Inter Press Service » Latin America & the Caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sun, 01 Mar 2015 14:46:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Tobacco Workers in Cuba Dubious About Opening of U.S. Markethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/tobacco-workers-in-cuba-dubious-about-opening-of-u-s-market/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tobacco-workers-in-cuba-dubious-about-opening-of-u-s-market http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/tobacco-workers-in-cuba-dubious-about-opening-of-u-s-market/#comments Sat, 28 Feb 2015 15:57:26 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139419 Tobacco pickers carry leaves to one of the sheds where they are cured on the Rosario plantation in San Juan y Martínez, in Vuelta Abajo, a western Cuban region famous for producing premium cigars. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Tobacco pickers carry leaves to one of the sheds where they are cured on the Rosario plantation in San Juan y Martínez, in Vuelta Abajo, a western Cuban region famous for producing premium cigars. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
SAN JUAN Y MARTÍNEZ, Cuba , Feb 28 2015 (IPS)

“We have to wait and see,” “There isn’t a lot of talk about it,” are the responses from tobacco workers in this rural area in western Cuba when asked about the prospect of an opening of the U.S. market to Cuban cigars.

“If the company sells more, I think they would pay us better,” said Berta Borrego, who has been hanging and sorting tobacco leaves for over 30 years in San Juan y Martínez in the province of Pinar del Río, 180 km west of Havana.

The region of Vuelta Abajo, and the municipalities of San Juan y Martínez, San Luis, Guane and Pinar del Río in particular, combine ideal climate and soil conditions with a centuries-old farming culture to produce the world’s best premium hand-rolled cigars.

In this area alone, 15,940 hectares are planted every year in tobacco, Cuba’s fourth top export.

While continuing to hang tobacco leaves on the Rosario plantation, Borrego told IPS that “there is little talk” among the workers about how they might benefit if the U.S. embargo against Cuba, in place since 1962, is eased, as part of the current process of normalisation of bilateral ties.

Borrego said “it would be good” to break into the U.S. market, off-limits to Cuban cigar-makers for over half a century. And she said that raising the pay of day workers and growers would be an incentive for workers, “because there is a shortage of both female and male workers since people don’t like the countryside.”

Cuban habanos, rum and coffee represent a trade and investment opportunity for Havana and Washington, if bilateral ties are renewed in the process that on Friday Feb. 27 reached the second round of talks between representatives of the two countries.

Habanos have become a symbol of the thaw between the two countries since someone gave a Cuban cigar to U.S. President Barack Obama during a Dec. 17 reception in the White House, a few hours after he announced the restoration of ties.

Berta Borrego in the shed where she hangs green tobacco leaves to dry. For over 30 years she has dedicated herself to that task and to selecting the dry leaves for making cigars, on the Rosario plantation in the Cuban municipality of Juan y Martínez. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Berta Borrego in the shed where she hangs green tobacco leaves to dry. For over 30 years she has dedicated herself to that task and to selecting the dry leaves for making cigars, on the Rosario plantation in the Cuban municipality of Juan y Martínez. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Among the first measures approved by Washington to boost trade and ties between the two countries was the granting of permission to U.S. tourists to bring back 100 dollars worth of cigars and rum from Cuba.

But the sale of habanos in U.S. shops, where Nicaraguan and Dominican cigars reign, is still banned, and U.S. businesses are not allowed to invest in the local tobacco industry here.

Furthermore, the lifting of the U.S. embargo depends on the U.S. Congress, not the Obama administration.

In 2014, Tabacuba adopted a plan to double the production of tobacco leaves in the next five years, in the 15 Cuban provinces where over 16,000 producers, mainly private farmers or members of cooperative, produce tobacco.

Experts say that while Cuba stands out for the quality of its tobacco, it is not among the world’s biggest producers – which are China, the United States, Brazil, India and Turkey, in that order – nor is it among the countries with the highest yields –which are Taiwan, Spain, Italy, Japan and the United States.

In fact, due to armed conflicts in different parts of the world, high import tariffs in Europe, and climate change in Cuba, the sales of the country’s cigar company, Habanos SA, fell one percent from 2013 to 2014, to 439 million dollars.

But when it happens, annual sales of habanos in the U.S. market are expected to climb to at least 250 million dollars, according to estimates by the only company that sells Cuban cigars, Habanos SA, a joint venture between the state-run Tabacuba and Britain’s Imperial Tobacco Group PLC.

The corporation estimates that 150 million cigars from the 27 Cuban brands could be sold, once the U.S. market opens up.

The new permission for visitors to take home 100 dollars worth of cigars was called “symbolic” by Jorge Luis Fernández Maique, vice president of the Anglo-Cuban company, during the 17th Habanos Festival, which drew 1,650 participants from 60 nations Feb. 23-27 in Havana.

“The increase in sales in Cuba won’t be big,” the businessman forecast during the annual festival, which includes tours to tobacco plantations and factories, visits to auctions for humidors – a specially designed box for holding cigars – and art exhibits, and combined cigar, wine, rum and food tastings.

In its more than 140 locations worldwide, La Casa del Habano, an international franchise, sells a pack of 20 Cohiba Mini cigarrillos for 12 dollars, while a single habano cigar costs 50 dollars.

Premium cigars are the end result of a meticulous planting, selection, drying, curing, rolling and ageing process that involves thousands of humble, weathered hands like those of day worker Luis Camejo, who has dedicated eight of his 33 years to the tobacco harvest.

During the October to March harvest, Camejo picks tobacco leaves and hangs them in the shed on the Rosario plantation. Like the others, he is reticent when asked how he and his fellow workers could benefit from increased trade with the United States. “I wouldn’t know,” he told IPS.

A benefit auction for humidors in the Habanos Festival. The festival drew 1,650 participants from 60 countries to the Cuban capital this year. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A benefit auction for humidors in the Habanos Festival. The festival drew 1,650 participants from 60 countries to the Cuban capital this year. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

He said he earns 1,200 Cuban pesos (50 dollars) a month during harvest season, and a bonus in convertible pesos after the plantation owner sells the tobacco to the state-run companies.

That is more than the average of 19 dollars a month earned by employees of the state, by far the largest employer in this Caribbean island nation. But it is not enough to cover people’s needs, given that food absorbs 59 to 75 percent of the family budget, according to the Centre of Studies on the Cuban Economy.

“To reach a dominant position in markets, we have to grow from below, that is, in quality and yield, because Vuelta Abajo isn’t growing,” said Iván Máximo Pérez, the owner of the 5.4-hectare Rosario plantation, which produces 2.5 tons of tobacco leaves per hectare. “In terms of production, the sky is our limit,” he told IPS with a smile.

In his view, “tobacco is profitable to the extent that the producer is efficient.”

“The current harvests even allow me to afford some luxuries,” he admitted.

He said he continues to plant tobacco because “it’s a sure thing, since the state buys everything we produce, at fixed prices based on quality.”

Pérez, known as “El Gallego” (the Galician) among his people, because of his northern Spanish ancestry, is using new technologies on his farm, where he employs 10 men and eight women and belongs to one of the credit and services cooperatives that produce for the tobacco companies.

He has his own modern seedbed, is getting involved in conservation agriculture, plants different varieties of tobacco, uses organic fertiliser, and has cut insecticide use to 30 percent.

“I never thought I’d reach the yields I’m obtaining now,” he said. “Applying science and different techniques has made me see tobacco in a different light.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/tobacco-workers-in-cuba-dubious-about-opening-of-u-s-market/feed/ 0
Opinion: Goals for Gender Equality Are Not a ‘Wish List’ – They Are a ‘To Do List’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-goals-for-gender-equality-are-not-a-wish-list-they-are-a-to-do-list/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-goals-for-gender-equality-are-not-a-wish-list-they-are-a-to-do-list http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-goals-for-gender-equality-are-not-a-wish-list-they-are-a-to-do-list/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 22:49:39 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139408 A women-led village council in rural Bangladesh prepares a “social map” of the local community. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A women-led village council in rural Bangladesh prepares a “social map” of the local community. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
SANTIAGO, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

This weekend, at the invitation of President Michelle Bachelet and myself, women leaders from across the world are meeting in Santiago de Chile. We will applaud their achievements. We will remind ourselves of their contributions. And we will chart a way forward to correct the historical record. History has not been fair to women – but then, women usually didn’t write it.

This meeting will be an opportunity to take a hard look at the world that is, and the world that will be. The case is urgent, not only for individual women and their human right to equality, but for everyone. The “perfect storm of crises” as one expert has called it, threatens food, energy and water supplies. It threatens political and economic stability in all our countries. It could upend any prospects for balanced and sustainable development.

On the other hand, mobilising the potential of women and maximising their contribution will turn aside some of the worst effects of climate change and help ensure food and water supply; will help correct massive economic inequality between the few and the many; will mitigate conflict and political instability, and help to build lasting peace. Women’s rights are human necessities.

At the heart of our discussion is how to put more women in positions of power. Across the 192 U.N. member countries:

  • Only 19 women are heads of state or government;
  • One in five parliamentarians are women;
  • One in 20 city mayors are women;
  • One in four judges and prosecutors, and
  • Fewer than one in 10 police officers are women.

Women leaders are just as hard to find in economic life – only one in five board seats in major companies are held by women. And this is despite evidence of increased company earnings when women are on the board!

So how do we get there from here? We already have a road map. It was agreed by 189 world leaders back in 1995, at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. Countries have made a good start with better overall education and health care for women; but they haven’t followed through on the rest of the package, especially political participation and economic empowerment. At the present rate of progress, it will take 81 years for women to achieve parity in employment. Women, and their countries, can’t wait that long.

This year, the 20th anniversary of the Beijing conference, the year when the U.N. will adopt sustainable development goals for the next 15 years, offers a unique opportunity to make a new start.

First of all, today’s leaders must make a personal commitment to increase women’s presence in decision-making – not just in their numbers, but in their contributions. There are many ways to do this – quotas and numerical targets for women’s participation; training and mentorship to boost women’s confidence and capacity; private-sector engagement matching public-sector initiatives. Countries will find their own ways, if the will is there.

Employers must ensure equal hiring, payment and promotion policies; support to balance work-life conditions, and give women the opportunity to lead. Managers must learn to welcome women’s input and contribution.

Leaders who lead by example in their daily lives will win allies in every aspect of their work for gender equality. They can win allies in the media too – at least to avoid reflexive disparagement, negative stereotyping and casual sexism; and at best to celebrate the positive and constructive contribution of women leaders, even in the toughest environments.

Then there are many women who struggle and suffer every day. They are the everyday heroines of our age, and their fight for equality deserves a wider audience. We shouldn’t have to wait for another vicious attack or another assassination before we learn their names.

These measures sound ambitious, but they are fully realistic. We know from our own experience in leadership, that we can achieve them all. The 1995 Beijing platform for action is not a “wish list”; it’s a “to do list.” If today’s leaders front-load gender equality, if they start now to make good on those 20-year-old promises, we can look forward to serious progress by 2020, and gender equality by 2030.

“The arc of the moral universe is long,” said Martin Luther King, “but it bends toward justice.” Where women are concerned, we have to bend that arc a lot faster now, to make up for all the years it didn’t bend at all. At stake are not only justice and human rights but also perhaps survival itself.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-goals-for-gender-equality-are-not-a-wish-list-they-are-a-to-do-list/feed/ 0
Reporting on Violence in Mexico Brings Its Own Perilshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/reporting-on-violence-in-mexico-brings-its-own-perils/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reporting-on-violence-in-mexico-brings-its-own-perils http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/reporting-on-violence-in-mexico-brings-its-own-perils/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 22:46:19 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139409 Mexican journalists silently march in Mexico City in 2010, protesting violence and intimidation against the press. Credit: Knight Foundation / CC BY-SA 2.0

Mexican journalists silently march in Mexico City in 2010, protesting violence and intimidation against the press. Credit: Knight Foundation / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

Organised criminals in Mexico are forcing the media to stop reporting on crime, by turning their violence against journalists.

With the Mexican state offering journalists little protection, the resultant drop in freedom of information has contributed to a heightened sense of insecurity in the country."People are saying 'we are not going to cover certain areas', fearing revenge and not trusting that the state is going to be able to protect them.” -- Claire San Filippo

Claire San Filippo, head of Reporters Without Borders’ Americas desk, told IPS that journalists in Mexico are self-censoring due to threats and violence, but also because violence against journalists is rarely punished by the state.

“It is of tremendous concern for information freedom because people are saying ‘we are not going to cover certain areas’, fearing revenge and not trusting that the state is going to be able to protect them.”

San Filippo says that the state bears the primary duty under international law to protect journalists.

“The state obviously has a responsibility to protect the journalist, and to make sure that they can guarantee their security,” she said.

“There is a mechanism to actually protect human rights defenders and journalists and unfortunately, the mechanism hasn’t been working in a very efficient manner and hasn’t really helped the situation overall.”

The first two months of 2015 have already seen marked violence and intimidation towards journalists, including kidnappings and threats.

Reporting for Journalism in the Americas Mariana Muñoz wrote last week, “An increase in organized crime-related violence has terrorized the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas over the past week. Conflicts between rival cartel factions in the neighboring border cities of Reynosa and Matamoros have left dozens dead, escalating the present danger for journalists practicing in the region.​”

The newspaper El Mañana reported on a gunfight that killed nine people. Although they did not name any cartel individuals involved, their editor, Juárez Torres, was kidnapped and warned “We are going to kill you.”

Torres later “fled the country, half of the staff did not return to work the following day, and at least four journalists at the publication immediately announced their resignation,” Muñoz reported.

El Mañana has since avoided reporting on violent crime in Tamaulipas.

Speaking about Torres’ kidnapping and other similar incidents, San Filippo said, “When you look at the beginning of this year, it’s obviously dramatic and extremely preoccupying because we have journalists who say ‘we are not going to cover the issues of insecurity, violence and it’s consequences on people’ or we’re actually going to leave the country to go to the United States because we feel so unsecure.”

She says that Reporters Without Borders calls on the Mexican government to take the threats against journalists seriously and “not try to either diminish them or try to discredit the journalists by saying that they are actually not journalists and saying they are not related.”

She said the state should also provide timely and effective protection to journalists and their families when the journalists request it and importantly, must hold perpetrators of violence against journalists accountable.

San Filippo said this was important so that “journalists can feel secure and feel that they can carry out their job without risking their lives or lives and physical integrity of their loved ones.”

“This is the only way that you can make sure that you can ensure that there is no self-censorship and journalists don’t feel that they have to go to another country to feel safe.”

Home of organised crime

According to In Sight Crime, a foundation that studies organised crime in the Americas, “Mexico is home to the (Western) hemisphere’s largest, most sophisticated and violent organized criminal gangs.”

“They traffic in illegal drugs, contraband, arms and humans, and launder their proceeds through regional moneychangers, banks and local economic projects. They have penetrated the police and border patrols on nearly every level, in some cases starting with recruits for these units. They play political and social roles in some areas, operating as the de facto security forces.”

Steve Killelea, executive chair of the Institute for Economics and Peace, wrote last year that since “the start of the calamitous drug war in 2007” Mexico has dropped 45 places on the International Peace Index – down to 133 of 162 countries on the most recent (2013) index.

Killelea says that although Mexico does well in terms of development indicators such as life expectancy and youth empowerment, its poor overall rating in peace is partly due to the consequences of violence against journalists and poor freedom of information.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/reporting-on-violence-in-mexico-brings-its-own-perils/feed/ 0
Rousseff’s Brazil – No Country for the Landlesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/rousseffs-brazil-no-country-for-the-landless/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rousseffs-brazil-no-country-for-the-landless http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/rousseffs-brazil-no-country-for-the-landless/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 19:01:15 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139404 Farmers with the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) protest the concentration of land ownership in Brazil, during a Feb. 21 demonstration in support of the occupation of part of the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, 150 km from Brasilia. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

Farmers with the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) protest the concentration of land ownership in Brazil, during a Feb. 21 demonstration in support of the occupation of part of the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, 150 km from Brasilia. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

In Brazil, one of the countries with the highest concentration of land ownership in the world, some 200,000 peasant farmers still have no plot of their own to farm – a problem that the first administration of President Dilma Rousseff did little to resolve.

In its assessment of the situation in the 2011-2014 period, the Brazilian Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) found the worst progress in that period in terms of agrarian reform in the last 20 years, one of the church-based organisation’s coordinators, Isolete Wichinieski, told IPS.

“Historically, there has been a high concentration of land in Brazil,” she said. But what is worrisome, she added, is that during the first presidency of Rousseff, whose second term started on Jan. 1, 2015, “land ownership has become even more concentrated.”

“There was a fall in the numbers of new rural settlements and of land titling in indigenous territories and ‘quilombos’ (communities of the descendants of African slaves), while on the other hand, investment in agribusiness and agro-industry grew,” said Wichinieski.

Social movements had hoped that Rousseff, who belongs to the left-wing Workers’ Party like her predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), would take up the banner of democratisation of land ownership.

But her government’s economic policies have focused on incentives for agribusiness and agro-industry, mining and major infrastructure projects.

According to the CPT report, during the first Rousseff administration (2011-2014), 103,746 families were granted land under the government’s agrarian reform programme. But that figure is actually misleading, because in 73 percent of the cases, the land settlement process was already in progress before the president took office, and the families had already been counted in previous years.

If only the new families settled on plots of their own during Rousseff’s first administration are counted, the total shrinks to 28,000.

The government reported that in 2014 it regularised the situation of just 6,289 families – a number considered insignificant by the CPT.

Since 1995 agrarian reform was given a new boost, with the creation of a special ministry answering directly to the president, and other legal instruments, largely due to the intense lobbying and protests throughout the country by the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST).

As a result, during the presidency of Luis Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003), 540,704 families were given land, and 614,088 were settled on farms during Lula’s two terms (2003-2011), according to the National Institute for Colonisation and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), which reported that 9,128 rural settlements have been created since 2000.

The Dom Tomás Balduíno camp, along the river that crosses the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, next to the first crops planted on the 400 hectares occupied by landless Brazilian peasant farmers. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

The Dom Tomás Balduíno camp, along the river that crosses the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, next to the first crops planted on the 400 hectares occupied by landless Brazilian peasant farmers. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

In order for land reform to be effective, the CPT argues, more settlements must be created and the concentration of rural property ownership must be reduced in this country of 202 million people. But the organisation does not believe Rousseff is moving in that direction, Wichinieski said.

Agrarian reform was not on the agenda of the campaign that led to the president’s reelection in October, and the new government includes names from the powerful rural caucus in Congress, which represents agribusiness and agro-industry.

The agriculture minister is former senator Kátia Abreu, the president of the National Confederation of Agriculture. She surprised people when she stated in a Feb. 5 interview with the newspaper Folha de São Paulo that there are no “latifundium” or large landed estates in Brazil.

“Abreu has backwards, outdated views of agriculture,” complained Wichinieski. “She denies that there is forced labour in the countryside, she isn’t worried about preserving the environment, and she argues in favour of the intensive use of agrochemicals in food production.”

The conflict over land has intensified, according to the CPT, with the expansion of livestock-raising and monoculture farming of soy, sugarcane, maize and cotton, and growing speculation by large landowners with close ties to politicians.

A typical case

One example is the case of the 20,000-hectare Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, 150 km from the national capital, Brasilia, in the state of Goiás, part of which has been occupied by families belonging to the MST.

The property belongs to Senator Eunício Oliveira, considered the wealthiest candidate for governor in Brazil in the last elections.

In the Senate, Oliveira heads the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, Rousseff’s main ally in Congress. He served as communications minister under Lula in 2004-2005 and last year lost the elections for governor of the state of Ceará.

The landless farmers occupying 400 hectares of the Santa Mônica estate sell their agroecological products in nearby towns, promoting chemical-free family farming. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

The landless farmers occupying 400 hectares of the Santa Mônica estate sell their agroecological products in nearby towns, promoting chemical-free family farming. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

Valdir Misnerovicz, one of the leaders of the MST, told IPS that the estate is unproductive and that its only purpose at this time is land speculation.

Strategically located between the municipalities of Alexânia, Abadiânia and Corumbá, Santa Mônica represents the largest land occupation by the MST in the last 15 years.

It all started on Aug. 31, when 3,000 families marched on foot and in 1,800 vehicles to the estate, part of which they occupied.

Since then, more than 2,000 men, women, children and elderly persons have been living in a camp and control 400 hectares of the estate. They are determined to win a portion of the land to farm.

This is one of the MST’s strategies, said Misnerovicz. “We occupy large areas of unproductive land. In the camp we grow a variety of food like green leafy vegetables, manioc, maize, rice, beans and squash. All of the families plant healthy food in chemical-free agroecological community gardens,” he said.

The tents in the Dom Tomás Balduíno camp were set up on the bank of a river that cuts across the estate, which comprises 90 different properties that the senator purchased over the last two decades.

“The day we got there, they tried to keep us out but there were thousands of us. We are never armed. Our strength is in the number of peasants who accompany us,” said Misnerovicz.

In November, a court ruled that Oliveira has the right to recover the property. But the MST leader is confident that despite the risk that the families will be evicted, they will be successful in their bid for the Santa Mônica estate to be expropriated under the land reform programme.

Misnerovicz said the government itself has encouraged the families occupying the land to continue negotiating.

“Then it would be possible, after a year, to make the biggest rural settlement in recent times in Brazil. We were with the president in January, who committed to a plan with targets for settling (MST) families camped around the country,” he said.

INCRA has avoided taking a public position on this specific case. But it pointed out that, by law, “all of the occupied properties are off-limits for inspections to evaluate the situation with a view to agrarian reform.”

The administrator of Santa Mônica, Ricardo Augusto, told IPS that the occupied area is productive agricultural property where soy, maize and beans are grown.

“The purchase of the property was notarised. The MST is not telling the truth. We advocate a negotiated, peaceful solution. Productive, occupied land can’t be expropriated, and there is no interest in selling the property,” he said.

But João Pedro, who was granted a plot of land in a municipality near Santa Mônica, sees things very differently.

During a Feb. 21 demonstration in favour of the occupation, near the camp, the farmer said the families camping there were merely seeking the enforcement of Brazil’s laws: “the land has a social function, and that’s all we want – for the constitution to be applied.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/rousseffs-brazil-no-country-for-the-landless/feed/ 0
Families of ‘Desaparecidos’ Take Search into Their Own Handshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/families-of-desaparecidos-take-search-into-their-own-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=families-of-desaparecidos-take-search-into-their-own-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/families-of-desaparecidos-take-search-into-their-own-hands/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 16:33:56 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139372 “Forced disappearance, a strategy of terror” reads a sign with the Mexican flag, held by a family member during a Feb. 19 ceremony to celebrate the 15th year anniversary of HIJOS, one of the first organisations created by the families of ‘desaparecidos’ to search for their loved ones and fight for justice. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

“Forced disappearance, a strategy of terror” reads a sign with the Mexican flag, held by a family member during a Feb. 19 ceremony to celebrate the 15th year anniversary of HIJOS, one of the first organisations created by the families of ‘desaparecidos’ to search for their loved ones and fight for justice. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

Carlos Trujillo refuses to give up, after years of tirelessly searching hospitals, morgues, prisons, cemeteries and clandestine graves in Mexico, looking for his four missing brothers.

The local shopkeeper has left no stone unturned and no clue unfollowed since his brothers Jesús, Raúl, Luís and Gustavo Trujillo vanished – the first two on Aug. 28, 2008 in the southern state of Guerrero and the last two on Sep. 22, 2010 on a highway that joins the southern states of Puebla and Veracruz.

“The case has gone nowhere; four agents were assigned to it, but there’s still nothing concrete, so I’m forging ahead and I won’t stop until I find them,” Trujillo told IPS.

On Feb. 18, Trujillo and other relatives of “desaparecidos” or victims of enforced disappearance founded the group Familiares en Búsqueda María Herrera – named after his mother – as part of the growing efforts by tormented family members to secure institutional support for the investigations they themselves carry out.

“We want to create a network of organisations of victims’ families,” the activist explained. “One of the priorities is to strengthen links and networking, to ensure clarity in the search process, and to share tools. The aim is for the families themselves to carry the investigations forward.”

The group is investigating the disappearance of 18 people. Prior to the creation of the organisation, some of the members found six people alive, in the last two years.“Each one of us started with our own particular case. We didn’t understand what disappearance was; we had to learn. We didn’t know we had a right to demand things. The search started off with problems, no one knew how to work collectively, and we gradually came up with how to do things.” -- Diana García

With determination and courage, the family members visit morgues, police stations, prisons, courtrooms, cemeteries and mass graves, trying to find their lost loved ones, or at least some clue that could lead them in the right direction.

The group grew out of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, which in 2011 brought together the families of victims of the wave of violence in Mexico, and held peace caravans throughout the country and even parts of the United States, where the movement protested that country’s anti-drug policy.

Enforced disappearance became a widespread phenomenon since the government of conservative Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) declared the “war on drug trafficking.” His successor, the conservative Enrique Peña Nieto, has not resolved the problem, which has become one of the worst tragedies in Latin America’s recent history.

But the phenomenon has only drawn international attention since the disappearance of 43 students of the Ayotzinapa rural teachers’ college, which exposed a cocktail of complicity and corruption between the police and the mayor of the town of Iguala and a violent drug cartel operating in Guerrero.

Thursday marks the five month anniversary of their disappearance.

The families have not stopped their indefatigable search for the students, even though the attorney general’s office announced a month ago that they were killed by the organised crime group “Guerreros Unidos” and their bodies were burnt.

The humanitarian crisis prompted the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances to demand on Feb. 13 that Mexico pass specific laws to combat the problem, create a registry of victims, carry out proper investigations, and provide justice and reparations to the victims’ families.

Mexico’s office on human rights, crime prevention and community service has reported that in this country of 120 million people, 23,271 people went missing between 2007 and October 2014. However, the office does not specifically indicate how many of these people were victims of enforced disappearance, as opposed to simply missing. Human rights organisations put the figure at 22,600 for that period.

Most enforced disappearances are blamed on drug cartels, which dispute smuggling routes to the lucrative U.S. market, in some cases with the participation of corrupt local or national police. The victims are mainly men from different socioeconomic strata, between the ages of 20 and 36.

“Each one of us started with our own particular case,” Diana García, whose son was disappeared, told IPS. “We didn’t understand what disappearance was; we had to learn. We didn’t know we had a right to demand things. The search started off with problems, no one knew how to work collectively, and we gradually came up with how to do things.”

Her son, Daniel Cantú, disappeared on Feb. 21, 2007 in the city of Ramos Arizpe in the northern state of Coahuila.

García, who has two other children and belongs to the group Fuerzas Unidas por Nuestros Desaparecidos en Coahuila, is convinced that only by working together can people exert enough pressure on the government to get it to search for their missing loved ones.

With the support of the Centro Diocesano para los Derechos Humanos Fray Juan de Larios, a church-based human rights organisation, a group of family members of victims came together and founded Fuerzas Unidas in 2009, which is searching for a total of 344 people.

The organisation successfully advocated the creation of a new local law on the declaration of absence of persons due to disappearance, in effect since May 2014, as well as the classification of enforced disappearance as a specific crime in the state of Coahuila.

Other groups have emerged, such as Ciencia Forense Ciudadana (Citizen Forensic Science), founded in September to create a forensic and DNA database.

“The initiative is aimed at a massive identification drive,” one of the founders of the organisation, Sara López, told IPS. “To do this we need a registry of victims of disappearance, a genetic database, and a databank for what has been found in clandestine graves.”

The project plans to cover 450 families affected by enforced disappearance and to reach 1,500 DNA samples. So far it has gathered 550, and it has representatives – victims’ relatives – in 10 of the country’s 33 states.

On Feb. 16, Ciencia Forense identified the remains of Brenda González, who went missing on Jul. 31, 2011 in Santa Catarina, in the northern state of Nuevo León, with the support of an independent forensic investigation carried out by the Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team.

“With the organisation that we just created, we will also try to provide a broad assessment of the question of enforced disappearances,” Trujillo said.

Human rights organisations say that until the case of the missing Ayotzinapa rural teachers’ college students erupted, the authorities did very little to combat the phenomenon, and failed to adopt measures to comply with sentences handed down by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.

The plight of the families is described in the song “Desaparecido” by French-Spanish singer-songwriter Manu Chao, dedicated to the thousands of victims of enforced disappearance in Latin America and their families: “I carry in my body a pain that doesn’t let me breathe, I carry in my body a doom that forces me to keep moving.”

And their lives are put on hold while they visit registries, fill out paperwork, lobby, take innumerable risks, and rack up expenses as they search for their loved ones and other desaparecidos.

“For now, I’m not interested in justice or reparations,” said García. “What I want is to know the truth, what happened, where he is. I’m looking for him alive but I know that in the context we’re living in there may be a different outcome. It’ll probably take me many years and I am desperate, but I continue the struggle.”

Her organisation, Fuerzas Unidas, drew up a plan that includes the analysis of crime maps, a genetic registry, awareness-raising campaigns, and proposed measures to hold those responsible for botched investigations accountable.

“The families are more familiar with the situation than anyone else, they know what has to be done. The problem is that we are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the phenomenon in Mexico,” said López.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/families-of-desaparecidos-take-search-into-their-own-hands/feed/ 0
Indigenous Storytelling in the Limelighthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-storytelling-in-the-limelight/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-storytelling-in-the-limelight http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-storytelling-in-the-limelight/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 09:33:21 +0000 Francesca Dziadek http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139362 María Mercedes Coroy, first-time lead actress in ‘Ixcanul Volcano’, winner of the Alfred Bauer Prize at the 2015 Berlinale. The film, directed by Guatemalan Jayro Buscamante, emerged from a community-media storytelling project involving local women in discussion groups and script writing workshops in Kaqchikel, one of the 12 regional Mayan languages. Credit: © La Casa de Producción

María Mercedes Coroy, first-time lead actress in ‘Ixcanul Volcano’, winner of the Alfred Bauer Prize at the 2015 Berlinale. The film, directed by Guatemalan Jayro Buscamante, emerged from a community-media storytelling project involving local women in discussion groups and script writing workshops in Kaqchikel, one of the 12 regional Mayan languages. Credit: © La Casa de Producción

By Francesca Dziadek
BERLIN, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

In recent years, the Berlin International Film Festival, known as the Berlinale, has established a European hub for indigenous voices across a number of platforms, including its NATIVe – A Journey into Indigenous Cinema series and Storytelling-Slams in which indigenous storytelling artists share their stories before opening the floor to contributions from the audience.

This year’s Berlinale, with a focus on Latin America, dabbed a rainbow of native flair to Berlin’s greyest month, with a chorus of voices and perspectives from indigenous people, including Guarani, Hicholes, Xavante, Wichi, Kuikuro, Mapuche, Tzotzil and Quechua.

And it was an indigenous story from Guatemala – ‘Ixcanul Volcano’ by Jayro Buscamante (37), set among the Maya community in the Pacaya volcano region – which took home the Berlinale’s Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize this year for a film that “opens new perspectives on cinematic art”."I wanted to reveal the state of impotence, the real situation faced by indigenous women who have no power, told from their own perspective, in their own language” – Jayro Buscamante, director of ‘Ixcanul Volcano’

Ixcanul Volcano is the story of Maria, a 17-year-old Mayan girl from a coffee-farming community in the volcano’s foothills, who is torn between an arranged marriage to the local foreman and her attraction to a young local man, Pepe, who seduces her with his dreams of a different life, beyond the volcano, up north.

Following a botched-up elopement attempt, Maria finds herself bearing the consequences of an unwanted teenage pregnancy. The young girl and her mother, played by Maria Telon, a Mayan community theatre actress-activist, are soon engulfed in a precipice of dramatic circumstances.

Based on true events, Ixcanul Volcano emerged from a community-media storytelling project where Buscamante involved local women in discussion groups and script writing workshops in Kaqchikel, one of the 12 regional Mayan languages. Inevitably, the story came to reflect the glaring nexus among human rights abuses, poverty and powerlessness.

“I wanted to reveal the state of impotence, the real situation faced by indigenous women who have no power, told from their own perspective, in their own language,” explained Buscamante, who learnt Kaqchikel growing up among the Maya.

It was his mother, a community health worker, who first told him about the scourge surrounding child-trafficking practices, one of the darkest chapters of Guatemala’s long civil war (1960-1996), involving public health employees and state authorities.

The United Nations has reported a staggering 400 cases of abductions of Mayan children and minors per year, a human rights scandal carried out with impunity.

“There is an insidious social-legal framework which can chain and cheat the poorest of the poor even while pretending to help them out. This leads to a state of impotence and submission, sometimes the only response left available,” explained Buscamante.

Yet, in Berlin, Maria Telon and the hauntingly beautiful, first-time lead, María Mercedes Coroy,  spoke of their gratitude for “liking our story” and for being heard and appreciated, something which, Telon said, is not always the case for indigenous women and communities.

The horrors and human rights crimes perpetrated by the massacre of the Mayan population, which accounted for 85 percent of the victims of the Guatemalan civil war, are outlined in a report by Guatemala’s Historical Clarification Commission’s report titled Memory of Silence”, drafted by three rapporteurs, including German jurist Christian Tomuschat, professor of public international law at Berlin’s Humboldt University.

Memory was the thread linking native perspectives on water, the crucial element sustaining life on the planet and the subject of The Pearl Button (El boton de nazar), Chilean film director Patricio Guzman’s documentary, which took home a Berlinale Silver Bear Prize for Best Script.

Countries which deny their past remain stuck in collective amnesia and Guzman, for whom “a country without documentary cinema is like a family without a family album,” applies this conviction to Chile’s denial of its colonial history and the extermination of its native inhabitants.

The documentary’s title refers to the legend of Jemmy Button, a Yagan teenager who was sold off to a British naval captain in 1830 for the price of a pearl button.

It pays tribute to three of the all but extinguished Yacatan original inhabitants, the “water nomads” of the Patagonian estuary, and to the native wisdom of those who navigated these waters which sustained human existence for centuries.

Interviewed by Guzman, who endured 15 days of detention in Pinochet’s infamous torture stadium in 1973 and is internationally acclaimed for the documentary trilogy ‘The Battle of Chile’ (1975-1978), Gabriela Paterito recalled a 600-mile voyage aged 12 with her mother to collect fresh water.

Asked to translate Spanish words into her own native Kawesquar, Paterito recalls many words including “water”, “sun” and “button” and, pushed to find the equivalent for “police”, she nods replying: “No, we don’t need that.” And as far as God is concerned, her response comes as a resolute: “No, there is no God.”

The fate of Gabriela’s people was sealed in Chile’s colonial past. Five distinct ethnic groups tied to the water environment of the archipelagos were exterminated by Catholic missionaries and conquistadores.

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recognises that “indigenous knowledge is the local knowledge that is unique to a culture or society” and that knowledge of the natural world cannot be confined to science because it represents the accumulated knowledge which has sustained human societies in their interaction with the natural world across the ages.

Another protagonist in The Pearl Button explains how the government denies him the use of his handmade canoe,  and consequently access to his own traditional livelihood, ostensibly for  his own protection – a disturbing disconnect in a country which exterminated its native maritime inhabitants and was never able to make use of the  potential of its 2,670 miles of coastline.

“Ixcanul is a significant step for a native, Latin American film. With 80 percent of our screens spewing out U.S. blockbusters it leaves a small niche for alternatives from Europe and a tiny one for Latin American films, Leo Cordero of Mexico’s Mantarraya Distribucion told IPS. “Paradoxically, it is only if the film is well received in Europe and around the world that we can take a chance on it.”

Strongly committed to the Guatemalan peace process and the emancipation of the Maya people, Ixcanul Volcano comes at a time when indigenous media are flourishing with a new understanding of the native retelling of history and film-making as a “common good”.

Bolivia and Ecuador have acknowledged the world view of indigenous people based on a sacred conception of the Law of Rights of mother Earth – the concept of Pachamama, which prioritises the collective good over individual gain.

At the Berlinale’s NATIVe Storytelling-Slam, indigenous perspectives were centre stage.  David Alberto Hernandez Palmar, a Venezuelan video artist and producer of the documentary Owners of Water about an indigenous campaign to protect an Amazonian river, insisted that the Kueka stone, which originated in Venezuela’s Gran Sabana nature reserve in the Pemom Indian lands, should be returned from Berlin’s central park, the Tiergarten. “Mother Earth is sad,” he said.

Whether or not Berlin will become involved in a case of restitution of indigenous property is unsure but, increasingly, indigenous arts, media and communications are building bridges.

“The medium of film can provide a crucial path towards understanding because you have to open up to the perspectives of others,” said Buscamante, who stressed his interest in the relationships among different cultures and ethnic groups.

Edited by Phil Harris    

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-storytelling-in-the-limelight/feed/ 0
Falling Oil Prices Won’t Derail St. Lucia’s Push for Clean Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/falling-oil-prices-wont-derail-st-lucias-push-for-clean-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=falling-oil-prices-wont-derail-st-lucias-push-for-clean-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/falling-oil-prices-wont-derail-st-lucias-push-for-clean-energy/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 16:01:45 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139341 Workers use electricity and firewood to prepare cassava bread in Canaries, St. Lucia. The country’s government says renewable energy can help with value-added in the agricultural sector. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Workers use electricity and firewood to prepare cassava bread in Canaries, St. Lucia. The country’s government says renewable energy can help with value-added in the agricultural sector. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
CASTRIES, Feb 25 2015 (IPS)

At Plas Kassav, a roadside outlet in Canaries, a rural community in western St. Lucia, a busload of visitors from other Caribbean countries, along with tourists from North America and Europe, sample the 12 flavours of freshly baked cassava bread on sale.

In the back of the shop, employees busily sift the grated cassava and prepare it for baking. Next to them, an electric motor powers a device that turns grated cassava as it bakes into farine — a cereal made from cassava tubers — in a wood-fired cauldron.Caribbean nations, with their fossil fuel-dependant economies, “don't want to be caught in a situation where today the price of oil is less than 50 dollars a barrel and tomorrow, if the Saudis and the other players decide, that the price of oil could go up to 120 dollars a barrel.” -- Minister James Fletcher

This is one of the ways in which this eastern Caribbean nation of 180,000 people is marrying its tourism and agriculture sectors.

Tourism makes the largest contribution to St. Lucia’s 1.3-billion-dollar economy. And with oil prices expected to continue falling for some time, this 617-square-kilometre island is hoping for significant economic growth on the heels of the slim years since the global financial crisis struck in 2008.

The government says that the move toward renewable energy will see businesses and households paying less for energy and will also strengthen the nation’s argument at the international climate change negotiations.

A renewable energy expert with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) tells IPS that falling oil prices present an excellent opportunity for small island developing states such as St. Lucia and its 14 other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) allies to accelerate their renewable energy programme.

“I think you can look at it as a windfall that buys you time for the transition,” Dolf Gielen says.

He tells IPS that falling oil prices will slow down but will not end the push towards clean energy.

“Oil prices will somewhat slow the acceleration but you will see a continued transition towards renewables,” he says. “Now you have a little more time to plan it and to make sure that it functions well.”

James Fletcher, St. Lucia’s Minister of Public Service, Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology, tells IPS that he agrees that the region needs to accelerate its transition toward renewable energy, but is not certain whether lower fuel prices is really reason to exhale.

“I’m not sure about the breathing space. I think what it does, however, show is that this fuel price game is not one we want to be playing,” Fletcher tells IPS.

He notes that while the price of oil has fallen to 50 dollars a barrel — less than half of what it was half year ago — the decrease did not result from any advances in technology.

“The price of oil right now is being determined by the geopolitics of oil,” he says, noting that Saudi Arabia has increased its production in an effort to make production of shale oil in the United States and Canada less attractive.

Fletcher says that Caribbean nations, with their fossil fuel-dependant economies, “don’t want to be caught in a situation where today the price of oil is less than 50 dollars a barrel and tomorrow, if the Saudis and the other players decide, that the price of oil could go up to 120 dollars a barrel.”

Cruise in Castries Harbour, St. Lucia. The island is hoping to use renewable energy to fuel a greater part of its tourism sector. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Cruise in Castries Harbour, St. Lucia. The island is hoping to use renewable energy to fuel a greater part of its tourism sector. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

If the Caribbean is really serious about sustainable development and wants its economies to develop with some level of certainty, “we can’t be at the mercy of a widely fluctuating oil market,” Fletcher stresses.

“So, for me, what is happening in the oil market is reason why, as much as possible, we should get either out of it or insulate ourselves from it – and that’s why renewable energy makes so much sense to us.”

As opposed to dependence on oil, Fletcher says, if Caribbean countries are depending on renewable energy then there is “much more certainty” of what the price of energy will be.

“… With prices fluctuating so much not because of any huge difference in technology and any difference in supply in the Middle East or any glut in the supply market, I think that’s why we should be getting pursuing our renewable energies programme with more haste and more energy,” Fletcher tells IPS.

In St. Lucia, consumers pay 38 cents for one kilowatt-hour of electricity. The government hopes that its investments in renewable energy could see that price reduced to 30 cents.

St. Lucia is home to Sulphur Sprints, the “world’s only drive in volcano” — a smoking caldera located near Soufrière on the southwestern side of the island, where the natural heat boils the water and geysers shoot into the air at high tide and full moon.

St. Lucia hopes to generate up to 30 megawatts of electricity in Soufriere, home to Sulphur Springs, the “world’s only drive-in volcano”. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

St. Lucia hopes to generate up to 30 megawatts of electricity in Soufriere, home to Sulphur Springs, the “world’s only drive-in volcano”. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

It stands to reason that geothermal energy will be the nation’s focus as it pivots to renewable energy.

Fletcher tells IPS wind and solar PV are intermittent sources of energy “and we really can’t complete a transition away from fossil fuel based on intermittent sources, unless we invest heavily in storage, which we really don’t have the capacity to do right now.”

St. Lucia has received financial and technical support from the government of New Zealand, SIDS-DOCK, and the Global Environmental Facility to conduct the initial stage of exploration, which will start soon, Fletcher says.

LUCILEC, the state-owned power company in St. Lucia, will purchase the electricity from the power plant developer, ORMAK of Isreal, and resell it to consumers.

Fletcher tells IPS that the government is pleased with the pace of the negotiations but notes that developing geothermal potential takes time.

“But at least it puts us on track to developing what we believe is as much as 30 megawatts of geothermal energy in Soufriere,” he says.

And while geothermal energy has been identified as the booster that St. Lucia’s tourism industry has been longing for, exploiting that same renewable energy potential could deal a devastating blow to the nation’s tourism product.

“There is one little wrinkle in that, because the drive-in volcano is also located within the Piton Management Area, and the Piton Management Area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is located in one of the policy areas where we are restricted in the level of infrastructural development that can take place,” Fletcher explains.

“So what we will be doing is looking at drill sites outside of the immediate vicinity of the drive-in volcano, but we are quite confident that we will have quite productive wells outside of that immediate area.”

St. Lucia is also exploring the development of a 12-megawatt wind farm on the island’s east cost and has been having discussion with an entity in the United States in this regard.

The third element of the renewable energy push is solar PV, the first stage of which will be done by LUCILEC, which has invited responses to proposal for a 1.2-megawatt facility in the south of St. Lucia, the intention being that it will be scaled up to 3 megawatts in the near future.

In this regard, the government is working with the Carbon War Room and the Clinton Initiative, which have been supporting the renewable energy programme.

Fletcher tells IPS that the move toward renewable energy, coupled with energy saving initiatives — such reducing from 4.0 million dollars to 2.6 million annually the amount spent on street lighting by switching to LED bulbs — will have a “tremendous” impact on St. Lucia.

The government is moving to make its own buildings more energy efficient, and will take to Parliament legislation to provide home and land tax, income tax rebate for people who are retrofitting their homes with energy efficient devices or installing grid-tie solar PV.

“What that does is many-fold. First of all, it causes our economic sector to be much more competitive,” Fletcher says, adding that a large portion of spending in the tourism sector is on energy.

“When you now superimpose on that the work we are doing with renewables, that, hopefully, will cause a reduction in the price of electricity from what it is right now, which 38 US cents per hour, to something approaching 30 cents. Then the expenditure by our hotels, by our manufacturing sector, the expenditure by people who are interested in value-added in agriculture, that expenditure goes down and it makes those sectors more competitive,” Fletcher tells IPS.

“On the household side, any money that is not being spent on energy is money that can be spent on something else. And so our focus is not just on the commercial establishments but also to get our residential consumers to benefit from the reduction in the cost of electricity, but also by putting in energy saving measures in their homes and giving them concessions to do that, that they will realise significant savings where their energy expenditure is concerned.”

Fletcher is one of St. Lucia’s and CARICOM’s negotiator at the global climate change talks, where the nations of the worlds are slated to sign a binding deal for reducing global warming in Paris later this year.

He tells IPS that at the international climate change negotiations, St. Lucia has been saying to developed countries that they have to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases to keep global warming to two degrees above pre-industrial levels, as proposed by experts.

“Now, it strengthens our case. It strengthens our moral argument if we can say that a country like St. Lucia that contributes … something like 0.00078 per cent of all green house gases, we recognise the importance of this being a global effort and we are still committing to reducing our carbon footprint by 30, 40, 50 per cent.

“Then we believe that the big emitters, like the United States, like the European countries, like China, like Russia, that they also should be doing more to reduce their greenhouse emissions. So, I think it strengthens our hand in the international negotiations where climate change is concerned,” Fletcher tells IPS.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at Kentonxtchance@gmail.com

Follow him on Twitter @KentonXChance

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/falling-oil-prices-wont-derail-st-lucias-push-for-clean-energy/feed/ 0
Argentina Moves Towards Marriage of Convenience with Chinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/argentina-moves-towards-marriage-of-convenience-with-china/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentina-moves-towards-marriage-of-convenience-with-china http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/argentina-moves-towards-marriage-of-convenience-with-china/#comments Mon, 23 Feb 2015 22:33:52 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139304 The entrance to Chinatown in Buenos Aires, where a sign promotes the renovation of Argentina’s railways, partly financed by Beijing. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The entrance to Chinatown in Buenos Aires, where a sign promotes the renovation of Argentina’s railways, partly financed by Beijing. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

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

The government of Argentina is building a marriage of convenience with China, which some see as uneven and others see as an indispensable alliance for a new level of insertion in the global economy.

The process forms part of a radical change with respect to Argentina’s diplomacy, which years back involved ties with the United States described as “carnal relations.”

President Cristina Fernández called the new relationship with China an “integral strategic alliance,” after signing a package of 22 agreements with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing on Feb. 4.

The accords include areas like space technology, mining, energy, financing, livestock and cultural matters. They cover the construction of two nuclear and two hydropower plants, considered key to this country’s goal of energy self-sufficiency.

“Although they are important, the new agreements and others that were signed earlier are insufficient to gauge the dimension of the bilateral commitment,” said Jorge Castro, the director of the Strategic Planning Institute and an expert on China.

“For Argentina, the relationship with China has elements that are essential for insertion into the international system of the 21st century, along with other countries of the South, headed by Brazil,” he told IPS.

“These ties are between the new fulcrum of the global economy, China-Asia, and Argentina as a nation and as a regional unit,” he said.

Castro pointed out that Asia’s giant is currently South America’s leading trade partner, due to the volume of its purchases of raw materials, which implies a level of interdependence given that “China has placed the food security of its population in the hands of South American countries.”

In the case of Argentina, China is its second-largest trading partner, after neighbouring Brazil – displacing long-time partners like the United States and European countries.

In 2014, exports to China totalled five billion dollars while imports stood at 10.8 billion dollars – a bilateral record which represented 11.5 percent of this country’s trade balance, according to Argentina’s Chamber of Commerce.

Prior accords that cemented the alliance

Before Fernández’s visit to China, the two countries had already signed investment agreements in strategic sectors, such as the one between China’s Sinopec and Argentina’s YPF, two state-owned oil companies, for the exploitation of one of the Loma Campana deposits of unconventional oil and gas resources in Vaca Muerta in southern Argentina.

There was also an accord for China to provide some 2.5 billion dollars in financing for the reconstruction of the railway of the Belgrano Cargas y Logística company, which will transport Argentine and Brazilian agricultural products to Chilean ports on the Pacific ocean.

“The investment agreements with China are important to the extent that they facilitate the conditions to continue generating, for example, the infrastructure for development that Argentina needs, in a scenario” of a shortage of foreign currency, economist Fernanda Vallejos told IPS.

The Chinese space station under construction in the southern Argentine province of Neuquén, rejected by the political opposition of all stripes and social groups. Credit: Courtesy of DesarrolloyDefensa

The Chinese space station under construction in the southern Argentine province of Neuquén, rejected by the political opposition of all stripes and social groups. Credit: Courtesy of DesarrolloyDefensa

In July 2014, Argentina reached an 11 billion dollar currency swap agreement with China, to shore up this country’s weakened foreign reserves, of which it received one billion dollars in December.

The swap “has been a very powerful instrument,” which is added to measures by the government and the Central Bank to promote exchange stability and help slow down inflation, said Vallejos, a member of a group that advises the Ministry of the Economy and Public Finance.

Critical voices

Sectors of the business community are critical of the alliance with Beijing, such as the Argentine Industrial Union (UIA) or the Chamber of Exports, which sounded a warning about the asymmetrical nature of the relationship.

This country’s exports to China are only half of what it imports from the Asian giant, and they are basically raw materials or farm products. A full 75 percent is soy or by-products.

Imports, by contrast, are mainly machinery and electronics, computers, telephones, chemical products, motorcycles or parts for household appliances.

The UIA said the framework agreement on economic cooperation and investment, signed in July 2014 and pending final approval by the legislature, “contains clauses that pose an enormous risk to Argentina’s development.”

“Over the last decade, China’s strategy has pursued two central objectives: to consolidate its transnational companies in global value chains and to obtain commodities and inputs with little value-added, for its growing productive and employment needs,” the UIA said in a communiqué.

“In free trade agreements in this era of globalisation, the essential thing is not trade but investment,” said Castro, who questioned the concept of “asymmetry” and backed the agreement with China.

The China expert said the relationship should be analysed in a broader context. For example, by remembering that in the next 10 years, China’s foreign direct investment is estimated to climb to 1.1 trillion dollars.

“The question is how to manage to be part of China’s flow of investment in industry in the next 10 to 20 years,” Castro said.

The UIA agrees that it is important to be part of that current, but with allocations that would not harm local goods and services, which have no chance of receiving Chinese financing, the business chamber said.

The UIA and some trade unions also worry that Chinese labour power, which is included in several projects, will displace local workers.

“Don’t worry, we continue to defend Argentine workers and the business community’s participation,” said centre-left President Fernández, who urged those sectors to engage in technical discussions about the accords.

The new empire?

Some in Argentina see the China of the 21st century as the new England of the 19th century or the United States of the 20th century, in terms of economic and territorial hegemony and domination.

They also question the construction of a Chinese space tracking and control station in the southern Argentine province of Neuquén, which according to the government will monitor, control and gather data as part of China’s programme of missions to explore the moon and outer space.

Raúl Dobrusin, an opposition legislator from Neuquén, told IPS that the agreement, which grants China the use of 200 hectares for 50 years and is opposed by left-wing groups and social organisations, did not go through the Neuquén provincial legislature, which was not informed of the details of the accord.

So far there is no Chinese military presence in the construction project, said Dobrusin, but in his view, the space station poses “major geopolitical risks.”

“If there is a confrontation between powerful nations, we will be a place to be taken into account by the enemies of China…In short, we are getting into an area where the possibility of deciding whether or not to participate in conflicts is no longer a sovereign decision, they won’t ask us,” he warned.

“The alliance transcends economic matters and forms part of the search for independence, on both the economic and political fronts, which makes it possible to reach economic and social development goals, by breaking the yoke of neoliberalism and the empire-dependence logic,” said Vallejos.

China, in her view, “is far from the voracity of the Western powers…It is part of a new global order that is struggling to be born, where the role of emerging countries is no longer one of colonialism but of assuming the position of builders of our own destiny,” said the economist.

“That does not mean that China isn’t obtaining benefits from its ties with our nations, but that it is possible to build a win-win relationship for all of the parties involved,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/argentina-moves-towards-marriage-of-convenience-with-china/feed/ 1
Analysis: Economic Growth Is Not Enoughhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/analysis-economic-growth-is-not-enough/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=analysis-economic-growth-is-not-enough http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/analysis-economic-growth-is-not-enough/#comments Mon, 23 Feb 2015 14:39:21 +0000 Jessica Faieta http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139299 A shantytown in Guatemala. UNDP estimates suggest that more than 1.5 million people in the Latin American region will fall into poverty by the end of 2015. Credit: Danilo Valladares/IPS

A shantytown in Guatemala. UNDP estimates suggest that more than 1.5 million people in the Latin American region will fall into poverty by the end of 2015. Credit: Danilo Valladares/IPS

By Jessica Faieta
NEW YORK, Feb 23 2015 (IPS)

Recent new data show a worrying picture of Latin America and the Caribbean. Income poverty reduction has stagnated and the number of poor has risen — for the first time in a decade — according to recent figures from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

This means that three million women and men in the region fell into poverty between 2013 and 2014. Given the projected economic growth for this year, at 1.3 percent according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) figures, our U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) estimates suggest that in 2015, more than 1.5 million people will also fall into poverty by the end of this year.We need to invest in the skills and assets of the poor and vulnerable — tasks that may take years, and in many cases, an entire generation.

They could be coming from the nearly 200 million vulnerable people in the region — those who are neither poor (living on less than four dollars a day) nor have risen to the middle classes (living on 10-50 dollars a day). Their incomes are right above the poverty line but still too prone to falling into poverty as soon as a major crisis hits, as another recent UNDP study showed.

Up and down the poverty line

Our analysis shows a clear pattern: what determines people to be “lifted from poverty” (quality education and employment) is different from what “avoids their fallback into poverty” (existence of social safety nets and household assets).

This gap suggests that, alone, more economic growth is not enough to build “resilience”, or the ability to absorb external shocks, such as financial crisis or natural disasters, without major social and economic losses. We need to invest in the skills and assets of the poor and vulnerable — tasks that may take years, and in many cases, an entire generation.

Exclusion beyond income

We simulated what would happen if the region grew during 2017-2020 at the same rate as it did during the last decade — that is 3.9 percent annually — yet our estimates show that fewer people in Latin America and the Caribbean would be lifted from poverty than in the previous decade.

While an average of 6.5 million women and men in the region left poverty every year during 2003 and 2012, only about 2.6 million a year would leave poverty behind (earning more than four dollars a day) between 2017 and 2020.

Clearly, ‘more of the same’ in terms of growth — and public policies — will no longer yield ‘more of the same’ in poverty and inequality reduction, according to our analysis. There are two reasons: easy sources of increased wages are declining and fiscal resources, crucial to expand social safety nets, have shrunk.

What lies ahead are harder challenges: addressing exclusion, discrimination and historical inequalities that are not explained by income alone.

Fundamentally, progress is a multidimensional concept and cannot simply reflect the idea of living with less or more than four or 10 dollars a day. Wellbeing means more than income, not a consumerist standard of what a “good life” entails.

These are central elements to our next Human Development Report for Latin America and the Caribbean, which we are now preparing. It will also include policy recommendations that help decision makers lead an agenda that not only focuses on growth recovery and structural adjustment, but also redefines what is progress, development and social change in a region of massive inequalities and emerging and vulnerable middle classes.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/analysis-economic-growth-is-not-enough/feed/ 0
OPINION: Can the Violence in Honduras Be Stopped?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-can-the-violence-in-honduras-be-stopped/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-can-the-violence-in-honduras-be-stopped http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-can-the-violence-in-honduras-be-stopped/#comments Sun, 22 Feb 2015 17:57:50 +0000 LisaHaugaard, Sarah Kinosian, and William Hartung http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139291 For the fourth year running, San Pedro Sula has been one of the most dangerous places on the planet outside of a war zone. Credit: daviditzi/Flickr

For the fourth year running, San Pedro Sula has been one of the most dangerous places on the planet outside of a war zone. Credit: daviditzi/Flickr

By Lisa Haugaard, Sarah Kinosian, and William Hartung
WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb 22 2015 (IPS)

Honduras is one of the most violent nations in the world. The situation in the country’s second largest city, San Pedro Sula, demonstrates the depth of the problem.

For the fourth year running, San Pedro Sula has been one of the most dangerous places on the planet outside of a war zone. Its murder rate in 2014 was an astonishing 171 per 100,000. The city, which is caught in the crossfire between vicious criminal gangs, has been the largest source of the 18,000 Honduran children who have fled to the United States in recent years.

The vast majority of killings in Honduras are carried out with impunity. For example, 97 percent of the murders in San Pedro Sula go unsolved.

Corruption within and abuses by the civilian police undermine its effectiveness. A controversial new internal security force, the Military Police of Public Order (Policia Militar del Orden Publico, or PMOP), does not carry out investigations needed to deter crime and is facing a series of allegations of abuses in the short time it has been deployed. There are currently 3,000 PMOP soldiers deployed throughout the country, but this number is expected to grow to 5,000 this year. The national police feel that the government is starving them for funds and trying to replace them with PMOP."The vast majority of killings in Honduras are carried out with impunity."

The rise of PMOP is part of a larger trend toward the militarization of government and civil society. The military is now in charge of most aspects of public security in Honduras. But the signs of militarization are everywhere. Each Saturday, for example, 25,000 kids receive military training as part of the “Guardians of the Homeland” program, which the government says is designed to keep youths age 5-23 from joining the street gangs that control entire sections of the country’s most violent cities.

But putting more guns on the street is unlikely to sustainably stem the tide of violence in Honduras. What would make a difference is an end to the climate of impunity that allows murderers to kill people with no fear of consequences.

“This country needs to strengthen its capacity and will to carry out criminal investigations. This is the key to everything,” said an expert on violence in Honduras who spent years working in justice agencies there, and who spoke on condition of anonymity for reasons of personal safety.

The Three-Fold Challenge

The Honduran government faces three key challenges: It must reform a corrupt and abusive police force, strengthen criminal investigations, and ensure an impartial and independent judiciary.

Police reform appears to be stalled. There was some hope after the surge of civilian pressure for reform that followed the 2011 killing of the son of the rector for the Autonomous National University of Honduras and a friend. The Commission for the Reform of Public Security produced a series of proposals to improve the safety of the Honduran citizenry, including recommendations for improving police training, disciplinary procedures, and the structure of pubic security institutions.

Unfortunately, the Honduran Congress dissolved the commission in January 2014, during the lame duck period before President Juan Orlando Hernandez took office. Few of its recommendations have been carried out.

“They could have purged and trained the police during this time. But instead they put 5,000 military police on the street who don’t know what a chain of custody is,” lamented the expert on violence.

The Honduran government claims that over 2,000 police officers have been purged since May 2012, but there is little public information that would allow for an independent assessment of the reasons for the dismissals. And even when police are removed, they are not prosecuted; some are even allowed to return to the force. This is no way to instill accountability.

Meanwhile, the independence of the Honduran justice system is under attack. Since November 2013, the Judiciary Council has dismissed 29 judges and suspended 28 without an appropriate process, according to a member of the Association of Judges for Democracy. “This means that judges feel intimidated. They feel if they rule against well-connected people, against politicians, they can be dismissed.”

In an attempt to improve investigations and prosecutions, special units have been created to investigate specific types of crimes. For example, the Special Victims Task Force was created in 2011 to tackle crimes against vulnerable groups such as journalists, human rights advocates, and the LGBT community. This approach has been funded by the United States. It has promise, but the results are unclear so far. So is the question of whether the success of these specialized efforts can lead to broader improvements in the judicial system.

Protecting the Protectors

Providing security for justice operators is a particularly daunting problem. From 2010 to December 2014, 86 legal professionals were killed, according to information received by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Although the state provides some protection, the funding allocated for this purpose is inadequate. “In a country with the highest levels of violence and impunity in the region,” noted the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, “the State necessarily has a special obligation to protect, so that its justice sector operators can carry out their work to fight impunity without becoming victims in the very cases they are investigating.”

To try and target the problems driving the endemic violence in Honduras, the government, joined by the governments of Guatemala and El Salvador, has released its Alliance for Prosperity plan, which is designed to increase investment in infrastructure and encourage foreign investment. The Obama administration has announced that it will ask Congress for $1 billion to help fund the initiative, but details about the security strategy are scarce.

It remains to be seen exactly how this money will be spent. Looking at San Pedro Sula, it is clear that a dramatic change in political will would be needed for any initiative of this kind to be successful. International donors should not support a militarized security strategy, which would intensify abuses and fail to provide sustainable citizen security.

Funding for well-designed, community-based violence prevention programs could be helpful, but only if there is a government willing to reform the police, push for justice, and invest in the education, jobs, violence prevention, health, child protection, and community development programs needed to protect its poorest citizens.

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

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-can-the-violence-in-honduras-be-stopped/feed/ 1
Biogas Eases Women’s Household Burden in Rural Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/biogas-eases-womens-household-burden-in-rural-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=biogas-eases-womens-household-burden-in-rural-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/biogas-eases-womens-household-burden-in-rural-cuba/#comments Fri, 20 Feb 2015 17:34:02 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139281 Rural doctor Arianna Toledo heats water on her biogas stove at her home in the town of Cuatro Esquinas in the western Cuban province of Matanzas. Credit: Courtesy of Randy Rodríguez Pagés/Diakonia-Swedish Ecumenical Action

Rural doctor Arianna Toledo heats water on her biogas stove at her home in the town of Cuatro Esquinas in the western Cuban province of Matanzas. Credit: Courtesy of Randy Rodríguez Pagés/Diakonia-Swedish Ecumenical Action

By Ivet González
LOS ARABOS, Cuba, Feb 20 2015 (IPS)

On the blue flame of her biogas stove, it takes half as long for rural doctor Arianna Toledo to heat bath water and cook dinner as it did four years ago, when she still used electric power or firewood.

The installation of a biodigester, which uses pig manure to produce biogas for use in cooking food, cut the expenses and the time spent on food preparation for Toledo’s five-member family, who live in the town of Cuatro Esquinas, Los Arabos municipality in the western Cuban province of Matanzas.

“The main savings is in time, because the gas stove cooks faster,” Toledo told Tierramérica. She and the rest of the women in the family shoulder the burden of the household tasks, as in the great majority of Cuban homes.

Another 20 small biogas plants operate in homes in this town located 150 km from Havana, and over 300 more in the entire province of Matanzas, installed with support from a project run by the Christian Centre for Reflection and Dialogue (CCRD-C), based in Cárdenas, a city in the same province.“In general, women manage the household budget, which becomes a burden. That’s why they are thankful for the biodigesters, and many of them have been motivated to raise pigs and get involved in farming as a result.” -- Rita María García

The ecumenical institution seeks to improve living conditions in rural areas by fomenting ecological practices, which mitigate environmental damage, soil degradation and poor use of water.

Another key aim of the biodigester project is also to ease the work burden and household expenses of rural women.

“Our monthly power bill has been reduced, and we spend less on cooking gas cylinders, while at the same time we’re protecting the environment by using a renewable natural resource,” Toledo said.

In Cuba, 69 percent of families depend on electricity for cooking.

Toledo’s husband, Carlos Alberto Tamayo, explained to Tierramérica that using the biodigester, the four pigs they raise for family consumption guarantee the fuel needed for their home.

“And the organic material left over is used as natural fertiliser for our garden, where we grow fruit and vegetables,” said Tamayo, an Episcopal pastor in Cuatro Esquinas, which has a population of just over 2,300.

He said the biodigester prevents bad smells and the spread of disease vectors, while the gas is safer because it is non-toxic and there is a lower risk of accidents or explosions.

With the support of international development funds from several countries, for 15 years the CCRD-C has been promoting household use of these systems, reforestation and renewable energies, which are a priority for this Caribbean island nation, where only 4.3 percent of the energy consumed comes from clean sources.

The biodigesters, which are homemade in this case, will mushroom throughout Cuba over the next five years.

The organic fertiliser produced by this biodigester effluent tank is used on a family garden in Los Arabos in the Cuban province of Matanzas. Credit: Courtesy of Randy Rodríguez Pagés/Diakonia-Swedish Ecumenical Action

The organic fertiliser produced by this biodigester effluent tank is used on a family garden in Los Arabos in the Cuban province of Matanzas. Credit: Courtesy of Randy Rodríguez Pagés/Diakonia-Swedish Ecumenical Action

The Swine Research Institute’s Biogas Promotion and Development Centre is designing a national plan to promote the use of biodigesters in state companies and agricultural cooperatives.

In 2014, the Centre reported that there were 1,000 biodigesters in these two sectors, which benefited 4,000 people, in the case of the companies, and 8,000 people, in the case of the farming cooperatives.

The plan projects the construction of some 1,000 biodigesters a year by 2020, through nine projects implemented by the Agriculture Ministry and the non-governmental National Association of Small Farmers, which will receive financing from the United Nations Small Grants Programme.

According to Rita María García, director of the CCRD-C, monitoring of the project has shown that replacing the use of firewood, kerosene and petroleum-based products with biogas makes household work more humane.

Women gain in safety and time – important in a country where unpaid domestic work absorbs 71 percent of the working hours of women, according to the only Time Use Survey published until now, carried out in 2002 by the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI).

The study found that for every 100 hours of work by men, women worked 120, many of them multitasking – cooking, cleaning, washing and caring for children.

“In general, women manage the household budget, which becomes a burden,” said García. “That’s why they are thankful for the biodigesters, and many of them have been motivated to raise pigs and get involved in farming as a result.”

The methodology followed by the CCRD-C projects first involves training for the beneficiaries in construction and maintenance of the biodigesters, and in ecological farming techniques using organic fertiliser, said Juan Carlos Rodríguez, the organisation’s general coordinator.

The CCRD-C also promotes reforestation by small farmers and the use of windmills, to reduce the use of electricity in a country that imports 53 percent of the fuel it consumes.

An additional benefit of the biodigesters is that they offer an alternative for the disposal of pig manure, which contaminates the environment.

In 2013 there were 16.7 million pigs in Cuba, 65 percent of which were in private hands in this highly-centralised, socialist economy.

Because pork is the most widely consumed meat in Cuba, and many private farmers and families raise pigs, the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment are fomenting the installation of biodigesters, to help boost production.

The authorities require those who raise pigs to guarantee adequate disposal of their waste.

Biogas is a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide produced by the bacterial decomposition of organic wastes. It can be used for cooking food, lighting, refrigeration and power generation.

Biodigesters help reduce soil and groundwater pollution, and curb the cutting of trees for firewood.

Cuba introduced their use in the 1980s, with U.N. support. But they began to take off a decade later, thanks to the National Biogas Movement.

Studies reported by the local press say the annual national potential for biogas production is over 400 million cubic metres, which would generate 700 gigawatt-hours per year.

That would reduce the release of carbon dioxide by more than three million tons, and would reduce oil imports by 190,000 tons a year.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

 

 

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/biogas-eases-womens-household-burden-in-rural-cuba/feed/ 0
Chikungunya Thrives with Climate Variability in the Caribbeanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/chikungunya-thrives-with-climate-variability-in-the-caribbean/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chikungunya-thrives-with-climate-variability-in-the-caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/chikungunya-thrives-with-climate-variability-in-the-caribbean/#comments Fri, 20 Feb 2015 01:07:03 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139266 The recent epidemic of chikungunya in the Caribbean has been attributed in part to indiscriminate dumping of household garbage, as in this street in Curepe, Trinidad, thus providing breeding ground for mosquitoes that thrive under hot and wet conditions. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

The recent epidemic of chikungunya in the Caribbean has been attributed in part to indiscriminate dumping of household garbage, as in this street in Curepe, Trinidad, thus providing breeding ground for mosquitoes that thrive under hot and wet conditions. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
TRINIDAD, Feb 20 2015 (IPS)

Jenny had gone to bed feeling well, but an hour into her sleep she suddenly awoke with a “stiff, cramping pain” behind one knee. Within the next hour the pains had multiplied and both knees began to lock, followed by stiffened fingers and pains in her chest, along with a fever.

Jenny Gittens, 61, described her experience with chikungunya over the next two weeks as marked by excruciating pain. “If I had a choice between chikungunya and having to deliver a baby I would go for the baby pains, it was that bad,” Gittens, a mother of two from Trinidad, said.

Over the following days she developed a rash that lasted for a few days and pains in her collar bone that left her bent over. “I just could not straighten up…You can’t turn, you just lie there. It was really excruciating,” she told IPS.

Though Gittens’ case was unconfirmed, it fit the description of chikungunya, the mosquito-borne disease whose name comes from an African word meaning “bent over with pain”.

According to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), as of Feb. 7 this year, there were a total of 4,485 confirmed/probable cases of chikungunya, and just over 87,000 suspected cases in CARPHA’s 24 member states comprising Caribbean nations.

Throughout the Americas, with the exception of the U.S., there were more than 800,000 suspected cases. There were 21,000 confirmed or probable cases including figures for the United States.

The illness, which is borne by two types of mosquitoes, is transmitted by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito in the Caribbean, said Dr. Dave Chadee, an entomologist and professor of environmental health at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, in Trinidad.

Though the illness has long been known in Asia and Africa, its arrival in the Caribbean as a serious health threat has occurred only in the past 15 months and its transmission is suspected to have been due to a visitor from Asia passing through the region.“I just could not straighten up…You can’t turn, you just lie there. It was really excruciating”

Prof Chadee told IPS that a mosquito feeding on the blood of an infected person would pick up the virus. The virus would then multiply in the vector’s digestive system before passing through the peritrophic membrane into its circulatory system from where it would migrate to the salivary gland of the mosquito next to the proboscis. From there, the virus would then be transmitted to a human victim when the mosquito takes its next blood meal.

A number of factors have contributed to the rapid transmission of the virus in the Caribbean over the past year, said Chadee, including climate variability.

Climate variability has contributed to higher temperatures as well as heavy rains and flooding in some parts of the Caribbean, including, most notably within the past 15 months, the Christmas floods in the Eastern Caribbean in December 2013. Such conditions make the seasonal pattern of the disease an issue in its transmission, Chadee said.

He explained that there would be an increase of the virus during the wet season “because there are more containers with water and more vectors present and during the wet season you have a lot more people not taking care of the environment because of the weather.”

However, “in the Caribbean there are few areas where you do not find mosquitoes,” said Dr. Christian Hendrickson, medical entomologist and vector-borne disease consultant at CARPHA, “and the Aedes aegypti mosquito is highly domesticated so that it can thrive anywhere in the Caribbean where people live and create conditions that allow it to thrive.

“In general, warmer temperatures allow mosquitoes to develop faster, and rains facilitate more mosquitoes to be produced. Heavy rains are likely to be followed by more mosquitoes,” Hendrickson told IPS.

Hendrickson said the spread of the disease in the region was “quite rapid.” However, “the transmission of chikungunya is now at a low point in the transmission season due to a decrease in rainfall but this may change when the rains return in May-June as the conditions will become more favourable for the mosquito vector.

To mitigate the spread of the virus, “what can and must be done is to maintain its populations at a very low level so that the possibility of transmission of chikungunya and dengue is greatly reduced,” Hendrickson said.

National vector control programmes and homeowners have an opportunity to reduce and eliminate the available mosquito breeding sites to prevent a recurrence of last year’s epidemic, he added.

Chadee said, “Given that we accept that there is climate variability and we know the onset of the rainy season follows the dry season,…vector control can be conducted in a very intensive way during that transition period.”

This pre-seasonal treatment strategy would require killing the mosquito eggs and instars before the larvae rapidly multiply as usual during the two weeks immediately after the rainy season begins. “So the mosquito population would remain flat, and that intense transmission period would be broken,” Chadee said.

Chadee said he has done work on chikungunya in the Indian Ocean islands where this strategy was applied with success.

However, Frederickson cautioned, “many national control programmes rely heavily on the use of insecticides to control mosquito larvae and adults. The long-term use of insecticides has resulted in the reduced effectiveness of many insecticides to eliminate mosquitoes…”

He encouraged focusing on the elimination of breeding grounds for mosquitoes as the best means to mitigate the spread of the virus.

As to predicting whether this disease will become endemic in the Caribbean, Chadee said, “It’s early days yet. We have only one year of experience with chikungunya in the Caribbean so we will have to wait a number of years before we get the epidemiological pattern.”

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/chikungunya-thrives-with-climate-variability-in-the-caribbean/feed/ 0
Everything You Wanted to Know About Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-climate-change/#comments Thu, 19 Feb 2015 15:39:19 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139258 A woman watches helplessly as a flood submerges her thatched-roof home containing all her possessions on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar city in India’s eastern state of Odisha in 2008. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

A woman watches helplessly as a flood submerges her thatched-roof home containing all her possessions on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar city in India’s eastern state of Odisha in 2008. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Feb 19 2015 (IPS)

So much information about climate change now abounds that it is hard to differentiate fact from fiction. Scientific reports appear alongside conspiracy theories, data is interspersed with drastic predictions about the future, and everywhere one turns, the bad news just seems to be getting worse.

Corporate lobby groups urge governments not to act, while concerned citizens push for immediate action. The little progress that is made to curb carbon emissions and contain global warming often pales in comparison to the scale of natural disasters that continue to unfold at an unprecedented rate, from record-level snowstorms, to massive floods, to prolonged droughts.

The year 2011 saw 350 billion dollars in economic damages globally, the highest since 1975 -- The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)
Attempting to sift through all the information is a gargantuan task, but it has been made easier with the release of a new report by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a think-tank based in New Delhi that has, perhaps for the first time ever, compiled an exhaustive assessment of the whole world’s progress on climate mitigation and adaptation.

The assessment also provides detailed forecasts of what each country can expect in the coming years, effectively providing a blueprint for action at a moment when many scientists fear that time is running out for saving the planet from catastrophic climate change.

Trends, risks and damages

The Global Sustainability Report 2015 released earlier this month at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit, ranks the top 20 countries (out of 193) most at risk from climate change based on the actual impacts of extreme climate events documented over a 34-year period from 1980 to 2013.

The TERI report cites data compiled by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) based at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, which maintains a global database of natural disasters dating back over 100 years.

The study found a 10-fold increase to 525 natural disasters in 2002 from around 50 in 1975. By 2011, 95 percent of deaths from this consistent trend of increasing natural disasters were from developing countries.

In preparing its rankings, TERI took into account everything from heat and cold waves, drought, floods, flash floods, cloudburst, landslides, avalanches, forest fires, cyclone and hurricanes.

Mozambique was found to be most at risk globally, followed by Sudan and North Korea. In both Mozambique and Sudan, extreme climate events caused more than six deaths per 100,000 people, the highest among all countries ranked, while North Korea suffered the highest economic losses annually, amounting to 1.65 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP).

The year 2011 saw 350 billion dollars in economic damages globally, the highest since 1975.

The situation is particularly bleak in Asia, where countries like Myanmar, Bangladesh and the Philippines, with a combined total population of over 300 million people, are extremely vulnerable to climate-related disasters.

China, despite high economic growth, has not been able to reduce the disaster risks to its population that is expected to touch 1.4 billion people by the end of 2015: it ranked sixth among the countries in Asia most susceptible to climate change.

Sustained effort at the national level has enabled Bangladesh to strengthen its defenses against sea-level rise, its biggest climate challenge, but it still ranked third on the list.

India, the second most populous country – expected to have 1.26 billion people by end 2015 – came in at 10th place, while Sri Lanka and Nepal figured at 14th and 15th place respectively.

In Africa, Ethiopia and Somalia are also considered extremely vulnerable, while the European nations of Albania, Moldova, Spain and France appeared high on the list of at-risk countries in that region, followed by Russia in sixth place.

In the Americas, the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia ranked first, followed by Grenada and Honduras. The most populous country in the region, Brazil, home to 200 million people, was ranked 20th.

More disasters, higher costs

In the 110 years spanning 1900 and 2009, hydro-meteorological disasters have increased from 25 to 3,526. Hydro-meteorological, geological and biological extreme events together increased from 72 to 11,571 during that same period, the report says.

In the 60-year period between 1970 and 2030, Asia will shoulder the lion’s share of floods, cyclones and sea-level rise, with the latter projected to affect 83 million people annually compared to 16.5 million in Europe, nine million in North America and six million in Africa.

The U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) estimates that global economic losses by the end of the current century will touch 25 trillion dollars, unless strong measures for climate change mitigation, adaptation and disaster risk reduction are taken immediately.

As adaptation moves from theory to practice, it is becoming clear that the costs of adaptation will surpass previous estimates.

Developing countries, for instance, will require two to three times the previous estimates of 70-100 billion dollars per year by 2050, with a significant funding gap after 2020, according to the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Adaptation Gap Report released last December.

Indicators such as access to water, food security, health, and socio-economic capability were considered in assessing each country’s adaptive capacity.

According to these broad criteria, Liberia ranks lowest, with a quarter of its population lacking access to water, 56 percent of its urban population living in slums, and a high incidence of malaria compounded by a miserable physician-patient ratio of one doctor to every 70,000 people.

On the other end of the adaptive capacity scale, Monaco ranks first, with 100 percent water access, no urban slums, zero malnutrition, 100 percent literacy, 71 doctors for every 10,000 people, and not a single person living below one dollar a day.

Cuba, Norway, Switzerland and the Netherlands also feature among the top five countries with the highest adaptive capacity; the United States is ranked 8th, the United Kingdom 25th, China 98th and India 146th.

The study also ranks countries on responsibilities for climate change, taking account of their historical versus current carbon emission levels.

The UK takes the most historic responsibility with 940 tonnes of CO2 per capita emitted during the industrialisation boom of 1850-1989, while the U.S. occupies the fifth slot consistently on counts of historical responsibility, cumulative CO2 emissions over the 1990-2011 period, as well as greenhouse gas (GHG) emission intensity per unit of GDP in 2011, the same year it clocked 6,135 million tonnes of GHG emissions.

China was the highest GHG emitter in 2011 with 10,260 million tonnes, and India ranked 3rd with 2,358 million tonnes. However, when emission intensity per one unit of GDP is additionally considered for current responsibility, both Asian countries move lower on the scale while the oil economies of Qatar and Kuwait move up to into the ranks of the top five countries bearing the highest responsibility for climate change.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-climate-change/feed/ 0
U.N. Describes Forced Disappearances in Mexico as “Generalised”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/u-n-describes-forced-disappearances-in-mexico-as-generalised/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-describes-forced-disappearances-in-mexico-as-generalised http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/u-n-describes-forced-disappearances-in-mexico-as-generalised/#comments Mon, 16 Feb 2015 21:22:59 +0000 Gustavo Capdevila http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139207 “Where are they? Our disappeared.” A protest march by the mothers of victims of forced disappearance in Mexico City. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

“Where are they? Our disappeared.” A protest march by the mothers of victims of forced disappearance in Mexico City. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

By Gustavo Capdevila
GENEVA, Feb 16 2015 (IPS)

“The U.N. Committee on Enforced Disappearances is not a court, and I say this to avoid any misunderstanding,” German expert Rainer Huhle said while presenting the committee’s recommendations to the government of Mexico, where the problem has reached epidemic proportions.

Huhle, one of the 10 members of the committee, explained how the language and rhythms of international diplomacy work even in a pressing case like the tens of thousands of enforced disappearances reported in Mexico.

“The information received by the committee shows a context of generalised disappearances in a great part of the country, many of which could qualify as enforced disappearances,” says the report containing the committee’s concluding observations, presented Friday, Feb. 13.

It notes that disappearances were already occurring in December 2010, when the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance went into effect.

The text uses the conditional tense to urge the Mexican government to take action, in a tone of mild rebuke, repeating, for example, “the state party should…” in several of its recommendations – but without ignoring any of the most serious aspects of the crime of enforced disappearance.

“I think the analysis is very thorough,” María Guadalupe Fernández, whose son was disappeared, and who belongs to a group of victims’ relatives in the northeastern Mexican state of Coahuila – Fuerzas Unidas por Nuestros Desaparecidos en Coahuila y en México – told IPS.

The lawyer Michael Chamberlin, of the Fray Juan de Larios Diocesan Human Rights Centre in Coahuila, told IPS it was “positive that the committee recognised that disappearances are widespread, because it puts into perspective the magnitude of the phenomenon in Mexico.”

Chamberlin was also pleased that the committee “pointed to the lack of a precise registry of disappearances linked to efficient search mechanisms for recent and past disappearances, sensitive to gender, age and nationality.”

The lack of precise information on the number of disappeared was one of the points that was most emphasised by the committee, which demanded that the Mexican state resolve the issue over the next year.

According to a Mexican government figure cited by rights watchdog Amnesty International, some 22,600 people have gone missing in the last eight years.

“These figures have changed in magnitude several times,” Huhle told IPS. “We can’t trust these statistics because we don’t know how they get them.”

The committee considered the case of Mexico at a special hearing held Feb. 2-3 in Geneva.

“Within a year, we hope the authorities will tell us what they have managed to do. They should understand that this is a priority. Of course, we don’t expect everything to be perfect in one year, but by then they should have taken a few steps forward,” he added.

The committee also set a one-year deadline for Mexico to address the problem of missing migrants, most of whom come from Central America, and a smaller proportion from several South American countries, “who cross Mexico trying to reach the ‘paradise’ north of the Rio Grande,” Huhle said.

The committee was more emphatic in declaring its concern for missing migrants, “including children…among whom there are apparently cases of enforced disappearance,” say the concluding observations.

The third demand by the committee, also with a one-year deadline, is that Mexico “must redouble its efforts with a view to searching for, locating and freeing” people who have been disappeared.

Chamberlín also said it was positive for activists that the committee demanded that the legislation in Mexico’s different states be harmonised, and that it underlined the impunity surrounding forced disappearances and pointed out how the authorities avoid carrying out proper investigations by disguising disappearances as other crimes.

Fernández, the mother of José Antonio Robledo Fernández, an engineer who went missing in January 2009 at the age of 32, stressed that the committee “put a spotlight on a grave problem that has overwhelmed Mexico.”

It did this, she said, by demanding the implementation of mechanisms “that will not just be medium- to long-term plans but will be immediate, so the state will support the families who go around the country looking for our loved ones.”

But Fernández did not agree with the committee’s decision to give the Mexican state until 2018 to live up to its recommendations, with the exception of the three one-year deadlines regarding the registry of disappearances, migrants and the search for missing people.

“I really doubt that the state will live up to this and meet all of the recommendations of the committee in support of the indirect victims of this national emergency and that it will put an end to all of the human rights abuses and implement standards that should be immediate,” she said.

Among the gaps left by the committee, Chamberlin said it had failed to mention the lack of independence of the prosecutor’s office “as one of the main causes of the impunity in terms of disappearances.” It only mentioned this in the case of the military justice system, the lawyer said.

Nor did it refer to the lack of penalties for government officials or employees guilty of negligence or corruption, he added.

Chamberlin noted that the committee did not take into account the crisis of credibility suffered by the country’s justice system. He said it should have urged the state to fully cooperate with the group of experts on forced disappearance appointed by the Inter-American Committee on Human Rights (IACHR).

The experts will make several visits to different parts of the country this year, as part of the precautionary measures issued by the IACHR in the case of the 43 missing students from the Escuela Normal Rural de Ayotzinapa, a rural teachers college in the southern state of Guerrero, who were disappeared on Sep. 26.

The IACHR group of experts “will not only try to investigate and to overcome shortcomings in the investigation, but will also try to give certainties to the victims’ families,” said Chamberlin.

The human rights activist called for “a more proactive role by the committee and not only as an observer of the serious situation in Mexico….When it comes down to it, how many countries can you describe as having a ‘context of generalised disappearances’?”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/u-n-describes-forced-disappearances-in-mexico-as-generalised/feed/ 0
Latin American Migrants Suffer Prejudice in Their Own Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/latin-american-migrants-suffer-prejudice-in-their-own-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-american-migrants-suffer-prejudice-in-their-own-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/latin-american-migrants-suffer-prejudice-in-their-own-region/#comments Fri, 13 Feb 2015 21:21:35 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139183 Emiliana Mamani holds up a magazine from the year 2000, which warned of “the silent invasion” of Bolivians in Argentina. The picture was even photoshopped, she said, to make the immigrant look like he was missing a tooth. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Emiliana Mamani holds up a magazine from the year 2000, which warned of “the silent invasion” of Bolivians in Argentina. The picture was even photoshopped, she said, to make the immigrant look like he was missing a tooth. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

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

In the movie “A Day Without a Mexican“, the mysterious disappearance of all Mexicans brings the state of California to a halt. Would the same thing happen in some Latin American countries if immigrants from neighbouring countries, who suffer the same kind of discrimination, went missing?

The response is that the situation is not comparable. But a new report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), only available in Spanish, shows that intraregional migration flows intensified in the 2000-2010 period, growing at a rate of 3.5 percent a year, while migration to the rest of the world slowed down.

There are 28.5 million Latin Americans living outside their countries, 20.8 million of them in the United States.

And of the 7.6 million immigrants in Latin America, 63 percent are from other countries in this region.

Nor are the strict immigration policies of the United States or Europe comparable with those of Latin America, where regional integration accords have facilitated residency for citizens of neighbouring countries and where “the unilateral and restrictive measures of some developed countries” have been rejected, ECLAC says.“Above and beyond progress made in legislation regarding equal treatment for immigrants, full rights, and the elimination of restrictions on migration, there are precedents of xenophobia in all societies in the region – from social actors to political groups and the media.” -- Pablo Ceriani

Nevertheless, Pablo Ceriani, an expert on immigration issues from Argentina, said the hypothetical plot of “A Day Without a Latin American in Latin America” could be based on something that this region shares with the United States, which has come in for so much criticism: expressions of xenophobia.

“Above and beyond progress made in legislation regarding equal treatment for immigrants, full rights, and the elimination of restrictions on migration, there are precedents of xenophobia in all societies in the region – from social actors to political groups and the media,” Ceriani, a member of the U.N. Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, told IPS.

“Our region isn’t much different from other regions in terms of the reproduction of myths and false ideas about migration that are not supported by the statistics and which generate an attitude of rejection that stands in the way of progress in creating new laws,” he added.

According to Ceriani, discrimination is notorious in immigration policies like those of Mexico, “which detained 21,500 children last year and deported them to their home countries: Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala,” the main sources of intraregional migration to Mexico.

But there are also more subtle examples in countries that have migration agreements, such as the one in force in the Southern Common Market (Mercosur, made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela), which in 2002 established the right to residency for citizens of any of the bloc’s member countries – all they have to do is present an identity document and prove they have no criminal record.

“They bring crime, they bring their customs, they take our jobs…,” said Ceriani, listing some of the xenophobic myths.

Emiliana Mamani, a Bolivian woman who has been living in Argentina for 30 years, knows all about prejudice.

“You always suffer discrimination for ‘having the wrong face’ – there’s this belief that Bolivians take work away from other people,” Mamani, the president of the Madres 27 de Mayo Association and the cooperative of the same name, the first one run here by Bolivian women, told IPS.

Bolivians are the second-most numerous group of intraregional immigrants in Argentina, after Paraguayans. They are followed by Chileans and Peruvians. In this country of 42 million people, there are 1.8 million foreign nationals, 4.5 percent of the population.

Chart on the percentage of immigrants coming from the rest of the region in 10 Latin American countries, from the ECLAC report “Trends and Patterns in Latin American and Caribbean Migration in 2010 and Challenges for a Regional Agenda”. Credit: Screenshot by IPS

Chart on the percentage of immigrants coming from the rest of the region in 10 Latin American countries, from the ECLAC report “Trends and Patterns in Latin American and Caribbean Migration in 2010 and Challenges for a Regional Agenda”. Credit: Screenshot by IPS

ECLAC reports that the Latin American countries with the largest numbers of immigrants from the rest of the region are Argentina, Venezuela, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, while Brazil and Mexico are the only countries that receive more immigrants from outside of the region – the former from Europe and the latter from the United States.

“Sometimes we have to hear ‘why don’t you go back to your country? Don’t come here to act all macho or to be a wise guy. Why don’t you go home, you dirty drunk Bolivian’,” said Mamani, whose cooperative obtained a soft loan from the Housing Institute, which they used to build an apartment building where 12 Bolivian families live.

Mamani has three children – one born in Bolivia and two in Argentina. The two younger ones are now university students, and say they suffered discrimination in primary school, such as questions about why they were taking part in patriotic events.

They have also experienced discrimination in hospitals, even though by law in Argentina all foreign nationals have the right to receive health care, regardless of their migration status.

“In the hospitals sometimes they say the doctor’s not taking any more patients, or they ask us for our documents when they’re not supposed to…but if a blond gringo goes there, like someone from the United States or Europe, they try hard to understand him, even using sign language,” Mamani said.

Immigrants complain of this situation even though Argentina has had a migration law that is very advanced in terms of protection of human rights for 10 years. And since 2006, the situation of 736,000 Bolivian, Brazilian, Chilean, Colombian, Ecuadorian, Paraguayan, Peruvian, Uruguayan and Venezuelan immigrants has been regularised.

Mamani said that efforts to combat discrimination in society should start in the schools, hospitals and other public institutions, “which would seem to be unfamiliar with the migration laws.”

Another focus should be the media, which reproduce stereotypes, she said.

“For example in a robbery, if there’s one Bolivian or Peruvian in a group of Argentines, the media make it a point to say there was a Bolivian who was stealing,” she said.

These deeply-rooted prejudices based on primitive fears of what is “different take a long time to combat,” an official in the national migration office, who asked to remain anonymous, told IPS.

Ceriani said that in Argentina, as in other Latin American countries, there is an idealised vision of European migration from the 19th and early 20th centuries, when compared to the Latin American migration of today.

But a perusal of the literature or press reports from that time period clearly shows that there was also discrimination against Spanish, Italian and Portuguese immigrants.

“Stereotypes of them as ‘poor’, ‘ignorant’ or ‘thieves’ gradually faded with time,” Ceriani pointed out.

Both then and now, the decision to move to another country was prompted by the aim of finding a better life.

“All we do is work, work, work. When we decide to pack our bags in our country, the idea is to find work. We don’t come for anything else but to work,” said Mamani, who decided to come to Argentina because a friend told her “that in just one year I would make a lot of money.”

With their work, Bolivians in Argentina add to the country’s wealth, said Ceriani, by bringing, for example, original techniques for planting fruits and vegetables.

And in the textile factories, where they often work in sweatshop conditions, they produce clothing for the most upscale brands.

Paraguayans are widely employed in the construction industry and as domestics. Peruvians often work caring for children, the elderly, and the ill. But many Latin American immigrants are skilled workers or professionals.

Examples in the region abound. In northern Brazil, Haitians are working on the construction of megainfrastructure like dams, or in the mining industry.

In Costa Rica, Nicaraguans form a large part of the workforce in the construction industry, agriculture and domestic service, just as Colombians do in Venezuela.

The increased integration will bring many more examples of unrestricted intraregional circulation of people. But economic growth in some countries and stagnation in others will continue to create discriminatory stereotypes.

Ceriani underscores that migration must be addressed in terms of its structural causes. And that is done, he said, by reducing the social and economic gaps between the countries of Latin America.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/latin-american-migrants-suffer-prejudice-in-their-own-region/feed/ 0
Cuban Agriculture Needs Better Roadshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/cuban-agriculture-needs-better-roads/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuban-agriculture-needs-better-roads http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/cuban-agriculture-needs-better-roads/#comments Wed, 11 Feb 2015 21:41:46 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139106 One of the main streets in the town of Cauto Cristo, 730 km east of Havana. Cuba’s rural road problems are another hurdle to the development of agriculture in this Caribbean island nation. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

One of the main streets in the town of Cauto Cristo, 730 km east of Havana. Cuba’s rural road problems are another hurdle to the development of agriculture in this Caribbean island nation. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
CAUTO CRISTO, Cuba, Feb 11 2015 (IPS)

When it rains, trucks get stuck in the mud on the poor roads in this rural municipality in eastern Cuba. The local population needs more and better roads to improve their lives and help give a much-needed boost to the country’s farming industry.

“When the roads are fixed, living conditions and opportunities will be bolstered in the lowlands, where most of our agricultural production is concentrated,” the deputy mayor of Cauto Cristo, Alberto López, told IPS.

Most of the 21,000 inhabitants of this rural municipality, located on a broad plain prone to flooding during the May-October rainy season, are scattered around the countryside on individual or state-run farms or in farming cooperatives. The municipality also has a small urban centre and two people’s councils (organs of local government).

The bad state of the roads in Cauto Cristo is just part of a nationwide problem that takes its toll on the country’s ageing vehicle fleet, poses a safety threat, and undermines communication on the island, especially between outlying areas and the cities where services like hospitals and businesses are concentrated.

In rural areas, the deterioration of the roads compounds other factors, such as limited investment in agriculture and the shortage of labour power, all of which have stood in the way of the aim of boosting agricultural production, one of the priorities of the economic reforms introduced by the government of Raúl Castro.

The economic crisis that has plagued Cuba for over 20 years has hindered ambitious plans for expanding and repairing the country’s network of roads, which currently includes 68,395 km of paved and unpaved roads.

Of that total, 17,814 km are paved rural roads (including 655 km of freeway), 16,193 km are urban roads, and 34,387 km are dirt roads.“Sometimes we send a truck to pick up the output and later we have to send two tractors to pull the truck out of the mud. That doubles or even triples the expense in fuel.” -- Reinaldo Naranjo

Thanks to a 40 million dollar investment, state companies acquired machines to pave roads, four new asphalt plants were built, and specialised workers were trained, as part of a road expansion programme that should be completed in 2016.

The project began by putting a priority on roads of national and provincial interest.

Approximately 70 percent of the country’s road network falls under municipal authority, where and maintenance and expansion are the responsibility of local governments.

“Local governments today enjoy greater openness and flexibility for resolving their most pressing problems, which in our case are roads and transportation,” said López, referring to the first decentralising measures of the current reforms, which have slightly expanded the reduced economic autonomy and decision-making power of the municipalities.

“We hope that this year national companies will contribute a percentage of funds to the budget of the municipality where they are located; we hope this will be put into practice,” he said. “That would offer a greater chance to make the costly investment in roads, which involves hauling in materials from quarries that are over 60 km away.”

Farmers on a rural road in the municipality of Cauto Cristo, which becomes impassable in the rainy season, like many other roads in the eastern province of Granma. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Farmers on a rural road in the municipality of Cauto Cristo, which becomes impassable in the rainy season, like many other roads in the eastern province of Granma. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Cauto Cristo, 730 km east of Havana, is a big producer of meat, dairy products and various crops. It consumes around 10 percent of the food it produces, and the rest is distributed to other areas of the province of Granma, where it is located.

“Agriculture is our main activity because we have no industrial development,” the official pointed out.

“Sometimes we send a truck to pick up the output and later we have to send two tractors to pull the truck out of the mud. That doubles or even triples the expense in fuel,” said Reinaldo Naranjo, president of the non-governmental National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) in Cauto Cristo.

Of the 151 state companies that in 2014 suffered losses – a combined total of around 18 million dollars – in Cuba, 71 were managed by the Agriculture Ministry.

Naranjo said that milk production is highest precisely during the rainy season, when the roads are impassable and it is difficult to pick up the milk from the farms.

Milk is scarce in the Cuban diet and the agriculture sector has failed to increase production.

From 2007 to 2013, the production of cow’s milk grew 21 percent. But this only represented 52 percent of what was produced in 1989, when demand was met by domestic production.

However last year, Cauto Cristo managed to meet the planned volumes of milk, meat and tubers that are staples of the Cuban diet.

Food production in Cuba must increase to meet internal demand and ease the unsustainable burden of food imports, expected to total 2.25 billion dollars this year.

One illustration: the Empresa de Productos Lácteos Bayamo, a state dairy company – Granma’s flagship company and the biggest of its kind in the country – is producing at one-quarter of capacity due to a lack of raw materials.

“Our peak capacity is processing 80 million litres of milk a year, and we are taking in 20 million,” the director of the company, Rauel Medina, told IPS.

The factory produces different kinds of milk, cheese, ice cream, yogurt and diet products, with a workforce of 1,810, 20 percent of whom are women.

The poor state of the roads is also affecting agricultural production in the municipality of Jesús Menéndez, in the neighbouring province of Las Tunas. “When it rained and it was impossible to reach the most isolated farms and cooperatives, the milk would go sour,” said Nilian Rodríguez, vice president of the local government.

“The temporary solution that we are applying is placing electric dairy refrigeration units on the farms to make it possible to pick up the milk every two days,” he told IPS.

More and better roads and transportation would improve the quality of life in communities in the countryside, where there is untapped agricultural potential: of the country’s 6.34 million hectares of arable land, 1.46 million are lying fallow.

In late November, the ANAP branch in Cauto Cristo had 1,976 members, Naranjo told IPS – more than double the 898 members registered in 2008, the year the authorities began to distribute idle land in usufruct to those interested in working it.

These and other problems prompted Daniel Soto, a 48-year-old farmer, to swap the land he inherited from his father, 18 km away, twice for land closer to his home in town.

“I’m going to stay here now, because I’m close to home,” he said on the 4.7-hectare Villa María farm, where he grows mainly vegetables. “The tense situation we have been experiencing over the last few years in terms of transportation made it hard for me to go to work. My kids are also sickly and can’t live far from town.”

“Now I pay more attention to the land and I’m reaping better economic benefits,” said Soto, who likes to innovate when it comes to farming. With his hands, he made a smaller plow, pulled by a single ox, to obtain better yields.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/cuban-agriculture-needs-better-roads/feed/ 0
Inequality Fuels HIV Epidemic in the Caribbeanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/inequality-fuels-hiv-epidemic-in-the-caribbean/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inequality-fuels-hiv-epidemic-in-the-caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/inequality-fuels-hiv-epidemic-in-the-caribbean/#comments Tue, 10 Feb 2015 18:57:24 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139092 Outspoken artist Edison Liburd, in St. John's, Antigua. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Outspoken artist Edison Liburd, in St. John's, Antigua. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN'S, Antigua, Feb 10 2015 (IPS)

At 49 years old, Edison Liburd has established himself as one of Antigua and Barbuda’s most recognisable artists. But Liburd was not always in the spotlight. In fact, you could say he was a man in hiding.

“I have been infected with the HIV virus for about 24 years. I got my first HIV test done in February of 1993 at the Allen Pavilion Hospital in Manhattan New York,” Liburd told IPS."Equity and social justice are very important as we respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. HIV is as much a social and developmental disease as a medical one." -- Eleanor Frederick

“I can remember that day vividly. I felt like the earth had been removed from beneath me when I was handed the results of the test.”

HIV/AIDS first emerged in the 1980s, and now, more than three decades later, stigma associated with the disease has persisted. Liburd pointed to that sigma as the main reason why he concealed his HIV status for as long as he did.

“I hid my status for years from family. I told a few friends, but most people who I knew did not know anything about my health condition. It was fear of being ostracised that kept me from disclosing my status,” he said.

“In Antigua, HIV infected individuals still have to face job insecurity – first to be fired and last to be hired. Stigma and discrimination is still high because many still think themselves superior to individuals who are infected.

“Somehow they think themselves better than, but I believe that it is when infected individuals become empowered by taking hold of their health and indispensable to nation building that this will take a huge bite out of discrimination. People will begin to see you differently,” Liburd said.

The Caribbean is one of the most heavily affected regions in the world, with adult HIV prevalence about one percent higher than in any other region outside sub-Saharan Africa.

The HIV pandemic in the Caribbean is fuelled by a range of social and economic inequalities and is sustained by high levels of stigma, discrimination against the most at-risk and marginalised populations and persistent gender inequality, violence and homophobia.

HIV in the Caribbean is mostly concentrated in and around networks of men who have sex with men. Social stigma, however, has kept the epidemic among men who have sex with men hidden and unacknowledged. There is also a notable burden of infection among injecting drug users, sex workers and the clients of sex workers.

The main mode of transmission in the Caribbean is unprotected heterosexual intercourse – paid or otherwise. Sex between men is also thought to be a significant factor in several countries, although due to social stigma, this is mainly denied.

The level of stigma and discrimination suffered by those infected and affected by the virus in the Caribbean helps drive the epidemic underground. This makes it difficult to reach many groups.

After facing the worst of his fears, being hospitalised and getting close to death’s door, Liburd has “resolved to fight back against the discrimination by increasing my capacity to help others in every way through my gift of art and my voice on and in the media, in church and otherwise.

“This has really been a powerhouse for me. I have become more confident and bold when faced with opposition. It has and is still more than ever being a source of inspiration and encouragement for many who hear my story, both infected and non-infected alike.”

Executive director of the Antigua and Barbuda HIV/AIDS Network (ABHAN), Eleanor Frederick, said individuals living with HIV face many challenges such as unemployment, homelessness, and in some cases, they are abandoned by their families.

She said there are also other issues that are faced by some individuals “such as stigma, discrimination, resource shortage and social marginalisation” depending on the community with which they identify such as sexuality, gender, commercial sex workers, men who have sex with men, drug users and prisoners.

“Many individuals are reluctant to start treatment because of the myths and stories about HIV and AIDS,” Frederick told IPS. “Healthcare providers, peers and treatment navigators can help individuals to understand, the barriers and how to overcome them.”

ABHAN has a Peer/Buddy HIV Treatment Adherence Programmme which recruits, monitors and retains patients into treatment and care and ensures that they adhere to their treatment regimen. It also delivers a comprehensive package of services, including case management, leading to decreased risky sexual behaviour, improved immune system functioning, and general health improvement.

“The programme provides direct support services by specially trained ABHAN and American University of Antigua Medical School (AUA) student volunteers, in the form of social interaction, emotional support, monitoring of medication adherence, and facilitation of health care concerns to persons living with HIV and AIDS, and to members of their families,” Frederick told IPS.

At the country level, she said while there is legislation which specifically addresses the treatment of employees living with HIV/AIDS, it is not always followed.

“A pilot programme was undertaken in 2012. The intention was to encourage the implementation and observance of the standards set out in the International Labour Organisation (ILO) code of practice on HIV/AIDS and the world of work, the ILO Recommendation No. 200 as well as the National Tripartite Workplace Policy on HIV and AIDS in Antigua and Barbuda; based on the universal human rights standards applicable to HIV and the world of work,” Frederick explained.

“Individuals have lost their jobs because of their HIV status and others have been asked to take an HIV test when it was suspected that they were possibly infected.”

The ABHAN executive director said HIV should be everyone’s concern, because “HIV does not discriminate, and knows no borders.”

She added that “equity and social justice are very important as we respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. HIV is as much a social and developmental disease as a medical one.

“Therefore, I would like to encourage everyone to help improve the quality of life for people with HIV and AIDS and increase compassion for them and their loved ones by providing vital human services for those in need of it based on a philosophy of non-judgmental support as practiced by ABHAN.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/inequality-fuels-hiv-epidemic-in-the-caribbean/feed/ 1
Rural Towns in El Salvador Join “War Tourism” Trendhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/rural-towns-in-el-salvador-join-war-tourism-trend/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rural-towns-in-el-salvador-join-war-tourism-trend http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/rural-towns-in-el-salvador-join-war-tourism-trend/#comments Tue, 10 Feb 2015 08:40:59 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139080 Florentino Menjívar (left), his wife María Dolores Gómez, and Víctor Manuel Escalante at the foot of a mural showing prominent figures from El Salvador’s civil war, in Dimas Rodríguez, a settlement of former insurgents in the town of El Paisnal, which is tapping into “guerrilla tourism”. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Florentino Menjívar (left), his wife María Dolores Gómez, and Víctor Manuel Escalante at the foot of a mural showing prominent figures from El Salvador’s civil war, in Dimas Rodríguez, a settlement of former insurgents in the town of El Paisnal, which is tapping into “guerrilla tourism”. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
EL PAISNAL, El Salvador , Feb 10 2015 (IPS)

The memory of a priest killed shortly before civil war broke out in El Salvador is so alive in this small town that it is now the main attraction in a community tourist initiative aimed at providing employment and injecting money into the local economy.

The Historical Memory Tourist Route is the name of the project in Paisnal, 36 km north of San Salvador. The initiative revolves around Rutilio Grande, a locally born Jesuit priest who was killed by government forces in March 1977, before the start of the 1980-1992 civil war.

“Father Rutilio taught people about liberation and commitment to the needy, and that’s why they killed him,” said 62-year-old María Dolores Gómez who, before she joined the guerrillas in 1980, was a catechist and met the priest. Now she forms part of the El Paisnal Municipal Tourism Committee.

The tourism project, whose first stage begins in March, is part of a growing trend in this formerly war-torn Central American country to draw visitors interested in the political and historical context of the armed conflict and the prewar period. And in the case of this town in particular, in the life of the famous Jesuit priest.

Rutilio Grande was the first priest killed in El Salvador in the context of the 12-year civil war, which left over 70,000 people – mainly civilians – dead and 8,000 disappeared before the 1992 peace agreement put an end to it.

After decades of electoral fraud by the military and the local elites, opponents of the system took up arms and formed insurgent groups to push the military regimes out of power and usher in socialism.

Grande, accompanied by Manuel Solorzano, 72, and Nelson Rutilio Lemus, 16, was driving near the town of El Paisnal on Mar. 12, 1977 when the three of them came under machine gun fire and were killed. They are buried in the village churchyard, which is already a pilgrimage spot for visitors from within and outside the country and will be an obligatory stop on the new tourist route.

Historians and theologians say that after Grande’s murder, the conservative views of the archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Arnulfo Romero, radically changed in favour of the poor.

Romero himself was assassinated three years later, in March 1980, while saying mass in a small chapel in San Salvador.

The Truth Commission set up by the United Nations after the end of the conflict to investigate the human rights violations blamed army Major Roberto D’Aubuisson for planning the assassination.

D’Aubuisson was the founder of the far-right Republican Nationalist Alliance (ARENA), which governed El Salvador from 1989 to 2009, when the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) came to power. The former guerrilla group won the national elections a second time in March 2014.

Before and during the war, a segment of the Catholic Church in El Salvador espoused liberation theology, which promoted the fight against poverty and broke with the church’s traditional alliance with those in power.

The new tourist route starts at a place known as Las Tres Cruces (the three crosses), halfway between El Paisnal and the neighbouring village of Aguilares, where a small monument marks the spot where the priest and the other two men were killed.

“We have delegations of foreign and local visitors who come to commemorate the murder of Father Grande, and the tourist project aims to create the infrastructure needed to give them a better reception,” town councilor Alexander Torres told IPS.

He explained that the El Paisnal local government is going to invest 350,000 dollars in establishing basic infrastructure catering to tourists, such as rural hostels and small restaurants, which will be run by local residents and people from nearby villages.

“The good thing is that the community is actively participating,” 62-year-old former insurgent Florentino Menjívar, María Dolores Gómez’s husband, told IPS.

“This was conceived of to generate possibilities of growth for our local communities,” he added.

The couple lives in Comunidad Dimas Rodríguez, a settlement of former guerrillas founded in December 1992 near El Paisnal after the demobilisation of the armed groups.

The community, which forms part of the tourist route, was named Dimas Rodríguez in honour of one of the commanders who led the guerrillas in this area, members of the Popular Liberation Forces (FPL), one of the five armed groups that made up the FMLN.

Every Dec. 15, the date of the founding of the community, the local residents hold a guerrilla military parade to remember their commander, who was killed in combat in 1989, and to keep alive the history of the settlement. The event is attended by local and foreign tourists.

In the last few years, government officials who used to live in the settlement of former guerrillas have also attended the parade.

“The country’s current vice president led the forces here, when we were demobilising,” said Víctor Escalante, referring to Vice President Oscar Ortiz.

Since June 2014 the president of El Salvador is another former guerrilla, Salvador Sánchez Cerén.

There are plans to open a museum, where visitors will be able to see the original weapons used by the insurgents, which were surrendered and rendered useless after the peace deal was reached. And a rebel camp will be recreated in a forested area near the town.

“I still have my backpack, and other people have radios and other artifacts from the war, and all of us together can set up the museum,” said Escalante, 45.

The local residents are organising to provide services to tourists, and there are groups working in the areas of food, crafts and other activities tied to the new initiative.

Employment is hard to come by in El Paisnal, a town of 4,500, where most of the locals are dedicated to agriculture and up to now there have been few opportunities for work in other areas.

The route also includes an ecotourism component, with visits to the El Chino hill, seven km from El Paisnal, and to Conacastera, a beach on the Lempa river.

The tour will also take the visitors to the San Carlos Cooperative, which is getting ready to host tourists who want an up-close look at the cooperative’s agricultural production processes.

Similar initiatives have been developed in other parts of the country over the last few years.

The town of Perquín in the eastern department or province of Morazán is the best-known for its war-tourism projects. In the local museum, visitors can learn about the civil war and see war memorabilia like guns, artillery pieces and even helicopters shot down by the guerrillas.

And in some rural areas, tourists can visit mountain caves and other bunkers used by the guerrillas as hideouts or even field hospitals.

In this country of 6.7 million people, Central America’s smallest, the Tourism Ministry reported that the tourism industry brought in 650 million dollars in the first half of 2014 – a 33 percent increase with respect to the same period in 2013.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/rural-towns-in-el-salvador-join-war-tourism-trend/feed/ 1
OPINION: This Is Going to Hurt Me More Than It Hurts Youhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-this-is-going-to-hurt-me-more-than-it-hurts-you/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-this-is-going-to-hurt-me-more-than-it-hurts-you http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-this-is-going-to-hurt-me-more-than-it-hurts-you/#comments Sat, 07 Feb 2015 17:45:38 +0000 Peter Costantini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139063 The Third Geneva Convention and the UN Covenant Against Torture do not exempt tortures that somebody believes to be “effective”. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

The Third Geneva Convention and the UN Covenant Against Torture do not exempt tortures that somebody believes to be “effective”. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

By Peter Costantini
SEATTLE, Washington, Feb 7 2015 (IPS)

“Enhanced interrogation”: the George W. Bush administration bureaucrats who coined the term had perfect pitch. The apparatchiks of Kafka’s Castle would have admired the grayness of the euphemism. But while it sounds like some new kind of focus group, it turns out it was just anodyne branding for good old-fashioned torture.

Unfortunately, the debate around it unleashed by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report has largely missed the point.If the leaders of the richest and most powerful empire in history can claim that defending it requires torturing prisoners, what other government or non-state actor will hesitate to make the same claim?

Certainly, the report did provide overwhelming evidence that torture did not produce useful intelligence.  The CIA had concluded previously that torture is “ineffective”, “counterproductive”, and “will probably result in false answers”.

An FBI agent wrote that one prisoner had cooperated and provided “important actionable intelligence” months before being tortured.  Some CIA agents and soldiers reportedly questioned the legality of the policies and resisted carrying them out.

A Bush Justice Department lawyer acknowledged: “It is difficult to quantify with confidence and precision the effectiveness of the program.”  In any case, it is inherently impossible to know that any intelligence purportedly extracted by torture could not have been elicited by legal interrogation.

Fundamentally, though, whether torture “works” or not is immaterial.

The Third Geneva Convention and the U.N. Covenant Against Torture do not exempt tortures that somebody believes to be “effective”.  The codes are based on the hard-headed calculation that by agreeing not to torture non-combatants, nations can reduce the probability of their own non-combatants being tortured.

Post-WWII trials imprisoned and executed German and Japanese officials for war crimes including torture.  Nuremberg and Tokyo established the indelible principle that acting as responsible government officials, or following the orders of one, is not a defense against accusations of war crimes.

Granted, these norms have been observed as much in the breach as in practice.  And on the blood-soaked canvas of the past century, the damages of torture pale beside the scope of suffering inflicted by the “legal” savageries of war.  Yet if the leaders of the richest and most powerful empire in history can claim that defending it requires torturing prisoners, what other government or non-state actor will hesitate to make the same claim?

Dick Cheney, former Vice President and current Marketing Director for the Spanish Inquisition, says: “I’d do it again in a minute.”  No one should doubt his sincerity.

One of the “enhancements” was reportedly an effort to fabricate a justification for invading Iraq.  High Bush administration officials allegedly put heavy pressure on interrogators “to find evidence of cooperation between al-Qaeda and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime,” in an effort to fabricate a justification for invading Iraq, according to a former senior US intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist cited by McClatchy News.  No such evidence was found.

But beyond such immediate imperatives, the torture policy meshed seamlessly with a discretionary war premised on lies and optimized for “Shock and Awe”.  This neat ideological package asserted the unchallengeable power of a “Unitary Executive” above constitutional checks and balances, national law and international treaties.

Echoing Richard Nixon’s circular self-justification of three decades earlier, Justice Department lawyer Steven Bradbury told Congress: “The president is always right.”

Strategically, the Bush-Cheney project targeted conceptual smart bombs on the very idea of human rights.  The rest of the world got the message, and the damage to US national security has yet to be repaired.

“Enhanced interrogation”, however, has roots reaching back decades into CIA collaboration with dictatorships in Latin America.

Brazil’s National Truth Commission recently concluded that from 1954 through 1996 the US gave some 300 military officers “theoretical and practical classes in torture”.  Current President Dilma Rousseff was one of those tortured by the military, which ruled the largest country in Latin America from 1964 through 1985.

Over the past half-century, the CIA has been implicated in providing similar training to military dictatorships across South and Central America.  The United States also provided military aid and advice to many of them, participated in coups against elected governments, and was complicit in the murder and disappearance of hundreds of thousands, according to investigative journalist Robert Parry.

In Guatemala, for example, the CIA trained and supported a military and intelligence apparatus that exterminated close to 200,000 people over 30 years and committed genocide against Mayan communities, according to an independent Historical Clarification Commission.

The origins of US torture policies go back to early in the Vietnam War. According to the Senate report, “In 1963, the CIA produced the KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual, intended as a manual for Cold War Interrogations, which included the ‘principal coercive techniques of interrogation …’”.

In 1983, sections of KUBARK were incorporated into the Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual, “used to provide interrogation training in Latin America in the early 1980s”.

One of the CIA officers who provided these trainings was later “orally admonished for inappropriate use of interrogation techniques.”  But his efforts ultimately proved to be a good career move.  In 2002, the CIA made him chief of interrogations.

Bush’s head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center allegedly destroyed videotapes of torture and discouraged field agents from questioning the practices, according to historian Greg Grandin.

In 1992, the Pentagon destroyed most documentation of these training programmes, Parry reported.  The orders came from the office of then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.

In response to mounting evidence of decades of torture, what would an “indispensable nation” do?

The release of the Senate report was an important precedent. But until perpetrators all the way to the top are brought to justice, our government will rightly be seen as hypocritical when it criticises the human rights violations of others.

Ultimately, the gravity and scope of wrongdoing call for a reincarnation of the 1975 Church Committee, which investigated abuses by intelligence agencies in the wake of Watergate. It should serve as a truth commission exposing the US government’s use of torture, terror and other human rights violations, going back 40 years to where Church left off.

The official U.S. Senate history of the Church Committee cites historian Henry Steele Commager, referring to executive branch officials who seemed to consider themselves above the law: “It is this indifference to constitutional restraints that is perhaps the most threatening of all the evidence that emerges from the findings of the Church Committee.”

Meanwhile, allies have begun digging.  In 2009, Spanish jurist Baltasar Garzón Real opened two investigations of the Bush torture programme, one of which is still pending.  In December, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin filed complaints accusing several high Bush administration figures of “the war crime of torture” under German and international law.

The odds of seeing Cheney and company in a glass booth may be slim.  But it would be a small victory for humanity if they had to look over their shoulders whenever they travel abroad.

As some of us never seem to learn, genuine national security is about not black ops and drones, but hearts and minds.

As an epitaph for the Bush-Cheney vision, consider Percy Bysshe Shelley’s 1818 poem “Ozymandias”:

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

 

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.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-this-is-going-to-hurt-me-more-than-it-hurts-you/feed/ 0
Drug Violence Leaves a String of Ghost Towns in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/drug-violence-leaves-a-string-of-ghost-towns-in-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=drug-violence-leaves-a-string-of-ghost-towns-in-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/drug-violence-leaves-a-string-of-ghost-towns-in-mexico/#comments Sat, 07 Feb 2015 06:40:38 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139052 One of the empty streets in the town of Santa Ana del Águila, in the Mexican municipality of Ajuchitlán del Progreso, where there is almost no one left and homes and businesses are shuttered and many have bullet marks. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

One of the empty streets in the town of Santa Ana del Águila, in the Mexican municipality of Ajuchitlán del Progreso, where there is almost no one left and homes and businesses are shuttered and many have bullet marks. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
AJUCHITLÁN, Mexico, Feb 7 2015 (IPS)

Cerro del Águila, which two centuries ago was a refuge for independence fighters in Mexico, is now a stronghold of organised crime groups engaged in turf wars for control of the prosperous poppy trade and trafficking routes, which have left a string of ghost towns in their wake.

From Águila mountain – “cerro” means hill in Spanish – it’s possible to see who is coming and going from a number of villages down below in this region known as Tierra Caliente, which is in the Balsas river basin in the impoverished southern state of Guerrero, and in neighbouring municipalities in the states of Michoacán and México.

These states are hotbeds of organised crime and drug trafficking, and made the headlines in 2014: Michoacán, as the state that armed paramilitary forces known as “self-defence” groups; México, where the army killed at least 15 civilians; and Guerrero, where municipal police ambushed and forcibly disappeared 43 students from a rural teachers college.

In Santa Ana del Águila, a town of 748 people at the foot of the hill which belongs to the municipality of Ajuchitlán del Progreso, over half of the population has fled in the last few weeks. There is no longer a sheriff, a priest, or anyone to run the shop where people buy food at subsidised prices as part of the government’s National Crusade Against Hunger anti-poverty programme.

The windows of the houses are closed and barred and local businesses are shuttered. The doors to the health clinic and schools have chains and padlocks. Only the middle school dared open after the year-end vacations, but at a high cost: on Jan. 12, the second day of classes, the teacher was kidnapped, and his family has not been able to scrape up the ransom money yet.

“I’m not afraid to die, but the way these people are going to die makes me sad,” one local resident who is still here told IPS.

Ajuchitlán del Progreso and the adjacent San Miguel Totolapan are the municipalities that have been hit by the highest levels of violence in Guerrero. Several organised crime groups, including the notoriously violent La Familia Michoacana and Guerreros Unidos drug cartels, are fighting for control of this region, which is key for the trafficking of poppies, used to produce heroin.

In an interview with IPS, the mayor of Ajuchitlán, José Carmen Higuera, said that since 2007, the most frequent crimes in the municipality are kidnapping and extortion. “What happened here is the usual: the town fills up with police and the army, but nothing happens, no major arrests are made. I have said it before: we don’t want them here, in the municipal seat; they should go out and protect the villages and communities, where they are really needed.” -- Mayor José Carmen Higuera

“I try to do the best I can, but we need a more efficient and operative strategy, with real intelligence work,” said the mayor, who does not have bodyguards even though two of his predecessors, Raymundo Flores and Esteban Vergara, have been missing since 2013.

As in many similar cases of missing local officials and priests, no investigation has been carried out.

The federal authorities “do a lot of pretending,” Higuera said. “What happened here is the usual: the town fills up with police and the army, but nothing happens, no major arrests are made. I have said it before: we don’t want them here, in the municipal seat; they should go out and protect the villages and communities, where they are really needed.”

The municipality includes the main town of the same name and 127 villages spread over nearly 2,000 sq km, with a total population that before the forced displacement stood at nearly 140,000.

Heroin for the United States

Mexico produces nearly half of the heroin consumed in the United States, and in recent years has become the main supplier of illegal opium derivatives in that country, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) 2014 National Drug Threat Assessment.

In the annual report on the major drug transit or producing countries that President Barack Obama sent to Congress in September, the DEA reported a 324 percent increase in heroin seizures at the Mexican border between 2009 and 2013.

“The United States is particularly concerned about poppy cultivation in Mexico, the primary supplier of illegal opium derivatives to the United States,” Obama said in the presidential memorandum.

The poppy-producing areas in Mexico are in the Pacific coastal states, from Oaxaca in the south to Sinaloa in the north, and in mountainous areas in the neighbouring Chihuahua.

Guerrero, one of the country’s three poorest states, has been the leading producer over the last three decades. Some experts estimate that the state accounts for 40 percent of the opiates produced in Mexico.

Control of Tierra Caliente, which has two ports, is key. And because of that, Santa Ana del Águila and other communities in Ajuchitlán and Totolapan have become ghost towns, as more and more people flee the violence.

The last wave of armed clashes began shortly after Christmas, local residents of Santa Ana and the nearby village of Garzas told IPS.

But the problem is not new. Massive forced displacements in this area began in July 2013, when battles between organised crime groups forced 631 people to flee Villa Hidalgo, a village in Totolapan.

At that time at least 1,300 people fled seven villages, Totolapan Mayor Saúl Beltrán Orozco told IPS.

The National Human Rights Commission, an independent government agency, launched an investigation, and in its special report on self-defence groups and rising crime and violence in Guerrero, presented in December, it documented 2,393 cases of forced displacement from mid-2013 to mid-2014.

The second wave occurred from March to July 2014. In March, 136 people from the town of Linda Vista, which is also in Totolapan, hiked through the mountains for nearly 24 hours without food, to reach another town before heading to Chipalcingo, the capital of Guerrero, where they sought shelter and were housed in centres used to evacuate people during heavy rains and flooding.

Three months later, armed civilians attacked villages, setting houses on fire and kidnapping or killing local residents. In one community, Atlayolapa, only an older couple was left.

Local press reports estimate the number of people displaced by the violence in the area at 4,000 from mid-2013 to mid-2014. But a national lawmaker puts the total at over 7,000. None of these figures have been verified.

In January, after the kidnapping of seven people, the commander of the military zone 35, Juan Manuel Rico, officially confirmed that a camp would be set up in the county seat in Ajuchitlán, to protect the local communities, which over 1,000 people have fled in the last few weeks.

But the federal forces – military and police – rarely leave the main town and can be seen walking around the central square, while every day people comment about new murders, homes burnt down, and armed clashes in communities just 20 minutes away.

“They do a lot of pretending. They don’t even inform us about what they’re doing,” said Mayor Higuera, complaining that the military and police forces don’t patrol the communities and villages, where the violent clashes take place. To sum up the lack of support he feels in his fight against organised crime, he said “better alone than in bad company.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/drug-violence-leaves-a-string-of-ghost-towns-in-mexico/feed/ 0