Inter Press Service » Latin America & the Caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 30 Jul 2015 23:56:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.6 Central America Fails to Take Advantage of Energy from Sun, Wind and Earthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/central-america-fails-to-take-advantage-of-energy-from-sun-wind-and-earth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-america-fails-to-take-advantage-of-energy-from-sun-wind-and-earth http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/central-america-fails-to-take-advantage-of-energy-from-sun-wind-and-earth/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 16:00:02 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141781 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/central-america-fails-to-take-advantage-of-energy-from-sun-wind-and-earth/feed/ 0 Digital Era Here to Stay in Argentina’s Classroomshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/digital-era-here-to-stay-in-argentinas-classrooms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=digital-era-here-to-stay-in-argentinas-classrooms http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/digital-era-here-to-stay-in-argentinas-classrooms/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 20:08:19 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141766 Graciela Fernández Troiano teaching a visual skills class at the Colegio Nacional Rafael Hernández , the public high school where she works in the city of La Plata, in Argentina. The learning process has been transformed in the country’s public schools thanks to the distribution of laptops to all students, under the government’s Conectar Igualdad programme. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Graciela Fernández Troiano teaching a visual skills class at the Colegio Nacional Rafael Hernández , the public high school where she works in the city of La Plata, in Argentina. The learning process has been transformed in the country’s public schools thanks to the distribution of laptops to all students, under the government’s Conectar Igualdad programme. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
LA PLATA, Argentina, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

The showcases in the Colegio Nacional Rafael Hernández, a public high school in La Plata, Argentina, tell the story of the stern neoclassical building which dates back to 1884. But the classrooms reflect the digital era, thanks to the computers distributed to all public school students as part of a government social inclusion programme.

The atmosphere is happy and noisy during the first year visual skills class, where the students are focused on making a short film using their computers. The film opens with the school’s majestic central staircase and goes on to discuss the often traumatic transition from primary to secondary school.

“Kids from many different primary schools come together here,” the teacher of the class, Graciela Fernández Troiano, told IPS. “I put the emphasis on providing them with support using the images and metaphors that art offers, in the transformation they’re going through.”

“When we came to this school, we didn’t know anyone,” said one of the students, Giancarlo Gravang. “With this project we started to get to know each other, to make friends, because we worked in groups.”“What (Conectar Igualdad) tries to do is narrow the digital gap between those who have access to technology and those who don’t, to meet a first objective, social justice, and a second – equally or more important – objective: to improve the quality of education.” -- Silvina Gvirtz

The 12- and 13-year-olds in this class took photos of feet and staircases using their laptops or cell phones and digitalised and animated them, thanks to the programme Conectar Igualdad (Connect Equality), run by the National Social Security Administration.

Since 2010, 5.1 million laptops – referred to here as notebooks – have been distributed, reaching all of the students and teachers in the country’s secondary and special education schools and government teacher training institutes.

The computers, with Internet connection, are used in all of the courses, both in school and at home.

“You can do your homework better, and do searches for more things,” said Lourdes Alano, a student.

In the “transformational staircases” project, Fernández Troiano introduces the students, for example, to works of art such as Dutch artist M.C. Escher’s House of Stairs, or Argentine writer Julio Cortázar’s short story Instructions On How to Climb a Staircase.

“Leaving the classroom and using the computer in a different part of the school wasn’t a source of distraction for them, like I thought it would be, but actually helped them concentrate on their work,” Fernández Troiano said. “It broke the routine of sitting at their desks. The inclusion of technology and space made them work harder.”

The programme’s administrators see creative initiatives like Fernández Troiano’s combination of diverse disciplines as a reflection of how universal access to a computer is a powerful educational tool, as IPS found the day we spent at the school in this city 52 km from Buenos Aires.

Silvina Gvirtz, executive director of Conectar Igualdad, explained to IPS that the programme emerged from a decision by President Cristina Fernández, as part of an integral educational policy that in 2006 made secondary education compulsory until the age of 18.

“It emerged as an educational tool that makes it possible to improve the quality of teaching, and as a result, of learning,” she said.

One of the laptops distributed to all public secondary school students in Argentina. A flying cow is the symbol of the open source Linux-based Huayra operating system, which was created locally for the government programme Conectar Igualdad. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

One of the laptops distributed to all public secondary school students in Argentina. A flying cow is the symbol of the open source Linux-based Huayra operating system, which was created locally for the government programme Conectar Igualdad. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

But the programme goes beyond distributing laptops.

“What it tries to do is narrow the digital gap between those who have access to technology and those who don’t, to meet a first objective, social justice, and a second – equally or more important – objective: to improve the quality of education,” said Gvirtz.

“Every adolescent has a computer, no matter where they live or where they come from,” Daniel Feldman, a professor of educational sciences at the University of Buenos Aires, told IPS. “This also creates changes in the family – in some cases it’s the only computer in the home, giving the entire family access to information and the Internet.

“That in itself has a compensating effect,” he said.

“The gaps lie elsewhere, they aren’t fixed just by distributing computers, but this obviously helps combat inequality,” Feldman added.

That inequality is familiar to Ezequiel Zanabria, who says he is happy now because he has his own computer “with all my things on it,” or Esteban López, who proudly shows his mother how to use the notebook.

According to Feldman, other effects of the programme are the recognition of “a right to and a sentiment of restoration of dignity” which at the same time “generates other mechanisms of integration and social participation.

“It’s wonderful to see the kids in front of the school, sitting in long lines along the sidewalks with their notebooks. It doesn’t matter if they’re studying, playing, chatting – they now have access to all of that, which is a big first change,” he stressed.

To illustrate the different ways the laptops can be used, Gvirtz said: “Instead of the traditional drawings on the blackboard, by using a programme we developed, students see how atoms join together to form molecules…In a dance school, some girls used their notebooks to film themselves while they danced, to analyse the mistakes they made.”

“The computer doesn’t replace the direct experience of a museum, but it indirectly allows access to historical and scientific sources, images, films, not only purely educational but with educational content…all they need is access to the normal channels, in order to have a huge quantity of information at their fingertips,” Feldman said.

Conectar Igualdad has also given a major boost to the national computer industry. Ten computer factories have opened, and in each public tender, more domestically produced parts have been required, as well as more and more advanced technologies, such as greater memory and better video definition, Gvirtz said.

Along with Windows, the notebooks use Huayra, a Linux-based open source operating system developed locally for the programme, which unlike proprietary systems can be modified and improved, she noted.

“When they started saying that every student would have a notebook, nobody believed it – people said that would be the day when cows fly (an expression roughly equivalent to ‘when hell freezes over’),” said a student, María Elena Davel.

But the cow, which today is the Huayra symbol, is now flying and plans to go even higher. The next step is to add a computer programming course in schools.

“This is key because we want to move towards technological sovereignty,” said Gvirtz. “We want to form both producers and intelligent consumers of technology.”

The laptops are distributed to the students under a loan-for-use agreement with the parents. The youngsters can then keep them if they graduate.

One challenge is training the teachers, who must adapt to the new e-learning and digital culture in this country of 42 million people, where there are nearly 12 million students in the educational system.

“It’s like the transition from a blackboard with chalk in the hands of each student, to the school notebook and pen. That was also a change in technology in the classroom, which had to be adapted to,” Feldman pointed out.

“This is here to stay,” he said. “We’re all going to have to adapt and accept that this will bring changes in the way we teach.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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New Plan Would Aggravate the Troubles of Chile’s Beleaguered Pensionershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-plan-would-aggravate-the-troubles-of-chiles-beleaguered-pensioners/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-plan-would-aggravate-the-troubles-of-chiles-beleaguered-pensioners http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-plan-would-aggravate-the-troubles-of-chiles-beleaguered-pensioners/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 07:51:40 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141734 A group of Chilean pensioners demanding respect for their rights during an activity in Santiago this month, organised to promote the rights of women in this country. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

A group of Chilean pensioners demanding respect for their rights during an activity in Santiago this month, organised to promote the rights of women in this country. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jul 24 2015 (IPS)

The already precarious situation of pensioners in Chile will get even worse if a controversial initiative is approved. Under the new plan, the elderly would mortgage their homes to increase their meagre pensions, most of which come from prívate pension funds, and which average 230 dollars a month.

“This plan is a ruse, a dirty trick,” Nuvia Zambrano, a pensioner, told IPS. “If we can hardly survive on our pensions, how could we afford the mortgage payments? Our homes would be left to the banks,” said the former high school biology teacher who retired 10 years ago.

The reverse mortgage plan, presented by opposition legislators and backed by governing coalition lawmakers, would create a contract between the homeowner and a government institution. Based on the value of the property, and the calculation of the owner’s life expectancy, the period for payment and monthly payments until the end of their life would be set.

The pensioners would continue to live in their homes until they died. After that, their heirs could buy back the property for the amount already paid or hand it over to finish paying off the mortgage.

But experts say the new plan would create “a new psychological burden for older adults,” who already live their last years in debt and with pensions that in many cases do not cover the cost of living.

Chile’s pension system, based on mandatory individual retirement accounts, was introduced in 1981 by the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990).

Under the system, workers deposit at least 10 percent of their wages into personal accounts managed by private pension funds (AFPs).

The capital is then invested in shares in large companies and banks in Chile or abroad, which generate returns.

According to the Fundación Sol, a labour think tank, the pension funds have earned more than 5.8 bilion dollars so far, from the lucrative business of mandatory individual accounts.“Our pensions don’t cover the cost of living; they might as well just give us poison instead, because you die of hunger anyway.” -- Nuvia Zambrano

Meanwhile, nine out of 10 pensioners in Chile receive less than 230 dollars a month, equivalent to 66 percent of the monthly mínimum wage of 373 dollars, according to the respected think tank.

Prior to the pension reform, Chile had a public pay-as-you-go system.

“Back then they said the new system was wonderful,” Marianela Zambrano, Nuvia’s sister, told IPS. “I was just coming back from exile in Denmark and didn’t have much idea of how it worked.

“Now I know it’s the theft of a century, a disgusting theft, an injustice,” she said angrily.

The 62-year-old English teacher who worked for over 30 years receives a pension today of just 334 dollars a month. Her rent payment alone eats up 186 dollars.

“Our pensions don’t cover the cost of living; they might as well just give us poison instead, because you die of hunger anyway,” she said, bitterly.

Today, only a handful of countries have pension systems similar to Chile’s: Dominican Republic, Israel, Nigeria, Maldives, Malawi, Kosovo and Australia – although Australia ensures a basic pension of 1,000 dollars a month for many of the country’s older adults.

Among Chile’s neighbours, Argentina switched back from a mixed system to a traditional pay-as-you-go scheme, in 2008.

Uruguay, meanwhile, has a mixed system consisting of a public pay-as-you-go regime combined with individual accounts. It was modified in 2005 though a labour reform, which increased wages and gave trade unions a stronger role.

In Chile, on the other hand, the system put in place by the dictatorship in 1981 has been operating for 35 years and the democratic governments that have ruled the country since 1990 have shown no intention of modifying it.

The centre-left governments, including the current administration headed by socialist President Michelle Bachelet, and the administration of her right-wing predecessor Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014), only introduced measures to ensure pensions for those excluded by the AFPs.

“This system has been tremendously successful with regard to one objective: financing the economy, injecting fresh capital to capitalise companies or economic groups,” Fundación Sol economist Gonzalo Durán told IPS.

In this South American country of 17.5 million people, women retire at the age of 60 and men at 65. But in practice, both men and women tend to work until at least the age of 70.

The prívate pension funds determine life expectancy, which varies depending on gender and other factors, using actuarial life tables.

Life expectancy in Chile stands at 83 years for women and 76 for men, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

But according to the AFPs, Chilean women have a life expectancy of 89 and men, 85.

Each pensioner’s projected lifespan, and the resulting number of monthly payments, are calculated according to the life table. Their heirs can later inherit a monthly pension, which the AFP determines based on what is left of the pensioner’s lifelong savings. That depends on factors such as the educational level of the sons and daughters.

According to the Superintendencia de Pensiones, the government agency that oversees the pension funds, in December 2014 nearly seven of every 10 Chileans between the ages of 55 and 60 had roughly 31,000 dollars in their individual accounts – an amount that does not ensure a pension of over 155 dollars a month.

“The pension system plays a major role in the concentration of income and the problem of inequality, which we have to hold a debate about,” said Durán.

He added that the system is a key component of Chile’s neoliberal model.

Durán said the private pension fund system is not meeting the goal of providing social security in Chile, where the estimated cost of a family’s basic needs is 264 dollars a month, and medications can cost three times what they cost in Argentina or Peru.

As a result, older adults are impoverished and have no choice but to continue working after retirement to compensate for their small pensions. They are also in debt.

The most important reform of Chile’s pension system was carried out in 2008, during President Bachelet’s first term (2006-2010). It benefited the poorest 60 percent of the elderly. Her administration introduced a 133-dollar a month public pension for people who never paid into a retirement scheme, such as street vendors, the self-employed, homemakers or small farmers. In addition, the lowest pensions were topped up.

This scenario “is suspicious,” said Durán, because while pensions are low, “the system brings big benefits to prívate companies” – unlike a pay-as-you-go scheme.

“There is a legitimate suspicion that they don’t want to change the system in order not to deprive the companies of the profits they are earning. If that turns out to be true, it’s very serious,” he said.

For now the government says it will not back the controversial bill. But the lawmakers who are behind it say they will continue to push for it to be passed. And it has support on both sides of the political spectrum.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Latin America Tackles Informal Labour among the Younghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/latin-america-tackles-informal-labour-among-the-young/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-tackles-informal-labour-among-the-young http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/latin-america-tackles-informal-labour-among-the-young/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 07:35:10 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141710 A young street vendor sells typical Argentine baked goods in a market near the Plaza de los dos Congresos, in Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A young street vendor sells typical Argentine baked goods in a market near the Plaza de los dos Congresos, in Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

The 56 million young people who form part of Latin America’s labour force suffer from high unemployment, and many of those who work do so in the informal sector. Governments in the region have begun to adopt more innovative policies to address a problem that undermines the future of the new generations.

According to an International Labour (ILO) report, unemployment among young people between the ages of 14 and 25 is three times higher than among adults.

That is just one aspect of the problem, however according to the coordinator of the study, Guillermo Dema from Peru. “These statistics are compelling, but the main problem faced by young people in Latin America is the precariousness and poor quality of the work they have access to,” he told IPS.

The region’s seven million unemployed young people represent 40 percent of total unemployment. But another 27 million have precarious work, which aggravates the phenomenon.The total population of young people in Latin America is around 108 million, of the region’s 600 million people.

“Six out of every 10 jobs available to young people today are in the informal sector,” said Dema. “In general they are poor quality, low-productivity and low-wage jobs with no stability or future, and without social protection or rights.”

Gala Díaz Langou with Argentina’s Centre for the Implementation of Public Policies for Equity and Growth said “An informal sector worker has no job security, health coverage, trade union representation, or payments towards a future pension. That means unregistered workers do not have decent work.”

In summary, “their basic labour rights are violated, and they can’t demand respect for their rights by means of representation or social dialogue,” she told IPS.“Six out of every 10 jobs available to young people today are in the informal sector. In general they are poor quality, low-productivity and low-wage jobs with no stability or future, and without social protection or rights.” -- Guillermo Dema

The poor are overrepresented in the informal economy. Only 22 percent of young people in the poorest quintile have formal work contracts, and just 12 percent are registered in the social security system, according to the ILO.

But precarious employment also affects middle-class young people, including those who have higher education.

“The big problem in landing a serious job today is what I call the ‘vicious cycle’. To get a job you need work experience, but to get experience you need a job,” Hernán F, a 23-year-old from Argentina who juggles work and university studies and speaks several languages, told IPS.

“Obviously if you’ve studied at university you go farther,” said Hernán, who asked that his last name not be used.” But that’s where you see the big difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ universities. The good ones, which are recognised and have good names, open many more doors for internships – even if they’re poorly paid – in better places.”

Most precarious jobs are in small and micro enterprises that do not formally exist. But 32 percent of young people who work in formal companies also suffer from precarious employment, the ILO reports.

The rate of informal labour among young wage-earners is 45.4 percent, while among those who are self-employed, the proportion climbs to 86 percent.

“When you’re young you don’t think about the future, about your retirement. You think about the present, paying rent, vacation. You don’t care about working in the black economy. You care about having a job, probably earning a little more than if you were formally employed,” said Hernán F.

But for Hernán, who worked as an unregistered employee in a boutique hotel in Buenos Aires, “it’s not the young people’s fault.”

“Capitalism, which created this system, and the people who hire you without registering you are to blame. They want more, easier money. They make you hide in the bathrooms when the inspectors come to check the hotel. And it’s also the state’s fault, because it doesn’t oversee things as it should, and allows labour inspectors to be bribed,” he said.

Dema said informal labour fuels “discouragement and frustration among those who feel that they don’t have the opportunities they deserve.

“This has social, economic and political repercussions, because it can translate into situations where people question the system, or situations of instability or marginalisation, which can affect governance,” he warned.

It also perpetuates the cycle of poverty and hinders the fight against inequality.

“Low wages, job instability, precarious working conditions, a lack of social security coverage, and a lack of representation and social dialogue make informal workers a vulnerable group,” said Dema.

But in spite of the continued problems, the region is “slowly” improving, he added.

From 2009 to 2013, the proportion of young people in informal employment in the region fell from 60 to 47 percent. But there are some exceptions like Honduras, Paraguay and Peru, where no significant progress was made.

Innovative policies to the rescue

Dema attibutes the improvement to government measures, which are cited by the ILO report, launched in April by the organisation’s regional office in Lima with the promising title: “Promoting formal employment among youth: innovative experiences in Latin America and the Caribbean”.

He said initiatives have emerged that focus on combining attempts to formalise employment while adapting “to the heterogeneity of the economy and informal employment,” together with strategies to help young people land their first formal sector job.

He mentioned Brazil’s Apprenticeship Act, which introduced a special work contract for young apprentices, that can be used for a maximum of two years.

The law requires all medium and large companies to hire apprentices between the ages of 14 and 24, who must make up five to 15 percent of the payroll.

He also cited Chile’s Youth Employment Subsidy, Mexico’s Ley de Fomento al Primer Empleo, which foments the hiring of young workers without prior experience, and Uruguay’s Youth Employment Law.

These laws, he said, “provide for monetary subsidies, subsidies for wages or social security contributions, or tax breaks. “

For her part, Díaz Langou, with the Centre of Implementation of Public Policies for Equity and Growth, mentioned Argentina’s “More and better work for young people” programme, which targets people between the ages of 18 and 24.

“It was a very interesting and successful initiative aimed at combining education with active employment policies, to achieve better insertion of this age group in the labour market,” she said.

Dema also cited Mexican programmes aimed at promoting the regularisation of informal sector employment, such as the Let’s Growth Together programme, which “incorporates the concepts of gradualism, advice and support in the transition from informal to formal employment.”

Another model, the expert said, is offered by Colombia with its “formalisation brigades,” which incorporate benefits and services for companies that regularise their activities and employees.

These initiatives are complemented by social protection policies.

“In Argentina, the Universal Child Allowance is compatible with the workers registered in the ‘monotributo social’ (simplified tax regime for small taxpayers) and those who are registered in the domestic service regime. And in Colombia, the law on the formalisation and generation of employment establishes the coordination of contracts with the ‘Families in Action’ programme and Subsidised Health Insurance,” he said.

Díaz Langou said that international experiences have shown that one of the policies that works best is the introduction of incentives to hire young workers, such as offering subsidies or tax breaks to companies that hire them.

“But this has provided much better results for men than for women,” she said. “Policies tailored towards improving the skills of young people by means of training and education have more modest effects on wages for young people, and also present gender disparities.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: A BRICS Bank to Challenge the Bretton Woods System?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-a-brics-bank-to-challenge-the-bretton-woods-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-brics-bank-to-challenge-the-bretton-woods-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-a-brics-bank-to-challenge-the-bretton-woods-system/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 08:12:45 +0000 Daya Thussu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141689

Daya Thussu is Professor of International Communication at the University of Westminster in London.

By Daya Thussu
LONDON, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

The formal opening of the BRICS Bank in Shanghai on Jul. 21 following the seventh summit of the world’s five leading emerging economies held recently in the Russian city of Ufa, demonstrates the speed with which an alternative global financial architecture is emerging.

The idea of a development-oriented international bank was first floated by India at the 2012 BRICS summit in New Delhi but it is China’s financial muscle which has turned this idea into a reality.

Daya Thussu

Daya Thussu

The New Development Bank (NDB), as it is formally called, is to use its 50 billion dollar initial capital to fund infrastructure and developmental projects within the five BRICS nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – though it is also likely to support developmental projects in other countries.

According to the 43-page Ufa Declaration, “the NDB shall serve as a powerful instrument for financing infrastructure investment and sustainable development projects in the BRICS and other developing countries and emerging market economies and for enhancing economic cooperation between our countries.”

The NDB is led by Kundapur Vaman Kamath, formerly of Infosys, India’s IT giant, and of ICICI Bank, India’s largest private sector bank. A respected banker, Kamath reportedly said during the launch that “our objective is not to challenge the existing system as it is but to improve and complement the system in our own way.”

The launch of the NDB marks the first tangible institution developed by the BRICS group – set up in 2006 as a major non-Western bloc – whose leaders have been meeting annually since 2009. BRICS countries together constitute 44 percent of the world population, contributing 40 percent to global GDP and 18 percent to world trade.“Our objective is not to challenge the existing system as it is but to improve and complement the system in our own way” – Kundapur Vaman Kamath, head of the New Development Bank (NDB)

In keeping with the summit’s theme of ‘BRICS partnership: A powerful factor for global development’, the setting up of a developmental bank was an important outcome, hailed as a “milestone blueprint for cooperation” by a commentator in The China Daily.

The Chinese imprint on the NDB is unmistakable. The Ufa Declaration is clear about the close connection between the NDB and the newly-created Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), also largely funded by China. It welcomed the proposal for the New Development Bank to “cooperate closely with existing and new financing mechanisms including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.” China is also keen to set up a regional centre of the NDB in South Africa.

If economic cooperation remained the central plank of the Ufa summit, there is also a clear geopolitical agenda.

The Global Times, China’s more nationalistic international voice, pointed out that the establishment of the NDB and the AIIB will “break the monopoly position of the International Money Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) and motivate [them] to function more normatively, democratically, and efficiently, in order to promote reform of the international financial system as well as democratisation of international relations.”

The reality of global finance is such that any alternative financial institution has to function in a system that continues to be shaped by the West and its formidable domination of global financial markets, information networks and intellectual leadership.

However, China, with its nearly four trillion dollars in foreign currency reserves, is well-placed to attempt this, in conjunction with the other BRICS countries. China today is the largest exporting nation in the world, and is constantly looking for new avenues for expanding and consolidating its trade relations across the globe.

China is also central to the establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a Eurasian political, economic and security grouping whose annual meeting coincided with the seventh BRICS summit. Founded in 2001 and comprising China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the SCO has agreed to admit India and Pakistan as full members.

Though the BRICS summit and the SCO meeting went largely unnoticed by the international media – preoccupied as they were with the Iranian nuclear negotiations and the ongoing Greek economic crisis – the economic and geopolitical implications of the two meetings are likely to continue for some time to come.

For host Russia, which also convened the first BRICS summit in 2009, the Ufa meeting was held against the background of Western sanctions, continuing conflict in Ukraine and expulsion from the G8. Partly as a reaction to this, camaraderie between Moscow and Beijing is noticeable – having signed a 30-year oil and gas deal worth 400 billion dollars in 2014.

Beijing and Moscow see economic convergence in trade and financial activities, for example, between China’s Silk Road Economic Belt initiative for Central Asia and Russia’s recent endeavours to strengthen the Eurasian Economic Union. The expansion of the SCO should be seen against this backdrop. Moscow has also proposed setting up SCO TV to broadcast economic and financial information and commentary on activities in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

Whatever the outcome, it is clear that a new international developmental agenda is being created, backed by powerful nations, and to the virtual exclusion of the West.

China is the driving force behind this. Despite its one-party system which limits political pluralism and thwarts debate, China has been able to transform itself from a largely agricultural self-sufficient society to the world’s largest consumer market, without any major social or economic upheavals.

China’s success story has many admirers, especially in other developing countries, prompting talk of replacing the ‘Washington consensus’ with what has been described as the ‘Beijing consensus’. The BRICS bank, it would seem, is a small step in that direction.

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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Caribbean Seeks Funding for Renewable Energy Mixhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/caribbean-seeks-funding-for-renewable-energy-mix/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-seeks-funding-for-renewable-energy-mix http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/caribbean-seeks-funding-for-renewable-energy-mix/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 10:31:18 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141677 St Kitts and Nevis has launched a 1-megawatt solar farm at the country’s Robert L Bradshaw International Airport. A second solar project is also nearing completion. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

St Kitts and Nevis has launched a 1-megawatt solar farm at the country’s Robert L Bradshaw International Airport. A second solar project is also nearing completion. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
FORT-DE-FRANCE, Martinique, Jul 21 2015 (IPS)

A leading geothermal expert warns that the small island states in the Caribbean face “a ticking time bomb” due to the effects of global warming and suggests a shift away from fossil fuels to renewable energy is the only way to defuse it.

President of the Ocean Geothermal Energy Foundation Jim Shnell says to solve the problems of global warming and climate change, the world needs a new energy source to replace coal, oil and other carbon-based fuels.  OGEF’s mission is to fund the R&D needed to tap into the earth’s vast geothermal energy resources."You need to have a balance of your resources but it is quite possible to have that balance and still make it 100 percent renewable and do without fossil fuels altogether." -- Jim Shnell

“With global warming comes the melting of the icecaps in Greenland and Antarctica and the projection is that at the rate we are going, they will both melt by the end of this century,” Shnell told IPS, adding “if that happens the water levels in the ocean will rise by approximately 200 feet and there are some islands that will disappear altogether.

“So you’ve got a ticking bomb there and we’ve got to defuse that bomb and if I were to rate the issues for the Caribbean countries, I would put a heavyweight on that one.”

It has taken just eight inches of water for Jamaica to be affected by rising sea levels, with one of a set of cays called Pedro Cays disappearing in recent years.

Scientists have warned that as the seas continue to swell, they will swallow entire island nations from the Maldives to the Marshall Islands, inundate vast areas of countries from Bangladesh to Egypt, and submerge parts of scores of coastal cities.

In the Caribbean, scientists have also pointed to the likelihood of Barbuda disappearing in 40 years.

Shnell said countries could “essentially eliminate” the threat by turning to renewable energy, thereby decreasing the amount of fossil fuels or carbon-based fuels they burn.

“The primary driver of climate change is greenhouse gasses and one of the principal ones in terms of volume is carbon dioxide,” he said.

“For a long time a lot of electricity, 40 per cent of the electricity produced in many countries, would come from coal because it was a very inexpensive, plentiful form of carbon to burn.

“But now countries have seen that they need to move away from that and in fact the G7 just earlier this month got together and in their meeting, the leaders declared that they were going to be 100 percent renewable, that is completely stop burning carbon, coals and other forms of fossil fuels by the end of this century. The only problem is that for global warming purposes that’s probably too late,” Shnell added.

Shnell was among some of the world’s leading renewable energy experts who met here late last month to consider options for renewable energy development in the Caribbean.

The Martinique Conference on Island Energy Transitions was organised by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the French Government, which will host the United Nations International Climate Change Conference, COP 21, at the Le Bourget site in Paris from Nov. 30 Dec. 11 2015.

Senior Energy Specialist at the World Bank Migara Jaywardena said the conference was useful and timely in bringing all the practitioners from different technical people, financial people and government together.

“There’s a lot of climate funds that are being deployed to support and promote clean energy…and we talked about the challenges that small islands, highly indebted countries have with mobilising some of this capital and making that connection to clean energy,” Jaywardena told IPS.

“They want to do it but there isn’t enough funds and remember there’s a lot of other competing development interests, not just energy but non-energy interests as well. Since this conference leads to the COP in Paris, I think being a part of that climate dialogue is important because it creates an opportunity to begin to access some of those funds.”

“As an example, for Dominica we have an allocation of 10 million dollars from the clean technology fund to support the geothermal and that’s a perfect example of where climate funds could be mobilised to support clean energy in the islands,” Jaywardena added.

Shnell said Caribbean economies are severely affected by the cost of fuel but that should be an incentive to redouble their efforts to get away from importing oil.

“The oil that you import and burn turns right around and contributes to global warming and the potential flooding of the islands, whereas you have some great potential resources there in terms of solar and wind and certainly geothermal,” he said.

“What we’re advocating is the mixture of those resources. We feel it would be a mistake to try to select one and make that your 100 percent source of power or energy but it’s the mix, because of different characteristics of each of them and different timing of availability and so forth, they work much better together.”

He noted that wind and solar are intermittent while utility companies have to provide power all the time.

“So you need something like geothermal or hydropower that works all the time and provides enough energy to keep the grid running even when there is no solar energy. So you need to have a balance of your resources but it is quite possible to have that balance and still make it 100 percent renewable and do without fossil fuels altogether,” Shnell said.

A legislator in St. Kitts and Nevis said the twin island federation has gone past fossil fuel generation and is now adopting solar energy with one plant on St. Kitts generating just below 1 megawatt of electricity and another being developed which would produce 5 megawatts.

“In terms of solar we’ll be near production of 1.5 megawatts of renewable energy. As a government we are going full speed ahead in relation to ensuring that there’s renewable energy, of course, where the objective is to reduce electricity costs in St. Kitts and Nevis,” Energy Minister Ian Liburd told IPS.

In late 2013 legislators in Nevis selected Nevis Renewable Energy International (NREI) to develop a geothermal energy project, which they said would eventually eliminate the need for existing diesel-fired electrical generation by replacing it with renewable energy.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Young Hondurans Lead Unprecedented Anti-Corruption Movementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/young-hondurans-head-unprecedented-anti-corruption-movement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=young-hondurans-head-unprecedented-anti-corruption-movement http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/young-hondurans-head-unprecedented-anti-corruption-movement/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 07:02:43 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141669 The rain has not stopped the ever-growing weekly torch marches organised by the Outraged Opposition citizen movement in the capital of Honduras and 50 other cities around the country. The peaceful protests are demanding the creation of an International Commission Against Impunity, to combat corruption and strengthen democracy. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The rain has not stopped the ever-growing weekly torch marches organised by the Outraged Opposition citizen movement in the capital of Honduras and 50 other cities around the country. The peaceful protests are demanding the creation of an International Commission Against Impunity, to combat corruption and strengthen democracy. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
TEGUCIGALPA, Jul 21 2015 (IPS)

A Honduran spring is happening, led by young people mobilising over the social networks, who are flooding the streets with weekly torch marches against corruption and impunity.

Since late May, the peaceful movement of young people who declare themselves “indignados” or outraged has broken down the media’s resistance to cover what is happening, and has brought hundreds of thousands of people out on the streets in Tegucigalpa and 50 other cities around the country.

The torch marches are demanding the creation of an international commission to fight corruption and impunity, purge this Central American country’s institutions, and strengthen democracy.

The Oposición Indignada or Outraged Opposition citizen movement is largely made up of middle-class young people upset over the embezzlement of 200 to 300 million dollars in the country’s social security institute (IHSS).“But later, as if by some miracle, everything changed. And now every Friday thousands of us come out together with our torches, peacefully, to call for justice and an end to impunity.” -- Gabriela Blen

According to the investigations, some of the money was used to finance the right-wing National Party (PN), which has governed the country since 2010. The scandal also involved the purchase of equipment at marked-up prices, and of expired medications.

The IHSS scandal is the biggest case of corruption in Honduras in half a century and has caused widespread indignation due to the consequences it has had for the health of Hondurans, who already suffer from the scarcity of medicines in the country’s network of public hospitals.

The fraud and graft in the institution that provides social security and healthcare to both public and prívate-sector employees has severely shaken the government of Juan Orlando Hernández, whose four-year term began in January 2014.

The president ordered the investigations. But he never imagined that the straw that would break the camel’s back would be the use of healthcare funds to finance the campaign that led to his election.

So far, 10 checks totalling 147,000 dollars that went towards his party’s campaign have surfaced. But that figure could increase, if the investigation digs deeply enough, experts say.

Hernández says the party will give the money back, and denies any involvement.

The dozen or so people prosecuted in connection with the scandal include former deputy ministers of health, a former IHSS director and an influential businessman. But the investigators say the list will grow and that powerful governing party figures will soon be implicated.

“What made us come together was the embezzlement, and knowing cases of friends whose relatives died in the social security institute because of the shortage of medications,” Gabriela Blen, a young activist who is one of the founders of Oposición Indignada, told IPS.

“On the social networks we started commenting that young people can’t be so indifferent, and the idea of the torch marches emerged,” she said.

In the last 13 months, the organisation – the Latin American branch of the New York-based Covenant House – documented the murders of 1,076 people between the ages of 13 and 27.

Blen, 27, said that “in the beginning there were just a few of us, only 50 or 100 people who would come out to protest in front of the social security institute building. ‘There go those crazy kids’, they would say.

This country of 8.4 million people is one of the poorest in Latin America: 60 percent of households are poor and 40 percent extremely poor, according to official statistics.

Honduras is also one of the most corrupt countries in the region, along with Venezuela, Paraguay and Nicaragua, according to Transparency international, the global anti-corruption watchdog.

And Honduras is not only plagued by corruption and impunity, but by violence. The homicide rate, 68 per 100,000 population in 2014 according to the Autonomous National University’s Observatory of Violence, makes it one of the most violent countries in the world.

Over 60 percent of the population is young, and according to Casa Alianza, a child advocacy organisation, young people in this country are stigmatised as a result of the violence, much of which is gang-related, while policies aimed at boosting social inclusion are lacking.

“But later, as if by some miracle, everything changed,” she said. “And now every Friday thousands of us come out together with our torches, peacefully, to call for justice and an end to impunity.”

Blen says Honduras has woken up.

Every Friday in Tegucigalpa, and on Saturday or Sunday in another 50 cities, hundreds of thousands of “indignados” or angry, outraged protesters pour onto the streets to demand the creation of an International Commission Against Impunity (CICIH), like the one operating in Guatemala since 2007.

The media, which initially kept silent about the movement, is now covering it, although still in a marginal fashion or to discredit it.

But society is sympathetic towards Oposición Indignada, which has also won recognition from the United Nations and the U.S. embassy.

Members of the movement have met with representatives of the U.N. and the U.S. embassy to ask for support for their demand for the installation of the CICIH.

Eugenio Sosa, an expert on social movements, told IPS that Oposición Indignada has the characteristics of a 21st century social movement.

“These are citizen movements without the classic rigid, hierarchical organisational structure, but with horizontal, fluid chains of command instead. That is why this has gone beyond the country’s political, trade union and social leaderships,” he said.

The sociologist said these movements “emerge around issues, and in this case it’s corruption, particularly in the social security institute. It’s a middle-class movement representing a new generation which is challenging the current political class.”

“Honduras is at an interesting historical juncture,” he said.

The government has ignored the protesters’ demands and has presented its own comprehensive proposal to fight impunity and corruption, without including the creation of the international commission the movement is calling for.

The demonstrators, meanwhile, reject the government’s plan.

Hernández called for a national dialogue but without including the political opposition or the “indignados” movement. Alghough the president said the dialogue would be “inclusive and without preconditions,” only traditional actors from some 30 sectors on good terms with the governing party have been invited so far.

The president also sought support from the U.N. and the Organisation of American States (OAS) to facilitate the dialogue.

The U.N. responded by sending a fact-finding mission which is to issue a report in a few weeks, and the OAS agreed to mediate talks but has not yet appointed facilitators.

During a visit to Honduras on Jul. 8, U.S. State Department special adviser Thomas Shannon called the torch marches a genuine expression of democracy and urged the government to “listen to the people.”

Shannon, who visited the country as part of a tour that also took him to El Salvador and Guatemala, said it would be smart for both the Honduran and the Salvadoran governments to consider setting up international commissions against impunity.

Former attorney general Edmundo Orellana told IPS that the situation is becoming complex because no Honduran president has faced such strong pressure from society.

But the movement – which has demanded that the president resign – says it will not engage in talks with the government until the CICIH is set up.

“And they’re right, because if people in the president’s inner circle are implicated in the social security corruption, what is needed is not talks but impeachment,” said Orellana, the country’s first attorney general, who enjoys great prestige.

Honduras, he said, has been caught up in a serious “crisis of legitimacy” since the 2009 coup that toppled then president Manuel Zelaya. And President Hernández “has lost credibility and popularity, and is really using the state for his own benefit.”

Orellana was referring to Hernández’s tight control over the three branches of the state and over the attorney general’s office itself.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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New Convention Will Help Protect Latin America’s Elderlyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-convention-will-help-protect-latin-americas-elderly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-convention-will-help-protect-latin-americas-elderly http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-convention-will-help-protect-latin-americas-elderly/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 18:39:10 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141625 Latin America’s population is ageing, which poses social and economic challenges, for which there is a new Convention. In the photo, older adults gathered in the town of Cuautitlán-Izcalli, to the north of the Mexican capital, to receive information about economic support for this segment of the population. Credit: Courtesy of the city government of Cuautitlán-Izcalli

Latin America’s population is ageing, which poses social and economic challenges, for which there is a new Convention. In the photo, older adults gathered in the town of Cuautitlán-Izcalli, to the north of the Mexican capital, to receive information about economic support for this segment of the population. Credit: Courtesy of the city government of Cuautitlán-Izcalli

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jul 17 2015 (IPS)

“Our rights are only partially respected; in some places we are given special attention, but in others it is quite the opposite. There is a lack of education and respect for people my age,” Hilda Téllez, a 70-year-old Mexican woman, told IPS.

A few hours earlier, a taxi driver had refused to carry her wheelchair, in the middle-class neighbourhood of Villa Olímpica, where Téllez lives. She said she suffers double discrimination: as an elderly person and as someone with a disability, since she suffered a stroke that affected the right side of her body.

“When I got sick, they violated my rights, because I collapsed in the office due to the level of stress there,” she said. “I didn’t go back to work after that. But the doctors ruled that it wasn’t a work-related health problem,” said the divorced mother of three and grandmother of eight, who worked for over 15 years in Mexico’s public prosecutor’s office, until retiring in 2006.

Because of that, she now receives a pension of only 225 dollars a month, even though her salary when she retired was over 1,250 dollars.

Discrimination, abandonment or neglect by families, and lack of care, work opportunities and full access to social services are all problems faced by people over 60 in Latin America and the Caribbean.“Ageing should be a concern for states, because it not only affects social welfare systems but also the life of the community and the development of countries, and its effects should be anticipated.” -- Sandra Huenchúan

To address this situation, the Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons was approved Jun. 15 by the Organisation of American States (OAS) members. It needs to be ratified by two countries to go into effect, and has already been signed by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay.

The Convention is the first regional instrument for promoting, protecting and recognising the human rights of the elderly.

It creates a comprehensive system of care for older adults, a Conference of the Parties, and a committee of experts who will issue recommendations to states.

It also creates a channel for any individual, group or non-governmental organisation to file complaints with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights against an OAS member country for violating the Convention.

There are currently 71 million people over 60 in Latin America. And by 2040, the elderly will outnumber children, according to an international forum held in this capital on the human rights of older adults by the Latin American and Caribbean Demographic Centre (CELADE).

Sandra Huenchúan, a CELADE expert on ageing, said the main challenges involve improving social security coverage, access to healthcare, and inclusion in the labour market, and carrying out studies on the rights of the elderly.

“There are often problems applying the legislation – a lack of institutional or jurisdictional guarantees that would make enforcement possible,” Huenchúan said.

She added that “there is an enormous range of areas where older adults are unprotected, despite the existence of standardised legal mechanisms. Society isn’t fully aware that older adults have rights.”

The still hands of América Herrera, a victim of what experts call patrimonial violence against older adults, when they are stripped of their assets and property by means of deceit. The new Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons attempts to address such problems. Credit: Maricel Sequeira/IPS

The still hands of América Herrera of Costa Rica, a victim of what experts call patrimonial violence against older adults, when they are stripped of their assets and property by means of deceit. The new Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons attempts to address such problems. Credit: Maricel Sequeira/IPS

The countries in Latin America that already have specific laws and regulations for the protection of the rights of older adults are Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.

María Isolina Dabove, an expert from Argentina, said “The region is facing multigenerational ageing, a complex phenomenon that emerged with the demographic changes of the second half of the 20th century and is fuelled by the rise in life expectancy, which makes it possible for several generations to coexist.”

Dabove, with the Argentine government’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), told IPS that the Convention is “the first explicit acknowledgement” by the region of the specific problems of older adults.

“This is an instrument that will guarantee the enforcement of the rights of all older adults,” she said.

Between 1950 and 2010, life expectancy at birth in the region climbed from 51 to 75 years, and it is expected to rise to 81 by the mid-21st century, according to CELADE, the population division of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

One illustration is what is happening in Argentina, where 14 million of the country’s roughly 40 million inhabitants are over 60, according to the 2012 National Survey on the Quality of Life of Older Adults, while one out of five people in Argentina will be over 65 by 2050.

In Mexico, with a population f 120 million, seven million people are over 65 – a number that is expected to soar to more than 30 million by 2050.

And in Brazil, the most populous country in the region, with 200 million people, the number of people over 60 is expected to increase from 10 million today to more than 16 million by 2025 and to 29 million by 2050, according to official statistics.

“The real, concrete impact of the new Inter-American Convention is that each one of the states must incorporate it into their domestic laws. The Convention should have the legal hierarchy that would make it possible to build a free and equal society for all ages,” said Dabove.

Téllez, who receives medical care in the Social Security and Services Institute of Workers of the State, said she would like special clinics so the care would be “faster and more efficient.” She also suggested that the clinics could employ older adults.

“The government could make things accessible, approve stricter laws, provide driver education, improve the treatment we receive, and apply heavy fines, to educate people,” the pensioner said.

The region could benefit from the so-called “demographic bonus” – a broad segment of young people of an age to study and work and contribute to economic growth – but that advantage can vanish without investment in the human development of this part of the population.

In the November 2014 report “The New Demographic Era in Latin America and the Caribbean: Time for Equality According to the Population Clock”, CELADE said the demographic bonus could be secured with investment in education and health, particularly for children, adolescents, young people and women.

“Ageing should be a concern for the states, because it not only affects social welfare systems but also the life of the community and the development of countries, and its effects should be anticipated,” Huenchúan said.

That concern, she added, “should not only translate into caring for older adults, but in making sure they have better conditions to exercise their rights.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Indigenous People in Brazil’s Amazon – Crushed by the Belo Monte Dam?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/indigenous-people-in-brazils-amazon-crushed-by-the-belo-monte-dam/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-people-in-brazils-amazon-crushed-by-the-belo-monte-dam http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/indigenous-people-in-brazils-amazon-crushed-by-the-belo-monte-dam/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2015 21:57:33 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141614 The school in the Juruna indigenous village of Paquiçamba on the banks of the Volta Grande (Big Bend) of the Xingú River in Brazil’s Amazon jungle, which will not be flooded but will see the water flow considerably reduced due to the construction of the Belo Monte hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The school in the Juruna indigenous village of Paquiçamba on the banks of the Volta Grande (Big Bend) of the Xingú River in Brazil’s Amazon jungle, which will not be flooded but will see the water flow considerably reduced due to the construction of the Belo Monte hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTAMIRA, Brazil, Jul 16 2015 (IPS)

Ethnocide, the new accusation leveled against the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, brings to light deeper underlying aspects of the conflicts and controversies unleashed by megaprojects in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.

Federal prosecutor Thais Santi announced that legal action would be taken “in the next few weeks” against Norte Energía, the company building the dam, on the argument that its initiatives to squelch indigenous resistance amount to ethnocide.

“This will be an innovative legal process in Brazil,” said Wilson Matos da Silva, who has a direct interest in this “pioneer legal proceeding” as a Guaraní indigenous lawyer who has written about the issue in publications in Dourados, the city in western Brazil where he lives.

“Brazil has no legislation on ethnocide, a neologism used as an analogy to genocide, which is classified by a 1956 law,” said the defender of indigenous causes. “The object of the crime isn’t life, it is culture – but the objective is the same: destroying a people.

“Ethnocide only occurs when there is omission on the part of the state, which means it can be implicated in an eventual lawsuit,” added Matos da Silva.

The issue has been debated for some time now, especially among anthropologists, in international forums and courts. The novel development in Brazil is that it will now reach the courts, “a laudable initiative” that could set an important legal precedent, the lawyer said in a telephone interview with Tierramérica.

Belo Monte has been the target of numerous complaints and lawsuits that sought to halt the construction process. The company has been accused of failing to live up to the measures required by the government’s environmental authority to mitigate or compensate for impacts caused by the hydropower complex on the Xingú River which will generate 11,233 MW, making it the third –largest of its kind in the world.

The 22 lawsuits brought by the public prosecutor’s office failed to halt work on the dam. But they managed to secure compliance with several environmental requisites, such as the purchase of land for the Juruna Indigenous Community of Kilometre 17 on the Trans-Amazonian highway, who were exposed to the bustle and chaos of the construction project because they lived in a small area near the dam.

Socorro Arara, an indigenous fisherwoman whose surname is the name of her indigenous community, is fighting to maintain the way of life of the seven family units in her extended family. The island where they live on the Xingú River will be flooded by the Belo Monte reservoir, and she is demanding another island or riverbank area for resettling her family. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Socorro Arara, an indigenous fisherwoman whose surname is the name of her indigenous community, is fighting to maintain the way of life of the seven family units in her extended family. The island where they live on the Xingú River will be flooded by the Belo Monte reservoir, and she is demanding another island or riverbank area for resettling her family. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

In a Jun. 29 report, the non-governmental Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA) said the conditions were not in place for the government to issue the final operating permit to allow Belo Monte to fill its reservoirs and begin generating electricity in early 2016.

ISA, which is active in the Xingú basin, said that many of the 40 initial requisites set before the concession was put up to tender in 2010, as well as the 31 conditions related to indigenous rights, have not yet been fulfilled.

Protection of indigenous territories is one of the conditions that have not been met, as reflected in the increase of illegal logging and poaching by outsiders, it said.

Norte Energía argues that it has invested 68 million dollars to benefit the roughly 3,000 people in 34 villages in the 11 indigenous territories in the Belo Monte zone of influence.

The programme aimed at providing social development in the local area has included the construction of 711 housing units and the donation of 366 boats, 578 boat motors, 42 land vehicles, 98 electrical generators, and 2.1 million litres of fuel and lubricants, as of April 2015.

In addition, teachers were trained as part of the indigenous education programme.

“But indigenous communities are unhappy because the plan was only partially carried out: of the 34 basic health units that were promised, not a single one is yet operating,” complained Francisco Brasil de Moraes, the coordinator for FUNAI – the government agency in charge of indigenous affairs – along the middle stretch of the Xingú River.

Nor is the project for productive activities, a local priority as it is aimed at enhancing food security and generating income, moving forward, he added. Technical assistance for improving agriculture is needed, and few of the 34 community manioc flour houses, where the staple food is processed and produced, are operating.

Another indispensable measure, the Indigenous Lands Protection Plan, which foresees the installation of operating centres and watch towers, has not been taken up by Norte Energía and “FUNAI does not have the resources to shoulder the burden of this territorial management,” Moraes told Tierramérica.

But the actions that prompted the accusation of ethnocide occurred, or started to occur, before the projects making up the Basic Environmental-Indigenous Component Plan were launched.

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

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

For 24 months, up to September 2012, Norte Energia carried out an Emergency Plan, distributing donations of necessary goods to the 34 villages, at a monthly cost of 9,600 dollars per village.

That fuelled consumption of manufactured and processed foods such as soft drinks, which have hurt people’s health, increased child malnutrition, and undermined food security among the indigenous communities by encouraging the neglect of farming, fishing and hunting, the ISA report states.

“Norte Energía established a relationship with the indigenous people that involved coopting the only outspoken opponents of the dam, and making their leaders come frequently to the city (of Altamira) to ask for more and more things at the company headquarters,” Marcelo Salazar, ISA’s assistant coordinator in the Xingú River basin, told Tierramérica.

In addition, villages were divided and the authority of local leaders was weakened by the company’s activities in the area, according to the public prosecutor’s office.

But Norte Energía told Tierramérica in a written response from the press department that “the so-called Emergency Plan was proposed by FUNAI,” which also set the amount of monthly spending at 30,000 reals.

The funds went towards “the promotion of ethno-development,” and included the donation of farm equipment and materials, the construction of landing strips and the upgrading of 470 km of roads leading to the villages, the company said.

Strengthening FUNAI by hiring 23 officials on Norte Energía’s payroll and purchasing computers and vehicles was another of the Emergency Plan’s aims, the company reported.

But the emphasis on providing material goods such as boats, vehicles and infrastructure forms part of a business mindset that is irreconcilable with a sustainable development vision, say critics like Sonia Magalhães, a professor of sociology at the Federal University of Pará, who also accuses Belo Monte of ethnocide.

“Their culture has been attacked, a colonial practice whose objective is domination and the destruction of a culture, which is a complex and dynamic whole,” she told Tierramérica, referring to the Emergency Plan.

“The Xingú River forms part of the world vision of the Juruna and Arara Indians in a way that we are not able to understand – it is a reference to time, space and the sacred, which are under attack” from the construction of the dam, she said.

Indifferent to this debate, Giliard Juruna, a leader of a 16-family Juruna indigenous village, is visiting Altamira, the closest city to Belo Monte, with new requests.

“We got speedboats, a pickup truck and 15 houses for everyone,” he told Tierramérica. “But things run out, and it was very little compared to what is possible.”

“We also asked for speedboats for fishing, although the water is murky and dirty, we don’t have sanitation, we have schools but we don’t have bilingual teachers,” he said, adding that they were seeking “a sustainability project” involving fish farming, cacao and manioc production, a manioc flour house, and a truck.

“We have customers for our products, but we don’t have any means of transport, because we won’t be able to use boats anymore,” he said.

The diversion of part of the waters of the Xingú River to generate electricity in Belo Monte will significantly reduce the water flow at the Volta Grande or Big Bend, where his village is situated.

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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IPS Reporter Wins Dag Hammarskjöld Fellowshiphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/ips-reporter-wins-dag-hammarskjold-fellowship/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ips-reporter-wins-dag-hammarskjold-fellowship http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/ips-reporter-wins-dag-hammarskjold-fellowship/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2015 09:56:09 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141611 By Roger Hamilton-Martin
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 16 2015 (IPS)

IPS journalist Fabíola Ortiz is the winner of one of four prestigious Dag Hammarskjöld fellowships to cover the United Nations in fall 2015.

The fellowship, named after the former U.N. Secretary-General, gives journalists from developing countries an opportunity to observe deliberations during the first 10 weeks of the U.N. General Assembly (September-November) in New York; and to expand their knowledge of foreign policy, diplomacy and world events.

This year is a crucial one for the international community, with the formulation of the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and important conferences on financing for international development and climate change.

September’s summit will bring U.N. member states together at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to agree on a set of SDGs. If talks are productive and a document is agreed upon, the Goals will become into effect in January 2016.

Seventeen goals have been suggested, with a draft document presented at 2014’s General Assembly. Negotiations have continued in New York on how best to end poverty, achieve gender equality, conserve the environment and reduce inequality.

The fellowship is not supported financially by the United Nations itself, but will be supported by the Dag Hammarskjöld Fund, established in 1961 as a not-for-profit organisation by journalists at the United Nations to honor the second Secretary-General, who was killed in a plane crash while on a peace mission to Africa.

Ortiz is a Brazilian freelance journalist reporting in Portuguese, Spanish and English about human rights, international affairs and sustainable development. She has been a finalist twice for journalism awards for her reports on sustainable development in Brazil. She was also a contributor to the 2014 book “Until the Rulers Obey: Voices from Latin American Social Movements” edited by Marcy Rein and Clifton Ross.

Ortiz will be joined by Doreen Andoh, the Daily Graphic; Karthikeyan Hemalatha with Times of India; and Mercy Juma, with NTV and The Daily Nation of Kenya.

The selections were made following a review of approximately 130 applications from 40 countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America and Caribbean.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Latin America Has Beaten Down, but not Beaten, HIV/AIDShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/latin-america-has-beaten-down-but-not-beaten-hivaids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-has-beaten-down-but-not-beaten-hivaids http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/latin-america-has-beaten-down-but-not-beaten-hivaids/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 22:57:26 +0000 Alvaro Queiruga http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141588 A group of children use bottle caps to create the red ribbon that symbolises the fight against AIDS, in one of the awareness-raising activities carried out in Latin America. Credit: UNAIDS Latin America

A group of children use bottle caps to create the red ribbon that symbolises the fight against AIDS, in one of the awareness-raising activities carried out in Latin America. Credit: UNAIDS Latin America

By Álvaro Queiruga
MONTEVIDEO , Jul 14 2015 (IPS)

The countries of Latin America have partially met the Millennium Development Goal referring to the fight against HIV/AIDS, according to the UNAIDS report on the global epidemic released Tuesday.

“The world has achieved the AIDS targets of Millennium Development Goal 6. The epidemic has been halted and reversed,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon wrote in the preface to the report “How AIDS changed everything —“MDG6: 15 years, 15 lessons of hope from the AIDS response”.

Among the advances mentioned by the UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) report was the fact that 47 percent of people over 15 and 54 percent of children under 14 living with HIV/AIDS in Latin America were receiving antiretroviral treatment in 2014 – one of the highest levels of coverage in the world.

The global average is 41 percent for adults and 32 percent for children.“In 2000, AIDS was a death sentence. People who became infected with HIV had just a few years to live….Today, the life expectancy of a person living with HIV who is receiving treatment is the same as that of a person who is not infected with HIV. That is success.” -- UNAIDS report

In some Latin American countries coverage is higher, such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela, the five countries that account for over 75 percent of cases of HIV/AIDS in the region. But in others it is much lower, like Bolivia, where antiretroviral coverage stands at less than 25 percent.

As an example to be followed, the report cites a major regional accomplishment: on Jun. 30 Cuba became the first country in the world to receive validation from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that it had eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS.

Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay are set to become the next countries in the region to receive validation, possibly before June 2016, the regional director of UNAIDS for Latin America, César Núñez, said in an interview with IPS from Panama City.

The three pillars of the struggle

The experts, activists and HIV-positive persons consulted by IPS agreed that any effective struggle against the epidemic must be based on three pillars: prevention through early detection and treatment of HIV/AIDS, universal access to antiretroviral therapy, and the reduction of HIV-related stigma and discrimination, which limits access to detection and treatment.

According to UNAIDS, an estimated 70 percent of cases of HIV/AIDS in Latin America have been diagnosed and 47 percent of the patients have begun antiretroviral therapy. Of those in treatment, the virus has been suppressed among 66 percent – in other words, 28 percent of all HIV-positive people in the region.

HIV prevalence in the region stands at 0.4 percent of the population – compared to 0.8 percent globally. But it rises to 25 or 30 percent among trans women involved in sex work, over 10 percent among gays and other men who have sex with men, and six percent among female sex workers.

HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns are continually carried out in Latin America, such as this one launched by Chile’s Health Ministry, which shows a man and a woman who do not fit the stereotypes of HIV-positive persons, and warns that “HIV doesn’t kill; your fear does.” Credit: Chilean government

HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns are continually carried out in Latin America, such as this one launched by Chile’s Health Ministry, which shows a man and a woman who do not fit the stereotypes of HIV-positive persons, and warns that “HIV doesn’t kill; your fear of the test does.” Credit: Chilean government

“HIV is concentrated in sexual diversity communities…who even find it very hard just to have an AIDS test in a health centre when, in the best of cases, they face stigma or discrimination on the streets or in the health centre itself, and in the worst of cases, they face the threat of physical violence,” Núñez said.

Between January 2013 and March 2014 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights received 770 reports of violence (594 murders and 176 serious assaults) motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation or identity or gender expression.

UNAIDS figures

In Latin America the epidemic is concentrated in certain population groups, as well as in cities and ports, and along trade routes.

AIDS-related deaths in the region dropped 29 percent between 2005 and 2014, when the death toll was 41,000.

In 2014 there were 1.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS in Latin America, including 33,000 children. Of that total, 65 percent, or 1.1 million people, were men. The main route of transmission is sexual contact.

Over 75 percent of the 87,000 new HIV infections in the region in 2014 occurred, in descending order, in Brazil (which accounted for approximately 50 percent of the total), Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and Argentina.

Fewer than 2000 children acquired HIV in 2014 in Latin America. High coverage of prevention of mother-to-child transmission has helped drive reductions in new infections among children, with 79 percent of the region’s 20,000 pregnant women living with HIV receiving antiretroviral therapy in 2014.

The Court recommended that states document such cases in order to develop policies for protecting the human rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersexual (LGBTI) population.

“Laws on gender identity, gay marriage, anti-discrimination…are clear examples of legislation that…contribute to reducing discrimination and make it possible for the most affected populations to have access to health systems,” Carlos Falistocco, president of the Horizontal Technical Cooperation Group in Latin America and the Caribbean, which brings together the heads of AIDS programmes in the region, told IPS.

Núñez acknowledged that the region “managed to curb the spread of HIV, but we fell short of reversing the epidemic,” one of the targets of the sixth MDG, which like the other seven are to be met this year, when they will be replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

There is still a long way to go, as reflected by the number of new HIV infections. Although they were reduced 13 percent from 2000 to 2014, in the last five years there has been little change in the annual number of new cases in the region.

Núñez said “there has been a kind of relaxation in the response. In some cases I think there’s a perception that this isn’t a problem anymore in Latin America, which has not enabled us to channel additional resources or put a higher priority on diagnosing and treating HIV.”

María José Fraga, a representative of the Network of Persons Living with HIV/AIDS in Uruguay, concurs.

“Because HIV has become a chronic disease, like diabetes or hypertension, social concern has died down,” she told IPS. “Today the epidemic is practically not discussed, because it’s not present. And for that reason we keep running into late diagnoses. There is no individual awareness of taking the test, or going to the doctor and asking for it.”

Fraga, 44, has been living with HIV for 24 years. When she was diagnosed in 1990, “there was practically no treatment,” she recalled.

“But that changed astoundingly fast, because by 1995 or 1996 there was already a wide variety of drugs…Back then they waited longer to start treatment. And the guidelines for treatment have gradually changed as more is understood about the disease and how it evolves in people,” she said.

Juan José Meré, a U.N. population fund (UNFPA) HIV/AIDS adviser, told IPS that in the case of Uruguay, “in nearly 40 percent of cases, full-blown AIDS is present by the time they are diagnosed. This can obviously be reverted, and in general it is, but at a high cost to their health.”

According to UNAIDS, in at least half of the countries in the region, 38 percent of people living with HIV had, when they were first tested, full-blown AIDS, which is defined by a CD4 cell count of less than 200 per cubic mm of blood. (CD4 cells are a type of lymphocyte or white blood cell; they are an important part of the immune system.)

WHO and UNAIDS recommend that antiretroviral treatment start when a person’s CD4 cell count falls to 500, when they are still asymptomatic.

“Some countries, like Brazil and Argentina, offer treatment to any diagnosed patient, regardless of the CD4 level,” said Falistocco.

What direction should Latin America take in the future?

“We must base whatever we do on that great message from Secretary General Ban…we can’t leave anyone behind. In the region we can make great progress, especially if we guarantee access to services for the sexual diversity community across the entire continent,” said Núñez.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Latin America Has Uneven Record on Environmental Sustainabilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/latin-america-has-uneven-record-on-environmental-sustainability/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-has-uneven-record-on-environmental-sustainability http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/latin-america-has-uneven-record-on-environmental-sustainability/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 21:21:54 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141561 A worker prepares seeds in the nursery where Costa Rica’s energy utility, ICE, grows 300,000 trees a year in Cachí, in the central province of Cartago, which it distributes to the public as well as institutions and companies. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

A worker prepares seeds in the nursery where Costa Rica’s energy utility, ICE, grows 300,000 trees a year in Cachí, in the central province of Cartago, which it distributes to the public as well as institutions and companies. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Jul 13 2015 (IPS)

Millions of Latin Americans have better access to clean water and decent housing than 25 years ago. But the region still faces serious environmental challenges, such as deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions – a legacy of the model of development followed in the 20th century.

Fifteen years after signing on to the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the countries of Latin America have made significant headway in eradicating slums, expanding sanitation services, and providing access to clean water.

But progress towards ensuring environmental sustainability is lagging due to a fossil fuel-intensive development model based on the extraction of minerals and monoculture agriculture and livestock raising that expand at the expense of the forests.

“There has been uneven progress, with ups and downs,” said Joseluis Samaniego, director of the Division for Sustainable Development and Human Settlements of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

“In general terms, you have clear, outstanding advances in terms of access to water and sanitation, and we have the impression that those targets will be met,” he told Tierramérica from ECLAC’s regional headquarters in Santiago.

These targets form part of the seventh MDG, which refers to ensuring environmental sustainability, with measurable time-bound targets for the end of this year, based on 1990 indicators.

At year-end, the MDGs will be replaced by 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which the heads of state and government of the 193 United Nations member states are to approve at a summit in September.

Of the targets set by the seventh MDG, this region met the one for halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water, five years before this year’s deadline. And between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of the population with sustainable access to an improved water source increased from 85 to 95 percent, although there are still millions of Latin Americans without clean water.

Furthermore, from 1990 to 2014, the proportion of Latin Americans living in slums was nearly cut in half, from 37 to 20 percent, according to U.N. figures.

But that means there is still a long way to go, with more than 100 million people in this region living in slums and shantytowns.

Samaniego said the progress made towards meeting these targets reflects the region’s public spending effort and the clarity of the goals.

“When the MDGs were approved…the clear targets and incentives for monitoring helped countries organise and move forward towards the goals,” the ECLAC official said.

But with respect to incorporating sustainable development and the environment in public policies, there have been fewer advances.

“In terms of deforestation, we’re not doing so well,” said Samaniego. “From 1990 to 2010, forest cover shrank from 52 to 47.4 percent.”

The latest U.N. report assessing global and regional progress towards the MDGs, published Jul. 6, shows that Latin America has not made impressive progress in achieving environmental sustainability.

“Forests are disappearing at a rapid pace, despite the establishment of forest policies and laws supporting sustainable forest management in many countries,” says a regional synthesis document on the report.

Latin America’s economies are still fairly carbon-intensive. One mechanism to measure this is carbon intensity, or how many grams of carbon it takes to produce one dollar of GDP.

While the global average dropped from 600 grams per dollar in 1990 to 470 in 2010, the regional average only fell from 310 to 280 grams per dollar of GDP – an almost statistically insignificant change, according to Samaniego.

That view is shared by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) regional experts.

“There is an almost linear correlation between a country’s GDP growth and energy consumption, and as long as the energy mix is still based on fossil fuels, it will be directly linked to a rise in emissions,” said Gonzalo Pizarro, regional adviser on poverty, MDGs and human development at the UNDP regional service centre for Latin America and the Caribbean, in Panama City.

In 1990, the region emitted just under one billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent – less than five percent of the world total.

Although the region’s share remained the same in 2011, in just two decades emissions produced by Latin America and the Caribbean rose 80 percent, to 1.8 billion metric tons of CO2, according to the UNDP.

This target, included in the seventh MD, has one particularity: although policies arise from internal decision-making in each country, the results have a global impact.

Although indicators like emissions and loss of forest cover “are linked to people’s well-being, they also have to do with the development model followed by countries,” Pizarro told Tierramérica.

“In economies based on raw materials or commodities, like most of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, the deforestation rate will remain high, because economic pressure to exploit the forests will continue to be extremely heavy,” he said.

According to the expert, the challenge to be met is modifying the energy mix, while the decisions taken by countries are still focused on the large-scale production of commodities that affect biodiversity.

“As long as decision-makers are incapable of comparing the short-term benefits of this exploitation with the real value of the ecosystemic services provided by forests, this is likely to continue happening on a large scale,” Pizarro said.

The ECLAC and UNDP experts recognised the environmental efforts made by countries in the region like Cuba and Costa Rica, which have reforested; Chile and Uruguay, which have successfully integrated forest industries in their economies; and Brazil, which reduced deforestation in the Amazon.

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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Jamaica’s Coral Gardens Give New Hope for Dying Reefshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/jamaicas-coral-gardens-give-new-hope-for-dying-reefs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jamaicas-coral-gardens-give-new-hope-for-dying-reefs http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/jamaicas-coral-gardens-give-new-hope-for-dying-reefs/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 13:34:15 +0000 Zadie Neufville http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141552 A total of 60 fragments from five species of corals have been placed on the trees in the coral nursery. Credit: Andrew Ross

A total of 60 fragments from five species of corals have been placed on the trees in the coral nursery. Credit: Andrew Ross

By Zadie Neufville
KINGSTON, Jul 13 2015 (IPS)

With time running out for Jamaica’s coral reefs, local marine scientists are taking things into their own hands, rebuilding the island’s reefs and coastal defences one tiny fragment at a time – a step authorities say is critical to the country’s climate change and disaster mitigation plans.

Five years ago, local hoteliers turned to experimental coral gardening in a desperate bid to improve their diving attractions, protect their properties from frequent storms surges and arrest beach erosion.“The fishermen have done a beautiful job of keeping the corals alive and the fish sanctuary successful." -- Andrew Ross

In 2014, their efforts were boosted when the Centre for Marine Science (CMS) at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona scored a 350,000-dollar grant from the International Development Bank (IDB) for the Coral Reef Restoration Project.

Project director and coastal ecologist Dale Webber told IPS that his team will carry out genetic research, attempt to crack the secrets of coral spawning and re-grow coral at several locations across the island and at the centre’s Discovery Bay site. The project will also share the research findings with other islands as well as another IDB project, Belize’s Fragments of Hope.

The reefs of Discovery Bay have been studied for more than 40 years, and are the centre of reef research in Jamaica. It is also home to several species of both fast and slow growing corals that Webber says are particularly resilient.

“They have tolerated disease, global warming, sea level rise, bleaching, etc. – all man and the environment have thrown at them – and are still flourishing. So they have naturally selected based on their resilience,” he explains.

A total of 60 fragments from five species of corals have been placed on the trees in the coral nursery. The five species are Orbicella annularis; Orbicella faveolata; Siderastrea siderea; Acropora palmata and Undaria agaricites. These fragments are being monitored as they grow and will be planted on the reefs.

Jamaica’s reefs – which make up more than 50 per cent of the 1022 kilometres of coastline, have over the years been battered by pollution, overfishing and improper development.  Finally in 1980 Hurricane Allen smashed them.

Many hoped the reefs would regenerate, but sluggish growth caused by, among other things, frequent severe weather events and an increase in bleaching incidences due to climatic changes sent stakeholders searching for options.

A massive Caribbean-wide bleaching event in 2005 resulted in widespread coral death and focussed attention on continuing sand loss at some of the island’s most valuable beaches. But aside from the devastation caused by the hurricane, scientists say the poor condition of the reefs are also the result of a die-off of the sea urchin population in 1982 and the continued capture of juvenile reef fish and the parrot.

Predictions are that the region could lose all its coral in 20 years. Some reports say that only about eight per cent of Jamaican corals are alive. However, new surveys conducted by the UWI at several sites across the island show coral cover of between 12 and 20 per cent.

Along Jamaica’s north coast from Oracabessa in St. Mary to Montego Bay, coral recovery projects have yielded varying levels of success. The Golden Eye Beach Club, the Oracabessa Fish Sanctuary and Montego Bay Marine Park are among those that have experimented with coral gardening.

The process is tedious, as divers must tend the nurseries/gardens, removing algae from the fragments of corals as they grow. The pieces are then fixed to the reefs. The results are encouraging and many see this is an expensive but sure way to repopulate dying reefs. A combination of techniques, management measures and regeneration have boosted coral cover at Discovery Bay from five percent to 14 per cent in recent years.

“We hope to supplement this and get it growing faster,” Webber who also heads UWI’s Centre for Marine Sciences says.

At the Centre’s newest Alligator Head location in the east of the island, the aim is to increase the coral cover from the existing 40 per cent. The nurseries have also been set up at the site in Portland to compare the differences in growth rate between sites.

At the NGO-operated Montego Bay Marine Park, where an artificial reef and coral nursery was established in the fish sanctuary, outreach officer Joshua Bailey reports:  “There have been moderate successes. New corals are spawning and attracting fish.”

He cautioned that the impact of “urban stressors” on the park and in surrounding communities – high human population density  and high levels of run-off – makes it difficult to judge the success of the restoration.

One of the most recent projects proposed the construction of an artificial reef off the shore of Sandals Resorts International Negril, as one of many solutions to reduce beach erosion along the famous ‘Seven Mile’ stretch of the Negril coast. The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) approved the construction of an artificial reef in 1.2 metres of water offshore the Resort’s Negril bay property.

Andrew Ross is responsible for the Sandals and several other projects. A marine biologist and head of Seascape Caribbean, he explains that the Negril project lasted one year. It allowed for the study of fast and slow growing coral species and included the construction of a wave attenuation structure to determine how wave action influences sand accumulation. The coral nursery and the structures were populated with soft corals, sponges and a variety of other corals from the area.

In Oracabessa, a fishing village on 16 kilometres east of the tourist town of Ocho Rios, the commitment of the fishermen who initiated the project and their private sector partners have kept the reef and replanted corals clean and healthy, demonstrating how successful the process can be in restoring the local fisheries.

“The fishermen have done a beautiful job of keeping the corals alive and the fish sanctuary successful,” Ross says of the project he started in 2009.

Much of Jamaica’s reefs have reportedly been smothered by silt from eroding hillsides, the algal blooms from eutrophication as a result of agricultural run-offs and the disposal of sewage in the coastal waters.

The reefs are critical to Jamaica’s economy as tourism services account for a quarter of all jobs and more than 50 per cent of foreign exchange earnings.  Fisheries directly employ an estimated 33,000 people. Overall, the Caribbean makes between 5.0 and 11 billion dollars each year from fishing and tourism, an indication of the importance of reefs to the economies of the islands.

The Restoration Project provides the CMS with the resources to undertake a series of research activities “to among other things mitigate coral depletion, and identify and cultivate species that are resistant to the ravages of the impact of climate change,” Webber says.

In an email outlining the process, he notes that the project will provide “applicable information and techniques to other countries in the region that are experiencing similar challenges,” during its 18-month lifetime.

Expectations are that at the end of the project, there will be visible changes in coral cover. The successes seen in Oracabessa, where fishermen report improvements in catch rates and fish sizes, and at other sites are an indication that coral gardening is working.

Like Ross, Webber expects that there will be changes in coral cover at replanting sites within a three- to five-year period.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Fishing Families Left High and Dry by Amazon Damshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/fishing-families-left-high-and-dry-by-amazon-dams/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fishing-families-left-high-and-dry-by-amazon-dams http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/fishing-families-left-high-and-dry-by-amazon-dams/#comments Fri, 10 Jul 2015 19:59:28 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141534 People from a fishing community on the Banks of the Xingú River in the Brazilian Amazon, at one of the meetings on the local impacts of the construction of the giant Belo Monte hydropower dam, held at the behest of the public prosecutor’s office. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

People from a fishing community on the Banks of the Xingú River in the Brazilian Amazon, at one of the meetings on the local impacts of the construction of the giant Belo Monte hydropower dam, held at the behest of the public prosecutor’s office. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTAMIRA, Brazil, Jul 10 2015 (IPS)

Small-scale fisherpersons were among the first forgotten victims of mega construction projects like the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on the Xingú River in the Brazilian Amazon.

“I’m a fisherman without a river, who dreams of traveling, who dreams of riding on a boat of hope. Three years ago it looked like my life was over; but I still dream of a new river,” said Elio Alves da Silva, referring to the disappearance of his village, the Comunidade Santo Antônio, the first to be removed to make way for the construction of the dam.

Now, he lives on an isolated farm 75 km from his old village, and works in the construction industry “to keep hunger at bay.” He misses the river and its beaches, community life, the local church that was demolished, and playing football on the Santo Antônio pitch, which is now a parking lot for the staff on the Belo Monte construction site.

His account of the eviction of 245 families from his rural village was heard by representatives of the office of the public prosecutor, the National Human Rights Council, the government, and different national universities, who met in June in Altamira to inspect Belo Monte’s impacts on communities along the Xingú River.

Altamira, a city of 140,000 people, is the biggest of the 11 municipalities in the northern state of Pará affected by the mega-project that got underway in 2011.

“Riverbank communities, although they are an expression of a traditional way of life…were invisible in the Belo Monte tendering process and today are finding no solutions in that process that address their particular needs,” says the report containing conclusions from one of the 55 meetings held to assess impacts.

The company building the dam, Norte Energía, offered indemnification and individual or collective resettlement to families living on riverbanks or islands on stretches of the Xingú River affected by the dam, who depended on fishing for their livelihood.

Abandoned fishing boats on the banks of the Xingú River, in a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city of Altamira in the northern Brazilian state of Pará, whose inhabitants were removed because the area is to be flooded when the Belo Monte reservoir is filled. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Abandoned fishing boats on the banks of the Xingú River, in a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city of Altamira in the northern Brazilian state of Pará, whose inhabitants were removed because the area is to be flooded when the Belo Monte reservoir is filled. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

But in no case has an attempt been made to replicate their previous living conditions, as required by Brazil’s environmental regulations. The company only offered to resettle them far from the river. And the indemnification, in cash or credit, was insufficient to enable them to afford more expensive land along the river.

Norte Energía has failed to recognise that many local fishing families actually have two homes: one on the river, where they live for days at a stretch while fishing, and another in an urban area, where they stay when they sell their catch, and where they have access to public services such as health care.

The report said that when the families are forced to choose indemnification for their rural or their urban home, they have to renounce one part of their life, and they receive reduced compensation as a result. They are only given compensation for their other home as a “support point”, for the building and simple, low-cost equipment.

Of the hundreds of fishing community families who were evicted, most have chosen cash – even though the indemnification was insufficient to ensure their way of life – because there was no satisfactory resettlement option, according to the inspection carried out at the behest of the public prosecutor’s office.

But many are still fighting for more. One of them is Socorro Arara, of the Arara indigenous people. She is from the island of Padeiro, which will be flooded when the main Belo Monte reservoir is filled.

“Norte Energía offered us 28,000 reais (9,000 dollars), but we didn’t accept it – that’s too little for our seven families” – who include her parents, three children, two sisters and their husbands – she told IPS.

José Nelson Kuruaia and Francisca dos Santos Silva, a couple who were displaced from their fishing community by the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, in their new home in the neighbourhood built by the company constructing the dam, which resettled them far from the banks of the Xingú River in the Amazon jungle, separating them from their way of life. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

José Nelson Kuruaia and Francisca dos Santos Silva, a couple who were displaced from their fishing community by the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, in their new home in the neighbourhood built by the company constructing the dam, which resettled them far from the banks of the Xingú River in the Amazon jungle, separating them from their way of life. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“We want to be collectively resettled along the Xingú River, all of our families together. And it has to be upstream, because downstream, everything has been changed (by the hydropower dams),” she said.

Arara’s struggle took her to the capital, Brasilia, where she talked to Supreme Court judges, officials in government ministries, and presidential aides, to seek redress.

But it is an uphill battle. The company only allowed her to register her nuclear family for compensation, rather than collectively relocating the seven family units. Furthermore, Arara is demanding that they be allotted plots of land large enough for growing small-scale crops and harvesting native fruits – activities on which they depended on the island.

Another indigenous fisherman, José Nelson Kuruaia, and his wife Francisca dos Santos Silva had better luck. They used to live in an Altamira neighbourhood that will be flooded when the reservoir is filled.

They were assigned one of the 4,100 housing units built by Norte Energía for families displaced in urban areas.

The couple also received 20,700 reais (6,700 dollars) in compensation for a shanty and equipment they had on the island of Barriguda, upstream of Altamira, where they used to fish from Monday through Saturday, hauling in 150 kg a week.

Today Kuruaia, who is 71 years old and retired, says he “sometimes” goes fishing. “I really love the river and if I don’t work, I get sick,” he told IPS, explaining why he goes out despite the opposition of his six children and his wife, “a good fisherwoman” who used to work with him until her knees started bothering her.

Jatobá, the new neighborhood where they were resettled, is on a hill far from the river. It costs the relocated fishermen 30 reais (almost 10 dollars) to transport their motors to the riverbank, where they have to leave their boats, despite the risk that they will be stolen. They all used to live in neighbourhoods prone to flooding on the banks of the Xingú River.

A bridge under construction on the Trans-Amazonian Highway. The waters from the Belo Monte dam will run under the bridge before flowing into the Xingú River in the Amazon rainforest in northern Brazil. The explosions, strong lighting at night and modifications of the course of the river have scared off the fish, according to people who depended on fishing for a living. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A bridge under construction on the Trans-Amazonian Highway. The waters from the Belo Monte dam will run under the bridge before flowing into the Xingú River in the Amazon rainforest in northern Brazil. The explosions, strong lighting at night and modifications of the course of the river have scared off the fish, according to people who depended on fishing for a living. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

In response to the pressure from the fishing communities, resettled or facing relocation, Norte Energía decided to build another urban neighbourhood near the river, for some 500 families who fish for a living. But only urban fishing families will be settled there, not people from riverbank communities, like Socorro Arara.

The battle being waged by the relocated families is not limited to their homes or work environments. Many want to be paid damages for losses suffered in the last four years, due to the construction of the dam.

“In four days, from Thursday to Sunday, I only caught 30 kg of peacock bass. I used to catch 60 to 100 kg in just one day, and a variety of fish: pacú, peacock bass, hake, toothless characin and filhote (juveniles of the largest fish of the Amazon, the giant piraíba catfish), which could be found year-round,” said Giácomo Dallacqua, president of the 1,600-member Vitória do Xingu fishing association.

“The explosions on the riverbank are a headache for us, because they scare off the fish,” he told IPS, referring to the use of explosives to break rocks and prepare the area for what will be the third-largest hydroelectric plant in the world in terms of generating power (11,233 MW).

To that is added the strong lighting used all night long near the construction site, the cloudy water, the dredging of the beaches to use the sand in the construction project, the damming up of streams and the traffic of heavy barges bringing in the equipment that will be used to generate electricity, biologist Cristiane Costa added.

These impacts are especially strong near Belo Monte, a district of the municipality of Vitória do Xingu, where the main plant, capacity 11,000 MW, is being built, and where the most productive fishing grounds in the region were found.

But it also occurs in Pimental, in the municipality of Altamira, where the other plant – which will generate 233 MW – is being installed, and where the dam that will flood part of the city of Altamira is being built.

Norte Energía has not acknowledged that the construction of the dam has reduced the fish catch. It argues that there is no scientific evidence, despite the complaints of local fishermen, some 3,000 of whom have been directly affected.

But the company announced seven million dollars in investment, in a cooperation agreement with the Fisheries Ministry, to create an integrated environmental fishing centre in Altamira – which will have fish farm laboratories, will breed ornamental fish, and will train local fishermen.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Parliamentary Elections with Gender Parity in Venezuelahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/parliamentary-elections-with-gender-parity-in-venezuela/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=parliamentary-elections-with-gender-parity-in-venezuela http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/parliamentary-elections-with-gender-parity-in-venezuela/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2015 14:26:15 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141507 A Venezuelan woman gets ready to cast her ballot at a voting station in Caracas mainly made up of women in the last presidential elections, on Apr. 14, 2013. Credit: Raúl Límaco/IPS

A Venezuelan woman gets ready to cast her ballot at a voting station in Caracas mainly made up of women in the last presidential elections, on Apr. 14, 2013. Credit: Raúl Límaco/IPS

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Jul 9 2015 (IPS)

More women could be elected to the Venezuelan legislature, but the new rule on gender parity for the upcoming parliamentary elections has been caught up in the political polarisation that has had this country in its grip for years.

“This rule was long in coming, and is the product of decades of struggle and sacrifice by hundreds of women,” Tibisay Lucena, the president of the National Electoral Council (CNE), said at the presentation of the new regulation on gender parity. “We are moving towards the construction of a better democracy,” she added.

The single-chamber National Assembly for the 2016-2020 period will be elected on Dec. 6, after years of severe political polarisation fuelled, since Nicolás Maduro became president in 2013, by falling oil prices, devaluation, inflation and shortages of basic goods.

The new gender parity regulation adopted by the CNE was quickly caught up in the clash, although women from both sides of the political spectrum celebrated the fact that Venezuela had joined the “club” of Latin American nations with gender quotas in parliamentary elections.

“Women’s rights are already a matter of state in Venezuela, thanks to our struggles and to the comprehension of (late) President Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), the driving force behind the 1999 constitution,” a member of the Latin American Parliament, Marelis Pérez Marcano of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), told IPS.

This oil-producing nation first adopted a gender quota – reserving at least 30 percent of candidacies for women – in the 1997 parliamentary elections. But the rule was revoked by the 2000 electoral law and replaced by CNE calls for gender parity.

As a result, the current 165-seat legislature consists of 137 men and 28 women (17 percent) – a proportion that puts Venezuela in 18th place in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

In top place in this region is Bolivia, where women comprise 53 percent of the lower house of parliament and 47 percent of the upper house. At least 10 other Latin American countries have gender quotas for parliamentary elections. And one of them, Argentina, was the first country in the world to adopt such a law. Colombia also has a 30 percent quota for high-level public posts.

Venezuela’s new rule stipulates that political parties must present an equal number of male and female candidates and must alternate them on their lists, both for members of parliament and alternates.

When a precise 50/50 parity is impossible in one of the 24 electoral regions, then at least 40 percent of the candidates must be women.

Elsa Solórzano of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), a catch-all coalition of 27 opposition groups and parties, complained about the timing of the new regulation and argued that it violated several constitutional clauses.

She said the regulation, officially implemented on Jun. 29, came a month after the MUD held primary elections supervised by the CNE itself. The coalition is now holding debates on how to rearrange the lists of candidates.

Furthermore, she noted, Article 298 of the constitution establishes that the electoral law “cannot be modified in any way” in the six months prior to elections.

Supporters of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela outside of the legislature in Caracas. Credit: Courtesy of Raúl Límaco

Supporters of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela outside of the legislature in Caracas. Credit: Courtesy of Raúl Límaco

“The trick was the political maneuvering, not the substance of the rule: parity. And it’s obvious that it was the doing of the CNE, not of we women who were ignored when we demanded in a timely fashion the right to be elected,” activist Evangelina García Prince, minister of women’s affairs in the 1990s and a member of the Venezuelan Observatory of the Human Rights of Women, told IPS.

Virginia Olivo, president of the non-governmental Observatory, said that in this country there is “a low level of political representation for women, with a parliament that is below the regional and global averages.”

Statistics provided by the IPU indicate that women represent 24.5 percent of lawmakers in Latin America and 20 percent globally.

According to the 2011 census, 39 percent of the seven million mothers in this country of 30 million people are heads of households. And of the mothers who are on their own, 10 percent are adolescents.

Olivo pointed out that, although no precise statistics are available, most of the nine million people living in poverty in Venezuela live in these female-headed households. As another illustration of the inequality faced by women, she noted that women earn 82 percent of what men earn for the same work.

Defending the new gender quota, Lucena said that since February she has been talking with female opposition leaders about the gender parity rule that was being drawn up.

But “these individual conversations don’t mean the MUD was formally informed,” said Vicente Bello, one of the coalition’s electoral affairs officials.

But another opposition leader, Isabel Carmona, president of the Democratic Action party, which governed the country several times in the 20th century, supported the regulation, arguing that “the rights protected by the justice system are not subject to political bargaining.”

“This measure affects the cultural roots of power, because culture in Latin America has made machismo a symbol of power. We are starting to dismantle that, because no one who has a privilege has the generosity to give it up,” Carmona said.

Margarita López Maya, a historian and political scientist, said “the unexpected decision to require gender parity for the candidates in the 2015 parliamentary elections reveals, once again, the governing party’s interest in generating an atmosphere of uncertainty and uneasiness to disrupt the important elections that will take place on Dec. 6.”

Her warning is based on the fact that the five members of the CNE – four of whom are women – are pro-government, and only one, the only man, is considered a supporter of the opposition. The rule was approved with the votes of the four female members.

Leaders from across the political spectrum say that if the opposition, which for now is ahead in the polls according to the main polling companies, wins a majority in the legislature, it would launch a transition process that could push the PSUV and President Maduro, Chávez’s political heir, out of power.

But, said Lucena, the electoral authority’s new rule “refers to the candidates that the political parties will offer, but it will clearly be the voters who will decide, with their votes.”

During much of Chávez’s time in office, women headed up the rest of the branches of government: the legislature, the judiciary, the electoral authority, the attorney general’s office, the comptroller-general’s office and the ombudsperson’s office.

Women are also a majority in the judiciary and have been cabinet ministers since 1967. In 1979 the country had its first women’s affairs minister, and in 2013 a woman admiral was defence minister.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Will the New BRICS Bank Break with Traditional Development Models, or Replicate Them?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/will-the-new-brics-bank-break-with-traditional-development-models-or-replicate-them/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-the-new-brics-bank-break-with-traditional-development-models-or-replicate-them http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/will-the-new-brics-bank-break-with-traditional-development-models-or-replicate-them/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 21:10:17 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141467 The heads of state of three of the five BRICS countries - Russia, India and Brazil – pose for a photograph during the 2014 BRICS Summit. Credit: Official Flickr Account for Narendra Modi/CC-BY-SA-2.0

The heads of state of three of the five BRICS countries - Russia, India and Brazil – pose for a photograph during the 2014 BRICS Summit. Credit: Official Flickr Account for Narendra Modi/CC-BY-SA-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 7 2015 (IPS)

Just days ahead of a summit of the BRICS group of emerging economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in which the five countries are expected to formally launch their New Development Bank (NDB), 40 NGOs and civil society groups have penned an open letter to their respective governments urging transparency and accountability in the proposed banking process.

“In terms of the type of development the bank delivers, we don't have signs yet that the NDB will go in a qualitatively different direction than the Washington Consensus institutions." -- Gretchen Gordon, coordinator of Bank on Human Rights
The NDB is expected to finance infrastructure and sustainable development in the global South.

With an initial capital of 100 billion dollars, it was born from a combination of circumstances including emerging economies’ frustration with the largely Western-dominated World Bank Group (WBG) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

According to a 2014 Oxfam Policy Brief, another factor leading to the creation of the BRICS Bank was a major gap in financing for infrastructure projects, with official development assistance (ODA) and funding from multilateral institutions meeting just two to three percent of developing countries’ needs.

Strained by economic sanctions as a result of the Ukrainian crisis, Moscow has been particularly keen to bring the fledgling lending institution to its feet and has been pushing international rating agencies to rate the bank’s debt, as a necessary first step for it to begin operations.

Even without counting the contributions of its newest member – South Africa – the four BRIC nations represent 25 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) and 41.4 percent of the world’s population, or roughly three billion people.

In addition, the borders of these countries enclose a quarter of the planet’s land area on three continents.

But even as the five political leaders prepare to take centre stage in the Russian city of Ufa on Jul. 9, citizens of their own countries are already expressing doubts that the nascent financial body will truly represent a break from traditional, Western-led development models.

“The existing development model in force in many emerging and developing countries is one that favors export-oriented, commodity driven strategies and policies that are socially harmful, environmentally unsustainable and have led to greater inequalities between and within countries,” said the statement, released on Jul. 7

“If the New Development Bank is going to break with this history, it must commit itself to the following four principles: 1) Promote development for all; 2) Be transparent and democratic; 3) Set strong standards and make sure they’re followed; 4) Promote sustainable development,” the signatories added.

Gretchen Gordon, coordinator of Bank on Human Rights, a global network of social movements and grassroots organisations working to hold international financial institutions accountable to human rights obligations, told IPS, “[Although] the Bank’s Articles of Agreement have an article on Transparency and Accountability […] thus far we haven’t seen any indication of operational policies on transparency or anything relating to accountability mechanisms.”

“And unfortunately,” she added, “there is no open engagement with civil society on these questions.”

“In terms of the type of development the bank delivers, we don’t have signs yet that the NDB will go in a qualitatively different direction than the Washington Consensus institutions,” Gordon told IPS in an email.

“That is why civil society groups in BRICS countries are calling for a participative and transparent process to identify strategies and policies for the NDB that can set it on a different path and actually deliver development.”

A primary concern among NGOs has been that the BRICS bank will replicate the old “mega-project” model of development, which has proven to be a failure both in terms of poverty eradication and increased access to basic services.

A recent international investigation revealed that in the course of a single decade, an estimated 3.4 million poor people – primarily from Asia, Africa and Latin America – were displaced by mega-projects funded by the World Bank and its private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

Though these projects were ostensibly aimed at strengthening transportation networks, expanding electric grids and improving water supply systems, they resulted in a worsening of poverty and inequality for millions of already marginalised people.

Following closely on the heels of this damning expose, a major report by the international watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that the Bank’s lax safeguards and protocols resulted in a range of rights violations against those who spoke out against the economic, social and environmental fallout of Bank-funded projects.

Behind this track record, rights groups and NGOs are concerned that a new development bank operating on within a broken framework will contribute to the spiral of violence and poverty that has marked the age of mega-projects.

At a time when one billion people lack access to an all-weather road, 783 million people live without clean water supplies and 1.3 billion people are not connected to an electricity grid, there is no doubt that the developing world stands to gain greatly from a Southern-led financial institution.

What remains to be seen is to what extent the new bank will move away from the old model of financing and truly set a standard for inclusive and pro-poor development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Analysis: Is Colombia’s Peace Process Really at Its Lowest Ebb?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/is-colombias-peace-process-really-at-its-lowest-ebb/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=is-colombias-peace-process-really-at-its-lowest-ebb http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/is-colombias-peace-process-really-at-its-lowest-ebb/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 15:13:15 +0000 Constanza Vieira http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141458 Journalist Juan Gossaín (left) and the Colombian government’s chief negotiator Humberto de la Calle in the latter’s apartment in Cartagena de Indias, during an interview about the peace talks with the FARC. Credit: Omar Nieto/Prensa de Presidencia de Colombia

Journalist Juan Gossaín (left) and the Colombian government’s chief negotiator Humberto de la Calle in the latter’s apartment in Cartagena de Indias, during an interview about the peace talks with the FARC. Credit: Omar Nieto/Prensa de Presidencia de Colombia

By Constanza Vieira
BOGOTÁ, Jul 7 2015 (IPS)

There is a growing sensation in Colombia that the peace talks with the FARC guerrillas are “about to come to an end” – in success or failure, according to the government’s chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle.

In his apartment overlooking the sea in the Caribbean coastal city of Cartagena de Indias, former vice president De la Calle (1994-1996) was interviewed by veteran Colombian journalist Juan Gossaín. The two used to work together on the morning news and talk programme of the RCN Radio station, which Gossaín headed for 26 years, until 2010.

The interview was more like a friendly conversation, without a question and answer format. It was distributed by the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace to be published Sunday Jul. 5.

The chief negotiator, generally reluctant to talk to the media, warned that the government might walk away from the talks: “I want to tell the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) in all seriousness, this could end. It is likely that one day they won’t find us at the negotiating table in Havana’.”

“The patience of Colombians is running out. The risk is real,” said De la Calle, although he also stated that the process could end “because we reach an agreement, since in this final stretch we are dealing with important underlying issues.”

As De la Calle said, “although it seems like a paradox, the peace process has received more support from outside than here at home.”

President Juan Manuel Santos worked painstakingly and in secret to launch peace talks after taking office in August 2010.

And while in the talks themselves the government has never threatened to pull out, it has made such statements to the media in the past.

In October 2012 the talks were officially launched in Oslo, two years after Santos was sworn in, with Cuba and Norway as guarantors and Chile and Venezuela as facilitators. Since then the meetings have been held in Havana, where the 38th round of talks is now taking place.

Under the principle that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” preliminary accords have been reached on three of the six main points on the agenda, in 32 months of talks.

These three points involve a wide range of aspects related to land reform; political participation; and the substitution of drug crops.

The pending items involve the right of victims on both sides to truth, justice and reparations; disarmament; and mechanisms for the implementation of an eventual peace deal.

The negotiations are taking place as the decades-long conflict drags on, and it looks like a clause stipulating that nothing that happens on the battlefield can affect the talks has fallen by the wayside.

The intensification of hostilities is costing lives and causing environmental disasters, and support for a continued military offensive, rather than a negotiated peace, is growing again.

But the same thing happened 15 years ago, as indicated by Gallup poll results.

To the question “what do you believe is the best way to solve the problem of the guerrillas in Colombia?” the response in June 2015 was a tie between those who selected the option “continue the talks until reaching a peace agreement” and those who chose “no talks; try to defeat them militarily.”

A similar tie was seen in July 2003, March 2004, October 2010 and June 2011, while in the rest of the polls carried out, a majority chose a negotiated solution.

Since 2001, a majority of respondents have consistently supported peace talks over a military solution, with the exception of the December 2001- July 2003 period.

But since December 2001, respondents have said they do not believe the insurgents could ever seize power by force.

Looking at Gallup polls over the past 15 years, it is clear that De la Calle’s assertion that “people are more skeptical than ever” regarding the peace talks is not true. The results indicate that, no matter what happens, the sense of “desperation” that the chief negotiator mentioned, and that his interviewer emphasised, fluctuates.

“We have to be honest enough to tell Colombians that the peace process is at its lowest ebb since the talks began,” De la Calle said.

But why is that happening? It’s the question of justice, he said. “It is the touchiest part of the negotiations. The FARC have to assume responsibility for their actions. The state does too, of course.”

De la Calle said the Colombian government would only agree to a ceasefire if the top FARC leaders spent some time in prison for crimes against humanity – although the negotiator said they would be held “in decent conditions, without bars or striped uniforms.”

He also acknowledged that the FARC “have said they are willing to accept a system of justice that would include these components.”

If that is true, it’s not clear where exactly the problem lies.

In February, the attorney general’s office revealed that it planned to investigate over 14,000 businessmen, ranchers, politicians and members of the security forces with alleged ties to the partially dismantled far-right paramilitaries.

Almost simultaneously, former president César Gaviria (1990-1994) proposed for these non-combatants “a pardon in exchange for their recognition of the crimes committed, an apology, and a willingness to provide reparations for the victims.”

Segments of the business community and some political factions welcomed or expressed an openness to discussing the proposal, others rejected it, and others were concerned or upset.

In any case, the ever vulnerable climate surrounding the peace talks became even more tense.

Not long afterwards, the negotiators in Havana announced a preliminary agreement regarding an issue that is especially thorny for those who not only enjoy impunity but have also been active behind the scenes, anonymously: a non-prosecutorial truth commission.

Above and beyond the discussion on justice and punishment, De la Calle says the main obstacle now faced in the peace talks is the question of a bilateral ceasefire – “the FARC’s top priority,” in his view. The insurgents would also have to stop raising funds through practices like extortion and involvement in the drug trade, he added.

A bilateral ceasefire when “there are other sources of violence, besides the FARC,” as De la Calle rightly points out?

The much smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) would appear to be awaiting the results of the peace talks with the FARC before launching its own negotiations, while remaining active.

Then there are the ultra-right-wing paramilitary groups that either did not take part in the 2003-2006 partial demobilisation or regrouped as what the government calls “Bacrim” – for “bandas criminales” or “criminal bands”.

“We can’t tell the security forces to stay quiet,” De la Calle said. “If they want a ceasefire, the government is willing to do that, but ‘concentration zones’ would be essential.”

In these “rural concentration zones” first demanded by Álvaro Uribe during his presidency (2002-2010), “convicted guerrillas would be held for a time, without requiring that they turn in their weapons,” De la Calle explained.

IPS postponed publication of this article in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain a response by email from FARC chief negotiator Iván Márquez to several of De la Calle’s statements.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Equality, a Hard Game to Win for Women Footballers in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/equality-a-hard-game-to-win-for-women-footballers-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=equality-a-hard-game-to-win-for-women-footballers-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/equality-a-hard-game-to-win-for-women-footballers-in-argentina/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 14:33:00 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141428 Girls from the La Nuestra football team wait to start their twice-weekly training in the Villa 31 shantytown in Buenos Aires. They often have to cut short their practice when boys take over the local pitch. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Girls from the La Nuestra football team wait to start their twice-weekly training in the Villa 31 shantytown in Buenos Aires. They often have to cut short their practice when boys take over the local pitch. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jul 6 2015 (IPS)

During a women’s football match in a poor neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, team manager Mónica Santino has to stop the game and ask a group of boys and young men not to invade the pitch where they’re playing. This frequent occurrence is just one symbol of a struggle being played out, centimeter by centimeter, on Argentina’s pitches.

“Come on, stop just for a while, we’re leaving soon. Don’t get in the middle of our game,” Santino said, trying to persuade in a friendly way the boys and teenagers who bully their way onto the pitch where the women’s match is going on, in Villa 31, a shantytown of 40,000 people on the northeast side of Buenos Aires, right in the middle of the upscale Retiro neighourhood.

“If it was a men’s match they would never do that, because they would have serious problems. But since it’s girls who are playing…” she commented to IPS one night the La Nuestra team was playing.

Although girls and women make up half of the population of this ‘villa miseria’, as shantytowns are called in Argentina, it hasn’t been easy for them to gain a place on the football pitch, traditionally men’s territory.“Playing football here, the girls have two hours when they don’t have to think about anything else, when they just have fun, and forge ties with other young women. Many things that happen for us are political, they have a revolutionary component, because something is changing.” – Mónica Santino

“They think football and the pitch are for them,” one of the players, 15-year-old Agustina Olaña, told IPS.

When the project began in 2007, they had to mark off the area they were using with cones and stones. Now they practice twice a week.

“It doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but this achievement sends out an extremely important message about gender because football pitches are the most important public spaces in the barrios,” said Santino, a 49-year-old former football player who was the first woman coach in the Argentine Football Association.

“We live in a country where football is the national sport – it explains us as Argentines, it represents us in world championships, but in football women are still second-class citizens,” she lamented.

La Nuestra (Ours) is also an organisation that seeks greater access to football for women, using the sport to empower them, build self esteem and boost gender equality.

The project initially only targeted teenagers. But it was soon overwhelmed by the spontaneous demand from girls and adult women. Of today’s 70 participants, half are between the ages of six and 12, and the rest are over 13.

“For presents, I would get dolls or little balls, but I wanted footballs,” said one of the students, nine-year-old Florencia Carabajal.

“It seems to me that men haven’t learned that we can also play,” said 10-year-old Juanita Burgos, who hopes to become a professional footballer. “The boys used to call me a tomboy. But now they don’t say anything to me anymore. I tell them that if I want to play ball, who are they to say I can’t.”

But her dream is not an easy one for women to reach in Argentina, even though this country won the World Cup twice and has produced legendary players like Diego Maradona and Leonel Messi.

In women’s football, Argentina has never won a global championship. According to Santino, that’s because the big clubs believe “it isn’t a good show, and doesn’t generate money,” which is why Argentina doesn’t invest in women players as other countries do.

“No club has the structure for lower divisions or for girls to start training as players at an early age, which is when you grow as an athlete and get ready to compete,” she said.

“When Argentina has participated in international tournaments, it has been painful, because when we play against teams like those of Germany or the United States, they score 11, 13, 15 goals,” she said.

“Then the brutal criticism starts: that the Argentine jersey can’t be sullied, or that the country can’t be publicly embarrassed that way. But you can see here that we don’t have the infrastructure. Their arguments are really unfair,” said Santino.

“I was fortunate to be on the team, to have played in a world cup, but we really did it on our own, at great sacrifice,” said the La Nuestra coach, 33-year-old Vanina García, who had no choice but to keep working while playing football.

Santino is pushing for the project to be replicated in other barrios, and to that end she draws on her experience as a scout for street soccer for the homeless. She also hopes to create a women’s football club, where the women will not only play but will discuss issues such as sports and gender as well.

La Nuestra emerged from Santino’s work as coordinator of the Women’s Football Programme of the Women’s Centre in the Buenos Aires district of Vicente López. It receives funds from the Buenos Aires city government’s programme for adolescents, and the national government’s children’s affairs secretariat.

“We have managed to do it with the sweat of our brow,” she said.

According to Santino, an activist for women’s rights in sports and a member of the non-governmental Women in Equality Foundation, “this is a pending issue on the feminist agenda.”

“Women are not expected to run, sweat, make an effort,” she said. “They say that if you play football, your body will turn into a man’s body. There’s a widespread idea that all women who play football are lesbians.”

“I believe this involves the same thing as when we’re talking about the right to have an abortion and all the different kinds of prejudice that emerge. It’s a way of controlling women’s bodies, saying what they should look like,” she said.

For Santino, women’s football provides a good excuse to talk about other feminist demands, such as the right to rest and recreation.

“To come to a game, the big burden was the housework,” she said. “They would come after washing the dishes, or taking care of their younger siblings or their own children, starting at a really young age. Things that women are supposed to do. Boys, on the other hand, get home from school, dump their backpacks, and come to the football pitch directly.”

“Playing football here, the girls and women have two hours when they don’t have to think about anything else, when they just have fun, and forge ties with others. For us, a lot of what is happening is political, it has a revolutionary component, because something is changing,” Santino said.

For Karen Marín, 19, who sells chicken and came to this country from Bolivia with her parents when she was eight years old, La Nuestra has offered a way to make friends and become part of Argentine society.

“I suffered from discrimination because I’m Bolivian, and I would draw into myself and just stay in my room,” she said. “One day they invited me here. I’ve never missed a day since. Football helped me with everything, and it especially helped me to be more easy-going and open.”

Despite the difficulties, coach García believes women’s football, which is now practiced in schools and in most neighbourhood tournaments, is more widely accepted.

“I suppose that’s because women have taken on another role,” she said. “In a lot of areas, but in football as well. Women stand up for themselves, and if they want to play football, they play.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Caribbean Fights to Protect High-Value, Declining Specieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/caribbean-fights-to-protect-high-value-declining-species/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-fights-to-protect-high-value-declining-species http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/caribbean-fights-to-protect-high-value-declining-species/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 13:15:36 +0000 Zadie Neufville http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141424 The Nassau grouper is one of 19 Caribbean species the Wild Earth Guardians say are in need of protection. Credit: Rick Smit/cc by 2.0

The Nassau grouper is one of 19 Caribbean species the Wild Earth Guardians say are in need of protection. Credit: Rick Smit/cc by 2.0

By Zadie Neufville
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Jul 6 2015 (IPS)

Threats from climate change, declining reefs, overfishing and possible loss of several commercial species are driving the rollout of new policy measures to keep Caribbean fisheries sustainable.

Regional groups and the U.S.-based NGO Wild Earth Guardians have petitioned for the listing of some of the Caribbean’s most economically valuable marine species as vulnerable, endangered or threatened with extinction.

In addition, regional scientists believe that climate change could alter the ranges of some of the larger species and perhaps wipe out existing ones. “TCI’s conch stocks are now in a critical phase. This means that unless the fishery is closed to allow the stocks to recover, it will probably collapse within the next four years." -- Biologist Kathleen Woods

Fisheries ministers of the Caribbean say they are concerned that “extra-national activities and decisions” could impact the social and economic well being of their countries and their access to international markets. They have agreed to work together to protect both the sustainability and trade of several high value marine species.

At a meeting in November 2014, the Ministerial Council of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) expressed alarm at the U.S. government’s decision to list the Nassau Grouper, a commercially traded species, under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Even after successfully thwarting the listing of the Queen Conch (Strombus gigas), they fret that other species would go the way of the Nassau Grouper.

The conch and Nassau grouper are two of 19 Caribbean species the Wild Earth Guardians say are in need of protection. The list includes one coral, one ray, five sharks, two sawfish, four groupers and the Queen Conch.

Regional fisheries officials know that such listings will shut down international trade of the affected species. Alternatively, it could lead to rigorous permits and quota systems that prevent trade by vulnerable populations in countries that are without working management structures.

The Guardians say they are driven by the critical state of many Caribbean species and the seemingly insatiable U.S. demand for them. The 14 marine species named are already listed as protected or threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), endangered species associate Taylor Jones told IPS.

“Specifically in terms of the conch, we note that the U.S. appetite for conch meat is having an impact on stocks in the Caribbean,” she said.

Jones noted that when the Guardians take action the aim is to limit the impact of U.S. consumption patterns – which has already caused the collapse of its own conch fishery – on the rest of the world. The United States is the largest importer of conch meat, consuming 78 per cent of production, estimated at between 2,000 and 2,500 pounds annually.

While the Guardians failed in their bid to have the conch included in the ESA, concern for the struggling populations of Conch continue. Even though the U.S. closed Florida’s Conch fisheries in 1986, the population has still not recovered and the fisheries in its Caribbean territories are also in poor shape.

In the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), one of the region’s largest exporter of the mollusk, biologist Kathleen Woods reports that conch stocks are on the brink of collapse.

“TCI’s conch stocks are now in a critical phase,” she said. “Preliminary results of the conch visual survey indicate that TCI does not have sufficient densities of adult conch to sustain breeding and spawning. This means that unless the fishery is closed to allow the stocks to recover, it will probably collapse within the next four years.”

The CRFM Secretariat says it is already looking at management plans for the species most eaten or exploited by its member states. The secretariat says there is evidence that Nassau Grouper populations and spawning aggregations are in decline and is supporting the listing.

The Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) working group discusses proposals to implement minimum standards for the capture of exploited species in November 2014, Panama City. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

The Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) working group discusses proposals to implement minimum standards for the capture of exploited species in November 2014, Panama City. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

The Secretariat has drafted a strategy to implement minimum standards for the management, conservation and protection for the Caribbean Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus) across all 17 member states. The Secretariat cites concern for falling catches, declining habitats and the absence of adequate management systems in some countries.

In Jamaica, where the lobster and conch fisheries are regulated by the CITES endangered species treaty, authorities are extending protection to other local species that are already stressed from overfishing and climate change, Director of Fisheries Andre Kong told IPS.

“We are looking at bio-degradable traps and will where possible improve the existing management system to include the spotted spiny lobster (Panulirus guttatus) known locally as the chicken lobster,” he said, pointing out that the local species is not governed by the CITES regulations.

Caribbean favorites like the Parrotfish and sea eggs (sea urchins) are in serious decline. Regional groups are seeking to ban those and other species to protect remaining populations and the reef.  Some countries have already restricted the capture of the Parrotfish and the IUCN has recommended its listing as a specially protected species under the Protocol for Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW Protocol).

CRFM has already implemented a management plan for the Eastern Caribbean Flying fish, which supports a small but lucrative trade in the countries that fish for the species. A coral reef action plan is also in place, a review of the legislation of several member states has been completed, alongside the rollout of public awareness programmes for regional fishers. One drawback: the rules are non-binding and left up to individual governments to implement.

Woods, who until mid-2014 headed the TCI government’s Environment and Marine Department, noted that despite the existence of regulations that exceed those introduced by the CRFM, conch and lobster habitats in that country “continue to be degraded and lost because of poor development practices like dredging, the use of caustic materials like bleach for fishing and other activities.”

Veteran TCI fisherman Oscar Talbot echoes Woods belief that a combination of factors, including a lack of political will, poor enforcement and corruption in the regulatory agencies, are the reasons the Conch stocks are close to collapsing.

“Poacher boats, illegal divers and some politicians with their own (processing) plants have played a role in the improper exploitation of the fish, lobster and conch. We also have a lot of fisherman and poachers taking juvenile conch in and out of season,” he said.

TCI is one of the few countries that continue to allow the capture and consumption of sea turtles and sharks, but Woods believes exploitation of these species by locals is sustainable. Talbot wants fishers to stick to the rules and exploit the resources during the open seasons only.

A fisherman for over 40 years, Talbot said the unregulated catches are impacting all the islands’ local fisheries. He is concerned that undersized conchs of up to 18 to the pound have been taken, a sore point for the grandfather who sits on the fisheries advisory council of the TCI.

But while regional leaders express “outrage” at the actions of the NGOs, regional fishers support Talbot’s view that only external pressure will force governments to act.

For most countries, the lack of personnel, funding and illegal fishing have hampered progress. This is not lost on the Guardians.

“In general it appears that the region is struggling with limited resources for conservation, including lack of funding and lack of personnel for enforcement of existing regulations,” Jones said.

And while Talbot and Woods lobby TCI Governor Peter Beckingham to champion immediate changes to the fisheries legislation approved and agreed by local fishers more than a year ago, Jones echoes their aspirations:

“It is our hope that ESA listing would make more U.S. funding and personnel available for use by local conservation programmes,” she said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Sustainable Use of Biodiversity Could Fill Gap When Belo Monte Dam Is Finishedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/sustainable-use-of-biodiversity-could-fill-gap-when-belo-monte-dam-is-finished/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sustainable-use-of-biodiversity-could-fill-gap-when-belo-monte-dam-is-finished http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/sustainable-use-of-biodiversity-could-fill-gap-when-belo-monte-dam-is-finished/#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2015 15:20:00 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141408 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/sustainable-use-of-biodiversity-could-fill-gap-when-belo-monte-dam-is-finished/feed/ 0