Inter Press Service » Latin America & the Caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 30 Sep 2016 19:22:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 Colombia Referendum – First Acid Test for Peacehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/first-acid-test-for-peace-in-colombia-will-be-the-referendum/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=first-acid-test-for-peace-in-colombia-will-be-the-referendum http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/first-acid-test-for-peace-in-colombia-will-be-the-referendum/#comments Tue, 27 Sep 2016 20:52:15 +0000 Constanza Vieira http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147126 Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signs the peace agreement, observed by FARC chief Rodrigo Londoño, Latin American presidents and other dignitaries, in an open-air ceremony in the city of Cartagena de Indias. Credit: Colombian presidency

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signs the peace agreement, observed by FARC chief Rodrigo Londoño, Latin American presidents and other dignitaries, in an open-air ceremony in the city of Cartagena de Indias. Credit: Colombian presidency

By Constanza Vieira
BOGOTA, Sep 27 2016 (IPS)

It was like a huge party in Colombia. “Congratulations!” people said to each other, before hugging. “Only 20 minutes to go!” one office worker said, hurrying on her way to Bolívar square, in the heart of Bogotá. And everyone knew what she was talking about, and hurried along too. Complete strangers exchanged winks of complicity.

Starting at 5:00 PM on Monday Sept. 26, the people in the square watched a live broadcast of the ceremony in Cartagena de Indias, 664 km to the north, where the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels signed a peace agreement, putting an end to 52 years of armed conflict.

Fifteen presidents, 27 foreign ministers and three former presidents, as well as United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, took part in and witnessed the historic event.

The first big test for peace will come on Sunday Oct. 2, when Colombians will vote for or against the peace deal, in a referendum.

The ceremony began with one minute of silence for the Colombians who were killed or forcibly disappeared in the last half century, while dozens of white flags were raised.

This was followed by an a capella song by traditional singers from Bojayá, a town in the northwestern department of Chocó where 79 people were killed in May 2002, including 44 children. The United Nations blamed the FARC, the far-right paramilitaries and the army for the war crime.

“We are very happy/full of joy/that the FARC guerrillas/are laying down their arms,” they sang. During the war, “in our community/they didn’t even let/us go out to fish or work. We want justice and peace/to come from the heart/for health, peace and education to reach our fields.”

At 5:30 PM, President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, signed the “final agreement to end the conflict and build a stable and lasting peace”, agreed on Aug. 24 in Havana after five years of peace talks held with international observers.

Colombians are “bidding farewell to decades of flames and sending up a bright flare of hope that illuminates the world,” Ban Ki-moon said.

The two leaders signing the accord spoke next.

The former rebel leader apologised “to all the victims of the conflict for all of the pain that we have caused in this war,” receiving a standing ovation in Cartagena as well as Bogotá, while thousands of people chanted “Yes we could!”

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks at the ceremony for the signing of the peace deal in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. Credit: UN

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks at the ceremony for the signing of the peace deal in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. Credit: UN

The FARC rebel organisation will now become a new political party. ““No one should doubt that we are moving into politics without arms,” Londoño said. “The war is over. We are starting to build peace.”

Santos said “I welcome you to democracy. Exchanging bullets for votes, weapons for ideas, is the bravest and most intelligent decision…you understood the call of history.”

“We will undoubtedly never see eye to eye about the political or economic model that our country should follow, but I will staunchly defend your right to express your ideas within the democratic regime,” the president said.

After 14 years, the European Union removed the FARC from its list of terrorist organisations. And U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said his government would “review” doing the same.

Ban confirmed that the signing of the agreement marked the start of the U.N. Security Council peacekeeping mission to verify and monitor the ceasefire and the laying down of arms within 180 days.

On the sunny afternoon in Bolívar square, 70-something Graciela Laverde, wearing a colourful cotton dress, told IPS her biggest wish was “peace, education and recreation for so many children, an end to all the corruption and the killing of so many innocent people….If God wills, there will be peace.”

The referendum

The first big step along the complex route to consolidating peace will be the Oct. 2 referendum in which Colombians will vote whether or not they back the final peace deal.

The campaigns urging people to vote “yes” have been diverse and have included initiatives too numerous to count. For example, grandmothers playing with their grandchildren cut out large signs reading “si” (yes) to tape in their windows.

The campaign for the “no” vote, meanwhile, was led first and foremost by the far right: former president Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010) and former attorney general Alejandro Ordóñez, who may be Uribe’s candidate in the 2018 presidential elections.

The campaign has targeted Colombians in urban areas, who make up 70 percent of the population. “The people living in rural areas are prepared to vote ‘yes’,” analyst Jesús Aníbal Suárez told IPS, adding that it was urban residents who had the most doubts.

Suárez expects low voter turnout of around 35 percent, which would still be high enough to meet the legal requirements for the referendum. He projects a 60-40 percent result in favour of “yes”.

President Juan Manuel Santos (R) shows FARC chief Rodrigo Londoño the symbolic pen that the two will use to sign the peace agreement putting an end to over half a century of conflict in Colombia. Credit: Colombian presidency

President Juan Manuel Santos (R) shows FARC chief Rodrigo Londoño the symbolic pen made from a bullet that the two used to sign the peace agreement putting an end to over half a century of conflict in Colombia. Credit: Colombian presidency

“There is a great deal of uncertainty, and that leads people to abstain from voting,” he said. “Uribe’s effort has made its mark, it has managed to confuse people,” by widely disseminating false information about the peace agreement, he added.

But there is a new segment of the population in favour of the “yes” vote: the military and police, who total nearly half a million people in this country of 48 million.

“The members of the military can’t vote, but their families, the people around them, can,” said Suárez. “I heard retired general (former police chief) Roso José Serrano say: ‘I don’t want one more police officer to die.”

“Soldiers and police officers feel like they have been cannon fodder. Their families will vote for the ceasefire, just as a matter of logic,” because the deaths in combat have been reduced to zero.

During the 2014 presidential elections voters were polarised between reelecting Santos, so he could continue the peace talks with the FARC, and voting for Uribe’s candidate Óscar Zuluaga, who wanted to suspend the negotiations and relaunch them on a different footing.

Today, the “no” camp is calling for a renegotiation of the accord.

Suárez believes that in 2014, the families and friends of the half million soldiers and police voted for Zuluaga, but will now vote “yes”.

At the same time, the “no” campaign has complained about the government’s new sex education for preteens.

Because the peace agreement has a gender perspective, an unprecedented aspect in any peace deal anywhere in the world, Ordóñez’s followers protested on the day of the signing ceremony, in a small demonstration in Cartagena, that the peace accord represented a threat to children because of its “gender ideology.”

Evangelical Christians, who number several million in Colombia, vote in a disciplined manner, and their preachers have told them to vote “no”. The local Catholic Church leaders, despite Pope Francis’ support for the peace talks, declared themselves neutral with regard to the referendum.

“The referendum will define which direction this will take,” said Carlos Lozano, director of the Communist weekly publication Voz, who was close to the Havana talks.

“If the ‘no’ vote wins, which I don’t believe will happen, things would change a great deal, even if the war didn’t break out again,” he told IPS.

“It would be very difficult to hold another process of peace talks and reach another agreement,” he said. “It’s a document that has consensus support, which is worthy of the state, worthy of the guerrillas, and was built with great care, in a very detailed manner.”

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A Historic Day in Colombiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/a-historic-day-in-colombia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-historic-day-in-colombia http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/a-historic-day-in-colombia/#comments Tue, 27 Sep 2016 06:46:42 +0000 Martin Santiago http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147109 Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator of the United Nations in Colombia and Resident Representative of UNDP]]>

Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator of the United Nations in Colombia and Resident Representative of UNDP

By Martín Santiago
BOGOTA, Colombia , Sep 27 2016 (IPS)

Betsaida and her family abandoned their home and a small business in the port of Tumaco, in the Pacific of Colombia, and were forced to follow the road that more than 7 million displaced Colombians have as a result of the armed conflict.

Their story, and that of millions of victims of the war, is at the heart of what the United Nations Organization is and does. Seventy-one years after its creation, the universal aspiration to end war, reaffirm the fundamental human rights and promote social progress is latent and more crucial than ever.

Despite the progress we have made in the last quarter of the century, in which we achieved a significant reduction of armed conflicts, we have witnessed serious setbacks in the last four years: the number of civil wars and attacks by governments and armed groups against civilians have increased for the first time since 2005. More than fifty million people, the highest number recorded in history, have been uprooted from their homes around the world as a result of armed conflicts.

In the face of adversity by human tragedies, the Peace Agreement by the Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP that will be signed today is of great significance for Colombia and for the world. With it, the possibility of ending 52 years of war in Colombia, and ending the scourge of armed political violence throughout the Americas, becomes real. Before this beacon of hope, the United Nations System in Colombia pays tribute to the victims of the conflict and to the many Colombians who have fought every day to build peace in their country.

We are privileged to accompany this crucial moment in history, and, with the excitement, I also feel a deep sense of solemnity, characteristic of those historic moments that challenge us and urge us to step up the realization of the purpose to which we owe ourselves: that peace be translated into the real expansion of human freedoms for everyone, and, in particular, for those most severely affected by the conflict, and to whom development has bypassed: the rural population, peasants, women, indigenous groups, youth, Afro-Colombians and the displaced.

Experience demonstrates that it is not enough to sign peace. That building peace and, furthermore, making peace with each other, entail arduous work. The commitment of the United Nations System in Colombia is to work relentlessly, together with the national public and private stakeholders, for Betsaida, and thousands of families like hers, to restore their livelihoods and realize themselves with equal opportunities; to generate reconciliation and sustainable development that contributes to closing the gaps that originated the conflict; to promote that each community and municipality be a peacebuilding agent.

The prospect of a Colombia in peace invites us to walk the path firmly and decisively on the basis of reparations for the victims, of an inclusive democracy and a more equitable development in which no one be left behind.

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Two years on, Peña Nieto cannot brush off Ayotzinapa stainhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/two-years-on-pena-nieto-cannot-brush-off-ayotzinapa-stain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=two-years-on-pena-nieto-cannot-brush-off-ayotzinapa-stain http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/two-years-on-pena-nieto-cannot-brush-off-ayotzinapa-stain/#comments Mon, 26 Sep 2016 14:15:56 +0000 Erika Guevara-Rosas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147095 43 students were arbitrarily arrested on 26 September 2014 by local police in Guerrero state, Mexico. They haven't been seen since. Credit: Telesur / Amnesty.

43 students were arbitrarily arrested on 26 September 2014 by local police in Guerrero state, Mexico. They haven't been seen since. Credit: Telesur / Amnesty.

By Erika Guevara-Rosas
MEXICO CITY, Sep 26 2016 (IPS)

There are certain events that mark a turning point in a country. The way a government decides to handle them defines the way they will go down in the history books.

This week marks two years since 43 students from a rural school in southern Mexico were forcibly disappeared after a brutal confrontation with security forces.

The unresolved tragedy has become such a stain for the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto that it is now shorthand for the Mexican authorities’ reckless approach to human rights in the country – where those responsible for crimes such as torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances are rarely brought before the courts.

The catalogue of failures in the way the Ayotzinapa case has been handled is so long, it beggars belief.

Six months after the students were forcibly disappeared, Peña Nieto’s then Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam came out publicly with an official explanation of what they believed had happened. In a press conference, he said the students had been killed by a powerful local drug gang and that their bodies had been burned in a dumpster.

Reports that dozens of those arrested for their involvement in the disappearances had been tortured to “confess” were never followed up.

He called it the “historic truth”.

His speech caused such havoc and indignation – particularly after a team of international forensic experts said the explanation was scientifically impossible – that Murillo Karam was effectively forced to resign. But still, neither he nor the government ever retracted his theory.

A few months later and in a bid to show action was being taken to shed some light onto the tragedy, the Mexican government agreed to allow a team of world renowned experts appointed by the Inter American Commission of Human Rights to look into the case.

But a year into their investigation, and after two damning reports pointing at a catalogue of failures by the authorities in the way the investigations had been handled, they were invited to leave the country.

The Peña Nieto administration had been embarrassed internationally and it did not like it.

Authorities promised they would take the inquiries forward, they promised justice. They said international help was no longer needed, that Mexico could take on the task of determining the students’ fate and whereabouts.

Few believed them.

And they were right not to.

As was expected, in a country with an atrocious human rights record, progress on the Ayotzinapa investigation has reached a standstill.

As international pressure decreased and the world’s attention moved on, pressure lifted on the Peña Nieto administration.

Reports that dozens of those arrested for their involvement in the disappearances had been tortured to “confess” were never followed up.

The scandalous revelation by the group of experts that Tomas Zerón de Lucio, a public official who had been in charge of the investigation, tampered the crime scene in a bid to show a piece of bone belonging to one of the students had been found in the banks of a local river in late October 2014 has also gone unpunished. A shallow investigation into the accusation has not led to any concrete results and Zerón was moved from the Attorney General’s Office to a higher position in the Council of National Security.

The Peña Nieto administration’s barefaced denial of what happened to the Ayotzinapa students is so deep-seated the president no longer dares to utter the word in public.

And the disappearance of these 43 young men is emblematic of everything that is wrong in Mexico. Human rights are nothing but an illusion for the thousands of men, women and children who are tortured, murdered and disappeared every year and will continue to be so as long as the authorities insist on saying everything is fine.

The stories of the 43 Ayotzinapa students are a reminder of the more than 28,000 men, women and children who have vanished across Mexico over the last decade – most since Peña Nieto took office in 2012.

They are a reminder of the extent to which people are routinely tortured into “confessing” crimes they did not commit in a vile attempt to show the government is actually taking action against the brutal criminal gangs terrorizing the country.

Time and time again we have heard the stories of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and children of those who have simply “vanished into thin air” and have no one to turn to in their desperate search for truth and justice.

On 29 July 2016, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights approved a mechanism to follow up on the findings and recommendations of the group of experts, with the aim of determining the whereabouts of the students

But without any real support from the Mexican authorities, there is no mechanism that will shed any light onto these crimes or ensure that those responsible will face justice.

The Peña Nieto administration seems to be relying on Mexico’s short-term memory; it hopes people will forget about the 43 students and many other human rights violations this country has seen over the decades have been forgotten.

What they are not counting on is the millions across this country, and around the world, who have had enough of empty promises. We will continue to fight, side by side, with all the brave human rights defenders and organizations who are not giving up hope to hold the Mexican authorities accountable and to ensure they fulfill their international obligations to protect human rights.

The time for political maneuvers is over. The relatives of the 43 young men of Ayotzinapa will never give up their fight until truth and justice for their children is achieved.

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Mexico City’s Expansion Creates Tension between Residents and Authoritieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/mexico-citys-expansion-creates-tension-between-residents-and-authorities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-citys-expansion-creates-tension-between-residents-and-authorities http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/mexico-citys-expansion-creates-tension-between-residents-and-authorities/#comments Fri, 23 Sep 2016 16:09:22 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147070 Construction work on the Chapultepec Intermodal Transfer Station, with the castle in the famous Chapultepec forest in the background. The recurrent complaint of Mexico City residents affected by public works in this city is the lack of consultation, transparency and information. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Construction work on the Chapultepec Intermodal Transfer Station, with the castle in the famous Chapultepec forest in the background. The recurrent complaint of Mexico City residents affected by public works in this city is the lack of consultation, transparency and information. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Sep 23 2016 (IPS)

People living in neighborhoods affected by the expansion of urban construction suffer a “double displacement”, with changes in their habitat and the driving up of prices in the area, in a process in which “we are not taken into account,” said Natalia Lara, a member of an assembly of local residents in the south of Mexico City.

Lara, who is pursuing a master’s degree in public policies at the Latin American School of Social Sciences (Flacso), told IPS that in her neighborhood people are outraged because of the irrational way the construction has been carried out there.

The member of the assembly of local residents of Santa Úrsula Coapa, a lower middle-class neighborhood, complains that urban decision-makers build more houses and buildings but “don’t think about how to provide services. They make arbitrary land-use changes.”

Lara lives near the Mexico City asphalt plant owned by the city’s Ministry of Public Works, which has been operating since 1956 and has become asource of conflict between the residents of the southern neighbourhoods and the administration of leftist Mayor Miguel Mancera of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, which has governed the capital since 1997.“There is clearly a lack of planning and vision, the strategy of only carrying out projects with a strictly economic focus is affecting us.There is no interest in building spaces that help improve community life. We are becoming more isolated, people don’t take their kids to play in parks anymore, but go to shopping centers instead, the fabric of the community breaks down. These are serious problems.” -- Elias García

In mid-2014, Mancera’s government announced its intention to donate the asphalt plant’s land to Mexico City’s Investment Promotion Agency, which would build the Coyoacán Economic and Social Development Area there.

In response, local residents organised and formed, in September of that year, the Coordination of Assemblies of Pedregales, which brings together residents of five neighborhoods in the Coyoacánborough, one of the 16 boroughs into which Mexico City is divided.

But the transfer of ownership of the land took place in December 2014, to create a development area including the construction of an industrial park and residential and office tower blocks.

To appease local residents, Mancera proposed modifying the initial plan and turning the area into an ecological park, despite the fact that the soil is polluted and will take many years to recover.

Last May, the mayor announced the final closure of the asphalt plant and its reconversion into an environmental site, although the decree for the donation to the city investment promotion agency was never revoked, and there is no reconversion plan.

This conflict shows the struggles for the city, for how the public space is defined and used, one of the central topics to be addressed at the Oct. 17-20 third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in Quito, Ecuador.

In the upcoming summit organised by U.N.-Habitat, member states will assume commitments with regard to the right to the city, how to finance the New Urban Agenda that will result from Quito, and sustainable urban development, among other issues.

Cities like the Mexican capital, home to 21 million people, are plagued with similar problems.

Elías García, president of the non-governmental Ecoactivistas, knows this well, having worked for three decades as an environmental activist in the borough of Iztacalco, in the east of the capital.

“There is clearly a lack of planning and vision, the strategy of only carrying out projects with a strictly economic focus is affecting us.There is no interest in building spaces that help improve community life. We are becoming more isolated, people don’t take their kids to play in parks anymore, but go to shopping centers instead, the fabric of the community breaks down. These are serious problems,” he told IPS.

The activist and other local residents have witnessed how in Iztacalco a concert hall, a race track for F1 international motor races, and more recently, a baseball stadium were built one after another.

In the process, some 3,000 trees were cut down and many green spaces and local sports fields disappeared.

The last measure taken was Macera’s 2015 decision to revoke the declaration of the Magdalena Mixhuca sports complex’s environmental value, which had protected the facilities for nine year, in order to build a baseball stadium in its place. Local residents filed an appeal for legal protection, but lost the suit last June.

Luisa Rodríguez, a researcher at the public Doctor José María Luís Mora Research Institute’s Interdisciplinary Center for Metropolitan Studies, told IPS that where people live determines their enjoyment of rights, such as to the city, a clean environment and housing.

“The exercise of citizenship is connected to the idea of the city. When a severely fragmented city is built, based on a model that only benefits the few, participation in social institutions like education and healthcare is only partial. Geographical location determines the exercise of those rights,” she said.

There are a number of open conflicts between organised local communities and the government of Mexico City. One high-profile flashpoint flared up in 2015 when the city government intended to build the Chapultepec Cultural Corridor in the west of the city, next to the woods of the same name, the biggest “green lung” that remains in this polluted megalopolis.

In a public consultation last December, the residents of the Cuauhtémoc borough, where Chapultepec is located, voted against the public-private project, which intended to build an elevated promenade for pedestrians, lined with shops, gardens and trees, above the traffic down below.

Instead, the city government is building an Intermodal Transfer Station (known as CETRAMs) at a cost of 300 million dollars, whose first stage is to be completed in 2018. Besides the transport hub, it will include a 50-floor hotel and a shopping center.

The Economic and Social Development Zones (ZODES), which originally were to be built in five areas in the capital, have apparently failed to improve the quality of urban life.

“In spite of the benefits these micro-cities are supposed to offer, the negative aspects of evicting the people currently living in these areas have not been assessed, and they run counter to the concepts of sustainability and strategic management that the government claims to support,” wrote city planner Daniela Jay in the specialised journal “Arquine”.

The last draft of the final declaration of Habitat III, agreed upon in July, makes no reference to the process of building a city based on inclusion and the active participation of citizens, although it does refer to exercising the right to the city and the importance of such participation.

Activists see both positives and negatives in the approach taken by Habitat III. The conference “will reinforce urban laws that focus on building cities, displacing the perspective of native people and local communities. There is no trend towards inclusion,” said Lara.

Activist García demanded that the local people be heard. “They have to listen to the people who are committed to protecting the environment,” he said.

According to Rodríguez, Habitat III offers an opportunity to address urban emergencies. “There are high expectations for governments to start focusing on building cities thinking about the inhabitants instead of the buildings,” she told IPS.

But with or without the conference, the battles for the city in urban centres like Mexico’s capital will continue.

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Rural Growth in Colombia: Yara Steps In to Increase Productivityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/rural-growth-in-colombia-yara-steps-in-to-increase-productivity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rural-growth-in-colombia-yara-steps-in-to-increase-productivity http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/rural-growth-in-colombia-yara-steps-in-to-increase-productivity/#comments Thu, 22 Sep 2016 13:50:18 +0000 Dominique Von Rohr http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147055 The rural community in Colombia is struggling to keep up with food production. Credit: Gerald Bermúdez/IPS

The rural community in Colombia is struggling to keep up with food production. Credit: Gerald Bermúdez/IPS

By Dominique Von Rohr
ROME, Sep 22 2016 (IPS)

Following the recent peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC in Cartagena which concludes a 52-year armed conflict, the country is now geared toward improving productivity in its agricultural sector. Yara International, a leader in crop nutrition and farmer support, has taken the timely step of supporting the government’s efforts on this issue.

Colombia, which relies on agriculture as the most important segment of its economy, still battles with an endemic problem of poor productivity. Due to the rugged Andean terrain covering Colombia, as well as the lack of irrigation, only roughly five per cent of the country’s land area is cultivated. The government is taking an increasing part in controlling, organizing and encouraging agriculture by giving financial support and social assistance for better housing to farmers, as well as providing them with technical help. However, foreign aid is always welcome.

The timely intervention of Yara International is contributing to enable Colombia in producing more and better food on existing agricultural land. Having invested in Colombia for years and providing funds of USD 425 million in 2014, Yara International has become the largest investor in the South American country, supporting rural development, growing productivity and prosperity in Colombia’s countryside.

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Argentina at Risk of an Educational System Serving the Markethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/argentina-at-risk-of-an-educational-system-serving-the-market/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentina-at-risk-of-an-educational-system-serving-the-market http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/argentina-at-risk-of-an-educational-system-serving-the-market/#comments Wed, 21 Sep 2016 03:37:36 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147007 “Hugging” the Ministry of Education in Buenos Aires, teachers and other education workers protest mass redundancies and other changes in a field that has been key until now with regard to inclusion policies. Credit: Guido Fontán/IPS

“Hugging” the Ministry of Education in Buenos Aires, teachers and other education workers protest mass redundancies and other changes in a field that has been key until now with regard to inclusion policies. Credit: Guido Fontán/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Sep 21 2016 (IPS)

In Argentina, teachers, students and trade unionists are protesting against mass redundancies in education, which they say are part of a process of undermining public education and a move towards a new model based on market needs.

“An educational model is emerging that is no longer focused on social rights for the population as a whole but instead focuses on the creation of a socioeconomic model that follows the logic of the entrepreneur, a logic of the self-made person,” Myriam Feldfeber told IPS.

The expert on education from the University of Buenos Aires took part in a “hug” around the Ministry of Education in the Argentine capital on Aug. 31, held to protest a new wave of 200 layoffs, and setbacks with regard to “the construction of free, universal and egalitarian education.”“It is a matter of serious concern that some central positions in the Ministry of Education are being held by people who don’t come from the field of education - business executives and people who don’t have any experience in the public sector.” – Myriam Feldfeber

Most of the people laid off now were temporary or contract workers, and the dismissals came on top of another 1,100 who lost their jobs in education since centre-right Mauricio Macri became president on Dec. 10, 2015.

Since then, 10,662 civil servants have been fired from 23 ministries and government agencies.

“I worked in the Teacher Training Institute for over six years, in an area of policy implementation related to research development in teacher training institutes throughout the country,” Laura Pico told IPS.

“On Friday (Aug. 26) I received a call from an unknown number notifying me that I was being dismissed by the ministry and that on Monday I shouldn’t return to work,” she said.

The mass layoffs are part of a broader process of downsizing and the elimination of several education policies, many of them implemented during the administrations of Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and Cristina Fernández (2007-2015).

The State Employees’ Association (ATE) complains of an underutilization of the budget for education and the dismantling of areas of teachers’ training, human rights, adult education, statistics, children’s and youth choirs, among others.

We note with great concern that our dismissals – besides being a target of protests by our union – undermine educational policies and reflect a withdrawal of the state from the territories,” ATE delegate Lautaro Pedot told IPS.

Fernanda Saforcada, an expert on education and the academic director of the Buenos Aires-based Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO), lamented the dismissals, which apart from being a human and social problem, “entail the loss of cumulative experience.”

“We are talking about technical teams that carried out an activity, have ties at work, networks that have been built up. All this represents a major loss. Expertise, history, knowledge and relations are lost,” she said.

This dismantling is more apparent in areas like the National Institute of Teachers’ Training and the National Institute of Technological Education, as well as in programmes on socio-educational matters, digital inclusion, human rights, comprehensive sex education, arts education, and education for young people and adults.

The learning process has been transformed in Argentina’s public schools by the Conectar Igualdad (Connect Equality) programme, which provides a laptop to each student. This is one of the education projects affected by the changes introduced by the government of Mauricio Macri. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The learning process has been transformed in Argentina’s public schools by the Conectar Igualdad (Connect Equality) programme, which provides a laptop to each student. This is one of the education projects affected by the changes introduced by the government of Mauricio Macri. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Other programmes that were reduced or eliminated include university scholarships, promotion of gender equality, and provision of computers to students with special needs or as an incentive to finish high school.

“I think that now the intention is to aim for an education system opposed to one of inclusion and of ensuring the right to education,” said Pico.

According to Feldfeber, who is also the coordinator of Red Estrado (Latin American Network of Studies on the Work of Teachers) and of CLACSO research groups, “what basically disappears is the idea of education as a right, on the public policy horizon.”

As an example of the strategy of inclusion that was being implemented, she mentioned the creation of 14 national universities, “especially in places where segments of the population traditionally excluded from the system are starting to have access to education,” which are now being called into question.

“It is a matter of serious concern that some central positions in the Ministry of Education are being held by people who don’t come from the field of education – business executives and people who don’t have any experience in the public sector,” Feldfeber stressed.

“One of the highest-ranking positions is held by a former Philip Morris CEO (Ezequiel Newbery, now assistant secretary for socio-educational programmes) who says he isn’t familiar with education, doesn’t understand what a socio-educational policy is, and that he comes to the ministry to bring order,” she told IPS.

“’Bringing order’ means what we are witnessing now: firing workers and dismantling teams,” she said.

The government argues that it is “modernising” the public administration and restructuring the ministries.

Education Minister Esteban Bulrich advocates an “educational revolution”, which he defines as “giving any Argentine, no matter where he was born, the possibility of having the same quality education.”

According to Bulrich, “inclusion by itself, without quality, is no good, it only goes halfway, inclusion by itself is a fraud, and to improve quality you have to begin with the real agents of change: teachers.”

“The idea is to provide (teachers) with more tools, in order for them to have a modern, 21st century perspective of the skills and abilities that the children in our educational system need to become autonomous beings,” he said in a ceremony in June.

Fernanda Saforcada said the private sector is being strengthened “in the context of a process of transforming the role of the state.”

“The state is taking on a new role in search of alliances with NGOs (non-governmental organisations), foundations and business sectors,” she said.

“Many of these NGOs are connected to business sectors, which shows how the public sphere has been undermined, giving a new content to educational management,” she told IPS.

“And when we refer to the private sector, beyond the public-private dichotomy, we’re talking about the interests of some sectors prevailing over the common good.”

ATE complained about an attempt to “privatise” programmes such as Connect Equality, aimed at promoting digital inclusion, inherited from the previous government, which this year “experienced the influx of international companies such as Microsoft and Google.”

The intention, ATE said, is to replace locally-produced open-source software, such as Huayra, with these commercial operational programmes in the laptops distributed free to students.

The Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2000-2015 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) highlighted progress made in the Argentine educational system in the last decade, following the goals established in the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000.

The report pointed out that public expenditure on education in this South American country was among the highest in Latin America, representing 6.26 per cent of GDP.

Moreover, 99.1 percent of Argentine children are in primary school, which makes it the country with the highest coverage in the region, along with Uruguay.

With regard to secondary school, the net enrolment ratio is one of the highest in Latin America: 89.06 per cent in 2012, although drop-out rates remain a cause for concern.

Argentina, with a population of 43 million, has also reduced the illiteracy rates from 2.6 to 1.9 percent of people older than 15.

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No One Is Indispensable in a Democracyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/no-one-is-indispensable-in-a-democracy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-one-is-indispensable-in-a-democracy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/no-one-is-indispensable-in-a-democracy/#comments Tue, 20 Sep 2016 03:15:54 +0000 Oscar Arias Sanchez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146995 Former Costa Rican president Oscar Arias

Former Costa Rican president Oscar Arias

By Oscar Arias Sanchez
SAN JOSÉ, Sep 20 2016 (IPS)

I have put a great deal of thought into whether or not to return to politics. Groups from different political parties, and without party affiliation, have expressed their concern over the current situation in the country and have offered me their support. And the opinion polls indicate that I would have a chance at a third presidential term.

The support of so many people fills me with gratitude. There is no greater reward for me than feeling the confidence and trust of the Costa Rican people, because it is based on deeds and actions, on knowing me for over 45 years, and knowing that, with all my defects, I always say what I think and do what I say.

The approval of my first two administrations is a reflection of what we managed to do together. In the 1980s, we brought peace to a region crushed by war, and we thus put Costa Rica on the world map.

Ten years ago, we inserted our small country in the international economy, and we put it on the map again when the United Nations approved the Arms Trade Treaty, Costa Rica’s biggest contribution to humanity in its entire history.

For many months I have weighed the contribution that I can still make, serving Costa Rica once again, against the need to give a boost to the emergence of a new generation of Costa Rican leaders. And I’m not thinking about the next four years. I’m thinking about the next 40. I have enough strength and enough ideas to serve them again. But I also know I’m not indispensable. No one is indispensable in a democracy.

This is something I have said many times: one of the main obligations of a political leader is to foster new leadership. The future of a country depends on the continuous emergence of new cadres willing to take up the baton. Only tyrants cling to power.

Democrats, of whom I am one, understand the importance of stepping aside. I believe the next generations must be given space, and this is the main reason for not running again for president.

The second reason arises from the political ungovernability in Costa Rica. The opposition doesn’t bother me; on the contrary, I have always believed that in a democracy if there is no opposition, it has to be created. I believe a good government requires someone on the other side of the sidewalk, reminding it of its commitments and holding it accountable.

Unfortunately, there is a segment of the opposition in our country which, instead of demanding that the government in office make good on its promises, uses any tool to keep it from doing so. Rather than allowing it to implement the government plan that voters supported at the polls, they spend four years carrying out a continuous election campaign, standing in the way of progress in the direction that the people said they wanted.

On May 8, 2006, when my second government took office, I made the following appeal to Costa Ricans, which continues to apply today:

“I hope that we learn that no party or social segment has a monopoly on honesty, patriotism, good intentions and love for Costa Rica. I hope that we can understand that the responsible use of political power is much more than pointing things out, complaining, and hindering, and consists above all of engaging in dialogue, working together and building.

“I hope we will be able to tell the difference between adversaries and enemies; understand that willingness to compromise is not a sign of weakness, just as intransigence is not a sign of strength. I hope we can do away with the pettiness of our political debate, raise up our heads, look forward and think big.”

The third and last reason that pushes me to make this decision is that I think there are many ways to work for the people of Costa Rica. They say that someone who is only good at being president is not even good at that. That is, if you can only exert influence from the presidential seat, it will not be a strong influence.

I don’t plan to retire. I will continue to express my opinions about the way things are going in the country, and I will continue to support the causes I believe in: I always defended what I consider is best for our people, and above all, for the less fortunate.

I will continue to tirelessly advocate the need for Costa Rica to approve educational reforms that make it possible to boost the quality of education in our primary and secondary schools and our universities, such as dual education, evaluation of teachers and ensuring that our young people receive the skills needed to compete in today’s world.

I will continue to insist on the need for Costa Rica to modernise its economy, invest in infrastructure, insert itself even more in the global markets, significantly bolster its competitiveness and rev up its engines of productivity, the best instrument to reduce inequalities. And I will continue defending democracy, peace and disarmament, because the small size of our country should never be the measure of its moral authority.

I have decided not to run for a third presidential term because I believe that the main problem we are facing is medium- to long-term. If we don’t manage to elevate the quality of politics and increase interest in public service, if we fail to get the most capable, educated and honest people to participate in political life, the sustainability itself of our democratic system is at stake.

To preserve this way of life that we have enjoyed for years, we have to encourage young people to lay their hands on the helm of history.

This is a country of young people. It’s the new generations that have to fight for, and exercise, power. If they don’t like the direction the country is moving in, they should change it. You can do a lot of good outside of politics, but a country where everyone is outside politics is a country adrift.

Arnold Toynbee, the great British historian, said “The greatest punishment for those who are not interested in politics, is that they are governed by people who are.”

Young people must occupy their rightful place in decision-making. They should take the helm of this ship we call fatherland; it will go in the direction of their commitment, or their indifference. I hope the Costa Rica of the future will not be the fruit of their omission, but of the most determined transformative action!

My profound gratitude to everyone who has supported me. Thank you so much for your affection and your trust. Thanks so much for the people of Costa Rica, who continue to move me, to inspire me, and to give me reasons to believe that politics is an instrument for doing good, for achieving peace, for doing justice; that politics is the workshop of dreams where perhaps they can become more realistic, more precise, more concrete, but also the place where dreams can come true.

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

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Caribbean: Rethinking Progress in Sustainable Development Erahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/caribbean-rethinking-progress-in-sustainable-development-era/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-rethinking-progress-in-sustainable-development-era http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/caribbean-rethinking-progress-in-sustainable-development-era/#comments Mon, 19 Sep 2016 09:20:31 +0000 Jessica Faieta http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146976 United Nations Assistant Secretary General and UN Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.]]>

United Nations Assistant Secretary General and UN Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

By Jessica Faieta
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 19 2016 (IPS)

Caribbean countries make a special case for development. The high and increasing exposure to hazards, combined with very open and trade-dependent economies with limited diversification and competitiveness portray a structurally and environmentally vulnerable region, composed, in the most part, of middle income countries.

As these countries start implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) we are calling for a new notion of progress. Our UN Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report for the Caribbean titled “Multidimensional Progress: human resilience beyond income, launched this week in Barbados with top regional authorities makes the case for a new generation of public policies to boost resilience and increase gains in the economic, social and environmental fronts, including peace and justice.

For the Caribbean this “multidimensional progress” entails not only adapting to shocks. It means breaking through structural obstacles that hinder growth and people’s well-being—beyond the traditional measurements of living above or below a poverty line. Nothing that reduces the rights of people and communities or threatens the environment can be considered progress.

This holistic approach is crucial, especially for the Caribbean.

After decades of persistent and volatile low growth, human vulnerability has increased. Most CARICOM countries’ Human Development Index—our composite measure of income, education and longevity— ranking has dropped over the last five years. Jamaica and Dominica, two extreme cases, have fallen 23 and 10 positions respectively.

When the human development results of the Caribbean are situated in a context of slow, volatile and low economic growth, high unemployment and under-employment especially among youth and women, a clear picture emerges showing the deep interconnectedness between human progress and the challenges of the state to cope, our report shows.

The first challenge is that, despite the very high indebtedness and the fiscal constraints affecting the region, governments should be able to implement combined public policies and interventions that foster inclusive growth: one that leaves no one behind. This also entails preventing setbacks and safeguarding hard won social, economic gains by boosting resilience, particularly among the most vulnerable groups to improve the lives of Caribbean women men and children.

To protect these achievements, economic growth alone is not enough. Our Report shows that social protection throughout people’s life cycle; expansion of systems of care for children, elderly and persons with disabilities; broader access to physical and financial assets (that act as cushions when crisis hit, like a car, a house or savings account); and continuous improvements in job skills – particularly in the case of women and youth– are vital.

In addition, many forms of exclusion transcend income and are associated with unequal treatment, discrimination, violence or stigmatization based on ethnicity, race, skin colour, identity and sexual orientation, gender, physical or mental disability, religion, migrant status or nationality. Being a woman, LGBTI, youth, a person with disabilities, being from an ethnic minority… all of these factors affect people’s life opportunities, the possibility of social and economic mobility and access to services. Closing material gaps is not enough to eradicate these forms of exclusions. A level playing field for citizenship requires implementing protection policies, affirmative action, empowering citizens and recognizing individual and collective rights.

The second challenge is to move towards a new public policy framework that can break sectoral and territorial silos and provide social protection throughout the life cycle. Part of the responsibility lies with States, which should generate and coordinate sustainable financial resources for public policies; but part also lies with the citizens, to the extent that it is necessary to build a culture of resilience and prevention in each household and community.

Like many in Latin America and the Caribbean, we believe that the challenge of sustainable, holistic and universal development are not resolved by crossing a given income threshold. There is no “graduation” from the development challenges unless appropriate answers are provided to the multiple dimensions that allow people to live a life they have reasons to value.

Now more than ever the world needs to rethink the methods for ranking development in the region’s countries that go beyond per capita income, economic growth rates and Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Caribbean countries‘ high debt hinders the ability to access finance for sustainable development, also limiting the region’s ability to achieve the SDGs.

In view of the development-financing context in the Caribbean, the report demonstrates how, for the most part, Caribbean countries are ineligible for concessional finance due to their status as middle-income countries. With average national per capita income levels above the international financial eligibility benchmark, the report makes a case for a review of eligibility criteria to access concessional financing.

In line with the SDGs, our report stresses that on the one hand it is crucial to invest in people, environment, sustainable and affordable energy, institutional efficiency, stability and security as these are key factors to boost economic growth. On the other hand, it is essential to ensure that economic growth is inclusive, empowers people, leaves no one behind—and is not achieved at the expense of the environment.

This holistic approach to improving people’s lives while taking care of the planet will help countries in the Caribbean achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, boost climate resilience, end poverty in all its forms and leave no one behind.

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New Government Inherits Conflict over Peru’s Biggest Minehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/new-government-inherits-conflict-over-biggest-mine-in-peru/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-government-inherits-conflict-over-biggest-mine-in-peru http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/new-government-inherits-conflict-over-biggest-mine-in-peru/#comments Sat, 17 Sep 2016 01:37:38 +0000 Aramis Castro and Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146972 Members of the 16 rural families who refuse to abandon their homes in the village of Taquiruta until the company running the Las Bambas mine compensates them fairly for the loss of their animals, pens and houses. In the background can be seen the biggest mine in Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Members of the 16 rural families who refuse to abandon their homes in the village of Taquiruta until the company running the Las Bambas mine compensates them fairly for the loss of their animals, pens and houses. In the background can be seen the biggest mine in Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Aramis Castro and Milagros Salazar
LIMA/CHALLHUAHUACHO , Sep 17 2016 (IPS)

Of the 150 socioeconomic conflicts related to the extractive industries that Peru’s new government inherited, one of the highest-profile is the protest by the people living near the biggest mining project in the history of the country: Las Bambas.

The enormous open-pit copper mine in the district of Challhuahuacho, in the southern department of Apurímac, is operated by the Chinese-Australian company MMG Limited, controlled by China Minmetals Corporation, which invested more than 10 billion dollars in its first project in Latin America.

Peru, where mining is the backbone of the economy, is the third-largest copper producer in the world and the fifth-largest gold producer.

Las Bambas, which started operating in January, is projected to have an initial annual production of 400,000 tons of copper concentrate.

The conflict reached its peak in September 2015 when three people were killed and 29 wounded in a clash between local residents and the police. The former government of Ollanta Humala (2011-2016) assembled a working group to address local demands.

The working group’s first meeting since conservative President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski took office on Jul. 28 was held on Aug. 22.

“We don’t want conflicts. But if we give you the mine, we have to set conditions,” Daniel Olivera, a local farmer from the community of Ccayao, told IPS with regard to the neglected demands of people living around the mine, which has reserves of 7.2 million metric tons of copper, in addition to molybdenum and other minerals.

The working group was set up in February, to address four issues: human rights, environment, sustainable development with public investment, and corporate social responsibility.

The only concrete result achieved so far, according to the representatives of the Quechua communities surrounding the mine, was compensation for the families of the three people killed in the violent clash.

The last session took place Sep. 7-8, but it mainly dealt with technical aspects. The head of the Front for the Defence of the Interests of the Province of Cotatambas, Rodolfo Abarca, told IPS that he expects the next meetings, scheduled for October, to deal with “substantive issues”.

The mine’s three open pits and the processing facilities are located 4,000 metres above sea level in the Andes mountains, between the Cotabambas and Grau provinces in the Apurímac region.

The Front demands that an independent study be carried out in order to shed light on the origins of the conflict: the changes approved by the Ministry of Mines and Energy to the environmental impact assessment of the project, without consulting the local population, in spite of the potential impact on the water sources, soil and air.

The most controversial move was made in 2013 when the authorities allowed the transfer of the plant that separates molybdenum from copper, from Tintaya in the neighboring region of Cuzco, to Fuerabamba, in Cotatambas.

 Two girls with their mother on a street of Nueva Fuerabamba, the town where the relocated Quechua villagers were transferred because of the open-pit copper mine in Las Bambas, removed from their traditional way of life, in the department of Apurímac, in the Andean highlands of southern Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS


Two girls with their mother on a street of Nueva Fuerabamba, the town where the relocated Quechua villagers were transferred because of the open-pit copper mine in Las Bambas, removed from their traditional way of life, in the department of Apurímac, in the Andean highlands of southern Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

The transfer meant new studies were necessary to measure the potential environmental impacts at the new site. But this step was disregarded in the supporting technical report, according to the environmental engineers who went through the more than 1,500 pages of project records with the team from the investigative journalism site Convoca.

While the Ministry of Mines and Energy and the mining company Las Bambas saw these changes as minor and involving insignificant impacts, the experts said they were significant modifications that required a closer analysis.

The supporting technical report is part of a simplification of requirements carried out by Humala’s government in 2013 through decree 054-2013-PCM, aimed at accelerating private investment in the country.

Among the simplifications was a new rule that the local population no longer has to be consulted before allowing changes in environmental impact studies, on the assumption that these changes only affect secondary components of the project or expansions for technological improvements.

Convoca’s journalists told IPS that the environmental engineers informed them that in the case of Las Bambas, the technical supporting report was used to rapidly justify changes, without having to conduct specific studies to prevent potential environmental impacts, and to avoid consulting local communities.

The technical supporting report also made it possible for the minerals to be transported by truck, instead of only through pipelines as in the past. As a result, the trucks have been throwing up clouds of dust since January, a problem that has further fuelled the local protests.

The company told Convoca via email that they use “sealed containers” and that they spray the roads with water before the trucks drive by.

With the removal of the requirement for pipelines went the hopes of people in the 20 farming communities and four small towns in four different districts, who expected to lease or sell the lands crossed by the pipelines that were projected in the initial environmental impact assessment.

The decision “hit us like a bucket of cold water… It’s very sad,” added Olivera, who is from a community where the pipelines were supposed to cross.

The environmental engineers argued that what should have been done was a study of the environmental impact caused by the transport of minerals by truck instead of through a pipeline.

They also said a health impact assessment was needed after the relocation of the filtration plant, “since besides copper, molybdenum is also processed and produced, which is harmful to human health,” causing liver failure and different types of arthritis.

The Ministry of Mines and Energy said by email that the relocation of “the molybdenum plant, as well as the filtration area and the concentrate storage facility,” only required a technical supporting report because the management plan approved for the plant was not modified.

Moreover, they said the area of influence of the project was reduced, and argued that a plan approved to recirculate the mining process water was an “improvement.”

The company said that before submitting their report, it “identified and evaluated the impacts that would be generated in each case,” and concluded that “they would not be significant.”

In his inaugural address, President Kuczynski said he would demand compliance with all environmental regulations and would respect the views of every citizen regarding a project’s environmental impact.

But the former vice minister of environmental management, José de Echave, pointed out to IPS that “there is no mechanism for public participation,” even when local residents are not opposed to a project.

According to the ombudsperson’s office there are 221 unresolved social conflicts in Peru, 150 (71 percent) of which are centered on territories where extractive projects are being carried out and have an environmental component.

De Echave said the government should create strategies to monitor social conflicts and deal with them through dialogue with government agencies.

Access to land is another issue behind the social conflict in Las Bambas.

There are 16 families in the village of Taquiruta, on the edge of the town of Fuerabamba, who live very close to the centre of operations of Las Bambas and refuse to leave their homes and parcels of land until the company provides them with fair compensation. The minerals are under the ground where their houses sit.

They are the only ones that until now have not left. Over the last two years, more than 400 families have been relocated to a new settlement, half an hour away from the community, named Nueva Fuerabamba (new Fuerabamba).

De Echave said the government should implement a land-use planning law to anticipate potential conflicts over access to natural resources.

With reporting by Alicia Tovar (Lima).

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Fish Farming, a Challenge and Opportunity for Small Farmers in Brazil’s Amazonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/fish-farming-a-challenge-and-opportunity-for-small-farmers-in-brazils-amazon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fish-farming-a-challenge-and-opportunity-for-small-farmers-in-brazils-amazon http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/fish-farming-a-challenge-and-opportunity-for-small-farmers-in-brazils-amazon/#comments Wed, 14 Sep 2016 15:32:56 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146919 One of the seven tanks on Domingo Mendes da Silva’s farm in Santa Marta, in the northwestern Brazilian state of Rondônia, full of pirarucús or arapaimas, one of the biggest fish in the Amazonian jungle, which are ready to be sold when they reach 14 kilos, and which jump when they are fed. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

One of the seven tanks on Domingo Mendes da Silva’s farm in Santa Marta, in the northwestern Brazilian state of Rondônia, full of pirarucús or arapaimas, one of the biggest fish in the Amazonian jungle, which are ready to be sold when they reach 14 kilos, and which jump when they are fed. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
SANTA RITA, Brazil, Sep 14 2016 (IPS)

Domingo Mendes da Silva has lost track of how many visitors he has received at his 10-hectare farm in northwest Brazil. He estimates “more than 500,” including aquaculture technicians, government officials, peasant farmers, journalists and other people interested in fish farming.

The attraction is the pirarucu or arapaima (Arapaima gigas), one of the largest fish in the Amazon jungle, which he breeds in seven black canvas fish tanks, “two for breeding and five for fattening.” Each tank contains 500 fish that are ready for sale in just over a year, when they reach around 14 kilos. In their natural habitat, they can weigh over 100 kilos.

“These fish grow very fast, gaining 10 kilos per year on average. Besides, you can use every part of the arapaima: the skin, the scales and even the faeces,” said Mendes, who for years had dreamed of becoming a fish farmer.

The opportunity came when he settled in Santa Rita, an agricultural community that received 153 families displaced by the San Antonio dam, one of two big hydroelectric plants built on the Madeira River, one of the Amazon River’s biggest tributaries.

Mendes, 57, a former “garimpeiro” or informal miner, told IPS on his farm that he became a farmer in 1999 when “gold became scarce” and he was settled under the Brazilian government’s land reform programme in Joana D’Arc, on the banks of the Madeira River, 120 kilometres from Porto Velho, the capital of the northwestern state of Rondônia.

Later he was resettled in Santa Rita by the company that built the dam, Santo Antônio Energía (SAE), because the land was going to be flooded by the reservoir.

“The soil is not very fertile here, but we have better access, since it’s near a paved road and the capital city,” said Mendes. His farm is five kilometres from interstate highway BR-364 which crosses Brazil from southeast to northwest, and Santa Rita is 54 kilometres from Porto Velho.

These factors encouraged him to breed arapaima in canvas tanks eight metres in diameter, which can produce 50 kilos of fish per cubic metre of water, compared to just one kilo by conventional methods, according to the rural technical assistance agency of Rondônia (Emater-Ro), which supports the project.

“The system is viable, but it’s hard work, the water has to be changed daily,” Mendes said. The wastewater does not pollute the river because it is used to irrigate the plantations of the açaí palm (Euterpe oleracea), whose fruit is widely consumed at a local level and is also exported.

Six hectares of the farm are devoted to growing fruit and vegetables.

 Domingo Mendes stands next to one of the tanks where he holds wastewater from raising pirarucú or arapaima fish, used to irrigate vegetable gardens, fruit trees and açaí palm trees, which he grows on part of his farm in Santa Rita, in northwest Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS


Domingo Mendes stands next to one of the tanks where he holds wastewater from raising pirarucú or arapaima fish, used to irrigate vegetable gardens, fruit trees and açaí palm trees, which he grows on part of his farm in Santa Rita, in northwest Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

But the project runs the risk of a premature death, despite the commendations of Emater-Ro and the SAE. Mendes feels he is on his own. Fish farming with “fertigation” – the application of soluble fertilisers by means of an irrigation system – did not draw the hoped-for level of participation and has not received the necessary support from the state for a refrigeration plant and marketing mechanisms, he complained.

With the participation of 30 fish farmers organised in a cooperative, as was anticipated in the initial plan, costs could be cut and better prices achieved, making the business more productive and profitable and benefiting the diet of the local population, he said.

Aquaculture and food security

Fish is becoming more and more important for world food security, and aquaculture has been fundamental in increasing the food supply, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Aquaculture production provided only seven percent of the fish for human consumption in 1974, a proportion that went up to 26 percent in 1994 and to 44.1 percent in 2014. From 2009 to 2014 it grew 32.5 per cent, while capture fisheries amounted to 3.5 percent, according to the State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, published this year by FAO.

This trend will become more pronounced in the next 10 years. In Latin America, fisheries are tending to stagnate, while fish farming is projected to grow nearly 40 percent.

This is a factor that drives up the costs of the breeding of arapaima, which is widely consumed in Brazil.

Ilce Oliveira, coordinator of Aquaculture and Fisheries in the Rondônia Secretariat of Agriculture (Seagri), told IPS that “their feeding costs are too high for a family farmer, government subsidies are needed.”

Arapaima need to be fed 40 percent protein, compared to 28 percent for other species, said Mendes. But this does not make production unprofitable because of how quickly they fatten, he explained.

Fish farming is a priority for the Rondônia state government, which is developing a programme to promote the activity, particularly breeding in net pens in hydropower reservoirs.

Seagri expects aquaculture production to reach 80,000 tons this year. In 2010 output amounted to just 12,000 tons. Production could grow fast because of the 8,000 rural properties with the infrastructure for fish farming, only half are selling part of what they produce.

The two problems that Mendes said he faces – feeling that he is on his own, and the high feeding costs – do not affect the alternative chosen by the Collective Rural Resettlement of Jirau, the other dam on the Madeira River, 120 km from Porto Velho and 110 km upstream the Santo Antônio dam.

Their Income-Generation Pilot Project combines fish farming and crop irrigation using wastewater. But they opted for the tambaqui or pacu (Colossoma macropomum), the Amazonian fish most widely consumed and farmed.

 Domingo Mendes stands next to one of the tanks where he holds wastewater from raising pirarucú or arapaima fish, used to irrigate vegetable gardens, fruit trees and açaí palm trees, which he grows on part of his farm in Santa Rita, in northwest Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS


Domingo Mendes stands next to one of the tanks where he holds wastewater from raising pirarucú or arapaima fish, used to irrigate vegetable gardens, fruit trees and açaí palm trees, which he grows on part of his farm in Santa Rita, in northwest Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“It is the local species that has best adapted to tank breeding,” said Juliana Oliveira, in charge of socioeconomic affairs in ESBR, the consortium that built the Jirau hydroelectric plant.

Each of the four in-ground tanks produces up to five tons of fish per year, about 2,500 fish weighing two kilos on average, Miguel Lins, agronomist and environmental analyst for ESBR, told IPS.

The breeding tanks were built on high ground so water can drain on crops by gravity. However, this “fertigation” system is unusual, because the water with faeces and waste from fish farming contains too much ammonium, a fertiliser that in excess can damage crops, said Oliveira.

The project, financed by the company, seeks to assess the financial and environmental viability of this method of fish farming, while persuading and empowering the 22 families that are left in the resettlement, organised in the New Life Association. In 2011, 35 families were resettled but 13 have left.

The pilot project already provides a small income for the families, selling around 400 kilos weekly in nearby markets. That is not much when divided between all the families. But the plan is to build more tanks on the 75-hectare family plots, each of which contains 60 hectares of forest reserves.

They’re also making an effort to diversify production, with horticulture, fruit trees and forage plants adapted to the local ecosystem. The Brazilian government’s agricultural research agency, EMBRAPA, which played a fundamental role in Brazil’s agricultural development, is taking part in the project, testing varieties of bananas, pineapples and Amazonian fruits.

The undertaking is promoted by ESBR as a way to compensate for the environmental and social damage caused by the dam, and it is also supported by the Rural Producers’ Cooperative of Jirau, which groups 131 families displaced by the dam and resettled in other surrounding communities.

A structure like this, which ensures financial, technical and commercial support, is perhaps what Mendes’ isolated project – named “Piraçaí”, joining the names pirarucú and açaí palm – needs. Boosting its scale, through cooperatives or private and public investment, could turn it into a profitable business.

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Making African Palm Oil Production Sustainablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/making-african-palm-oil-production-sustainable/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=making-african-palm-oil-production-sustainable http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/making-african-palm-oil-production-sustainable/#comments Mon, 12 Sep 2016 17:11:02 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146883 A young peasant farmer transports his oil palm fruit harvest on a donkey cart. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A young peasant farmer transports his oil palm fruit harvest on a donkey cart. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
HONOLULU, Hawaii, USA , Sep 12 2016 (IPS)

“In San Lorenzo they cut down the jungle to plant African oil palms. The only reason they didn’t expand more was that indigenous people managed to curb the spread,” Ecuadorean activist Santiago Levy said during the World Conservation Congress.

Levy, the head of the non-governmental Foundation for the Development of Community-based Development Alternatives in the Tropics (ALTROPICO) in the northern Ecuadorean province of Carchi, cited the impacts of the crop in that region near the border with Colombia, since the start of the last decade.

“Infrastructure is needed, as well as a great deal of water for processing, and wastewater that is generated leaks into the soil. I don’t see sustainable oil palm production as possible; it necessarily implies cutting down jungle to plant a monoculture crop,” he told IPS during the congress, which was held in Honolulu, the capital of the U.S. state of Hawaii, in the first 10 days of September.“There is a need to mobilise efforts in order to respond to all problems stemming from oil palm. We should go step by step. First, we have to stop deforestation and then address the intensification of seeding that takes place on degraded land.” – Arnold Sitompul

The expansion of the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) in that Latin American nation in recent years is similar to what has happened in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Indonesia, the world’s biggest producer.

The cooking oil extracted after the fruit of the oil palm is crushed is used in the food, cosmetics and agrofuel industries, and oil palm fever has infected several countries, leading to clashes over land, deforestation, labour disputes, water pollution, and even murders of local activists.

This legacy casts doubt on the mechanisms fomented by producer nations, the industry, environmental organisations and academics, aimed at achieving sustainable production of palm oil.

A new attempt was promoted by participants in the congress organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Hawaii.

One of the resolutions debated in-depth at the gathering involved the mitigation of the impacts on biodiversity of the expansion of oil palm plantations, and efforts to keep from encroaching on ecosystems as-yet untouched by the industry.

The motion urged the Switzerland-based IUCN, which has 1,200 governmental and non-governmental members, to assess the repercussions of the expansion of African palm plantations with regard to conservation of biodiversity, and to study and define best practices for the sector.

It also called for the creation of a working group to support governments and other actors in setting limits on which ecosystems can be used for the production of palm oil, and urged the members to adopt effective safeguards to protect indigenous peoples who have been victims of the expansion of the crop.

The Hawaii Commitments, the document containing 99 resolutions adopted by the congress, says “The need to provide food for people has resulted in the intensification and industrialisation of agriculture, including aquaculture, while traditionally farmed areas, biodiversity and natural ecosystems have been lost”.

This edition of the congress, which is held every four years by the IUCN and whose theme this year was “Planet at the Crossroads”, drew 9,500 participants from 192 countries, including delegates from governments, NGOs, and the scientific and business communities.

The first step in the processing of the oil palm fruit, whose oil is in growing demand around the world, with an increasing impact on biodiversity. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The first step in the processing of the oil palm fruit, whose oil is in growing demand around the world, with an increasing impact on biodiversity. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Arnold Sitompul, WWF Indonesia conservation director, said the current model to certify sustainable production of palm oil has not worked, because deforestation and the loss of biological diversity persist.

“There is a need to mobilise efforts in order to respond to all problems stemming from oil palm,” he told IPS. “We should go step by step. First, we have to stop deforestation and then address the intensification of seeding that takes place on degraded land.”

The area planted in oil palm has grown eight-fold in his country since 1985. Since 2011, the Indonesian government has declared moratoriums on the issuance of permits for new plantations, although the activist said they have not been effective in curbing expansion of the crop.

There are some 200,000 sq km of African oil palm worldwide, and palm oil accounts for 23 percent of global demand for oils and fats.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 65.5 million tons of palm oil will be processed in 2016-2017, 10 percent more than in 2015.

In Indonesia, the world’s leading producer of palm oil, the area under cultivation amounts to 80,000 sq km, with annual production of 35 million tons. It is followed by Malaysia (56,000 sq km and 21 million tons) and Thailand (10,000 km and 2.3 million tons).

In Latin America, Colombia, the world’s fourth-largest producer, produces more than one million tons a year on 5,000 sq km. It is followed by Ecuador (560,000 tons on 2,800 sq km), Honduras (545,000 tons on 1,250 sq km, Brazil (340,000 tons on 1,500 sq km), and Guatemala (320,000 tons on 1,500 sq km).

“Sustainable palm oil certification hasn’t worked,” Antony Lynam, the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society’s regional technical adviser for Asia, told IPS. “What is needed is to protect forests from oil palm expansion.”

“Certification cannot be a pretext for companies to hurt the environment. It can’t be used as greenwashing,” an environmentalist told IPS during the congress, on condition of anonymity.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which has brought together the different stakeholders since 2004, created a certification system.

A review of the complaints filed with the RSPO grievances mechanism would appear to confirm these conclusions about the production of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO), a complaints have increased since 2014.

Of the total 64 complaints, 40 percent refer to prior informed consent from indigenous people for growing the crop on their territories, 23 percent to conservation problems and 16 percent to pollution and burning of forest and jungle.

Indonesia heads the list, with 35 complaints, followed by Malaysia (13) and Colombia (two). The rest are grievances brought in Brazil, Cameroon, Costa Rica, France, Liberia and Peru.

When the RSPO complaints panel – made up of representatives of companies, banks and environmental organisations – met Jun. 30 in Malaysia it received complaints about violations of labour rights, freedom of movement of indigenous people, failed payments, and impacts on biodiversity.

The RSPO, which groups some 3,000 members from the seven sectors of the palm oil industry, has so far certified 11 million tons of palm oil produced on 22,100 sq km.

The organisation drafted a set of social and environmental criteria which companies must comply with in order to produce CSPO.

These principles include full traceability, compliance with local and international labour rights standards, respect for indigenous rights, preventing clearance of primary forests and other high conservation areas, and the use of clean agricultural practices.

Up to now, CSPO has come from Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Brazil and Colombia and only represents 17 percent of global production.

“It makes no sense to produce biofuels using food. Alternatives to oil crops must be found, with the aim of not hurting the environment,” said Levy.

Sitompul is optimistic. “It’s a good moment to improve the situation. Best practices can be fostered. Indonesia should address value added creation instead of only providing raw materials.

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When It Comes to Conservation, Size Mattershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/when-it-comes-to-conservation-size-matters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-it-comes-to-conservation-size-matters http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/when-it-comes-to-conservation-size-matters/#comments Wed, 07 Sep 2016 22:58:56 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146835 A hall for the sharing of experiences and research among the 9,500 participants in the World Conservation Congress, which among other issues has discussed the benefits and challenges of small-scale conservation, during the sessions held the first 10 days in September in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A hall for the sharing of experiences and research among the 9,500 participants in the World Conservation Congress, which among other issues has discussed the benefits and challenges of small-scale conservation, during the sessions held the first 10 days in September in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
HONOLULU, Hawaii, USA, Sep 7 2016 (IPS)

When the communities living in the Tatamá y Serranía de los Paraguas Natural National Park in the west of Colombia organised in 1996 to defend their land and preserve the ecosystem, they were fighting deforestation, soil degradation and poaching.

Twenty years later, local residents, farmers and community organisations have created four reserves, a brand of coffee and a community radio station, while making progress in conservation of this part of the Chocó-Darién conservation corridor along the border with Panama, although threats persist.

“One of the factors is sustaining the reserves in the long-term and generating benefits for local communities,” said César Franco, founder and director of the community environmental organisation Corporación Serraniagua.“One of the best solutions for conserving protected areas is working with the people on a small-scale. We have a strengthened, organised community that is economically sustainable. That shows it is better to invest in communities rather than just barging in with major infrastructure projects.” -- Grethel Aguilar

The ecologist told IPS that “everything is under threat,” especially from megaprojects, like gold mining and oil prospecting, the loss of secure tenure on community-owned land, and the encroachment of agribusiness plantations, “which destroy family systems.”

Serraniagua is a collective of owners of nature reserves, associations of agrecological farmers, rural women’s networks, and local environmental groups in an area of 2,500 sq km inhabited by some 40,000 people, including indigenous and black communities.

The work of Franco and his fellow activists earned them one of the 15 prizes awarded to “Hotspot Heroes” for their outstanding conservation efforts, by the U.S. Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) during the 2016 World Conservation Congress (WCC) held in Honolulu, Hawaii in the first 10 days of September.

The case of the Tatamá y Serranía de los Paraguas Natural National Park shows the importance of small-scale protection efforts that benefit the environment and local residents, in comparison to large-scale infrastructure works and their enormous impact on ecosystems.

Local action is one of the main themes at this year’s edition of the congress, which is held every four years, organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). On this occasion it is hosted by the U.S. state of Hawaii, and has drawn 9,500 participants from 192 countries, including delegates from governments, NGOs, and the scientific and business communities.

The congress, whose theme this year is “Planet at the Crossroads”, will produce the Hawaii Commitments, 85 of which were approved by the Switzerland-based IUCN Members’ Assembly, which groups 1,200 governmental and non-governmental members, prior to the Honolulu gathering.

The debate in Honolulu is focused on 14 motions on controversial issues, like compensation for destruction of biodiversity, closing domestic markets for ivory trade, and improved standards for ecotourism.

Three of the resolutions address conservation and the impact of major infrastructure projects like highways, hydroelectric dams, ports, mines and oil drilling.

Grethel Aguilar, IUCN regional director for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, stresses the advantages of small-scale conservation efforts as an alternative to megaprojects, during the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy/IPS

Grethel Aguilar, IUCN regional director for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, stresses the advantages of small-scale conservation efforts as an alternative to megaprojects, during the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy/IPS

In the northwest Mexican state of Nayarit, Heidy Orozco, executive director of the non-governmental Nuiwari Centre for Social Development and Sustainability, emphasises the advantages of allowing the San Pedro River, the last free-flowing river in Mexico’s western Sierra Madre mountains, to remain dam-free.

“The area contains sacred places, mangroves and a biosphere reserve,” the activist, who lives near the river, told IPS in Honolulu. “It is still considered an area of biological and cultural wealth.”

Small farmers produce crops along the middle stretch of the river, while fishing communities make a living on the lower parts.

But the local ecosystem and agriculture, livestock and fisheries are under threat by the government CFE power utility’s plans to build the Las Cruces hydropower dam 65 km north of the city of Tepic, the capital of Nayarit.

The plant is to have an installed capacity of 240 MW and a 188-metre-high dam with a reservoir covering 5,349 hectares.

The Náyeri Indigenous Council and the Intercommunity Council of the San Pedro River, which emerged to fight construction of the dam, complain that it would hurt the Marismas Nacionales Biosphere Reserve, the most extensive mangrove forest system along Mexico’s Pacific coast.

They also complain that it would destroy 14 sacred sites and ceremonial centres of the Náyeri or Cora indigenous people, the Huichol or Wixáritari people, and the Tepehuán people.

In addition, it would flood the town of San Blasito.

The dam’s environmental impact study acknowledges that subsistence farming and small-scale livestock-raising would be lost in the area, but says it would be replaced by new opportunities for fishing in the reservoir.

In Bolivia, small-scale community conservation initiatives coexist dangerously with the construction of megaprojects.

For example, in a mine in the Natural Integrated Management Area of San Matías, in Bolivia’s Pantanal region in the department of Santa Cruz along the border with Brazil, only one hectare has been used over the last 10 years to mine ametrine, also known as bolivianite, a kind of quartz that is a mixture of amethyst and citrine.

This small-scale mine contrasts with the large-scale gold mining in the north of the country.

“Small-scale development is a solution. A number of lessons have been learned, such as the need for benefit-sharing, the creation of effective conservation mechanisms, and respect for laws and agreements that have been reached,” Carmen Miranda, Amazon region coordinator with the Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Community Conserved Areas and Territories (ICCA), told IPS.

In Guatemala, Q’eqchí communities near the Lachuá Lagoon National Park, in the northern department of Alta Verapaz, have restored the forest, grow organic cacao which benefits 150 farmers and their families, to be expanded to 500 this year, produce honey, and make sustainable use of the forest.

“One of the best solutions for conserving protected areas is working with the people on a small-scale. We have a strengthened, organised community that is economically sustainable. That shows it is better to invest in communities rather than just barging in with major infrastructure projects,” said Grethel Aguilar, the regional coordinator of the IUCN office for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

Citing an example for IPS, she said that next January the IUCN would launch a project in the jungle in the south of Mexico and northern Guatemala and Belize, with close to nine million dollars in financing from the German Development Bank (KfW), to protect the forest and offer productive opportunities for local residents, who are mainly indigenous.

Franco said “we want to expand the areas under community management. Serraniagua proposes identifying key actions for conserving the forests, which protect the water sources of rural communities.”

Orozco, who is waging her battle a few hundred kilometres to the north, is not willing to accept any hydropower dam. “We will not benefit economically. We want development, public works that will take care of the water, but that don’t affect our culture and identity,” said the activist, whose network has brought several lawsuits against the Las Cruces dam.

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Without Indigenous People, Conservation Is a Halfway Measurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/without-indigenous-people-conservation-is-a-halfway-measure/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=without-indigenous-people-conservation-is-a-halfway-measure http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/without-indigenous-people-conservation-is-a-halfway-measure/#comments Mon, 05 Sep 2016 19:18:47 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146793 Srewe Xerente, an indigenous man from Brazil, performs a ritual during a forum on ancestral rights at the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii, where native peoples are demanding greater participation in conservation policies. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Srewe Xerente, an indigenous man from Brazil, performs a ritual during a forum on ancestral rights at the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii, where native peoples are demanding greater participation in conservation policies. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
HONOLULU, Hawaii, USA , Sep 5 2016 (IPS)

“You don’t convert your own house in a tourist site,” said Oussou Lio Appolinaire, an activist from Benin, wearing a traditional outfit in vivid yellows and greens. He was referring to opening up to tourists places that are sacred to indigenous people.

Appolinaire, who belongs to the Gun people in the West African country of Benin, heads the indigenous-led sustainable rural development NGO GRABE-Benin. He told IPS that “People suffer displacement from sacred sites. If we lose knowledge, we lose ourselves. The sacred is like life. Conservation is the respect of natural law, of every single element in nature.”“Conservation has been State-centered, despite the poor results. Indigenous people' rights to their lands are not adequately recognised or protected.” -- Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

Thanks to the work of GRABE-Benin and other organisations, the government of Benin approved Interministerial Order No.0121 – the first law of its kind in Africa, which protects sacred forests, granting them legal recognition as protected areas that must be sustainably managed.

Benin has more than 2,900 sacred forests, only 90 of which have so far been formally protected.

Appolinaire’s demand for greater participation by indigenous groups in conservation is being voiced by indigenous representatives in the World Conservation Congress, running Sep.1-10 in Honolulu, the capital of the U.S. Pacific Ocean state of Hawaii.

This year’s edition of the congress, which is held every four years by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), has drawn 9,500 participants from 192 countries, including delegates from governments, NGOs, and the scientific and business communities.

Indigenous representatives in Honolulu are focusing on problems related to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets – the 20 points contained in the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, adopted in 2010 by the states party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

An assessment carried out in May by the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI) of the CBD expressed concern over the scant progress made with respect to capacity-building and participation regarding the biodiversity targets among indigenous and local communities.

Aichi Biodiversity Target 14 states that “By 2020, ecosystems that provide essential services, including services related to water, and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, are restored and safeguarded, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities, and the poor and vulnerable.”

Target 18 refers to respect for “traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and their customary use of biological resources.”

Target 11 is for “at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas,” to be conserved by 2020. But indigenous people are worried that this will run counter to respect for their rights in their traditional ancestral lands.

Indigenous leaders from every continent listen to the report by U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz during the Sep. 1-10 World Conservation Congress in Honolulu. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy

Indigenous leaders from every continent listen to the report by U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz during the Sep. 1-10 World Conservation Congress in Honolulu. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy

“We agree with conservation, but what needs to be discussed is conservation with rights, exercised by indigenous people,” said Julio Cusurichi, the president of the Peruvian NGO Native Federation of the Madre de Dios River and its Tributaries (FENAMAD) and representative of the Shipibo-Conibo community.

“The government has created natural areas in our territories and they are limiting our activities,” he told IPS. “It would seem that indigenous people are obstacles and have to be removed from our territories.”

In the southeastern department of Madre de Dios in Peru’s Amazon jungle region, 60 percent of the highly biodiverse territory is a natural protected area. It is also home to some 10,000 people belonging to seven of the country’s 54 indigenous groups.

One of the common problems is the tendency of governments to create protected areas in indigenous areas, without a proper consultation process.

The congress, whose theme this year is “Planet at the Crossroads”, will produce the Hawaii Commitments, 85 of which were approved by the Switzerland-based IUCN Members’ Assembly, made up of governments and NGOs, prior to the Honolulu gathering.

The debate in Honolulu is focused on 14 motions on controversial issues, like compensation for destruction of biodiversity, closing domestic markets for ivory trade, and improved standards for ecotourism. Of the 99 resolutions, only eight mention indigenous people.

“There is little participation in the implementation of conservation policies; just because an indigenous person heads up an office doesn’t mean indigenous people are participating,” complained Dolores Cabnal, a member of the Q’eqchí community who is director of policy advocacy in the Guatemalan NGO Ak’Tenamit Association.

Her NGO is active in the eastern Guatemalan department of Izabal, where there are three natural protected areas that are home to both indigenous and black communities. In these areas, local residents depend on agriculture and fishing, which leads to clashes with the authorities because the law on nature reserves makes these activities illegal.

Activists and experts agree that it will be difficult to reach the Aichi Biodiversity Targets without the involvement of native peoples.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz of the Kankanaey Igorot indigenous people of the Philippines, complained that states are ignoring the role of native people.

In visits to Brazil, Colombia, Finland, Guatemala, Honduras, Norway, Paraguay and Sweden, Tauli-Corpuz found violations of the rights to free, prior, and informed consultation, traditional lands, participation, natural resources, compensation for damage, and cultural rights.

“Conservation has been State-centered, despite the poor results. Indigenous people’ rights to their lands are not adequately recognised or protected,” the special rapporteur said during a meeting with indigenous people in Honolulu.

An estimated 50 percent of the world’s protected natural areas have been established on indigenous lands. The proportion is highest in Latin America and the Caribbean, and in countries like the Philippines, India and Nepal in Asia, and Botswana, Cameroon, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania in Africa.

“The problems of indigenous peoples are not only of one country, they’re global. We have to recognise indigenous law, we can’t change laws of nature,” said Appolinaire.

FENAMAD’s Cusurichi, winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize, calls for co-management by governments and local communities. “We need secure land tenure and it must include resource management and food security,” he said.

In Guatemala, indigenous organisations plan to present a draft law in Congress for the regulation of their rights, natural protected areas, and extractive activities.

Cabnal said the government should study which peoples are in natural protected areas, why they are there and what they need, rather than trying to drive them out.”

The concerns expressed in Honolulu will also be presented at the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD, to be hosted by Cancun, Mexico from Dec. 4-17.

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Livestock – Opportunity and Threat for a Sustainable Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/stockbreeding-opportunity-and-threat-for-a-sustainable-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stockbreeding-opportunity-and-threat-for-a-sustainable-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/stockbreeding-opportunity-and-threat-for-a-sustainable-latin-america/#comments Sun, 04 Sep 2016 21:37:23 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146775 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/stockbreeding-opportunity-and-threat-for-a-sustainable-latin-america/feed/ 0 Rousseff’s Ouster Won’t Clear Up Uncertainty in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/rousseffs-ouster-wont-clear-up-uncertainty-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rousseffs-ouster-wont-clear-up-uncertainty-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/rousseffs-ouster-wont-clear-up-uncertainty-in-brazil/#comments Thu, 01 Sep 2016 23:45:37 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146749 Michel Temer (third from the left) in his swearing-in ceremony in the Senate shortly after Dilma Rousseff was impeached. Credit: Beto Barata/PR

Michel Temer (third from the left) in his swearing-in ceremony in the Senate shortly after Dilma Rousseff was impeached. Credit: Beto Barata/PR

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Sep 1 2016 (IPS)

The dismissal of now ex-president Dilma Rousseff brings to a close a turbulent chapter of Brazil’s crisis, but does nothing to clear up the doubts that threaten the political system and the economy of Latin America’s powerhouse.

The Senate voted 61-20 on Wednesday Aug. 31 to impeach Brazil’s first female president for budget irregularities, putting an end to 13 years of rule by her left-wing Workers’ Party (PT).

She had been in office since 2011, and was suspended in May, less than halfway through her second term.Her predecessor was the PT’s founder Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011).

Michel Temer, who was Rousseff’s vice president and served as interim president since May 12, was sworn in on Wednesday as the country’s new leader. He will face challenges that require unpopular measures.

A large part of the lawmakers belonging to the parties that back him are facing corruption charges or are under investigation by the public prosecutor’s office.

Temer, described as uncharismatic and dour, has been implicated in a corruption probe, accused of soliciting illicit funds for election campaigns of members of his Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB).

The president and members of the legislature can only be tried by the Supreme Court and it is unlikely to hand down a sentence against Temer before the end of the current four-year term.

Temer is also facing a legal challenge from the TSE electoral court for alleged abuse of economic and political power while in office as Rousseff’s vice president. Reports of corruption aggravated things for both Rousseff and Temer.

The TSE ruling is not expected until 2017, and could annul the results of the 2014 elections. If that happens, Congress will choose a new president, to complete the current term, which ends the last day of 2018.

Operation Car Wash, which is investigating corruption in the state-run oil giant Petrobras and has led to charges against dozens of businesspersons and politicians, threatens to bring down a number of lawmakers when the Supreme Court starts to try the implicated legislators.

Until then, the accusations will throw a shadow over the legitimacy of a weak government subjected to bombardment from the left-wing opposition, which accuses it of being the result of a “parliamentary coup”, as Rousseff repeated over and over again during her impeachment trial.

The new government has announced fiscal adjustments, including a constitutional amendment to limit public spending growth for up to 20 years, which would oblige the government to limit annual spending growth to the prior year’s inflation rate.

Dilma Rousseff smiles during her speech in Brasilia on Aug. 31, after she was ousted as president of Brazil by the Senate, an outcome that came as no surprise, although unexpectedly she was not banned from politics. Credit: Lula Marques/ AGPTl

Dilma Rousseff smiles during her speech in Brasilia on Aug. 31, after she was ousted as president of Brazil by the Senate, an outcome that came as no surprise, although unexpectedly she was not banned from politics. Credit: Lula Marques/ AGPTl

That means economic growth, once Brazil has emerged from the current recession, would be accompanied by a reduction of the deficit.

But analysts doubt that the measure will be approved by a Congress traditionally opposed to austerity measures, especially given the fact that it would require a constitutional amendment, which would need a 60 percent majority to be approved.

Another measure considered indispensable to shore up public accounts, raising the retirement age, will also face heavy resistance in Congress and from trade unions and social movements.

Temer, however, has the support of a parliamentary majority strengthened by their victory in the impeachment trial and the vote of confidence they enjoy, for now at least, from the powerful business community.

On Apr. 17,71.5 percent of the 513 members of the lower house voted in favour of an impeachment trial; 75 percent of the Senate approved her ouster on Aug. 31; and similar majorities were seen in other votes prior to the start of the impeachment process.

Ousted but not banned

The bloc was only divided towards the end of the impeachment trial, when the Senate decided not to ban her from politics for eight years, which would have required a two-thirds majority – 54 senators – but only took 42 votes. The measure would basically have ended the political career of the 68-year-old Rousseff.

It was a conciliatory gesture offered by a portion of the new ruling parties, especially the PMDB, after the escalating attacks during the impeachment process, which began in December when the then speaker of the lower house of Congress Eduardo Cunhagave the go-ahead to the proceedings after accepting one of 37 motions to impeach her.

During the final six-day impeachment trial, Rousseff and her supporters described the process as “a coup against democracy,” “betrayal” and a “farce”, and called advocates of the proceedings “demagogues,” “irresponsible,” “liars,” and “corrupt” generators of “economic chaos”.

Rousseff argued that she did not commit any crime.But the prosecution maintained that using state bank funds to conceal a looming deficit and increasing public spending without authorisation from the legislature amounted to “crimes of responsibility”, one of the grounds for impeachment under the constitution.

Even legal experts expressed views that fed the argument that the impeachment was a “coup”, with some observers going so far as to compare it to the 1964 military coup d’etat that ushered in a 21-year dictatorship.

But the economic crisis, especially the huge public deficit that has built up over the last few years, weakened Rousseff, who was accused of concealing the serious financial situation during her 2014 reelection campaign.

Rousseff blamed the recession that began in 2014 on the crash in international commodity prices and policies adopted by rich countries, aggravated by the legislative boycott of her proposed initiatives in 2015.

Only voters can decide on the legitimacy of a government in a presidentialist regime, argued Rousseff and her allies, ruling out the possibility of impeachment, which was first used in 1992 to remove Fernando Collor (1990-1992) and attempted many times against Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003).

The fall of Rousseff and the PT “is part of a global decline of the left, which is stronger in Latin America, where governments are facing severe economic recessions,” University of Brasilia Professor Elimar Nascimento told IPS.

In the region, he said, “leftist thinking, which lives on fantasies of the past, and is incapable of comprehending change, is showing a lot of wear and tear” – part of a pendular movement after 15 years of mainly left-wing governments in the region.

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Honduras Still a Death Trap for Environmental Activists Six Months after Berta Cáceres’ Slayinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/honduras-still-a-death-trap-for-environmental-activists-six-months-after-berta-caceres-slaying/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=honduras-still-a-death-trap-for-environmental-activists-six-months-after-berta-caceres-slaying http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/honduras-still-a-death-trap-for-environmental-activists-six-months-after-berta-caceres-slaying/#comments Thu, 01 Sep 2016 14:23:21 +0000 Erika Guevara-Rosas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146746 Indigenous women during the March for the Water in Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala in April, 2016. Credit: Amnesty International / Anaïs Taracena.

Indigenous women during the March for the Water in Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala in April, 2016. Credit: Amnesty International / Anaïs Taracena.

By Erika Guevara-Rosas
LONDON, Sep 1 2016 (IPS)

Chills ran down Tomás Gómez Membreño’s spine when he first heard about the brutal murder of his renowned friend and ally, the Honduran Indigenous leader Berta Cáceres, six months ago this week.

A fellow environmental activist and second in command at the Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), Tomás feared he would be next.

Berta’s work was widely and globally acclaimed and had earned her international awards – if someone could violate the sanctuary of her home and shoot her dead, it was too frightening to contemplate what could happen to any of the country’s lesser-known human rights defenders.

Tomás also knew the hopes to have a proper investigation and to ensure the crimes against human rights defenders would not be repeated again were slim, in a country where authorities rarely condone attacks on activists.

Without land to grow food or clean water to drink, entire communities will simply be erased without a trace.

Tragically, he has a point.

Six months after two armed men walked into Berta’s home one evening and murdered her in cold blood, Honduras has become a no-go zone for anybody daring to protect natural resources such as land and water from powerful economic interests.

The numbers say it all.

According to a recent survey by Global Witness, Honduras and neighbouring Guatemala have the two highest rates of murders of environmental activists per capita.

An astounding 65% (122 out of 185) of the murders of human rights defenders working on issues related to land, territory or the environment registered across the world in 2015 were from Latin America. Eight took place in Honduras and 10 in Guatemala alone.

Berta’s killing marked a turning point for what was already a scandalous situation. But her tragic end was hardly surprising; it was a tragedy waiting to happen.

Months before her murder, she had reported a number of serious threats related to her outspoken opposition of the construction of the Agua Zarca dam in the community of Río Blanco, in north-western Honduras.

The local Lenca Indigenous community complains that they were not properly consulted over a plan that would threaten the flow of the Gualcarque River, which is sacred to them and provides them with food and drinking water. COPINH says that if built, it would force the community to relocate as life in the area would become virtually impossible.

But in resource-rich Honduras and Guatemala, it can be a deadly business to dare to defend natural resources that are highly valued in global commodity markets.

Both Central American countries have become ever-more attractive to powerful extractive industries, partly due to increasingly lax laws governing what companies can and cannot do. Meanwhile local communities are continuously squeezed out of the lands on which their survival depends.

The toxic cocktail of threats, bogus charges, smear campaigns, attacks, killings and crumbling judicial systems incapable of delivering justice has made the legitimate business of defending basic human rights a nearly impossible one.

Crimes against activists are rarely properly investigated, which perpetuate further violence. The authorities often blame their country’s weak institutions for the shocking injustice, but conveniently fail to ignore the fact that the absolute lack of political will to protect and support these activists is often what puts them in mortal danger in the first place.

After a great deal of international pressure, the Honduran government initiated an investigation into Berta’s murder and arrested five individuals – but the process is still marred with question marks over its fairness and impartiality. Meanwhile, members of COPINH and Berta’s lawyers continue to be threatened and harassed.

Tomás fears for what can happen to those linked to Berta. Other activists are so afraid they do not even dare to speak their names in public or discuss the threats they routinely face for protecting basic human rights.

But they say stopping their work is not an option. They are the last line of defence – no-one else will defend their communities and rights.

A country’s natural resources – as well as the people who bravely protect them – are among its most precious assets. This is not just for financial considerations. Without land to grow food or clean water to drink, entire communities will simply be erased without a trace.

The solutions to this profound crisis are not simple, but they cannot be ignored.

Investing time and resources in a much-needed overhaul of the Honduran and Guatemalan justice systems to ensure effective investigations into these crimes and putting in place proper protection for those at risk would go a long way to prevent the countries from losing more brave activists like Berta.

There is no time to waste.

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Indigenous People Demand Shared Benefits from Forest Conservationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indigenous-people-demand-shared-benefits-from-forest-conservation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-people-demand-shared-benefits-from-forest-conservation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indigenous-people-demand-shared-benefits-from-forest-conservation/#comments Wed, 31 Aug 2016 01:25:18 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146726 Emberá leader Cándido Mezúa (holding the microphone) demands that indigenous people be taken into account in climate change mitigation actions and that they share the benefits from forest conservation, during the annual meeting of the international Governors' Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) in Guadalajara, Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy

Emberá leader Cándido Mezúa (holding the microphone) demands that indigenous people be taken into account in climate change mitigation actions and that they share the benefits from forest conservation, during the annual meeting of the international Governors' Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) in Guadalajara, Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy

By Emilio Godoy
GUADALAJARA, Mexico , Aug 31 2016 (IPS)

“Why don’t the authorities put themselves in our shoes?” asked Cándido Mezúa, an indigenous man from Panama, with respect to native peoples’ participation in conservation policies and the sharing of benefits from the protection of forests.

Mezúa, who belongs to the Emberá people and is a member of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests, told IPS that “the state should recognise the benefit of this valuable mechanism for long-term sustainability, as a mitigation measure unique to indigenous peoples.”

But little progress has been made with regard to clearly defining the compensation, said the native leader, in an indigenous caucus held during the annual meeting of the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF), which is being held Aug. 29 to Sep. 1 in Guadalajara, a city in west-central Mexico.

Mezúa’s demand will also be put forth in the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP 22) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to take place Nov. 7-18 in Marrakesh, Morocco."(Indigenous organisations) promote our own sustainable development strategies that are brought into line with local, national and international standards and that stand out for the fact that native peoples’ knowledge and practices are at their core.” -- Edwin Vázquez

The idea is for it also to be taken into account on the agenda of the13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), to be hosted by Cancun, Mexico from Dec. 4-17.

“The viewpoints of local organisations should be taken into account in the implementation of any activity in their territory,” said Edwin Vázquez, head of the Coordinator of Indigenous Organisations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA).

The activist told IPS that indigenous organisations “promote our own sustainable development strategies that are brought into line with local, national and international standards and that stand out for the fact that native peoples’ knowledge and practices are at their core.”

While indigenous organisations hammer out their positions with respect to the COP22 in Marrakesh and the CBD in Cancún, the statement they released in this Mexican city provides a glimpse of the proposals they will set forth.

The “Guiding Principles of Partnership Between Members of the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) and Indigenous Peoples and Traditional Communities” demands that the implementation of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) strategy must incorporate the “full and effective” participation of native peoples and local communities.

The declaration also states that “All initiatives, actions, projects and programmes led by the GCF that concern indigenous peoples and traditional communities must have the participation and direct involvement of local communities through a process of free, prior and informed consent.”

The measures must also “recognise and strengthen the territorial rights of indigenous peoples and local communities,” it adds.

Furthermore, they will promote financing and benefits-sharing mechanisms to be applied in the context of these initiatives and actions.

“Systems of binding social and environmental safeguards will be included,” to help indigenous and local communities face the risks posed by these policies.

The GCF can serve as a laboratory for the performance of the CDB and COP22, because the emphasis of governors focuses strongly on REDD+ plans.

Emberá huts in a clearing in a forest protected by this indigenous people in Panama, in their 4,400-sq-km territory. Native peoples want global climate change accords to recognise the key role they play in protecting forests, and demand to be included in benefits arising from their conservation efforts. Credit: Government of Panama

Emberá huts in a clearing in a forest protected by this indigenous people in Panama, in their 4,400-sq-km territory. Native peoples want global climate change accords to recognise the key role they play in protecting forests, and demand to be included in benefits arising from their conservation efforts. Credit: Government of Panama

REDD+ is a plan of action that finances national programmes in countries of the developing South, to combat deforestation, reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and foment access by participating countries to technical and financial support to these ends.

It forms part of the United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD Programme) and currently involves 64 countries.

The GCF, created in 2009, groups states and provinces: seven in Brazil, two in the Ivory Coast, one from Spain, two from the United States, six from Indonesia, five from Mexico and one from Peru.

Financed by various U.S. foundations and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, the GCF seeks to advance programmes designed to promote low-emissions rural development and REDD+.

It also works to link these efforts to emerging greenhouse gas (GHG) compliance regimes and other pay-for-performance plans.

More than 25 percent of the world’s tropical forests are in the states and provinces involved in GCF, including more than 75 percent of Brazil’s rainforest and more than half of Indonesia’s.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, storing the carbon in their trunks, branches and roots, which makes it essential to curb deforestation and avoid the release of carbon. In addition, trees play a key role in the water cycle through evaporation and precipitation.

“The conditions must exist for effective participation in the programme preparation stage,” Gustavo Sánchez, the president of the Mexican Network of Rural Forest Organisations, who is taking part in this week’s GCF debates, told IPS.

In their 2014 annual meeting in the northwestern Brazilian state of Acre, the governors assumed a commitment for their regions to reduce deforestation by 80 percent by 2020 through results-based international financing.

For example, Brazil’s GCF states would avoid the release of 3.6 million tons of GHG emissions a year.

From 2000 to 2010, CO2 emissions from deforestation totalled 45 million tons in Mexico.

To cut emissions, Mexico has adopted a zero deforestation goal for 2030. The five Mexican states in the GCF could reduce their CO2 emissions by 21 tons a year by 2020, around half of the total goal.

Peru has offered a 20 percent cut in its emissions, avoiding the release of 159 million tons by 2030 from land-use change and deforestation. The South American country could reduce emissions from deforestation between 42 and 63 million tons annually by that year.

The GCF manages a fund, created in 2013, aimed at guaranteeing and disbursing 50 million dollars a year, starting in 2020, for capacity-building and the execution of innovative projects.

But the GCF did not invite indigenous organisations to form partnerships until 2014.

The countries of Latin America have not yet shown mechanisms of how to use the emissions cuts to ensure results-based payments. But REDD+, criticised by many indigenous and community organisations, is still in diapers in the region, where only Costa Rica will soon start participating in the plan.

Mexico, for its part, is completing its REDD+ National Strategy consultation.

“We have always had traditional climate policies,” said Mezúa. “The GCF can come up with a more complete proposal, with partnerships between different jurisdictions.”

Sánchez said the goals would be met if the administrators of natural resources are included. “The reach will be restricted if we limit ourselves to REDD+ policies, which are still being designed. A mechanism that brings all efforts together is needed.”

Vázquez said it is “decisive” for the process to include “the establishment of safeguards, mechanisms for participation in decision-making and the implementation of action plans, and equal participation in the benefits.”

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Mexico, a Democracy Where People Disappear at the Hands of the Statehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/mexico-a-democracy-where-people-disappear-at-the-hands-of-the-state/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-a-democracy-where-people-disappear-at-the-hands-of-the-state http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/mexico-a-democracy-where-people-disappear-at-the-hands-of-the-state/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 14:04:01 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146690 One of numerous protests by relatives of victims of forced disappearance, who come to Mexico City to demand that the government search for their relatives and solve the cases. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

One of numerous protests by relatives of victims of forced disappearance, who come to Mexico City to demand that the government search for their relatives and solve the cases. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Aug 26 2016 (IPS)

“Go and tell my dad that they’re holding me here,” Maximiliano Gordillo Martínez told his travelling companion on May 7 at the migration station in Chablé, in the southern Mexican state of Tabasco. It was the last time he was ever seen, and his parents have had no news of him since.

Gordillo, 19, and his friend had left their village in the southern state of Chiapas to look for work in the tourist city of Playa del Carmen, in the southeastern state of Quintana Roo. It was a 1,000-km journey by road from their indigenous community in the second-poorest state in the country.

But halfway there, they were stopped by National Migration Institute agents, who detained Maximiliano because they thought he was Guatemalan, even though the young man, who belongs to the Tzeltal indigenous people, handed them his identification which showed he is a Mexican citizen.“One single forced or politically motivated disappearance in any country should throw into doubt whether a state of law effectively exists. It’s impossible to talk about democracy if there are victims of forced disappearance.” -- Héctor Cerezo

When his friend tried to intervene, he was threatened by the agents, who said they would accuse him of being a trafficker of migrants. The young man, whose name was not made public, was terrified and fled. When he reached his village he told Arturo Gordillo, Maximiliano’s father, what had happened.

It’s been over three months and the parents of Max, as his family calls him, have not stopped looking for him. On Monday, Aug. 22 they came to Mexico City, with the support of human rights organisations, to report the forced disappearance of the eldest of their five children.

He had never before been so far from Tzinil, a Tzeltal community in the municipality of Socoltenango where four out of 10 local inhabitants live in extreme poverty while the other six are merely poor, according to official figures.

“The disappearance of my son has been very hard for us,” Arturo Gordillo, the father, told IPS in halting English. “I have to report it because it’s too painful and I don’t want it to happen to another parent, to be humiliated and hurt this way by the government.”

“The Institute ignores people, their heart is hard,” he said, referring to Mexico’s migration authorities. At his side, his wife Antonia Martínez wept.

The case of Maximiliano Gordillo is just one of 150 people from Chiapas who have gone missing along routes used by migrants in Mexico, the spokesman for the organisation Mesoamerican Voices, Enrique Vidal, told IPS.

They are added to thousands of Central American migrants who have vanished in Mexico in the past decade. According to organisations working on behalf of migrants, many of the victims were handed over by the police and other government agents to criminal groups to be extorted or used as slave labour.

Antonia Martínez, devastated by the forced disappearance of her son, Maximiliano Gordillo, 19, while his uncle Natalio Gordillo went over details of the case with IPS. His parents and other relatives came to Mexico City from the faraway village of Tzinil, of the Tzeltal indigenous community, to ask the government to give back the young man, who they have heard nothing about since May 7. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

Antonia Martínez, devastated by the forced disappearance of her son, Maximiliano Gordillo, 19, while his uncle Natalio Gordillo went over details of the case with IPS. His parents and other relatives came to Mexico City from the faraway village of Tzinil, of the Tzeltal indigenous community, to ask the government to give back the young man, who they have heard nothing about since May 7. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

The only official data available giving a glimpse of the extent of the problem is a report by the National Human Rights Commission, which documented 21,000 kidnappings of migrants in 2011 alone.

But the problem does not only affect migrants. In Mexico, forced disappearances are “widespread and systematic,” according to the report Undeniable Atrocities: Confronting Crimes against Humanity in Mexico, released by the international Open Society Justice Initiative and five independent Mexican human rights organisations.

The study documents serious human rights violations committed in Mexico from 2006 to 2015 and says they must be considered crimes against humanity, due to their systematic and widespread nature against the civilian population.

The disappearances are perpetrated by military, federal and state authorities – a practice that is hard to understand in a democracy, local and international human rights activists say.

“One single forced or politically motivated disappearance in any country should throw into doubt whether a state of law effectively exists. It’s impossible to talk about democracy if there are victims of forced disappearance,” said Héctor Cerezo of the Cerezo Committee.

The Cerezo Committee is the leading Mexican organisation in the documentation of politically motivated or other forced disappearances.

On Wednesday, Aug. 24 it presented its report “Defending human rights in Mexico: the normalisation of political repression”, which documents 11 cases of forced disappearance of human rights defenders between June 2015 and May 2016.

“Expanding the use of forced disappearance also serves as a mechanism of social control and modification of migration routes, a mechanism of forced recruitment of young people and women, and a mechanism of forced displacement used in specific regions against the entire population,” the report says.

Cerezo told IPS that in Mexico, forced disappearance “evolved from a mechanism of political repression to a state policy aimed at generating terror.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged Mexico in March to acknowledge the gravity of the human rights crisis it is facing.

Signs with the images of victims of forced disappearance are becoming a common sight in Mexico, like this one in a church in Iguala in the southwestern state of Guerrero. Credit:  Daniela Pastrana/IPS

Signs with the images of victims of forced disappearance are becoming a common sight in Mexico, like this one in a church in Iguala in the southwestern state of Guerrero. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

The report presented by the IACHR after its visit to Mexico in 2015 denounced “alarming” numbers of involuntary and enforced disappearances, with involvement by state agents, as well as high rates of extrajudicial executions, torture, citizen insecurity, lack of access to justice, and impunity.

The Mexican government has repeatedly rejected criticism by international organisations. But its denial of the magnitude of the problem has had few repercussions.

The activists who spoke to IPS stressed that on Aug. 30, the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the international community has an opportunity to draw attention to the crisis in Mexico and to hold the government accountable for systematically disappearing members of certain groups of civilians, as documented by human rights groups.

But not everything is bad news with respect to the phenomenon of forced disappearance, which runs counter to democracy in this Latin American country of 122 million people which is free of internal armed conflict.

This year, relatives of the disappeared won two important legal battles. One of them is a mandate for the army to open up its installations for the search for two members of the Revolutionary Popular Army who went missing in the southern state of Oaxaca, although the sentence has not been enforced.

Meanwhile, no progress has been made towards passing a draft law on forced disappearance under debate in Congress.

“The last draft does not live up to international standards on forced disappearance nor to the needs of the victims’ families, who do not have the resources to effectively take legal action with regard to the disappearance of their loved ones. There is no real access to justice or reparations, and there are no guarantees of it not being repeated,” said Cerezo.

In the most recent case made public, that of Maximiliano Gordillo, the federal government special prosecutor’s office for the search for disappeared persons has refused to ask its office in Tabasco to investigate.

For its part, the National Human Rights Commission issued precautionary measures, but has avoided releasing a more compelling recommendation. The National Migration Institute, for its part, denies that it detained the young man, but refuses to hand over the list of agents, video footage and registries of entries and exists from the migration station where he was last seen.

Aug. 22 was Gordillo’s 19th birthday. “We feel so sad he’s not with us. We had a very sad birthday, a birthday filled with pain,” said his father, before announcing that starting on Thursday, Aug. 25 signs would be put up in more than 60 municipalities of Chiapas, to help in the search for him.

As the days go by without any progress in the investigations, Gordillo goes from organisation to organisation, with one request: “If you, sisters and brothers, can talk to the government, ask them to give back our son, because they have him, they took him.”

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Ships Bring Your Coffee, Snack and TV Set, But Also Pests and Diseaseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 13:22:26 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146649 Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 23 2016 (IPS)

“Every evening, millions of people all over the world will settle into their armchairs to watch some TV after a hard day at work. Many will have a snack or something to drink…

… That TV probably arrived in a containership; the grain that made the bread in that sandwich came in a bulk carrier; the coffee probably came by sea, too. Even the electricity powering the TV set and lighting up the room was probably generated using fuel that came in a giant oil tanker.”

This is what the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)  wants everybody to keep in mind ahead of this year’s World Maritime Day. “The truth is, shipping affects us all… No matter where you may be in the world, if you look around you, you are almost certain to see something that either has been or will be transported by sea, whether in the form of raw materials, components or the finished article.”

Yet few people have any idea just how much they rely on shipping. For the vast majority, shipping is out of sight and out of mind, IMO comments. “This is a story that needs to be told… And this is why the theme that has been chosen for the World Maritime Day 2016 is “Shipping: indispensable to the world.” The Day is marked every year on 29 September.


Over 80 Per Cent of Global Trade Carried by Sea

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Meanwhile, another UN organisation–the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informs that around 80 per cent of global trade by volume and over 70 per cent of global trade by value are carried by sea and are handled by ports worldwide.

These shares are even higher in the case of most developing countries, says UNCTAD.

“There are more than 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally, transporting every kind of cargo. The world fleet is registered in over 150 nations and manned by more than a million seafarers of virtually every nationality.”

A Floating Threat

All this is fine. But as another major United Nations organisation also reminds that not all is great about sea-born trade. See what happens.

A Floating Threat: Sea Containers Spread Pests and Diseases’  is the title of an information note issued on August 17 by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

FAO highlights  that that while oil spills garner much public attention and anguish, the so-called “biological spills” represent a greater long-term threat and do not have the same high public profile. And gives some good examples.

“It was an exotic fungus that wiped out billions of American chestnut trees in the early 20th century, dramatically altering the landscape and ecosystem, while today the emerald ash borer – another pest that hitch-hiked along global trade routes to new habitats – threatens to do the same with a valuable tree long used by humans to make tool handles, guitars and office furniture.”

FAO explains that perhaps the biggest “biological spill” of all was when a fungus-like eukaryotic microorganism called Phytophthora infestans – the name of the genus comes from Greek for “plant destroyer” – sailed from the Americas to Belgium. Within months it arrived in Ireland, triggering a potato blight that led to famine, death and mass migration.

“The list goes on and on. A relative of the toxic cane toad that has run rampant in Australia recently disembarked from a container carrying freight to Madagascar, a biodiversity hotspot, and the ability of females to lay up to 40,000 eggs a year make it a catastrophic threat for local lemurs and birds, while also threatening the habitat of a host of animals and plants.”

In Rome, FAO informs, municipal authorities are ramping up their annual campaign against the tiger mosquito, an invasive species that arrived by ship in Albania in the 1970s. Aedes albopictus, famous for its aggressive biting, is now prolific across Italy and global warming will make swathes of northern Europe ripe for colonisation.

“This is why the nations of the world came together some six decades ago to establish the  International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) as a means to help stem the spread of plant pests and diseases across borders boundaries via international trade and to protect farmers, foresters, biodiversity, the environment, and consumers.”

“The crop losses and control costs triggered by exotic pests amount to a hefty tax on food, fibre and forage production,” says Craig Fedchock, coordinator of the FAO-based IPPC Secretariat. “All told, fruit flies, beetles, fungi and their kin reduce global crop yields by between 20 and 40 per cent.”

Credit: IMO

Credit: IMO

Trade as a Vector, Containers as a Vehicle

Invasive species arrive in new habitats through various channels, but shipping, is the main one, FAO reports.

“And shipping today means sea containers: Globally, around 527 million sea container trips are made each year – China alone deals with over 133 million sea containers annually. It is not only their cargo, but the steel contraptions themselves, that can serve as vectors for the spread of exotic species capable of wreaking ecological and agricultural havoc.”

For example, an analysis of 116,701 empty sea containers arriving in New Zealand over the past five years showed that one in 10 was contaminated on the outside, twice the rate of interior contamination.

“Unwelcome pests included the gypsy moth, the Giant African snail, Argentine ants and the brown marmorated stink bug, each of which threaten crops, forests and urban environments. Soil residues, meanwhile, can contain the seeds of invasive plants, nematodes and plant pathogens,” FAO informs.

“Inspection records from the United States, Australia, China and New Zealand indicate that thousands of organisms from a wide range of taxa are being moved unintentionally with sea containers,” the study’s lead scientist, Eckehard Brockerhoff of the New Zealand Forest Research Institute, told a recent meeting at FAO of the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM), IPPC’s governing body.

These phytosanitary (the health of plants) measures are intended to ensure that imported plants are free of specified pests.

Here, FAO warns that damage exceeds well beyond agriculture and human health issues. Invasive species can cause clogged waterways and power plant shutdowns.

Biological invasions inflict damages amounting to around five per cent of annual global economic activity, equivalent to about a decade’s worth of natural disasters, according to one study, Brockerhoff said, adding that factoring in harder-to-measure impacts may double that.

Around 90 per cent of world trade is carried by sea today, with vast panoply of differing logistics, making agreement on an inspection method elusive. Some 12 million containers entered the U.S. last year, using no fewer than 77 ports of entry.

“Moreover, many cargoes quickly move inland to enter just-in-time supply chains. That’s how the dreaded brown marmorated stink bug – which chews quickly through high-value fruit and crops – began its European tour a few years ago in Zurich.”

This animal actively prefers steel nooks and crannies for long-distance travel, and once established likes to set up winter hibernation niches inside people’s houses.

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Concern over Profit-Oriented Approach to Biodiversity in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 23:16:28 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146641 An indigenous peasant farmer holds native coffee grains he grows in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The sharing of benefits generated by genetic resources has become a controversial issue throughout Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

An indigenous peasant farmer holds native coffee grains he grows in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The sharing of benefits generated by genetic resources has become a controversial issue throughout Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

In July 2015, the Mexican government granted a U.S. corporation permission for the use of genetic material obtained in Mexican territory for commercial and non-commercial purposes, in one of the cases that has fuelled concern in Latin America about the profit-oriented approach to biodiversity.

The agreement, which is catalogued with the identifier number Absch-Ircc-Mx-207343-2, was approved by the National Seeds Inspection and Certification Service and benefits the U.S. company Bion2 Inc, about which very little is known.

Prior, informed consent from the organisation or individual who holds right of access to the material was purportedly secured. But the file conceals the identity of this rights-holder and of the genetic material that was obtained, because the information is confidential.

This is an example of confidentiality practices that give rise to concern about the proper enforcement of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization, signed in that Japanese city in 2010 and in effect since 2014.

The protocol, a supplementary agreement to the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, in force since 1993, seeks to strengthen the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the protocol has been ratified by Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay.

The protocol stipulates that each party state must adopt measures to ensure access to traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources in the possession of indigenous and local communities.

That will be done, it states, through the prior informed consent and the approval and participation of these groups, and the establishment of mutually agreed conditions.

“The expectations of indigenous people are not well-covered by the protocol,” Lily Rodríguez, a researcher with the Institute for Food and Resource Economics at Germany’s Bonn University, told IPS.

She stressed that the protocol is “the opportunity to recognise traditional knowledge as part of each nation’s heritage and to establish mechanisms to respect their decisions with regard to whether or not they want to share their knowledge.”

Latin America and the Caribbean is the region with the greatest biodiversity in the world, as it is home to several mega-diverse countries like Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico.

The questions covered by the Nagoya Protocol will form part of the debate at the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, to be held December 4-17 in Cancun, Mexico.

Indigenous groups and civil society organisations complain that the protocol recognises intellectual property rights for so-called bioprospectors, research centres or companies hunting for biological information to capitalise on.

Quechua peasant farmers plant quinoa seeds in Peru’s highlands. Civil society organisations and indigenous peoples are strongly opposed to the commercial use of Latin America’s genetic wealth. Credit: Courtesy of Biodiversity International

Quechua peasant farmers plant quinoa seeds in Peru’s highlands. Civil society organisations and indigenous peoples are strongly opposed to the commercial use of Latin America’s genetic wealth. Credit: Courtesy of Biodiversity International

Furthermore, the sharing of eventual monetary and non-monetary benefits for indigenous peoples and communities is based on “mutually agreed terms” reached in contracts with companies and researchers, which can put native people at a disadvantage.

In Guatemala, civil society organisations and indigenous groups have fought their country’s inclusion in the Nagoya Protocol, which it signed in 2014.

In June, a provisional Constitutional Court ruling suspended the protocol in Guatemala.

“We are opposed because it was approved without the necessary number of votes in Congress; indigenous people were not consulted; and it gives permission for experimentation with and the transfer and consumption of transgenics,” said Rolando Lemus, the head of the Guatemalan umbrella group National Network for the Defence of Food Sovereignty.

The activist, whose NGO emerged in 2004 and which groups some 60 local organisations, told IPS, from the Guatemalan department of Chimaltenango, that the use of biodiversity is part of the culture and daily life of indigenous people, whose worldview “does not allow profiting from ancestral know-how.”

Guatemala had accepted three requests for research using the medicinal plant b’aqche’ (Eupatorium semialatum), cedar and mahogany. The request for the first, used against stomach problems like worms, was in the process of being studied, and the other two were approved in October 2015 for research by the private University del Valle of Guatemala.

As a subsidiary to the Biodiversity Convention, the protocol also covers activities carried out since last decade, regulated by national laws, in different countries of Latin America, which are discussed in a regional study published in 2014.

Brazil, for example, has granted at least 1,000 permits for non-commercial research since 2003 and 90 for commercial research since 2000.

Between 2000 and 2005, Bolivia granted 10 genetic resources access contracts, out of 60 requests filed. Several of them involved quinoa and other Andes highlands crops.

Two of them were for commercial uses. But since new laws were passed in Bolivia in 2010, ecosystems and the processes that sustain them cannot be treated as commodities and cannot become private property. The legislation amounts to a curb on the country’s adherence to the protocol.

In Colombia there are permits to collect samples and to send material abroad. Since 2003, that South American country has granted 90 contracts, out of 199 requests, and has signed a contract for commercial research.

Although Costa Rica has not approved permits for access to traditional knowledge or genetic resources in indigenous territories, it has issued 301 permits for basic research and access to genetic resources and 49 for bioprospecting and access to genetic resources since 2004.

Bioprospecting involves the systematic search for, classification of, and research into new elements in genetic material with economic value. The role of the protocol is to ensure that this does not deprive the original guardians of their knowledge and eventual benefits.

Ecuador has received 19 requests since 2011 and in 2013 it negotiated a commercial contract.

For its part, Mexico has authorised 4,238 permits for scientific collection since 1996, and only a small percentage of requests have been denied.

Peru, meanwhile, requires a contract for every kind of access. Since 2009, it has authorised 10 contracts, out of more than 30 requests, and 180 permits for research into biological resources.

Ecuador is a good example in the region of the plunder of genetic material, as officials in that country complain.

The “First report on biopiracy in Ecuador”, released in June by the Secretariat of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, stated that Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States have improperly exploited their biological wealth.

Of 128 identified patents, companies from the U.S. hold 35, from Germany 33, from the Netherlands 17, from Australia 15 and the rest are held by firms in a number of countries.

“It all depends on how the governments of each country protect indigenous people, in accordance with their own legal frameworks,” said Rodríguez.

“If the legislation says that they will only negotiate prior consent, including clauses on mutually agreed conditions – if they aren’t in a position to negotiate, it would be good if the government supported them so the negotiations would be more equitable and favourable for native peoples,” she argued.

Lemus is confident that the suspension in Guatemala will remain in place. “We are thinking of other actions to engage in. People must have mechanisms to protect themselves from intellectual property claims and genetic contamination,” he said.

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