Inter Press Service » Latin America & the Caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 09 Feb 2016 10:38:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 Microcephaly Revives Battle for Legal Abortion in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/microcephaly-revives-battle-for-legal-abortion-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=microcephaly-revives-battle-for-legal-abortion-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/microcephaly-revives-battle-for-legal-abortion-in-brazil/#comments Mon, 08 Feb 2016 23:16:47 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143829 “Abortion shouldn’t be a crime” reads a sign held in one of the numerous demonstrations held in Brazil to demand the legalisation of abortion. Credit: Courtesy of Distintas Latitudes

“Abortion shouldn’t be a crime” reads a sign held in one of the numerous demonstrations held in Brazil to demand the legalisation of abortion. Credit: Courtesy of Distintas Latitudes

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 8 2016 (IPS)

The Zika virus epidemic and a rise in the number of cases of microcephaly in newborns have revived the debate on legalising abortion in Brazil. However, the timing is difficult as conservative and religious groups are growing in strength, especially in parliament.

“We are issuing a call to society to hold a rational, generous debate towards a review of the law that criminalises abortion,” lawyer Silvia Pimentel told IPS.

Pimentel, one of the 23 independent experts who oversee compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), defends the right to abortion in cases of “severe and irreversible birth defects”.

In Brazil, a 1940 law makes abortion illegal with two exceptions: when it is necessary to save the mother’s life or if the pregnancy is the result of rape.

A third exception, in cases of anencephalic fetuses -which have no brain – was legalised in 2012 as the result of a Supreme Court ruling based on the fact that they cannot survive outside the womb.

“This is different – microcephaly is not like anencephaly, in terms of surviving outside the womb; for the anencephalic fetus, the uterus serves as an intensive care unit; many even die before they are born,” said Clair Castilhos, executive secretary of the National Feminist Network for Health and Sexual and Reproductive Rights.

Microcephalic children, who are born with abnormally small heads, often have some degree of mental retardation, but they can survive.

“In these cases, we should discuss a woman’s right to decide whether to continue with the pregnancy, once she and her partner have been informed that their child could be born with serious difficulties,” said Castilhos, a pharmacist and biochemist who specialises in public health.

If the Supreme Court rules in favour of the right to abortion in cases of microcephaly, as women’s rights activists are seeking, “it would be a fourth exception,” she said.

“Although it wouldn’t be what we’re working for, which is the right for all women to decide whether to continue with a pregnancy, in any circumstances, rather than have an abortion as a ‘permissible crime’ in some cases,” she said in an interview with IPS.

But the approval of this “fourth exception” is unlikely.

Those opposed to making abortion legal, led by religious groups, argue that it violates the most basic of human rights, the right to life. They even protested the decriminalisation of abortion in cases of anencephalic fetuses, arguing that life begins at conception.

In their campaign over the social networks, they are now arguing that abortion of microcephalic fetuses amounts to “eugenics” or selective breeding, and compare those who defend the right to abortion in these cases to Nazis.

But Débora Diniz, a researcher at the Anis Bioethics Institute and the University of Brasilia, has argued in interviews and opinion pieces that eugenics occurs when the state intervenes in decision-making in an authoritarian manner, exercising control over women’s pregnancies, and not when the idea is for women to be free to make their own family planning decisions.

The Bom Jardim neighbourhood in Fortaleza, one of the big cities in Northeast Brazil, the region hit hardest by the Zika virus. The lack of sanitation and huge garbage dumps on the banks of rivers and stagnant water in containers everywhere offer ideal breeding grounds for the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits Zika virus, dengue fever and the chikungunya virus. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Bom Jardim neighbourhood in Fortaleza, one of the big cities in Northeast Brazil, the region hit hardest by the Zika virus. The lack of sanitation and huge garbage dumps on the banks of rivers and stagnant water in containers everywhere offer ideal breeding grounds for the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits Zika virus, dengue fever and the chikungunya virus. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Diniz forms part of a group of legal experts, feminists and other activists who plan to turn to the Supreme Court for a ruling on abortion in the case of microcephaly, in a repeat of the process they followed in the case of anencephaly, which began in 2004 and finally led to a verdict in 2012.

On Feb. 5, U.N. high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein urged Latin American governments to boost access to “reproductive health services,” including emergency contraception and abortion, given the spread of Zika virus in several countries of the region.

Between October – when the outbreak of microcephaly was identified as possibly linked to the Zika virus – and Jan. 30, there were 404 proven cases of microcephaly in newborns in Brazil. Another 3,670 cases are still being studied.

There have also been 76 infant deaths due to small brain size or central nervous system problems since October, but only five cases were confirmed as Zika-related while 56 are still under investigation.

Seventeen children were born with brain malformations proven to be linked to a mother’s infection with the Zika virus during pregnancy.

Zika virus, like dengue fever and the chikungunya virus, are spread by the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito.

The main symptoms of Zika virus disease are a low fever, an itchy skin rash, joint pain, and red, inflamed eyes. The symptoms, which are generally mild, last from three to seven days, and most people don’t even know they have had the disease, which makes it difficult to assess the actual number of cases.

The government does not even have estimates of the number of victims of the epidemic, and only recently gave instructions for mandatory reporting of the disease.

There were 1,649,008 cases of dengue registered by the Health Ministry in 2015, with 863 deaths, 82.5 percent more than in 2014. This virus is more widespread and more lethal, but it does not seem to have caused such alarm among Brazilians as Zika virus.

Microcephaly, which is only a threat in the case of pregnant women, has had a much bigger public impact.

Its link to Zika was established by Brazilian researchers.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said a causal relationship between the virus and microcephaly has not yet been fully established.

Nevertheless, on Feb. 1 it declared the Zika virus and its suspected link to birth defects an international public health emergency.

In Brazil, only when unborn babies began to be affected was a decision reached to combat the spread of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. In late January, the government launched a campaign that mobilised 220,000 military troops and thousands of health ministry and other public employees, as well as the public at large.

Brazil will have “a generation of people who have been impaired” if the mosquito is not eliminated, said Health Minister Marcelo Castro, who has been criticised for making contradictory statements about the epidemic.

But a leading national voice on bioethics, Volnei Garrafa, complained to IPS that the government wants to hold society responsible for fighing the Aedes aegypti mosquito, without assuming its own responsibility for the lack of adequate sanitation and the “garbage and stagnant water everywhere,” which generate perfect breeding grounds for the mosquito.

He said that in the renewed debate on the right to abortion, it would be important to have a bioethics council, such as the ones that operate in Europe and in a few countries of Latin America, where abortion remains illegal except in Cuba, Uruguay and Mexico City, or under extremely limited circumstances (fetal malformation, rape, risk to the mother’s life) in most other countries.

Garrafa said that with the current composition of the national Congress, where evangelical and Catholic groups have a strong influence, the approval of measures moving – even gradually – in the direction of the legalisation of abortion is nearly impossible.

“Congress is no longer ‘national’, it is an inquisition tribunal, where religious beliefs prevail,” said Castilhos.

Proposals in parliament, rather than being aimed at easing abortion law, seek to restrict the right to legal abortion in cases of rape, creating humiliating requirements for the victims that make it practically impossible for them to obtain an abortion.

“The Supreme Court has been forced to fill the legislative vacuum, at the risk of eroding democracy through the mixing up of the branches of the state, with the judiciary legislating instead of parliament,” said Garrafa.

In the past few decades, the Supreme Court has handed down rulings on complex issues such as biosafety and stem cell research, where experts in jointly evaluating biological and ethical questions would help overcome or mitigate controversies, said Garrafa, the founder of several Brazilian and Latin American bioethics institutions.

In the current political context, the Supreme Court represents the hope for progress on sexual and reproductive rights, Pimentel, Castilhos and Garrafa all told IPS.

Against this backdrop, the outbreak of microcephaly is traumatic, but it also represents an opportunity for debate on abortion and the need for universal access to sanitation, they added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Argentina and United Arab Emirates Open New Stage in Bilateral Relationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/argentina-and-united-arab-emirates-open-new-stage-in-bilateral-relations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentina-and-united-arab-emirates-open-new-stage-in-bilateral-relations http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/argentina-and-united-arab-emirates-open-new-stage-in-bilateral-relations/#comments Fri, 05 Feb 2016 23:42:58 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143816 The foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and his host, Argentina’s foreign minister Susana Malcorra, outside the San Martín Palace in Buenos Aires at the start of their meeting on Friday, Feb. 5. Credit: Government of Argentina

The foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and his host, Argentina’s foreign minister Susana Malcorra, outside the San Martín Palace in Buenos Aires at the start of their meeting on Friday, Feb. 5. Credit: Government of Argentina

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES , Feb 5 2016 (IPS)

With United Arab Emirates’ foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s visit to Argentina, the two countries launched a new stage in bilateral relations, kicked off by high-level meetings and a package of accords.

On Friday, Feb. 5 Al Nahyan and his host, Argentina’s foreign minister Susana Malcorra, signed five agreements on taxation, trade and cooperation in the energy industry, after a meeting with other officials, including this country’s finance minister, Alfonso Prat-Gay.

The meeting in the San Martín Palace, the foreign ministry building, addressed “important” aspects of ties with the Gulf nation made up of seven emirates, an Argentine communiqué stated.

Al Nahyan’s visit took the UAE’s contacts to the highest diplomatic level with the new Argentine government of Mauricio Macri, who received the minister Friday in Olivos, his official residence, less than two months after being sworn in as president on Dec. 10.

After the meeting in the foreign ministry, the Emirati minister also met with Argentine Vice President Gabriela Michetti, and visited the Senate.

The day before, Al Nahyan was named guest of honour in Buenos Aires by the city’s mayor, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, with whom he met after the ceremony.

In the meeting between Al Nahyan and Malcorra, a tax information exchange agreement was signed, along with an accord between the Argentine Industrial Union and the UAE Federation of Chambers of Commerce aimed at “establishing a joint business council.”

The foreign ministers of Argentina, Susana Malcorra, and the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, exchange tax agreements signed during their meeting in Buenos Aires on Friday Feb. 5. Credit: Government of Argentina

The foreign ministers of Argentina, Susana Malcorra, and the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, exchange tax agreements signed during their meeting in Buenos Aires on Friday Feb. 5. Credit: Government of Argentina

The governor of the southern Argentine province of Neuquén, Omar Gutiérrez, was also present at the meeting, where an agreement was reached to grant a loan to that region to finance the Nahueve hydroelectric project through the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD), in the town of Villa del Nahueve.

A four-MW hydroelectric plant will be built in that town of 25,000 people in southern Argentina with an investment of 18 million dollars, through a soft loan, the secretary-general of the Argentine-Arab Chamber of Commerce, Walid al Kaddour, told IPS.

According to the Chamber, trade between the two countries stood at 228 million dollars in 2014, with Argentina exporting nearly 198 million dollars in mainly foodstuffs and steel pipe and tube products.

As Al Kaddour underlined, “there is a great deal of room to grow (in bilateral ties), especially taking into account that the United Arab Emirates is located at a strategic point linking the West with the East.”

He explained that products can be re-exported to all of Asia from the Emirati city of Dubai, because “it is a very important distribution hub.”

The population of the UAE is just barely over nine million, “but it can reach a market of 1.6 billion inhabitants, and it has major logistics infrastructure enabling it to re-export products,” he said.

Al Kaddour said the UAE’s chief interest is importing food, “which is what Argentina mainly produces,” although he said the Gulf nation could also buy raw materials as well as manufactured goods.

The UAE at one point imported up to 1,000 vehicles a year from Argentina, he pointed out.

According to Al Kaddour, another aim of the Emirati minister’s visit was “to meet Argentina’s new administration.”

Macri, of the centre-right “Cambiemos” alliance, succeeded Cristina Fernández of the centre-left Front for Victory, who had strengthened ties with the UAE during an official visit to Abu Dhabi in 2013, where an agreement on cooperation in nuclear energy for peaceful purposes was signed.

“The UAE has pinned strong hopes on the new administration in Argentina,” said Al Kaddour. “The last few years have also been positive in terms of building a friendlier relationship.

“The idea now is to move towards concrete things, such as investment projects in different areas, like renewable energy and agriculture,” he added.

In an article sent to the Argentine daily Clarín, Al Nhayan stressed that “the ties of friendship between Argentina and the United Arab Emirates are strong” and the two countries “are united by shared economic interests.”

He added that “we hope to be able to work with the president, and we believe that together we can bring many benefits to our two countries and our people.”

He also emphasised that his country is seen as “the future gateway for access to Argentine products to the Middle East.”

Emirati sources told IPS that the UAE minister and the Buenos Aires mayor discussed questions such as sustainable urban development and solar energy – an area in which the Gulf nation is interested in cooperating with Argentina.

Although it is a leading oil producer, the UAE is considered a pioneer in the development of unconventional renewable energies, which it is fomenting as the foundation of clean development that will curb climate change.

In Argentina, Al Nahyan kicked off his Latin America tour that will take him to Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica through Feb. 12.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Women of Haitian Descent Bear the Brunt of Dominican Migration Policyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/women-of-haitian-descent-bear-the-brunt-of-dominican-migration-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-of-haitian-descent-bear-the-brunt-of-dominican-migration-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/women-of-haitian-descent-bear-the-brunt-of-dominican-migration-policy/#comments Fri, 05 Feb 2016 02:49:07 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143793 Two women selling fruit, grains and vegetables in the Little Haiti street market in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. They allowed their picture to be taken but preferred not to talk about their situation. Fear is part of daily life for Haitian immigrants in this country. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

Two women selling fruit, grains and vegetables in the Little Haiti street market in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. They allowed their picture to be taken but preferred not to talk about their situation. Fear is part of daily life for Haitian immigrants in this country. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

By Ivet González
SANTO DOMINGO, Feb 5 2016 (IPS)

A middle-aged woman arranges bouquets of yellow roses in a street market in Little Haiti, a slum neighbourhood in the capital of the Dominican Republic. “I don’t want to talk, don’t take photos,” she tells IPS, standing next to a little girl who appears to be her daughter.

Other vendors at the stalls in the street market, all of them black women, also refuse to talk. “They’re afraid because they think they’ll be deported,” one woman whispers, as she stirs a pot of soup on a wood fire on the sidewalk.

That fear was heightened by the last wave of deportations, which formed part of the complicated migration relations between this country and Haiti – the poorest country in the Americas, with a black population – which share the island of Hispaniola.

According to official figures, the Dominican Republic’s migration authorities deported 15,754 undocumented Haitian immigrants from August 2015 to January 2016, while 113,320, including 23,286 minors, voluntarily returned home.

“This process has a greater impact on women because when a son or a daughter is denied their Dominican identity, the mothers are directly responsible for failing to legalise their status,” said Lilian Dolis, head of the Dominican-Haitian Women’s Movement (MUDHA), a local NGO.

“If the mother is undocumented then the validity of her children’s documents is questioned,” she told IPS.

“And in the case of Haitian immigrant women, it’s not enough to marry a Dominican man even though the constitution grants them their husband’s nationality,” said Dolis, whose movement emerged in 1983. “That right is often violated.”

The latest migration crisis broke out in 2013 when a Constitutional Court ruling set new requirements for acquiring Dominican citizenship.

The aspect that caused an international outcry was the fact that the verdict retroactively denied Dominican nationality to anyone born after 1929 who did not have at least one parent of Dominican blood, even if their births were recorded in the civil registry.

This affected not only the children of immigrants, but their grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.

Tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent were left in legal limbo or without any nationality, international human rights groups like Human Rights Watch complained.

In response to the international outrage, the Dominican government passed a special law on naturalisation that set a limited period – May 2014 to February 2015 – for people born to undocumented foreign parents between 1929 and 2007 to apply for citizenship.

Antonia Abreu, one of the few street vendors who agreed to talk to IPS about the harsh reality faced by Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic, at her street stall where she sells flowers in the Little Haiti neighbourhood in Santo Domingo. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

Antonia Abreu, one of the few street vendors who agreed to talk to IPS about the harsh reality faced by Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic, at her street stall where she sells flowers in the Little Haiti neighbourhood in Santo Domingo. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

But only 8,755 people managed to register under this law.

At the same time, the authorities implemented a national plan for foreigners to regularise their status, from June 2014 to June 2015.

Under this plan, 288,466 undocumented immigrants, mainly of Haitian descent, applied for residency and work permits. But only about 10,000 met all the requirements, and only a few hundred were granted permits.

Since August, the police have been carrying out continuous raids, and undocumented immigrants are taken to camps along the border, to be deported to Haiti.

“Most Haitian women work outside the home; very few can afford to be homemakers,” said Antonia Abreu, a Haitian-Dominican woman who has sold floral arrangements for parties, gifts and funerals in the Little Haiti market for 40 years.

Abreu, known by her nickname “the Spider”, said “women sell clothes or food, they apply hair extensions, they’re domestic employees and some are sex workers. Many are ‘paleteras’ (street vendors selling candy and cigarettes) who suffer from police abuse – the police take their carts and merchandise when they don’t have documents.”

“Those who work as decent people have integrated in society and contribute to the country,” she told IPS.

Among the unique mix of smells – of spices, open sewers, traditional foods and garbage – many women barely eke out a living in this Haitian neighbourhood market, selling flowers, prepared foods, fruit and vegetables, clothing, household goods and second-hand appliances.

The small neighbourhood, which is close to a busy commercial street and in the middle of the Colonial City, Santo Domingo’s main tourist attraction, has been neglected by the municipal authorities, unlike its thriving neighbours.

No one knows exactly how many people live in Little Haiti, which is a slum but is virtually free of crime, according to both local residents and outsiders.

Most of the people buying at the market stalls in the neighbourhood are Haitian immigrants, who work in what are described by international rights groups as semi-slavery conditions.

The street market is also frequented by non-Haitian Dominicans with low incomes, in this country of 10.6 million people, where 36 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, according to World Bank figures from 2014.

A Haitian immigrant in the rural settlement of Mata Mamón in the Dominican Republic, where she works as a ‘bracera’ or migrant worker in agriculture. Haitian women who work on plantations in this country are invisible in the statistics as well as in programmes that provide support to rural migrants, activists complain. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

A Haitian immigrant in the rural settlement of Mata Mamón in the Dominican Republic, where she works as a ‘bracera’ or migrant worker in agriculture. Haitian women who work on plantations in this country are invisible in the statistics as well as in programmes that provide support to rural migrants, activists complain. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

“Undocumented immigrants can’t work, study or have a public life,” Dolis said. “They go directly into domestic service or work in the informal sector. And even if they have documents, Haitian-Dominican women are always excluded from social programmes.”

In this country with a deeply sexist culture, women of Haitian descent are victims of exclusion due to a cocktail of xenophobia, racism and gender discrimination, different experts and studies say.

“They are made invisible,” said Dolis. “We don’t even know how many Haitian-Dominican women there are. The census data is not reliable in terms of the Dominican population of Haitian descent, and the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) survey is out-of-date.”

The activist was referring to the last available population figures gathered by the National Survey on Immigrants carried out in 2012 by the National Statistics Office with UNFPA support.

At the time, the survey estimated the number of immigrants in the Dominican Republic at 560,000, including 458,000 born in Haiti.

The lack of up-to-date statistics hinders the work of Mudha, which defends the rights of Haitian-Dominican women in four provinces and five municipalities, with an emphasis on sexual and reproductive rights.

The movement is led by a group of 19 women and has 62 local organisers carrying out activities in urban and rural communities, which have reached more than 6,000 women.

Mudha says the Dominican authorities have never recognised the rights of women of Haitian descent. “They’ve always talked about immigration of ‘braceros’ (migrant workers), but never ‘braceras’ – that is, the women who come with their husbands, or come as migrant workers themselves,” Dolis said.

Since the mid-19th century Haitians have worked as braceros in the sugarcane industry, the main engine of the Dominican economy for centuries. But today, they are also employed in large numbers in the construction industry, commerce, manufacturing and hotels.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Small-scale Fishing Is About Much More than Just Subsistence in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/small-scale-fishing-is-about-much-more-than-just-subsistence-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=small-scale-fishing-is-about-much-more-than-just-subsistence-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/small-scale-fishing-is-about-much-more-than-just-subsistence-in-chile/#comments Wed, 03 Feb 2016 15:31:46 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143772 Pedro Pascual, who has been a fisherman for 50 of his 70 years of life, prepares bait in the installations used by some 70 small-scale fisherpersons in a bay in the beach resort town of Algarrobo, Chile. This son, grandson and great-grandson of fishermen is worried because very few young people are fishing today. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Pedro Pascual, who has been a fisherman for 50 of his 70 years of life, prepares bait in the installations used by some 70 small-scale fisherpersons in a bay in the beach resort town of Algarrobo, Chile. This son, grandson and great-grandson of fishermen is worried because very few young people are fishing today. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
ALGARROBO, Chile, Feb 3 2016 (IPS)

“Fishing isn’t just for making a living, it’s also enjoyable,” said Pedro Pascual, a 70-year-old fisherman who has been taking his small boat out to sea off Chile’s Pacific coast in the early hours of the morning almost every day for the past 50 years, to support his family.

Impish and ebullient, he told IPS that he doesn’t like to eat much fish anymore, although he is aware of its excellent nutritional properties, which make it a key product in terms of boosting global food security. “The thing is, eating what you fish yourself is kind of boring,” he said.

“Sometimes my wife has to go out and buy fish, because I come home without a single fish – I sell all of them, so I don’t have to eat them,” he confessed, in a mischievous tone.

Pascual was born and raised in the beach resort town of Algarrobo, 100 km west of Santiago.“Artisanal fishers who used to have a quota, a share of extractive fishing activity, were left without rights, and many lost their work.” -- Juan Carlos Quezada

The son, grandson and great-grandson of fishermen, he stressed that fishing is everything for him and his family, as he prepared bait on counters built on the beach, which are used by some 70 local fishers.

He and the others will sell their catch in the same place the following day, at market installations built there by the municipal government.

“We used to catch a lot of meagre (Argyrosomus regius) in this area. Now we catch hake (Merluccius) in the winter and in the summer we catch crab and some red cusk-eel (Genypterus chilensis),” he said.

As he prepared the bait, tying fish heads with twine, Pascual explained that he and his fellow fishermen go out in the afternoon, lay their lines, return to land, and head out again at 6:00 AM to pull in the catch.

“I like crabs, because there are different ways to eat them. I love ‘chupe de jaiba’ (crab quiche). You can make it with different ingredients,” he said.

He repeated several times in the conversation with IPS how much he loved his work, and said he was very worried that there are fewer and fewer people working as small-scale fishers.

“At least around here, we’re all old men…young people aren’t interested in fishing anymore,” he said. “They should keep studying, this work is very difficult,” he said, adding that he is lucky if he makes 300 dollars a month.

In response to the question “what will happen when there are no more small-scale fishers?” he said sadly: “people will have to buy from the industrial-scale fisheries.”

This is not a minor question, especially since large-scale fishing has hurt artisanal fisheries in countries along the Pacific coast of South America, which have become leaders in the global seafood industry over the last decade.

Small-scale fisheries account for over 90 percent of the world’s capture fishers and fish workers, around half of whom are women, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) regional office for Latin America and the Caribbean, based in Santiago.

Boats anchored in a small bay in the Chilean town of Algarrobo, waiting for the local fishermen to head out to sea in the evening to put out their lines. They go out the next day at dawn to haul in their catch, in a centuries-old activity that is now threatened by overfishing and laws in favour of industrial-scale fishing.  Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Boats anchored in a small bay in the Chilean town of Algarrobo, waiting for the local fishermen to head out to sea in the evening to put out their lines. They go out the next day at dawn to haul in their catch, in a centuries-old activity that is now threatened by overfishing and laws in favour of industrial-scale fishing. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

In addition, they supply around 50 percent of all global fish catches, and fishing and aquaculture provide a livelihood for between 10 and 12 percent of the world’s population.

“Small-scale fishing makes key contributions to nutrition, food security, sustainable means of subsistence and poverty reduction, especially in developing countries,” FAO stated in response to questions from IPS.

Studies show that fish is highly nutritious, offering high-quality protein and a broad range of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins A and D, phosphorus, magnesium and selenium, while saltwater fish have a high content of iodine.

Its protein, like that of meat, is easily digestible and complements protein provided by cereals and legumes that are the foundation of the diet in many countries of the developing South.

Experts say that even in small quantities, fish improves the quality of dietary protein by complementing the essential amino acids that are often present in low quantities in vegetable-based diets.

Moreover, fish oils are the richest source of a kind of fat that is vital to normal brain development in unborn babies and infants.

Chile, a long, narrow country between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andes mountains to the east, has 6,435 km of coast line and a broad diversity of marine resources.

Official figures indicate that 92 percent of fishing and fish farming activity involves fish capture, five percent seaweed harvesting, and the rest seafood harvesting.

The three main fish captured in Chile are the Chilean jack mackerel (Trachurus murphyi), sardines and the anchoveta, which bring in more than 1.2 billion dollars a year in revenues on average, but are facing an overfishing crisis.

Extractive fishing provides work for more than 150,000 people in this country of 17.6 million and represents 0.4 percent of GDP. Of the industry’s workers, just over 94,000 are small-scale fishers and some 22,700 are women, according to the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Service.

About three million tons of fish are caught every year in this South American country. But fish consumption is just 6.9 kilos per person per year – less than eight percent of the 84.7 kilos of meat consumed annually per capita.

The low level of fish consumption in Chile is attributed to two main reasons: availability and prices.

With regard to the former, a large proportion of the industrial-scale fish catch is exported.

A controversial law on fisheries and aquaculture in effect since 2013, promoted by the right-wing government of former president Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014), has played a major role in this scenario.

The law grants fishing concessions for 20 years, renewable for another 20, and establishes that large companies can receive fishing rights in perpetuity, which can be passed from one generation to the next.

“Artisanal fishers who used to have a quota, a share of extractive fishing activity, were left without rights, and many lost their work,” Juan Carlos Quezada, spokesman for the National Council for the Defence of Artisanal Fishing (CONDEPP), told IPS.

The representative of the union of small farmers added that “ninety percent of artisanal fishers have been left without fish catch quotas, because concessions and quotas were only assigned to industrial fisheries and shipowners.”

While small-scale fishers are fighting for the law to be repealed, the government continues to support the Development Fund for Artisanal Fishing which, contradictorily, is aimed at the sustainable development of Chile’s small-scale fishing industry, and backs the efforts of organisations of small fishers.

Pascual sees things clearly: “Fishing is my life and it will always be. The sea will always give us something, even if it offers us less and less.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Brazil Wages War against Zika Virus on Several Frontshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/brazil-wages-war-against-zika-virus-on-several-fronts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazil-wages-war-against-zika-virus-on-several-fronts http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/brazil-wages-war-against-zika-virus-on-several-fronts/#comments Tue, 02 Feb 2016 14:08:52 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143755 In the country’s capital, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff oversees one of the military operations against the Aedes Aegypti mosquito carried out at a national level in the last few days to curb the spread of the Zika virus. Credit: Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR

In the country’s capital, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff oversees one of the military operations against the Aedes Aegypti mosquito carried out at a national level in the last few days to curb the spread of the Zika virus. Credit: Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 2 2016 (IPS)

Brazil is deploying 220,000 troops to wage war against the Zika virus, in response to the alarm caused by the birth of thousands of children with abnormally small heads. But eradicating the Aedes aegypti mosquito requires battles on many fronts, including science and the pharmaceutical industry.

The Zika virus, transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, like dengue and Chikungunya fever, is blamed for the current epidemic of microcephaly, which has frightened people in Brazil and could hurt attendance at the Aug. 5-21 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

It has also revived the debate on the right to abortion in Brazil, where the practice is illegal except in cases of pregnancy resulting from rape, or when the mother’s life is in danger.

“Immediate measures to provide assistance to the mothers of newborns with microcephaly are indispensable,” said Silvia Camurça, a sociologist who heads SOS Body – Feminist Institute for Democracy. “Almost all of them are poor, and they are completely overwhelmed by this new burden, with no help in the household.

“Imagine a mother with more than one child, without a husband,” she told IPS. “Childcare centres are not prepared to receive children with microcephaly, who are now numerous and whose numbers will grow even more, with the children to be born in the next few months. It’s a desperate situation. Public assistance for these families is urgently needed.”

An increase in the number of unsafe back-alley abortions, which put women’s lives in danger, “is very likely, since many women know that there are no public policies to support them, and the situation is aggravated by the economic crisis and high unemployment,” said Camurça.

Pernambuco, the Northeast Brazilian state where her non-governmental organisation is based, has the highest number of suspected or confirmed cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect.

As of Jan. 23, the Health Ministry had registered 1,373 suspected cases in the state, of which 138 have been confirmed, 110 were ruled out, and 1,125 are still being examined.

A total of 270 cases of microcephaly have been confirmed in Brazil and 3,448 suspected cases still need to be investigated. There have also been 68 infant deaths due to congenital malformations since October, 12 of which were confirmed as Zika-related and five of which were not, while the rest are still under investigation.

The main symptoms of Zika virus disease are a low fever, an itchy skin rash, joint pain, and red, inflamed eyes. The symptoms, which are generally mild, last from three to seven days, and most people don’t even know they have had the disease.

Brazil is at the centre of the debate on the virus because it is experiencing the largest-known outbreak of the disease, and because the link between the Zika virus and microcephaly was identified by the Professor Joaquim Amorim Neto Research Institute (IPESQ) in the city of Campina Grande in the Northeast – the poorest region of Brazil and the hardest-hit by this and other mosquito-borne diseases.

Explosive spread

On Monday Feb. 1, the World Health Organisation declared the Zika virus and its suspected link to birth defects an international public health emergency.

The WHO said the rise in the disease in the Americas is “explosive”, and predicted up to 1.5 million cases in Brazil and between three and four million cases in the Americas this year.

Spraying against the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the Zika virus and other diseases, has been stepped up in cities around Brazil. Credit: Cristina Rochol/PMPA

Spraying against the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the Zika virus and other diseases, has been stepped up in cities around Brazil. Credit: Cristina Rochol/PMPA

Although WHO Director General Margaret Chan said “A causal relationship between Zika virus and birth malformations and neurological syndromes has not yet been established,” in Brazil there are no doubts that the Aedes aegypti is the transmitter of the new national tragedy.

The government has mobilised the army, navy and air force against the epidemic, and is trying to mobilise the local population as well as state employees who make door-to-door visits as part of their job, such as electric and water utility meter readers.

The aim is to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds – any water-holding containers (tin cans, plastic jugs, or used tires) lying around the country’s 49.2 million households.

Mosquito repellent has been distributed to pregnant women. “But there are already shortages of repellent, and the ones that are safe for pregnant women are more expensive,” and less affordable for poor women, said Camurça.

The activist said another big problem is the lack of information and knowledge about epidemics. In Pernambuco, dengue fever – also transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito – was under control, according to health officials, “but all of a sudden we’re the champions of Zika,” a contradiction that has yet to be explained, she complained.

The first confirmed case of Zika virus in Brazil came to light in April 2015, after which the disease began to spread like wildfire. It is now present in 23 countries of the Americas, according to the WHO.

Epidemiologists say the statistics available on diseases transmitted by the Aedes aegypti are insufficient because reporting the diseases was not mandatory, which led to under-reporting.

Now microcephaly, but not its causes, are reported, and the lack of reliable statistics from the past, and on related infections, make it more difficult to obtain clear data.

Microcephaly has a number of other causes, such as syphilis, toxoplasmosis, rubella, cytomegalovirus, herpes and different infections.

Science is, however, another battlefront that could be decisive in this medium to long-term war. The hope is that efforts to develop a vaccine will be successful, at least to prevent the Zika virus’s most severe effect: microcephaly in unborn infants.

Research forges ahead

The Health Ministry’s Secretariat of Science, Technology and Strategic Inputs has played a key role in research on the Zika virus, encouraging studies in Brazil’s leading health research centres.

The head of the Secretariat, epidemiologist Eduardo Costa, believes Brazil could develop a vaccine, “despite the bureaucratic hurdles to the import of biological material and other inputs necessary to research, delaying it and driving up the costs.”

“It’s Brazil’s responsibility to produce a vaccine, and it’s something we owe Africa,” he told IPS.

Progress has been made in specialised centres, such as the Butantan Institute in the southern city of São Paulo, which is working on a vaccine that offers 80 percent protection against the four strains of dengue and could extend to the Zika virus. “Clinical tests are needed,” which are costly and take time, Costa said.

The Evandro Chagas Institute, of the northern Amazon state of Pará, is also making progress towards a medication that mitigates the effects of the Zika virus. And a University of São Paulo laboratory is researching possibilities offered by genetic engineering.

These Brazilian research centres have ties to universities or pharmaceutical companies abroad, and the resulting medications could be wholly produced in Brazil, in Bio-Manguinhos, the technical scientific unit that produces and develops immunobiologicals for the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), a leading Health Ministry research centre, said Costa.

Other technologies being tested in Brazil are aimed at curbing the breeding of the Aedes aegypti. One example is the Wolbachia bacterium, which can stop the dengue virus from replicating in its mosquito host. Fiocruz is releasing mosquitos with the bacterium in a Rio de Janeiro neighbourhood to infect other Aedes aegypti mosquitos.

Another initiative involves the release of genetically modified male mosquitos which produce offspring that die before they are old enough to start reproducing. Other studies have involved an insect growth regulator, pyriproxyfen, which disrupts the growth and reproduction of mosquitos.

In addition, new tests are needed to diagnose women with the Zika virus. The tests currently available must be carried out in the few days that the infection is active.

“A post-infection test is needed, to identify the lingering antibodies and offer more information about what the virus does,” Costa said.

Brazil eradicated the Aedes aegypti mosquito in 1954, in a campaign against yellow fever, the disease it spread back then, Costa pointed out. But the mosquito returned in intermittent outbreaks in the following decades, when it began to transmit dengue.

Now eradicating the mosquito is impossible, even for 220,000 soldiers, with the expanded repertoir of viruses it transmits, and today’s much more populous cities, with limited sanitation, endless amounts of garbage and containers of all kinds strewn everywhere. But technology and social mobilisation could at least help curb the mosquito population.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Tackling Climate Change in the Caribbean: Natural Solutions to a Human Induced Problemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/tackling-climate-change-in-the-caribbean-natural-solutions-to-a-human-induced-problem/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tackling-climate-change-in-the-caribbean-natural-solutions-to-a-human-induced-problem http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/tackling-climate-change-in-the-caribbean-natural-solutions-to-a-human-induced-problem/#comments Tue, 02 Feb 2016 06:33:44 +0000 Jessica Faieta http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143751 Jessica Faieta is United Nations Assistant Secretary General and UNDP Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean | @JessicaFaieta @UNDPLAC ]]> SANCHEZ, Petite Martinique. Climate-proofing the tiny island of Petite Martinique includes a sea revetment 140 metres long to protect critical coastal infrastructure from erosion. Credit: Tecla Fontenad/IPS

SANCHEZ, Petite Martinique. Climate-proofing the tiny island of Petite Martinique includes a sea revetment 140 metres long to protect critical coastal infrastructure from erosion. Credit: Tecla Fontenad/IPS

By Jessica Faieta
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 2 2016 (IPS)

The world is still celebrating the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the main outcome of the 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Its ambitions are unprecedented: not only has the world committed to limit the increase of temperature to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels,” it has also agreed to pursue efforts to “limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C.”

This achievement should be celebrated, especially by Small Island Development States (SIDS), a 41-nation group—nearly half of them in the Caribbean—that has been advocating for increased ambition on climate change for nearly a quarter century.

SIDS are even more vulnerable to climate change impacts —and risk losing more. Global warming has very high associated damages and costs to families, communities and entire countries, including their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

What does this mean for the Caribbean? Climate change is recognised as one of the most serious challenges to the Caribbean. With the likelihood that climate change will exacerbate the frequency and intensity of the yearly hurricane season, comprehensive measures are needed to protect at-risk communities.

Moreover, scenarios based on moderate curbing of greenhouse gas emissions reveal that surface temperature would increase between 1.2 and 2.3 °C across the Caribbean in this century. In turn, rainfall is expected to decrease about 5 to 6 percent. As a result, it will be the only insular region in the world to experience a decrease in water availability in the future.

The combined impact of higher temperatures and less water would likely result in longer dry periods and increased frequency of droughts, which threaten agriculture, livelihoods, sanitation and ecosystems.

Perhaps the most dangerous hazard is sea level rise. The sea level may rise up to 0.6 meters in the Caribbean by the end of the century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This could actually flood low-lying areas, posing huge threats, particularly to the smallest islands, and impacting human settlements and infrastructure in coastal zones. It also poses serious threats to tourism, a crucial sector for Caribbean economies: up to 60 percent of current resorts lie around the coast and these would be greatly damaged by sea level increase.

Sea level rise also risks saline water penetrating into freshwater aquifers, threatening crucial water resources for agriculture, tourism and human consumption, unless expensive treatments operations are put into place.

In light of these prospects, adapting to climate change becomes an urgent necessity for SIDS—including in the Caribbean. It is therefore not surprising that all Caribbean countries have submitted a section on adaptation within their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which are the voluntary commitments that pave the way for the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

In their INDCs, Caribbean countries overwhelmingly highlight the conservation of water resources and the protection of coastal areas as their main worries. Most of them also consider adaptation initiatives in the economic and productive sectors, mainly agriculture, fisheries, tourism and forestry.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been supporting Caribbean countries in their adaptation efforts for many years now, through environmental, energy-related and risk reduction projects, among others.

This week we launched a new partnership with the Government of Japan, the US$15 million Japan-Caribbean Climate Change Partnership (J-CCCP), in line with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The initiative will be implemented in eight Caribbean countries: Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, benefitting an estimated 200,000 women and men in 50 communities.

It will set out a roadmap to mitigate and adapt to climate change, in line with countries’ long-term strategies, helping put in practice Caribbean countries’ actions and policies to reduce greenhouse as emissions and adapt to climate change. It will also boost access to sustainable energy and help reduce fossil fuel imports and dependence, setting the region on a low-emission development path, while addressing critical balance of payments constraints.

When considering adaptation measures to the different impacts of climate change there are multiple options. Some rely on infrastructure, such as dikes to control sea level rise, but this can be particularly expensive for SIDS, where the ratio of coastal area to land mass is very high.

In this context, ecosystem-based adaptation activities are much more cost-effective, and, in countries with diverse developmental priorities and where financial resources are limited, they become an attractive alternative. This means healthy, well-functioning ecosystems to boost natural resilience to the adverse impacts of climate change, reducing people’s vulnerabilities as well.

UNDP, in partnership with national and local governments in the Caribbean, has been championing ecosystem-based adaptation and risk reduction with very rewarding results.

For example, the Government of Cuba partnered with UNDP, scientific institutes and forestry enterprises to restore mangrove forests along 84 km of the country’s southern shore to slow down saline intrusion from the sea level rise and reduce disaster risks, as the mangrove acts as a protective barrier against hurricanes.

In Grenada, in coordination with the Government and the German International Cooperation Agency, we supported the establishment of a Community Climate Change Adaptation Fund, a small grants mechanism, to provide opportunities to communities to cope with the effects of climate change and extreme weather conditions. We have engaged with local stakeholders to develop climate smart agricultural projects, and climate resilient fisheries, among other activities in the tourism and water resources sectors.

UNDP’s support is directed to balance social and economic development with environmental protection, directly benefitting communities. Our approach is necessarily aligned with the recently approved 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and its associated Sustainable Development Goals, delivering on protecting ecosystems and natural resources, promoting food security and sanitation, while also helping reduce poverty and promoting sustainable economic growth.
While there is significant potential for climate change adaptation in SIDS, it will require additional external resources, technologies and strengthening of local capacities. In UNDP we are ideally placed to continue working hand-in-hand with Caribbean countries as they implement their INDCs and find their own solutions to climate-change adaptation, while also sharing knowledge and experiences within the region and beyond.

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United Arab Emirates Strengthens Ties with Argentina’s New Governmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/united-arab-emirates-strengthens-ties-with-argentinas-new-government/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=united-arab-emirates-strengthens-ties-with-argentinas-new-government http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/united-arab-emirates-strengthens-ties-with-argentinas-new-government/#comments Mon, 01 Feb 2016 17:20:02 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143740 The Four Seasons hotel in the upscale Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Recoleta was remodeled this decade with a multi-million dollar investment by the Dubai-based Albwardy Investment Group. This is just one example of investment in Argentina by the United Arab Emirates, which is expected to increase in different sectors as a result of the visit here by the UAE’s foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The Four Seasons hotel in the upscale Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Recoleta was remodeled this decade with a multi-million dollar investment by the Dubai-based Albwardy Investment Group. This is just one example of investment in Argentina by the United Arab Emirates, which is expected to increase in different sectors as a result of the visit here by the UAE’s foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES , Feb 1 2016 (IPS)

The new government of Argentina and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are strengthening the relationship established by the previous administration, at a time when this South American country is seeking to bring in foreign exchange, build up its international reserves and draw investment, in what the authorities describe as a new era of openness to the world.

Bilateral ties will be boosted during a visit to the Argentine capital by the UAE’s foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, on Feb. 4, the start of his Latin America tour which will also take him to Ecuador, Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica before he flies out of the region on Feb. 12.

After several high-level meetings on Feb. 5, the minister’s visit will end with the signing of five agreements on taxation, sports, cooperation between the state news agencies Telam (Argentina) and WAM (UAE), and an Emirati loan to the southern province of Neuquén.

Mauricio Macri, who was sworn in as president of Argentina on Dec. 10, already indicated his interest in stronger ties when he met on Jan. 20, during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, withHamad Shahwan al Dhaheri, executive director of the private equities department of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA).

ADIA, considered the second-largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, manages the excess oil revenues of the UAE, a federation of seven emirates: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain.

The centre-right Macri, of the Cambiemos coalition, and Al Dhaheri“discussed the prospects opening up for Argentina and were enthusiastic about this new era for the country,” Telam reported from Davos.

The news agency was referring to the end of 12 years of government by the late Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and his widow and successor, Cristina Fernández (2007-2015), of the Front for Victory, the Justicialista (Peronist) Party’s centre-left faction, which defines itself as anti-neoliberal.

“Argentina has to position itself as a serious, predictable interlocutor,” this country’s foreign minister, Susana Malcorra, said in Davos.

“The question of economic opening, the search for investment and business opportunities is essential in our agenda,” she stressed.

According to a report from its embassy in Buenos Aires, the UAE has a significant presence in international capital markets through different investment institutions, such as ADIA, Dubai Ports World, Dubai Holding and Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Co.

The then president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández, with her host, United Arab Emirates President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, at a January 2013 meeting in Abu Dhabi during her official visit to the Gulf nation when bilateral relations were given a major boost. Credit: Government of Argentina

The then president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández, with her host, United Arab Emirates President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, at a January 2013 meeting in Abu Dhabi during her official visit to the Gulf nation when bilateral relations were given a major boost. Credit: Government of Argentina

The UAE is a timely interlocutor for Argentina, Luis Mendiola, an expert on the Middle East, the Arab world and Africa with the Argentine Council for Foreign Relations (CARI), underlined in an interview with IPS.

“Their biggest problem is the extraordinary abundance of capital…the question is where to put it to get the best returns on the extraordinary surplus capital they produced during nearly a decade and a half of high oil prices,” added Mendiola, who served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1996 to 2005.

New opportunities

As part of its strategy of strengthening ties with Latin America, the foreign ministry of the United Arab Emirates held a workshop in Abu Dhabi in December with diplomats from Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador and Panama, with the participation of some 70 UAE governmental, semi-governmental and private organisations.

At the workshop, the director of the foreign ministry’s department of economic affairs and international cooperation, Fahad al Tafaq, stressed the UAE’s interest in taking ties with Latin America “to a higher level” in order to serve common interests, WAM, the Emirates news agency, reported from Abu Dhabi.

The participants in the workshop discussed opportunities for investment and strategic alliances in sectors like energy, environment, technology, tourism, agriculture, mining, peaceful uses of nuclear energy, infrastructure and natural resources.

These funds, he said, could go into major infrastructure projects in areas like housing, energy, transport and communications.

In January 2015, the authorities in the southern Argentine province of Neuquén reported that they had secured an 18 million dollar loan from the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, to finance the Nahueve Hydroelectric Project for the promotion of irrigation in new productive areas, among other aims.

The two countries established diplomatic ties in 1975 and opened embassies in 2008. But relations moved to a new plane when President Fernández visited Abu Dhabi in January 2013, where she met with UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan.

During that visit, cooperation agreements were signed in the area of food, with the opening of the Emirati market to non-traditional Argentine products, and this country opened its first business office in the UAE.

In 2014, as the Argentine-Arab Chamber of Commerce informed IPS, trade between Argentina and the UAE amounted to 228 million dollars, with this South American country enjoying a surplus, exporting 198.9 million dollars in mainly foodstuffs and steel pipe and tube products.

But Mendiola believes there is greater potential to tap because besides boasting one of the highest per capita incomes in the Gulf, the UAE is a business hub which re-exports products to third countries and large markets, such as Saudi Arabia, India, Iran and Pakistan.

Bilateral ties were reinforced in April 2014, with a visit to Argentina by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and emir of Dubai.

A memorandum of understanding for cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy was signed during that visit.

On that occasion, Fernández emphasised the Argentina forms part of the “exclusive club” of nations “that can produce nuclear energy, but that do so on a non-proliferation basis.”

The then president also referred to the UAE’s “enormous interest” in investing in Argentina and financing projects aimed at bolstering food security.

In November 2015, with support from the local government, five family farming cooperatives from Argentina took part in an international specialty food festival in Dubai.

During the meeting in Buenos Aires, agreements were also reached to promote tourism initiatives and projects in renewable energy – an area in which the UAE, despite its status as one of the world’s largest oil producers, is considered a pioneer among the Gulf countries and even at the international level, Mendiola noted.

“The Emiratis are very good at forging ahead and moving into new areas, and in that sense they are a model, at least in the Gulf region,” he added.

During his visit to Argentina, Al Maktoum remarked that his country did not invest “according to preferences or political motives, but based on economic questions.”

For that reason Mendiola said he was not “surprised” by the UAE’s interest in Latin America “because the Gulf countries in general have always had extremely pragmatic foreign policies which are at the same time modest, in terms of maintaining a low profile.”

“I think the difference now is they are taking advantage of the fact that there is a new government in Argentina, which presents itself to the world as very different from the last one, and that is raising a lot of interest because they have an extraordinary level of reserves as well as investment abroad,” he said.

Mendiola pointed out that the UAE did not have a “clear” presence in Latin America until recently, unlike in Africa and Asia.

“Up to now, South America was a caboose for the Gulf countries, from the point of view of their economic interests. And the change in government without a doubt awakened curiosity and interest in seeing how to best take advantage of these opportunities,” he added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Energy from All Sources, a Game of Chance in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/energy-from-all-sources-a-game-of-chance-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=energy-from-all-sources-a-game-of-chance-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/energy-from-all-sources-a-game-of-chance-in-brazil/#comments Thu, 28 Jan 2016 00:33:40 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143718 An industrial sugar and ethanol plant in Sertãozinho, in the southern Brazilian state of São Paulo. The sugar cane industry in Brazil has shrunk under the government of Dilma Rousseff, due to the gasoline subsidy, which dealt a blow to its competitor, ethanol. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

An industrial sugar and ethanol plant in Sertãozinho, in the southern Brazilian state of São Paulo. The sugar cane industry in Brazil has shrunk under the government of Dilma Rousseff, due to the gasoline subsidy, which dealt a blow to its competitor, ethanol. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 28 2016 (IPS)

Brazil, which boasts that it has one of the cleanest energy mixes in the world, is now plagued by corruption, poor market conditions, and bad decisions – a near fatal combination.

Brazil’s energy mix is made up of 42 percent renewable sources, three times the global average.

But the country also hopes to become a major oil exporter, thanks to the 2006 discovery of the “pre-salt” wells – huge reserves of crude under a thick layer of salt far below the surface, 300 km from the coast.

Megaprojects involving the construction of refineries and petrochemical plants, dozens of shipyards that mushroomed up and down the coast, and the dream of turning the new oil wealth into a better future lost their charm in the face of the corruption scandal that broke out in 2014, revealing the embezzlement of billions of dollars from the state oil giant Petrobras.

Nearly 200 people are facing charges in the scandal for paying or receiving kickbacks for inflated contracts. Around 50 of them are politicians, most of them still active members of Congress.

The heads of the country’s biggest construction companies were arrested, which dealt a blow to the real estate market and major infrastructure works nationwide.

The investigations took on momentum when over 30 of those facing prosecution struck plea bargain deals, agreeing to cooperate in exchange for shorter sentences.

The scandal is one of the main elements in the economic and political crisis shaking the country, which saw an estimated drop in GDP of more than three percent in 2015, rising inflation, a dangerously high fiscal deficit, a threat of impeachment hanging over President Dilma Rousseff and chaos in parliament.

Besides the corruption scandal, Petrobras has been hit hard by the collapse of oil prices, which has threatened its investment in the pre-salt reserves, and by the losses it accumulated during years of government fuel-price controls.

The government took advantage of Petrobras’ monopoly on refining to curb inflation by means of price controls, mainly for gasoline.

But the oil company scandal, which broke out after the October 2014 elections in which Rousseff was reelected, fuelled the growth of inflation, to over 10 percent today.

With Petrobras in financial crisis and selling off assets to pay down its debt, none of the four planned refineries has been completed according to plan. The only one that was finished is operating at only half of the planned capacity.

Most of the shipyards, which were to supply the oil drilling rigs, offshore platforms and tankers involved in the production of pre-salt oil, have gone under, and the government’s plans to build a strong naval industry have floundered.

The priority put on oil production, to the detriment of the fight against climate change, along with subsidised gasoline prices dealt a major blow to ethanol, which was enjoying a new boom since the emergence in 2003 of the flexible fuel vehicle, specially designed to run on gasoline or ethanol or a blend of the two.

The innovative new technology revived consumer confidence in ethanol, which had been undermined in the previous decade due to supply shortages. With the flex-fuel cars, consumers no longer had to depend on one kind of fuel and could choose whichever was cheaper at any given time.

The use of ethanol, which is consumed in nearly the same quantities as gasoline in Brazil, broke the monopoly of fossil fuels, making a decisive contribution to the rise in the use of renewable energies.

But gasoline price subsidies drove many ethanol plants into bankruptcy and led to the sale of one-third of the sugarcane industry to foreign investors. Many local companies, facing financial disaster, sold their sugar mills and distilleries to transnational corporations like Bunge, Cargill, Louis Dreyfus and Tereos.

Brazil has practically given up on the idea of creating an international market for ethanol, after initially encouraging consumption and production of the biofuel made from sugarcane. Former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) was very active in this campaign, unlike his successor Rousseff.

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará – a mega-project which is 80 percent complete and is set to be finished in 2019. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará – a mega-project which is 80 percent complete and is set to be finished in 2019. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Hydroelectricity

Another decisive factor in achieving a more renewables-heavy energy mix is the predominance of hydroelectricity in the generation of electric power. In recent years, wind power has grown fast, and the use of biomass from sugarcane bagasse has also expanded, although to a lesser extent.

But the construction of giant hydropower dams in the Amazon jungle, such as Belo Monte on the Xingú River, has drawn strong opposition from indigenous communities and environmentalists, which, along with legal action by the public prosecutor’s office, has brought work on Belo Monte to a halt dozens of times.

As a result, work on the dam has been delayed by over a year. One of the latest legal rulings suspended the plant’s operating permit, and could block the filling of the reservoirs, which was to start in March this year.

When the plant comes fully onstream in 2019, Belo Monte will have an installed capacity of 11,233 MW. But during the dry season, when water levels in the river are low, it will generate almost no electric power. The flow of water in the Xingú River varies drastically, and the reservoir will not store up enough water to fuel the turbines during the dry months.

The dam has come under harsh criticism, even from advocates of hydropower, such as physicist José Goldemberg, a world-renowned expert on energy.

The controversy surrounding Belo Monte threatens the government’s plans for the Tapajós River, to the west of the Xingú River – the new hydroelectric frontier in the Amazon. For the last two years, the Rousseff administration has been trying to find investors to build and operate the São Luiz del Tapajós dam, which would generate 8,040 MW of electricity.

The presence of the Munduruku indigenous community along that stretch of the river and in the area of the São Luiz dam has stood in the way of the environmental licensing process.

The diversity of sources in Brazil’s energy mix, lessons learned from earlier negative experiences, and the complexity of the integrated national grid make decisions on energy almost a game of chance in this country.

Hydroelectric dams built in the Amazon rainforest in the 1980s, like Tucuruí and Balbina, caused environmental and social disasters that tarnished the reputation of hydropower. Belo Monte later threw up new hurdles to the development of this source of energy.

Another alternative source, nuclear energy, also brought negative experiences. Completion of the country’s second nuclear plant, still under construction in Angra dos Reis, 170 km from Rio de Janeiro, has long been delayed.

It formed part of a series of eight nuclear power plants that the military decided to build, during the 1964-1985 dictatorship, signing an agreement in 1975 with Germany, which was to provide technology and equipment.

Economic crisis brought the programme to a halt in the 1980s. One of the plants was completed in 2000 and the other is still being built, because the equipment had already been imported over 30 years ago. The final cost overruns will be enormous.

For the government and the different sectors involved in policy-making in the energy industry, giving up hydropower is unthinkable.

But the advances made in wind power, new energy storage technologies, and especially the reduction of costs in the production of solar power increase the risk of making large hydropower dams, which are built to operate for over a hundred years, obsolete.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Hydropower at Front and Centre of Energy Debate in Chile, Once Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/hydropower-at-front-and-centre-of-energy-debate-in-chile-once-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hydropower-at-front-and-centre-of-energy-debate-in-chile-once-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/hydropower-at-front-and-centre-of-energy-debate-in-chile-once-again/#comments Wed, 27 Jan 2016 00:09:26 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143702 General Carrera Lake, the second-largest in South America, in the Aysén region in Chile’s southern Patagonia wilderness, a place of abundant water resources.  Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

General Carrera Lake, the second-largest in South America, in the Aysén region in Chile’s southern Patagonia wilderness, a place of abundant water resources. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jan 27 2016 (IPS)

The Chilean government’s approval of a hydroelectric dam in the Patagonia wilderness has rekindled the debate on the sustainability and efficiency of large-scale hydropower plants and whether they contribute to building a cleaner energy mix.

“Hydroelectricity can be clean and viable, but we believe every kind of energy should be developed on a human scale, and must be in accordance with the size and potential of local communities,” Claudia Torres, spokeswoman for the Patagonia Without Dams movement, told IPS.

She added that “there are different reasons that socioenvironmental movements like ours are opposed to mega-dams: because of the mega-impacts, and because of the way this energy is used – to meet the needs of the big mining corporations that are causing an environmental catastrophe in the north of the country.”

The movements fighting the construction of large dams in the southern Patagonian region of Aysén suffered a major defeat on Jan. 18, when the plan for the 640 MW Cuervo dam was approved.

This South American nation of 17.6 million people has a total installed capacity of 20,203 MW of electricity. The interconnected Central and Norte Grande power grids account for 78.38 percent and 20.98 percent of the country’s electric power, respectively.

Of Chile’s total energy supply, 58.4 percent is generated by diesel fuel, coal and natural gas. The country is seeking to drastically reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuels, to cut costs and to meet its climate change commitments.

Large-scale hydropower provides 20 percent of the country’s electricity, while 13.5 percent comes from unconventional renewable sources like wind and solar power, mini-dams and biomass.

Chile has enormous potential in unconventional renewable sources. In 2014, the government of Michelle Bachelet adopted a new energy agenda that set a target for 70 percent of Chile’s electric power to come from renewables by 2050.

In terms of water resources, Chile has 6,500 km of coastline, 11,452 square km of lakes, and innumerable rivers.

Aysén, in the extreme south of the country, has abundant water resources – fast-flowing rivers, numerous lakes, and distinctive lagoons. General Carrera Lake, the second-largest in South America after Bolivia’s Titicaca, is found in that region.

To generate hydroelectricity, the authorities and investors have their eyes on the wild rivers of Patagonia, a remote, untamed, unspoiled and sparsely populated wilderness area at the far southern tip of Chile.

But vast segments of civil society reject large hydropower dams, which they consider obsolete and a threat to the environment and to local communities.

However, Professor Matías Peredo, an expert on hydropower at the University of Santiago de Chile, says that thanks to the country’s abundant water resources, hydroelectricity is “one of the energy sources with the greatest potential for development.”

“It’s always good to diversify the energy mix, and well-managed hydroelectricity is quite sustainable,” he told IPS.

The expert argued that a properly managed hydropower dam “is better from an environmental and social point of view than a string of small dams that together provide the same number of MW of electric power.”

Ensuring that a hydroelectricity plant is well-managed means avoiding major fluctuations, Peredo said.

“Hydropower generation in Chile depends on demand and the plant’s load capacity….In other words, the plant can only operate with prior authorisation from the Superintendencia de Electricidad y Combustibles (the country’s power regulator), and depending on the availability of water,” he said.

“This combination means the hydroelectric plant operates on and off, thus generating large fluctuations in flow, which is a major stress for the ecosystem,” he said.

The law to reform the energy industry and foment unconventional renewable sources includes in this category hydropower dams of up to 20 MW – in other words, mini-dams.

Environmental organisations like Ecosistemas maintain that large hydroelectric dams have extremely negative social and environmental impacts.

These include the flooding of large areas of land, which destroys flora and fauna, and the modification of rivers, which causes bioecological damage.

And the negative social impacts of large dams are proportional to the multiple environmental impacts, displacing millions of people: between 40 and 80 million people were forcibly evicted for the construction of large dams worldwide between 1945 and 2000, according to the World Commission on Dams (WCD).

“It is important to diversify the energy mix, for local use, with good support, clean energy sources, and considerably fewer impacts, while strengthening consumption and development in the territories,” said Torres, the Patagonia Without Dams activist, from Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysén region.

“Decentralised power generation is key” to moving forward in terms of clean, sustainable energy, she said, adding that the people of Aysén are seeking to expand the use if wind, solar and tidal power in the region.

Peredo agreed that the decentralisation of power generation is of strategic importance.

“Distributed generation (power generation at the point of consumption) must without a doubt be discussed in this country. It makes a lot of sense for electricity to be produced locally,” he said.

In 2014 the Patagonia Without Dams movement won a major victory when the government cancelled the HidroAysén project, which would have built five large hydropower dams on wilderness rivers in Aysén to generate a combined total of 2,700 MW of energy.

But now the movement was dealt a blow, with the approval by a special Committee of Ministers of the construction of the Cuervo dam – a decision that can only be blocked by a court decision.

The project, developed by Energía Austral, a joint venture between the Swiss firm Glencore and Australia’s Origin Energy, would be built at the headwaters of the Cuervo River, some 45 km from the city of Puerto Aysén, the second-largest city in the region after Coyhaique, for a total investment of 733 million dollars.

Energía Austral is studying the possibility of a submarine power cable and an aerial submarine power line, to connect to the central grids.

The controversy over the plant has heated up because it would be built in the Liquiñe-Ofqui geological fault zone, an area of active volcanoes.

“It poses an imminent risk to the local population,” Torres warned.

Peredo said “the project was poorly designed from the start, and will not be managed well.”

“They failed to take into consideration important aspects, such as the connection of the Yulton and Meullín rivers at some point, which could have disastrous consequences for the ecosystem,” he said.

Opponents of the dam say they will go to the courts and apply social and political pressure, in a year of municipal elections.

“We have one single aim: to keep any dams from being built in Patagonia, and that’s what’s going to happen,” Torres said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Mexico Creates First and Second-class Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/mexico-creates-first-and-second-class-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-creates-first-and-second-class-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/mexico-creates-first-and-second-class-migrants/#comments Mon, 25 Jan 2016 23:00:27 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143693 A group of Central American migrants walking along a trail in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, on the border with Guatemala, at the start of their long journey across Mexico on their way to the United States. Credit: Courtesy Médecins Sans Frontières – Mexico

A group of Central American migrants walking along a trail in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, on the border with Guatemala, at the start of their long journey across Mexico on their way to the United States. Credit: Courtesy Médecins Sans Frontières – Mexico

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jan 25 2016 (IPS)

The Mexican government’s decision to grant humanitarian visas to Cuban migrants stranded in Costa Rica contrasts sharply with the poor treatment received by the tens of thousands of Central American migrants who face myriad risks as they make their way through this country on their long journey to the United States, social organisations and activists complain.

Although migrant rights activists put the greatest blame on the United States, complaining that Cuban immigrants are given privileged treatment across the border, they also accuse Mexico of fomenting the differences.

Washington “promotes the irregular migration of Cubans,” activist Danilo Rivera told IPS from Guatemala City. “They have double standards, and Mexico plays into their interests. It contradicts the goal of achieving orderly, safe migration flows.”

“Mexico isn’t coherent, because it’s a country that produces migrants itself,” said Rivera, with the Guatemala-based Central American Institute for Social Studies and Development (INCEDES).

INCEDES belongs to the Regional Network of Civil Organisations for Migration (RROCM), which studies these issues and works with governments on immigration policies.

The 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, known as the “wet foot-dry foot policy”, grants Cuban immigrants U.S. residency one year and a day after they reach the country, regardless of whether their entry was legal or illegal.

Mexican Migrants in the U.S.

Tens of thousands of undocumented Mexican migrants also head to the United States. The Mexican authorities bitterly complain about the poor treatment this country’s citizens are given across the border, while they provide similar treatment to Central American immigrants here, human rights activists argue.

In a study published Jan. 20, the Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS) reported that the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States fell to 10.9 million in 2014, from 12 million in 2008.

Six million of the undocumented immigrants in the country are from Mexico. But CMS Executive Director Donald Kerwin said the Mexican-born undocumented population was about 600,000 smaller in 2014 than in 2010.

The report also said that between 1980 and 2014, the population of Mexican-born legal residents grew faster than the number of undocumented Mexicans.

The previously little-known route taken by Cubans from Ecuador to the United States drew international attention in November, when nearly 8,000 Cubans found themselves stuck at Costa Rica’s border with Nicaragua, after the government in Managua refused to let them in the country.

A solution to the crisis was negotiated and the governments of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico agreed to put an initial group of 180 of the migrants on a charter flight from Costa Rica to Guatemala – thus avoiding Nicaragua – as part of a pilot plan that got underway on Jan. 12.

The next day, the 139 men and 41 women were taken by bus to the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, on the border with Guatemala.

With the special humanitarian visas issued by the Mexican government’s National Migration Institute (INM), the Cubans were able to cross the country on their own, without being stopped by the migration authorities.

After the success of the test flight, the four governments involved in the negotiations agreed in a meeting in Guatemala to carry out more flights, after Feb. 4.

The possibility of issuing humanitarian visas is provided for in Mexico’s 2011 National Migration Law. The permits can be granted for a duration of 72 hours to 30 days, in cases where migrants are victims of a natural catastrophe, face danger in their country of origin, or require special treatment due to health problems.

In November, the last month for which official data is available, Mexico granted 1,084 humanitarian visas: 524 to Hondurans, 370 to Salvadorans, 146 to Guatemalans, 43 to Nicaraguans, and one to a Costa Rican.

That same month, the authorities in Mexico detained 73,710 Guatemalans, 53,648 Hondurans, 31,997 Salvadorans and 1,427 Nicaraguans, and deported 64,844 Guatemalans, 47,779 Hondurans, 27,481 Salvadorans and 1,188 Nicaraguans.

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

“No one cares about Central Americans migrants; they’re rejects from poor, violence-stricken countries,” Catholic priest Pedro Pantoja told IPS.

“Political negotiations, and a state of servitude to the United States, were behind the way the Cuban migrants issue was handled. The Cubans have everything in their favour; the Central Americans have nothing,” said Pantoja, the director of the Belén Posada del Migrante migrants’ shelter in Saltillo, the capital of the northeast Mexican state of Coahuila, which borders the United States.

The activist also complained about the “unequal response” by the Central American governments, which showed solidarity with the Cuban migrants while being “so insensitive, distant and utilitarian” towards migrants from Central America itself.

On their way across Mexico, Central American migrants face the risk of arbitrary arrest, extortion, theft, assault, rape, kidnapping and murder, at the hands of youth gangs and people trafficking networks, as well as corrupt police and other agents of the state.

Defenders of migrant rights have asked Mexico to issue humanitarian visas to minimise these risks.

And in an August report, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants also urged the government to issue humanitarian permits.

“We have called for a stop to the deportations. Mexico needs to make progress towards protecting migrants in transit, using safe-conduct passes to keep them from going through dangerous areas and to help them to avoid criminal groups. But the United States does not want the border area to become the impact zone,” Rivera said.

Activists blame the Southern Border Plan, implemented since August 2014 by the Mexican government with U.S. support, for the offensive against undocumented immigrants. The plan included the installation of 12 naval bases on rivers in the area, and three security cordons using electronic sensors and other security measures to the north of Mexico’s southern border.

So far, the United States has provided 15 million dollars in equipment and assistance, and an additional 75 million dollars in aid are in the pipeline.

The flow of Cubans without visas through Central America and Mexico to the United States is not likely to let up, even though in December the Ecuadorean government once again began to require a letter of invitation and other requisites to enter the country, after giving Cubans free access since 2014.

In September, the Costa Rican government reported that it had detained 12,000 undocumented Cubans in the previous 12 months.

Migrant rights activists plan to demand a response from Mexico regarding its double standards towards immigrants.

“We are not going to sit still. We’re going to demand that the INM (National Migration Institute) be held to account,” said Pantoja, a member of the INM’s Citizen Council, made up of representatives of civil society and academia.

Immigrant rights organisations will meet Jan. 25-28 in Chiapas and the neighbouring state of Tabasco to study the phenomenon and monitor migration flows and the performance of the local authorities.

They will also question the INM during the Citizen Council’s March session.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Nevis Has A Date With Geothermal Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/nevis-has-a-date-with-geothermal-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nevis-has-a-date-with-geothermal-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/nevis-has-a-date-with-geothermal-energy/#comments Mon, 25 Jan 2016 12:19:29 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143687 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/nevis-has-a-date-with-geothermal-energy/feed/ 0 Precarious Nature of Public Employment Facilitated Mass Lay-offs in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/precarious-nature-of-public-employment-facilitated-mass-lay-offs-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=precarious-nature-of-public-employment-facilitated-mass-lay-offs-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/precarious-nature-of-public-employment-facilitated-mass-lay-offs-in-argentina/#comments Sat, 23 Jan 2016 00:34:57 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143678 A group of demonstrators protest in the Argentine city of Rosario against the wave of lay-offs of public employees since President Mauricio Macri took office. Credit: Courtesy of Indymedia.org

A group of demonstrators protest in the Argentine city of Rosario against the wave of lay-offs of public employees since President Mauricio Macri took office. Credit: Courtesy of Indymedia.org

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jan 23 2016 (IPS)

Argentina’s new conservative government has already laid off 20,000 public employees since early December. Analysts have described the phenomenon as a “purge” of “militants” who supported the last administration, facilitated by the precarious employment conditions in the public sector, despite the steps taken to provide greater job stability over the last decade.

“What we have encountered is a state at the service of political activism,” said centre-right President Mauricio Macri, who took office on Dec. 10 after eight years of government by centre-left President Cristina Fernández and the four-year administration of her late husband Néstor Kirchner, both of whom belonged to the Front for Victory, now in the opposition.

The new minister of finance, Alfonso Prat Gay, said the state needed to shed some “militant fat” – an allusion to the supposed hiring of “Kirchnerist militants”.

A majority of employees of government ministries, state enterprises, and municipal and provincial administrations whose short-term contracts came up for renewal on Dec. 31 were laid off, according to the Social Law Observatory of the Argentine Workers’ Central Union (CTA).

In many cases, the dismissed workers had been in their positions for five to 10 years, although they worked under temporary contracts.

In La Plata, capital of the eastern province of Buenos Aires, which is now governed by Macri’s Cambiemos coalition, 4,500 public employees were dismissed, and their protests were targeted by a police crackdown.

“The way we found out about the dismissals was traumatic,”one of the laid-off workers, Marcela López, told IPS. She worked for eight years for a municipal programme that helps the homeless, under a contract that was renewed every three months.

“When I got to my workplace one day, I discovered they had taken me off the payroll. They sent us to human resources, who told us we had been fired, although they didn’t say we were laid off – they said our contracts expired,” said López, who supports her family, including a disabled son.

The government argues that the laid-off workers were“ñoquis” – slang for employees who only show up for work on the 29th of every month, the day ñoquis (or gnocchis), classic Italian dumplings, are traditionally eaten in Argentina.

But Lópezand many other laid-off public employees say they can prove that they had good work attendance records.

“I think the ñoquis business is a longstanding phenomenon that has to do with the way politics work here,” she said. “I don’t think that trying to fix this problem is a bad idea. But they can’t just throw everyone into the same category. Especially not those of us who do work, and who turned a (social) programme into a public policy.”

Julio Fuentes, a leader of the ATE public employees union, said that if the government really wanted to root out those who “collect paychecks without working, no one would come out to defend these people.”

“But that would have to be done on the basis of a serious analysis, with the participation of the trade unions and guarantees that arbitrary measures will not be taken,” Fuentes, who is also the president of the Latin American and Caribbean Federation of Public Employees, told IPS.

In different government offices, employees have complained that they have been asked who recommended them for the job, and that they have been questioned about their professional and educational background. Some protested that their social network profiles were searched for signs of political activism.

Despite a 15 percentage point drop over the last decade, 35 percent of the population of Argentina still works in the informal economy, like Daniel Reynoso, who supports his family selling dusters on a busy street in central Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Despite a 15 percentage point drop over the last decade, 35 percent of the population of Argentina still works in the informal economy, like Daniel Reynoso, who supports his family selling dusters on a busy street in central Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

“Is the state in a position today to carry out an exhaustive, systematic assessment of the situation of public employees,when official statistics do not even exist, and there is no office dedicated exclusively to the systematic compilation of information?” Gonzalo Diéguez, director of the Centre for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth’s (CIPPEC) public administration programme, remarked to IPS.

According to the ATE, the government’s argument is an excuse to justify indiscriminate dismissals and shrink the state, as part of its adjustment plan.

These arbitrary measures, Fuentes says, were made possible by the precarious nature of public employment, the result of neoliberal labour flexibility measures adopted in Argentina in the 1990s.

“For a long time we have been complaining in Latin America, and in Argentina in particular, about informal employment or so-called ‘junk contracts’, which are basically ways used by governments to get around the constitution, which guarantees job stability for public employees,” he said.

Argentina, Latin America’s third-largest economy, has a total population of 43.4 million, an economically active population of 19 million,and an unemployment rate that according to official figures stood at six percent in the last quarter of 2015 – a figure considered unrealistically low by independent experts.

According to Fuentes, of the 3.9 million state employees, some 600,000 work under different kinds of temporary contracts, and many of these enjoy no social protection whatsoever.

Of these 600,000, 90,000 work in the national administration and 510,000 work for provincial or municipal governments, without counting outsourced services, “another way to get around guarantees for public employees,” he said.

To justify the lay-offs, the government also points to how much the state has grown.

An as-yet unpublished CIPPEC study reports that between 2003 and 2015, the number of public employees rose 55 percent, in the central administration, decentralised state bodies and public enterprises.

In that period, six ministries, 14 decentralised bodies, 10 new state-owned companies and 15 new universities were created.

“Public employment grew because the state also grew, along with its organisational structure. Today the state provides a number of goods and services that it did not previously offer,” Diéguez argued.

Fuentes said that despite this growth, the recovery in the number of public sector jobs was “absolutely insufficient” after the “dismantling” of the state that began with the broad privatisation process launched by former president Carlos Menem (1989-1999).

“The number of public employees is not excessive. There are shortages of public employees, such as nurses, or professionals in all areas,” the trade unionist said.

In his view, the new government thinks there are too many public workers because “it believes in a discourse that no one believes in anymore: that the market is going to regulate economic activities and run a country.”

Fuentes said that what were recovered in the last decade were “good quality jobs with poor quality contracts.”

The problem, he said, is that the public administration has increasingly depended on workers with flexible labour contracts, “who are easily fired, which turns them into political hostages.”

Over the last decade, some six million jobs have been created in Argentina, 19 percent of them in the public sector and the rest in the private sector, where roughly 10,000 people have been laid off as well, according to trade union sources.

Informal employment has also shrunk, from 50 to 35 percent, according to the latest figures. But four million people, especially the young, still work in the informal economy.

“Above and beyond the government’s political decision on whether or not to renew contracts, the underlying issue here is the informal nature of public employment,” said Diéguez.

This, he said, is aggravated by the state’s hiring practices, which are not based on public competitions but on contracts that depend on “changes of political stripe.”

He said the previous administration made strides in formalising public employment.

But the big pending challenge, he argued, is to avoid a repeat of cases such as the mass lay-offs that occur when there is a change in the party in power. And when a new administration takes office in 2019, “there shouldn’t be a review of contracts, or if there is, it shouldn’t look like a witch hunt,” he added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Caribbean Biodiversity Overheated by Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/caribbean-biodiversity-overheated-by-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-biodiversity-overheated-by-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/caribbean-biodiversity-overheated-by-climate-change/#comments Wed, 20 Jan 2016 22:44:12 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143651 A young man on the banks of lake Enriquillo on the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which forms part of the Caribbean Biological Corridor created in 2007 by these two countries and Cuba with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Union. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

A young man on the banks of lake Enriquillo on the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which forms part of the Caribbean Biological Corridor created in 2007 by these two countries and Cuba with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Union. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

By Ivet González
SANTO DOMINGO , Jan 20 2016 (IPS)

The nearly 7,000 islands and the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea are home to thousands of endemic species and are on the migration route of many kinds of birds. Preserving this abundant fauna requires multilateral actions in today’s era of global warming.

That is the goal of the Caribbean Biological Corridor (CBC), a project implemented by the governments of Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which was created in 2007 with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Union with the aim of protecting biodiversity in the region.

“Puerto Rico should form part of the corridor in 2016,” Cuban biologist Freddy Rodríguez, who is taking part in the initiative, told IPS.

In late 2015 Puerto Rico, a free associated state of the United States, presented an official letter asking to join the sustainable conservation project, whose executive secretariat is located in the Dominican Republic on the border with Haiti.

“The admission of new partners, which has been encouraged from the start, is a question of time,” said Rodríguez. “Several countries have taken part as observers since the beginning.”

He said the Bahamas, Dominica, Jamaica and Martinique are observer countries that have expressed an interest in joining the corridor.

The Caribbean region is already prone to high temperatures, because the wind and ocean currents turn the area into a kind of cauldron that concentrates heat year-round, according to scientific sources.

And the situation will only get worse due to the temperature rise predicted as a result of climate change, a phenomenon caused by human activity which has triggered extreme weather events and other changes.

The extraordinary biodiversity of the Caribbean is increasingly at risk from this global phenomenon, which has modified growing and blooming seasons, migration patterns, and even species distribution.

Meanwhile, the biological corridor is one demonstration of the growing efforts of small Caribbean island nations to preserve their unique natural heritage.

A flock of birds flies over a coastal neighbourhood of Havana, Cuba. The Caribbean Biological Corridor is on the migration route for many species of birds, and its conservation requires multilateral actions in today’s era of global warming. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A flock of birds flies over a coastal neighbourhood of Havana, Cuba. The Caribbean Biological Corridor is on the migration route for many species of birds, and its conservation requires multilateral actions in today’s era of global warming. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

It also reflects the long road still ahead to regional integration in the area of conservation.

The 1,600-km CBC includes the Jaragua-Bahoruca-Enriquillo Biosphere Reserve and Cordillera Central mountains, in the Dominican Republic; the Chaîne de la Selle mountain range, Lake Azuéi, Fore et Pins, La Visite and the Massif du Nord mountains – all protected areas in Haiti; and the Sierra Maestra and Nipe-Sagua-Baracoa mountain ranges in Cuba.

Tips on the insular Caribbean’s biodiversity

- The region has 703 threatened species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

- It provides wintering and nursery grounds for many North Atlantic migratory species, including the great North Atlantic humpback whale, which breeds in the north of the Caribbean.

- Several parts of the Caribbean are stopping points for millions of migratory birds flying between North and South America.

- The population of the Caribbean depends on the wealth of fragile natural areas for a variety of benefits, such as disaster risk prevention, availability of fresh water and revenue from tourism.

Studies carried out by researchers involved in the biological corridor have documented damage caused to nature by extreme events like Hurricane Sandy, which hit eastern Cuba in 2012, and the severe drought of 2015, which affected the entire Caribbean region.

Rodríguez said they have carried out more than 60 training sessions, involving local communities as well as government officials from the three countries, with the participation of guests from other Caribbean nations.

And they have a web site, which compiles the results of studies, bulletins, a database and maps of the biological corridor.

“Other people and institutions say the CBC’s biggest contribution has been to create a platform for collaboration with regard to the environment, which did not exist previously in the insular Caribbean. This has created the possibility for the environment ministers to meet every year to review the progress made as well as pending issues,” Rodríguez said.

“We are trying to grow in terms of South-South collaboration,” he said.

The insular Caribbean is a multicultural, multi-racial region where people speak Spanish, English, Dutch, French and creoles. It is made up of 13 independent island nations and 19 French, Dutch, British and U.S. overseas territories.

These differences, along with the heavy burden of under-development, are hurdles to the conservation of the natural areas in the Caribbean, which is one of the world’s greatest centres of unique biodiversity, due to the high number of endemic species.

Experts report that for every 100 square kilometres, there are 23.5 plants that can only be found in the Antilles, an archipelago bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the south and west, the Gulf of Mexico to the northwest, and the Atlantic Ocean to the north and east.

The project is focusing on an area of 234,124 square km of greatest biodiversity, home to a number of unique reptile, bird and amphibian species.

View of the Caribbean Sea in the Dominican Republic near the border with Haiti on the island of Hispaniola, which the two countries share. The roughly 7,000 Caribbean islands are home to thousands of endemic species, whose preservation is complicated by climate change. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

View of the Caribbean Sea in the Dominican Republic near the border with Haiti on the island of Hispaniola, which the two countries share. The roughly 7,000 Caribbean islands are home to thousands of endemic species, whose preservation is complicated by climate change. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

The CBC’s 2016-2020 development plan also involves continued research on climate change, and aims to expand to marine ecosystems.

The four million square km of ocean around the Antilles are “the heart of Atlantic marine diversity,” according to a report by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund.

The region contains 25 coral genera, 117 sponges, 633 mollusks, more than 1,400 fishes, 76 sharks, 45 shrimp, 30 cetaceans and 23 species of seabirds.

The area also contains some 10,000 square km of reef, 22,000 square km of mangroves, and as much as 33,000 square km of seagrass beds.

“As a Dominican, I didn’t have that much experience and I hadn’t heard about the Caribbean environment,” business administration student Manuel Antonio Feliz, who has taken CBC courses, told IPS. “The trainings have opened my eyes to the natural riches of our islands.”

“We talk more about the polar bear and the loss of its habitat at the North Pole than about a little local frog or solenodon (one of the rarest mammals on earth, native to the Antilles),” Cuban researcher Nicasio Viña said in a conference for a group of journalists in the capital of the Dominican Republic, which IPS took part in. “The people of the Caribbean, we don’t know what treasures we have in our hands.”

Viña, director of the CBC executive secretariat, explained that initiatives like the biological corridor require at least 30 years of work to solidify.

He called for “thinking about conservation systems, due to the extraordinary influence and responsibility that we human beings have with regard to biodiversity in the Caribbean, because of what we have done, and climate change.”

The corridor has a centre of plant propagation in each one of the member countries, where seedlings of native species are grown to reforest the areas that are benefiting from pilot projects.

The pilot projects are aimed at helping Dominican, Haitian and Cuban communities to find environmentally-friendly sources of income, besides restoring degraded environments.

So far they are being implemented in the Cuban settlements of Sigua in Santiago de Cuba and the Baitiquirí Ecological Reserve in Guantánamo; the communities of Pedro Santana, Paraje Los Rinconcitos and Guayabo, in the Dominican province of Elías Piña; and in the Haitian towns of Dosmond and La Gonave.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Jamaica’s Climate Change Fight Fuels Investments in Renewableshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/jamaicas-climate-change-fight-fuels-investments-in-renewables/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jamaicas-climate-change-fight-fuels-investments-in-renewables http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/jamaicas-climate-change-fight-fuels-investments-in-renewables/#comments Mon, 18 Jan 2016 15:24:11 +0000 Zadie Neufville http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143611 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/jamaicas-climate-change-fight-fuels-investments-in-renewables/feed/ 0 Innovative Project to Provide Renewable Energy 24/7 to Chilean Villagehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/innovative-project-to-provide-renewable-energy-247-in-chilean-village/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=innovative-project-to-provide-renewable-energy-247-in-chilean-village http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/innovative-project-to-provide-renewable-energy-247-in-chilean-village/#comments Fri, 15 Jan 2016 16:52:55 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143604 The fishing village of Caleta San Marcos in northern Chile, 100 km from Iquique and 1,800 km north of Santiago, will be the site of an innovative project, Espejo de Tarapacá, that will combine renewable sources to provide the local residents with a steady 24/7 energy supply. Courtesy Valhalla Energía

The fishing village of Caleta San Marcos in northern Chile, 100 km from Iquique and 1,800 km north of Santiago, will be the site of an innovative project, Espejo de Tarapacá, that will combine renewable sources to provide the local residents with a steady 24/7 energy supply. Courtesy Valhalla Energía

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jan 15 2016 (IPS)

A novel energy project in Chile will combine a pumped-storage hydroelectric plant operating on seawater and a solar plant, to provide a steady supply of clean energy to a fishing village in the Atacama Desert, the world’s driest.

The idea may seem unlikely, given the extreme aridity and lack of water in northern Chile, where copper, gold and silver mining corporations use most of the water and energy consumed.

But the initiative has drawn the interest of local and foreign investors. And in 2015 it won the Avonni National Innovation Award granted by the Chilean Innovation Forum, the National TV Station TVN, El Mercurio – the country’s largest newspaper – and the Economy Ministry.

“Nowhere in the world have they managed to offer clean energy 24/7 at competitive prices, without subsidies,” said Juan Andrés Camus, general manager and one of the two founders of Valhalla Energía, the local company that is carrying out the project.

“The convergence of these three elements is unique, and it’s not a stroke of genius on our part but a wonderful gift of nature,” he told IPS.

The company was founded on the premise that Chile is a country that is poor in the “energies of the past, but infinitely rich in energies of the future.”

With an investment of 400 million dollars, the Espejo (Mirror) de Tarapacá will essentially operate as a big battery that will store up energy. Construction is to begin in late 2016 and it is set to come onstream in 2020.

The project includes the installation of a pumped-storage hydroelectric plant, which will pump seawater up a cliff on the coast using solar energy, to a natural storage basin at an altitude of 600 metres.

In the night-time, when no solar energy is available, the plant will generate electricity by releasing the stored water, which will rush down through the same tunnels. This will provide a steady round-the-clock supply of energy – 24 hours a day/seven days a week – overcoming the problem of intermittency of renewable energy sources.

Scale model of Espejo de Tarapacá, a renewable energy project that will take advantage of Chile’s coastal geography, with a cliff where seawater will be pumped up to a natural storage basin at an altitude of 600 metres, in the extreme north of the country. Credit: Courtesy Valhalla Energía

Scale model of Espejo de Tarapacá, a renewable energy project that will take advantage of Chile’s coastal geography, with a cliff where seawater will be pumped up to a natural storage basin at an altitude of 600 metres, in the extreme north of the country. Credit: Courtesy Valhalla Energía

El Espejo will generate 300 MW of electricity in Caleta San Marcos, in the extreme northern region of Tarapacá, 100 km south of the city of Iquique.

At the same time, the company will build Cielos de Tarapacá, a 1,650-hectare solar park in nearby Pintados that will produce 600 MW of energy, with a projected investment of nearly one billion dollars.

The solar project, which is waiting for an environmental permit, will operate with single-axis tracking technology in order to follow the sun during the day from east to west.

Camus said the solar park will be so large that “if it began to operate in 2015 it would be the biggest in the world.”

At night, the plant will continue generating solar power, thanks to the energy stored in Espejo.

The salient aspect of the two projects is that they will harness the natural attributes that Chile has in abundance: seawater, coastal cliffs, and the Atacama Desert’s solar radiation.

This will avoid the need to build dams and reduce construction of underground tunnels by up to 80 percent, according to the promoters of the project, who say it is one of the most innovative renewable energy initiatives in the world.

“More than in the technology employed, the innovation of Espejo de Tarapacá lies in the more efficient use of geography, which makes it possible to build the plant at the lowest possible cost,” said Camus.

“The big opportunity is in the efficient use of the territory, more than in the technological barrier,” he added. Chile is a long, narrow country between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andes mountains to the east. It has 6,435 km of coast line.

Valhalla has been working closely with the people of Caleta San Marcos.

The fishing village’s 300 inhabitants, who make a living from small-scale fishing and harvesting shellfish and giant kelp, were initially wary, afraid the initiative would have a negative impact on local marine resources.

Working groups were set up to discuss things with the local community, who asked for advisers with expertise in marine issues and a lawyer to support them in technical and legal aspects.

Finally, after months of work, the company signed agreements with the local fishing union and the residents’ association pledging to make contributions to the local community. They also agreed on a set of principles to guarantee transparent management of the plant, as well as a mechanism to address problems in case damage to the sea is detected.

Aerial view of the area where the Espejo de Tarapacá project will be built, to produce 300 MW of electricity using seawater and solar energy, in an innovative plant that will generate energy 24/7 in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. Credit: Courtesy of Valhalla Energía

Aerial view of the area where the Espejo de Tarapacá project will be built, to produce 300 MW of electricity using seawater and solar energy, in an innovative plant that will generate energy 24/7 in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. Credit: Courtesy of Valhalla Energía

“This has been beneficial, and I hope other communities can have access to this and will be able to decide for themselves, but with information, equal opportunity, while defending their rights, so that ignorance doesn’t become a curb on development,” said Genaro Collao, president of the local fishing union of Caleta San Marcos.

“At this tipping point the decision is: I put money in your pocket or I improve your life,” he told IPS by phone from the village. “Money in my pocket is going to last one day, one week, one month. But life is an ongoing legacy, that’s the concept.”

This South American nation of 17.6 million people has a total installed capacity of 20,203 MW of electricity. The interconnected Central and Norte Grande power grids account for 78.38 percent and 20.98 percent of total electric power, respectively.

Of the country’s total energy supply, 58.4 percent is generated by diesel fuel, coal and natural gas, while the rest comes from renewable energy sources – mainly large hydropower dams.

Only 13.5 percent comes from unconventional renewable sources like wind power (4.57 percent), solar (3.79 percent), mini-dams (2.8 percent) and biomass (2.34 percent).

In 2014, the government of Michelle Bachelet adopted a new energy agenda that set a target for 70 percent of Chile’s electric power to come from renewable sources by 2050.

“Seventy percent of the greenhouse gases in Chile come from the energy sector,” Environment Minister Pablo Badenier has told IPS. “That means it is our commitments in energy that will enable us to live up to the pledge to cut emissions by 30 percent by 2030.”

“Looking at the 2050 energy road map, it appears viable that by the year 2050, 70 percent of power generation in Chile could come from renewable sources. That is what makes it possible to seriously commit to this goal regarding greenhouse gases.”

Studies indicate that Atacama has one of the highest concentrations of solar energy in the world. According to experts, the entire country could be supplied with electricity if less than 0.5 percent of the desert’s surface were covered by solar panels.

“Projects like this one could offer an opportunity by putting Chile at the forefront of development of green technology that does not require people to pay more for it,” said Camus.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Plan to Overcome Costa Rica’s Cuban Migrant Crisis Takes Offhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/plan-to-overcome-costa-ricas-cuban-migrant-crisis-takes-off/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=plan-to-overcome-costa-ricas-cuban-migrant-crisis-takes-off http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/plan-to-overcome-costa-ricas-cuban-migrant-crisis-takes-off/#comments Wed, 13 Jan 2016 21:17:44 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143582 Some of the 180 Cuban immigrants who departed Jan. 12 from the Daniel Oduber aiport in northern Costa Rica, as they line up for the test flight, the start of a possible solution to the crisis that broke out in November 2014. Credit: Foreign Ministry of Costa Rica

Some of the 180 Cuban immigrants who departed Jan. 12 from the Daniel Oduber aiport in northern Costa Rica, as they line up for the test flight, the start of a possible solution to the crisis that broke out in November 2014. Credit: Foreign Ministry of Costa Rica

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
Jan 13 2016 (IPS)

After a nearly two-month wait, a group of 180 Cuban migrants, of the roughly 8,000 stranded in Costa Rica in their attempt to reach the United States, continued on their way as a result of a complex logistical process that emerged from diplomatic negotiations involving several countries in the region.

The first pilot flight took off late Tuesday Jan. 12 from the Daniel Oduber airport in the northwest Costa Rican city of Liberia, headed for the capital of El Salvador. From there they continued by bus to Guatemala and on to the Mexican border.

“What the countries agreed to was a pilot flight….we are convinced that this will be successful, thanks to the meticulous efforts put into it,” said Costa Rica’s foreign minister, Manuel González.

The minister explained that officials from the countries in the region will meet again before Jan. 18 to evaluate the success of the first charter flight and decide whether to use the same system with the rest of the migrants trapped along the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua since November.

The migrants clapped and cheered when the 180 passengers to take the first charter flight were called by megaphone in the shelter. When the group, wearing light clothing and carrying small suitcases, arrived at the airport, some of them carried U.S. flags while others wore t-shirts with the Costa Rican slogan “Pura vida” – literally “pure life” but meaning anything from “full of life” to “this is living!”

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) helped with the logistics in order for a commercial airline to offer a charter flight, after a diplomatic effort involving Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Panama.

González said IOM support was sought because the countries of Central America have little experience in this kind of operation.

Officially, 7,802 Cuban migrants are stuck in Costa Rica, some of them since Nov. 14. Their aim is to get to the United States to take advantage of the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act’s “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which guarantees residency to any Cuban who sets foot on U.S. soil.

“I’m looking for the American dream,” said one of the travellers, Yumiley Díaz.

“I left a one-year-old baby behind in Cuba; I can’t wait to get to the United States and apply to bring him over,” said the young secretary, who is travelling with her husband to Tampa, Florida. “The United States offers me that possibility. Once I’m legal there, I can ask to bring him in.”

After receiving temporary transit permits from the Costa Rican government, the Cubans ran into resistance from Nicaragua, which closed its border and refused to let them through.

One of the 180 Cubans on the Jan. 12 charter flight which took the first group of migrants from Costa Rica to San Salvador. From there they are heading on to their final destination: the United States. Credit: Foreign Ministry of Costa Rica

One of the 180 Cubans on the Jan. 12 charter flight which took the first group of migrants from Costa Rica to San Salvador. From there they are heading on to their final destination: the United States. Credit: Foreign Ministry of Costa Rica

The air bridge was set up so they could get around Nicaragua.

Most of the stranded Cubans are in northern Costa Rica, in shelters set up by the local authorities, who report that they are assisting 5,298 migrants. On Dec. 18, the country stopped issuing special visas allowing Cubans safe passage through the country, which is why some of the Cubans were not registered and cannot be located.

The migrants now have the possibility of continuing their northward journey by air, as part of a “forced solution,” said Carlos Cascante, director of the School of International Relations at the National University of Costa Rica.

The crisis revealed limits to the Central American Integration System, which failed to come up with a solution. “This reflects poorly on the regional integration process,” Cascante told IPS. To push for bilateral accords, Costa Rica suspended its political participation in the regional integration body.

The academic said the measures taken by the Nicaraguan government were aimed at “drawing attention away from” internal criticism and complications plaguing its plan to build a canal between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, in a year when general elections are scheduled for November.

With regard to the negotiated solution, Costa Rica’s foreign minister said: “This isn’t just an airplane ticket; it’s a package that includes getting from the shelter to the border between Guatemala and Mexico.”

All of the countries along the way to the United States require visas for Cubans, which makes it impossible for them to take a commercial flight. Guatemala opened a special consular office to serve the migrants arriving from Liberia, Costa Rica.

The Cubans themselves paid the 555-dollar air fare, as well as the bus tickets, departure tax, meals, and health insurance, said the IOM chief of mission in Costa Rica, Roeland de Wilde.

Children under 13 will get a discount, although only adults were on the pilot flight.

“These Cubans who are in Costa Rica with their documents in order are economic migrants here voluntarily. They began this long journey by paying their own way and they will continue to do so,” said the IOM representative.

Once they make it to Mexico, the authorities there will adopt their own measures to facilitate the migrants’ passage north.

“Mexico will process their information, and will give them a note granting them 20 days to regularise their situation or to leave the country. That is enough time to get to the U.S. border,” said de Wilde.

This convoluted route to the United States begins with a flight from Cuba to Ecuador, which in late 2015 adopted stricter new visa requirements for Cubans, changing what had been an exceptional openness to citizens from the socialist Caribbean island nation who face an otherwise restrictive international context.

From Ecuador, Cubans make a journey of several thousand kilometres by land and sea to reach the southern U.S. border, often paying people trafficking rings, a phenomenon that kept their passage through Central America largely invisible.

But things changed when the authorities in Costa Rica dismantled one of these networks on Nov. 10, shedding light on the true dimensions of the flow of Cubans through Central America.

Despite the first test flight, a full solution is not yet in sight. More than 7,600 migrants still remain on Costa Rican soil, according to the visa registry in the country’s migration office.

Use of the so-called Ecuador route has stepped up because of worries that the “wet foot, dry foot” policy may be eliminated or restricted as a result of the thaw between Cuba and the United States, which began in December 2014 and has included the reestablishment of full diplomatic relations.

From October 2014 to Dec. 1, 2015, Ecuador allowed Cubans to enter the country without a special letter of invitation. But this requisite was put back in place after the migration crisis broke out along the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Drought Boosts Science in Dominican Republichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/drought-boosts-science-in-dominican-republic/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=drought-boosts-science-in-dominican-republic http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/drought-boosts-science-in-dominican-republic/#comments Mon, 11 Jan 2016 23:01:11 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143553 Leaks in city water pipes, like this one in the Pequeño Haití (Little Haiti) market in Santo Domingo, aggravated the water shortages during the lengthy drought in the Dominican Republic. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

Leaks in city water pipes, like this one in the Pequeño Haití (Little Haiti) market in Santo Domingo, aggravated the water shortages during the lengthy drought in the Dominican Republic. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

By Ivet González
SANTO DOMINGO, Jan 11 2016 (IPS)

The recent lengthy drought in the Dominican Republic, which began to ease in late 2015, caused serious losses in agriculture and prompted national water rationing measures and educational campaigns.

But the most severe December-April dry season in the last 20 years helped convince the authorities to listen to the local scientific community in this Caribbean nation that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

“The National Meteorology Office (ONAMET) actually benefited because the authorities and key sectors like agriculture and water paid more attention to us,” said Juana Sille, an expert on drought, which was a major problem in the Caribbean and Central America in 2015.

The cause was the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a cyclical climate phenomenon that affects weather patterns around the world. Forecasts indicate that its effects will be felt until early spring 2016, and devastating impacts have already been seen in South American countries like Bolivia, Colombia and Peru.

As a result of this record El Niño and its extreme climatic events, the international humanitarian organisation Oxfam predicted in October that at least 10 million of the world’s poorest people would go hungry in 2015 and 2016 due to failing crops.

“The most severe droughts reported in the Dominican Republic are associated with the ENSO phenomenon,” Sille told IPS, based on ONAMET’s studies.

But the meteorologist said that unlike in past years, “there is now awareness among decision-makers about climate change and the tendency towards reduced rainfall.”

The gardens and fruit trees kept by many women in their yards to help feed their families, like this one in the rural settlement of Mata Mamón, were hit hard by drought in the Dominican Republic in 2015. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

The gardens and fruit trees kept by many women in their yards to help feed their families, like this one in the rural settlement of Mata Mamón, were hit hard by drought in the Dominican Republic in 2015. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

“The authorities are learning to follow the early warning system and to implement prevention and adaptation plans,” she stated.

Sille pointed out that, in an unusual move, a government minister asked ONAMET in 2015 to carry out a study to assess the causes and likely duration of the drought that has been plaguing the country since 2014.

One quarter of the world’s population faces economic water shortage (when a population cannot afford to make use of an adequate water source).

Effects of drought in the Caribbean

• In Cuba, 45 percent of the national territory suffered rainfall shortages, in the most severe dry season in 115 years.
• In Jamaica, people found to be wasting water can be fined or even put into jail for up to 30 days.
• Barbados, Dominica and the Virgin Islands adopted water rationing measures in the residential sector.
• St. Lucia declared a national emergency after several months of water shortages.
• Puerto Rico suffered serious shortages due to poor maintenance of reservoirs.
• Antigua and Barbuda depended on wells and desalination plants to alleviate water shortages.
• In Central America, more than 3.5 million people have been affected by drought.

This is true mainly in the developing South, where the local scientific communities have a hard time raising awareness regarding the management of drought, whose impacts are less obvious than the damage caused by hurricanes and earthquakes.

Experts in the Dominican Republic and other developing countries call for the creation of risk management plans to ward off the consequences of water scarcity crises.

“We have a National Plan Against Desertification and Drought, but some institutions apply it while others don’t,” lamented the meteorologist. “This drought demonstrated the urgent need for everyone to implement the programme, which we have been working on for a long time.”

She said 2015 highlighted the importance of educational campaigns on water rationing measures, drought-resistant crops, more frequent technical advice and orientation for farmers, more wells, and the maintenance of available water sources.

The Dominican Republic’s 10 reservoirs, located in six of the country’s 31 provinces, are insufficient, according to experts. Another one will be created when the Monte Grande dam is completed in the southern province of Barahona.

Along with rivers and other sources, the reservoirs must meet the demands of the country’s 9.3 million people and the local economy, where tourism plays a key role.

Water from the reservoirs is used first for household consumption, then irrigation of crops in the reservoir’s area of influence and the generation of electric power. But every sector was affected by water scarcity in 2015.

“The dry season was really bad. The worst of all, because it killed the crops,” Luisa Echeverry, a 48-year-old homemaker, told IPS. Her backyard garden in the rural settlement of Mata Mamón, in the municipality of Santo Domingo Norte, to the north of the capital, helps feed her family.

But her garden, where she grows beans and corn, as well as peppers and other vegetables, to complement the diet of her three children, was hit hard by the scant rainfall.

“When things were toughest, we would try to manage using our water tank, which we sometimes even used to provide our neighbours with water,” said Echeverry.

“Our concern was for the crops, in our houses we always had water,” said Ocrida de la Rosa, another woman from this rural town of small farmers in the province of Santo Domingo, where many women keep gardens and fruit trees to help feed their families.

All but two of the country’s reservoirs were operating at minimum capacity, which meant the authorities had to give priority to residential users over agriculture and power generation.

Yields went down, and many crops were lost, especially in rice paddies, which require huge quantities of water. Production in the rice-growing region in the northwest of the country fell 80 percent due to the scarce rainfall and the reduced flow in the Yaque del Norte River.

And the Dominican Agribusiness Council reported a 25 to 30 percent drop in dairy production due to the drought, while hundreds of heads of beef cattle died in the south of the country.

Production in the hydropower dams fell 60 percent, in a country where hydroelectricity accounts for 13 percent of the renewable energy supply.

The daily water supply in Greater Santo Domingo went down by 25 percent, and thousands of people in hundreds of neighbourhoods, and in the interior of the country, suffered water rationing measures. Some neighbourhoods depended on tanker trucks for water.

And in the face of rationing measures, residents of Greater Santo Domingo protested the wasteful use of water in less essential activities, as well as the many unrepaired leaks in the residential sector.

The authorities closed down local car wash businesses, which abound in the city, and people could be fined or even arrested for wasting water to wash cars, clean sidewalks and water gardens.

“Integrated water management has advanced in this country,” another ONAMET meteorologist, Bolívar Ledesma, told IPS.

To illustrate, he pointed to the National Water Observatory, which adopts water management decisions together with institutions like the Santo Domingo water and sewage company (CAASD), the National Institute of Potable Water and Sewage (INAP) and the National Water Resources Institute (INDRHI).

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Cash for the Climate Please, Caribbean Leaders Lamenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/cash-for-the-climate-please-caribbean-leaders-lament/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cash-for-the-climate-please-caribbean-leaders-lament http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/cash-for-the-climate-please-caribbean-leaders-lament/#comments Fri, 08 Jan 2016 15:52:31 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143544 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/cash-for-the-climate-please-caribbean-leaders-lament/feed/ 4 Soy Boom Revives Amazon Highwayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/soy-boom-revives-amazon-highway/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=soy-boom-revives-amazon-highway http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/soy-boom-revives-amazon-highway/#comments Fri, 08 Jan 2016 00:09:44 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143536 A local small farmer, Rosineide Maciel, watches the road improvement works on highway BR-163, which runs past her house in Itaituba municipality in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A local small farmer, Rosineide Maciel, watches the road improvement works on highway BR-163, which runs past her house in Itaituba municipality in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
MIRITITUBA, Brazil , Jan 8 2016 (IPS)

The BR-163 highway, an old dream of the Brazilian military to colonise the Amazon jungle, was revived by agroexporters as part of a plan aimed at cutting costs by shipping soy out of river ports. But the improvement of the road has accentuated problems such as deforestation and land tenure, and is fuelling new social conflicts.

The 350-km stretch of road between the cities of Miritituba and Santarem in the northern Brazilian state of Pará look nothing like the popular image of a lush Amazon rainforest, home to some of the greatest biodiversity in the world.

Between the two port terminals – in Santarém, where the Tapajós and Amazon Rivers converge, and in Miritituba on the banks of the Tapajós River – are small scattered groves of trees surrounded by endless fields of soy and pasture.

Cattle grazing peacefully or resting under the few remaining trees, taking shelter from the high temperatures exacerbated by the deforestation, are the only species of mammal in sight.“A common phrase heard in the area along the BR-163 is ‘whoever deforests, owns the land’ – in other words, deforestation has become an illegal instrument for seizing public land.” – Mauricio Torres

“When we came here 30 years ago this was all jungle,” local small farmer Rosineide Maciel told IPS as she and her family stood watching a bulldozer flatten a stretch of the BR-163 highway in front of their modest dwelling.

Maciel doesn’t miss the days when, along with thousands of other Brazilian migrants, she was drawn here by the then-military government’s (1964-1985) offer of land, part of a strategy to colonise the Amazon rainforest.

Thanks to the paving of the highway that began in 2009, it takes less time to transport her cassava and rice to the town of Rurópolis, 200 km from her farm.

“It’s been easier since they improved the road,” she said. “In the past, there were so many potholes on the way to Rurópolis, and in the wet season it took us three days because of the mud.”

BR-163, built in the 1970s, had become practically impassable. The road links Cuiabá, the capital of the neighbouring state of Mato Grosso – the country’s main soy and corn producer and exporter – with the river port city of Santarém.

Of the highway’s 1,400 kilometres, where traffic of trucks carrying tons of soy and maize is intense, some 200 km have yet to be paved, and a similar number of kilometres of the road are full of potholes.

Accidents occur on a daily basis, caused in the dry season by the red dust thrown up on the stretches that are still dirt, and in the wet season by the mud.

But compared to how things were in the past, it is a paradise for the truckers who drive the route at least five times a month during harvest time.

Truck driver Pedro Gomes from the north of the state of Mato Grosso told IPS: “When soy began to come to Santarém, three years ago, sometimes the drive took me 10 to 15 days. Today we do it in three days, if there’s no rain.”

The BR-163 highway runs up to the entrance of the port terminal built in Santarém by U.S. commodities giant Cargill, where the company loads soy and other grains to ship down the Amazon River to the Atlantic Ocean, and from there to big markets like China and Europe.

This and other ports built or planned by different companies in Santarém, Miritituba and Barcarena – in Belem, the capital of Pará, at the mouth of the Amazon River – are part of a logistics infrastructure which, along with the paving of the highway, seeks to reduce the costs of land and maritime transport in northern Brazil.

The river ports and the road improvement have nearly cut in half the transport distance for truck traffic from Mato Grosso, which is around 2,000 km from the congested ports in the southeast, such as Santos in the state of São Paulo or Paranaguá in Paraná.

The Mato Grosso Soy Producers Association estimates the transport savings at 40 dollars a ton.

“Shipping out of ports in the north like Santarém has boosted competitiveness,” José de Lima, director of planning for the city of Santarém, told IPS. “BR-163 is a key export corridor that was very much needed by the country and the region.”

But the country’s agroexport model has many critics.

Road works on highway BR-163 in Itaituba municipality in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Road works on highway BR-163 in Itaituba municipality in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

With the soy production boom in Pará, illegal occupations of land have expanded and property prices have soared.

“The paving of BR-163 has heated up the land market,” Mauricio Torres, at the Federal University of Western Pará (UFOPA), told IPS. “As this is happening in a region where illegal possession of land is so widespread and where there is no land-use zoning, it generates a series of social and environmental conflicts.”

This, in turn, has driven deforestation.

“Forests are cut down not only for agriculture but to make fraudulent land claims. A common phrase heard in the area along the BR-163 is ‘whoever deforests, owns the land’ – in other words, deforestation has become an illegal instrument for seizing public land,” he said.

In 2006, the government launched a sustainable development plan for BR-163, aimed at reducing the socioenvironmental impacts caused by the paving of the road, by means of self-sustaining projects for local communities.

“But this pretty much just petered out,” UFOPA chancellor Raimunda Nogueira explained to IPS.

“If the communities along BR-163 are not strengthened, they will undergo a radical transformation,” she said. “For example, land prices are skyrocketing and small farmers are selling out, which accentuates the phenomenon of the latifundio (large landed estates).”

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon became more widespread in the 1960s, driven by the expansion of cattle ranching and the timber industry.

However, that did not leave the land completely free of vegetation, according to Nogueira, because subsistence farming “maintained different levels of regeneration of the forest.”

“When the big agricultural producers came in, they cleared all of those areas in the stage of regeneration that maintained a certain equilibrium,” said the chancellor, who estimates that around 120,000 hectares of land have been deforested to make way for soy.

Torres, meanwhile, referred to the emergence of other social problems like prostitution, involving minors as well as adults.

“There are towns in Pará that could turn into huge brothels for truck drivers,” he said.

The residents of Campo Verde, a town of around 6,000 people located 30 km from Miritituba, who depend on the production of palm hearts and on sawmills for a living, have started to feel the effects.

The town is located near the intersection of BR-163 and the 4,000-km Trans-Amazonian highway that cuts across northern Brazil.

“Only soy is going to come through here,” Celeste Ghizone, a community organiser in the town, told IPS. “An average of 1,500 trucks are expected to pass through every day. Just think of how many accidents we’re going to have with all of these truck drivers who drive through like mad men without even slowing down,” he said, adding that he is worried about rising crime and drug abuse rates.

When the improvement of BR-163 – including widening it to a four-lane highway along one major stretch – is completed, an estimated 20 million tons of grains (Mato Grosso currently produces 42 million tons) will be shipped northward to Amazon River ports rather than on the longer routes to ports in the southeast, by 2020.

The dream of agribusiness corporations is to continue expanding the soy corridor, by building a railway to Miritituba.

But Torres complained that “It’s important to stress that a paved BR-163 is not local infrastructure but is for the big soy producers of Mato Grosso. The state of Pará will become merely a transport corridor for soy exports.”

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Caribbean Journalists Prepare to Report on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/caribbean-journalists-prepare-to-report-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-journalists-prepare-to-report-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/caribbean-journalists-prepare-to-report-on-climate-change/#comments Wed, 06 Jan 2016 03:09:45 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143521 Dominican journalist Amelia Deschamps addressing a workshop in Santo Domingo on the role of reporters with regard to climate change. Researchers and journalists from Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic took part in the event. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

Dominican journalist Amelia Deschamps addressing a workshop in Santo Domingo on the role of reporters with regard to climate change. Researchers and journalists from Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic took part in the event. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

By Ivet González
SANTO DOMINGO, Jan 6 2016 (IPS)

Environmentally committed journalists in the Caribbean point to a major challenge for media workers: communicating and raising awareness about the crucial climate change agreement that emerged from the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris.

“Scientific information must be published in clearer language, and we must talk about the real impact of climate change on people’s lives,” journalist Amelia Deschamps, an anchorwoman on the El Día newcast of the Dominican channel Telesistema 11, told IPS.

She was referring to the communication challenges posed in the wake of COP21 to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris to produce the first universal agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions and curb the negative impacts of global warming.

“So far good intentions abound, but there are few practical steps being taken in terms of mitigation and adaptation,” said Deschamps.

In the view of this journalist who specialises in environmental affairs, media coverage of global warming “has been very weak and oversimplified,” which she said has contributed to the public sense that it is a “merely scientific” issue that has little connection to people’s lives.

“People are more concerned about things that directly affect them,” said Deschamps, who is also an activist for risk management in poor communities, and considers citizen mobilisation key to curbing damage to the environment.

The 195 country parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in the French capital adopted a binding universal agreement aimed at keeping a global temperature rise this century “well below 2 degrees Celsius” with respect to the pre-industrial era.

Scientists warn that the planet is heating up as a result of human activity, and this is causing extreme weather events such as heat waves, lengthy droughts and heavy rainfall. In addition, clean water, fertile land and biodiversity are all being reduced.

Coastal areas are already suffering the consequences of rising sea levels, a process that according to scientific sources began 20,000 years ago, but has been accelerated by global warming over the last 150 years.

Small island nations such as those of the Caribbean are among the most vulnerable to climate change, while their emissions have contributed very little to the phenomenon.

“As journalists and communicators we have not managed to identify the right messages to make the public feel involved in this issue,” said Deschamps at a workshop organised by the Cuban Environmental Protection Agency, the Dominican Chapter of the Nicolás Guillén Foundation, the Norwegian Embassy and the Inter Press Service (IPS) international news agency.

Marie Jeanne Moisse, a reporter and environmental educator who works in the climate change office in Haiti’s Environment Ministry, spoke during a workshop in Santo Domingo about the media’s role in reporting on and raising awareness about global warming. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

Marie Jeanne Moisse, a reporter and environmental educator who works in the climate change office in Haiti’s Environment Ministry, spoke during a workshop in Santo Domingo about the media’s role in reporting on and raising awareness about global warming. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

To train reporters from the Caribbean, a group of experts from Cuba, Mexico and the Dominican Republic offered a Nov. 23-26 course on “Social Communication for Risk Prevention, Gender and Climate Change” in the Dominican capital.

The course was attended by 41 journalists from Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It included three talks that experts gave to students from two rural schools and to a group of 25 Haitian-Dominican women.

“The media need to be trained to provide more information at a national level on the phenomenon and about the agreement reached at COP21,” said Marie Jeanne Moise, an official in the climate change office in Haiti’s Environment Ministry.

According to Moise, a communicator and educator on the environment, “there is alarming talk today about global warming, and people are scared. But that doesn’t mean they know about the phenomenon or about how to protect themselves, to reduce the impacts on their lives.”

Moise urged journalists and reporters to “go to the roots of the problem.”

“News coverage focuses on catastrophes and on how vulnerable we are. But little is said about what contribution the media should make to help bring about a positive change in attitude towards the environment.”

The Haitian official said COP21 “created greater unity among the Caribbean as a vulnerable region that needs to adopt a common position.”

The countries in the region that took part in COP21 are negotiating as part of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), made up of 15 mainly island nations, and as part of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).

Ahead of COP21, CARICOM launched the “1.5 to Stay Alive” campaign to raise awareness on the effects of climate change, especially on small island states, while strengthening the region’s negotiating position.

CARICOM estimates that inaction could cost its member countries 10.7 billion dollars in losses by 2025, or five percent of GDP, and some 22 billion dollars by 2050, or 10 percent of GDP.

Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share the island of Hispaniola, are on the list of the 10 countries most vulnerable to natural disasters, according to the Climate Change and Environmental Risk Analytics report published in 2012 by Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk analytics and forecasting company based in Britain.

Besides physical and economic exposure to events like earthquakes and hurricanes, these countries are vulnerable due to social inequality, a lack of preparedness, and unequal distribution of local and regional capacities, said the study, which compared 197 countries using 29 indices and interactive maps analysing major natural hazards worldwide.

Dominican blogger and human rights activist Yesibon Reynoso said that in his country “quite a lot is known and talked about, with regard to the environment, because of the current circumstances.”

But, he said, “for example, deforestation is not always punished. Impunity reigns through exploitation with the support of corruption in the state.”

In his view, “environmental rights are not addressed in accordance with how essential they are to life, in the country and around the globe. There is no traditional social and political respect for the environment.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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