for potential changes to a law that, since the 1990s, has provided local U.S. police forces with surplus military equipment. The initiative, overseen by the Department of Defence and known as the “1033 programme”, originally came about in order to support law-enforcement personnel in the fight against drug gangs.

“We need to de-militarise this situation,” Claire McCaskill, one of Missouri’s two senators, said last week. “[T]his kind of response by the police has become the problem instead of the solution.”

In a widely read article titled “We Must Demilitarize the Police”, conservative Senator Rand Paul likewise noted that “there should be a difference between a police response and a military response” in law enforcement.

During attempts to contain public protests in the aftermath of the shooting, police in Ferguson used high-powered weapons, teargas, body armour and even armoured vehicles of types commonly used by the U.S. military during wartime situations. Now, it appears the 1033 programme will likely come under heavy scrutiny in coming months.

“Congress established this programme out of real concern that local law enforcement agencies were literally outgunned by drug criminals. We intended this equipment to keep police officers and their communities safe from heavily armed drug gangs and terrorist incidents,” Carl Levin, chair of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, said Friday.

“[W]e will review this programme to determine if equipment provided by the Defense Department is being used as intended.”

Drugs and terrorism

Despite this unusual bipartisan agreement over the dangers of a militarised police force, there appears to be no extension of this concern to rising U.S. support for militarised law enforcement in other countries.

While a 2011 law requires annual reporting on U.S. assistance to foreign police, that data is not yet available. However, during 2009, the most recent data available, Washington provided more than 3.5 billion dollars in foreign assistance for police activities, particularly in Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Mexico, Pakistan and the Palestinian Territories.

According to an official report from 2011, “the United States has increased its emphasis on training and equipping foreign police as a means of supporting a wide range of U.S. foreign-policy goals,” particularly in the context of the wars on drugs and terrorism.

In the anti-terror fight, African countries are perhaps the most significant recipients of new U.S. security aid. Yet a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) highlights the dangers of this approach, focusing on the U.S.-supported Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) in Kenya.

The report, released Monday, builds on previous allegations against the ATPU of arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Yet neither the Kenyan authorities nor the ATPU’s main donors – the United States and United Kingdom – have seriously investigated these longstanding allegations, HRW says.

Washington’s support for the ATPU has been significant, amounting to 19 million dollars in 2012 alone. Yet while U.S. law mandates a halting of aid pending investigation of credible reports of rights abuse, HRW says Washington “has not scaled down its assistance to the unit”.

“The goals of supporting the police in general are laudable and in line with concerns over rule of law,” Jehanne Henry, a senior researcher with HRW’s Africa division, told IPS.

“The problem here is it’s clear that, notwithstanding the goals of the assistance, it’s serving to undermine rule of law because the ATPU is taking matters into its own hands. So, our call is for donors to be smarter about providing this kind of assistance.”

Unseen since the 1980s

Meanwhile, Mexico and Latin American countries have been seeing an uptick in U.S. assistance for security forces as part of efforts to crack down on the drug trade.

“Currently the Central American governments are relying more and on their militaries to address the recent surge in violence,” Adriana Beltran, a senior associate for citizen security at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a watchdog group here.

“While the U.S. is saying it’s not providing any assistance to these forces, there is significant assistance being provided through the Department of Defence for counter-narcotics, which is channelled through the militaries of these countries.”

According to a new paper from Alexander Main, a senior associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), a think tank here, U.S. security assistance to the region began strengthening again during the latter years of President George W. Bush’s time in office.

“Funding allocated to the region’s police and military forces climbed steadily upward to levels unseen since the U.S.-backed ‘dirty wars’ of the 1980s,” Main writes, noting that a “key model” for bilateral assistance has been Colombia. Since 1999, an eight-billion-dollar programme in that country has seen “the mass deployment of military troops and militarized police forces to both interdict illegal drugs and counter left-wing guerrilla groups”.

Yet last year, nearly 150 NGOs warned that U.S. policies of this type, which “promote militarization to address organized crime”, had been ineffective. Further, the groups said, such an approach had resulted in “a dramatic surge in violent crime, often reportedly perpetrated by security forces themselves.”

Mexico has been a particularly prominent recipient of U.S. security aid around the war on drugs.

“From the 1990s onward, the trend has been to encourage the Mexican government to involve the military in drug operations – and, over the past two years, also in public security,” Maureen Meyer, a senior associate on Mexico for WOLA, told IPS.

In the process, she says, civilian forces, too, have increasingly received military training, leading to concerns over human rights violations and excessive use of force, as well as a lack of knowledge over how to deal with local protests – concerns startlingly similar to those now coming out of Ferguson, Missouri.

“You can see how disturbing this trend is in the United States, and we are concerned about a similar trend towards militarised police forces in Latin American countries,” Meyer notes. “We have a lot of military equipment and hardware looking for a place to end up, and that tends to be local law enforcement.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Mexico’s Orphanages – Black Holes for Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/mexicos-orphanages-black-holes-for-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-orphanages-black-holes-for-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/mexicos-orphanages-black-holes-for-children/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 21:35:42 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136195 Children taken in by the Villa Infantil Irapuato, which has high standards of care – unlike many other orphanages in Mexico. Credit: Courtesy Laura Martínez

Children taken in by the Villa Infantil Irapuato, which has high standards of care – unlike many other orphanages in Mexico. Credit: Courtesy Laura Martínez

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

Homes for orphans or children in vulnerable situations in Mexico lack the necessary state regulation and supervision, which leads to scandalous human rights violations.

“The situation is very serious,” said Laura Martínez, director of the non-governmental Patronato Pro Hogar del Niño, in the city of Irapuato in the central state of Guanajuato, some 300 km north of Mexico City. “The higher interests of the children aren’t taken into account. Their rights are violated.

“There is no national census on where they are, who takes care of them, under which methodology. We should be well-regulated, well-supervised. The regulations are not followed and there is no legislation on this,” she told IPS.

Her shelter, known as the Villa Infantil Irapuato, has been taking in children since 1969 and has a capacity to house 40 orphans or children in an at-risk situation, between the ages of six and 20. Since 2003 it has applied its own care protocol.

The children are referred by the state office of the National System for Integral Development of the Family (DIF), and the shelter receives public and private financing.

Orphanages in Mexico operate in a vacuum of legislation, official records and supervision, with widespread problems of noncompliance and a lack of professionalism and funding – a situation that experts say is in violation of international treaties signed by Mexico.

In this country of 118 million people, with some 45 million children under the age of 18, there are around 700 public and private homes providing shelter to 30,000 children. But the Red Latinoamericana de Acogimiento Familiar (Latin American Foster Care Network) estimates that there are roughly 400,000 children in Mexico without parental care, including 100,000 who live on the streets.

The latest scandal over how these institutions are run broke out on Jul. 15, when the attorney general’s office announced that 596 people, including 458 children, were rescued from the “La Gran Familia” shelter in Zamora, a city in the western state of Michoacán. They were living in squalid conditions, in rooms infested with cockroaches and rats, according to the authorities.

Residents said they were raped, beaten, held against their will, and forced to beg. “We believe it is necessary to avoid institutionalisation and to have a general law on alternative care, and we urgently need clear, detailed information on children in institutions.” Martin Pérez

The home, which was founded in 1947, was run by Rosa del Carmen Verduzco, known as “Mamá Rosa”. She was deemed unfit to face prosecution because of her age and health problems, but six of her collaborators have been charged with kidnapping, child abuse and sexual abuse. The centre was shut down permanently on Jul. 30.

“The state is 30 years behind in terms of guaranteeing the rights of children in public policies,” said Martín Pérez, executive director of the Mexican Network for the Rights of Children. “The state has never supervised these establishments; every once in a while something comes to light and it remembers them and turns its attention to them.”

Since the state does not provide funds, it does not exercise oversight either. “And that leaves children in a vulnerable position. The shelters become a black hole; no one knows what educational method they’re using…what damage is caused,” Pérez told IPS.

Although the “Mamá Rosa” case was the highest profile scandal, whenever one of the orphanages or children’s homes makes it into the news, they all have one thing in common: irregularities in the way they are run.

On Jun. 17, the authorities rescued 33 children ages five to 17 and 10 young people between the ages of 18 and 24 from the Casa Hogar Domingo Savio in the central city of Puebla, in response to signs of abuse by the director of the home.

In 2011, 19 children were freed from the Instituto Casa Hogar Nuestro Señor de la Misericordia y Nuestra Señora de la Salette in Mexico City. The victims of abuse had received death threats to keep them from reporting the conditions they were held in.

Two years earlier, the authorities removed 126 mistreated youngsters from the “Casitas del Sur” shelters run by the non-governmental organisation Reintegración Social. They also found that 15 had gone missing, three of whom are still lost.

The Social Assistance Law requires the health ministry to monitor the homes for children. But the supervision is practically nonexistent.

International concern

For over a decade, Mexico has been in the sights of international bodies for these practices.

In its recommendations to the Mexican state in 2006, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern over the large number of children placed in private institutions without any supervision, and suggested the creation of a directory and database of children in private homes.

“The Committee is concerned about lack of information (number, conditions of living, etc.) on children separated from their parents who are living in institutions. The Committee notes the large number of children in institutions managed by the private sector, and regrets the lack of information and oversight by the state on these institutions,” the document says.

The Committee, which monitors compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, recommended that the state establish regulations based on children’s rights and introduce effective legislation, reinforcing existing structures such as the extended family, improving training of staff and allocating increased resources to the relevant bodies.

In the February 2014 report “The Right of Boys and Girls to a Family. Alternative Care. Ending Institutionalization in the Americas”, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged Organisation of American States (OAS) member countries to “properly regulate the operation of residential care facilities and carry out proper oversight, investigating them and, where appropriate, punishing any violations of children’s rights that take place in these facilities.”

“Institutionalising children continues to be a common response to these situations in the countries of the region, although evidence shows that the way many residential institutions currently operate does not guarantee that the rights of the children who are put in them are protected, and exposes them to situations of violence, abuse, and neglect,” the IACHR concluded.

Civil society groups in Mexico plan to launch an offensive to pressure the state to fulfill its obligations.

During the 69th session of the pre-sessional Working Group of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, to be held Sept. 22-26, a delegation of children, along with UNICEF – the U.N. chidren’s fund – and non-governmental organisations, will present a report in Geneva on the situation of children, including minors without parental care.

In May-June 2015, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, made up of 18 independent experts, will evaluate Mexico.

And the IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Children, Rosa María Ortiz, will visit Mexico in October to draw up a report on the situation here.

“We believe it is necessary to avoid institutionalisaton and to have a general law on alternative care, and we urgently need clear, detailed information on children in institutions,” said Pérez of the Mexican Network for the Rights of Children.

Martínez, the head of the Patronato Pro Hogar del Niño de Irapuato children’s home, said it is important to take a close look at what kind of care each organisation provides. “The current model is too welfare-oriented. And who can guarantee monitoring of the cases? There is another approach that should be followed – working for a child’s development.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Island States to Rally Donors at Samoa Meethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/island-states-to-rally-donors-at-samoa-meet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=island-states-to-rally-donors-at-samoa-meet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/island-states-to-rally-donors-at-samoa-meet/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 20:49:19 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136190 Flood damage in St. Vincent. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Flood damage in St. Vincent. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

Amid accelerating climate change and other challenges, a major international conference in the South Pacific island nation of Samoa next month represents a key chance for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Caribbean to turn the tide.

“This is an opportune moment where you will have all of the donor agencies and the funding partners so as civil society we have prepared a draft which looks at agriculture, health, youth, women and many other areas to present to the conference highlighting the needs in the SIDS,” Pamela Thomas, Caribbean civil society ambassador on agriculture for the United Nations, told IPS."We face particular vulnerabilities and our progress is impacted more than other developing countries by climate change and other natural phenomenon." -- Ruleta Camacho

“My primary area is agriculture and in agriculture we are targeting climate change because climate change is affecting our sector adversely,” she said.

“One of the projects we are putting forward to the SIDS conference is the development of climate smart farms throughout the SIDS. That is our major focus. The other area of focus has to do with food security, that is also a top priority for us as well but our major target at this conference is climate change,” added Thomas, who also heads the Caribbean Farmers Network (CaFAN).

SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (S.A.M.O.A) Pathway, a 30-page document developed ahead of the conference, outlines the particular challenges that SIDS face.

These include addressing debt sustainability, sustainable tourism, climate change, biodiversity conservation and building resilience to natural systems, sustainable energy, disaster risk reduction, threats to fisheries, food security and nutrition, water and sanitation, to name a few.

Ruleta Camacho, project coordinator on sustainable island resource management mechanism within Antigua and Barbuda’s Ministry of the Environment, said the challenges faced by Caribbean SIDS are related to sustainable development issues.

She pointed out that there are still significant gaps with respect to sustainable development in SIDS and developing countries generally.

“With respect to SIDS we face particular vulnerabilities and our development progress is impacted more than other developing countries by climate change and other natural phenomenon,” she told IPS. “So because of our isolation and other physical impacts of these phenomenons we are sometimes held back.

“You take the case of Grenada where its GDP went to zero overnight because of a hurricane. So we have these sorts of factors that hinder us and so we are trying our best.”

Despite these circumstances, Camacho said Caribbean SIDS have done very well, but still require a lot of international assistance.

“The reason for these conferences, this being the third, is to highlight what our needs are, what our priorities are and set the stage for addressing these priorities in the next 10 years,” she explained.

In September 2004, Ivan, the most powerful hurricane to hit the Caribbean region in a decade, laid waste to Grenada. The havoc created by the 125 mph winds cut communication lines and damaged or destroyed 90 percent of all buildings on the island.

Thomas’ group, CaFAN, represents farmers in all 15 Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries. Initiated by farmer organisations across the Caribbean in 2002, it is mandated to speak on behalf of its membership and to develop programmes and projects aimed at improving livelihoods; and to collaborate with all stakeholders in the agriculture sector to the strategic advantage of its farmers.

Camacho said the Sep. 1-4 conference provides opportunities not only for farmers but the Caribbean as a whole.

“Because we are small we are a little bit more adaptable and we tend to be more resilient as a people and as a country,” she said. “So with respect to all our challenges what we need to do is to communicate to our funders that the one size fits all does not work for small island developing states.

“We have socio-cultural peculiarities that allow us to work a little differently and one of the major themes that we emphasise when we go to these conferences is that we don’t want to be painted with the broad brush as being Latin America and the Caribbean. We want our needs as small island Caribbean developing state and the particular opportunities and our positioning to be recognised,” Camacho said.

And she remains optimistic that the international funding agencies will respond in the affirmative in spite of a recurring theme in terms of the Caribbean requesting special consideration.

“Like any business model, you can’t just try one time. You try 10 times and if one is successful then it was worth it. Yes there have been disappointments where we have done this before, we have outlined priorities before,” she explained.

“To be quite frank, this document (S.A.M.O.A) seems very general when you compare it to the documents that were used in Mauritius or Barbados, however, we have found, I think Antigua and Barbuda has been recognised as one of the countries, certainly in the environmental management sector to be able to access funding.

“We have a higher draw down rate than any of the other OECS countries and that is because of our approach to donor agencies. We negotiate very hard, we don’t give up and we try to use adaptive management in terms of fitting our priorities to what is on offer,” Camacho added.

The overarching theme of the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States is “The sustainable development of Small Island developing States through genuine and durable partnerships”.

The conference will include six multi-stakeholder partnership dialogues, held in parallel with the plenary meetings.

It will seek to achieve the following objectives: assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation; seek a renewed political commitment by focusing on practical and pragmatic actions for further implementation; identify new and emerging challenges and opportunities for the sustainable development of SIDS and means of addressing them; and identify priorities for the sustainable development of SIDS to be considered in the elaboration of the post-2015 U.N. development agenda.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Socialists Could Turn to Environmentalist after Candidate’s Deathhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/socialists-could-turn-to-enviromentalist-after-candidates-death/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=socialists-could-turn-to-enviromentalist-after-candidates-death http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/socialists-could-turn-to-enviromentalist-after-candidates-death/#comments Sat, 16 Aug 2014 01:37:12 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136156 Eduardo Campos and Marina Silva, the Brazilian Socialist Party’s ticket for the October presidential elections, before Campos died in a plane crash. Credit: Agência Brasil/EBC

Eduardo Campos and Marina Silva, the Brazilian Socialist Party’s ticket for the October presidential elections, before Campos died in a plane crash. Credit: Agência Brasil/EBC

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 16 2014 (IPS)

The death of socialist presidential candidate Eduardo Campos opens up an unexpected opportunity for environmental leader Marina Silva to return with renewed strength to the struggle to govern Brazil, offering a “third way” in a highly polarised campaign.

Silva, who was environment minister from 2003 to 2008, won 19.6 million votes in the 2010 presidential elections – 19.3 percent of the total – and is seen by many as someone who can breathe new life into the Brazilian political scene.

The winding road, littered with tragedy, that led to her nomination as vice presidential candidate on Campos’ ticket could thrust her back to the forefront, with a stronger chance of winning.

She has preserved a large part of the popular support she gained in 2010. In addition, opinion polls show that she was the political leader who benefited the most from the mass protests that shook Brazil’s big cities in June and July 2013, which rejected the political class as a whole.

The national commotion caused by the death of Campos in a plane crash on Aug. 13 could also give a fresh impulse to a candidacy aimed at breaking with the two-party system.

The frontrunners in the polls for the Oct. 5 elections are President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party (PT) and Aecio Neves of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB). The PT has governed Brazil since 2003, and the PSDB did so from 1995 to 2002.

Marina Silva’s political career began in the small northwestern Amazon jungle state of Acre, where she was born in 1958. She didn’t learn to read and write until the age of 16, after she left the rainforest to seek healthcare, as she was suffering from hepatitis, malaria and leishmaniosis.

Her close work with rubber-tapper and activist Chico Mendes, who organised his fellow workers in Acre to fight for their rights and became a martyr for the Amazon when he was killed in 1988, was the driver of her first electoral triumphs.

A senator since 1994, Silva was one of the main leaders of the PT, which first came to power with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2011).

She was environment minister until she resigned in 2008 over policy disagreements with Lula, who she criticised for pursuing “material growth at any cost,” at the expense of the poor and the environment.

A year later she left the PT and joined the small Green Party (PV) to run in the 2010 presidential elections, which were won by Rousseff, Lula’s former energy minister and chief of staff. Silva came in third, but with an unexpectedly strong showing.

She then left the PV as well, over disagreements with its reform proposals, and tried to create a new political grouping, the Sustainability Network. But the electoral court ruled that it had insufficient signatures to qualify.

To avoid being left out of the race, Silva joined the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), led by Campos, and became his vice-presidential running-mate.

After Campos’ death, she would seem to be his natural replacement. The PSB has until Aug. 23 to name its new candidate.

If the PSB does not choose Silva, it would be contributing to the two-party system that has reigned for 20 years, and would lose standing in the other levels of power, such as state legislatures and governments. A socialist legislator acknowledged that Campos is “irreplaceable.”

The dilemma for the PSB is that accepting Silva as its candidate would be another kind of suicide, because of the loss of identity it would entail for the party. The environmentalist has numerous discrepancies with the party’s policies.

The PSB, which named the ministers of science and technology during Lula’s two terms, is in favour of nuclear energy and transgenic crops, which are rejected by Silva and other environmentalists.

Campos was one of those ministers in 2004-2005, and his popularity grew when he served as governor of the state of Pernambuco from 2006 to early 2014, thanks to the swift economic growth and industrial development he led in his state, which is in the Northeast, Brazil’s poorest region.

Megaprojects like the Suape Port industrial complex, the diversion of the São Francisco River to bring water to the semiarid Northeast, and the Transnordestina railway were decisive for Pernambuco to have the highest economic growth of any Brazilian state in the last few years.

But environmentalists are opposed to many aspects of these megaprojects, which form part of a development-oriented policy focus that runs counter in many ways to the sustainability touted by Silva’s Network.

The projects were launched or given a new impulse in the last decade by Lula, for whom Campos was an important and loyal ally. His PSB only broke with Rousseff’s PT government last year.

Campos, with popularity ratings of more than 70 percent in Pernambuco, presented himself as an alternative to the PSDB social democrats and the PT labourists. But his criticism was not aimed at the Lula administration; it was strictly reserved for the government of Rousseff.

That distinction could have been based on electoral calculations, because Lula remains extremely popular. But it could have also been due to affinity with the former president. Campos was the political heir to Miguel Arraes, his grandfather, a legendary leader of the Brazilian left who governed Pernambuco for three terms. But he was also a disciple of Lula.

Like Lula, he was a master of dialogue, of building alliances even among disparate groups, forging relations with both business leaders and poor communities, and responding to the forces of the market while introducing strong social policies.

Rousseff, on the other hand, lost support among the business community due to her economic policies.

Campos had to redouble his efforts to win over landowners and ranchers, because of the rejection by those sectors of his running-mate, whose environmentalism is seen as an obstacle to the expansion of agribusiness.

Despite their contradictions, the union of Campos and Silva strengthened the so-called “third way” in Brazil’s elections.

Campos’ death could actually give Silva a boost in the elections, since she is already starting out with a broader electoral base, and will benefit from the fact that many Brazilians are fed up with the way politics is done in this country.

In July, according to the latest poll by the Data Folha Institute, 36 percent of respondents said they would vote for Rousseff, 20 percent for the PSDB’s Neves, and eight percent for Campos.

But analysts are now pointing to two weak points for Silva. One is that she alienates productive sectors with her ecological discourse, and as a consequence loses campaign donations. Another is her membership of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God, which draws her support from the growing evangelical flock but distances the Catholic majority.

In any case, analysts don’t rule out the possibility of a second round between two women who were both former ministers of Lula. But the question is to what extent the PSB’s leaders are prepared to renounce their ideals.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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U.S. Urged to Put Development Aid over Border Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-urged-to-put-development-aid-over-border-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-urged-to-put-development-aid-over-border-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-urged-to-put-development-aid-over-border-security/#comments Fri, 15 Aug 2014 15:24:28 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136144 By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Aug 15 2014 (IPS)

When U.S lawmakers departed Washington for a month-long recess, they left behind a simmering debate over what to do about the tens of thousands of Central American children and adults that continue to cross the U.S. southern border.

Many potential solutions have been tabled as to how the federal government should handle the unprecedented influx. Yet these strategies, which include two proposals pending in Congress, are built on starkly differing views over why these migrants are leaving their homes in the first place.

“The question is simple,” Manuel Orozco, a senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank here, told IPS. “Are people migrating because of security and opportunity, or are people migrating from danger and violence?”

Many in the Latino community are disappointed by U.S. President Barack Obama's failure to push through comprehensive immigration reform. Credit: Valeria Fernandez/IPS

Many in the Latino community are disappointed by U.S. President Barack Obama’s failure to push through comprehensive immigration reform. Credit: Valeria Fernandez/IPS

Orzoco’s field research, released this week, seems to point to the latter.

“[I]ntentional homicides emerge as a more powerful driver of international migration than human development,” his report notes, cautioning that “migrants are primarily coming from some of the most populous violent municipalities in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.”

“They’re actually, for the most part, escaping for fear for their life,” he says, clarifying that these threats apply to both minors and adults in Central America.

Yet despite the fact that Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras – collectively known as the Northern Triangle – produce higher homicide rates than war zones such as Afghanistan or Iraq, some U.S. lawmakers doubt that this phenomenon is responsible for recent months’ mass Central American migration.

Instead, sceptics attribute the inflow of tens of thousands of migrants to President Barack Obama’s immigration policies.

For these lawmakers, then, the answer is more security at the southern border.

Indeed, this is precisely what the Republican-led House of Representatives has prioritised in its current bill worth some 700 million dollars, more than half of which would be allocated to tighten security along the southern U.S. border. The remainder would be used to accelerate deportations.

President Obama has said he would veto the bill, calling it “extreme” and “unworkable”.

Orzoco, too, considers the security-focused approach to be “myopic”. Instead, he and others say that lawmakers must focus on increasing assistance to Central America – dealing directly with the poverty and violence that appear to be spurring much of the recent influx.

“It’s good not to look just under security lines, and that we invest in real economic development while also addressing the security situation,” Adriana Beltran, a senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a watchdog group here, told IPS.

1.3 percent

U.S. aid to Central America has historically been weak. In 2013, the region received just 1.3 percent of U.S. foreign assistance, according to a new fact sheet from the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC), a Washington-based network of businesses and NGOs.

But the White House has put forward a proposal that would bolster Central American assistance by some 300 million dollars. Larry Knowles, a consultant with the USGLC, informed IPS of the bill’s relative breakdown.

While one third of this aid would go towards improving governance standards, including fiscal and judicial reform, another third would go towards economic development, and the remainder would be earmarked for crime-prevention efforts, youth-at-risk programmes and reintegration initiatives.

The fate of that bill remains unclear, however, as it is unlikely to pass the House of Representatives. Unlike the Senate, the House has not declared Central America’s internal strife worthy of “emergency aid appropriations”.

Still, the general thrust has received significant applause in certain quarters. The Inter-American Dialogue’s Orzoco is enthusiastic, suggesting the assistance could be used to improve Central America’s education, strengthen its labour force’s skills, and aid small businesses.

“There needs to be a much more inclusive strategy to address all of these problems,” Orzoco said.

Such analysis is also supported by Oscar Calvo-Gonzalez, chief economist for Central America at the World Bank, though he cautions that violence is “one of the many causes that drive people to move.”

Calvo-Gonzalez says that municipal-level programmes that can help the situation.

“Crime is a highly localised phenomenon, so you want to have highly localised intervention,” Calvo-Gonzales told IPS.

Economic growth in Central America must be shared, Calvo-Gonzalez emphasises, citing high inequality and “limited opportunities for advancement” as his primary concerns.

“Central America stands out as poverty has not declined consistently,” he says, “though [poverty in] the rest of Latin America has declined, Central America’s poverty is stagnant.”

He says the World Bank has been working in Central America to mobilise additional tax revenues and build the capacity of domestic governments in the region.

WOLA’s Beltran echoed the effectiveness of such a localised approach, calling in particular for greater investment in violence prevention.

“There is evidence of programmes working at the community level to address youth violence and security,” she says, citing a 40 percent  reduction in Honduras’ Santa Tecla as one such example. “Social services, the police, the church and other local bodies can come together to find a solution.”

Shared responsibility

For the Inter-American Dialogue’s Orzoco, fixing such problems is beyond the domain of the Northern Triangle and its governments. “These issues require responsibility of both Central American governments and the United States’ government,” he says.

Orzoco justifies strengthened U.S. development assistance for the region by first pointing to the shortcomings of Central American efforts, listing an ongoing lack of legislation and inadequate initiatives to “prevent the continuing outflow of kids” as examples.

“Central American governments, so far, have not been very accountable,” he says.

Orzoco also says the U.S. government has generally refused to share responsibility for Central America’s problems, despite Washington’s history of economic and political hegemony and interventions in the region. He points, for instance, to a “complete neglect” of organised crime.

“What organised crime has done is create an ecosystem of irregular economic activity that presents itself as a profitable one, given the context of property,” Orzoco says.

Other analysts have gone further, suggesting that the United States has contributed to the region’s growth in organised crime through its “war on drugs” and fostering of influential gangs in U.S. prisons.

But Orzoco cautions that despite the United States’ qualified intention to assist Central America, some lawmakers may be doing so for political purposes – a factor that will only continuing to strengthen as the November elections here draw closer.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at hotzj@union.edu

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Brazil’s “Dalai Lama of the Rainforest” Faces Death Threatshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/brazils-dalai-lama-of-the-rainforest-faces-death-threats/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazils-dalai-lama-of-the-rainforest-faces-death-threats http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/brazils-dalai-lama-of-the-rainforest-faces-death-threats/#comments Thu, 14 Aug 2014 22:45:14 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136140 Davi Kopenawa at an assembly of the the Hutukara Associação Yanomami . Credit: Courtesy Luciano Padrã/Cafod

Davi Kopenawa at an assembly of the the Hutukara Associação Yanomami . Credit: Courtesy Luciano Padrã/Cafod

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

Davi Kopenawa, the leader of the Yanomami people in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, who is internationally renowned for his struggle against encroachment on indigenous land by landowners and illegal miners, is now fighting a new battle – this time against death threats received by him and his family.

“In May, they [miners] told me that he wouldn’t make it to the end of the year alive,” Armindo Góes, 39, one of Kopenawa’s fellow indigenous activists in the fight for the rights of the Yanomami people, told IPS.

Kopenawa, 60, is Brazil’s most highly respected indigenous leader. The Yanomami shaman and spokesman is known around the world as the “Dalai Lama of the Rainforest” and has frequently participated in United Nations meetings and other international events.“The landowners and the garimpeiros have plenty of money to kill an Indian. The Amazon jungle belongs to us. She protects us from the heat; the rainforest is essential to all of us and for our children to live in peace.” -- Davi Kopenawa

He has won awards like the Global 500 Prize from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). His voice has drawn global figures like King Harald of Norway – who visited him in 2013 – or former British footballer David Beckham – who did so in March – to the 96,000-sq-km territory which is home to some 20,000 Yanomami.

Kopenawa is president of the Hutukara Yanomami Association (HAY), which he founded in 2004 in Boa Vista, the capital of the northern state of Roraima. Before that he fought for the creation of the Yanomami Indigenous Territory (TI), which is larger than Portugal, in the states of Amazonas and Roraima, on the border with Venezuela.

On Jul. 28, HAY issued a statement reporting that its leader had received death threats in June, when Góes, one of the organisation’s directors, was accosted on a street in the Amazonas town of São Gabriel da Cachoeira by “garimpeiros” or illegal gold miners, who gave him a clear death message for Kopenawa.

Since then “the climate of insecurity has dominated everything,” Góes told IPS.

Garimpeiros are penetrating deeper and deeper into Yanomami territory in their search for gold, in Brazil as well as Venezuela, encroaching on one of the world’s oldest surviving cultures.

Illegal gold miners damage the territory and attack the families of the Yanomami. Credit: Courtesy Colin Jones/Survival International

Illegal gold miners damage the territory and attack the families of the Yanomami. Credit: Courtesy Colin Jones/Survival International

The Yanomami TI was demarcated just before the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro. And it was the Rio+20 Summit, held in this city in 2012, that made Kopenawa more prominent at home, where he was less well-known than abroad.

“Davi is someone very precious to Brazil, but some people see him as an enemy. He is a thinker and a warrior who forms part of Brazil’s identity and has fought for the rights of the Yanomami and other indigenous people for over 40 years,” activist Marcos Wesley, assistant coordinator of the Rio Negro sustainable development programme of the Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA), told IPS.

The Rio Negro, the biggest tributary of the Amazon River, runs across Yanomami territory.

In the 1990s, Kopenawa managed to get 45,000 garimpeiros evicted from the Yanomami TI, Wesley noted. “He and Hutukara are the spokespersons for the Yanomami, for their demands. I can imagine there are people who have suffered economic losses and are upset over the advances made by the Yanomami,” he added.

“There are threatening signs that put us on the alert,” Góes said. “We are working behind locked doors. Two armed men were already searching for Davi in Boa Vista. They even offered money if someone would identify him. We are getting more and more concerned.”

The director of HAY explained that “our lives are at risk, and our elders advised Davi to take shelter in his community.”

Shaman Davi Kopenawa with former British football star David Beckham, who visited Yanomami territory in March. Credit: Courtesy Nenzinho Soares/Survival International

Shaman Davi Kopenawa with former British football star David Beckham, who visited Yanomami territory in March. Credit: Courtesy Nenzinho Soares/Survival International

Although the Yanomami TI was fully demarcated, illegal activities have not ceased there.

“There are many people invading indigenous land for mining,” Góes said.

Kopenawa comes from the remote community of Demini, one of the 240 villages in the Yanomami TI. The only way to reach the village is by small plane or a 10-day boat ride upriver.

On Aug. 8, IPS managed to contact the Yanomami leader, just a few minutes before he set out for his community. But he preferred not to provide details about his situation, because of the threats.

“At this moment I prefer not to say anything more. I can only say that I am very worried, together with my Yanomami people; the rest I have already said,” he commented.

Five days earlier, Kopenawa had been one of the guests of honour at the 12th International Literature Festival in Paraty in the southern state of Rio de Janeiro. He talked about the violence facing his people, when he presented his book “The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman”.

Violence against environmentalists and indigenous activists

The organisation Global Witness reported that nearly half of the murders of environmentalists committed in the world in the last few years were in Brazil. In the 2012-2013 period the total was 908 murders, 443 of which happened in this country.

The 2013 report by the Catholic Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) on violence against indigenous people in Brazil documented 53 victims of murder, 29 attempted murders, and 10 cases of death threats.

The executive secretary of CIMI, Cleber Buzatto, told IPS that threats against indigenous leaders had increased in the last year.

“Economic interests act together and mount violent attacks on the rights of indigenous people, especially in terms of their rights to their territory,” he added. “It’s a very touchy situation. The threats continue to occur because of the existing impunity and because the authorities have not taken effective action.”

“The landowners and garimpeiros have plenty of money to kill an Indian. The Amazon jungle belongs to us. She protects us from the heat; the rainforest is essential to all of us and for our children to live in peace,” he said.

He had previously denounced that “They want to kill me. I don’t do what white people do – track someone down to kill him. I don’t interfere with their work. But they are interfering in our work and in our struggle. I will continue fighting and working for my people. Because defending the Yanomami people and their land is my work.”

In its communiqué, HAY demanded that the police investigate the threats and provide Kopenawa with official protection.

“The suspicion is that the threats are in reprisal for the work carried out by the Yanomami, together with government agencies, to investigate and break up the networks of miners in the Yanomami TI in the last few years,” HAY stated.

Kopenawa and HAY provide the federal police with maps of mining sites, geographic locations, and information on planes and people circulating in the Yanomami TI. Their reports have made it possible to carry out operations against garimpeiros and encroaching landowners; the last large-scale one was conducted in February.

According to the federal police, in Roraima alone, illegal mining generates profits of 13 million dollars a month, and many of the earnings come from Yanomami territory.

Góes stressed to IPS that mining has more than just an economic impact on indigenous people.

“It causes an imbalance in the culture and lives of the Yanomami, and generates dependence on manufactured, artificial objects and food. It changes the entire Yanomami world vision. Mining also generates a lot of pollution in the rivers,” he complained.

“We know that in Brazil we unfortunately have a high rate of violence against indigenous leaders and social movements,” Wesley said. “Impunity reigns. Davi is a fighter, and will surely not be intimidated by these threats. He believes in his struggle, in the defence of his people and of the planet.”

In Brazil there is no specific programme to protect indigenous people facing threats.

Representatives of Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, told IPS that a request from protection was received from Kopanawa and other HAY leaders, and that it was referred to the programme of human rights defenders in the Brazilian presidency’s special secretariat on human rights.

But they said that in order to receive protection, the Yanomami leader had to confirm that he wanted it, and the government is waiting for his response to that end.

In this country of 200 million people, indigenous people number 896,917, according to the 2010 census.

 

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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