Inter Press Service » Latin America & the Caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sun, 04 Dec 2016 16:08:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 Fidel Castro, a Larger-than-Life Leader in Tumultuous Timeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/fidel-castro-an-extraordinary-leader-in-tumultuous-times/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fidel-castro-an-extraordinary-leader-in-tumultuous-times http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/fidel-castro-an-extraordinary-leader-in-tumultuous-times/#comments Thu, 01 Dec 2016 15:51:59 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148033 The urn holding the ashes of Fidel Castro is seen covered by a Cuban flag on a military jeep on Nov. 30, at the start of an 800-km funeral procession that will reach a cemetery in Santiago de Cuba on Dec. 4. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The urn holding the ashes of Fidel Castro is seen covered by a Cuban flag on a military jeep on Nov. 30, at the start of an 800-km funeral procession that will reach a cemetery in Santiago de Cuba on Dec. 4. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

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

Among the many leaders who left their mark on history in the 20th century, Fidel Castro – who died Nov. 25 at the age of 90 – stood out for propelling Cuba into a global role that was unexpectedly prominent for a small country, in an era when arms were frequently taken up to settle national and international disputes.

The Cold War imposed certain political choices as well as the consequences in terms of hostilities. By choosing Communism as its path in 1961, two years after the triumph of the revolution, Cuba became a pawn that infiltrated the enemy chessboard, facing the risks posed by such a vulnerable and threatening position.

In Latin America, the “Western, Christian” side mainly degenerated into military dictatorships, nearly all of them anti-Communist and with direct links to the United States, with a few exceptions like the progressive government of General Juan Velasco Alvarado in Peru (1968-1975).

On the other side, guerrilla movements supported or stimulated by Cuba, like the 1966-1967 incursion led by Argentine-Cuban revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara in Bolivia, mushroomed. The military defeat of these movements was a general, but not absolute, rule.

For example, there was the Sandinista triumph in Nicaragua in 1979, and in Colombia the half-decade conflict raged until this year, when a peace deal was finally signed by the government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebels.

The armed conflicts were not limited to the countries of Latin America. The Vietnam war shook the world in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Communist victory over U.S. forces prevented another country from being split in two, like Korea or Germany.

In Africa, the decolonisation of some countries cost rivers of blood. Algeria, for example, won its independence from France in 1962 after a war that left a death toll of 1.5 million, according to the Algerians, or just over one-third of that number, according to the French.

Against this backdrop, Castro led an incredible set of accomplishments that earned Cuba a projection and influence far out of proportion to the size of a country of fewer than 10 million people up to 1980 and 11.2 million today.

He fomented and trained guerrilla movements that challenged governments and armed forces in several countries of Latin America. Many felt Cuba offered an alternative, more authentic, brand of Communism that contrasted with the Soviet Union’s, which was seen as bureaucratic, based on repression, even of other peoples, and by then bereft of revolutionary zeal.

The defence of social equality, the top priority put on children, advances in education and health, and solidarity with oppressed peoples or nations hit by tragedies around the world are attractive components of Cuba’s style of Communism, despite its dictatorial nature.

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans took part in the mammoth rally held Nov. 29 to pay homage to the late Fidel Castro in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución, attended by leaders from every continent. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans took part in the mammoth rally held Nov. 29 to pay homage to the late Fidel Castro in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución, attended by leaders from every continent. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños

It was not democracy – a value not highly respected decades ago, not even by the propagandists of freedom in the Western world, who also disseminated, or were linked to, dictatorships.

Cuban troops and doctors spread in large numbers throughout Africa and Latin America, in campaigns providing support and assistance, on some occasions playing a central role.

The action abroad that had the greatest impact was in Angola, where Cuba’s military aid was decisive in the country’s successful bid for independence, by cutting off the advance of South African troops that almost reached Luanda in the attempt to prevent the birth of the new nation, which occurred on Nov. 11, 1975.

For decades, Cuban troops were in Angola training the military and strengthening national defence, along with the Cuban doctors and teachers who helped care for and teach a new generation of Angolans.

The operation in Angola showed that Cuba was more than a mere pawn of the former Soviet Union. On May 27, 1977 there was an attempted coup d’etat by a faction of the governing Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), led by Nito Alves.

Loyal to then President Agostinho Neto, the Cubans helped block the coup. They retook the main radio station in Luanda, which had been occupied by rebels, and returned it to government control. It was a Cuban voice fheard over the radio announcing the success of the operation.

The Soviets were on the side of the coup plotters, according to Angola’s leaders of the time. Diplomats from Moscow were expelled from the country, as were members of the Communist Party of Portugal.

A worse fate was suffered by the followers of Nito Alves accused of participating in the uprising: thousands of them were shot and killed. The number of victims has never been confirmed.

More recently, tens of thousands of Cuban doctors have spread a humane image of Cuba throughout Latin America, after they did so in many African countries. Thousands of them have worked in Venezuela since late president Hugo Chavez first took power in 1999. In Brazil, more than 11,000 Cuban doctors have been providing healthcare in poor and remote areas since 2013.

The Cuban revolution and its achievements are inextricably intertwined with the figure of Fidel Castro, whose leadership was so dominating that he probably would not have needed the rules of his political regime to constantly assert his power and authority over all activities in Cuba.

“Why hold elections?” many Cubans used to argue, in response to the frequent criticism of how long the Castro administration remained in power, without submitting itself to a real vote.

The impression is that his leadership was excessive, that it went far beyond the limits of the Caribbean island nation. His capacity for action was reflected in working meetings held in the wee hours of the morning, as well as in his meetings with visiting leaders.

His hours-long speeches were also delivered abroad, when he visited countries governed by friends, such as Chile in 1971 – governed at the time by socialist President Salvador Allende (1970-1973) – and Angola in 1977, under President Agostinho Neto.

“They don’t have a Fidel,” said Cubans in Angola, to criticise and explain errors committed by the government there, lamenting the lack of such an infallible leader as theirs, in a country whose development they were trying to support.

A product and subject of an era marked by the Cold War, Castro seemed destined to cause controversy, as a historic figure praised by some and condemned as a despot by others. But his political legacy will wane if Communism does not find a way to reconcile with democracy.

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Subway Will Modernise – and Further Gentrify – Historic Centre of Quitohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/subway-will-modernise-and-further-gentrify-historical-centre-of-quito/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=subway-will-modernise-and-further-gentrify-historical-centre-of-quito http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/subway-will-modernise-and-further-gentrify-historical-centre-of-quito/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 13:44:10 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148017 In the Plaza de San Francisco, where the church and convent of the same name stand, fences have blocked off the construction site for the Quito subway for months, as work has been stalled while archaeological finds are assessed. Quito’s historic centre is the biggest in Latin America. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

In the Plaza de San Francisco, where the church and convent of the same name stand, fences have blocked off the construction site for the Quito subway for months, as work has been stalled while archaeological finds are assessed. Quito’s historic centre is the biggest in Latin America. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
QUITO, Nov 30 2016 (IPS)

Success can kill, when it comes to cities. Spain’s Barcelona is facing problems due to the number of tourists that it attracts. And the historic centre of Ecuador’s capital city, Quito, a specially preserved architectural jewel, is losing its local residents as it gentrifies.

This paradox was pointed out by Fernando Carrión, president of the Latin American and Caribbean Organisation of Historic Centres (OLACCHI) and a professor at the Latin American Social Sciences Institute (FLACSO) in Ecuador.

“Quito’s historic centre lost 42 per cent of its population over the last 15 years, a period in which it gained better monuments and lighting, and became cleaner,” he said. According to official census figures, the population of the old city dropped from 58,300 in 1990 to 50,982 in 2001 and 40,587 in 2010.“The subway is a good solution, which will reduce the use of private buses that pollute, and will help solve congestion in a city where the traffic passes through the north-south corridor.” -- Julio Echeverría

The effort to revitalise the historic centre was based on a “monumentalist policy,” on the restoration of churches and large buildings, which led to a process of gentrification, driving up housing prices and the conversion of residential into commercial property and pushing out low-income residents, he told IPS.

“I fear that the subway will drive away more people,” exacerbating the tendency, he added.

Two stations of the first subway line in Quito started to be built in 2013 by the Spanish company Acciona. “Phase two”, the construction of a 22-kilometre tunnel and 13 other stations, got underway in January 2016 and is to be completed by July 2019.

The consortium that won the bid is made up of Acciona and Odebrecht, Brazil’s largest construction company, which has built subway lines in several Latin American countries.

Only one station, in the Plaza de San Francisco, will be located in the historic centre. “Projections estimate that 42,000 passengers per day will pass through that station,” that is to say that “with the subway the same number of people will arrive but by a different means of transport,” Mauricio Anderson, the general manager of the Quito Subway Public Metropolitan Company (EPMMQ), told IPS.

Underground transport “will reduce traffic congestion, vibrations and pollution” by replacing cars and buses, he said.

The aim of the new mass transport system is to improve the quality of life of people in Quito, by reducing travel time, generating socioeconomic inclusion of people in the lower-income outlying neighbourhoods, saving fuel, cutting the number of accidents and creating a cleaner environment, according to EPMMQ.

“Each day about 400,000 people in Quito will use this system,” said Anderson. “This will help optimise other services and increase the average travel speed in Quito, which for surface transport is now 13 kilometres per hour, and by subway will be 37 kilometres per hour.”

A dedicated lane system trolley bus and one of its stations, in Ecuador’s capital. Critics of the subway in Quito argue that it would be better for the city to extend and improve the tramways. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A dedicated lane system trolley bus and one of its stations, in Ecuador’s capital. Critics of the subway in Quito argue that it would be better for the city to extend and improve the tramways. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

As Ecuador’s capital has an elongated shape, stretching from north to south, the 22-kilometre subway line with 15 stations will enable most of the city’s residents to take the subway or catch a bus that hooks into the system within less than four blocks of their homes or workplaces, according to studies that guided the system’s design.

The subway, with trains that will hold up 1,500 passengers each, “will connect the entire integrated transport system.”

According to 2014 statistics, there were 2.8 million daily trips in the public transport system of the Metropolitan District of Quito, most of them by conventional buses and the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, which uses bus-only lanes.

Opponents of the subway argue that by optimising the BRT system, which serves the same north-south route, it could transport more passengers than the subway, with a significantly lower investment.

But “Quito’s surface is saturated, there are no real dedicated lanes and the roads are narrow,” said Anderson, stressing the greater speed and efficiency of the subway, which benefits both passengers and the environment.

Building the subway will cost just over two billion dollars, “that is 89 million dollars per kilometre, a figure that is below the region’s average,” said the manager of the Quito subway.

The project was designed by the Spanish public company Metro de Madrid. A fare of 45 cents of a dollar will cover the first line’s operational and maintenance costs, according to the company.

But Ricardo Buitrón, an activist with Acción Ecológica, said “They will cost much more than that,” noting that building a subway in Quito is complex and arguing that it cannot be cheaper than in Panama, for example, where each kilometre cost 128 million dollars to build.

The Cerro del Panecillo hill, which divides north from south of Ecuador’s capital, seen from the Museum of the City, at the heart of the historic centre. The rugged topography represents a challenge to mobility in this highlands city. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Cerro del Panecillo hill, which divides north from south of Ecuador’s capital, seen from the Museum of the City, at the heart of the historic centre. The rugged topography represents a challenge to mobility in this highlands city. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Besides, with what is being invested in the subway “260 kilometres of exclusive lanes for electric buses plus 40 kilometres of tramways could be created, like the system being built in Cuenca,” in southern Ecuador, he told IPS.

And a 45 cent fare will require subsidies, which he estimated at 100 million dollars annually. In other countries, the operational cost per passenger is over 1.5 dollars, he said.

“Subsidies are inevitable in public transport, but they should contribute to improving the system,” said Buitrón. In Quito, for example, they should bolster the use of electric buses, remedying the setback represented by the replacement of electric articulated buses with diesel-run buses that are more economical, he said.

In Ecuador, diesel fuel is poor quality and heavily polluting, as seen in the black smoke they emit, he said.

“The subway is a good solution, which will reduce the use of private buses that pollute, and will help solve congestion in a city where the traffic passes through the north-south corridor,” said Julio Echeverría, executive director of the Instituto de la Ciudad and former professor of political science in several universities in Ecuador and Italy.

But this responded to a “linear and longitudinal” moment in Quito’s urban development which is long past. Now the city has changed, it is “scattered, fragmented, it stretches toward the valleys and other agricultural areas of great biodiversity,” he said.

Quito, with an estimated total population of 2.5 million, has the largest and least altered historic centre in Latin America, having been declared in 1978 a Cultural Heritage of Humanity site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

Founded in 1534 on a long and narrow plateau on the eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains next to the Pichincha volcano, some 2,800 metres above sea level, Ecuador’s capital has a very well preserved centre with more than 50 churches, chapels and monasteries, and dozens of squares.

The negotiated relocation of some 7,000 street vendors to formal markets in 2003, and a pedestrianisation of the historic centre program carried out in the first decade of the century, bringing art to the squares and streets every Sunday, helped to attract local residents and growing numbers of tourists.

The great impact of building a subway under the old city worries many people. “The subway is not a good thing for the poor; it is faster than the trolley bus, but more expensive,” said 52-year-old Manuel Quispe, who earns a living cleaning shoes in Plaza de San Francisco.

Jorge Córdoba, another shoe shiner in the square, agreed that the subway is faster, but told IPS he believes it will be impossible to build, since “Quito was built on filled-in gullies” and it will be hard to open tunnels. He complained, like Quispe, of the many months that the works have been stalled, blocking half of the square and reducing their already meagre incomes.

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Journalism in Honduras Trapped in Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/journalism-in-honduras-trapped-in-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=journalism-in-honduras-trapped-in-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/journalism-in-honduras-trapped-in-violence/#comments Mon, 28 Nov 2016 20:38:47 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147989 Reporters in Tegucigalpa staged a demonstration in April this year with coffins outside the office of the public prosecutor, to protest the murders of media workers in Honduras in the last decade. Credit: Courtesy of Proceso Digital for IPS

Reporters in Tegucigalpa staged a demonstration in April this year with coffins outside the office of the public prosecutor, to protest the murders of media workers in Honduras in the last decade. Credit: Courtesy of Proceso Digital for IPS

By Thelma Mejía
TEGUCIGALPA, Nov 28 2016 (IPS)

It was in the wee hours of the morning on October 19 when journalist Ricardo Matute, from Corporación Televicentro’s morning newscast, was out on the beat in San Pedro Sula, one of the most violent cities in Honduras.

He heard about a vehicle that had rolled and was the first on the scene of the accident. When he saw four men in the car, he called the emergency number, for help. Little did he know that they were members of a powerful “mara” or gang.

Furious that he was making the phone call, they shot and wounded him, and forced him to get back into the TV station’s van, along with the cameraman and driver, and drove off with them.

But other journalists who also patrol the city streets each night saw the kidnapping and chased the van until the gang members crashed it and fled. If they hadn’t been “rescued” this way, the three men would very likely have been killed, because the criminals had already identified Matute and they generally do not leave loose ends, the journalists involved in the incident told IPS.“Now it turns out that reporters not only have to avoid commenting or giving news that affect the country’s groups of power, but also common criminals, and meanwhile the authorities don’t give us any real assurance of protection” -- Juan Carlos Sierra

Matute, who is part of TV5´s so-called Night Patrol, was wounded in the neck with an Ak-47. The reporters lamented that in spite of the fact that the accident occurred near military installations and that they asked for help, the military failed to respond.

“The state does not protect us, but rather attacks us,” one journalist told IPS on condition of anonymity.

Now Matute, a young reporter who was working for Televicentro, the biggest broadcasting corporation in Honduras, is safeguarded by a government protection programme, under a new law for the protection of human rights activists, journalists, social communicators and justice system employees.

Some 10 journalists, according to official figures, have benefited from the so-called Protection Law, in force for less than a year.

Matute sought protection under the programme after the authorities released, a day after the accident, a video showing the gang members who attacked him, captured by a local security camera. They were members of Mara 18 and carried AK-47 and AR-15 rifles.

Mara 18 and MS-13 are the largest gangs in Honduras. Mara 18 is the most violent of the two. Through turf wars they have basically divvied up large towns and cities for their contract killing operations, drug dealing, kidnappings, money laundering and extortions, among other criminal activity.

The authorities recommended that Matute take refuge under the protection programme and leave his job, since after the video was broadcast, the gang members felt exposed and could act against him in retaliation.

The young reporter Mai Ling Coto, who patrolled with Matute in search of night-time news scoops, told IPS that reporting in Honduras is no longer a “normal” job but is now a dangerous occupation.

This is especially true in a belt that includes at least eight of the country’s 18 departments or provinces, according to the Violence Observatory of the Public National Autonomous University of Honduras.

“Now the only thing that is left is to entrust ourselves to God. We used to report normally without a problem, but now things have changed, especially for those of us who work at night. We have to learn new codes to move around danger zones in the city and the outskirts,” she said.

“If we go to gang territory, we have to roll down our windows and flash our headlights; we move around in groups so they see that we are not alone,“ said Coto from San Pedro Sula, describing some of the security protocols they follow.

Reporters protested in seven cities in Honduras in May 2014 for the kidnapping and murder of Alfredo Villatoro, a reporter with Emisoras Unidas, the country’s main radio station. Credit: Courtesy of Proceso Digital for IPS

Reporters protested in seven cities in Honduras in May 2014 for the kidnapping and murder of Alfredo Villatoro, a reporter with Emisoras Unidas, the country’s main radio station. Credit: Courtesy of Proceso Digital for IPS

San Pedro Sula, 250 kilometres from the capital, is the city with the most developed economy in Honduras. It has a population of 742,000, and in 2015 had a homicide rate of 110 per 100,000 people.

This Central American nation of 8.8 million people is considered one of the most violent countries in the world.

The Commission for Free Expression (C-Libre), a coalition of journalists and humanitarian organisations, reported that between 2001 and 2015 63 journalists, rural communicators and social communicators were murdered.

In 2015 alone, C-libre identified 11 murders of people working in the media: the owner of a media outlet, a director of a news programme, four camerapersons, a control operator, three entertainment broadcasters, and one announcer of a religious programme. Most of them occurred outside of Tegucigalpa.

Ana Ortega, director of C-Libre, believes that journalism is not only a victim of violence, but also of laws and impunity.

She stated this in the group’s annual report on freedom of expression, observing that a secrecy law obstructs the right of information, while new reforms to the criminal code are planned with references to the press.

“Now it turns out that reporters not only have to avoid commenting or giving news that affects the country’s power groups, but also common criminals, and meanwhile the authorities don’t give us any real assurance of protection,” Juan Carlos Sierra, director of the news broadcast where Matute worked, told IPS in Tegucigalpa.

Another journalist from San Pedro Sula who asked to remain anonymous added: “We are helpless because we cannot trust the authorities, the police or the public prosecutors, since when they see us, they attack us and sometimes send us as cannon fodder to certain scenes, and they arrive afterwards.”

“We feel like neither the state nor the authorities respect us,” he said.

The state, Sierra added, “has not had any interest, now or before, in resolving murders of journalists, let alone violations of freedom of expression.”

For human rights defender and former judge Nery Velázquez, the vulnerability faced by reporters, “far from dissipating, is growing, and we have come to accept tacitly that the impunity surrounding these murders becomes the norm, while freedom of the press is restricted.”

Of the 63 documented murders, legal proceedings began in just four cases, and of these, only two made it to the last stage – an oral public trial – and ended with the conviction of the direct perpetrators, but not of the masterminds who ordered the murders.

“Investigation in Honduras is a failure, everything is left in prima facie evidence, and not only the press is trapped here by violence, but also human rights activists and lawyers,” Velázquez told IPS.

According to reports by human rights groups, corruption and organised crime are the main threats to freedom of speech in Honduras, where being a journalist has become a high-risk occupation over the last decade.

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The Cuban Revolution Has Lost Its Founder and Leaderhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/the-cuban-revolution-has-lost-its-founder-and-leader/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-cuban-revolution-has-lost-its-founder-and-leader http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/the-cuban-revolution-has-lost-its-founder-and-leader/#comments Sat, 26 Nov 2016 18:39:14 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147968 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/the-cuban-revolution-has-lost-its-founder-and-leader/feed/ 0 Violence Against Black Women in Brazil on the Rise, Despite Better Lawshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/violence-against-black-women-in-brazil-on-the-rise-despite-better-laws/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=violence-against-black-women-in-brazil-on-the-rise-despite-better-laws http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/violence-against-black-women-in-brazil-on-the-rise-despite-better-laws/#comments Thu, 24 Nov 2016 21:38:58 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147943 A group of black women take part in Black Awareness Day celebrated on Nov. 20 in the city of São Paulo. Gender-related violence has increased, in particular among women of African descent in Brazil, despite the passage of better laws. Credit: Rovena Rosa/ Agência Brasil

A group of black women take part in Black Awareness Day celebrated on Nov. 20 in the city of São Paulo. Gender-related violence has increased, in particular among women of African descent in Brazil, despite the passage of better laws. Credit: Rovena Rosa/ Agência Brasil

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov 24 2016 (IPS)

Four months in hospital and a number of operations saved the life of Maria da Penha Fernandes of Brazil, but the rifle shot left her paraplegic at the age of 37. When she returned home, her husband tried to electrocute her in the bathroom.

It eventually became clear that the author of the first attack, the shot in the back while she was sleeping one night in May 1983, had also been her husband, who claimed four thieves had broken in, tied him up, and shot her.

She left the family home protected by a court order that gave her custody over the couple’s three daughters, and launched, from her wheelchair, a 19-year battle in court to bring him to justice for the two murder attempts.“The Maria da Penha Law stipulates that first you have to file a complaint with the police, in order for it to reach the judicial authorities, and we know that the police don’t protect black women. The obstacle is racism, and if this is not recognised public policies will not be adjusted to meet the needs of black women. We have to face racism, train civil servants, police as well as administrators, to treat us as human beings.” -- Jurema Werneck

After his lawyers managed to overturn two convictions in Brazilian courts, she turned in the 1990s to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which in 2001 held the government of Brazil accountable for judicial tolerance of domestic violence in the case and recommended that it adopt more effective measures to combat violence against women.

Finally in 2002, the attempted murderer was sentenced to 10 years in prison. But he managed to walk free after just two years.

The main accomplishment of Da Penha, a bio-pharmacist in Fortaleza, capital of the northeast Brazilian state of Ceará, was to inspire a law that was named after her, adopted by the national Congress in 2006, against domestic violence.

However, gender-related murders continued to increase in Brazil, though at a slower rate.

From 1980 to 2006 the number of murdered women grew 7.6 per cent annually, while from 2006 to 2013 the rate dropped to 2.6 per cent, according to the Violence Map, produced by Julio Jacobo Waiselfisz, Latin American Social Sciences Institute (Flacso) coordinator of studies on violence in Brazil.

The Maria da Penha law, special police units for women and other instruments “are effective against violence, but the resources are insufficient,” Clair Castilhos Coelho, executive secretary of the National Feminist Network of Health, Sexual and Reproductive Rights, told IPS.

But there is an important reality in this Latin American country of 205 million people: results differ depending on skin colour.

“For black women the situation has worsened,” Dr. Jurema Werneck, one of the coordinators of Criola, an NGO that promotes the rights of black women, told IPS.

In 10 years gender-based murders of black women increased 54.2 per cent, reaching 2,875 in 2013, while murders of white women dropped 9.8 per cent, from 1,747 in 2003 to 1,576 in 2013, according to the Violence Map.

“Racism lies beneath this contrast. Mechanisms to combat violence do not protect the life of everyone in the same way,” said Werneck.

“The Maria da Penha Law stipulates that first you have to file a complaint with the police, in order for it to reach the judicial authorities, and we know that the police don’t protect black women,” she added.

“The obstacle is racism, and if this is not recognised public policies will not be adjusted to meet the needs of black women. We have to face racism, train civil servants, police as well as administrators, to treat us as human beings,” she said.

Demonstrators call for full enforcement of the Maria da Penha Law against domestic violence in Brazil, 10 years after it was passed. One of the signs reads: ”When you remain silent, violence speaks louder.” Credit: Tony Winston/ Agência Brasília

Demonstrators call for full enforcement of the Maria da Penha Law against domestic violence in Brazil, 10 years after it was passed. One of the signs reads: ”When you remain silent, violence speaks louder.” Credit: Tony Winston/ Agência Brasília

A more effective application of the Maria da Penha Law would be to take the complaints directly to the offices of the public prosecutor and the ombudsperson, which would require a larger number of public prosecutors and public defenders rather than more police officers, said Werneck, who pointed out that this is already being done in some neighborhoods in the southern city of São Paulo.

It is also necessary to combat “institutionalised racism”, which permeates many law enforcement bodies, for example, and “to work together with society to value black women,” who have historically been marginalised in Brazil, she said.

Another accomplishment by women was the adoption in March 2015 of a law that establishes stricter sentences for femicide, defined as the murder of a woman due to gender-related motives.

Brazil thus became the 16th country in Latin America to adopt a law against femicide. According to the Violence Map, Brazil ranks 7th in the world with respect to the number of femicides: official figures indicated in 2015 that 15 women a day were the victims of gender-related killings.

However, violence against women includes other forms of aggression that affect the female population in their daily lives.

Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, kicks off 16 days of activism.

In Brazil, murders of men and boys represent 92 per cent of a total that is reaching 60,000 murders a year, a figure that only compares to the numbers seen in war-stricken areas.

But with regard to specific kinds of violence, such as physical, psychological and economic abuse, rape and abandonment, women tend to represent a majority of victims.

In 2014, a total of 147,691 women who had suffered some kind of violence were treated in Brazil’s Unified Health System, two times the number of men. That meant 405 women a day needed medical care because they were victims of violence.

The last National Health Survey, which is carried out by the Ministry of Health and the Brazilian Geography and Statistics Institute every five years, found that 2.4 million women were victims of physical aggression at the hands of someone that they knew, against 1.3 million men.

With regard to rape, the Brazilian Public Security Forum’s Annual Report registered 47,646 cases in Brazil, 6.7 per cent fewer than in the previous year. But the drop, which is based on documented cases, does not reflect a trend because experts believe that at least two-thirds, or up to 90 per cent of cases, go unreported.

”Violence against women may be increasing due to the new stronger role of women, who in the past were submissive in their homes and were used to suffering in silence. But with the old patterns broken, with women achieving rights, working, voting and reporting abuse, the oppressors respond with more violence,” said Castilhos.

There is also an increase in complaints as a result of gains achieved, such as the Maria da Penha and femicide laws and regulations that make reporting cases of abuse obligatory in the public health system, she said.

In her opinion, ”the greatest violence against a woman in the last few years in Brazil was the removal of former president Dilma Rousseff (Jan. 1, 2011 – Aug. 31, 2016), who had committed no proven crime to justify it, by a parliament where the majority of its members are accused of electoral crimes and corruption.”

The political environment generated by the new government headed by Michel Temer, Rousseff’s former vice president, ”paves the way for more violence against women, due to its misogynistic nature,” she said, pointing out that no ministry is headed by a woman and complaining about proposals to reverse previous progress made in empowering women.

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Coal Mine Threatens Ecological Paradise in Chile’s Patagonia Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/coal-mine-threatens-ecological-paradise-in-chiles-patagonia-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=coal-mine-threatens-ecological-paradise-in-chiles-patagonia-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/coal-mine-threatens-ecological-paradise-in-chiles-patagonia-region/#comments Tue, 22 Nov 2016 12:50:18 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147877 Humpback whales and dolphins are part of the rich habitat of the Otway gulf, in the Magellan Strait, near the Invierno mine on Riesco Island in the southern Chilean wilderness region of Patagonia. Credit: José Antonio de Pablo/ Riesco Island Alert

Humpback whales and dolphins are part of the rich habitat of the Otway gulf, in the Magellan Strait, near the Invierno mine on Riesco Island in the southern Chilean wilderness region of Patagonia. Credit: José Antonio de Pablo/ Riesco Island Alert

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Nov 22 2016 (IPS)

An open-pit coal mine in the southern island of Riesco, a paradise of biological diversity in Chile’s southern Patagonia wilderness region, is a reflection of the weakness of the country’s environmental laws, which are criticised by local residents, activists, scientists and lawmakers.

Riesco, the country’s fourth-largest island, at the southern tip of South America, and the waters around it, is home to many species, such as the humpback whale, four kinds of dolphins, elephant seals and penguins, 24 species of land mammals and 136 birds.

“I will not leave. But I see the drastic changes,” a worried Gregor Stipicic, one of the island’s 150 inhabitants, told IPS by telephone from Riesco.

Gregor, 36, is the youngest of three Stipicic siblings who own a 750-hectare farm where they raise about 6,000 sheep, which are now threatened by dynamite explosions.

Gregor, a surgeon by profession, has been living on the farm since 2006, when he took charge after the death of his father. His grandfather, a Croatian immigrant, arrived to the island in 1956, drawn by its fertile soils.

Riesco Island is 5,000-sq-km in size and is 3,000 km south of Santiago, in Magallanes, the country’s southernmost province.

The local inhabitants live and work on 30 farms, which mainly raise sheep.

One-third of the island’s territory is within the Alacalufes National Reserve, one of the largest in Chile, covering 2.6 million hectares of wilderness that forms part of the country’s protected areas.

The “mina invierno” or winter mine, the largest open-pit coal mine in the country, belongs to the Riesco Island Mining Company, owned by the Chilean companies Copec and Ultramar, which invested 600 million dollars in the mine, and have four other deposits on the island, so far inactive.

The aim is to exploit, for 12 years, reserves of 73 million tons of sub-bituminous coal, of low calorific value and high heavy metal content. The coal is sold to the Huasco, Tocopilla, Mejillones and Ventanas thermoelectric plants in north and central Chile, and exported to China, India, Brazil and other countries.

The steady decline in international coal prices affected the company’s plans, which temporarily decreased production and cut its payroll.

Lengas (Nothofagus pumilio) and Antarctic Beech (Nothofagus antarctica) seen on Riesco Island, in Chile’s Patagonia wilderness region, which is threatened by coal mining. Credit: Claudio Magallanes Velazco/Riesco Island Alert

Lengas (Nothofagus pumilio) and Antarctic Beech (Nothofagus antarctica) seen on Riesco Island, in Chile’s Patagonia wilderness region, which is threatened by coal mining. Credit: Claudio Magallanes Velazco/Riesco Island Alert

To open the Invierno mine, 400 hectares of native woodland were cut, a lake was dried up, and the functioning of the water in the surrounding area was modified. It currently has three sterile waste dumps, each one 60 mts high.

“Everything is becoming polluted. Some 1,500 hectares of land will be directly affected, including 500 metres of open pit which has already reached 100 of the projected 180 metres in depth,” said Ana Stipicic, spokesperson for the social and ecological movement Riesco Island Alert.

“The last report on pollution we made was on the impact on the Chorrillo Invierno Dos River. Now we learned that the Cañadón and Chorrillo Los Coipos Rivers were also polluted. There are settling ponds to remove matter from wastewater, but they don’t work,” the activist, who is Gregor’s sister, told IPS in Santiago.

She said that the rivers affected a wetland and “along the shore there are enormous pieces of coal. The mining port and the crushers that crush the mineral throw charcoal into the sea. Nobody has studied this.”

Ana Stipicic said particles in the air “fall on the surrounding grazing lands, woods and water bodies where there is rich fauna.” She added that the mining activity “has caused huge movements of wildlife, from woodpeckers to huemul deer and capybara.”

Biologist Juan Capella, from the Yubarta Foundation, complained that the shipping of coal through the Otway gulf, the Gerónimo channel and the Magellan Strait has affected humpback whales and dolphins that live in this area, where the Francisco Coloane Marine Park is located.

“There are reported cases of collisions of cargo ships with whales. The more coal that is transported and the heavier the ship traffic in such a narrow channel, the higher the chances of collisions and deaths of whales. The latest recorded case occurred in March, when a ship ran into a whale and killed it,” he told IPS from Punta Arenas, capital of Magallanes province.

Map of the location of coal mines on Riesco Island at the southern tip of Chile. Credit: Riesco Island Alert

Map of the location of coal mines on Riesco Island at the southern tip of Chile. Credit: Riesco Island Alert

Climate specialist Nicolás Butorovic said that during the Environmental Impact Assessment of the Invierno mine, “we proved that the modelling was wrong with respect to settleable particulate matter. They predicted 60 micrograms per day while the stations measured up to 158.”

The company had stated that it would not use dynamite explosions since they sought sustainable mining. It also claimed that winds in the area averaged 39 kilometres per hour when in fact they can reach up to more than 180 kilometres per hour.

Fernando Dougnac, head of the organisation of environmentalist lawyers FIMA, filed legal action which brought the explosions to a halt.

Dougnac told IPS in Santiago that in his legal presentation he included veterinary records from the year 1998, showing that during breeding season, sheep are highly susceptible to noise, to the point that workers are asked to stay out of the areas where the sheep are mating or raising young.

“We expect the explosions to be stopped during those months. The Invierno mine needs to cut operating costs, so they will insist on making detonations the four times a week that they are allowed,” said Ana Stipicic.

The national director of Greenpeace Chile, Matías Asún, told IPS that the mining company “deceived the population and disregarded the regulations to later be allowed to use dynamite explosions.”

In his opinion “Chile’s environmental authority operates on the basis of economic and commercial criteria. Their official discourse is not the protection of the environment but the protection of investment and the environment.”

He said “it is anachronistic that in a country where renewable energies are experiencing remarkable growth at a global scale and coal is in decline, on top of the many territorial conflicts generated, a subsidy is granted violating de facto environmental regulations and the commitments that the own company made to the community.”

“Riesco Island is not sustainable without cutting costs with environmental impacts,” he stressed.

Independent legislator for Magallanes province Gabriel Boric told IPS that the company presented the coal mining project in a fragmented manner to obtain approval.

“That a project be allowed to be presented by parts, so that its environmental impact cannot be assessed integrally, is one of the main weaknesses of our environmental protection system, which must be remedied by means of reforms,” he said.

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Trump’s Offensive Against Undocumented Migrants Will Fuel Migration Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/trumps-offensive-against-undocumented-migrants-will-fuel-migration-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-offensive-against-undocumented-migrants-will-fuel-migration-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/trumps-offensive-against-undocumented-migrants-will-fuel-migration-crisis/#comments Thu, 17 Nov 2016 15:37:31 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147824 About a hundred Central American migrants crammed into a large truck were rescued in the Mexican state of Tabasco in October. It is not likely that Donald Trump’s arrival to the White House will dissuade people from setting out on the hazardous journey to the United States. Credit: Courtesy of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement

About a hundred Central American migrants crammed into a large truck were rescued in the Mexican state of Tabasco in October. It is not likely that Donald Trump’s arrival to the White House will dissuade people from setting out on the hazardous journey to the United States. Credit: Courtesy of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Nov 17 2016 (IPS)

“Donald Trump will not stop me from getting to the U.S.,” said Juan, a 35-year-old migrant from Nicaragua, referring to the Republican president-elect who will govern that country as of Jan. 20.

Juan, who worked as a street vendor in his country and asked that his last name not be mentioned, told IPS: “I got scared when I heard that Trump had won the election (on November 8). Maybe with Hillary (Clinton) there would have been more job opportunities. But that won’t stop me; it has never been easy to cross, but it is possible.”

Juan set out from Nicaragua on September 13, leaving his wife and son behind, and on the following day crossed the Suchiate River between Guatemala from Mexico, on a raft.

In Mexico, he experienced what thousands of migrants suffer in their odyssey towards the “American dream”. He evaded at least four checkpoints in the south of the country, escaped immigration officers, walked for hours and hours, and was robbed of money, clothes and shoes by three men wearing hoods in El Chagüite, in the southern state of Oaxaca.

After filing a complaint for assault in a local public prosecutor’s office, he has been living since October in the “Hermanos en el Camino” shelter, founded in 2007 by the Catholic Church division of pastoral care for human mobility of the Ixtepec Diocese in Oaxaca, awaiting an official humanitarian visa to cross Mexico.

“I want to get to the United States. What safeguards me is my desire and need to get there. I want to work about three years and then return,” Juan said by phone from the shelter, explaining that he has two friends in the Midwestern U.S. state of Illinois.

The struggles and aspirations of migrants such as Juan clash with Trump’s promise to extend the wall along the border with Mexico, to keep out undocumented migrants.

While they digest the triumph by Trump and his Republican Party, migrant rights organisations and governments in Latin America fear a major migration crisis.

During his campaign, Trump vowed to deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants who live in the United States, about half of whom are of Mexican origin.

And on Sunday Nov. 13 the president-elect said that as soon as he took office he would deport about three million unauthorised immigrants who, he claimed, have a criminal record.

A member of the migrant aid group “Las Patronas” waits for the train known as “The Beast”, that was used by undocumented migrants to cross southern Mexico, to give them water and food. The Mexican government shut down the notorious train in August. Credit: Courtesy of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement

A member of the migrant aid group “Las Patronas” waits for the train known as “The Beast”, that was used by undocumented migrants to cross southern Mexico, to give them water and food. The Mexican government shut down the notorious train in August. Credit: Courtesy of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement

“Trump’s policy would aggravate the migratory situation,” said Alberto Donis, who works at Hermanos en el Camino, one of the first Mexican shelters for migrants, which currently houses some 200 undocumented migrants, mainly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

“With Trump, we don’t know what else he will do, but it will be worse than what we have now. After what happened in the elections, people who are not able to cross will stay here. Mexico will be a country of destination. And what does it do? Detain and deport them,” he said, talking to IPS by phone from the shelter.

For the last eight years, the outgoing administration of Democratic President Barack Obama has implemented contradictory migration policies, that have demonstrated the scant influence that sending countries have on U.S. domestic policies.

On the one hand, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which delays deportation for migrants who arrived as children, was adopted in 2012. And a similar benefit was created in 2014: the Deferred Action for (undocumented) Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA).

However, DAPA has been suspended since February by a court order and it is taken for granted that Trump will revoke both measures when he takes office.

And on the other hand, the Obama administration set a new record for deportations: Since 2009, more than two million migrants have been deported, mainly to Mexico and Central America.

In 2015 alone, U.S. immigration authorities deported 146,132 Mexicans, which makes an increase of 56 per cent with respect to the previous year, 33,249 Guatemalans (14 per cent less than in 2014), 21,920 Salvadorans (similar to the previous year) and 20,309 Hondurans (nine per cent less).

An estimated 500,000 undocumented migrants from Central America cross Mexico every year in their attempt to reach the 3,185-km border separating Mexico from the United States, according to estimates from organisations that work with migrants.

In the first nine months of this year, Mexico deported 43,200 Guatemalans, 38,925 Hondurans and 22,582 Salvadorans.

Central American mothers in search of their children who went missing on their way to the United States take part in a caravan that set out on Nov. 10 and is set to reach the Mexico-U.S. border on Dec. 2. Credit: Courtesy of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement

Central American mothers in search of their children who went missing on their way to the United States take part in a caravan that set out on Nov. 10 and is set to reach the Mexico-U.S. border on Dec. 2. Credit: Courtesy of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement

Activists criticize the Comprehensive Plan for the Southern Border, implemented since August 2014 by the Mexican government with the help of the United States to crack down on undocumented migrants. The plan includes the installation of 12 bases on rivers and three security belts along the Mexico-U.S. border.

But some migrant rights’ organisations have doubts as to whether Trump will actually carry out his threats, due to the social and economic consequences.

“He says so many outrageous things that I cannot imagine what he may do. He is a businessman and I don’t think he will risk losing cheap labour. None of it makes sense, it is nothing more than xenophobia and racism. The United States would face long-term consequences ,” Marta Sánchez, executive director of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement, told IPS.

The Movement is taking part in the XII caravan of mothers of Central American migrants who have gone missing on their journey to the United States, made up of mothers from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, which set out on Nov. 10 in Guatemala and reached Mexico Nov. 15.

On Nov. 12 Claudia Ruiz Massieu, Mexico’s secretary of foreign affairs, meet with this country’s ambassador and consuls in the U.S. to design plans for consular protection and assistance for Mexican nationals, with a view to the expected increase in tension.

The governments of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador do not appear to have devised plans to address the xenophobic campaign promises of Trump.

These economies would directly feel the impact of any drop in remittances from migrants abroad, which, in El Salvador for example, represent 17 per cent of GDP.

But the U.S. economy would suffer as well. The American Action Forum, a conservative think tank, estimated that the mass deportation of all undocumented migrants would cause an economic contraction of two per cent and a drop of 381 to 623 billion dollars in private sector output.

Juan just wants to cross the border. “The idea is to better yourself and then return home. People keep going there and they will continue to do so, because in our countries we cannot get by; the shelters are full of people looking for the same thing. If they were to deport me, I would try again,” he said.

For Donis from Hermanos en el Camino, migrant sending countries are not prepared to receive the massive return of their citizens.

“They already don’t have the capacity to sustain the people that are living in the country; it would be even more impossible for them to receive millions of deported migrants. Nor are shelters prepared. What these countries need to do is invest in sources of employment, in the countryside, in infrastructure, invest in their people, in order to curb migration,” said the activist.

During the caravan of mothers of missing migrants, which will end on Dec. 2 in Tapachula, Mexico, on the border with the United States, Sánchez anticipated that they would mention Trump and define their position. ”We will reject those measures and fight against them, this is just beginning,” she said.

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A Cuban Economy Facing Grim Forecasts Awaits Impact of Trumphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/a-cuban-economy-facing-grim-forecasts-awaits-impact-of-trump/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-cuban-economy-facing-grim-forecasts-awaits-impact-of-trump http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/a-cuban-economy-facing-grim-forecasts-awaits-impact-of-trump/#comments Tue, 15 Nov 2016 22:54:26 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147782 Students in Havana participate in an October protest, part of a campaign to fight the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Students in Havana participate in an October protest, part of a campaign to fight the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Nov 15 2016 (IPS)

Cuba’s economic difficulties will be aggravated by the uncertainty regarding how U.S. president-elect Donald Trump will deal with the thaw inherited from President Barack Obama.

Experts consulted by IPS preferred not to speculate. But they did recommend that the Cuban authorities adopt all measures within their reach to cushion the blow and reinforce what has been achieved on the economic front with the outgoing U.S. administration.

“In any case, Cuba will have to continue moving forward with its economic reforms and try to resolve whatever has clearly not functioned for decades and is within our reach to fix,” said Cuban economist Pável Vidal, a professor at the Javeriana University in Cali, Colombia.“As a businessman, he could be inclined towards pragmatic policies that favour business interests. He doesn’t have a personal history against Cuba, and as a Republican he doesn’t have a complex about appearing weak. Since he doesn’t have prior experience in public office, a large part of his decisions will be reached with the advisers who surround him.” – Ricardo Torres

Vidal is studying the economic reforms implemented since 2008 by the government of Raúl Castro, which has been facing major difficulties this year due to liquidity problems and oil shortages caused by the political and economic crisis in Venezuela, this country’s main trading partner and energy supplier.

In the first six months of this year, GDP grew just one percent, half of what was expected. And forecasts for the rest of 2016 are bleak, projecting a drop of one percent.

Further muddying the picture are the doubts with respect to the recently restored relations with the United States, now that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was defeated by her Republican rival in the Nov. 8 elections.

“With regard to Cuba, I don’t think (Trump) will roll back the important steps taken by the Obama administration to normalise relations between the two countries,” John Gronbeck-Tedesco, assistant professor of American Studies at Ramapo College in New Jersey, told IPS by email.

“But with a Republican-controlled Congress, it’s harder to know when the United States will fully commit to lifting the embargo and truly open up trade between the two countries,” said the academic, the author of the book “Cuba, the United States, and Cultures of the Transnational Left, 1930-1975”.

The U.S. embargo against Cuba, in place since 1962, consists of a complex web of laws that can only be fully repealed by Congress.

Cuba sees the embargo as the biggest obstacle it faces to development and a normalisation of ties with its giant neighbour to the north.

Since the start of the move towards reestablishing bilateral ties, in December 2014, Obama has taken measures to undermine the embargo and attempted to protect his efforts by means of Presidential Policy Directive 43 on the normalisation of relations between the United States and Cuba, issued on Oct. 14.

He even took an enormous symbolic step on Oct. 26, when for the first time in 25 years the United States abstained in the United Nations vote on the resolution that Cuba has presented annually since 1992, condemning the U.S. embargo, which it blames for 125.873 billion dollars in losses.

 Tourists enjoy the beach at the western Cuban resort town of Varadero. The number of U.S. tourists arriving jumped 80 percent in the first half of 2016, with respect to the same period in 2015. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS


Tourists enjoy the beach at the western Cuban resort town of Varadero. The number of U.S. tourists arriving jumped 80 percent in the first half of 2016, with respect to the same period in 2015. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Obama said his aim was to make the opening to Cuba “irreversible”. But just a week before the election, Trump said “We will cancel Obama’s one-sided Cuban deal, made by executive order, if we do not get the deal that we want and the deal that people living in Cuba and here deserve, including protecting religious and political freedom.”

But the business community and Cuban-Americans are largely in favour of the thaw, as analysts in both countries have been pointing out.

In Gronbeck-Tedesco’s view, “The United States will continue treating Cuba and Venezuela as separate political issues. And since Venezuela is still suffering from economic and political uncertainty, Trump’s plans would not appear to include an improvement in relations with Venezuela or help in rebuilding that country.”

In a reaction that observers like Vidal describe as “tardy”, Havana appears to be pushing for more foreign investment, especially in the energy industry, which is heavily dependent on the shrinking deliveries of Venezuelan crude.

“The tendency is for foreign investment in energy to pick up speed,” Juan Manuel Presa, an official at Cuba’s Ministry of Energy and Mines, told IPS. “There are a large number of projects in different stages of progress to use renewable sources, mainly wind and solar power.”

The engineer said the industry “is seeking a diversity of partners in a diversity of formulas: external financing of Cuban projects, companies that are made up 100 percent of foreign capital, and the new legal status of mixed – Cuban and foreign – companies.”

Cuba is still far from its goal of drawing 2. 5 billion dollars a year in foreign investment – the amount needed to put the economy on a steady footing. The 83 projects approved since a new law on foreign investment went into effect in 2014 have attracted just 1.3 billion dollars so far.

But to some extent, the thaw is easing the tense economic situation in this country.

Between 2.0 and 2.5 billion dollars in remittances from abroad flow into Cuba annually, mainly coming from the Cuban-American community, according to estimates by Cuban economist Juan Triana.

Only exports of medical services bring in more hard currency revenues, he said.

Another major source of hard currency is tourism. Cuba’s colonial cities and white sand beaches are experiencing an unprecedented tourism boom, with the number of visitors from the U.S. growing every month, despite the fact that they can only travel here under one of 12 approved categories, such as family visits, academic programs, professional research, journalistic or religious activities.

In the first half of this year, Cuba received 2,147,912 visitors from abroad, including 136,913 from the U.S. This latter number was 80 percent higher than the total for the first half of 2015, according to the national statistics office, ONEI.

In that period, tourism brought in more than 1.2 billion dollars, only counting public installations, not the growing private sector, which rents out rooms and runs taxis and restaurants.

Cuban economist Ricardo Torres showed IPS a novel analysis on the U.S. president-elect, who was widely criticised during the campaign for his racist, xenophobic and misogynistic remarks.

“There are three aspects (of Trump) that could benefit relations with Cuba,” the academic researcher said.

“As a businessman, he could be inclined towards pragmatic policies that favour business interests,” he said. “He doesn’t have a personal history against Cuba, and as a Republican he doesn’t have a complex about appearing weak. Since he doesn’t have prior experience in public office, a large part of his decisions will be reached with the advisers who surround him.”

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Opposition to Oil Pipeline in U.S. Serves as Example for Indigenous Struggles in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/opposition-to-oil-pipeline-in-u-s-serves-as-example-for-indigenous-struggles-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opposition-to-oil-pipeline-in-u-s-serves-as-example-for-indigenous-struggles-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/opposition-to-oil-pipeline-in-u-s-serves-as-example-for-indigenous-struggles-in-latin-america/#comments Fri, 11 Nov 2016 16:07:05 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147730 The Standing Rock Sioux tribe is fighting the construction of an oil pipeline across their land in North Dakota. The movement has gained international solidarity and has many things in common with indigenous struggles against megaprojects in Latin America. Credit: Downwindersatrisk.org

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe is fighting the construction of an oil pipeline across their land in North Dakota. The movement has gained international solidarity and has many things in common with indigenous struggles against megaprojects in Latin America. Credit: Downwindersatrisk.org

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Nov 11 2016 (IPS)

Canadian activist Clayton Thomas-Muller crossed the border between his country and the United States to join the Native American movement against the construction of an oil pipeline, which has become a model to follow in struggles by indigenous people against megaprojects, that share many common elements.

“It’s an amazing movement. Its number one factor is the spiritual founding of cosmology. There are indigenous people all around the world that share the cosmology of water. There is a feeling on sacred land. This is the biggest indigenous movement since pre-colonial times,” the delegate for the Indigenous Environmental Network told IPS.

Thomas-Muller, of the Cree people, stressed that the oil pipeline “is one of the major cases of environmental risk in the United States” fought by indigenous people.

“We see many parallels in the local indigenous struggles. When indigenous people arise and call upon the power of their cosmology and their world view and add them up to social movements, they light people up as we’ve never seen,” he told IPS by phone from the Sioux encampment that he joined on Nov. 6.

“This struggle is everywhere, the whole world is with Standing Rock,” he said.

Standing Rock Sioux is the tribe that heads the opposition to the 1,890-km Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in the state of North Dakota, along the Canadian border.

The 3.7 billion dollar pipeline, which is being built by the US company Dakota Access, is to transport 470,000 barrels of crude oil daily from the Bakken shale formation.

The opposition to the pipeline by the Sioux, or Dakota, Indians has brought construction to a halt since September, in a battle that has gained thousands of supporters since April, including people from different Native American tribes, environmental activists and celebrity advocates, not only from the U.S. but from around the world.

Their opposition is based on the damages that they say the pipeline would cause to sacred sites, indigenous land and water bodies. They complain that the government did not negotiate with them access to a territory over which they have complete jurisdiction.

Some 600 flags of indigenous peoples from around the world wave over the camp on the banks of the Missouri River where the movement has been resisting the crackdown that has intensified since October. Of the U.S. population of 325 million, about 2.63 million are indigenous people, belonging to 150 different tribes.

The movement has served as an example for similar battles in Latin America, according to indigenous leaders.

Map of the Sioux territory affected by the oil pipeline in the U.S. state of North Dakota. Credit: Northlandia.com

Map of the Sioux territory affected by the oil pipeline in the U.S. state of North Dakota. Credit: Northlandia.com

In the northern Mexican state of Sonora, the Yaqui people are also fighting a private pipeline threatening their lands.

“We were not asked or informed. We want to be consulted, we want our rights to be respected. We are defending our territory, our environment,” Yaqui activist Plutarco Flores told IPS.

In a consultation held in accordance with their uses and customs in May 2015, the Yaqui people – one of Mexico’s 54 native groups – voted against the gas pipeline that would run across their land. But the government failed to recognise their decision. In response, the Yaqui filed an appeal for legal protection in April, which halted construction.

Of the 850-km pipeline, 90 km run through Yaqui territory – and through people’s backyards. In October, a violent clash between opponents and supporters of the pipeline left one indigenous person dead and 14 injured.

For Flores, the indigenous struggle against megaprojects has become “a paradigm” and protests like the one at Standing Rock “inspire and reassure us because of our shared cultural patterns.”

Also in Mexico, in the northern state of Sinaloa, the Rarámuri native people have since January 2015 halted the construction of a gas pipeline across their lands and the bordering U.S. state of Texas, demanding free prior and informed consultation, as required by law.

Unlike the U.S., Latin American countries are signatories to International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which protects their rights and makes this kind of consultation obligatory in the case of projects that affect their territories.

But in many cases, according to indigenous leaders consulted by IPS, this right has not been incorporated in national laws, or is simply not complied with, when projects involving oil, mining, hydroelectric or infrastructure activities affect their ancestral lands.

United Nations Special Rapporteur for Indigenous People’s Rights, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, during her visit to Mexico City for an international conference on indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consultation on projects that affect their lands. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

United Nations Special Rapporteur for Indigenous People’s Rights, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, during her visit to Mexico City for an international conference on indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consultation on projects that affect their lands. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Both the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous People’s Rights, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, requested in September that the U.S. government consult the communities affected by the oil pipeline.

“The fact that they’re not being consulted means a violation to their rights. The arrests that have taken place are too a violation of the right of free assembly,” Tauli-Corpuz told IPS Nov. 9, at the end of a visit to Mexico.

During her three days in the country, the special rapporteur participated in a conference on indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consultation, promoted by the the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights and the Inter American Commission on Human Rights.

Tauli-Corpuz also met with representatives of 20 indigenous Mexican communities affected by gas pipelines, hydropower plants, highways and mines. The Mexican government announced that in 2017 it would officially invite the special rapporteur to assess the situation of indigenous people in Mexico.

The U.N. official said a recurring complaint she has heard on her trips to Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Panama and Peru is the lack of free, prior consultation that is obligatory under Convention 169.

In Costa Rica, the Maleku people, one of the Central American country’s eight indigenous groups, who total 104,000 people, are worried about the expansion of the San Rafael de Guatuso aqueduct, in the north of the country.

“A fake consultation was carried out. Also, the people do not want water meters, because they would have to pay more for water,” Tatiana Mojica, the Maleku people’s legal representative, who is thinking about filing an appeal for legal protection against the project, told IPS during the colloquium.

Since September, Sarayaku indigenous people from Ecuador, Emberá-Wounaan from Panamá, and Tacana from Bolivia have visited the Sioux camp to protest the oil pipeline.

Thomas-Muller said “We have the opportunity to stop it. I’m optimistic that we will be victorious here. These movements are the hammer that will fall over oil infrastructure owned by the banks and big corporations. We want political will to make an appearance,” he said.

A major Nov. 15 protest is being organised to demand that the government refuse a permit for the North Dakota pipeline.

“This struggle will go through all the steps that it has to. We will make sure that the Sonora pipeline is not built,” said Flores.

Meanwhile, Mojica said “we are uniting to fight against megaprojects that affect us. We are making ourselves heard.”

Tauli-Corpuz said “Opposition to pipelines is a common feature of indigenous people. It’s a magnet that attracts solidarity from all over the world.”

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Latin America to Take the Temperature of Paris Agreement at Climate Summithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/latin-america-to-take-the-temperature-of-paris-agreement-at-climate-summit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-to-take-the-temperature-of-paris-agreement-at-climate-summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/latin-america-to-take-the-temperature-of-paris-agreement-at-climate-summit/#comments Sat, 05 Nov 2016 00:34:59 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147641 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/latin-america-to-take-the-temperature-of-paris-agreement-at-climate-summit/feed/ 0 Four Things You Should Know about the Other Election This Weekhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/four-things-you-should-know-about-the-other-election-this-week/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=four-things-you-should-know-about-the-other-election-this-week http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/four-things-you-should-know-about-the-other-election-this-week/#comments Fri, 04 Nov 2016 16:34:45 +0000 Erika Guevara-Rosas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147637 Nicaragua's new canal is meant to rival the Panama canal but has also sparked protests as it will displace tens of thousands of people. Credit: Carlos Herrera/IPS

Nicaragua's new canal is meant to rival the Panama canal but has also sparked protests as it will displace tens of thousands of people. Credit: Carlos Herrera/IPS

By Erika Guevara-Rosas
MEXICO CITY, Nov 4 2016 (IPS)

Next week, millions of people around the world will be glued to their TV screens and social media feeds, watching as the USA decides who will lead the most powerful country on earth.

Around 3,000 kilometers away, in a much smaller nation in the middle of Central America, another election will take place just a couple of days earlier. Although Nicaragua’s presidential election lacks the fame of the Clinton-Trump race, it is every bit as controversial.

President Daniel Ortega, leader of the ruling Sandinista Front for National Liberation, will run for office for the third consecutive time. His wife, Rosario Murillo, is his running mate.

Both have been accused of leading a campaign to stamp out any form of opposition.

For the six million people living in resource-rich Nicaragua, political scandals are nothing new. They are symptoms of the deteriorating human rights situation facing one of the most invisible countries in the Americas – where basic natural resources such as land and water mark the front lines of a battle between the powerful few and the marginalized majorities.

Here are four things you should know are taking place in the backdrop to Nicaragua’s elections:

One: Development, for some

In 2013, the National Assembly of Nicaragua passed a new law to pave the way for construction of a new interoceanic canal to rival Panama’s. If finished, it will connect the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea and, it is argued, inject millions of dollars into the country’s economy, including by generating tens of thousands of jobs.

The canal, however, will likely also force tens of thousands of people, including many Indigenous communities, off their lands and affect their livelihoods and vital natural resources such as water with and impact for generations to come, which would effectively outweigh any possible economic benefits of the project.

Erika Guevara-Rosas

Erika Guevara-Rosas


The project was also used as an excuse to pass a law that effectively gives carte blanche to the Nicaraguan government to allow sub-development projects (including the exploitation of vital natural resources) to go ahead, regardless of what the many communities affected by them think.

Two: Women, second class citizens
Women living in poverty across Nicaragua are still the main victims of maternal mortality, and the country has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy of the Continent, with 28% of women giving birth before the age 18. In spite of this, women are also subjected to some of the harshest abortion laws on earth. Abortion is banned in all circumstances, even if it is vital to save the woman’s life.

In a context in which impunity for gender-based crimes remains, local organizations working on women’s rights face constant threats. In June, a shelter run by the Civil Foundation for Support to Women Victims of Violence was raided. The authorities have not opened an investigation into the incident. And this is unfortunately one case among many others.

Three: Indigenous Peoples’ rights trampled
Indigenous Peoples across Nicaragua are also treated as second-class citizens, their rights constantly trampled on and their voices unheard as their demands often conflict with powerful economic interests.

Last year, in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) –home to the mythical “Mosquitia” – a violent struggle over territory erupted. Indigenous Miskito communities were subjected to threats, attacks, assassinations, sexual assault and forced displacement by non-Indigenous settlers. The state has utterly failed to offer them effective protection. In that context, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted precautionary measures in favour of some Miskito communities, calling on Nicaragua to protect them.

In May 2016, leaders of the Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities Rama-Kriol said that an agreement for the construction of the Grand Canal of Nicaragua had been signed without an effective consultation process, in violation of their rights to free prior and informed consent.

Four: The ‘crime’ of defending human rights
Activists working to defend basic human rights and access to natural resources have been subjected to systematic harassment and attacks aimed at silencing their demands. These attacks are very rarely investigated.

The grant of precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called for measures to protect human rights defenders from the Center for Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, who had received death threats due to their work on Indigenous rights.

Additionally, the Coordinator of the National Council for Defense of the Land, Lake and National Sovereignty, recently reported intimidation and harassment against her and her family. She has been actively denouncing the possible impacts of the Grand Interoceanic Canal in Nicaraguan peasant farmers´ communities.

Nicaragua is very quickly and dangerously slipping back into some of the darkest times the country has seen in decades, with the government turning a blind eye to violations of the human rights they have promised to uphold and punishing anyone who “steps out of line”.

This strategy is both dangerously misguided and illegal.

By failing to protect basic human rights, guarantee access to natural resources essential for life and respect those defending them, the Nicaraguan authorities are condemning millions to a future of inequality and suffering.

But there is another way. Whoever is elected to lead this Central American nation for the next five years must take a hard look at the country’s human rights discourse and the reality for millions of people, particularly the most marginalized – and ensure the government’s future priorities are properly aligned.

The alternative could simply force the country into a free fall that will be impossibly challenging to recover from.

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Nicaragua’s Elections Marked by Apathy and Mistrusthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/nicaraguas-elections-marked-by-apathy-and-mistrust/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nicaraguas-elections-marked-by-apathy-and-mistrust http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/nicaraguas-elections-marked-by-apathy-and-mistrust/#comments Thu, 03 Nov 2016 17:26:11 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147615 The FSLN’s election campaign in Nicaragua has consisted of placing giant billboards displaying images of its candidates, President Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo. Credit: Oscar Navarrete/IPS

The FSLN’s election campaign in Nicaragua has consisted of placing giant billboards displaying images of its candidates, President Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo. Credit: Oscar Navarrete/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Nov 3 2016 (IPS)

In the midst of unusual political tension and apathy, Nicaraguans will go to the polls on Sunday Nov. 6 to vote in elections marked by the absence of the main opposition force and international election observers.

The governing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) dominates the country’s public institutions, in alliance with the main economic powers and backed by the police and military.

The leftist FSLN is the lone major party in the elections. And this is the party’s seventh consecutive nomination of 70-year-old former Sandinista guerrilla leader President Daniel Ortega, and his third run since he won the 2006 elections with 38 percent of the vote.“There is no election spirit, people are not talking about the process, there was no debate among candidates, there are no proposals for solving the most pressing problems that the country faces, the electoral authorities have had no credibility since 2008.” -- José Dávila

The opposition argue that the modification of the constitution by the judicial and electoral authorities to allow indefinite presidential re-election was illegal.

If Ortega wins, as projected by the polls, he will govern until 2021, completing 15 consecutive years in power since taking office in 2007.

He had already governed the country between 1979 and 1990, after the FSLN revolution overthrew dictator Anastasio Somoza, the last of the Somoza dynasty. In the 1980s the country was rocked by the war waged against the government by the U.S.-armed and -financed “Contras”.

Political scientist José Antonio Peraza told IPS “we have not experienced a political situation as serious as this one” since the FSLN and Ortega lost their political and military power in the 1990 elections, following a decade of civil war.

In his view, this electoral process is not only unusual due to the electorate’s lack of interest, but also “because the political system has been structured for the elections in such a way that the only options left are the governing party and five or six small parties authorised by the electoral tribunal in view of their slim chances of winning.”

“The FSLN made sure to remove any real political options, disqualifying the chief opposition party and replacing it with a pro-government group, with unknown candidates and no proposals for change,” said Peraza.

In August, the electoral tribunal banned the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) – the main opposition party that heads a coalition against the FSLN – from participating in the elections. It also dismissed 28 liberal deputies from Nicaragua’s congress, who acted as a counterweight to the Sandinista majority.

In addition, in a move that has caused much concern that the country will end up under another dictatorship and governing dynasty, Ortega named his wife, Rosario Murillo, as his vice presidential running-mate, and placed his children in strategic public posts.

“Many adversaries to the party are calling the process an electoral farce and I honestly cannot disagree with them in disregarding this situation as illegitimate. The FSLN vetoed outside monitors from overseeing the elections and removed the main opposition parties,” said the political analyst.

Recently Ortega partially reversed its ban on outside monitors, accepting a team of observers from the Organisation of American States (OAS).

The administration also “controls the electoral structures accused of election fraud since 2008 and uses the power of the public institutions to campaign with state resources,” said Peraza.

IPS sought an opinion within the FSLN’s campaign team, but received no response to the request for an interview in over a week.

José Dávila, a political analyst and election monitoring expert, told IPS that in the more than 100 elections that he has observed and studied in different countries around the world in the last 20 years, he has not seen an election like this one.

“There is no election spirit, people are not talking about the process, there was no debate among candidates, there are no proposals for solving the most pressing problems that the country faces, the electoral authorities have had no credibility since 2008,” when the opposition and observers denounced fraud in the municipal elections.

“The campaign has only been seen in government media outlets and there has not been a single formal communication to the people about how the election is going.”

Dávila said that if he “had to compare it with other electoral processes, I would say that this election looks more like the grey processes carried out in Eastern Europe during the Cold War or the polls in Cuba, where there is no real opposition to the government party.”

International pressure

According to Dávila, there are other elements that turn the process into a “pressure cooker” similar to the atmosphere seen during the 1980s crisis.

“The United States has denounced political irregularities committed by Ortega’s government in Nicaragua and is threatening to pass a law to cut loans to the country if the aspects that Washington questions are not resolved,” said Dávila.

He was referring to the threat posed by the Nicaragua Investment Conditionality Act (NICA), which was passed unanimously Sep. 21 by the U.S. House of Representatives, and now has to make it through the Senate before being signed into law by President Barack Obama.

The initiative aims for Washington to veto any loan programme or grant for projects in this Central American country, alleging that the government in Managua violates the human and political rights of Nicaraguans.

Nicaragua, a country of 6.1 million people, 47 percent of whom are poor, depends on international aid and soft loans to sustain its economy.

A U.S. blockade would cost Nicaragua 250 million dollars annually in loans according to the World Bank, at a time when its main ally, Venezuela, is in crisis.

For similar reasons, the OAS requested a dialogue with Nicaragua to address complaints by human rights organisations, political parties and civil society institutions.

The government has accepted the proposal and an OAS commission will participate in a dialogue with government authorities, political parties, media and civil society organizations, planned for the day before elections.

“In a political maneuver, the government is attempting to legitimate its electoral process, while its adversaries will take advantage of the opportunity to show all the anomalies and institutional abuses by President Ortega’s government, and I can’t see the OAS’ current authorities endorsing a dubious electoral process like the one that is taking place in Nicaragua,” said Dávila.

Unlike other elections when political parties campaigned in public squares and toured through the main cities, this year there were just small rallies held by groups that support the government and demonstrations by the opposition to protest what they call an “electoral farce.”

Against this backdrop, six national political parties and one regional will be running in the elections for president, vice president, national deputies and representatives to the Central American Parliament, with the government urging people to participate and the opposition calling on voters to abstain, in order to make a statement on the illegitimacy of the elections.

In the polls, the FSLN has 60 percent support.

The party first emerged as a political-military movement in July 1961, to overthrow the Somoza family that governed Nicaragua since the 1930s. It seized power in 1979, following a bloody civil war that then continued until 1990.

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Cities Address a Key Challenge: Infrastructure Needshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/cities-address-a-key-challenge-infrastructure-needs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cities-address-a-key-challenge-infrastructure-needs http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/cities-address-a-key-challenge-infrastructure-needs/#comments Thu, 27 Oct 2016 21:37:44 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147540 One of the concerns about compliance with Habitat III is how to finance the new public works, taking into consideration the considerable investment required. In the image, a photocomposition of European cities in a Habitat III exposition in Quito. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

One of the concerns about compliance with Habitat III is how to finance the new public works, taking into consideration the considerable investment required. In the image, a photocomposition of European cities in a Habitat III exposition in Quito. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
QUITO, Oct 27 2016 (IPS)

“We as mayors have to govern midsize cities as if they were capital cities,” said Héctor Mantilla, city councilor of Floridablanca, the third-largest city in the northern Colombian department of Santander.

He told IPS that “citizens not only demand public services, but also infrastructure; and environmentally and financially sustainable construction works are needed.”

Mantilla, who took office in January, participated in the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Housing and Urban Development (Habitat III), held Oct. 17-20 in the capital of Ecuador, which produced the “Quito Declaration on Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements for All,” known as the New Urban Agenda (NUA).

At the summit, organised by U.N. Habitat every 20 years, Mantilla talked about infrastructure needs and management.In 2015, 54 percent of the world population lived in urban areas, a rate that will climb to 66 percent by 2050. The Americas will be the most urbanised region in the world, with 87 percent urban population.

Floridablanca, population 300,000, is part of the Bucaramanga metropolitan area, together with two other municipalities. To address people’s demands, the local administration built two highway interchanges and a paragliding park.

The mayor’s experiences and expectations reflect the concerns of governments, particularly local administrations. In fact, one of the NUA’s major challenges is the environmental and financial sustainability of the infrastructure required to meet the commitments made in Quito with regard to housing, transport, public services and digitalisation.

For Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the priorities are mobility, water and sewage, adequate housing, resilience, renewable energy, promotion of digitalisation and the fight against segregation and inequality.

“There is a lack of infrastructure. It is not sufficiently integrated. We have two scenarios: the United States with high car use rates, or the European, with smaller cities, where the use of private cars is discouraged,” she told IPS.

Bárcena said that “a certain kind of infrastructure and planning is required” in order for cities to be “resilient”, a concept touted in recent years by international organisations such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), defined as the capacity of an ecosystem to absorb environmental stress without undergoing fundamental changes.

In 2015, 54 percent of the world population lived in urban areas, a rate that will climb to 66 percent by 2050. The Americas will be the most urbanised region in the world, with 87 percent urban population. The projected proportions are 86 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean; 74 percent in Oceania; 82 percent in Europe; 64 percent in Asia; and 56 percent in Africa.

Mayor Héctor Mantilla (right) spoke at Habitat III about the infrastructure needs in midsize cities, in his case, Floridablanca, in Colombia’s northern department of Santander. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Mayor Héctor Mantilla (right) spoke at Habitat III about the infrastructure needs in midsize cities, in his case, Floridablanca, in Colombia’s northern department of Santander. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The report “Latin America and the Caribbean. Challenges, dilemmas and commitments of a common urban agenda”, released at the Quito summit, observes that, despite the significant expansion in infrastructure in recent decades, the deficit in cities remains one of the main challenges for developing countries in general.

The document, drafted by the Forum of Ministers and High-level Authorities of the Housing and Urban Development Sector in Latin America and the Caribbean (MINURVI), ECLAC and U.N.-Habitat’s Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, points out that Latin America and the Caribbean have an investment rate of two percent of GDP, compared to eight percent of regional GDP in Southeast Asia.

The overall rate of investment in infrastructure “has declined in the last three decades, blaming a reduction in public investment, a marginal increase in private investment and the retraction of multilateral financing.”

In the developing South, large cities face challenges like pollution, exposure to climate change, chaotic growth, traffic congestion, informal employment and inequality.

There have been different attempts to calculate the scale of infrastructure needs. The IDB’s Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative estimates a need for 142 billion dollars in priority investments in urban infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the Cities Climate Finance Leadership Alliance (CCFLA) estimates a global need of 93 trillion dollars in investment in low-carbon climate resilient infrastructure over the next 15 years.

The NUA mentions the word “infrastructure” 33 times, although it outlines no means or goals to develop it.

Money is short

A recurring question is where the funding for infrastructure will come from, given that regions such as Latin America are experiencing an economic downturn, after a decade of growth that made it possible to fight poverty and expand public works.

Andrés Blanco, a Colombian expert on urban development and housing with the IDB, proposes several mechanisms, including “land value capture”: capturing the increases in property values for the state. This refers to a municipality’s ability to benefit from the rise in real estate value generated by infrastructure improvements (access to highways, the paving of roads, public lighting, sewers, etc.) or the implementation of new land-use rules (e.g., from rural to urban).

“The main idea is to use this resource to finance infrastructure. But this has not been done, because there is a cash flow problem. The cost is paid by the government and the communities, but only private property owners benefit,” he told IPS.

In three Brazilian cities, the IDB found that investing one dollar per square metre in drinking water pipes increased the land value by 11 dollars, while three dollars per m2 invested in sewage brought up the value to 8.5 dollars, and 2.58 dollars per m2 invested in paving raised the value by 9.1 dollars. In Quito, the transformation of rural to urban land enhanced the value by 400 percent.

In the Ecuadorean capital, the IDB released the report “Expanding the use of Land Value Capture in Latin America”.

In Floridablanca, the local government recovered 30,000 dollars of a total of 175,000, that the owners of 100 plots of land must pay for having benefited from investment in urban improvements.

“The main challenge facing the New Urban Agenda is how to find funding. We as mayors have to prioritise small-scale projects, but we need major infrastructure in outlying areas,” Mantilla said.

For Bárcena, Habitat III leaves an immense financing task. “Land use could be more profitable. States cannot do it alone. For this reason, there has to be a grand coalition between governments, companies, and organisations to make urban and public space more habitable, and to make cities more connected,” she said.

ECLAC, which is carrying out a study on time use in cities, proposes mechanisms such as: public policies on land value capture, to increase revenue collection and guide the way urban infrastructure is developed; the issue of municipal bonds to raise capital for long-term infrastructure projects; and platforms to draw private investment.

The United Nations Environment Programme’s “Global Outlook on Walking and Cycling”, released in Quito, calls for countries to invest at least 20 percent of their transport budget on infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists, in order to save lives, curb pollution and reduce carbon emissions.

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UN Cuba Embargo Vote: United States Abstains for First Timehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/un-cuba-embargo-vote-united-states-abstains-for-first-time/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-cuba-embargo-vote-united-states-abstains-for-first-time http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/un-cuba-embargo-vote-united-states-abstains-for-first-time/#comments Wed, 26 Oct 2016 22:49:24 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147526 Workers packaging spirulina in the town of Zaragoza in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Workers packaging spirulina in the town of Zaragoza in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 26 2016 (IPS)

After 25 years of voting against a United Nations resolution condemning the United States (U.S.) embargo on Cuba, the U.S. Wednesday chose for the first time to abstain from voting. An overwhelming 191 UN member states voted for the resolution, with only Israel joining the United States in abstention.

The UN General Assembly met for its annual vote on a resolution to end sanctions against Cuba imposed in the 1960s at the height of the Cold War. The United States has consistently voted against the resolution, but on Wednesday United States Ambassador Samantha Power announced its historic change in voting.

“After 50-plus years of pursuing the path of isolation, we have chosen to take the path of engagement,” said Power whose statement was met with applause.

Power highlighted the significant progress made by the Cuban government in the protection of its people including the reduction of its child mortality rate and children’s access to education. Power also described Cuba’s essential role during the Ebola outbreak in 2014 when the Caribbean nation was one of the first countries to step forward and send over 200 health professionals to the hardest hit areas in West Africa.

Cuban Foreign Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla welcomed the vote but noted that the embargo against Cuba is still in place and continues to harm Cubans and the nation’s economic development.

“Human damages caused by the blockade are incalculable,” -- Cuban Foreign Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla.

“Human damages caused by the blockade are incalculable,” he told the General Assembly, estimating that the U.S. embargo has cost the island over $125 billion.

Though the U.S. has eased travel and business restrictions, most laws and regulations that implemented the blockade are still in force.

For instance, the existing Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 (CDA) prohibits foreign-based subsidiaries of U.S. companies from trading with Cuba. This has limited the country’s access to essential medicine and medical equipment which has “wreaked havoc” on Cuba’s health care system. Parrilla pointed to the case of U.S. company Medtronic which was unable to sell deep brain stimulators to Cuban companies to treat patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders.

He also noted that Cuban medical efforts deployed during the Ebola epidemic were hampered when the British Standard Chartered Bank refused to make financial transfers between the World Health Organisation and Cuban doctors.

Though U.S. banks can now legally process Cuban transactions, many banks fear reprisal from the U.S. having had received enormous fines for violating sanctions in the past.

In 2012, ING Bank was fined $619 million, HSBC $1.9 billion and BNP Paribas $8.83 billion.

Even after December 2014 when President Obama first announced his aim to restore full relations with Cuba, France’s Credit Agricole was fined $787 million for violating U.S. sanctions.

“Lifting the blockade is key to be able to advance towards the normalisation of relations with the United States,” said Parrilla.

Power echoed similar sentiments, urging for the two nations to continue to engage despite differences.

“Today, we will take another small step to be able to do that. May there be many, many more—including, we hope, finally ending the U.S. embargo once and for all,” she concluded.

However, abstaining from the resolution does not mean that the U.S. agrees with all of the Cuban government’s policies and practices, Power said.

“We are profoundly concerned by the serious human rights violations that the Cuban government continues to commit with impunity against its own people,” she told delegates.

According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), more than 8,600 government opponents and activists were detained in 2015. Freedom of expression and access to information also continues to be limited.

Power also rejected certain elements in the resolution, including that the embargo violated the UN charter and international law.

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Cuba’s Fish Farming Industry Seeks to Double Output by 2030http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/cubas-fish-farming-industry-seeks-to-double-output-by-2030/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cubas-fish-farming-industry-seeks-to-double-output-by-2030 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/cubas-fish-farming-industry-seeks-to-double-output-by-2030/#comments Wed, 26 Oct 2016 00:26:03 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147518 Tilapia jump as they are caught on the La Juventud fish farm in the Los Palacios municipality in the western province of Pinar de Rio, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Tilapia jump as they are caught on the La Juventud fish farm in the Los Palacios municipality in the western province of Pinar de Rio, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
LOS PALACIOS, Cuba, Oct 26 2016 (IPS)

Protected from the sun by broad-brimmed hats and long- sleeved shirts, workers at the La Juventud fish farm throw fish feed into the tanks for the tilapias, a fish that is scarce and in high demand in the Cuban markets.

“Production grew significantly due to a combination of factors: sex reversal (use of hormones to produce a 98 per cent male population), better quality fish feed, and introduction of genetically improved species,” Guillermo Rodríguez, the director of the fish farm, told IPS.

La Juventud, located in the municipality of Los Palacios and known as the best producer of tilapia – highly valued for its flavour – in Cuba, belongs to the state-owned Pinar del Río Fish Farming Company (Pescario), which groups all the activity in the sector in this western province.

Thanks to a restructuring of the fish farming industry, focusing on technological upgrading, this Caribbean island nation produced last year 27,549 tons of freshwater fish in tanks, pools and reservoirs, the largest volume since aquaculture was introduced in the 1980s.

The Food Ministry’s goal is to nearly double fish production by 2030, to 49,376 tons.

The fish and seafood catch, which in 2015 totalled 57,657 tons, only covers a small proportion of the demand from the population of 11.2 people, and does not fully meet the demand from the thriving tourism industry, which this year is expected to break the record of three million visitors from abroad.

Including fish and seafood products, the country spends some two billion dollars a year on food imports, despite a slight increase in domestic food production, achieved as a result of the economic reforms implemented since 2008.

The rise in aquaculture production was due to a reorganisation of the industry, stability in the fish feed supply, wage hikes, intensive fish farming and the genetic improvement of species, with state funds, international development aid and foreign investment.

“In 2015, our company produced 465 tons of fish, including 200 tons of tilapia. And so far this year we have harvested 391 tons, including 248 of tilapia,” Rodríguez said, referring to the output of the La Juventud fish farm, which employs 132 workers, 17 of whom are women.

A GIFT tilapia, one of the varieties farmed in La Juventud, Los Palacios municipality, in the western province of Pinar de Rio, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A GIFT tilapia, one of the varieties farmed in La Juventud, Los Palacios municipality, in the western province of Pinar de Rio, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In their installations, using 46.2 hectares of water that flows by gravity from a nearby dam, La Juventud raises fry that it receives every two years from the state Aquaculture Technology Development Company (EDTA), releases the fish in reservoirs, and harvests them later to send them to plants to be processed.

Yields took off in 2011 when the sex reversal technique and the first genetically improved species were introduced, as part of a project of technology transfer from Vietnam. As of 2015 they receive support from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

“With the FAO project, we have achieved far better results: tilapia production has increased from four tons per hectare to 13.3 tons per hectare,” said Rodríguez.

He said the average monthly wage climbed from 13 dollars to more than 58 dollars, which is more than twice the average wage of 23 dollars earned by state employees.

The two-year programme called “Adoption and implementation of a freshwater fish genetic improvement programme”, signed last year between the government and FAO, has a budget of 297,000 dollars for strengthening the skills of producers and technical and scientific personnel across the country in genetics and breeding.

“The project’s activities mainly involve the Aquaculture Technology Development Company, with training and inputs to raise the fry,” said Loliette Fernández, a FAO officer in Cuba.

“The goal is to create a national programme of genetic improvement of freshwater fish, which today does not exist,” she told IPS.

The initiative, which has drawn international consultants to the country, focuses on tilapia farming, particularly with the introduction of the GIFT (Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia) variety, which is also used in fish farming in other developing countries.

“Tilapia has always been part of the Cuban diet, but with GIFT we’re selling a high-quality attractive fish. Our industry produces a variety of products, but tilapia is the most popular,” veterinarian Mercedes Domínguez, who works on the farm, told IPS.

From the edge of the tank, workers feed tilapia on the La Juventud fish farm, the best-known in Cuba for its production of this fish, which is highly valued by both the local population and tourists. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

From the edge of the tank, workers feed tilapia on the La Juventud fish farm, the best-known in Cuba for its production of this fish, which is highly valued by both the local population and tourists. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Snowy egrets fly over the La Juventud facilities and walk along the rims of the big tanks, pools and channels. The buildings are nicely painted and have handmade posters explaining the processes carried out in each area.

“We maintain the fish farming installations with the smallest possible repairs that we can afford to make, but they all need large and specialised engineering works to make better use of the water,” said the head of Pescario, Jorge Triana, pointing to the walls of the tanks on the farm, which have been in use for over two decades.

Besides the lack of repairs and necessary upgrading, Triana also mentioned other difficulties faced by the company, which supplies fish to the province of 140,252 people.

La Juventud’s fleet of vehicles is aging, there are problems of refrigeration, and the technology is obsolete.

He estimates that what Pescario produces covers about 30 per cent of the province’s demand. “Although it depends on whether the stores offer other meat products, our fish arrive in the morning, and by the afternoon there is nothing left,” he told IPS.

“The company has achieved a steady capture of over 1,700 tons, which is more than before,” he said. Of that total, just 32 tons come from private fishers who fish in Cuban waters and sell their catch to the state company.

He said that now they are working on making adjustments to the whole system to achieve their growth goals by 2030.

“The future of Cuba and the entire world lies in aquaculture,” said Margarita Cepero, who since 2006 has headed a fish fattening unit with floating cages in the Sidra reservoir, in the western province of Matanzas.

“Every year there are more restrictions on sea fishing, in order to protect species,” she told IPS.

Cuba over-fished its 50,000 square kilometers of waters in the Caribbean, which are not highly productive, in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The island is facing the consequences of international depletion of fish resources and the overexploitation of its own coasts.

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Limitless Cigars and Rum for U.S. Tourists in Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/limitless-cigars-and-rum-for-u-s-tourists-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=limitless-cigars-and-rum-for-u-s-tourists-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/limitless-cigars-and-rum-for-u-s-tourists-in-cuba/#comments Sun, 23 Oct 2016 12:47:04 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147482 Bolivar Belicoso Fino, Cohiba Siglo IV, Cuaba Distinguidos, Trinidad Robusto Extra and Hoyo Churchill brand cigars. Credit: Alex Brown/cc by 2.0

Bolivar Belicoso Fino, Cohiba Siglo IV, Cuaba Distinguidos, Trinidad Robusto Extra and Hoyo Churchill brand cigars. Credit: Alex Brown/cc by 2.0

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Oct 23 2016 (IPS)

After more than a half-century of a commercial, financial and economic embargo, U.S.-Cuban trade relations took a significant step forward this month.

On Oct. 14, the Barack Obama administration announced a round of executive actions designed to increase trade and travel with Cuba. One of these included lifting restrictions on Cuban rum and cigars for U.S. travelers in Cuba.

The executive actions were taken following a series of changes made since Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced on Dec. 17, 2014 that they were committed to normalise relations after decades of enmity.

The lifting of trade restrictions signifies the willingness of both policymakers and the public to form a positive relationship between the U.S and Cuba. Many hope the breakdown of trade barriers will lead to a new era of economic vitality for Cuban citizens.

The Obama administration has called for a rescinding of the 50-year-old economic embargo on the island. The U.S. administration’s ultimate goal would be to make Obama’s trade policy with Cuba irreversible through the establishment of a wide network of trade relationships strong enough to defeat any future opposition from the public or Republican lawmakers alike.

Although lifting restrictions on cigars and rum may seem like a small step, these reforms could pave the road to open trade between the nations. There is just as much demand in Cuba for U.S commodities such as rice, wheat, and corn as there is in the U.S. for organic fruit, seafood and sugar produced in Cuba. With over 11 million citizens just 90 miles off the Florida coast, Cuba presents itself as a prosperous market for U.S food and agricultural exports.

Advocates of normalising trade relations say it would not only enhance Cuban citizens access to affordable food, it will also provide the U.S agri-business sector with a host of new trade opportunities with the island nation. Lifted restrictions will also make it easier for U.S. companies to import Cuban-made pharmaceuticals and for Cuban citizens to purchase affordable, high-quality products from the U.S online.

“The Treasury Department has worked to break down economic barriers in areas such as travel, trade and commerce, banking, and telecommunications,” Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew explained in a statement.

“Today’s action builds on this progress by enabling more scientific collaboration, grants and scholarships, people-to-people contract, and private sector growth. These steps have the potential to accelerate constructive change and unlock greater economic opportunity for Cubans and Americans.”

Many believe this lift could rebuild the booming rum and cigar trade relations the U.S. shared with Cuba in the past. In fact, cigars are widely considered to be Cuba’s most prized export. The island is renowned for being one of the world’s best tobacco producers.

In the 18th century, tobacco was the second most exported product in the nation, after sugar. Before the embargo, the U.S and Cuba shared a close trade relationship with the U.S having consumed some 300 million Cuban cigars by the mid-19th century, and many Cuban cigar-makers migrating to nearby Florida, where Tampa became known as “Cigar City” by the early 20th century.

Now, U.S citizens can also enjoy the limitless consumption of what has made Cuba’s known as the ‘Isle of Rum’. Through an age-old tradition of rum-making using a combination of world-famous sugar cane (first introduced by Christopher Columbus in 1493), a favourable Caribbean climate, fertile soil, and the unique know-how of Cuban “Maestro Roneros” (master rum-makers) this distinctly Cuban beverage is sought after the world over.

Lawrence Ward, a partner at Dorsey & Whitney, an international law firm focused on U.S. national security law, international trade compliance law and licensing, said that, “Today’s announcement is a massive development in further opening trade between the United States and Cuba. The Obama Administration has been committed to normalizing U.S.-Cuban relations and these new changes come at an interesting time when U.S.-Russian relations are quite tense.”

Ward added that Cuban tobacco and alcohol products are two of the most sought after commodities for U.S. tourists to bring home for personal use.

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Learning from Past Mistakes: Rebuilding Haiti After Hurricane Matthewhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/learning-from-past-mistakes-rebuilding-haiti-after-hurricane-matthew/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=learning-from-past-mistakes-rebuilding-haiti-after-hurricane-matthew http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/learning-from-past-mistakes-rebuilding-haiti-after-hurricane-matthew/#comments Sun, 23 Oct 2016 03:46:05 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147479 The UN is providing assistance to residents of Les Cayes in Western Haiti. Credit: Logan Abassi UN/MINUSTAH

The UN is providing assistance to residents of Les Cayes in Western Haiti. Credit: Logan Abassi UN/MINUSTAH

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 23 2016 (IPS)

As Haiti reels from another disaster once again, many are questioning the humanitarian system and looking for long-term solutions with Haitians at the heart of response.

Since Hurricane Matthew made landfall in early October, over 500 Haitians have reportedly died, thousands of homes have been left destroyed, and vital farm land overturned. This devastation has affected over 19 percent, or 2.2 million, of the Caribbean nation’s 10 million citizens. More than 12 percent of the population is in need of immediate assistance, especially in the southern part of the country.

In response, the United Nations launched a flash appeal of $119 million to provide urgent life-saving aid to 750,000 people in the next three months. This appeal is in addition to $194 million for the 2016 Haiti Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) requested early this year.

Neighboring nations however did not experience such devastation, with only 4 deaths in the Dominican Republic and none in Cuba. So why did Haiti take such a hard hit?

“Fundamentally, the problem is that Haiti is very poor,” David Sanderson, a Professor at the University of New South Wales specialising in humanitarian responses told IPS.

Haiti, a nation formed following a slave rebellion, has long struggled with extreme poverty, after beginning its existence in debt to its former coloniser France. Meanwhile aid delivered to Haiti has often been criticised for being insufficient and inefficient and at times even counter-productive.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere with more than a quarter of its people living in extreme poverty. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction found that poverty and disaster mortality often go hand in hand, reporting that the majority of the 1.35 million killed by natural disasters between 1996 and 2015 occurred in low-income countries.

“Haiti has become a Republic of NGOs—so international NGOs have created this complete parallel of government that always bypasses the Haitian government,” -- France Francois.

Many have also noted the impacts of decades of political instability and corruption in creating a weak government that has not enacted key disaster preparedness policies such as necessary improvements to infrastructure.

According to a report from the American Institute of Architects, there is no national building code and a lack of enforcement of building construction standards. Instead, engineers often use standards from other countries that do not account for Haiti’s own context.

The government was only weakened further following the devastating magnitude 7 earthquake in 2010 which claimed over 200,000 lives and left over 1.5 million people homeless. Now over six years after the earthquake, almost 60,000 people are still displaced.

A Byproduct of the International Development System

However, many are pushing back on this narrative, pointing to the international aid regime as a major source of the country’s inability to withstand and recover from such disasters.

“The weakness of the government is a byproduct of the entire international development system,” said France Francois, a former development worker in post-earthquake reconstruction efforts, to IPS.

“It’s easy to point the finger and say well the Haitian government should have done this or should have done that, but what you have to look at is the larger structure…It’s not simply because [the government doesn’t] want to do things, it is because they don’t have the capacity and they don’t have the capacity because they only get one percent of foreign aid,” Francois continued.

Haiti-American development consultant Jocelyn McCalla echoed similar sentiments to IPS, noting that the international aid regime has lead to very few assets being provided “in order to build the capacity of Haitians themselves to own the process of rebuilding.”

According to the UN Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti, the Haitian government received less than one percent of humanitarian aid after the 2010 earthquake while humanitarian agencies and international non-governmental organisations received the other 99 percent. Provisions for long-term recovery funding to the Government of Haiti was slightly higher at approximately 15 percent.

This failure to assist and coordinate with the government creates a “vicious cycle” in which Haitians are left relying on forces “outside of their control,” said Haiti-American development consultant Jocelyn McCalla to IPS.

“Haiti has become a Republic of NGOs—so international NGOs have created this complete parallel of government that always bypasses the Haitian government,” said Francois.

She also pointed to the disconnect between donor priorities and Haitians’ needs.

As part of efforts towards reconstruction after the 2010 earthquake, the Bush-Clinton Haiti Fund, created by former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, invested $2 million in the Royal Oasis Hotel aimed to house aid workers and foreign investors.

Though the project was meant to create jobs for Haitians, it failed to address the permanent, seismic-proof housing needs of thousands of Haitians.

“If you asked the Haitian people…they would have said that [being] safe during a hurricane is a priority for them, not hotels for foreigners,” Francois told IPS.

The Center for Global Development also found that donor concerns trumped the Haitian government’s post-earthquake priorities as funding requests for reconstruction, education and health fell significantly short.

The failure to focus on resilience and disaster preparedness is not isolated to Haiti. Sanderson, who is one of the editors of the 2016 World Disasters Report, found that only 40 cents to every $100 spent on development aid was invested in disaster risk reduction activities.

“That’s wrong—there should be way more going in advancement to stop disasters from happening in the first place,” Sanderson told IPS, adding that there is a shared responsibility towards such action.

As a result of past failures, many have said that greater transparency and accountability is “sorely needed.”

Francois particularly pointed to the American Red Cross’ alleged mismanaged funds and unfulfilled promises to build homes for Haitians. Though the group received nearly $500 million in donations following the earthquake, ProPublica and National Public Radio released an investigative report claiming the Red Cross only built six permanent homes.

In response, the Red Cross denied allegations and called the misrepresentation “disappointing.”

“Despite the most challenging conditions, including changes in government, lack of land for housing, and civil unrest, our hardworking staff—90 percent of whom are Haitians—continue to meet the long-term needs of the Haitian people. While the pace of progress is never as fast as we would like, Haiti is better off today than it was five years ago,” Red Cross said in a statement.

Francois said that beneficiaries must hold organisations and donors accountable for aid flows, and that organisations must work with and involve communities in every step of the way.

“That’s standard best practice,” she told IPS.

“What I hope will happen is that those who want to support Haiti and the Haitian government will sit down with the proper authorities and put together what the long term sustainable plan will look like for this reconstruction effort,” she continued.

McCalla highlighted the need to ensure there is no repeat of the cholera epidemic that was introduced to the waterways following the 2010 earthquake.

UN peacekeepers have been blamed for the outbreak which has so far killed over 10,000 people. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found “an exact correlation” between arrival of Nepalese peacekeepers to the appearance of first cases in the Meille river. In August, a UN spokesperson said that the UN was convinced it needed to do more regarding its own involvement in the initial outbreak, however the UN has continued to claim immunity

“Because of a number of past failures, we should respond clearly and say we are accountable…we want to work with the Haitian people to do it…and also make every effort possible to commit to remedying the situation,” McCalla told IPS. However, no effort has been made thus far, he added.

Investing in Local Institutions and People

As the three week mark approaches along with the fading interest and relief resources that often goes with it, the push for long-term solutions is underway, one that gives control to Haitians.

“Business as usual is not an option,” said Sanderson, urging for a focus on long-term recovery that puts local citizens in charge.

McCalla and Francois made similar comments, highlighting the need to invest in Haitians.

“When you cast (Haitians) aside, and say we’re going to take care of everything…that is demeaning,” McCalla told IPS.

He also stressed the need to challenge the “charity” narrative of Haiti.

Francois said that organisations should hire and train Haitians not only as a way to build trust, but also to show their investment in communities.

“You build the local capacity so that you are no longer needed…you are supposed to grow and change and show results but only in the development world, remaining stagnant is something to be proud of,” she told IPS.

Though Haiti will continued to need funds, “people are not helpless,” McCalla told IPS, noting that many are already trying to rebuild their livelihoods and country whilst asserting their position at the forefront of disaster relief and recovery.

Ambassador of Haiti to the U.S. Paul Altidor released a statement at the wake of the disaster, urging for a coordinated and strategic relief effort “to avoid mistakes from the past.”

“As the country continues to assess the extent of the damage, the state of Haiti strongly encourages all who wish to help to work with the local organisations and institutions on the ground in order to gain their input on the actual needs of the affected communities,” he said in a statement, adding that local institutions can also be good partners too and should not be bypassed.

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Freedom of the Press Faces Judicial Harassment in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/freedom-of-the-press-faces-judicial-harassment-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=freedom-of-the-press-faces-judicial-harassment-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/freedom-of-the-press-faces-judicial-harassment-in-brazil/#comments Thu, 20 Oct 2016 23:58:14 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147449 Journalists working for the Brazilian newspaper Gazeta do Povo, harassed by a series of lawsuits after reporting the high remunerations of judges and prosecutors in the southern state of Paraná, during a meeting at the newspaper’s offices with Governor Carlos Alberto Richa. Credit: PSDB

Journalists working for the Brazilian newspaper Gazeta do Povo, harassed by a series of lawsuits after reporting the high remunerations of judges and prosecutors in the southern state of Paraná, during a meeting at the newspaper’s offices with Governor Carlos Alberto Richa. Credit: PSDB

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 20 2016 (IPS)

The same justice that exists to ensure rights can become a tool to violate them and restrict freedom of the press, as seen with the recent wave of lawsuits against journalists and the media in Brazil.

The latest high-profile case involves the Gazeta do Povo, the main daily newspaper in Curitiba, the capital of the southern state of Paraná, which is facing 48 lawsuits from judges and public prosecutors who are suing the paper and several of its employees for reporting their incomes in February.

“There were weeks when four workdays out of five were spent running from one town to another in Paraná, to appear at hearings. I think overall we traveled more than 10,000 kilometres,” Rogerio Galindo, one of the three reporters facing legal action, told IPS.“This happened precisely in the midst of political upheaval in the country, jeopardising the sustainability of the newspaper and revealing a great potential (for a wave of lawsuits) to cause irreversible damage, when the press already faces serious economic difficulties.” -- Mendes Junior

Elvira Lobato, a journalist who writes for the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, went through a similar ordeal after publishing a Dec. 15, 2007 article titled “Universal celebrates its 30th birthday, with a business empire”, about the obscure dealings of the evangelical Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which owns television and radio networks and newspapers.

Lucio Flavio Pinto, an award-winning journalist who has published the independent newsletter Jornal Pessoal since 1988 in Belém, the capital of the northern state of Pará, has faced 33 legal actions brought by the local media empire “O Liberal” since 1992, after he uncovered illegal activities allegedly engaged in by its owners, the Maiorana family.

In Gazeta do Povo, three journalists, a computer graphics artist, a systems analyst, and the newspaper publishing company face legal action, accused of causing damage to the plaintiffs, who are demanding monetary compensation.

These legal proceedings have been brought in small courts scattered through dozens of towns – civil lawsuits that do not exceed 40 legal minimum monthly wages (about 11,000 dollars).

“Counting the lawyer and the driver, seven of us had our family and professional lives disturbed” from April to June, said Galindo, who underscored the case of Euclides García, who was not able to be with his wife in the last months of her pregnancy.

Fortunately, the Federal Supreme Court ordered a suspension of all proceedings, in a preliminary ruling by Judge Rosa Weber on Jun. 30, on the eve of the birth of Garcia’s son.

The lawsuits were filed in response to a Feb. 15 Gazeta do Povo article which revealed that judges in Paraná received in 2015 remuneration averaging 527,500 Brazilian reals (165,000 dollars at the current exchange rate) – 28 per cent above the ceiling set by the constitution, which stipulates that judges cannot earn more than 90.25 per cent of what Supreme Court justices are paid.

In the case of the Paraná public prosecutors, their pay was 23 per cent above the constitutional limit.

This distortion was created by payments for different expenses, compensations, retroactive payments and subsidies, which were added to salaries.

“At no time was it stated that they were illegal remunerations, but that legal accumulations resulted in amounts that exceeded the constitutional limit,” Leonardo Mendes Junior, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, told IPS.

The information disclosed is publicly available on the government’s Transparency web site. What the newspaper articles did was put it in a legal context and point out that the judicial branch cost Brazil 1.8 per cent of GDP, compared to an average of 0.4 per cent in Europe.

Lucio Flavio Pinto has won a number of international awards for his investigative reporting on corruption in the northern state of Pará, which has led to a number of lawsuits against him. Credit: Garapa.org

Lucio Flavio Pinto has won a number of international awards for his investigative reporting on corruption in the northern state of Pará, which has led to a number of lawsuits against him. Credit: Garapa.org

But the Association of Paraná Judges said in a statement that the “offensive content” in the articles suggested the presence of illegalities in the judicial branch and led to criticism of judges. They also denied having agreed on a number of individual lawsuits by its members, and that these actions threatened the freedom of press.

However, by forcing the accused to travel from town to town, some of them up to 500 kilometres away from the newspaper office in Curitiba, Gazeta do Povo’s reporting was undermined, as three of its seven political reporters were kept away from their jobs for many days.

“This happened precisely in the midst of political upheaval in the country, jeopardising the sustainability of the newspaper and revealing a great potential (for a wave of lawsuits) to cause irreversible damage, when the press already faces serious economic difficulties,” said Mendes Junior.

“It is interesting to note the concept of ‘judicial censorship’ mentioned by Carmen Lucia Rocha, the new president of the Federal Supreme Court, to describe the sequence of actions that keep away from their jobs a significant part of (a newspaper’s) journalists,” he said.

Each trip made by the defendants around the state to appear in hearings cost the newspaper about 25,000 reals (7,800 dollars), estimated Galindo, adding up costs of transport, hotels, meals and attorney’s fees, let alone the lost hours of journalistic work.

With the suspension of the legal proceedings, the journalists expect a final decision from the Federal Supreme Court, which is to take up the case as requested by Gazeta do Povo, arguing that judges in Paraná cannot try these cases since they are interested parties.

“Some of the judges have acknowledged that they cannot decide these cases, but most have not,” said Mendes.

This is an extreme case, in which justice system officials hand down rulings in their own interest, while punishing their alleged attackers with forced trips and proceedings that limit their freedom.

But the abuse of the right to sue journalists who report on awkward issues has become a common practice in Brazil.

In 2007 and 2008, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God brought a total of 107 legal actions, filed by its followers around the country, to smother Elvira Lobato and Folha de São Paulo, Brazil’s most widely circulated newspaper. It does not really matter that the journalist and the paper won every case; the punishment preceded the judgment.

Lucio Flavio Pinto had to study law to defend himself, which took time away from his one-man publication, the Jornal Pessoal. The sales of the bimonthly newsletter, with a print run of 2,000 copies, is his source of income, since he accepts no advertising.

The legal proceedings against him lasted four to five years on average. But four lawsuits, filed 11 years ago, are still pending. Having been convicted twice, he counted on the solidarity of people all over the country to pay the monetary penalties.

In many cases, those suing him are not seeking the implementation of the sentences, he said. “They prefer to keep the sword hanging over my head, by dragging out the proceedings,” the journalist, whose investigative reporting prevented illegal appropriations of vast extensions of land in Pará, while costing him several physical assaults, told IPS.

“Recurrent legal actions are the most efficient form of censorship,” said Pinto, recognised as an “information hero” by the Paris-based Reporters without Borders.

In his case he did not receive solidarity from business organisations such as the National Association of Newspapers, which granted the 2016 Freedom of the Press award to Gazeta do Povo, reinforcing the general reaction from the journalism sector to the harassment from judges and prosecutors in Paraná.

There have been other “attempts to curtail freedom of the press that in turn help to prevent new cases” with their strong repercussions, Ángela Pimienta, head of the Institute for Journalistic Development that maintains the internet portal Press Observatory, told IPS.

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U.N. Urban Summit Gives Rise to a Mixture of Optimism and Criticismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/u-n-urban-summit-gives-rise-to-a-mixture-of-optimism-and-criticism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-urban-summit-gives-rise-to-a-mixture-of-optimism-and-criticism http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/u-n-urban-summit-gives-rise-to-a-mixture-of-optimism-and-criticism/#comments Tue, 18 Oct 2016 18:30:44 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147428 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/u-n-urban-summit-gives-rise-to-a-mixture-of-optimism-and-criticism/feed/ 0 Cultivating a Different Future for Rural Women in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/cultivating-a-different-future-for-rural-women-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cultivating-a-different-future-for-rural-women-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/cultivating-a-different-future-for-rural-women-in-argentina/#comments Thu, 13 Oct 2016 20:15:24 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147350 Olga Campos (left), her grandson Jhonny and her sister-in-law Limbania Limache, on the three-hectare leased plot of land where they plant organic vegetables in El Pato, 44 km south of Buenos Aires.In cold, hot or wet weather they work every day in the vegetable garden. Credit: Guido Ignacio Fontán/IPS

Olga Campos (left), her grandson Jhonny and her sister-in-law Limbania Limache, on the three-hectare leased plot of land where they plant organic vegetables in El Pato, 44 km south of Buenos Aires.In cold, hot or wet weather they work every day in the vegetable garden. Credit: Guido Ignacio Fontán/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
EL PATO, Argentina, Oct 13 2016 (IPS)

Her seven children have grown up, but she now takes care of a young grandson while working in her organic vegetable garden in El Pato, south of the city of Buenos Aires. Olga Campos wants for them what she wasn’t able to achieve: an education to forge a different future.

“I am 40 years old and I am just now going to school, something that I never thought I would do. As I was not able to go to school, to me as a mother the most important thing was that my kids got to go,” Campos told IPS in this town of 7,000 people in the municipality of Berazategui, 44 km from the capital of Argentina.

Her three-year-old grandson Jhonny, one of her five grandchildren, plays picking chives (Allium schoenoprasum) – a task that was not fun and games for his grandmother.“Rural women do not have the same access as men to land tenure, credit, or training. Public policies are often designed by and for rural men, and women are left in the background.” -- Cecilia Jobe

“I would get up and take (my kids) to school, then I would work in the fields for a while,” said Campos. “At 11 AM I would pick them up at school, before making lunch that would be ready by 12:30, and at 1 PM I would go back to work. Now my children help me out but then I was alone because my husband had left me. It was tough raising my children on my own, but between the vegetable garden and work cleaning people’s homes, I managed to do it.

“It is tiring work, because in summer when it is really hot you have to work anyway; when it rains you have to work anyway; when it is cold you have to work anyway,” she said.

Campos grows crops on a leased three-hectare plot of land, together with her sister-in-law Limbania Limache.

In the city “people have transportation options. But here we have to walk or bike, even when it rains,” said Limache, a 30-year-old mother of two children, one of whom is disabled.

“It is hard when it rains because the roads are impossible. The kids sometimes don’t want to go to school because they end up all muddy, and as they are older they feel ashamed,” she said.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), rural women, whose international day is celebrated Saturday Oct. 15, represent one fourth of the world’s population but produce more than half the global food supply, while facing economic, social and gender inequality.

This is true in Argentina as in the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean.

“Rural women do not have the same access as men to land tenure, credit, or training. Public policies are often designed by and for rural men, and women are left in the background,” Cecilia Jobe, in charge of gender issues in the FAO office in Argentina, told IPS.

“What kills us are the land leases. And on top of that we have to pay for ploughing since tractors are very expensive to rent. I would love to acquire my own land. We are asking for the possibility of paying for our own land, not for them to give it to us,” said Campos.

Obtaining loans is also hard. “They give you the runaround till you finally just get fed up,” said Limache, whose husband also farms, on a different plot of land.

Graciela Rincón, a poultry producer, prepares the eggs to be sold on her farm in El Pato, 44 km south of Buenos Aires. Credit: Guido Ignacio Fontán/IPS

Graciela Rincón, a poultry producer, prepares the eggs to be sold on her farm in El Pato, 44 km south of Buenos Aires. Credit: Guido Ignacio Fontán/IPS

According to the 2010 census in Argentina, of the country’s 40,117,096 people, 20,593,330 were women, of whom 651,597 worked in rural villages or towns and 1,070,510 in scattered rural settlements, for a total of 1,722,107 rural women.

“Rural women also produce most of the family’s food, which ensures a varied diet, minimises losses, and provides marketable products. Women also spend their incomes on food and children’s needs,” said Patricio Quinos, under-secretary of family agriculture programmes in Argentina’s Agribusiness Ministry.

The official told IPS: “Studies by FAO have shown that a child’s chances of survival increase by 20 per cent when the mother controls the household budget.”

“Women, therefore, play a decisive role in food security, dietary diversity and children’s health,” said Quino, whose department will open a “gender office” to deal with the specific needs of women.

FAO’s campaign in Argentina, “Rural Women, Drivers of Development”, seeks to engage the different branches of government to make public policies and laws with a gender perspective.

“Rural women are still invisible. The hardships that urban women face are exacerbated in the rural sphere. We are talking about unpaid reproductive and productive work,” said Jobe.

The concept of “rural women” includes those who live in the countryside and those who live in villages or towns but are involved in agricultural production.

It is not a “homogeneous” group, Quinos said.

“We understand that economically underprivileged rural women have the greatest difficulties with regard to the gaps produced by gender inequality. In many senses, they are made invisible as productive, economic and social subjects,” he said.

Graciela Rincón and her husband moved from the municipal seat, Berazategui, to set up a small poultry farm to produce eggs in El Pato.

Her job, she told IPS, is “from Monday to Monday, because the chickens need the water pump to be turned on every two hours, so they can drink water; you need to check if any cable is disconnected or watch out that the dogs don’t get in and cause a disaster, which has already happened to us.”

Access to health care is also difficult. “There is a hospital in Berazategui that is quite far away, or else there is a small first aid clinic that is closer, but sometimes the only doctor there is a pediatrician, and I’m a grown woman,” said Rincón.

For her part, Limache said “I would like my children to study and work in something else, because the countryside is hard.”

According to FAO, if the rights of rural women were guaranteed, between 20 and 30 per cent more food would be produced, meaning 150 million less hungry people worldwide.

Aware of that, agricultural engineer María Lara Tapia advises her neighbors in El Pato on organic vegetable production, which is in growing urban demand, and on its commercial distribution.

“I show them that there are different options. What happens sometimes in family agriculture is that producers do not leave the rural areas to see other alternatives, so they are subject to a truck that comes from the market, imposes a price and takes away the goods,” she told IPS.

To increase their incomes she teaches them for example how to make their own seedlings, adding “another link” to the “value chain”.

“Being a woman in the rural environment is hard. I think that it is a very conservative sector,” Tapia said, for whom it was not easy either to advise male farmers.

The situation for rural women is worse, she says.

“They are not seen to be working, but ‘helping’. The husband, father or brother tells them: ‘come help in the field’, when really they are working just like they are,” she stressed.

Limache said: “We are as much a part of the work as they are. We do the same work and on top of that, all the housekeeping. We are part of this.”

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