Inter Press Service » Latin America & the Caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 28 Apr 2016 19:38:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 Times of Violence and Resistance for Latin American Journalistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/times-of-violence-and-resistance-for-latin-american-journalists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=times-of-violence-and-resistance-for-latin-american-journalists http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/times-of-violence-and-resistance-for-latin-american-journalists/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 22:15:37 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144856 Demonstrators in a protest held to commemorate murdered reporter Regina Martínez at the Angel of Independence monument in Mexico City. Mexico accounted for 14 of the 43 journalists killed in Latin America in 2015. Credit: Lucía Vergara/IPS

Demonstrators in a protest held to commemorate murdered reporter Regina Martínez at the Angel of Independence monument in Mexico City. Mexico accounted for 14 of the 43 journalists killed in Latin America in 2015. Credit: Lucía Vergara/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Apr 27 2016 (IPS)

Mexico is the most dangerous country in Latin America for journalists. In 2015 it accounted for one-third of all murders of reporters in the region, and four more journalists have been added to the list so far this year.

The latest, Francisco Pacheco Beltrán, was shot dead outside his home in the southern state of Guerrero on Monday Apr. 25. Pacheco Beltrán regularly covered crime and violence, which have been on the rise in connection with organised crime and drug trafficking. He worked for several local media outlets in Mexico’s poorest state, which is also one of the most violent.

His murder adds one more chapter to the history of terror for the press in Mexico in this new century, which has not only included the killings of 92 journalists, but also a phenomenon that is almost unheard-of in democratic countries around the world: 23 journalists have been forcibly disappeared in the last 12 years, an average of two a year.

And every 22 hours, a journalist is attacked in Mexico, according to the latest report by the Britain-based anti-censorship group Article 19.

“Violence against the press in Mexico is systematic and widespread,” said the former director of the organisation’s Mexico branch, Darío Ramírez, on the last International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, celebrated each Nov. 2.

But violence and impunity are not the only problems faced by journalists in Mexico and the rest of the region.

Ricardo González, Article 19’s global protection programme officer, told IPS that freedom of the press in Latin America faces three principal challenges: prevention, protection and the fight against impunity; the de-concentration of media ownership; and improving the working conditions of journalists.

“For us, the red zones are Mexico, Honduras and Brazil,” González said.

According to the Federation of Latin American Journalists (FEPALC), 43 journalists were killed in the region in 2015, including 14 in Mexico (besides two that were forcibly disappeared). Mexico is followed by Honduras (10), Brazil (eight), Colombia (five) and Guatemala (three).

Brazil’s National Federation of Journalists reported a 60 percent rise in journalists killed between 2014 and 2015. The highest-profile case was the murder of investigative reporter Evany José Metzker, whose decapitated body was found in May 2015.

Honduras and Mexico have a similar problem: the violence against journalists is compounded by a culture of impunity.

Honduran journalists protest an official secrets law that undermines their work. By means of laws and other mechanisms, some governments in Latin America have restricted access to information, the theme of World Press Freedom Day this year. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Honduran journalists protest an official secrets law that undermines their work. By means of laws and other mechanisms, some governments in Latin America have restricted access to information, the theme of World Press Freedom Day this year. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

“In the first half of 2015, the Commission registered a worrying number of unclarified murders of communicators and media workers,” says the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ (IACHR) annual report on Honduras.

Not just murders

But violence is not the only threat faced by the media in Honduras. One of the Central American country’s leading newspapers, Diario Tiempo, which stood out for its defence of democracy during the 2009 coup that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya, was recently shut down.

The closure of the newspaper is linked to the downfall of one of the most powerful families in the country: the family of banking magnate Jaime Rosenthal, who is accused by the U.S. Treasury Department of laundering money for drug traffickers.

The freezing of the accounts of businesses in the family’s Grupo Continental conglomerate, as a result of that accusation, led to the closure of the newspaper, announced in October. As a result, the government was accused of taking disproportionate measures against the outspoken publication.

In a public letter, Rosenthal said “the circumstances that led to this suspension are very serious with regard to freedom of speech, social communication and democracy in our country, to the extreme that this is an atypical case in the Western world.”

A newspaper with a similar name, in Argentina, is an example of the other side of the coin in the region. On Monday Apr. 25, journalists from Tiempo Argentina, a Buenos Aires daily that closed down in late 2015, relaunched the publication, this time as a weekly.

Under the slogan “the owners of our own words”, the Tiempo Argentino reporters got their jobs back by forming a cooperative, similar to the format used by factory workers to get bankrupt companies operating again after Argentina’s severe 2001-2002 economic crisis.

“It’s really good to see that the more people organise, the more the competition between companies is overcome,” Cecilia González, a correspondent for the Notimex agency in the countries of Latin America’s Southern Cone region, told IPS from Buenos Aires.

But González said that in Argentina there are plenty of problems as well, and few positive answers like Tiempo Argentino. One of the big problems was President Mauricio Macri’s modification by decree of a law pushed through by his leftist predecessor in 2015 that outlawed monopolies by media companies.

On Apr. 18, Macri, who took office in December, told the IACHR that he would draft a new law with input from civil society. But reporters in Argentina are sceptical.

“Besides the more than 300 media outlets owned by the Grupo Clarín and which it will avoid losing, another monopoly is being built in the shadows, associated with La Nación, and they plan to get hold of the entire chain of magazines,” the Orsai magazine wrote.

But for the IACHR and its special rapporteur for freedom of expression, conservative governments are not the only ones causing problems.

In Ecuador, to cite one example involving a left-leaning administration, President Rafael Correa, in office since 2007, used the strength of the state to sue executives of the El Universo newspaper – Carlos, César and Nicolás Pérez – and its then editorial page editor, Emilio Palacio.

The president sought 80 million dollars in damages and three years in prison for libel after an editorial by Palacio alleged that he ordered police to open fire on a hospital full of civilians during a September 2010 police rebellion.

In December 2015, the IACHR accepted a petition accusing the government of the alleged violation of legal safeguards and freedom of thought and expression, and requesting legal protection.

Correa also took aim against one of Latin America’s best-known cartoonists. In 2014 a cartoon by Xavier Bonilla – who goes by the pen name Bonil – that depicted a raid by police and public prosecutors on the home of a political opposition leader enraged Correa, who launched a campaign against the cartoonist.

“Ecuadoreans should reject lies and liars, especially if the liars are cowards and haters of the government disguised as clever, funny caricaturists,” was one of the president’s outbursts against Bonilla.

As journalists in the region get ready for World Press Freedom Day, celebrated May 3, there are signs of resistance in some countries, although the climate is not the best for media workers.

One example is Veracruz, the Mexican state that has been in the international headlines for the alarming number of reporters who have been assaulted or killed.

On Apr. 28, the fourth anniversary of the murder of Regina Martínez, a correspondent for the local weekly Proceso, journalists belonging to the Colectivo Voz Alterna, who have battled hard in defence of the right to inform, in the midst of a climate of terror, will place a plaque in her honour in the central square of the state capital.

“We cannot forget, and we cannot just do nothing,” Vera Cruz reporter Norma Trujillo told IPS. Similar sentiments are voiced by reporters working in dangerous conditions around the region.
Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Choose Humanity: Make the Impossible Choice Possible!http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/choose-humanity-make-the-impossible-choice-possible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=choose-humanity-make-the-impossible-choice-possible http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/choose-humanity-make-the-impossible-choice-possible/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 15:03:47 +0000 Herve Verhoosel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144850 Herve Verhoosel is the Spokesperson of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), to be hosted in Istanbul on May 23-24. He was previously leading the Roll Back Malaria office at the UN in New York and was also Head of External Relations, Advocacy and Communication. In this Op-Ed Verhoosel introduces this major event, the first ever of its kind, which will bring together governments, humanitarian organizations, people affected by humanitarian crises and new partners including the private sector to propose solutions.]]>

Herve Verhoosel is the Spokesperson of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), to be hosted in Istanbul on May 23-24. He was previously leading the Roll Back Malaria office at the UN in New York and was also Head of External Relations, Advocacy and Communication. In this Op-Ed Verhoosel introduces this major event, the first ever of its kind, which will bring together governments, humanitarian organizations, people affected by humanitarian crises and new partners including the private sector to propose solutions.

By Herve Verhoosel
UN, New York, Apr 27 2016 (IPS)

We have arrived at the point of no return. At this very moment the world is witnessing the highest level of humanitarian needs since World War Two. We are experiencing a human catastrophe on a titanic scale: 125 million in dire need of assistance, over 60 million people forcibly displaced, and 218 million people affected by disasters each year for the past two decades.

Herve Verhoosel

Herve Verhoosel

More than $20 billion is needed to aid the 37 countries currently affected by disasters and conflicts. Unless immediate action is taken, 62 percent of the global population– nearly two-thirds of all of us- could be living in what is classified as fragile situations by 2030. Time and time again we heard that our world is at a tipping point. Today these words are truer than ever before.

The situation has hit home. We are slowly understanding that none of us is immune to the ripple effects of armed conflicts and natural disasters. We’re coming face to face with refugees from war-torn nations and witnessing first-hand the consequences of global warming in our own backyards. We see it, we live it, and we can no longer deny it.

These are desperate times. With so much at stake, we have only one choice to make: humanity. Now is the time to stand together and reverse the rising trend of humanitarian needs. Now is the time to create clear, actionable goals for change to be implemented within the next three years that are grounded in our common humanity, the one value that unites us all.

This is why the United Nations Secretary-General is calling on world leaders to reinforce our collective responsibility to guard humanity by attending the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit.

From May 23rd to the 24th, our leaders are being asked to come together in Istanbul, Turkey, to agree on a core set of actions that will chart a course for real change. This foundation for change was not born overnight. It was a direct result of three years of consultations with more than 23,000 people in 153 countries.

On the basis of the consultation process, the United Nations Secretary-General launched his report for the World Humanitarian Summit titled “One Humanity, Shared responsibility. As a roadmap to guide the Summit, the report outlines a clear vision for global leadership to take swift and collective action toward strengthening the coordination of humanitarian and crisis relief.

Aptly referred to as an “Agenda for Humanity,” the report lays out ground-breaking changes to the humanitarian system that, once put into action, will promptly help to alleviate suffering, reduce risk and lessen vulnerability on a global scale.

The Agenda is also linked to the Sustainable Development Goals, which specifically maps out a timeline for the future and health of our world. Imagine the end of poverty, inequality and civil war by 2030. Is it possible? Undoubtedly so. Most importantly, the Secretary-General has called for measurable progress within the next three years following the Summit.

As such, the Summit is not an endpoint, but a kick-off towards making a real difference in the lives of millions of women, men and children. It’s an unprecedented opportunity for global leaders to mobilize the political will to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. So, how to take action?

The Agenda specifies five core responsibilities that the international community must shoulder if we expect to end our shared humanitarian crises. These core responsibilities offer a framework for unified and concentrated action to Summit attendees, leadership and the public at large. Once implemented, change will inevitably follow.

1. Prevent and End Conflict: Political leaders (including the UN Security Council) must resolve to not only manage crises, but also to prevent them. They must analyse conflict risks and utilize all political and economic means necessary to prevent conflict and find solutions, working with their communities – youth, women and faith-based groups – to find the ones that work.

The Summit presents a unique opportunity to gain political momentum and commitment from leaders to promote and invest in conflict prevention and mediation in order to reduce the impacts of conflicts, which generate 80 percent of humanitarian needs.

2. Respect Rules of War: Most states have signed and implemented international humanitarian and human rights laws, but, sadly, few are respected or monitored. Unless violators are held accountable each time they break these laws, civilians will continue to make up the vast majority of those killed in conflict – roughly 90 percent. Hospitals, schools and homes will continue to be obliterated and aid workers will continue to be barred access from injured parties.

The Summit allows a forum for which leadership can promote the protection of civilians and respect for basic human rights.

3. Leave No One Behind: Imagine being forcibly displaced from your home, being stateless or targeted because of your race, religion or nationality. Now, imagine that development programs are put in place for the world’s poorest; world leaders are working to diminish displacement; women and girls are empowered and protected; and all children – whether in conflict zones or not – are able to attend school. Imagine a world that refuses to leave you behind. This world could become our reality.

At the Summit, the Secretary-General will call on world leaders to commit to reducing internal displacement by 50 percent before 2030.

4. Working Differently to End Need: While sudden natural disasters often take us by surprise, many crises we respond to are predictable. It is time to commit to a better way of working hand-in-hand with local systems and development partners to meet the basic needs of at-risk communities and help them prepare for and become less vulnerable to disaster and catastrophe. Both better data collection on crisis risk and the call to act early are needed and required to reduce risk and vulnerability on a global scale.

The Summit will provide the necessary platform for commitment to new ways of working together toward a common goal – humanity.

5. Invest in Humanity:
If we really want to act on our responsibility toward vulnerable people, we need to invest in them politically and financially, by supporting collective goals rather than individual projects. This means increasing funding not only to responses, but also to crisis preparedness, peacebuilding and mediation efforts.

It also means being more creative about how we fund national non-governmental organizations – using loans, grants, bonds and insurance systems in addition to working with investment banks, credit card companies and Islamic social finance mechanisms.

It requires donors to be more flexible in the way they finance crises (i.e., longer-term funding) and aid agencies to be as efficient and transparent as possible about how they are spending money.

Our world is at a tipping point. The World Humanitarian Summit and its Agenda for Humanity are more necessary today than ever before. We, as global citizens, must urge our leaders to come together at the Summit and commit to the necessary action to reduce human suffering. Humanity must be the ultimate choice.

Join us at http://www.ImpossibleChoices.org and find more information on the Summit at https://www.worldhumanitariansummit.org.
@WHSummit
@herveverhoosel
#ShareHumanity

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Harvesting Rainwater to Weather Drought in Northeast Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/harvesting-rainwater-to-weather-drought-in-northeast-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=harvesting-rainwater-to-weather-drought-in-northeast-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/harvesting-rainwater-to-weather-drought-in-northeast-argentina/#comments Mon, 25 Apr 2016 07:52:29 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144799 Jésica Garay, a young mother who is studying to become a teacher, gets water from the family tank built next to her humble home in the rural municipality of Corzuela in the northeast Argentine province of Chaco. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Jésica Garay, a young mother who is studying to become a teacher, gets water from the family tank built next to her humble home in the rural municipality of Corzuela in the northeast Argentine province of Chaco. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
CORZUELA, Argentina, Apr 25 2016 (IPS)

In a semiarid region in the northeast Argentine province of Chaco, small farmers have adopted a simple technique to ensure a steady water supply during times of drought: they harvest the rain and store it in tanks, as part of a climate change adaptation project.

It’s raining in Corzuela, a rural municipality of 10,000 inhabitants located 260 km from Resistencia, the provincial capital, and the muddy local roads are sometimes impassable.

But it isn’t always like this in this Argentine region where, as local farmer Juan Ramón Espinoza puts it, “when it doesn’t rain there is no rain at all, and when it does rain, it rains too much.”

“There have always been water shortages, but things are getting worse every year,” he told IPS. “There are seasons when four or five months go by without a single drop of water falling.”“I used to bring water from the public well. My husband would go with a pony carrying a water container and bring water for the tank we have back there. But other times we would have to go and buy water, and sometimes I even had to forget about buying meat so I could pay for the water.” -- Olga Ramírez

The local residents of Corzuela blame the increasingly severe droughts on deforestation, a consequence of the spread of monoculture crops in this area since the turn of the century.

“They started to invade us with soy plantations,” Espinoza said. “There’s a lot of deforestation. They come and use their bulldozers to knock everything down, on 4,000 or 5,000 hectares. They don’t leave a single tree standing.”

This is compounded by the global effects of climate change, which has led to longer, more intense droughts.

The result is that local peasant farmers don’t have water for drinking, washing, cooking or irrigating their vegetable gardens.

“We would lose half a day going back and forth, filling tanks and containers with water for washing, cooking and bathing,” recalled Graciela Rodríguez, a mother of 11 children who often helped her hauling water.

“Now if you’re in your house and you need water, you go and get some, in your own house,” she told IPS happily, explaining that she uses the extra time she now has to cook bread, clean the house and take care of her grandchildren.

The solution was to build tanks to collect and store rainwater. But the local peasant farmers had neither the funds nor the technology to implement the system.

Today, joined together in associations, the local residents receive funds and other assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), through the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Small Grants Programme (SGP).

The project is carried out locally with technical assistance from the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) for the construction of tanks using cement, bricks, sand, steel and stones, and from the National Institute of Industrial Technology (INTI), for training in safety and hygiene.

“This project helps solve a very pressing local problem: water scarcity in the region,” said SGP technician María Eugenia Combi. “The solution is to take advantage of whatever rainfall there is to harvest and store water, for times when it is scarce.”

Local small farmer José Ramón Espinoza stands next to a recently constructed community tank for harvesting rainwater, which will enable a group of families to weather the recurrent drought in Corzuela, a rural municipality in the northeast Argentine province of Chaco. The underground tank was provided by GEF’s Small Grants Programme. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Local small farmer José Ramón Espinoza stands next to a recently constructed community tank for harvesting rainwater, which will enable a group of families to weather the recurrent drought in Corzuela, a rural municipality in the northeast Argentine province of Chaco. The underground tank was provided by GEF’s Small Grants Programme. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The first project was carried out in this area from 2013 to 2015, when five community water tanks were built, serving 38 families. A second project began in March this year, to build another eight community tanks and 30 single-household tanks.

The technology is simple and low-cost. The roofs of the “ranchos” or poor rural dwellings are adapted with the installation of rain gutters to catch the water, which flows into 16,000-litre family tanks or 52,000-litre community tanks.

“Once the beneficiaries are trained to build the tanks, they can go out and build them in every house,” Combi told IPS.

Traditionally the main source of water for human and agricultural consumption – small-scale livestock production and small gardens – in this region has been family wells.

But as Gabriela Faggi, an INTA technical adviser to the programme, explained to IPS, besides the drought that has reduced ground-water levels, many wells have high sodium levels and are contaminated with arsenic, and in extreme cases the water cannot even be used for watering livestock or gardens, which has exacerbated the region’s food supply problems.

The new year-round availability of water has now helped alleviate that problem as well.

“I used to bring water from the public well,” said another Corzuela resident, Olga Ramírez. “My husband would go with a pony carrying a water container and bring water for the tank we have back there. But other times we would have to go and buy water, and sometimes I even had to forget about buying meat so I could pay for the water.”

The local farmers depend on subsistence farming, growing traditional crops like sweet potatoes, cassava, pumpkin and corn, and raising small livestock.

“It’s a big help for the animals,” said Ramírez. “We use the stored rainwater for washing, cooking, drinking yerba mate (a traditional herbal infusion consumed in the Rio de la Plata region), watering our chickens and other animals and the garden – for everything.”

“Now that we have this tank we can even waste water,” said Jésica Garay, a young mother who is studying to be a teacher. “We even use it to water the garden. Before, we only had enough for drinking and bathing.

“We don’t have to worry anymore about not being able to eat something, in order to buy water,” she said.

The SGP, active in 120 countries, emerged in 1992 as a way to demonstrate that small-scale community initiatives can have a positive impact on global environmental problems. The maximum grant amount per project is 50,000 dollars.

“What we are aiming at are local actions with a global impact,” the head of the programme in Argentina, Francisco Lopez Sastre, told IPS. “That is, small solutions to global environmental problems like climate change.”

He said the promotion of vegetable gardens, which complement the water tank programme “will boost consumption of fruit and vegetables, which is very low among local families due to the high cost.

“This can improve the household economy and bolster the inclusion of healthy foods, which will result in better health and food sovereignty.”

The SGP is currently carrying out another 13 projects in Chaco, for which it has provided a combined total of 537,000 dollars in grants.

Two of them involve water supply for human consumption in rural communities, complemented by agroecological gardens.

The province, which has a population of one million people, has the highest poverty level in this country of 43 million, according to independent studies. In Chaco, more than 57 percent of the population lives in poverty, and 17 percent in extreme poverty.

It is also the region with the second-largest proportion of indigenous people. Population density is 10.6 inhabitants per square km, below the national average of 14.4.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Latin America to Redouble Its Climate Efforts in New Yorkhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/latin-america-to-redouble-its-climate-efforts-at-new-york-ceremony/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-to-redouble-its-climate-efforts-at-new-york-ceremony http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/latin-america-to-redouble-its-climate-efforts-at-new-york-ceremony/#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2016 23:48:16 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144741 Deforestation, as seen in this part of Rio Branco, the northern Brazilian state of Acre, is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Latin America. Credit: Kate Evans/Center for International Forestry Research

Deforestation, as seen in this part of Rio Branco, the northern Brazilian state of Acre, is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Latin America. Credit: Kate Evans/Center for International Forestry Research

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Apr 20 2016 (IPS)

The countries of Latin America will flock to sign the Paris Agreement, in what will be a simple act of protocol with huge political implications: it is the spark that will ignite actions to curb global warming.

More than 160 countries have confirmed their attendance at the ceremony scheduled for Friday, Apr. 22 in New York by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. And eight have announced that they will present the ratification of the agreement during the event, having already completed the internal procedures to approve it.

The countries of Latin America, with the exception of Nicaragua and Ecuador, promised to participate in the collective signing of the historic binding agreement reached by 195 countries on Dec. 12 in the French capital.

Experts consulted by IPS stressed the political symbolism of the ceremony, and said they hoped Latin America would press for rapid implementation of the climate deal. “In New York, the region will underscore the importance of acting with the greatest possible speed, in view of the impacts that we are feeling in each one of our countries.” -- Andrés Pirazzoli

“In New York, the region will underscore the importance of acting with the greatest possible speed, in view of the impacts that we are feeling in each one of our countries,” said Chilean lawyer Andrés Pirazzoli, a former climate change delegate of Chile and an expert in international negotiations.

The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, many of which are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, are calling for the adoption of global measures to curb global warming.

According to a 2014 World Bank report, “In Latin America and the Caribbean temperature and precipitation changes, heat extremes, and the melting of glaciers will have adverse effects on agricultural productivity, hydrological regimes, and biodiversity.”

Pirazzoli said this recognition of the threat posed by climate change in the region would be a bone of contention for the participating countries.

At the Paris Summit or COP 21 – the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – the Chilean expert led the technical team of the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC), made up of Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay and Peru.

Pirazzoli said that “if there is one issue that has brought Latin America together, beyond internal ideological questions, it was the issue of vulnerability.”

“That will be a mantra for the region in the negotiations that will follow the signing of the agreement,” which will get underway again in Bonn in May, he added.

Friday’s ceremony is just the first piece in a puzzle that involves the 197 parties to the UNFCCC, in which each one will have to activate its mechanism to achieve ratification of the international agreement.

On Dec. 12, 2015, at the end of COP 21, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre) and other dignitaries celebrated the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, to be signed this week in New York. Credit: United Nations

On Dec. 12, 2015, at the end of COP 21, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre) and other dignitaries celebrated the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, to be signed this week in New York. Credit: United Nations

In order for the treaty to enter into effect, it must be signed by at least 55 parties accounting for a combined total of at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and this is to happen by 2020, according to what was agreed on at COP 21.

The countries agreed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius by the end of this century relative to pre-industrial levels to prevent “catastrophic and irreversible impacts”.

The agreement set guidelines for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, for addressing the negative impacts of global warming, and for financing, to be led by the countries of the industrialised North.

In the region, the process will vary from country to country, but “according to tradition in Latin America, normally these accords have to go through two houses of Congress, which makes the process more complex,” said Pirazzoli.

He pointed out that Mexico and Panama committed to ratifying the agreement this year.

The United Nations reported that the eight countries that will attend the agreement signing ceremony with their ratification instrument in hand are Barbados, Belize and St. Lucia – in this region – along with Fiji, the Maldives, Nauru, Samoa and Tuvalu.

“A story of power of vulnerable countries is beginning to emerge, and instead of coming as victims, they will use this ceremony to show that they want to be in the leadership,” said Costa Rican economist Mónica Araya, another former national climate change negotiator.

Araya heads the non-governmental organisation Nivela and is an adviser to the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a self-defined “leadership group” within the UNFCCC negotiations, which assumes strong, progressive positions.

The economist said the confirmation of their participation in the New York ceremony by almost all of the countries in Latin America was one more sign that the region is waking up.

She concurred with Pirazzoli that Latin America’s leaders are finding points in common that enable them to overcome ideological barriers, at least in this field.

“We have seen new efforts, such as the summit of environment ministers in Cartagena, which set a precedent by creating a climate change action platform for the entire region,” said Araya, referring to the 20th Meeting of the Forum of Ministers of the Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean, held in late March in that Colombian city.

But she said that in order for international efforts to be effective, change must start at home. “Public opinion and the business community should be helped to understand that our parliaments will play a key role” in ratifying the agreement, she added.

Enrique Maurtua, climate change director with the Argentine NGO Environment and Natural Resources Foundation, and a veteran of the climate talks, agreed.

“The signing of the accord is only the second step, after reaching the agreement,” he said. “Without this, we can’t go on to the third, which is ratification – the most important step in order for the accord to go into effect.”

Maurtua said these global processes need to take root at a global level, by improving their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which nearly the entire region submitted last year, with the exception of Panama, which did so on Apr. 14, and Nicaragua, which said it would not do so.

Although they account for only a small proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions, the region’s countries pledged to reduce them in their INDCs – a numerous group with ambitious goals, including the two biggest economies in the region: Brazil and Mexico.

They also listed climate change adaptation actions, in several cases going beyond the minimum required.

Maurtua was upbeat with regard to the implementation of the Paris Agreement by 2020 and the 2016 negotiating process, which will begin in Bonn in May and will continue until COP 22 is held in Morocco.

“Latin America could very well be an example of the implementation of good practices for achieving sustainable development,” he said.

The absence of Ecuador and Nicaragua is in line with previous positions taken, where they have showed a reluctance to participate in multilateral processes.

After COP 21, Nicaragua said the Paris Agreement did not go far enough.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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No Easy Outcomes in Brazil’s Political Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/no-easy-outcomes-in-brazils-political-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-easy-outcomes-in-brazils-political-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/no-easy-outcomes-in-brazils-political-crisis/#comments Mon, 18 Apr 2016 23:00:48 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144679 Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, her back to the camera, receives a hug on Monday Apr. 18 by one of the minority of lower house legislators who voted against her impeachment the day before. Credit: Roberto Stuckert/PR

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, her back to the camera, receives a hug on Monday Apr. 18 by one of the minority of lower house legislators who voted against her impeachment the day before. Credit: Roberto Stuckert/PR

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 18 2016 (IPS)

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff would appear to be, as she herself recently said, “a card out of the deck” of those in power, after the crushing defeat she suffered Sunday Apr. 17 in the lower house of Congress, which voted to impeach her. But Brazil’s political crisis is so complex that the final outcome is not a given.

A total of 367 legislators – 71.5 percent, or 25 more than the two-thirds majority needed – voted to impeach her and she now faces a vote in the Senate. Because the makeup of the Senate is similar to that of the Chamber of Deputies, the president’s fate is apparently sealed.

However, the climate of tension in Brazil has brought new surprises almost every week since last year. And the impeachment trial could drag on for over six months, passing through different stages and procedures, under the shadow of storms like the corruption scandal that threatens more than 300 politicians.

The Senate will have about three weeks to decide whether to go ahead with putting the left-wing president on trial for alleged irregularities in last year’s federal budget.

Since the decision only requires a simple majority of 41 out of 81 senators, the assumption is that the impeachment will move forward. The vote will be based on an assessment of the case by a special 21-senator commission that will have 10 working days to turn in its report.

In the next few weeks, Rousseff – whose first term started on Jan. 1, 2011 – will remain in the presidency. But she will have to step aside for 180 days if the Senate votes in favour of a formal impeachment trial. After that, another special commission will investigate, listen to the defence, and draw up a proposal to find her guilty or absolve her.

The trial by the 81 senators would be presided over by the president of the Supreme Court.

Rousseff would be banned from public office for eight years if two-thirds of the senators – 54 – found her guilty. She would be acquitted if she managed to obtain 28 votes in favour, including abstentions and absences.

There are multiple factors that could modify the script as well as the final outcome.

Demonstrators supporting the removal of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff celebrate Sunday Apr. 17 outside the lower house of Congress in Brasilia after it voted to impeach her. “Chao querida” (Bye-bye dear) reads one of the signs. Credit: Fábio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ Agência Brasil

Demonstrators supporting the removal of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff celebrate Sunday Apr. 17 outside the lower house of Congress in Brasilia after it voted to impeach her. “Tchau, querida” (Bye-bye dear) reads one of the signs. Credit: Fábio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ Agência Brasil

The lawmakers pushing for impeachment, who will take power if Rousseff is removed, have all been implicated by the Operação Lava Jato or Operation Car Wash investigation into corruption and could lose their seats as a result of a trial in the Supreme Court, where sitting politicians are tried.

Facing the greatest threat is the speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha, who played a decisive role by speeding things up in the initial phase of the proceedings against Rousseff.

But that role has generated resistance against the impeachment. Cunha, accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes to secure contracts with state oil giant Petrobras, and reported to have illegal bank accounts in Switzerland, is seen as the biggest symbol of corruption, even by some of those who back the president’s removal.

Many members of the Chamber of Deputies took advantage of the moment to accuse Cunha of being a thief or corrupt, when they announced their vote on Sunday. Even some of those who voted in favour of impeachment made an attempt to mark their distance from the speaker of the house.

Deputy Jarbas Vasconcelos, for example, accused Cunha of “casting a stain over” the proceedings and the lower house.

Both of them belong to the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), an ally of the government until last month. If Rousseff is suspended, the party will lead the government and both houses of Congress.

Vice-president Michel Temer, who will become president if Rousseff – reelected to her second term in October 2014 – is impeached, and the president of the Senate, Renán Calheiros, have been signaled as benefiting from the corruption orchestrated by Petrobras, as they both agreed to cooperate with the justice system in exchange for a reduction in any eventual sentence.

The charges and the information provided in the investigation will tend to focus on these three politicians – the vice president and the heads of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate – as they are in line to replace the president.

Rousseff’s supporters stress that she is an exception among the leading protagonists in this battle for power, as the only one who is not facing corruption charges.

Supporters of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff displayed intense disappointment on Sunday Apr. 17 outside the lower house of Congress in Brasilia as the voting reflected an overwhelming majority in favour of impeachment. Credit: Fábio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ Agência Brasil

Supporters of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff displayed intense disappointment on Sunday Apr. 17 outside the lower house of Congress in Brasilia as the voting reflected an overwhelming majority in favour of impeachment. Credit: Fábio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ Agência Brasil

However, she is isolated now because the left-wing ruling Workers Party’s (PT) image has been battered by accusations that it has diverted public funds since it first came to power in 2003 under former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

New charges and lines of investigation by Operation Car Wash, led by the public prosecutor’s office and the federal police, could modify the political landscape, as has happened in the last few months when it investigated favours allegedly received by Lula from leading construction companies that have carried out large-scale oil industry and hydropower projects.

Another source of uncertainty is the current Superior Electoral Court investigation into the 2014 campaign funds that could invalidate the victory by Rousseff and Temer due to the alleged use of illegal donations coming from bribes from Petrobras contractor companies.

If the 2014 elections outcome is challenged, new elections will be held. But experts believe that this ruling will not come until 2017, and in that case it would be Congress that would elect the new president and vice president who would complete the current term until 2018.

The economic crisis, meanwhile, is only expected to get worse, because an interim government would find it hard to adopt the unpopular measures that economists, and Temer himself, see as indispensable for fighting the recession, such as a fiscal adjustment plan.

A truce is also possible, but it would be hard to accommodate the interests of the nearly two dozen parties in the lower house that helped approve the move to impeach Rousseff. The broad majority that was achieved was due to small and medium-sized parties that joined together with the large opposition parties when the president’s defeat began to look likely.

The big fuel for political decisions lately in Brazil has been the prospect of gaining a share of the power.

The corrosion of the new coalition that would take power will be inevitable, due to internal divisions, the recession and subsequent rise in unemployment, new findings by the corruption investigation and demonstrations by Rousseff’s supporters, which will clearly rise in intensity.

The media, which the left accuses of being biased against Rousseff, Lula and the PT, will likely focus their negative news stories on the new holders of power, accentuating the erosion.

The defence of the president, led by Attorney General José Eduardo Cardozo, disparaged the lower house decision on the impeachment, calling it “purely political” and noting that Rousseff is not facing serious accusations but minor charges which, he said, have “absolutely no background or basis.”

Cardozo argued that this is possible in a parliamentary system, but not in Brazil’s presidentialist system. The proceedings have been criticised as unconstitutional, since Rousseff is not accused of any concrete crime, and a president can’t be impeached only for political reasons, he argued.

These arguments are not likely to modify the Senate’s eventual decision, given the president’s isolation, but they could strengthen the movement against her removal.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Maquilas Help Drive Industrialisation in Paraguayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/maquilas-help-drive-industrialisation-in-paraguay/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=maquilas-help-drive-industrialisation-in-paraguay http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/maquilas-help-drive-industrialisation-in-paraguay/#comments Sat, 16 Apr 2016 01:59:21 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144645 Texcin, the garment plant built by Brazilian company Riachuelo near the airport in Asunción, under Paraguay’s maquila law, which offers tax exemptions and other incentives for export-oriented production. In the foreground a garment worker in training (“entrenamiento”). Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Texcin, the garment plant built by Brazilian company Riachuelo near the airport in Asunción, under Paraguay’s maquila law, which offers tax exemptions and other incentives for export-oriented production. In the foreground a garment worker in training (“entrenamiento”). Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ASUNCION, Apr 16 2016 (IPS)

“There were cases of people who stopped coming to work after receiving their first wages and then came back a few days later to ask if there was more work,” because they were used to casual work in the informal economy, said Ivonne Ginard.

Ginard, a human resources manager in the textile firm Texcin, was in charge of hiring the plant’s 353 employees and helping them make the transition from informal labour to working in a factory with set schedules, uniforms, safety measures and medical certificates to justify absences.

Texcin, a garment factory near the Asunción airport, is emblematic of the incipient industrialisation process in Paraguay, which is still an agriculture-based economy, where soy and beef are the main exports and informal employment is predominant in the cities.

The plant is a joint venture between members of the Paraguayan business community and Riachuelo, one of the biggest clothing brands in Brazil, where it has 285 stores and two industrial plants. Riachuelo decided to take advantage of the incentives provided by the law on maquila export plants, in effect in Paraguay since 2000, to produce clothing in this neighbouring South American country instead of importing from Asia.

The aim is to increase the number of workers twofold by the end of 2016 and to continue to expand, since the company has the space to build a new plant.

“Paraguay offers abundant, young, easily trained workers, cheap energy, and tax incentives for maquilas and duty-free zones, which make it possible to import raw materials tariff-free,” said Andrés Guynn, one of the Paraguayan partners, who heads Texcin.

“Our production is competitive with costs similar to those of Asia, with a big advantage in terms of time: it takes 90 days for products to be shipped from China to Brazil, while ours get to (the Brazilian city of) São Paulo in 72 hours, by truck,” he said.

“Under the maquila regime, 108 companies set up shop in Paraguay, 62 of them in the last two years, and 80 percent of them come from Brazil,” the director of the maquila sector in the Ministry of Industry and Trade, Ernesto Paredes, told IPS.

Maquila or maquiladora plants are built by foreign corporations, generally in free trade zones. They import materials and equipment duty-free for assembly or manufacturing for re-export, and enjoy other tax breaks and incentives, as well as more flexible labour conditions.

Texcin human resources manager Ivonne Ginard (right), next to the woman who trains the garment workers, Rosa Prieto. “Texcin changed my life,” said Prieto, who was a self-employed seamstress in the informal sector of the economy for 15 years, before she was hired by the company in January 2015. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Texcin human resources manager Ivonne Ginard (right), next to the woman who trains the garment workers, Rosa Prieto. “Texcin changed my life,” said Prieto, who was a self-employed seamstress in the informal sector of the economy for 15 years, before she was hired by the company in January 2015. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“The maquiladora industry is dynamic, but it does not accept trade union freedom, it does not allow unions to be organised in its factories, which violates constitutional rights,” the president of the Confederation of the Working Class (CCT) labour federation, Julio López, told IPS.

Auto parts factories are predominant in the industry, in terms of both revenue and jobs generated by maquiladoras in Paraguay, Paredes said. He said the sector uses the “just-in-time” delivery system developed by Japan’s auto industry, which is an inventory strategy employed to boost efficiency and reduce waste by receiving goods only as they are needed in the production process, which cuts inventory costs.

The Japanese company Yasaki and Germany’s Leoni have recently set up plants in Paraguay, employing thousands of people, nearly all of them women, in the production of electrical car cables.

And Paraguay now has its first car assembly plant. A national company, Reimplex, began to assemble J2 cars for Chinese auto maker JAC Motors on the outskirts of Asunción on Mar. 28.

Clothing factories also employ large numbers of women.

In addition, the plastics industry is expanding fast in the eastern department of Alto Paraná, on the border with Brazil, Paredes said.

Cheap local labour, which he said is “low-cost not so much because of the wages paid, but due to the low social charges” and low taxes, are especially attractive for Brazilian companies. To that is added the cost of electricity, which is 63 percent cheaper than in Brazil, according to the head of the maquila sector.

One limitation is transport and energy infrastructure. “Roads, ports, highways, real estate – all of this is lacking, although Paraguay has been investing heavily in airports, hotels, and office buildings,” he said.

One solution would be to widen the two-lane highway between Asunción and Ciudad del Este, the country’s two main economic hubs. However, the plan is not to expand the existing road, but “to build a second highway exclusively for trucks and trade,” as well as a second bridge to Brazil, said Paredes.

Texcin’s textile warehouse seen behind a sign announcing the expansion of the plant which was built by Brazilian company Riachuelo with partners in Paraguay on the outskirts of Asunción. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Texcin’s textile warehouse seen behind a sign announcing the expansion of the plant which was built by Brazilian company Riachuelo with partners in Paraguay on the outskirts of Asunción. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Investment is also needed in another route for the transportation of heavy loads, the Paraguay-Paraná waterway, used to export soy.

“Better signalisation would double its capacity and speed up river traffic,” Gustavo Rojas, a researcher at the Center for Economic Analysis and Dissemination in Paraguay (CADEP), told IPS.

This land-locked country of 6.8 million people has the world’s third-largest river barge fleet, as well as shipyards that build them, which favours an increase in river traffic, Paredes said.

Electricity is, potentially, Paraguay’s biggest comparative advantage, since the country owns half of the energy from two huge hydropower dams: Itaipú, shared with Brazil, and Yacyretá, on the border with Argentina, with the capacity to produce 14,000 and 3,200 MW, respectively.

But it only began to use part of that energy when a power line from Itaipú to Villa Hayes, near Asunción, was completed in October 2013. The power line was financed by a Brazilian fund aimed at narrowing the development gap between countries in the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) trade bloc, made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Without an adequate distribution network, however, the new energy supply did not eliminate problems like the February blackout that left 300,000 homes without power in Greater Asunción.

Achieving a more secure energy supply “is a question of time,” said Guynn, who tried to place his company near the new power line.

The problem is that the national power utility, ANDE, does not have investment capacity, and “distribution is not secure and steady,” said Fernando Masi, founding director of CADEP, which carries out research on public policies and provides graduate studies in economy.

But the broad availability of energy is a new element drawing industries to Paraguay, since the other advantages, such as low labour costs and tax incentives, already existed before.

Cheap energy also tempted the British-Australian multinational metals and mining corporation Rio Tinto, which studied the possibility of producing aluminum in Paraguay, even if it had to ship in the raw material, bauxite, from far away, because electric power is the main cost of the aluminum industry.

But a major public campaign, which collected more than 100,000 signatures, managed to block the project, “which would consume more energy than all of the national industries combined,” while requiring subsidies and employing a relatively small number of people, Mercedes Canese, an engineer who was deputy minister of industry during the government of Fernando Lugo (2008-2012), told IPS.

However, another engineer, Francisco Scorza, who studied the case, said the Rio Tinto project became unviable because “China began to produce very cheap aluminum, at 1,200 dollars a ton, 40 percent less expensive than here, and Paraguay can’t afford to subsidise energy.”

CADEP’s Masi said attracting small and medium-sized industries is better for development and employment, but the maquila sector has limits. The auto parts industry, for example, is limited to producing wiring, “because there is no bilateral agreement with Brazil on the car industry,” he said.

Brazil demands that Paraguay stop imports of used automobiles, “a very high cost for Paraguay to pay,” as it has a large fleet of used Japanese vehicles known as the “Vía Chile” cars because they come into Paraguay through that neighbouring country.

The maquila industry only exported 284 million dollars worth of goods in 2015 – very little in comparison to Paraguay’s overall industrial exports of 3.0 to 3.5 billion dollars, said Masi.

Industrialisation in Paraguay “has taken off, but not at the fast pace that was expected,” he said, adding that improving energy and logistics infrastructure could help.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Land Tenure Still a Challenge for Women in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/land-tenure-still-a-challenge-for-women-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=land-tenure-still-a-challenge-for-women-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/land-tenure-still-a-challenge-for-women-in-latin-america/#comments Wed, 13 Apr 2016 17:51:58 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144608 Blanca Molina holds up organic peas picked in one of the four greenhouses she built with her own hands on her small family farm in Villa Simpson, in the Aysén region in the Patagonian wilderness in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud /IPS

Blanca Molina holds up organic peas picked in one of the four greenhouses she built with her own hands on her small family farm in Villa Simpson, in the Aysén region in the Patagonian wilderness in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud /IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Apr 13 2016 (IPS)

Rural women in Latin America continue to face serious obstacles to land tenure, which leave them vulnerable, despite their growing importance in food production and food security.

“Women are the most vulnerable group of people with respect to the question of land tenure,” Soledad Parada, a gender adviser in the regional office of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), in the Chilean capital, told IPS.

She added that “in general, the activities carried out to improve the land tenure situation have failed to take women into account.”

As a result, “women have access to land through inheritance or because they were granted it by an agrarian reform programme, but they are always at a disadvantage,” she said.

Like in other developing regions, family agriculture is the main supplier of food in Latin America, and women produce roughly half of what the region’s 600 million people eat.

An estimated 58 million women live in the countryside in this region. But “the immense majority of land, in the case of individual farmers, is in the hands of men,” said Parada.

“Only between eight and 30 percent of land is in the hands of women,” she said, which means that only this proportion of women “are farmers in the economic sense.”

The country with the largest percentage of land owned by women is Chile (30 percent), closely followed by Panama, Ecuador and Haiti. At the other extreme is Belize (eight percent), with just slightly larger proportions in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Argentina.

Another FAO study, conducted in only a handful of countries in the region in 2012, reported that women accounted for 32 percent of owners of land in Mexico, 27 percent in Paraguay, 20 percent in Nicaragua and 14 percent in Honduras.

Furthermore, women tend to have smaller farms with lower quality soil, and have less access to credit, technical assistance and training.

“Of people who work in technical assistance, 98 percent do not even think of visiting women,” land tenure expert Sergio Gómez, a FAO consultant, told IPS.

Moreover, he said, “All formal procedures require the man’s signature, otherwise the visit doesn’t count, because the property is in his name.”

The gender gap in land ownership is historically linked to factors such as male preference in inheritance, male privilege in marriage, and male bias in state land redistribution programmes and in peasant and indigenous communities.

To this is added the gender bias in the land market.

Aura Canache, in front of one of her sheep enclosures on her small farm, less than one hectare in size, located 130 km from Caracas, in the Barlovento farming region in the coastal area of northern Venezuela. She has had difficulty accessing credit to help run her farm. Credit: Estrella Gutiérrez/IPS

Aura Canache, in front of one of her sheep enclosures on her small farm, less than one hectare in size, located 130 km from Caracas, in the Barlovento farming region in the coastal area of northern Venezuela. She has had difficulty accessing credit to help run her farm. Credit: Estrella Gutiérrez/IPS

Because of all of these handicaps, women “have been explicitly left out” of land ownership, Parada said.

There are other inequalities as well. In Mexico, for example, women in rural areas work 89 hours a week on average, compared to just 58 hours for men. A similar gap can be found throughout the region.

Nevertheless, nearly 40 percent of rural women have no incomes of their own, while only 14 percent of men are in that situation.

Some progress has been made in recent years, as the region has experienced a significant increase in the proportion of farms in the hands of women. Parada said that in the last few decades, many countries in the region, such as Nicaragua, reformed their laws to ensure more equal access to land for women.

“In other countries advances have been seen in terms of legislation, such as setting a condition that in the case of a married couple, both members are in charge of the land, and the authorisation of either one is needed to carry out any transaction,” Parada said.

But much more still needs to be done, largely because the effective right to land not only depends on legislation, but also on the social recognition of this right – and inequality still persists in this respect.

“All of this has tremendous consequences,” Parada said.

The hard-working hands of Ivania Siliézar pick improved beans grown on her three-hectare farm in the eastern Salvadoran department of San Miguel. Thanks to these native seeds, her output has doubled. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The hard-working hands of Ivania Siliézar pick improved beans grown on her three-hectare farm in the eastern Salvadoran department of San Miguel. Thanks to these native seeds, her output has doubled. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

“The fact that land is mainly in the names of men, especially in the case of family farms and small-scale agriculture, represents an enormous barrier for women to access other kinds of benefits,” she said.

Alicia Muñoz, the head of the Chilean National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women (Anamuri), told IPS that achieving the right to land “has been one of our longest and biggest struggles.”

“We are fighting for women’s work to be recognised, because it is women who are the leaders in the countryside, in small-scale family agriculture. Access to land tenure has always been a demand of peasant women,” she said.

Muñoz said it is a “cultural issue” faced by countries in the region which so far has no solution.

Despite all of the efforts to close the gender gap in different countries of Latin America, “in agriculture, the men speak for the women,” he said.

Against this backdrop, gender equality is one of the main “implementation principles” of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, approved in 2012 by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) to facilitate dialogue and negotiations.

The guidelines adopted by the intergovernmental CFS, which is described as the foremost inclusive international and intergovernmental platform for all stakeholders to work together to ensure food security and nutrition for all, say states must ensure that women and girls have equal tenure rights and access to land, independently of their marital status.

The document also urges states to “consider the particular obstacles faced by women and girls with regard to tenure rights and take measures to ensure that legal and policy frameworks provide adequate protection for women and that laws that recognize women’s tenure rights are enforced and implemented.”

The CFS stresses the need to guarantee women’s participation in all decision-making processes, as well as equal access to land, water and other natural resources.

But in order to achieve this, the presence of women in negotiations must be fomented “by the authorities or by whoever agrees to implement the guidelines. And the FAO has a role to play in this,” Parada said.

Muñoz agreed, saying that “both governments and the FAO have to promote women’s participation, otherwise everything will stay the same.”

“We love land and nature, we are very reliable and responsible,” the Chilean activist said. “It is women who know about family farming, who carry the farms on their shoulders. It’s time we were recognised.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Interoceanic Canal Bogged Down in Nicaraguahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/interoceanic-canal-bogged-down-in-nicaragua/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=interoceanic-canal-bogged-down-in-nicaragua http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/interoceanic-canal-bogged-down-in-nicaragua/#comments Fri, 08 Apr 2016 23:58:54 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144534 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/interoceanic-canal-bogged-down-in-nicaragua/feed/ 1 Global Guidelines on Land Tenure Making Headway in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/global-guidelines-on-land-tenure-making-headway-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-guidelines-on-land-tenure-making-headway-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/global-guidelines-on-land-tenure-making-headway-in-latin-america/#comments Wed, 06 Apr 2016 23:04:11 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144506 A meeting to discuss the restoration of land in Colombia to rural victims of the half-century armed conflict – a situation that the voluntary guidelines on land tenure can help solve. Credit: Helda Martínez/IPS

A meeting to discuss the restoration of land in Colombia to rural victims of the half-century armed conflict – a situation that the voluntary guidelines on land tenure can help solve. Credit: Helda Martínez/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Apr 6 2016 (IPS)

Voluntary guidelines on land tenure adopted by the international community to combat the growing concentration of land ownership and improve secure access to land have begun to make headway in Latin America, a region that is a leader in the fight against hunger and that is taking firm steps towards achieving food security.

“The guidelines are an absolutely political document, which helps even out the playing field,” promoting dialogue and negotiation, said Sergio Gómez, a consultant with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) regional office, in the Chilean capital.

“The dynamics of the land market and the concentration of land ownership and land-grabbing by foreign interests had gotten out of control, and the FAO addressed this because if these things are not kept within reasonable limits, food security is jeopardised,” he told IPS.

The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security can only be understood in relation to the existing levels of land concentration and land-grabbing, he said.“The land tenure situation today is unprecedented, because it is happening at a very particular moment, when the food crisis that applies heavy pressure to natural resources is compounded by an energy crisis and a financial crisis.” -- Sergio Gómez

According to a FAO studied carried out in 17 countries in this region, land-grabbing has increased significantly since the turn of the century.

In this region, the concentration of land ownership and land-grabbing are at their strongest in Argentina and Brazil, followed by the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Nicaragua and Uruguay.

These problems are at a mid- to high level of intensity in Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru, while they are less present in the countries of Central America and the English-speaking Caribbean.

“The land tenure situation today is unprecedented, because it is happening at a very particular moment, when the food crisis that applies heavy pressure to natural resources is compounded by an energy crisis and a financial crisis,” Gómez said.

“All of this leads to unprecedented pressure with regard to the land question,” he said.

The Guidelines, approved in 2012 by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) – described as the foremost inclusive international and intergovernmental platform for all stakeholders to work together to ensure food security and nutrition for all – are aimed at serving as a reference point for and providing orientation to improve the governance of land tenure, fisheries and forests.

“The Guidelines are a negotiating tool in an area where there are no clear formulas, but where, in a wide range of situations, the affected groups have to sit down and dialogue, to seek agreements,” Gómez said.

The document establishes 10 rules that the different actors must accept before engaging in dialogue. They are called implementation principles, and are obligatory and designed to provide orientation for this kind of discussion.

They range from respect for human dignity and existing laws to gender equality and transparency.

All of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have signed the accord, and although it is not binding, “it is understood that there is a willingness to comply,” Gómez said.

Three approaches

But the guidelines are just now starting to be applied in the region.

Concrete experiences in three countries – Guatemala, Colombia and Chile – represent three different approaches.

In Guatemala, the initiative emerged from a request from the government, which in 2013 asked the FAO to provide support and technical assistance to strengthen the country’s agricultural institutions.

“What we did in Guatemala is the most significant thing we have done in the region,” said Gómez.

The land issue, fraught with conflict and inequality, is a major problem in that Central American country of 15.8 million people, where nearly 54 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and 42 percent are indigenous.

In rural areas in Guatemala, the poverty rate climbs to 75 percent, and six out of 10 people living in poverty are considered extremely poor.

This Mapuche couple, Luis Aillapán and his wife Catalina Marileo, were tried and convicted under an anti-terrorism law for protesting the construction of a road across their land, which violated their land rights. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

This Mapuche couple, Luis Aillapán and his wife Catalina Marileo, were tried and convicted under an anti-terrorism law for protesting the construction of a road across their land, which violated their land rights. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

In terms of land ownership, two percent of farmers own 57 percent of the land, while 92 percent own just 22 percent.

As a result of the progress made, 80 percent of the aspects tackled in discussions in the country were incorporated in the 2014 national agrarian policy plan.

But the 2015 political crisis brought the process to a halt, although the FAO hopes to get things moving again.

In Colombia, meanwhile, land questions are at the heart of the armed conflict that has shaken the country for over half a century, and resolving this problem is essential to achieving peace, and to ensuring compliance with a preliminary agreement on justice and reparations reached Dec. 15 in the peace talks between the government and the FARC insurgents in Havana.

An estimated 6.6 million hectares – roughly 15 percent of Colombia’s farmland – were stolen or abandoned when the families were forcibly displaced since the early 1990s. Today, 77 percent of the land in the conflict-torn country of 48 million people is in the hands of 13 percent of owners, while just 3.6 percent own a full 30 percent of the land.

“In Colombia, land is a hot issue, and it is key to the peace agreement” expected to arise from the peace talks in the Cuban capital, Gómez said.

He added that the authorities “have passed a few laws to restore land to people who were forced off it, who number in the tens of thousands. But now we’re entering another phase, based on a project for cooperation with the European Union, as part of the peace process.”

On the road to implementation of the Guidelines, the FAO has discussed holding regional workshops and has stressed the need for local involvement.

Nury Martínez, a leader of FENSUAGRO, the largest agricultural workers union in Colombia, which has contributed to the process aimed at implementing the Guidelines, said some of the points included in the Guidelines “are very important to us as peasant farmers…and are tools of struggle.”

But to use a tool it is necessary to be familiar with it. With that aim, the Food Sovereignty Alliance drew up a popular manual on the Guidelines, “aimed at helping people understand them better and enabling peasant farmers and indigenous people to make them their own,” Martínez, who is also a regional leader of the international peasant movement Vía Campesina, told IPS from Bogotá.

In Chile, meanwhile, the FAO has worked in the southern region of La Araucanía, where the Mapuche indigenous people have long been fighting for their right to land.

In the South American country of 17.6 million people, forestry companies own 2.8 million hectares of land, with just two corporations owning 1.8 million hectares.

José Aylwin, co-director of the Citizen Observatory, a Chilean NGO, told IPS that in Chile, “there is no other case, except private conservation projects, of such heavy concentration of land in so few hands.”

He added that the context surrounding the conflict in southern Chile “is that of a people who lived and owned that land and the natural resources, and a state and private interests that came in later and stripped the Mapuche people of a large part of their territory.”

Despite the polarisation of groups in the area, the FAO managed to bring together 67 people, including Mapuche and business community leaders, in May 2015.

Aylwin said these talks demonstrated “the timeliness of the Guidelines” with respect to conflicts generated by the concentration of land in the hands of the forest industry.

“The conflicts in La Araucanía do no one any good; solutions are needed, and the Guidelines provide essential orientation,” he said.

Despite the difficulties, Gómez predicted that the Guidelines would increasingly be applied in the region. “So although we feel distressed that faster progress isn’t being made, we’ll have Guidelines for several decades.”

With additional reporting by Constanza Viera in Bogotá.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Climate Change Dries Up Nicaraguahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/climate-change-dries-up-nicaragua/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-dries-up-nicaragua http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/climate-change-dries-up-nicaragua/#comments Tue, 05 Apr 2016 00:38:00 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144467 Boats stranded on the dry bed of Moyúa lake in northern Nicaragua, which has lost 60 percent of its water due to the severe drought plaguing the country since 2014. Credit: Courtesy of Rezayé Álvarez

Boats stranded on the dry bed of Moyúa lake in northern Nicaragua, which has lost 60 percent of its water due to the severe drought plaguing the country since 2014. Credit: Courtesy of Rezayé Álvarez

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Apr 5 2016 (IPS)

A three-year drought, added to massive deforestation in the past few decades, has dried up most of Nicaragua’s water sources and has led to an increasingly severe water supply crisis.

Since January, photos and videos showing dried-up streams, rivers and lakes have been all over the social networks, local news media, blogs and online bulletins of environmental organisations.

Jaime Incer, a former minister of the environment and natural resources and the president of the Nicaraguan Foundation for Sustainable Development (Fundenic-SOS), is one of the loudest voices warning about the accelerated environmental deterioration in the country.

Incer told IPS that by late March the country had lost 60 percent of its surface water sources and up to 50 percent of its underground sources, which either dried up or have been polluted.

To illustrate, he cited the disappearance of at least 100 rivers and their tributaries in Nicaragua, and the contamination of Tiscapa and Nejapa lakes near Managua, as well as lake Venecia in the western coastal department of Masaya and lake Moyúa in the northern department of Matagalpa.

The scientist said the country’s largest bodies of water are also in danger: the 680-km Coco river, the longest in Central America, which forms the northern border with Honduras, is now completely dry for several stretches of up to eight km in length.

The water level in the river is at a record low, to the extent that it can be crossed by foot, with the water only ankle-deep.

And because of the low water level in the country’s other big river, the San Juan, along the southern border with Costa Rica, large sand banks now block the passage of boats, despite the dredging operations carried out in the last few years.

In addition, the 8,624-sq-km Lake Nicaragua or Cocibolca, the biggest freshwater reserve in Central America has suffered from serious water losses since 2012, which means docks and piers have been left high and dry, said Incer.

The same thing is happening in the country’s other large lake, Xolotlán, in Managua.

Although clean-up operations in the lake were launched in 2009, the results of these efforts have not been announced. But what is clearly visible is that since the drought began in 2014, the shoreline has receded up to 200 metres in some areas, according to reports by Fundenic-SOS.

This is what Lake Moyúa in northern Nicaragua looked like before it lost 60 percent of its water due to the effects of the El Niño climate phenomenon, which in this Central American country has spelled drought. Credit: Matagalpa.org

This is what Lake Moyúa in northern Nicaragua looked like before it lost 60 percent of its water due to the effects of the El Niño climate phenomenon, which in this Central American country has spelled drought. Credit: Matagalpa.org

The environmental organisation does not only blame the crisis on the impact of climate change that has been felt in Nicaragua since 2014 due to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) – a cyclical climate phenomenon that affects weather patterns around the world – but also the lack of public policies to curb the rampant deforestation.

The big forest reserves in the south of the country have shrunk up to 40 percent, according to a study by the British consultancy Environmental Resources Management (ERM), hired by the Chinese consortium HKND Group to carry out feasibility studies for the canal it is to build that will link the Pacific and Atlantic oceans across Nicaragua.

The environmental deterioration of the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve and the Cerro Silva and Punta Gorda nature reserves in southeast Nicaragua was worse in the period 2009-2011 than in the previous 26 years, the ERM reported in 2015.

The study says that between 1983 and 2011, “nearly 40 percent of the natural land cover in southeast Nicaragua was lost.”

The non-governmental Humboldt Centre also reported 40 percent loss of forest cover in Bosawas, the largest forest reserve in Central America, declared a biosphere reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1997.

Food security, a major victim

The impact of the drought has been felt in the economy and the food security of a large part of this country’s population of 6.2 million people, 2.5 million of whom live on less than two dollars a day and 20 percent of whom are undernourished, according to statistics from international bodies.

Organisations of farmers, stockbreeders and tourism businesses have complained about economic damages caused by water shortages.

For example, the National Livestock Commission of Nicaragua (CONAGAN) confirmed in February that the sector is extremely concerned about the scarcity of water in the parts of Nicaragua that account for at least 30 percent of the country’s livestock.

What worries them the most is that according to international and national weather reports, the drought caused by El Niño could last through August, when the first rainfall in 2016 is forecast.

And this month, the Union of Agricultural Producers in Nicaragua (UPANIC) estimated losses caused by the drought at 200 million dollars in 2015.

Nicaragua’s Central Bank, meanwhile, reported that in 2015, the drought affected hydropower production – the least costly energy in terms of production costs.

Sociologist Cirilo Otero, the director of the Centre of Environmental Policy Initiatives, said the part of the country hit hardest by water shortages is the so-called “dry corridor” – a long, arid stretch of dry forest where 35 of the country’s 153 municipalities are located.

According to Otero’s studies, the impact of the drought and the lack of water in that region, which stretches from northern to south-central Nicaragua, has been so heavy that 100 percent of the crops have been lost and 90 percent of the water sources have dried up.

“The measures adopted by the government are ‘asistencialistas’ (band-aid or short-term in nature) – water and food are distributed on certain days – but there are no public policies to curb deforestation in the pine forests in the mountains of Dipilto and Jalapa, and that is one of the main causes of the disappearance of rivers and wells,” Otero told IPS.

He said children and the elderly are suffering the worst food insecurity in the dry corridor.

“There are entire families who have nothing but corn and salt to eat. The situation is very serious,” said Otero.

The government, which has been the target of complaints for failing to declare a national emergency for the drought, has continued to assist families in the area, providing them with medicine, food and water.

Ervin Barreda, president of ENACAL, Nicaragua’s water and sanitation utility, said they send some 65 tanker trucks a day to the most critical areas, supplying some 2,000 families every day.

According to official data, in February 2016 there were 51,527 families in 34 localities who depended on highly vulnerable aquifers for their water supply.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Heavy Rains Once Again Scatter the Poor in Asunciónhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/heavy-rains-once-again-scatter-the-poor-in-asuncion/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=heavy-rains-once-again-scatter-the-poor-in-asuncion http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/heavy-rains-once-again-scatter-the-poor-in-asuncion/#comments Fri, 01 Apr 2016 02:00:58 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144433 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/heavy-rains-once-again-scatter-the-poor-in-asuncion/feed/ 0 Thaw with United States Will Put Cuba’s Agroecology to the Testhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/thaw-with-united-states-will-put-cubas-agroecology-to-the-test/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thaw-with-united-states-will-put-cubas-agroecology-to-the-test http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/thaw-with-united-states-will-put-cubas-agroecology-to-the-test/#comments Wed, 30 Mar 2016 19:11:16 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144412 A worker on the Marta farm, which was founded by one of the first proponents of agroecology in Cuba, harvests organic lettuce in the municipality of Caimito, in the western Cuban province of Artemisa. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A worker on the Marta farm, which was founded by one of the first proponents of agroecology in Cuba, harvests organic lettuce in the municipality of Caimito, in the western Cuban province of Artemisa. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA/LA PALMA , Mar 30 2016 (IPS)

The United States has indicated a clear interest in buying organic produce from Cuba as soon as that is made possible by the ongoing normalisation of ties between the two countries. But farmers and others involved in the agroecological sector warn that when the day arrives, they might not be ready.

“The impact would be conditioned by several factors, including the capacity of farmers to design, implement and evaluate agroecological business models that can meet the demands and requirements of the domestic and international markets,” Humberto Ríos, one of the founders of the green movement in Cuban agriculture, told IPS.

The possible opportunities offered by the big U.S. market, where requirements are strict, will test the response capacity of the country’s organic farmers.

“The farmers know how to grow things without agrochemicals. But that’s not enough for developing agroecology,” said Ríos, a researcher who is now working in Spain at the International Centre for Development-Oriented Research in Agriculture, told IPS by email.

Cuba needs “a clear policy to boost the economic growth of the private sector and cooperatives interested in offering agroecological products and services,” said Ríos, who won the Goldman Environment Prize, known as the Green Nobel, in 2010.

Ríos also won a prize for his work in the Programme for Local Agrarian Innovation (PIAL), which with the help of international development aid has taught participative seed improvement and other ecological agricultural techniques to 50,000 people in 45 of Cuba’s 168 municipalities since 2000.

Ríos also said Cuba’s new economic openness could have either a positive or a devastating impact. Experts describe Cuba’s agroecology as a “child of necessity” because it was born after this country lost the agricultural inputs it was guaranteed up to the collapse of the Soviet Union and east European socialist bloc at the start of the 1990s.

If measures are not taken and pending issues are not solved, “the invasion by conventional agriculture and its products is likely to erase more than 25 years of agroecology,” Ríos said.

There have been several U.S.-driven initiatives to create open ties in agriculture, since the thaw between the two countries began in December 2014. And the climate is even more positive since U.S. President Barack Obama’s historic Mar. 21-22 visit to Havana.

A woman picks organic beans on the La Sazón organoponic farm in the Casino Deportivo neighbourhood of Havana, which forms part of the country’s urban agriculture system. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A woman picks organic green beans on the La Sazón organoponic farm in the Casino Deportivo neighbourhood of Havana, which forms part of the country’s urban agriculture system. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

La Palma: an example

In the mountainous municipality of La Palma, where Ríos began to work as a young man with a handful of small farmers in this locality in the extreme western province of Pinar del Río, green-friendly activists already feel the looming threats.

“The surge in improved seeds is a weakness,” said Elsa Dávalos, who belongs to the National Association of Small Farmers of La Palma and coordinates the local agroecological movement, where 500 of a total of 1,127 farms grow their produce without using chemical products.

Scant data on agroecology

Cuba’s statistics on organic food and agroecological farms are scarce and scattered among different municipalities and programmes.

The national initiative that most frequently provides figures is the National Programme of Urban, Suburban and Family Agriculture, which promotes organic gardening in towns and cities.

A total of 8,438 hectares are now cultivated under urban farming, including 1,293 small organoponic farms (which combine organic and water-submersion hydroponics techniques), tended by day laboureers; 6,875 hectares of intensive gardens (identical to organoponics but without walled beds); and 270 hectares of semi-protected crops (covered by screens on poles).

In 2015, patios and yards in urban and suburban areas produced a total of 1,257,500 million tons of food, mainly vegetables, 2,500 tons less than the year before.

Dávalos said the improved seeds she was referring to are crops given high priority, such as maize, beans or taro, whose seeds are distributed along with a package of agrochemicals. “Many farmers go this route to get big harvests without having to work so much,” she lamented in her conversation with IPS in La Palma.

Improved seeds became more widely used after the government of Raúl Castro launched economic reforms in 2008, with a focus on increasing agricultural production to reduce food imports, which cost this island nation two billion dollars a year.

Up to now, the measures applied, such as the distribution of idle state land to farmers in usufruct, have brought modest growth in agriculture – 3.1 percent in 2015 – considered insufficient to meet domestic demand and to bring down the high, steadily rising prices of food.

Farmers complain about a lack of inputs like fertiliser, machinery and irrigation systems, a shortage of labour power, limited access to complementary services, red tape, and weak industrialisation, to preserve and sell surplus crops, for example.

Ecological farms struggle against these difficulties common to the entire agricultural industry, and others particular to green-friendly farming.

“It is very hard for small (organic) farmers to attend to all of their responsibilities and to also find time to produce the necessary ecological inputs,” Yoan Rodríguez, PIAL coordinator in La Palma, told IPS.

To boost yields, “some people must specialise in obtaining only inputs such as efficient microorganisms, compost and earthworm humus,” said the researcher, who is pushing for an improvement in agroecological services in the area, to support and attract farmers.

“Cuba has started to open up to the world, and even more so as a result of the negotiations with the United States. The chemical inputs that saturate the global agricultural market will also arrive. It’s going to be very difficult to maintain what we have achieved through our efforts over so many years,” he said.

Other factors that discourage the movement in the country is the virtual absence of certification of agroecological products, and a lack of differentiated and competitive prices for organic products in state enterprises, to which cooperatives and independent farmers are required to sell a large part of their production.

But PIAL and other initiatives are coming up with new strategies to take advantage of the opportunities opening up with the country’s economic reforms and reinsertion into the international markets.

The Marta farm, located in a privileged position between the capital and the special economic development zone of Mariel, in the western province of Artemisa, produces fresh vegetables without using chemicals, and its clients include 25 upscale restaurants in Havana.

Members of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, supported by more than 30 agricultural organisations and companies, visit the Primero de Mayo Cooperative in Güira de Melena, in the western Cuban province of Artemisa. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Members of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, supported by more than 30 agricultural organisations and companies, visit the Primero de Mayo Cooperative in Güira de Melena, in the western Cuban province of Artemisa. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

“We have a good connection with the markets and we sell enough,” said Fernando Funes-Monzote, another founder of the agroecological movement in the country, who in 2011 launched this farm, where 16 people currently work.

“The idea was to show that an ecologically sustainable, socially just and economically feasible family farming project was possible here,” he told IPS.

Push for openness from interests in the U.S.

Meanwhile, interest in Cuba’s ecological agriculture has been reiterated during visits to this Caribbean island nation by U.S. businesspersons and agriculture officials, who are among the most active proponents of a total normalisation of relations between these two countries separated by just 90 miles of ocean.

The foremost example is the 30 companies forming part of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC), which emerged in January 2015 to help push for an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba in place since 1962.

The U.S. Agriculture Department even asked Congress for financing for five officials to work full-time in Cuba, to pave the way for trade and investment to take off as soon as the current restrictions are lifted.

It is also significant that the first U.S. factory to set up shop in Cuba in over half a century, after getting the green light from the U.S. government in February, will be a plant for assembling 1,000 tractors a year, to be used by independent farmers. The plant will operate in the Mariel special economic development zone.

A loophole to the embargo dating back to the year 2000 permits direct sales of food and medicine to Cuba by U.S. producers, but strictly on a cash basis. However, in the past few years these sales have dropped because Cuba found credit facilities in other markets.

In 2015 food purchases by the United States amounted to just 120 million dollars, down from 291 million dollars in 2014, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

With reporting by Patricia Grogg in Havana.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Need for an Urgent Revision to Bond Contracts and a Debt Workout Mechanismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/need-for-an-urgent-revision-to-bond-contracts-and-a-debt-workout-mechanism-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=need-for-an-urgent-revision-to-bond-contracts-and-a-debt-workout-mechanism-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/need-for-an-urgent-revision-to-bond-contracts-and-a-debt-workout-mechanism-2/#comments Sun, 27 Mar 2016 08:22:06 +0000 Yuefen Li http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144382 http://www.southcentre.int/category/publications/southviews/]]>

Yuefen Li is Special Advisor on Economics and Development Finance of the South Centre For more information see http://www.southcentre.int/category/publications/southviews/

By Yuefen Li
GENEVA, Mar 27 2016 (IPS)

Argentina signed an agreement in principle on 29 February 2016 with four “super holdout” hedge funds including NML Capital Ltd, Aurelius Capital, Davidson Kempner and Bracebridge Capital. Buenos Aires would pay them a total of about 4.65 billion dollars, amounting to 75 percent of the principal and interest of all their claims of Argentina’s bonds that were defaulted on during the 2001 debt crisis. This deal would allow the return of Argentina to the international capital market after more than 15 years of exclusion.

Yuefen Li

Yuefen Li

The payment is to be made in cash before 14 April 2016, provided that Argentina’s Congress approves the repeal of Argentina’s domestic laws, namely the Lock Law and the Sovereign Payment Law, which prohibit the country from proposing terms to the holdouts that are better than those Argentina offered to its creditors in earlier restructurings.

The reason to call the four hedge funds as “super holdouts” is because they are the largest, the most combative and the most tenacious holdout creditors. Argentina floated exchange bonds in 2005 and then again in 2010 after it defaulted during the 2001 debt crisis on its bonds that were valued at nearly 100 billion dollars. Ninety-three percent of the holders of Argentine restructured sovereign bonds accepted the exchange proposals at a considerable “haircut” (i.e. discount rate) of about 65%.ed bonds). The remaining 7% of the bond holders turned down the offers.

In 2003, NML Capital Ltd first sued Argentina for repayment of 100% of the face value of the bonds they hold. As a result of the suit, U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa issued his pari passu ruling which prohibited Argentina from servicing its bonds before paying the holdouts. This led Argentina to default on its debt again in 2014.

To end the stalemate, the newly elected President of Argentina, Mauricio Macri, made resolving the holdout dispute a priority and in February 2016 offered to pay 6.5 billion dollars to the group of six hedge fund holdouts. Two of the funds accepted the offer but not NML and three other funds which asked for better terms.

Yet the tactics and the business model the “super holdouts” used to get a windfall out the legal battle as well the legal precedence this case left behind may have potential negative systemic impact on future sovereign debt workout. How to mitigate the negative impact and make future debt workout timely and orderly?

Current efforts have concentrated on making it more difficult for holdouts to rush to the court room through strengthening current contract clauses. However, the financial incentives to be “super holdouts” are immense.
However, NML and other holdout hedge funds have done everything within the law. Purchase of sovereign bonds on the secondary market at discount rates may be legal, but one can say that the business model of specializing in purchasing hugely undervalued bonds for the purpose of resorting to litigation and other means to force the distressed governments to pay the full face value is not ethical because it is at the expense of the ordinary tax payers and the well being of a sovereign state. Additional, Judge Griesa’s pari passu injunction is a strong leverage for the holdouts against the bond issuer. This injunction may still be held as a precedence and be resorted to in the future-a bet for bond issuer to lose the case.

Three approaches may be of value to consider for the purpose of reducing the recurrences of the NML-style “super holdouts”.

One approach is to reduce incentives for holdouts. It is common business practice for goods and services bought at huge discount in retail stores or via internet to have clear stipulations that they are either not refundable or cannot be changed or returned. People take it for granted that it is a lawful and correct business practice. To buy things at Christmas sales and go back to the stores and request for refund of the full original price of the products would be considered as unethical. Why then is it so unlawful to reject the request of the “super holdout” to get paid 100% when the bonds were bought at a fraction of their face value? Because sovereign bond contracts never mention bonds bought at very deep discount at the secondary market would be treated differently at times of debt restructuring, the issuing State then gets bound to respect the bond contract and pay it at face value.

In the absence of a multilateral legal framework on sovereign debt restructuring mechanism, reducing incentives may be done through revising the contractual terms for the bonds. In the case when the bonds were bought at a steep discount, there could be a contractual clause to limit the margin of returns to minimize the likelihood of litigating for 100% repayment. Consideration could be given to add a clause to bond contracts to the effect that “in case of a debt restructuring, the bondholders would be paid back no higher than X% of the purchase price of the bond.” The percentage could be a range and take into consideration the past holdout cases together with haircut levels of historical debt restructuring incidences. The range or specific percentage should allow sufficient profit margin and avoid the possibility of moral hazard of strategic default. In this way, secondary market operations would not be disrupted and hopefully the incentives for super holdout could be diminished.

Other ways of reducing incentives for super holdout should be examined. For instance, the statutory penalty interest rates of some of the bonds Elliott Management holds are exorbitantly high.

According to the Wall Street Journal, these bonds would bring 10-15 times of return to Elliott Management. These kinds of arrangements give insane incentives to holdout bond holders.

Another way out is to explore whether it is really beneficial for the stability of the international financial market not to regulate hedge funds specialized in debt holdout. At a time of increased social responsibilities for the institutions of the real economy, more regulations in the banking sector and more specific codes of conduct for various business sectors, should there also be some regulations and codes of conduct with respect to these hedge funds?

Finally, there have been repeated international efforts to establish an international debt workout regime or legal framework to cope with systemic issues relating to the “too late and too little” phenomenon for debt restructurings as well as the holdout problem. The IMF tried in 2003. The United Nations General Assembly set up an Ad Hoc Committee mandated to create a multilateral legal framework for sovereign debt restructurings in September 2014.

As one outcome, in 2015 the Committee formulated the ‘Basic Principles on Sovereign Debt Restructuring’ based on years of research and consensus building in UNCTAD. However, political resistance from the developed countries has made it difficult for the United Nations to push the work to a more inclusive and substantive phase. The Argentina case has proved once again the need of a debt workout mechanism.

(End)

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Agroindustry Provides Jobs, Better Living Standards in Paraguayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/agroindustry-provides-jobs-better-living-standards-in-paraguay/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=agroindustry-provides-jobs-better-living-standards-in-paraguay http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/agroindustry-provides-jobs-better-living-standards-in-paraguay/#comments Sat, 26 Mar 2016 01:51:14 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144364 Chemical engineer Negumi Kosaka has been training for over a year, learning to manage each stage of the production of soybean oil and soymeal in the Angostura Agroindustrial Complex (CAIASA) in the industrial park in Villeta, Paraguay. Her parents, Japanese immigrants, grow soybeans in another region in this country, which is taking steps towards industrialisation with projects like this one. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Chemical engineer Negumi Kosaka has been training for over a year, learning to manage each stage of the production of soybean oil and soymeal in the Angostura Agroindustrial Complex (CAIASA) in the industrial park in Villeta, Paraguay. Her parents, Japanese immigrants, grow soybeans in another region in this country, which is taking steps towards industrialisation with projects like this one. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
VILLETA, Paraguay , Mar 26 2016 (IPS)

“I worked in many companies, in construction, fertilisers, chemicals, but none of them were as good as this one,” said Dario Cardozo, who works in the Angostura Agroindustrial Complex (CAIASA) grain reception facility.

The way he is treated by the owners and managers – “very educated people” – the better wages and the good working environment are the advantages stressed by the 32-year-old father of two – a veteran among the young people who work with him receiving and monitoring the trucks that come from the Paraguayan countryside laden with soybeans to be turned into oil and soymeal.

“We’re the face of CAIASA,” he told IPS, describing his job at the entrance to the complex, the biggest soybean crushing plant in Paraguay. Keeping things moving quickly as 500 trucks – the average traffic during harvest season – a day come in to unload their cargo is an important task, he said, because “for truckers, time is gold.”

Hired by the company after the plant began to operate in 2013 in Angostura, he has been able to build a house in a new neighbourhood of Villeta, where the plant is located in the industrial park on the banks of the Paraguay river. The home is modest, and unfinished: it still needs plaster and paint.

“We used to live with my father-in-law, but he died,” said Cardozo’s wife Lourdes Ramírez, who is happy about the health insurance and other benefits offered by CAIASA. “The bus brings my husband to the two-lane avenue” a few hundreds of metres away, “but when it rains they drive him all the way home,” she said, standing in front of her house.

Local shopkeeper Marina Cáceres, the owner of the La Carapegueña 2 Supermarket, told IPS that “My sales have gone up, there’s more money in the city in the past couple of years; in this block alone there are three CAIASA employees.” The La Carapegueña 1 Supermarket, “which belongs to my father-in-law”, is at the entrance to the city, she said.

Villeta, 45 km from Asunción, is still mainly a rural municipality. Half of its estimated 40,000 inhabitants still live in the countryside, Mayor Teodosio Gómez told IPS.

But the arrival of dozens of industrial companies, which have invested a combined total of 800 million dollars here in the last five years, is changing the landscape and living standards in this municipality in Paraguay’s Central department.

Two truck drivers rest while waiting to unload their cargo in the Angostura Agroindustrial Complex (CAIASA) soy crushing plant in Paraguay. Some 2,000 trucks haul soybeans to the plant, which receives an average of 500 trucks a day during the peak harvest season, and where it takes less than a day to unload even during the busiest periods. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Two truck drivers rest while waiting to unload their cargo in the Angostura Agroindustrial Complex (CAIASA) soy crushing plant in Paraguay. Some 2,000 trucks haul soybeans to the plant, which receives an average of 500 trucks a day during the peak harvest season, and where it takes less than a day to unload even during the busiest periods. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Besides CAIASA, which is a joint venture between two global agribusiness giants, the U.S. Bunge and France’s Louis Dreyfus, another U.S.-based food corporation, ADM, has also set up an agroindustrial plant in the municipality, which is attractive because of its location where the Paraguay river narrows and deepens enough to handle large barges with a cargo capacity of over 2,000 tons.

The result is “low unemployment and violent crime levels,” said the mayor. Besides creating direct jobs, the industries have generated a market for different services and locally produced foods.

The town, founded in 1714 around a river port, where mainly oranges were shipped out, is now at the centre of a diversified economy which includes stockbreeders and small farmers, and is becoming “the industrial capital of Paraguay,” said Gómez.

A skilled local workforce is taking shape through training, of workers, technicians and managers, to prepare them to work in the new industrial plants.

Megumi Kosaka, a 28-year-old chemical engineer, has been in training for the past 15 months, learning to manage any sector of CAIASA, from the reception of soybeans, quality control, the furnace and water treatment to the production of soymeal, oil, and soybean husk pellets.

She is learning all of this “in theory and in practice,” sometimes filling in for the manager of a section for several days or weeks. “For me it’s great – I see all of the operations, I learn everything, I have the chance to work with a wide range of professionals,” she told IPS.

Her favourite area, however, is production. “The machines are like living things, which with small differences in what we do produce something different, in terms of the quality of the sub-product,” Kosaka said.

“If we dry them too much, the soybeans crack, they don’t produce as much oil as possible; you have to know the exact level of moisture…it’s interesting to see the changes, what works best,” she said.

Villeta Mayor Teodosio Gómez, seen here in his office, says his municipality will be the industrial capital of Paraguay, thanks to its location on the Paraguay river and its flourishing industrial park, just 45 km from Asunción. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Villeta Mayor Teodosio Gómez, seen here in his office, says his municipality will be the industrial capital of Paraguay, thanks to its location on the Paraguay river and its flourishing industrial park, just 45 km from Asunción. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The daughter of Japanese immigrants, Kosaka already worked in a small soy crushing plant. “In a big one like CAIASA they pay me a better salary to learn more; later I’ll pay them back for what I learned, with my work.”

Her long-term dream is to open a factory in Colonia Iguazú, where her parents and 200 other Japanese families live, in southeast Paraguay, near the border with Brazil. Like 90 percent of the country’s soy producers, farmers there grow soy but do not process it.

A crushing plant would generate skilled jobs and would make it possible for young people who study to stay in the area. Today, with no chance of finding a decent job, “they leave,” Kosaka said.

“The question of human resources is extremely important in Paraguay, and CAIASA made an intelligent decision to train local people, which is a slow process,” said Julio Fleck, head of production in CAIASA, who was in charge of selecting workers and technicians for training, to form a payroll of 200 people.

Workers from other fields, people from the world of business and trade, and some local mechanics and electricians were selected. “We sent them to Argentina for training,” said Fleck, who was involved in the construction of the complex since 2012.

“I come from a different school,” he told IPS, referring to his previous job in the Colonias Unidas Cooperative in southern Paraguay, which is dedicated to diversified agriculture and has a small factory that produces cooking oil from different raw materials.

In CAIASA, he said, he found the “focus” he was seeking, “the big industry where I can learn more in-depth know-how,” to reach maximum productivity. “The good thing in CAIASA is that it offers an opportunity for improvement in a modern, new industry with a high level of mechanisation. But it requires the setting of priorities among the many fronts that must be attended.”

A barge makes its way down the Paraguay river, one of South America’s most important rivers, past the town of Villeta, which has several public and private ports and an industrial park that has become the hub of agroindustry in Paraguay, focused on processing soy, of which this small country is one of the world’s leading exporters. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A barge makes its way down the Paraguay river, one of South America’s most important rivers, past the town of Villeta, which has several public and private ports and an industrial park that has become the hub of agroindustry in Paraguay, focused on processing soy, of which this small country is one of the world’s leading exporters. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

One priority was the fuel to fire the furnace. The fact that there is little demand in Paraguay for soybean husk pellets, a sub-product of soy, and that they are not export quality, helped lead to their choice as a fuel, since the idea was to avoid the use of fossil fuels.

But the excess ashes generated by the burning of the pellets hurt the productivity of the furnace, driving up maintenance costs. For this reason, wood chips continued to be used as well, a sustainable option, since the companies that provide them are certified as deforestation-free.

The challenge is how to boost the productivity of the furnace with these two raw materials, said Fleck, a 44-year-old chemical engineer who described himself as obsessed with competitiveness. Logistics, for example, affects Paraguayan soy and its by-products in terms of competition with neighbouring Argentina, which is closer to the markets abroad.

As Paraguay is surrounded by two giant soybean producers, Argentina and Brazil, the expansion of CAIASA depends on what those competitors do, he said.

The truckers, who make up the biggest group of workers among those linked to CAIASA, say the company brought them better pay in the past, but that this has changed since global soy prices plunged.

“I used to earn between eight and nine million guaranis (between 1,400 and 1600 dollars) a month; now I’m earning just 3,500 (615 dollars),” complained Mario Ortellano in the CAIASA parking lot, while waiting to unload the soybeans in his truck.

But the alternative for this 41-year-old who has driven a truck for 13 years is to return to his hometown of Villa Rica, 160 km from Asunción, and to a job as a machine and forklift operator, earning just the minimum wage, 315 dollars a month.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Argentina, the United States’ New South American Allyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/argentina-the-united-states-new-south-american-ally/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentina-the-united-states-new-south-american-ally http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/argentina-the-united-states-new-south-american-ally/#comments Fri, 25 Mar 2016 16:30:36 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144359 U.S. President Barack Obama (C) and his Argentine counterpart Mauricio Macri (R), next to a monument in Remembrance Park in Buenos Aires with the names of many of the 30,000 victims of forced disappearance under the 1976-1983 military regime. Mar. 24 marked the 40th anniversary of the start of the dictatorship. In his last official speech in the country, Obama criticised Washington’s support for this and other de facto regimes in the region. Credit: Casa Rosada

U.S. President Barack Obama (C) and his Argentine counterpart Mauricio Macri (R), next to a monument in Remembrance Park in Buenos Aires with the names of many of the 30,000 victims of forced disappearance under the 1976-1983 military regime. Mar. 24 marked the 40th anniversary of the start of the dictatorship. In his last official speech in the country, Obama criticised Washington’s support for this and other de facto regimes in the region. Credit: Casa Rosada

By Fabiana Frayssinet
Mar 25 2016

After a decade of bilateral tension, the presidents of Argentina, Mauricio Macri, and the United States, Barack Obama, resumed the friendship between the two countries, which could lead to a free trade treaty and a “universal” alliance.

“The United States stands ready to work with Argentina through this historic transition in any way that we can,” said Obama, in the first official visit by a U.S. president to this South American country since 1995, on Wednesday, Mar. 23 and Thursday, Mar. 24, after his historic three-day visit to Cuba.

Former president George W. Bush (2001-2009) visited in 2005, but to participate in the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, where the United States’ dream of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) was buried.

“We see (Obama’s visit) as a gesture of affection, friendship, at a time when Argentina is embarking towards a new horizon and new changes,” Macri said Wednesday in a joint press conference in the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace.

“Please feel at home,” said the centre-right Argentine president, in office since December, setting the tone for the new relations between Buenos Aires and Washington, which he said would be “mature, intelligent, and constructive.”

During the visit, several agreements on security, cooperation in the fight against the drug trade, and investment were signed, in a show of the new era.

By contrast, relations with Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and his wife and successor Cristina Fernández (2007-2015) of the Front for Victory – the left-leaning faction of the Peronist (Justicialist) party – were marked by clashes. In an interview ahead of his visit, Obama said Fernández’s “government policies were always anti-American.”

The tension between the countries peaked during the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata.

“We have to remember that on that occasion, Argentina actually said ‘no’ to the FTAA,” political scientist Juan Manuel Karg, of the University of Buenos Aires, told IPS.

But now Latin America’s third-largest economy and the United States have not only launched a new era of friendship but are seeking to knock down barriers to negotiate, for example, a bilateral free trade deal, as Obama indicated.

“One of the main things made clear was the United States’ interest in Argentina, and in Latin America as a whole, in the search for free trade agreements,” said Karg.

Argentina is a member of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) trade bloc, along with Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Macri clarified that in order to reach an eventual bilateral agreement, it would be necessary to “strengthen Mercosur” before considering “a broader accord.”

“Despite its limitations and the slow pace of the progress it has made, Mercosur is still the most powerful economic bloc in South America, which rejected the FTAA not many years ago, in a context of the search for autonomy and integration among equals,” former foreign minister Jorge Taiana (2005-2010), now a lawmaker and the president of the Mercosur parliament, Parlasur, told IPS.
“The change of government in Argentina and the difficult political and economic situation in Venezuela and Brazil undoubtedly point to a change and a renewed presence of the United States, which wants to have a larger influence in regional decisions again,” he said.

In Karg’s view, “there is a possibility that Argentina will sign a free trade agreement with the United States in the medium term.”

But he said it could be a broader agreement, if there are changes of government in Brazil and Venezuela, or “a flexibilisation in Mercosur, with the aim of making Argentina a fulcrum between that block and the Pacific Alliance (made up of Chile, Colombia, Peru and Mexico),” which also have agreements with the United States.

In 2015, Argentina had a 4.7 billion dollar deficit in trade with the United States, with imports totalling more than 7.6 billion dollars and exports nearly 3.4 billion.

But now Obama, who was accompanied by a large business delegation, promised to expand investment, given Argentina’s new openness.

“A country that reduces tariffs, opens up to imports, strikes down export taxes, and frees up the market becomes more attractive to foreign investors,” the director of the Southern Cone edition of the Le Monde Diplomatique newspaper, José Natanson, commented to IPS. “I think foreign direct investment will increase.”

“I believe that what we see in this case is obviously a change in the Argentine government’s foreign policy, one of the areas where the difference is the most marked, with respect to ‘Kirchnerism’,” he said.

Under Kirchner and Fernández, a priority was given to relations with partners like China and Russia.

Macri, on the other hand, promised to “insert Argentina in the world.”

Since Macri took office, Argentina has also been visited by the prime minister of Italy, Matteo Renzi, and French President François Hollande.

“With Obama’s visit, Macri has reasserted his interest in privileged ties with the United States, which harks back to the 1990s, when the government of Carlos Menem had a privileged relationship with that country,” Taiana said.

The former foreign minister said the new government’s renegotiation with the “vulture funds” also helped smooth things over.

“Argentina put up resistance to this before, but now Macri decided to pay back the vulture funds. This removes the biggest discrepancy between Argentina and the United States,” he said.

Obama praised Macri’s “constructive approach,” which he said would “stabilise Argentina’s financial relationship internationally” and “heighten Argentina’s influence on the world stage in settings like the G20 (group of advanced and emerging economies).”

But for Obama, who called for Argentina and the United States to become “universal allies,” the alliance could also stretch to the promotion of “civil liberties, independent judiciaries, government transparency and accountability” and even the fight against terrorism.

Referring to the recent attacks in Brussels, “Obama was very emphatic” when he said he would call on U.S. allies “to take measures against the Islamic State,” said Karg.

“By becoming a privileged partner of the United States at this new moment in history, Argentina also has to assume what it means to be an ally at a ‘universal’ level, and especially during a moment of geopolitical turmoil,” he said.

Human rights forced itself onto the agenda

The second and last day of Obama’s visit was Mar. 24, the 40th anniversary of the coup that ushered in Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship, which left 30,000 people “disappeared.”

In the face of protests by human rights groups because Obama’s visit coincided with the anniversary of this dark page in Argentine history, the president decided to spend the afternoon in the tourist city of Bariloche in the country’s southern Patagonian region.

But before flying there, he reiterated his pledge to declassify new intelligence and military archives that can shed light on U.S. support for the Argentine de facto regime.

And the last activity on his official agenda was a visit to Remembrance Park, to pay homage to the victims of Argentina’s “dirty war”.

At the memorial, surrounded by photos and names of the victims of forced disappearance, he criticised the role played by his country in supporting dictatorships in Argentina and other countries in the region, which he described as “those dark days.”

“Democracies have to have the courage to acknowledge when we don’t live up to the ideals that we stand for. And we’ve been slow to speak out for human rights and that was the case here,” Obama said.

“We cannot forget the past,” he said, before stating “when we find the courage to confront it, and we find the courage to change that past, that’s when we build a better future.”

Taiana said “I think this is Obama’s way of trying to show a change in U.S. policy with respect to the repression and its past commitment to the dictatorship.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Peace in Colombia, Shielded by International Supporthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/peace-in-colombia-shielded-by-international-support/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peace-in-colombia-shielded-by-international-support http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/peace-in-colombia-shielded-by-international-support/#comments Fri, 25 Mar 2016 03:25:47 +0000 Constanza Vieira http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144350 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/peace-in-colombia-shielded-by-international-support/feed/ 0 Soy Fuels Industrialisation in Paraguayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/soy-fuels-industrialisation-in-paraguay/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=soy-fuels-industrialisation-in-paraguay http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/soy-fuels-industrialisation-in-paraguay/#comments Wed, 23 Mar 2016 21:45:30 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144324 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/soy-fuels-industrialisation-in-paraguay/feed/ 1 Corruption Swallows a Huge Dose of Waterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/corruption-swallows-a-huge-dose-of-water/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=corruption-swallows-a-huge-dose-of-water http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/corruption-swallows-a-huge-dose-of-water/#comments Tue, 22 Mar 2016 23:51:46 +0000 Jeff Williams http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144308 A Somali woman in Garowe drawing water from one of the many man-made ponds dug through a UNDP-supported initiative to bring water to drought-affected communities. Credit: UNDP Somalia

A Somali woman in Garowe drawing water from one of the many man-made ponds dug through a UNDP-supported initiative to bring water to drought-affected communities. Credit: UNDP Somalia

By Jeff Williams
MOMBASA, Kenya, Mar 22 2016 (IPS)

While the United Nations marked this year’s World Water Day on March 22 focusing on the connection between water and jobs, a new report has rung loud alarm bells about the heavy impact of corruption on the massive investments being made in the water sector.

Each year, between 770 billion and 1,760 billion dollars are needed to develop water resources and services worldwide — yet the number of people without “safe” drinking water is about as large as those who lack access to basic sanitation: around 32 per cent of the world’s population in 2015, Transparency International on March 22 reported.

And asked how can so much be spent and yet such massive shortfalls still exist?

“One answer: About 10 per cent of water sector investment is lost to corruption.”

This striking information came out on the occasion of World Water Day 2016, as the Water Integrity Network (WIN) released a new report that documents the legacy of corruption in the water sector.

The WIN report reveals corruption’s costly impact on the world’s water resources. It also shows the degree to which poor water governance negatively affects the world’s most vulnerable populations – specifically women, children, and the landless.

Women carry gravel from the river to be taken to a construction site in Indonesia. Credit © Maillard J. /ILO

Women carry gravel from the river to be taken to a construction site in Indonesia. Credit © Maillard J. /ILO


While access to water and sanitation were formally recognised as human rights by the UN General Assembly in 2010, the reality is far from this goal, says WIN, a network of organisations and individuals promoting water integrity to reduce corruption and improve water sector performance.

“According to the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, some 663 million people lack access to so-called “improved” drinking water sources globally… this contributes to 1.6 million deaths annually, most of whom are children under 5 years old.”

Although the UN’s new 2030 Agenda includes a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 6) on water and sanitation as well as a mandate for accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels (SDG 16), action is needed so that pervasive and systemic corruption do not continue to seep from the water sector, according to the report.

The study cites some specific cases. In 2013, Malawi’s reformed public financial management system was misused to divert 5 million dollars in public funds to the private accounts of officials.

Another case: in 2015, an audit of the 70 million euro phase II national water programme in Benin, which included 50 million euro from the Netherlands, revealed that 4 million euro had vanished. Dutch development cooperation with the Benin government was suspended thereafter to safeguard additional funds.

Corruption is, however, not limited to developing countries. In fact, WING cites an example from the United States. “In California, a member of the State Senate in 2015 declared a system of permits that allowed oil companies to discharge wastewater into underground aquifers to be corrupt.”

Further more, the Water Integrity Global Outlook 2016 (WIGO) shares examples of both corruption and good practices at all levels worldwide.

In this sense, WIGO demonstrates how improved governance and anti-corruption measures can win back an estimated 75 billion dollars for global investment in water services and infrastructure annually.

It therefore highlights and draws lessons from those examples of where governments, companies, and community groups have won gains for water consumers and environmental protection.

“The report proposes to build ‘integrity walls’ from building blocks of transparency, accountability, participation and anti-corruption measures,” says Frank van der Valk, the Water Integrity Network’s executive director. “Urgent action by all stakeholders is required.”

WIN works to raise awareness on the impact of corruption especially on the poor and disenfranchised assesses risk and promotes practical responses. Its vision is a world with equitable and sustained access to water and a clean environment, which is no longer, threatened by corruption, greed, dishonesty and willful malpractice.

Formerly hosted by Transparency International, the WIN global network is formally led by the WIN association and supported by the WIN Secretariat in Berlin.

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Are Indigenous Women Key to Sustainable Development?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/are-indigenous-women-key-to-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=are-indigenous-women-key-to-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/are-indigenous-women-key-to-sustainable-development/#comments Mon, 21 Mar 2016 23:06:48 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144285 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 21 2016 (IPS)

“We, indigenous women want to be considered as part of the solution for sustainable development, because we have capabilities and knowledge, ” said Tarcila Rivera, a Quechua journalist and activist for the rights of indigenous people in Peru, at a press conference on the Empowerment of Indigenous Women.

Tarcila Rivera Zea, President of the Centre for Indigenous Cultures of Peru (CHIRAPAQ) and a member of the UN Women Global Civil Society Advisory Group, addresses a press conference on indigenous women’s rights, March 2015. Photo: UN Media/ Mark Garten

Tarcila Rivera Zea, President of the Centre for Indigenous Cultures of Peru (CHIRAPAQ) and a member of the UN Women Global Civil Society Advisory Group, addresses a press conference on indigenous women’s rights, March 2015. Photo: UN Media/ Mark Garten

Rivera, like many other women who are fighting for the rights of indigenous people in parts of Central and Latin America, Northern Europe, Canada, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Africa, is attending the 60th annual sessions of the inter-governmental body, UN Commission of the Status of Women (CSW60), which concludes March 24.

As a functional commission of the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the CSW is meeting with representatives of Member States, U.N. agencies, international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society to discuss the status of women’s political, economic and social advancement and the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.

Opening the 60th CSW session, Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, who during his nine years in office has appointed over 150 women as Assistant Secretaries-General or Under-Secretaries-General — urged country leaders to take action to end gender inequality.

“In countries where children have “disappeared”, grandmothers stood up to demand justice. In areas ravaged by AIDS, HIV-positive mothers replaced stigma with hope. In homophobic societies, lesbian victims of rape survived and organized […] As long as one woman’s human rights are violated, our struggle is not over.”

In line with this year’s CSW theme —Women’s Empowerment and Its Link to Sustainable Development and the U.N. 2030 Agenda– indigenous women are demanding governments in their countries to recognise them as a driving force in achieving economic and social development.

In Kenya, it is mostly women who play a key role in supporting families despite growing up in a patriarchal society, explained Valerie Kasaiyian – an indigenous Maasai woman, lawyer and educator for girl’s reproductive rights.

There are indigenous women groups, such as those from Samburu, who for the past 20 years have provided alone for their entire community by building houses and schools. They also established self-sustaining economic activities by selling livestock or traditional jewels in order to get their families out of poverty, continued Kasaiyian.

Women from Marsabit, in the northern part of Kenya, developed sustainable farms, where they grew tomatoes and other crops in greenhouses, and then sold them to the community, without reliance on their male counterparts.

“Sustainable development is about preserving resources and the land for future generations. Indigenous communities, who for centuries have lived in isolation, have found their own system to work the land and to preserve it. It is in our ancestral culture and identity,” Kasaiyian told IPS.

“Yet we assist to a systematic ethnocide of our indigenous culture by the government […] where young indigenous women are meant to be homogenised and integrated into the mainstream culture,” she added.

Since the implementation of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, along with the U.N. Resolution 1325, on the importance of women in peace negotiations and peace-building, and the 2007 U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, there have been several important steps to highlight the voices of indigenous women in the international arena. But at a slow pace.

Indigenous women and girls- who are not to be confused with rural women – have their own identity, defined by their own specific language, education, traditional knowledge and socio-economic values, remarked Rivera, who is the founder of the Center for Indigenous Cultures of Peru (CHIRAPAQ) .

However, they are mostly excluded by government policies, as they are not fully treated with human dignity, said the Peruvian activist.

“Many programs look at us as subject of assistance. But we don’t want to depend on these kind of food programs. We are trying to be considered as subject of change, and development from within, (through) our capacity,” she said.

Despite the lack of thorough national statistics, indigenous women suffer from high levels of discrimination, sexual and domestic violence, extreme poverty, trafficking, lacking in access to land rights and education and poor maternal and infant healthcare.

Myrna Cunningham Kain, member from Nicaragua of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, briefs journalists on highlights of the twelfth session of the Forum on Indigenous Issues, taking place in New York from 20 to 31 May, 2013.Photo: UN Media/Evan Schneider

Myrna Cunningham Kain, member from Nicaragua of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, briefs journalists on highlights of the twelfth session of the Forum on Indigenous Issues, taking place in New York from 20 to 31 May, 2013.Photo: UN Media/Evan Schneider

Myrna Cunningham, an indigenous Mixteca woman from the Waspam community in Nicaragua, told IPS about the problem of data disaggregation in certain countries, where indigenous people are not counted or excluded from certain indicators.

“When talking about statistics” – said Cunningham, who is President of the Center for Autonomy and Development of Indigenous Peoples (CADPI), and former chair of the U.N. Permanent Forum of Indigenous Issues – “self-identification, should be the main indicator, which can be used complementarily to other types of info-gathering questions. Also, government statistics should use more culturally sensitive indicators, which will help to define public policies and implement them.”

With the adoption of the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, the U.N. set a framework that will foster the partnership between members states and indigenous communities, through dialogue, proposals and projects, in order to further implement the Declaration and recognise and protect indigenous women, Chandra Roy-Henriksen, Chief Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, told IPS.

Kasaiyian said: “We will strongly push for a U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Women specifically, so that women can prosecute in case of violation of their rights in international tribunals.

Indigenous women must bridge the gap between academics, professionals and activists, by establishing their own jurisprudence and theories of law regarding the eradication of violence against women and to empower future generations.”

(End)

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Argentina’s ‘Shale Capital’ Suffers from Slowdownhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/argentinas-shale-capital-suffers-from-slowdown/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentinas-shale-capital-suffers-from-slowdown http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/argentinas-shale-capital-suffers-from-slowdown/#comments Sat, 19 Mar 2016 05:34:33 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144242 Añelo, a Patagonian town in southwest Argentina that experienced explosive growth because it is next to the country’s biggest shale oil and gas field, is now starting to feel the impact on the development of these resources due to the plunge in international oil prices. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Añelo, a Patagonian town in southwest Argentina that experienced explosive growth because it is next to the country’s biggest shale oil and gas field, is now starting to feel the impact on the development of these resources due to the plunge in international oil prices. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
AÑELO, Argentina, Mar 19 2016 (IPS)

The dizzying growth of Añelo, a town in southwest Argentina, driven by the production of shale oil and gas in the Vaca Muerta geological reserve, has slowed down due to the plunge in global oil prices, which has put a curb on local development and is threatening investment and employment.

Vaca Muerta, a 30,000-sq-km geological reserve rich in unconventional fossil fuels in the province of Neuquén, began to be exploited in mid-2013 by the state-run oil company Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales (YPF) in a joint venture with U.S. oil giant Chevron.

“We had an interesting growth boom thanks to the strategic development plan that we were promoting, to get all of the oil services companies to set up shop in Añelo. That really boosted our growth, and helped our town to develop,” Añelo Mayor Darío Díaz told IPS.

The population of this town located 100 km from the provincial capital, Neuquén, in Argentina’s southern Patagonian region, rose twofold from 3,000 to 6,000.

And that is not counting the large number of machinists, technicians, engineers and executives of the oil companies who rotate in and out of the area, along with the truckers who haul supplies to the Loma Campana oilfield eight km from Añelo.

“There were around 10 services companies operating in Añelo; now we have about 50, and some 160 agreements signed for other companies to come here,” the mayor said.

The shale gas and oil in Vaca Muerta has made this country the second in the world after the United States in production of unconventional fossil fuels.

Loma Campana, where there are 300 active wells producing unconventional gas and oil after a total investment of three billion dollars, currently produces 50 billion barrels per day of oil, according to YPF figures.

The shale oil and gas industry has fuelled heavy public investment in Añelo and nearby towns. The population of this town is expected to reach 25,000 in the next 15 years.

“We’re building two schools and a hospital,” Díaz told IPS. “The primary and secondary schools have been expanded. We are making town squares and a new energy substation. We built a water treatment plant and have improved the sewage service. In terms of public works we have really done a great deal, keeping our eyes on our goal: growth.”

But the expansion of the town has also brought problems.

The mayor pointed out, for example, that rent for a two-bedroom housing unit has climbed from 33 dollars to 100 dollars a month, and that a plot of land that previously was worth 1,700 dollars cannot be purchased now for less than 130,000 dollars.

“Those are abrupt changes brought by the oil industry,” Díaz said. “What us old-time residents of Añelo have suffered the most is the social impact of all of this movement, of so much vehicle traffic, so many people, which brings insecurity and other things that are typical of development in general.”

New complications

People in Añelo are now worried that despite the costs they are paying for the development boom, the promised progress will not arrive.

On Mar. 4, the outgoing president of YPF, Miguel Galuccio, announced in a conference with international investors that the cutbacks in the industry in 2016 would be reflected in slower progress in Vaca Muerta.

Workers in Loma Campana, a field with 300 shale oil wells in Vaca Muerta. The decision to slow down the development of unconventional fossil fuels in Argentina has led to lay-offs in the area. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Workers in Loma Campana, a field with 300 shale oil wells in Vaca Muerta. The decision to slow down the development of unconventional fossil fuels in Argentina has led to lay-offs in the area. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

In 2015, the company’s revenues shrank 49 percent, while investment grew less than four percent, below previous levels.

The costs of producing shale gas and oil, which requires an expensive technique known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”, are not competitive in a context where international oil prices are hovering between 30 and 40 dollars a barrel.

In Argentina, the cost of extraction in conventional wells stands at 25 to 30 dollars a barrel, and in unconventional wells at around 70 dollars a barrel, oil industry experts report.

But the internal price of a barrel in Vaca Muerta is regulated at 67.5 dollars and in the rest of the country’s oilfields at 54.9 percent – an artificial price established to shore up the oil industry’s expansion plans, especially in this part of the country, although at a slower pace now.

YPF announced that in Vaca Muerta, it would cut oil production costs by 15 percent, which has led to lay-offs.

“The situation is very complicated,” said Díaz, who estimated that there will be 1,000 more unemployed people in the province, added to those who have already lost their jobs. “A reduction in activity,” has already been seen, he said, and “people are working fewer hours” and wages have fallen, which has a social impact, he added.

Oil worker unions in Vaca Muerta say 1,000 people have been laid off so far in the industry, as well as 1,000 in other areas.

Eduardo Toledo, an agricultural technician who decided to move from Buenos Aires to Añelo and invest his savings in a restaurant, is worried about the slowdown in oil industry activity in Vaca Muerta.

“When we started, we had just one stove with three burners and an oven,” said Toledo, whose customers are truck drivers, factory workers and other oil industry employees who have been drawn to this area by the relatively high wages paid by the industry.

Like Toledo, many people invested in hotels, rental housing, shops and small-scale service businesses. “Everyone wanted to come to what was going to be the shale gas and oil capital,” he said.

But now his restaurant is working at a “mid to low level of activity.”

“If people know they’re going to lose their jobs, they don’t want to spend money,” he said.

Toledo is still confident that interest in shale gas and oil will keep things moving, despite the plummeting prices.

In Vaca Muerta, 77 percent of the proven shale reserves are gas.

Besides, “there are major gas resources that have not yet become reserves,” Ignacio Sabbatella, who holds a PhD in social sciences from the University of Buenos Aires and is the co-author of the book “History of a privatization; How and why the YPF was lost”, told IPS. (YPF was renationalised in 2012.)

But experts and local residents are taking a long-term view.

Sabbatella stressed that it is important to keep in mind that beyond the current international oil price swings, the investments in Vaca Muerta “will yield fruit in the long term” – in five to 10 years.

He pointed out that shale oil and gas production only got underway in the area in 2011, “and especially after the recovery of state control of YPF, in a joint venture with transnational corporations like Chevron.”

YPF, Argentina’s biggest company, was in private hands from 1992 to 2012, when the government of Cristina Fernández (2007-2015) decided to renationalise it.

Sabbatella said the announced cutbacks in YPF have coincided with an overall “shift in policy” since the arrival to the presidency on Dec. 10 of the centre-right Mauricio Macri, who ended a period of centre-left governments under Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and later his wife and successor, Fernández.

“The previous government did everything possible to sustain the levels of investment, exploration and production, even in an unfavourable international context, and what we are seeing is that this government is only halfway maintaining that policy and is even pushing YPF to cut its investments,” said Sabbatella.

“The current administration believes that the best thing is to adjust domestic oil industry policy to external conditions. In a context of low prices, they believe the best idea is to not sustain domestic investment, and they have even shown some illustrations of this, by importing cheaper crude and fuel from abroad, for example,” he said.

But Toledo prefers to be optimistic, because otherwise, he said, “I have to close my restaurant.”

“I can’t afford to go somewhere else and I’m not interested anyway because it’s hard to set down roots again in a place like this.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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