Inter Press Service » Latin America & the Caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 01 Sep 2015 21:16:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.7 OECD Paving Way for Costa Rica’s Membershiphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/oecd-paving-way-for-costa-ricas-membership/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oecd-paving-way-for-costa-ricas-membership http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/oecd-paving-way-for-costa-ricas-membership/#comments Tue, 01 Sep 2015 17:46:04 +0000 Jaya Ramachandran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142217 By Jaya Ramachandran
PARIS, Sep 1 2015 (IPS)

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), once a domain of the rich countries, is keen to extend its global membership and has set out a clear path for Costa Rica’s membership, within months of launching accession discussions with Colombia and Latvia.

As part of this strategy, the 34-nation OECD has in fact been strengthening cooperation with Brazil, India, Indonesia, the People’s Republic of China and South Africa through ‘Enhanced Engagement’ programmes.

According to OECD official sources, over time the organisation’s focus “has broadened to include extensive contacts with non-members and it now maintains cooperative relations with a large number of them.”

Li Keqiang, Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, paid a historic visit to the OECD on Jul 1, 2015, to sign cooperation agreements in a move that will bolster ongoing collaboration.

The visit to the OECD, the first by a Chinese state leader, coincided with the 20th anniversary of OECD-China relations, as well as China’s upcoming Presidency of the G20 in 2016.

Premier Li Keqiang delivered a keynote address in the context of the OECD Leaders Programme. He was accompanied by a number of ministers and high-ranking officials from the Chinese government.

OECD’s Global Relations Secretariat (GRS) develops and oversees the strategic orientations of OECD’s global relations with non-members. More than 15 Global Fora have been established to address trans-boundary issues where the relevance of OECD work is dependent on policy dialogue with non-members.

Regional initiatives cover Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia; Asia; Latin America; and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The Sahel and West Africa Club creates, promotes and facilitates links between OECD members and West Africa.

Helping improve public governance and management in European Union candidate countries, potential candidates and European Neighbourhood Policy partners is the mission of a joint OECD-EU initiative, the Support for Improvement in Governance and Management (SIGMA) programme.

The OECD’s current members are Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

On Jul. 8, 2015, OECD members adopted the Roadmap for the Accession of Costa Rica to the OECD Convention setting out the terms, conditions and process for its accession.

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said: “Launching the accession process of Costa Rica underlines the organisation’s commitment to broaden its global outreach. Our joint objective is to work together to bring Costa Rica’s policies and practices closer to OECD best policies and practices.”

Gurría, who hails from Mexico, added: “This process, through which standards and best practices are adopted, is as important as membership itself and will help improve the lives of all Costa Ricans. It will be mutually enriching, as it will also allow the OECD to learn from Costa Rica’s experience in various policy areas.”

The first step in the process will see Costa Rica submit an initial memorandum setting out its position on approximately 260 OECD legal instruments. This will in turn lead to a series of technical reviews by OECD experts, who will collect further information from Costa Rica through questionnaires and fact-finding missions.

As part of the accession process, the OECD will evaluate Costa Rica’s implementation of the organisation’s policies, practices and legal instruments. Its committees may make recommendations for adjustments to legislation, policy or practice to bring Costa Rica closer to OECD instruments or best practices, serving as a catalyst for reform.

There is no deadline for completion of the accession processes, said an OECD official. Final accession will depend on the candidate country’s capacity to adapt and adjust to meet the organisation’s standards. Once all the committees have given their opinion, a final decision will be taken by all OECD member countries in the Governing Council.

Created in 1961 as the successor to the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation, which administered the Marshall Plan at the end of the Second World War, OECD serves as an economic, environmental and social policy forum for its 34 member countries, as well as partners worldwide, on the world’s most important global challenges.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Latin America Lagging in ICT Sustainable Development Goalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/latin-america-lagging-in-ict-sustainable-development-goal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-lagging-in-ict-sustainable-development-goal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/latin-america-lagging-in-ict-sustainable-development-goal/#comments Fri, 28 Aug 2015 16:50:01 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142182 Map of broadband speed in Latin America in late 2014, according to a report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: ECLAC

Map of broadband speed in Latin America in late 2014, according to a report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: ECLAC

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 28 2015 (IPS)

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will include targets for information and communication technologies, such as strengthening the Internet. And Latin America will be behind from the start in aspects that are key to increasing its educational and medical uses, bolster security and expand bandwidth.

That lag is especially visible in the construction of Internet exchange points (IXPs) and the upgrade of the Internet protocol from IP version 4 (IPv4) to IP version 6 (IPv6).

In the first case, the construction of neutral IXPs allows faster handling of greater data flows, because they circulate in the national territory without the need for access outside the country. This reduces costs and improves the quality of service.

And IPv6 provides virtually infinite address space, better security, mobile computing, better quality service, and an improved design for real-time multimedia traffic. That represents enormous potential for social applications in areas like health and education.

But Lacier Dias, a professor with the Brazilian consultancy VLSM, said the advances made in his country have fallen short.

“Investment and infrastructure are lacking,” he told IPS. “It’s a challenge to expand it to the entire country, because of the size of the territory and the distance. Another challenge is offering broadband to all users.”

In the region, Brazil has the highest number of IXPs: 31, according to the 2014 study “Expansion of regional infrastructure for the interconnection of Internet traffic in Latin America”, drawn up by the Corporación Andina de Fomento (CAF), a regional development bank.

The progress made in Brazil is due to a public policy that foments this infrastructure, combined with an effective multisectoral agency, the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI), which administers the country’s network with the participation of the government, companies, academia and civil society.

In 2004, the CGI launched the “traffic exchange points” initiative to open more IXPs to connect universities and telecommunications and internet service providers.

The 31 IXPs cover at least 16 of Brazil’s 26 states, with a peak period aggregate traffic of 250 GB. An additional 16 potential IXP points have been identified, while at least 47 are under evaluation.

Growth of Internet users in Latin America, country by country, between 2006 and 2013. Credit: ECLAC

Growth of Internet users in Latin America, country by country, between 2006 and 2013. Credit: ECLAC

In Argentina, the first IXP was opened in 1998 and 11 now operate in five provinces. They connect more than 80 network operators through a hub in Buenos Aires. Total traffic is over eight GB per second.

The hub is managed by the Argentine Chamber of Databases and Online Services, which represents Internet, telephony and online content providers.

Mexico opened its only IXP in 2014, administered by the Consortium for Internet Traffic Exchange, made up of the University Corporation for Internet Development and Internet service providers.

The users of these sites include Internet providers, educational systems and state governments.

The 17 SDGs will be adopted at a Sep. 25-27 summit of heads of state and government at United Nations headquarters in New York, with 169 specific targets to be reached by 2030.

The ninth SDG is “Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation, and foster innovation”.

And target 9c is “Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020.”

In Latin America, unlike in Europe, regional IXPs do not yet operate to aggregate traffic between countries.

According to the “State of broadband in Latin America and the Caribbean 2015″ report launched in July by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), nearly half of the region’s population uses Internet.

Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, in that order, are the countries with the highest proportion of Internet users, while Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua have the lowest, in a region marked by an enormous gap in access between rural and urban areas.

With respect to broadband, or high-speed Internet access according to U.S. Federal Communications Commission standards, the ECLAC study indicates that Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Mexico report the largest number of connections over 10 MB per second, while Peru, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Bolivia have the smallest number.

Broadband speed in fixed and mobile connections in several countries of Latin America, compared to selected  In the industrialised North. Credit: ECLAC

Broadband speed in fixed and mobile connections in several countries of Latin America, compared to selected In the industrialised North. Credit: ECLAC

Meanwhile, the highest level of consumption of mobile broadband devices is found in Costa Rica, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela, and the lowest in Paraguay, Guatemala, Peru and Nicaragua.

“The region must become more interconnected, and in order for that to happen, regional traffic and IXPs must be fomented,” David Ocampos, Paraguay’s national secretary of Information and Communication Technologies, told IPS. “There is a lot to be done in terms of traffic exchange. There are no hubs. Infrastructure has to be built, with regional rings.”

Paraguay is now opening its first IXP.

Only 30 percent of the content consumed in Latin America is produced in one of the countries in the region, which can be attributed to the availability of broadband and to infrastructure like IXPs and IPv6, according to the study “The ecosystem and digital economy in Latin America” by the Telecommunications Studies Center of Latin America (CET.LA).

Of the 100 most popular sites in Latin America, only 26 were created in the region, although consumption of cyber traffic per user rose 62 percent in the last few years, higher than the global increase.

In the countries of Latin America, 150 billion dollars have been invested in telecoms in the past seven years, but another 400 billion are needed over the next seven years to close the digital gap.

CAF proposes the construction of three inter-regional IXPs, in Brazil, Panama and Peru, as well as three kinds of national connections in the rest of the region, to be included in the inter-regional ones.

With respect to IPv6, which was launched globally in 2012, Latin America and the Caribbean are slowly moving towards that standard.

In June 2014 the region officially ran out of the IPv4 address space it had been assigned.

Last year, Brazil had nearly 54 percent of the assigned regional space; Mexico 10 percent; Argentina 10 percent; Chile nearly six percent; and Colombia nearly four percent, according to the Latin American and Caribbean Internet Addresses Registry (LACNIC).

In the IPv6 protocol, Brazil leads the list, with 70 percent, followed by Argentina with nine percent; Colombia three percent; Chile 2.5 percent; and Mexico 2.3 percent.

“With IPv6 all Internet users can be covered, with third generation mobile networks. As of this year, Brazil is only buying technological equipment that supports IPv6,” said Dias of Brazil.

“Everyone is looking to IPv6; it’s the natural Internet upgrade. With more IXPs comes the step to IPv6. Broadband drives adoption of IPv6 and allows an increase in users,” said Campos of Paraguay.

ECLAC indicates that in 2013, fixed broadband penetration stood at nine percent in the region, and mobile at 30 percent. In 16 of the 18 countries studied there is more mobile broadband penetration than fixed.

The Union of South American Nations, which brings together 12 countries, is building a ring of more than 10,000 km of fiber optic to link the members of the bloc.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPEC Fund Supports UNIDO in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opec-fund-supports-unido-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opec-fund-supports-unido-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opec-fund-supports-unido-in-latin-america/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 18:18:26 +0000 Jaya Ramachandran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142160 By Jaya Ramachandran
VIENNA, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

The OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) has agreed to give the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) a grant in support of a project aimed at improving the productivity and competitiveness of the shrimp value chain in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region.

OFID is the development finance institution established by the member states of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1976 as a collective channel of aid to the developing countries.

The grant, which amounts to 300,000 dollars, aims at co-financing a project worth close to 900,000 dollars. OFID Director-General, Suleiman J. Al-Herbish and UNIDO Director General Li Yong, signed the agreement in Austria’s capital, where the two organisations are based.

UNIDO Director General Li Yong (left) and OFID Director-General Suleiman J. Al-Herbish (right). Credit: Courtesy of OFID

UNIDO Director General Li Yong (left) and OFID Director-General Suleiman J. Al-Herbish (right). Credit: Courtesy of OFID

Al-Herbish said that the project “will support the sustainable development of the fisheries sector in the LAC region through the promotion of more resource efficient, environment friendly and socially equitable fish farming and processing practices.”

It will also contribute to poverty reduction efforts through the creation of direct and indirect employment and income generation opportunities, as well as improved food and nutrition security, he added.

UNIDO Director General Li pointed out that the shrimp farming sector represented an important source of income in countries such as Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico and Nicaragua.

“However, in most of these countries there is a need to enhance the productivity and competitiveness of the sector and its compliance with international quality and environmental standards.”

Aquaculture, especially shrimp farming, has been a vital source of economic growth in developing countries. Shrimp farming represents 15 percent of the total value of the fishery products internationally traded in 2011. Ecuador and Mexico are currently among the largest producers in the sector at regional level.

The agreement was signed on Aug. 25, within four weeks of OFID and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) signing a co-financing agreement to jointly promote development and economic growth in the LAC region through the expansion of trade financing to banks in the region.

According to the agreement, OFID and IDB will build on the existing Trade Finance Facilitation Programme (TFFP) to provide lines of credit to commercial banks in the LAC region to broaden the sources of trade finance available for LAC importing and exporting companies and support their internationalisation.

In support of global and intraregional integration through trade, this agreement will further strengthen OFID’s long-standing partnership with the IDB and widen OFID’s presence in the trade finance market in the LAC region, OFID said in a press release.

OFID works in cooperation with developing country partners and the international donor community to stimulate economic growth and alleviate poverty in all disadvantaged regions of the world.

It does this by providing financing to build essential infrastructure, strengthen social services delivery and promote productivity, competitiveness and trade.

According to OFID, its work is “people-centred, focusing on projects that meet basic needs – such as food, energy, clean water and sanitation, healthcare and education – with the aim of encouraging self-reliance and inspiring hope for the future.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Water, Climate, Energy Intertwined with Fight Against Poverty in Central Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/water-climate-energy-intertwined-with-fight-against-poverty-in-central-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-climate-energy-intertwined-with-fight-against-poverty-in-central-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/water-climate-energy-intertwined-with-fight-against-poverty-in-central-america/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 16:41:18 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142161 A Honduran peasant on his small farm. Two-thirds of rural families in Central America depend on family farming for a living. Credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT

A Honduran peasant on his small farm. Two-thirds of rural families in Central America depend on family farming for a living. Credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
MANAGUA, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

Central America’s toolbox to pull 23 million people – almost half of the population – out of poverty must include three indispensable tools: universal access to water, a sustainable power supply, and adaptation to climate change.

“These are the minimum, basic, necessary preconditions for guaranteeing survival,” Víctor Campos, assistant director of the Humboldt Centre, a leading Nicaraguan environmental think tank, told IPS.

These three tools are especially important for agriculture, the engine of the regional economy, and particularly in rural areas and indigenous territories, which have the highest levels of poverty.

Campos stressed that this is the minimum foundation for starting to work “towards addressing other issues that we must pay attention to, like education, health, or vulnerable groups; but first these conditions that guarantee minimal survival have to be in place.”

In Central America today, 48 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. And the region is facing the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which the international community will launch in September, with the concept of survival very much alive, because every day millions of people in the region struggle for clean water and food.

Everyone agreed on the vulnerability of the region and its people at the Central American meeting “United in Action for the Common Good”, held Aug. 21 in the Nicaraguan capital to assess the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The 17 SDGs are the pillar of the agenda and will be adopted at a Sep. 25-27 summit of heads of state and government at United Nations headquarters in New York, with a 2030 deadline for compliance.

The issues of reliable, sustainable energy, availability and sustainable management of water, and urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts are included in the SDGs. But the experts taking part in the gathering in Managua stressed that in this region, the three are interlinked at all levels with the goal of reducing poverty.

“In our countries, our fight against poverty is complex,” Campos said.

This region of 48 million people, where per capita GDP is far below the global average – 3,035 dollars in Central America compared to the global 7,850 dollars – needs to come up with new paths for escaping the spiral of poverty which entraps nearly one out of two inhabitants.

Central America’s GDP improved in real terms in the last 13 years, but remains lower than the Latin American and global averages. Credit: State of the Nation

Central America’s GDP improved in real terms in the last 13 years, but remains lower than the Latin American and global averages. Credit: State of the Nation

According to the 2012 report “The Economics of Climate Change in Central America” by the U.N. Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), “reduction of and instability in the availability of water and of agricultural yields could affect labour markets, supplies and prices of basic goods, and rural migration to urban areas.”

That would have an impact on subsistence crops like maize or beans or traditional export products like coffee, which are essential in the region made up, from south to north, of Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Belize and Guatemala. (U.N. agencies also include the Dominican Republic, an island nation, in the region.)

Poverty laid out in the SDGs

In the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG), to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, is divided into two.

The first of the 17 SDGs is “End poverty in all its forms everywhere” and the second is “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.”

The sixth is “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”, the seventh is “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all” and the 13th is “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.”

A key area is the so-called Dry Corridor, an arid strip that runs from Guatemala to Costa Rica, which according to experts has grown.

“We are modifying land use, which is associated with the climate phenomenon, and as a consequence the Dry Corridor is not limited to the Corridor anymore: we are turning the entire country into a kind of dry corridor,” Denis Meléndez, executive secretary of Nicaragua’s National Forum for Risk Management, told IPS.

The “Outlook for Food and Nutritional Security in Central America” report published by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 2014 says this could hinder compliance with the goal of eliminating hunger in the region.

The first of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by the international community in a global summit in 2000 – now to be replaced by the SDGs – is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, cutting in half the proportion of extremely poor and hungry people by 2015, from 1990 levels.

FAO reported that the countries of Central America have come close to meeting the goal, with the proportion of hungry people being reduced from 24.5 to 13.2 percent of the total, but the percentage is still more than double the Latin American average of 6.1 percent.

Meanwhile, the impact of climate change on the most vulnerable people goes beyond agriculture, access to water, or sustainable energy.

According to ECLAC, two out of three inhabitants of the region live in shantytowns or slums in unsanitary conditions, where climate change will drive up the prevalence of diseases associated with poverty, such as malaria and dengue.

Nearly half of the population of Central America lives in poverty, with Honduras in the most critical situation, with a poverty rate of close to 70 percent. Credit: FAO

Nearly half of the population of Central America lives in poverty, with Honduras in the most critical situation, with a poverty rate of close to 70 percent. Credit: FAO

“Because climate change is the biggest challenge that humanity is facing at the present and in the coming decades, we have to think about adaptation not necessarily as a cross-cutting issue, but in terms of ‘what goes around, comes around’,” Francisco Soto, the head of El Salvador’s Climate Change Forum, told IPS.

This impact has been acknowledged by governments in the region, and in 2010 the Central American Integration System (SICA) described it in its Regional Climate Change Strategy as a phenomenon that would “make social challenges like poverty reduction and governance more difficult to fight.”

Experts like Andrea Rodríguez of Bolivia stressed at the meeting that every government anti-poverty project should take into account the impacts of climate change.

“If this is not taken into consideration, we won’t be able to find an effective solution, because climate change and development are like twins – they go hand in hand and have to be addressed simultaneously in order for aid and cooperation to be effective,” she told IPS.

Rodríguez, a legal adviser to the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) Climate Change Programme, insisted on the need to jointly plan long-term investment in energy infrastructure and sustainable development.

“The only way to combat climate change and contribute to economic development is by leaving aside fossil fuels and looking for cleaner alternatives,” she said.

Civil society organisations grouped in the Central American Alliance for Energy Sustainability (ACCESE) propose small-scale renewable installations as a solution for meeting the growing demand for energy while at the same time empowering vulnerable communities.

In the region, 15 percent of the population does not have electricity, and up to 50 percent cook with firewood, according to figures provided by ACCESE. This portion of the population is mainly found on islands and in remote mountainous and rural areas.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Plant in Chile Opens South America’s Doors to Geothermal Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/plant-in-chile-opens-south-americas-doors-to-geothermal-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=plant-in-chile-opens-south-americas-doors-to-geothermal-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/plant-in-chile-opens-south-americas-doors-to-geothermal-energy/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 15:44:20 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142140 The El Tatio geyser field in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta. Geothermal energy comes from the earth’s internal heat, and the steam is delivered to a turbine, which powers a generator. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The El Tatio geyser field in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta. Geothermal energy comes from the earth’s internal heat, and the steam is delivered to a turbine, which powers a generator. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
OLLAGÜE, Chile, Aug 26 2015 (IPS)

Chile, a land of volcanoes and geysers, has started building South America’s first geothermal plant, which would open a door to this kind of renewable energy in this country that depends largely on fossil fuels.

The Cerro Pabellón geothermal project is “immensely important for the Chilean state, which started geothermal exploration and drilling over 40 years ago,” but no initiative had taken concrete shape until now, Marcelo Tokman, general manager of the state oil company, ENAP, told IPS.

Located in the rural municipality of Ollagüe, 1,380 km north of Santiago, in the Andes highlands in the region of Antofagasta, Cerro Pabellón “will not only be the first geothermal plant in Chile and South America, but will also be the first in the world to be built at 4,500 metres above sea level,” Tokman added.

The Italian company Enel Green Power has a 51 percent stake in the project and ENAP owns 49 percent. The plant consists of two units of 24 MW each for a total gross installed capacity of 48 MW in the first phase, but with the advantage of being able to generate electricity around-the-clock.

That makes it equivalent, in terms of annual generating capacity, to a 200-MW solar or wind power plant.

The first stage would enter into operation in the first quarter of 2017 and a year later another 24 MW would be added. But the plant could be generating around 100 MW in the medium term, on 136 hectares of land.

Tokman said that once the plant is fully operational, it will be able to produce some 340 megatwatt-hours (MWh) a year that would go into the national power grid and would meet the consumption needs of 154,000 households in this country of 17.6 million people.

He also said it would avoid over 155,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, by reducing fossil fuel consumption.

The Atacama desert, the most arid in the world, has a large part of Chile’s geothermal potential and is the location of the first South American plant to tap into this source of energy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The Atacama desert, the most arid in the world, has a large part of Chile’s geothermal potential and is the location of the first South American plant to tap into this source of energy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Sixty million dollars were invested in the exploratory phase, and an estimated 320 million dollars more will go into the plant and the construction of a 73-km power line.

Geothermal energy is obtained by tapping underground reservoirs of heat, generally near volcanoes, geysers or other hotspots on the surface of the earth. If well-managed, the geothermal reservoirs can produce clean energy indefinitely. The steam generated is delivered to a turbine, which powers a generator.

Advances in South America

Brazil has the world’s two largest freshwater reserves: the Guarani and Alter do Chão aquifers. But it does not have geothermal potential, according to a 1984 study, which is currently being revised. Geothermal energy is included in an agreement with Germany to search for alternative sources.

Six South American countries form part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a string of volcanoes and sites of seismic activity with virgin territory for geothermal exploration: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

In 1988, Argentina built Copahue I, an experimental geothermal plant constructed with Japanese capital, which supplied 0.67 MW but stopped operating. Currently, the country’s energy projects include the construction of the Copahue II geothermal plant in the hot springs of Copahue in the southern province of Neuquén, which would generate 100 MW.

In Peru, a preliminary study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Ministry of Energy and Mines found in 2013 that the country has 3,000 MWh of geothermal potential. But so far there are no plans for geothermal plants.

In February, Bolivian President Evo Morales announced that starting in 2019 the country would begin to export electricity to neighbouring countries, from the Laguna Colorada geothermal plant. The project, financed by Japan, will consist of two stages, of 50 MW each.

The Philippines is home to three of the world’s 10 biggest geothermal plants, followed by the United States and Indonesia, with two each, and Italy, Mexico and Iceland, with one each.

Studies indicate that Chile is one of the countries with the greatest geothermal potential in Latin America.

This long, narrow country, which forms part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, stretches 4,270 km along the Andes mountains, the earth’s largest volcanic chain.

Environmentalists say geothermal energy has a relatively low impact, as long as questions of scale and location are respected.

“Geothermal is an unconventional renewable energy source to the extent that it is carried out in accordance with territorial and cultural needs. The energy source in and of itself does not guarantee social and environmental sustainability,” land surveyor Lucio Cuenca, director of the Santiago-based Latin American Observatory on Environmental Conflicts, told IPS.

Respecting these parameters, geothermal energy “is a very good alternative for this country,” he said.

In the case of the Cerro Pabellón plant, the surrounding communities form part of the Alto El Loa nature reserve, made up of the villages and communities of Caspana, Ayquina, Turi, Chiu Chiu, Cupo, Valle de Lasana, Taira and Ollagüe, which have a combined total population of just over 1,000, most of them Atacameño and Quechua indigenous people.

The Alto El Loa Indigenous Peoples Council got ENAP and ENEL to sign a series of agreements for the implementation of social development projects in the local communities in compensation for the impact of the geothermal project, and especially the power line.

For the inhabitants of Alto El Loa, scattered in remote areas in the Atacama desert, if the project is sustainable and benefits their communities, it will be a positive thing. But they say they are concerned that their way of life may not be respected.

“I would like to see more help, and if this is a good thing, then it’s welcome,” Luisa Terán, a member of the Atacameño indigenous group from the village of Caspana, told IPS. “Sometimes we feel a bit neglected and isolated.

“But it has to come with respect for our traditions, and it is our elders who are demanding that most strongly,” she added.

Others, however, reject the project as “anti-natural” and “violent” towards the local habitat.

“If you hurt the earth, she will in one way or another get back at you,” tourist guide Víctor Arque, of San Pedro de Atacama, a highlands village 290 km from Ollagüe, told IPS. “It can’t be possible to drill kilometres below ground without something happening.”

A photo taken at dawn in the middle of the steam from the El Tatio geysers in northern Chile, where this clean, unlimited source of energy will begin to be harnessed with the construction of the Cerro Pabellón geothermal plant in the rural municipality of Ollagüe. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

A photo taken at dawn in the middle of the steam from the El Tatio geysers in northern Chile, where this clean, unlimited source of energy will begin to be harnessed with the construction of the Cerro Pabellón geothermal plant in the rural municipality of Ollagüe. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The El Tatio precedent

Chile was a pioneer in research on geothermal potential. The first exploration was carried out in 1907 in El Tatio, a geyser field located some 200 km from Cerro Pabellón and 4,300 metres above sea level. This country was the third to explore geothermal energy, after the United States and Russia.

Two wells were drilled in that area in 1931, and in the late 1960s the government carried out more systematic exploration, which was later abandoned.

In 2008, the Geotérmica del Norte company, which belonged to the Italian consortium ENEL, began exploration in Quebrada del Zoquete, a few km from El Tatio, using the equipment already installed in the geyser field.

In September 2009, a 60-metre high column of steam shot up from one of the wells where the company was extracting and reinjecting geothermal fluids. The anomaly, caused by a failed valve, lasted more than three weeks and led to the government’s cancellation of the permit for further operations.

Tokman, energy minister at the time, remembered the incident. “Fortunately all of the safeguards had been taken to demand different instruments of measurement for the project, to ensure that the reservoir was deeper and distinct from the reservoir in the El Tatio geyser field,” he said.

Cuenca said the mistake was “having restarted a geothermal programme in Chile doing everything that shouldn’t be done: that is, interfering in a place where there are indigenous communities, an area with a high tourist and economic value, simply to take advantage of the infrastructure that was already installed there.”

Experts warn that geothermal power is not a panacea for Chile’s energy deficit, because if there is one thing this country has learned, it is that a diversified energy mix is essential.

But if Chile’s potential is confirmed, Cerro Pabellón could open the door to geothermal development not only in this country but in South America.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Alternative Destinations Emerge as Cuba Gets Ready for Tourism Boomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/alternative-destinations-emerge-as-cuba-gets-ready-for-tourism-boom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=alternative-destinations-emerge-as-cuba-gets-ready-for-tourism-boom http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/alternative-destinations-emerge-as-cuba-gets-ready-for-tourism-boom/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 16:28:31 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142127 Plaza del Carmen in the historic centre of the central Cuban city of Camagüey, which is seeking to join the tourist circuit for visitors interested in alternatives to sun and beach tourism. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Plaza del Carmen in the historic centre of the central Cuban city of Camagüey, which is seeking to join the tourist circuit for visitors interested in alternatives to sun and beach tourism. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
El ABRA, Cuba, Aug 25 2015 (IPS)

Along the road to the Viñales valley, travelled by thousands of tourists to Cuba, lies the home of self-taught artist Miguel Antonio Remedios, which he has turned into a sort of museum to show visitors a wooden home typical of this mountainous area in the west of the country.

“It would be a big help if (state tour operators) included this project on the tourist routes,” the 47-year-old painter told IPS in his home, which doubles as a gallery, where he has his studio and has launched the initiative “Remedios del Abra”.

His project and similar initiatives are overcoming hurdles to tap into the tourism boom in this socialist island nation, which has become fashionable since the thaw with the United States.

The U.S. government put new rules in place in January making it easier for people from that country to visit Cuba, expanding the list of categories of authorised travel to 12, including visits for educational, religious, cultural, journalistic, humanitarian or family purposes.

After that, in the first half of the year, 88,900 visitors came from the United States – 54 percent more than in the first half of 2014.

In that period, the number of foreign tourists totaled 1,136,948, which would indicate an increase from last year’s total by year-end, when the number of visitors climbs.

Viñales valley and El Abra, a mountain village in the municipality of La Palma, are places of spectacular scenery in the hills of Cuba’s westernmost province, Pinar del Río.

Offering bird-watching, hiking, and striking landscapes of mogotes or tall, dome-like limestone hills that rise abruptly from the flat plain of the valley, the province draws part of the three million foreign tourists who visit Cuba every year.

Remedios’ home is a traditional western Cuban wooden house with a palm-frond thatched roof. Above the wide gate hangs an ox yoke. In the main room inside is a long, rustic table lined with benches, a clay pitcher with fresh water, and a woodstove. The bedrooms are furnished with beds with wire mesh.

Self-taught artist Miguel Antonio Remedios in his rural home, which he has turned into a gallery, art studio and museum of a traditional western Cuban house in El Abra, a mountain village in the western province of Pinar del Río. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Self-taught artist Miguel Antonio Remedios in his rural home, which he has turned into a gallery, art studio and museum of a traditional western Cuban house in El Abra, a mountain village in the western province of Pinar del Río. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Paintings by the artist, who is registered with the government’s Cultural Goods Fund – a requirement to be able to sell his art – hang on the walls, waiting for buyers.

With the sales of his art works, which are painted in a naive style, Remedios fixed up his museum-home, where he was born and grew up, and bought the materials needed to give free painting classes to local children. He began his project in 2013. He accepts small voluntary donations from visitors.

He says that “to revive peasant traditions and promote local painters” he would like to have more support from the local authorities, in order to build a classroom, an exhibition room and a ranchón or open-walled thatch-roofed structure to hold traditional rural fiestas or festive gatherings on weekends.

Alternatives

“The development of tourist attractions other than sun and beach will depend above all on the efforts made by the provinces, and how they use their own resources and capacities,” Professor Ricardo Jorge Machado, who was an adviser on tourism to the Council of Ministers between 1980 and 1993, told IPS.

Challenges posed by Cuba’s unique character

Among Cuba’s limitations as a tourism destination, experts identify the limited nightlife, a lack of culinary variety, stores with limited supplies and a lack of personalised services.

The biggest attractions, on the other hand, are how safe the country is, and the fact that Cuba is an oasis in today’s globalised world, free of the same old stores, chain restaurants and products. There are no Coca Cola or McDonald’s billboards, or fast food restaurants, they note.

The country has begun to improve infrastructure, with new hotels, ports that can serve cruise ships, terminals for the ferries that will begin to arrive from the U.S. state of Florida in September, and the expansion of the José Martí International Airport in Havana.

The expert advises local governments not to wait for financing from the tourism ministry but to undertake their own initiatives in conjunction with the private sector and with cooperatives, using their own funds made available by the current economic decentralisation process.

In its plan for the period up to 2030, the Tourism Ministry has prioritised 100 sun-and-beach projects and only two ecological tourism initiatives.

Tourism is Cuba’s second-biggest source of revenue, after the export of professional services. In 2014 tourism brought in more than 2.7 billion dollars.

The government’s strategy appears to focus on beach resorts and high-end tourism, with the construction of controversial golf courses and the boom in cruise ship traffic, which has risen nearly two-fold from last year, according to the Transport Ministry.

For the first time, the tourism authorities recognise the country’s growing private businesses and cooperatives as indispensable partners, while they attempt to capture foreign investment.

Up to now, the best-promoted tourism areas are the capital, the beach resort of Varadero, 140 km east of Havana, and the keys to the north of the main island.

The Cuban archipelago consists of the main island and 4,195 small islands and keys, where nature is exuberant.

Even in the capital, Machado estimates that there are 90 strong tourist attractions but says that only 12 are exploited, like the El Floridita bar, where U.S. writer Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) was a habitué, the La Bodeguita del Medio restaurant, and the Tropicana cabaret.

“Cuba should do more to vary its tourism products, putting an emphasis on elements of its public image that strengthen credibility: its health system and the safety of the country,” said the analyst. In his view, “more specialised forms of tourism, such as long-stay and health tourism, associated with older adults, should be a priority.”

He pointed out that competitors in the region, like Mexico and Colombia, are getting involved in medical tourism – including doctors trained in Cuba – but this country could offer even lower costs.

One million people from the United States travel abroad for health tourism every year.

Alternatives of this kind could generate opportunities in different parts of Cuba, because there are skilled healthcare professionals throughout the country, he said.

“It’s obvious that more and more visitors are arriving,” said Reina Ramos, a schoolteacher, walking down an avenue in central Havana, who pointed to the large numbers of tourists riding about the city in classic cars or convertibles now painted in bright colours – pink, purple or yellow – and serving as taxis.

If the U.S. Congress removes the restrictions on travelling to Cuba in the near future, as lawmakers are currently debating in Washington, the influx of visitors would set new records for the local tourism industry, posing the risk of collapse for the country’s hotels and other services.

In the meantime, villages and towns off the beaten track, with stunning landscapes or colonial-era architecture, have set their sights on tourism, but are facing difficulties creating lodgings, networks of services and even roads that would make it possible for them to share the benefits of the tourism boom.

With its cobblestone streets, spacious plazas and colonial-era houses, the historic centre of the city of Camagüey in central Cuba is drawing up its own plans for increasing the number of visitors.

“The idea is for tourists to come here as part of a circuit of colonial-era cities, similar to the one already offered by the Havana City Historian’s Office,” Camagüey city historian José Rodríguez told IPS.

He said the offices aimed at preserving the country’s heritage are designing a tour that would take visitors to Old Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Sancti Spíritus, Bayamo and Camagüey, whose historic centre was declared a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) World Heritage Site in 2008.

The Camagüey office is developing a list of high-quality tourist offerings, ranging from small charming hotels to a thriving nightlife, with a variety of cultural options for tourists and the 300,000 inhabitants of the country’s third-largest city.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Brazil Poised on Verge of Unstable Equilibriumhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-brazil-poised-on-verge-of-unstable-equilibrium/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-brazil-poised-on-verge-of-unstable-equilibrium http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-brazil-poised-on-verge-of-unstable-equilibrium/#comments Sat, 22 Aug 2015 11:29:33 +0000 Fernando Cardim de Carvalho http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142103

In this column, Fernando Cardim de Carvalho, economist and professor at the Federal University of Río de Janeiro, looks at the current political situation in Brazil and argues that the country finds itself in an impasse, with no political force apparently strong enough, or even interested in finding a better and more promising alternative policy strategy.

By Fernando Cardim de Carvalho
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 22 2015 (IPS)

As the political situation in Brazil appears to be reaching a state of unstable equilibrium, or more bluntly, as it is transformed from instability to impasse, the economy continues to deteriorate.

The sharpening of political conflicts that could lead to an outright collapse of the economy seems to have been attenuated by the shift on Apr. 7 of effective political power from President Dilma Rousseff to Vice-President Michel Temer.

Fernando Cardim de Carvalho

Fernando Cardim de Carvalho

Temer was successful in bringing Renan Calheiros, the chairman of the Federal Senate, back to the government camp, in a power-sharing agreement meant to isolate the chairman of the House, Eduardo Cunha, who has assumed a much more radical stance. The arrangement has worked so far.

The pressure on the President to resign or on the appropriate bodies to give cause to initiate impeachment processes seems to have reached its limit. Popular opposition to the federal administration, which has its stronghold in Sao Paulo – as shown in mass demonstrations in March and April and most recently on Aug. 16 – has not seen the snowball growth its leaders expected.

In sum, positions seem to have been hardened as a measure of political accommodation has been reached, with the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) taking the lead on the side of government, and the formal opposition to government, including the nominally leading opposition party, the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), rallying to the side of Eduardo Cunha, still their best hope on the way to an impeachment procedure.

Street demonstrations at this point seem to be unable to change this picture. Still, it should be noted that only the opposition has been able to organise large demonstrations. Attempts by pro-government groups to do the same in favour of the government have been few and largely unsuccessful.

In this context, as expected, the Brazilian economy continues to deteriorate. The contractionary impact of fiscal retrenchment has been greater than anticipated because not many people can foresee what will come next. In fact, no one can, even if announced measures will in fact be implemented while current difficulties, including fiscal difficulties, grow further.

The federal government was not able to pass the contractionary measures it argued to be essential, thus creating a ‘Catch 22’ situation in which one expects the success of the government to be very bad for the country but its failure to be even worse. Many economists are predicting a fall in 2015 GDP close to two percent, postponing chances of recovery until at least 2017.

“[Brazil] finds itself at an impasse. No political force seems to be strong enough, or even interested in finding a better and more promising alternative policy strategy”
If this contraction actually happens, it will be one the most serious recessions in recent history, much worse than what happened in 2008 and 2009.

The reasons for this are complex and the government is partly correct to point to the worsening of the external scenario. China can no longer carry Brazil forward. The recovery of the U.S. economy is weak and volatile. Europe is unable to overcome its own fossilised views on the virtues of austerity, causing the whole area to limp around.

Of course, this excuse only goes so far. Many analysts had called the attention of government authorities to the fact that growth during President Lula da Silva’s two terms in office (2003-2011) would vanish in the event that China lost its breath, as has actually happened.

The country lost the opportunity to make the investments, particularly in infrastructure, which could have increased its productive capacity. Efficient industrial policies should have been consistently implemented to that end, public investment should have been expanded, and consistent exchange rate policies should have been sought to change the picture of overvaluation that has been killing local manufacturing, on and off, since the Real Plan was implemented in 1994.

Practically nothing of this was effectively done. Investment plans were announced that had no consequence, local manufacturers became importers on an increasing scale, and roads, ports and energy production fell behind needs, while the government presented policies to increase household indebtedness to expand consumption as a successful combination of economic and social policies.

In the last two years of Rousseff’s first term (2011-2014), these policies were not even successful in increasing growth rates and GDP stalled as the government appealed more and more to tricks, particularly accounting tricks, and the distribution of favours to politically-connected sectors to try to revive the economy.

To a large extent, the turn to austerity was motivated by the failure to revive the economy, which doubled the bet on mistaken policies. Austerity measures in a shrinking economy can only accelerate the fall. But the dissolution of the political power of the president tripled the bet.

No one can believe that the president has the power to effectively pursue an alternative policy path. In fact, if the alternative to austerity is going back to what she did in her first term, the president will not find any supporters, except, perhaps, in her fast-shrinking number of hard-core believers.

So the country finds itself at an impasse. No political force seems to be strong enough, or even interested in finding a better and more promising alternative policy strategy. The more radical opponents – the Workers’ Party (PT) and the PSDB – got lost in a ‘blame game’, trying to pin down which of two presidents, Fernando Henrique Cardoso or Lula, had been worse.

None of them seems to have anything to offer. PMDB does not deal in wholesale strategies, it is more interested in retailing. Given the steep loss of trust in the PT or its leaders, including Lula, the party seems to be excluded from any power arrangement to be designed in the near future (its perspectives for the long-term future are at a minimum very uncertain).

The situation of the PSDB is not much better, because all it has in its favour is the receding memory of the Cardoso period, in which much the same problems were as serious as they are now and the party was as incompetent in pointing to solutions as the PT is now.

In this situation, the PMDB stepped in. It reached some measure of political stability but it has no vision of where to take the economy. Given its structure as a federation of state leaderships, the PMDB deals better with favours than with strategies.

As happened under President José Sarney in the late 1980s, this may be enough – in the best of circumstances – to put the brakes on economic deterioration but not to guide its revival.

The country will survive, of course, as it has done in the past.  The problem is that Brazil has experience of unfortunately all too frequent low-quality political leadership, so even the optimistic analysts can only see hardship ahead. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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China’s Economy Has Sounded the Alert; Will Latin America Listen?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/chinas-economy-has-sounded-the-alert-will-latin-america-listen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chinas-economy-has-sounded-the-alert-will-latin-america-listen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/chinas-economy-has-sounded-the-alert-will-latin-america-listen/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 23:00:08 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142093 Costa Rica’s National Stadium, donated by China as a gift for the reestablishment of bilateral ties in 2007, and built in 2009-2010 by a Chinese company with Chinese labour. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Costa Rica’s National Stadium, donated by China as a gift for the reestablishment of bilateral ties in 2007, and built in 2009-2010 by a Chinese company with Chinese labour. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Aug 21 2015 (IPS)

For years, Latin America has exported its raw materials to China’s voracious factories, fuelling economic growth. But now that the Asian giant is putting a priority on domestic consumption over industrial production, how will this region react?

China’s dizzying growth gave a boost to the economies of Latin America, and in exchange, this region received manufactured products, credits, and heavy investment in infrastructure.

Given the slowdown in China’s growth, the countries of Latin America have two options: move toward a more value-added economy or lose relevance with an obsolete economic model inherited from the 20th century, said several experts consulted by IPS.

“Over the last five years, the relationship between Latin America and China has been dominated by Latin America sending China a few raw materials and China sending Latin America manufactured goods,” U.S. academic Rebecca Ray told IPS.“In simple terms, China’s rebalancing is aimed at reducing the relative importance of investment and exports in its economic growth, relying on household consumption playing a larger role.” -- Keiji Inoue and Sebastián Herreros

“But this may be about to change,” added the research fellow at the Boston University Global Economic Governance Initiative, where she coordinates the Working Group on Development and the Environment in the Americas’ China in Latin America project and coauthors the China-Latin America Economic Bulletin.

According to Ray, China’s leaders are shifting toward a development strategy with an emphasis on slower but steady growth, which prioritises internal consumption over factory production, thus opening up opportunities for importing manufactured goods from other countries.

The path toward that future was one of the central focuses of the Forum for East Asia-Latin America Cooperation (FEALAC) meeting in the Costa Rican capital from Tuesday, Aug. 18 to Friday, Aug. 21, which brought together foreign ministers and other senior officials from 36 countries under the theme “Two Regions, One Vision”.

The experts who spoke to IPS all agreed that given China’s slowdown, decision-makers in Latin America must take the initiative and propose economic alternatives based on more value added.

But the region has been slow to make the leap. Just five commodities – soy, iron, oil and unrefined and refined copper – account for 75 percent of exports to China, only a tiny share of which are manufactured goods.

But the other major economic flow between China and Latin America, investment in infrastructure, could paradoxically benefit from the slowdown and the shift in direction of the Chinese economy, the experts said.

The deceleration in the engine of the global economy since 2014, when China’s growth stood at 7.4 percent, the lowest level in 24 years, “May hurt Latin American economies that have become dependent on exporting those few commodities. In contrast, China’s infrastructure investments can help all industries do well,” Ray said.

Ponta da Madeira, a port in northeast Brazil where ships carrying iron ore set out, mainly for China. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Ponta da Madeira, a port in northeast Brazil where ships carrying iron ore set out, mainly for China. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Well-administered, she said, Chinese-financed projects could close the region’s historic gap in infrastructure and serve as a platform for the development of other industries that would benefit from investment in transport and energy, two main areas of interest for China.

“Hopefully, policy makers will make use of this opportunity to spur development in non-traditional industries,” Ray said.

Keiji Inoue and Sebastián Herreros, with the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean’s (ECLAC) International Trade and Integration Division, concurred.

“To the extent that these projects are aligned with the priorities of countries in the region, a greater Chinese presence could help gradually close Latin America’s infrastructure gap, thus strengthening regional integration and improving the region’s international competitiveness,” they stated in a joint analysis for IPS.

One of the aims of China’s investments in infrastructure in Latin America, they noted, is for that country’s to invest people’s savings.

But the direction taken by the growing links between Latin America and China do not leave much room for optimism.

Up to now, the region’s exports to China “Support fewer jobs, generate more net greenhouse gas emissions, and use more water than other LAC (Latin American and Caribbean) exports,” according to a study by GEGI.

China, meanwhile, has been promoting and financing controversial megaprojects in the region, like the “great inter-oceanic canal” in Nicaragua, to be built by the Chinese consortium Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKDN-Group) at an estimated cost of 50 billion dollars, and the projected 5,000-km Transcontinental Railway, which would connect Brazil and Peru.

Chinese investment has also fuelled trade ties based on raw materials. According to ECLAC, between 2010 and 2013 nearly 90 percent of China’s investment in the region went into the extractive industry, mainly mining and fossil fuels.

Executives of the Chinese consortium HKDN-Group behind a big sign on Dec. 22, 2014 in the town of Brito Rivas on the Pacific ocean coast, at the ceremony for the formal start of construction of the Great Canal of Nicaragua, which will cut across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

Executives of the Chinese consortium HKDN-Group behind a big banner on Dec. 22, 2014 in the town of Brito Rivas on the Pacific ocean coast, at the ceremony for the formal start of construction of the Great Canal of Nicaragua, which will cut across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

“From that perspective, China’s high level of demand for raw materials at a global level has effectively consolidated and reinforced the specialisation of these processes, also known as ‘re-primarisation’ of the economy,” Enrique Dussel, director of the Centre for China-Mexico Studies of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told IPS.

But Dussel said emphatically that the countries of Latin America will have to respond, given the signals. “It is Latin America and the Caribbean that have the responsibility – and need – to make a decision, not China,” he stated.

This refocusing of the economies of the region on the production of primary commodities for export happened when Latin America was seduced by last decade’s high commodities prices and prioritised exports of raw materials over exports of greater added value.

Raw materials represent more than 60 percent of the region’s exports – the highest proportion seen since the early 1990s, according to ECLAC studies – up from 44 percent at the start of the century.

Manufactured goods like machinery and electronic devices, meanwhile, make up 64 percent of China’s exports to this region, and are less sensitive to price swings.

Between 2000 and 2014, imports from China rose from two to 14 percent of the regional total.

Dussel said China’s growth highlighted the serious problems faced by the region’s exports. In his view, the problems do not necessarily lie in the predominance of raw materials, but in the fact that these industries have “very little value added and technology.”

ECLAC’s Inoue and Herreros say the shift in focus of China’s development presents an opportunity.

They said that “in simple terms, China’s rebalancing is aimed at reducing the relative importance of investment and exports in its economic growth, relying on household consumption playing a larger role.”

“To the extent that this process has an effect, it should favour the diversification of Latin America’s exports to China,” they said.

They expect sectors like agribusiness and processed food to become more important in the region, although they warn that it could take years for the effects to be felt, and say that in order for that to happen, decision-makers would have to take ambitious steps toward consolidating the region as a trade bloc.

“We must also make more decisive progress towards a truly integrated regional market,” Inoue and Herreros wrote. “That would make Latin America more attractive and increase its bargaining power vis-à-vis China, the rest of Asia and other big global economic actors.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Mexico’s Gruesome War Against Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-mexicos-gruesome-war-against-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-mexicos-gruesome-war-against-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-mexicos-gruesome-war-against-migrants/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 17:24:14 +0000 Carolina Jimenez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142083 Families demand official investigations into the fate of missing migrants, and the creation of a database. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Carolina Jiménez
MEXICO CITY, Aug 21 2015 (IPS)

“Pray for me.”

Those are the last words Eva Nohemi Hernández Murillo told her mother, Elida Yolanda, through a patchy phone line on the evening of Aug. 22, 2010.

The 25-year-old from Honduras was about to get into a van that would, she hoped, take her and 72 other men and women across the Mexican border to the U.S.Mexican authorities are quick to blame powerful criminal gangs for the abuses, choosing to ignore evidence that local security forces, too, often play a role in the abductions and killings.

Eva Nohemi wanted to arrive in what for her was the “promised land” to find a job that would give her enough money to support her parents and three young children back in El Progreso, in Honduras. But she, and all of her travel companions, but one, never made it.

Two days later when Elida sat in her living room to watch the evening news, her worst nightmare was realised.

The image of the lifeless bodies of 72 men and women filled the screen – the victims of what has come to be known as the first massacre of San Fernando. She recognised the clothes on one of them as belonging to her daughter.

“The next day we bought the newspapers to see if we could confirm it was her from the pictures. I felt it was her but was not sure, no one wants to see her daughter dead like that,” Elida said.

The only information about how the massacre unfolded came from the testimony of its sole survivor – who since then has felt terrified for his life after receiving numerous death threats.

Elida didn’t have enough money to travel to Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, to demand more information or action from the Mexican embassy there. No one contacted her either.

It was only when a human rights organisation reached out to the family that the investigations started gathering pace.

Another agonising two years passed by before Elida received a call from the Mexican embassy in Tegucigalpa with the confirmation that Eva Nohemi was dead.

“I went into shock. I suspected it was her but you never want to accept that your daughter is dead. Like Eva Nohemi, people are dying on that route all the time. All I want is justice so that this does not happen again,” she said, shaken.

Elida is not alone.

The massacre of San Fernando, which took place five years ago today, provides a glimpse into a shocking crisis that had been lurking for years.

Men, women and children desperate for better opportunities or under death threats by criminal gangs in violent-ridden Central America embark on this dangerous journey with little left to lose but their lives.

Criminal gangs, some of them believed to be working in collusion with local Mexican authorities, attack the migrants along the way. Women are kidnapped and trafficked into sex work. Men are tortured and many of them are kidnapped for ransom.

Few make it to the border without having suffered any human rights abuse; many go missing on the way, never to be found again.

The shocking figures only begin to tell their story.

Six months after the San Fernando massacre, another 193 bodies were found in 47 mass graves in the same town. A year after that, 49 dismembered torsos, believed to be from undocumented migrants, were found in the city of Cadereyta, in the neighbouring state of Nuevo León.

In 2013, a forensic commission made up by the relatives of the migrants, human rights organisations, forensic anthropologists and government officials took on the task of starting to identify the remains from these massacres.

According to official figures from Mexico’s National Institute of Migration (INM), between 2013 and 2014, abductions of migrants increased tenfold, with 62 complaints registered in 2013 and 682 in 2014.

Mexican authorities are quick to blame powerful criminal gangs for the abuses, choosing to ignore evidence that local security forces, too, often play a role in the abductions and killings.

But Mexico’s disappeared are invisible.

Or at least the authorities look the other way. Meanwhile the stories of death and suffering continue to pile up.

A few days after the San Fernando massacre, then Mexican President Felipe Calderón promised to implement a coordinated plan to end kidnappings and killings of migrants.

Five years on, there’s little to show for this.

Mexico’s current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, chose a security strategy over a human rights solution to his country’s migrant crisis.

In a recent visit to Washington, he was quick to congratulate President Barack Obama’s plan to protect millions of undocumented migrants living in the U.S. from deportation, describing it as an “act of justice”. At the same time, he has done remarkably little to tackle the abuses against migrants occurring in his own country.

There are no magic formulas to resolve this complex tangle of crime, drugs, violence and collusion, but there’s certainly much more than the Mexican authorities can and must do to end it.

Committing more and better resources to undertake effective investigations into these massacres and providing protection to the thousands of migrants crossing the country are two measures that cannot be delayed any longer.

Doing so will send a strong message that Mexican authorities truly do want justice for migrants. We already know the macabre consequences of not doing enough.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Future Tastes Like Chocolate for Rural Salvadoran Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women/#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 17:30:36 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142066 The hands of Idalia Ramón care for the cacao beans produced in the town of Caluco in western El Salvador. She and a group of women transform the beans into hand-made chocolate, in an ecological process that is taking off in this Central American country thanks to the national project Alianza Cacao, aimed at reviving the cultivation of cacao and improving the future of 10,000 small farming families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The hands of Idalia Ramón care for the cacao beans produced in the town of Caluco in western El Salvador. She and a group of women transform the beans into hand-made chocolate, in an ecological process that is taking off in this Central American country thanks to the national project Alianza Cacao, aimed at reviving the cultivation of cacao and improving the future of 10,000 small farming families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
CALUCO/MERCEDES UMAÑA, El Salvador, Aug 20 2015 (IPS)

Idalia Ramón and 10 other rural Salvadoran women take portions of the freshly ground chocolate paste, weigh it, and make chocolates in the shapes of stars, rectangles or bells before packaging them for sale.

“This is a completely new source of work for us, we didn’t know anything about cacao or chocolate,” Ramón tells IPS. Before this, the 38-year-old widow was barely able to support her three children – ages 11, 13 and 15 – selling corn tortillas, a staple of the Central American and Mexican diet.

She is one of the women taking part in chocolate production in Caluco, a town of 10,000 in the department or province of Sonsonate in western El Salvador, in the context of a project that forms part of a national effort to revive cacao production.

“Now I have extra income; we can see the advantages that cacao brings to our communities,” she said.“On one hand this is about reviving the age-old cultivation of a product that is rooted in our culture, and on the other it’s about boosting economic and social development in our communities.” -- María de los Ángeles Escobar

She and the rest of the women work at what they call the “processing centre”, which they put a lot of work into setting up. Here they turn the cacao beans into hand-made organic chocolates.

Since December, the effort to revive cacao production has taken shape in the Alianza Cacao El Salvador cacao alliance, which has brought together cooperatives and farmers from different regions, including these women who have become experts in making artisan chocolate.

The paste that comes out of the grinder is given different shapes, most frequently round bars. Dissolved in boiling water, the chocolate is used to make one of El Salvador’s favorite beverages.

Over the next five years, the Alianza Cacao aims to generate incomes for 10,000 cacao growing families in 87 of the country’s 262 municipalities, with 10,000 hectares planted in the crop. The idea is to generate some 27,000 direct and indirect jobs.

“The project is helping us to overcome the difficult economic situation, and to increase our production, thus improving incomes,” another local farmer, 33-year-old María Alas, tells IPS as she deftly forms hand-made chocolates in different shapes.

The Alianza Cacao has received 25 million dollars – 20 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S.-based Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and the rest from local sources.

Four of the women who make chocolate in the community processing centre in Caluco, a town in western El Salvador, check the paste that comes out of the grinder before making organic chocolate bars and chocolates of different shapes. They are part of the Alianza Cacao project which is aimed at reviving the production of cacao, once a key element of this country’s history, culture and economy, but which was abandoned. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Four of the women who make chocolate in the community processing centre in Caluco, a town in western El Salvador, check the paste that comes out of the grinder before making organic chocolate bars and chocolates of different shapes. They are part of the Alianza Cacao project which is aimed at reviving the production of cacao, once a key element of this country’s history, culture and economy, but which was abandoned. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

In the pre-Columbian era, cacao beans were used as currency in Central America and southern Mexico, and later they were used to pay tribute to the Spanish crown.

Although cacao plantations practically disappeared in modern-day El Salvador due to pest and disease outbreaks, hot chocolate remained a popular traditional drink, and for that purpose cacao was imported from neighbouring Honduras and Nicaragua.

“On one hand this is about reviving the age-old cultivation of a product that is rooted in our culture, and on the other it’s about boosting economic and social development in our communities,” María de los Ángeles Escobar, director of the Casa de la Cultura or cultural centre in Caluco, told IPS.

The idea emerged as an alternative to mitigate the impact of coffee rust or roya, caused by the hemileia vastatrix fungus, which has affected 21 percent of coffee plants in the country, according to official estimates, and has reduced rural employment and incomes.

In El Salvador, 38 percent of the population of 6.2 million lives in rural areas. And according to the World Bank, 36 percent of rural inhabitants were living in poverty in 2013. This vulnerability was aggravated by the impact of coffee rust and the effects on corn and bean production of drought caused by El Niño – a cyclical climate phenomenon that affects weather patterns around the world – which has hurt 400,000 small farmers.

Caluco and four other municipalities in Sonsonate – areas in western El Salvador with a large indigenous presence – have joined the project: San Antonio del Monte, Nahuilingo, Izalco and Nahuizalco.

Farmers in the five municipalities – including the women interviewed in Caluco – set up the Asociación Cooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria Cacao Los Izalcos cacao cooperative, in order to join forces at each stage of the production chain.

Cacao growers, mainly women, during a training session on how to make organic fertiliser to enrich the soil on their land in San Simón, a village in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña in the eastern Salvadoran department of Usulután. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Cacao growers, mainly women, during a training session on how to make organic fertiliser to enrich the soil on their land in San Simón, a village in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña in the eastern Salvadoran department of Usulután. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The cooperative has 111 hectares of cacao trees. Because they need shade to grow, the farmers plant them alongside fruit and timber trees.

In the first few months after it was formed, the Alianza Cacao focused on growing seedlings in nurseries that the members began to plant on their farms. The trees start to bear fruit when they are three or four years old.

But in Caluco local farmers are already making chocolate, because there were cacao producers in the municipality, who used locally-grown cacao along with imported beans to produce chocolate. In fact, Caluco was historically inhabited by Pilpil indigenous people, whose cacao was famous in colonial times.

“We hope that next year our production level will be higher; output today is low, because things are just getting started,” the vice president of the Asociación Cooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria Cacao Los Izalcos cooperative, Raquel Santos, tells IPS.

When the cooperative’s production peaks, it hopes to produce 500 kg a month of cacao, Artiga said.

Although for now the chocolate they produce is all hand-made, the members of the cooperative plan in the future to make chocolate bars on a more industrial scale. But that will depend on their initial success.

Since the cooperative was founded, the aim has been for women’s participation to be decisive in the local development of cacao production.

The Caluco Local Cacao Committee is made up of 29 male farmers and 25 women who process the beans and produce chocolate. They have a nursery and have built the first collection centre for locally produced cacao.

In the nursery, students from the local school are taught planting techniques and the importance of cacao in their history, culture and, now, economy.

Miriam Bermúdez, one of the rural women who joined the project to grow cacao in San Simón, a village in the eastern Salvadoran municipality of Mercedes Umaña, outside the Vivero La Colmena, the nursery where the 25,000 cacao seedlings to be planted on 25 hectares belonging to the participants in the initiative are grown. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Miriam Bermúdez, one of the rural women who joined the project to grow cacao in San Simón, a village in the eastern Salvadoran municipality of Mercedes Umaña, outside the Vivero La Colmena, the nursery where the 25,000 cacao seedlings to be planted on 25 hectares belonging to the participants in the initiative are grown. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

On the other side of the country, in the eastern department of Usulután, 52-year-old Miriam Bermúdez is one of the most enthusiastic participants in the Vivero La Colmena community nursery project. She managed to convince other people in her home village, San Simón in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña, to join the Alianza Cacao.

“I used to drink chocolate without even knowing what tree it came from. But now I have learned a lot about the production process,” Bermúdez tells IPS during a break in the training that she and a group of men and women farmers are receiving about producing organic fertiliser.

The pesticide-free fertiliser will nourish the soil where the cacao trees are planted.

There are 25,000 seedlings in the nursery, enough to cover 25 hectares of land on local farms with cacao trees. The project also has an irrigation system, to avoid the effects of periodic drought.

While the seedlings grow big enough to plant, the farmers of Mercedes Umaña are deciding which fruit and timber trees to grow alongside the cacao trees for shade. These trees will also generate incomes, or already do so in some cases.

Bermúdez, on her .7 hectare-farm, has planted plantain and banana trees, as well as a variety of vegetables, to boost her food security.

“When the vegetable truck comes by I never buy anything because I get everything I need from my garden,” she says proudly.

Her 16-year-old granddaughter Esmeralda Bermúdez has decided to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps and participates actively in the different tasks involved in cacao production in her community.

“I really like learning new things, like preparing the soil or making organic compost,” she told IPS after the training session.

In Usulután, besides the municipality of Mercedes Umaña, cacao production has extended to the towns of Jiquilisco, San Dionisio, Jucuarán, Jucuapa, California, Alegría, Berlín and Nueva Granada. In each municipality there is a nursery of cacao tree seedlings run by 25 families.

That is another important component of the Alianza Cacao: the final product has to be high-quality and organic, because the goal is to promote sustainable development. Planting cacao trees is an ecological activity in and of itself, because it creates forests, when the cacao trees are full-grown.

“It’s very important for the farmers to know that their plantations can be managed ecologically, for the good of the environment, and also because the product fetches a better price,” Griselda Alvarenga, an adviser to the project, tells IPS.

This article forms part of a reporting series conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Native Protest Camp in Argentine Capital Fights for Land and Visibilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/native-protest-camp-in-argentine-capital-fights-for-land-and-visibility/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-protest-camp-in-argentine-capital-fights-for-land-and-visibility http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/native-protest-camp-in-argentine-capital-fights-for-land-and-visibility/#comments Wed, 19 Aug 2015 17:00:27 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142044 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/native-protest-camp-in-argentine-capital-fights-for-land-and-visibility/feed/ 0 Kudos for Bolivia’s Success in Reducing Coca Cultivationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/kudos-for-bolivias-success-in-reducing-coca-cultivation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kudos-for-bolivias-success-in-reducing-coca-cultivation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/kudos-for-bolivias-success-in-reducing-coca-cultivation/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 20:58:36 +0000 Ronald Joshua http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142038 Bolivian President Evo Morales (right) shakes hands with UNODC Representative Antonino De Leo at the launch of the latest Bolivia Coca Survey. Credit: Jose Lirauze/ABI

Bolivian President Evo Morales (right) shakes hands with UNODC Representative Antonino De Leo at the launch of the latest Bolivia Coca Survey. Credit: Jose Lirauze/ABI

By Ronald Joshua
VIENNA, Aug 18 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has praised Bolivia for reducing coca bush cultivation for the fourth year in a row. According to the latest Coca Crop Monitoring Survey, released Tuesday in La Paz, coca cultivation declined by 11 per cent in 2014, compared to the previous year.

The surface under cultivation declined from 23,000 hectares (ha) in 2013 to 20,400 ha last year, hitting the bottom since UNODC began its monitoring survey in 2003.

At the Survey’s launch, UNODC’s Representative in Bolivia, Antonino De Leo, praised the Bolivian Government’s efforts for the continued reduction of the coca crop area during the last four years. De Leo highlighted that, between 2010 and 2014, “the surface under coca cultivation declined by 10,600 ha, which represents a reduction of more than a third.”

Through the use of satellite imaging and field monitoring, reductions in the two main areas of cultivation were detected. The regions of Los Yungas de La Paz and Trópico de Cochabamba together constitute 99 per cent of the areas under coca cultivation in the country.

Between 2013 and 2014, these two areas reduced their surface under coca cultivation by 10 per cent and 14 per cent respectively, from 15,700 to 14,200 ha and from 7,100 to 6,100 ha. In the Norte de La Paz provinces the cultivation area decreased from 230 to 130 ha, reports the survey.

There are 22 protected areas in Bolivia – accounting for 16 per cent of the country’s surface – where coca crops are forbidden by Bolivian law. In 2014, there were 214 ha of coca crops detected within six protected areas, of which 59 per cent were in Carrasco National Park.

In February 2013, Bolivia re-acceded to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs with a reservation on coca leaf. This reservation allows the chewing, consumption and use of the coca leaf in its natural state for cultural and medicinal purposes, as well as its growth, trade and possession to the extent necessary for these licit purposes.

The United Nations Information Service (UNIS) from Vienna said: “The current national legislation, which dates back to 1988, states that the area under coca cultivation must not exceed 12,000 ha. In the last years, the Bolivian government delineated the zones where coca crops are allowed within the three coca cultivation areas of the country: the Yungas de La Paz, Trópico de Cochabamba and Norte de La Paz provinces.”

The reduction of the surface under coca cultivation in 2014 is mainly explained by the Government’s efforts to reduce the surplus of coca crops in permitted areas – known as ´rationalization´ – and to eradicate coca crops in prohibited areas, UNIS added.

A dialogue-based process led by the Government saw the participation of coca growing unions in the implementation of the national strategy to reduce the surplus of coca crops in permitted areas. Another important factor has been the abandonment of old coca fields in the Yungas de La Paz province, due to the drastic reduction of their coca crop yields.

Between 2013 and 2014, the area eradicated declined by two per cent at the national level, from 11,407 to 11,144 ha. Meanwhile at the provincial level, some 7,400 ha were eradicated in the region of Trópico de Cochabamba, around 3,200 ha in the Yungas de La Paz and Norte de La Paz provinces, and 526 ha in the Santa Cruz and Beni regions.

The potential coca leaf production in the country was estimated to be 33,100 tonnes in 2014. Between 2013 and 2014, the total value of the coca leaf production declined from 294 million dollars to 282 million. The total value of coca leaf production in 2014 represented 0.9 per cent of Bolivia’s overall gross domestic product (GDP) and 8.8 per cent of its agricultural sector Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The amount of coca leaf traded in the two authorised markets – Villa Fátima and Sacaba – was around 19,800 tonnes in 2014, equivalent to 60 per cent of the total production of coca leaf. Ninety-three per cent of the legally traded coca leaf was marketed in Villa Fátima, and the other seven per cent in Sacaba. The average weighted price of coca leaf in these authorised markets increased six per cent, from 7.8 dollars per kg in 2013 to 8.3 dollars per kg in 2014.

Download the full 2014 Coca Survey in the Plurinational State of Bolivia (in Spanish)

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Presalt Oil Drives Technological Development in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/presalt-oil-drives-technological-development-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=presalt-oil-drives-technological-development-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/presalt-oil-drives-technological-development-in-brazil/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 15:40:34 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142026 The third floor of the central building of Petrobras’s R&D centre, CENPES, built in 2010 on University City Island. On the right, a scale model of an oil rig. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The third floor of the central building of Petrobras’s R&D centre, CENPES, built in 2010 on University City Island. On the right, a scale model of an oil rig. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 18 2015 (IPS)

The extraction of deepwater oil, the most abundant kind in Brazil, is costly but foments technological and industrial development, requiring increasingly complex production equipment and techniques.

One challenge is the water extracted with the oil, the proportion of which grows with the age of the well, reducing productivity by using up an increasing proportion of the transport and processing capacity of the productive installations.

“Since two years ago we’ve had a separator of oil and water that operates at a depth of 2,000 metres,” said Oscar Chamberlain, head of supplies and biofuels in the Research and Development Centre (CENPES) of Petrobras, Brazil’s state oil company. “That water, in time, can represent 80 percent of the volume extracted, which is why it has to be separated deep down in order to not overtax the rig.”

Rio de Janeiro has become a centre of know-how and innovation in offshore oil, thanks to CENPES, which has 227 laboratories and a technological park where 52 institutions and companies have set up shop so far, including 12 multinational corporations.“There are no longer any technological barriers to the production of oil in the presalt layer; all of the challenges identified – involving the distance, depth and complexity posed by the layer of salt - have been overcome.” -- Luiz Felipe Rego

University City Island, widely known as Fundão Island, is the epicentre of that transformation. It is the campus of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), near the international airport of this city that is more famous for its beaches and carnival.

This development has been driven by Petrobras’s 2006 discovery of oil deposits in what is known as the presalt area, under a two-kilometre-thick salt layer more than 5,000 metres below the surface in the Atlantic ocean.

The new reserves brought Brazil new oil wealth as well as new challenges.

The presalt reserves are at least 250 km from the coast of southeast Brazil, which poses logistical difficulties.

“There are no longer any technological barriers to the production of oil in the presalt layer; all of the challenges identified – involving the distance, depth and complexity posed by the layer of salt – have been overcome,” Luiz Felipe Rego, Petrobras general manager of well engineering, told IPS.

As a result, just eight years after they were discovered, the presalt reserves account for 23 percent of Petrobras production in Brazil, which in October climbed to 2.58 million barrels a day of oil-equivalent, including natural gas.

But the constant battle to reduce costs has fuelled the effort to do as much as possible deep below the surface, with underwater systems that require electrification, robots and remote maintenance services in a corrosive, high-pressure atmosphere with wildly varying temperatures, said Chamberlain, a Nicaraguan who has been with Petrobras for 30 years.

Corrosion is a threat at every stage of the process, all the way up to the refinery where the petroleum can damage the equipment if the excess salt is not previously removed.

CENPES was founded in 1963 when Petrobras, a state company created to explore for oil and reduce the imports that Brazil depended on, was 10 years old. Its 1,930 researchers, 36 percent of whom hold masters’ or doctoral degrees, are now carrying out 862 R&D projects.

“Thanks to their work, Petrobras is the Brazilian company that has applied for the most patents in Brazil and abroad,” the executive manager of CENPES, André Cordeiro, told IPS. “In 2013 alone 56 new applications were made.”

Petrobras’s investment in R&D, administered by CENPES, has increased nearly eight-fold so far this century. The annual average, which stood at 160 million dollars from 2001 to 2003, climbed to 1.2 billion dollars in the last three years.

A circular laboratory and office building in CENPES, built in 1973 on University City Island in Rio de Janeiro. The Maré and Floresta de Tijuca favelas or shantytowns can be seen in the background. CENPES is the R&D arm of Brazil’s state oil company Petrobras, whose symbol is BR. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A circular laboratory and office building in CENPES, built in 1973 on University City Island in Rio de Janeiro. The Maré and Floresta de Tijuca favelas or shantytowns can be seen in the background. CENPES is the R&D arm of Brazil’s state oil company Petrobras, whose symbol is BR. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“We currently work with 122 Brazilian universities and research institutes, organised in 49 thematic networks – a model that has fomented partnerships between Petrobras and academia in strategic questions in the area of oil and gas,” Cordeiro said.

The closest partnership began 46 years ago with the UFRJ’s Alberto Luiz Coimbra Institute for Graduate Studies and Research in Engineering (COPPE), which is also a technology business incubator.

For example, Ambidados, which emerged there in 2006, provides oil companies with environmental assessments and data. And with just 11 staff members in its office in the UFRJ’s Technological Park, it created its own buoys and devices to monitor wind, tides, ocean currents and rainfall, which affect operations out at sea.

“We also study the ocean bottom relief, the water temperature at different depths, the salinity, and the amount of algae,” oceanographer Leonardo Kuniyoshi told IPS.

There are another 31 small and medium-sized companies in the Technological Park, along with seven laboratories, and R&D centres of global leaders in oil industry services and equipment, such as Schlumberger, FMC Technologies and Halliburton, which recently acquired Baker Hughes, another oilfield services provider with offices on Fundão Island.

The U.S.-based GE opened its new Global Research Centre in the park on Aug. 13, joining other multinationals outside the oil industry, such as France’s L’Oreal cosmetics company and Brazilian beer maker Ambev.

“This coexistence among different industries is fascinating,” said the director of the Technological Park, Mauricio Guedes. “The coming together of knowledge from different areas constitutes the wealth of the Technological Park, which will generate innovations.”

That also requires “bringing companies and the university together in the same place, to generate knowledge that gives rise to products and services, because without business, technology and know-how are lost,” he said.

The park was designed to hold 200 companies in its 350,000-square-metre area at the southeastern tip of the island, which belongs to the UFRJ. The area was flood-prone and had to be filled in before the Technological Park opened in 2003. One hundred thousand truckloads of soil and rubble, dumped over the space of four years, raised the ground level two metres, Guedes said.

After the discovery of the presalt reserves, which meant Brazil could become one of the world’s leading oil producers and exporters, the park began to attract major international firms like the British multinational oil and gas company BG Group or Germany’s Siemens.

The list includes information technology companies that are not limited to oil industry services, such as EMC2, which opened “its first research centre outside of the United States” in the UFRJ park, according to Karin Breitman, the company’s local chief scientist.

The future of the Technological Park and oil industry research is ensured in Brazil. Contracts to exploit the country’s oilfields require that the companies must invest one percent of their revenue in R&D.

That adds up to some 12 billion dollars over the next 10 years. “The combination of technological challenges and resources to tackle them promises success,” said Guedes.

Besides boosting the oil industry’s productivity, the R&D contributes to the development of other sectors, with oceanographic and environmental knowledge and multiple-use technologies.

One example is the hyperbaric chamber, a steel vessel in which atmospheric pressure can be raised or lowered by air compressors, which is being used to generate electric power from waves, in a plant developed by Coppe. New materials, new inputs and energy solutions will emerge from the bottom of the sea, said Guedes.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Latin America Should Lead in Protecting the Planet’s Oceanshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/latin-america-should-lead-in-protecting-the-planets-oceans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-should-lead-in-protecting-the-planets-oceans http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/latin-america-should-lead-in-protecting-the-planets-oceans/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 19:07:25 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142018 Fishing boats crossing the Chacao Channel off the coast of the Greater Island of Chiloé in Chile’s southern Los Lagos region. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

Fishing boats crossing the Chacao Channel off the coast of the Greater Island of Chiloé in Chile’s southern Los Lagos region. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Aug 17 2015 (IPS)

Latin America should assume a position of global leadership by adopting effective measures to protect the oceans, which are threatened by illegal fishing, the impacts of climate change, and pollution caused by acidification and plastic waste.

“The whole world is lagging in terms of effective measures to protect the oceans, and Latin America is no exception,” Alex Muñoz, executive director of Oceana – the world’s largest international organisation dedicated solely to ocean conservation – in Chile, told Tierramérica.

But, he added, “We hope the region will take on a leadership role in this area, creating large protected marine areas, eliminating overfishing and creating better systems to combat illegal and unreported fishing.”

The perfect occasion for that, he said, would be the second international Our Ocean Conference, to be held Oct. 5-6 in Valparaiso, a port city 120 km northwest of Santiago, Chile.“We only have a few years to curb the deterioration of the ocean, especially of the fish stocks, and these conferences help us accelerate marine conservation policies with a global impact.” -- Alex Muñoz

In the conference, 400 government representatives, scientists, members of the business community and environmental activists from 90 countries should “commit to carrying out concrete actions to tackle the grave threats that affect the oceans,” Chile’s foreign minister, Heraldo Muñoz, told Tierramérica.

“The big global themes should be addressed from a broad, inclusive perspective,” the minister said.

The central pillar of the global system for governance of the oceans is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), adopted in 1982, to be completed with a treaty to govern the mostly lawless high seas beyond national jurisdiction, as the U.N. General Assembly decided in June.

But, the foreign minister argued, “as a complement, we see as indispensable initiatives making possible a more detailed and direct analysis of the efforts that governments are making to protect this valuable resource.”

The first edition of the international conference on oceans, held in 2014 in Washington, gave rise to alliances and voluntary initiatives for more than 800 million dollars, aimed at new commitments for the protection of more than three million square km of ocean.

In Valparaíso, meanwhile, the participating countries will report the progress they made over the last year and undertake new commitments.

“These meetings generate healthy competition between countries to make announcements that otherwise wouldn’t be made,” said Oceana’s Alex Muñoz.

“We only have a few years to curb the deterioration of the ocean, especially of the fish stocks, and these conferences help us accelerate marine conservation policies with a global impact,” he said.

He added that since the 2014 conference, “many governments have been motivated to create large marine parks or to sign accords to fight illegal fishing, like the New York United Nations accord, which hadn’t been ratified for a number of years.”

He was referring to the U.N. accord on the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, signed in 1995.

Chile, he pointed out, is one of the countries that signed the agreement after the first Our Ocean Conference.

In this year’s conference in Valparaíso “we hope important announcements will be made on the creation of large new protected marine areas,” said the Oceana director, who added that Chile, as host country, “should set an example with a large marine park in the Pacific ocean.”

Threatened riches

Oceans cover more than70 percent of the planet’s surface, but only one percent of the world’s oceans are protected. Between 50 and 80 percent of all life on earth is found under the ocean surface, and 97 percent of the planet’s water is salty, according to U.N. figures.

Phytoplankton generates about half of the oxygen in the atmosphere through photosynthesis, and the vast variety of highly nutritious products provided by the oceans contributes to global food security.

Fisherpersons in Duao cove in Chile’s central Maule region. The degradation of the world’s oceans is a threat to the livelihoods of the more than two million small-scale fishers in Latin America. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Fisherpersons in Duao cove in Chile’s central Maule region. The degradation of the world’s oceans is a threat to the livelihoods of the more than two million small-scale fishers in Latin America. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

A study published in April by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that the oceans conceal some 24 trillion dollars of untapped wealth.

Oceans are also an inspiration for artists and for poets like Chile’s 1971 Nobel Literature prize-winner Pablo Neruda (1904-1973).

In the poem “The Great Ocean” he wrote: “If, Ocean, you could grant, out of your gifts and dooms, some measure, fruit or ferment for my hands, I’d choose your distant rest, your brinks of steel, your furthest reaches watched by air and night, the energy of your white dialect downing and shattering its columns in its own demolished purity.”

But the WWF study warns that the resources in the high seas are rapidly eroding through over-exploitation, misuse and climate change.

Latin America, where five of the world’s 25 leading fishing nations are located – Peru, Chile, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, in that order – is not free from these dangers.

In Chile, 16 of the 33 main fisheries are in a critical situation due to over-exploitation, according to a government report.

Climate phenomena threaten large-scale anchovy fishing in Peru, the world’s second largest fishing nation after China.

Illegal fishing, meanwhile, is jeopardising some species of sharks, like the whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus), found along Central America’s Pacific coast, as well as the Patagonian toothfish or Chilean seabass (Dissostichus eleginoides), and sea cucumbers (Holothuroidea).

Foreign minister Muñoz said illegal fishing is a 23 billion dollar industry – “very close to the amount moved by drug trafficking.”

To this is added the severe problem of pollution from plastic waste faced by the world’s oceans. In 2010 an estimated eight million tons of plastic were dumped in the sea, killing millions of birds and marine animals.

Plastic represents 80 percent of the total marine debris in the world’s oceans.

Ocean acidification, meanwhile, is one of the consequences of climate change, and its effects could cause major changes to species and numbers of fish living in coastal areas over the next few years.

The foreign minister stressed that these conferences must continue to be held, due to “the urgent need to protect our seas and to follow up on government commitments and the progress they have made, while they pledge to carry out further actions.”

At this year’s conference, he said, the main focuses will include the role of local island communities and philanthropy at the service of marine protection and conservation, and there will be a segment on governance, exemplified in the system for the regulation of the high seas.

He also announced that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the creator of the initiative, confirmed a third edition of the Our Ocean Conference, to be held once again in Washington in 2016.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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New Label Defends Family Farming in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/new-label-defends-family-farming-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-label-defends-family-farming-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/new-label-defends-family-farming-in-argentina/#comments Thu, 13 Aug 2015 17:58:18 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141980 A stand in the Bonpland Solidarity Economy Market in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Palermo Hollywood. Producers and consumers will now benefit from the label “produced by family farmers”. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Aug 13 2015 (IPS)

It’s pouring rain in the capital of Argentina, but customers haven’t stayed away from the Bonpland Solidarity Economy Market, where family farmers sell their produce. The government has now decided to give them a label to identify and strengthen this important segment of the economy: small farmers.

Norma Araujo, her husband and son are late getting to the market in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Palermo Hollywood because the heavy rains made it difficult to navigate the dirt roads to their farm, in the municipality of Florencio Varela, 38 km from the capital.

They quickly set up their fruit and vegetable stand as the first customers reach the old warehouse, which was closed down as a market during the severe economic crisis that broke out in late 2001. Today, 25 stands offer products sold by social, indigenous and peasant organisations, which are produced without slave labour and under the rules of fair trade.

“Our vegetables are completely natural. They are grown without toxic agrochemicals,” Araujo told IPS. She is a member of the Florencio Varela Family Farmers Cooperative, which also sells chicken, eggs, suckling pig and rabbit.

Across from Araujo’s stand, Analía Alvarado sells honey, homemade jams, cheese, seeds with nutritional properties, natural juices, olive oil, whole grain bread, organic yerba mate – a traditional caffeinated herbal brew – and dairy products.

Mercosur labels

Argentina’s new label forms part of a collective effort by the Mercosur (Southern Common Market) which began to work with such labels four years ago, as part of the Specialised Meeting on Family Agriculture (REAF), Raimundo Laugero explained.

Brazil – a member of Mercosur along with Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela – was a pioneer in the bloc, creating a family farming label in 2009, according to the REAF.

Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador also take part in the REAF, which brings together governments and family farming organisations. The REAF announced that in June Chile created its own label, “Manos Campesinas” (peasant hands) for “healthy products of peasant origin, made on a small scale, which foment local development.”

Ecuador and Bolivia have also taken decisive steps towards creating a label that would “defend food sovereignty, rural incomes and access to local foods.” Uruguay, meanwhile, is holding a series of meetings “on the creation of a family agriculture label.”

“The idea is to give small farmers a chance, and here we have people from all around the country, who wouldn’t otherwise have the possibility of selling their goods,” Alvarado said.

The ministry of agriculture, livestock and fishing took another step in that direction with the creation in July of the “Produced by Family Farms” label, “to enhance the visibility of, inform and raise awareness about the significant contribution that family farms make to food security and sovereignty.”

According to the ministry, there are 120,000 family farms in this country of 43 million people, and the sector is “the main supplier of food for the Argentine population, providing approximately 70 percent of the daily diet.”

“A label identifying products grown on family farms not only makes the sector more visible but foments a dialogue between consumers and farmers who have a presence in the countryside across the entire nation, generating territorial sovereignty,” said Raimundo Laugero, director of programmes and projects in the ministry’s family agriculture secretariat.

In the category of family farmers the government includes peasants, small farmers, smallholders, indigenous communities, small-scale fisher families, landless rural workers, sharecroppers, craftspeople, and urban and periurban producers.

In his interview with IPS, Laugero said the label will not only identify products as coming from the family agriculture sector, but will “guarantee health controls, chemical-free and non-industrial production, and production characterised by diversity, unlike monoculture farming.

“When we’re talking about a product from family agriculture, the symbolic value is that they are produced through artisanal processes and with work by the family, and one fundamental aspect is that behind the product are the faces of people who live in the countryside,” he said.

Agriculture is one of the pillars of the economy of this South American nation, accounting for 13 percent of GDP, 55.8 percent of exports and 35.6 percent of direct and indirect employment.

María José Otero, a pharmacist, has come a long way to the market on her bicycle, but she doesn’t mind. For her family she wants “the healthiest and most natural diet possible, free of chemicals.”

She also shops here because of “a social question” – she wants to benefit those “who produce natural food without so much industrialisation, while avoiding the middlemen who drive up food prices.

“Besides, I’m really interested in the impact caused by the act of consuming something with awareness,” she added. “That means taking care of the environment where you work, respecting animals. It’s not the same thing to consume eggs from animals that walk about and eat naturally as from animals that are cruelly treated and packed into warehouses, fed in horrible ways.”

Otero said the new label was “great.” “There’s a lot of deception in this also, from people who say they’re selling organic products or products made with a social conscience, and it’s a lie. This label gives you a guarantee,” she said.

“This will especially help the public become aware of what it means to help small farmers. So they can realise that what they pay and what they consume really goes to them, and for the people who do the work to really get paid what they are due,” Alvarado said.

Laugero also stressed that a significant aspect of the new label is that it is linked to “participatory guarantee systems for agroecological products.”

He pointed out that normally when farmers apply for a label recognising their products, they need to turn to a company that carries out the certification process, while the concept “agroecological” has other components.

He mentioned six pilot projects in Argentina, of participatory guarantee systems – basically locally focused quality assurance systems – for agroecological products, which involve organised farmers and consumers, and which the state will now support as well.

“With the label, they’re going to do much better, because they’ll have a more massive reach, and more people will be included,” he said.

At the Bonpland market, Claudia Giorgi, a member of the La Asamblearia cooperative, which works as part of a network with other social organisations, is preparing shipments to another province which will use the same transportation to send products back, to cut costs.

Giorgi makes papaya preserves. But she also sells products from other cooperatives like natural cosmetics, lavender soap, medicinal herbs, pesticide-free tea, mustard and different kinds of flour.

“What is produced in each social organisation is traded for products from other groups, at each organisation’s cost, which is the producers’ costs plus what is spent on logistics,” she explained to IPS.

She said she didn’t have any information yet about the new label, but believes that it will be a good thing if it proves to be “functional” and if it differs from labels that “are profit-making schemes” and “have a cost.”

The resolution creating the new label states that one of the aims is to “promote new channels of marketing and sales points.”

Laugero noted that besides accounting for 20 percent of agricultural GDP, family farming represents 95 percent of goat production, 22 percent of cattle production, 30 percent of sheep production, 33 percent of honey production, 25 percent of fruit production, 60 percent of fresh vegetables, and 15 percent of grains.

“But that doesn’t always translate into profits,” he said. “We need to work hard on those aspects so that income also ends up in the hands of family farmers.”

In her case, Araujo puts the emphasis on solving even more simple problems, such as finding transportation for her vegetables to the market, even when it rains.

“They should fix our dirt roads,” she said, clarifying that small farmers themselves have offered to participate in the task.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Kerry Going Back Homehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-kerry-going-back-home/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-kerry-going-back-home http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-kerry-going-back-home/#comments Thu, 13 Aug 2015 11:54:13 +0000 Joaquin Roy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141969

In this column, Joaquín Roy, Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration and Director of the European Union Centre at the University of Miami, writes that when he visits Havana on Friday Aug. 14 within the framework of the resumption of US-Cuba relations, Secretary of State John Kerry will feel at home because, despite more than half a century of troubled relations, Cuba is the Latin American country which is most naturally "American-Yankee".

By Joaquín Roy
BARCELONA, Aug 13 2015 (IPS)

Recovering from a broken femur following a bicycle accident suffered in Switzerland, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry – former senator and former presidential candidate – is anxious to accelerate his convalescence and will visit Cuba on Friday Aug. 14, where he will hoist the Stars and Stripes flag over the emblematic U.S. embassy building in Havana.

Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

But Kerry will not going to a strange place: in reality, he will be going back home. As he catches a glimpse of the Capitol building in the Cuban capital, he will certainly think that it looks familiar – no wonder, it is a copy of the one on Capitol Hill back in Washington.

More than Mexico (from which the United States snatched half of its territory) and Puerto Rico (the peak of the 1898 Spanish-American War, together with the Philippines), Cuba is the land in Latin America which is the most naturally “American-Yankee”. Nothing is more palpable confirmation of this than to see the appalling ease with which anyone who has recently arrived in Cuba from Miami adapts to the local environment.

At this point, one must ask why it has taken so long to “normalise” what should have been a close relationship between the empire and a modest island about 160 kilometres from Key West.

“More was lost in Cuba” has been the cry of several generations of Spaniards as they considered a family or business misfortune. What did the United States lose in Cuba through having maintained that lengthy embargo in place, whose goal has been recognised as a failure?

More than substantial property, most of which actually belonged to Spaniards or their immediate descendants, Washington lost the arrogance of its hegemonic superiority after World War II.

The conversion of Cuba into a Marxist-Leninist state, allied with the Soviet Union – the arch-enemy of the United States – and the total destruction of the capitalist system, plus the exile of a stratum of a remarkable society, was a painful slap on the face of such magnitude that no U.S. president was willing to forgive and go down in history for being the first who had bowed before Castro.“The United States is what Latin America wanted to be and could not be. Hence, Castro insisted on converting the country [Cuba] into an enemy, a task in which he was helped by the unfortunate policies of Washington”

This explains the inertia of maintaining the embargo, an error that bit by bit has been weakened in the economic field. But any explanation must also take into account the primary role played by Fidel Castro, lord and master of the situation.

His leadership will be remembered in history, although probably without absolving him (as he promised when he was condemned in 1956 after his first failed rebellion). He has had no match since Simon Bolívar.  His success is credited to his extreme understanding of the meaning of the United States in the historical evolution of Latin America and its innate identity. Unlike the erroneous vision of other leaders, Castro understood that United States was an intrinsic part of the Latin American personality, and Cuba in particular.

The United States is what Latin America wanted to be and could not be. Hence, Castro insisted on converting the country into an enemy, a task in which he was helped by the unfortunate policies of Washington. Nevertheless, he retained the notion that in reality Cubans do not hate the United States, but only despise the temporary occupants of the White House and the detested U.S. security institutions.

Castro knew perfectly well that while Cuba was by defect becoming a nation after gaining independence mortgaged by the Platt Amendment (another of Washington’s errors), it was also becoming inexorably “Americanised”.

The new empire reinforced this error through its support for or tolerance of dictators and corrupt Cuban rulers of the 1930s and 1940s, details that Castro exploited in a ruthless Machiavellian fashion to attempt to demonstrate the alien nature of the United States.

That is why, faced with maintenance of the embargo, Castro responded with actions that provoked the negative reaction of Washington.

When there were phases of relative calm (as happened under the Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton administrations) Castro sent troops to Africa, or shut down planes of Brothers to the Rescue (a Miami-based activist organization formed by Cuban exiles), generating adoption of the Helms-Burton Act which codified the embargo. He also got the European Union to adopt a Common Position, a sort of weak “embargo” to “keep up with the Joneses”.

Why does this scaffolding now appear to be coming down – because the justifications of the past do not have the arguments that are necessary for pragmatism today. The United States needs a secure and steady environment it its backyard. Barack Obama has more important issues to deal with in the rest of the world. Cuba has become a nuisance.

The other reason is because Raúl Castro is not like his brother and is clutching at the straw of the United States “returning home”.

But the change will not be easy. The political conditions of normalisation inserted in the Helms-Burton Act are formidable (disappearance of the Castro brothers or many high officials named by them, establishment of political parties, freedom of expression, elimination of Radio/TV Martí, etc.).

Erosion by slow progress (as in the economic field) will not be sufficient. It will be necessary for Congress to repeal the legislation en bloc. This time Raul is not going to commit a fatal error. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Latin America Has Enormous Untapped Potential for Green Infrastructurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/latin-america-has-enormous-untapped-potential-for-green-infrastructure/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-has-enormous-untapped-potential-for-green-infrastructure http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/latin-america-has-enormous-untapped-potential-for-green-infrastructure/#comments Wed, 12 Aug 2015 16:59:07 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141964 One of the 31 wind parks operating in Mexico. By 2020 installed wind power capacity should have climbed to 15,000 MW. Credit: Courtesy of Dforcesolar

One of the 31 wind parks operating in Mexico. By 2020 installed wind power capacity should have climbed to 15,000 MW. Credit: Courtesy of Dforcesolar

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Aug 12 2015 (IPS)

Latin America is facing a two-pronged challenge: double power generation by 2050 while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The only solution? Green energy.

Studies show that these two goals could be within the reach of Latin America, because this region still has huge untapped potential in terms of renewable energy.

Along with transportation and land-use change, electricity generation is one of the region’s unresolved challenges in the fight against climate change.

With regard to energy production, Latin America is the planet’s greenest region, due to its long-time emphasis on hydroelectricity. But the question now is how to keep increasing the proportion of renewable energies in the face of growing domestic demand. “When you look at it as a whole, the region’s infrastructure continues to be built like in the 20th century, even though the 21st century has a completely different outlook and requirements.” --- Joseluis Samaniego

“When you look at it as a whole, the region’s infrastructure continues to be built like in the 20th century, even though the 21st century has a completely different outlook and requirements,” Joseluis Samaniego, a Mexican expert who is the director of the Sustainable Development and Human Settlements Division of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), told IPS.

Electricity is key to the design of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – the commitments that each nation assumes to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the Inter-American Development Bank study “Rethinking Our Energy Future”, the region will need to increase its installed power capacity two-fold by 2050.
However, it remains dependent on fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas which generate greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

This raises the question of what kind of infrastructure Latin America will include in its energy future. According to the IDB study, Latin America’s renewable energy generation capacity – wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal and biomass – is so extensive that only four percent of the total technical potential would be needed to meet the region’s needs by 2050.

But in recent years, the region has invested in dirtier energy sources. Although hydroelectric plants have been the main source of electricity across much of Latin America for decades, the latest figures show that its share is shrinking.

The Itaipú hydropower dam shared by Brazil and Paraguay is the second-largest in the world, after China’s Three Gorges. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Itaipú hydropower dam shared by Brazil and Paraguay is the second-largest in the world, after China’s Three Gorges. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Latin American Energy Organisation (OLADE) reported that it represented just 38 percent in 2013, surpassed by natural gas, which now provides 40 percent.

The countries of Latin America will have to revert that process if they want to set forth more ambitious and realistic targets in their INDCs. Only a robust energy policy will make it possible to set adequate goals, experts agree.

Untapped clean energy potential

Latin America only uses 22 percent of its hydropower potential. Experts say that in the future, countries in the region will need to do more to tap the potential of their rivers and other clean energy sources, to make their energy mix more sustainable and diversified.

A study published in 2008 by REN21, a global renewable energy policy multi-stakeholder network, said hydropower could be overtaken by other sources in the region, like solar and wind.

The countries in the region have a hydroelectric potential of 2.8PWh (petawatt-hour), surpassed by geothermal (nearly three PWh), wind (11 PWh) and solar (close to 31 PWh).

That potential is enormous compared to regional demand. In 2014 the countries of Latin America consumed a total of 1.3 PWh of electricity and experts expect demand to be less than 3.5 PWh by 2050.

So far, only Mexico has formally presented its INDCs, while Chile, Colombia and Peru have shown progress.

All countries must present their national commitments by Oct. 1, to be incorporated in the new binding universal treaty to be approved at the December climate summit in Paris.

“Latin America, like the rest of the world, should focus on developing electric power infrastructure with renewable sources and with the least possible environmental impact, in an attempt to depend less and less on fossil fuels,” Santiago Ortega, a Colombian engineer who specialises in renewable energy sources, told IPS.

Ortega, who is also a professor at the Engineering School in the northwest Colombian region of Antioquia, called for a balance in renewable energy generation between local, less-invasive projects and megaprojects like large dams that make it possible to store up energy, providing a reliable supply.

“Financial resources will always be scarce, and they must be invested in the most intelligent way possible,” said Ortega.

Otherwise, the global energy future will be costly. With a business-as-usual high-carbon economy, about 90 trillion dollars, or an average of six trillion a year, will be invested in infrastructure in the world’s cities, agriculture and energy systems over the next 15 years, according to the New Climate Economy report “Better Growth, Better Climate”.

But the report adds that only around 270 billion dollars a year would be needed to accelerate the global transition to a low-carbon economy, through clean energy, more compact cities, better public transport systems and smarter land use.

Experts like Costa Rican economist Mónica Araya say “the shift that is happening around the world, and we won’t be an exception, is towards energy diversification and decentralisation.”

But electricity is only part of the region’s energy mix, where fossil fuels still reign supreme.

OLADE figures from 2013 indicate that oil represents 49 percent of primary energy in the region, natural gas 26 percent, and coal seven percent.

Only six percent of primary energy comes from hydropower. Biomass, nuclear and other renewable sources complete the picture.

What does Latin America do with 80 percent fossil fuels, if the electricity supply is largely green?

According to Pablo Bertinat, director of the Observatory of Energy and Sustainability at the National Technological University in Argentina, nearly half of that energy goes to the transport sector.

“In transport, infrastructure is key,” Bertinat told IPS. “A large part of the public monies in the region goes into infrastructure works largely aimed at consolidating energy-intensive modes of transportation.”

As an example, Bertinat pointed out that while 75 percent of cargo in Argentina is moved by truck, the proportion is just 20 percent in France or the United States, which put a priority on rivers or railways.

Changes are also needed in cities, and Araya calls for modern, clean collective public transport, with electrification of private fleets of taxis or cargo vehicles.

“We lack imagination,” Araya, who heads the Costa Rican think tank Nivela, told IPS. “Neither the political class nor the business community have woken up to the need to invest in clean, modern public transit and cargo transport.”

These efforts in the energy industry will also require proposals from other fields. The main regional sources of greenhouse gases are land use and forestry (47 percent), followed by the energy industry (22 percent), agriculture (20 percent), and garbage (three percent).

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Crisis, Emergency Measures and Failure of the ISDS System: The Case of Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-crisis-emergency-measures-and-failure-of-the-isds-system-the-case-of-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-crisis-emergency-measures-and-failure-of-the-isds-system-the-case-of-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-crisis-emergency-measures-and-failure-of-the-isds-system-the-case-of-argentina/#comments Wed, 12 Aug 2015 05:40:36 +0000 Federico Lavopa http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141942

In this column, Federico Lavopa, Professor, University of San Andrés and University of Buenos Aires, argues that the way in which the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system was used to handle a spate of claims from foreign investors against Argentina following its economic and financial crisis of 2001/2002 has shown up flaws in the system and the need for its reform.

By Federico Lavopa
BUENOS AIRES, Aug 12 2015 (IPS)

The investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system has come under increasing criticism in recent years.

Inconsistent decisions, poorly reasoned awards, lack of transparency, parallel proceedings, serious doubts about arbitrator’s impartiality and the sheer size of the compensations sought by investors and awarded by arbitration tribunals are just some examples of the flaws that have been pointed out by detractors of the system.

Federico Lavopa

Federico Lavopa

The dozens of cases that were initiated against Argentina as a result of the outburst of one of its worst economic and financial crises in late 2001 became an often-quoted sad illustration of many of these shortcomings of the ISDS system.

Apart from the tragic consequences entailed by the economic and political crisis which was faced by Argentina, in particular in 2001/2002, which included a fall in gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of 50 percent, an unemployment rate of over 20 percent, a poverty rate of 50 percent, strikes, demonstrations, violent clashes with the police, dozens of civil casualties and a succession of five presidents in 10 days, Argentina received a flood of claims from foreign investors that were filed under different ISDS mechanisms and, in particular, before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

Indeed, in the period 2003-2007, claims against Argentina represented one-quarter of all the cases initiated within the framework of the ICSID Convention. These claims before international arbitral tribunals challenged the changes to the economic rules that Argentina had implemented to contain the effects of perhaps the worst economic cycle of its history.

After 1991, Argentina had embarked on an economic deregulation and liberalisation programme. Among others, this programme included the convertibility of the Argentine peso and the creation of a currency board to maintain parity between the peso and the U.S. dollar by limiting the local money supply to the amount of Argentina’s foreign exchange reserves. “If all investors that sued Argentina had obtained 100 percent of their claims, the total amount that the country should have had to bear would have been at around 80 billion dollars”

This economic and pro-market programme was accompanied by a strong emphasis on the attraction of foreign investment which, among other aspects, resulted in the conclusion of 58 bilateral investment treaties (BITs) – 55 of which came into effect.

It also included a mass privatisation process of public companies which, at that time, represented an important part of the domestic economy.

This market-oriented model reached its limits in the late 1990s, and in May 2003 a new president took office, whose government reformed the regulatory framework for the economy – particularly that for the public services privatised over the 1990s – and introduced a package of emergency laws which implied a considerable change in the conditions under which foreign investors and, in particular, public services providers had to run their business in Argentina.

As a consequence, many of them decided to resort to the investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms embodied in the dozens of bilateral investment treaties that Argentina had signed in the 1990s. In total, in the period 2001-2012, exactly 50 cases were filed against Argentina.

A striking characteristic of the Argentinian experience is the amount of requests for compensations made by the companies that sued Argentina. According to estimates made when the peak of cases following the crisis was reached, if all investors that sued Argentina had obtained 100 percent of their claims, the total amount that the country should have had to bear would have been at around 80 billion dollars.

This sum would have been practically impossible to pay, even if Argentina had not been undergoing a period of acute economic crisis, because it represented approximately 13 percent of Argentina’s GDP for 2013.

Although Argentina’s response to this flood of cases was varied and it is still early to offer definite figures, it is already possible to conclude that, in general, arbitration tribunals were prone to render awards in favour of investors.

Almost 45 percent of the cases have received a condemnatory award, although most of these cases could still be reversed by annulment proceedings, whereas only 15 percent of the arbitration proceedings ended up with a final decision completely in favour of Argentina. The remaining 30 percent are mostly cases which resulted in an agreement between the parties or which were altogether suspended.

All in all, of the 80 billion dollars of the possible amount of compensations calculated when the peak of cases against Argentina was reached following the crisis, Argentina has so far received final rulings involving the payment of 900 million dollars.

The first salient conclusion is that the ISDS system has a very low capacity to adapt to totally exceptional circumstances for which it does not seem to have been designed. Despite the efforts of Argentinian attorneys to show that the measures implemented in the post-crisis period were adopted in an emergency context, being so exceptional as to justify any breach of the substantial clauses of the BITs, few tribunals were prepared to sustain this defence.

This notwithstanding, and with most of these cases having already been dealt with, the upcoming scenario for Argentina seems much less drastic than that forecast when the peak of cases was reached.

While they represent a heavy burden for a developing country like Argentina, so far the compensations actually paid amount to a small portion of the sum initially estimated.

The Argentinian case also represents a worrisome example of the failure of the ISDS system to ensure coherence and soundness in its decisions.

Although the dozens of cases submitted against Argentina addressed exactly the same package of measures (the post-crisis emergency laws) and  had to assess very similar arguments of the different claimants and a practically identical series of defences put forward by the Argentinian government, the conclusions at which they arrived have shown striking differences.

Additionally, some of the decisions have been subject to strong criticism and/or declared null and void by annulment committees.

Finally, the experience of Argentina shows the difficulties that arbitration tribunals might encounter when trying to scrutinise the economic policy choices made by governments. On top of the sensitiveness of examining sovereign decisions of States, arbitrators might find themselves in the awkward situation of deciding on highly technical matters which they are clearly ill-equipped to assess.

The case of Argentina thus represents a sad example of the urgent need to reconsider and reform the ISDS system. Yet, the lessons to be drawn from this experience do not seem to lead to clear conclusions about which direction to take.

On the one hand, the system has proved to be extremely inflexible, which prevented it from addressing the exceptional peculiarities of the Argentinian case. On the other hand, however, the wide margin of discretion available for the arbitral tribunals resulted in the adoption of inherently poor decisions, and with high levels of incoherence among them. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

*  This column is based on a paper with the same title published as South Centre Investment Policy Brief No 2, July 2015, available here.

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Pope Francis Joins Battle Against Transgenic Cropshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/pope-francis-joins-battle-against-transgenic-crops/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pope-francis-joins-battle-against-transgenic-crops http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/pope-francis-joins-battle-against-transgenic-crops/#comments Tue, 11 Aug 2015 06:51:30 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141938 There is no papal bull on transgenic crops in Laudato Si, the second encyclical of Pope Francis, “on the care of our common home” – planet earth. Credit: Norberto Miguel/IPS

There is no papal bull on transgenic crops in Laudato Si, the second encyclical of Pope Francis, “on the care of our common home” – planet earth. Credit: Norberto Miguel/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 11 2015 (IPS)

A few centuries ago, the biotechnology industry would have been able to buy a papal bull to expiate its sins and grant it redemption. But in his encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si”, Pope Francis condemns genetically modified organisms (GMOs) without leaving room for a pardon.

In his second encyclical since he became pope on Mar. 13, 2013 – but the first that is entirely his work – Jorge Mario Bergoglio criticises the social, economic and agricultural impacts of GMOs and calls for a broad scientific debate.

Laudato Si – “Praise be to you, my Lord” in medieval Italian – takes its title from Saint Francis of Assisi’s 13th-century Canticle of the Sun, one of whose verses is: “Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.”

It is the first encyclical in history dedicated to the environment and reflecting on “our common home” – planet earth.“In many places, following the introduction of these crops, productive land is concentrated in the hands of a few owners due to ‘the progressive disappearance of small producers, who, as a consequence of the loss of the exploited lands, are obliged to withdraw from direct production’.” – Laudato Si

The encyclical, which was published Jun. 18, acknowledges that “no conclusive proof exists that GM cereals may be harmful to human beings.” But it stresses that “there remain a number of significant difficulties which should not be underestimated.”

“In many places, following the introduction of these crops, productive land is concentrated in the hands of a few owners due to ‘the progressive disappearance of small producers, who, as a consequence of the loss of the exploited lands, are obliged to withdraw from direct production’,” it adds.

As a result, says the first Latin American pope, farmers are driven to become temporary labourers, many rural workers end up in urban slums, ecosystems are destroyed, and “oligopolies” expand in the production of cereals and inputs needed for their cultivation.

Francis calls for “A broad, responsible scientific and social debate…one capable of considering all the available information and of calling things by their name” because “It sometimes happens that complete information is not put on the table; a selection is made on the basis of particular interests, be they politico-economic or ideological.”

Such a debate on GMOs is missing, and the biotech industry has refused to open up its databases to verify whether or not transgenic crops are innocuous.

According to the encyclical, “Discussions are needed in which all those directly or indirectly affected (farmers, consumers, civil authorities, scientists, seed producers, people living near fumigated fields, and others) can make known their problems and concerns, and have access to adequate and reliable information in order to make decisions for the common good, present and future.”

Miguel Concha, a Catholic priest who heads the Fray Francisco de Vitoria Human Rights Centre in Mexico, said this country “is already a reference point in the fight for the right to a healthy environment, due to the determined efforts of social organisations. This encyclical reinforces our collective demand,” he told Tierramérica.

The priest said the encyclical warns of the social, economic, legal and ethical implications of transgenic crops, just as environmentalists in Mexico have done for years.

In a local market in Mexico, María Solís shows the different colours of native maize that she grows. Native crops are threatened by attempts to introduce large-scale commercial planting of GM maize in the country. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In a local market in Mexico, María Solís shows the different colours of native maize that she grows. Native crops are threatened by attempts to introduce large-scale commercial planting of GM maize in the country. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The document holds special importance for nations like Mexico, which have been the scene of intense battles over transgenic crops – in this country mainly maize, which has special cultural significance here, besides being the basis of the local diet.

That is also true for Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, which together with southern Mexico form Mesoamérica, the seat of the ancient Maya civilisation.

The pope is familiar with the impact of transgenic crops, because according to experts his home country, Argentina, is the Latin American nation where GMOs have done the most to alter traditional agriculture.

Soy – 98 percent of which is transgenic – is Argentina’s leading crop, covering 31 million hectares, up from just 4.8 million hectares in 1990, according to the soy industry association, ACSOJA.

The monoculture crop has displaced local producers, fuelled the concentration of land, and created “a vicious circle that is highly dangerous for the sustainability of our production systems,” Argentine agronomist Carlos Toledo told Tierramérica.

Just 10 countries account for nearly all production of GMOs: the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, India, China, Paraguay, South Africa, Pakistan and Uruguay, in that order. Most of the production goes to the animal feed industry, but Mexico wants GM maize to be used for human consumption.

In July 2013, 53 individuals and 20 civil society organisations mounted a collective legal challenge against applications to commercially plant transgenic maize, and in September of that year a federal judge granted a precautionary ban on such authorisations.

Since March 2014, organisations of beekeepers and indigenous communities have won two further provisional protection orders against commercial transgenic soybean crops in the southeastern states of Campeche and Yucatán.

On Apr. 30, 2014, eight scientists from six countries sent an open letter to Pope Francis about the negative environmental, economic, agricultural, cultural and social impacts of GM seeds, especially in Mexico.

In their letter, the experts stated: “…we believe that it would be of momentous importance and great value to all if Your Holiness were to express yourself critically on GM crops and in support of peasant farming. This support would go a long way toward saving peoples and the planet from the threat posed by the control of life wielded by companies that monopolise seeds, which are the key to the entire food web…”

Laudato Si indicates that the pope did listen to their plea.

“The encyclical is very encouraging, because it has expressed an ecological position,” Argelia Arriaga, a professor at the University Centre for Disaster Prevention of the Autonomous University of Puebla, told Tierramérica. “It touches sensitive fibers; the situation is terrible and merits papal intervention. This gives us moral support to continue the struggle.”

But legal action has failed to curb the biotech industry’s ambitions in Mexico.

In 2014, the National Service for Agri-Food Health, Safety and Quality (SENASICA) received four applications from the biotech industry and public research centres for experimental planting of maize on nearly 10 hectares of land.

In addition, there were 30 requests for pilot projects involving experimental and commercial planting of GM cotton on a total of 1.18 million hectares – as well as one application for beans, five for wheat, three for lemons and one for soy – all experimental.

SENASICA is also processing five biotech industry requests for planting more than 200,000 hectares of GM cotton and alfalfa for commercial and experimental purposes.

“This is an economic and development model that ignores food production,” said Concha, the priest who heads the Fray Francisco de Vitoria Human Rights Centre.

The participants in the collective lawsuit against GMOs, having successfully gotten federal courts to throw out 22 stays brought by the government and companies against the legal decision to temporarily suspend permits for planting, are now getting ready for a trial that will decide the future of transgenic crops in the country.

Arriaga noted that the focus of the encyclical goes beyond GM crops, and extends to other environmental struggles. “For people in local communities, the pope’s message is important, because it tells them they have to take care of nature and natural resources. It helps raise awareness,” the professor said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Caribbean Artists Raise Their Voices for Climate Justicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/caribbean-artists-raise-their-voices-for-climate-justice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-artists-raise-their-voices-for-climate-justice http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/caribbean-artists-raise-their-voices-for-climate-justice/#comments Mon, 10 Aug 2015 12:13:37 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141924 Award-winning St. Lucian poet Kendel Hippolyte says human beings would treat the environment differently if they see the Earth as their "mother". Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Award-winning St. Lucian poet Kendel Hippolyte says human beings would treat the environment differently if they see the Earth as their "mother". Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Aug 10 2015 (IPS)

Award-winning St. Lucian poet and playwright Kendel Hippolyte thinks that Caribbean nationals should view the Earth as their mother.

“For me, the whole thing is so basic: the earth that we are living on and in is our mother and there are ways that we are supposed to treat our mother and relate to our mother,” the 64-year-old, who has won the St. Lucia Medal of Merit (Gold) for Contribution to the Arts, told IPS.“We will clamour if we must, but they will hear us -- 1.5 to Stay Alive!" -- Didacus Jules

Caribbean residents are expected to accord the highest levels of respect to their mothers. Therefore, Hippolyte’s approach could see many of the region’s nationals engaged in more individual actions to adapt to and mitigate against climate change.

“And if we deal with our mother as a person is supposed to deal with his or her mother, then so much falls into place,” Hippolyte tells told at a climate change conference last month dubbed “Voices and Imagination United for Climate Justice”.

Hippolyte is one of several artists from across the Caribbean who have agreed to use their social and other influences to educate Caribbean residents about climate change and what actions that they can take as individuals.

The conference focused on the establishment of an informal grouping of Caribbean artists and journalists who will be suitably briefed and prepared to add their voice — individually or collectively — to advocacy and awareness campaigns, with an initial focus on the climate change talks in Paris in December.

The artists include Trinidad and Tobago calypsonian David Michael Rudder, who is celebrated for songs like “Haiti”, a tribute to the glory and suffering of Haiti, and “Rally ‘Round the West Indies”, which became the anthem of Caribbean’s cricket.

British-born, Barbados-based soca artist Alison Hinds and Gamal “Skinny Fabulous” Doyle of St. Vincent and the Grenadines have also signed on to the effort.

Ahead of the 2015 climate change summit in Paris this year, Caribbean negotiators are seeking the support of the region’s artists in spreading the message of climate justice.

They say that the region has contributed minimally to climate change, but, as small island developing states (SIDS), is being most affected most its negative impacts.

Countries that have contributed most to climate change, the argument goes, must help SIDS to finance mitigation and adaption efforts.

St. Lucia’s Minister of Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology, James Fletcher, told IPS that at the world climate change talks in Paris this year, SIDS will be pushing for a strong, legally-binding climate accord that will keep global temperature rise to between 1.5 and 2 degree Celsius above pre-industrialisation levels.

Caribbean negotiators have put this redline into very stark terms, using the rubric “1.5 to stay alive”.

If global temperature rise is capped at 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrialisation temperatures, most countries in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) — a 15-member bloc running including Guyana and Suriname on the South American mainland, Jamaica in the northern Caribbean, and Belize in Central America — will still see their total annual rainfall decrease between 10 and 20 per cent, Fletcher says.

And even with a 2-degree Celsius cap, the Caribbean is projected to experience greater sea level rise than most areas of the world, he tells IPS.

He says that some models predict that a 2-degree Celsius rise in global temperatures will lead to a one-metre sea level rise in the Caribbean.

Caribbean negotiators say capping global temperature rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrialisation levels is necessary to protect infrastructure, such as in Kingstown, the capital of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Caribbean negotiators say capping global temperature rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrialisation levels is necessary to protect infrastructure, such as in Kingstown, the capital of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

This will translate to the loss of 1,300 square kilometres of land — equivalent to the areas of Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines combined, Fletcher told IPS.

Over 110,000 people, a number equivalent to the population of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, will be displaced.

In a region highly dependent on tourism, 149 tourism resorts will be damaged, five power plants will be either damaged or destroyed, 1 per cent of all agricultural land will be lost, 21 airports will be damaged or destroyed, land surrounding 21 CARICOM airports will be damaged or destroyed, and 567 kilometres of roads will be lost.

The countries of the Caribbean, famous for sun, sea and sand, have at the national level been rushing to implement mitigation and adaptation measures.

But Hippolyte believes that there is much that can be done at the individual level and says while a lot of information is available to Caribbean nationals, there needs to be a shift in attitude.

“A lot of the information about what we need to do is out there, but in a way, it is here, it is in the brain,” he says, pointing to his head.

“And to me, where I see the arts coming in, and where I see myself and other artists coming in to take the information, the knowledge,” he says, pointing again to his head, “and to bring it here — into the heart,” he says.

“And if that information goes into the heart, then it goes out into the hands and into the body into what we do and what we actually don’t do,” Hippolyte tells IPS.

Speaking at the climate justice event, Didacus Jules, director general of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), a nine-member political and economic sub-group within CARICOM, told IPS that “justice lies in the protection of the vulnerable whether they be the individual poor or the marginal state”.

Most of the infrastructure in small island development states is along the coast and threatened by sea level rise, Jules points out.

“The negative impacts of climate change are also influencing how we interact with each other as a people given that we have to compete for limited resources,” he tells IPS.

“The climate justice message must therefore be spread in every corner of this region (the Caribbean) and not only promoted by global media that does not always have the interests of SIDS at the forefront.”

He says that Caribbean artists can play a role in spreading the message of climate justice.

“We have seen the power of our Caribbean artists and musicians. Caribbean music is a global force with an impact outlasting any hurricane that we have experienced,” Jules said.

He said that despite the vulnerabilities and challenges that SIDS face, “rallying in the region by using our voices can send a strong signal to let the world know that we are fully aware of the implications of not having a legally binding international agreement on climate change and the impacts it can have on SIDS in our region.

“The bottom line is that the impacts of climate change threaten our very existence,” Jules tells IPS.

“We will clamour if we must, but they will hear us — 1.5 to Stay Alive! The Alliance of Small Island States has made it clear that it wants below 1.5° Celcius reflected as a long-term temperature goal and benchmark for the level of global climate action in the Paris agreement this year,” Jules said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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