Inter Press Service » Latin America & the Caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 18 Feb 2017 11:06:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.15 Expansion of Renewable Energies in Mexico Has Victims, Toohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/expansion-of-renewable-energies-in-mexico-has-victims/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=expansion-of-renewable-energies-in-mexico-has-victims http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/expansion-of-renewable-energies-in-mexico-has-victims/#comments Fri, 17 Feb 2017 22:34:19 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149013 In Mexico, wind farms spark controversy due to complaints of unfair treatment, land dispossession, lack of free, prior and informed consent and exclusion from the electricity generated. In the photo, wind turbines frame the horizon of the northern city of Zacatecas. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In Mexico, wind farms spark controversy due to complaints of unfair treatment, land dispossession, lack of free, prior and informed consent and exclusion from the electricity generated. In the photo, wind turbines frame the horizon of the northern city of Zacatecas. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
KIMBILÁ, Mexico, Feb 17 2017 (IPS)

The growing number of wind and solar power projects in the southern Mexican state of Yucatán are part of a positive change in Mexico’s energy mix. But affected communities do not see it in the same way, due to the fact that they are not informed or consulted, and because of how the phenomenon changes their lives.

“We have no information. We have some doubts, some people say it’s good and some say it’s bad. We have heard what is said in other states,” small farmer Luis Miguel, a Mayan Indian, told IPS.

He lives in Kimbilá, a town in the municipality of Izmal, which is the site of an up-to-now failed private wind power venture that has been blocked by opposition from the area’s 3,600 inhabitants and in particular from the ejido or communal land where the wind farm was to be installed.“There is a lack of information going to the communities, who don’t know the scope of the contracts; (the companies and authorities) don’t explain to them the problems that are going to arise. Conflicts are generated, and manipulation is used to get the permits. Social engineering is used to divide the communities.” -- Romel González

“We fear that they will damage our crops,” said Miguel, whose father is one of the 573 members of the Kimbilá ejido, located in the Yucatán Peninsula, 1,350 km southeast of Mexico City.

The questioned project, run by the Spanish company Elecnor, includes the installation of 50 wind turbines with a capacity of 159 MW per year.

The company installed an anemometric tower in 2014, but the local population, who grow maize and garden vegetables, raise small livestock and produce honey for a living, did not find out about the project until January 2016.

Since then, the ejido has held two assemblies and cancelled another, without reaching an agreement to approve a 25-year lease on the lands needed for the wind farm.

Meanwhile, in February 2016, the members of the ejido filed a complaint against the Procuraduría Agraria – the federal agency in charge of protecting rural land – accusing it of defending the interests of the company by promoting community assemblies that were against the law.

The wind farm is to have an operating life of 30 years, including the preparatory phase, construction and operation, and it needs 77 hectares of the 5,000 in the ejido.

The company offered between five and 970 dollars per hectare, depending on the utility of the land for a wind farm, a proposition that caused unrest among the ejido members. It would also give them 1.3 per cent of the turnover for the power generated. But the electricity would not be used to meet local demand.

“We haven’t been given any information. This is not in the best interests of those who work the land. They are going to destroy the vegetation and 30 years is a long time,” beekeeper Victoriano Canmex told IPS.
This indigenous member of the ejido expressed his concern over the potential harm to the bees, “because new roadswould be opened with heavy machinery. They said that they would relocate the apiaries but they know nothing about beekeeping. It’s not fair, we are going to be left with nothing,” he said.

Canmex, who has eight apiaries,checks the beehives twice a week, together with four of his six children. He collects about 25 30-kg barrels of honey, which ends up on European tables. Yucatan honey is highly appreciated in the world, for its quality and organic nature.

Luis Miguel, a Mayan farmer from Kimbilá, in the southeastern state of Yucatán, Mexico, fears that the installation of a wind farm in his community will damage local crops of corn and vegetables.  Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Luis Miguel, a Mayan farmer from Kimbilá, in the southeastern state of Yucatán, Mexico, fears that the installation of a wind farm in his community will damage local crops of corn and vegetables. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Yucatán, part of the ancient Mayan empire, where a large part of the population is still indigenous, has become a new energy frontier in Mexico, due to its great potential in wind and solar power.

This state adopted the goal of using 9.3 per cent non-conventional renewable energies by 2018. In Yucatán, the incorporation per year of new generation capacity should total 1,408 MW by 2030.

Leaving out the big hydropower plants, other renewable sources account for just eight per cent of the electricity produced in Mexico. According to official figures, in December 2016, hydropower had an installed capacity of 12,092 MW, geothermal 873 MW, wind power 699 MW, and photovoltaic solar power, six MW.

According to the Mexican Wind Energy Association, which represents the industry, in Mexico there are at least 31 wind farms located in nine states, with a total installed capacity of 3,527 MW of clean energy for the northeast, west, south and southeast regions of this country of 122 million people.

Besides the lack of information, and of free, prior and informed consent, as the law and international conventions require, indigenous people complain about impacts on migratory birds, rise in temperatures in areas with solar panels and water pollution caused by leaks from wind towers.

For Romel González, a member of the non-governmental Regional Indigenous and Popular Council of Xpujil, a town in the neighboring state of Campeche, the process of energy development has legal loopholes that have to do with superficial contracts and environmental impact studies.

“There is a lack of information for the communities, who don’t know the scope of the contracts; (the companies and authorities) don’t explain to them the problems that are going to arise. Conflicts are generated, and manipulation is used to get the permits. Social engineering is used to divide the communities,” González told IPS.

He said that in the region, there are “previously untapped” natural resources that are attracting attention from those interested in stripping the communities of these resources.

The state is experiencing a clean energy boom, with plans for five solar plants, with a total capacity of 536 MW, and five wind farms, with a combined capacity of 256 MW. The concessions for the projects, which are to operate until 2030, have already been awarded to local and foreign companies.

In the first national power generation auction organised by the government in March 2016, four wind power and five solar power projects won, while in the second one, the following September, two new wind projects were chosen.

The change in the electricity mix is based on Mexico’s energy reform, in force since August 2014, which opened the industry to national and international private capital.

Local authorities project that by 2018, wind power generation will amount to 6,099 MW, including 478 from Yucatán, with the total increasing two years later to 12,823 MW, including 2,227 MW from this state.

Yucatán will draw a projected 52 million dollars in investment to this end in 2017 and 1.58 billion in 2018.

The Electricity Industry Law, in effect since 2014, stipulates that each project requires a social impact assessment. But opponents of the wind power projects have no knowledge of any assessment carried out in the state, while there is only evidence of two public consultations with affected communities, in the case of two wind farms.

“The electricity will not be for us and we don’t know what will happen later (once the wind farm is installed). That is why we have our doubts,” said Miguel.

People in Yucatán do not want to replicate the “Oaxaca model”. That is the southern state which has the largest number of wind farms, which have drawn many accusations of unfair treatment, land dispossession and lack of free, prior and informed consent.

“The authorities want to do this by all means, they are just trying to get these projects approved,” said Canmex.

González criticised the government for failing to require assessments. “We have asked for them and the government has responded that there aren’t any. The community response to the projects will depend on their level of awareness and social organisation. Some communities will react too late, when the project is already underway,” he said.

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Corruption Brings Down an Empire: Odebrecht in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/corruption-brings-down-an-empire-odebrecht-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=corruption-brings-down-an-empire-odebrecht-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/corruption-brings-down-an-empire-odebrecht-in-brazil/#comments Thu, 16 Feb 2017 00:29:24 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148966 The American Airlines Arena, a stadium and entertainment complex in Miami, Florida, is one of the many projects carried out by Odebrecht in the United States, where prosecutors have begun to produce figures reflecting the scope of the company’s corruption. Credit: Odebrecht

The American Airlines Arena, a stadium and entertainment complex in Miami, Florida, is one of the many projects carried out by Odebrecht in the United States, where prosecutors have begun to produce figures reflecting the scope of the company’s corruption. Credit: Odebrecht

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 16 2017 (IPS)

People in Brazil have been overwhelmed by the flood of news stories about the huge web of corruption woven by the country’s biggest construction company, Odebrecht, which is active in dozens of fields and countries.

The business empire built by three generations of the Odebrecht family is falling apart after three years of investigation by the Lava Jato (car wash) operation launched by the Federal Public Prosecutor’s office in Brazil, which is investigating the corruption that diverted millions of dollars in bribes in exchange for major public works contracts from the state-run oil giant Petrobras.The business group had created a specialised bribe department. According to U.S. justice authorities, every dollar “invested” in bribes produced 12 dollars in contracts.

Marcelo Odebrecht, who headed the company from 2008 to 2015, was arrested in June 2015 and was initially sentenced to 19 years in prison.

In October he and the company reached plea bargain deals to cooperate with the investigation. A total of 77 former and present Odebrecht executives provided over 900 sworn statements to Lava Jato prosecutors, causing a political earthquake in Brazil and throughout Latin America.

In December, the U.S. Justice Department revealed that Odebrecht allegedly spent 1.04 billion dollars in bribes to politicians and government officials in ten Latin American and two African countries, including Brazil, which accounted for 57.7 per cent of the total.

The United States is carrying out its own investigation, which could end in criminal convictions, since several Odebrecht subsidiaries, such as the petrochemical company Braskem, operate there, and their shares are traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

That is also happening in the case of Petrobras, implicated in the corruption scandal and under investigation at the initiative of shareholders in the U.S.

The U.S. and Switzerland, where banks were allegedly used to funnel bribes or launder money, signed cooperation agreements with legal authorities in Brazil, as part of the ongoing offensive against corruption in Latin America’s giant.

The impacts are overwhelming. In Brazil, the revelations about Odebrecht are expected to provoke a tsunami in the political system. Two hundred parliamentarians and government officials may have received bribes, including senior members of the current administration and legislature.

The business group had created a specialised bribe department. According to U.S. justice authorities, every dollar “invested” in bribes produced 12 dollars in contracts.

That estimate is based on more than 100 projects carried out or in progress in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Venezuela, plus Angola and Mozambique in Africa.

Part of the Caracas valley seen from the San Agustín Metrocable, one of the many works assigned to Odebrecht in Venezuela during the government of Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), when the Brazilian company became the biggest construction firm in the country. Credit: Raúl Límaco/IPS

Part of the Caracas valley seen from the San Agustín Metrocable, one of the many works assigned to Odebrecht in Venezuela during the government of Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), when the Brazilian company became the biggest construction firm in the country. Credit: Raúl Límaco/IPS

The arrest warrant issued by a court in Peru against former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), who has been living in the United States, and allegations implicating current Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, are just the tip of the iceberg.

What was revealed by Odebrecht executives and former executives, as well as former directors of different departments, such as external affairs, infrastructure, industrial engineering or logistics, has not yet been made public.

New figures involving alleged bribes are expected to come out over the next few months, added to those already disclosed in the United States, including 599 million dollars distributed in Brazil, 98 million in Venezuela, 92 million in the Dominican Republic, 59 million in Panama and 50 million in Angola.

In Peru the total revealed so far is “only” 29 million dollars since 2005. The sum is small, considering that for the Southern Peru pipeline – still under construction – alone, the projected investments amount to seven billion dollars. The Peruvian government has decided to terminate the contract with Odebrecht for the project.

Besides Odebrecht, the Inter-Oceanic Highway, which runs across southern Peru from the Brazilian border to Pacific Ocean ports, is being built by three other Brazilian construction firms – Camargo Correa, Andrade Gutierrez and Queiroz Galvão – which are also under investigation for suspicion of corruption.

During the presidency of Alan Garcia (2006-2011), Peru and Brazil signed an agreement for the construction of five large hydropower plants in Peru, which was cancelled by his successor, Ollanta Humala (2011-2016), who, however, is suspected of receiving three million dollars from Brazil for his election campaign.

Odebrecht, which has a concession to manage Chaglla, the third biggest hydroelectric plant in Peru, with a capacity of 462 MW, was to be the main construction company in charge of building the new plants.

The growing wave of local and industry scandals sheds light on the reach of Odrebrecht’s tentacles. Braskem is accused of distributing 250 million dollars in bribes to sustain its leadership position in the Americas in the production of thermoplastic resins, with 36 plants spread across Brazil, Mexico, the United States, as well as Germany.

The empire, born in 1944 as a simple construction company, started diversifying in the last half century into activities as diverse as the sugarcane business, the development of military technologies or oil services, logistics or shipbuilding companies.

In the early 1970s the group built the Petrobras headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, sealing a connection that led to the current disaster which destroyed the reputation of the company that was so proud of its “Entrepreneurial Technology”, a set of ethical and operational business principles to which its fast expansion was attributed.

But Odebrecht’s success could actually be attributed to a strategic vision and a modus operandi that proved successful until the Lava Jato operation. Part of its methods included being “friends with the king”.

Angola is the best example. The current chairman of the company’s board of directors, Emilio Odebrecht, son of founder Norberto Odebrecht, meets every year with Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos in Luanda, to discuss projects for the country.

Officially, what they do is assess the projects carried out by the company and define new goals.

The explanation given for the special treatment received by Odebrecht is that it has such a strong presence in vital infrastructure works in the country in areas such as reconstruction, energy, water, highways and urbanisation.

Odebrecht has great prestige in Angola, since it built the Capanda hydroelectric plant on the Kwanza River between 1984 and 2007, facing delays and risks due to the 1975-2002 civil war. Now it is building the biggest plant in Angola, Lauca, also on the Kwanza River, with a capacity to produce 2,067 MW.

The conglomerate is ubiquitous in the country, managing the Belas Mall – an upscale shopping centre in the south of Luanda, Angola’s capital – implementing the water plan to supply the capital, developing the first part of the industrial district in the outskirts of Luanda, building housing developments and playing a key role in saving the national sugarcane industry.

In Cuba it also led the strategic project of expanding the Mariel Port and managing a sugar plant, to help boost the recovery of this ailing sector of the Caribbean nation’s economy.

In other countries, such as Panama, Peru and Venezuela, the number of works and projects in the hands of the Brazilian conglomerate is impressive, in fields as diverse as urban transport, roads and bridges, ports, power plants, fossil fuels, and even agriculture.

But that cycle of expansion came to an end. Heavily indebted, with a plummeting turnover and no access to loans, not even from Brazilian development banks, and carrying the stigma of corruption, the conglomerate is trying to cooperate with justice authorities in the involved countries, seeking agreements to allow it to keep operating and eventually recover.

Now it remains to be discovered whether Odebrecht is “too big to go bankrupt,” as was said of some banks at the start of the global crisis that broke out in 2008.

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Togolese to Lead the Fight against Rural Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/togo-to-lead-the-fight-against-rural-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=togo-to-lead-the-fight-against-rural-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/togo-to-lead-the-fight-against-rural-poverty/#comments Wed, 15 Feb 2017 14:04:03 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148947 Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo, new president of IFAD.

Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo, new president of IFAD.

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Feb 15 2017 (IPS)

Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo, former Prime Minister of Togo, has been appointed as the sixth President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialised UN agency and international financial institution that invests in eradicating rural poverty in developing countries around the world.

“I have come from the rural world. I have first-hand knowledge of the harshness of this kind of life,” said Houngbo, who was appointed by IFAD’s member states at the organisation’s annual Governing Council meeting in Rome.

Houngbo takes up the helm at a time when changing government priorities and the more immediate needs of humanitarian crises – like natural disasters, conflict and refugees – threaten to divert funding away from long-term development.

With growing global demand for food, increased migration to cities and the impact of climate change, investments in agriculture and rural development will be essential to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of ending poverty and hunger.

“We have to keep our ambition and at the same time be realistic and pragmatic,” he said. “We have to demonstrate that every dollar invested will have the highest value for money.”

Houngbo has more than 30 years of experience in political affairs, international development, diplomacy and financial management.

Since 2013 he has served as Deputy Director General of the International Labour Organisation. Prior to that, he was Assistant Secretary General, Africa Regional Director and Chief of Staff at the United Nations Development Programme.

As someone who was born and raised in rural Togo, Houngbo believes that the inequality in today’s world should never be accepted, and that IFAD has a crucial role to play in bringing opportunities to the poor and excluded.

“The privilege of attaining high-quality education helped me develop a strong sense of responsibility towards improving the condition of those who have not had similar opportunities,” he wrote in answer to questions during the nomination process.

“I believe that through a dynamic leadership of IFAD, I can contribute to visible change in the hardship-laden lives of the world’s rural poor.”
Togo covers 57,000 square kilometres, making it one of the smallest countries in Africa. With a population of around 8 million inhabitants, Subsistence agriculture is the main economic activity in Togo; the majority of the population depends on it. Food and cash crop production employs the majority of the labour force and contributes about 42 per cent to the gross domestic product (GDP).

Coffee and cocoa are traditionally the major cash crops for export, but cotton cultivation increased rapidly in the 1990s, with 173,000 metric tons produced in 1999.

After a disastrous harvest in 2001 (113,000 metric tons), production rebounded to 168,000 metric tons in 2002.
Despite insufficient rainfall in some areas, the Togolese Government has achieved its goal of self-sufficiency in food crops — maize, cassava, yams, sorghum, pearl millet, and groundnut.

Small and medium-sized farms produce most of the food crop; the average farm size is one to three hectares.
In the industrial sector, phosphates are Togo’s most important commodity, and the country has an estimated 60 million metric tons of phosphate reserves.

During the 1990s, Togo suffered through a socio-political crisis, an economic regression and a decrease in public and international aid. As a result, an estimated 62 per cent of the population currently lives below the poverty line.

The country’s challenge now is to create the conditions for economic growth – and the Government of Togo believes that the best way to achieve lasting growth is through increased production and productivity in the agriculture sector.

Houngbo was among eight candidates, including three women, vying for the organisation’s top leadership position. He succeeds Kanayo F. Nwanze, who was President for two terms beginning in April 2009. Houngbo will take office on 1 April 2017.

IFAD invests in rural people, empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and strengthen resilience, though grants and long-term, law-interest credits.

Since 1978, this UN body — also known as the “bank of the poor” — has provided 18.5 billion dollars in grants and low-interest loans to projects that have reached about 464 million people.

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Latin America Is a Leading Influence in the Global Fight Against Hungerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/latin-america-in-the-vanguard-of-global-fight-against-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-in-the-vanguard-of-global-fight-against-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/latin-america-in-the-vanguard-of-global-fight-against-hunger/#comments Sat, 11 Feb 2017 20:09:48 +0000 Orlando Milesi and Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148916 Children eat lunch at a school in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in a community where most children live in poverty, but thanks to the synergy between family farming and school meals, they have managed to eliminate malnutrition among the student body. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Children eat lunch at a school in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in a community where most children live in poverty, but thanks to the synergy between family farming and school meals, they have managed to eliminate malnutrition among the student body. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Orlando Milesi and Mario Osava
SANTIAGO/RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 11 2017 (IPS)

A model for fighting against hunger and malnutrition with a global reach which has been successful within and outside the region has spread worldwide, first from Brazil and then from Latin America, notes a distinction given to the current Director-General of FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation), José Graziano da Silva.

Graziano was included in the 2016 ranking of “Global Latin Americans” with influence at a global level, drawn up by the international edition of the journal AméricaEconomía, along with Pope Francis from Argentina, Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim, Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, microfinance pioneer María Otero, who was born in Bolivia, famous Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio, Mexican-born journalist Jorge Ramos and Venezuelan poet Rafael Cárdenas, among others.

“He has been one of the most steadfast advocates of food security, working on the whole issue of rural life, which is why we put him on the list,” the journal’s director of digital media, Lino Solís de Ovando, told IPS.

AméricaEconomía, an international journal that is published in Santiago and which also has eight national or subregional editions as well as a large digital platform, seeks with this “unprecedented ranking to provide a list of the 25 most influential men and women,” he said. Not all of them are “in the front row,” but they are all “people who truly generate global change” with their activities, he said.

Graziano, director-general of FAO since 2012, a post he will hold until 2019 after he was reelected for a second term in 2015, led the team that designed Brazil’s “Zero Hunger” programme, which gave rise to a new global model.

“The recognition of people is an acknowledgment of the ideas and the causes to which they devote their lives. In this case, it is a recognition of rural development and the fight against hunger in Latin America and worldwide,” Graziano said on Thursday Feb. 9, referring to his inclusion on the list of Latin Americans with the greatest global influence.

Named special minister of food security and the fight against hunger (2003-2006) during the first years of the presidency of leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), “Graziano played a decisive role in coming up with strategies to combat hunger, combining structural and emergency actions,” the executive director of ActionAid International, Adriano Campolina, told IPS.

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva speaking at the fifth Celac Summit, in Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic. Credit: FAO

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva speaking at the fifth Celac Summit, in Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic. Credit: FAO

“His efforts translated into loans to family farmers, improved school feeding and income transfer policies, among other initiatives,” Campolina said from the humanitarian organisation’s headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa.

According to Campolina, in his strategy Graziano “had the wisdom to identify in society effective and liberating ways to fight hunger,” translating them into public policies and “recognising that many solutions lay in the successful initiatives carried out by social movements and non-governmental organisations.”

Graziano was in charging of setting in motion “the most important programme in Lula’s administration, Zero Hunger, which had the full acceptance of all segments of Brazilian society, even the opposition to Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT),” said Frei Betto, who helped design and launch the programme, as special adviser to the president.

“Zero Hunger comprised more than 60 complementary and empowering programmes, including agrarian reform, unionisation, family agriculture, and rainwater harvesting others,” said the well-known Catholic writer, who is also an adviser to different social movements.

Its administration was in the hands of “civil society organised in Management Committees, which were created in more than 2,500 municipalities, half of Brazil, during Graziano’s term of office,” said Betto.

But in 2004 the government decided to focus its efforts on cash transfers, through Bolsa Familia, “which was compensatory in nature”. That led to Betto’s resignation, while Graziano became adviser to the president, until he was named FAO’s regional representative in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2006.

The replacement of Zero Hunger with Bolsa Familia, which provided direct subsidies, was due to pressure from municipal authorities who wanted to control the lists of beneficiaries for electoral purposes, said Betto.

“Fortunately, Graziano was recognised internationally, elected and re-elected as head of FAO, to take the initiative and experience of Zero Hunger to other countries,” he said.

“At FAO, Graziano had the political courage to recognise the key role played by small-scale family agriculture, women farmers, agroecology and sustainable agriculture in eradicating hunger,” said Campolina.

Recognising these tendencies, instead of prioritising large-scale agriculture and transnational corporations that abuse toxic agrochemicals, is “the paradigm shift that makes it possible to combat the structural causes of hunger,” he said.

“Graziano’s leadership strengthened the fight for access to land and sustainability and boosted family farmers, who produce 80 per cent of the world’s food,” said ActionAid’s executive director.

Economist Francisco Menezes, a former president of Brazil’s National Council of Food and Nutritional Security (2003-2007), stressed that “one of Graziano’s legacies is being able to get Brazil, Latin America and the world to give priority to the goal of food security.”

Graziano himself expressed hope at the fifth summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac), held in January, that “Latin America and the Caribbean could become the first developing region to fully eradicate hunger.”

For this to happen, Menezes said, governments must reinforce the implementation of the Food Security, Nutrition and Hunger Eradication Plan developed by Celac with FAO support, whose goal is to put an end to the problem in the region by 2025.

Solís de Ovando also underscored FAO’s focus, during Graziano’s administration, on the issue of obesity and overweight, which affect 360 million people in the region, according to a study released by the organisation in January.

In its “Global Latin Americans” 2016 ranking, AméricaEconomía also highlighted the efforts made by the head of FAO in South-South cooperation and the exchange of solutions and experiences between countries of the different regions of the Global South, with the goal of achieving food security and sustainable development.

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Argentina’s Never-ending Environmental Disasterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/argentinas-never-ending-environmental-disaster/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentinas-never-ending-environmental-disaster http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/argentinas-never-ending-environmental-disaster/#comments Sat, 11 Feb 2017 00:10:09 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148909 A view of Buenos Aires from the point where the Riachuelo flows into the Rio de la Plata. To the left can be seen the famous Boca Juniors stadium. Chronicles from 200 years ago were already talking about the pollution in the river. Credit: Courtesy of FARN

A view of Buenos Aires from the point where the Riachuelo flows into the Rio de la Plata. To the left can be seen the famous Boca Juniors stadium. Chronicles from 200 years ago were already talking about the pollution in the river. Credit: Courtesy of FARN

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Feb 11 2017 (IPS)

Is it possible to spend 5.2 billion dollars to clean up a river which is just 64-km-long and get practically no results? Argentina is showing that it is.

As the government admitted to the Supreme Court of Justice in late 2016, that is the amount of public funds earmarked since July 2008 for the clean-up of the 64-km Matanzas-Riachuelo river, which has been identified as one of the worst cases of industrial pollution in the world.

The river cuts across 14 municipalities as it runs from the western Buenos Aires working-class suburb of La Matanza to the picturesque neighbourhood of La Boca, where it flows into the Río de la Plata or River Plate.“It’s true that Acumar has never done a good job. But this past year was the most disastrous. So much so that the president of the body did not even appear at the hearing before the Supreme Court.” -- Andrés Nápoli

However, the situation remains practically unchanged since the mid-19th century, when chronicles of the time described the “rotten” state of the river. Today an estimated eight million people live in the river basin, facing a serious health and environmental emergency.

“The Riachuelo river is still serving the function of drainage for the economic and human activities in the city of Buenos Aires and a large part of the Greater Buenos Aires, as it has for the last 200 years,” says a more than 200 page report seen by IPS, which the Matanza Riachuelo Basin Authority (Acumar), the official body in charge of the clean-up, submitted to the Supreme Court on Nov. 30, 2016.

“It’s not just highly polluted, but it continues to be contaminated,” said the document, which added that 90,000 tons per year of heavy metals and other harmful substances are currently dumped into the river..

In the Spanish colonial era, sheep and mule meat salting factories were built along its banks, along with tanneries that processed cow leather. Dumping waste into the river became a common practice that turned it into a veritable open sewer, which continued with more modern industries like petrochemical plants and the meat-packing industry.

In the last few decades, official promises to clean up the Riachuelo have abounded. The one perhaps best remembered by Argentines was made by María Julia Alsogaray, environment minister under then President Carlos Menem (1989-1999), who announced that they would do it in just 1,000 days. An enthusiastic Menem said that when they were finished, he would swim in the Riachuelo.

In the end, the river remained a health threat, Menem decided not to swim, to protect his health, and Alsogaray ended up in prison for corruption.

It seemed that this story could begin to change in July 2008. Or that was what the Argentine environmentalist community thought, unanimously describing as “historic” the Supreme Court ruling that ordered national, provincial, and Buenos Aires authorities to clean up the Riachuelo.

The decision was based on an article added to the constitution in 1994, which guarantees all inhabitants in the country a “healthy environment” to live in.

However, the scant progress made so far was crudely exposed during a Nov. 30, 2016 hearing before the Supreme Court.

Thousands of poor families living along the Riachuelo en Buenos Aires face serious environmental and health threats. In 2008, the Supreme Court ordered the government to relocate them, but only 3,147 of the promised 17,771 housing units have been built so far. Credit: Courtesy of FARN

Thousands of poor families living along the Riachuelo en Buenos Aires face serious environmental and health threats. In 2008, the Supreme Court ordered the government to relocate them, but only 3,147 of the promised 17,771 housing units have been built so far. Credit: Courtesy of FARN

That day Supreme Court president Ricardo Lorenzetti, an expert in ecology designated Goodwill Ambassador for Environmental Justice last year by the Organisation of American States (OAS), did not try to hide his disgust.

During the hearing, Gabriela Seijo, director of operations in Acumar, said that, for example, so far only 3,147 of 17,771 housing units which were to be built to relocate the families most exposed to the pollution have been completed. “If we keep up this pace, we will finish in 2036,” she said.

Faced with this scenario, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development Sergio Bergman tried to blame the governments of the late Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007), who was president when Acumar was created, and his widow and successor Cristina Fernández (2007-2015), who was president when the Court issued the ruling.

“The situation that we found was terrible. Not just because the Riachuelo was degraded and polluted to the same extent as, or worse than, when the judgment was handed down, but also because the body in charge of cleaning it up, Acumar, was not in a position to comply with the court order,“ Bergman told the Court.

However, the government of President Mauricio Macri, in office since December 2015, and Bergman himself have been in the administration for over a year and have not yet made progress towards the goals set for Acumar, which has 900 employees, many of whom were hired in 2016.

It was reported that 34,759 inspections in factories have been carried out and 57 plants have been closed down, but all of them temporarily, with no significant impacts on the environment.

According to figures provided by Acumar, there are currently six million people living in the basin, at least 10 per cent of them in some 60 slums and shantytowns.

“It’s true that Acumar has never done a good job. But this past year was the most disastrous. So much so that the president of the body did not even appear at the hearing before the Supreme Court,” lawyer Andrés Nápoli, head of the Environment and Natural Resources Foundation (FARN), one of the five non-governmental organisations appointed by the Supreme Court to monitor compliance with the ruling, told IPS.

Indeed, Torti did not appear at the hearing in November and, a few days after the poor presentations given by other officials, he resigned.

Macri named as his replacement lawmaker Gladys González of the governing centre-right coalition Cambiemos, who has no background in environmental affairs.

Nápoli said that, after the hearing, he asked Acumar to explain how the 5.2 billion dollars were spent, adding that if the answer was not satisfactory, he would file a lawsuit demanding an investigation into possible corruption.

“They have only cleaned up the riverbanks a little and removed many of the boats that had sunk decades ago,” diplomat Raúl Estrada Oyuela, a member of the Association of La Boca, the neighbourhood where the Riachuelo runs into the Rio de la Plata, told IPS.

“But there is a lack of will to tackle the main problem, which is the pollution of the water, soil and air, because that would mean affecting the interests of the industries, which of course would have to make important investments if they were forced to switch to a clean production system,” said Estrada, who is internationally known in environmental issues and who was president of the committee which in 1997 produced the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

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Indigenous Peoples Lands Guard 80 Per Cent of World’s Biodiversityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/indigenous-peoples-lands-guard-80-per-cent-of-worlds-biodiversity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-peoples-lands-guard-80-per-cent-of-worlds-biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/indigenous-peoples-lands-guard-80-per-cent-of-worlds-biodiversity/#comments Thu, 09 Feb 2017 11:15:56 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148868 In much of the Andes, soil erosion is thought to be one of the most limiting factors in crop production. Soil is vulnerable to erosion where it is exposed to moving water or wind and where conditions of topography or human use decrease the cohesion of the soil.  ©IFAD/ Juan I. Cortés

In much of the Andes, soil erosion is thought to be one of the most limiting factors in crop production. Soil is vulnerable to erosion where it is exposed to moving water or wind and where conditions of topography or human use decrease the cohesion of the soil. ©IFAD/ Juan I. Cortés

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Feb 9 2017 (IPS)

They are more than 370 million self-identified peoples in some 70 countries around the world. In Latin America alone there are over 400 groups, each with a distinct language and culture, though the biggest concentration is in Asia and the Pacific– with an estimated 70 per cent. And their traditional lands guard over 80 per cent of the planet’s biodiversity.

They are the indigenous peoples.

They have rich and ancient cultures and view their social, economic, environmental and spiritual systems as interdependent. And they make valuable contributions to the world’s heritage thanks to their traditional knowledge and their understanding of ecosystem management.

“But they are also among the world’s most vulnerable, marginalized and disadvantaged groups. And they have in-depth, varied and locally rooted knowledge of the natural world, “says the Rome-based International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD).

“Unfortunately, indigenous peoples too often pay a price for being different and far too frequently face discrimination,” the Fund, which hosts on Feb 10 and 13 on Rome the Global Meeting of the Indigenous People Forum in the Italian capital.

During this biennial meeting, the United Nations specialised agency will bring together representatives of Indigenous Peoples’ Organisations from across the world, as well as leaders of partner bodies to engage in a direct dialogue and improve participation of indigenous peoples in the Fund’s country programmes.

Credit: IFAD

Credit: IFAD

Over the centuries, the Indigenous peoples “have been dispossessed of their lands, territories and resources and, as a consequence, have often lost control over their own way of life. Worldwide, they account for 5 per cent of the population, but represent 15 per cent of those living in poverty.”

One of the most effective ways to enable indigenous peoples to overcome poverty, it adds, is to support their efforts to shape and direct their own destinies, and to ensure that they are the co-creators and co-managers of development initiatives.

Rights of Indigenous People
s

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the General Assembly on Sep. 13, 2007, establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, well-being and rights of the world’s indigenous peoples.

Key facts

• There are more than 370 million self-identified indigenous people in the world, living in at least 70 countries
• Most of the worlds' indigenous peoples live in Asia
• Indigenous peoples form about 5,000 distinct groups and occupy about 20 per cent of the earth's territory
• Although indigenous peoples make up less than 6 per cent of the global population, they speak more than 4,000 of the world's 7,000 languages
• One of the root causes of the poverty and marginalization of indigenous peoples is loss of control over their traditional lands, territories and natural resources
• Indigenous peoples have a concept of poverty and development that reflects their own values, needs and priorities; they do not see poverty solely as the lack of income
• A growing number of indigenous peoples live in urban areas, as a result of the degradation of land, dispossession, forced evictions and lack of employment opportunities

Source: IFAD


The Declaration addresses individual and collective rights; cultural rights and identity; and rights to education, health, employment and language. And it outlaws discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them.

It also ensures their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own priorities in economic, social and cultural development. The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is observed on Aug. 9 every year.

Announcing the Forum, IFAD noted that it has more than 30 years of experience working with indigenous peoples. In fact, since 2003, an average of about 22 per cent of the Fund’s annual lending has supported initiatives for indigenous peoples, mainly in Asia and Latin America.

Since 2007, it has administered the Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility (IPAF). Through small grants of up to 50,000 dollars, it supports the aspirations of indigenous peoples by funding micro-projects that strengthen their culture, identity, knowledge, natural resources, and intellectual-property and human rights.

To help translate policy commitments into action, it has established an Indigenous Peoples’ Forum that promotes a process of dialogue and consultation among indigenous peoples’ organisations, IFAD staff and member states.

The Fund empowers communities to participate fully in determining strategies for their development and to pursue their own goals and visions by strengthening grass-roots organisations and local governance.

Land is not only crucial to the survival of indigenous peoples, as it is for most poor rural people – it is central to their identities, the Fund reports. “They have a deep spiritual relationship to their ancestral territories. Moreover, when they have secure access to land, they also have a firm base from which to improve their livelihoods.”

According to this international Fund, indigenous peoples and their knowledge systems have a special role to play in the conservation and sustainable management of natural resources.

The first global meeting of the Indigenous Peoples' Forum at IFAD was held in Rome on 11-12 February 2013. ©IFAD/Giulio Napolitano

The first global meeting of the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum at IFAD was held in Rome on 11-12 February 2013. ©IFAD/Giulio Napolitano


Indigenous Women’s Untapped Potential

The also named “bank of the poorest” as it provides grants and low-interest credits to the poorest rural communities, recognises indigenous women’s untapped potential as stewards of natural resources and biodiversity, as guardians of cultural diversity, and as peace brokers in conflict mitigation.

Nonetheless, it says, indigenous women are often the most disadvantaged members of their communities because of their limited access to education, assets and credit, and their exclusion from decision-making processes.

This ‘bank of the poorest’ is a specialised agency of the United Nations, which was established as an international financial institution in 1977, being one of the major outcomes of the 1974 World Food Conference, which was organised in response to the food crises of the early 1970s that primarily affected the Sahelian countries of Africa.

That world conference resolved that “an International Fund for Agricultural Development should be established immediately to finance agricultural development projects primarily for food production in the developing countries.”

One of the most important insights emerging from the Conference was that the causes of food insecurity and famine were not so much failures in food production but structural problems relating to poverty, and to the fact that the majority of the developing world’s poor populations were concentrated in rural areas.

Since its creation, IFAD invested 18.4 billion dollars to help 464 million rural poor people.

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Innovative Credit Model Holds Out Lifeline to Farmers in Hondurashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/innovative-credit-model-holds-out-lifeline-to-farmers-in-honduras/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=innovative-credit-model-holds-out-lifeline-to-farmers-in-honduras http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/innovative-credit-model-holds-out-lifeline-to-farmers-in-honduras/#comments Wed, 08 Feb 2017 01:33:26 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148852 Employees of Grupo Ideal, a participatory company in the village of Paso Real, pull out tilapias ready to be sold, from the José Cecilio del Valle reservoir. An innovative credit system is helping family farmers in poor rural areas of Honduras, who have been excluded by the banking system. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Employees of Grupo Ideal, a participatory company in the village of Paso Real, pull out tilapias ready to be sold, from the José Cecilio del Valle reservoir. An innovative credit system is helping family farmers in poor rural areas of Honduras, who have been excluded by the banking system. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
PASO REAL, Honduras, Feb 8 2017 (IPS)

In this village in southern Honduras, in one of the poorest parts of the country, access to credit is limited, the banking sector is not supportive of agriculture, and nature punishes with recurrent extreme droughts.

But over the past two years, the story has started to change in Paso Real, a village of about 60 families, with a total of just over 500 people, in the municipality of San Antonio de Flores, 72 kilometres from Tegucigalpa.

A group of family farmers here, just over 100 people, got tired of knocking on the doors of banks in search of a soft loan and opted for a new financing model, which the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) decided to test in this impoverished Central American country.

The initiative involves the creation of development financing centres (FCD), so far only in two depressed regions in Honduras: Lempira, to the west, and the Association of Municipalities of North Choluteca (Manorcho), to the south.

Both areas form part of the so-called dry corridor in Honduras, that runs through 12 of the country’s 18 departments, which are especially affected by the impacts of climate change.

Paso Real is part of Manorcho, composed of the municipality of San Antonio de Flores plus another three –Pespire, San Isidro and San José – which have a combined population of more than 53,000 people in the northern part of the department of Choluteca, where people depend on subsistence farming and small-scale livestock-raising.

Rafael Núñez is one of the leaders of Grupo Ideal, a company that is an association of family farmers who also breed and sell tilapia, a freshwater fish very popular in Central America. In addition, they raise cattle and grow vegetables.

Núñez is pleased with what they have achieved. Even though his family already owned some land, “it was of no use because nobody would grant us a loan.”

“The banks would come to assess our property, but offered loans that were a pittance with suffocating interest rates. They never gave us loans, even though we knocked on many doors,” Nuñez told IPS.

“But now we don’t have to resort to them, we have gained access to loans at the development financing centre in Menorcho, at low interest rates,” he said, smiling.

Nuñez said that because the banks would not lend them money, they had to use credit cards at annual interest rates of 84 per cent, which were strangling them. Now the loans that they obtain from the FCD are accessible, with an annual interest rate of 15 per cent.

Farmer Rafael Núñez told Central American visitors how the banking system mistreats small farmers in Honduras, and how the introduction in their municipality, San Antonio de Flores, of a financial centre for development which the FAO is testing in two depressed areas in the country, has improved their lives.  Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Farmer Rafael Núñez told Central American visitors how the banking system mistreats small farmers in Honduras, and how the introduction in their municipality, San Antonio de Flores, of a financial centre for development which the FAO is testing in two depressed areas in the country, has improved their lives. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

“It has not been easy to get on our feet because the banking system here doesn’t believe in agriculture, let alone family farming. I collect the bank books that you see and someday I will frame them and I’ll go to those banks and tell them: thanks but we don’t need you anymore, we have forged ahead with more dignified options offered by people and institutions that believe in us,” said Nuñez with pride.

He shared his experience during a Central American meeting organised by FAO, for representatives of organisations involved in family farming and the government to get to know these innovative experiences that are being carried out in the Honduran dry corridor.

Nuñez showed the participants in the conference the tilapia breeding facilities that his association operates at the José Cecilio del Valle multiple-purpose dam, located in the village.

Grupo Ideal is a family organisation that divides the work among 11 siblings and offers direct jobs to at least 40 people in the area and generates indirect employment for just over 75 people. They are convinced that their efforts can be replicated by other small-scale producers.

Among the things that make him happy, Nuñez says they have started to improve the diet of people in the local area.

 

 

 Marvin Moreno, the FAO expert technician behind this solidarity-based and inclusive innovative microcredit model, which so far has helped change the lives of 800 poor families. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS


Marvin Moreno, the FAO expert technician behind this solidarity-based and inclusive innovative microcredit model, which so far has helped change the lives of 800 poor families. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

“We eat with the workers, we work with them, side by side, and at lunch they used to only bring rice, beans and pasta, but now they bring chicken, beef, tilapia and even shrimp,” he said.

One requirement for working in the company is that employees have to send their children to school. “This is an integral project and we want to grow together with the village because there are almost no sources of employment here,” he said.

Marvín Moreno, the FAO expert who has been the driving force behind the two experimental FCD finance centres, told IPS that the new model of financing has allowed families to organise to access opportunities to help them escape poverty.

Participating in the FCDs are local governments, development organisations that work in the area and groups of women, young people and farmers among others, which are given priority for loans.

The innovative initiative has two characteristics: solidarity and inclusiveness. Solidarity, because when someone gets a loan, everyone becomes a personal guarantor, and inclusive because it doesn’t discriminate.

“The priority are the poor families with a subsistence livelihood, but we also have families with more resources, who face limited access to loans as well,” Moreno said.

“It’s a question of giving people a chance, and we’re showing how access to credit is changing lives, and from that perspective it should be seen as a right that must be addressed by a country’s public policies,” he said.

Abel Lara, a Salvadoran small-scale farmer, highlighted the experience of the financial centres developed by FAO in Honduras, which he says show that concentrating on local solutions close to farmers is key for supporting family agriculture. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Abel Lara, a Salvadoran small-scale farmer, highlighted the experience of the financial centres developed by FAO in Honduras, which he says show that concentrating on local solutions close to farmers is key for supporting family agriculture. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

This view is shared by Abel Lara, a small-scale farmer from El Salvador, who after learning about the experience, told IPS that this “basket of funds that makes available loans with joint efforts only comes to prove that it is possible to get family agriculture back on its feet, from the communities themselves..”

The two FCDs established by FAO in Honduras have managed to mobilise about 300,000 dollars through a public-private partnership between the community, organisations and local governments.

That has enabled more than 800 small farmers to access loans ranging from 150 to 3,000 dollars, payable in 12 to 36 months.

In the case of Manorcho, César Núñez, the mayor of San Antonio de Flores, said that “people are starting to believe that the financial centre offers a real opportunity for change and our aim here is to help these poor municipalities, which are hit hard by nature but have potential, to move forward.”

In a country of 8.4 million people, where 66.5 per cent of the population lives in poverty, access to loans as a boost to family agriculture can change the prospects for some 800,000 poor families living in the dry corridor.

These experiences, according to FAO representative in Honduras María Julia Cárdenas, will be part of the proposals for regional dialogue that the Central American Agricultural Council will seek to put the development of family agriculture on the regional agenda.

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US, EU Food Standards Major Hurdle for Caribbean Exportershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/us-eu-food-standards-major-hurdle-for-caribbean-exporters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-eu-food-standards-major-hurdle-for-caribbean-exporters http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/us-eu-food-standards-major-hurdle-for-caribbean-exporters/#comments Tue, 07 Feb 2017 13:14:27 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148847 Oraine Halstead (left) and Rhys Actie tend tomatoes in a greenhouse at Colesome Farm at Jonas Road, Antigua. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Oraine Halstead (left) and Rhys Actie tend tomatoes in a greenhouse at Colesome Farm at Jonas Road, Antigua. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Feb 7 2017 (IPS)

As Caricom countries struggle to move away from their traditional reliance on a single industry or major crop in the face of growing economic uncertainty worldwide, they are finding it increasingly difficult to enter markets in the EU and North America with new types of food products.

But tariffs are no longer the main barriers to accessing important markets, according to a document produced by the ACP-EU Overcoming Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) programme.Latin America and the Caribbean provide over 90 per cent of the fruits and nearly 80 per cent of all vegetables imported by the US. Nonetheless, some countries in the region have “very high rejection rates” at US ports of entry.

The ACP-EU is of the view that “Non-tariffs barriers will become the main challenge of the future multilateral trade system.” Specifically, technical barriers related to compliance with sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS) in export markets and other standards including those relating to labelling and packaging.

The EU considers these technical, non-tariff, barriers to trade so challenging for its African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) partners that it provided 15 million euros starting in 2013 to help those developing countries upgrade their processes and become compliant, thus giving them a better chance of success on the EU and North America markets.

The Caribbean Agribusiness Association (CABA) is one Caribbean organisation that was able to access funding to help its members move toward HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) certification, which the ACP-EU TBT programme identified as a crucial requirement. Since the early 2000s, the US and EU have stipulated that foods entering their markets must have HACCP certification.

Ten of CABA’s members were present at a regional conference, held at the Radisson Hotel in Port-of-Spain Jan. 29-30, to report on the benefits they received from the HACCP training. They heard some sobering statistics with regard to the EU and US food industry that provided context for the TBT programme.

Dr. Andre Gordon, chief executive officer of TSL Technical Services Limited, told delegates that each year, the UK records approximately one million cases of food-borne illnesses, of which about 20,000 require hospitalisation, and 500 deaths are recorded. The cost to the UK of dealing with food-borne illnesses is 1.4 billion pounds annually.

In the US, approximately 48 million cases of food-borne illnesses are recorded annually, resulting in 128,000 hospitalisations and 3,000 deaths. The cost to the US of dealing with food-borne illnesses is approximately 77.7 billion dollars annually, the delegates heard.

The 2016 report, “Addressing Food Losses due to Non-Compliance with Quality and Safety Requirements in Export Markets: the case of Fruits and Vegetables from the Latin America and the Caribbean Region,” by two Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) experts, underlined how much is at stake for Caribbean agribusiness exporters.

The report reveals that Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) provide over 90 per cent of the fruits and nearly 80 per cent of all vegetables imported by the US. Nonetheless, some countries in the region have “very high rejection rates” at US ports of entry, including Jamaica, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic, the document states.

The report said, “While many LAC countries have a good rate of acceptance in comparison with other countries exporting to the USA and EU, a few countries within LAC perform very poorly, revealing great disparity in preparedness for export trading within the region.” The report noted that “Multiple handling failures along the chain are likely the cause of the most frustrating complaints by international buyers.”

Dr. Gordon, who oversaw the Jamaica ackee industry’s transformation that made it compliant with US Food and Drug Administration regulations in the early 2000s so that it could gain access to the US market, explained to IPS the obstacles facing Caribbean exporters.

“The problem in general with all agribusiness companies in the Caribbean is typically lack of technical capacity and knowledge of the requirements and lack of the resources to implement the systems as required,” he said.

However, Dr. Gordon said, “The cultural change that is required is probably the biggest single limitation to implementing and sustaining certification systems…If the management and ownership [of agribusinesses] do not have a vision of becoming global players then the effort and resources required are going to seem unattainable and not good value for money. A lot of firms have issues with understanding the value for money proposition of embarking on a certification programme.”

The briefing paper “SPS measures lead to high costs and losses for developing countries”, published not long after the EU mandated HACCP certification for all exporters to the EU, noted that “As the income level of developing countries is far smaller, …the opportunity cost of compliance is relatively far higher than that for developed country exporters.

“The rapid change in SPS measures, regulations and notifications of new regulations is another problem facing developing countries in preparing for compliance. It also imposes extra costs on investors and exporters and creates uncertainty for them.”

However, the paper’s author concluded, “while the cost of compliance is high, the cost of lack of compliance is even higher” because of loss of market share or reduced access to markets.

Dr. Gordon revealed that in 2010, the Caribbean had the second highest level of food rejections of any region at US ports of entry.

A March 2016 FAO report highlighted other issues hindering Caribbean agribusinesses in their efforts to export. The report states: “A number of deep-seated challenges inhibit Caribbean agriculture diversification and competitiveness: the small and fragmented nature of most farm units; the absence of strong farmer grass-roots organizations; the cost of agricultural labor; the ageing demographics of Caribbean farmers; an education system that does not prepare youth to seek employment opportunities in the agricultural sector; and extension systems that have historically focused on managing the traditional export crops.”

The problem of small farm units is being addressed head on, said CABA’s president Vassel Stewart, with the formation of CABEXCO, a new umbrella organisation for SMEs in the Caricom agribusiness sector, which will jointly procure raw materials and services as well as market its members’ products and reach out to new buyers.

The resulting economies of scale will also hopefully make it easier to bear the cost of becoming compliant with US and EU food export regulations.

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IFAD 2017 – It’s Women’s Turn in Rural Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/ifad-2017-its-womens-turn-in-rural-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ifad-2017-its-womens-turn-in-rural-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/ifad-2017-its-womens-turn-in-rural-development/#comments Mon, 06 Feb 2017 11:04:47 +0000 Mario Osava and Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148827 Josefina Stubbs, candidate for president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Credit: Courtesy of Josefina Stubbs

Josefina Stubbs, candidate for president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Credit: Courtesy of Josefina Stubbs

By Mario Osava and Baher Kamal
BRASILIA, Feb 6 2017 (IPS)

Josefina Stubbs, from the Dominican Republic, may become the first woman to preside over the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which is dedicated to eradicating rural poverty.

IFAD is a United Nations agency created in 1977 to invest in poor farmers in developing countries, who represent three-quarters of the world’s poor and undernourished.

Stubbs has accumulated 35 years of rural development experience, most recently in IFAD, as Regional Director of the Latin America and the Caribbean Division (2008-2014) and later as Associate Vice-President of the Strategy and Knowledge Department, before being nominated for president of IFAD by her country.

She holds a BA in Psychology and Master’s degrees in Sociology, Political Science and International Development, and has also worked for Oxfam and the World Bank.

The elections will take place on Feb. 14-15 during the IFAD annual meeting at the agency’s Rome headquarters. In her favour, Stubbs led, as vice president, the process of designing the agency’s Strategic Framework 2016-2025, besides her in-depth knowledge of how IFAD functions.

In its 40 years of experience, IFAD has earmarked 18.4 billion dollars for rural development projects that have benefited a total of 464 million persons. And the Fund’s soft loans and donations mobilised far greater sums contributed by governments and other national sources, as co-financing.

Boosting the crop yields of small farmers, protecting the environment, training poor peasant farmers, and empowering young people and women will be her priorities if she is elected president of IFAD.

She described her ideas and plans in this interview with IPS during her visit to Brasilia in the first week of February.

IPS: What direction and priorities will you adopt as president of IFAD if you are elected?

JOSEFINA STUBBS: I will dedicate myself to working with the governments of the IFAD member countries, in particular with low- and middle- income countries, so they can advance towards fulfilling the Agenda 2030 in the rural sector and achieving Sustainable Development, with two goals: food security and poverty reduction. Implementing the Agenda 2030 in the countryside, supporting women and young people, and protecting the environment will be vital for the future of the rural sector.

This requires increasing agricultural and non-farm productivity, to produce more and better, in order to supply a continually growing population, while stimulating small-scale farming to create more employment, services and income. A vibrant rural sector is needed to keep people in the countryside, especially the young.

We have to support women more strongly in the productive area, and in the processing of agricultural products as well, encouraging the creation of companies to amplify the benefits. This way new inclusive production chains are generated, and their active involvement in the market is bolstered. Organising farmers is key to boosting the volumes of production and trade, and to improving the quality standards of the products which reach increasingly demanding consumers.

Public policies are the umbrella under which IFAD can work more closely with governments. One example is Brazil, where we work with the national, state and municipal governments in policies to expand markets and transfer technologies. IFAD’s activities in Brazil were limited eight years ago, but now we have agreements with all nine states of Brazil’s Northeast region, providing financial support and technical assistance. This is an experience that should be strengthened and taken to other countries.

IPS: And is any region going to be given priority, Africa for example?

JS: IFAD’s priority lies where the rural poor are, training them and governments in the search for solutions. In Africa we have provided many resources and we have to keep doing so. The African economy is strongly tied to the rural sector, both because of the employment and because the urban and peri-urban markets demand more quality food. Africa has IFAD’s support because of its poverty rate, but so do Asian countries such as India, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

IPS: For the first time, three women are running for the presidency of IFAD. Researchers say that resources achieve more efficient results against poverty and hunger if they are given to women. What should IFAD do for rural women, who make up over 60 per cent of the agricultural workforce in regions of the South and are victims of inequality?

JS: Governments must be encouraged to ensure a greater presence of women in all of the activities financed by the Fund. But we must do it in an innovative way, breaking down traditional barriers to women’s access to public and private goods, loans, technology and the markets. We need to create new instruments specifically adapted to women’s lives, their needs, so that they can be useful to them. It is absolutely urgent to increase the participation of women and their role in the decision-making process about the investments that are made in their communities, and for them to be active subjects in the implementation of these investments.

IPS: But technical and scientific development has gone into large-scale agricultural production. Would it be suitable for poor women in rural areas?

JS: In agriculture, Brazil has demonstrated coexistence between large-scale and small-scale farmers. It already has new machinery for small-scale producers, such as tractors and harvesters, as well as irrigation. The progress made by the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) in improving the crops of small farmers is extraordinary. Brazil has developed important technologies for other countries. It has also made headway with productive infrastructure in communities. An example is machinery and refrigerated trucks for goat’s milk, suited for narrow roads. We need technologies adapted to small farms.

Food security depends on small-scale producers. In Africa 60 per cent of the basic food basket of the middle-class comes from local small-scale farmers. If we don’t increase this production, we lose the opportunity to promote food security in these countries. This has been proven. In the Dominican Republic, 80 per cent of basic products come from small-scale producers.

Increasing national productive capacity brings more benefits than spending on imports. It is a battle won which we have to make visible.

IPS: Does the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) share this view?

JS: The work of the three agencies based in Rome – IFAD, FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP) – must create synergy. They have a key role in supporting governments in meeting the goals of Agenda 2030 in the rural sector. With the specific mission of each agency, we must increase our impact – in investment for the rural poor through IFAD, by strengthening national and global policies that facilitate the achievement of food security and poverty reduction with the work carried out by FAO, and by reinforcinge the humanitarian responses in the rural sector, with the WPF has been doing for decades.

IPS: With regard to the environment, how can IFAD and small-scale farmers contribute to protecting nature and the climate?

JS: Climate change issues and the adequate management of environmental resources have to be seen in a broader perspective in the rural sector. I will keep defending ‘climate-smart agriculture’ with eco-friendly practices that also generate income. But in addition, we have to pay attention to the management of environmental resources such as water, energy, tourism, or agro-forestry, which also generate economic and environmental benefits for the rural and urban sectors. We must seek to empower communities, particularly indigenous communities, so they become effective and efficient managers of natural resources.

IPS: Water is another growing environmental problem.

JS: First of all, we have to safeguard our basins, reforest, preserve. Then we have to change the irrigation systems, replace flood irrigation with new techniques. Sometimes the solution is simple. Rainwater collection, such as in the Northeast of Brazil, is an example. Coming up with solutions implies listening to the local population, not imposing approaches to development that are not what people need.

IPS: How will IFAD keep up or accelerate poverty reduction, with the goal of eradicating it by 2030?

JS: By the deadline set for the Millennium Development Goals, one billion people had been lifted out of poverty. Now the challenge is to keep them afloat, but we still have one billion poor people in the world. We have to sustain our achievements and expand the results. We have to combine conditional cash transfer programmes with an increase in productivity, support for small-scale producers in their production and services companies, support for the expansion of access to technologies as an instrument to expand the benefits of development. We have to create a rural sector where the youth see a future and want to stay.

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Families of the “Disappeared” Search for Clandestine Graves in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/families-of-the-disappeared-search-for-clandestine-graves-in-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=families-of-the-disappeared-search-for-clandestine-graves-in-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/families-of-the-disappeared-search-for-clandestine-graves-in-mexico/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2017 23:52:55 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148775 Eight-year-old Juan de Dios Torres, whose five-year-old sister Zoe Zuleica Torres went missing in December 2016 on the outskirts of the northeastern city of San Luis Potosí, participates along with his mother in the brigade searching for the remains of missing people in the northwestern state of Sinaloa. Credit: Marcos Vizcarra/IPS

Eight-year-old Juan de Dios Torres, whose five-year-old sister Zoe Zuleica Torres went missing in December 2016 on the outskirts of the northeastern city of San Luis Potosí, participates along with his mother in the brigade searching for the remains of missing people in the northwestern state of Sinaloa. Credit: Marcos Vizcarra/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
NAVOLATO, Mexico, Feb 1 2017 (IPS)

Juan de Dios is eight years old and is looking for his younger sister, Zoe Zuleica Torres Gómez, who went missing in December 2015, when she was only five years old, in the northeastern state of San Luis Potosí. He is the youngest searcher for clandestine graves in Mexico.

With pick and shovel, in the last week of January he joined the Third National Brigade for the Search for Disappeared Persons, which on Monday Jan. 30 found the remains of a body in a grave hidden in a corn and sorghum field on the communal land in Potrero de Sataya, in the municipality of Navolato, in the northwestern state of Sinaloa.

It is the second body found by this brigade, made up of a handful of women and men who search in the ground for signs of their children, siblings and parents gone missing during the years of the so-called war against drug trafficking, together with human right defenders and Catholic priests.

“A problem that has not been recognised cannot be solved, nor can it heal,” said Juan Carlos Trujillo Herrera, who is behind the creation of the brigades, told IPS during the brigade’s work in Sinaloa.

“All the public prosecutor offices in the country are saturated with this issue, there is no structure in place that would allow us to think that the institutions are going to work. That is why we have had to go out to look ourselves for our family members,” insisted Trujillo, who is searching for four disappeared siblings.

On taking office in December 2006, right-wing president Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) militarised the security of the country to combat the drug mafias and threw Mexico into a spiral of violence from which it has not escaped.
One aspect reflects the seriousness of the problem: before that year, the Mexican government identified seven major drug cartels. Ten years later, there are nearly 200 organised crime groups operating in the country, according to information published this month by the Drug Policy Programme of the Centre for Economic Research and Teaching (Cide).

The data from Cide, one of the country’s most prestigious educational institutions, also registers at least 68 massacres in that period of time.

In 10 years, the so-called war on drugs launched by Calderón has left more than 177,000 murder victims, 73,500 of them during the administration of his successor, the also conservative Enrique Peña Nieto.

It has also left at least 30,000 missing people, although registers on disappearances vary greatly among the different authorities and civil society organisations.

In 2011, the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity headed by the poet Javier Sicilia brought to the forefront the issue of forced disappearance, reporting hundreds of cases in this country of 122 million people.

But it was in October 2014, with the forced disappearance of 43 rural student teachers in Ayotzinapa, in the southwestern state of Guerrero, and in January 2016, when five young people were detained and “disappeared” by state police in Tierra Blanca, in the state of Veracruz, that the country discovered that many of the disappearances attributed to organised crime were actually carried out by the authorities.

“That is why they did not look for them,” said Miguel Trujillo, Juan Carlos´ younger brother.

Since then, groups of family members who, desperate because of the absence of the state, started their own searches, have mushroomed around the country.

To do this, they train: they take courses in forensic anthropology, archeology, law; and they gear up: they buy caving equipment, they get trays to find small bones; they form crews and have become experts in identifying graves and bones.

The first brigades were organised in March 2016 in Veracruz, a state in eastern Mexico where several clandestine graveyards have been discovered, where the remains of160 people have been found so far.

There are now at least 13 brigades in the country. And since Jan. 24, different groups have gone out into the field in Tamaulipas, Veracruz and Sinaloa, where people belonging to brigades from five states arrived for a 12-day collective search.

“There are two different kinds of searches, for people who are alive or for people who are dead. I think this is where we’re failing, because we also have to look for people who are alive, but the thing is that nobody was doing this,” said Juan Carlos Trujillo.

The groups are supported by civil society organisations, such as the Marabunta Peace brigade, a group of young people from Mexico City who provide security for the families.

“It is very hard for young people to deal with these realities, for them to not get disillusioned with humanity, but escorting the groups gives them hope. Because when they realize that they are able to help, they find hope and they reaffirm themselves as builders of peace,” Miguel Barrera, the head of Marabunta, told IPS.

Sinaloa is the land of the cartel created by the powerful drug lord Joaquín “el Chapo” Guzmán, who was extradited to the United States on Jan. 19.

The brigade has made two findings: the one in Potrero Sataya and another in the municipality El Quelite, 10 km from port Mazatlán. The little boy from San Luis Potosí came with his mother, to help search for human remains.

“This is something we have to do because the government is not doing it and it was never going to,” said Mario Vergara, who founded the group The Other Disappeared from Iguala, the municipality where the students from Ayotzinapa disappeared, and now helps brigades all over the country.

“We are making progress in terms of organisation and we are going to continue. The people that remain in each state are going to learn how to coordinate to carry out better searches; we need to replicate the model in each state and engage the governments to help the search groups,” said Miguel Trujillo.

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Seeds Are Key to Improving Bean Production in Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/seeds-are-key-to-improving-bean-production-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=seeds-are-key-to-improving-bean-production-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/seeds-are-key-to-improving-bean-production-in-cuba/#comments Tue, 31 Jan 2017 22:58:31 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148751 Iraida Semino picks green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) on her farm La Maravilla, which belongs to the Roberto Negrín González Credit and Services Union in the municipality of La Lisa, on the outskirts of the Cuban capital. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Iraida Semino picks green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) on her farm La Maravilla, which belongs to the Roberto Negrín González Credit and Services Union in the municipality of La Lisa, on the outskirts of the Cuban capital. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Jan 31 2017 (IPS)

“You have to have good and varied seeds to test which one adapts best to each kind of soil,” says 71-year-old farmer Rubén Torres, who on his farm in central Cuba harvests 1.6 tons of organic beans every year, among other crops.

The importance that Torres places on seeds in order for the agricultural sector to meet local demand for beans, a staple of the Cuban diet, coincides with the assessment by researchers consulted by IPS, who propose promoting genetic improvement and the production of other kinds of legumes.

After two decades of selecting seeds, Torres produces and sells four varieties of black beans, four kinds of red beans and one kind of white bean. “And I have eight varieties for family consumption and for scientific research,” he told IPS.

Located in a livestock farming area on the outskirts of the city of Santa Clara, 268 km east of Havana, Torres’ plot of land is unusual in the area because he devotes most of his 17 hectares to growing beans and rice, which form the basis of the diet of the 11.2 million people in this Caribbean island nation.“When farmers go to plant they often don’t have seeds. That’s why I always give some of mine to those who need them. Without quality seeds, you can’t succeed.” -- Ruben Torres

Baños de Marrero, as his family farm is called, also has avocado and coconut trees and crops of maize and tomatoes. Other portions are covered with seedbeds and garden beds badly in need of repair where Torres produces 20 tons of ecological fertiliser from worm castings.

“When farmers go to plant they often don’t have seeds. That’s why I always give some of mine to those who need them. Without quality seeds, you can’t succeed,” said Torres, a participant in the Programme for Local Agrarian Innovation (PIAL), which since 2000 has helped empower farmers in 45 of the country’s 168 municipalities.

“There is a public company that sells seeds,” but in his opinion, “to get really good ones farmers have to guarantee them themselves.”

With the support of the Swiss development cooperation agency and the coordination of the state National Institute of Agricultural Science, PIAL started to teach family farmers in western Cuba how to obtain and select their own seeds. It has expanded and now is promoting participation by women and young people in farming.

“Without quality seeds, you really can’t make progress in terms of productivity,” agronomist Tomás Shagarodsky told IPS about a key aspect in raising yields in bean crops in Cuba, where there is potential for growing many more beans.

 Tomás Shagarodsky, a researcher at the “Alejandro de Humboldt” Tropical Agriculture Research Institute (INIFAT) points out that Cuba can and must produce more varieties of pulses apart from beans and chickpeas. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS


Tomás Shagarodsky, a researcher at the “Alejandro de Humboldt” Tropical Agriculture Research Institute (INIFAT) points out that Cuba can and must produce more varieties of pulses apart from beans and chickpeas. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

As part of the government’s agricultural reforms implemented since 2008, incentives were put in place for the production of beans, with the aim of boosting the surface area devoted to this crop in the different kinds of agricultural production units: state-run farms, cooperatives, and small private farms.

Between 2009 and 2014, the country grew on average 126,650 hectares per year of beans, obtaining an average of 118,830 tons. In 1996, 38,000 hectares yielded 9,000 tons of beans.

Now, the Agriculture Ministry’s Agro-Industrial Grains Group seeks to increase bean production between 15 and 20 per cent a year, in order to meet domestic demand and lower the high cost of beans in the farmers’ markets that operate according to the law of supply and demand.

Latin America, the bean powerhouse

The countries of Latin America account for more than 45 per cent of global production of beans, according to FAO figures.

The drought in recent years has hurt the yields of beans, which are a staple for the diet and economy of small farmers in the region.

Archeological studies reveal that beans are native to the Americas, with evidence dating back to 5000 to 8000 years. Mexico and Peru dispute the claim of being the birthplace of beans.

“Cuba currently has extensive bean crops, but it hasn’t reached its full yield potential,“ said Shagarodsky.

To achieve better harvests, he said the sector must solve “structural problems” such as shortages of resources, labour power and equipment, and more complex issues related to climate change and water scarcity.

In that sense, Shagarodsky, an agronomist and researcher at the state “Alejandro de Humboldt” Tropical Agriculture Research Institute (INIFAT), pointed out a vulnerability that is rarely discussed.

“We need young professionals devoted to improving seeds,” he said at INIFAT headquarters, located in the poor outskirts of Santiago de las Vegas, 18 km south of Havana.

“The stock of improved seeds has shrunk because the breeders who used to do this job have retired, have died or have left,“ said Shagarodsky, surrounded by the unpainted walls and deteriorated ceilings of the INIFAT central offices. “That has to change and more attractive salaries have to be paid,“ he said.

In live collections and cold chambers, INIFAT preserves the largest quantity of genetic resources in Cuba. In its germplasm bank it keeps 3,250 of the 18,433 samples safeguarded in the entire national network of institutions that share this mission. Legumes constitute 46 per cent of the resources preserved by INIFAT.

Seeds of different varieties of beans are preserved in the Tropical Agriculture Research Institute’s germplasm bank in Cuba, in addition to other pulses. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Seeds of different varieties of beans are preserved in the Tropical Agriculture Research Institute’s germplasm bank in Cuba, in addition to other pulses. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The institution safeguards 1,465 varieties of pulses, including pigeon peas (Cajanus cajan), peanuts, chickpeas, soybeans, lentils, peas and green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris).

In recognition of the important work it carries out, INIFAT was chosen in December to host the activities to end the International Year of Pulses, as 2016 was declared by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

FAO representative in Cuba Theodor Friedrich pointed out at this event that pulses contribute to food security in two senses: they have high protein value and they naturally fertilise soil with nitrogen.

In addition, he said “growing pulses is the only way to add nitrogen to the soil without resorting to fertilisers. And they have important nutritional properties,” such as zero cholesterol and gluten, and high content of iron, zinc and other nutrients.

For these and other reasons, FAO promotes the cultivation of pulses in the western provinces of Pinar del Río and Artemisa, in a project aimed at strengthening local capacities to sustainably produce biofortified basic grains adapted to climate change, including several kinds of pulses, by 2018.

“We eat all kind of pulses, from beans to chickpeas and lentils. They are very important for children because they fall under the category of vegetable proteins,” Misalis Cobo, who lives with her six-year-old son in the Havana neighbourhood of Cerro, told IPS.

“We get beans from the ration card and the rest I buy in markets and stores,” said the 37-year-old self-employed worker. “I can afford these purchases although they are expensive because they stretch a long way for us since it’s just my son and me. But large low-income families they’re expensive,“ she said.

Each person in Cuba receives a small monthly quota of beans at subsidised prices through the ration card. But to feed the family for an entire month, more beans and other pulses are needed, and must be bought at the state and private agricultural markets, and stores that sell imported goods.

Prices range from 0.5 cents of a dollar up to 1.2 dollars for half a kilogram of pulses, in a country where the average income is 23 dollars a month in the public sector, Cuba’s biggest employer by far.

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Riverbank Populations Displaced by Dams in Brazil Miss Old Way of Lifehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/riverbank-populations-displaced-by-dams-in-brazil-miss-old-way-of-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=riverbank-populations-displaced-by-dams-in-brazil-miss-old-way-of-life http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/riverbank-populations-displaced-by-dams-in-brazil-miss-old-way-of-life/#comments Sun, 29 Jan 2017 00:43:15 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148703 A boat under repair on the shore of the Sobradinho reservoir, which has a low water level due to the five years of drought which has plagued the semi arid interior of Northeastern Brazil. Bushes submerged by the dammed-up waters of the São Francisco river since the 1970s can be glimpsed. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A boat under repair on the shore of the Sobradinho reservoir, which has a low water level due to the five years of drought which has plagued the semi arid interior of Northeastern Brazil. Bushes submerged by the dammed-up waters of the São Francisco river since the 1970s can be glimpsed. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
SENTO SE, Brazil, Jan 29 2017 (IPS)

“Now we have internet and TV. Before, we didn’t even have electricity, but it was better,” said Lourival de Barros, one of the people displaced by the hydropower plants which have mushroomed aorund Brazil, mainly since the 1970s.

Barros was evicted from his home in Sento Sé towards the end of 1976. The town of 7,000 people was submerged under the waters of the Sobradinho reservoir just over a year later.

Three other towns, Casa Nova, Pilão Arcado and Remanso, also disappeared under water, along with dozens of riverside villages, in the state of Bahía in Northeastern Brazil.

In total, 72,000 people were displaced, according to social organisations, or 59,265 according to the company responsible for the project, the São Francisco Hydroelectric Company (CHESF).

The sacrifice was made for the sake of the country’s energy requirements and for the development of what was described by government leaders of the time, during the 1964-1985 military dictatorship, as an “irrelevant” region, marked by widespread illiteracy, a “subsistence economy,” and “primitive,” isolated people afraid of change.

To relocate the population of Santo Sé, a new city with the same name was built, with better houses, including indoor bathrooms and services such as electricity and sewage. But “we lost much more”, said Barros, a 70-year-old retired fisherman and small farmer with eight children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

“We had many fish in the river. In the reservoir at first we could fish 100 kg a day, but the fish declinednin the last 10 to 15 years, and now it’s hard to catch even 10 kg, just enough to feed the family,” he told IPS.

“There were 2,000 fishers and it was the livelihood of all of us. Today, there are at best 50 who are able to live off fishing,” even though 9,000 are registered in the trade association, many of them just to receive the unemployment payments during the spawning period when fishing is banned, he said. “They need it,” he added.

Barros laments that the fish native to the area have disappeared, while other Amazon species were introduced in the artificial lake, including one, the pavón (Cichla ocellaris), which eats all the others.

Retired fisherman and farmer 70-year-old Lourival de Barros, in his house in the town of Sento Sé, which he received as compensation for the loss of his nice house and other property in the old town, which was submerged by the Sobradinho dam four decades ago, whichburied a lifestyle that he still misses. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Retired fisherman and farmer 70-year-old Lourival de Barros, in his house in the town of Sento Sé, which he received as compensation for the loss of his nice house and other property in the old town, which was submerged by the Sobradinho dam four decades ago, whichburied a lifestyle that he still misses. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

He also complains that his family used to have five plots of land where they grew crops and he owned a mill to make manioc flour, for which they did not receive any compensation. “We lost everything,” he said.

Many flooded properties or assets have still not been compensated, said Adzamara Amaral, author of the book “Memories of a submerged city,” written in 2012 as the thesis for her journalism degree at the University of the State of Bahía.

Her own family is still fighting in court for compensation for 15,000 hectares registered as property of her grandfather, which was in her family for three centuries and included three houses and fruit orchards.

The new town built for the relocated population was deprived of its “riverine” spirit, as in the case of other “rebuilt” towns.

Also lost, besides the fish, was the traditional riverbank farming during the dry season, when water levels were down and crops were planted next to the river on the nutrient-rich soil replenished each year by the seasonal floods.

Large harvests of corn and beans were planted between April and October. “That is why the São Francisco river is known as the ‘Brazilian Nile,’ Amaral told IPS.

With the dam, the water flooded rocky areas or parts of the Caatinga – the semi-arid ecosystem exclusive to the Northeast – and modified the annual changes in the low and high water levels in the river, putting an end to dry season farming.

Relocation to the new Sento Sé, population 41,000 today, accentuated the isolation of the local inhabitants, among other reasons because the distance doubled with respect to Juazeiro, a city of 220,000 people, which is the economic and educational hub of the northern part of Bahía.

Gildalio da Gama (L), municipal secretary of environment up to December, and boat repairman João Reis on the banks of the resevoir in Sento Sé, where the inhabitants of the old town were resettled with almost no compensation, displaced by the Sobradinho hydropower plant on the São Francisco river in Northeastern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Gildalio da Gama (L), municipal secretary of environment up to December, and boat repairman João Reis on the banks of the resevoir in Sento Sé, where the inhabitants of the old town were resettled with almost no compensation, displaced by the Sobradinho hydropower plant on the São Francisco river in Northeastern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Now the town is 196 km away, 50 of which are along a dirt road filled with potholes that makes transportation difficult. That is the reason the irrigation agriculture company Fruitmag which employed 1,800 workers, pulled out of Sento Sé, arguing that the jolting of the trucks damaged the grapes.

“Paving the road is key to the development of the municipality, as is offering technical and university courses, which would prevent the exodus of young people, which has been reducing the local population in recent years,” said Amaral.

The new location of the town on the banks of the lake was meant to keep it near the shore even during the dry season, she said. But many people believe that the then mayor decided on the location so it would be near his farm.

Now, the shore of the Sobradinho reservoir has retreated some 600 metres from Santo Sé, after five years of drought.

“There are places where the water ebbs up to 10 km, like in Quixaba, a nearby town,” said João Reis, a 65-year-old metal worker from São Paulo, who worked for years in CHESF.

He has lived for 33 years in Sento Sé, his parents’ hometown, and he currently repairs boats in the São Francisco river. He says that with its fertile lands and marble and precious stone deposits, the municipality has “a great potential to prosper.”

One of eight wind farms built near Sento Sé due to the strong winds on the plateaus surrounding the town in Northeast Brazil, whose population was paradoxically displaced in the 1970s to build the biggest hydropower plant in the region.  Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

One of eight wind farms built near Sento Sé due to the strong winds on the plateaus surrounding the town in Northeast Brazil, whose population was paradoxically displaced in the 1970s to build the biggest hydropower plant in the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

To overcome its isolation, his colleague Djalma Vitorino, a boat specialist, proposes setting up a ferry service between Sento Sé and Remanso, another relocated town, on the other side of the reservoir. About 25 km or “an hour and a half of navigation” separate the two towns.

“They have a good hospital there where we can take our sick people,” as an alternative to Juazeiro, which is more than three hours away by road, Vitorino told IPS.

Built between 1973 and 1979 on the São Francisco river, the Sobradinho hydropower plant has the capacity to generate 1,050 MW, thanks to its reservoir of 34,000 cubic metres that covers 4,214 square km, the biggest in surface area and the third in water volume in Brazil.

In addition to the generation of electric power, accumulating so much water also gives it the functions of regulating the flow, optimising the operation of seven hydropower plants built downstream, and supplying water for the irrigation of crops in the surrounding area.

Its social impacts stood out because a highly populated area was flooded, in the 1970s, when the country was governed by an authoritarian military regime and environmental legislation was just starting to be developed. Moreover, social movements were weak or nonexistent.

To flood that much land, Sobradinho required the expropriation of 26,000 properties.

CHESF shelled out very low sums in the few cases of compensation it paid, mostly because “the local people did not have official title deeds or did not know how much their property was worth,” said 47-year-old Gildalio da Gama, who until December was secretary of environment in Sento Sé.

“Any money was a lot for people who always handled little money,” da Gama, who is now a primary school teacher on an island where his parents live, 150 km from the town, told IPS:

His grandfather was not compensated for his land because CHESF did not recognise the submitted documentation, he said.

New hydropower plants, such as Itaparica, inaugurated in 1988, downstream on the São Francisco river, meet the regulations, because of the pressure of environmentalists and social organisations. But forced displacement continues, generating noisier conflicts than in the past.

Protests have grown even more against hydropower plants in the Amazon rainforest, particularly the one in Belo Monte, a huge power plant with a capacity of 11,233 MW, inaugurated on May 2016.

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Ecuador Revives Campaign for UN Tax Bodyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/ecuador-revives-campaign-for-un-tax-body/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ecuador-revives-campaign-for-un-tax-body http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/ecuador-revives-campaign-for-un-tax-body/#comments Fri, 27 Jan 2017 07:33:40 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148694 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 27 2017 (IPS)

The Republic of Ecuador, currently chair of the largest single coalition of developing countries at the United Nations, is reviving a longstanding campaign for the creation of an inter-governmental UN tax body and the elimination of tax havens and illicit financial flows.

Practicing what it preaches, Ecuador says it is the world’s first country to hold a nation-wide referendum on tax havens, scheduled to take place on February 19.

Addressing a meeting of the 134-member Group of 77 (G77) on January 13, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, who was anointed the new G77 chair for 2017, said “illegitimate wealth mostly affected the world’s poorer nations”.

“There should be more knowledge havens and less tax havens,” he said, at a formal handover ceremony of the chairmanship, from Thailand to Ecuador.

Meanwhile, speaking at a civil society panel discussion in Washington DC on January 12, Guillaume Long, Ecuador’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, said Ecuador, in an unprecedented move, will let the people decide, pointing out that “the struggle against tax havens is a global struggle.

“We need a UN tax body to ensure tax justice. Ecuador will unite with all those fighting this battle – states and civil society.”

The referendum, known as the “ethical pact,” will ask “Do you agree that, for those holding a popularly elected office or for public servants, there should be a prohibition on holding assets or capital, of any nature, in tax havens?”

Public servants and elected officials will be given a year to repatriate their capital or be removed from office or their post.

At the panel discussion, several US-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) commended the new G77 chair, for leading a campaign both for the elimination of tax havens and the creation of a new UN tax body.

The proposal for a UN tax body has already been shot down twice by Western nations, first, at the Financing for Development (FfD) conference in Addis Ababa in July 2015, and also at the 14th session of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD 14) in Nairobi in August last year.

Asked about the feasibility of the proposal against Western opposition, Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of the Jubilee USA Network, one of NGOs backing the proposal, told IPS: “In just a few years we’ve seen almost universal acknowledgment of the problems of tax avoidance, tax evasion and corruption.”

“At the same time we do see clear opposition from many wealthy countries on the idea of a global tax body as part of a solution”.

For this to be successful, he pointed out, there needs to be some re-envisioning of the proposal from the Addis Ababa conference. He said the G77 could also engage in bilateral agreements to move this forward.

“While the United Nations tries to operate by consensus, we could also see countries force a vote at the United Nations. While a vote would likely be successful under this method, without some re-envisioning of the concept, we’d likely see many wealthy countries refuse to participate in the process,” he warned.

Asked if Ecuador will be able to pull it off?, LeCompte told IPS: “Ecuador seems to be operating out of a G77 consensus on these issues. Since the Financing for Development meetings in Addis Ababa, we’ve seen G77 countries like Ecuador strengthen their support for these efforts.”

The original proposal by the G77 called for the establishment of a standing intergovernmental group of experts to address tax issues, including international tax issues, and to assist countries better mobilize and employ fiscal revenues.

This includes international initiatives to counter tax avoidance and tax evasion, as well as strengthening the capabilities of developing countries to address tax avoidance and tax evasion practices.

In Africa alone, the estimated resources leaving the continent, in the form of illicit financial transfers, was nearly 530 billion dollars between 2002 and 2012, according to UNCTAD.

The three key causes of illicit financial outflows are largely commercial tax evasion, government corruption and criminal activity, including money laundering.

Addressing the NGOs, the Ecuadorean Foreign Minister said: “Our government has introduced very redistributive policies in the most unequal continent on earth. Our priority is to fight inequality which is the cause of most of problems we face.”

He pointed out that Ecuador has seen big improvements in living standards over the last decade due to major economic reforms, including a tripling of tax takes achieved overwhelmingly by collecting taxes, not by raising them.

“This has become an important source of investment in public services. The next stage in this battle for a fair economy is against tax havens”

“Tax havens are a real ethical problem. For example, while Ecuadorian migrants loyally work long hours to send remittances to Ecuador, an elite section of the population siphons billions of dollars back out of the country to tax havens,” he noted.

The Washington DC panel discussion was co-sponsored by several NGOs, including Jubilee USA, Center for Economic and Policy Research, Center of Concern, FACT Coalition, Financial Transparency Coalition, Latindadd, Global Alliance for Tax Justice Network, Public Citizen, the Latin American and Caribbean Tax Justice Network.

The topic under discussion was titled: “Tax Avoidance, Illicit Financial Flows and Global Development: A Call for a United Nations Tax Body”.

According to a press release, several experts, including Eric LeCompte, Jubilee USA; Mark Weisbrot, Center for Economic and Policy Research; Elise Bean, Former Staff Director and Chief Counsel of the U.S. Senate Permanent subCommittee on investigations; Aldo Caliari, Center of Concern; and Clark Gascoigne, FACT Coalition gave their support to the Ecuadorean initiatives on tax havens.

The event moderator Eric LeCompte, Director of Jubilee USA, told the panel discussion: “This conversation today comes at a critical moment. Due to tax evasion and corruption the developing world loses more than a trillion dollars a year because of tax evasion and corruption.”

“These tax issues are a global problem and require a global solution. Addressing tax havens is like a carnival game of whack-a-mole. You deal with problem in one place and it pops up in another.”

Economist Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) said: “Latin America did go through a decade where poverty was reduced from 44 to 28 % in the region as a whole. The standard narrative is that this was just a commodities boom.”

“Ecuador is probably the best example of why that is really not true. They had to do a whole set of institutional, policy and financial reforms in order to achieve the success that they did, and they did achieve success. They have reduced poverty by 30% by 2014. They reduced inequality. They increased access to healthcare. They tripled the amount of GDP that went to public investment.”

He also said that Ecuador was able to build the institutions and do enormous financial and regulatory reforms that we could use here in the United States. They took control of the financial system and regulated it really for the first time in the way it should be regulated. I think the referendum on tax havens is very creative and innovative.”

Aldo Caliari, Director of the REthinking Bretton Woods Project, Center of Concern said: “The battle for an intergovernmental body was not won in Addis Ababa. We need to keep struggling. A UN intergovernmental body is about who defines the rules of the game”.

“I salute the efforts” of Ecuador to raise awareness and pressure against tax havens. “I like the significance of the fact that Ecuador, with this mindset of achieving progress, is taking over the G77 presidency, because it is critical.”

Elise Bean, former Staff Director and Chief Counsel of the U.S. Senate Permanent Sub-Committee on investigations welcomed Ecuador’s work against tax havens saying: “One of the really interesting things is about how Ecuador is giving us an example about how if you strengthen the capacity to collect taxes it really contributes to stability, to the ability to fight poverty. This culture of paying taxes is a remarkable achievement and is something that should be studied and I think we should try to replicate it elsewhere.”

“I have tremendous admiration for Ecuador, to show that it is possible to build a culture of paying taxes. I congratulate you on your country’s progress.”

Clark Gascoigne, Deputy Director of the FACT Coalition said: “Illicit financial flows have a devastating impact on developing countries, wringing tens of billions of dollars out of the developing world. But also have a major effect on developed countries. $150 billion dollars is the most recent estimate of the cost to the US from tax haven abuse annually. This of course exacerbates inequality, leads to austerity and undermines our ability to act collectively and solve problems.”

Porter McConnell, Director of the Financial Transparency Initiative said after the meeting: “I have been very impressed by the leadership that Ecuador has demonstrated on this issue of tax havens and on the issue of illicit financial flows more widely”.

“We have been working with the government of Ecuador for some months to draw attention to the issue and to support the leadership role of Ecuador in the G77. We are very excited to see what comes next and are very supportive of the efforts of Ecuador,” McConnell said.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Measures Are Proposed to Address Violence in Mapuche Land in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/measures-are-proposed-to-address-violence-in-mapuche-land-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=measures-are-proposed-to-address-violence-in-mapuche-land-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/measures-are-proposed-to-address-violence-in-mapuche-land-in-chile/#comments Thu, 26 Jan 2017 23:07:42 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148691 Members of the Mapuche people during one of their demonstrations defending their rights, in particular their claim to theirancestral lands, in the region of La Araucanía, Chile. Credit: Fernando Fiedler/IPS

Members of the Mapuche people during one of their demonstrations defending their rights, in particular their claim to theirancestral lands, in the region of La Araucanía, Chile. Credit: Fernando Fiedler/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Jan 26 2017 (IPS)

The lands where the Mapuche indigenous people live in southern Chile are caught up in a spiral of violence, which a presidential commission is setting out to stop with 50 proposals, such as the constitutional recognition of indigenous people and their representation in parliament, in a first shift in the government´s treatment of native peoples.

President Michelle Bachelet received on Monday Jan. 23 the recommendations from the Presidential Advisory Commission to address the conflict in the La Araucanía region, home to most of the country’s Mapuche people, who make up nearly five percent of Chile’s population of just under 18 million people.

The Mapuche leaders and their supporters accuse the police deployed to the region of being “agitators” and of militarising the area, while logging companies and landowners call the local indigenous people “terrorists” and demand a heavy-handed approach towards them.

Among the proposals of the Commission, created in July 2016, are the creation of a national registry of victims of violence and compensation for them, support for the economic development of the Mapuche people – the largest native group in Chile – and solutions to return native land to the Mapuche people, in land disputes.“A historical debt is recognised with respect to the Mapuche people, but there is no analysis of what this debt consists of, let alone the deep current and historical causes of this now existing violence in La Araucanía” -- Jorge Aylwin

In addition, the Commission recommended that the president “publicly apologise, in representation of the Chilean government, for the consequences this conflict has had for the Mapuche people and any other victims of the violence in the region.”

The package of proposed measures comes in the wake of a dozen arson attacks early this year in rural areas of La Araucanía against logging company trucks and storehouses by unidentified perpetrators, who in some cases left pamphlets with demands by the Mapuche movement.

The attacks reached their peak around Jan. 3-4, dates marked in the indigenous struggle for their rights, in memory of Matías Catrileo (2008), a young Mapuche victim of a gunshot from the police, and of the elderly Luchsinger Mackay couple (2013), who died in their house when it was burnt down by unidentified assailants.

Chile´s manufacturers´ association, SOFOFA, to which the two main logging companies that extract timber in La Araucanía belong, said the region “is no longer governed by the rule of law” and that “the incapacity of the powers of government to respond and fulfill their functions of law enforcement and punishment of crimes is evident.”

“It is not an absence of the rule of law, it is a lack of respect and infringement of the human rights of these people. That is a serious thing. It is the government that undermines their rights. Talking of an absence of the rule of law is just an excuse to put the military in the territory,” Carlos Bresciani, a Jesuit priest who lives in the Tirúa village, in the area of conflict, told IPS.

“Here everything works fine, people live normally, they plant, they harvest, they run their errands, they work. The people who talk about an absence of the rule of law have never lived here. We are not at war. There are no bullets whizzing by or bombs destroying cities,” he said by telephone.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet receives the final report to address the urgent problems that face the Mapuche people, drafted by the Presidential Advisory Commission for La Araucanía, in a ceremony on Jan. 23, at the La Moneda Palace. Credit: Presidency of Chile

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet receives the final report to address the urgent problems that face the Mapuche people, drafted by the Presidential Advisory Commission for La Araucanía, in a ceremony on Jan. 23, at the La Moneda Palace. Credit: Presidency of Chile

Upon presenting the conclusions of the 20-member Commission, their leader, Catholic Bishop Héctor Vargas, said La Araucanía is a “wounded and fragmented region” that is facing a “gradual intensification of its problems.”

These problems, explained the bishop of Temuco, capital of La Araucanía, “involve a historical debt to the Mapuche people, the dramatic situation of the victims of rural violence, and the very worrying indicators which rank us as the poorest region in the country.”

La Araucanía and poverty

In the region, poverty by income fell from 27.9 to 23.6 per cent, but it is far above the national average of 11.7 per cent, according to the latest national survey.

Besides, the so-called multidimensional poverty affects more than 30 per cent of the people in the region, compared to a national average of 19.11 per cent.

In fact, in La Araucanía are five of the seven municipalities with the highest multidimensional poverty rates in Chile, and the average regional income is of 382 dollars a month, far below the national average of 562 dollars.

“The government has neglected this land and its people,” said Vargas, who added that these issues are difficult to address because “they generate contradictory positions and views and deep feelings of grief, impotence and resentment.”

The bishop called for an end to the violence “before hatred puts an end to us… If we want to disarm our hands, we have to first disarm our hearts.”

For José Aylwin, head of the non-governmental Citizen Observatory, the proposals of the Commission lack “a rights-based approach,” for example with respect to the occupied ancestral lands.

“A historical debt is recognised with respect to the Mapuche people, but there is no analysis of what this debt consists of, let alone the deep current and historical causes of this now existing violence in La Araucanía,” he told IPS.

”There is no reference to the violence carried out by the police against the Mapuche people or the promotion of the forestry industry which has resulted in the consolidation of a 1.5-million-hectare forest property to the south of the Bío Bío river,” said Aylwin.

The Commission´s proposal, he said, “acknowledges the existing political exclusion and proposes special forms of representation for indigenous people, but does not set forth other options such as autonomy and self-determination in areas of high indigenous density.”

“The bias towards productive development is clear, it refers to new productive activities, such as fruit orchards, but it includes wood pulp,” which is of interest to forestry companies, said the head of the Observatory.

Interior Minister Mario Fernández admitted during a parliamentary inquiry on Monday Jan. 23 that in La Araucanía “there is terrorism, but there is also an atmosphere of violence that has other roots.”

“We will not solve with repression or simple solutions a problem that has been going on for centuries. Rule of law doesn’t mean a right to repress, it means respecting the rights of people,” he said.

Bresciani stressed that the use of the word violence in La Araucanía “is tendentious and seeks to create a strained and clearly discriminatory climate around the social demands of the Mapuche people.”

“The term violence has been co-opted by right-wing business interests who want to create that scenario in order to justify further judicialisation and militarisation of the territory…therefore, measures of repression,” he said.

According to the priest, the violence in La Araucanía “is exercises by the political and extractionist neo-liberal economic model” and “there is an older cause which has to do with the usurpation of the lands that the Mapuche people used to have, which reduced them to poverty and humiliation.”

Bresciani considers that a solution will be found “when this conflict is seen as a political conflict, and not judicial or having to do with the police or with poverty. And from there, measures have to be taken to ensure the recognition of native peoples and return to them their lands.”

“They used to have 10 million hectares when they were invaded and now they have between 500,000 and 900,000,” he said.

Isolde Reuque Paillalef, one of the three women on the Commission and the only indigenous social leader, said “there is a new and knowledgeable vision,” after listening to the victims of violence on both sides.

But “it will also depend on who is supporting the most violent groups, because the violence is not just violence… there must be other interests involved,” she told IPS.

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A Crisis of Overweight and Obesity in Latin America and the Caribbeanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/a-crisis-of-overweight-and-obesity-in-latin-america-and-the-caribbean/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-crisis-of-overweight-and-obesity-in-latin-america-and-the-caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/a-crisis-of-overweight-and-obesity-in-latin-america-and-the-caribbean/#comments Mon, 23 Jan 2017 14:41:44 +0000 Eve Crowley http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148626 The change in the eating habits in Latin America and the Caribbean has led to an increase in overweight and obesity in the region. Credit: Eduardo Bermúdez / FAORLC

The change in the eating habits in Latin America and the Caribbean has led to an increase in overweight and obesity in the region. Credit: Eduardo Bermúdez / FAORLC

By Eve Crowley
SANTIAGO, Jan 23 2017 (IPS)

Obesity and overweight have spread like a wildfire throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, threatening the health, well-being and food and nutritional security of millions of people.

According to the new publication of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Panorama of Food and Nutrition Security, close to 58 percent of the inhabitants of the region are overweight (360 million people) while obesity affects 140 million people, 23 percent of the regional population.

In almost all countries of the region, overweight affects at least half the population, with the highest rates observed in the Bahamas (69 percent), Mexico (64 percent) and Chile (63 percent).

Over the last 20 years there has been a rapid increase in the prevalence of overweight and obesity across the population, regardless of their economic, ethnic or place of residence, although the risk is higher in net food-importing regions and countries, which consume more ultra-processed foods.

Eve Crowley, acting regional representative of FAO for Latin American and the Caribbean. Credit: Max Valencia/FAORLC

Eve Crowley, acting regional representative of FAO for Latin American and the Caribbean. Credit: Max Valencia/FAORLC

This situation is particularly serious for women, since in more than 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, the rate of female obesity is 10  percentage points higher than that of men. The impact has also been considerable in children: 3.9 million children under 5 live with overweight in our region, 2.5 million in South America, 1.1 million in Central America and 200 000 in the Caribbean.

How did we get here? According to FAO and PAHO, a key factor has been the change in the region’s eating habits.

Economic growth in recent decades, increased urbanization, higher average income and the integration of the region into international markets reduced the consumption of traditional preparations based on cereals, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables, and increased consumption of ultra-processed products, with high amounts of sugars, salt and fats.

To curb the rise in overweight and obesity, countries in the region can draw on some of the valuable experiences they gained in their fight against hunger. Today, undernourishment affects only 5.5 percent of the regional population, while stunting in children has also dropped from 24.5 percent in 1990 to 11.3 percent in 2015, a reduction of 7.8 million children.

However, it should be noted that although hunger has declined, it has not been eradicated: there are still 34 million people unable to access the food they require for a healthy and active life, which means that the region faces a double burden of malnutrition.

According to the FAO / PAHO Panorama, combating both malnutrition and obesity requires a healthy diet that includes fresh, healthy, nutritious and sustainably produced foods. The key to progress is to promote sustainable food systems that link agriculture, food, nutrition and health.

In order to eradicate all forms of malnutrition, States should encourage the sustainable production of fresh, safe and nutritious foods as well as ensuring their diversity, supply and access, especially for the most vulnerable in regions that are net importers of foods.

These measures should be complemented with policies to strengthen family farming, short production and food marketing circuits, public procurement systems linked to healthy school feeding programs and nutritional education programs.

Fiscal measures should also be implemented to discourage the consumption of junk food, improve food labeling and warnings with regard to high sugar, fat and salt content, and regulate the advertising of unhealthy foods to reduce their consumption.

These policies are more urgent than ever in light of the current signs of stagnation in regional economic growth, which pose a significant risk to food and nutrition security.

Governments should maintain and increase their support to the most vulnerable to avoid undoing their advances in the fight against hunger and to reverse the current rise in obesity and overweight, working together through initiatives such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States’s Plan for Food Security, Nutrition and Hunger Eradication.

Although there are significant variations according to subregions and countries, Latin America and the Caribbean considered as a whole has a food availability that far surpasses the requirements of all its population, thanks to its great agricultural performance. However, in several countries, this process of agricultural development is currently unsustainable, due to the consequences it is having on the ecosystems of the region. The sustainability of food supply and its future diversity are under threat unless we change the way we do things.

The region must make more efficient and sustainable use of land and other natural resources. Countries must improve their techniques of food production, storage and processing, and put a stop to food losses and waste, as 127 million tons of food end up in the trash every year in Latin America and the Caribbean.

To meet the Sustainable Development Goals, and especially SDG2 / Zero Hunger, which aims to eradicate undernourishment by 2030, the region needs to act on the complex interactions between food security, sustainability, agriculture, nutrition and health, to build a hunger and malnutrition free Latin America and the Caribbean.

The eradication of hunger and malnutrition is not a task that can be left to the indifferent hand of the market. On the contrary, governments must exercise their will and sovereignty to develop specific public policies that attack the conditions that perpetuate hunger, overweight and obesity, as well as their consequences on the health of adults and children. Only by turning the fight against malnutrition into State policy can we put a stop to the rise of malnutrition in the region.

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360 Million of 625 Million People Are Overweight in Latin America and Caribbeanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/360-million-of-625-million-people-are-overweight-in-latin-america-and-caribbean/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=360-million-of-625-million-people-are-overweight-in-latin-america-and-caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/360-million-of-625-million-people-are-overweight-in-latin-america-and-caribbean/#comments Fri, 20 Jan 2017 18:36:14 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148612 FAO acting regional representative Eve Crowley (C) during the launch of the Panorama of Food and Nutrition Security in Latin America and the Caribbean 2016, at FAO headquarters in Santiago. The report , where it was warned that overweight affects 360 million people in the region. Credit: FAO

FAO acting regional representative Eve Crowley (C) during the launch of the Panorama of Food and Nutrition Security in Latin America and the Caribbean 2016, at FAO headquarters in Santiago. The report , where it was warned that overweight affects 360 million people in the region. Credit: FAO

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Jan 20 2017 (IPS)

In Latin America and the Caribbean 360 million people are overweight, and 140 million are obese, warned the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Panamerican Health Organisation (PAHO).

“The rise in obesity is very worrying. At the same time the number of people who suffer from hunger has diminished in the region. We need to strengthen our efforts and have food systems with improved nutrition based on sustainable production methods to reduce those figures,” Eve Crowley, FAO acting regional representative, said Thursday at the organisation‘s headquarters in Santiago.

At the regional FAO office in Santiago on Thursday Jan. 19 the two organisations launched the Panorama of Food and Nutrition Security in Latin America and the Caribbean 2016, which sounded the alarm about the phenomenon in this region of just over 625 million people.

The problem, highlighted the report, largely affects children and women, increasing chronic diseases, driving up medical expenses for countries and individuals, and posing a threat to the quality of the future labour force that national development plans will require.

At the same time, the region has considerably reduced hunger: today only 5.5 per cent of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean is undernourished, the Caribbean being the area with the highest prevalence (19.8 per cent), largely because Haiti has the highest malnutrition rate in the world: 53.4 per cent.

Chronic child malnutrition (low height for age) in Latin America and the Caribbean also dropped, from 24.5 per cent in 1990 to 11.3 per cent in 2015, which translates into a decrease of 7.8 million children.

Despite the progress made, currently 6.1 million children still suffer from chronic malnutrition: 3.3 million in South America, 2.6 million in Central America, and 200,000 in the Caribbean. About 700,000 million children suffer from acute malnutrition, 1.3 per cent of them under the age of five.

Asked whether the difficulty of access to natural, good quality foods is due to the high prices or to a flawed production and distribution system, Crowley told IPS that it is “a combination of factors“.

“We talk about a food system because it involves a set of factors – from supplies to which foods are available at a national level. For example in Latin America there is a great availability of sugary foods and meat. But ensuring physical availability and access to nutritious, healthy, affordable fresh food in every neighborhood is still hard to achieve,” she said.

“There is evidence that food high in bad calories, from ultra-processed sources, is less expensive than healthy food, and this poses a dilemma to guaranteeing good nutrition for the entire population, particularly people in low-income households,” she said.

Crowley said there are changes in consumption patterns, with people shifting away from their traditional diets based on legumes, cereals, fruits and vegetables toward super-processed foods rich in saturated fats, sugar and sodium, which are backed by extensive advertising.

A girl wearing traditional dress from Bolivia’s highlands region shows a basket with fruit during a school exhibit in La Paz to promote good eating habits among students.. Programmes to promote healthy eating are spreading through schools in Latin America, to address problems such as malnutrition and overweight. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

A girl wearing traditional dress from Bolivia’s highlands region shows a basket with fruit during a school exhibit in La Paz to promote good eating habits among students.. Programmes to promote healthy eating are spreading through schools in Latin America, to address problems such as malnutrition and overweight. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

She called for better information, nutrition warnings, taxes on unhealthy foods, and subsidies for healthy foods necessary for the population.

With the exception of Haiti (38.5 per cent), Paraguay (48.5 per cent) and Nicaragua (49.4 per cent), overweight affects more than half of the population of the countries in the region, with Chile (63 per cent), Mexico (64 per cent) and the Bahamas (69 per cent) showing the highest rates, states the report.

Erick Espinoza, a physical education teacher in a private school in a middle-class neighborhood in Santiago, sees the problem of the change in eating and behavioural habits of his students, aged six to 10, which is a reflection of what is happening throughout the region, and in particular in the countries with the highest overweight and obesity rates.

“As snacks, they don’t bring fruit, only potato chips, crackers or cookies, fizzy drinks, juice or milk high in sugar. And they don’t just bring a small package, but sometimes two or three packages or even a big one,” he told IPS, referring to the snack during recess.

Since 2016, kiosks that sell food in Chilean schools have been prohibited from selling foods high in sugar, sodium or fat. “They have to sell fruit, but the kiosk is not doing well because the children don’t buy fruit or yoghurt, but bring other things from home,“ said the teacher.

Alexandra Carmona, a teacher at a municipal school for children aged four to 17 in a low-income neighborhood in Santiago, pointed to a different problem.

“There was an obese boy who was really bullied. Everybody would say ‘hey fattie‘, ‘hey grease ball‘. So I called the parents to tell them what was happening, but they didn’t give it any importance,“ she told IPS. The boy ended up in a special school even though he had no learning disability.

At her school, the school provides meals, but many children won‘t accept the legumes and balanced diet that is offered.

The Panorama reports that 7.2 per cent of children under five years old in the region are overweight, which means a total of 3.9 million children, including 2.5 million in South America, 1.1 million in Central America and 200,000 in the Caribbean.

The countries with the highest rates of overweight in children under five years old are Barbados (12 per cent), Paraguay (11.7 per cent), Argentina (9.9 per cent), and Chile (9.3 per cent).

The report also points out that several countries have adopted taxes on sugary beverages, including Barbados, Chile, Dominican Republic and Mexico, while others such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile have laws on healthy nutrition which regulate advertising and labeling of food products.

With respect to the countries that stand out in sales per person of ultra-processed products, the report says that Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Uruguay exceed the regional average of 129.6 kilograms per inhabitant. Mexico ranks first, with 214 kg per inhabitant, and Chile is second with 201.9 kg.

In 30 of the 33 countries studied , more than half of the population over 18 is overweight, and in 20 of them obesity among women is at least 10 percent higher than among men.

According to PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne, “the region is facing a two-fold burden of malnutrition, which has to be fought with a balanced diet which includes fresh, healthy and nutritious foods, produced in a sustainable manner, besides addressing the main social factors that lead to malnutrition.”

In addition to the lack of access to healthy foods, she mentioned the difficulty of access to clean water and sewage services, education and health services, and social protection programmes, among others.

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Social Networks in Mexico Both Fuel and Fight Discontenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/social-networks-in-mexico-both-fuel-and-fight-discontent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=social-networks-in-mexico-both-fuel-and-fight-discontent http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/social-networks-in-mexico-both-fuel-and-fight-discontent/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2017 19:38:01 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148584 The social networks have played an important role in citizens’ initiatives to organise protests against the gas price hike in Mexico and in the government’s strategy to curb cyber-activism. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The social networks have played an important role in citizens’ initiatives to organise protests against the gas price hike in Mexico and in the government’s strategy to curb cyber-activism. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jan 19 2017 (IPS)

The scene in the video is simple: a bearded man with a determined look on his face sitting in front of a white wall witha portrait of Emiliano Zapata, symbol of the Mexican revolution.

“Mexicans to the battle cry, the moment has come to overthrow the corrupt political system we are under, it is now or never. We will show what we are made of. With just two steps we will be able to write a new history, which our children and grandchildren will also enjoy,” lawyer Amín Cholác says emphatically.

In the video titled “Mexicans to the cry of: Peña out!,” Cholác urges people to take part in demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience against the rise in fuel prices adopted Jan. 1 by the government of conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto.

“I made this video because we cannot stand it anymore, this country cannot take it any longer,” the founder of the non-governmental organisation Dos Valles Valientes, who lives in the southern state of Chiapas, told IPS.

The video has thousands of views on Youtube, and in other video networks, and has also spread over Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp.

“It has been well received, people from all over the country have joined, they have communicated via social networks or by phone. But I have also been threatened, they put an image of hitmen, they insulted my mother, but if I had been scared, I wouldn’t have done it,” said Cholác.

The activist, whose organisation fights increases in electricity rates, said “the networks are a double-edged sword. They have worked extraordinarily well for us, because they are very accessible and cheap. Whatsapp reaches every corner, as do text messages.”

But activists are also threatened through the networks, said Cholác, whose Facebook account was cloned twice. “I opened another one, and I promised myself that for every Facebook account that was cloned, I would open three,” he said.

The video’s wide dissemination reflects the growing use of the Internet in Mexico to drive political and social movements, such as the resistance to fuel price increases. But the social networks also serve to promote counter-attacks against citizen initiatives by the political powers-that-be and the spreading of misinformation and propaganda by the other side.

The up to 20 per cent hike in fuel prices unleashed the latent social discontent, with dozens of protests, looting of shops, roadblocks, and blockades of border crossings throughout the country, as well as a wave of lawsuits filed by trade unions and organisations of farmers, students and shopkeepers.

The simultaneous price rises for fuel, electricity and cooking gas were a spark in a climate of discontent over the public perception of growing impunity, corruption and social inequality.

The protests, which have waned somewhat but show no signs of stopping, have led to at least six deaths, the arrests of 1,500 people, and the looting of dozens of stores.

 Topics addressed by accounts implicated in the dissemination of fear messages in the social networks to neutralise the protests against the fuel price hikes in Mexico, which were also promoted over the same networks.  Credit: Courtesy of Rossana Reguillo


Topics addressed by accounts implicated in the dissemination of fear messages in the social networks to neutralise the protests against the fuel price hikes in Mexico, which were also promoted over the same networks. Credit: Courtesy of Rossana Reguillo

“The protests in response to the price rises arose from spontaneous calls disseminated on WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter. A call started to circulate for people to not fill their gas tanks for three days, and around new year’s day the calls for protests started, mainly along the border,” said Alberto Escorcia, with the group Loquesigue TV.

On Jan. 4, the group published an analysis of the rumours and calls to violence, which were fed by 650 Twitter accounts and more than 7,600 messages – allegedly false accounts used to fight back against the protests.

As a result of the group’s publications, Escorcia received threats, he told IPS.

According to a study carried out last year, in 2015 Internet penetration in Mexico was 59 per cent, in a population of 122 million, in spite of there being almost one mobile phone per inhabitant. This is an indication of the relative power of digital democracy in this country.

Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Twitter are the social networks preferred by Mexicans.

“Between Jan. 2 and 3 the ‘gasolinazo’ (the price rise) was going to be an important trending topic, because it is a noble theme, in the sense that it attracts a variety of sectors and affects society as a whole,” expert Rossana Reguillo told IPS.

“But on Jan. 4, the countertrend started. ‘Bots’ and ‘trolls’ gained visibility, giving rise to other trends. The (protests against the) gasolinazo started to lose ground,” said Reguillo, the head of the interdisciplinary laboratory Signa Lab, at the private Western Institute of Technology and Higher Education.

The lab examined Twitter and detected more than 10,000 accounts involved in the dissemination of some 15,000 messages aimed at neutralising the social unrest. Standing out in this effort were the online groups Legión Hulk and SomosSecta100tifika (which translates into ‘We are a scientific sect‘). The latter promotes the trending topic #GolpeDeEstadoMx (Pro Coup D’etat Mexico).

This counteroffensive shows how the citizens‘ online mobilisation triggers a response from the powers under attack, as well as threats against activists, such as the ones received by Cholác and Escorcia.

“We have found a pattern of fear-mongering and anonymous calls similar to what we saw ahead of the inauguration of Peña Nieto (in December 2012), when weeks before, rumours of looting began to circulate,” said Escorcia.

In his opinion, “this time there was greater damage, because the fear of going out and the encouragement for people to get involved in the looting spread from the web to the streets,” he said.

A precedent to this was the reaction sparked by the notorious quote by then Attorney-General Jesús Murillo, who said “I´ve had enough“ in November 2014, referring to the unresolved case of the forced disappearance in September of that year of 43 student teachers in Ayotzinapa, in the southern state of Guerrero.

That expression generated the trending topic on Twitter #YaMeCansé (“I‘ve had enough“), as well as an attempt to neutralise it.

A study “On the influence of social bots in online protests; Preliminary findings of a Mexican case study“, published last September by academics from Mexico and the United States, concluded that there was an important presence of bots, which simulate human beings, affecting discussions online about the case of the missing students.

This phenomenon is widespread, and in Latin America the experts consulted by IPS mention in particular the case of Brazil, during the lengthy process that lead to former president Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment and removal from office, in August 2016.

Their hypothesis is that companies dedicated to these services work for governments and political parties to silence online dissent.

In the case of Mexico, Escorcia said “there are companies that generate anything from online attacks to fake news items and political campaigns, which have worked for all kinds of organisations: left-wing, right-wing, and obviously for the PRI,” the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party.

For Reguillo, who has also been a victim of social network attacks on several occasions, the main question is who is behind this cyber activity.

“There is money involved here, it’s not a group of young people who say ‘let‘s crash the web‘. There is a clear strategy to silence debate, to invade the public space and turn Twitter into a battlefield. They destabilise the space for discussion,” she commented.

“Nobody can stop this. People have become aware and are protesting,” said Cholác, who is calling for mass demonstrations on Feb. 5.

Another fuel price hike scheduled for early February will spark further online battles.

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Ordinary Citizens Help Drive Spread of Solar Power in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/ordinary-citizens-help-drive-spread-of-solar-power-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ordinary-citizens-help-drive-spread-of-solar-power-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/ordinary-citizens-help-drive-spread-of-solar-power-in-chile/#comments Sat, 14 Jan 2017 00:44:14 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148502 Panels at the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first plant in Chile financed with shares sold to citizens, are ready to generate 10 KW, 75 per cent of which will be consumed by the participating households while the remainder will go into the national grid. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Panels at the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first plant in Chile financed with shares sold to citizens, are ready to generate 10 KW, 75 per cent of which will be consumed by the participating households while the remainder will go into the national grid. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Jan 14 2017 (IPS)

Chile, Latin America’s leader in solar energy, is starting the new year with an innovative step: the development of the country´s first citizens solar power plant.

This South American country of nearly 18 million people has projects in non-conventional renewable energies (NCRE) for a combined total of nine billion dollars over the next four years, in the effort to reduce its heavy dependency on fossil fuels, which still generate more than 55 per cent of the country’s electricity.

Socialist President Michelle Bachelet’s 2014 Energy Agenda involves the participation of international investors, large power companies, the mining industry, agriculture, and academia.

Now ecologists have come up with the first project that incorporates citizens in the production and profits generated by NCRE, in particular solar power.

The small 10-KW photovoltaic plant will use solar power to generate electricity for the participating households and the surplus will go into the national power grid.

This will allow the “citizen shareholders“ taking part in the initiative to receive profits based on the annual inflation rate plus an additional two per cent.

“The objective is to create a way for citizens to participate in the benefits of solar power and the process of the democratisation of energy,“ said Manuel Baquedano, head of the Institute of Political Ecology, which is behind the initiative.

The Buin 1 Solar Plant will start operating commercially this month in Buin, a suburb on the south side of Santiago. Its main client is the Centre for Sustainable Technology, which from now on will be supplied with the power produced by the plant.

“In Chile we have experienced an important development of solar energy, as a consequence of the pressure from citizens who did not want more hydroelectric dams. This paved the way for developing NCREs,“ Baquedano told IPS.

“But solar power development has been concentrated in major undertakings, with solar plants that mainly supply the mining industry. And the possibility for all citizens to be able to benefit from this direct energy source had not been addressed yet.”

General map of the location of the Centre for Sustainable Technology, where future technicians in non-renewable energies study, and which is the main client of the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first citizen solar power plant in Chile. Credit: Courtesy of Camino Solar

General map of the location of the Centre for Sustainable Technology, where future technicians in non-renewable energies study, and which is the main client of the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first citizen solar power plant in Chile. Credit: Courtesy of Camino Solar

The environmentalist said “we decided to organise a business model to install these community solar power plants using citizen investments, since there was no support from the state or from private companies.”

The model consists of setting up a plant where there is a client who is willing to buy 75 per cent of the energy produced, and the remaining power is sold to the national grid.

The Buin 1 Solar Plant required an investment of about 18,500 dollars, divided in 240 shares of some 77 dollars each. The project will be followed by similar initiatives, possibly in San Pedro de Atacama, in the north of the country, Curicó in central Chile, or Coyhaique in Patagonia in the south.

The partners include engineers, journalists, psychologists, farmers, small business owners, and even indigenous communities from different municipalities, interested in replicating this model.

The subway, another example

A symbolic illustration of progress made with solar power is the Santiago Metro or subway. It was announced that 42 per cent of the energy that it will use as of November 2017 will come from the El Pelicano solar power project.

This plant, owned by the company SunPower, is located in the municipality La Higuera, 400 km north of Santiago, and it cost 250 million dollars to build.

“The subway is a clean means of transport… we want to be a sustainable company, and what is happening now is a major step, since we are aiming for 60 per cent NCREs by 2018,” said Fernando Rivas, the company´s assistant manager of environment.

El Pelícano, with an expected generation of 100 MW, “will use 254,000 solar panels, which will supply 300 gigawatt hours a year, equivalent to the consumption of 125,000 Chilean households,” said Manuel Tagle, general manager of SunPower.

Dionisio Antiquera, a farmer from the Diaguita indigenous community from northern Chile, who lives in Cerrillos de Tamaya, in Ovalle, 400 km north of Santiago, bought a share because “I like renewable energy and because it gives participation to citizens, to the poor.“

“There are many ways of participating in a cooperative,” he told IPS by phone.

Jimena Jara, assistant secretary for the Ministry of Energy, underlined the progress made in the development of NCREs and estimated that “investment in this sector could reach about nine billion dollars between 2017 and 2020.“

“Considering the projects that are currently in the stage of testing in our power grids, more than 60 per cent of the new generation capacity between 2014 and the end of 2016 will be non-conventional renewable energies,” she told IPS.

”Chile has set itself the target for 70 per cent of power generation to come from renewable sources by 2050, and 60 per cent by 2035. We know that we are making good progress, and that we are going to reach our goal with an environmentally sustainable and economically efficient energy supply,” said Jara.

This boom in NCREs in Chile, particularly solar and wind power, is underpinned by numbers, such as the reduction of the cost of electricity.

As of November 2016, the annual average marginal cost of energy in Chile´s central power grid, SIC, which covers a large part of the national territory, was 61 dollars per mega-watt hour (MWh), a fall of more than 60 per cent with respect to 2013 prices.

SIC´s Power Dispatch Center said that this marginal cost, which sets the transfer value between generating companies, is the lowest in 10 years, and was lower than the 91.3 dollars per MWh in 2015 and the nearly 200 MWh in 2011 and 2012, caused by the intensive use of diesel.

David Watts, of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile Electrical Engineering Department, told IPS that “solar and wind energy have offered competitive costs for quite some time,” and for this reason have permanently changed Chile´s energy mix.

“In the past, Chile did not even appear in the renewable energy rankings. Now it ranks first in solar power in Latin America and second in wind power,” he said.

The expert said “this energy is spreading and we expect it to continue to do so over the next couple of years, when the battery of projects that were awarded contracts in the last tendering process of regulated clients,” those which consume less than 500 KW, come onstream.

Once the economy recovers from the current weak growth levels, “we hope that a significant proportion of our supply contracts with our non-regulated clients (with a connected power of at least 500 KW) will also be carried out with competitive solar and wind power projects,“ said Watts.

“There is no turning back from this change. From now on, some conventional project may occasionally be installed if its costs are really competitive,“ he said.

Watts, who is also a consultant on renewable energies at the Ministry of Energy, pointed out that the growth in solar and wind power was also driven by changes in the country’s legislation, which enabled energy to be offered in blocks, and permitted the simultaneous connection of NCREs to the grid.

The report New Energy Finance Climatescope, by Bloomberg and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), ranked Chile as the country that invests the most in clean energies in Latin America, only surpassed by China in the index, which studies the world’s major emerging economies.

Commenting on the report, published on December 14, Bachelet said “we invested 3.2 billion dollars last year (2015), focusing on solar power, especially in solar photovoltaic installations, and we are also leading in other non-conventional renewable energies.”

“We said it three years ago, that Chile would change its energy mix, and now I say with pride that we have made progress towards cleaner and more sustainable energies,“ she said.

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The Cuban Recession and the Introduction of Public Bondshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/the-cuban-recession-and-the-introduction-of-public-bonds/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-cuban-recession-and-the-introduction-of-public-bonds http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/the-cuban-recession-and-the-introduction-of-public-bonds/#comments Fri, 13 Jan 2017 00:01:05 +0000 Pavel Vidal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148497 The boom in tourist arrivals, especially from the United States, like those sitting outside the restaurants in one of Havana’s streets, has been insufficient to avoid Cuba’s recession during 2016. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The boom in tourist arrivals, especially from the United States, like those sitting outside the restaurants in one of Havana’s streets, has been insufficient to avoid Cuba’s recession during 2016. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Pável Vidal
CALI, Colombia, Jan 13 2017 (IPS)

The macroeconomic data for the close of the year provided by the Cuban government confirms the projections that Cuba would enter a recession as a result of the Venezuelan shock.

In 2016 the production of goods and services decreased by 0.9 per cent. This is the first economic recession since 1993, when the gross domestic product (GDP) dropped 15 per cent after the disappearance of the Soviet Union.

Since late 2014, after the dramatic oil price drop and the subsequent crisis of the Venezuelan economy, the Cuban recession was highly likely, if we add an insufficient response of the Cuban economic policy in the face of the magnitude of the shock that was approaching.

Relations with Venezuela are formed under very singular agreements between both governments, with prices and financial facilities that are distant from the usual practices in international trade.

Therefore, it’s not simply a question of seeking new markets for the trade that can no longer be carried out with Venezuela, but rather it has to be done in a different way and boosting new economic sectors given that it seems rather improbable that someone else will receive Cuban doctors and sell us cheap oil under the same conditions.

That is why it was so important to start as soon as possible the diversification of international relations and the liberalisation of the domestic capacities in search of increased productivity and greater efficiency in national production. The attraction on a large scale of foreign investment, the devaluation of the official exchange rate and the monetary convergence, a more in-depth reform of state enterprise and the expansion of spaces for the private sector and the cooperatives were some of the steps that seemed feasible and coherent with the reforms already initiated.

Why were some or all these steps not taken? Multiple explanations can be offered.

Because there isn’t clarity or conviction about where the Cuban economic model should be directed. Because the forces resisting the changes have won the game for the time being. Because the need for so many changes surpasses the institutional and technical capacity to manage them all at the same time. Because the U.S. embargo continues preventing the arrival of institutional foreign investors. Because it is really believed that a very slow reform and making experiments is the only effective means. And surely some other explanations could be added.

No matter the reason, the final result is that the reforms have slowed down instead of being speeded up, and after 10 years there are no very encouraging results when examining productivity, the mean wage or a specific sector like agriculture.

The announcements of new transformations are increasingly more dilated. Cuba seems to be living in a different time dimension; it is as if one year in Cuba is equivalent to a month in the rest of the planet.

However, the space in which the economy operates is not isolated, it competes with other destinations for international capital, it is technologically backward, it loses relative weight in the region and suffers the cycles of the international markets and the crisis of its principal economic allies.

Economist and University Professor Pável Vidal. Credit: Universidad Javeriana de Cali

Economist and University Professor Pável Vidal. Credit: Universidad Javeriana de Cali

Perspectives for 2017 and the role of public bonds

For 2017 the government is planning an improvement in the situation of the economy, something that is contrary to the projections we had made. The government is planning a two per cent GDP growth.

This GDP growth for 2017 is based on two essential factors. First, the hope that the Venezuelan economic situation improves after the recent increases in the price per barrel of oil; and second, the Cuban government is putting into practice an anti-cyclical expansive fiscal policy.

In his December 27 speech at the National Assembly, Economy and Planning Minister Ricardo Cabrisas stated that “The projections of the energy sources for next year allow for backing similar levels as those of 2016….”

It is very probable that this perspective has as its point of departure the increase presented in the price per barrel of oil during the last three quarters and some international projections that place it at higher levels for 2017, which favours the performance of the Venezuelan economy and opens the possibility that the sending of oil to the island and the payments for Cuban medical services will be stabilised.

On the other hand, an increase in public spending and the fiscal deficit is projected to back the GDP growth. An 11 per cent increase in fiscal spending has been planned, but it will not be able to be covered by the fiscal incomes, which is why it will generate a “fiscal hole” of 11.5 billion pesos in 2017, which represents a value equivalent to 12 per cent of the GDP.

In terms of percentages it is the highest fiscal deficit since 1993; in shares it more than doubles the deficit of 1993 which was five billion pesos.

It is favourable that after years of fiscal austerity the government has decided to expand public spending to cushion the recessive effect of the Venezuelan crisis. It is valid to apply an expansive fiscal policy at a time of a GDP drop.

It is also correct to finance the fiscal deficit with the emission of public bonds, which the Cuban state banks will purchase. This is a new instrument that the Finances and Prices Ministry has been introducing for two years with a view to avoiding the monetisation (printing of new money) as a mechanism for the financing of the fiscal deficit.

This fiscal financing mechanism tends to approach international practices, and its principal advantage is to avoid an increase in the primary amount of money, with which inflationary pressures are reduced.

Where are the risks of the expansive fiscal policy and the emission of bonds?

Firstly, the fiscal deficit can grow in times of crisis, but must not do so disproportionately or keep being indefinitely high. It is right to apply an anti-cyclical fiscal policy, but having a fiscal hole of 12 per cent of the GDP in 2017 creates doubts about the financial sustainability of the entire financing mechanism that is being put into practice. To have a point of comparison, it is expected that the countries conserve, in an average of several years, a fiscal deficit of less than three per cent of the GDP.

It should be taken into account that the foreign investors, money lenders and international suppliers themselves will be the first to be viewing this indicator of fiscal balance. On an international level it is one of the principal indicators that are taken into account to evaluate the prudence of the economic policy and that define the country’s financial risk.

Secondly, the emission of public bonds reduces the inflationary effects but does not eliminate them completely. The expansion of the fiscal spending by 11.5 billion pesos over the incomes can put pressure on the increase of prices given the disproportionate expansion that it is activating in the demand for goods and services.

Thirdly, Cuba does not have a fiscal regulation that organises and places limits on the long-term fiscal balance (as other countries in the region have), but rather it depends on the government’s discretion each year. That is to say, we don’t know what is going to happen with the fiscal deficits in the future. We are not sure that the bonds being issued and the next ones that will be issued will be managed adequately to guarantee the sustainability of the entire mechanism.

It should be taken into account that the banks are using family savings to buy public bonds, therefore the government has the responsibility of obtaining future fiscal incomes and balance the public accounts to comply with the commitments made to the banks and, ultimately, to the holders of savings accounts.

To have an idea of the magnitude of the deficit and the resulting emissions of public bonds, we see that in 2015 family savings in the banks amounted to 23.68 billion Cuban pesos.

Therefore, the budgeted fiscal deficit for 2017 is equivalent to 48 per cent of the value of family savings accounts. The banks certainly also have enterprises’ deposits and their own capital. Even so, this proportion of 48 per cent calls attention to the little financing space that the Finances and Prices Ministry would have in the future to support high fiscal deficits.

In short, the two per cent projected growth for 2017 in the Cuban economy depends on a situation that continues to be uncertain for the Venezuelan economy, despite the increase in oil prices. In addition, it is accompanied by an expansive fiscal policy that if well used can help manage the crisis, but if not, would have disastrous consequences for the country’s monetary and financial stability.

The activation of an anti-cyclical fiscal policy and emission of public bonds is a correct step, but a fiscal deficit that is equivalent to 12 per cent of the GDP and 48 per cent of the family bank savings seems exaggerated.

It would not be possible to repeat the fiscal expansion in 2018; rather, it would be indispensable to make a fiscal adjustment that decreases significantly the deficit in the coming years.

Therefore, the government is only gaining one year of time, in which it must apply some of the pending and necessary structural reforms to firmly take the economy out of the recession.

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Looting and Unrest Spread in Mexico Over Gas Price Hikehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/looting-and-unrest-spread-in-mexico-over-gas-price-hike/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=looting-and-unrest-spread-in-mexico-over-gas-price-hike http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/looting-and-unrest-spread-in-mexico-over-gas-price-hike/#comments Wed, 11 Jan 2017 22:07:56 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148484 Exasperated by the government's performance in economic and social matters, thousands of Mexicans have protested since January 1 against the rise in oil prices, in demonstrations that have already left at least six dead, and led to looting and roadblocks. One of the demonstrations had its epicentre in the symbolic Independence Angel, on Paseo de la Reforma, in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Exasperated by the government's performance in economic and social matters, thousands of Mexicans have protested since January 1 against the rise in oil prices, in demonstrations that have already left at least six dead, and led to looting and roadblocks. One of the demonstrations had its epicentre in the symbolic Independence Angel, on Paseo de la Reforma, in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jan 11 2017 (IPS)

“We are absolutely fed up with the government’s plundering and arbitrary decisions. We don´t deserve what they’re doing to us,“ said Marisela Campos during one of the many demonstrations against the government´s decision to raise fuel prices.

Campos, a homemaker and mother of two, came to Mexico City from Yautepec, 100 km to the south, to protest the recent economic decisions taken by the administration of conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto.

“Everything’s going to go up because of the gasolinazo“ – the popular term given the 14 to 20 per cent increase in fuel prices as of Jan.1, said Campos, while she held a banner against the measure, in a Monday Jan. 9 demonstration.

The measure unleashed the latent social discontent, with dozens of protests, looting of shops, roadblocks, and blockades of border crossings throughout the country, carried out by trade unions, organisations of farmers, students and shopkeepers.“It is too big of an increase. It is a very big, direct and precise blow to people's pockets. They are feeling it. People do not understand the reform, because they don't read laws, not even those on taxes.“ -- Nicolás Domínguez

The simultaneous price hikes for fuel, electricity and domestic gas were a spark in a climate of discontent over growing impunity, corruption and social inequality.

The protests, which show no signs of subsiding, have led to at least six deaths, some 1,500 people arrested, and dozens of stores looted.

“We are opposed to Peña Nieto’s way of governing. The price rises and budget cutbacks have been going on since 2014. Now there will be an increase in the cost of the basic food basket and transport rates,“ Claudia Escobar, who lives on the south side of Mexico City, told IPS during another demonstration.

Escobar, a mother of three, decided to join the protests because of what she described as “serious social disintegration and turmoil.“

In response to the social discontent, the government argued that the price rises were in response to the increase in international oil prices since the last quarter of 2016, and insisted that without this measure, budget cuts with a much more damaging social impact would have been necessary.
But the rise has its origin more in the elimination of a fuel subsidy which up to 2014 absorbed at least 10 billion dollars a year, as well as in the state-run oil company Pemex’s limited productive capacity.

To this must be added the government’s tax collection policy, where taxes account for 30 per cent of the price of gasoline.

In addition, energy authorities seek to make the fuel market more attractive, because its freeing up is part of the energy reform which came into force in 2014, and opened the oil and power industries to private capital.

Peña Nieto, in office since December 2012, promised Mexicans that this energy reform would guarantee cheap gasoline for the domestic market.

Pemex’s oil extraction has been in decline since 2011, and in 2016 it fell 4.54 per cent in relation to the previous year.

In November, crude oil production amounted to 2.16 million barrels a day, the lowest level in three decades, due to an alleged lack of resources to invest in the modernisation of infrastructure.

Gas and diesel production suffered a similar decline over the past two years, with a 15.38 per cent decrease between 2015 and 2016, when Pemex refined 555,200 barrels equivalent a day of both fuels combined.

This forced a rise in fuel imports, mainly from the United States, with Mexico importing in November 663,300 barrels equivalent a day, 15.88 per cent more than in the same month the previous year.

Traditionally, Pemex contributed 33 per cent of the national budget, but the collapse in international prices since 2014, and its contraction in activity, reduced its contribution to 20 per cent, which compels the government to obtain income from other sources.

For Nicolás Domínguez, an academic at the state Autonomous Metropolitan University, the government is facing the complex situation with “simplistic and incomplete“ explanations.

“It is too big of an increase. It is a very big, direct and precise blow to people’s pockets. They are feeling it. People do not understand the reform, because they don’t read laws, not even those on taxes.“ he told IPS.

But the public “do understand when they go shopping and they can’t afford to buy what they need. That makes them angry. And when they ask for explanations, the government tells them that in United States gasoline prices have gone up, that they have gone up everywhere.”

The common prediction of critics of the gasolinazo is its impact on the cost of living, which in the last few months has been spiraling upwards, with inflation standing at around 3.4 per cent by the end of the year, according to still provisional figures.

The non-governmental organisation El Barzón, which groups agricultural producers, warns that the price of essential goods could climb by 40 per cent over the next months.

“It is likely that there will be serious repercussions on national agricultural production and in households,“ the organisation’s spokesman, Uriel Vargas, told IPS. He predicted that the impact of the rise in fuel prices will be “an increase in the levels of inequality, which are already a major problem.”

For Vargas, “the government must take action to avoid a rise in prices.“

According to 2014 official figures, 46 percent of Mexico’s 122 million people were living in poverty – a proportion that has likely increased in the last two years, social scientists agree.

The gasolinazo canceled out the four percent rise in the minimum wage adopted this month, which brought the monthly minimum to 120 dollars a month.

As demonstrated by the Centre for Multidisciplinary Analyses of the Mexico National Autonomous University, the minimum monthly wage, earned by about six million workers, does not satisfy basic needs.

In its “Research Report 126. The minimum salary: a crime against the Mexican people,“ the Centre concluded that the minimum wage has lost 11 per cent in buying power since Peña Nieto took office.

The study states that it takes three minimum wages just to put food on the table.

To make matters worse, Mexico’s economic growth will range only between 1.5 and 2 per cent, and a further weakening of the economy is possible, according to several projections, due to the impact of the protectionist policies of Donald Trump, who will take office as U.S. president on Jan. 20.

In an attempt to calm things down, Peña Nieto presented this Monday Jan. 9 an “Agreement for Economic Strengthening and Protection of the Domestic Economy,“ which includes a 10 per cent cut in the highest public sector wages.

But for observers, these are merely bandaid measures.

“What the government wants is to calm people down. These are small remedies and what people want is a drop in gas prices. The question is what direction do they want Mexico to move in. If it is about improving the well-being of families, this is not the best way. If the demonstrations spread, the government will have to back down,“ said Domínguez.

For people such as Campos and Escobar, the starting point is reversing the increase in oil prices.

“We will persist until the rise is reverted and there is a change,“ said Campos, while Escobar added “we hope that they understand that we will not stay quiet.“

On February 4 there will be another price adjustment, another spark to the burning plain that Mexico has become.

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