Inter Press Service » Latin America & the Caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 30 Sep 2014 17:30:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Boosting Incomes and Empowering Rural Women in Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/boosting-incomes-and-empowering-rural-women-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=boosting-incomes-and-empowering-rural-women-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/boosting-incomes-and-empowering-rural-women-in-cuba/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 15:54:29 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136943 A member of the Vivero Alamar Cooperative carrying ornamental plants at a nursery in a suburb of Havana. Access to employment is a problem for women in rural areas. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A member of the Vivero Alamar Cooperative carrying ornamental plants at a nursery in a suburb of Havana. Access to employment is a problem for women in rural areas. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Sep 30 2014 (IPS)

Leonor Pedroso’s sewing machine has dressed children in the Cuban town of Florida for 30 years. But it was only a few months ago that the seamstress was able to become formally self-employed.

“My husband, a small farmer, didn’t let me work outside the home,” Pedroso, 63, told IPS. “I could only sew things for neighbours or close friends, for free or really cheap. According to him, jobs weren’t for women.”

She is now one of the beneficiaries of a project funded by international development aid that helps women entrepreneurs with the aim of closing the gender gap, as part of the economic reforms underway in this socialist Caribbean island nation.

Pedroso, whose main activities were running the household and raising the couple’s four children, did not have a stable enough flow of income or the knowledge to capitalise on her skills until she took courses in business plan development and management and gender along with other female entrepreneurs.

“I stood up to my husband, to do what I like to do, and now I am setting up a business in my home, to sell what I make and to teach young girls to sew and embroider,” she said with satisfaction, while waiting for the delivery of new sewing machines for her business.“I moved to where I could find work because I couldn’t let my 12-year-old daughter go hungry. Then I learned how to sell my harvest and invest the money I earn.” -- Neysi Fernández

She is now a new member of the local Producción Animal 25 Aniversario Cooperative.

The project, carried out by ACSUR Las Segovias, a non-governmental organisation from Spain, and the local Asociación Nacional de Agricultores Pequeños (ANAP – National Association of Small Farmers), with financing from the European Union, provides training and inputs to 24 women, including farmers, craftmakers and rural leaders.

The project, whose formal title is “incorporation of rural female entrepreneurs into local socioeconomic development from a gender perspective”, has helped women who have traditionally been homemakers to generate an income. It is to be completed at the end of the year.

The women involved are in Artemisa, a province near Havana; Camagüey, a province in east-central Cuba, where Florida is located; and the eastern province of Granma.

“In the past, men were seen as the breadwinners and the owners of the land, but women have started to understand what they themselves contribute to the family economy,” Lorena Rodríguez, who works in the area of projects with ACSUR Las Segovia, told IPS.

She said “machismo” and sexism continue to stand in the way of the incorporation of rural women in the labour market.

One of the women involved in the project is Neysi Fernández who, seeking a way to make a living, moved from her hometown of Yateras in the eastern province of Guantánamo to Guanajay in the province of Artemisa, where a family member offered her a piece of land to work.

On the four hectares of land she is planting cassava, malanga (a tuber resembling a sweet potato), beans, maize and plantains.

“I moved to where I could find work because I couldn’t let my 12-year-old daughter go hungry,” the 42-year-old small farmer, who married a manual labourer four years ago, told IPS. “Then I learned how to sell my harvest and invest the money I earn.”

According to social researchers, the problem of access to remunerated work is one of the worst forms of inequality in rural areas in Cuba. Women represent 47 percent of the more than 2.8 million rural inhabitants in this country of 11.2 million people.

The work carried out by the wives and daughters of small farmers – raising livestock, tending family gardens, taking care of the home and raising children – is not recognised or remunerated, speakers said at the third review meeting of the National Action Plan held in 2013 to follow up on the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

Only 65,993 women belong to ANAP, and they represent just 17 percent of the association’s total membership, according to figures published this year by Cuba’s daily newspaper, Granma.

Women make up 142,300 of the 1.838 million people who work in agriculture, livestock, forestry and fishing in Cuba, according to 2013 data from the national statistics office, ONEI.

The economic reforms undertaken by President Raúl Castro since 2008, with the aim of reviving the country’s flagging economy, have included the distribution of idle land under decree laws 259 of 2008, and 300 of 2012.

The objective is to boost food production in a country where 40 percent of the farmland is now in private hands, according to ONEI’s 2013 statistical yearbook.

But it is still mainly men who have the land, credits and farm machinery, and they remain a majority when it comes to decision-making in rural areas.

Given the lack of affirmative action by the state to boost female participation in rural areas, several civil society organisations and international aid agencies have been working to foster local development with a gender perspective.

With backing from the international relief and development organisation Oxfam, more than 15 women’s collective business enterprises will be operating in 10 municipalities in eastern Cuba by the end of the year. They include a flower shop, beauty salon, laundry, cheese shop, and several tire repair businesses.

With funds from the European Union, the Basque Agency for Development Cooperation and the Japanese Embassy in Cuba, the small businesses have been furnished with equipment and vehicles for transportation. In addition, the participants have taken part in workshops on self-esteem, leadership and personal growth.

According to sociologist Yohanka Valdés, the value of these projects lies in the strengthening of women’s capacity through empowerment and recognition of their rights.

“If an opportunity emerges, men are in a better position to take advantage of it because they don’t have to take care of the family,” the researcher told IPS.

Economist Dayma Echevarría says the female half of the population is at a disadvantage when it comes to the diversification of non-state activities in Cuba.

She says gender stereotypes in Cuba keep women in their role as homemakers and primary caretakers.

In one of the chapters of the book on the Cuban economy, “Miradas a la economía cubana” (Editorial Caminos, 2013), Echevarría says the lack of support services for caretakers is one of the reasons for rural women’s vulnerability when it comes to employment.

The recent process of land distribution has not translated into opportunities for boosting gender equality because it failed to foster active female participation, according to the expert.

At the same time, there are few Cuban women with the resources to set up their own businesses within the current regulatory framework.

Echevarría said Cubans were still waiting for the implementation of regulations that would enable more equitable insertion of women under the new labour conditions while incorporating a gender focus.

Cuba is in 15th place in the Global Gender Gap Report 2013, but in the subindex on economic participation and opportunity it ranks 66th out of the 153 countries studied.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Cuba’s Sugar Industry to Use Bagasse for Bioenergyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/cubas-sugar-industry-to-use-bagasse-for-bienergy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cubas-sugar-industry-to-use-bagasse-for-bienergy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/cubas-sugar-industry-to-use-bagasse-for-bienergy/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 15:08:45 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136902 The 5 de Septiembre sugar mill in the Cuban province of Cienfuegos. A subsidiary of the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht is taking part in upgrading the plant, which will include construction of a bioenergy plant run on sugarcane bagasse. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The 5 de Septiembre sugar mill in the Cuban province of Cienfuegos. A subsidiary of the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht is taking part in upgrading the plant, which will include construction of a bioenergy plant run on sugarcane bagasse. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

Cuba’s sugar industry hopes to become the main source of clean energy in the country as part of a programme to develop renewable sources aimed at reducing dependence on imported fossil fuels and protecting the environment.

The project forms part of the plans for upgrading and modernising sugar mills that have been opened up to foreign investment by Azcuba, the government business group that replaced the Sugar Ministry in 2011. Traditionally, sugar mills have generated electricity for their own consumption, using bagasse, the fibrous matter that remains after sugarcane stalks are crushed to extract their juice.

In a conversation with Tierramérica, Azcuba spokesman Liobel Pérez defended the production of energy using bagasse as a cheap, environmentally friendly alternative. “The CO2 [carbon dioxide] produced in the generation of electricity is the same amount that the sugar cane absorbs when it grows, which means there is an environmental balance.”

For now, the production of ethanol as a by-product of sugarcane is not being considered in Cuba, although some experts argue that the biofuel could reduce consumption of gasoline by farm machinery and transportation and thus limit atmospheric emissions.

“That is one of the issues being discussed and analysed by the government commission created to study the development of renewable energies,” said Manuel Díaz, director of the Cuban Institute of Research on Sugar Cane Derivatives. The official did not, however, rule out the possibility in the future.

“Even if it is not the definitive long-term solution to the consumption of automotive fuel, ethanol is an important factor and contributes to reducing fossil fuel use, and if it does not run counter to the use of land for food, it could be, it seems to me, an alternative that each country should analyse depending on its specific characteristics,” Díaz said.

A worker at the Jesús Rabí sugar mill in the Cuban province of Matanzas. The plant’s biomass will help increase electricity production from clean sources of energy in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A worker at the Jesús Rabí sugar mill in the Cuban province of Matanzas. The plant’s biomass will help increase electricity production from clean sources of energy in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The sugar industry currently accounts for 3.5 percent of electricity generation in this Caribbean island nation. A target of the plan to boost energy efficiency is for around 20 sugar mills to generate a surplus of 755 MW by 2030, to go into the national power grid.

That would raise the proportion of electricity produced by sugarcane biomass to 14 percent by 2030. The overall aim is for 24 percent of energy to come from renewable sources, including wind power (six percent), solar (three percent), and hydropower (one percent).

Currently, renewable energy sources only represent 4.6 percent of electricity generation; the rest comes from fossil fuels.

The gradual installation in the sugar mills of modern bioelectric plants needed to achieve that goal requires an estimated investment of 1.29 billion dollars, which Azcuba hopes to obtain from government loans or foreign investment.

“If we don’t find a loan we will get foreign investment,” said Jorge Lodos, business director for Zerus SA, a subsidiary of Azcuba. The executive told Tierramérica that the first two companies to enter into partnership with Cuba in the sector included the bioelectric plants in their plans, to boost energy efficiency.

The first of the plants that run on sugarcane biomass will begin to produce energy in 2016, Lodos said. It is to be built near the Ciro Redondo sugar mill in the province of Ciego de Ávila, 423 km from Havana, by Biopower, a joint venture established in 2012 by Cuba’s state-run Zerus and the British firm Havana Energy Ltd.

During the December to May harvest season, the plant will use sugarcane bagasse from the nearby sugar mill. The rest of the year it will use stored sugarcane waste and marabú (Dichrostachys cinérea), a woody shrub that has invaded vast areas of farmland in Cuba. The projected investment ranges between 45 and 55 million dollars.

Meanwhile, the Compañía de Obras e Infraestructura (COI), a subsidiary of Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, reached an agreement with the Empresa Azucarera Cienfuegos, another Azcuba subsidiary, to jointly administer the 5 de Septiembre sugar mill in the province of Cienfuegos, 256 km from the capital, for 13 years.

In this case, the commitment is to bring the productive capacity of the sugar mill back up to 90,000 tons of sugar per harvest, or even higher.
Lodos said investment in the project would surpass 100 million dollars, and would also include the construction of a bioenergy plant.

These two sugar mills and the Jesús Rabí mill in the province of Matanzas, 98 km from Havana, will generate the first 140 MW of electricity in the medium term.

Havana Energy and COI opened the door to foreign capital in Cuba’s sugar industry, just as investment has already been welcomed in other sectors of this country’s centralised economy. “Foreign investment requires mutual trust,” Lodos said.

The socialist government of Raúl Castro estimates that the country needs between two and 2.5 billion dollars a year in foreign capital in order to grow and develop.

Of Cuba’s 56 sugar mills, six of which are now inactive, Azcuba has opened up 20 to foreign investment. The initial priorities are the eight built after the 1959 revolution.

Although ethanol production is not among the plans to be offered to foreign investors, many experts believe prospects for selling the fuel are good.

“It is not expected to be included in the programme,” Lodos said. “None of the minimum conditions required to introduce foreign investment are in place. It would not involve large amounts of capital or technology contribution, and it would not be for export or to replace imports. Today it isn’t on the business menu. But it might be tomorrow.”

Cuba produces alcohol in 11 distilleries, which are also to be upgraded, for pharmaceutical use and the industry that produces rum and other alcohol.

Cuba’s once-powerful sugar industry, which produced harvests of up to eight million tons, hit bottom in the 2009-2010 season when output plunged to 1.1 million tones – the lowest level in 105 years.

The industry currently represents around five percent of the country’s inflow of foreign exchange.

The hope is that the modernisation of factories, machinery, transport equipment and other resources will boost yields and bolster production, along with the increase in the planting of sugarcane. Last year 400,000 hectares were planted and production in the 2013-2014 harvest amounted to over 1.6 million tons.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

 

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Washington Snubs Bolivia on Drug Policy Reform, Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/washington-snubs-bolivia-on-drug-policy-reform-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=washington-snubs-bolivia-on-drug-policy-reform-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/washington-snubs-bolivia-on-drug-policy-reform-again/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 09:31:36 +0000 Zoe Pearson and Thomas Grisaffi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136893 In Bolivia, licensed growers can legally cultivate a limited quantity of coca—a policy that has actually reduced overall production. But because it doesn’t fit the U.S. drug war model, the policy has raised hackles in Washington. Credit: Thomas Grisaffi/FPIF

In Bolivia, licensed growers can legally cultivate a limited quantity of coca—a policy that has actually reduced overall production. But because it doesn’t fit the U.S. drug war model, the policy has raised hackles in Washington. Credit: Thomas Grisaffi/FPIF

By Zoe Pearson and Thomas Grisaffi
WASHINGTON, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

Once again, Washington claims Bolivia has not met its obligations under international narcotics agreements. For the seventh year in a row, the U.S. president has notified Congress that the Andean country “failed demonstrably” in its counter-narcotics efforts over the last 12 months. Blacklisting Bolivia means the withholding of U.S. aid from one of South America’s poorest countries.

The story has hardly made the news in the United States, and that is worrisome. While many countries in the hemisphere call for drug policy reform and are willing to entertain new strategies in that vein, it remains business-as-usual in the United States.

In the present geopolitical context, when even U.S. drug war allies Colombia and Mexico are calling for new approaches to controlling narcotics, the U.S. rejection of the Bolivian model further undermines Washington’s waning legitimacy in the hemisphere.
The U.N.’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), meanwhile, seems to think that Bolivia is doing a great job, lauding the government’s efforts to tackle coca production (coca is used to make cocaine) and cocaine processing for the past three years.

The Organisation of American States (OAS) is also heaping praise on Bolivia, calling Bolivia’s innovative new approach to coca control an example of a “best practice” in drug policy.

According to the UNODC, Bolivia has decreased the amount of land dedicated to coca plants by about 26 percent from 2010-2013. Approximately 56,800 acres are currently under production

U.S. opposition

Bolivia has achieved demonstrable successes without—and perhaps because of—a complete lack of support from the United States: the Drug Enforcement Administration left in 2009 and all U.S. aid for drug control efforts ended in 2013.

Bearing in mind that U.S. drug policy in the Andes has always emphasised “supply-side” reduction like coca crop eradication, the decision is of course a political one. It reflects U.S. frustration that Bolivia isn’t bending to Washington’s will. Interestingly, most Bolivian-made cocaine ends up in Europe and Brazil—not the United States.

At the same time, Peru and Colombia, both U.S. favorites given their willingness to fall in line with U.S. drug policy mandates, were not included in the list of failures. To be sure, those countries have recently decreased coca crop acreage as well; in some years by a lot more than Bolivia has. Still, they had respectively about 66,200 and 61,700 acres more coca under cultivation than Bolivia in 2013, according to the UNODC’s June 2014 findings. Peru currently produces the most cocaine of any country in the world.

Bolivians have been consuming the coca plant for over 4,000 years as a tea, food, and medicine, and for religious and cultural practices. Coca, the cheapest input in the cocaine commodity chain, cannot be considered equivalent to cocaine, since over 20 chemicals are needed to convert the harmless leaf into the powdery party drug and its less glamorous cousin, crack.

Still, coca is listed as a Schedule 1 narcotic under the 1961 U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (the defining piece of international drug control legislation).

When Evo Morales became president of Bolivia he worked to modify the Convention, and in 2013 eventually wrested from the U.N. the right to allow limited coca production and traditional consumption within Bolivia’s borders. In the process, all Latin American countries except Mexico (which supported the U.S.-led objection) supported Morales’ mission.

The Bolivian model

The basics of Bolivia’s approach to reining in coca cultivation are fairly simple. Licensed coca growers can legally cultivate a limited amount of coca (1,600 square metres) to ensure some basic income, and they police their neighbours to ensure that fellow growers stay within the legal limits. Government forces step in to eradicate coca only when a grower or coca grower’s union refuses to cooperate.

This grassroots control is possible because of the strength of agricultural unions in Bolivia’s coca growing regions and because of growers’ solidarity with President Morales, himself a coca grower.

Another incentive is that reducing supply drives up coca leaf prices, which means that producers can earn more money for their families. As one longtime grower and coca union leader from the Chapare growing region put it: “It’s less work and I make more money.” This income stability, combined with targeted aid from the Bolivian government, means that many coca growers are able to make a living wage and diversify their livelihood strategies—investing in shops, other legal crops, and education.

It also helps that the violence and intimidation at the hands of the previously U.S.-backed Bolivian military has come to an end. People remember what is was like, and many still suffer injuries sustained during different eradication campaigns. One coca grower, for example, had her jaw broken so badly by a soldier as she marched for the right to grow coca that she cannot be fitted for dentures to replace her missing teeth. She emphasized that life is so much better now because it’s less stressful. People do not want to see a return to forced eradication campaigns.

No one is pretending that Bolivia’s coca control approach means the end of cocaine production.  Some portion of coca leaf production—by some estimates, about 22,200-plus acres worth—is still ending up in clandestine, rudimentary labs where it is processed into cocaine paste.

Furthermore, because it is squeezed between Peru, a major cocaine exporter, and Brazil, a growing importer, Bolivia has found it increasingly difficult to control cocaine flows. As a result, despite increased narcotics seizures by Bolivian security forces under Morales’ government, drug trade activities within Bolivia’s borders by some accounts have actually increased over the last few years.

Nevertheless, and for better or worse, the country’s new method of coca control yields results and undeniably satisfies the U.S. supply-side approach, yet Washington maintains its hardline stance against the county. In the present geopolitical context, when even U.S. drug war allies Colombia and Mexico are calling for new approaches to controlling narcotics, the U.S. rejection of the Bolivian model further undermines Washington’s waning legitimacy in the hemisphere.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service. Read the original version of this story here.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Comprehensive Sex Education: A Pending Task in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/comprehensive-sex-education-a-pending-task-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=comprehensive-sex-education-a-pending-task-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/comprehensive-sex-education-a-pending-task-in-latin-america/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 21:52:35 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136879 By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Sep 25 2014 (IPS)

In most Latin American countries schools now provide sex education, but with a focus that is generally restricted to the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases – an approach that has not brought about significant modifications in the behaviour of adolescents, especially among the poor.

The international community made the commitment to offer comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) during the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo.

“Although some advances have been made in the inclusion of sexual and reproductive education in school curriculums in Latin America and the Caribbean, we have found that not all countries or their different jurisdictions have managed to fully incorporate these concepts in classroom activities,” Elba Núñez, the coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women’s Rights (CLADEM), told IPS.

Teenage mom Maura Escobar with her baby María. Credit: Daniela Estrada/IPS

Teenage mom Maura Escobar with her baby María. Credit: Daniela Estrada/IPS

The 2010 CLADEM study ‘Systematisation of sexuality education in Latin America’ reports that Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay are the countries that have come the closest to the concept of comprehensive sex education, and they are also the countries that have passed legislation in that respect.

Others, like Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Peru, continue to focus on abstinence and birth control methods, while emphasising spiritual aspects of sexuality, the importance of the family, and the need to delay the start of sexual activity.

But programmes in the region still generally have problems “with respect to the enjoyment and exercise of this right,” especially among ethnic minorities and rural populations, said Núñez from Paraguay.

Countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Mexico have also run into difficulties in implementing sex education programmes outside the main cities.

These shortcomings are part of the reason that Latin America is the region with the second highest teen pregnancy rate – 38 percent of girls and women get pregnant before the age of 20 – after sub-Saharan Africa, as well as a steep school dropout rate.

In Argentina, a law on comprehensive sex education, which created a National Programme of Comprehensive Sex Education, was approved in 2006.

Ana Lía Kornblit, a researcher at the Gino Germani Research Institute, described the programme as “an important achievement because it makes it possible to exercise a right that didn’t previously exist.”

But in some provinces the teaching material, “which is high quality, is not used on the argument that [schools] do not agree with some of the content and they plan to design material in line with local cultural and religious values,” she said.

“Children can see everything on TV or the Internet, but in school it isn’t talked about for fear of encouraging them to have sex,” Mabel Bianco, president of the Foundation for the Education and Study of Women (FEIM), told IPS.

“But in the media everything is eroticised, which incites them to engage in sexual behaviour. And the worst thing is they don’t have the tools to resist the pressure from their peers and from society to become sexually active,” she said. “CSE would enable them to say no to sexual relations that they don’t want to have.”“Children can see everything on TV or the Internet, but in school it isn’t talked about for fear of encouraging them to have sex.” -- Mabel Bianco

Lourdes Ramírez, 18, just finished her secondary studies at a public school in Mendiolaza in the central Argentine province of Córdoba. She told IPS that in her school, many parents of students in the first years of high school “kick up a fuss” when sex education classes are given “because they say their kids are young and those classes will make them start having sex sooner.”

“It’s absurd that you see everything on TV, programmes with girls in tiny thongs, but then in school they can’t teach how to use a condom or that people should only have sex when they really want to,” Ramírez said.

In her school, the Education Ministry textbooks and materials arrived, but they were not distributed to the students “and were only kept in the library, for people to come and look at.”

Carmen Dueñas, a high school biology teacher in Berazategui, 23 km southeast of Buenos Aires, said it was surprising that even when available birth control methods are explained to the students, “many girls want to get pregnant anyway.”

“They think that when they get pregnant they will have someone to love, that they’ll have a role to play in life if they have a family of their own,” said the teacher, who forms part of a municipal-national CSE project.

“There are conflicts and violence in a significant proportion of families, and teenagers don’t feel they have support; families are torn apart, and there is domestic abuse, violence, alcohol and drug use,” said Marité Gowland, a specialist in preschool education in Florencio Varela, 38 km from the Argentine capital.

“All of this leads to adolescents falling into the same cycle, and it is difficult for them to put into practice what they learn in school,” she said. “Many schools provide the possibility for kids to talk about their problems, but the school alone can’t solve them.”

A project in Berazategui is aimed at breaking the mould. Students are shown a film where a girl gets pregnant when she is sexually abused by her stepfather, but manages to stay in school after talking to her teacher.
“We chose this scenario because sometimes we have clues that there are cases like this in our schools,” Dueñas said.

Through games, the project teaches students how to use condoms. In addition, students can place anonymous questions in a box. “There are girls who comment that although they haven’t even gotten their first period, they have sex, because they have older boyfriends. Then the group discusses the case,” Dueñas said, to illustrate how the project works.

Another member of CLADEM, Zobeyda Cepeda from the Dominican Republic, said that what prevails in most of the region is a “biological approach, or a religious focus, looking at sexuality only as part of marriage.”

Until the focus shifts to a rights-based approach, experts say, Latin America will not meet its international obligations to ensure that “every pregnancy is wanted [...] and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.”

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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The Changing Face of Caribbean Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/the-changing-face-of-caribbean-migration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-changing-face-of-caribbean-migration http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/the-changing-face-of-caribbean-migration/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 15:21:35 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136874 Ruth Osman, a 35-year-old Guyanese migrant living in Trinidad and Tobago, is one of thousands of women to have taken advantage of CARICOM’s migration scheme for skilled workers. Courtesy of Ruth Osman

Ruth Osman, a 35-year-old Guyanese migrant living in Trinidad and Tobago, is one of thousands of women to have taken advantage of CARICOM’s migration scheme for skilled workers. Courtesy of Ruth Osman

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Sep 25 2014 (IPS)

Ruth Osman is attractive and well-groomed in tailored slacks and a patterned blouse, topped by a soft jacket worn open. Her demeanour and polished accent belie the stereotypical view that most Caribbean nationals have of Guyanese migrants.

As a Guyanese migrant living in Trinidad, the 35-year-old is one of thousands of Guyanese to have taken the plunge over the past decade, since the free movement clause of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) regime granted skilled persons the right to move and work freely throughout the region.

According to a recent report, Trinidad and Tobago hosts 35.4 percent of migrants in the region. The United Nations’ ‘Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2013 Revision’ states that Latin America and the Caribbean host a total migrant stock of 8.5 million people.

“Although, historically it is persons at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale in Caribbean society that have been the main movers, the CSME has to date facilitated the movement of those at the upper end, the educated elite in the region.” -- CARICOM Secretariat Report, 2010
Women make up 51.6 percent of migrants in the Caribbean, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)’s 2013 figures.

For many Guyanese, the decision to move on the strength of promises made by Caribbean Community (CARICOM) governments to facilitate free movement of skilled labour within the region has met with mixed degrees of success and, in some cases, outright harassment and even threats of deportation from the Caribbean countries to which they have migrated.

A 2013 report by the ACP Observatory on Migration states, “Guyanese migrants in Trinidad and Tobago faced unfavourable opinions in the social psyche and this could translate into tacit and other forms of discrimination.”

The report, prepared by the regional consulting firm Kairi Consultants, goes on to state that migrants from Guyana were “assumed to be menial labourers or undocumented workers.”

Guyana is one of the poorest countries in the CARICOM region, with a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of 6,053 dollars in 2011. This stands in contrast to Trinidad and Tobago’s per-capita GDP of 29,000 dollars, according to the 2010-2011 U.N. Human Development Report (HDR).

But Osman’s background is not one of destitution. She applied for a CARICOM skills certificate in 2005, having completed a postgraduate diploma in Arts and Cultural Enterprise Management (ACEM) at the St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Trinidad.

“I considered myself an artist, which is why I came to study here [for the ACEM] and I thought it a great stepping stone in my realising that dream of being a singer, songwriter, performer […]. Trinidad seems to be, in relation to where I came from, a more fertile ground for [what] I wanted to do,” she said.

Osman has her own band and performs as a jazz singer at nightspots in Trinidad and Tobago. During the day, she works as a speechwriter for Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of Public Utilities.

Still, she misses the support network that her parents’ substantial contacts would have provided her in Guyana, and she acknowledges that her standard of living is also probably lower than it would have been if she were back home. But, she said, the move was necessary.

Osman’s story is in line with the findings of a 2010 CARICOM Secretariat report to “assess the impact of free movement of persons and other forms of migration on member states”, which found: “Although, historically it is persons at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale in Caribbean society that have been the main movers, the CSME has to date facilitated the movement of those at the upper end, the educated elite in the region.”

Limited educational opportunities also explain the wave of migration out of Guyana, a finding borne out by the experience of Miranda La Rose, a senior reporter with one of Trinidad and Tobago’s leading newspapers, ‘Newsday’, who holds a Bachelor’s degree in political science.

“I came here with the intention of working to help fund [my daughter’s] studies,” La Rose told IPS. “I was working for a fairly good salary in Guyana. My objective [in moving to Trinidad] was to improve my children’s education.”

She said the move to Trinidad was painless, since she was granted her CARICOM skills certificate within three weeks of applying, and she has amassed a circle of friends in Trinidad that compensates for the family she left behind in Guyana.

But not all stories of migration are happy ones. Some, like Alisa Collymore, represent the pains experienced by those with limited skills and qualifications.

Collymore, who now works as a nursing assistant with a family in Trinidad, applied for a CARICOM skills certificate under the entertainer category, because she had experience in songwriting and performing in Guyana.

However, she holds no tertiary qualifications in the field and only completed her secondary school education after she became an adult.

The Trinidadian authorities declined to grant her the CARICOM skills certificate and she has to apply for a renewal of her work permit every six months.

She said, “The treatment you get [is not what you] expected […] and the hand of brotherhood is not really extended. You feel like you are an outsider.”

Nevertheless, she said, the move has brought economic benefits. As a single, divorced, mother of three, she had struggled financially in Guyana. Since moving to Trinidad, her financial situation has improved, she said.

Though some studies have found negative impacts of the free skills movement on source countries, many are finding in the CARICOM scheme a chance to start a new – and often better – life.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

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‘Therapeutic Abortion’ Could Soon Be Legal in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/therapeutic-abortion-could-soon-be-legal-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=therapeutic-abortion-could-soon-be-legal-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/therapeutic-abortion-could-soon-be-legal-in-chile/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 13:26:44 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136835 Alicia is one of the millions of Chilean women who have had an illegal, unsafe abortion because in their country terminating a pregnancy is punishable with up to five years in prison, regardless of the circumstances. Now the country is moving towards legalising therapeutic abortion. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Alicia is one of the millions of Chilean women who have had an illegal, unsafe abortion because in their country terminating a pregnancy is punishable with up to five years in prison, regardless of the circumstances. Now the country is moving towards legalising therapeutic abortion. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Sep 24 2014 (IPS)

Chile, one of the most conservative countries in Latin America, is getting ready for an unprecedented debate on the legalisation of therapeutic abortion, which is expected to be approved this year.

In Chile, more than 300,000 illegal abortions are practiced annually – a scourge that is both cause and effect of many other social problems.

“Abortion in Chile is like the drug trade – surrounded by illegality and precariousness,” 27-year-old Alicia, who had an abortion five years ago, told IPS.

Latin America – stronghold of illegal abortion

In Chile, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua abortion is punishable by prison under any circumstance, although in Honduras the medical code of ethics allows it if the mother’s life is at risk.

One illustration that stiff penalties do not reduce abortions but only make them unsafe is the Dominican Republic, where the constitution has guaranteed the right to life from conception since 2010. But 90,000 abortions are year are practiced in that country, which means one out of every four pregnancies is interrupted.

In the rest of the countries in the region – with the exception of Cuba, Uruguay and Mexico City – only therapeutic abortion is allowed. Nevertheless, there are 31 abortions for every 1,000 women of child-bearing age, higher than the global average.

In Costa Rica, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela abortion is only legal if the mother’s life is at risk. In Ecuador and Panama it is also legal in case of rape.

Guatemala exemplifies the effects of clandestine abortions. Of the 65,000 women who undergo an abortion in that country every year, 21,500 are hospitalised as a result. In Argentina and Bolivia the decision is made by a judge. In Argentina abortion is only legal in case of rape or risk to a mother’s life, and in Bolivia in cases of incest as well.

It is estimated that there is one abortion for every two pregnancies that end in birth in Argentina.

In Colombia abortion is legal for the abovementioned reasons as well as severe birth defects, as it is in Brazil – but only in cases where the fetus shows abnormal brain development.

Abortion on demand is only legal in Cuba and Uruguay – in the latter as of 2012, and since then the number of abortions has gone down.

In addition, abortion on demand has been legal in the Mexican capital since 2007. But that triggered a counter-reform in the country, and 17 of the 31 states have now banned abortion under any circumstances.

“A friend told me about a gynecologist, I went to see him and he told me the date, time and place to meet him,” Alicia said. “My mom came with me. A van picked me up on a random street corner in the city and I had no idea where we were going. I still remember my mother’s face, the anxiety of not knowing if I would come back, and in what condition.

“In a house a doctor and a woman, I don’t know if she was a midwife or a nurse, were waiting for me. They doped me up. When I woke up it was done. They put me in the van and took me back to my mother. We never talked about it again,” she said sadly.

The legalisation of abortion is one of the Chilean state’s big debts to women, Carolina Carrera, the president of Corporación Humanas, told IPS.

“Chile’s highly punitive legislation is a violation of the human rights of women because this level of penalisation means that women who abort do so in unsafe conditions, with physical and psychological risks,” she added.

In addition, smuggling has increased of Misoprostol, also known as RU486 or medication abortion. The medicine is sold at exorbitantly high prices, without clear medical indications, she added.

Claudia, 24, had to go to a house on one of the hills in the port city of Valparaíso, 140 km northwest of Santiago, to buy the drug to interrupt an unwanted pregnancy.

“It was a dangerous place,” she said. “I had to pay more than 600 dollars. I looked around and thought: and if something happens to me, who do I call? An ambulance, the police? No, I’d be put in prison!”

In Latin America, where the Catholic Church still has an enormous influence, abortion is illegal everywhere except Cuba, Uruguay and Mexico City. However, most countries allow therapeutic abortion in circumstances suggested by the United Nations: rape, risk to the mother’s life, or severe birth defects.

Chile is one of only seven countries in the world that ban abortion under any circumstance. Four others are in Latin America – the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua – and two are in Europe – Malta and the Vatican.

Therapeutic abortion was legal in Chile from 1931 to 1989, when it was banned by the government of late dictator General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). None of the democratic administrations that have governed the country since then have touched the issue until now.

Since then, women who undergo an abortion have faced a possible prison sentence of up to five years.

“The frequency of abortion has remained steady in the last 10 years in Chile,” Dr. Ramiro Molina with the Centre on Reproductive Medicine and Integral Development of the Adolescent at the University of Chile told IPS. “The number of cases has not gone down, nor have there been major changes in the ages: the highest rates of abortion are still found among women between the ages of 25 and 34.”

He said there are only records of some 33,500 women a year who are treated for abortion-related complications – a figure he described as “very misleading” because it only takes into account those who go to a public health centre for emergency treatment.

Molina explained that the real total is estimated by multiplying that number by 10, which would indicate that 335,000 women a year undergo illegal abortions in Chile.

In the Latin American countries with the strictest legislation, abortions are practiced in conditions that pose a high risk to women, making it a public health problem as well as a reflection of inequality.

“Abortion is a socioeconomic indicator of poverty,” Molina said.

According to the World Health Organisation, an estimated 21.6 million unsafe abortions took place worldwide in 2008. The estimated annual total in Latin America is 4.4 million, 95 percent of which are clandestine. And 12 percent of maternal deaths in the region are the result of unsafe abortion.

Molina, one of the region’s leading experts in his field, said that while progress has been made in the last two decades, it has been very slow because “a religious-based philosophical vision” continues to prevail and stands in the way of further advances.

In Chile, the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet, in office since March, is preparing to launch a debate on the legalisation of therapeutic abortion in case of rape, risk to the mother’s life, or severe birth defects.

She has stated on several occasions that abortion will be decriminalised this year in Chile.

During her first term (2006-2010), Bachelet authorised the free distribution of Levonorgestrel, better known as the morning after pill, by government health centres to all girls and women over the age of 14 who requested it. But its actual distribution still depends on the ideology of mayors, who are responsible for public health centres in their jurisdictions.

The morning after pill came too late for Francisco and Daniela. When she enrolled in the university, “we got pregnant,” she told IPS. The couple thought about it long and hard, but they lived with her parents and Francisco only worked part-time.

“I felt like it was cutting her life short, her dreams, her prospects,” said Francisco, who somehow managed to scrape together the 600 dollars for the abortion.

Now, at the age of 35, they have a little girl. But they remember it as a traumatic incident, “because it was clandestine, unsafe and unjust.”

Although the legalisation of therapeutic abortion was one of Bachelet’s campaign pledges, abortion remains a taboo subject in Chile. Many are afraid of the political consequences in this country of 17.8 million people, where more than 65 percent of the population is Catholic.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Climate Change an “Existential Threat” for the Caribbeanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/climate-change-an-existential-threat-for-the-caribbean/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-an-existential-threat-for-the-caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/climate-change-an-existential-threat-for-the-caribbean/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 17:34:30 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136806 In this St. Vincent community, many people build their houses on the banks of a river flowing through the area, leaving them vulnerable to storms and flooding. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

In this St. Vincent community, many people build their houses on the banks of a river flowing through the area, leaving them vulnerable to storms and flooding. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

When it comes to climate change, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves doesn’t mince words: he will tell you that it is a matter of life and death for Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

“The threat is not abstract, it is not very distant, it is immediate and it is real. And if this matter is the premier existential issue which faces us it means that we have to take it more seriously and put it at the centre stage of all our developmental efforts,” Gonsalves told IPS."The world is a small place and we contribute very little to global warming, but yet we are in the frontlines of continuing disasters.” -- Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves

“The country which I have the honour to lead is a disaster-prone country. We need to adapt, strengthen our resilience, to mitigate, we need to reduce risks to human and natural assets resulting from climate change.

“This is an issue however, which we alone cannot address. The world is a small place and we contribute very little to global warming but yet we are in the frontlines of continuing disasters,” Gonsalves added.

Since 2001, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has had 14 major weather events, five of which have occurred since 2010. These five weather events have caused loss and damage amounting to more than 600 million dollars, or just about a third of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

“Three rain-related events, and in the case of Hurricane Tomas, wind, occurred in 2010; in April 2011 there were landslides and flooding of almost biblical proportions in the northeast of our country; and in December we had on Christmas Eve, a calamitous event,” Gonsalves said.

“My Christmas Eve flood was 17.5 percent of GDP and I don’t have the base out of which I can climb easily. More than 10,000 people were directly affected, that is to say more than one tenth of our population.

“In the first half of 2010 and the first half of this year we had drought. Tomas caused loss and damage amounting to 150 million dollars; the April floods of 2011 caused damage and loss amounting to 100 million dollars; and the Christmas Eve weather event caused loss and damage amounting to just over 330 million. If you add those up you get 580 million, you throw in 20 million for the drought and you see a number 600 million dollars and climbing,” Gonsalves said.

In this St. Vincent community, many people build their houses on the banks of a river flowing through the area, leaving them vulnerable to storms and flooding. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

St. Vincent’s Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Over the past several years, and in particular since the 2009 summit of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, the United States and other large countries have made a commitment to help small island states deal with the adverse impacts of climate change, and pledged millions of dollars to support adaptation and disaster risk-reduction efforts.

On a recent visit to several Pacific islands, Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated the importance of deepening partnerships with small island nations and others to meet the immediate threats and long-term development challenges posed by climate change.

He stressed that through cooperative behaviour and fostering regional integration, the U.S. could help create sustainable economic growth, power a clean energy revolution, and empower people to deal with the negative impacts of climate change.

But Gonsalves noted that despite the generosity of the United States, there is a scarcity of funds for mitigation and adaptation promised by the global community, “not only the developed world but also other major emitters, China and India, for example,”  adding that these promises were made to SIDS and to less developed countries.

Twelve people lost their lives in the Christmas Eve floods.

Jock Conly, mission director of USAID/Eastern and Southern Caribbean, told IPS that through strategic partnerships with regional, national, and local government entities, USAID is actively working to reduce the region’s vulnerability and increase its resilience to the impacts of climate change.

“We are providing assistance to increase the capacity of technical and educational institutions in fields such as meteorology, hydrology, and coastal and marine science to improve forecasting and preparation for climate risks,” he said.

“This support includes work with the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies, and current partnerships with organisations like the World Meteorological Organisation and its affiliate, the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology, the government of Barbados, and the OECS Commission.

“Under an agreement with the World Meteorological Organisation and in partnership with CIMH, a Regional Climate Center will be established for the Caribbean that will be capable of providing tailored climate and weather services to support adaptation and enhanced disaster risk reduction region-wide.”

Conly said the centre will improve climate and weather data collection regionally to fill critical information, monitoring and forecasting gaps allowing the region to better understand and predict climate impacts.

At the same time, USAID is pursuing efforts under the OECS Commission’s programme to educate communities and local stakeholders about climate change impacts and the steps that can be taken to adapt to these impacts.

“A key feature of this programme is the development of demonstration models addressing different aspects of the adaptation process.  This includes the restoration of mangroves, coral reefs, and other coastal habitats, shoreline protection projects, and water conservation initiatives,” Conly said.

Opposition legislator Arnhim Eustace is concerned that people still “do not attach a lot of importance” to climate change.

“People are more concerned with the day-to-day issues, their bread and butter, and I am glad that more and more attention is being paid to that issue at this this present time to let our people have a better understanding of what this really means and how it can impact them,” he told IPS.

“When a fellow is struggling because he has no job and can’t get his children to school, don’t try to tell him about climate change, he is not interested in that. His interest is where is my next meal coming from, where my child’s next meal is coming from, and that is why you have to be so careful with how you deal with your fiscal operations.”

Eustace, who is the leader of the opposition New Democratic Party, said people must first be made able to meet their basic needs to that they can open their minds to serious issues like climate change.

“The whole environment in your country at a particular point in time makes persons conducive or less conducive to deal with issues like climate change and so on,” Eustace added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Biodiversity Offsetting Advances in Latin America Amidst Controversyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/biodiversity-offsetting-advances-in-latin-america-amidst-controversy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=biodiversity-offsetting-advances-in-latin-america-amidst-controversy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/biodiversity-offsetting-advances-in-latin-america-amidst-controversy/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 15:08:50 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136798 The El Cielo biosphere reserve in the northeastern Mexican state of Tamaulipas. Critics of biodiversity offsetting say it could open up unspoiled natural areas to human activity, and complain that it commodifies ecosystems. Credit: Courtesy of the government of Tamaulipas

The El Cielo biosphere reserve in the northeastern Mexican state of Tamaulipas. Critics of biodiversity offsetting say it could open up unspoiled natural areas to human activity, and complain that it commodifies ecosystems. Credit: Courtesy of the government of Tamaulipas

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

Compensation for biodiversity loss, which is taking its first steps in Latin America, is criticised by social organisations for “commodifying” nature and failing to remedy the impacts of extractive industries and other activities that destroy natural areas and wildlife.

“No market mechanism resolves the underlying problem,” Margarita Flórez, executive director of the Environment and Society Association (AAS), a Colombian non-governmental organisation, told Tierrámerica.

“The most serious thing is the environmental liabilities. What should be done about the damage that has already been caused? How do we make sure it’s really compensation and not just remediation?

“We keep losing resources and we haven’t been able to curb the loss at all. This mechanism is plagued with contradictions,” she said.

Since August 2012 Colombia has had a “manual for the allotment of compensation for the loss of biodiversity”, although it is not yet applied. The manual enables businesses to know precisely where, how and how much to compensate for the ecological impact of their activities.

The plan stipulates that compensation must be made in areas that are “ecologically equivalent” to the place that will be damaged, and that it can be carried out in areas listed as a priority by the National Restoration Plan or the National System of Protected Areas.

The compensation or “biodiversity offsetting” activities must last as long as the useful life of the mine or other project, and can entail financing to create or strengthen protected areas or conservation agreements with private property owners or indigenous or black communities on collectively-owned land.

The manual is to apply to projects or works in the mining, oil, gas and energy industries as well as ports, infrastructure, and new international airports.

Excluded are national protected areas, national parks, and biosphere and forestry reserves whose activities depend on special legislation.

Compensation for secondary vegetation ranges between 0.01 and 0.02 square km for every square km affected. And in the case of natural ecosystems, it ranges from 0.02 to 0.1 square km for every square km affected.

In Colombia there are 55 national protected areas, representing 10 percent of the country’s total territory.

Biodiversity offsetting is one of the six Innovative Financial Mechanisms outlined by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which entered into force in 1993 and has been ratified by 193 countries. The treaty is widely seen as the key document on sustainable development.

The other mechanisms are environmental fiscal reform, payments for ecosystem services, green markets, biodiversity in climate change funding, and biodiversity in international development finance.

Currently only one-fifth of the signatory countries have biodiversity offsetting mechanisms, and some 45 programmes are in operation, with an investment between 2.4 and 4.0 billion dollars.

Map of the offsetting factors in terms of representativity of ecosystems and biomes in the biological-geographic districts of Colombia. Credit: Courtesy of the Colombian Environment Ministry

Map of the offsetting factors in terms of representativity of ecosystems and biomes in the biological-geographic districts of Colombia. Credit: Courtesy of the Colombian Environment Ministry

In Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela are the countries with some kind of biodiversity offsetting system, while Ecuador is studying how to implement a mechanism.

Chile, for example, is working on the creation of compensation for biodiversity loss, based on new Environmental Evaluation Service regulations that incorporate the guidelines for offsetting, in a country where protected areas cover 19 percent of the territory.

In Peru, where 166 natural areas cover 17 percent of the country, the guidelines for the design and application of the Environmental Impact Evaluation System’s Environmental Compensation Plan are being debated.

In Mexico, Pedro Álvarez, the head of biological resources and corridors in the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO), a government agency, sees it as feasible to combine conservation mechanisms with economic production.

“If communities learn that biodiversity has value, it becomes a good opportunity to generate hope in the management of natural resources,” he told IPS. “But in order for it to work, public funds must be guaranteed for lengthy periods of time.

“In addition, we have to choose the areas with the greatest biodiversity, and prevent it from becoming a situation of ‘if they pay me, I’ll take care of it’,” he said.

The 2013-2018 Sectoral Programme on Environment and Natural Resources indicates that 29 percent of Mexican territory has lost natural ecosystems, in a country with 176 natural areas.

The National Commission on Protected Natural Areas administers the 176 areas, which cover 13 percent of Mexico’s territory.

With the Environmental Compensation Programme for Change of Land Use in Forested Areas, the National Forestry Commission financed 275 projects last year covering 321 square km of land.

“In Colombia, the incentives for conservation have been tiny,” AAS’ Flórez said. “The manual is full of declarations and fails to explain precisely how it can be applied. Details are needed – when, in what conditions, and what will happen if this isn’t applied.”

Tremarctos-Colombia, a system that conducts a preliminary assessment screening of the impacts of an infrastructure project on local biodiversity and provides recommendations regarding the compensatory measures a project will have to assume, can be used in the first phase of the project.

The manual for establishing the compensation for biodiversity loss will be used in the second stage, and in the third stage monitoring will be carried out to compare it to the baseline and guarantee that there is no net loss of biodiversity.

Countries like Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela suffered biodiversity loss between 1990 and 2008, according to the Inclusive Wealth Index, a study of 20 countries led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

“New mechanisms must be created,” said CONABIO’s Álvarez. “But it’s not a question of paying people for polluting; that is dangerous. The precautionary principle [the precept that an action should not be taken if the consequences are uncertain and potentially dangerous] must be included in environmental rulings, and there should be a kind of environmental insurance premium in case of accidents.”

The “No to Biodiversity Offsetting!” movement issued a manifesto in November 2013 in Edinburgh, Scotland, complaining that it “could lead to an increase in damage, but even more concerning is that it commodifies nature.”

The document, signed by dozens of organisations around the world, says “biodiversity offsetting allows, or even encourages, environmental destruction…[and] is the promise to replace nature destroyed and lost in one place with nature somewhere else.”

Offsetting, according to the signatories, “is beneficial to the companies doing the damage, since they can present themselves as a company that invests in environmental protection, thereby green-washing its products and services.”

The campaign argues that biodiversity offsetting will not prevent loss, and will harm communities and separate them from the environment in which they live, where their culture is rooted, and where their economic activities have traditionally taken place.

One of the aims of the CBD’s strategy for resource mobilisation is to consider offsetting mechanisms, where they are relevant and appropriate, as long as there are guarantees that they will not be used to weaken the unique components of biodiversity.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

 

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Boosting the Natural Disaster Immunity of Caribbean Hospitalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/boosting-the-natural-disaster-immunity-of-caribbean-hospitals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=boosting-the-natural-disaster-immunity-of-caribbean-hospitals http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/boosting-the-natural-disaster-immunity-of-caribbean-hospitals/#comments Sun, 21 Sep 2014 12:38:55 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136760 Seismologists say a new children's hospital being planned for Couva, in Trinidad, is located near a fault line. According to one report, 67 per cent of hospitals in the Caribbean and Latin America are located in areas at high risk for natural disasters. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

Seismologists say a new children's hospital being planned for Couva, in Trinidad, is located near a fault line. According to one report, 67 per cent of hospitals in the Caribbean and Latin America are located in areas at high risk for natural disasters. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Sep 21 2014 (IPS)

When floods overwhelmed the Eastern Caribbean in December last year, St. Vincent’s new smart hospital, completed just a few months earlier, stood the test of “remaining functional during and immediately after a natural disaster.”

The floods, later dubbed the Christmas rains, killed more than a dozen people and caused millions of dollars in infrastructural damage. However, the Georgetown Hospital in St. Vincent weathered the natural disaster, living up to the definition of a smart hospital in that it continued to serve the community without interruption.“We had the Christmas floods on Dec. 24 and the island’s water supply system was down whereas the hospital’s water supply remained functional. The community bought into it [after that]." -- Shalini Jagnarine of PAHO

According to a report by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), “More than 67% of hospitals in the Caribbean and Latin America are located in areas of higher risk of disaster.

“Enormous economic losses occur (including lost income and work days) when health facilities are destroyed or damaged by natural disasters — they must be re-built and downtime limits their ability to provide emergency care to victims and ongoing healthcare for their communities.”

The report adds, “Building resilience of communities and critical buildings like hospitals and schools delivers better results in terms of lives saved and livelihoods protected than simply through responding to the effects of disasters or climate variability.

“Establishing an integrated and forward looking approach to hospital design is essential if health facilities are to be safe, green and sustainable.”

Dr. Dana Van Alphen, the regional advisor for PAHO’s Disaster Risk Management Programme, told IPS that during a meeting of PAHO officials there were discussions about “how we could include climate change adaptation measures into our safe hospital initiative.”

The safe hospital initiative was launched in the Caribbean about a decade ago and has become a global standard for assessing the likelihood a hospital can remain functional in disaster situations.

PAHO worked with the DFID to launch the Smart Hospital Initiative. The DFID agreed to fund the initiative from its International Climate Fund for one year, citing “building resilience to climate change and disasters [as] a central pillar” of its 2011-2015 Operational Plan for the Caribbean.

Dr. Van Alphen said the Georgetown Hospital was chosen as one of two demonstration hospitals for the Smart Hospital Initiative because PAHO wanted “to convince policy makers that there are tangible measures for safety and natural disasters, there are practical measures that one can take and still see a benefit” without the costs being prohibitive.

Georgetown Hospital and the Pogson Hospital in St. Kitts were chosen as the two demonstration hospitals, after surveying 38 hospitals in the region. Of the 38 surveyed, 18 per cent were found to have structural and functional issues that required urgent measures to protect the lives of patients and staff.

“We took [those] two hospitals where we got support from the community and support from the government to implement the project. We wanted to do a success story,” Dr. Van Alphen said.

Some 350,000 dollars was allocated to retrofit Georgetown Hospital, which had structural and functional deficiencies including an unsafe roof, no backup power supply, and no water storage system.

The hospital, built in the 1980s, is a 25-bed facility in the parish of Charlotte that serves a population of almost 10,000.

The work done on the hospital included the renovating of the roof, waterproofing of the windows, installation of photovoltaic solar panels to ensure an alternative power supply, and the introduction of a rainwater harvesting system. The hospital was generally refurbished and upgraded to make it a more comfortable and pleasing environment for working and convalescing.

As a result of the retrofitting, there was a 60 percent reduction in energy consumption, said Dr. Van Alphen.

The DFID in its “Intervention Summary: Smart Health Care Facilities in the Caribbean”, notes that “according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calculations, every dollar a hospital in the United States saves on energy is equivalent to generating 20 dollars in new revenues.

“Therefore, investing in activities that help reduce the health sector’s climate footprint will ultimately liberate money for allocation towards a hospital’s genuine purpose — improving overall patient care and health in the community.”

Since energy costs in the Caribbean are among the highest in the world, reduction in hospitals’ energy bill would free up significant resources, the DFID noted.

While the community was generally happy with the upgrades — according to the results of surveys conducted before and after the retrofitting that showed a significant increase in patients’ and staff’s satisfaction levels — there remained some concerns.

One of these was the community’s reluctance to accept the use of harvested rainwater. Shalini Jagnarine, a structural engineer with PAHO’s Disaster Management Unit, told IPS that that reluctance melted away with the Christmas floods.

“We had the Christmas floods on Dec. 24 and the island’s water supply system was down whereas the hospital’s water supply remained functional. The community bought into it [after that],” she said.

Another issue, according to the cost-benefit analysis of the project, was the financial sustainability of the project. The cost-benefit analysis report stated that “the cost of maintenance and operation [needs to be] minimized and other sources of revenue schemes…identified to financially support the project over its lifespan.”

The retrofitting of St. Kitt’s Pogson Medical Centre in Sandy Point village focused on showing how small changes can make a new and otherwise safe hospital more efficient, safe and environmentally friendly.

The work done included the installation of emergency exits, better access for the disabled, and upgrade of the plumbing fixtures and electrical systems.

Jagnarine said, “When you have a hospital that is already built, to make it safe you have to be smart about the financial decisions you make. To make it 100 per cent green may be too expensive.”

Dr. Van Alphen added, “The cost-benefit analysis is very important…What is the cost of not implementing these measures? What is the cost to your country and community if you do not make your health facility green and you are impacted by a natural disaster? The decision we take depends on the money we have, but there are simple things that can be done.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at jwl_42@yahoo.com

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Honduran Mothers and Grandmothers Search Far and Wide for Missing Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/honduran-mothers-and-grandmothers-search-far-and-wide-for-missing-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=honduran-mothers-and-grandmothers-search-far-and-wide-for-missing-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/honduran-mothers-and-grandmothers-search-far-and-wide-for-missing-migrants/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 16:04:59 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136721 Rosa Nelly Santos arranges photos of missing Honduran migrants on a sort of shrine to ensure they are not forgotten, at the premises of the Committee for Disappeared Migrant Relatives in El Progreso. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Rosa Nelly Santos arranges photos of missing Honduran migrants on a sort of shrine to ensure they are not forgotten, at the premises of the Committee for Disappeared Migrant Relatives in El Progreso. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
EL PROGRESO, Honduras, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

United by grief and anxiety, the grandmothers, mothers and other relatives of people who disappeared on the migration route to the United States formed a committee in this city in northern Honduras to search for their missing loved ones.
Founded in 1999, the Comité de Familiares de Migrantes Desaparecidos de El Progreso (COFAMIPRO – El Progreso Committee for Disappeared Migrant Relatives) is now one of the most highly regarded migrants’ rights organisations in Honduras.

For the past 14 years, COFAMIPRO has aired a radio programme on Sunday afternoons called “Abriendo Fronteras” (Opening Borders) on Radio Progreso, a station run by the Society of Jesus (a Catholic religious order) in Honduras.

The programme was originally called “Sin Fronteras” (Without Borders), but Rosa Nelly Santos, a member of COFAMIPRO, told IPS that as the committee expanded its activities, “we decided to call it Abriendo Fronteras, because we have indeed opened them. We are listened to by a larger audience than ever before, and not only by migrants but also by governments.”“Every time I heard the rumble of The Beast [the Mexican freight train ridden by migrants] I would shudder because that’s where I discovered how dangerous the migrant route is. For them, the train tracks are their pillow. They sleep on the tracks and when they get on to the roof of the train they wait for it to get going, but some fall asleep from exhaustion and fall off when it moves.” -- Marcia Martínez

The hour-long radio programme fulfills a vital social function. It advises migrants about conditions on the routes, plays the music they request to lift their spirits, and provides a sevice by enabling them to send messages to their relatives in Honduras.

Emeteria Martínez, a founding member of COFIMAPRO, died in 2013 just months after locating one of her daughters , who had been missing for 21 years.

Finding their family members was the driving force that united them, Santos said. “The group was created out of nothing, by discovering that one woman’s grief was the same as another’s. We would meet in the home of one of the group and that’s how we built up courage to go out into the world and search for our relatives,” she said.

Twenty women started the group, and now the leadership group is composed of more than 40 members.

They are unassuming women but they are buoyed by hope, in spite of the pain of not knowing anything about their missing relatives and of facing dreadful tragedies like the Tamaulipas massacre in Mexico. Four years ago, 72 migrants, 21 of whom were Hondurans, were shot at point-blank range by Los Zetas, a Mexican criminal cartel. Their bodies were found on a ranch in the San Fernando district.

The Tamaulipas massacre brought home to Hondurans the suffering involved in migration, over and above the issue of the remittances sent back by those who make it to the United States.

“It was like a defeat for us. You hope that your son or daughter will travel safely on the migrant route and manage to cross the border, but you do not expect him or her to be massacred and shipped back to you in a box. That is really shocking,” said Santos, who together with other members of COFAMIPRO has helped and comforted victims’ relatives.

The women on the Committee are all volunteers who have overcome their fear of the unknown. For over a decade they have taken part in the mothers’ caravans , motorcades organised by the Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano (Mesoamerican Migrant Movement), which in September every year travel the migrant routes, looking for clues to the whereabouts of missing relatives.

The migratory route begins in Guatemala and ends at Mexico’s northern border.

“The first time I went on the caravan, three years ago, I understood the importance of my mother’s work. I learned from her grief and I decided to take a full part in the Committee,” Marcia Martínez, 44, another daughter of the Committee’s deceased founder, told IPS.

“I had no idea of the huge number of mothers and relatives who join the motorcade, nor of the epic nature of the journeys my mother undertook. They cover all the routes used by the migrants, asking about them with placards, looking for answers that sometimes never arrive, or arrive too late. When we find someone we were looking for, the joy is indescribable,” she said.

“Every time I heard the rumble of The Beast [the Mexican freight train ridden by migrants on their way north] I would shudder because that’s where I discovered how dangerous the migrant route is. For them, the train tracks are their pillow. They sleep on the tracks and when they get on to the roof of the train they wait for it to get going, but some fall asleep from exhaustion and fall off when it moves,” Martínez said.

COFAMIPRO’s premises are in a shopping centre in El Progreso, one of Honduras’s five largest cities, in the northern department (province) of Yoro, 242 kilometres from Tegucigalpa. Formerly they were housed in Jesuit property, but thanks to donations they were able to rent their own small locale where people can come for support to find their relatives.

In the years since it was founded it has documented more than 600 cases of disappeared persons, of whom over 150 have been found. They continue to seek the rest, although they believe that many must have died on the way or fallen in the hands of human trafficking networks.

Initially the government would not recognise the Committee, but the success of its work with the Mesoamerican caravans led to its voice being heard. It has presented cases of disappeared migrants to the foreign ministry. In June, the group finally acquired formal legal status.

Their struggle has not been easy. Honduran officials dismissed them as “crazy old women” when, years ago, they organised their own march to Tegucigalpa to demand action for their missing loved ones.

Their response was a song they chanted at the foreign office building. Santos sang it with pride: “People at the foreign office call us liars, but we are decent women and we prove it with deeds; what we are here to demand is completely within our rights.”

Their steady, silent work has yielded fruit. When IPS interviewed a group of these women, they had just saved the life of a Honduran man, a relative of a local official in El Progreso, through their Mexican contacts.

He had been kidnapped by a criminal organisation that extorted more than 3,000 dollars from his family before they approached the Committee, which secured his release through an operation by the Mexican prosecution service.

Five years ago, COFAMIPRO issued a warning about the present migration crisis, but no one listened. According to the group, migrants will continue to flee from unemployment and criminal violence.

In the baking hot city of El Progreso, cases have been known of mothers who left town when criminal gangs told them their children would be forcibly recruited into the criminal organisations when they were old enough, and that in the meantime the gangs would provide money to raise the children and pay for their education.

An estimated one million Hondurans have emigrated to the United States since the 1970s, but the exodus has intensified since 1998. As of April 2014, Washington has intensified its deportations of families with children as well as adults.

The Honduran authorities say that 56,000 people were deported back to the country in the first seven months of this year. Of these, 29,000 arrived from the United States by air and 27,000 from Mexico by land.

Honduras has a population of 8.4 million and a homicide rate of 79 per 100,000 population, according to official figures.

In 2013, migrants contributed 3.2 billion dollars to the Honduran economy in remittances, close to 15 percent of GDP, according to the Central Bank.

In COFAMIPRO’s view, the migratory crisis should spur governments to reform their public policies and refrain from stigmatising and criminalising migrants, because “they are not criminals, they are international workers,” Santos said.

She, at least, has the consolation of having found her missing nephew four years ago.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Latin America at a Climate Crossroadshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/latin-america-at-a-climate-crossroads/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-at-a-climate-crossroads http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/latin-america-at-a-climate-crossroads/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 19:41:36 +0000 Susan McDade http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136697 Turbines at WindWatt Nevis Limited. In most countries of the region, the abundance of renewable resources creates an opportunity to increase reliance on domestic energy sources rather than imported oil and gas. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Turbines at WindWatt Nevis Limited. In most countries of the region, the abundance of renewable resources creates an opportunity to increase reliance on domestic energy sources rather than imported oil and gas. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Susan McDade
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

World leaders gathered at the Climate Change Summit during the United Nations General Assembly on Sep. 23 will have a crucial opportunity to mobilise political will and advance solutions to climate change.

They will also need to address its closely connected challenges of increasing access to sustainable energy as a key tool to secure and advance gains in the social, economic and environmental realms.Cities need to be at the heart of the solution. This is particularly important for Latin America and the Caribbean, which is the most urbanised developing region on the planet.

This is more important than ever for Latin America and the Caribbean. Even though the region is responsible for a relatively low share of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, 12 percent, according to U.N. figures, it will be one of the most severely affected by temperature spikes, according a World Bank Report.

For the Caribbean region in particular, reliance on imported fuels challenges balance of payments stability and increases the vulnerability of key ecosystems that underpin important productive sectors, including tourism.

And the region faces new challenges. Demand for electricity is expected to double by 2030, as per capita income rises and countries become increasingly industrialised—and urban.

Although the region has a clean electricity matrix, with nearly 60 percent generated from hydroelectric resources, the share of fossil fuel-based generation has increased substantially in the past 10 years, mainly from natural gas.

Now is the time for governments and private sector to invest in sustainable energy alternatives—not only to encourage growth while reducing GHG emissions, but also to ensure access to clean energy to around 24 million people who still live in the dark.

Importantly, 68 million Latin Americans continue using firewood for cooking, which leads to severe health problems especially for women and their young children, entrenching cycles of poverty and contributing to local environmental degradation, including deforestation.

Cities also need to be at the heart of the solution. This is particularly important for Latin America and the Caribbean, which is the most urbanised developing region on the planet.

Urbanisation rates have jumped from 68 percent in 1980 to 80 percent in 2012. By 2050, 90 percent of the population will be living in cities. This brings about a different set of energy challenges, in particular related to transport and public services.

Therefore, the question is whether the region will tap its vast potential of renewable resources to meet this demand or will turn towards increased fossil fuel generation.

In this context, energy policies that focus not only on the economic growth but also on the long-term social and environmental benefits will be essential to shape the region’s future.

Consequently, in addition to reduced CO2 emissions, the region should favour renewables. Why? Latin America and the Caribbean are a biodiversity superpower, according to a UNDP report.

On the one hand, this vast natural capital can be severely affected by climate change. Climate variability also destabilises agricultural systems and production that are key to supporting economic growth in the region.

But on the other hand, if properly managed, it could actually help adapt to climate change and increase resilience.

Also, in most countries, the abundance of renewable resources creates an opportunity to increase reliance on domestic energy sources rather than imported oil and gas, thereby decreasing vulnerability to foreign exchange shocks linked to prices changes in world markets.

In this context, countries have already been spearheading innovative policies. Several countries in the region produce biofuel in a sustainable way. For example, Brazil’s ethanol programme for automobiles is considered one of the most effective in the world.

Investing in access to energy is transformational. It means lighting for schools, functioning health clinics, pumps for water and sanitation, cleaner indoor air, faster food processing and more income-generating opportunities.

It also entails liberating women and girls from time-consuming tasks, such as collecting fuel, pounding grain and hauling water, freeing time for education and paid work.

The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) is working with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to boost access to sustainable energy and reduce fossil fuel dependency.

In Nicaragua, for example, nearly 50,000 people from eight rural communities gained access to electricity following the inauguration of a new 300 kilowatt micro-hydropower plant in 2012.

This was a joint partnership between national and local governments, UNDP and the Swiss and Norwegian governments, which improved lives and transformed the energy sector.

In addition to spurring a new legislation to promote electricity generation based on renewable resources, micro enterprises have been emerging and jobs have been created—for both men and women.

Universal access to modern energy services is achievable by 2030—and Latin America and the Caribbean are already moving towards that direction. This will encourage development and transform lives.

In a Nicaraguan community that is no longer in the dark, Maribel Ubeda, a mother of three, said her children are the ones most benefitting from the recent access to energy: “Now they can use the internet and discover the world beyond our community.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Blue Halo: A Conservation Flagship, or Death Knell for Fishermen?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/blue-halo-a-conservation-flagship-or-death-knell-for-fishermen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=blue-halo-a-conservation-flagship-or-death-knell-for-fishermen http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/blue-halo-a-conservation-flagship-or-death-knell-for-fishermen/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 17:54:43 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136652 Gerald Price sees a bleak future for Barbuda's fishermen under the Blue Halo initiative. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Gerald Price sees a bleak future for Barbuda's fishermen under the Blue Halo initiative. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
CODRINGTON, Barbuda, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

Local fishermen are singing the blues over a sweeping set of new ocean management regulations, signed into law by the Barbuda Council, to zone their coastal waters, strengthen fisheries management, and establish a network of marine sanctuaries.

Director of the Barbuda Research Complex John Mussington has criticised the Blue Halo initiative, not for its laudable goals, but because he believes it needs a more inclusive approach that takes into account climate change and offers fishermen an alternative.“I have been in places where there is no management, like Jamaica where I spent several years, and I can say from firsthand experience that the fishers there are extraordinarily poor and they are poor because fishing has been so badly managed that there is nothing left to catch.” -- Dr. Nancy Knowlton

“I don’t think you are going to get the cooperation of the Barbuda fishermen,” he cautioned.

“I have been involved directly in conservation efforts in Barbuda since 1983, even more so from 1991, where every single project related to conservation of the resources, particularly related to fishing, I have been involved in, so when I speak concerning this matter I am speaking on that basis,” Mussington told IPS.

The regulations establish five marine sanctuaries, collectively protecting 33 percent (139 km2) of the coastal area, to enable fish populations to rebuild and habitats to recover.

To restore the coral reefs, catching parrotfish and sea urchins has been completely prohibited, as those herbivores are critical to keeping algae levels on reefs low so coral can thrive. Barbuda is the first Caribbean island to put either of these bold and important measures in place.

But Mussington said the regulations and the initiatives which have been signed onto are not likely to work for three reasons.

“One, the science on which the initiative is based is poor and once you have poor science to start off with you cannot expect to get good results,” he said.

“The second reason why it will be challenged has to do with the local government administration which has a track record of not adhering to regulations and a lack of will and capacity with respect to enforcing regulations.

“The third issue on which this initiative is going to likely fail has to do with the engagement of stakeholders. You cannot come into a community and basically engage stakeholders in a manner which essentially results in division and sidelining of persons. Things have not worked that way,” Mussington added.

Chair of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, Dr. Nancy Knowlton, disagrees. She cited a recent major report based on 90 different locations around the Caribbean which clearly shows that in places where fishing is properly managed, reefs are much healthier.

“In many of these places a big part of alternative livelihoods is in fact ocean-related tourism, and in order for that to take hold you need to have a healthy ecosystem, so I am much more optimistic about the chances for the Blue Halo to be a kind of flagship for the successful management of reefs in the Caribbean,” she told IPS.

“I have been in places where there is no management, like Jamaica where I spent several years, and I can say from firsthand experience that the fishers there are extraordinarily poor and they are poor because fishing has been so badly managed that there is nothing left to catch.”

The report, which synthesised a three-year study by 90 international experts and was issued by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), had a spot of surprisingly good news.

According to the authors, restoring parrotfish populations and improving other management strategies, such as protection from overfishing and excessive coastal pollution, can help reefs recover and even make them more resilient to future climate change impacts.

The study also shows that some of the healthiest Caribbean coral reefs are those that harbour vigorous populations of grazing parrotfish.

These include the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the northern Gulf of Mexico, Bermuda and Bonaire, “all of which have restricted or banned fishing practices that harm parrotfish, such as fish traps and spearfishing”.

The study is urging other countries to follow suit.

Still, according to the former president of the Antigua and Barbuda Fisherman’s Cooperative, Gerald Price, the future looks “very bleak” for Barbudan fishermen under Blue Halo.

He said the last time he checked the statistics for Barbuda, there were about 43 active fishing vessels, and each one may have three to four fishermen aboard. “What are they going to do and how are they going to make a living?” Price wondered.

“Barbuda is slightly different from Antigua in that in Antigua, our fishermen usually have an alternative. They are either a carpenter or a mason or they get work at a hotel. In Barbuda, as we understand it, they are 100 percent dependent on fishing. It’s going to be bleak, very bleak.”

Creation of the new regulations on Barbuda occurred under the umbrella of the Barbuda Blue Halo Initiative, a collaboration among the Barbuda Council, Government of Antigua & Barbuda, Barbuda Fisheries Division, Codrington Lagoon Park, and the Waitt Institute. The Waitt Institute provided all of the science, mapping, and communications, offered policy recommendations, and coordinated the overall Initiative.

“I enthusiastically applaud the measures put in place in Barbuda, particularly the protection of parrotfish and sea urchins. Protection of these vitally important herbivores is the essential first step toward the recovery of Caribbean reefs from the severe degradation they have undergone in the last 50 years,” said Jeremy Jackson, director of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN) at the International Union of the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Also included in the regulations is a two-year fishing hiatus for Codrington Lagoon, the primary nursery ground for the lobster and finfish fisheries. The lagoon, a Ramsar wetland of international importance, is one the Caribbean’s most extensive and intact mangrove ecosystems, and home to the world’s largest breeding colony of magnificent frigate birds.

But Mussington said having the Codrington Lagoon declared as a sanctuary zone will backfire.

“The cultural significance of that lagoon, the resources which are there and the history on which it is based in terms of providing livelihood and food security for Barbudans — you would understand that making such a declaration is counterproductive,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Panama Turns to Biofortification of Crops to Build Food Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/panama-turns-to-biofortification-of-crops-to-build-food-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=panama-turns-to-biofortification-of-crops-to-build-food-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/panama-turns-to-biofortification-of-crops-to-build-food-security/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 13:40:54 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136650 Vicente Castrellón proudly shows his biofortified rice crop. The 69-year-old farmer provides technical advice to other farmers participating in the Agro Nutre programme in the central Panamanian district of Olá. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Vicente Castrellón proudly shows his biofortified rice crop. The 69-year-old farmer provides technical advice to other farmers participating in the Agro Nutre programme in the central Panamanian district of Olá. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
PANAMA CITY, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

Panama is the first Latin American country to have adopted a national strategy to combat what is known as hidden hunger, with a plan aimed at eliminating micronutrient deficiencies among the most vulnerable segments of the population by means of biofortification of food crops.

The project began to get underway in 2006 and took full shape in August 2013, when the government launched the Agro Nutre Panamá programme, which coordinates the improvement of food quality among the poor, who are concentrated in rural and indigenous areas, by adding iron, vitamin A and zinc to seeds.

“We see biofortification as an inexpensive way to address the problem by means of staple foods that families consume on a daily basis,” Ismael Camargo, the coordinator of Agro Nutre, told IPS. Panama has pockets of poverty with high levels of micronutrient deficiencies, he explained.

In 2006 research began here into biofortification of maize; two years later beans were added to the programme; and in 2009 the research incorporated rice and sweet potatoes, as part of a plan that is backed by the National Secretariat of Science, Technology and Innovation.“We are producing three harvests a year, I provide technical support for other farmers. For now it’s for family consumption, but some grow more than they need and earn a little money selling the surplus." -- Vicente Castrellón

Panama’s Agricultural Research Institute and academic institutions are involved in Agro Nutre, which has the support of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), and Brazil’sn governmental agricultural research agency, Embrapa.

Some 4,000 of the country’s 48,000 subsistence level or family farmers are taking part in the current phase, planting biofortified seeds.

Adding micronutrients to staple foods in the Panamanian diet became a state policy in 2009. So far, five varieties of maize, four of rice and two of beans, all of them conventionally improved and with a high protein content, have been produced experimentally and approved for release.

“The project began in rural areas, because that is where the extreme poverty is, and where farmers produce for subsistence,” food engineer Omaris Vergara of the University of Panama told IPS.

She added that in this phase, “the commercialisation of these foods is not being considered – the aim is to improve the nutritional quality of the diets of family farmers.”

According to Vergara, the biggest hurdle for the expansion and growth of Agro Nutre is the lack of research infrastructure.

“The project is focused on vulnerable populations. Academic institutions will carry out impact studies, but they haven’t yet begun to do so because the studies are very costly,” said the engineer, who sees the lack of research facilities as the weak point of the project.

According to figures from Agro Nutre, of the 3.5 million people in this Central American country, one million live in rural areas. And of the rural population, half live in poverty and 22 percent in extreme poverty.

But the worst poverty in Panama is found among the 300,000 indigenous people who live in five counties, 90 percent of whom are poor.

Beans and rice in Olá

Isidra González, a 54-year-old small farmer, had never heard of improving the nutritional quality of food with micronutrients until she and her oldest son began five years ago to plant biofortified seeds on their small plot of land in the community of Hijos de Dios in the district of Olá, which is in the central province of Coclé.

Now the 70 families in that village next to the only road in the area produce biofortified crops: beans on small plots climbing tropical lush green hills and rice on nearby floodable land.

“I think these seeds are better and produce more. They grow with just half the amount of water,” González, who has been involved in the project since the experimental phase, told IPS. “People like these crops because they have more flavour and are really good – my kids eat our rice and beans with enthusiasm, you can tell,” she added, laughing.

Vicente Castrellón, a 69-year-old local farmer, plants improved seeds and became a community trainer to help farmers in the district.

“We are producing three harvests a year, I provide technical support for other farmers. For now it’s for family consumption, but some grow more than they need and earn a little money selling the surplus,” he told IPS.

“Life here is very expensive for farmers like us,” Castrellón said in Hijos de Díos, which is 250 km from Panama City, over three hours away by car.

He added that it was not easy for the families in Olá to switch over to biofortified seeds. “It took nearly a year to get them to join Agro Nutre,” he said. “But now people are excited because for every 10 pounds that are planted, they grow 100 to 200 pounds of grains,” he added, proudly pointing to the rice plants on his plot of land.

The inclusion of the fourth crop, sweet potatoes (Imopeas batata), was a strategic move, researcher Arnulfo Gutiérrez explained.

The sweet potato, which had nearly disappeared from the Panamanian diet, is the world’s fifth-largest crop in term of production and FAO is promoting its expansion worldwide. The incorporation of sweet potatoes in Panama has the aim of boosting consumption and in 2015 two or three improved varieties are to be released.

Luis Alberto Pinto, a FAO consultant, forms part of the Agro Nutre administrative committee and is the national technical coordinator in the first two indigenous counties where improved seeds are being used, Gnäbe Bugle and Guna Yala.


“We are working in four pilot communities,” he told IPS. “In Gnäbe Bugle we are working with 129 farmers in Cerro Mosquito and Chichica, and in Guna Yala we are working with 50 farmers on islands along the Caribbean coast.

“We work in accordance with their customs and cultures, incorporating these products in a manner that can be sustained in time,” Pinto said. “Our hope is to expand the project to all of the indigenous counties.”

Besides science and production, the project requires constant lobbying of legislators and government ministries, to keep alive the political commitment to biofortification as a state policy.

Eyra Mojica, WFP representative in Panama, told IPS it now seems normal to her to walk down the corridors of parliament and visit the offices of high-level ministry officials.

“We have worked in advocacy with legislators, directors, ministers and new authorities,” she said. “The issue of food security is so complex. The WFP has become the main support for supplying information on nutrition to the authorities. There is a great deal of ignorance.”

By 2015, the WFP hopes to introduce cassava and summer squash as new biofortified crops.

“We want to have a basket of seven biofortified foods,” Mojica said. “The idea is to move forward by incorporating small groups, of women farmers for example. We are also looking into working with the school lunch programme, starting next year.”

Biofortification of staple foods with micronutrients, to reduce hidden hunger, was developed by HarvestPlus, a programme coordinated by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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World Bank Tribunal Weighs Final Arguments in El Salvador Mining Disputehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/world-bank-tribunal-weighs-final-arguments-in-el-salvador-mining-dispute/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-tribunal-weighs-final-arguments-in-el-salvador-mining-dispute http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/world-bank-tribunal-weighs-final-arguments-in-el-salvador-mining-dispute/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 00:05:17 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136639 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

A multilateral arbitration panel here began final hearings Monday in a contentious and long-running dispute between an international mining company and the government of El Salvador.

An Australian mining company, OceanaGold, is suing the Salvadoran government for refusing to grant it a gold-mining permit that has been pending for much of the past decade. El Salvador, meanwhile, cites national laws and policies aimed at safeguarding human and environmental health, and says the project would threaten the country’s water supply.“This mining process would use some really poisonous substances – cyanide, arsenic – that would destroy the environment. Ultimately, the people suffer the consequences." -- Father Eric Lopez

The country also claims that OceanaGold has failed to comply with basic requirements for any gold-mining permitting. Further, in 2012, El Salvador announced that it would continue a moratorium on all mining projects in the country.

Yet using a controversial provision in a free trade agreement, OceanaGold has been able to sue El Salvador for profits – more than 300 million dollars – that the company says it would have made at the goldmine. The case is being heard before the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), an obscure tribunal housed in the Washington offices of the World Bank Group.

“The case threatens the sovereignty and self-determination” of El Salvador’s people, Hector Berrios, coordinator of MUFRAS-32, a member of the Salvadoran National Roundtable against Metallic Mining, said Monday in a statement. “The majority of the population has spoken out against this project and [has given its] priority to water.”

The OceanaGold project would involve a leaching process to recover small amounts of gold, using cyanide and, critics say, tremendous amounts of water. Those plans have made local communities anxious: the United Nations has already found that some 90 percent of El Salvador’s surface water is contaminated.

On Monday, a hundred demonstrators rallied in front of the World Bank building, both to show solidarity with El Salvador against OceanaGold and to express their scepticism of the ICSID process more generally. The events coincided with El Salvador’s Independence Day.

“We’re celebrating independence but what we’re really celebrating is dignity and the ability of every person to enjoy a good life, not only a few,” Father Eric Lopez, a Franciscan friar at a Washington-area church that caters to a sizable Salvadoran community, told IPS at the demonstration.

“This mining process would use some really poisonous substances – cyanide, arsenic – that would destroy the environment. Ultimately, the people suffer the consequences: they remain poor, they are sick, women’s pregnancies suffer.”

Provoking unrest?

The case’s jurisdictions are complicated and, for some, underscore the tenuousness of the ICSID’s arbitration process around the Salvador project.

It was another mining company, the Canada-based Pacific Rim, that originally discovered a potentially lucrative minerals deposit along the Lempa River in 2002. The business-friendly Salvadoran government at the time (since voted out of power) reportedly encouraged the company to apply for a permit, though public concern bogged down that process.

Frustrated by this turn of events, Pacific Rim filed a lawsuit against El Salvador under a provision of the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) that allowed companies to sue governments for impinging on their profits. While Canada, Pacific Rim’s home country, is not a member of DR-CAFTA, in 2009 the company created a subsidiary in the United States, which is.

In 2012, ICSID ruled that the lawsuit could continue, pointing to a provision in El Salvador’s investment law. The country’s laws have since been altered to prevent companies from circumventing the national judicial system in favour of extra-national arbiters like ICSID.

Last year, OceanaGold purchased Pacific Rim, despite the latter’s primary asset being the El Salvador gold-mining project, which has never been allowed to go forward. Although OceanaGold did not respond to a request for comment for this story, last year the company noted that it would continue with the arbitration case while also seeking “a negotiated resolution to the … permitting impasse”.

For its part, the Salvadoran government says it has halted the permitting process not only over environmental and health concerns but also over procedural matters. While these include Pacific Rim’s failure to abide by certain reporting requirements, the company also appears not to have gained important local approvals.

Under Salvadoran law, an extractive company needs to gain titles, or local permission, for any lands it wants to develop. Yet Pacific Rim had such access to just 13 percent of the lands covered by its proposal, according to Oxfam America, a humanitarian and advocacy group.

Given this lack of community support in a country with recent history of civil unrest, some warn that an ICSID decision in OceanaGold’s favour could result in violence.

“This mining project was re-opening a lot of the wounds that existed during the civil war, and telling a country that they have to provoke a civil conflict in order to satisfy investors is very troublesome,” Luke Danielson, a researcher and academic who studies social conflict around natural resource development, told IPS.

“The tribunal system exists to allow two interests to express themselves – the national government and the investor. But neither of these speak for communities, and that’s a fundamental problem.”

Wary of litigation

Bilateral and regional investment treaties such as DR-CAFTA have seen massive expansion in recent years. And increasingly, many of these include so-called “investor-state” resolution clauses of the type being used in the El Salvador case.

Currently some 2,700 agreements internationally have such clauses, ICSID reports. Meanwhile, although the tribunal has existed since the 1960s, its relevance has increased dramatically in recent years, mirroring the rise in investor-state clauses.

ISCID itself doesn’t decide on how to resolve such disputes. Rather, it offers a framework under which cases are heard by three external arbiters – one appointed by the investor, one by the state and one by both parties.

Yet outside of the World Bank headquarters on Monday, protesters expressed deep scepticism about the highly opaque ISCID process. Several said that past experience has suggested the tribunal is deeply skewed in favour of investors.

“This is a completely closed-door process, and this has meant that the tribunal can basically do whatever it wants,” Carla Garcia Zendejas director of the People, Land & Resources program at the Center for International Environmental Law, a watchdog group here, told IPS.

“Thus far, we have no examples of cases in which this body responded in favour of communities or reacted to basic human rights violations or basic environmental and social impact.”

Zendejas says the rise in investor-state lawsuits in recent years has resulted in many governments, particularly in developing countries, choosing to acquiesce in the face of corporate demand. Litigation is not only cumbersome but extremely expensive.

“Governments are increasingly wary of being sued, and therefore are more willing to accept and change polices or to ignore their own policies, even if there’s community opposition,” she says.

“Certain projects have seen resistance, but political pressure often depends on who’s in power. Unfortunately, the incorrect view that the only way for development to take place is through foreign investment is still very engrained in many of the powers that be.”

While there is no public timeframe for ISCID resolution on the El Salvador case, a decision is expected by the end of the year.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Salvadoran Farmers Stake Their Bets on Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/salvadoran-farmers-stake-their-bets-on-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=salvadoran-farmers-stake-their-bets-on-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/salvadoran-farmers-stake-their-bets-on-sustainable-development/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 15:54:24 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136603 Peasant farmer Brenda Arely Sánchez uses her machete to clear a blocked canal in the Cuche de Monte swamp in Jiquilisco bay on El Salvador’s Pacific coast. Sediment blocks the canals, endangering the mangrove ecosystem. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Peasant farmer Brenda Arely Sánchez uses her machete to clear a blocked canal in the Cuche de Monte swamp in Jiquilisco bay on El Salvador’s Pacific coast. Sediment blocks the canals, endangering the mangrove ecosystem. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
JIQUILISCO, El Salvador , Sep 12 2014 (IPS)

Peasant farmers from one of El Salvador’s most fragile coastal areas are implementing a model of sustainable economic growth that respects the environment and offers people education and security as keys to give the wetland region a boost.

The Mangrove Association has been carrying out the plan in the southern part of the eastern department of Usulután, in a region known as Bajo Lempa, for 14 years. A total of 86 farming and fishing communities on Jiquilisco bay are involved in the project.

The Bajo Lempa region is home to just under 148,000 people, according to the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources.

“We have worked with different actors, local groups, youth and environment committees, and park rangers to get this platform of local economic development off the ground,” Carmen Argueta, the president of the Mangrove Association, told Tierramérica.“For the first time, we peasant farmers, who are poor people, are producing improved seeds; the business used to only be for rich companies.” -- Héctor Antonio Mijango

Economic growth with a social focus, education and security are the three main focal points for the government of left-wing President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, in office since June.

And these are precisely the three elements that the communities of Bajo Lempa are focusing on in their sustainable development plan.

“Our project is in line with the government’s five-year plan, and we want it to know that this has worked for us – people can see the results,” Argueta said.

She added that they hoped to obtain government financing for some projects.

Respect and care for natural resources is essential for implementing this model of development, added the peasant farmer, who has been a rural community organiser for decades.

The 635-sq-km area around the bay is one of El Salvador’s main ecosystems, home to the majority of marine and coastal bird species in the country and the nesting grounds of four of the seven species of sea turtle, including the critically endangered hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata).

The area, peppered with mangroves, was added to the Ramsar list of wetlands of international importance in 2005. The Salvadoran state has also classified it as a protected natural area and biosphere reserve.

It is one of the parts of the country most prone to flooding during the rainy season – May through October – which means local crops and infrastructure are periodically destroyed, and human lives are even lost.

Three members of the La Maroma cooperative in El Salvador’s Bajo Lempa region care for sprouts from improved maize seeds. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Three members of the La Maroma cooperative in El Salvador’s Bajo Lempa region care for sprouts from improved maize seeds. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

To bolster economic development, some local communities have opted for diversification of agricultural production, leaving behind monoculture.

Some families have been producing pineapples and mangos, not only for their own consumption but also to bring in a cash income, however modest.

At the same time, aware of the need to protect the environment, local communities have carried out organic fertiliser projects, with the aim of gradually eliminating dependence on chemical fertilisers.

The Romero Production Centre in the village of Zamorán in the municipality of Jiquilisco produces Bokashi organic fertiliser using eggshells, ashes and other materials to provide a cheap, healthy alternative to chemical fertilisers.

In addition, the Xinachtli seed bank preserves seeds of basic grains, vegetables, forest and medicinal species since 2007. There is also a school of agriculture which promotes environmentally-friendly farming techniques.  Xinachtli is a Nauhatl word that means seed.

One of the most profitable undertakings for the small farmers grouped in six farming cooperatives is the production of certified maize seeds, which the government has acquired every year since 2011 to distribute to 400,000 farmers, as part of the Family Agriculture Plan.

Poor rural communities have thus become involved in the seed business, which was a private sector monopoly for years. An estimated 15,000 small farmers are now working in that area.

“For the first time, we peasant farmers, who are poor people, are producing improved seeds; the business used to only be for rich companies,” Héctor Antonio Mijango, a member of a cooperative in Jiquilisco, told Tierramérica, while pulling up maize sprouts from the soil, to allow the strongest to flourish.

The poverty rate in El Salvador, a country of 6.2 million people, is 34.5 percent overall, and 43.3 percent in rural areas, according to the 2013 Multiple Purpose Household Survey carried out by the general statistics and census office.

“The seed business is an important source of jobs and income for local families,” Manuel Antonio Durán, the president of the Nancuchiname Cooperative, told Tierramérica.

The cooperative, which has 8.3 sq km of land, produced 460,000 kg of improved seeds in the 2013-2014 harvest.

Aquaculture, especially shrimp farming, is another important business in the Bajo Lempa region.

“The aim is to go from artisanal shrimp farming to semi-intensive production, while respecting the environment,” the mayor of Jiquilisco, David Barahona, commented to Tierramérica. He is one of the local leaders most involved in the sustainable development plan in the area.

For weeks now El Salvador has been suffering from severe drought, and according to official estimates, some 400,000 tons of maize have been lost so far.

But the production of certified seeds in the Bajo Lempa region has not suffered the impact, thanks to irrigation systems.

The community organisers have also reached agreements with educational institutions such as the National University of El Salvador, and obtained scholarships for young people from the area. Some youngsters have completed their higher education studies and returned to the Bajo Lempa region to work.

“These are young people who weren’t involved in the wave of violence that is sweeping the country, because we have worked a great deal in prevention, with sports programmes, for example,” said Argueta.

The idea is to extend the efforts made in Bajo Lempa, which initially covered six municipalities in the area, to the entire region and put in practice the Lempa River Hydrographic Basin, involving 14 municipalities.

In August, Environment Minister Lina Pohl visited several Bajo Lempa communities to see firsthand what the communities and organisations are doing here.

“We cannot put forward ideas if we don’t first know what has been done in our country, what local people are doing, how they are organising to set forth their proposals and agendas,” the minister told Tierramérica.

The level of organisation in the area “is impressive” and is a model that could be replicated in other parts of the country,” she added.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Mexico’s Cocopah People Refuse to Disappearhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mexicos-cocopah-people-refuse-to-disappear/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-cocopah-people-refuse-to-disappear http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mexicos-cocopah-people-refuse-to-disappear/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 18:36:10 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136544 The Zanjón, the nucleus of the Alto Golfo de California y Delta del Río Colorado Biosphere Reserve in northwest Mexico, where the Cocopah have fished for a living for centuries. The restrictions on fishing condemn them to extinction. Credit: Courtesy of Prometeo Lucero

The Zanjón, the nucleus of the Alto Golfo de California y Delta del Río Colorado Biosphere Reserve in northwest Mexico, where the Cocopah have fished for a living for centuries. The restrictions on fishing condemn them to extinction. Credit: Courtesy of Prometeo Lucero

By Daniela Pastrana
EL MAYOR, Mexico , Sep 8 2014 (IPS)

In their language, Cocopah means “river people”. For over 500 years the members of this Amerindian group have lived along the lower Colorado River and delta in the Mexican states of Baja California and Sonora and the U.S. state of Arizona.

They fish and make crafts for a living, have strong family ties, and are united by their Kurikuri or rituals and funeral ceremonies – and, now, by the struggle to keep from disappearing, in a battle led by their women. Today, the Cocopah number just over 1,300 people, most of whom live in Arizona.

“I’m Hilda Hurtado Valenzuela. I’m a fisherwoman. And I am Cocopah,” says the president of the Cocopah Indigenous People Cooperative Society.

She and other women of this community introduce themselves this way at an assembly attended by IPS, held to discuss the federal government’s promise to finally consult them about a fishing ban which took away their livelihood and practically condemns them to extinction.“The case of the Cocopah is an example of how ultra-conservationist policies can endanger the existence of a native community.” -- Lawyer Yacotzin Bravo

“No government has the right to take our habitat from us,” Hurtado told IPS during a visit to the El Mayor Cocopah Indigenous Community, where the Red de Periodistas de a Pie (Journalists on Foot Network) and the Mexican Commission for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights are carrying out a project for the protection of human rights defenders, financed by the European Union.

In May, the 61-year-old Hurtado, a mother of four and grandmother of 10, sat down on the road connecting the port of San Felipe on the Gulf of California with Mexicali, the capital of the state of Baja California, which abuts the U.S., and refused to budge until the federal government formalised its promise to hold a consultation with the local communities.

“The government agreed to do something that it should have done 25 years ago,” said the lawyer Ricardo Rivera de la Torre of the Citizens Commission of Human Rights of the Northwest, an organisation that has been documenting violations of civil rights in Baja California since 2004.

Rivera de la Torre and Raúl Ramírez Baena took the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2008.

“The government violated the Cocopah’s people’s right to consultation as outlined in the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169,” which Mexico ratified in 1990, said Ramírez Baena.

ILO Convention 169 Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples requires prior consultation of local indigenous communities before any project is authorised on their land.

But in 1993, without any prior consultation, the government decreed the creation of the Alto Golfo de California y Delta del Río Colorado Biosphere Reserve. The nucleus of the reserve is the Zanjón, where the Cocopah have fished for the Gulf weakfish (Cynoscion othonopterus) for centuries.

The Gulf weakfish lay their eggs between February and May in shallow waters in the Gulf of California where the states of Sonora and Baja California meet, and the fish are widely sold during Lent, when Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays.

After the biosphere reserve was created, a Reserve Management Plan was adopted in 1995, along with a string of laws and regulations – such as the Law on Ecological Balance and a fishing quota and ban – which restricted the fishing activities of the Cocopah to levels that have made it impossible for them to make a living.

“The case of the Cocopah is an example of how ultra-conservationist policies can endanger the existence of a native community,” said Yacotzin Bravo, another lawyer with the Citizens Commission of Human Rights of the Northwest.

A group of Cocopah women in the Indiviso ejido, in the El Mayor Cocopah Indigenous Community in the Mexican state of Baja California, during an assembly where they discussed how to carry out a consultation on reforming the regulations and laws that limit their fishing in the biosphere reserve. Credit: Courtesy of Prometeo Lucero

A group of Cocopah women in the Indiviso ejido, in the El Mayor Cocopah Indigenous Community in the Mexican state of Baja California, during an assembly where they discussed how to carry out a consultation on reforming the regulations and laws that limit their fishing in the biosphere reserve. Credit: Courtesy of Prometeo Lucero

The Mexican constitution defines indigenous people as the descendants of the populations that inhabited the area before the state was formed and who preserve their ancestral cultural or economic institutions.

Article 2 of the constitution establishes that native people have “preferential access” to the nation’s natural assets.

“Indigenous rights are the rights of peoples,” expert in indigenous law Francisco López Bárcenas told IPS. “Not of persons, not of municipalities, not of rural communities. With respect to indigenous rights, we are talking about the appropriation of territory, which is necessary for a people to be able to exist as such.

“They depend for a living on fishing, on a close relationship with their natural surroundings. It’s not only about money. First, as a result of the laws on agriculture, their territories were shrunk to small spaces, and now their main livelihood activity is reduced. And if they can’t fish, they have to go to other parts to find work,” he said.

Every year, just after the waning moon, the weakfish begin their migration to the shallow waters of the Colorado River delta, and fishing season starts.

The Cocopah go to sea in their “pangas” or fishing boats and sit quietly until they hear the weakfish and throw their “chinchorros” or nets. The Cocopah capture between 200 and 500 tons of fish per season.

“What the government has done with us is segregation,” Juana Aguilar González, the president of the El Mayor Cocopah Rural Production Society, told Tierramérica. “They know that we Indians don’t threaten the environment.”

The Cocopah are not the only ones who catch weakfish. There are also two non-indigenous cooperatives in the area – San Felipe in Baja California and Santa Clara in Sonora – with a fishing capacity 10 times greater, according to statistics from the governmental National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO).

The weakfish “captured by the Cocopah are approximately 10 percent of the recommended quota, which shows that the fishing done by that indigenous community, even if they fish in the nucleus of the reserve, does not hurt the ecological balance or threaten the species with extinction,” says recommendation 8/2002 of the National Human Rights Commission addressed to the ministries of the environment and agriculture.

“The decree creating the reserve changed our lives,” Mónica González, the daughter of the late Cocopah governor Onésimo González, said sadly. “Now, instead of being busy organising our dances, we have to be worried about the legal action, the trials, confiscations and arrests.”

The Cocopah, descendants of the Yumano people, are one of the five surviving indigenous groups in Baja California.

In the 17th century, some 22,000 Cocopah were living in the Colorado River delta. Today there are only 1,000 in the Cocopah Indian Reservation in the southwest corner of Arizona, and just over 300 in Mexico, in Baja California and Sonora, according to the governmental National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) , Cocopah is an endangered language. There are only 10 Cocopah speakers still alive. Years ago one of them, 44-year- old Mónica González, began to make an effort to revive the language.

“Sometimes I think our leaders talk about the Cocopah as if we had already died, but we are alive and still putting up a struggle,” she told IPS.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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Latin America’s Anti-drug Policies Feed on the Poorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/latin-americas-anti-drug-policies-feed-on-the-poor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-americas-anti-drug-policies-feed-on-the-poor http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/latin-americas-anti-drug-policies-feed-on-the-poor/#comments Fri, 05 Sep 2014 00:46:50 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136516 Rosa Julia Leyva, to the left, with other participants in the Drugs and Social Inclusion panel at the Fifth Latin American Conference on Drug Policies, held in San José, Costa Rica. She spent 12 years in prison for smuggling a small stash of heroin in a bag that a friend gave her to carry. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Rosa Julia Leyva, to the left, with other participants in the Drugs and Social Inclusion panel at the Fifth Latin American Conference on Drug Policies, held in San José, Costa Rica. She spent 12 years in prison for smuggling a small stash of heroin in a bag that a friend gave her to carry. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Sep 5 2014 (IPS)

Poor young men, slumdwellers and single mothers are hurt the most by anti-drug policies in Latin America, according to representatives of governments, social organisations and multilateral bodies meeting at the Fifth Latin American Conference on Drug Policies.

During the Sept. 3-4 conference held in San José, Costa Rica, activists, experts and decision-makers from throughout the region demanded reforms of these policies, to ease the pressure on vulnerable groups and shift the focus of law enforcement measures to those who benefit the most from the drug trade.

Today things are backwards – the focus is on “the small fish” rather than “the big fish”, Paul Simons, the executive secretary of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), told IPS.

The proposals set forth during the meeting recommended an overhaul of the legal systems in Latin America, to reduce incarceration and establish sentences proportionate to minor crimes. The participants argued that laws and the justice systems should focus on cracking down on the big interests involved in drug trafficking.

They also recommended that amounts for legal personal possession should be established, along with measures such as the decriminalisation of some drugs or the creation of markets controlled by the state, along the lines of what Uruguay is doing in the case of marijuana.

The current policies give rise to cases like that of Rosa Julia Leyva, an indigenous Mexican woman who now works in the Mexican interior ministry’s National Commission on Security.

Leyva was imprisoned in 1993 for carrying a woven bag with a small package of heroin, which was given to her by a friend who paid her plane ticket in exchange for help with her baggage. It was the first time she had ever left the Petatlán mountains in the southwest state of Guerrero. Until her arrest, she told IPS, she thought she was carrying money or clothes.

At the time, she was the prototype of the women who are constantly thrown into Latin American prisons for drug smuggling: an illiterate 29-year-old, the mother of a five-year-old daughter, sentenced to a quarter century in prison for possession of heroin.“I’m just a poor woman who went through something very difficult. I had nothing to do with drugs and I never could have imagined that they would give me 25 years for drug trafficking. They made out like I was a big drug smuggler and I didn’t even speak Spanish.” --Rosa Julia Leyva


The Organisation of American States (OAS) reports that 70 percent of the female prison population in the region was incarcerated for drug possession.

“I’m just a poor woman who went through something very difficult,” Leyva says. “I had nothing to do with drugs and I never could have imagined that they would give me 25 years for drug trafficking. They made out like I was a big drug smuggler and I didn’t even speak Spanish.”

“I think the law should be more specific in these things,” said Leyva, who also makes crafts. She managed to get her sentence reduced to 13 years, of which she served just over 12. Now she gives theatre classes in Mexican prisons.

In the world’s most unequal region, the prisons are packed full of poor people, while white collar criminals are much less likely to be brought to justice, said experts participating in the “Drugs and Social Inclusion” panel during the conference.

This imbalance and overcrowding of the prisons could change, they said, if the courts and prison systems made the effort.

“We want to see who is brought before the courts, and look into options for people who are not violent and who have committed minor crimes, as consumers, drug mules [who smuggle small quantities] or people who committed the crime to feed themselves and their families,” Simons told IPS.

“They are the small fish, like bus drivers or mules, who smuggle small quantities without any violence in a region full of contrasts,” said the head of CICAD, which forms part of the OAS. “We want to see if there is a way for these people not to be caught up in the prison cycle.”

In a region where 10 of the most unequal countries in the world are located, “drug policies must be reformulated,” said Yoriko Yasukawa, resident coordinator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Costa Rica.

The proportionality of sentences in cases like Leyva’s was a recurrent theme among the experts, who called for a “more just” legal system in line with the real damage caused by people convicted of drug-related crimes.

“Sometimes the punishment is comparable to the penalties for homicide or other serious crimes,” Argentine social worker Graciela Touzé told IPS.

“It is not similar to the damage caused, and the punishment can’t be similar either, although that does not mean that they shouldn’t be held accountable,” added the president of the Intercambios Asociación Civil, an organisation based in Buenos Aires.

Social cost

During the regional conference, speakers were adamant in their criticism of the social costs of repressive anti-drug policies.

Costa Rica’s minister of public security, Celso Gamboa, explained that the people arrested in his country in the first eight months of 2014 included fishermen, flight attendants and drivers who were drawn into drug smuggling by poverty.

“The blows to drug trafficking structures have focused on the most vulnerable parts, which leads us to conclude that much of the fight against drugs in Costa Rica and the rest of Latin America fuels the criminalisation of poverty,” he said.

“The question is: where are the investigations enabling us to reach the white collar structures and those who hold the real power?” said Gamboa, a former prosecutor from the Caribbean province of Limón, where he was involved in hundreds of drug trafficking cases.

Above and beyond the complicated situation in the prisons, civil society organisations insisted that anti-drug policies are marked by inequality. For that reason, activists said, drug consumers and young people are punished more harshly.

But the different proposals for redressing the imbalance sometimes clash.

Gamboa believes in tackling the drug problem with an economics-based approach that goes after the big fish who hold the real money, while Zara Snapp, of the Mexican Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, says the best way to reduce the number of civilian victims of the drug trade is by creating a market in Mexico regulated by the state.

“The inequality does not mean that there isn’t a lot that we can do, because we still have many resources, it’s just that we channel them into the militarisation of the struggle and into law enforcement, rather than towards creating opportunities for the vulnerable populations,” the Mexican activist, who also forms part of the non-governmental Mexican Commission for the Promotion of Human Right, told IPS.

“The only thing that approach does is to create fertile ground for recruitment by organised crime,” she said.

It is poor young men and women who pay the cost. According to the OAS, the prevalence of consumption of “pasta base” or cocaine paste is 1.8 percent overall, but 8.0 percent among young people in poverty.

The stigma surrounding the use of pasta base accentuates their marginalisation and further limits their opportunities, according to the Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Women – the Pillar of the Social Struggle in Chile’s Patagonia Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/women-the-pillar-of-the-social-struggle-in-chiles-patagonia-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-the-pillar-of-the-social-struggle-in-chiles-patagonia-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/women-the-pillar-of-the-social-struggle-in-chiles-patagonia-region/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 13:23:51 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136498 Miriam Chible, second on the left, with her partner Patricio Segura, two of her daughters and one of her grandchildren outside the door of her restaurant in Coyhaique, in Chile’s Patagonia region, where she puts into practice her objectives of sustainable locally-based development. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Miriam Chible, second on the left, with her partner Patricio Segura, two of her daughters and one of her grandchildren outside the door of her restaurant in Coyhaique, in Chile’s Patagonia region, where she puts into practice her objectives of sustainable locally-based development. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
COYHAIQUE, Chile , Sep 4 2014 (IPS)

In few places in Chile are women the pillars of community, grassroots rural and environmental movements as they are in the southern wilderness region of Patagonia. It is a social role that history forced them to assume in this remote part of the country.

“Patagonian women had to give birth without hospitals, they had to raise their children when this territory was inhospitable,” social activist Claudia Torres told IPS. “And they also had to take on the responsibility of the social organisation of the communities that began to emerge.”

“The men worked with livestock or in logging and they would leave twice a year for four or five months at a time. So the women got used to organising themselves and not depending on men, in case they didn’t come back.”

Women in this region not only raise their families and run the household but also shoulder the tasks of producing and managing food and natural resources – raising livestock, growing and selling fruit and vegetables, collecting firewood – used to heat homes and cook – and making and selling crafts.

The region of Aysén, whose capital, Coyhaique, is 1,630 km south of Santiago, is the heart of Chilean Patagonia. It is home to 91,492 people, of whom 43,315 are women, according to the last official census, from 2002.

According to Torres, “70 or 80 percent of community, grassroots rural and environmental leaders and activists” are women, who were the core of the month-long mass protests that broke out in Aysén in 2012, posing a major challenge to the government of rightwing President Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014).
The Aysén uprising began on Feb. 18, 2012, after months of demands for better support for development in this isolated region and subsidies for the high cost of living in an area lacking in infrastructure and subject to low temperatures and inclement weather.“This is a region of enterprising women who are seeking a development model on a human scale, focused on an appreciation of the binational culture that we share with Argentine Patagonia, and on our own kind of development that puts a priority on the use of local raw materials.” -- Miriam Chible

“There were nights when it seemed like we were in a war,” said Torres, who helped reveal, in her programme on the Santa María radio station, the harsh crackdowns on the demonstrators in Coyhaique and Puerto Aysén, the second-largest city in the region.

For 45 days Torres broadcast coverage, night and day, on what was happening in the region. “There were accounts from people who were beaten, shot, arrested, women who were stripped naked in front of male police officers,” she said.

In her coverage of the protests, Torres saw local women taking on a central role in the demonstrations against the central government’s neglect of the region.

“It was women who were leading the roadblocks, organising the marches, the canteen, the resistance, caring for the injured,” she said. She was referring to the movement brought to an end by the government’s promise to listen to the region’s demands – although two and a half years later, “it has only lived up to 15 percent of what was agreed.”

The 40-year-old Torres, who studied design and tourism, started to work in the media in Caleta Tortel, the southernmost town in Aysén. She worked at a community radio station there, but her opposition to the HidroAysén project, which would have built five enormous hydropower dams on wilderness rivers in Patagonia, forced her into “exile”.

“We were activists, and we produced a programme informing people about Endesa [the Italian-Spanish company that was going to build the dams] and reporting on dams in other parts of Chile and the world. But it had political costs and I lost my job. I came back to Coyhaique without work, without anything,” said the married mother of two.

Torres, who describes herself as “Patagonian, messy, foul-mouthed, disheveled, ugly and happy,” continued the struggle against the dams and is now on the Patagonia Defence Council, which finally won the fight against HidroAysén when the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet cancelled the project on Jun. 10.

Now Torres is the owner of a gift shop and forms part of the Aysén Life Reserve project, focused on achieving sustainable development in the region by capitalising on its wild beauty and untrammeled wilderness by preserving rather than destroying it.

Mirtha Sánchez, a 65-year-old obstinate smoker, told IPS that life here is better now than when she was a little girl.

“I was five years old when I came to Coyhaique to live, and then I moved with my mother to Puerto Aysén, where she opened a boarding house that catered to workers,” Sánchez, who sees the strong role played by Patagonian women as a regional trademark, told IPS.

A decade ago she sold her business in Puerto Aysén and moved back to Coyhaique. She now runs a hostel that only brings in income in certain seasons.

“I thought it would be more restful, but it wasn’t,” she complained. “This region has changed radically. The nouveau riche, with created interests, have arrived,” she added, refusing to elaborate.

She defends the 1973-1990 military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet), saying “Aysén started to improve in that period, and it has gone downhill in recent years.”

Miriam Chible, 58, disagrees with that assessment. She believes the region “has only good things to offer.”

Chible is an example of Patagonia’s women leaders. She told IPS that when she was widowed, she and her four children successfully ran a restaurant that is not only the leading eatery today in Coyhaique but is also an example of sustainable development.

She works tirelessly for the region to achieve energy and food sovereignty, forms part of the Presidential Advisory Commission for Regional Development and Decentralisation established by Bachelet in May, and participates in initiatives to create a model of alternative economic development for Aysén.

“I’m not an expert in anything, but I care, I’m an involved citizen,” said Chible. Her new partner is also a social activist, who goes around the country drumming up support for Aysén’s demands for respect for its right to development free of invasive and destructive projects.

“Sometimes people ask me ‘how’s your issue going, the dam thing?’ and they’re wrong, because it’s not ‘my issue’. Excessive industrialisation in the region of Aysén will hurt us all, which is why we have to fight to stop it,” she said.

Her three daughters and one son share the work of purchasing food, serving the tables, and running the restaurant. One of her daughters also manages a small ski rental and tour business.

The hard work has borne fruit: the ‘Histórico Ricer’ restaurant is one of the best-known businesses in the region, and its quality locally-based products are celebrated by locals and outsiders alike.

“This is a region of enterprising women,” said Chible, “women who are seeking a development model on a human scale, focused on an appreciation of the binational culture that we share with Argentine Patagonia, and on our own kind of development that puts a priority on the use of local raw materials.”

“That’s what we’re working towards, and that’s where we’re headed,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Mass Deportations Don’t Squelch Migration Dreams of Honduranshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mass-deportations-dont-squelch-hondurans-migration-dreams/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mass-deportations-dont-squelch-hondurans-migration-dreams http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mass-deportations-dont-squelch-hondurans-migration-dreams/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 08:09:47 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136463 Red Cross volunteers board a bus bringing back deported child and adult migrants at the Honduran border in Corinto, to check how they are and provide them with a bag of essentials. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Red Cross volunteers board a bus bringing back deported child and adult migrants at the Honduran border in Corinto, to check how they are and provide them with a bag of essentials. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
CORINTO, Honduras , Sep 3 2014 (IPS)

The clock marks 9 AM when a bus coming from the Mexican city of Tapachula reaches Corinto, on the border between Honduras and Guatemala. It is the first bus of the day, carrying children and their families sent back from a failed attempt at making it across the border into the United States.

The bus is carrying 19 children between the ages of five and 12, six women and seven men, all of them families. The trip took 10 hours. A team of volunteers from Red Cross Honduras, supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), meets them and climbs aboard to provide them with bags of essentials.

It is the first stop the bus will make in Honduras, in the northwestern department or province of Cortés.

Its destination is the nearby city of San Pedro Sula, where they will be censused in a government shelter and given a bag of food and a small amount of money to help them return to their homes. The authorities don’t allow journalists to interview, photograph or film the minors.“It’s awful to see people killed or just left lying there, people from your country. Things are really ugly there, I’m relieved to be back because I’m alive, others aren’t, they were killed by the criminals and some were thrown off the train. I saw all that and it feels really bad.” -- Daniela Díaz

But this IPS reporter is allowed to get on the bus, where I see the sad, exhausted faces of the children. Their parents or other relatives look down into their laps, to hide their pain, defeat and sense of impotence.

Today, four busloads of deported immigrants – two of which carry children as well as adults – totaling 152 people come through customs at Corinto. The flow is steady, although minors only arrive, alone or accompanied, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

“The buses bring an average of 30 to 38 people,” Yahely Milla, a volunteer with the Red Cross team, explains to IPS. She says “the mass deportation of minors started in April,” and in May and June, when the crisis of unaccompanied Central American child immigrants broke out in the United States, up to 15 buses a day were arriving.

“Children from the age of three months to 10 years, some of them alone and others accompanied by their parents, came one time; it had a big impact on us because we hadn’t seen so many deportations since we have been here at the border,” she said.

Corinto is 362 km from the capital, Tegucigalpa. It is one of the main areas along the border used by Hondurans heading north on the migration route to the United States. There are at least 80 “blind spots” used by migrants to cross the border into Guatemala before continuing on to Mexico and, if they’re lucky, to the United States.

The authorities have beefed up controls along the border, which has slightly curbed the exodus.

Institutions are practically nonexistent here and the only support for deported migrants comes from the Red Cross and the ICRC, which has been operating in this town for about two years.

The only time the government made an appearance, people here say, was in July, when the deportations spiked and Ana Hernández, the wife of president Juan Orlando Hernández, came to receive a group of children.

Over a month later, the promised camps have not yet been built, and there isn’t even a toilet at the bus stop for the deportees to use.

Between buses, Mauricio Paredes, the head of the Red Cross at the Corinto post, explained to IPS how the reception centre works. The magnitude of the humanitarian crisis has made it necessary to ration the aid.

For children there are disposable diapers, water, baby bottles and IV saline solution, while the adults are given water, toilet paper, toothpaste and toothbrushes, sanitary pads for women and razors for men. They are also allowed a three-minute call to phone their families.

At the crowded government shelter in San Pedro Sula, deported families with children receive instructions for being censused and for the return to their home villages and towns. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

At the crowded government shelter in San Pedro Sula, deported families with children receive instructions for being censused and for the return to their home villages and towns. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The sun is beating down five hours later when the next bus comes, from the Mexican town of Acayuca. It brings 38 immigrants, including adolescents and adults.

One of them, 19-year-old Daniela Díaz, calls her mother to tell her that she is back from her second attempt to reach the United States. She then tells IPS about her odyssey.

“I set out on this journey nine months ago and although it’s my second try, I was still shocked by what I saw,” she says.

“This time I managed to get up on The Beast [the Mexican cargo train used by migrants, who ride on top of the wagons], but horrible things happen there. I saw women raped, I saw how the coyotes [migrant smugglers] sell people to criminal bands,” she says, speaking with long pauses.

“It’s awful to see people killed or just left lying there, people from your country. Things are really ugly there, I’m relieved to be back because I’m alive, others aren’t, they were killed by the criminals and some were thrown off the train. I saw all that and it feels really bad,” she says with a broken voice.

“What you go through is so tough that I almost have no tears left. I went out of need, because there’s no work here, my family is very poor, sometimes we eat, sometimes we don’t, we are five brothers and sisters, I’m the youngest and the most rebellious, my mom says,” adds the young woman who is from Miramesí, a poor neighbourhood in the capital.

But despite her experiences, she says she’s going to try it again. “Going to the United States is my dream, and I’ll do it even if I die in the attempt,” she says, while getting ready to hitchhike – or walk – back to the capital, because she came back without a cent.

The deportees return like Díaz – without money and with a broken dream.

Poverty and violent crime are the main factors driving Hondurans to attempt the dangerous trek to the United States, experts say. Between October 2013 and May 2014, an estimated 13,000 unaccompanied Honduran minors reached the United States.

In the first six months of this year, some 30,000 Hondurans were deported by the United States and Mexico, according to the governmental Centro de Atención al Migrante Retornado (Reception Centre for Returned Migrants).

David López, 18, comes from Copán Ruinas in the western department of Copán, one of the “hot spots” in the country, where organised crime flourishes.

That is what he was fleeing. But he came back frightened, defeated and frustrated. He was assaulted twice by criminal bands that operate along the migration route. “I left because it’s not safe to live here anymore, you see things that it’s better not to talk about. I told myself, it’s time to leave the countryside, and I came back defeated, yes alive!…but defeated,” he tells IPS with a pained voice.

His aquiline features crumple as he remembers the assaults, the abuse, the drought and the hunger he survived.

“I thought the paths life took you on were different, but this is really tough,” he says. “I’m ashamed to go home because I failed this time. But I’ll try again, when things have calmed down along the border.”

In August alone some 19,000 deportees were brought back to the country through Corinto – as many as arrived in all of 2013, Paredes said.

This Central American nation of 8.4 million, where 65 percent of households are poor, is also one of the most violent countries in the world, with a homicide rate of 79.7 per 100,000 population, according to the Honduran Observatory on Violence.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Growing Calls for Reforms of El Salvador’s Privatised Pension Systemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/growing-calls-for-reforms-of-el-salvadors-privatised-pension-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=growing-calls-for-reforms-of-el-salvadors-privatised-pension-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/growing-calls-for-reforms-of-el-salvadors-privatised-pension-system/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 18:24:22 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136420 Manuel Campos, a 56-year-old taxi driver, is not covered by either the public or private pension system in El Salvador. His only hope is that his children will support him in his old age. Credit: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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