Inter Press Service » Latin America & the Caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 24 Apr 2015 22:22:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.3 Planned Mega-Port in Brazil Threatens Rich Ecological Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/planned-mega-port-in-brazil-threatens-rich-ecological-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=planned-mega-port-in-brazil-threatens-rich-ecological-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/planned-mega-port-in-brazil-threatens-rich-ecological-region/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 19:00:05 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140301 The town of Ilhéus in the Northeast Brazilian state of Bahia, part of whose coastline will be modified by the construction of the Porto Sul port complex, which environmentalists and local residents are protesting because of the serious ecological and social damage it will cause. Credit: Courtesy Instituto Nossa Ilhéus

The town of Ilhéus in the Northeast Brazilian state of Bahia, part of whose coastline will be modified by the construction of the Porto Sul port complex, which environmentalists and local residents are protesting because of the serious ecological and social damage it will cause. Credit: Courtesy Instituto Nossa Ilhéus

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

Activists and local residents have brought legal action aimed at blocking the construction of a nearly 50 sq km port terminal in the Northeast Brazilian state of Bahia because of the huge environmental and social impacts it will have.

The biggest project of its kind in Brazil has given rise to several court battles. With a budget of 2.2 billion dollars, Porto Sul will be built in Aratiguá, on the outskirts of the city of Ilhéus, at the heart of the Cocoa Coast’s long stretches of heavenly beaches, where the locals have traditionally depended on tourism and the production of cocoa for a living.

The courts have ordered four precautionary measures against the project, while civil society movements say they will not stop fighting the projected mega-port with legal action and protests.

The Porto Sul port complex will be financed by the Brazilian government, through its growth acceleration programme, which focuses largely on the construction of infrastructure.

Construction of the deepwater port and the complex will employ 2,500 people at its peak. But the project is staunchly opposed by locals and by social organisations because of what activists have described as the “unprecedented” environmental impact it will have.

Critics of the project have dubbed it the “Belo Monte of Bahia” – a reference to the huge hydroelectric dam being built on the Xingú river in the northern Amazon jungle state of Pará, which will be the third-largest in the world in terms of generation capacity.

Environmentalists protest that the new port terminal and its logistical and industrial zone will hurt an ecological corridor that connects two natural protected areas.

These are the 93-sq-km Sierra de Conduru State Park, which boasts enormous biodiversity in flora and fauna, and the 4.4-sq-km Boa Esperança Municipal Park in the urban area of Ilhéus, which is a refuge for rare species and a freshwater sanctuary.

Construction of the port complex “shows a lack of respect for the region’s natural vocation, which is tourism and conservation. Since 2008 we have been fighting to show that the project is not viable,” activist Maria Mendonça, president of the Nossa Ilhéus Institute, dedicated to social monitoring of public policies, told IPS.

Ilhéus, a city of 180,000 people, has the longest coastline in the state, and is famous as the scenario for several novels by renowned Bahia writer Jorge Amado, such as “Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon”.

Digital view of a small part of the future Porto Sul port complex in Aratiguá, in the Northeast Brazilian city of Ilhéus. Credit: Bahia state government

Digital view of a small part of the future Porto Sul port complex in Aratiguá, in the Northeast Brazilian city of Ilhéus. Credit: Bahia state government

The project’s environmental impact study, carried out in 2013, identified 36 potential environmental impacts, 42 percent of which could not be mitigated. Some of them will affect marine species that will be driven away by the construction work, including dolphins and whales. The project will also kill fauna living on the ocean floor.

Aratiguá, the epicentre of the Porto Sul port, “is an important fishing location in the region, where more than 10,000 people who depend on small-scale fishing along a 10-km stretch of the shoreline clean their catch,” Mendonça said.

An estimated 100 million tons of earth will be moved in this ecologically fragile region, where environmentalists are sounding the alarm while authorities and the company promise economic development and jobs, in a socioeconomically depressed area.

Bahia Mineração (Bamin) reported that until Porto Sul is operative, the Caetité mine will continue to produce a limited output of one million tons a year of iron ore.

According to Bamin, “the company will contribute to the social and economic development of Bahia and its population.” It says the Projeto Pedra de Ferro project will create 6,600 jobs and estimates the company’s total investment at three billion dollars in the mine and its terminal in the port complex.

Officials in the state of Bahia, which controls the Porto Sul project, reported that Brazil’s environmental authority held 10 public hearings to discuss the port complex, and said that 17 sq km of the complex will be dedicated to conservation.

A communiqué by the Bahia state government stated that all of the families to be affected by the works are included in a programme of expropriation and resettlement. Indemnification payments began in the first quarter of this year.

Social and environmental activist Ismail Abéde is one of 800 people living in the Vila Juerana coastal community, who will be displaced by the port complex project.

“The erosion will stretch 10 km to the north of the port, where we live, and the sea will penetrate up to 100 metres inland. It will be a catastrophe,” Abéde complained to IPS.

He pointed out that the complex was originally to form part of the Projeto Pedra de Ferro project.

That project, operated by Bahia Mineração (Bamin), a national company owned by Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC) and Zamin Ferrous, is to extract an estimated 20 million tons of iron ore a year in Caetité, a city of 46,000 people in the interior of the state.

The iron ore will be transported on a new 400-km Caetité-Ilhéus railway, built mainly to carry the mineral to Bamin’s own shipping terminal in Porto Sul.

The mining project was granted an environmental permit in November 2012 and an operating license in June 2014.

Meanwhile, the Porto Sul complex received a building permit on Sep. 19, 2014, and construction is to begin within a year of that date at the latest. The complex is to be up and running by the end of 2019.

Porto Sul, the biggest port being built in Northeast Brazil and one of the largest logistical structures, will be the country’s third-largest port,l moving 60 million tons in its first 10 years of activity.

The main connection with the complex will be by rail. But an international airport is also to be built in its area of influence, as well as new roads and a gas pipeline.

The interconnected Projeto Pedra de Ferro requires a 1.5 billion dollar investment, and the mine’s productive potential is 398 million tons, which would mean a useful life of 20 years.

“The mine is not sustainable and the railway to carry the mineral to the port runs through protected areas and local communities,” Mendonça complained.

Activists argue that iron ore dust, a toxic pollutant, will be spread through the region while it is transported, affecting cocoa crops and the rivers crossed by the railroad.

Abedé also protested the way the company has informed the families that will be affected by either of the two projects. He said neither the company nor the authorities have offered consultation or dialogue.

“The state can expropriate property when it is for the collective good, not for a private international company,” he said.

The Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC), a United Kingdom-based multinational, was delisted from the London Stock Exchange in November 2013, accused of fraud and corruption.

“We are preparing reports that we will present to public banks to keep them from financing the projects,” said Abedé, referring to one of the measures the activists plan to take to fight the project, along with court action.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Tailings Ponds Pose a Threat to Chilean Communitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/tailings-ponds-threaten-chilean-communities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tailings-ponds-threaten-chilean-communities http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/tailings-ponds-threaten-chilean-communities/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 07:39:50 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140244 The Ojancos tailings dam abandoned by the Sali Hochschild mining company, which spilled toxic waste after the late March thunderstorm that caused flooding in northern Chile. The waste reached the Copiapó river and the water supply on the outskirts of the city of Copiapó. Credit: Courtesy Relaves.org

The Ojancos tailings dam abandoned by the Sali Hochschild mining company, which spilled toxic waste after the late March thunderstorm that caused flooding in northern Chile. The waste reached the Copiapó river and the water supply on the outskirts of the city of Copiapó. Credit: Courtesy Relaves.org

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)

Chile lives under the constant threat of spillage from tailings ponds, which became even more marked in late March after heavy rains fell in the desert region of Atacama leaving over two dozen people dead and missing and thousands without a home.

Copiapó, capital of the region of the same name, 800 km north of Santiago, is in an area full of tailings dams, Henry Jurgens, the founder of the non-governmental organisation Relaves (Tailings), told Tierramérica.

He explained that pollution with heavy metals “was already a reality” before the recent thunderstorm and flooding, but that the catastrophe “made this reality visible and more severe.”

In early April, the organisation detected tailings pond spills when it took water and mud samples in different parts of the Atacama region. But the government’s National Geology and Mining Service (Sernageomin) reported that the tailings impoundments that hold toxic waste are in stable condition.

The Atacama desert, the world’s driest, was the main natural area affected by the flooding caused by the Mar. 23-24 heavy rainfall, which dropped the equivalent of one-quarter of a normal year’s precipitation on the area.

Experts say the rain may have stirred up heavy metals lying quietly in abandoned ponds.

Tailings, the materials left over after valuable minerals are separated from ore, contain water, chemicals and heavy metals such as cyanide, arsenic, zinc and mercury, deposited in open-air ponds or impoundments.

These toxic substances build up in the body and cause serious health problems.

Arsenic, for example, has no color, odor or taste, which makes it undetectable by people who consume it. Experts warn that long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic in drinking water can cause cancer of the skin, lungs or bladder.

The main source of wealth in this mining country is copper. In 2014 alone, this country of 17.5 million people produced 5.7 billion tons of copper, 31.2 percent of the world total.

But for each ton of fine copper produced, 100 tons of soil with toxic by-products must be removed and stored.

There are 449 identified tailings ponds in this country, according to official figures. But there are dozens of others that have not been “georeferenced,” another member of Relaves, Raimundo Gómez, complained to Tierramérica.

The dusty exterior of the División de El Teniente, the world’s biggest copper mine, located in the Andes mountains 150 km south of Santiago. Solid and liquid waste products are treated in the mine and sulfur emissions are controlled. But that is not the case in all of the country’s mines. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The dusty exterior of the División de El Teniente, the world’s biggest copper mine, located in the Andes mountains 150 km south of Santiago. Solid and liquid waste products are treated in the mine and sulfur emissions are controlled. But that is not the case in all of the country’s mines. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

“There is no real register of abandoned tailings ponds in the country,” said Gómez. “Sernageomin estimates that there are 90 of these toxic deposits in the Atacama region alone. That is really a lot.”

He also noted that “there is a great lack of information about the issue; communities do not know that they are living next to tailings ponds, and people are unaware of the danger that they pose to health and that they pollute the water.”

“We can see the profits left by mining. But we don’t see the negative effects, which we all end up paying in the end,” Gómez said. “It’s like when you go to a dinner and you talk about how delicious it was, but you don’t tell what you did in the bathroom afterwards.”

The earthquake that shook Chile on Feb. 27, 2010 caused the collapse of an abandoned tailings pile that buried an entire family under tons of toxic sludge.

The victims, a couple and their two children, worked on the farm where Jurgens and his family lived for six years near the southern town of Pencahue, unaware that they were living next to a toxic, unstable tailings pile.

“It wasn’t till then that I found out what it was, and all the things that could happen,” he said.

“People are totally ignorant about this. They’re often drinking polluted water and aren’t warned by the relevant institutions….That’s just humiliating and terrible,” Jurgens said.

Although experts say the worst risk is posed by abandoned tailings dumps, the ones that are still in use can also be dangerous.

That is the case of Caimanes, a town of 1,000 located near the El Mauro tailings dam of the company Los Pelambres, the sixth-largest copper producer in Chile, which belongs to the Luksic’s, the richest family in the country.

El Mauro, which in the Diaguita indigenous language means the place where the water spouts, is located eight km upriver from Caimanes.

The seven km-long dam, with a wall 270 metres high, is the biggest chemical waste dump in Latin America.

The dump has hurt the local biodiversity and polluted the water used by the people of the town.

The main study on water pollution by tailings ponds, carried out in 2011 by Andrei Tchernitchin at the University of Chile, found high levels of heavy metals in a number of rivers.

“At the Caimanes bridge, the iron level was 50 percent higher than the limit and the manganese sample was nearly double the level permitted for drinking water,” Tchernitchin told Tierramérica.

He returned to take more samples for a second study, in February 2012. In a small pond, a few centimetres above a swamp, he found levels of manganese far above the internationally accepted limit.

“The limit is 100 micrograms of manganese per litre, and we found 9,477 micrograms. The iron level was also 30 percent above the limit,” he said.

He warned that if this severe level of pollution continued, the effects on the health of the local population would be serious. “Long-term exposure to manganese can cause diseases of the central nervous system such as psychosis, Parkinson’s disease and dementia,” Tchernitchin said.

On Mar. 6, a local court accepted a lawsuit brought by the Caimanes Defence Committee on Dec. 19, 2008 and ordered the tailings pond to be removed.

The mining company appealed, and the regional Appeals Court is to hand down a ruling shortly.

Jurgens and Gómez called for a law on tailings that would indicate how many impoundments exist in the country, how many have been abandoned, and what chemicals they contain.

“A strict law is needed, on one hand, and informed citizens on the other. We have neither of these,” Gómez argued.

“It is really paradoxical that we consider ourselves a mining country and always talk about how much copper we’re going to export, but no one is aware of the amount of waste we’re going to produce,” he said.

“We have to learn how to assess the negative aspects of mining and to raise awareness of that and of the large number of tailings ponds and waste that is literally dumped throughout the country,” he said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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To Defend the Environment, Support Social Movements Like Berta Cáceres and COPINHhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/to-defend-the-environment-support-social-movements-like-berta-caceres-and-copinh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=to-defend-the-environment-support-social-movements-like-berta-caceres-and-copinh http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/to-defend-the-environment-support-social-movements-like-berta-caceres-and-copinh/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 19:06:36 +0000 Jeff Conant http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140238 Berta Cáceres. Courtesy of the Goldman Prize

Berta Cáceres. Courtesy of the Goldman Prize

By Jeff Conant
BERKELEY, California, Apr 20 2015 (IPS)

The 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for Central and South America has been awarded to Berta Cáceres, an indigenous Honduran woman who co-founded the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, known as COPINH.

If there is one lesson to be learned from the events that earned Cáceres the prize it is this: to defend the environment, we must support the social movements.COPINH’s leadership has made it a driving force in preserving the country’s cultural and environmental heritage – and earned it the ire of loggers, dam-builders, palm oil interests, and others whose wealth depends on the depredation of the natural world and its defenders.

Like many nations rich in natural resources, Honduras, in the heart of Central America, is a country plagued by a resource curse. Its rich forests invite exploitation by logging interests; its mineral wealth is sought by mining interests; its rushing rivers invite big dams, and its fertile coastal plains are ideal for the industrial cultivation of agricultural commodities like palm oil, bananas, and beef.

Honduras is also the most violent country in the Western Hemisphere. The violence is largely linked to organised crime and to a political oligarchy that maintains much of the country’s wealth and power in a few hands. With the country’s rich resources at stake, environmental defenders are frequently targeted by these interests as well.

Some of the best preserved areas of the country fall within the territories of the Lenca indigenous people, who have built their culture around the land, forests and rivers that have supported them for millennia.

In 1993, following the 500th anniversary of Colombus’ “discovery of America,” at a moment when Indigenous Peoples across the Americas began to form national and international federations to reclaim their sovereignty, Lenca territory gave birth to COPINH, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras.

In the 22 years since, COPINH’s leadership in the country’s popular struggles has made it a driving force in preserving the country’s cultural and environmental heritage – and earned it the ire of loggers, dam-builders, palm oil interests, and others whose wealth depends on the depredation of the natural world and its defenders.

Since the early 1990’s, COPINH has forced the cancellation of dozens of  logging operations; they have created several protected forest areas; have developed municipal forest management plans and secured over 100 collective land titles for indigenous communities, in some cases encompassing entire municipalities.

Most recently, in the accomplishment that won Berta Caceres, one of COPINH’s founders, the Goldman Environmental Prize, they successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder, the Chinese state-owned company Sinohydro, to pull out of the construction of a complex of large dams known as Agua Zarca.

Berta became a national figure in Honduras in 2009 when she emerged as a leader in the movement demanding the re-founding of Honduras and drafting of a new constitution. The movement gained the support of then-president Manuel Zelaya, who proposed a national referendum to consider the question.

But the day the referendum was scheduled to take place, Jun. 28, 2009, the military intervened.  They surrounded and opened fire on the president’s house, broke down his door and escorted him to a former U.S. military base where a waiting plane flew him out of the country.

The United Nations and every other country in the Western Hemisphere (except Honduras itself) publicly condemned the military-led coup as illegal. Every country in the region, except the United States, withdrew their ambassadors from Honduras. All EU ambassadors were withdrawn from the country.

With the democratically-elected president deposed, Honduras descended into increasing violence that continues to this day. But the coup also gave birth to a national resistance movement that continues to fight for a new constitution.  Within the movement, Berta and COPINH have devoted themselves to a vision of a new Honduran society built from the bottom up.

Since the 2009 coup, Honduras has witnessed a huge increase in megaprojects that would displace the Lenca and other indigenous communities. Almost 30 percent of the country’s land is earmarked for mining concessions; this in turns creates a demand for cheap energy to power the future mining operations.

To meet this need, the government approved hundreds of dam projects. Among them is the Agua Zarca Dam, a joint project of Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) and Chinese state-owned Sinohydro, the world’s largest dam developer. Slated for construction on the Gualcarque River, Agua Zarca was pushed through without consulting the Lencas—and would cut off the supply of water, food and medicine to hundreds of Lenca familes.

COPINH began fighting the dams in 2006, using every means at their disposal: they brought the case to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, lodged appeals against the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank which agreed to finance the dams, and engaged in non-violent civil disobedience to stop the construction.

In April 2013, Cáceres organised a road blockade to prevent DESA’s access to the dam site. For over a year, the Lenca people maintained a heavy but peaceful presence, rotating out friends and family members for weeks at a time, withstanding multiple eviction attempts and violent attacks from militarised security contractors and the Honduran armed forces.

The same year, Tomás Garcia, a community leader from Rio Blanco and a member of COPINH, was shot and killed during a peaceful protest at the dam office. Others have been attacked with machetes, imprisoned and tortured. None of the perpetrators have been brought to justice.

In late 2013, citing ongoing community resistance and outrage following Garcia’s death, Sinohydro terminated its contract with DESA. Agua Zarca suffered another blow when the IFC withdrew its funding, citing concerns about human rights violations. To date, construction on the project has come to a halt.

The Prize will bring COPINH and Honduras much-needed attention from the international community, as the grab for the region’s resources is increasing.

“This award, and the international attention it brings comes at a challenging time for us,” Berta told a small crowd gathered to welcome her to California, where the first of two prize ceremonies will take place.

“The situation in Honduras is getting worse. When I am in Washington later this week to meet with U.S. government officials, the President of Honduras will be in the very next room hoping to obtain more than one billion dollars for a series of mega-projects being advanced by the governments of Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and the United States — projects that further threaten to put our natural resources into private hands through mines, dams and large wind projects.

“This is accompanied by the further militarisation of the country, including new ultra-modern military bases they are installing right now.”

Around the world, the frontlines of environmental defence are peopled by bold and visionary social movements like COPINH and by grassroots community organizers like Berta Cáceres.

“In order to fight the onslaught of dams, mines, and the privatisation of all of our natural resources, we need international solidarity,” Berta told her supporters in the U.S. “When we receive your solidarity, we feel surrounded by your energy, your hope, your conviction, that together we can construct societies with dignity, with life, with rebellion, with justice, and above all, with joy.”

If the world is to make strides toward reducing the destructive environmental and social impacts that too often accompany economic development, we need to do all we can to recognise and support the peasant farmers, Indigenous Peoples, and social movements who daily put their lives on the line to stem the tide of destruction.

Learn more about Berta Cáceres and COPINH in this video celebrating her Goldman Prize award.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Latin America Slow to Pledge Emissions Cutshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/latin-america-slow-to-pledge-emissions-cuts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-slow-to-pledge-emissions-cuts http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/latin-america-slow-to-pledge-emissions-cuts/#comments Sat, 18 Apr 2015 07:28:04 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140208 Climate change is causing violent storms, prolonged droughts and temperature extremes. In August 2014, at the height of summer, a hailstorm turned the yard white in this house in the south of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Climate change is causing violent storms, prolonged droughts and temperature extremes. In August 2014, at the height of summer, a hailstorm turned the yard white in this house in the south of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Apr 18 2015 (IPS)

Latin America is making heavy weather of setting targets for greenhouse gas emissions reduction, which all countries must present ahead of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference later this year.

Shortfalls in the national mechanisms for funding these voluntary action plans for adapting to climate change and mitigating or reducing polluting emissions are largely responsible for holding up the process.

By Mar. 31, the first deadline for registering Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), only Mexico had done this. In the rest of the world, Switzerland, the European Union as a bloc, Norway, the United States, Gabon and Russia, in that order, had also filed their plans.

“The time taken by international negotiations and the debate over who is responsible for climate change should not be an excuse” for Latin American countries “not to make progress with risk prevention” in regard to climate change, said María Marta di Paola, a researcher with the Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN), an Argentine NGO.

Di Paola criticised the “marginal role” assigned to climate change by public policies in Argentina, which are merely “reactive in nature,” kicking in only when flooding or droughts occur as a result of the phenomenon, she told Tierramérica.

Brazil , the region’s foremost producer of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming, emits nearly 1.5 billion tonnes a year of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Mexico follows, with 608 million tonnes a year, and then Venezuela with 401 million tonnes.

Argentina emits 180 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, Colombia 75 million tonnes and Chile 72 million tonnes.

The main sources of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions in the region are deforestation due to change of land use, farming, energy generation and fuel use.

The region’s position at international forums is that responsibility for climate change is common but differentiated, and Latin America is particularly vulnerable to this phenomenon, experiencing intense storms, devastating drought, wide temperature oscillations, a rise in sea levels and the melting of Andean glaciers, with high human, social and economic costs.

In Mexico’s INDC the country committed itself to a 25 percent reduction in total emissions by 2030, compared to its 2013 emissions as the baseline. It proposes to do this by achieving a 22 percent reduction in greenhouse gases and a 51 percent reduction in black carbon (inorganic carbon in soot) produced from diesel-fuelled transport vehicles and fuel oil fired electricity generation.

The climate action plan includes having carbon dioxide emissions peak in 2026. According to the document, it would be possible to cut emissions by 40 percent by 2030 if additional finance and technology transfer were made available as part of a global agreement.

The main sectors involved are energy, industrial processes and final fuel consumption, agriculture, waste products, land use change and forests, but no details are given and there is no road map for the fulfilment of the targets.
“The key to their achievement lies in concrete mechanisms: where the funding will come from, inter-governmental coordination, and overcoming the lack of local technical capabilities,” said Javier Garduño of the Mexican office of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, an NGO.

For instance, he told Tierramérica, “in transport, there is no legal framework to align mobility with sustainability.”

At the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP 19) to the UNFCCC, held in Warsaw in 2013, it was decided that each state party would have until October 2015 to submit their INDC, which will be analysed at COP 21, due to be held in Paris in December.

Ahead of the climate conference, the UNFCCC will write a report on the voluntary commitments undertaken, calculate whether they will be sufficient to reduce emissions to the levels proposed by climate experts, and suggest how to incorporate them into a new binding global treaty on climate change, to be approved in Paris for entry into force in 2020.

Research from the NewClimate Institute for Climate Policy and Global Sustainability, based in Germany, for the UNFCCC and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) found that of the 13 Latin American and Caribbean countries accounted for in the results, 33 percent have initiated a national discussion, the first stage of preparing their INDC.

Another 25 percent of countries have proceeded to the technical design of their plans and 17 percent are conducting political debate, while nearly 17 percent have not yet begun to prepare the measures and eight percent have completed internal debates.

Latin American countries identified, among the challenges they face in the preparation of their INDC, limited expertise for the assessment of technical options, lack of certainty on what to include, and the short timeframe available for the process.

They also reported lack of coordination and of understanding (e.g. between ministries); lack of agreement on priority mitigation options; difficulty with engaging relevant stakeholders; lack of internal agreement on desired ambition level; and conflict with other political priorities.

Except for Chile and Mexico, countries repeatedly complained of lack of consultation and of inclusion of civil society in the plans.

“Colombia’s actions should be transparent, inclusive and participatory,” Milena Bernal, a researcher with the Colombian NGO Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad (Environment and Society Association), told Tierramérica.

This is particularly necessary, in her view, “when determining specific contributions from the forestry sector, land use, energy generation, and management of financial resources that may be received by the country.”

Most Latin American countries have legislation on climate change, or related to it. Mexico passed laws in 2012 stipulating emissions reduction of 30 percent by 2020 and 50 percent by 2050, as well as creating the Special Programme on Climate Change.

Argentina is preparing its Third Communication on Climate Change, an inventory of emissions to present to UNFCCC, and since 2011 the National Strategy on Climate Change.

Chile has had a national plan for adaptation to climate change since December, with specific policies for the forestry, agriculture and livestock sector; biodiversity; fisheries and aquaculture; health; infrastructure; cities; tourism; energy; and water resources.

Colombia is drawing up its National Climate Change Policy, which is likely to include its INDC, according to experts.

“In Argentina there are laws linked to the subject, such as the laws on native forests, glaciers and renewable energy, but they are poorly enforced and the budgets for the different programmes are declining,” di Paola said.

In Bernal’s view, mechanisms need to be defined for the achievement of the INDC commitments made this year.

“It is to be hoped that ambitious contributions will be put forward, in the sense of defining not only the percentages of emissions reductions, but also the actions to be taken with the resources available, and additional actions that could be taken if there is a greater flow of finance from international funding sources,” she said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Women Farmers Rewrite Their History in Chile’s Patagonia Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/women-farmers-in-patagonia-rewrite-their-history-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-farmers-in-patagonia-rewrite-their-history-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/women-farmers-in-patagonia-rewrite-their-history-in-chile/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 17:08:55 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140197 From left to right: Nancy Millar, Blanca Molina and Patricia Mancilla on Molina’s small farm near the town of Valle Simpson in the southern Chilean region of Aysén. The three women belong to the only rural women’s association in the Patagonia wilderness, which has empowered them and helped them gain economic autonomy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

From left to right: Nancy Millar, Blanca Molina and Patricia Mancilla on Molina’s small farm near the town of Valle Simpson in the southern Chilean region of Aysén. The three women belong to the only rural women’s association in the Patagonia wilderness, which has empowered them and helped them gain economic autonomy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
VALLE SIMPSON, Chile, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

More than 100 women small farmers from Chile’s southern Patagonia region have joined together in a new association aimed at achieving economic autonomy and empowerment, in an area where machismo and gender inequality are the norm.

Patricia Mancilla, Nancy Millar and Blanca Molina spoke with IPS about the group’s history, and how the land, craft making and working together with other women helped them to overcome depression and situations of abuse, and to learn to trust again.

“We have at last obtained recognition of rural women,” said Mancilla, president of the Association of Peasant Women of Patagonia. “Peasant women have learned to appreciate themselves. Each one of our members has a history of pain that she has managed to ease through working and talking together.”

“We have learned to value ourselves as women and to value our work, thanks to which our members have been able to send their children to university,” added Mancilla, the head of the association created in 2005.

Mancilla lives on a small family farm in Río Paloma, 53 km from Coyhaique, the capital of the southern Chilean region of Aysén. Her house doesn’t have electricity, but thanks to a generator she produces what she most likes to make: homemade cheese from cow’s milk.

She is also exploring the idea of family agrotourism, although thyroid cancer has forced her to slow down.

In her three years as the head of the association, she has worked tirelessly to build it up and organise the collective activities of the nearly 120 members.

Mancilla and the other members are proudly waiting for the inauguration of the Aysén Rural Women’s Management Centre in a house that they are fixing up, which they obtained through a project of the regional government, carried out by the Housing and Urban Development Service.

The centre will serve as a meeting place, where the women can share their experiences, learn and receive training, and as a store where they can display and sell their products. The members of the association hold a weekly fair on Wednesdays, where they sell what they produce.

The craftswomen who belong to the Association of Peasant Women of Patagonia in southern Chile are eagerly awaiting the opening of their own community centre, where they will exhibit and sell their products. Meanwhile they sell them in public fairs and the locales of other women’s organisations in the Aysén region. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The craftswomen who belong to the Association of Peasant Women of Patagonia in southern Chile are eagerly awaiting the opening of their own community centre, where they will exhibit and sell their products. Meanwhile they sell them in public fairs and the locales of other women’s organisations in the Aysén region. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Sustainable production in untamed Patagonia

The southern region of Aysén is one of the least densely populated in Chile, home to just 105,000 of the country’s 17.5 million people. It is a wilderness area of great biodiversity, cold, snowy winters, swift-running rivers, innumerable lakes, fertile land and abundant marine resources.

Patagonia covers 1.06 million square kilometres at the southern tip of the Americas; 75 percent of it is in Argentina and the rest in Aysén and the southernmost Chilean region of Magallanes.

It is a region of diverse ecosystems and numerous species of flora and fauna, some of which have not yet even been identified. It is also the last refuge of the highly endangered “huemul” or south Andean deer.

And according to environmental experts it is one of the planet’s biggest freshwater reserves.

Behind its stunning landscapes, Aysén, whose capital is located 1,629 km south of Santiago, conceals one of the country’s poorest areas, where 10 percent of the population lives in poverty and 4.2 percent in extreme poverty.

Patagonian activists are seeking to make the region a self-sustaining life reserve.

“We want what we have to be taken care of, and for only what is produced in our region to be sold,” said Mancilla. “There are other pretty places, but nothing compares to the nature in our region.

“We still eat free-roaming chickens, natural eggs; all of the vegetables and fruit in our region are natural, grown without chemicals,” she said.

Farmers like Molina grow organic produce, using their own waste as fertiliser. The association is the only organisation of rural women from Chile’s Patagonia region to sell only ecologically sustainable products.

Blanca Molina proudly holds up a young squash, grown organically in one of the four greenhouses she built with her own hands on her small family farm in Villa Simpson, 20 km from Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysén region in the Patagonian wilderness in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud /IPS

Blanca Molina proudly holds up a young squash, grown organically in one of the four greenhouses she built with her own hands on her small family farm in Villa Simpson, 20 km from Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysén region in the Patagonian wilderness in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud /IPS

“Some say this isn’t good land for planting, but I know it’s fertile,” said Molina. “I’m always innovating, planting things to see how they grow. Thank god that everything grows well in this soil. I’ve found that out for myself and I can demonstrate it,” she said, pointing to her crops.

With her own hands she built four greenhouses that cover a large part of her land in Valle Simpson, 20 km from Coyhaique.

She points one by one to the fruits of her labour: pumpkins, artichokes, cucumbers, cabbage and even black-seed squash, not commonly grown in such cold regions.

She said the land fills her with life, and especially now, as she tries to pull out of the deep depression that the death of two of her children plunged her into – a tragedy she prefers not to discuss.

“It’s the land that has pulled her up,” said Mancilla, smiling at Molina standing by her side.

Forced autonomy

Despite the traditional machismo, women in Patagonia have always had to shoulder the burden of growing and managing their family’s food, taking care of the livestock, tending the vegetable garden and fruit trees, chopping wood, running rural tourism activities, and making crafts, besides their childcare and household tasks.

“Patagonian women had to give birth without hospitals, they had to raise their children when this was an inhospitable territory, but they also managed the social organisation in the new communities that emerged here,” social activist Claudia Torres told IPS.

“The men worked with the livestock or timber, and left home twice a year for four or five months at a time. So women got used to managing on their own and not depending on their men, in case they didn’t come back.”

Despite that central role played by women, “when government officials would go to the countryside, they would always talk to the men,” Patricia Mancilla said.

“They didn’t understand that behind them were the women, who were key to the success of production,” she added.

The look on the faces of these three women, all of them married and with children of different ages, changes as they walk around their land, where wonderful aromas arise from their crops in the plots surrounded by the Patagonian hills.

They have known each other since they and another small group of women founded the association over a decade ago, with support from the Programme for the Training of Peasant Women, backed by an agreement between the Institute of Agricultural Development and the Foundation for the Promotion and Development of Women, two government institutions.

The programme, created in 1992, has the aim of supporting women from smallholder families, to help boost their income by means of economic and productive activities in rural areas. So far, 20,000 women have benefited from the programme.

Molina said that with the help of the programme, “women now have more rights and bring in their own incomes to help put food on the table.”

Millar, who makes crafts in wool, leather and wood in Ñirehuao, 80 km from Coyhaique, concurred. “Rural women have been empowered and are learning their rights,” she said.

The three agreed that Aysén is a region where machismo or sexism has historically been very strong. “That’s still true today, but we are gradually conquering it,” Mancilla said.

They said they ran into the strongest resistance to their association, in fact, inside their homes.

“In the great majority of our cases, (our husbands) would quip ‘so you’re leaving the house?’ and when we would return they would say ‘what were you doing? Just wasting time’,” Mancilla said.

But despite the initial resistance, their husbands are now proud of them, because they see what their wives have achieved. “Now they accompany us – especially when we roast a calf,” one of the three women said with a laugh.

The challenge they are now facing “is to have a hectare of our own, for the organisation, to do the training there, and to buy a truck so we can easily go to the local markets and be available when women need a ride, especially the older women,” Mancilla said.

Water woes

But there is a bigger challenge: to gain their own water rights so they don’t have to depend on a company to obtain the water they need.

Chile’s Water Code was put into effect by the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). It made water private property, giving the state the authority to grant water use rights to companies, free of charge and in perpetuity.

It also allows water use rights to be bought, sold or leased, without taking use priorities into consideration.

“Why should we pay for water rights if people were born and raised in the countryside and always had access to water?” asked Mancilla. “Why should small farmers pay more taxes?”

The women said that each member throws everything into their products.

“Everything we do, we do with love: if we make cheese, we do it with the greatest of care; you want it to be good because your income depends on it. Nancy’s woven goods, Blanca’s vegetables – we do it all with passion,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Rural Women in Latin America Define Their Own Kind of Feminismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/rural-women-in-latin-america-try-to-define-their-own-kind-of-feminism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rural-women-in-latin-america-try-to-define-their-own-kind-of-feminism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/rural-women-in-latin-america-try-to-define-their-own-kind-of-feminism/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 23:50:33 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140182 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/rural-women-in-latin-america-try-to-define-their-own-kind-of-feminism/feed/ 1 Antigua Draws a Line in the Vanishing Sandhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/antigua-draws-a-line-in-the-sand/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=antigua-draws-a-line-in-the-sand http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/antigua-draws-a-line-in-the-sand/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 16:32:29 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140156 A section of Jabberwock beach, located on the northeastern coast of Antigua, that is being eroded by the sea. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A section of Jabberwock beach, located on the northeastern coast of Antigua, that is being eroded by the sea. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Apr 15 2015 (IPS)

Jabberwock beach, located on the northeastern coast of Antigua, features a mile-long white sand beach and is a favourite with locals and visitors alike. 

But Freeston Williams, a resident who frequents the area for exercise and other recreational activities, is worried that the beach is quickly disappearing."We believe that there is always a point of redemption and I don’t think we’ve gone beyond that point.” -- Barbuda’s chief environment officer Diann Black-Layne

“I travel around the Jabberwock area on the northern side of the island and I notice the shoreline is coming in closer to the road which means that it’s minimising the area we use for exercise,” Williams told IPS.”I am not sure what exactly is causing all this but sooner or later we will not have any beach left.”

Antigua and Barbuda’s chief environment officer Diann Black-Layne said the sea level is in fact rising and she is mobilising legislators and residents of the small island-nation to become “climate ready” by implementing national activities on climate change.

“In the past 10 years we have experienced three droughts in Antigua. The temperature of the Caribbean Sea will have summer temperatures all the time. This means hurricane season will be all year round,” Black-Layne told IPS.

Pointing to the consequences of a two-degree C increase in global temperatures as outlined in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), Black-Layne said there would be disruption of livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones and small island developing states and other small islands, due to storm surges, coastal flooding, and sea-level rise.

“For persons living in the tropics it will just be too hot, every building will have to be air-conditioned – schools, churches, clinics, prisons,” she said.

“There would also be failure of infrastructure such as roads, seaports, airports and buildings; plants and animals, including humans, would die during periods of extreme heat; there will be a breakdown of agricultural systems resulting in food prices increasing; there will be insufficient access to drinking and irrigation water and reduced agricultural productivity; and tropical species of fish will move to cooler waters resulting in a reduction of fishing in the Caribbean.”

Tourism is the mainstay of the economy of Antigua and Barbuda and is the leading sector in terms of providing employment and creating foreign exchange. But the outlook for reefs in this tourism-dependent nation is also grim.

At around 1.5 degrees C, about 89 percent of coral reefs are projected to experience severe bleaching; at two degrees C, up to 100 percent of coral reefs are projected to experience severe bleaching by the 2050s; and around four degrees C, virtually all coral reefs would be subjected to severe bleaching events annually.

Signing the Copenhagen Accord in 2009, world leaders agreed to keep temperature increases resulting from heat-trapping emissions to less than two degrees C, a target aimed at limiting dangerously disruptive climate impacts.

A policy target informed by science, two degrees C is the formally codified benchmark, the line in the sand by which nations have agreed to measure collective success in providing  generations to come with a secure climate future.

The IPCC said global average surface temperatures have risen about 0.85 degrees C since 1900 and cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. It finds that having a greater than 66 percent probability of keeping warming caused by CO2 emissions alone to below two degrees C requires limiting total further emissions to between 370-540 gigatonnes of carbon (GtC).

At current rates of CO2 emissions (about 9.5 GtC per year), the world will hurtle past the two C carbon budget in less than 50 years. And this conservatively assumes that emissions rates don’t continue on their current upward trajectory of 3 percent per year.

In a bid to increase awareness of climate change here, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) is spearheading a two-day workshop Apr. 14-15 under its Rallying the Region to Action on Climate Change (RRACC) project, an initiative funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

An OECS official said participants are being updated on the current awareness levels on the island and will brainstorm to determine ways to increase the nation’s consciousness. Participants are drawn from the sectors most affected by climate change.

“It will specifically seek to discuss the climate ready campaign which is currently ongoing, including results of a Knowledge, Attitude and Practice (KAP) survey on climate change awareness in the OECS,” OECS Communication Specialist Tecla Fontenard told IPS.

“We have data that shows what levels of awareness people already have and where the gaps are and we also have data from Antigua. The workshop will also determine priorities for a communication action plan for Antigua that considers critical climate change issues in four major sectors – agriculture, tourism, marine and coastal as well as the water sector.”

Antigua and other countries in the OECS have a heightened vulnerability to many of the economic and environmental pressures that are emerging globally. This vulnerability, coupled with fragile natural and cultural assets and inherent social challenges, presents a special urgency to the sustainable development goals of the region.

Climate change, one of the most significant ongoing challenges to countries in the OECS, is forecast to have devastating environmental, social and economic consequences on OECS countries and Black-Layne said the administration of Prime Minister Gaston Browne will have to develop adaptation strategies, during the next two terms, in order to address several issues including sea level rise and salt water intruding below the island to affect all wells.

“A significant 100 percent of potable water will have to come from desalination, the conch industry will be damaged because of ocean acidification and fisher folk will have to adapt and move into other areas of work,” she said.

But Black-Layne said all is not lost.

“From the Environment Division perspective, when you hear the pronouncements and the predicted impacts of climate change on our country it’s not very encouraging. In fact it’s very depressing and the temptation would be to say what’s the point of doing what we’re doing,” she said.

“But we believe that there is always a point of redemption and I don’t think we’ve gone beyond that point.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Two Winners and One Loser at the Summit of the Americashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-two-winners-and-one-loser-at-the-summit-of-the-americas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-two-winners-and-one-loser-at-the-summit-of-the-americas http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-two-winners-and-one-loser-at-the-summit-of-the-americas/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 10:58:35 +0000 Joaquin Roy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140141

In this column Joaquín Roy, Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration and Director of the European Union Centre at the University of Miami, argues that U.S. President Barack Obama earned a place in history at the recent Summit of the Americas for taking the first steps towards overturning a policy that has lasted over half a century but has failed in its primary goal of ending the Castro regime in Cuba. The other winner, he says, is Cuban President Raúl Castro, who wisely accepted Obama’s challenge and rose to the occasion, while Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro failed in his attempt to have the summit condemn Obama.

By Joaquín Roy
MIAMI, Apr 14 2015 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama has earned a place in history for taking the first steps towards rectifying a policy that has lasted over half a century without ever achieving its primary goal of ending the Castro regime in Cuba.

At the Seventh Summit of the Americas, held in Panama City Apr. 10-11, Obama set aside the tortuous negotiations with his Cuban counterpart Raúl Castro and the impossible pursuit of consensus with his domestic opponents. Going out on a limb, he made an unconditional offer. He knew, or he sensed, that Castro would have no option but to accept.

Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

The Cuban economy is on the verge of collapse and the regime is receiving subtle pressure from a population that has already endured all manner of trials.

Signs of weakening in Venezuela, its protector, with which it exchanged social favours (in the fields of health and education) for subsidised oil, are gathering like hurricane storm clouds over the Raúl Castro regime

Instead of shaking the tree to knock the ripe fruit to the ground, Obama chose to do the unexpected: to prop it up and instead encourage its survival.

Obama is committing to stability in Cuba as the lesser evil, compared with sparking an internal explosion, with conflict between irreconcilable sectors and the imposition of a military solution more rigid than the current level of control. Washington knows that only the Cuban armed forces can guarantee order. The last thing the Pentagon aspires to is to take on that unenviable role.

Thus, between underpinning the Raúl Castro government and the doubtful prospect of attempting instantaneous transformation, the pragmatic option was to renew full diplomatic relations and, in the near future, lift the embargo.

Raúl Castro, for his part, yielded ground on the oft-repeated demand for an end to the embargo as a prior condition for any negotiations, and has responded wisely to the challenge. He contented himself with the consolation prize of reviewing the history (incidentally, an appalling one) of U.S. policy towards Cuba, in his nearly one-hour speech at the Summit.

“Obama is committing to stability in Cuba as the lesser evil, compared with sparking an internal explosion, with conflict between irreconcilable sectors and the imposition of a military solution more rigid than the current level of control”
To sugar the pill, however, he generously recognised that Obama, who was not even born at the time of the Cuban Revolution, shares no blame for the blockade. In this way, Castro contributed decisively to Obama’s triumph at the summit.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has emerged from this inter-American gathering as the clear loser. The key to his failure was not having calculated his limitations and having undervalued the resources of his fellow presidents. Initially, Maduro logically exploited Obama’s mistake in decreeing that Venezuela is a “threat” and imposing sanctions on seven Venezuelan officials.

A large number of governments and analysts criticised the language used in the U.S. decree. In the run-up to the summit, Obama publicly recanted and admitted that Venezuela is no such threat to his country.

Maduro’s weak showing at the Summit was due to a combination of his own personality, the reactions of important external actors (significantly distant from the United States), the weak support of many of his traditional allies or sympathisers in Latin America, and the absence of unconditional support from Cuba.

It should be noted that the United States barely made its presence felt over this issue, although U.S. State Department counsellor Thomas Shannon made an effort to smooth over Maduro’s excesses and visited the Venezuelan president in Caracas ahead of the summit.

Maduro’s actions were already burdened by the imprisonment of a number of his opponents on questionable charges. As a result, protests spread worldwide, especially in Latin America, but also in Europe.

A score of former Latin American presidents signed a protest document which was presented at the summit.

Although these former presidents might be regarded as conservative and liberal, they were joined by former Spanish president José María Aznar (a notorious target of attacks by the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and, afterwards, Maduro himself) and former Spanish socialist president Felipe González, who offered to act as defence lawyer for Antonio Ledezma, the mayor of Caracas, who is one of those imprisoned by the Venezuelan regime.

Maduro’s attempt to have a condemnation of the U.S. decree included in the summit’s final communiqué ended in another defeat. Although efforts were made to eliminate direct mention of the United States, the outcome was that the summit issued no final declaration because of lack of consensus.

In spite of the loquacity of its partners and protégés in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), Venezuela’s Latin American supporters showed caution and avoided direct confrontation with Washington.

The same was evidently true of the Caribbean countries; fearful of losing supplies of subsidised Venezuelan oil, they made their request to Obama for preferential treatment by the United States at the meeting of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in Jamaica earlier in the month.

But Maduro’s main failure was not realising that Raúl Castro would have to choose between fear of diminished supplies of cheap Venezuelan crude and rapprochement with Washington. It remains unknown how Cuba will be able to continue supplying Cuban teachers and healthcare personnel to Venezuela, until now the jewel in the crown of the alliance between Havana and Caracas in the context of ALBA.

Translated by Valerie Dee/Edited by Phil Harris   

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

Joaquín Roy can be contacted at jroy@Miami.edu

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Latin America Heralds New Era with United Stateshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/latin-america-heralds-new-era-with-united-states/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-heralds-new-era-with-united-states http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/latin-america-heralds-new-era-with-united-states/#comments Mon, 13 Apr 2015 21:51:43 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140137 Group photo at the Seventh Summit of the Americas, taken Apr. 11 in Panama City, the second day of the two-day gathering, which for the first time brought together all 35 countries in the hemisphere. Credit: Seventh Summit of the Americas

Group photo at the Seventh Summit of the Americas, taken Apr. 11 in Panama City, the second day of the two-day gathering, which for the first time brought together all 35 countries in the hemisphere. Credit: Seventh Summit of the Americas

By Ivet González
PANAMA CITY, Apr 13 2015 (IPS)

Latin America presented its own recipes for development in the new era of relations with the United States in the Seventh Summit of the Americas, where Cuba took part for the first time and the U.S. said it would close the chapter of “medd[ling] with impunity” in its neighbours to the south.

“We must understand that the Americas to the north and to the south of the Rio Grande are different. And we must converse as blocs,” Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said Saturday Apr. 11 on the closing day of the summit, where the leaders of all 35 countries of the Western Hemisphere met for the first time.

With references to history, anti-imperialistic declarations, proposals for solutions and suggested development goals, the leaders who gathered in Panama City expressed a diversity of political positions and priorities, under the summit’s slogan: “Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas”.

The two-day meeting was historic due to the presence of Cuba, suspended from the Organisation of American States (OAS) between 1962 and 2009. “It was time for me to speak here in the name of Cuba,” said President Raúl Castro in his speech during the summit’s plenary session.

Cuba’s participation was preceded by another historic development: the restoration of diplomatic ties announced Dec. 17 by Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama.

Without exception, the heads of state and government who addressed the plenary in the Atlapa Convention Centre celebrated the socialist island nation’s participation in the Americas-wide meeting, which many of them saw as representing the end of the Cold War and burying a period of ideological clashes between the left and right.

At the summit, Obama and Castro put 56 years of bitter conflict further behind them with a handshake and small talk during the opening ceremonies, points in common in their speeches, exchanges of praise and a bilateral meeting where they confirmed their earlier decision to normalise relations without renouncing their differences.

The region “no longer permits unilateral, isolationist policies,” Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said in her address. “Today we have gathered together in a different context.”

Cuba’s full insertion and the advanced talks held since 2012 between the Colombian government and leftwing guerrillas to end the last armed conflict in the region, which has dragged on for over half a century, means Latin America can soon declare itself a region of peace, as sought by the 33 countries of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.

In Rousseff’s view, “the consolidation of democracy and new political paradigms in each one of our countries led to a shift, and public polices now put a priority on sustainable development with social justice.”

Alcibíades Vásquez, Panama’s minister of social development, while being interviewed, surrounded by indigenous leaders who on Apr. 11 delivered to him the declaration “Defending our nations” in the name of 300 native representatives who participated in one of the alternative forums held parallel to the Seventh Summit of the Americas. Credit: Ivet González/IPS

Alcibíades Vásquez, Panama’s minister of social development, while being interviewed, surrounded by indigenous leaders who on Apr. 11 delivered to him the declaration “Defending our nations” in the name of 300 native representatives who participated in one of the alternative forums held parallel to the Seventh Summit of the Americas. Credit: Ivet González/IPS

The leader of Latin America’s powerhouse, who has a history of trade unionism and activism against Brazil’s 1964-1985 dictatorship, said “Latin America today has less poverty, hunger, illiteracy and infant and maternal mortality than in previous decades,” even though it remains the most unequal region in the world.

Rousseff called for sustained economic growth, unified development targets, the reduction of vulnerabilities in security, education, migration, climate change, guaranteed rights, cooperation, decent work and disaster prevention, as southeast Brazil is suffering the worst drought in 80 years.

After fielding criticism from Correa regarding human rights and respect for sovereignty, Obama said “The United States will not be imprisoned by the past — we’re looking to the future.”

He said he had fulfilled his earlier pledge “to build a new era of cooperation between our countries, as equal partners, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”
“We are more deeply engaged across the region than we have been in decades,” he said. He added that “We still have work to do to harmonise regulations; encourage good governance and transparency that attracts investment; invest in infrastructure; address some of the challenges that we have with respect to energy.”

Castro, who was applauded at the start and end of the summit, discussed at length the history of relations between Cuba and the United States. He thanked Obama for trying to end the economic embargo in place against his country since 1962, which “affects the interests of all states” because of its extraterritorial reach.

He urged the hemisphere to strengthen cooperation in fighting climate change and improving education and healthcare, and cited the joint efforts by Latin America and North America in combating the ebola epidemic in West Africa, which has already claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people.

He said that currently 65,000 Cubans are working in 89 countries, as part of the country’s cooperation in the areas of education and health.

And he added that the hemisphere could do a great deal, because Cuba, “with very limited resources,” has helped trained 68,000 professionals and technical workers from 157 countries.

Argentine President Cristina Fernández invited more investment in the countries of Latin America to curb migration to the United States or Canada.

Meanwhile, Peru’s leader, Ollanta Humala, reiterated the need for the region to diversify production, which is based on commodities, and mentioned technology transfer.

The main point of friction at the summit was the Mar. 9 executive order signed by Obama, in which he called Venezuela a threat to U.S. national security. The prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, said 33 of the 35 countries meeting in Panama City had called for the repeal of the decree.

Although there was no official confirmation, the issue was reportedly the main cause for the fact that for the third time since these summits began, in 1994, the highest-level inter-American meeting ended without a final declaration, which was to be titled “Mandates for Action”.

Alternative or parallel forums

But the participants in the Fifth Summit of Indigenous Peoples of Abya Yala (the Americas) did agree on a final statement, “Defending our nations”, which some 300 native leaders delivered to the convention centre where the presidential summit was taking place, decked out in traditional dress complete with feathers and other ceremonial adornments.

“If all voices are not represented, prosperity with equity is impossible,” Hokabeq Solano, a leader of the Kuna people of Panama, told IPS.

“There was very little representation of our communities in the summit and the parallel forums,” another representative of the hemisphere’s 55 million indigenous people complained.

The indigenous gathering was independent of the Fifth People’s Summit, where more than 3,000 representatives of social movements participated. Since 2005, this meeting has been the alternative conference to the official summits.

In their declaration, the indigenous leaders demanded constitutional reforms that include native peoples, protection of sacred sites, and a roadmap for the unification of indigenous peoples. They also rejected development projects that entail forced displacement of communities.

Some 800 participants in the Forum of Civil Society and Social Actors, another parallel meeting, also delivered to the president a document with proposals on health, education, security, energy, environment, citizen participation and democratic governance.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Economic Slowdown Threatens Progress Towards Equality in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/economic-slowdown-threatens-progress-towards-equality-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=economic-slowdown-threatens-progress-towards-equality-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/economic-slowdown-threatens-progress-towards-equality-in-latin-america/#comments Sat, 11 Apr 2015 16:22:59 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140125 Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff with her counterparts from Mexico (left), Panama and the United States, during a panel at the Second CEO Summit of the Americas, Friday Apr. 10 in Panama City. Credit: Courtesy of the IDB

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff with her counterparts from Mexico (left), Panama and the United States, during a panel at the Second CEO Summit of the Americas, Friday Apr. 10 in Panama City. Credit: Courtesy of the IDB

By Ivet González
PANAMA CITY, Apr 11 2015 (IPS)

Predictions of a sharp slowdown in Latin America’s economic growth this year make it even more necessary for the region’s leaders to make commitments to boost prosperity with equality during the Seventh Summit of the Americas, currently taking place in the Panamanian capital.

In several of the summit’s forums, the executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcena, said the regional economy was expected to grow a mere one percent in 2015, after GDP growth amounted to just 1.1 percent in 2014.

The two-day inter-American summit that opened Friday Apr. 10 has once again brought together high-level representatives of the governments of the 35 countries of the Western Hemisphere, with the novel inclusion of Cuban President Raúl Castro making it a historic meeting.

The heads of state and government, and parallel civil society, academic, youth and business forums, are meeting in Panama City to debate the central theme “Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas”.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff put an emphasis on a key issue of the economic slowdown: the serious social impact it could have in the world’s most unequal region.

In a panel in the Second CEO Summit of the Americas, also attended by the U.S., Mexican and Panamanian presidents, Rousseff said the region should work hard to keep the large numbers of people pulled up into the middle class by social policies in recent years from falling back into poverty.

According to ECLAC, South America will show the worst economic performance – close to zero growth – compared to 3.2 percent growth in Central America and Mexico and 1.9 percent in the Caribbean.

The president of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Luis Alberto Moreno, also warned that the governments must take measures to prevent the economic stagnation from undoing the great achievement of the last decade, when poverty in the region dropped from around 50 percent 15 years ago to less than 30 percent today.

In the panel, U.S. President Barack Obama called on governments in the region to cooperate to create mechanisms towards lifelong education, in order for the hemisphere to continue to grow.

“We have to replace the dynamic of extractivism with a culture of sustainability,” Bárcena said in another panel. In her view, the drop in the rate of growth should drive new social pacts in the region, in order to keep up the efforts to curb inequality.

“Without equitable distribution of wealth, there will be neither growth nor development,” Erick Graell, secretary of Panama’s Central Nacional de Trabajadores trade union confederation, told IPS. He participated in the alternative People’s Summit.

Behind barriers at the University of Panama, 3,000 members of social and labour movements from the Americas are meeting Thursday Apr. 9 to Saturday Apr. 11 in the alternative meeting to the official summit organised by the Organisation of American States (OAS).

Representatives of indigenous communities from Latin America grab a bite to eat outside the People’s Summit, in the University of Panama assembly hall on Friday Apr. 10. The alternative gathering is taking place parallel to the Apr. 10-11 Seventh Summit of the Americas. Credit: Ivet González/IPS

Representatives of indigenous communities from Latin America grab a bite to eat outside the People’s Summit, in the University of Panama assembly hall on Friday Apr. 10. The alternative gathering is taking place parallel to the Apr. 10-11 Seventh Summit of the Americas. Credit: Ivet González/IPS

At the People’s Summit, women and men in colourful traditional indigenous dress walk around the university assembly hall, where social protest chants can be heard and the walls are festooned with posters and phrases of legendary Argentine-Cuban guerrilla leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928-1967) and other historic leaders of Latin America’s left.

Participants from Canada and the United States mingle with the predominant racially and culturally diverse South American, Central American and Caribbean crowd at the People’s Summit, attended Friday by Bolivian President Evo Morales, and which expected the participation of Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and Cuba’s Raúl Castro.

“It has become a tradition that every time the presidents get together in their elite summits, ignoring the country’s development, social movements hold this alternative meeting,” said Graell, with the People’s Summit organising committee.

“We are going to express our concerns about poverty and inequality in the recommendations we send the presidents,” the trade unionist said with respect to the citizen gathering whose first edition was held parallel to the Fourth Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina in 2005.

The alternative forum, whose slogan this year is “A homeland for all, with peace, solidarity, and social justice,” is discussing issues such as human, economic, social and cultural rights, democracy and sovereignty, trade union freedom, migration, indigenous communities, education, social security and pensions.

Investing more in education is key to leaving behind dependence on commodities and to strengthening the knowledge sector and technology, which would guarantee economic and social sustainability, said ECLAC’s Bárcena. At the same time, she said, it is a challenge for governments, given the economic slowdown.

Latin America and the Caribbean must close structural gaps in terms of production, education and income levels to advance towards inclusive and sustainable development, because inequality conspires against the stability of democracies, Bárcena said.

“There is a lack of coordination at the government level to reduce regional disparities,” said Jorge Valdivieso, executive secretary of the Central Obrera Boliviana trade union confederation. “One example of this is that there are borders between our countries and visa requirements. Latin America is one single country,” he told IPS at the People’s Summit.

Salvadoran nurse Idalia Reyes, who is taking part in the alternative summit in representation of the trade union of workers of El Salvador’s social security institute, told IPS that “cooperation can help improve the quality of life of local communities.”

She stressed that several countries, including Brazil, Cuba or Venezuela, have regional cooperation programmes in areas such as scientific research, productivity, post-disaster recovery, health and education, despite their internal limitations.

But she lamented that in the case of the United States, support for countries in the region “comes with so many conditions attached.”

“It has a lot to offer but it should stop always asking for something in exchange,” said the activist who lives in a region – Central America – marked by high levels of violent crime and migration to the United States.

In an attempt to reduce the exodus by bolstering economic growth and security, in November 2014 El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras presented the plan for the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle, which the United States is supporting with one billion dollars. It will be added to efforts towards customs and trade integration.

The activist brought to the alternative summit the demand to avoid the privatisation of the pensions of the working class – a phenomenon she said was a growing problem in Central America. “We want mixed, secure pensions, to which the government and workers throughout their working years contribute,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Plunging Oil Prices Won’t Kill Vaca Muertahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/plunging-oil-prices-wont-kill-vaca-muerta/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=plunging-oil-prices-wont-kill-vaca-muerta http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/plunging-oil-prices-wont-kill-vaca-muerta/#comments Fri, 10 Apr 2015 07:42:31 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140111 The Loma Campana camp where YPF and Chevron produce shale oil in the southwest Argentine province of Neuquén. So far, the plunging of oil prices has not modified the costely development of this unconventional fuel. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The Loma Campana camp where YPF and Chevron produce shale oil in the southwest Argentine province of Neuquén. So far, the plunging of oil prices has not modified the costely development of this unconventional fuel. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Apr 10 2015 (IPS)

Despite the precipitous fall in global oil prices, Argentina has continued to follow its strategy of producing unconventional shale oil, although in the short term there could be problems attracting the foreign investment needed to exploit the Vaca Muerta shale deposit.

The uncertainty has come on the heels of the initial euphoria over the exploitation of shale oil and gas, of which Argentina has some of the world’s largest reserves.

Is the Vaca Muerta shale oil and gas field in intensive care, now that the price of a barrel of oil has plummeted from 110 dollars to under 50 in just seven months? That is the question repeated by financial and oil industry experts.

Argentina’s energy trade deficit climbed to almost seven billion dollars in 2014, partly due to the decline in the country’s conventional oil reserves.

Eliminating that deficit depends on the development of Vaca Muerta, a major shale oil and gas deposit in the Neuquén basin in southwest Argentina. At least 10 billion dollars a year in investment are needed over the next few years to tap into this source of energy.“Conventional oil production has peaked, so to meet the rise in demand it will be necessary to develop unconventional sources. And Argentina is one of the best-placed countries to do so.” -- Víctor Bronstein

“In the short term, it would be best to import, rather than exploit the shale resources,” Víctor Bronstein, the director of the Centre of Studies on Energy, Policy and Society, told IPS.

“But taking a more strategic view, investment in and development of these resources must be kept up, since oil prices are going to start climbing again in the near future and we have to have the capacity to produce our own resources when that happens,” he added.

That is how President Cristina Fernández saw things, he said, when she set a domestic price of 72 dollars a barrel – “40 percent above its international value” – among other production incentives that were adopted to shore up Vaca Muerta.

According to the state oil company Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF), Vaca Muerta multiplied Argentina’s oil reserves by a factor of 10 and its gas reserves by a factor of 40, which will enable this country not only to be self-sufficient in energy but also to become a net exporter of oil and gas.

YPF has been assigned 12,000 of the 30,000 sq km of the shale oil and gas deposit in the province of Neuquén.

The company admits that to exploit the deposit, it will need to partner with transnational corporations capable of providing capital. It has already done so with the U.S.-based Chevron in the Loma Campana deposit, where it had projected a price of 80 dollars a barrel this year.

“Who is going to invest in unconventional oil and gas at the current prices?” the vice president of the Grupo Moreno, Gustavo Calleja, commented to IPS.

“We have to hold on to Vaca Muerta and continue studying its deposits in just a few pilot wells, to see how deep they are and what kind of drilling is necessary to keep down costs and curb the environmental impacts,” said Calleja, who was the government’s undersecretary of fuel in the 1980s.

YPF technicians working on one of the shale oil drilling rigs in the Loma Campana shale gas field in Vaca Muerta in southwest Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

YPF technicians working on one of the shale oil drilling rigs in the Loma Campana shale gas field in Vaca Muerta in southwest Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”, the technique used to extract shale oil and gas, involves the high-pressure injection of a mix of water, sand and chemical additives into the parent-rock formations at a depth of over 2,000 metres, in order to release the trapped oil and gas which flows up to the surface through pipes.

Besides being very costly, fracking poses environmental risks, as it requires huge volumes of water, pollutes aquifers, and can cause earthquakes.

The shale boom that began in the United States in 2008 was driven, among other factors, by high oil prices, which provided a profit margin.

“At the current prices only those who have cutting-edge technology can develop their shale reserves,” said Calleja.

The cost of producing a barrel of shale oil is based on variables such as extraction, exploration, investment amortization and the payment of taxes and royalties. In the United States, the cost is calculated at between 40 and 70 dollars.

That fact, explained Bronstein, led to an over 30 percent reduction in drilling activity since prices fell, “which will bring down production over the next few months.”

In Argentina, shale development is just starting, which means costs are high “due to a question of scale and problems of logistics and infrastructure,” said the expert.

In the United States, “developing a shale well, including fracking, costs around three million dollars,” while in Argentina “it costs more than twice that,” he said.

“The cost of extracting conventional oil in Argentina ranges between 20 and 30 dollars a barrel, while it costs around 90 dollars to extract a barrel of shale oil, although that will gradually go down as Vaca Muerta is developed,” he said.

Argentina does not yet produce shale gas on a commercial scale, as it still has large reserves of conventional gas. YPF’s shale oil production represents 10 percent of the company’s total output, and between three and four percent of the oil extracted by all operating companies in the country.

Canada and China produce unconventional oil on a commercial scale. But due to their geologic and operative characteristics, the United States and Argentina are seen as having the greatest potential in terms of future production of shale oil and gas.

YPF argues that with the gradual reduction in production costs, a rise in output, and higher domestic oil prices, Vaca Muerta is still profitable.

The industry is waiting for the collapse in prices to bring down the costs of international inputs and services, thus reducing the high domestic industrial costs.

YPF has also signed agreements for the joint exploitation of shale deposits with Malaysia’s Petronas and Dow Chemical of the United States, while other transnational corporations have announced their intention to invest in Vaca Muerta.

Bronstein believes the investments will continue to flow in because they were planned with an eye to “significant production in five years.”

“This means investors don’t take the current price of crude oil into account as much as the future price. And virtually all analysts agree that oil prices will rally within a few years,” he said.

“Conventional oil production has peaked, so to meet the rise in demand it will be necessary to develop unconventional sources. And Argentina is one of the best-placed countries to do so,” Bronstein added.

Cristian Folgar, who was undersecretary of fuels last decade, said “any snapshot of the market today would be distorted because the costs of different oil industry services have not yet settled.”

“YPF will continue to forge ahead and will not slow down investments that depend on its decision because the company currently channels its entire flow of investment into Argentina,” he told IPS.

In his view, international corporations will reduce their investments at a global level, which means “YPF is not at all likely to reach new joint venture agreements with other oil companies until the situation stabilises.”

But “those who have already started to invest are not going to back out,” he added.

“Argentina continues to pay for crude and gas at the same prices as before the start of this downward price trend,” Folgar said. “Since a change of government lies just ahead, new developments will probably wait for the next government to send signals indicating what its plans are in the energy sector.”

Calleja is worried that Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading oil exporter, and the country that according to experts is pulling the strings of the current price collapse in order to – among other goals – push shale out of the market, “may drive prices even further down.”

In the face of what he describes as a global “war of interests”, he believes it is a good time to start looking to energy sources other than fossil fuels.

Calleja argues in favour of hydroelectricity and nuclear energy, which currently represent just 14 percent of Argentina’s energy mix, but have “lower economic and environmental costs.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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In Belize, Climate Change Drives Coastal Managementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-belize-climate-change-drives-coastal-management/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-belize-climate-change-drives-coastal-management http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-belize-climate-change-drives-coastal-management/#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2015 18:05:26 +0000 Aaron Humes http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140100 Fishermen from across Belize will see major benefits from the MCCAP project, which seeks to re-train them in alternative livelihoods to lessen the impact of climate change in their communities. Credit: Aaron Humes/IPS

Fishermen from across Belize will see major benefits from the MCCAP project, which seeks to re-train them in alternative livelihoods to lessen the impact of climate change in their communities. Credit: Aaron Humes/IPS

By Aaron Humes
BELIZE CITY, Apr 9 2015 (IPS)

A five-year project launched here in Belize City in March seeks to cement a shift in view of climate change and its impact on Belize’s national development.

The Belize Marine Conservation and Climate Adaptation Project (MCCAP) has dual goals: putting in place structures to ensure continued protection for marine protected areas, and ensuring that those who benefit from use and enjoyment of those areas are educated on the dangers of climate change and given means of sustaining their lifestyles without further damage to precious natural resources.“Climate change is not an environmental issue. Climate change is a development issue." -- Enos Esikuri of the World Bank

Approximately 203,000 Belizeans live in coastal communities – both urban centres such as Belize City and the towns of Corozal and Dangriga, as well as destinations for fishing and tourism such as the villages of Sarteneja, Hopkins, Sittee River, Seine Bight and Placencia.

For these persons, and for Belize, “Climate change is not an environmental issue. Climate change is a development issue,” said World Bank representative and senior environmental specialist Enos Esikuri, who noted that keeping the focus on the environment on this issue would result in “losing the audience” – those who make their living directly from the sea through fishing and tourism.

According to Esikuri, there has been a change in Belize’s economy from a purely agriculture base to a service-based economy with tourism as a primary focus – but the marine resources in Belize’s seas and rivers are integral to the success of that model.

Belize also has to pay attention to the intensification of weather systems and how the reef protects Belize’s fragile coast and communities, he said.

Of Belize’s three billion-dollar gross domestic product (GDP), fishing accounts for 15 percent; 4,500 licensed fishermen and about 18,000 Belizeans are directly dependent on fisheries for their livelihoods.

However, tourism accounts for almost 25 percent of GDP and a significantly greater population living in coastal communities earn their livelihoods from this industry, Esikuri explained.

The Barrier Reef and its fish are a very important resource for this industry, he said, so protecting it safeguards more livelihoods.

The local Ministry of Fisheries, Forestry and Sustainable Development has received 5.53 million dollars from the World Bank’s Adaptation Fund, with the government contributing a further 1.78 million dollars for the programme, which seeks to implement priority ecosystem-based marine conservation and climate adaptation measures to strengthen the climate resilience of the Belize Barrier Reef system.

The MCCAP project will invest 560,000 U.S. dollars to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change, and educate people about the value of marine conservation, and how climate change will affect their lives.

The project will explore and develop strategies to help coastal communities become more resilient to climate change, and will encourage community exchange visits to help the people learn how they can adapt to climate change.

Project Coordinator Sandra Grant says that of the three components to the project – upgrades to existing protected areas in Corozal, at Turneffe Atoll and in South Water Caye off Placencia, developing community-based business ventures in aquaculture, agriculture and tourism and raising awareness on the impact of climate change and developing and exploring climate resilient strategies – it is the second one that she expects will have the most impact.

“We are going to look at the marine protected areas, but at the same time we are going to start the livelihood activities, because sometimes if you don’t show people the alternatives, then they will not buy in to what you are trying to do. So although it is three different components we decided to put them together simultaneously,” Grant said.

The selected protected areas were identified as priority by the project because of their contribution to the environment.

She added that fishermen and other stakeholders will be able to take advantage of new strategies for economic benefit such as seaweed planting, sea cucumber harvesting and diversification of business into value-added products.

Part of the project will help finance community-based projects to create small-scale seaweed farms to take advantage of the global demand for seaweed for use in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and even in ice cream.

A cooperative in Placencia has already pioneered growing and drying seaweed for export. The bottom-feeding sea cucumber could become a cash cow as a prized delicacy and medicinal property in Asia and China.

Belize already exports about 400,000 pounds per year and prices range from 4-8 Belizean dollars per pound though the dried product fetches as much as 150 U.S. dollars per pound internationally. Again, one cooperative already has investments in this area.

Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve and South Water Caye Marine Reserve will install various features to assist in protection of their native marine and coastal ecosystems, including coral nurseries for the latter two.

Each of the components has its own budget and will be pursued simultaneously with each other.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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From Punta del Este to Panama, the End of Cuba’s Isolationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/from-punta-del-este-to-panama-the-end-of-cubas-isolation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-punta-del-este-to-panama-the-end-of-cubas-isolation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/from-punta-del-este-to-panama-the-end-of-cubas-isolation/#comments Wed, 08 Apr 2015 20:46:54 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140085 Ernesto “Che” Guevara delivers his famous speech on Aug. 8, 1961 at the Inter-American Economic and Social Council in the Uruguayan city of Punta del Este. This was the last continental forum Cuba attended before being excluded until the Seventh Summit of the Americas, to be held Apr. 10-11 in Panama City. Credit: Public domain

Ernesto “Che” Guevara delivers his famous speech on Aug. 8, 1961 at the Inter-American Economic and Social Council in the Uruguayan city of Punta del Este. This was the last continental forum Cuba attended before being excluded until the Seventh Summit of the Americas, to be held Apr. 10-11 in Panama City. Credit: Public domain

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Apr 8 2015 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama was only four days old when Comandante Ernesto “Che” Guevara publicly castigated the United States’ policy of hostility toward Cuba at an inter-American summit, reiterated then Prime Minister Fidel Castro’s willingness to resolve differences through dialogue on an equal footing, and held secret conversations with a Washington envoy.

More than half a century later, the U.S. president accepted the challenge of pursuing rapprochement with the Caribbean island country, overcoming conflicts, mutual resentment and tensions, and initiating the still precarious process of normalising bilateral relations.

On Apr. 10 and 11 he will come face to face with Cuban President Raúl Castro at the Seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama City.

Guevara addressed the meeting of the Inter-American Economic and Social Council of the Organisation of American States (OAS) on Aug. 8, 1961, on behalf of the Cuban government of Fidel Castro, his leader and comrade-in-arms in the guerrilla revolt that deposed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista on Jan. 1, 1959.

The summit meeting, held in the Uruguayan resort city of Punta del Este, was the last time Cuba participated in an inter-American forum, as the island nation was suspended from the OAS in January 1962, a measure that was officially lifted in June 2009.

Prosperity with equity

The central theme for the Seventh Summit will be “Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas,” a goal which will require more than documents and formal statements for the region to achieve.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) Social Panorama report, the number of poor has risen for the first time in a decade. Between 2013 and 2014, three million Latin Americans fell into poverty, and it is feared that an additional 1.5 million people will be living below the poverty line by the end of 2015.

At the Punta del Este conference the United States formally established the Alliance for Progress, launched by U.S. President John Kennedy (1961-1963) months earlier to counteract the influence of the Cuban Revolution in the region, after his government’s frustrated attempt to invade the island in April 1961.

Behind the scenes of that conference the Argentine-born Guevara held a confidential meeting in Montevideo on Aug. 17 with Richard Goodwin, Kennedy’s special counsel for Latin American affairs, regarded by Cuban media as the first high level contact between authorities of both countries since bilateral relations had been broken off in January 1961.

Five days later the White House issued a statement describing the meeting as “a casual cocktail party conversation in which Goodwin restricted himself to listening.”

Since then there have been numerous unsuccessful attempts to secure closer ties, until after Fidel Castro’s retirement in 2006, his brother and successor Raúl together with Obama surprised the world on Dec. 17, 2014 with their announcement of the joint decision to restore diplomatic relations.

Hence a lot of attention in the run-up to the Seventh Summit of the Americas is being focused on the two heads of state. It will be Obama’s third attendance at a Summit of the Americas, while Cuba has been excluded until now. Cuba’s presence at this Summit is the result of a diplomatic strategy that led to unanimous support from countries of the region for its reinstatement, and that brought about the thaw with the United States.

Cuban political scientist and essayist Carlos Alzugaray regards the growing autonomy of the region as a factor in the process. “It could be said that the United States has lost the initiative and its room for manoeuvre” south of the Rio Bravo or Rio Grande, he told IPS.

After the first Summit of the Americas which took place in 1994 in the U.S. city of Miami, successive meetings revealed that Latin America was increasingly unwilling to accept U.S. dominance. This came to a head with the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), a star concept at early summits but which fell out of favour in just over a decade.

It was at the Fourth Summit, in the Argentine city of Mar del Plata in 2005, that the host country and other South American nations rejected attempts by the United States and Canada to impose the FTAA. Leftwing or centre-left leaders had come to power in the south of the hemisphere, like Hugo Chávez of Venezuela (1999-2013), who called on the Mar del Plata meeting “to be the tomb of FTAA.”

As a regional counter-proposal, in December 2004 Chávez and Fidel Castro launched what is now known as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), made up of Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Lucia, Grenada and Saint Kitts and Nevis.

Three years later, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) was founded in order to encourage integration, social and human development, equity and inclusion in the region. Its members are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela.

All the countries of the Americas except the United States and Canada came together in 2011 to form the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). This forum reinstated Cuba as a full member of the regional concert of nations, in the absence of Canada and the United States.

While Cuba basks in this new international context, Alzugaray itemised internal changes put in motion by the government of Raúl Castro since 2008 to modernise the socialist development model, as well as “overall changes arising from the growing presence in the region of China, above all, and also of Russia.”

But the Panama Summit, convened formally to satisfy the region’s demand to end Cuba’s ostracism from the bloc of the 35 independent states in the Americas, and to take a significant step toward normalisation of relations between Havana and Washington, may need to shift its attention to the crisis between the United States and Venezuela.

Obama issued an executive order on Mar. 9 declaring that the situation in Venezuela, governed by socialist President Nicolás Maduro, is a “threat to the national security of the United States,” and he imposed several of the country’s senior officials. The measure met with the disapproval of the majority of Latin American countries.

“No country has the right to judge the conduct of another and even less to impose sanctions and penalties on their own,” said UNASUR Secretary General Ernesto Samper, a former president of Colombia. In his view, unilateralism will prevent Washington from maintaining good relations with Latin America.

“Under these circumstances, it will be very difficult for the United States to develop a strategy in the region that takes into account Latin American and Caribbean interests and allows for natural adaptation to change,” said Alzugaray.

In his opinion, Obama has made “a serious mistake” in the run-up to a meeting that was supposed to celebrate hemispheric reunion. “The region will overwhelmingly support Cuba and Venezuela,” Alzugaray predicted.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Taking Child Workers Out of El Salvador’s Sugar Cane Fieldshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/taking-child-workers-out-of-el-salvadors-sugar-cane-fields/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=taking-child-workers-out-of-el-salvadors-sugar-cane-fields http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/taking-child-workers-out-of-el-salvadors-sugar-cane-fields/#comments Mon, 06 Apr 2015 17:11:48 +0000 Edgardo Ayala and Claudia Avalos http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140048 Cane cutter Evaristo Pérez, 22, on the La Isla plantation in the municipality of San Juan Opico in El Salvador. He used to be a child worker in the sugar cane fields in El Salvador, where child labour has been practically eradicated thanks to a policy of “zero tolerance” in the sugar industry. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Cane cutter Evaristo Pérez, 22, on the La Isla plantation in the municipality of San Juan Opico in El Salvador. He used to be a child worker in the sugar cane fields in El Salvador, where child labour has been practically eradicated thanks to a policy of “zero tolerance” in the sugar industry. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala and Claudia Ávalos
SAN JUAN OPICO, El Salvador , Apr 6 2015 (IPS)

The participation of children and teenagers in the sugar cane harvest, a dangerous agricultural activity, will soon be a thing of the past in El Salvador, where the practice drew international attention 10 years ago.

“Before, when I was a kid, my brothers would take me along to help them cut sugar cane, it wasn’t a problem. But now things have changed,” Evaristo Pérez, a day labourer, told IPS during a break from his work in the sugar cane field under a blistering sun on the La Isla plantation in San Juan Opico, a municipality in the department of La Libertad in western El Salvador.

“I had to turn 18 before I could start working as a cane cutter,” added 22-year-old Pérez, standing next to a group of two dozen other cane cutters covered in dirt and sweat. He admitted that working in the sugar cane fields as a boy was “really tough.”

Child labour in activities described by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) as dangerous or unhealthy has long been rife in El Salvador. That includes cutting sugar cane, hazardous because of the sharp machetes used, as well as the practice of burning sugar cane ahead of the harvest to facilitate the work, which produces ashes to which the cutters are exposed.

The sugar industry generates 50,000 direct jobs in El Salvador, although 18,000 of them are seasonal, out of a total of 250,000 people working in the sector, according to industry statistics.

During the 2013-2014 harvest 720,000 tons of sugar was produced, representing 2.28 percent of the country’s 24.3 billion dollar GDP, and 20 percent of agriculture’s share of GDP.

Sugar cane cultivation covers three percent of the country’s farmland. The big sugar mills process only 10 percent of the output; the remaining 90 percent is in the hands of 7,000 independent producers, 4,000 of whom are grouped in cooperatives, in a country where agriculture generates 20 percent of all jobs.

The severe poverty suffered by many rural families kept child labour alive, despite the risky work and heavy, long workdays.

A sugar cane cutter earns around 200 dollars a month, said workers interviewed by IPS.

“At the bottom of this cultural and economic phenomenon lie poverty and the lack of opportunities in the countryside,” said Julio César Arroyo, executive director of the El Salvador sugar industry association (AAES), which groups the six privately owned sugar mills that process the country’s sugar cane.

In this Central American country of 6.3 million people, 38 percent of the population lives in rural areas, where 36 percent of the households are poor, above the national average of 29.6 percent, according to official statistics from 2013.

The problem of child labour in the sugar cane harvest in El Salvador was thrust to the forefront in June 2004 when the Washington-based Human Rights Watch published the report “Turning a Blind Eye: Hazardous Child Labor in El Salvador’s Sugarcane Cultivation”.

The report triggered a strong reaction by human rights groups as well as international buyers of El Salvador’s sugar. Canada, the second-biggest market after the United States, threatened to stop buying sugar from this country.

The position taken by Canada “was worrisome because it could have caused a domino effect,” leaving thousands of rural workers without an income, Arroyo told IPS.

Due to the Human Rights Watch report on child labour and the resulting pressure, sugar cane producers, sugar mills and the government, grouped together in the Salvadoran Sugar Industry Council (CoNSaa), jointly adopted a code of conduct in 2006.

They stepped up the process a year later with the inclusion of a clause declaring “zero tolerance” of child labour.

They also implemented measures to oversee compliance with the clause, by means of ongoing monitoring by the Labour Ministry, inspectors on plantations and a special external auditor.

A significant improvement was seen. According to the AAES, the number of children working on sugar cane plantations fell from 12,000 in 2004 to 3,470 in 2009, a 72 percent drop. During the 2013-2014 harvest, only 700 children under 18 were reported – a 92 percent drop in 10 years.

“We’ll be satisfied once the problem has been fully eradicated, but great progress has definitely been made,” Arroyo said.

Another positive factor has been that poor rural families have gradually understood that it is important to keep children and teenagers out of the sugar cane fields.

Pablo Antonio Merino, the foreman at the La Isla plantation, told IPS that he knows very well that he can’t hire minors to cut sugar cane, even if they ask him for work.

“They’re not going to find a single minor among my workers,” said the 63-year-old Merino. “Sometimes kids come to my house to ask me to do them a favour and hire them, but when I see how young they are, I tell them no, that I don’t want trouble.”

But there is still resistance to the change.

Another worker, David Flores, 53, told IPS that the ban on child labour in the industry causes problems by leaving adolescents with nothing to do, which leads them down “the wrong path” – a reference to the youth gangs that are rife in this country.

El Salvador is caught up in a wave of violent crime. In 2014 the homicide rate was 63 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). Many of the murders are committed by gangs.

“It has hurt the country to take work away from young people, because they end up as vagrants,” Flores argued.

But Ludin Chávez, the director in El Salvador of the international organisation Save the Children, told IPS that child labour must be eradicated because children grow up in an environment where exploitative conditions are seen as normal.

“They see it as natural that other people exploit them, and that they can never defend their rights; we see this as a dangerous vicious circle,” she said.

Other forms of hazardous child labour are shellfish harvesting in the mangroves, the production of fire crackers in sweatshops, and domestic service, she added.

The 2013 household survey found that 144,168 children and adolescents between the ages of five and 17 were involved in child labour – a nearly 12 percent reduction from 2012.

Since 2009, when the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) came to power, the government outlined a plan to eradicate the worst forms of child labour this year, with a goal to totally eliminate it by 2020, in a joint effort with a wide range of economic and social sectors.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Deforestation in the Amazon Aggravates Brazil’s Energy Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/deforestation-in-the-amazon-aggravates-brazils-energy-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deforestation-in-the-amazon-aggravates-brazils-energy-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/deforestation-in-the-amazon-aggravates-brazils-energy-crisis/#comments Fri, 03 Apr 2015 19:22:04 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140016 An Arara indigenous village along the Volta Grande (Big Bend) of the Xingú River, whose flow will be severely reduced when a large part of the water is diverted in a canal that will feed into the Belo Monte dam, which will be the third-largest hydropower station in the world. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

An Arara indigenous village along the Volta Grande (Big Bend) of the Xingú River, whose flow will be severely reduced when a large part of the water is diverted in a canal that will feed into the Belo Monte dam, which will be the third-largest hydropower station in the world. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 3 2015 (IPS)

In Brazil water and electricity go together, and two years of scant rainfall have left tens of millions of people on the verge of water and power rationing, boosting arguments for the need to fight deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

Two-thirds of Brazil’s electricity comes from dammed rivers, whose water levels have dropped alarmingly. The crisis has triggered renewed concern over climate change and the need to reforest river banks, and has given rise to new debate about the country’s energy system.

“Energy sources must be diversified and we have to reduce dependency on hydroelectric stations and fossil fuel-powered thermoelectric plants, in order to deal with more and more frequent extreme climate events,” the vice president of the non-governmental Vitae Civilis Institute, Delcio Rodrigues, told Tierramérica.

Hydroelectricity accounted for nearly 90 percent of the country’s electric power until the 2001 “blackout”, which forced the authorities to adopt rationing measures for eight months. Since then, the more expensive and dirtier thermal power has grown, to create a more stable electricity supply.

Today, thermal plants, which are mainly fueled by oil, provide 28 percent of the country’s power, compared to the 66.3 percent that comes from hydroelectricity.

Advocates of hydropower call for a return to large dams, whose reservoirs have a capacity to weather lengthy droughts. The instability in supply is due, they argue, to the plants of the past, which could only retain water for a limited amount of time due to environmental regulations.

But “the biggest reservoir of water is forests,” said Rodrigues, explaining that without deforestation, which affects all watersheds, more water would be retained in the soil, which would keep levels up in the rivers.

“Forests are a source, means and end of water flows, because they produce continental atmospheric moisture and help rain infiltrate the soil, which accumulates water, and they protect reservoirs,” said climate researcher Antonio Donato Nobre.

“In the Amazon, 27 percent of the forest is affected by degradation and 20 percent by total clear-cutting,” said Nobre, with the Amazon Research Institute and the National Institute for Space Research.

That fuels forest fires. “Fires didn’t used to penetrate moist areas in the rainforest that were still green, but now they do; they advance into the forest, burning immense extensions of land,” he told Tierramérica.

“Trees in the Amazon aren´t tolerant of fire, unlike the ones in the Cerrado (wooded savannah) ecosystem, which have adapted to periodic fires. It takes the Amazon forests centuries to recover,” he said.

The Santo Antônio hydroelectric dam during construction, in 2010. When it was almost complete, in 2014, the work site was affected when the Madeira River overflowed its banks – a phenomenon blamed at least in part on deforestation. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Santo Antônio hydroelectric dam during construction, in 2010. When it was almost complete, in 2014, the work site was affected when the Madeira River overflowed its banks – a phenomenon blamed at least in part on deforestation. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The scientist is worried that deforestation is affecting South America’s climate, even reducing rainfall in Southeast Brazil, the most populated part of the country, which generates the most hydroelectricity.

“Studies are needed to quantify the moisture transported to different watersheds, in order to assess the climate relationship between the Amazon and other regions,” he said.

But in the eastern Amazon region, where the destruction and degradation of the rainforest are concentrated, climate alterations are already visible, such as a drop in rainfall and a lengthening of the dry season, he noted.

In the Xingú river basin this could be the year with the lowest precipitation levels in 14 years of measurements in the municipality of Canarana – where the headwaters lie – according to the Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA), which is carrying out a sustainability programme for indigenous people and riverbank dwellers in the river basin.

If that trend continues, it will affect the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant under construction 1,200 km downriver. With a capacity to generate 11,233 MW, it is to be the third-largest in the world once it comes onstream in 2019.

But the plant’s generation capacity could fall by nearly 40 percent by 2050, with respect to the projected total, if deforestation continues at the current pace, according to a study by eight Brazilian and U.S. researchers published in 2013 by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.

In 2013, deforestation in the Xingú river basin already reached 21 percent, the ISA estimated.

Other major hydropower dams under construction in the Amazon region could also suffer losses. In the Madeira River, torrential water flows in 2014 in tributaries in Bolivia and Peru submerged the area where the Jirau and Santo Antônio dams were built, affecting the operations of the plants, which had recently come onstream.

Map of the Xingú River basin in Brazil’s Amazon region. The part marked in green – indigenous territory and officially protected zones – are surrounded by deforested areas (marked in red). The basin, which covers 511,149 sq km, is bigger than all of Spain. And the deforested area, 109,166 sq km, is as big as Cuba. Credit: Courtesy of the Socioenvironmental Institute

Map of the Xingú River basin in Brazil’s Amazon region. The part marked in green – indigenous territory and officially protected zones – are surrounded by deforested areas (marked in red). The basin, which covers 511,149 sq km, is bigger than all of Spain. And the deforested area, 109,166 sq km, is as big as Cuba. Credit: Courtesy of the Socioenvironmental Institute

The tendency in the southern part of the Amazon basin is “more intense events, with more marked low and high water levels” such as the severe droughts of 2005 and 2010 and worse than usual flooding in 2009 and 2012, said Naziano Filizola, a hydrologist at the Federal University of Amazonas.

“Besides modifying water flows, deforestation is linked to agriculture, which dumps pesticides in the river, such as in the Xingú River, where indigenous people have noticed a reduction in water quality,” he told Tierramérica.

Hydroelectric construction projects fuel that process by drawing migrant workers from other parts of the country and abroad, expanding the local population without offering adequate conditions, he added.

Nevertheless, the most intense impact on the energy supply due to insufficient rainfall is now being seen in the Planalto Central highlands region, where the Cerrado is the predominant biome. The savannah ecosystem, where the main rivers tapped for hydropower rise, is the second-most extensive in Brazil, after the Amazon rainforest.

The Paraná River, which runs north to south and has the highest generating capacity in Brazil, receives half of its waters from the Cerrado. And in the case of the Tocantins River, which flows towards the northern Amazon region, that proportion is 60 percent, said Jorge Werneck, a researcher with the Brazilian government’s agricultural research agency, EMBRAPA.

Those two rivers drive the two biggest hydropower stations currently operating in Brazil: Itaipú, which is shared with Paraguay, and Tucuruí. Both are among the five largest in the world.

Another example is the São Francisco River, the main source of energy in the semiarid Northeast: 94 percent of its flow comes from the Cerrado.

In the area where he makes his field observations, around Brasilia, where several rivers have their headwaters, Werneck, a specialist in hydrology with EMBRAPA Cerrado, has seen a general tendency for the dry season to expand.

“But data and studies are needed to verify the link between deforestation in the Amazon and changes in the rainfall patterns in Brazil’s west-central and southeast regions,” he said.

In 2014 there was drought in both of these regions, which comprise most of the Cerrado, but “there was no lack of moisture in the Amazon – in fact it rained a lot in the states of Rondônia and Acre,” on the border with Bolivia and Peru, where there was heavy flooding, he said.

Forests provide a variety of ecological services, but it is not possible to assert that they produce and conserve water on a large scale, he said. The treetops “keep 25 percent of the rain from reaching the ground, and evapotranspiration reduces the amount of water that reaches the rivers, where we need it,” he added.

“Assessing the hydrology of forests remains a challenge,” he said.

But Nobre says large forests are “biotic bombs” that attract and produce rain. In his opinion, it is not enough to prevent deforestation in the Amazon; it is urgently necessary to reforest, in order to recuperate the rainforest’s climate services.

One example to follow is the Itaipú hydropower station, which reforested its area of direct influence in the Paraná River basin, revitalising the tributaries, through its programme “Cultivating good water”.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Global Civil Society to the Rescue of the Amazonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/global-civil-society-to-the-rescue-of-the-amazon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-civil-society-to-the-rescue-of-the-amazon http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/global-civil-society-to-the-rescue-of-the-amazon/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 22:02:35 +0000 Kwame Buist http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140007 The future of the Amazon rainforest is “dangling by a thread”. Photo credit: By lubasi (Catedral Verde - Floresta Amazonica)/CC BY-SA 2.0

The future of the Amazon rainforest is “dangling by a thread”. Photo credit: By lubasi (Catedral Verde - Floresta Amazonica)/CC BY-SA 2.0

By Kwame Buist
ROME, Apr 2 2015 (IPS)

A global civil society petition to save the Amazon is circulating on the internet and its promoters say that once one million signatures have been collected indigenous leaders will deliver it directly to the governments of Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela.

Launched by ”Avaaz” (“voice” in Persian), a global civic organisation set up in January 2007 to promote activism on issues such as climate change and human rights, citizens around the world the petition invites citizens around the world to voice support for an ambitious project to create the largest environmental reserve in the world, protecting 135 million hectares of Amazon forest, an area more than twice of France.“The fate of the Amazon rainforest is dangling by a thread” – Avaaz

Avaaz says that the project will not happen “unless Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela’s leaders know the public wants it.” The organisation, which operates in 15 languages and claims over thirty million members in 194 countries, says that it works to “close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want.”

Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos announced Feb. 13 that Colombia proposes collaboration with Brazil and Venezuela to create the world’s largest ecological corridor to mitigate the effects of climate change and preserve biodiversity.

“This would become the world’s largest ecological (corridor) and would be a great contribution to (the) fight of all humanity to preserve our environment, and in Colombia’s case, to preserve our biodiversity,” Santos said.

The Colombian president added that his foreign minister, Maria Angela Holguin, had been asked to “establish all the mechanisms of communication with Brazil and Venezuela” in order to be able to present a joint “concrete, realistic proposal that conveys to the world the enormous contribution the corridor would make towards preserving humanity and mitigating climate change.”

According to Avaaz, “if we create a huge global push to save the Amazon and combine it with national polls in all three countries, we can give the Colombian president the support he needs to convince Brazil and Venezuela.”

“All three leaders are looking for opportunities to shine at the next U.N. climate summit [in Paris in December],” said Avaaz. “Let’s give it to them.”

The Amazon is widely recognised as being vital to life on earth – 10 percent of all known species live there, and its trees help slow down climate change by storing billions of tonnes of carbon that would otherwise be released into in the atmosphere.

Avaaz says that “the fate of the Amazon rainforest is dangling by a thread.” After declining for a few years, deforestation rates started rising again last year, and shot up in Brazil by 190 percent in August and September.

Current laws and enforcement strategies are failing to stop loggers, miners and ranchers, and according to Avaaz, “the best way to regenerate the forest is by creating large reserves, and this ecological corridor would go a long way to help save the fragile wilderness of the Amazon.”

Countering possible criticism of those who argue that reserves hold back economic development and others who say that they are often implemented without consulting the indigenous communities, Avaaz says that “those behind this proposal have committed to full engagement and collaboration with the indigenous tribes. Eighty percent of the territory in this plan is already protected – all that this ground-breaking proposal really requires is regional coordination and enforcement.”

According to the petition’s promoters, “this is an opportunity to win a tangible and vital project that could help guarantee all of our futures. If it works, this could be replicated in all the world’s most important forests. Together, this could plant a seed that helps look after the whole world.”

Edited by Phil Harris

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Lesbians Receiving Unequal Treatment from Cuban Health Serviceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/lesbians-receiving-unequal-treatment-from-cuban-health-services/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lesbians-receiving-unequal-treatment-from-cuban-health-services http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/lesbians-receiving-unequal-treatment-from-cuban-health-services/#comments Wed, 01 Apr 2015 07:41:50 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139969 Two women hugging at a Day Against Homophobia in Havana organised by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Two women hugging at a Day Against Homophobia in Havana organised by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Apr 1 2015 (IPS)

In addition to other forms of discrimination, lesbian and bisexual women in Cuba face unequal treatment from public health services. Their specific sexual and reproductive health needs are ignored, and they are invisible in prevention and treatment campaigns for women.

Many lesbian and bisexual women are afraid of gynaecological instruments and procedures which they experience as particularly distasteful given their sexual orientation. Many are unaware of their risks of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STI) and postpone attending gynaecology appointments in order to avoid questions about their love life, activists and health experts told IPS.

Dayanis Tamayo, a 36-year-old education specialist who lives in Santiago de Cuba, 862 kilometres from Havana, feels that health professionals are judgmental when they discover that her partner is a woman. They make lesbophobic comments and give her disapproving looks.

“Sometimes I get by unnoticed because I don’t fit the stereotype of a butch lesbian, but otherwise I always feel judged,” said Tamayo, who is engaged in research at Universidad de Oriente.

Recent studies back up Tamayo’s statement, pointing to prejudice against lesbian and bisexual women among the country’s health personnel, and ignorance about their particular sexual health needs.

Cuban psychiatrist Ada Alfonso presented a report on “Salud, malestares y derechos sexuales de las lesbianas” (Lesbians’ sexual health, illnesses and rights) at the 2014 Cuban Day Against Homophobia. She said that when they go to see the doctor, these women are asked more about their sexual experiences than about their reason for seeking treatment.

“If we look at women’s health through the lenses of inequality, the gap between lesbians and heterosexuals in regard to health services has a lesbophobic subtext hidden behind the discourse on ‘social needs’,” said Alfonso, an expert with the National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX).

In her view, social pressure on women who are not heterosexual, amounting to homophobia, causes various forms of psychological and sexual malaise.

Alfonso interviewed women in several of the island’s provinces. She found that ethical deficiencies in the system are leading women to postpone clinical tests until they can see a doctor who has been recommended, or a health professional sharing their own sexual orientation.

The women are particularly averse to gynaecological tests because of the instruments used and invasive procedures such as pelvic and vaginal examinations.

Gynaecology outpatient consultations total 925,549 a year, for a population of 4.7 million women aged over 15, according to the National Office of Statistics.

Personnel working in preventive screening services for cervical and uterine cancer told Alfonso that lesbian women tend to come forward for testing too late for any therapeutic action to be taken.

“We generally think that since we do not have sex with men, we are exempt from those risks, because the information campaigns in the media only portray heterosexual couples,” an accountant resident in the Diez de Octubre neighbourhood of Havana told IPS, requesting anonymity.

The 39-year-old accountant, who works in the state sector, has never had a Papanicolau (Pap) test, which involves collecting cells from the uterine cervix and checking them for abnormalities. The Pap test is recommended for women aged over 25 to prevent cervical and uterine cancer and in Cuba it is offered free to women every three years.

“Although I do know that it is important, I find it psychologically difficult to face this test because I feel so exposed, assaulted even, and I personally do not like penetration,” she said.

All Cubans enjoy health coverage by a local family clinic, which is responsible for reminding women when it is time for their next Pap test. However, many women put it off.

In 2013, a total of 765,822 Cuban women aged over 25 had a Pap test done, a take-up rate of 195.8 per 1,000 according to the most recent figures from the Cuban Annual Health Statistics.

All treatment in the Cuban health system is free of charge and is delivered without institutionalised discrimination. But prejudice against non heterosexual people continues to grow.

“Health personnel are part of society, and society rejects lesbians,” José Martínez, a medical doctor in the eastern province of Granma, told IPS.

According to Martínez, medical training in Cuba is too narrowly focused on a biological approach and makes hardly any reference to psychosocial determinants of health.

“When a lesbian woman goes to see a gynaecologist, the doctor will probably assume that she is at lower risk (of cervical or uterine cancer) because penetration is not involved in her relationship, because this is what they have been taught,” Martínez said.

Yenis Milanés, who has a degree in hygiene and epidemiology, told IPS that “medical students are not required to take a single course on sexuality” during their training.

Women who have intimate relations with women tend to have a low perception of their own risk, and seldom take protective measures during sex, Milanés and Martínez said.

They both collaborated in a 2013 study of 30 lesbian and bisexual women in the province of Granma, which found these women thought they were unlikely to acquire sexually transmitted infections.

Another study in 2014 by Martínez and Milanés confirmed that sexual and reproductive health programmes in Cuba generally do not include information about the risks of contracting STI and HIV/AIDS that specifically addresses lesbian women’s issues.

Lesbians receive less information about STI prevention than other population groups and they have fewer welcoming institutional spaces where they can socialise and discuss their problems, said the report, to which IPS had access.

The research study debunks the myth that engaging in lesbian sex avoids all infection risks, although these are indeed much lower than for other sexual behaviours.

Depending on the sexual practices of a same-sex lesbian couple, unprotected contact with exchange of vaginal secretions and menstrual blood can lead to infection with the HIV/AIDS and Herpes simplex viruses, bacterial vaginosis, gonorrhoea, syphilis, vaginal parasites and other diseases.

Women represented 18.5 percent of the 2,156 new HIV-positive cases diagnosed in Cuba in 2013, bringing the total number of people living with the virus to 16,400, according to the Ministry of Public Health.

Training health professionals to be sensitive to sexual diversity has been a long-established demand by groups of lesbian women supported by CENESEX in the provinces of Camagüey, Ciego de Ávila, Cienfuegos, Granma, La Habana, Santiago de Cuba, Trinidad and Villa Clara.

Through community activism, these groups are struggling for their rights to responsible enjoyment of sexual health, including equality of treatment in the health services and access to assisted reproduction technology.

Editado por Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Opinion: Brazil at the Crossroadshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-brazil-at-the-crossroads/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-brazil-at-the-crossroads http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-brazil-at-the-crossroads/#comments Wed, 01 Apr 2015 06:45:17 +0000 Fernando Cardim de Carvalho http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139936

In this column, Fernando Cardim de Carvalho, economist and professor at the Federal University of Río de Janeiro, looks at the political and economic context within which newly re-elected President Dilma Rousseff is operating and argues that Brazil is living through a very dangerous period, with neither the government nor the parliamentary opposition led by leaders that the population trusts.

By Fernando Cardim de Carvalho
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 1 2015 (IPS)

Even moderately well-informed analysts knew that the Brazilian economy was in dire straits as President Dilma Rousseff initiated her second term in office in January.

Unlike her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), Rousseff had not the same luck with the situation of the international economy. But also, unlike Lula, Rousseff showed herself a poor saleswoman for Brazilian goods and an even poorer manager of domestic economic policy.

Fernando Cardim de Carvalho

Fernando Cardim de Carvalho

There was a strong suspicion that economic policy, especially in the last two years of her first term, had been conducted in ad hoc ways and that serious adjustments would be needed to steer the economy back to working condition anyway. Still, the situation seemed to be even worse than most analysts feared.

More surprising, however, is to find out that Brazilian politics is also in dire straits. Caught off guard by the Petrobras corruption scandal, federal authorities, beginning with Rousseff herself, seemed to become paralysed by the rapid fall in public support, completely losing the power of initiative and creating a dangerous political vacuum in the country.

It is a vacuum rather than a political threat because the opposition seems to be as lost as the president. The political right, never very fond of democratic institutions any way, seemed to be more interested in making the president “bleed” – as stated by Senator (and former vice-presidential candidate) Aloysio Nunes Ferreira, of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party – than with fighting for political hegemony.

Economic problems were certainly fostered by the quality of economic policy-making in the second half of Rousseff’s first term. The realisation that tailwinds created by the Chinese demand for raw materials were no longer blowing led the government to implement a series of measures to stimulate the economy that turned out to be largely useless.

It was not “heterodoxy” that characterised the policy, it was uninformed wishful thinking. A plethora of measures were taken in isolation, without any apparent unifying strategy behind them, distributed mostly as “gifts” from the federal government (which later contributed to the public perception that corruption became a system of government). “Brazil is living through a very dangerous period right now. Neither the government, nor the parliamentary opposition are led by leaders the population trusts”

Plagued by semi-structural exchange rate problems, whereby Brazilian producers lose competitiveness in the face of imported goods in domestic markets and of other sellers in international markets, the federal administration tried to deal with them piecemeal, mostly through instruments like tax reductions or changes in tax rates.

Obsessed with car production, the government burned resources trying to stimulate production (only to meet increasing resistance of other countries to import them, most notably Argentina), again without any strategy thinking about how these newly-produced automobiles would be used in polluted and traffic-jammed Brazilian cities.

The federal government was not deficient only in terms of strategic thinking but also in terms of home caretaking: all available evidence points to the high probability that tax reductions and other similar measures were decided without any calculation of costs, lost fiscal revenues, and so on.

Anti-cyclical macroeconomic policy in late 2008 relied to a large extent on the expansion of consumption expenditures fuelled by increasing household indebtedness. The increase in non-performing loans and income stagnation made this option more and more unsustainable. Investment, in contrast, public and private, repeatedly frustrated expectations.

Unable to finance badly needed infrastructure investments, the government showed itself to be extraordinarily slow in devising appropriate strategies to attract private investors to implement them. Apparently lost in their own inability to define a way out of the mess, the government “muddled through” situations where more forceful definitions were required, as was the case of electric power.

The list of failures or of situations where the government showed inability to lead is long and well known. What was surprising to some extent was to find out that all evidence suggests that the government itself was unaware of what was going on.

Winning re-election by a narrow margin, President Rousseff, characteristically after a long period of hesitation, decided to take a 180-degree turn, asking a known orthodox and fiscal conservative economist to head an empowered Ministry of Finance, surprising even her supporters who seemed to be perplexed by the need to defend policies that they hotly denounced when presented by opposition politicians.

This picture would be difficult enough to manage without the Petrobras scandal. But Petrobras is not only the largest company in the country, it is practically a symbol of the nationality. Besides, energy was supposed to be Rousseff’s area of expertise and she was in fact responsible for the company’s policies for a while, as Minister of Mines and Power.

An increasingly loud murmur of a possible impeachment of the president led her to equivocal political decisions, beginning with the definition of her cabinet, widely considered to be particularly low quality, and alienating not only her major party in government, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, but even the majority of her own Workers’ Party.

The result of such initiatives was illustrated by the twin public demonstrations of Mar. 13 and 15.

On Mar. 13, nominal supporters of Rousseff marched through the streets of most of the largest cities in the country. Speaking to the press, most of the leaders of the march (Lula did not participate) declared conditional support for Rousseff – that is, conditional on the firing of the Minister of Finance and change of newly announced austerity policies.

On Mar. 15, an even larger crowd marched in the same cities declaring unconditional opposition to the president.

Brazil is living through a very dangerous period right now. Neither the government, nor the parliamentary opposition are led by leaders the population trusts. The president is slow and generally equivocal when making fateful decisions. The right-wing opposition seemed to be more interested in enjoying the possibility of enacting a “third” ballot to obtain at least a moral condemnation of the president.

This would be bad enough for a country that has just celebrated thirty years of civilian government. When the economy adds its own heavy problems to the political vacuum, it is impossible not to fear the future. (END/IPS COLUMNIST  SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Nicaragua’s Future Canal a Threat to the Environmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 07:45:01 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139956 Executives of the Chinese company HKDN and members of the Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, behind a large banner on Dec. 22, 2014, in the Pacific coastal town of Brito Rivas, during the ceremony marking the formal start of the gigantic project that will cut clean across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

Executives of the Chinese company HKDN and members of the Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, behind a large banner on Dec. 22, 2014, in the Pacific coastal town of Brito Rivas, during the ceremony marking the formal start of the gigantic project that will cut clean across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The new interoceanic canal being built in Nicaragua has brought good and bad news for the scientific community: new species and archeological sites have been found and knowledge of the local ecosystems has grown, but the project poses a huge threat to the environment.

Preliminary reports by the British consulting firm Environmental Resources Management (ERM) revealed the existence of previously unknown species in the area of the new canal that will link the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The study was commissioned by Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKND Group), the Chinese company building the canal.

Among other findings, the study, “Nicaragua’s Grand Canal”, presented Nov. 20 in Nicaragua by Alberto Vega, the consultancy’s representative in the country, found two new species of amphibians in the Punta Gorda river basin along Nicaragua’s southern Caribbean coast.

The two new kinds of frogs have not yet been fully studied, said Vega, who also reported 213 newly discovered archaeological sites, and provided an assessment of the state of the environment along the future canal route.

The aim of the study was to document the main biological communities along the route and in adjacent areas, and to indicate the species and habitats in need of specific conservation measures in order to identify opportunities to prevent, mitigate and/or compensate for the canal’s potential impacts.

The 278-km waterway, which includes a 105-km stretch across Lake Cocibolca, will be up to 520 metres wide and 30 metres deep. Work began in December 2014 and the canal is expected to be completed by late 2019, at a cost of over 50 billion dollars.

The environmental impact study will be ready in late April, Telémaco Talavera, the spokesman for the presidential Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, told Tierramérica.

“The studies are carried out with cutting-edge technology by an international firm that is a leader in this area, ERM, with a team of experts from around the world who were hired to provide an exhaustive report on the environmental impact and the mitigation measures,” he said.

Three farmers study the route for the interoceanic canal on a map of Nicaragua, which the Chinese firm HKND Group presented in the southern city of Rivas during one of the meetings that the consortium has organised around the country with people who will be affected by the mega-project. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Three farmers study the route for the interoceanic canal on a map of Nicaragua, which the Chinese firm HKND Group presented in the southern city of Rivas during one of the meetings that the consortium has organised around the country with people who will be affected by the mega-project. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Víctor Campos, assistant director of the Humboldt Centre, told Tierramérica that HKND’s preliminary documents reveal that the canal will cause serious damage to the environment and poses a particular threat to Lake Cocibolca.

The 8,624-sq-km lake is the second biggest source of freshwater in Latin America, after Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo.

Campos pointed out that HKND itself has recognised that the route that was finally chosen for the canal will affect internationally protected nature reserves home to at least 40 endangered species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

The route will impact part of the Cerro Silva Nature Reserve and the Indio Maiz biological reserve, both of which form part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (CBM), where there are endangered species like scarlet and great green macaws, golden eagles, tapirs, jaguars, spider monkeys, anteaters and black lizards.

Along with the Bosawas and Wawashan reserves, Indio Maíz and Cerro Silva host 13 percent of the world’s biodiversity and approximately 90 percent of the country’s flora and fauna.

This tropical Central American country of 6.1 million people has Pacific and Caribbean coastlines and 130,000 sq km of lowlands, plains and lakes. There have been several previous attempts to use Lake Cocibolca to create a trade route between the two oceans.

The Cocibolca Group, made up of a dozen environmental organisations in Nicaragua, has warned of potential damage by excavation on indigenous land in the CBM, on the country’s southeast Caribbean coast.

One site that would be affected is Booby Cay, surrounded by coral reefs and recognised by Birdlife International as an important natural habitat of birds, sea turtles and fish.

Studies by the Cocibolca Group say that dredging with heavy machinery, the construction of ports, the removal of thousands of tons of sediment from the lake bottom, and the use of explosives to blast through rock would have an impact on the habitat of sea turtles that nest on Nicaragua’s southwest Pacific coast.

Map of Nicaragua with the six possible routes for the Grand Canal. The one that was selected was number four, marked in green. Credit: Courtesy of ERM

Map of Nicaragua with the six possible routes for the Grand Canal. The one that was selected was number four, marked in green. Credit: Courtesy of ERM

The selected route, the fourth of the six that were considered, will run into the Pacific at Brito, 130 km west of Managua. A deepwater port will be built where there is now a beach that serves as a nesting ground for sea turtles.

ERM’s Talavera rejects the “apocalyptic visions” of the environmental damage that could be caused by the new waterway. But he did acknowledge that there will be an impact, “which will be focalised and will serve to revert possible damage and the already confirmed damage caused by deforestation and pollution along the canal route.”

The route will run through nature reserves, areas included on the Ramsar Convention list of wetlands of international importance, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) biosphere reserves, and water basins.

According to Talavera, besides the national environmental authorities, HKND consulted institutions like the Ramsar Convention, UNESCO, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Birdlife International, “with regard to the feasibility of mitigating and offsetting the possible impacts.”

The canal is opposed by environmental organisations and affected communities, some of which have filed a complaint with the Inter-american Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

In an IACHR hearing on Mar. 16, Mónica López, an activist with the Cocibolca Group, complained that Nicaragua had granted HKND control over the lake and its surrounding areas, including 16 watersheds and 15 protected areas, where 25 percent of the country’s rainforest is concentrated.

López told Tierramérica that construction of the canal will also lead to “the forced displacement of more than 100,000 people.”

In addition, she criticised “the granting to the Chinese company of total control over natural resources that have nothing to do with the route but which according to the HKND will be of use to the project, without regard to the rights of Nicaraguans.”

The 2013 law for the construction of the Grand Interoceanic Canal stipulates that the state must guarantee the concessionaire “access to and navigation rights to rivers, lakes, oceans and other bodies of water within Nicaragua and its territorial waters, and the right to extend, expand, dredge, divert or reduce these bodies of water.”

The state also gives up the right to sue the investors in national or international courts for any damage caused to the environment during the study, construction and operation of the waterway.

In the IACHR hearing in Washington, representatives of the government, as well as Talavera, rejected the allegations of the environmentalists, which they blamed on “political interests” while arguing that the project is “environmentally friendly”.

They also repeated the main argument for the construction of the canal: that it will give a major boost to economic growth and will enable Nicaragua, where 42 percent of the population is poor, to leave behind its status as the second-poorest country in the hemisphere, after Haiti.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Cuba and the European Union – The Thaw Beginshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-cuba-and-the-european-union-the-thaw-begins/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-cuba-and-the-european-union-the-thaw-begins http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-cuba-and-the-european-union-the-thaw-begins/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 06:46:40 +0000 Joaquin Roy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139934

In this column, Joaquín Roy, Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration and Director of the European Union Centre at the University of Miami, looks at the geopolitical context within which the normalisation of relations between the European Union and Cuba is likely to place following the recent visit to Cuba of the Representative for Foreign Affairs of the European Union, Federica Mogherini, and the scheduled visit of French President François Hollande in May.

By Joaquín Roy
MADRID, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The visit to Cuba of Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on Mar. 23-24, and the forthcoming visit in May planned by French President François Hollande, have fast-tracked the agenda of relations between the European Union and Cuba.

The sudden announcement of normalisation of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba in December last year set the context for the rapprochement between Brussels and Havana.

Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

At the time, negotiations were already under way on a bilateral ‘Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement’; after years of confrontation, the European Union was prepared to abandon the “common position” imposed by Brussels on the Fidel Castro regime in 1996.

While Washington’s stance was that the persistence of a strictly Marxist regime deserved the imposition of conditions for ending its embargo, the European Union and a consensus of its governments held to the policy of so-called “constructive engagement”. EU member states continued to relate to Cuba on an individual basis according to their special historical links, economic interests and a range of views on human rights.

After a number of tensions were overcome, in 2014 Brussels decided to adopt a pragmatic programme that would lead to a cooperation agreement similar to those signed between the European Union and every other country and bloc in Latin America and the Caribbean.

For many years E.U. relations with Cuba were mainly represented by initiatives led by Spain, which veered from spearheading the imposition of demands on Havana, especially at critical times during right-wing People’s Party (PP) governments, to pursuing an incentives strategy under the left-wing Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE).“While Washington’s stance was that the persistence of a strictly Marxist regime deserved the imposition of conditions for ending its embargo, the European Union and a consensus of its governments held to the policy of so-called ‘constructive engagement’ [with Cuba]”

The process even came to be sarcastically called a “Hispanic-Spanish issue”.  In this context, a number of European states behaved according to their own convenience, with no essential change in the overall scenario.

Cuba avoided dealing with the broader European community, opting instead a for country-by-country approach. But the world was changing, and the real value of Europe’s stock in Cuba fell.

Then it was the right time for Brussels to seize the day and take advantage of the circumstances to negotiate with Cuba, with an open agenda that would include dismantling the “common position”.

After discrete exchanges, both sides decided to sit down for talks. Surprisingly, Cuba was open to a process without which the common position would be eliminated, as had been its strong traditional demand.

Spain itself was facing a delicate internal situation and needed to seek stability on other fronts. Consolidation of its relations with Latin America depended on juggling the claims and expectations of different domestic ideological groupings. Moreover, the vote of the Latin American bloc was vitally important for Spain’s candidature to the U.N. Security Council, a consideration that counselled extreme caution on the part of Madrid.

In the new era, it is hard to predict what role Spain will play in the Cuban transition, but in principle it has remarkable potential, and not just because of the weight of history and the contemporary importance of the “special relationship” between the two countries.

It is relevant to note that U.S. influence on Cuba’s own national identity has not been limited to imposing its hegemonic power. A hefty dose of the “American way of life” has become an essential part of the Cuban being.

The “enemy” was never the United States per se, but its concrete policies of harassment. The ease with which Cuban exiles of different epochs and different social backgrounds fit into U.S. society shows the naturalness of this curious relationship. Normalisation of relations will help reinforce the link.

European interests would do well to take note because the rebirth of the natural relationship between the United States and Cuba will provide strong competition to the relative advantage that European interests have so far achieved, and could significantly reduce it.

The outcome of competition from U.S. economic and political power in Cuba vis-á-vis renewed European operations will depend to a large extent on the nature and intensity of Washington’s renewed involvement with the island. Europe could maintain its relative advantage if the Cuban authorities themselves, or the surviving embargo restrictions, however moderated, set limits to U.S. activity.

It is worth emphasising that European activities in Cuba will continue to be limited, within E.U. institutional structures as well as on the pragmatic agendas of its member countries, as long as the U.S. embargo lasts. Restrictions on trade and investments continue to affect full freedom of movement by European companies in Cuba itself, as well as their transnational alliances in the rest of the world where U.S. interests are dominant.

As a result, even in a relatively open relationship, the real possibilities for a European advantage remain largely speculative, and may even decline, especially in the area of trade and investments.

The key factor in this uncertainty is a legacy of more than half a century of the absence of relations, which have not been ”normal” during this period yet which aspire to become so in the future. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Translated by Valerie Dee – Edited by Phil Harris    

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

* Joaquin Roy can be contacted at jroy@miami.edu

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