Inter Press Service » Latin America & the Caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 26 Jan 2015 20:19:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 Cuba and U.S. Skirt Obstacles to Normalisation of Tieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuba-and-u-s-skirt-obstacles-to-normalisation-of-ties/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuba-and-u-s-skirt-obstacles-to-normalisation-of-ties http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuba-and-u-s-skirt-obstacles-to-normalisation-of-ties/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 20:15:35 +0000 Patricia Grogg and Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138835 The Cuban (left) and U.S. delegations on the last day of the first round of talks for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, Jan. 23, in Havana’s convention centre. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The Cuban (left) and U.S. delegations on the last day of the first round of talks for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, Jan. 23, in Havana’s convention centre. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

*By Patricia Grogg and Ivet González
HAVANA, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

The biggest discrepancies in the first meeting to normalise relations between Cuba and the United States, after more than half a century, were over the issue of human rights. But what stood out in the talks was a keen interest in forging ahead, in a process led by two women.

After a meeting with representatives of Cuba’s dissident groups, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson reiterated on Jan. 23 that the questions of democracy and human rights are crucial for her country in the bilateral talks, while stressing that there are “deep” differences with Havana on these points.

But the head of the Washington delegation said these discrepancies would not be an obstacle in the negotiations for restoring diplomatic ties – a goal that was announced simultaneously by Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro on Dec. 17.

In her statement to the media after her two-day official visit to Havana, Jacobson added that her country’s new policy towards Cuba is aimed at greater openness with more rights and freedoms.

Nor does independent journalist Miriam Leiva, founder of the opposition group Ladies in White, believe the U.S. focus on defending human rights and supporting dissidents will be a hurdle. “The Cuban government knew that, and they sat down to talk regardless,” she remarked to IPS.

In her view, the important thing is for the normalisation of ties to open up a direct channel of communication between the two governments. “This is a new phase marked by challenges, but also full of hope and opportunities for the people. Of course it’s not going to be easy, and the road ahead is long,” she added.

The Cuban authorities have consistently referred to opposition groups as “mercenaries” in the pay of the aggressive U.S. policy towards Cuba.

Nor are they happy when U.S. visitors to Cuba meet with opponents of the government. And they are intolerant of the relationship between dissidents and the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, which is to be turned into the new embassy as part of the process that got underway with the first round of talks in the convention centre in the Cuban capital.

Jacobson and her Cuban counterpart, Josefina Vidal, the Foreign Ministry’s chief diplomat for U.S. affairs, addressed the issue of human rights during the talks on Thursday Jan. 22.

The high-level U.S. diplomat described the process of reestablishing bilateral ties as “long” and “complex.”

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, the head of the Washington delegation in the first round of bilateral talks, between the two countries’ flags. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, the head of the Washington delegation in the first round of bilateral talks, between the two countries’ flags. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In a written statement distributed to reporters in a no-questions-allowed media briefing, Jacobson said: “As a central element of our policy, we pressed the Cuban government for improved human rights conditions, including freedom of expression.”

Vidal, meanwhile, said “in our exchange, each party laid out their positions, visions and conceptions on the issue of the exercise of human rights.”

She said the word “pressure” – “pressed” was translated into Spanish as “pressured” – did not come up in the discussion, and that “Cuba has shown throughout its history that it does not and will not respond to pressure.”

In the 1990s and early this century, the question of human rights triggered harsh verbal confrontations between Havana and Washington in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and since 2006 in the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Havana complained that the U.S. used the issue as part of its “anti-Cuba” policy.

Vidal said she suggested to Jacobson that they hold a specific expert-level dialogue at a date to be agreed, to discuss their views of democracy and human rights.

Josefina Vidal, the Cuban Foreign Ministry's chief diplomat for U.S. affairs, arriving at the convention centre in Havana, where the first round of talks for reestablishing diplomatic relations with Washington was held. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Josefina Vidal, the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s chief diplomat for U.S. affairs, arriving at the convention centre in Havana, where the first round of talks for reestablishing diplomatic relations with Washington was held. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Jurist Roberto Veiga, who leads the civil society project Cuba Posible, told IPS that “the circumstances that have influenced the issue of human rights should be considered in any bilateral talks on the issue, to avoid mistaken judgments that could stand in the way of possible solutions.”

In his view, during the process that led to the 1959 triumph of the revolution, which was later declared “socialist,” there was a “struggle between a vision that put a priority on so-called individual rights to the unnecessary detriment of social rights and inequality,” and one that put the priority on social and collective rights.

As a result, in this Caribbean island nation what has prevailed up to now is “a conception [of human rights] that favours equality and social rights at the expense of certain freedoms, and of this country’s relations with important countries,” he said.

Veiga said Cubans must complete the effort to find a balance between individual rights and social equality. It is important to discuss this issue “for the development of Cuba’s political system and the consolidation of our civil society,” he argued.

The two delegations also addressed possibilities of cooperation in the areas of telecommunications, national security, international relations, people smuggling, care for the environment, responding to oil spills, the fight against drugs and terrorism, water resources, global health, and a joint response to the ebola epidemic in West Africa, among others.

In the first part of the meeting, the two sides analysed the practical steps to be taken for the opening up of embassies, which will basically follow the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in effect since 1964.

Reporting the results of the first meeting, aimed above all at laying the foundations for the process, Vidal stressed that following the Convention “implies reciprocal respect for the political, economic and social system of both states and avoiding any form of meddling in internal affairs.”

The date for the next round of talks was not announced.

The meeting was preceded, on Wednesday Jan. 21, by a round of follow-up talks on the migration accords reached by the two countries in 1994 and 1995.

Most Cubans are sceptical and even incredulous about the surprising decision to “make friends” with the United States.

“I think both sides are demanding a lot of each other,” 37-year-old Ángel Calvo, a self-employed driver, told IPS. “Both countries have completely different politics, which it is best to respect in order to start reaching agreements.”

Manuel Sánchez, 33, who described himself as a worker in the informal economy, said both countries “will make more progress towards improving relations than in the past, but they’ll never have the excellent ties that many people are hoping for.”

What is clear is that the talks led by the two high-level officials in Havana have raised expectations.

As renowned Cuban writer Leonardo Padura wrote in a column for IPS earlier this month, after the historic Dec. 17 announcement, “with our eyes wide open, we can catch a glimpse of the future, trying to see shapes more clearly through the haze.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuba-and-u-s-skirt-obstacles-to-normalisation-of-ties/feed/ 0
Forced Disappearances Are Humanitarian Crisis in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/forced-disappearances-are-humanitarian-crisis-in-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=forced-disappearances-are-humanitarian-crisis-in-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/forced-disappearances-are-humanitarian-crisis-in-mexico/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 01:51:22 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138792 One of the numerous mass protests in Mexico demanding the reappearance of 23 students who went missing in Iguala. In the photo, young people demonstrate on Nov. 6 in front of the attorney general's office on the Paseo de la Reforma, in the capital. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

One of the numerous mass protests in Mexico demanding the reappearance of 23 students who went missing in Iguala. In the photo, young people demonstrate on Nov. 6 in front of the attorney general's office on the Paseo de la Reforma, in the capital. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

*By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jan 23 2015 (IPS)

The Mexican government will face close scrutiny from the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances – a phenomenon that made international headlines after 43 students from a rural teachers college were killed in September in Iguala, in a case that has not yet been fully clarified.

Twenty-six human rights organisations have sent the U.N. Committee 12 submissions on the problem of forced disappearance, one of the worst human rights issues facing this Latin American country, where at least 23,000 people are registered as missing, according to official figures that do not specify whether they are victims of forced disappearance.

The submissions, to which IPS had access, say forced disappearances have taken on the magnitude of a humanitarian crisis since December 2006, when then conservative president Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) declared the “war on drugs” – a situation that his predecessor, conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto, has not resolved.

The organisations say forced disappearance is not adequately classified as a crime in Mexican law. They also complain about the lack of effective mechanisms and protocols for searching for missing persons and for reparations for direct and indirect victims, the impunity surrounding these crimes, the lack of a unified database of victims, and problems with the investigations.

In addition, they criticise Mexico’s reluctance to accept the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and analyse communications from the victims.

The Committee, made up of 10 independent experts tasked with overseeing compliance with the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, will hold its eight period of sessions Feb. 2-13 in Geneva, Switzerland.

During the sessions, Mexico “will be reviewed in a very critical light, because many recommendations have not been complied with,” said Jacqueline Sáenz of the FUNDAR Centre for Research and Analysis, one of the organisations that sent a report to the U.N. Committee.

The state has failed to implement an adequate public policy, Sáenz, the head of FUNDAR’s human rights and citizen security programme, told IPS. “Its responses have been minimal, more reactive than proactive. The balance is very negative.”

Although forced disappearance was already a serious humanitarian problem, the phenomenon leapt into the global spotlight on Sep. 26, when local police in the town of Iguala, 190 km south of Mexico City in the state of Guerrero, attacked students from the Escuela Normal de Ayotzinapa, a rural teachers’ college, leaving six dead and 25 wounded.

The police also took away 43 students and handed them over to members of “Guerreros Unidos”, one of the drug trafficking organised crime groups involved in turf wars in that area, according to the attorney general’s office.

The investigation found that the bodies of the 43 young people were burnt in a garbage dump on the outskirts of Colula, a town near Iguala, and that their remains were then thrown into a river.

On Dec. 7, prosecutor Jesús Murillo reported that the remains of one of the 43 students had been identified by forensic experts from the University of Innsbruck in Austria.

But on Jan. 20, the university reported that due to “excessive heat” from the fire, the charred remains of the rest of the bodies could not be identified, because of the lack of viable DNA samples.

Mexico’s office on human rights, crime prevention and community service has reported that in this country of 120 million people, 23,271 people have gone missing between 2007 and October 2014.

Although the office does not indicate how many of these people were victims of forced disappearance, its specialised unit in disappeared people only includes 621 on its list for that period, of whom 72 have been found alive and 30 dead.

“It’s important for the (U.N.) Committee to urge the state to specify the magnitude of the problem,” activist Juan Gutiérrez told IPS. “Very specific recommendations were made in reports long ago and the state has not fulfilled them. Public policies and reforms are necessary.”

More than 9,000 people have gone missing since 2013, under the administration of Peña Nieto, “which puts in doubt the effectiveness of policies for safety and prevention of the disappearance of persons,” said Gutiérez, the head of Strategic Human Rights Litigation I(dh)eas, a local NGO.

Forced disappearance has a long history in Mexico. In November 2009 the Inter-American Court on Human Rights ruled that the Mexican state was responsible for violating the rights to personal liberty, humane treatment, and life itself of Rosendo Radilla, a community leader in the municipality of Atoyac, who disappeared in 1974.

The Court ordered the Mexican state to conduct a serious investigation into his disappearance and to continue to search for him – none of which has happened.

In its submission to the U.N. Committee, Amnesty International says “the authorities have failed to explain, once again, how many of those people have been victims of abduction or enforced disappearance, and how many of them could be missing due to other reasons. No methodological information has been published, which makes it impossible for civil society organisations to scrutinise the figures.”

It adds that “impunity remains rampant in these cases.”

The rights watchdog notes that at a federal level only six convictions have been achieved, all of them between 2005 and 2009, for crimes committed before 2005.

With respect to the 43 students from Iguala, the attorney general’s office arrested over 40 police officers, presumed drug traffickers, the now former mayor of Iguala, José Abarca, and his wife, who have all been accused of involvement in the attack.

In their alternative report from December 2014, nine organisations said the Iguala case reflected “the current state of forced disappearances” and demonstrated “the ineffectiveness of the Mexican state in searching for missing people and investigating the cases.”

On Jan. 8, in an addendum to their submission to the U.N. Committee, four organisations stressed the “lack of capacity” and “tardy reaction” by the authorities in this case.

“The investigation was not conducted with due diligence. The Mexican state has been incapable of presenting charges and starting trials for the forced disappearance of the students,” says the text, which adds that the case demonstrates that Mexico’s legal framework falls short and that the authorities completely ignore the Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

On Nov. 27, Peña Nieto presented 10 measures, including a draft law on torture and forced disappearance and the creation of a national system for searching for missing persons.

But Sáenz said “The roots of the problem are not attacked. Mexico has to make a policy shift. The proposal is inadequate. We hope the Committee’s review will give rise to changes. Mexico has not managed to respond to this crisis.”

Gutiérrez said the new measures “are necessary but not sufficient. The law must be discussed with organisations and relatives of the disappeared.”

The Mexican state has not yet responded to the questions that the Committee sent it in September, ahead of the February review.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/forced-disappearances-are-humanitarian-crisis-in-mexico/feed/ 0
Prosecutor’s Death a Test for Argentine Democracyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/prosecutors-death-a-test-for-argentine-democracy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=prosecutors-death-a-test-for-argentine-democracy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/prosecutors-death-a-test-for-argentine-democracy/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 22:15:38 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138769 “Today we are all Nisman” - demonstrators demand justice for the death of prosecutor Natalio Alberto Nisman in the Plaza de Mayo in front of the presidential palace in Argentina during a Jan. 19 protest convened over the social networks. His murder shook the entire nation. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

“Today we are all Nisman” - demonstrators demand justice for the death of prosecutor Natalio Alberto Nisman in the Plaza de Mayo in front of the presidential palace in Argentina during a Jan. 19 protest convened over the social networks. His murder shook the entire nation. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

*By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jan 21 2015 (IPS)

The death of a special prosecutor investigating one of the biggest unresolved mysteries in the history of Argentina, the bombing of a Jewish community centre over 20 years ago, has put to the test an immature democracy that is caught up in a web of conspiracy theories and promiscuity between the secret services and those in power.

The victim was Natalio Alberto Nisman, found dead Sunday Jan. 18, the day before he was to present to Congress alleged evidence that President Cristina Fernández had taken part, according to him, in a cover-up of five Iranians suspected of involvement in the Jul. 18, 1994 attack on the AMIA building which left 85 dead and 300 wounded.

The scene of his death – which officials have described as occurring in mysterious circumstances that prompted the need to investigate whether he was pressured to kill himself, under threat – was his apartment in the Puerto Madero neighbourhood in the capital of Argentina.

“This mystery is similar to the story ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ that Edgar Allan Poe published in 1841: doors locked from the inside, no balcony, on the 13th floor of an apartment building not accessible by any other means, the body collapsed on the floor of the bathroom blocking the door…one single shot to the temple and without the intervention of another person,” wrote journalist Horacio Verbitsky in the pro-government newspaper Página 12.

Argentines tend to turn to noir novels to describe their own history.

Among the highest-profile unresolved crimes is the disappearance of the hands of the embalmed corpse of former president Juan Domingo Perón in 1987, blamed on a ritual by the Masonic lodge known as Propaganda Due, or P2; an attempt to deal a blow to the country as it had recently returned to democracy in 1983; or an effort to symbolically destroy the cult surrounding the late leader who governed the country from 1946-1955 and 1973-1974.

But in the current global scenario and not so long after the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, which left 30,000 people “disappeared”, the prosecutor’s death has revived the sensation of vulnerability and “déjà vu”, with ingredients from a modern-day police novel.

“We’re all vulnerable. Today they came for him, tomorrow they’ll come for us,” Rita Vega, a teacher, told IPS while taking part in a Jan. 19 protest in the Plaza de Mayo, the square in front of the presidential palace.

The demonstration was convened over the social networks under the theme “I am Nisman”, inspired by the “I am Charlie” campaign that followed the Jan. 7 attack on the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

“Argentine democracy, which is entering its 32nd year, is solid and peaceful enough to weather blows like the one dealt by the death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman,” international analyst Martín Granovsky told IPS.

His death has once more divided Argentine society, between those who from the political opposition blame the centre-left Fernández administration for Nisman’s death and government supporters who say the prosecutor committed suicide because he didn’t have proof to back up his accusations, or was “induced” to kill himself.

Ronald Noble, the head of Interpol until late 2014, refuted Nisman’s accusations (based on wiretaps) that the president and officials close to her had asked for the cancellation of international arrest warrants against five Iranians suspected of involvement in the 1994 attack on AMIA, the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina Jewish community centre.

On Jan. 14, Nisman accused Fernández of a cover-up aimed at “forging closer relations with the Iranian regime and fully reestablishing trade ties to ease Argentina’s severe energy crisis, through a swap of oil for grains.”

Granovsky, the analyst, said “The AMIA case has a basic problem: when Carlos Menem was president (1989-1999), the state did not carry out an in-depth investigation into the bombing in the first few days, and in addition the complicities generated by the security forces’ side business dealings stood in the way of a serious probe.”

The president brought up that hypothesis, in her first statement on Nisman’s death, through Facebook, stressing that it “suggestively” happened just before the start of the trial for the cover-up of the attack, in which Menem, a former intelligence chief and others are implicated.

The head of the lower house of parliament, lawmaker Julián Domínguez of the governing Frente para la Victoria, said “we want to know what event or what mafioso sector prompted Mr. Nisman to take the decision he took.

“We are certain that there are segments of the intelligence community, the last redoubt that democracy has not yet been able to penetrate, seeking to create signs of instability and to pressure judges,” he said.

In December, the government removed Antonio ‘Jaime’ Stiuso as director of operations in the Intelligence Secretariat.

The ties between Stiuso and Nisman were well-known, and according to government leaks it was Stiuso who made the prosecutor come back early from his vacation in Europe in the middle of the judicial break to make his presentation to the legislature on Monday Jan. 19.

Néstor Pitrola, a legislator with the Workers’ Party, which forms part of the opposition Frente de Izquierda (Left Front), pointed out that Nisman was named special prosecutor in the AMIA case by late president Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007), Fernández’s predecessor and husband. But “a political shift created an internal war in the justice system and the intelligence services,” he said.

According to Pitrola, the prosecutor’s death revealed the presence of “an intelligence state within the state.

“Three weeks before Nisman made his allegations, the intelligence services were beheaded to the benefit of a new intelligence clique, led by (César) Milani, a repressor during the dictatorship who has been questioned by the justice system,” he said.

Atilio Borón, a former executive secretary of the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO), said Nisman’s death especially hurts the government, which is the most interested in disproving the prosecutor’s supposed evidence, in a year when both presidential and legislative elections are to be held.

“He was a man who was very mixed up with the services, people you don’t play around with. You don’t fool with the CIA (U.S. Central Intelligence Agency), you don’t play with the Mossad (Israel’s secret service). He took instructions from them; you can see the Wikileaks cables, which have never been refuted,” he said.

Borón also said the international context, “what some call the West’s war against Islam,” should not be ignored.

In that vein, Gustavo Sierra, a journalist with the opposition daily Clarin, referred to “speculations of international intelligence” on the role that Iranian agents or their allies might have played in the prosecutor’s “induced” death, because he might have hurt their interests.

“Could Iranian intelligence have induced Nisman to commit suicide by threatening to kill one of his daughters, who lives in Europe? Did they have compromising information that implicated the prosecutor? Did they manage to make it through the Puerto Madero apartment building’s security barrier using some agent who was able to make it look like a suicide, without being detected?” Sierra wrote.

The plot is too complex, and even the mystery that gave rise to it has never been resolved: who was responsible for the worst attack suffered by Argentina, in a saga that Fernández described as “too long, too heavy, too hard, and above all, very sordid.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/prosecutors-death-a-test-for-argentine-democracy/feed/ 0
The Bahamas’ New Motto: “Sand, Surf and Solar”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/the-bahamas-new-motto-sand-surf-and-solar/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-bahamas-new-motto-sand-surf-and-solar http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/the-bahamas-new-motto-sand-surf-and-solar/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 21:42:41 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138764 The Bahamas is focusing on renewable energy as it tries to preserve gains in tourism. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

The Bahamas is focusing on renewable energy as it tries to preserve gains in tourism. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

*By Kenton X. Chance
ABU DHABI, Jan 21 2015 (IPS)

When it comes to tourism in the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM), The Bahamas — 700 islands sprinkled over 100,000 square miles of ocean starting just 50 miles off Florida — is a heavyweight.

With a gross domestic product of eight billion dollars, the Bahamian economy is almost twice the size of Barbados, another of CARICOM’s leading tourism destinations."Reducing our various countries’ dependence on fossil fuels, ramping up renewable energy, building more climate change resilience is incredibly important for us." -- Environment Minister Kenred M.A. Dorsett

Visitors are invited to “imagine a world where you can’t tell where dreams begin and reality ends.”

However, in the country’s Ministry of the Environment, officials have woken up to a reality that could seriously undermine the gains made in tourism and elsewhere: renewable energy development.

In 2014, in a clear indication of its intention to address its poor renewable energy situation, The Bahamas joined the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

The Abu Dhabi-based intergovernmental organisation supports countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future. IRENA also serves as the principal platform for international cooperation, a centre of excellence, and a repository of policy, technology, resource and financial knowledge on renewable energy.

The Bahamas has also advanced its first energy policy, launched in 2013, and has committed to ramping up to a minimum of 30 per cent by 2033 the amount of energy it generates from renewable sources.

“Currently, we are debating in Parliament an amendment to the Electricity Act to make provision for grid tie connection, therefore making net metering a reality using solar and wind technology,” Minister of Environment and Housing Kenred M.A. Dorsett told IPS on the sidelines of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW).

ADSW is a global forum that unites thought leaders, policy makers and investors to address the challenges of renewable energy and sustainable development. The week includes IRENA’s Fifth Assembly, the World Future Energy Summit, and the International Water Summit.

But Dorsett was especially interested in the IRENA assembly, which took place on Jan. 17 and 18.

At the assembly, ministers and senior officials from more than 150 countries met to discuss what IRENA has described as the urgent need and increased business case for rapid renewable energy expansion.

Dorsett came to Abu Dhabi with a rather short shopping list for both his country and the CARICOM region, and says he did not leave empty-handed.

“Our involvement in IRENA is important because the world over is concerned with standardisation of technology to ensure that our citizens are not taken advantage of in terms of the technology we import as we advance the renewable energy sector,” he told IPS.

“We certainly were able to engage IRENA in discussions with respect to what the Bahamas is doing, and our next steps and they have indicated to us that they will be able to assist us on the issue of standardisation,” Dorsett tells IPS.

Minister of the Environment and Housing in The Bahamas, Kenred Dorsett. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Minister of the Environment and Housing in The Bahamas, Kenred Dorsett. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

He says IRENA has developed a programme that looks at practical consideration for the implementation or ramping up of renewable energy, including assistance in developing regulations for ensuring that standards are maintained.

“So, I think from our perspective, it is clear to us that IRENA would be prepared to assist us on that particular issue, and I think that generally speaking, what I certainly found was that the meeting was very innovative, particularly in light of the fact that there was a lot of technical support for countries looking to implement or deploy renewable energy technologies,” he said of Bahamas-IRENA talks on the sidelines of the assembly.

Dorsett also wanted IRENA to devote some special attention to CARICOM, a group of 15 nations, mostly Caribbean islands, in addition to Belize, Guyana and Suriname.

At a side event — “Renewables in Latin America: Challenges and Opportunities” — ahead of the Assembly, there was no distinction between Caribbean and Latin American nations.

“… I think that’s very, very important for us as region, as we move to ensure that CARICOM itself is a region of focus for IRENA, that we are not consumed in the entire Latin America region and there is sufficient focus on us,” he told IPS ahead of the assembly.

Dorsett is now convinced that CARICOM positions will be represented as Trinidad and Tobago, another CARICOM member, and the Bahamas, have been elected to serve on IRENA Council in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

“We do know that deployment of renewable energy in our region is important, we are small island development states, we live in [low-lying areas] and sea level rise is a major issue for us in the Caribbean region.

“Therefore, reducing our various countries’ dependence on fossil fuels, ramping up renewable energy, building more climate change resilience is incredibly important for us,” he told IPS.

Meanwhile, Director-General of IRENA, Adnan Amin, said that his agency is “trying to develop a new type of institution for a new time”.

“We know that the islands’ challenges are very particular. We have developed a lot of expertise in doing that, and we know in a general sense the challenge they face is quite different from mainland Latin America,” Amin told IPS. “So we see them as logically separate entities in what kinds of strategies we will have.”

He says IRENA has been working in the Pacific islands — early members of the agency — and is moving into the Caribbean.

Adnan Amin, Director-General of the International Energy Agency, says the Caribbean has “particular” renewable energy considerations that are distinct from Latin America. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Adnan Amin, Director-General of the International Energy Agency, says the Caribbean has “particular” renewable energy considerations that are distinct from Latin America. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

IRENA is already working in the Caribbean nations of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, and Jamaica, and this year agreed to lend St. Vincent and the Grenadines 15 million dollars to help fund its 10-15 megawatt geothermal power plant, expected to come on stream by 2018.

Dorsett is also pleased that at the assembly the Bahamian delegation was able to get a briefing on the advances of technology that stores electricity generated from renewable sources.

“That also can prove to be very important for us as many Caribbean counties are faced with addressing the issue of grid stability,” he told IPS, adding that the ability to have storage that is “appropriately priced and that works efficiently” can help the Bahamas to exceed the average of 20 to 40 per cent of electricity generated by renewable sources by many countries.

The Bahamas woke up to the realities of its poor renewable energy situation in 2013 when Guilden Gilbert, head the country’s Renewable Energy Association, decried the nation for not doing enough to advance renewable energy generation.

The call came after the release of a report by Castalia-CREF Renewable Energy Islands Index for the Caribbean, which ranked the Bahamas 26 out of 27 countries in the region for its progress and prospects in relation to renewable energy investments.

The 2012 edition of the same report had ranked The Bahamas 21 out of the 22 countries on the list.

In the two years leading up to the announcement of the “National Energy Policy & Grid Tie In Framework”, The Bahamas established an Energy Task Force responsible for advising on solutions to reducing the high cost of electricity in the country.

The government also eliminated tariffs on inverters for solar panels and LED appliances to ensure that more citizens would be able to afford these energy saving devices.

The government also advanced two pilot projects to collect data on renewable energy technologies. The first project provided for the installation of solar water heaters and the second project for the installation of photovoltaic systems in Bahamian homes.

Dorsett tells IPS that he thinks that it is “incredibly important” that CARICOM focuses on renewable energy generation.

“I think CARICOM, as a region, has to look at renewable energy sources to build a sustainable energy future for our region as well as to ensure that we build resilience as we address the issues of climate change,” he tells IPS.

However, in some CARICOM nations, there is a major hurdle that policy makers, such as Dorsett, will have to overcome before the bloc realises its full renewable energy potential.

“There are very special challenges in the Caribbean. For example, many of the utilities are foreign-owned and they negotiated 75-year-long, cast-iron guarantees on their existence,” Amin tells IPS.

“They were making money off diesel. They have no incentive to move to renewables, but we are moving ahead,” the IRENA chief says.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at Kentonxtchance@gmail.com

Follow him on Twitter @KentonXChance

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/the-bahamas-new-motto-sand-surf-and-solar/feed/ 0
OPINION-CUBA/US: Catching a Glimpse of the Possible Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-cubaus-catching-a-glimpse-of-the-possible-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-cubaus-catching-a-glimpse-of-the-possible-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-cubaus-catching-a-glimpse-of-the-possible-future/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 12:14:18 +0000 Leonardo Padura http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138755 Leonardo Padura

Leonardo Padura

*By Leonardo Padura
HAVANA, Jan 21 2015 (IPS)

All Cubans, on either side of the Florida Straits, but in places like Spain, France or Greenland – where there must be a couple of Cubans – as well felt it was a historic moment that included each and every one of us, when U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Dec. 17 the normalisation of relations after half a century of hostility.

Those of us who are in Cuba felt that way precisely because we live here; and those who live abroad felt it because of the various motives that prompted them, at different times and for a range of reasons, to move away and rewrite their lives.

The great majority met the news with joy and hope; a smaller percentage felt a sensation of defeat and even betrayal; and another small group perhaps felt little about what the decision might mean for their futures.

But what is indisputable is that each one of us was shocked by the announcement, which some media outlets even dubbed “the news of the year” – extraordinary, really (even if you consider it an exaggeration), given that we’re just talking about the normalisation of ties between the United States and a small Caribbean island nation that is not even decisive in the economy of the region and supposedly does not influence the world’s big political developments.

But for years Cuba’s small size, in terms of both its geography and economy, has been far out of proportion to its international stature and influence, and the “news of the year” really was (or may have been) such due to several reasons, besides the emotional ones that affected us Cubans.We Cubans who live on the island have already felt a noticeable initial benefit from the announced accords: we have felt how a political tension that we have lived in for too many years has begun to ease, and we can already feel it is possible to rebuild our relationship with a neighbour that is too powerful and too close, and relate to each other if not in a friendly way, then at least in a cordial, civilised manner.

This was because of its symbolic nature as a major step towards détente and as a final stop to the long-drawn-out epilogue to the Cold War, as acknowledgement of a political error sustained by the United States for far too long, because of its weight in inter-American relations, and because of its humanistic character thanks to the fact that the first concrete measure was a prisoners swap, which is always a moving, humanitarian move.

And it also was so because in a world where bad news abounds, the fact that two countries that were at a political standoff for over half a century decided to overcome their differences and opt for dialogue is somewhat comforting.

Three weeks later, the machinery that will put that new relationship in motion has begun to move. On the eve of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson’s visit to Havana to start high-level “face-to-face” talks with the Cuban government, President Obama announced the introduction of his government’s first measures towards change.

The policies will make it easier for people from the U.S. to travel to Cuba, expand the remittances people can send to Cuba, open up banking relations, increase bilateral trade in different areas, and help strengthen civil society by different means, including improved information and communications and economic support for entrepreneurs.

Cuba, meanwhile, released prisoners with regard to whom Washington had expressed concern.

The measures recently implemented by Obama could be extremely significant for Cuba. Above all because they have punched holes in the straitjacket of the half-century embargo and have practically made its removal a question of time, and since they eliminate many of the fears that investors from other countries had with regard to possibly investing here.

Cuba, in the meantime, is waiting to be removed from the U.S. government’s list of nations that sponsor terrorism, which it has been on for years.

And on both sides of the Straits, Cubans have an understandable sense of uncertainty about the future of the Cuban Adjustment Act, which guaranteed U.S. residency to any Cuban who set foot on U.S. soil – an issue that will surely be discussed during Jacobson’s visit.

But while the political agreements are moving along at a surprising pace, we Cubans insist on asking ourselves how this new situation created since Dec. 17 will play out on the island.

Because while Obama’s intention is to bring about a change in policy that will lead to a transformation of the system in Cuba, at the same time there are decisions that the Cuban government will be adopting internally to take advantage of the useful aspects of the new relationship and eliminate potential dangers.

The possible massive arrival of U.S. citizens to Cuba could be the first visible effect.

Today the island receives three million visitors a year. That number could double with the new regulations announced by Obama. Everyone is asking themselves whether the country is prepared for this – and the answers are not overly encouraging in general.

After a lengthy crisis triggered by the disappearance of the Soviet Union and its generous subsidies, and the stiffening of the U.S. embargo with the Torricelli Act [of 1992] and the Helms-Burton Act [of 1996, which included extra-territorial effects], Cuba today is a country with serious problems of infrastructure in communications, roads, transportation, buildings and other areas.

The lack of resources to make the necessary investments also affects the purchase of products that the presumed visitors would demand and will create difficulties for domestic consumption, where there are already problems of high prices and occasional shortages.

Perhaps the first to benefit from the massive arrival of U.S. citizens to Cuban shores will be the small businesses that offer accommodation (and the thousands of other people connected to them).

Currently in a city like Havana there aren’t enough rooms in the hotels (which belong to the state or are joint ventures with foreign companies), let alone quality service in the state-owned restaurants that would make them competitive.

That means a significant part of the money that will circulate will pass through the hands of those involved in private enterprise (the so-called “cuentapropistas” or self-employed) – a sector that even though they must pay high taxes to the state and extremely high prices for inputs purchased in the retail market (because the wholesale market that they are demanding does not yet exist), will make major profits in the scenario that will take shape in the near future.

And this phenomenon will contribute to further stretching the less and less homogeneous social fabric of this Caribbean island nation.

Another of the major expectations in Cuba is for the chance to travel to the United States because, even though this has become much more of a possibility in recent years, obtaining a visa is still a major hurdle.

And there are new questions among those who hoped to settle down in the United States under the Cuban Adjustment Act, and who now have the added possibility of not losing their citizenship rights on the island under the protection of the migration laws approved two years ago by the government of Raúl Castro, which eliminated the rule that if a Cuban stayed overseas for a certain amount of time, their departure was automatically seen as permanent, and they lost their rights and assets on the island.

And then there is the less tangible but no less real aspect of discourse and rhetoric. Half a century of hostility on many planes, including verbal, should begin to wane in the light of the new circumstances.

The “imperialist enemy” and “communist menace” are sitting down at the same table to seek negotiated solutions, and the language will have to adapt to that new reality to achieve the necessary comprehension and the hoped-for political accords.

In the meantime, we Cubans who live on the island have already felt a noticeable initial benefit from the announced accords: we have felt how a political tension that we have lived in for too many years has begun to ease, and we can already feel it is possible to rebuild our relationship with a neighbour that is too powerful and too close, and relate to each other if not in a friendly way, then at least in a cordial, civilised manner.

For that reason many of us – I include myself – have felt since Dec. 17 something similar to waking up from a nightmare from which almost none of us believed we could escape. And with our eyes wide open, we can catch a glimpse of the future, trying to see shapes more clearly through the haze.

Edited and translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-cubaus-catching-a-glimpse-of-the-possible-future/feed/ 0
Caribbean Youth Ready to Lead on Climate Issueshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/caribbean-youth-ready-to-lead-on-climate-issues/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-youth-ready-to-lead-on-climate-issues http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/caribbean-youth-ready-to-lead-on-climate-issues/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 21:21:30 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138726 Members of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CEYN) clean debris from a river in Trinidad. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Members of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CEYN) clean debris from a river in Trinidad. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

*By Desmond Brown
PORT OF SPAIN, Jan 19 2015 (IPS)

At 24 years old, Stefan Knights has never been on the side of those who are sceptical about the reality and severity of climate change.

A Guyana native who moved to Trinidad in September 2013 to pursue his law degree at the Hugh Wooding Law School, Knights told IPS that his first-hand experience of extreme weather has strengthened his resolve to educate his peers about climate change “so that they do certain things that would reduce emissions.”“Notwithstanding our minor contribution to this global problem we are taking a proactive approach, guided by the recognition of our vulnerability and the tremendous responsibility to safeguard the future of our people." -- Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran

Knights recalled his first week in Trinidad, when he returned to his apartment to find “the television was floating, the refrigerator was floating and all my clothes were soaked” after intense rainfall which did not last more than an hour.

“When we have the floods, the droughts or even the hurricanes, water supply is affected, people lose jobs, people lose their houses and the corollary of that is that the right to water is affected, the right to housing, the right to employment and even sometimes the right to life,” Knights told IPS.

“I am a big advocate where human rights are concerned and I see climate change as having a significant impact on Caribbean people where human rights are concerned,” he said.

Knights laments that young people from the Caribbean and Latin America are not given adequate opportunities to participate in the major international meetings, several of which are held each year, to deal with climate change.

“These people are affected more than anybody else but when such meetings are held, in terms of youth representation, you find very few young people from these areas,” he said.

Youth climate activist Stefan Knights. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Youth climate activist Stefan Knights. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

“Also, the countries that are not independent within Latin America and the Caribbean, like Puerto Rico which is still a territory of the United States, Montserrat, the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, the voices of those people are not heard in those rooms because they are still colonies.”

Knights, who is also an active member of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN), said young people are ready to lead.

“They are taking the lead around the world in providing solutions to challenges in the field of sustainable development,” he explained.

“For instance, CYEN has been conducting research and educating society on integrated water resources management, focusing particularly on the linkages between climate change, biodiversity loss and unregulated waste disposal.”

CYEN has been formally recognised by the Global Water Partnership (GWP) as one of its Most Outstanding Partners in the Caribbean.

As recently as December 2014, several members of CYEN from across the Caribbean participated in a Global Water Partnership-Caribbean (GWP-C) Media Workshop on Water Security and Climate Resilience held here.

CYEN has been actively involved in policy meetings on water resources management and has conducted practical community-based activities in collaboration with local authorities.

CYEN National Coordinator Rianna Gonzales told IPS that one way in which young people in Trinidad and Tobago are getting involved in helping to combat climate change and build resilience is through the Adopt a River (AAR) Programme, administered by the National Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA).

“This is an initiative to involve the community and corporate entities in the improvement of watersheds in Trinidad and Tobago in a sustainable, holistic and coordinated manner,” Gonzales said.

“The aim of the AAR programme is to build awareness on local watershed issues and to facilitate the participation of public and private sector entities in sustainable and holistic projects aimed at improving the status of rivers and watersheds in Trinidad and Tobago.”

Most of Trinidad and Tobago’s potable water supply (60 per cent) comes from surface water sources such as rivers and streams, and total water demand is expected to almost double between 1997 and 2025.

With climate change predictions indicating that Trinidad and Tobago will become hotter and drier, in 2010, the estimated water availability for the country was 1477 m3 per year, which is a decrease of 1000 m3 per year from 1998.

Deforestation for housing, agriculture, quarrying and road-building has also increased the incidence of siltation of rivers and severe flooding.

“The challenge of water in Trinidad and Tobago is one of both quality and quantity,” Gonzales said.

“Our vital water supply is being threatened by industrial, agricultural and residential activities. Indiscriminate discharge of industrial waste into waterways, over-pumping of groundwater sources and pollution of rivers by domestic and commercial waste are adversely affecting the sustainability of our water resources.

“There is therefore an urgent need for a more coordinated approach to protecting and managing our most critical and finite resource – water,” she added.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Dookeran said there is an urgent need to protect human dignity and alleviate the sufferings of people because of climate change.

“We know that the urgency is now. Business as usual is not enough. We are not on track to meet our agreed 2.0 or 1.5 degree Celsius objective for limiting the increase in average global temperatures, so urgent and ambitious actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere is absolutely necessary,” he told IPS.

Dookeran added that “there is no excuse not to act” since economically viable and technologically feasible options already exist to significantly enhance efforts to address climate change.

“Even with a less than two degrees increase in average global temperatures above pre-industrial levels, small island states like Trinidad and Tobago are already experiencing more frequent and more intense weather events as a result of climate change,” Dookeran said.

The foreign affairs minister said residents can look forward to even more mitigation measures that will take place in the first quarter of this year with respect to the intended nationally determined contributions for mitigation.

“Notwithstanding our minor contribution to this global problem we are taking a proactive approach, guided by the recognition of our vulnerability and the tremendous responsibility to safeguard the future of our people,” he said.

“Trinidad and Tobago has made important inroads in dealing with the problem as we attempt to ensure that climate change is central to our development. As we prepare our economy for the transition to low carbon development and as we commit ourselves to carbon neutrality, the government of Trinidad and Tobago is working assiduously towards expanding the use of renewable energy in the national energy mix,” he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/caribbean-youth-ready-to-lead-on-climate-issues/feed/ 0
Cuban Diplomacy Looks Towards Both Brussels and Washingtonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuban-diplomacy-looks-towards-both-brussels-and-washington/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuban-diplomacy-looks-towards-both-brussels-and-washington http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuban-diplomacy-looks-towards-both-brussels-and-washington/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 20:24:42 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138723 Several Cuban dissidents released at the start of the year, standing in front of other opponents of the Cuban government, including Bertha Soler (second to the right, in the second row), the leader of the organisation Ladies in White. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Several Cuban dissidents released at the start of the year, standing in front of other opponents of the Cuban government, including Bertha Soler (second to the right, in the second row), the leader of the organisation Ladies in White. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

*By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Jan 19 2015 (IPS)

Cuba has decided to move ahead in its talks with the European Union towards an agreement on cooperation parallel to the negotiations aimed at normalising relations with the United States after more than half a century of hostility.

As everyone’s attention is focused on the start of talks this week to restore diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States, Brussels and Havana scheduled for Mar. 4-5 the third round of negotiations launched in late April 2014 in the Cuban capital.

“We first thought we had slipped down a bit on the list of priorities; now the message is that no, the Cuban state wants to keep a balance between the two processes, which is good news for us,” the EU ambassador in Havana, Herman Portocarero, told IPS.

Delegations from Cuba and the United States will meet Jan. 21-22 in Havana, in the first meeting since the two governments announced Dec. 17 that diplomatic relations would be reestablished, and since sweeping new measures to ease trade and travel between the two countries were presented by Washington on Jan. 15.

In a process that got underway in 2008, Cuba and the EU finally held their first round of talks Apr. 29-30 for a future bilateral accord on political dialogue and cooperation which, according to Portocarero, should define aspects like the role of civil society and the main issues involving long-term cooperation.

Cuba is the only Latin American country that lacks a cooperation agreement with the EU.

A second meeting was held in August in Brussels, and on Jan. 8-9 the Cuban and EU delegations were to sit down together for the third time. But in early December the meeting was postponed by the Cuban authorities, with no new date scheduled, apparently solely due to a busy agenda.

After a year during which Cuba strengthened its relations with the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean and with traditional allies like China and Russia, and which ended with the historic announcement of a thaw with Washington, Havana will now be in a different position in its negotiations with Brussels.

The main aim of Cuban diplomacy in this case is to push for more trade, but above all for an increase in capital inflows under the new law on foreign investment.

The European bloc is currently Cuba’s second trading partner after Venezuela, whose economic difficulties raise doubts about what will happen to its wide-ranging trade ties with this Caribbean island nation. In 2013, according to the latest available figures, Cuba’s imports from Europe totalled 2.12 billion dollars and exports amounted to 971 million dollars.

According to analysts, the government of Raúl Castro hopes that a stable relationship under a framework accord like the one sought with the 28-member European bloc will lead to increased trade, but also to the diversification of economic and trade ties given the possibility that the normalisation of relations with the United States will lead to the lifting of the half-century U.S. embargo.

Portocarero believes Cuba’s new relationship with its northern neighbour will accelerate all of the processes. “If the Cuban authorities want to maintain a balance so that not everything is monopolised through the United States, then they have to give us the attention we deserve,” he said.

Brussels is observing with concern that some of the measures announced by the United States favour its financial sector, while Europe’s remains subject to enormous fines because of the extra-territorial reach of the Helms Burton Act, which in 2006 codified Washington’s sanctions against Cuba, and can only be repealed by the U.S. Congress.

“It is an imbalance that we have to put on the table with our friends in the United States,” Portocarero said in an interview with IPS. “It is not acceptable for us to continue to be subject to sanctions and huge fines against Europe’s financial sector, while restrictions are removed in the case of the U.S.”

The EU, for its part, hopes for faster changes in Cuba. “My message has always been: move faster while you are in control, so as to better defend the good things that should be preserved,” the ambassador said. In his view, moves should also be made to make Cuba’s foreign investment law more attractive.

The EU delegation building in Havana. The Cuban government will restart talks towards a bilateral agreement on cooperation in March. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños

The EU delegation building in Havana. The Cuban government will restart talks towards a bilateral agreement on cooperation in March. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños

“Foreign investment is competitive and special zones [like Cuba’s Mariel special economic development zone] are everywhere. At this point, 30 percent of the foreign capital invested in Cuba comes from the European Union,” he said.

Cuba has indicated that to ensure the normal growth of its economy, it needs some 2.5 billion dollars a year in investment.

The Mariel special economic development zone, which covers 465 square km 45 km west of Havana, has a modern port terminal built with investment from Brazil, and areas for a broad range of productive activities open to foreign investment.

The questions of foreign trade and cooperation made up the working agenda in the first and second round of talks, although no final documents have yet been produced. Human rights, civil society and good governance are to be discussed in the third round in March, although they are also crosscutting issues that arise in other areas.

These are touchy subjects for the Cuban government, which does not accept being internationally judged regarding them, while they are concerns raised by both Brussels and Washington.

Castro has stated that he is willing to engage in respectful, reciprocal dialogue on the discrepancies, including “any issue” regarding Cuba, but also the United States.

Over 50 inmates considered political prisoners by the U.S. government were released in Cuba in the first few days of January. Spokespersons for the Obama administration clarified that human rights would continue to be a focus of discussion in the talks on migration and the normalisation of ties with Havana.

The Cuban delegation in the talks will be headed by the director general of the foreign ministry’s United States division, Josefina Vidal. On Wednesday Jan. 21 a meeting is to be held to assess the progress of the migration accords and the measures taken by both sides to tackle undocumented migration and smuggling of migrants, among other issues.

In the two-day meeting, the U.S. delegation will be led by U.S acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Edward Alex Lee. The 1994 and 1995 migration accords are reviewed every six months, in meetings that rotate between Cuba and the United States.

Steps towards opening embassies in the two countries will be discussed at the first meeting on reestablishing diplomatic ties between the two countries, on Jan. 22.

Bilateral issues will be addressed later that day, including cooperation in areas of mutual interest. The U.S. representatives in these two meetings will be led by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuban-diplomacy-looks-towards-both-brussels-and-washington/feed/ 0
OPINION: A New Era of Hemispheric Cooperation Is Possiblehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-a-new-era-of-hemispheric-cooperation-is-possible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-new-era-of-hemispheric-cooperation-is-possible http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-a-new-era-of-hemispheric-cooperation-is-possible/#comments Sun, 18 Jan 2015 18:34:54 +0000 Luis Almagro http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138705 Luis Almagro, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Uruguay, addresses the opening of the 16th session of the Human Rights Council, in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Luis Almagro, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Uruguay, addresses the opening of the 16th session of the Human Rights Council, in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

*By Luis Almagro
MONTEVIDEO, Jan 18 2015 (IPS)

Two decades after the first Summit of the Americas, a lot has changed in the continent and it has been for the good. Today, a renewed hemispheric dialogue without exclusions is possible.

Back in the mid-1990s, at the time of the Miami summit, it was the time of imported consensus, models of economic and social development exclusively based on the market and its supposed perfect allocation of resources through the invisible hand.Today, all voices count, and if they do not, they will have to. The powerful club of the G8 turned into the G20; still, this is not enough to embrace the new reality of our hemisphere.

Hidden under a development rationale, the greatest wave of privatisation and deregulation took over the continent. The role of the state was reduced to be a facilitator of a process based on the principle of survival of the fittest. Solidarity, equity and justice were all values from the past and poverty a necessary collateral damage.

However, these values were in the top of the minds of the people of the hemisphere, who turned their backs to these policies and instead during the past 15 years, have forcefully supported the alternatives that combine economic growth with social inclusion, broadening opportunities for all citizens.

Economic growth went hand in hand with social inclusion, adding millions to the middle class – which today accounts for 34 percent of Latin Americans – surpassing the number of poor for the first time in the history.

If this was possible it was because governments added to the invisible hand of the market, the very visible hand of the state.

And this took place within the context of the worst post war global financial crisis that led to an unprecedented recession in the United States and Europe, which the latter still strives to leave behind.

Growth with social equity turned out to be the new regional consensus.

Today, this binds the region together.

Today, conditions are present to set up a more realistic cooperation in the Americas, where all members could partner in equal conditions, from the most powerful to the smallest islands in the Caribbean.

Today, nobody holds the monopoly over what works or does not; neither can anybody impose models because the established truths have crashed against reality. While in the 1990s social exclusion in domestic policies and voice exclusion at the international level were two sides of the same token, this in not any longer acceptable.

Today, all voices count, and if they do not, they will have to. The powerful club of the G8 turned into the G20; still, this is not enough to embrace the new reality of our hemisphere.

To the existing bodies, the region has added in this past decade the dynamic UNASUR in South America and CELAC in the Americas, thus leaving the OAS as the only place for dialogue among all countries of the Americas, whether large, medium, small, powerful or vulnerable.

But, governmental or inter-governmental actors by themselves are not the only answer to the problems of today´s world. Non-state actors of the non-governmental world, the private sector, trade unions and social organisations must be part of the process.

Leaders need to interpret the time in order to generate an agenda for progress, but progress that is tangible for people, for citizens, to whom we are accountable to.

Therefore, in a more uncertain international economic environment, we should focus on maintaining and expanding our social achievements and a new spirit of cooperation in the Americas can be instrumental for that.

The Summit of the Americas in Panama, in April 2015, may be the beginning of this new process of confidence building, where all countries can feel they can benefit from a cooperative agenda. This will be a historical moment because this time there will be no exclusions.

The recent good news on the diplomatic front related to the normalisation of diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba and the participation of Cuba in the Summit represent an additional positive signal. Panama deserves the support of the entire region before and during the Summit.

This will be a great opportunity to strengthen democratic values, the defence of human rights, institutional transparency and individual freedoms together with a practical agenda for cooperation for shared prosperity in the Americas.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-a-new-era-of-hemispheric-cooperation-is-possible/feed/ 0
OPINION: Cuba and the United States – A New Era?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuba-and-the-united-states-a-new-era/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuba-and-the-united-states-a-new-era http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuba-and-the-united-states-a-new-era/#comments Fri, 16 Jan 2015 20:46:05 +0000 Ricardo Alarcon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138683 Ricardo Alarcón, former Cuban foreign minister and president of parliament. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Ricardo Alarcón, former Cuban foreign minister and president of parliament. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

*By Ricardo Alarcon
HAVANA, Jan 16 2015 (IPS)

On Dec. 17, by freeing the five Cuban anti-terrorists who spent over 16 years in U.S. prisons, President Barack Obama repaired a longstanding injustice while changing the course of history.

Admitting that the U.S. government’s anti-Cuba policy had failed, reestablishing diplomatic ties, lifting all of the restrictions within his reach, proposing the complete elimination of the embargo and launching a new era in relations with Cuba, all in one single speech, went beyond anyone’s predictions and took everyone by surprise, even the most seasoned analysts.

The hostile policy first adopted by President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961), before the current president was even born, was followed with only slight variations by Republican and Democratic administrations, and codified by the Helms-Burton Act signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996.

In the first few years the policy was practiced with a high degree of success. In 1959, when the Cuban revolution triumphed, the United States was at the height of its power, exercising indisputable hegemony over a large part of the world, especially the Western Hemisphere, which enabled it to get Cuba kicked out of the Organisation of American States (OAS) and to achieve the near total isolation of this Caribbean island nation, which was left with only the support and aid of the Soviet Union and its partners in the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA), which grouped the countries of the Warsaw Pact.But normalising relations would suppose, above all, learning to live with differences and abandoning old dreams of domination.

The collapse of real socialism gave rise to hopes among many people that the end of the Cuban revolution was also at hand.

They imagined the advent of a long period of unipolar dominance. Drunk on the victory, they failed to appreciate the deeper meaning of what had happened: the end of the Cold War opened up new possibilities for social struggles and faced capitalism with challenges that were increasingly difficult to tackle.

The fall of the Berlin Wall blinded them from seeing that a social uprising known as the “Caracazo”, which shook Venezuela at the same time, in February 1989, was a sign of the start of a new age in Latin America.

Cuba managed to survive the disappearance of its long-time allies, and its ability to do so was a key factor in the profound transformation of the region. For years it had been clear that the U.S. policy aimed at isolating Cuba had been a failure, and had ended up isolating the United States, as acknowledged by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

A new relationship with Cuba was indispensable for Washington, which needed to rebuild its ties with a region that is no longer its backyard. Achieving that is fundamental now because, despite its power, the United States cannot exercise the comfortable leadership of times that will not return.

But there is still a long way to go before that new relationship can be established. First of all, it is necessary to completely eliminate the economic, trade and financial embargo, as demanded with renewed vigor by major segments of the U.S. business community.

But normalising relations would suppose, above all, learning to live with differences and abandoning old dreams of domination. It would mean respecting the sovereign equality of states, a fundamental principle of the United Nations Charter, which, as history has shown, does not always please the powerful.

With regard to the release of the five Cuban prisoners, all U.S. presidents, without exception, have broadly used the authority granted to them by article 2, section 2, clause 1 of the U.S. constitution. For over two centuries, presidents have had the unlimited power to grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States.

In the case of “the Cuban Five,” there were ample reasons for executive clemency. In 2005, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the trial as “a perfect storm of prejudice and hostility” and ordered a new trial.

In 2009 the same court threw out the sentences against three of the Cuban Five because they had neither sought nor passed on any military secrets, nor had they endangered U.S. national security.

Both verdicts were unanimous.

With respect to another major charge, “conspiracy to commit murder,” against Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, his accusers admitted that it was impossible to prove such an allegation, and even attempted to drop the charge in May 2001 in a move without precedent, made no less by public prosecutors under then-President George W. Bush (2001-2009).

Hernández had been waiting for five years for a response to one of his many petitions to the Miami court for release, a review of his case, an order for the government to produce the “proof” used to convict him, or for the government to reveal the magnitude and scope of official funding for the colossal media campaign that fed the “perfect storm.”

The court never responded. Nor did the mainstream media say anything about the judicial system’s unusual paralysis. It was obvious that it was a politically motivated case that could only be resolved by a political decision, which only the president could take.

Obama demonstrated wisdom and determination when, instead of simply using his authority to release the prisoners, he bravely confronted the underlying problem. The saga of the “Cuban Five” was the consequence of an aggressive strategy, and the wisest thing was to put an end to both at the same time.

No one can deny the importance of what was announced on Dec. 17. It would be a mistake, however, to ignore that there is still a ways to go, and that it will be necessary to follow that possibly long and tortuous path with resolution and insight.

Edited by Pablo Piacentini/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuba-and-the-united-states-a-new-era/feed/ 0
Electioneering Undermines Fight Against Crime in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/electioneering-undermines-fight-against-crime-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=electioneering-undermines-fight-against-crime-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/electioneering-undermines-fight-against-crime-in-el-salvador/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 13:06:55 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138650 Leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha gang in the prison of Ciudad Barrios, in the Salvadoran department of San Miguel, in 2012. Credit: Tomás Andréu/IPS

Leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha gang in the prison of Ciudad Barrios, in the Salvadoran department of San Miguel, in 2012. Credit: Tomás Andréu/IPS

*By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Jan 15 2015 (IPS)

The upcoming municipal and legislative elections in March and the hiring of former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani as a kind of anti-crime tzar are not the best equation for bringing down El Salvador’s high murder rate, analysts say.

Hopes that a national council set up by the government to tackle the problem of soaring crime will bring short-term results are waning because the focus on reducing the homicide rate has been overshadowed by the interest in gaining votes, said experts consulted by IPS.

“I am afraid that they are acting more as a result of the pressure generated by the need to win elections than in response to the country’s real need to find a solution to its crime problem,” said Raúl Mijango, one of the two mediators of the truce between gangs in place since March 2012.

On Mar. 1, Salvadorans will go to the polls to elect the 84 members of the country’s single-chamber legislature, as well as the mayors of its 262 municipalities.

In September, the government of left-wing President Salvador Sánchez Cerén created a National Council on Public Security and Citizen Coexistence, as an innovative response to the soaring crime rates, which have mainly been driven up by the gangs.“What Giuliani did in New York is a kind of gringo-style ‘manudurismo' [iron fist-ism], and in El Salvador we shouldn’t be reviving failed initiatives; we need new experiences.” -- Jeannette Aguilar

The main gangs, Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18, have an estimated 60,000 young members in El Salvador’s cities.

A total of 3,912 homicides were committed in 2014 in this impoverished Central American country of 6.2 million people – a 57 percent increase from the previous year, after a significant drop in 2012 and 2013 brought about by the truce between gangs.

The surge in the murder rate meant El Salvador returned to its earlier status as one of the world’s most violent countries, with 63 homicides per 100,000 population, compared to a global average homicide rate of 6.2 per 100,000 population in 2012, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

In March 2012, the main gangs agreed a truce which significantly reduced the number of murders for 15 months. In 2012 the homicide rate fell to 41 per 100,000 inhabitants. But the measure ran up against resistance from a society deeply wounded by the gangs, known here as “maras”.

The truce, which in practice has fallen apart, had the backing of the government of former president Mauricio Funes (2009-2014), which saw it as a mechanism to bring down the homicide rate, but never publicly expressed its actual involvement or support. It preferred instead to say it merely helped “facilitate” the agreement, by allowing imprisoned gang leaders to communicate with their deputies outside of prison.

The need for frank analyses of El Salvador’s problems and decisions to address them have been undermined by near continuous election campaigns, in a country which goes to the polls to vote every three years or less.

Presidential elections, which are held every five years, took place in 2014, and legislative and municipal elections are held every three years.

On Jan. 5, Sánchez Cerén, a former guerrilla commander during the 1980-1992 civil war, foreclosed any possibility of the gangs participating in any way in the debates in the new National Council on Public Security and Citizen Coexistence.

Members of the National Council on Public Security and Citizen Coexistence during a meeting in the presidential house in El Salvador. President Salvador Sánchez Cerén is sitting in the middle. Credit: Government of El Salvador

Members of the National Council on Public Security and Citizen Coexistence during a meeting in the presidential house in El Salvador. President Salvador Sánchez Cerén is sitting in the middle. Credit: Government of El Salvador

Mijango told IPS that the position taken by the president and his party, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) – a former guerrilla group – to reject any participation by the gangs in the Council is purely motivated by electoral concerns, as the majority of the population is furiously opposed to the gangs, according to opinion polls.

To demonstrate that the new position responds to electoral interests, Mijango pointed out that Sánchez Cerén was vice president under Funes and that the FMLN is the party that “facilitated” the truce.

The National Council is made up of a wide range of academic, religious, citizen, business and international cooperation institutions.

The hope is that with input from the different actors, a consensus will be reached around proposals for tackling the country’s violent crime problem.

“In general, the Council is an important platform and will give a boost to national and local programmes and policies,” said Jeannette Aguilar, director of the José Simeón Cañas Central American University Public Opinion Institute.

But Aguilar also insinuated in her dialogue with IPS that she had doubts that the National Council would work, given the failure of similar previous attempts to reach a consensus in other areas, such as the economy.

She cited the case of the Economic and Social Council, made up of trade unionists, members of the business community, political parties and civil society organisations, which failed in its aim to hammer out agreements between labour and business.

It is widely recognised that a large part of the country’s homicides are the result of turf wars between gangs.

The National Council’s Technical Secretariat includes representatives of the United Nations Development Programme, the Organisation of American States and the European Union.

On Jan. 16, the 23rd anniversary of the peace agreement that put an end to 12 years of armed conflict in 1992, the government will announce the first measures arising from the proposals set forth in the National Council.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will be visiting the country at the time to support the government’s anti-crime efforts.

The possibility of reaching agreements in this area has also been undermined by the irritation among some segments of society over the presence of former NY mayor Giuliani, who was hired by the National Association of Private Enterprise (ANEP), a powerful business group that also forms part of the National Council.

Giuliani is credited for the major drop in crime in New York City while he was mayor from 1994 to 2001. His team is set to arrive in the Salvadoran capital in the next two weeks.

ANEP is close to the right-wing National Republican Alliance (ARENA), which governed the country from 1989 to 2009, when the FMLN first won the presidency.

The decision to hire Giuliani to make recommendations to the government in the context of the National Council has triggered controversy.

“What Giuliani did in New York is a kind of gringo-style ‘manudurismo’ [iron fist-ism], and in El Salvador we shouldn’t be reviving failed initiatives; we need new experiences,” Aguilar said.

“Mano dura” is the description of the “zero tolerance” policies against crime adopted by the ARENA governments during their two decades in office, based exclusively on repression. The policies were not successful.

Luis Cardenal, who belongs to one of ANEP’s member organisations, told the local media on Jan. 6 that if the government did not accept the proposals set forth by Giuliani and his team, it would be an indication that “it’s hiding something,” with its National Council initiative.

“ANEP’s stance is blackmail, pure and simple,” Aguilar said.

For his part, Mijango said the business community plans to use Giuliani to boycott the work of the National Council. With the large media outlets on its side, ANEP will try to ensure that media coverage is only given to the former mayor, in order to delegitimise the work of the National Council and the government, with the aim of hurting the FMLN’s performance in the elections.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/electioneering-undermines-fight-against-crime-in-el-salvador/feed/ 1
Anemia in Eastern Cuba Reflects Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/anemia-in-eastern-cuba-reflects-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anemia-in-eastern-cuba-reflects-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/anemia-in-eastern-cuba-reflects-inequality/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 18:40:20 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138646 Computer technician Gladys Pavón with her son Irving in Bayamo, in the eastern Cuban province of Granma. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños IPS

Computer technician Gladys Pavón with her son Irving in Bayamo, in the eastern Cuban province of Granma. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños IPS

*By Ivet González
BAYAMO, Cuba, Jan 14 2015 (IPS)

Cuba has met the United Nations goal of reducing hunger. But anemia caused by malnutrition is still a problem among infants, small children and pregnant women in this Caribbean island nation, which has been in the grip of an economic crisis for over two decades.

“Meat is the hardest thing to get,” said Gladys Pavón from the city of Bayamo, 730 km east of Havana. “The fruit and vegetables that we buy for the children are also difficult to get. We buy milk at the store [through the ration card system],” the 32-year-old mother of two small boys told IPS.

Pavón, a computer technician, is introducing new foods into the diet of nine-month-old Irving. “My little one is now eating fruit, tubers, pasta and all kinds of meat. I try to give him a balanced diet, like I do with two-year-old Javier Alejandro,” she said.

“My kids have never suffered from anemia,” the young mother said proudly, holding the chunky Irving, who is free of an ailment that still affects vulnerable parts of the population in the east – Cuba’s poorest region – despite the National Plan for the Prevention and Control of Anemia and constant support from the international community to eradicate the problem.

“Nutritional deficiency anemia is among the main nutritional problems in the province of Granma [whose capital is Bayamo], as it is in the rest of eastern Cuba,” Dr. Margarita Cruz, who heads the local Food and Nutrition Monitoring System, told IPS.

“The main cause is iron deficiency in the diet,” Cruz said. “Children and pregnant women don’t consume the iron their bodies need.”

“There are problems with availability of and access to an adequate diet, but there are also bad nutritional habits, including a taste for junk food, which has begun to have a negative impact,” she said.

There are an estimated two billion people worldwide with micronutrient deficiencies, which undermine a healthy, productive life, according to the first ever Global Nutrition Report, published in November 2014 by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).“Nutritional deficiency anemia is among the main nutritional problems in the province of Granma, as it is in the rest of eastern Cuba.” -- Dr. Margarita Cruz

And under-nutrition kills nearly 1.5 million women and children a year around the world.

In Cuba, which has met the U.N. Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the number of people who live in hunger, from 1990 levels, less than five percent of the population of 11.2 million is undernourished.

Every inhabitant receives a set quota of food purchased at subsidised prices through the “libreta” or ration book. The system is widely criticised, but it is essential for lower-income segments of the population. And pregnant women and children up to the age of 13 receive a special diet with extra supplies of meat, fortified milk, fruit compote and yoghurt.

But to put food on the table all month long, families have no choice but to pay the high prices charged for food in the farmers’ markets, state-run stores that only accept hard currency, and the black market, which survives despite police raids and prison sentences of up to three years for contraband.

Statistics from the state-run Centre of Studies on the Cuban Economy show that food absorbs between 59 and 75 percent of the family budget, in a country where the state, by far the largest employer, pays an average salary of 19 dollars a month.

Eastern Cuba, which includes five provinces – Las Tunas, Granma, Holguín, Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo – has the worst development indicators in the country.

According to the latest population and housing census, from 2012, many more people leave the eastern provinces than arrive. In the remaining 10 provinces, more than 75 percent of outsiders have traditionally been from the east.

Although anemia is still a health problem, the situation has improved in recent years.

A study carried out in eastern Cuba from 2005 to 2011 found that the prevalence of anemia among children under five fell from 31.8 to 26 percent. The highest rates were found among babies and toddlers between six and 23 months of age, according to an article published in 2014 in the Cuban magazine MEDICC Review.

In Granma, which has 830,600 inhabitants, the prevalence of anemia among children under five has dropped below 25 percent and among pregnant women to under 20 percent, said Cruz, one of the authors of the article in MEDICC Review.

“An effort has been made, which is why we have seen results,” she said. “People are eating more vegetables and have learned how to combine certain foods to maximise the nutrients.”

The World Food Programme (WFP) financed two major projects, consecutively, from 2002 to 2014 in the five eastern provinces, in support of the Public Health Ministry’s National Plan for the Prevention and Control of Anemia.

The projects, carried out in conjunction with local institutions, included communicational and educational strategies targeting families; the setting up of anemia monitoring systems in the public health sector; the free distribution of cereals fortified with micronutrients; and measures to boost local production of the cereals.

Cuba and the WFP launched a new programme this month. It will run through 2018, and puts a priority on nutritional monitoring and aid for agriculture in Cuba, in line with the Raúl Castro government’s emphasis on agriculture and empowerment at a local level to reduce the country’s food imports, which total two billion dollars a year.

Using rice grown in Cuba, the state-run Dairy Products Company of Bayamo began this month to produce fortified rice, Nutriarroz. Rice is the most widely consumed cereal in this country.

“The product has been accepted well in the trials that have been carried out,” said Rauel Medina, director of the factory.

The company, the largest of its kind in the country, is to deliver 1,200 tons a year for free distribution among small children and pregnant women in the eastern provinces that still have a high prevalence of anemia, as part of the cooperation between the WFP and Cuba.

“This problem must be detected among women of childbearing age,” said Dr. Mariela Velis, head of the Maternal and Child Health Programme in Granma. “An anemic mother can have a child with the same problem, and a cycle is created.”

For that reason, hemoglobin screening for anemia is carried out among women in the province, starting in adolescence, she explained.

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/anemia-in-eastern-cuba-reflects-inequality/feed/ 1
U.N. Field Operations Deadlier Every Yearhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-n-field-operations-deadlier-every-year/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-field-operations-deadlier-every-year http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-n-field-operations-deadlier-every-year/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 03:56:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138631 United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) peacekeepers provide security at a trial. U.N. staffers have been killed in the country in recent years. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret.

United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) peacekeepers provide security at a trial. U.N. staffers have been killed in the country in recent years. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret.

*By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 14 2015 (IPS)

The widespread field operations of the United Nations – primarily in conflict zones in Africa, Asia and the Middle East – continue to be some of the world’s deadliest.

The hazards are so predictable that the United Nations – and its agencies – subtly encourage staffers to write their last will before leaving home.

And working for the United Nations proved especially deadly in 2014 as its personnel “continued to be subject to deliberate attacks and exposed to hazardous environments”, according to the Staff Union’s Standing Committee for the Security and Independence of the International Civil Service.“I think the most appropriate question is: should the U.N. send staff members to places where their security and safety cannot be guaranteed?” - Barbara Tavora-Jainchill, president of the U.N. Staff Union

Asked if the United Nations was doing enough to protect its staff in these overseas operations, Barbara Tavora-Jainchill, president of the U.N. Staff Union, told IPS:  “This is a tricky question, because in principle the responsibility for the protection belongs primarily to the host country, i.e., the country where the staff member is working/living”.

“I think the most appropriate question is: should the U.N. send staff members to places where their security and safety cannot be guaranteed?” she asked.

At least, 61 United Nations and associated personnel were killed in 2014, including 33 peacekeepers, 16 civilians, nine contractors and three consultants, compared to 58 in 2013, including 33 peacekeepers and 25 civilians and associated personnel.

In 2012, 37 U.N. personnel, including 20 civilians and 17 peacekeepers, two of them police officers, were killed in the line of duty.

According to the Staff Union Standing Committee, the incident with the most casualties took place in Northern Mali, where nine peacekeepers were killed last October when their convoy was
ambushed.

Northern Mali was the most deadly place for U.N. personnel: 28 peacekeepers were killed there between June and October. And Gaza was the most deadly place for civilian personnel, with 11 killed in
July and August.

The killings, some of them described as “deliberate”, took place in Afghanistan, Somalia, Mali, Cambodia, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, North Darfur, Central African Republic and Gaza.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed serious concern over the continued killings of U.N. staffers in field operations.

“I am appalled by the number of humanitarian workers and peacekeepers who have been deliberately targeted in the past year, while they were trying to help people in crisis,” he said, at a memorial ceremony last week to honour fallen staff members.

In the past year, he said, U.N. staff members were killed while relaxing over dinner in a restaurant in Kabul while two colleagues were targeted after getting off a plane in Somalia.

Speaking at the same ceremony, Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions, said: “We are asked to work in some of the world’s most difficult and dangerous places.”

He said the work is fulfilling and “we do it willingly.”  “But all we ask in return is that the Organisation do its best to protect us, look after our families, and hold those who attack us, including governments, responsible for their actions.”

In a statement released Tuesday, the Staff Union Standing Committee said South Sudan was the country with the highest number of national staff members detained or abducted.

In May, there were allegations that members of South Sudan’s security forces assaulted and illegally detained two staff members in separate incidents in Juba.

In August, South Sudan’s National Security Service detained two national staff.  And in October, eight armed men wearing plain clothes seized a World Food Programme staff member who was waiting in line for a flight from Malakal airport and drove him to an unknown location.

Scores of United Nations staff and associated personnel were also subject
to hostage-taking, kidnapping and abductions, the statement said.

The worst incidents took place in the Golan Heights, where 44 Fijian peacekeepers were detained by armed opposition elements between 28 August and 11 September last year.

Meanwhile, U.N. personnel were abducted in Yemen, the Sudan’s Darfur region, Pakistan and in South Sudan.

An international contractor from India working for the U.N Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) was released on 12 June after 94 days of captivity.

Asked about “hazard pay” for staffers in overseas operations, Tavora-Jainchill told IPS staff members do get hazard/danger pay depending on conditions of the individual duty station.

She said, “Each duty station is a unique duty station and receives unique consideration for hazard/danger pay, so your question cannot be answered in a general manner.”

United Nations staff members participate in a Pension Fund and there are provisions in that pension related to their death and the payment of pension/indemnities to their survivors, she added.

Asked about the will, she said: “That question is very interesting because I also heard that and some time ago asked someone from the U.N. Administration if it was really the case.”

The response was that those staff members are asked to consider “putting their business and paperwork in order”.

“My understanding from the answer is that the paperwork might include a will, she added.”

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-n-field-operations-deadlier-every-year/feed/ 1
Island States Throw Off the Heavy Yoke of Fossil Fuelshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/island-states-throw-off-the-heavy-yoke-of-fossil-fuels/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=island-states-throw-off-the-heavy-yoke-of-fossil-fuels http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/island-states-throw-off-the-heavy-yoke-of-fossil-fuels/#comments Tue, 13 Jan 2015 21:55:41 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138625 In 2010, the 13-kilometre-long island of Nevis launched the first-ever wind farm to be commissioned in the OECS with a promise to provide jobs for islanders, a reliable supply of wind energy, cheaper electricity and a reduction in surcharge and the use of imported oils. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

In 2010, the 13-kilometre-long island of Nevis launched the first-ever wind farm to be commissioned in the OECS with a promise to provide jobs for islanders, a reliable supply of wind energy, cheaper electricity and a reduction in surcharge and the use of imported oils. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

*By Desmond Brown
BASSETERRE, St. Kitts, Jan 13 2015 (IPS)

The Caribbean nation of St. Kitts and Nevis, on a quest to become the world’s first sustainable island state, has taken a giant leap in its programme to cut energy costs.

Last week, the government broke ground to construct the country’s second solar farm, and Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas told IPS his administration is “committed to free the country from the fossil fuel reliance” which has burdened so many nations for so very long.“This farm will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that St. Kitts and Nevis pumps into the atmosphere. It will move forward our country’s determination to transform St. Kitts and Nevis into a green and sustainable nation." -- Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas

Douglas said the aim is “to harness the power of the sun – a power which nature has given to us in such great abundance in this very beautiful country, St. Kitts and Nevis.

“The energy generated will be infused into the national grid, and this will reduce SKELEC’s need for imported fossil fuels,” he said, referring to the state electricity provider.

“This farm will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that St. Kitts and Nevis pumps into the atmosphere. It will move forward our country’s determination to transform St. Kitts and Nevis into a green and sustainable nation. It will reduce the cost of energy and it will reduce the cost of electricity for our consumers,” Douglas added.

Electricity costs more than 42.3 cents per KWh in St. Kitts and Nevis.

Construction of the second solar plant is being funded by the St. Kitts Electricity Corporation (SKELEC) and the Republic of China (Taiwan). SKELEC is assuming 45 percent of the cost and the Republic of China (Taiwan) 55 percent of the costs.

The first solar farm, commissioned in September 2013, generates electricity for the Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport.

Meanwhile, as environmental sustainability gains traction in the Caribbean, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner, said the region is on the right track to better integrate environmental considerations into public policies.

“I think in some respects it is in the Caribbean that we are already seeing some very bold leadership,” Steiner told IPS.

“The minute countries start looking at the implications of environmental change on their future and the future of their economies, you begin to realise that if you don’t integrate environmental sustainability, you are essentially going to face, very often, higher risks and higher costs and perhaps the loss of assets.” He said such assets could include land, forests, coral reefs or fisheries.

Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Caribbean coral reefs have experienced drastic losses in the past several decades and this has been cited by numerous studies as the primary cause of ongoing declines of Caribbean fish populations. Fish use the structure of corals for shelter and they also contribute to coastal protection.

It has been estimated that fisheries associated with coral reefs in the Caribbean region are responsible for generating net annual revenues valued at or above 310 million dollars.

Continued degradation of the region’s few remaining coral reefs would diminish these net annual revenues by an estimated 95-140 million dollars annually from 2015. The subsequent decrease in dive tourism could also profoundly affect annual net tourism revenues.

Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne said his government will not be left behind in pursuit of a policy of reducing the carbon footprint by incorporating more renewable energy into the mix.

“Barbuda will become a green-energy island within a short period, as more modern green technology is installed there to generate all the electricity that Barbuda needs,” Browne, who’s Antigua Labour Party formed the government here in June 2014, told IPS.

“My government’s intention is to significantly reduce Antigua’s reliance on fossil fuels. A target of 20 percent reliance on green energy, in the first term of this administration, is being pursued vigorously.”

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) released a new report Monday which provides a plan to double the share of renewable energy in the world’s energy mix by 2030.

IRENA’s renewable energy roadmap, REmap 2030, also determines the potential for the U.S. and other countries to scale up renewable energy in the energy system, including power, industry, buildings, and the transport sector.

“This report adds to the growing chorus of studies that show the increasing cost competitiveness and potential of renewable energy in the U.S.,” said Dolf Gielen, director of IRENA’s Innovation and Technology Centre.

“Importantly, it shows the potential of renewables isn’t just limited to the power sector, but also has tremendous potential in the buildings, industry and transport sectors.”

Next week, efforts to scale up global renewable energy expansion will continue as government leaders from more than 150 countries and representatives from 110 international organisations gather in Abu Dhabi for IRENA’s fifth Assembly.

After spending the better part of 25 years trying to understand the threat of global warming, manifesting itself in greenhouse gas emissions and carbon dioxide emissions, the UNEP executive director said only slowly are we beginning to realise that in trying to address this threat we’re actually beginning to lay the tracks for what he calls “the 21st century economy” – which is more resource efficient, less polluting, and a driver for innovation and utilising the potential of technology.

“So you can take that track and say climate change is a threat or you can also say out of this threat arise a lot of actions that have multiple benefits,” Steiner said.

“We also have to realise that in a global economy where most countries today are faced with severe unemployment and, most tragically, youth unemployment, we need to start also looking at a transition towards a green economy as also an opportunity to make it a more inclusive green economy.”

Steiner said one of the core items that UNEP would like to see much more work on is a better understanding of how countries can reform their taxation system to send a signal to the economy that they want to drive businesses away from pollution and resource inefficiency.

At the same time, the UNEP boss wants countries to also address unemployment.

“So we need to reduce this strange phenomenon that we call income tax which makes labour as a factor of production ever more expensive,” Steiner said.

“So shifting from an income tax revenue base for governments towards a resource efficiency based income or revenue generating physical policy makes sense environmentally. It maintains the revenue base of governments and it also increases the incentive for people to find jobs again. It’s complex in one sense but very obvious in another sense.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/island-states-throw-off-the-heavy-yoke-of-fossil-fuels/feed/ 0
Haitians Worry World Bank-Assisted Mining Law Could Result in “Looting”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/haitians-worry-world-bank-assisted-mining-law-could-result-in-looting/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=haitians-worry-world-bank-assisted-mining-law-could-result-in-looting http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/haitians-worry-world-bank-assisted-mining-law-could-result-in-looting/#comments Tue, 13 Jan 2015 00:26:23 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138611 The road to Baradares in north central Haiti. The aim of the new draft mining law appears to be a massive expansion of Haiti’s mining sector. Credit: Lee Cohen/cc by 2.0

The road to Baradares in north central Haiti. The aim of the new draft mining law appears to be a massive expansion of Haiti’s mining sector. Credit: Lee Cohen/cc by 2.0

*By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jan 13 2015 (IPS)

With Haiti’s Parliament having dissolved on Tuesday, civil society groups are worried that the Haitian president may move to unilaterally put in place a contentious revision to the country’s decades-old mining law.

Starting in 2013, that draft was written with technical assistance from the World Bank. Last week, a half-dozen Haitian groups filed a formal appeal with the bank’s complaints office, expressing concern that the legislation had been crafted without the public consultation often required under the Washington-based development funder’s own policies.“The process has been very opaque, with a small group of experts from the World Bank and Haitian government officials drafting this law.” -- Sarah Singh

The aim of the new draft mining law appears to be a massive expansion of Haiti’s mining sector, paving the way for the entry of foreign companies already interested in the country’s significant gold and other deposits.

“Community leaders … are encouraging communities to think critically about ‘development’, and to not simply accept projects defined by outsiders,” Ellie Happel, an attorney in Port-au-Prince who has been involved in the complaint, told IPS.

“These projects often fail. And, in the case with gold mining, residents learn that these projects may threaten their very way of life.”

Haiti’s extractives permitting process is currently extensive and bureaucratic. Yet the new revisions would bypass parliamentary oversight altogether, halting even a requirement that agreement terms be made public, according to a draft leaked in July.

Critics worry that this streamlining, coupled with the Haitian government’s weakness in ensuring oversight, could result in social and environmental problems, particularly damaging to a largely agrarian economy. Further, there is question as to whether exploitation of this lucrative minerals wealth would benefit the country’s vast impoverished population.

“The World Bank’s involvement in developing the Draft Mining Law lends the law credibility, which is likely to encourage investment in the Haitian mining sector,” the complaint, filed with the bank’s Inspection Panel on Wednesday, states.

“[T]his increased investment in the mining sector will result in … contamination of vital waterways, impacts on the agriculture sector, and involuntary displacement of communities. Complainants are also concerned about the exclusion of Haitian people from the law reform process, particularly when contrasted with the reported regular participation of the private sector in drafting the new law.”

An opaque process

The complaint comes five years after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, and as political instability is threatening reconstruction and development progress made in that catastrophe’s aftermath. Elections have been repeatedly put off for more than two years, and by Tuesday so many members of Parliament are slated to have finished their terms that the body would lack a quorum.

On Sunday Haitian President Michel Martelly indicated that a deal might be near. But the leftist opposition was reportedly not part of this agreement, and has repeatedly warned that the president is planning to rule by decree.

The Inspection Panel complaint, filed by six civil society groups operating under the umbrella Kolektif Jistis Min (the Justice in Mining Collective), contextualises its concerns against this backdrop of instability. “[T]he Haitian government may be poised to adopt the Draft Mining Law by decree, outside the democratic process,” it states.

Even if the political crisis is dealt with soon, concerns with the legislation’s drafting process will remain.

The Justice in Mining Collective, which represents around 50,000 Haitians, drew up the complaint after the draft mining law was leaked in July. No formal copy of the legislation has been made public, nor has the French-language draft law been translated into Haitian Creole, the most commonly spoken language.

“The process has been very opaque, with a small group of experts from the World Bank and Haitian government officials drafting this law,” Sarah Singh, the director of strategic support with Accountability Counsel, a legal advocacy group that consulted on the complaint and is representing some Haitian communities, told IPS.

“They’ve had two meetings that, to my knowledge, were invite-only and held in French, at which the majority of attendees were private investors and some big NGOs. Yet the bank’s response to complaints of this lack of consultation has been to say this is the government’s responsibility.”

The Justice in Mining Collective is suggesting that this lack of consultation runs counter to social and environmental guidelines that undergird all World Bank investments. These policies would also call for a broad environmental assessment across the sector, something local civil society is now demanding – to be followed by a major public debate around the assessment’s findings and the potential role large-scale mining could play in Haiti’s development.

Yet the World Bank is not actually investing in the Haitian mining sector, and it is not clear that the institution’s technical assistance is required to conform to the safeguards policies. In a November letter, the bank noted that its engagement on the Haitian mining law has been confined to sharing international best practices.

Yet Singh says she and others believe the safeguards do still apply, particularly given the scope of the new legislation’s impact.

“This will change the entire legal regime,” she says. “The idea that bank could do that and not have the safeguards apply seems hugely problematic.”

A World Bank spokesperson did confirm to IPS that the Inspection Panel has received the Haitian complaint. If the panel registers the request, she said, the bank’s management would have around a month to submit a response, following which the bank’s board would decide whether the complaint should be investigated.

Parliamentary moratorium

Certainly sensitivities around the Haitian extractives sector have increased in recent years.

Minerals prospecting in Haiti has expanded significantly over the past half-decade, though no company has yet moved beyond exploration. In 2012, when the government approved its first full mining permit in years, the Parliament balked, issuing a non-binding moratorium on all extraction until a sector-wide assessment could take place.

Meanwhile, Haitians have been looking across the border at some of the mining-related problems experienced in the Dominican Republic, including water pollution. Civil society groups have also been reaching out to other countries in the Global South, trying to understand the experiences of other communities around large-scale extractives operations.

Current views are also being informed by decades of historical experience in Haiti, as well. Since the country’s independence in the early 19th century, several foreign companies have engaged many years of gold mining.

That was a “negative, even catastrophic, experience,” according to a statement from the Justice in Mining Collective released following the leak of the draft mining law in July.

“Mining exploitation has never contributed to the development of Haiti. To the contrary, the history of gold exploitation is one marked by blood and suffering since the beginning,” the statement warned.

“When we consider the importance of and the potential consequences of mineral exploitation, we note this change in the law as a sort of scandal that may facilitate further looting, without even the people aware of the consequences.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/haitians-worry-world-bank-assisted-mining-law-could-result-in-looting/feed/ 5
Oil, An Invasive Water Species in the Carnival Capitalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/oil-an-invasive-water-species-in-the-carnival-capital/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oil-an-invasive-water-species-in-the-carnival-capital http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/oil-an-invasive-water-species-in-the-carnival-capital/#comments Mon, 12 Jan 2015 18:39:50 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138601 Fishermen row their small boat out into Guanabara bay from a beach on Gobernador island. In the background can be seen an oil tanker and an island with oil silos belonging to Petrobras. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Fishermen row their small boat out into Guanabara bay from a beach on Gobernador island. In the background can be seen an oil tanker and an island with oil silos belonging to Petrobras. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

*By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 12 2015 (IPS)

“We ran down to the beach and found a black tide, whose waves didn’t make the sound of water, but the slurp of a thick paste,” said Alexandre Anderson, describing the oil spill in Guanabara bay in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro which turned him into an activist and leader among the local small-scale fishing community.

The January 2000 disaster marked a low point for environmental conditions in the bay, and drew global attention because of the impact of the sudden massive spill of 1.3 million litres of oil from a leaking underground pipeline.

The water in the bay is also polluted by untreated sewage from Greater Rio de Janeiro, which has a population of 12 million.“The oil industry is synonymous with the end: the end of fishing and the end of fish in Guanabara bay." -- Alexandre Anderson

Nevertheless, fish and fishing have survived, although the number of local fisherpersons has dropped around 60 percent since then, to 9,000 today, Anderson estimates.

The threat to their livelihood comes mainly from the shrinking of the space available for fishing, which covered 78 percent of the bay a few decades ago and currently is limited to just 12 percent, he said.

The activities of the oil industry’s plants, pipelines and tankers occupy 46 percent of the bay and that area is expanding, due to deepwater drilling in the Atlantic off the coast of Brazil, and the construction of a second refinery near the bay, set to begin operating in 2016.

“The oil industry is synonymous with the end: the end of fishing and the end of fish in Guanabara bay,” Anderson told IPS.

Besides narrowing the space available for fishing, the numerous pipelines that crisscross the bay change the environment. The oil is piped at high temperatures, to keep it liquid, while the natural gas is pumped cold, at dozens of degrees below zero.

Brazil’s state-run oil company, Petrobras, occupies islands in the bay with regasification plants of liquefied natural gas and stocks of oil and gas, supplied by oil and gas pipelines.

Marine life in the bay also suffers the effects of the sounds and vibrations caused by the pumping of tons of gas and oil at high pressure. “Imagine the impact of all of that on the seabed,” said Anderson.

The small-scale fishing community has fallen victim to the major economic transformation of the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan region. The economy of Rio, best known for its cultural activities, tourism and carnival, is now largely based on oil and the metalworking industry.

The oil deposits discovered in what is known as the “pre-salt” area, below a two-kilometre- thick salt layer under rock, sand and deep water some 300 km off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, have fuelled the recovery of shipyards that were practically inactive and have drawn large multinational engineering and oil services corporations to the area.

They also boosted the choice of Itaboraí, 60 km from Rio de Janeiro and near the northeast edge of Guanabara bay, for the construction of a petrochemical complex, COMPERJ, limited so far to a refinery with a capacity to handle 165,000 barrels a day.

On the other side of the bay, along whose banks the metropolitan region of 12 million people has grown up, Petrobras has been operating the Duque de Caxias refinery, which processes 242,000 barrels a day, since 1961.

“With the pre-salt deposits, Brazil will produce between 4.5 and 5.5 million barrels a day over the next 20 years, and will be able to export another two million, becoming a major oil exporter,” said Alexandre Szklo, a professor of energy planning at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

The recent fall in international oil prices, of nearly 40 percent, does not modify that tendency, because in the current conditions in Brazil, “price swings only affect long-term expansion,” he said. “The oil industry is like an elephant – it takes it a while to start running and to brake.”

Brazil’s share of total global oil supplies might be small, only around five percent, but this country accounts for 60 percent of orders for drilling rigs and oil exploration and drilling systems, because almost all of its reserves are offshore, said Szklo.

It’s an opportunity to develop the naval industry and services for that sector, thus benefiting the economy of the state of Rio de Janeiro, off the coasts of which are the main pre-salt deposits, which also extend to other states to the north and south.

Brazil hopes to tap into this enormous source of wealth to improve its education and health systems over the coming decades. But some curses are inherent.

Because of its diversified production system, by contrast with Saudi Arabia, Russia and Venezuela, Brazil is protected from the main curse, which is sacrificing other sectors of the economy, especially processing industries, for an overvalued local currency and high dependency on oil exports, Szklo said.

But there is no denying that Rio de Janeiro suffers locally from Dutch Disease – an economic condition in which a nation’s economy becomes overly dependent on the export of natural resources.

“Oil production generates few jobs, but it provides work for highly-paid skilled workers who demand expensive services, driving up local costs, which debilitates other industrial sectors,” the professor explained.

On the outskirts of Campos, 280 km northeast of Rio de Janeiro, where large amounts of oil (not pre-salt) have been extracted in deep waters over the past three decades, the phenomenon helped destroy the local sugar industry and drove the cost of living up to the level of wealthy cities.

Rio de Janeiro is experiencing the same phenomenon, which has made it one of the most expensive cities in the world. The cost of housing in middle-class neighbourhoods has tripled in the last five years.

This explains the royalties charged by municipal and state governments in oil-producing areas, as a way to prepare for the future economic transition, after the oil reserves have been exhausted.

But it is the social and environmental curses whose repercussions are felt first and which generate the most resistance.

“The choice of location for the installation of COMPERJ was a bad one, between protected natural areas and a national park, threatening rivers that are still in good shape, and the last preserved area in Guanabara bay,” said biologist Breno Herrera.

He led a movement supported by local inhabitants, scientists and prosecutors which blocked the plans of Petrobras – the owner of COMPERJ – to turn the Guaxindiba river into a waterway for transporting heavy equipment to the petrochemical complex.

“The dredging could stir up heavy metals lying on the riverbed and pollute fish and people,” said Herrera.

The refinery will cause acid rain which could destroy forests and green areas in the mountains, towards which the wind blows, carrying pollutants produced by the processing of oil, said Herrera, the former head of a protected natural area jeopardised by the oil industry.

The Duque de Caxias refinery, “one of the worst sources of pollution in Guanabara bay, also pollutes the air in nearby neighbourhoods, causing respiratory diseases, allergies and red, itchy eyes,” said Sebastião Raulino, an activist with the Forum of People Affected by the Oil and Petrochemical Industry (FAPP).

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/oil-an-invasive-water-species-in-the-carnival-capital/feed/ 0
St. Vincent Embarks on Renewable Energy Pathhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/st-vincent-embarks-on-renewable-energy-path/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=st-vincent-embarks-on-renewable-energy-path http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/st-vincent-embarks-on-renewable-energy-path/#comments Mon, 12 Jan 2015 13:54:59 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138596 St. Vincent and the Grenadines has installed 750 kilowatt hours of photovoltaic panels, which it says reduced its carbon emissions by 800 tonnes annually. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

St. Vincent and the Grenadines has installed 750 kilowatt hours of photovoltaic panels, which it says reduced its carbon emissions by 800 tonnes annually. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

*By Kenton X. Chance
KINGSTOWN, Jan 12 2015 (IPS)

For decades, the fertile slopes of La Soufriere volcano, which occupies the northern third of this 344-kilometre-square island, has produced illegally grown marijuana that fuels the local underground economy, and the trade in that illicit drug across the eastern Caribbean.

But now the 1,234-metre-high mountain, which last erupted in 1979, is now being explored for something very different — its geothermal energy potential."Even if you have a lot of solar, you are still going to need the hydro and the geothermal and the diesel to carry the base." -- Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves

The Ralph Gonsalves government believes that geothermal energy will be a “game changer” for the local economy.

In this country, where tourism is the mainstay, the cost of electricity ranges from 40 to 50 cents per kilowatt-hour — several times what consumers pay in the United States.

Householders and manufacturers are hoping that the geothermal energy exploration, which has been underway for more than a year, will in fact produce the 10 to 15 megawatts of electricity that the country desperately needs to relieve its dependence on high-cost fossil fuels and give new life to the manufacturing and agro-processing sectors.

The geothermal energy exploration is a partnership between the Unity Labour Party government, the Icelandic Firm Reykjavik Geothermal Ltd., and Emera Inc., an international energy company with roots in Nova Scotia, Canada that also owns power stations in the Caribbean.

One year after the geothermal project was launched, Prime Minister Gonsalves, who will run for a fourth consecutive five-year term in elections this year, told Parliament in December that the geothermal power plant is on track for a 2017-2018 completion.

By June 2015, a technical report will be completed and well and plant site selection will be done, Gonsalves, who also holds the energy portfolio, told lawmakers.

“We are still on target. I have been advised by the Energy Unit. … Barring some extraordinary challenge which may arise, we should be having a production of 10 megawatts by the end of 2017,” Gonsalves told lawmakers.

The slopes of St. Vincent’s La Soufriere volcano, long the home of illegally grown marijuana, are being explored for geothermal potential. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

The slopes of St. Vincent’s La Soufriere volcano, long the home of illegally grown marijuana, are being explored for geothermal potential. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

The “very low interest monies” that the prime minister says his government will receive shortly may have been a reference to his government’s application for a 15-million-dollar loan through the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

The successful applicants will be announced at the Fifth Session of the IRENA Assembly, slated for Jan. 17-18 in Abu Dhabi, which Gonsalves will attend.

Putting the loan application of St. Vincent and the Grenadines into context, Gonsalves told IPS, “There are about 80 applications from which they are choosing eight, and the total sum would be 60 million [dollars] overall … which they will lend in this particular year.”

Notwithstanding falling oil prices recently, Gonsalves is still convinced that renewable energy is the way to go for St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

“In days gone by, when diesel was 15 dollars or less per barrel, there was no real urgency to address the other forms of energy,” he tells IPS.

One-quarter of the 20 megawatts of electricity generated during peak demand in this multi-island nation comes from the country’s three hydropower plants. The remaining 15 megawatts is generated by diesel, 70 million dollars worth of which was imported in 2013 for electricity generation.

“We want to make the hydro plants more efficient … and we want to do solar, and we are doing solar, and we want to do geothermal,” Gonsalves tells IPS, adding that geothermal energy can carry a base load of 98 per cent of the country’s energy needs, whereas solar could possibly generate 20 per cent — or higher with improved technology.

“So, even if you have a lot of solar, you are still going to need the hydro and the geothermal and the diesel to carry the base,” he tells IPS, adding that the country has a good geothermal source.

Among those who are hoping that the geothermal power plant becomes a reality sooner than later is 52-year-old furniture manufacturer Montgomery Dyer, who lives in Spring Village, a community in North Leeward, the district in northwestern St. Vincent, where the volcano is partly located.

Dyer tells IPS that he is excited about the prospects of lower electricity bills, as the cost of energy represents some 10 per cent of the production cost at his business, which employs 28 persons.

“The cost of energy in St. Vincent is very high. In any way we can reduce the cost of energy, the production cost will go down,” he tells IPS, adding that a spinoff effect would be increased competitiveness.

“We will be in a better position to compete, simple as that,” he says, even as he notes that the relatively high labour cost is also a challenge.

Dyer pays some 1,100 dollars for electricity each month, a substantial amount that would be even higher had he not taken steps to reduce electricity consumption at the factory.

“The factory is a mechanised factory, so everything [runs on] power. We try to use machines with smaller motors, and machines that rely on pneumatics. In any case, the compressor has to generate the air to power the machines where pneumatics are required,” he explained.

Outside of geothermal and hydropower, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is already taking steps to cash in on the warm tropical sunshine that bathes the nation almost year-round.

The country has some 750 kilowatt hours of photovoltaic installations, including a 10 kilowatt-hour installation on the Financial Complex — which houses the Office of the Prime Minister — that has seen the cooling cost at that building slashed by some 20 per cent.

Most of the solar installations are owned by the state electricity company, St. Vincent Electricity Services Ltd. (VINLEC), which has a legal monopoly on the commercial generation and distribution of electricity.

VINLEC has 557 kilowatt-hours of solar photovoltaic panels at its Cane Hall Power Plants, east of Kingstown, and another in Lowmans Bay, west of the capital, where another diesel power plant is also located.

The state-owned company has invested one million dollars in the panels, but the impact on the size of consumer’s electricity bill is expected to be negligible — a few cents annually.

All of the solar panels installed across the country, however, are expected to reduce by 800 tonnes annually the amount of greenhouse gases that St. Vincent and the Grenadines emits into the atmosphere.

“Now, 800 tonnes is not a significant number in global terms, but what it points to is that we are making our contribution as a small island developing state, and it is in that context of the geothermal that this visit arises,” Prime Minister Gonsalves says.

Greenhouse gases are a primary driver of climate change, which has resulted in several — sometimes unseasonal — severe weather events in St. Vincent and the Grenadines over the past few years.

These include a trough system on Christmas Eve 2013 that claimed 12 lives, and left loss and damages of 122 million dollars, or 17 per cent of the gross domestic product, according to government estimates.

Furniture manufacturer Dyer lost 445,000 dollars as a result of that trough system and had to borrow “hundreds of thousands of dollars” from commercial banks to restart his business some months later.

“It destroyed the factory,” he told IPS. “The water came through the factory — created a river in on section of the factory. It washed out everything on one side and deposited about 50 truckloads of stone, sand, and debris in the factory.

“It left the machines under about two feet of mud and silt,” he said. “It was crippling.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at Kentonxtchance@gmail.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/st-vincent-embarks-on-renewable-energy-path/feed/ 1
Illiteracy Wears a Woman’s Face in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/illiteracy-wears-a-womans-face-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=illiteracy-wears-a-womans-face-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/illiteracy-wears-a-womans-face-in-el-salvador/#comments Thu, 08 Jan 2015 20:43:33 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138563 Maximina Velasco reviews a reading and writing lesson in her home, as part of the literacy programme that made the town of Tapalhuaca, El Salvador, an illiteracy-free zone. Credit: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Maximina Velasco reviews a reading and writing lesson in her home, as part of the literacy programme that made the town of Tapalhuaca, El Salvador, an illiteracy-free zone. Credit: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

*By Edgardo Ayala
TAPALHUACA, El Salvador, Jan 8 2015 (IPS)

At the age of 74, Carmen López has proven that it’s never too late to learn. She is one of the 412 people in this small town in central El Salvador who recently learned to read and write.

“I was sad that I couldn’t write a letter or a receipt. But now I’m happy because I can,” she told IPS at the ceremony where Education Ministry authorities declared Tapalhuaca, population 4,000, an illiteracy-free zone.

A place is declared free of illiteracy when 96 percent of the inhabitants have learned to read and write. In the case of this small town in the department or province of La Paz, the proportion is even higher: 97.7 percent.

Like López, Maximina Velasco, 61, feels she broke through the barrier of ignorance when she signed up for the literacy course.“It’s a historic debt; for a long time, a majority of the population has been marginalised from education.” -- Maydé Recinos

“When I was a little girl, I started school. But I didn’t finish first grade because the teacher would hit me, and made me feel terrible,” she said, while writing out vowels and consonants during one of the classes she takes in her home, as part of a system that provides both group and one-on-one teaching.

She was forced to cut the class short because she had to cook lunch for her family – a problem shared by many of the women taking part in the literacy programme.

The literacy worker, 16-year-old Yanci Cubías, is one of the 130 volunteers teaching in this farming town. She spends two hours a day, a total of 10 a week, helping adults learn to read and write.

“At first it was hard to gain the trust of the people I was teaching, but in time everything went well, and it has become an unforgettable experience,” Cubías said.

Illiteracy became a serious problem in this impoverished Central American country of 6.2 million due to decades of social injustice that deprived a majority of the population of an education, especially in the countryside, where they worked as hired labour on coffee and cotton plantations belonging to the rural elite.

“It’s a historic debt; for a long time, a majority of the population has been marginalised from education,” activist Maydé Recinos, with the Salvadoran Foundation for Social Promotion and Economic Development (Funsalprodese), told IPS.

Her organisation forms part of the Salvadoran chapter of the Latin American and Caribbean Council for Popular Education (CEAAL).

Both López and Velasco, who have dedicated themselves to raising their children and helping their husbands in rural activities, have managed to overcome a hurdle still faced by many women in the country: for decades illiteracy has affected women more than men, because of a sexist culture.

The Salvadoran government’s National Literacy Programme has taught 200,000 people to read and write since 2009. That has brought the illiteracy rate among people over the age of 10 down from 17.9 percent in 2009 to 11.8 percent in 2013, according to the 2013 multi-purpose household survey.

Of that 11.8 percent, women represent 7.3 percentage points and men 4.5 points.

But in rural areas, the illiteracy rate stands at 18.9 percent, with women accounting for 11 percentage points and men 7.9.

The gender disparity “is due to the ‘machista’ culture. Dads used to say: boys should go to school and girls should do the housework,” the head of the Education Ministry’s literacy department, Angélica Paniagua, told IPS.

López remembers how, when she was a girl, her parents enrolled her in school, but she often missed class because they forced her to do housework.

“I liked school, but they left me at home alone to do the housework,” she said, “so I missed a lot of classes, and they finally pulled me out.”

Things will improve for women as the government puts a higher priority on education, especially in terms of expanding access to primary school and ensuring that children complete it, said Mirna Lemus with the Intersectoral Association for Economic Development and Social Progress (Cidep).

In its third and last report on compliance with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of global anti-poverty and development targets to be met by 2015, the government reported in early 2014 that primary school coverage increased from 86 percent in 2000 to 93.1 percent in 2012.

But the school dropout rate, especially in rural areas, remains higher among girls than among boys, according to the 2013 household survey.

The reduction of illiteracy is considered significant, but still insufficient to reach the MDG education targets.

The second MDG, achieving universal primary education, sets the specific targets of universal primary school enrollment and completion of sixth grade, and 100 percent literacy among 15 to 24 year olds.

“We still have a ways to go to reach the goals, but with the efforts we are making, we think the country is going to make more progress in the next five years,” said Paniagua.

The education authorities project that El Salvador will be declared free of illiteracy in 2019, the last year of the government of Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a former left-wing guerrilla commander and former teacher who became president in June.

Civil society organisations agree that reducing illiteracy by seven percentage points is an important achievement. But they say a bigger effort is needed, especially in terms of funding.

The spokespersons for Cidep and Funsalprodese said seven percent of GDP should be spent on education, but the proportion remains stuck at 3.3 percent as a result of the government’s tough financial straits.

“That is still insufficient to cover the country’s huge education needs,” said Funsalprodese’s Recinos.

Meanwhile, Maximina Velasco told IPS, with her face lit up by a big smile, that she is sure she will keep alive her interest in reading and writing, and that she will never return to the illiteracy that kept her so blind for most of her life.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/illiteracy-wears-a-womans-face-in-el-salvador/feed/ 0
The Day CIA Failed to Un-beard Castro in His Own Denhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/the-day-cia-failed-to-un-beard-castro-in-his-own-den/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-day-cia-failed-to-un-beard-castro-in-his-own-den http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/the-day-cia-failed-to-un-beard-castro-in-his-own-den/#comments Wed, 07 Jan 2015 22:39:26 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138554 Fidel Castro arrives at MATS Terminal, Washington, D.C., Apr. 15, 1959. Scores of attempts were later made by U.S. intelligence services to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro, including by hired Sicilian Mafia hitmen. Credit: public domain

Fidel Castro arrives at MATS Terminal, Washington, D.C., Apr. 15, 1959. Scores of attempts were later made by U.S. intelligence services to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro, including by hired Sicilian Mafia hitmen. Credit: public domain

*By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 7 2015 (IPS)

The controversial low-brow Hollywood comedy, ‘The Interview’, portrays the story of two U.S. talk-show journalists on assignment to interview Kim Jong-un – and midway down the road are recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to poison the North Korean leader.

The plot, which has enraged North Korea, accused of retaliating by hacking into the computers of Sony Pictures distributing the movie, is patently fictitious and involves a ricin-laced strip meant to poison Kim while shaking hands with the journalists."It's fine to make comedies about assassinations of the leaders of small countries the U.S. has demonised. But imagine if Russia or China made a film about assassinating the U.S. president." -- Michael Ratner

But, as art imitates life from a bygone era, the plan to kill the North Korean leader harkens back to the days in the late 1960s and 1970s when scores of attempts were made by U.S. intelligence services to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro, including by hired Sicilian Mafia hitmen.

The hilarious plots included an attempt to smuggle poisoned cigars into Castro’s household and also plant soluble thallium sulphate inside Castro’s shoes so that his beard will fall off and make him “the laughing stock of the socialist world.”

Some of the unsuccessful attempts were detailed in a scathing 1975 report by an 11-member investigative body appointed by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee chaired by Senator Frank Church, a Democrat from the state of Idaho.

The failed assassination plots are likely to be the subject of renewed discussion, particularly in the context of last month’s announcement of the resumption of full diplomatic relations between the two longstanding sworn enemies: the United States and Cuba.

Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, told IPS, “Sadly, and especially to the North Koreans and Kim Jong-un, the movie was not a comedy they could ignore.”

The CIA has a long history of often successful plots to assassinate leaders of countries who choose to act independently of U.S. wishes, he pointed out.

Numerous such plots were exposed in the 1975 U.S. Senate Church Committee report, including attempts against Fidel Castro of Cuba, Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, Ngo Dinh Diem, the first president of South Vietnam, and others, said Ratner, president of the Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights.

The supposed ban on such assassination since those revelations is meaningless; the U.S. now calls it targeted killing, he added.

“Think about Colonel Qaddafi [of Libya] and others killed by drones or Joint Special Operations Command.”

Seen in this context, said Ratner, a North Korean reaction would be expected – even though there has not been substantiated evidence that it was behind the Sony hack.

“Think about this another way: it’s fine to make comedies about assassinations of the leaders of small countries the U.S. has demonised. But imagine if Russia or China made a film about assassinating the U.S. president,” he said.

The United States would not simply laugh it off as a comedy.

“There is no problem as long as the target is small country that can be kicked around; let another country make such a comedy about our president, and I assure you, it will pay dearly,” Ratner added.

Dr. James E. Jennings, president, Conscience International and executive director at U.S. Academics for Peace, told IPS new information from cyber security firms calls into question the doctrinaire assertion by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was behind the Sony hack attack.

“The FBI’s rush to judgment – from which the agency may be forced to retreat – has raised protests from internet security experts and suspicions by conspiracy theorists of possible U.S. involvement in a bizarre plot to further isolate the Korean regime.”

They point out, said Dr. Jennings, that stranger things have happened before.

It would not be the first time that the CIA has used dirty tricks to cripple a foreign regime or try to assassinate a foreign leader.

He said folks are therefore entitled to be sceptical about FBI claims and to raise questions about possible CIA involvement in the fuss over the film “The Interview.”

“We only have to remember Iran in 1953, when the elected leader [Mohamed] Mosaddegh was overthrown; Chile in 1973 when President Salvador Allende was assassinated, and the Keystone Cops hi-jinks that the CIA pulled in trying to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro between 1960-75.”

The CIA’s own Inspector General as well as the 1975-76 Church Committee reported that a large number of crazy tricks were attempted in trying to get rid of Castro, including poisoned cigars and exploding seashells.

“One wonders what the top CIA officers were drinking when they came up with such silly notions–more like Kabuki theater than responsible policies of a great nation,” said Jennings. “And we all know by now about Abu Ghraib, torture, rendition, and the black sites.

“If it does turn out that the CIA is implicated in any way in this newest Sony vs. North Korea farce, as some are alleging, it’s high time for a new congressional investigation like that of the Church Committee to whack the agency hard and send some of its current leaders back to the basement of horrors where they belong,” said Dr. Jennings.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/the-day-cia-failed-to-un-beard-castro-in-his-own-den/feed/ 1
Family Farming Eases Food Shortages in Eastern Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/family-farming-eases-food-shortages-in-eastern-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=family-farming-eases-food-shortages-in-eastern-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/family-farming-eases-food-shortages-in-eastern-cuba/#comments Wed, 07 Jan 2015 18:52:48 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138550 Damaris González and Omar Navarro describe their farm in eastern Cuba as an integral agroecological system. Credit: Courtesy Randy Rodríguez Pagés/SEMlac

Damaris González and Omar Navarro describe their farm in eastern Cuba as an integral agroecological system. Credit: Courtesy Randy Rodríguez Pagés/SEMlac

*By Patricia Grogg
SANTIAGO DE CUBA, Jan 7 2015 (IPS)

Meat and vegetables are never missing from the dinner table of Damaris González and Omar Navarro, since they get almost all of their food from their farm, La Revelación, on the outskirts of the city of Santiago de Cuba, 765 km east of the Cuban capital.

On the three hectares they have been working for the past seven years, the couple combine agroecological techniques with the rational use of natural resources, as they learned in the permaculture courses given in the city by the non-governmental ecumenical Bartolomé G. Lavastida Christian Centre for Service and Training (CCSC-Lavastida).

“I used to grow just one or two varieties, especially tubers (staples of the Cuban diet). If we didn’t sell them or if the harvest was lost, we didn’t have much to survive on,” Navarro told IPS.“We had to ‘deprogramme’ ourselves to start using these techniques, because when you have planted the same thing in the same way all your life, it’s hard to believe it’s possible to diversify crops and stop using chemicals.” -- Omar Navarro

The farmer is the coordinator of the local administrative committee of one of the food production microprojects organised by the religious organisation in rural areas in the eastern provinces of Camagüey, Las Tunas, Holguín, Granma, Guantánamo and Santiago de Cuba.

When the initiative got underway with a local church in 2009, González and Navarro, along with another 10 ecumenical activists, received nine months of training on permaculture, agroecology, gender, business administration, food preservation, nutrition and other areas.

“We had to ‘deprogramme’ ourselves to start using these techniques, because when you have planted the same thing in the same way all your life, it’s hard to believe it’s possible to diversify crops and stop using chemicals,” said Navarro, 52.

The microproject gave them economic support to improve the infrastructure on their farm and buy livestock, in exchange for a commitment to donate part of their production to vulnerable segments of society, such as terminally ill patients, people living with HIV/AIDS, or the elderly.

González, who is an engineer by profession but is now farming to boost her family’s income, believes their main achievement has been guaranteeing a balanced diet.

“We use vermiculture (worm farming) and composting of organic material to make natural fertiliser, without chemicals, so our food is healthier,” said González, who runs the family farm, where the couple live with their 11-year-old son.

They recently hired six workers who help them tend three fish farming tanks where they grow up to 5,000 red tilapia fry, rows of vegetables, different kinds of fruit, a seedbed, and 200 farm animals, including sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks and seven cows.

“The community benefits from us being more productive because we sell the surplus at low prices compared to what is sold in the farmers’ markets,” added González, 48, as she showed IPS the booklet where she records the farm’s harvests by hand.

Fidel Pérez, who practices permaculture, grows giant oranges from China in his yard in Santiago de Cuba. Credit: Courtesy Randy Rodríguez Pagés/SEMlac

Fidel Pérez, who practices permaculture, grows giant oranges from China in his yard in Santiago de Cuba. Credit: Courtesy Randy Rodríguez Pagés/SEMlac

With economic support and ongoing training, CCSC-Lavastida has been helping empower people in the countryside to produce food in an ecological manner, while encouraging the active participation of women, for the past 17 years.

Agronomist César Parra told IPS that the institution, founded in 1995, has set up 87 microprojects with support from international Christian organisations such as Bread for the World and Diakonia-Swedish Ecumenical Action. Seventy percent of the microprojects involve food production and agriculture.

In 2014, 32 were still active, directly or indirectly benefiting some 600 families throughout the entire eastern region, the poorest part of the country.

Some of these groups have more than one system of permaculture – agriculture in harmony with local ecosystems, introduced in this Caribbean island nation in the 1990s in response to the ongoing economic crisis triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc.

“It’s about creating sustainable human settlements, following the ethics of caring for the earth, people and animals in a harmonious relationship and imitating the cycles of nature,” said Parra, CCSC-Lavastida’s projects coordinator.

Based on the premise that everything can be reused, these systems of permanent agriculture make use of organic waste and manure as fertiliser, harvest rainwater, diversify crops, reduce energy use, increase greenery, create seedbeds and install biodigesters and dry toilets, among other techniques.

The Christian centre has trained 40 people to spread this philosophy and system in the eastern provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Guantánamo and Granma, who create gardens in urban patios, backyards and rooftops.

Fidel Pérez is one of those who has planted fruit and vegetables on every inch of soil around his house, in a neighbourhood in Santiago de Cuba.

Pérez, who runs a local church, told IPS that he manages to supply his family of seven with tubers, fruit, vegetables and different kinds of meat, with what he produces.

He estimates that he saves 17,000 Cuban pesos (710 dollars) a year, in a country where the mean monthly salary is 471 pesos and people spend between 59 and 74 percent of their monthly income on food, according to studies by local economists.

Figures from the non-governmental Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation indicate that more than 1,000 people have been trained in Cuba as promoters of permaculture.

“These people are assuming new lifestyles, with a closer connection to nature and greater sensibility and knowledge, to forge a beneficial relationship with their habitat,” says a recent article written by several specialists in the Foundation’s magazine, “Se puede”.

Experts agree that the adoption of permaculture by rural and urban families can help provide solutions to Cuba’s food sovereignty problems.

This is especially important when the authorities are attempting to boost agricultural production, as a matter of “national security.” In 2013, agriculture accounted for 3.7 percent of GDP, according to official figures.

The National Statistics Office reported that of 6.34 million hectares of farmland in Cuba, only 2.64 million were under cultivation in 2013.

Food imports absorbed 2.09 billion dollars in the first half of 2014, says a report by the Ministry of Economy and Planning to the Cuban parliament, which stated that 60 percent of that total could have been produced in this country.

The sustainable production of food and seeds is top priority for the period 2013-2018 in the cooperation agreements between Cuba and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), whose goals also include adaptation to climate change and the sustainable management of natural resources.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/family-farming-eases-food-shortages-in-eastern-cuba/feed/ 0
From the American Dream to the Nightmare of Deportationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/from-the-american-dream-to-the-nightmare-of-deportation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-the-american-dream-to-the-nightmare-of-deportation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/from-the-american-dream-to-the-nightmare-of-deportation/#comments Tue, 06 Jan 2015 17:41:50 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138536 People deported from the United States arriving at the Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport in the capital of El Salvador. Their country receives them with very few initiatives for labour and social reinsertion. Credit: Courtesy DGME

People deported from the United States arriving at the Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport in the capital of El Salvador. Their country receives them with very few initiatives for labour and social reinsertion. Credit: Courtesy DGME

*By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Jan 6 2015 (IPS)

Julio César Cordero’s American dream didn’t last long. He was trying to reach Houston, Texas as an undocumented immigrant but was detained in Acayucán in southeastern Mexico. And like thousands of other deported Salvadorans, he doesn’t know what the future will hold.

Cordero’s head hangs low as he climbs off the bus that brought him back to the capital of El Salvador. He carries only a plastic bag with a few items of clothing – and broken dreams.

“I want to offer my son a better future, so I’ll probably try again next year,” Cordero tells IPS as he reaches the immigration office, on the east side of San Salvador, the dropping-off point for migrants detained in Mexico on their way to the United States.

An estimated 2.5 million Salvadorans live in the United States, the great majority of them without papers. Initially many went there fleeing the 1980-1992 civil war that left 80,000 dead and disappeared in their country.“The mistaken reasoning of bankers is that if they lend a deportee 10,000, tomorrow morning he’ll be in New York because he’ll use the money to pay for a new trip.” -- César Ríos

“On the other hand, it’s a relief to be back in my country again,” Cordero adds.

At least two flights from the United States and three buses from Mexico bring back around 150 deportees every day. The authorities are alarmed by the sheer numbers. In the first 11 months of 2014, a total of 47,943 deportees reached the immigration office – 43 percent more than in the same period in 2013.

The migration authorities project a total of 50,000 deportees for 2014 – a heavy burden for this impoverished Central American country of 6.2 million people, where unemployment stands at six percent and 65 percent of those who work do so in the informal sector of the economy.

The army of returning migrants does not have government support programmes to help with their reinsertion in the labour market, deportees and representatives of civil society organisations told IPS.

Many of them have put down roots in the United States, and they return to this country with no support network and with the stigma of having been deported, because the impression here is that most of those sent home are gang members or criminals.

“We just want a hand to help us find jobs, open a business or get a loan,” says Antonio, who preferred not to give his last name.

Antonio lived in San Francisco, California from 2005 to 2010, where he worked caring for the elderly, and as a cook in restaurants. But he came back because his mother fell ill. He tried to return in 2012, but was caught after crossing the Mexico-U.S. border.

“The return is hard,” he says. “I came back without a cent, and with a huge pile of debt.”

Antonio wants the government to help returning migrants gain access to bank loans. He says that when they try to start over again in El Salvador, setting up a microenterprise, they run up against the impossibility of getting credit.

“The mistaken reasoning of bankers is that if they lend a deportee 10,000, tomorrow morning he’ll be in New York because he’ll use the money to pay for a new trip,” César Ríos, the director of the Salvadoran Institute for Migrants (INSAMI), tells IPS.

INSAMI is promoting a project to provide support for deportees in their reinsertion into the productive life of the country, in terms of job opportunities as well as access to credit.

One of the biggest problems faced by the deported migrants is that they have no documents to prove the work experience they gained in the United States.

One of the measures included in the project is for the Salvadoran government to issue certificates recognising the work experience they obtained in the United States, to help them find jobs in El Salvador.

“We’re not criminals; we deserve a chance,” Antonio repeats several times.

In El Salvador there is a widespread but erroneous idea that the majority of those who are deported from the United States belonged to gangs or were involved in other kinds of criminal activities.

Because of the stigma surrounding deportation, some of them covered their faces when they got off the buses that brought them home, the day IPS visited the migration office.

The ones who are flown back from the United States actually wear handcuffs on the plane, and when they land in the Monseñor Óscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport, they are met by a heavily armed police cordon.

“The reception they are given is not a welcome; they are treated as criminals,” Karla Salas, a researcher at the José Simeón Cañas Central American University’s (IDHUCA) Human Rights Institute, told IPS.

This procedure reinforces the stigma and the impression that they are criminals, added Salas, who in 2013 participated in an IDHUCA study carried out between January and March 2013, which is about to be published under the title “Deported Dreams”, on the social impacts of deportation on returned migrants and their families.

Preliminary data from the study show that 70 percent of those deported have never been accused of a crime.

And of the remaining 30 percent, the crimes they were accused of in the United States included assault, drunk driving and drug possession, according to the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería (DGME), the migration office.

The migration authorities recognise that the reception given the returnees is not appropriate, and say they are working to improve it.

“The idea is to make the reception given our fellow countrymen more humane,” DGME spokesman Mauricio Silva told IPS.

Silva said the government is working to bring together public and private institutions and agencies to create programmes to help deported migrants rejoin the labour market.

For example, financing is needed to restart a pilot project that benefited 20 people with financial support for setting up microenterprises in late 2012. It was implemented with funds from the Canadian government and coordinated by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Antonio was one of the beneficiaries of that programme. He was given 1,400 dollars and opened a pizza parlor. Things were going well until his business was robbed and went under. Now he is trying to get a loan to start over again.

For now, the only thing offered by the government is training in trades for mechanics or electricians, for example, as well as legal aid for migrants. It also provides letters of recommendation, to help deportees find work.

INSAMI’s Ríos said the deportations will move ahead at the same pace, despite the Nov. 20 announcement by U.S. President Barack Obama that a priority would be put on deporting felons rather than families.

The president issued an executive action that will provide temporary residency permits and jobs to some five million undocumented immigrants, including parents of young people who are legal residents or U.S. citizens, as long as the parents entered the country before January 2010.

It also covers young people who went to the United States before January 2010, as children.

But Obama clarified that deportations were not about to stop.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/from-the-american-dream-to-the-nightmare-of-deportation/feed/ 2