Inter Press Service » Latin America & the Caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:38:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Uruguay Not a ‘Pirate’ http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/uruguayans-pirates/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uruguayans-pirates http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/uruguayans-pirates/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:34:29 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133728 The Uruguayan government has made a controversial move to regulate the production and sale of cannabis. The government believes that this will help in the fight against drug-related crime and in dealing with public health issues. The move has been condemned by the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), whose president Raymond Yans accused the country’s […]

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By Pavol Stracansky
VIENNA, Apr 17 2014 (IPS)

The Uruguayan government has made a controversial move to regulate the production and sale of cannabis. The government believes that this will help in the fight against drug-related crime and in dealing with public health issues.

The move has been condemned by the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), whose president Raymond Yans accused the country’s government of having a “pirate attitude” for going against the UN’s conventions on drugs."It is not our aim that anyone follow us or do what we have done."

Diego Cánepa, secretary of the office of Uruguayan President José Mujica, tells IPS that he believes a regulated marijuana market was the right decision for his country.

Q. How do you feel about your country being labelled “pirates” by the INCB for legalising the marijuana market?

A. Well, the INCB is just one UN body and it is just one opinion. They have a special mandate and that mandate is not to decide what approach each individual country should follow. We have had a discussion over the correct interpretation of the UN drugs conventions. We believe, and we have the evidence to show this, that our interpretation is correct. We followed the original spirit of the convention and we hope that the step which we have taken is the right one to create better control of the marijuana market in our country.

Prohibition was a big mistake in the last 40 years, so we believe that a strictly regulated marijuana market is the best way to fulfil the spirit of the UN drugs conventions.

Q. Do you get frustrated when you hear people from other countries talking about how what you are doing is wrong, for example from countries which have a much more conservative, hard line approach to drugs?

A. We very much respect every opinion. It’s an open discussion. We do not think that we have the whole truth in our hands. We listen very carefully to the opinions of other countries but we defend our sovereign right to do what we think is right for our own country and our people. And we believe that in terms of our health policies this is the best option for Uruguay.

We don’t want to be a model for other countries over this, we just think that this is the best way for our country and we will defend our right to take this option. But we are open to discussion. We think that prohibition is not the answer and overwhelming evidence has shown that it is a mistake. We don’t want to have this kind of policy. We need to have the right to explore a different approach to drugs.

Q. If you find that after a couple of years things are not going well with the legalisation or that you are not seeing the kind of results you want with regards to public health, would you be prepared to go back to a ban on drugs?

A. I think the question is different. First of all, a few years is not enough. You need at least eight, nine or ten years before you can draw any conclusions. We need to have a lot of evidence over a long time period to really understand what effects this policy is having.

Looking at public health, violence, drug consumption – all the evidence shows us so far that by regulating the market and making visible what has until now been an invisible market means that you can control that market better, and control trafficking and then you have less violence. But I think that if that doesn’t happen in ten years then we will have another debate on this. But I do not think we would go back to banning [marijuana]. We would need to find another answer.

Q. Are you happy when you see other countries doing things which are similar to what you have done? For example states in the U.S. which have legalised commercial marijuana sales.

A. Actually, what they have done in Colorado is much more than what we have done. There you are free to buy and sell what you want. They have a different model to us. But there are 18 states in the U.S. where marijuana can be bought for medical purposes. But that is just an euphemism because we know that the majority of people use marijuana not with a medical purpose but with a medical excuse.

We see that an individual state in the U.S. is operating this way with no federal overrule on it so it is impossible to not accept that there is a big, open debate on this when you have different countries around the world taking different approaches to the problem.

Q. Could you see other countries following your lead and regulating their marijuana markets?

A. I really don’t know and it is not our aim that anyone follow us or do what we have done. We do not want to be a model for any other country. We respect everyone else’s policies but we think that this is the best model for our country.

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OP-ED: Beyond the Street Protests: Youth, Women and Democracy in Latin America http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-beyond-street-protests-youth-women-democracy-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-beyond-street-protests-youth-women-democracy-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-beyond-street-protests-youth-women-democracy-latin-america/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 14:08:16 +0000 Jessica Faieta http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133719 Women’s empowerment and political participation are not only crucial for women: they are essential for effective democratic governance, one which promotes human rights and equity.  The same can be said about the importance of boosting youth political participation. The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) invited three young women parliamentarians from Latin America and the Caribbean to […]

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The huge student protests in Chile have spread the idea that adolescents have the right to vote. Credit: Pamela Sepúlveda/IPS

The huge student protests in Chile have spread the idea that adolescents have the right to vote. Credit: Pamela Sepúlveda/IPS

By Jessica Faieta
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

Women’s empowerment and political participation are not only crucial for women: they are essential for effective democratic governance, one which promotes human rights and equity.  The same can be said about the importance of boosting youth political participation.

The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) invited three young women parliamentarians from Latin America and the Caribbean to join a recent discussion in Salamanca, Spain, on young women’s political participation in the region.In the digital age of flourishing social media activism, these protests also provide opportunities to rethink democratic governance in the 21st century.

That’s what Paola Pabón from Ecuador, Silvia Alejandrina Castro from El Salvador and Gabriela Montaño from Bolivia have in common. They are among the very few women in parliaments and they are young: They broke a double glass ceiling.

Of the 600 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean, more than 26 percent are young, aged 15-29. This is a unique opportunity for the region’s development and for its present and future governance. Even though the average regional rate of women taking up positions in parliament is 25 percent, higher than the global average, a closer look shows that women still lag behind.

Our recent survey of 25 parliaments in Latin America and the Caribbean shows a very low representation of youth in the region’s parliaments – especially those of African or indigenous descent. Only 2.7 percent of male parliamentarians in the region and 1.3 percent of women MPs were under 30 years old—even though more than one fourth of the region’s population is young.

When we look at the age of MPs below under 40, 15 percent are men and not even 6.5 percent are women.

UNDP’s regional Human Development Reports have shown that young people have enormous potential as agents of change. But despite Latin America’s remarkable progress in reducing poverty and inequality – and its strides toward strong democracies with free and transparent elections – gender, income, ethnic origin, or dwelling conditions are all decisive barriers to young citizens’ rights and civic engagement.

One in every four young people aged 15-29 in the region are poor or extremely poor. And only 35 percent of them have access to education. More worrying still: Some 20 million young Latin Americans aged 15-18 neither work nor study. That’s nearly one in every five, 54 percent of them female and 46 percent male.

And the region’s youth have been taking to the streets, playing a central role in recent protests in countries like Brazil, Chile, Peru and Mexico. Such demonstrations urge us to understand the demands of young people, and to address lingering structural problems in our societies, especially inequality.

The increasing frequency of such mobilisations tells us that young people want to actively participate in their society’s development. The first Ibero-American Youth Survey - which we launched last year with the Ibero-American Youth Organization (OIJ) and other partners — shows that young people in Latin America, Portugal and Spain expect their participation to increase over the next five years.

Institutions should provide formal spaces for this, or protests will become the only effective way for young people to make their voices heard. And the region will waste an opportunity to enhance the quality of its democratic governance.

We are working towards this goal. UNDP and partners brought together 22 young MPs from 13 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2013 to put together the region’s first young legislators’ network to boost young people’s political participation and inclusion.  We have been partnering with OIJ and other U.N. sister agencies and governmental youth secretaries to push this agenda.

Moreover, our youth online platform JuventudconVoz (youth voices), with the OIJ and the Spanish Cooperation agency, is also helping boost young Latin Americans political participation and leadership skills.

Protests sparked by young Latin Americans will likely continue in several countries. Beyond the street level, in the digital age of flourishing social media activism, these protests also provide opportunities to rethink democratic governance in the 21st century.

Jessica Faieta is UNDP’s Director a.i. and Deputy Director for Latin America and the Caribbean @JessicaFaieta / www.latinamerica.undp.org @UNDPLAC

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Deforestation in the Andes Triggers Amazon “Tsunami” http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/deforestation-andes-triggers-amazon-tsunami/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deforestation-andes-triggers-amazon-tsunami http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/deforestation-andes-triggers-amazon-tsunami/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 07:35:00 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133699 Deforestation, especially in the Andean highlands of Bolivia and Peru, was the main driver of this year’s disastrous flooding in the Madeira river watershed in Bolivia’s Amazon rainforest and the drainage basin across the border, in Brazil. That is the assessment of Marc Dourojeanni, professor emeritus at the National Agrarian University in Lima, Peru. His […]

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The Beni river, a tributary of the Madeira river, when it overflowed its banks in 2011 upstream of Cachuela Esperanza, where the Bolivian government is planning the construction of a hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Beni river, a tributary of the Madeira river, when it overflowed its banks in 2011 upstream of Cachuela Esperanza, where the Bolivian government is planning the construction of a hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

Deforestation, especially in the Andean highlands of Bolivia and Peru, was the main driver of this year’s disastrous flooding in the Madeira river watershed in Bolivia’s Amazon rainforest and the drainage basin across the border, in Brazil.

That is the assessment of Marc Dourojeanni, professor emeritus at the National Agrarian University in Lima, Peru.

His analysis stands in contrast with the views of environmentalists and authorities in Bolivia, who blame the Jirau and Santo Antônio hydroelectric dams built over the border in Brazil for the unprecedented flooding that has plagued the northern Bolivian department or region of Beni.

“That isn’t logical,” Dourojeanni told IPS. Citing the law of gravity and the topography, he pointed out that in this case Brazil would suffer the effects of what happens in Bolivia rather than the other way around – although he did not deny that the dams may have caused many other problems.

The Madeira river (known as the Madera in Bolivia and Peru, which it also runs across) is the biggest tributary of the Amazon river, receiving in its turn water from four large rivers of over 1,000 km in length.

The Madeira river’s watershed covers more than 900,000 square km – similar to the surface area of Venezuela and nearly twice the size of Spain.

In Bolivia, which contains 80 percent of the watershed, two-thirds of the territory receives water that runs into the Madeira from more than 250 rivers, in the form of a funnel that drains into Brazil.

To that vastness is added the steep gradient. Three of the Madeira’s biggest tributaries – the Beni, the Mamoré and the Madre de Dios, which rises in Peru – emerge in the Andes mountains, at 2,800 to 5,500 metres above sea level, and fall to less than 500 metres below sea level in Bolivia’s forested lowlands.

These slopes “were covered by forest 1,000 years ago, but now they’re bare,” largely because of the fires set to clear land for subsistence agriculture, said Dourojeanni, an agronomist and forest engineer who was head of the Inter-American Development Bank’s environment division in the 1990s.

The result: torrential flows of water that flood Bolivia’s lowlands before heading on to Brazil. A large part of the flatlands are floodplains even during times of normal rainfall.

This year, 60 people died and 68,000 families were displaced by the flooding, in a repeat of similar tragedies caused by the El Niño and La Niña climate phenomena before the Brazilian dams were built.

Deforestation on the slopes of the Andes between 500 metres above sea level and 3,800 metres above sea level – the tree line – is a huge problem in Bolivia and Peru. But it is not reflected in the official statistics, complained Dourojeanni, who is also the founder of the Peruvian Foundation for the Conservation of Nature, Pronaturaleza.

When the water does not run into barriers as it flows downhill, what happens is “a tsunami on land,” which in the first quarter of the year flooded six Bolivian departments and the Brazilian border state of Rondônia.

The homes of more than 5,000 Brazilian families were flooded when the Madeira river overflowed its banks, especially in Porto Velho, the capital of Rondônia, the state where the two dams are being completed.

BR-364 is a road across the rainforest that has been impassable since February, cutting off the neighbouring state of Acre by land and causing shortages in food and fuel supplies. Outbreaks of diseases like leptospirosis and cholera also claimed lives.

The dams have been blamed, in Brazil as well. The federal courts ordered the companies building the hydropower plants to provide flood victims with support, such as adequate housing, among other measures.

The companies will also have to carry out new studies on the impact of the dams, which are supposedly responsible for making the rivers overflow their banks more than normal.

Although the capacity of the two hydroelectric plants was increased beyond what was initially planned, no new environmental impact studies were carried out.

The companies and the authorities are trying to convince the angry local population that the flooding was not aggravated by the two dams, whose reservoirs were recently filled.

Such intense rainfall “only happens every 500 years,” and with such an extensive watershed it is only natural for the plains to flood, as also occurred in nearly the entire territory of Bolivia, argued Victor Paranhos, president of the Energia Sustentável do Brasil (ESBR), the consortium that is building the Jirau dam, which is closest to the Bolivian border.

The highest water level recorded in Porto Velho since the flow of the Madeira river started being monitored in 1967 was 17.52 metres in 1997, said Francisco de Assis Barbosa, the head of Brazil’s Geological Service in the state of Rondônia.

But a new record was set in late March: 19.68 metres, in a “totally atypical” year, he told IPS.

The counterpoint to the extremely heavy rainfall in the Madeira river basin was the severe drought in other parts of Brazil, which caused an energy crisis and water shortages in São Paulo.

A mass of hot dry air stationed itself over south-central Brazil between December and March, blocking winds that carry moisture from the Amazon jungle, which meant the precipitation was concentrated in Bolivia and Peru.

These events will tend to occur more frequently as a result of global climate change, according to climatologists.

Deforestation affects the climate and exacerbates its effects. Converting a forest into grassland multiplies by a factor of 26.7 the quantity of water that runs into the rivers and increases soil erosion by a factor of 10.8, according to a 1989 study by Philip Fearnside with the National Institute for Research in the Amazon (INPA).

That means half of the rain that falls on the grasslands goes directly into the rivers, aggravating flooding and sedimentation.

The higher the vegetation and the deeper the roots, the less water runs off into the rivers, according to measurements by Fearnside on land with gradients of 20 percent in Ouro Preto D’Oeste, a municipality in Rondônia.

And clearing land for crops is worse than creating grassland because it bares the soil, eliminating even the grass used to feed livestock that retains at least some water, Dourojeanni said.

But grazing livestock compacts the soil and increases runoff, said Fearnside, a U.S.-born professor who has been researching the Amazon rainforest in Brazil since 1974.

In his view, deforestation “has not contributed much to the flooding in Bolivia, for now, because most of the forest is still standing.”

Bolivian hydrologist Jorge Molina at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, a university in La Paz, says the same thing.

But Bolivia is among the 12 countries in the world with the highest deforestation rates, says a study by 15 research centres published by the journal Science in November 2013.

The country lost just under 30,000 sq km of forest cover between 2000 and 2012, according to an analysis of satellite maps.

Cattle ranching, one of the major drivers of deforestation, expanded mainly in Beni, which borders Rondônia. Some 290,000 head of cattle died in January and February, according to the local federation of cattle breeders.

The excess water even threatened the efficient operation of the hydropower plants. The Santo Antônio dam was forced to close down temporarily in February.

That explains Brazil’s interest in building additional dams upstream, “more to regulate the flow of the Madeira river than for the energy,” said Dourojeanni.

Besides a projected Brazilian-Bolivian dam on the border, and the Cachuela Esperanza dam in the Beni lowlands, plans include a hydropower plant in Peru, on the remote Inambari river, a tributary of the Madre de Dios river, he said.

But the plans for the Inambari dam and four other hydroelectric plants in Peru, to be built by Brazilian firms that won the concessions, were suspended in 2011 as a result of widespread protests.

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Is Puerto Rico Going the Way of Greece and Detroit? http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/puerto-rico-going-way-greece-detroit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=puerto-rico-going-way-greece-detroit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/puerto-rico-going-way-greece-detroit/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 12:28:42 +0000 Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133680 Puerto Rican society has been shaken to its foundations by the announcement in February by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s credit rating agencies that they had downgraded the island’s creditworthiness to junk status. “The problems that confront the commonwealth are many years in the making, and include years of deficit financing, pension underfunding, and budgetary […]

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Electric utility workers of the UTIER labour union protest for safer workplace conditions. UTIER spearheads the fight against privatisation and against the Puerto Rico government's unpopular emergency economic measures. Courtesy of Photo Jam

Electric utility workers of the UTIER labour union protest for safer workplace conditions. UTIER spearheads the fight against privatisation and against the Puerto Rico government's unpopular emergency economic measures. Courtesy of Photo Jam

By Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero
SAN JUAN, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

Puerto Rican society has been shaken to its foundations by the announcement in February by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s credit rating agencies that they had downgraded the island’s creditworthiness to junk status.

“The problems that confront the commonwealth are many years in the making, and include years of deficit financing, pension underfunding, and budgetary imbalance, along with seven years of economic recession,” said Moody’s."Working people are faced with three choices: they can migrate, resign themselves to poverty, or go out to the street to organise and struggle for justice." -- Luis Pedraza-Leduc

Located in the Caribbean Sea, Puerto Rico has been a Commonwealth of the United States since 1952.

Moody’s added that the island’s worsening economic situation has “now put the commonwealth in a position where its debt load and fixed costs are high, its liquidity is narrow, and its market access has become constrained.”

In order to meet its debt obligations, the PR legislature has considered enacting fiscal measures that are strongly opposed by labour unions, including dipping into the public school teachers’ retirement fund. Law 160, the retirement “reform”, was approved by both House and Senate earlier this year.

Unions have headed to court to challenge the law. On Apr. 11, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court ruled some key provisions were unconstitutional because they breached teachers’ contracts.

Schoolteachers’ unions declared the ruling a triumph, although the court upheld other parts of the law that adversely affect Christmas bonuses, summer pay and medical benefits.

The current fiscal crisis is the result of the commonwealth economic model’s failure, according to union official Luis Pedraza-Leduc.

“Our economic model, based on providing cheap labour to the pharmaceutical and petrochemical industries and light manufacturing, has exhausted itself,” said Pedraza-Leduc, who runs the UTIER utility workers union’s Solidarity Programme (PROSOL) and is spokesperson of the Coordinadora Sindical, a coalition of over a dozen unions.

“In recent decades there has been a worldwide trend towards reducing state involvement in the economy to a minimum,” he told IPS.

“Things that were considered basic services provided by the state are now turned into commodities as private enterprise moves in to fill those spaces. Rather than reducing these essential services, the government went into debt.”

According to a chart provided by the office of PR Governor Alejandro Garcia-Padilla, the commonwealth’s public debt reached 10 billion dollars in 1987, when the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) ruled, and passed the 20-billion-dollar mark in 1998 under governor Pedro Rossello, of the New Progressive Party.

Under PDP governor Sila M. Calderon (2001-2004) the debt went over 30 billion dollars. And at the end of his 2009-2012 mandate, NPP governor Luis Fortuño left the country with more than 60 billion in debt. Garcia-Padilla belongs to the PDP.

Pedraza-Leduc recalls that successive governors undertook neoliberal measures that made matters even worse.

“Governor Rossello privatised the health sector, the phone company and the water utility. Governor Acevedo-Vila [of the PDP, 2004-2007] imposed a sales tax on retail sales [known as IVU],” he said.

Governor Fortuño laid off over 30,000 public sector workers, and introduced “public-private partnerships”, which were decried by labour unions as thinly disguised privatisation schemes. Upon beginning his mandate in early 2013, Garcia-Padilla privatised the San Juan international airport and is considering new taxes.

The Puerto Rico Constitution obligates the government to honour its debts.

“In order to pay bondholders, the government could close down schools, reduce the number of Urban Train daily trips, scale down 911 emergency phone services, and freeze the hiring of employees”, warned Pedraza-Leduc. “They are considering reducing Christmas bonuses and sick leave days.”

According to University Puerto Rico economist Martha Quiñones, “We are having here the same crisis as Greece and Detroit, but here it is broader because of our colonial situation.

“We had an economic model based on bringing foreign corporations and enticing them with cheap labour and tax incentives,” she told IPS, calling this the “exogenous” model, which is based on bringing investment from outside.

“It did not work. Not enough jobs were created, and the unemployed do not pay taxes. Locally owned businesses ended up picking up the tax burden that foreign investors were exempted from, which caused many of them to close. Local and foreign businesses were not competing in conditions of equality.”

Quiñones said that the model’s death knell was the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other similar trade deals that the U.S. has struck, which made even cheaper labour available in other parts of the world.

Successive Puerto Rico governments made up for these failures by requesting help from the U.S. government in the form of food stamps and unemployment benefits, and other forms of social assistance. Another way was by issuing bonds, which led to long-term debt and the current debacle.

As an alternative, Quiñones advocates an “endogenous” economic model, which strengthens local capabilities rather than looking abroad for deliverance. “The government must support locally owned businesses,” she said. “Those are the businesses that create jobs at home and pay taxes.

“The government must also collect the IVU sales tax, which most retailers simply pocketed. A progressive tax reform is needed, plus rich tax evaders must be brought to justice. Start by investigating businesses that take only cash, and individuals who are taking second mortgages. Those are pretty obvious red flags.”

She also advocates that the health system be changed to single payer, “which would be more efficient than the current inefficient and unsustainable health system we have now.

“Working people are faced with three choices: they can migrate, resign themselves to poverty, or go out to the street to organise and struggle for justice,” said Pedraza-Leduc.

But he admits that the prospects for all-out popular struggle are uncertain at best. “The lack of class consciousness complicates the outlook. Maybe we are not prepared for a confrontation,” he said.

To him, the way out of the impasse lies in education. “I propose an educational project, a Union School [Escuela Sindical] that can transcend the unions and branch out into broader issues and thus further the political struggle.

“And we need a new model for our country, we need to speak concretely about justice and a fair distribution of wealth.”

He also called for a reexamination of Puerto Rico’s relationship with the U.S. “Under our current status we are not allowed to sign trade agreements with other countries. We could be associating ourselves with other countries, and also get cheaper oil from Venezuela. But under our current status we cannot.”

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Valparaíso Blaze Highlights the City’s Poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/valparaiso-blaze-highlights-citys-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=valparaiso-blaze-highlights-citys-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/valparaiso-blaze-highlights-citys-poverty/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 00:05:46 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133670 The blaze that tore through the Chilean port city of Valparaíso revealed the dark side of one of the most important tourist destinations in this South American country, which hides in its hills high levels of poverty and inequality. The fire that broke out Saturday Apr. 12 and was still smouldering two days later claimed […]

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The bleak landscape left behind on La Cruz hill, one of the hardest-hit by the blaze that started on Saturday Apr. 12 in the Chilean city of Valparaíso. Credit: Pablo Unzueta/IPS

The bleak landscape left behind on La Cruz hill, one of the hardest-hit by the blaze that started on Saturday Apr. 12 in the Chilean city of Valparaíso. Credit: Pablo Unzueta/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
VALPARAÍSO, Chile , Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

The blaze that tore through the Chilean port city of Valparaíso revealed the dark side of one of the most important tourist destinations in this South American country, which hides in its hills high levels of poverty and inequality.

The fire that broke out Saturday Apr. 12 and was still smouldering two days later claimed at least 12 lives, completely destroyed 2,000 homes, and forced the evacuation of 10,000 people.

The flames covered at least six of the 42 hills that surround this city of 250,000 people, which is built in the form of a natural amphitheatre facing the Pacific ocean.

Jorge Llanos, 60, lived on the Cerro El Litre, one of the hills lining the city. Early Saturday he set out for his job at the market at Quilpué, near central Valparaíso, where he has a vegetable stand.

“I was coming back home on the bus when I saw the inferno. I got off and from the street I looked up at the hill: ‘My house!’ I shouted. When I got there, it was too late,” he told IPS.

Since the night of the fire, Llanos has been staying at a school that is operating as a shelter.

On Monday, he climbed the hill to look at his house. “There’s nothing there…I lost everything,” he said, sobbing.

Valparaíso, 140 km northwest of Santiago, is built on a bay surrounded by hills and mountains where most of the city’s inhabitants are concentrated. It is this South American country’s second-largest port.

The hills, which start to rise just one kilometre from the coast, are densely populated with brightly coloured wooden houses. In 2003, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) declared the city a World Heritage Site.

Valparaíso is also a cultural centre in Chile. Nobel Literature laureate Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) built one of his three houses there, and it is the site of the National Council of Culture and the Arts.

It has also been the seat of Congress since the return to democracy after the 1973-1990 dictatorship, when the old legislature in Santiago was replaced by the new building in Valparaíso, to decentralise the branches of government.

But 22 percent of the city’s population lives below the poverty line, compared to a national average of 14 percent.

Valparaíso is also one of the areas in Chile with the largest number of families living in slums.

According to the Fundación Un Techo Para Chile (A Roof for Chile Foundation), Valparaíso is the city with the most slums in Chile, and the region of Valparaíso is home to one-third of all families living in shantytowns.

In terms of inequality, this city also holds the record: while the average monthly income of the poorest 10 percent of the population is just 270 dollars, the monthly income of the wealthiest 10 percent averages 7,200 dollars.

“The enormous blaze that has affected this city has brought to light the terrible vulnerability of the families living in slums, who were hit the hardest,” the director of Un Techo Para Chile – Valparaíso, Alejandro Muñoz, told IPS.

The fire, which spread from forested areas at the top of the hills down into poor neighbourhoods of mainly wooden houses, “completely destroyed four slums,” he said.

This was the worst fire ever in a Chilean city in terms of the area affected – some 900 hectares – but not with respect to the number of victims.

In 1953, for example, 50 people were killed in a fire, and in 1960 a blaze destroyed the flat part of the city.

Muñoz pointed out that Valparaíso is a World Heritage Site, and Viña del Mar, a nearby coastal resort, is known as the “garden city”. But “a harsh and sometimes difficult to understand reality hides behind the hills of both cities – that of slum-dwelling families,” he said.

Lorena Carraja and her 80-year-old parents have been staying since Saturday at an improvised shelter set up on a tennis court. In the cold, bleak camp, she described the moment when the flames reached her home.

“It was a veritable inferno; we were completely surrounded by fire which in one second spread from one side to the other, with strong winds that carried the flames from hill to hill. It was horrible, terrifying, I had never seen anything so huge in my whole life, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” she told IPS.

But in the end, Carraja, 50, didn’t lose her home, although she did lose many of her belongings. “It doesn’t matter, everything can be replaced; thank God we’re alive,” she said.

Then she sighed and described, with a catch in her voice, how she heard “people screaming, children crying, while people were fainting.”

Cities in Chile were built with little urban planning, experts say. And families seeking a chance at a better life have flocked to the outer edges of large cities like Valparaíso.

But “the central and local governments have not taken an interest in the arrival of marginal populations to the cities, and there hasn’t been systematic concern in this country for the people who come to the cities,” Leonardo Piña, an anthropologist at the Alberto Hurtado University, told IPS.

“Valparaíso is no exception,” he said.

Piña added that the houses on the hills around the city “were built one on top of the other, and while it is exotic and seen as extraordinarily beautiful, to the point that it was named a World Heritage Site, that hasn’t meant that the concern has gone any farther than just giving it that label.

“The disaster has shown how bad the neglect is,” the anthropologist said.

The UNESCO declaration drew heavy flows of investment to Valparaíso from the Inter-American Development Bank, and the implementation of an ambitious Programme for Urban Recovery and Development generated high expectations among the people in this port city.

However, the 73 million dollars invested in the programme between 2006 and 2012 failed to make a dent in the poverty and marginalisation.

Piña said the main thing missing were policies that would effectively bring basic services to the poor, in order to make it possible for them to have a decent standard of living.

A long, intense drought, high winds, and unusually high Southern Hemisphere autumn temperatures came together to make it “the perfect fire,” said the regional governor of Valparaíso, Ricardo Bravo.

Experts agree that what is needed now is relief for the victims of the tragedy.

But later what will be required is political will to reduce the poverty in the “crazy port,” as Neruda referred to the city in his poem “Ode to Valparaíso”, written in the watchtower of La Sebastiana, his house built like a ship. The city, he wrote, would soon forget its tears, to “return to building up your houses, painting your doors green, your windows yellow.”

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Government, Opposition in Televised Group Therapy in Venezuela http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/government-opposition-televised-group-therapy-venezuela/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=government-opposition-televised-group-therapy-venezuela http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/government-opposition-televised-group-therapy-venezuela/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 01:22:26 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133623 Government and opposition leaders in Venezuela held a nationally televised debate as a first step to working towards solutions for the economic, social and political crisis marked by over two months of protests. The demonstrations and the crackdown have cost 41 lives, including those of seven police officers, and left 600 injured and 2,300 arrested […]

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By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

Government and opposition leaders in Venezuela held a nationally televised debate as a first step to working towards solutions for the economic, social and political crisis marked by over two months of protests.

The demonstrations and the crackdown have cost 41 lives, including those of seven police officers, and left 600 injured and 2,300 arrested – with 100 still behind bars – and 70 reports of torture.

Foreign ministers Luiz Figueiredo of Brazil, María Ángela Holguín of Colombia, and Ricardo Patiño of Ecuador, and the Vatican apostolic nuncio to Venezuela Aldo Giordano, brokered the six-hour talks hosted by President Nicolás Maduro Thursday night.

The president issued a call “to acknowledge each other and reject the pressure from those who want to impose extreme ways, of violence.” He also called on his adversaries “not for a pact or negotiations, but for a willingness for peace. We want a model of coexistence, of tolerance.”

The leaders of the Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD – Roundtable of Democratic Unity), a multicolour coalition of opposition parties ranking from the right wing to former leftist guerrillas, met with Maduro and his closest associates in the Miraflores presidential palace.

The main political instigators of the protests, including the jailed Leopoldo López, boycotted the talks.

The university students who started the protests in the capital and dozens of cities around the country did not take part in the meeting. Their main leader, Juan Requesens of the Central University in Caracas, warned that “we will continue our peaceful protests, because there are many reasons to protest.”

“The uncertainty and scepticism surrounding this first meeting will continue while people wait for the government, above all, to send out concrete signals of change in its measures and policies,” Carlos Romero, a graduate studies professor of political science, told IPS.

The protests broke out on Feb. 4 in the southwest city of San Cristóbal and spread to Caracas on Feb. 12, driven by university students who complained about crime on their campus.

The demonstrations grew as the hardline opposition began to demand an end to Maduro’s government, and marches and roadblocks often turned into violent clashes with the military and police and government supporters.

The protests, in which mainly middle-class demonstrators are backing the students, are happening against a backdrop of economic difficulties such as a nearly 60 percent annual inflation rate, scarcity of some food and other basic items, and long, exhausting queues of people waiting to buy products sold under a rationing system.

The high crime rates – more than 24,000 homicides were committed in 2013 – and the poor functioning of services like electricity, water and public hospitals, especially outside of Caracas, are also fuelling the protests.

On Thursday Apr. 10, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in a preliminary report that Venezuela has the second-highest murder rate in the world, with 53.7 homicides per 100,000 population.

Maduro, the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and leaders of the armed forces say they managed to block a plan backed by Washington to subvert the constitutional order and overthrow the government, with the help of the protests.

The president won the Apr. 14, 2013 elections after Hugo Chávez, who governed the country since 1999, died of cancer on Mar. 5.

Like a snowball effect, the initial reasons for the protests gave way to others, such as the demand that the deaths of people killed – mainly shot – at the roadblocks be investigated, that those responsible for human rights violations be held to account, and that the detainees be released.

The people still in jail include López and two opposition mayors, from San Cristóbal and from a city in the central state of Carabobo, who the Supreme Court removed from office in what was described by some as a summary trial. They were sentenced to a year in prison for ignoring orders to remove the roadblocks set up by protesters in their municipalities.

The release and restitution of the mayors was another demand set forth by the opposition in the meeting that ended in the early hours of Friday morning.

The opposition is also demanding that armed irregular civilian groups de disarmed.

In the talks, the government and MUD leaders outlined their conflicting visions of the country, the economy and democracy, with each side sounding a litany of complaints about the conduct of the other over the past 15 years.

“The prospects for reaching an agreement on the underlying questions are still remote, because of the conflicting visions, at the end of a first meeting which seemed more like group therapy than a dialogue or negotiations,” political science professor José Vicente Carrasquero commented to IPS.

The foreign minister of Ecuador, Patiño, said that “despite the difficulties, the meeting was positive; a catharsis was necessary; they needed to meet face to face.”

MUD coordinator Ramón Aveledo, a Christian Democratic politician, proposed dates for further talks, starting with a meeting between the government and the students.

MUD called again for respect for the 1999 constitution, the separation of powers, measures against crime, and an amnesty law.

The opposition’s proposed amnesty would involve the release of those in prison for the current protests and others serving lengthy terms for involvement in the violent demonstrations that led to a short-lived coup that toppled Chávez for 48 hours. Thursday was the 12th anniversary of the coup.

Maduro designated a government commission to evaluate the issues and the next meetings. One of the members, Foreign Minister Elías Jaua, said “the president has the mandate of the people and can’t just do what MUD wants.”

The governor of the state of Miranda, Henrique Capriles, the leader of the moderate opposition who was Maduro’s rival in last year’s elections, also took part in the debate. “Things have to change, or this will burst,” he said at the end of his address in the meeting.

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Brazil’s FIFA World Cup Preparations Claim Lives http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/brazils-fifa-world-cup-preparations-claim-lives/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazils-fifa-world-cup-preparations-claim-lives http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/brazils-fifa-world-cup-preparations-claim-lives/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 18:43:30 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133611 The pressure to complete 12 football stadiums in Brazil in time for the FIFA World Cup in June has meant long, exhausting workdays of up to 18 hours, which has increased the risk of accidents and deaths. Nine workers have already died on the work sites – seven in accidents and two from heart attacks. […]

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The Andrade Gutierrez construction company is responsible for the works at the Arena da Amazônia stadium in the northern Brazilian city of Manaus, where four workers have died. Credit: Glauber Queiroz – Portal da Copa, Gobierno de Brasil

The Andrade Gutierrez construction company is responsible for the works at the Arena da Amazônia stadium in the northern Brazilian city of Manaus, where four workers have died. Credit: Glauber Queiroz – Portal da Copa, Gobierno de Brasil

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 11 2014 (IPS)

The pressure to complete 12 football stadiums in Brazil in time for the FIFA World Cup in June has meant long, exhausting workdays of up to 18 hours, which has increased the risk of accidents and deaths.

Nine workers have already died on the work sites – seven in accidents and two from heart attacks.

The last fatal accident happened on Mar. 29 at the Arena Corinthians in the southern city of São Paulo, when 23-year-old Fábio Hamilton da Cruz fell to his death from scaffolding, eight metres up.

More deaths

Poor working conditions have also claimed lives in sports installations that are not on the official FIFA list.

On Apr. 15, 2013, a portion of the stands in the Arena Palestra stadium of the Palmeiras club in the city of São Paulo collapsed, killing Carlos de Jesus, a 34-year-old worker, and injuring another.

And Araci da Silva Bernardes, 40, was killed by an electric shock while installing a lighting panel in the Arena do Grêmio stadium in the southern city of Porto Alegre on Jan. 23, 2013.

His death led to a partial suspension of the works by the justice authorities, who required proof from the company that it had corrected the safety violations.

But on Monday Apr. 7, the Labour Ministry authorised a resumption of the work, because the stadium has to be ready for the World Cup opening match on Jun. 12.

On Feb. 7, Portuguese worker Antônio José Pita Martins, 55, died after being struck on the head while dismantling a crane in the Arena da Amazônia stadium in the northern city of Manaus.

Marcleudo de Melo Ferreira, 22, was killed at the same construction site at 4 AM on Dec. 14 after falling from a height of 35 metres when a rope broke.

That same day, 49-year-old José Antônio da Silva Nascimento died of a heart attack while working on the site’s convention centre. The family complained about the harsh working conditions and the long workdays “from Sunday to Sunday”.

Another worker, Raimundo Nonato Lima da Costa, 49, had died from severe head injuries after falling from a height of five metres at the Arena da Amazônia construction site on Mar. 28, 2013.

In São Paulo, two workers – 42-year-old Fábio Luiz Pereira and 44-year-old Ronaldo Oliveira dos Santos – were killed when a crane collapsed Nov. 27, 2013 at the Corinthians club stadium, better known as “Itaquerão”.

And Abel de Oliveira, 55, died of heart failure on Jul. 19, 2012 while working at the Minas Arena, popularly known as “Mineirão”, in the south-central Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte.

The first fatal accident in the preparations for the FIFA World Cup happened on Jun. 11, 2012, when 21-year-old José Afonso de Oliveira Rodrigues fell from a height of 30 metres at the Brasilia National Stadium.

FIFA-World-Cup-2014-Death-Toll

Click on the image to enlarge.

“The government puts pressure on the companies, and they take it out on the workers, who are paying with their lives,” Antônio de Souza Ramalho, president of the Sintracon-SP civil construction workers union of São Paulo and a state legislator for the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, told IPS.

“It was irresponsible to delay the works and then, with the deadline looming, kill workers with exhausting workdays of up to 18 hours,” he said.

“The sins of the World Cup are going to have repercussions for years. We can’t accept accidents, they are criminal,” he said.More than 60 workers died in the construction works for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, according to the Building and Wood Workers International (BWI). By contrast, no one was killed in the preparations for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

According to the trade unionist, workers had already warned of the danger of a collapse of the crane that killed two labourers in São Paulo.

At the Corinthians stadium construction site, a quarry was hastily filled to hold a crane, instead of building a solid cement base, Ramalho said.

“The workers themselves and the safety engineers warned that it was unsafe. We know it was done hastily, because making a cement base takes 60 days, and would have cost more money. They preferred to improvise,” he said.

The results of the investigation into the deaths have not yet been made public.

In December, the Labour Ministry and Odebrecht, the contractor, signed an agreement stipulating that crane workers cannot do overtime or work at night.

And under the agreement, the workday for the rest of the workers must be seven and a half hours, with a one hour lunch break, and they can only work two hours overtime per day.

But according to Ramalho, the agreement is not being respected. “I filed a complaint for the police to investigate. But we have very little legal protection,” he said.

One of the biggest irregularities at the São Paulo work sites are contracts where the worker is paid for a specific job within a designated timeframe. “By paying for a completed task, labour laws that include the cost of social benefits are evaded. Everyone knows this, but there’s no way to prove it,” Ramalho complained.

The president of the Sinduscon-AM civil construction workers union in the northern state of Amazonas, Eduardo Lopes, told IPS that “risk is inherent in construction, but the race to complete projects quickly generates greater danger, without a doubt.”

However, “in the two fatal accidents [on the Arena da Amazônia] work site, the men were using safety equipment,” he said. “The problem was carelessness by the workers who failed to respect safety norms and went into restricted areas.”

What is clear is that when deadlines approach and time starts running out, prevention is pushed to the backburner, admitted mechanical engineer and workplace safety expert Jaques Sherique with the Rio de Janeiro engineering council.

In the remodelling of the Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro, completed in April 2013, no one was killed, but several were injured, mainly due to inadequate disposal of materials, cuts from mishandling materials, and lengthy working days, including working nights.

“The work ends and the worker gets sick afterwards. When the stadium is shining and ready, the workers end up overwhelmed, exhausted and stressed out,” Sherique said.

Civil construction is the industry that generates the most jobs in Brazil: 3.12 million new jobs in 2013. But it is also the area where the number of work-related accidents is growing the most: from 55,000 in 2010 to 62,000 in 2012 – a 12 percent increase, according to the Labour Ministry.

In São Paulo, the number of workplace accidents in the construction industry rose fivefold in the last two years: from 1,386 in 2012 to 7,133 in 2013, according to statistics compiled by Sintracon-SP.

More than 60 workers died in the construction works for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, according to the Building and Wood Workers International (BWI).

By contrast, no one was killed in the preparations for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

“Workers are often glad when they have accidents because they are sent home to rest. And those who refuse to rest will develop injuries and ailments later on,” said Sherique.

He said it is strange but the labour-related ailments that are gaining ground in the construction industry are mental and psychological problems.

“It is a perverse and under-registered problem,” the invisible base of the “iceberg” of workplace safety, he said.

But this does not worry industry, especially in the construction of sports infrastructure, which involves an intense pace of work, heavy pressure and tight deadlines.

Under Brazilian law, workers exposed to unsafe, hazardous or unsanitary conditions must receive extra compensation amounting to six percent of their wages.

“This isn’t reasonable or right, but most of the time these health problems aren’t even reported,” said Sherique.

In 2011, the Superior Labour Court launched a national programme for the prevention of workplace accidents. But “it hasn’t provided concrete results,” the expert said.

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Lynchings on the Rise in Argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/lynchings-rise-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lynchings-rise-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/lynchings-rise-argentina/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 23:11:31 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133574 The term “lynching”, which emerged in the United States and refers to vigilantism or a mob taking justice into its own hands, has now entered the vocabulary in a number of Latin American countries. But while in some countries of Central America and South America’s Andean region mob justice is a longstanding phenomenon, it is […]

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“Organised neighbours: Thief if we catch you, you’re not going to the police station, we’re going to lynch you!” Credit: Courtesy of the Cosecha Roja network

“Organised neighbours: Thief if we catch you, you’re not going to the police station, we’re going to lynch you!” Credit: Courtesy of the Cosecha Roja network

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Apr 10 2014 (IPS)

The term “lynching”, which emerged in the United States and refers to vigilantism or a mob taking justice into its own hands, has now entered the vocabulary in a number of Latin American countries.

But while in some countries of Central America and South America’s Andean region mob justice is a longstanding phenomenon, it is new in Argentina. What is not new, however, is that the targets are the same old victims: the darker-skinned poor, in a modern-day version of vigilante justice.

In less than two weeks, a dozen lynchings or attempted lynchings were reported in Argentina. In the first, 18-year-old David Moreyra was killed on Mar. 22, after he allegedly tried to steal the purse of a woman in the central city of Rosario.

The term lynch law originated during the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), when Charles Lynch, a justice of the peace and militiaman, presided over extralegal trials of Tories loyal to the British crown

The loyalists were executed even though they had previously been acquitted by a jury, says a study by sociologist Leandro Gamallo, who studied the phenomenon of lynching for his master’s thesis at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences.

Decades later, the term “lynch mob” began to be used to refer to the practice of groups of white men in the South of the United States setting out on patrols to hunt down blacks for whatever reason.

This “popular justice” later gave way to “the use of collective force as a method of racial exploitation and segregation by whites against blacks,” Gamallo said.

Lynchings are back in the headlines in Latin America today, whether “instigated” or merely “reported” by the media – depending on where one stands in an ongoing debate. They have now reared their ugly head in Argentina, a country where there is no deep-rooted tradition of “tribal community justice”, as there is in countries like Bolivia, Ecuador or Guatemala.

In Bolivia, the Defensoría del Pueblo or ombudsperson’s office reported 53 cases of vigilante justice killings between 2005 and October 2013.

Mob justice is also present to a greater or lesser extent in Brazil, Mexico, and countries in the Andean and Central American regions.

In Guatemala, political scientist Marcelo Colussi said they were linked to the breakdown in the social fabric by over three decades of civil war (1960-1996), when some 200,000 people – mainly Maya Indians in the highlands – were killed and 50,000 people were forcibly disappeared.

But in every case, the common denominator would seem to be the same: the victims are poor, indigenous or black people who are targeted by mobs taking justice into their own hands in response to a real or perceived rise in crime.

The victims “are still the same ones who suffered the worst of the repression in years past, and who historically have been left out of the benefits of development in Guatemala: impoverished Maya indigenous people,” Colussi said.

“There is a process of stigmatisation of poor young men,” Argentine historian Diego Galeano, at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, told IPS. He said, however, that it was premature to talk about a “wave” of lynchings in his country.

Argentine sociologist Maristella Svampa cited the looting that broke out in late 2013, starting in the central province of Córdoba, pointing out to IPS that “there were attempts to lynch suspected looters whose only ‘crime’, besides [being young and dark-skinned] was that they had tried to cross through the Nueva Córdoba upscale middle-class neighbourhood.”

But there is another problem that, according to Svampa, a researcher with the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research, a public institution, merits a warning: the appearance of armed groups ready to take action against looters – as seen in photos published on online social networks, which she interpreted as “a frightening attempt at the privatisation of justice.”

“Both developments [attempted lynchings and vigilante groups], as a collective response to the looting, were a symptom of a profound setback for democracy and human rights,” Svampa said.

“In a context marked by new social conflicts, greater inequality, growing social disorganisation and tough-on-crime rhetoric, our country seems to be opening up a dangerous Pandora box,” she said.

In Argentina, as expert on security policies Luis Somoza told IPS, the lynchings are occurring against a background of a sensation of rising crime.

“They are the reflection of a society that is totally fed up with the levels of crime,” said the professor at the University Institute of the Argentine Federal Police.

“People have the perception that the state isn’t protecting them, whether or not that is real,” he said.

“But this backsliding to a primitive state of society poses the additional risk of a probable appearance of non-state forces that take on the role of defenders, who refer to themselves as self-defence forces, militias, paramilitaries, death squads,” he said.

The juvenile public defender of the eastern city of La Plata, Julián Axat, associates the phenomenon with the impunity surrounding less-publicised lynchings that have been ignored by the media.

There are thousands of cases of poor adolescents being beaten up before they are arrested – kicked, slapped, pushed and spit on by crowds in incidents that appear to be accepted by the police.

“The impunity surrounding lynchings is what has contributed the most to generating the climate created by the repetition of these events. It’s not the media; it’s the police and the justice systems, who don’t arrest them,” Axat wrote in an article.

“To paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, today it’s the dark-skinned people with kinky hair, tomorrow possibly those who go after them, while the powers-that-be and the police will thank them because they will continue to do brisk business with the ‘insecurity’ and with a society where the poor kill the less poor and the authoritarian middle class applauds,” human rights lawyer Claudia Orosz told IPS.

In any case, the experience of Guatemala, one of the countries with the highest homicide rates in the world, demonstrates that lynchings do not dissuade crime.

“Although numerous criminals have been the victims of ‘mob justice’, the crime rates throughout the country, and in former war zones as well, remain alarmingly high,” Colussi said.

In Argentina, President Cristina Fernández said on Mar. 31 that “anything that generates violence will always, always engender more violence,” referring to a phenomenon – lynching – that she avoided naming.

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In Peru, Low-Income Cancer Patients Find Fresh Hope http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/peru-low-income-cancer-patients-find-fresh-hope/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peru-low-income-cancer-patients-find-fresh-hope http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/peru-low-income-cancer-patients-find-fresh-hope/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 10:24:18 +0000 Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133475 This story is the last installment of a three-part series on how social and economic inequalities impact cancer treatment.

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Claudia Alvarado, with her parents and her nail polish, who along with Peru’s Plan Esperanza have helped her to bravely face the treatment for leukaemia. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Claudia Alvarado, with her parents and her nail polish, who along with Peru’s Plan Esperanza have helped her to bravely face the treatment for leukaemia. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Milagros Salazar
LIMA, Apr 10 2014 (IPS)

Her tiny fingers and toes have been painted with different shades of nail polish, the bright colours contrasting sharply with the bleak road she has been on for half her young life.

Since she was three years old, Claudia, who has not yet turned seven, has been fighting leukaemia, with the help of a public health cancer treatment programme in Peru: Plan Esperanza or Plan Hope."When you are diagnosed with breast cancer, you immediately think your life is over. But if you find out there is a programme that can help you, you carry on and fight." -- Susana Wong

As in the rest of the Americas, cancer is the second cause of death here, following cardiovascular disease. In this country of 30.5 million people, the annual death toll from cancer is 107 per 100,000 population, and each year 45,000 new cases are diagnosed, according to the Health Ministry.

The ministry estimates that 157 people per 100,000 population suffer from cancer in this South American country.

To bring down these statistics and the high costs of cancer treatment, the Peruvian government launched Plan Esperanza in November 2012. The programme is aimed at improving comprehensive treatment for cancer patients and providing guaranteed oncology services, especially for the poor.

Claudia Alvarado was diagnosed with leukaemia in June 2010. Since then, she has undergone constant lab tests and often painful treatments.

Attending school and having friends have been replaced by long, exhausting trips between hospitals in Lima, the capital, and La Libertad, the northern department where she used to live.

Her hometown is Santa Rosa, a community of rice farmers. Her mother, Ivon Sánchez, told IPS that the one-hour bus ride to the public hospital in the city of Chepén took them through “three ghost towns.”

From Chepén, Claudia was referred to a public hospital in Chiclayo, the capital of another northern department, Lambayeque. And from there she was sent to the National Institute of Neoplastic Disease (INEN) in Lima, another public health institution.

At the institute, she underwent an aggressive treatment programme, which was fully covered by the Intangible Solidarity Fund for Health (FISSAL), which finances care in cases of high-cost health problems like cancer for those affiliated with the national Seguro Integral de Salud (SIS – Comprehensive Health Insurance).

The SIS also provides free healthcare for people in the fourth or fifth income quintiles, such as Claudia’s family.

In January 2012, Claudia suffered a relapse. Her mother remembers that she broke down in grief and anger because she knew the term “relapse” might be a euphemism for a journey with no return.

The only option was a bone marrow transplant. But the tests showed that Claudia’s brother, 12-year-old Renzo, was not compatible as a donor. “We thought it was all over,” Claudia’s mother said.

But in November 2012, the government launched Plan Esperanza, and that year the SIS and FISSAL signed international agreements with two hospitals in the United States to perform bone marrow transplants on children who had not responded well to chemotherapy or who had suffered relapses.

Claudia received the transplant on Sep. 6, 2013 in the Miami Children’s Hospital in the U.S.

The operation took eight hours, followed by 28 days of fever as high as 40 degrees C.

She pulled through and flew back to Lima with her mother in December. Since then she has continued to fight her illness, in the house the family has rented in a poor district in the south of Lima, where IPS visited her.

Her family moved to the capital in order to be together, and her father, Fortunato Alvarado, left his job as a farm labourer and now works as a taxi driver.

As Claudia waits for the 200 critical post-operation days to pass, she has to rest and avoid active play, while staying away from other children to keep from getting sick. Her skinny body weighs just 18 kilos.

She is disciplined about taking her medicine, and eats lemon drops after swallowing the most bitter-tasting pills.

Up to late 2013, Plan Esperanza, whose services are completely free of charge, had benefited 57,531 people, with a total public spending of over 6.4 million dollars. The Plan also includes nationwide campaigns for cancer prevention and diagnosis.

So far 600,000 people have participated in mass screenings for early cancer detection, and three million people nationwide have received counselling and advice, oncologist Diego Venegas, the coordinator of Plan Esperanza, told IPS.

“The important thing is to provide patients with complete treatment, in order to save their lives,” he said.

Of those diagnosed, 75 percent had advanced stage cancer, so the plan began to include home treatments.

Venegas explained that treatment under the Plan is initially reserved for the nearly 13 million affiliates of the SIS.

The most common forms of cancer covered by FISSAL funds are cancer of the cervix, breast, colon, stomach, prostate, leukaemia and lymphoma.

Forms of cancer that are not included in the Plan are still treated free of charge for SIS affiliates.

Treatment in each case costs an average of 260,000 dollars.

In the case of Claudia, the costs of the transplant in Miami, the plane tickets for the patient and her mother, and the six-month stay in the U.S. amounted to more than 300,000 dollars. Added to that are the costs of the chemotherapy and medicines she received in Peru before and after the transplant.

Susana Wong, president of the Club de la Mama (Breast Club) at the National Institute of Neoplastic Diseases, has seen hundreds of breast cancer patients who have benefited from Plan Esperanza.

“People now have a chance to live, because treatment is very expensive. When you are diagnosed with breast cancer, you immediately think your life is over. But if you find out there is a programme that can help you, you carry on and fight,” Wong, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, told IPS.

Dr. Miguel Garavito, the head of FISSAL, said the state funding is compensated by the large number of patients – mainly from poor families – and the success of the transplants.

“Peru is one of the few countries in the world that have this kind of free coverage for cancer treatment,” he told IPS.

A more precise register of cancer cases is being drawn up, because currently statistics are only available from the three largest cities: Lima, Arequipa and Trujillo.

Venegas said more staff is needed, as well as training in advances made in cancer treatment, and greater decentralisation so that treatment reaches patients in more remote regions.

A multisectoral commission is being set up to fight cancer on all fronts, including better access to clean water and sanitation.

The link between poor sanitation and cancer is exemplified by the central department of Huánuco, where 70 percent of the people lack potable piped water. Deaths from gastric cancer total 150 per 100,000 population, significantly higher than the national average.

This type of cancer, according to Venegas, is associated with drinking water quality.

As a public health problem, cancer merits a strong response from the state – at least as strong as Claudia has proven herself to be, after spending over half of her life fighting leukaemia, and cheering herself up with her favourite colours of nail polish.

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U.S.-Colombia Labour Rights Plan Falls Short http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-colombia-labour-rights-plan-falls-short/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-colombia-labour-rights-plan-falls-short http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-colombia-labour-rights-plan-falls-short/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 00:18:23 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133528 Three years after Colombia agreed to U.S. demands to better protect labour rights and activists, a “Labour Plan of Action” (LPA) drawn up by the two nations is showing mixed results at best, according to U.S. officials and union and rights activists from both countries. Pointing to continuing assassinations of union organisers, among other abuses, […]

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Military checkpoint on the Atrato River. Credit: Jesús Abad Colorado/IPS

Military checkpoint on the Atrato River. Credit: Jesús Abad Colorado/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Apr 9 2014 (IPS)

Three years after Colombia agreed to U.S. demands to better protect labour rights and activists, a “Labour Plan of Action” (LPA) drawn up by the two nations is showing mixed results at best, according to U.S. officials and union and rights activists from both countries.

Pointing to continuing assassinations of union organisers, among other abuses, U.S. lawmakers and union leaders here are calling on President Barack Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to do much more to ensure that the LPA achieves its aims.“In spite of numerous new labour laws and decrees... companies still are violating worker rights in Colombia with impunity." -- Richard Trumka

“(V)iolence against trade unionists continues; in the three years since the Labour Action Plan was signed, 73 more trade unionists were murdered in Colombia. That alone is reason enough to say the Labour Action Plan has failed,” said Richard Trumka, the president of the biggest U.S. union confederation, the AFL-CIO, Monday in response to a new report by the Colombia’s National Labour School (ENS).

“In spite of numerous new labour laws and decrees, and hundreds of new labour inspectors not a single company fined by the Ministry of Labour for violating the law and workers’ rights has paid up, and companies still are violating worker rights in Colombia with impunity,” he added.

For years Colombia has been considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world for trade unionists, more than 3,000 of whom have been killed since the mid-1980s.

While Colombia has long been given preferential trade treatment by Washington as part of its broader “war against drugs” in the Andean region, the administration of President George W. Bush negotiated a free-trade agreement (FTA) with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in 2006.

But the deal was strongly opposed by the AFL-CIO, labour and human rights-groups, and their allies in Congress who refused to ratify the FTA without provisions designed to substantially improve the country’s labour rights performance.

The pact was essentially put on ice until Obama and Santos signed what is formally known as the United States–Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement in April 2011 to which the Labor Action Plan (LAP) was attached.

The LAP — which, among other provisions, required the Colombian government to protect union leaders; enact legislation to ensure that workers could become direct employees instead of subcontractors; establish a new ministry of labour; and prosecute companies that prevent workers from organising — aimed to bring Colombia’s labour practices up to international standards.

While the original intention was to delay the FTA’s implementation until after the LAP’s conditions had been met, Congress approved the FTA in October 2011.

The activists insisted this week that the approval was premature in that it relieved the pressure on the Santos government to fully carry out the LAP.

“The approval of the FTA by the United States Congress, without verifying full compliance with the LAP, significantly reduced the political will behind the plan and contributed to decisively in turning the LAP into a new frustration for Colombian workers,” according to a joint statement issued Monday by Trumka and the leaders of two of Colombia’s trade union movements, the Confederation of Workers of Colombia (CTC) and the Union of Colombian Workers (CUT).

The statement, which also called for a “serious review” of the FTA’s impact on Colombia’s agricultural and industrial sectors and on its exports to the U.S., was also signed by more than a dozen other trade-union and human rights groups in the U.S. and Colombia.

For its part, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), which oversees the implementation of both the LAP and the FTA, gave the record of the past three years a more positive spin in its own report released Monday.

“Three years ago, the Colombian Labor Action Plan gave the United States and Colombia an important new framework, tools and processes to improve safety for union members and protections for labor rights. We have made meaningful progress to date, but this is a long-term effort and there is still work to be done,” USTR Michael Froman said.

The department’s report noted that 671 union members have been placed in a protection programme, which in 2013 had a nearly 200 million dollar budget; that more than 250 vehicles had been assigned assigned to union leaders and labour activists for full-time protection; and that the prosecutor general has assigned over 20 prosecutors to devote full-time to crimes against union members and activists, among other achievements.

It also noted that the number of union members who have been murdered for their organising activities has been reduced to an average of 26 per year since the LAP took effect from an annual average of nearly 100 in the decade before it.

“The action plan has been a good effort, and I know the government [in Bogota] has been taking it seriously,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue (IAD), a hemispheric think tank.

“Of course, the activist groups are right to press harder for compliance and to hold both the U.S. and the Colombian governments to account on this, but the fact is that there has been progress and there should be more,” Shifter, a specialist on the Andean countries, told IPS.

In its report, the ENS concluded that the LAP had overall failed to produce meaningful results in protecting worker rights, including the right to be free from threats and violence or in prosecuting recent and past murders of trade union leaders.

“We would like to emphasize that thousands of workers and their trade union organizations have tried to make use of the new legal provisions that protect them against labor abuses, but mmost have found themselves more vulnerable since judges, prosecutors, and labor inspectors almost always refuse to provide the protection available under the new legal framework,” the ENS report concluded.

In many cases, it said, efforts to gain protection had “only backfired on workers,” particularly those working in ports and palm plantations.

ENS’s conclusions echoed those of a report released last October by U.S. Reps. George Miller and James McGovern, both of whom serve on the Congressional Monitoring Group on Labor Rights in Colombia.

“The ENS report reminds us that we have a very long way to go in successfully implementing the LAP and ensuring that workers can safely and freely exercise their fundamental rights,” the Group said, adding that the new U.S. ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker, make LAP’s implementation a priority and highlight illegal forms of hiring, the use of collective pacts by companies to thwart union organising, and the problem of impunity for anti-union activity.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

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Colombia’s Breadbasket Feels the Pinch of Free Trade http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/colombias-breadbasket-feels-pinch-free-trade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=colombias-breadbasket-feels-pinch-free-trade http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/colombias-breadbasket-feels-pinch-free-trade/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 18:11:21 +0000 Helda Martinez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133521 “Things are getting worse and worse,” Enrique Muñoz, a 67-year-old farmer from the municipality of Cajamarca in the central Colombian department of Tolima, once known as the country’s breadbasket, said sadly. “Over the past five decades, the situation took a radical turn for the worse,” activist Miguel Gordillo commented to IPS, referring to what is […]

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The home of a poor farming family in the mountains of Cajamarca, in the central Colombian department of Tolima. Credit: Helda Martínez/IPS

The home of a poor farming family in the mountains of Cajamarca, in the central Colombian department of Tolima. Credit: Helda Martínez/IPS

By Helda Martínez
IBAGUÉ, Colombia , Apr 8 2014 (IPS)

“Things are getting worse and worse,” Enrique Muñoz, a 67-year-old farmer from the municipality of Cajamarca in the central Colombian department of Tolima, once known as the country’s breadbasket, said sadly.

“Over the past five decades, the situation took a radical turn for the worse,” activist Miguel Gordillo commented to IPS, referring to what is happening in Tolima, whose capital is Ibagué, 195 km southwest of Bogotá.

“Fifty years ago, Ibagué was a small city surrounded by crops – vast fields of cotton that looked from far away like a big white sheet,” said Gordillo, head of the non-governmental Asociación Nacional por la Salvación Agropecuaria (National Association to Save Agriculture).

Seeds, also victims of the FTAs

Miguel Gordillo mentioned another problem created by the FTAs: seeds.

In 2010, the Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA), a government institution, prohibited farmers from saving their own seeds for future harvests, the expert pointed out.

ICA established in Resolution 970 that only certified seeds produced by biotech giants like Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont, the world leaders in transgenic seeds, could be used.

The measure “ignores a centuries-old tradition that started with indigenous peoples, who always selected the best seeds for planting in the next season. Today, in the areas of seeds, fertilisers, agrochemicals, we are at the mercy of the international market,” Gordillo said.

“In Tolima we planted maize, tobacco, soy, sorghum and fruit trees, and the mountains that surrounded Cajamarca were covered with green coffee bushes protected by orange trees, maize and plantain, and surrounded by celery,” Muñoz said.

His voice lost in the past, he said the farms in the area also had “piggies, chickens, mules, cows; everything was so different.”

Gordillo said, “In the north of the department we had fruit trees of all kinds, and the rivers were chock full of fish. There’s still rice, some maize, coffee…but even the fish have disappeared.

“In short, in five decades the look of this agricultural region has changed, and today it’s all freeways, residential complexes, gas stations, and here and there the odd field with crops,” he complained.

As a result, everything changed for Muñoz. “My wife and I are now supported by our kids who work, one in Ibagué and two in Bogotá. On the farm we have a cow, whose milk we use to make cheese that we sell, and we plant food for our own consumption.”

Muñoz plans to take part in the second national farmers’ strike, on Apr. 27, which the government is trying to head off.

The first, which lasted from Aug. 19 to Sep. 9, 2013, was held by coffee, rice, cotton, sugar cane, potato and cacao farmers, who demanded that the government of Juan Manuel Santos revise the chapters on agriculture in the free trade agreements (FTAs) signed by Colombia, especially the accord reached with the United States.

The national protest was joined by artisanal miners, transport and health workers, teachers and students, and included massive demonstrations in Bogotá and 30 other cities.

Clashes with the security forces left 12 dead, nearly 500 injured and four missing.

Colombia has signed over 50 FTAs, according to the ministry for economic development.

The highest profile are the FTA signed in 2006 with the United States, which went into effect in May 2012, and the agreement with the European Union, that entered into force in August 2013, besides the FTAs with Canada and Switzerland. Another is currently being negotiated with Japan.

In 2011, Colombia founded the Pacific Alliance with Chile, Mexico and Peru, and Panama as an observer. It also belongs to other regional integration blocs.

“Colombia’s governments, which since the 1990s have had the motto ‘Welcome to the future’, lived up to it: that future has been terrible for Tolima and the entire country,” Gordillo said.

In the last four years, coffee farmers have held strikes until achieving subsidies of 80 dollars per truckload of coffee.

In this South American country of 48.2 million people, agriculture accounts for 6.5 percent of GDP, led by coffee, cut flowers, rice and bananas. But that is down from 14 percent of GDP in 2000 and 20 percent in 1975.

“Agriculture is doing poorly everywhere, and Tolima is no exception,” the department’secretary of agricultural development, Carlos Alberto Cabrera, told IPS.

“Rice, which is strong in our department, is having a rough time,” he said. “In coffee, we are the third-largest producers in the country, and we hope to become the first. There’s not much cotton left. In sorghum we are the second-largest producers. Soy is disappearing, tobacco too, and many products are now just grown for the food security of our farmers.”

In the search for solutions, “we have invited ministers and deputy ministers to the region, but their response has been that we should plant what sells, to stay in the market of supply and demand,” he said.

But Cabrera said that in the case of Tolima, the FTAs weren’t a problem. “We haven’t felt any effect, because the only thing we export is coffee. Rice is for national consumption, and sorghum goes to industry,” he said.

Gordillo, meanwhile, criticised that when ministers visit the department, “they say farmers should plant what other countries don’t produce, what they can’t sell to us. In other words, they insist on favouring others. They forget that the first priority should be the food security of our people, and not the other way around.”

Because of this misguided way of looking at things, he said, “our farmers will hold another national strike. People from Tolima and from many other regions of the country will take part, because the government isn’t living up to its promises, and all this poverty means they have to open their eyes.”

The government says it has fulfilled at least 70 of the 183 commitments it made to the country’s farmers after last year’s agriculture strike.

The farmers were demanding solutions such as land tenure, social investment in rural areas, protection from growing industries like mining and oil, and a fuel subsidy for agricultural producers.

The government says it earmarked 500 million dollars in support for agriculture in the 2014 budget.

In the last few weeks, the ministry of agriculture and rural development has stepped up a campaign showing off its results, and President Santos has insisted in public speeches that “a new farmers’ strike is not justified.”

The authorities are also pressing for dialogue to reach a national pact with farmers, as part of their efforts to ward off the strike scheduled for less than a month ahead of the May 25 presidential elections, when Santos will run for a second term.

Small farmers and other participants in a Mar. 15-17 “agricultural summit” agreed on eight points that should be discussed in a dialogue, including agrarian reform, access to land, the establishment of peasant reserve zones, prior consultation on projects in farming and indigenous areas, protection from FTAs, and restrictions on mining and oil industry activities.

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In Eastern Caribbean, Chronicle of a Disaster Foretold http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/eastern-caribbean-chronicle-disaster-foretold/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eastern-caribbean-chronicle-disaster-foretold http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/eastern-caribbean-chronicle-disaster-foretold/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 17:30:59 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133516 Christmas 2013 was the most “dreary and depressing” Don Corriette can remember in a very long time. “It was a bleak time. People obviously did not plan their Christmas to be like this,” said Corriette, 52, Dominica’s national disaster coordinator. Days of holiday preparations were swept away when a slow-moving, low-level trough dumped hundreds of […]

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A section of the major roadway leading from Dominica’s Melville Hall Airport to the capital, Roseau. The island is highly vulnerable to flooding and landslides. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A section of the major roadway leading from Dominica’s Melville Hall Airport to the capital, Roseau. The island is highly vulnerable to flooding and landslides. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
MERO, Dominica, Apr 8 2014 (IPS)

Christmas 2013 was the most “dreary and depressing” Don Corriette can remember in a very long time.

“It was a bleak time. People obviously did not plan their Christmas to be like this,” said Corriette, 52, Dominica’s national disaster coordinator.“The reconstruction efforts are crucial as the hurricane season in the Caribbean is fast approaching." -- Sophie Sirtaine

Days of holiday preparations were swept away when a slow-moving, low-level trough dumped hundreds of millimetres of rain on the island on Dec. 24 and 25. The “freak weather system”, which also affected St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, killed 13 people and destroyed farms and other infrastructure.

Officials said the impact from the extraordinary torrential rainfall, flash floods and landslides was concentrated in areas with the highest levels of poverty.

Just six months earlier, in July 2013, tropical storm Chantal battered Dominica’s southern tip. The worst affected was the tiny southern community of Gallion, where the population is under 100.

“It [the Dec. 24 trough] did cause a high level of distress and anxiety, leaving many not knowing what to do next,” Corriette told IPS.

“There is no doubt that within my lifetime, not only in Dominica but throughout the region and the world by extension, we have seen some very significant differences in patterns of weather over the last 30-40 years that indicate that something is happening and we have to tie it to probably climate change,” he said.

“There are those who do not believe that theory but we have seen it developing and unfolding in front of our very eyes – the melting of the glaciers in the northern regions, the expansion of dry lands in Africa and other places, and the higher intensity of rainfall in the Caribbean islands – not that we are getting more rain but we are getting more intense rainfall in a shorter period of time,” Corriette added.

Flooding as a result of climate impacts has been identified as a threat to a number of communities in Dominica.

Under the Reduce Risks to Human and Natural Assets Resulting from Climate Change (RRACC) project, administered by the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), a demonstration project to improve drainage in the Mero community is expected to inform the rest of the country on how to mitigate the impacts of flooding.

The RRACC Project evolved after a series of one-day stakeholder meetings in July 2010 on Climate Variability, Change, and Adaptation in the Caribbean region with individuals from national governments, nongovernmental organisations, the private sector, and donor agencies.

These meetings were convened by the USAID, the OECS, and the Barbados Coastal Zone Management Unit (CZMU). As a result of these meetings, USAID formulated a five-year (2011-2015) framework for climate change adaptation strategy for the Caribbean region to be implemented using “fast-start” financing as part of the U.S. commitment at the December 2009 U.N. climate negotiations in Copenhagen.

The strategy draws from regional and national climate change plans and addresses high priority vulnerabilities in sectors key to the region’s development and economic growth, while identifying specific interventions that could contribute to greater resilience in the Eastern Caribbean.

In St. Vincent and St. Lucia, more than 30,000 people affected by the December 2013 flash floods will start recovering and regaining access to markets, water and electricity through an extra 36 million dollars approved by the World Bank’s Board of Directors under the International Development Association (IDA) Crisis Response Window.

A cleric prays with Colleen James in Cane Grove, St. Vincent hours before it was confirmed that James' sister had died in the floodwaters. Her two-year-old daughter was also missing. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A cleric prays with Colleen James in Cane Grove, St. Vincent hours before it was confirmed that James’ sister had died in the floodwaters. Her two-year-old daughter was also missing. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The Governments’ Rapid Damage and Loss Assessments conducted in January with assistance from the World Bank, the Africa Caribbean Pacific – European Union (ACP-EU) Natural Risk Reduction Programme and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), estimated total losses to be around 108 million dollars, or 15 percent of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ gross domestic product (GDP); and 99 million dollars or eight percent of GDP in Saint Lucia.

“We will never forget the people who lost their lives as a result of this disaster, and will use their deaths as a wake-up call for the entire nation that we are a country that is highly vulnerable to natural disasters and the impacts of climate variability,” St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves told IPS.

The disaster happened at the peak of the tourism season. While the full financial impact remains unknown, early estimates conclude that this event will affect the agriculture and tourism sectors and result in economic contractions in both countries.

“While services and transport access have been largely reinstated, parallel efforts will need to be undertaken to mobilise resources required to stabilise and permanently rehabilitate, reconstruct and retrofit damaged infrastructure,” St. Lucia’s Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony told IPS.

Within a few weeks of the disaster, the World Bank was able to make 1.9 million dollars in emergency funds available to support the governments’ recovery efforts.

“The reconstruction efforts are crucial as the hurricane season in the Caribbean is fast approaching,” said Sophie Sirtaine, World Bank country director for the Caribbean. “Our financial support will not only rebuild critical infrastructure and boost the economy, it will also help build long-term climate resilience.”

Last week, St. Lucia announced it is conducting a survey to determine the potential impact of climate change on the supply of and demand for freshwater as well as on the exposure, sensitivity and vulnerability of the livelihoods of communities.

The Climate Change Adaptation Strategies for Water Resources and Human Livelihoods in the Coastal Zones of Small Island Developing States (CASCADE) is being undertaken by the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) of the St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) in collaboration with the Italty-based Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change (CMCC) and the Belize-based Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC).

The survey will also seek to determine how households view environmental issues affecting their communities.

“The survey results will provide guidance for future public awareness programmes and policy development. The knowledge obtained will also allow government agencies, NGOs and community groups to take appropriate measures to adapt to and, hopefully, minimize the negative impacts identified, which will be to the benefit of all the citizens of St. Lucia,” according to a statement issued by the government.

It said that surveyors would be visiting households throughout the island until May 13, reiterating that the results of the exercise “will be of critical importance to individuals, their families and to St. Lucia”.

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Mercury Still Poisoning Latin America http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/mercury-still-loose-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mercury-still-loose-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/mercury-still-loose-latin-america/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 22:08:13 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133493 Latin America is not taking the new global agreement to limit mercury emissions seriously: the hazardous metal is still widely used and smuggled in artisanal gold mining and is released by the fossil fuel industry. After the European Union banned exports of mercury in 2011 and the United States did so in 2013, trade in […]

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Informal gold mining is the main source of mercury emissions in Latin America. An artisanal gold miner in El Corpus, Choluteca along the Pacific ocean in Honduras. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Informal gold mining is the main source of mercury emissions in Latin America. An artisanal gold miner in El Corpus, Choluteca along the Pacific ocean in Honduras. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

Latin America is not taking the new global agreement to limit mercury emissions seriously: the hazardous metal is still widely used and smuggled in artisanal gold mining and is released by the fossil fuel industry.

After the European Union banned exports of mercury in 2011 and the United States did so in 2013, trade in the metal shot up in the region.

“Mexico’s exports have tripled in the last few years,” Ibrahima Sow, an environmental specialist in the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Climate Change and Chemicals Team, told Tierramérica. “And activities like the extraction of gold from recycled electronic goods are on the rise.”

The global treaty on mercury was adopted in October 2013. It includes a ban on new mercury mines, the phase-out of existing mines, control measures for air emissions, and the international regulation of the informal sector for artisanal and small-scale gold mining.

But of the 97 countries around the world that have signed the Minamata Convention on Mercury – including 18 from Latin America and the Caribbean – only one, the United States, has ratified it, and 49 more must do so in order for it to go into effect.

Minamata is the Japanese city that gave its name to the illness caused by severe mercury poisoning. The disease, a neurological syndrome, was first identified there in the 1950s.

It was eventually discovered that it was caused by the release of methylmercury in the industrial wastewater from a chemical plant run by the Chisso Corporation. The local populace suffered from mercury poisoning after eating fish and shellfish containing a build-up of this neurotoxic, carcinogenic chemical.

The contamination occurred between 1932 and 1968. As of 2001, 2,265 victims had been officially recognised; at least 100 of them died as a result of the disease.

In Latin America, mercury is used in artisanal gold mining and hospital equipment. And emissions are produced by the extraction, refining, transport and combustion of hydrocarbons; thermoelectric plants; and steelworks.

It is also smuggled in a number of countries.

“It is hard to quantify the illegal imports,” Colombia’s deputy minister of the environment and sustainable development, Pablo Vieira, told Tierramérica. “Everyone knows that artisanal and small-scale mining uses smuggled mercury, mainly coming in from Peru and Ecuador, although hard data is not available.”

According to Colombia’s authorities, the mercury is smuggled through the jungle in the country’s remote border zones.

Mercury Watch, an international alliance which keeps a global database, estimated Latin America’s mercury emissions at 526 tonnes in 2010, with Colombia in the lead, accounting for 180 tonnes.

In an assessment published in 2013, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimated that mercury emissions caused by human activities reached 1,960 tonnes in 2010, with artisanal mining as the main source (727 tonnes), followed by the burning of coal, principally from power generation and industrial use.

Artisanal gold mining is practised in at least a dozen Latin American countries, largely in the Andean region and the Amazon rainforest, but in Central America as well, UNEP reports.

Some 500,000 small-scale gold miners drive the legal or illegal demand for mercury.

Mexico and Peru have mercury deposits, but there is no formal primary mercury mining in the region. The extraction is secondary, because the mercury tends to be mixed with other minerals, or comes from the recycling of mercury already extracted and used for other purposes.

The biggest producers are Mexico, Argentina and Colombia, while the main consumers and legal importers are Peru, Colombia and Panama.

In 2012 Mexico, Argentina and Colombia headed the regional list of exporters of mercury and products containing the metal, according to Mercury Watch.

Mercury is naturally present in certain rocks, and can be found in the air, soil and water as a result of industrial emissions.

Bacteria and other microorganisms convert mercury to methylmercury, which can accumulate in different animal species, especially fish.

Mining industry laws in Bolivia, Costa Rica and Honduras ban the use of mercury.

And last year Colombia passed a law that would phase out mercury in mining over the next five years and in industry over the next 10 years.

Since November 2013, the Peruvian Congress has also been debating a draft law to eliminate mercury in mining and replace it in industrial activities.

According to UNEP, there were a total of 11 chlor-alkali plants operating with mercury technology in seven countries in the region in 2012. But several of the factories plan to adopt mercury-free technologies by 2020.

“The mercury content in products, the replacement of mercury, and the temporary storage and final disposal of mercury waste are significant aspects of mercury management,” Raquel Lejtreger, undersecretary in Uruguay’s ministry of housing, territorial planning and environment, told Tierramérica.

Uruguay imports products that contain mercury. But a mercury cell chlor-alkali plant operating in the South American country plans to convert to mercury-free technology, although financing to do so is needed.

GEF has provided funds to Uruguay and other countries in the region for the negotiation of the global treaty on mercury and for the adoption of alternative, mercury-free technologies. But there is still a long way to go.

This story was originally published Apr. 5 by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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Going Green Without Sinking into the Red http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/going-green-without-sinking-red/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=going-green-without-sinking-red http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/going-green-without-sinking-red/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 16:34:57 +0000 Peter Richards http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133485 Most Caribbean countries are famous for their sun, sand and warm sea breezes. Far fewer are known for their wide use of solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy. It is one of the failings of the region, which is characterised by high external debt, soaring energy costs, inequality, poverty and a lack of […]

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Dr. David Smith, coordinator of the Institute for Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies (UWI), believes the Caribbean and other small states should look into payments for ecosystem services. Credit: Peter Richards/IPS

Dr. David Smith, coordinator of the Institute for Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies (UWI), believes the Caribbean and other small states should look into payments for ecosystem services. Credit: Peter Richards/IPS

By Peter Richards
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

Most Caribbean countries are famous for their sun, sand and warm sea breezes. Far fewer are known for their wide use of solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy.

It is one of the failings of the region, which is characterised by high external debt, soaring energy costs, inequality, poverty and a lack of human capital."Rather than have us just looking inside our own borders for solutions, we can look at other people’s solutions - or indeed other people’s mistakes." -- Dr. David Smith

The 53-member Commonwealth grouping is now trying to fill this knowledge gap with a new green growth analysis that circulated at last week’s third Biennial Conference on Small States in St. Lucia, although the formal launch is not until May.

Titled “Transitioning to a Green Economy-Political Economy of Approaches in Small States,” the 216-page document provides an in-depth study of eight countries and their efforts at building green economies.

Dr. David Smith, one of the authors, notes that none of the eight, which include three from the Caribbean – Grenada, Guyana and Jamaica – has managed on its own to solve the problem of balancing green growth with economic development.

The other case studies are Botswana, Mauritius, Nauru, Samoa and the Seychelles.

“What is useful about this book is that rather than have us just looking inside our own borders for solutions, we can look at other people’s solutions – or indeed other people’s mistakes – and learn from those and try to tailor those to our own situations,” said Smith, the coordinator of the Institute for Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies (UWI).

Smith said that all the countries studied revealed that high dependence on imported energy and its associated costs are major factors constraining growth of any kind. Progress in greening the energy sector would have the great advantage of benefitting other sectors throughout the economy.

“Within our constraints we have to try and change that. We have to try and make sure we are much more energy sufficient and our diversity in terms of our sources of energy is increased,” he said.

St. Kitts residents welcome solar streetlights in areas they say have been too dark and prone to crime. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

St. Kitts residents welcome solar streetlights in areas they say have been dark and prone to crime. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Grenada’s Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell wants his country to become a “centre of excellence” for a clean and green economy that will result in the dismantling of an electricity monopoly with a high fossil-fuel import bill.

He said that despite help under the Venezuela-led PetroCaribe initiative – an oil alliance of many Caribbean states with Caracas to purchase oil on conditions of preferential payment – Grenada has one of the highest electricity rates in the region.

“We are now engaging with partners on solar, wind and geothermal energy to make Grenada an exemplar for a sustainable planet,” he told IPS.

Mitchell believes that the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) conference in Samoa this September must advance small states’ quest for energy that is accessible, affordable and sustainable.

“The threat of climate change is real and poses a clear and present danger to the survival of SIDS. We call on the international community to release long-promised resources to help small states like Grenada move more rapidly on our disaster risk mitigation and reduction efforts,” he added.

Last month, the University of Guyana announced that it was teaming up with Anton de Kom University of Suriname (AdeKUS) and the Beligium-based Catholic University of Leuven to be part of an 840,000-dollar programme geared at capacity-building in applied renewable energy technologies.

The overall objective is to improve the capacity of the Universities of Guyana and Suriname to deliver programmes and courses with the different technologies associated with applied renewable energy.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Robert Persaud says that one of the biggest needs for the local manufacturing sector is the availability of cheap energy.

“For us, it is an economic imperative that we develop not only clean energy, but affordable energy as well, and we are lucky that we possess the resources that we can have both,” he told IPS. “The low-hanging fruit in this regard is hydro.”

When he presented the country’s multi-billion-dollar budget to Parliament at the end of March, Guyana’s Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh said that with the intensification of the adverse impacts of climate change, the government would continue to forge ahead with “our innovative climate resilient and low carbon approach to economic development backed by our unwavering commitment to good forest governance and stewardship”.

Guyana has so far earned 115 million dollars from Norway within the framework of its Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS). Singh said that this year, 90.6 million dollars have been allocated for continued implementation of the Guyana REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) + Investment Fund (GRIF).

“Guyana is on track to have the world’s first fully operational REDD+ mechanism in place by 2015. This will enable Guyana to earn considerably more from the sale of REDD+ credits than we do today,” he told legislators.

But the case studies showed that locating suitable and adequate financing for greening was a major constraint, even in those countries that had allocated government resources to green activities.

The study on Jamaica for example, noted that the country is still dependent on natural resource-based export industries and on imported energy, with debt servicing equalling more than 140 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). It said all these factors also contributed to constraining implementation of new policies.

With regard to financing, Smith argues that it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the World Bank to consider allowing countries to access concessional financing up and until their human development index hits 0.8.

“We want to look at renewable energy and lower cost energy. We want to make sure that the human and environmental capitals that we have within our countries are maintained,” he said.

Smith said the countries could look at the payment for ecosystem services, charging realistic rents for the use of their beaches and looking at ways debt can be used creatively.

He believes that the repayment should “not always [be] to reduce the stock of debt but at least to use the payments for something that will build either human capital or financial capital…that can be used for real growth and development.”

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Hard-Hit CDM Carbon Market Seeks New Buyers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/hard-hit-cdm-carbon-market-seeks-new-buyers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hard-hit-cdm-carbon-market-seeks-new-buyers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/hard-hit-cdm-carbon-market-seeks-new-buyers/#comments Sun, 06 Apr 2014 21:21:19 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133457 Since they first emerged as a result of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, carbon offset markets have been a key part of international emissions reductions agreements, allowing rich countries in the North to invest in “emissions-saving projects” in the South while they continue to emit CO2. The biggest is the U.N.’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) for […]

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WindWatt Nevis Ltd uses eight wind turbines to produce a maximum capacity of about 2.2 megawatts, which works out to approximately 20 percent of the tiny island’s total energy needs.The increase in renewable energy projects means the Caribbean's energy generation mix is more diverse, making the region more resilient to the effects of natural disasters. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

WindWatt Nevis Ltd uses eight wind turbines to produce a maximum capacity of about 2.2 megawatts, which works out to approximately 20 percent of the tiny island’s total energy needs.The increase in renewable energy projects means the Caribbean's energy generation mix is more diverse, making the region more resilient to the effects of natural disasters. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Apr 6 2014 (IPS)

Since they first emerged as a result of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, carbon offset markets have been a key part of international emissions reductions agreements, allowing rich countries in the North to invest in “emissions-saving projects” in the South while they continue to emit CO2.

The biggest is the U.N.’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) for verifying carbon emissions reduction projects in developing countries."At some point the developed countries will wake up and turn back to the one legal, internationally recognised, functioning market mechanism for reducing carbon emissions." -- Dr. Hugh Sealy

According to Dr. Hugh Sealy, chairman of the Executive Board of the CDM, it has generated 396 billion dollars in financial flows from developed to developing countries.

“We are fairly proud of that. Very few development banks can say they have had that kind of investment,” Dr. Sealy told IPS.

The CDM, which operates under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), validates and subsequently certifies the effectiveness of projects in reducing carbon emissions.

Such certification can then be used as a basis for obtaining Carbon Emission Reduction (CER) credits that are sold to developed countries seeking to meet emissions reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol.

The big problem for local entrepreneurs is that the market for CER credits has collapsed in recent years.

In the Caribbean, many of the emissions reductions projects tend to be in the area of windfarming, said Dr. Sealy, since wind technology is proven and banks understand the risks.

The Caribbean’s North-East trade winds make it a very viable one as well. Guyana also has a bagasse project for generating steam and electricity.

In the Caribbean, there are 18 CDM projects, but only one, the Wigton Windfarm project in Jamaica, has made an application for CER certification. Dr. Sealy said that Wigton, which was registered as a CDM project in 2006, reduced carbon emissions by more than 52,000 tonnes per year in its first phase, and then by 40,000 tonnes per year in its second phase.

The challenge facing the Wigton project, as with all CDM projects currently, is the steep decline in the value of CER credits over the past couple of years. Four years ago, Dr. Sealy said, the credits were worth about 104 each dollars. Now they are worth about 50 cents.

He said the actual value the Jamaican company obtains for its CERs “will depend on the contract between it and the buyer.”

Dr. Sealy said the UNFCCC’s Conference of the Parties agreed at a recent meeting to the sale of CERs to entities that do not have obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, in an effort to widen the market for CERs. Under this new arrangement, “anybody, whether private or government, if they are going to voluntarily cancel the CER credits” can buy them as their contribution to the fight against climate change, he said.

The Brazilian government bought 40,000 CER credits to “green” the Rio+ 20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development and has done the same for the upcoming World Cup Football championship in that country.

Microsoft has done something similar under a different UNFCCC scheme for reducing emissions, known as REDD+, by buying an unspecified number of carbon credits from Madagascar generated by a rainforest conservation project in that country, according to a report by environmental news website Mongabay.com.

According to the report, attributed to the Wildlife Conservation Society, Microsoft bought the credits as part of its carbon neutrality programme.

Dr. Sealy attributes the steep decline in CER values to the downturn in the developed countries’ economies since 2008 that led to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and thus to a decline in the need for carbon offsets. At the same time, the target set by developed countries for carbon emissions reductions was too low in the first place, he said.

“The EU is saying it will aim for 20-30 percent reduction in emissions by 2030. Science is saying we must peak emissions by 2020” in order to reach the target of less than two degrees global warming, Dr. Sealy said.

“At some point the developed countries will wake up to that and turn back to the one legal, internationally recognised, functioning market mechanism for reducing carbon emissions,” he said.

In the meantime, however, he said, the carbon reduction projects in the region are still bringing the Caribbean many benefits. He pointed out that the increase in renewable energy projects means the energy generation mix is more diverse, making the region more resilient to the effects of natural disasters.

Landfill gas mitigation projects in the region are bringing health and environmental benefits, and projects such as one in Haiti for improved cooking stoves are resulting in less soot and less smoke that saves lives.

The UNFCCC’s Regional Collaborating Centre (RCC) in Grenada is working to create awareness in the region of current opportunities available to the region through CDM, said Karla Solis-Garcia, the RCC’s team leader.

So far, she told IPS, the RCC has provided support “to at least 60 CDM stakeholders with renewable energy (wind, solar and biomass), energy efficiency (improved cooking stoves, and efficient buildings) and landfill gas technology projects.

The RCC in Grenada is active in 16 Caribbean countries.

Solis-Garcia said the solid waste management sector and electricity sector were particular focuses of the RCC.

The solid waste sector was of particular interest since “Caribbean states share common challenges on how to deal with waste, considering especially the geographical limitations,” she said. “The waste challenge also represents an opportunity for investors, as emission reductions from landfill gas – methane gas – are significant.”

Regarding electricity, she said, the key issues are “the significant dependency on fossil fuels to generate electricity, the increase of electricity demand, and the potential for renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind, geothermal, hydro and wave/tidal.”

Dr. Sealy said that the region was in a good place with regard to deriving benefit from CDM projects, since it is accepted that failure to deal with climate change means that many islands will cease to exist.

For that reason, he said, countries with obligations under the Kyoto protocol “are quite willing to assist the small islands in any reasonable way they can.” Caribbean islands can, therefore, negotiate for a good price on CER credits, he said, especially if these are from renewable energy projects.

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Cuba’s Youth Were the Target of USAID’s ZunZuneo http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/cubas-youth-target-usaids-zunzuneo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cubas-youth-target-usaids-zunzuneo http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/cubas-youth-target-usaids-zunzuneo/#comments Sun, 06 Apr 2014 02:59:04 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133449 The generations born in Cuba in the last two or three decades, permeated by the influences of societies that differ radically from the one their government is trying to build, are in the eye of the ideological storm that feeds the conflict between Havana and Washington. On Thursday Apr. 3 the White House acknowledged that […]

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A young Cuban man wearing a New York cap and an Adidas T-shirt using a cell-phone in Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A young Cuban man wearing a New York cap and an Adidas T-shirt using a cell-phone in Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Apr 6 2014 (IPS)

The generations born in Cuba in the last two or three decades, permeated by the influences of societies that differ radically from the one their government is trying to build, are in the eye of the ideological storm that feeds the conflict between Havana and Washington.

On Thursday Apr. 3 the White House acknowledged that from 2009 to 2012, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was behind the ZunZuneo social network – the “Cuban Twitter” that targeted young people and reached a peak of 40,000 subscribers.

Its apparent aim was to destabilise and topple the government of Raúl Castro. But the programme came to an end when it ran out of funds.“For the White House spokesman to say that it’s not a covert operation is simply a bald lie.” – Peter Kornbluh

“Young people today dislike equally pressure [from the Cuban government] to go to the May 1 march and calls, through text messages, to hold protests,” 29-year-old journalist Antonio Rodríguez, who decided to immigrate to the Unites States for economic reasons and to join his father, told IPS. “It’s the same idea: telling them to do what others want them to do.”

However, “young people are the main target [for this kind of activity] because they are always the ones who push forward social changes. Older people have preconceived notions, while young people are rebellious by nature and try to change things.

“But we are very busy dealing with economic difficulties, caught up in the day to day. The spirit of protest, of holding strikes, has been lost,” he added.

Miguel Castro, a 32-year-old self-employed worker, said that people who are today 25 years old are the children of the crisis that broke out in Cuba in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which the Cuban economy depended on.

“Their political commitment to the historic generation [that experienced the 1959 revolution] has been injured; they haven’t seen the government update its discourse and adapt it to the reality and needs of the young,” he argued.

A study by the Centre for Psychological and Sociological Research found that “socio-political aspirations” continue to be important among university students, unlike among segments with lower levels of education or less skilled jobs, where political participation dropped to the bottom of their list of concerns.

Young people “are the perfect target group for this project which also benefited from the fact that it could be done remotely,” Latin America researcher Peter Kornbluh, of the Washington-based National Security Archive, which requests and publishes declassified U.S. government documents, told IPS.

“All of the good research on Cuban society points out that the younger generation is completely detached from the revolution. They’ve grown up almost entirely in this period – from the collapse of the Soviet Union onwards – they’ve never really seen the benefits of the Cuban revolution. They have an interest in communications and the modern world,” he added.

ZunZuneo – the term in Cuba for the noise made by “zunzunes” or hummingbirds – was based on text messages and took advantage of a Cuban problem: the restricted access to telecommunications and the Internet for the average Cuban, which the government blames on economic problems.

In May 2012, the authorities in Venezuela announced that the underwater fibre optic cable to Cuba was operational. But the Cuban government kept mum about it until January 2013, and an overall improvement in connectivity has not been noted.

The use of social networks has grown in Cuba since the government opened 145 Internet cafes, which offer connection to the worldwide web, international email service or the national web, depending on what the client pays for. And since March, cell-phone users can check their email using the domain @nauta.cu.

In this Caribbean island nation of 11.2 million people, as of mid-March there were two million people with cell-phones – more than the 1.27 million fixed lines, a density of just 28.9 per 100 inhabitants.

ZunZuneo was financed with 1.6 million dollars in funds that were publicly allocated to an unspecified USAID project in Pakistan.

The users never knew that a U.S. agency linked to the State Department was behind the network, or that the programme was gathering information to be used for political purposes in the future.

“This is a modern version of a CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] covert propaganda operation. In many ways, this is a classic covert operation with shell companies, cut-outs, multinational actors with companies in London and Spain and Managua, and hidden bank accounts,” said Kornbluh.

“For the White House spokesman [Jay Carney] to say that it’s not a covert operation is simply a bald lie. It looks like AID is the new CIA, particularly AID’s Office of Transitional Initiatives, which is a murky, mysterious entity clearly working covertly on regime change projects targeting Cuba,” he added.

The revelations about ZunZuneo were the result of an investigation published Thursday by the AP news agency, which created a considerable stir in the Cuban government and state-controlled media.

According to the AP report, the programme’s aim was to reach a critical mass of perhaps 200,000 subscribers, at which point political content would be introduced in the messages sent by ZunZuneo, in order to prompt Cubans to organise “smart mobs” – mass protests arranged via text message that could trigger a “Cuban spring”, a reference to the revolutions that broke out in 2011 in the Middle East.

In a statement to foreign correspondents to Cuba Thursday, Josefina Vidal, the head of the Foreign Ministry’s North American affairs division, said the ZunZuneo programme “shows once again that the United States government has not renounced its plans of subversion against Cuba.”

According to Kornbluh, USAID “gets 20 million dollars dumped into its coffers for its Cuba Democracy project every year, and it has to figure out creative ways to spend it.

“This was creative, but, in the end, it completely and utterly failed, just like the Alan Gross project failed,” he said, referring to the USAID contractor serving a 15-year sentence in Cuba for plotting against the state.

“This operation in hindsight looks silly except that its revelation right now threatens to undercut any momentum in Washington and Havana coming to a meeting of minds on better relations in the future,” Kornbluh stated.

With reporting by Ivet González in Havana and Jim Lobe in Washington.

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Chile Graduates in Earthquake Preparedness http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/chile-graduates-earthquake-preparedness/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chile-graduates-earthquake-preparedness http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/chile-graduates-earthquake-preparedness/#comments Sat, 05 Apr 2014 13:52:06 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133441 Chile appears to have learned a few lessons from the 2010 earthquake and tsunami, and it successfully drew on them the night of Apr. 1, when another quake struck, this time in the extreme north of the country. Frightened by the intensification of seismic activity in the last few years, local residents fled for the […]

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President Michelle Bachelet visiting a shelter on Apr. 3 in Camarones, one of the areas worst-hit by the quake, 2,000 km north of Santiago. Credit: Office of the Chilean President

President Michelle Bachelet visiting a shelter on Apr. 3 in Camarones, one of the areas worst-hit by the quake, 2,000 km north of Santiago. Credit: Office of the Chilean President

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Apr 5 2014 (IPS)

Chile appears to have learned a few lessons from the 2010 earthquake and tsunami, and it successfully drew on them the night of Apr. 1, when another quake struck, this time in the extreme north of the country.

Frightened by the intensification of seismic activity in the last few years, local residents fled for the hills, two km away from the Pacific ocean, after a tsunami alert was issued by the Chilean Navy’s Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service.

But despite the fear, nearly one million people participated efficiently in a mass evacuation, and the six people who were killed died of heart attacks or falling debris.

The 8.2-magnitude temblor occurred at GMT 23:46 and was the strongest in a series of quakes that have hit northern Chile since Jan. 1.

“We were in our apartment, which is on the third floor of a building. My daughter and my husband and I all held onto each other. Suddenly, the windows burst and glass started to fall on our backs. It was horrible,” a woman who lives in the northern city of Iquique, and had later evacuated to higher ground away from the coast, told Tierramérica.

“We have learned a lot, and many of the elements that didn’t work right in 2010 functioned perfectly now,” the director of the National Seismological Centre, Sergio Barrientos, told Tierramérica.

Four years ago, “the seismological monitoring system broke down and we were only able to provide information on the earthquake a couple of hours later,” he said.

“On this occasion, even though it was a much smaller earthquake, we managed to deliver the necessary information just a few minutes after it occurred,” he added.

President Michelle Bachelet flew over the most heavily affected areas, Iquique and Arica, 1,800 and 2,000 km north of Santiago, respectively, to view the destruction.

“There has been an exemplary evacuation process, with strong solidarity that has made this a process without major setbacks, which has protected people from a tsunami or other serious problems linked to the quake,” she said.

Tuesday’s earthquake was also a trial by fire.for Bachelet, who took office as president for the second time, on Mar. 11.

The president ended her first term just 12 days after the 8.8-magnitude quake and tsunami that devastated vast areas in central and southern Chile on Feb. 27, 2010.

That time the emergency preparedness protocols didn’t work, and a tardy tsunami alert was blamed for some 500 deaths, added to the destruction of over 200,000 housing units. Bachelet faced legal action, and several members of her first administration are still under investigation.

Four years later, the president decreed a timely state of emergency for the affected regions and called out the armed forces and the security forces to keep public order.

The tsunami warning sirens sounded early enough to allow thousands of people to begin evacuating calmly.

Significant investment in economic and human resources lies behind these changes. In 2012, the National Seismological Centre signed an agreement with the Interior Ministry to strengthen the network of sensors and set up new stations, while creating a robust communications system.

The ongoing investment of nearly seven million dollars has included the installation of 10 new monitoring stations, the purchase of satellite equipment, and training for the staff at the National Seismological Centre and the National Emergency Office.

The disaster preparedness and mitigation strategies are bearing fruit not only in Chile, but in the rest of Latin America as well, according to the regional office of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and hurricanes are common in different parts of the region, often associated with conditions of vulnerability, poverty and insecurity.

However, local populations are better prepared today, regional cooperation is effective, and warning and response systems are efficient, UNESCO reports.

“The situation has improved greatly since the 27 February 2010 tsunami that impacted Chile,” said UNESCO which, in alliance with the authorities, is involved in work on education for tsunami preparedness in Chile, Peru and Ecuador.

In Chile, the work has been carried out in 144 schools in areas at risk of flooding – lower than 30 metres above sea level.

“Citizen education is essential in these situations, especially in a country like Chile, where a tsunami can occur 15 or 20 minutes after an earthquake and it takes 10 minutes to analyse the information,” hydraulic engineer Rodrigo Cienfuegos of the National Research Centre for Integrated Natural Disaster Management (CIGIDEN) told Tierramérica.

“People have to react in an autonomous manner; they have to know where to evacuate to immediately after an earthquake of the characteristics of the one we had on Tuesday,” added Cienfuegos, an expert on tsunamis.

One of the biggest challenges now is for people to be prepared to deal with the impacts that follow the quake itself: living in evacuation centres, and putting up with the lack of food, water and electricity.

“The idea is that, once the emergency is over, people will be more ready to live through that complex period,” he said.

According to Cienfuegos, an academic at the Catholic University, this South American country, one of the world’s most earthquake-prone, with more than 4,000 km of coastline, should rethink human settlements in the future.

“We have to be aware of the threat that living so close to the coast means,” he said. “It’s hard to move people away who for years have been living close to the sea, but measures have to be taken when the construction of new human settlements is being studied.”

For now, the people of northern Chile should be ready, seismologists warn. It has been 137 years since the last major quake in the north of the country and the energy that has accumulated is greater than what was released on Tuesday.

*Originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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Brazilian Dams Accused of Aggravating Floods in Bolivia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/brazilian-dams-accused-aggravating-floods-bolivia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazilian-dams-accused-aggravating-floods-bolivia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/brazilian-dams-accused-aggravating-floods-bolivia/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 22:42:11 +0000 Franz Chavez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133433 Unusually heavy rainfall, climate change, deforestation and two dams across the border in Brazil were cited by sources who spoke to IPS as the causes of the heaviest flooding in Bolivia’s Amazon region since records have been kept. Environmental organisations are discussing the possibility of filing an international legal complaint against the Jirau and Santo […]

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A local resident tries to save some of her belongings during the floods in Bolivia’s Amazon department of Beni. Credit: Courtesy of Diario Opinión

A local resident tries to save some of her belongings during the floods in Bolivia’s Amazon department of Beni. Credit: Courtesy of Diario Opinión

By Franz Chávez
LA PAZ, Apr 4 2014 (IPS)

Unusually heavy rainfall, climate change, deforestation and two dams across the border in Brazil were cited by sources who spoke to IPS as the causes of the heaviest flooding in Bolivia’s Amazon region since records have been kept.

Environmental organisations are discussing the possibility of filing an international legal complaint against the Jirau and Santo Antônio hydroelectric dams built by Brazil, which they blame for the disaster that has already cost 59 lives in Bolivia and material losses of 111 million dollars this year, according to the Fundación Milenio.

Bolivian President Evo Morales himself added his voice on Wednesday Apr. 2 to the choir of those who suspect that the two dams have had to do with the flooding in the Amazon region. “An in-depth investigation is needed to assess whether the Brazilian hydropower plants are playing a role in this,” he said.

The president instructed the foreign ministry to lead the inquiry. “There is a preliminary report that has caused a great deal of concern…and must be verified in a joint effort by the two countries.”

Some 30,000 families living in one-third of Bolivia’s 327 municipalities have experienced unprecedented flooding in the country’s Amazon valleys, lowlands and plains, and the attempt to identify who is responsible has become a diplomatic and political issue.

Environmentalists argue that among those responsible are the dams built in the Brazilian state of Rondônia on the Madeira river, the biggest tributary of the Amazon river, whose watershed is shared by Brazil, Bolivia and Peru.

In Bolivia – where the Madeira (or Madera in Spanish) emerges – some 250 rivers that originate in the Andes highlands and valleys flow into it.

“It was already known that the Jirau and San Antonio [as it is known in Bolivia] dams would turn into a plug stopping up the water of the rivers that are tributaries of the Madera,” independent environmentalist Teresa Flores told IPS.

“Construction of a dam causes water levels to rise over the natural levels and as a consequence slows down the river flow,” the vice president of the Bolivian Forum on Environment and Development (FOBOMADE), Patricia Molina, told IPS.

Her assertion was based on the study “The impact of the Madera river dams in Bolivia”, published by FOBOMADE in 2008.

“The Madera dams will cause flooding; the loss of chestnut forests, native flora and fauna, and fish; the appearance and recurrence of diseases such as yellow fever, malaria, dengue; the displacement of people, increased poverty and the disappearance of entire communities,” the study says.

“Considering all of the information provided by environmental activists in Brazil and Bolivia, by late 2013 everything seemed to indicate that the elements for a major environmental disaster were in place,” Environmental Defence League (LIDEMA) researcher Marco Octavio Ribera wrote in an article published Feb. 22.

But Víctor Paranhos, the head of the Energia Sustentável do Brasil (ESBR) sustainable energy consortium, rejected the allegations.

The dams neither cause nor aggravate flooding in Bolivia “because they are run-of-the-river plants, where water flows in and out quickly, the reservoirs are small, and the dams are many kilometres from the border,” he told IPS.

In his view, “what’s going on here is that it has never rained so much” in the Bolivian region in question. The flow in the Madeira river, which in Jirau reached a maximum of “nearly 46,000 cubic metres per second, has now reached 54,350 cubic metres per second,” he added.

Moreover, the flooding has covered a large part of the national territory in Bolivia, not only near the Madeira river dams, he pointed out.

The ESBR holds the concession for the Jirau hydropower plant, which is located 80 km from the Bolivian border. The group is headed by the French-Belgium utility GDF Suez and includes two public enterprises from Brazil as well as Mizha Energia, a subsidiary of Japan’s Mitsui.

At the Jirau and Santo Antônio plants, which are still under construction, the reservoirs have been completed and roughly 50 turbines are being installed in each dam. When they are fully operative, they will have an installed capacity of over 3,500 MW.

Claudio Maretti, the head of the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Amazon Initiative, said “there is neither evidence nor conclusive studies proving that the dams built on the Madera river are the cause of the floods in the Bolivian-Brazilian Amazon territories in the first few months of 2014 – at least not yet.”

In a statement, Maretti recommended “integrated conservation planning, monitoring of the impacts of infrastructure projects on the connectivity and flow of the rivers, on aquatic biodiversity, on fishing resources and on the capacity of ecosystems to adapt to the major alterations imposed by human beings.”

The intensity of the rainfall was recognised in a study by the Fundación Milenio which compared last year’s rains in the northern department or region of Beni – the most heavily affected – and the highlands in the south of Bolivia, and concluded that “it has rained twice as much as normal.”

Several alerts were issued, such as on Feb. 23 for communities near the Piraí river, which runs south to north across the department of Santa Cruz, just south of Beni.

At that time, an “extraordinary rise” in the water level of the river, the highest in 31 years, reached 7.5 metres, trapped a dozen people on a tiny island, and forced the urgent evacuation of the local population.

The statistics are included in a report by SEARPI (the Water Channeling and. Regularisation Service of the Piraí River) in the city of Santa Cruz, to which IPS had access.

The plentiful waters of the river run into the Beni plains and contributed to the flooding, along with the heavy rain in the country’s Andes highlands and valleys.

The highest water level in the Piraí river was 16 metres in 1983, according to SEARPI records.

Flores, the environmentalist, acknowledged that there has been “extraordinarily excessive” rainfall, which she attributed to the impact of climate change on the departments of La Paz in the northwest, Cochabamba in the centre, and the municipalities of Rurrenabaque, Reyes and San Borja, in Beni.

Molina, the vice president of FOBOMADE, cited “intensified incursions of flows of water from the tropical south Atlantic towards the south of the Amazon basin,” as an explanation for the heavy rainfall.

She and Flores both mentioned deforestation at the headwaters of the Amazon basin as the third major factor that has aggravated the flooding.

In Cochabamba, former senator Gastón Cornejo is leading a push for an international environmental audit and a lawsuit in a United Nations court, in an attempt to ward off catastrophe in Bolivia’s Amazon region.

“The state of Bolivia has been negligent and has maintained an irresponsible silence,” he told IPS.

Molina proposes taking the case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, to denounce the environmental damage reportedly caused by the Brazilian dams.

With reporting by Mario Osava in Rio de Janeiro.

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Fracking, Seismic Activity Grow Hand in Hand in Mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/fracking-seismic-activity-grow-hand-hand-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fracking-seismic-activity-grow-hand-hand-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/fracking-seismic-activity-grow-hand-hand-mexico/#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2014 13:08:39 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133399 Scientists warn that large-scale fracking for shale gas planned by Mexico’s oil company Pemex will cause a surge in seismic activity in northern Mexico, an area already prone to quakes. Experts link a 2013 swarm of earthquakes in the northern states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo León to hydraulic fracturing or fracking in the Burgos and […]

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Map of seismic activity from October 2013 to March 2014 in the state of Nuevo León in northeast Mexico. Credit: Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León

Map of seismic activity from October 2013 to March 2014 in the state of Nuevo León in northeast Mexico. Credit: Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Apr 3 2014 (IPS)

Scientists warn that large-scale fracking for shale gas planned by Mexico’s oil company Pemex will cause a surge in seismic activity in northern Mexico, an area already prone to quakes.

Experts link a 2013 swarm of earthquakes in the northern states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo León to hydraulic fracturing or fracking in the Burgos and Eagle Ford shale deposits – the latter of which is shared with the U.S. state of Texas.

Researcher Ruperto de la Garza found a link between seismic activity and fracking, a technique that involves pumping water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into the well, opening and extending fractures in the shale rock to release the natural gas.

“The final result is the dislocation of the geological structure which, when it is pulverised, allows the trapped gas to escape,” the expert with the environmental and risk consultancy Gestoría Ambiental y de Riesgos told IPS from Saltillo, the capital of the northern state of Coahuila.

When the chemicals are injected “and the lutite particles [sedimentary rock] break down, the earth shifts,” he said. “It’s not surprising that the earth has been settling.”

De la Garza drew up an exhaustive map of the seismic movements in 2013 and the gas-producing areas.

His findings, published on Mar. 22, indicated a correlation between the seismic activity and fracking.

Statistics from Mexico’s National Seismological Service show an increase in intensity and frequency of seismic activity in Nuevo León, where at least 31 quakes between 3.1 and 4.3 on the Richter scale were registered.

Most of the quakes occurred in 2013. Of the ones registered this year, the highest intensity took place on Mar. 2-3, according to official records.

De la Garza said the number of quakes in that state increased in 2013 and the first few months of this year.

The Burgos basin, which extends through the northern states of Nuevo León, Tamaulipas and Coahuila, holds huge reserves of conventional gas, which began to be tapped in the past decade.

Since 2011, PEMEX has drilled at least six wells for shale gas in the states of Nuevo León and Coahuila. It is also preparing for further exploration in the southeastern state of Veracruz.

The company has identified five regions with potential unconventional gas resources from the north of Veracruz to Chihuahua, on the U.S. border.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) ranks Mexico sixth in the world for technically recoverable gas, behind China, Argentina, Algeria, the United States and Canada, based on examination of 137 deposits in 42 countries.

The recovery of shale gas requires enormous quantities of water and a broad range of chemicals. The process generates large amounts of waste fluids, which contain dissolved chemicals and other contaminants that require treatment before recycling or disposal, according to the environmental watchdog Greenpeace.

The study “Sismicidad en el estado de Nuevo León”, published in January on seismic activity in that state, concluded that the quakes in northeast Mexico are associated with both natural structures and human actions that modify the rock layer and the pressure in the fluids near the surface.

The report, by academics at the Civil Engineering Faculty of the Autonomous University of Nuevo León, attributes several earthquakes that have occurred since 2004 to activities such as the extraction of unconventional natural gas in the Burgos basin.

Other factors mentioned by the study are the overexploitation of aquifers by potato producers along the border between Coahuila and Nuevo León and barite mining in Nuevo León.

The total number of water wells drilled in the basin has risen from just under 5,000 in 2004 to 7,000 today.

A study on the environmental impact of the Poza Rica Altamira y Aceite Terciario del Golfo 2013-2035 regional oil project, which extends across the states of Veracruz, Hidalgo (in the centre) and Puebla (in the south), anticipates a rise in demand for water for fracking in the north of the country, where water is scarce.

The 844-page document, to which IPS had access, was sent by Pemex to the environment ministry for approval on Mar. 10, and enumerates projected works like the construction of roads and installation of large steel water storage tanks.

The study states that over 12,700 cubic metres of water are needed for every 10 multi-stage fracking jobs.

It also estimates that Mexico’s natural gas production will reach 11.47 billion cubic feet a day by 2026, which would come from the higher levels of shale gas production at the Eagle Ford and La Casita deposits stretching across Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas.

By 2026, non-associated natural gas will represent 55 percent of total gas production. The rest will come from unconventional deposits in the north of the country, whose production is projected to grow at a rate of 8.6 percent per year up to then.

Production of unconventional gas is expected to be in the hands of private companies, since the energy reform approved in December opened up the oil and electric industry to foreign investment.

Studies carried out in the United States have also attributed earthquakes in that country to fracking-linked wastewater injection

U.S. Geological Survey scientists have found that in some areas, an increase in seismic activity has coincided with the injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells.

“Earthquakes will increase as a result of the higher-scale shale gas production. The government is misguided. Fracking should be banned,” de la Garza argued.

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Rural Costa Rican Women Plant Trees to Fight Climate Change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/rural-costa-rican-women-plant-trees-fight-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rural-costa-rican-women-plant-trees-fight-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/rural-costa-rican-women-plant-trees-fight-climate-change/#comments Wed, 02 Apr 2014 13:39:21 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133379 Olga Vargas, a breast cancer survivor, is back in the countryside, working in a forestry programme in the north of Costa Rica aimed at empowering women while at the same time mitigating the effects of climate change. Her recent illness and a community dispute over the land the project previously used – granted by the […]

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Olga Vargas next to the greenhouse with which the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association began to revitalise its sustainable business, whose priority is reforestation. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Olga Vargas next to the greenhouse with which the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association began to revitalise its sustainable business, whose priority is reforestation. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
PITAL, Costa Rica , Apr 2 2014 (IPS)

Olga Vargas, a breast cancer survivor, is back in the countryside, working in a forestry programme in the north of Costa Rica aimed at empowering women while at the same time mitigating the effects of climate change.

Her recent illness and a community dispute over the land the project previously used – granted by the Agrarian Development Institute, where the women had planted 12,000 trees – stalled the reforestation and environmental education project since 2012 in Pital, San Carlos district, in the country’s northern plains.

But the group is getting a fresh start.

“After the cancer I feel that God gave me a second chance, to continue with the project and help my companions,” Vargas, a 57-year-old former accountant, told IPS in the Quebrada Grande forest reserve, which her group helps to maintain.

She is a mother of four and grandmother of six; her two grown daughters also participate in the group, and her husband has always supported her, she says proudly.

Since 2000, the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association, made up of 14 women and presided over by Vargas, has reforested the land granted to them, organised environmental protection courses, set up breeding tanks for the sustainable fishing of tilapia, and engaged in initiatives in rural tourism and organic agriculture.

But the top priority has been planting trees.

A group of local men who opposed the granting of the land to the women from the start demanded that the installations and business endeavours be taken over by the community.

The women were given another piece of land, smaller than one hectare in size, but which is in the name of the Association, and their previous installations were virtually abandoned.

“I learned about the importance of forest management in a meeting I attended in Guatemala. After that, several of us travelled to Panama, El Salvador and Argentina, to find out about similar initiatives and exchange experiences,” said Vargas, who used to work as an accountant in Pital, 135 km north of San José.

The most the Association has earned in a year was 14,000 dollars. “Maybe 50,000 colones [100 dollars] sounds like very little. But for us, rural women who used to depend on our husband’s income to buy household items or go to the doctor, it’s a lot,” Vargas said.

The Association, whose members range in age from 18 to 67, is not on its own. Over the last decade, groups of Costa Rican women coming up with solutions against deforestation have emerged in rural communities around the country.

These groups took up the challenge and started to plant trees and to set up greenhouses, in response to the local authorities’ failure to take action in the face of deforestation and land use changes.

“Climate change has had a huge effect on agricultural production,” Vargas said. “You should see how hot it’s been, and the rivers are just pitiful. Around three or four years ago the rivers flowed really strong, but now there’s only one-third or one-fourth as much water.”

In Quebrada Grande, the Agrarian Development Institute dedicated 119 hectares of land to forest conservation, which the Womens’ Association has been looking after for over a decade. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

In Quebrada Grande, the Agrarian Development Institute dedicated 119 hectares of land to forest conservation, which the Womens’ Association has been looking after for over a decade. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

In San Ramón de Turrialba, 65 km east of San José, six women manage a greenhouse where they produce seedlings to plant 20,000 trees a year.

Since 2007, the six women in the Group of Agribusiness Women of San Ramón have had a contract with Costa Rica’s electric company, ICE, to provide it with acacia, Mexican cedar, and eucalyptus seedlings.

The group’s coordinator, Nuria Céspedes, explained to IPS that the initiative emerged when she asked her husband for a piece of the family farm to set up a greenhouse.

“Seven years ago, I went to a few meetings on biological corridors and I was struck by the problem of deforestation, because they explain climate change has been aggravated by deforestation,” said Céspedes, who added that the group has the active support of her husband, and has managed to expand its list of customers.

Costa Rica, which is famous for its forests, is one of the few countries in the world that has managed to turn around a previously high rate of deforestation.

In 1987, the low point for this Central American country’s jungles, only 21 percent of the national territory was covered by forest, compared to 75 percent in 1940.

That marked the start of an aggressive reforestation programme, thanks to which forests covered 52 percent of the territory by 2012.

Costa Rica has set itself the goal of becoming the first country in the world to achieve carbon neutrality by 2021. And in the fight against climate change, it projects that carbon sequestration by its forests will contribute 75 percent of the emissions reduction needed to achieve that goal.

In this country of 4.4 million people, these groups of women have found a niche in forest conservation that also helps them combat sexist cultural norms and the heavy concentration of land in the hands of men.

“One of the strong points [of women’s participation] is having access to education – they have been given the possibility of taking part in workshops and trainings,” Arturo Ureña, the technical head of the Coordinating Association of Indigenous and Community Agroforestry in Central America (ACICAFOC) , told IPS.

That was true for the Pital Association. When they started their project, the women received courses from the Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje (national training institute), which made it possible for two illiterate members of the group to take their final exams orally.

Added to these community initiatives are government strategies. More and more women are being included in state programmes that foment agroforestry production, such as the EcoMercado (ecomarket) of the National Forest Finance Fund (Fonafifo).

EcoMercado is part of the Environmental Services Programme of Fonafifo, one of the pillars of carbon sequestration in Costa Rica.

Since Fonafifo was created in the mid-1990s, 770,000 hectares, out of the country’s total of 5.1 million, have been included in the forestry strategy, with initiatives ranging from reforestation to agroforestry projects.

Lucrecia Guillén, who keeps Fonafifo’s statistics and is head of its environmental services management department, confirmed to IPS that the participation of women in reforestation projects is growing.

She stressed that in the case of the EcoMercado, women’s participation increased 185 percent between 2009 and 2013, which translated into a growth in the number of women farmers from 474 to 877. She clarified, however, that land ownership and the agroforestry industry were still dominated by men.

Statistics from Fonafifo indicate that in the EcoMercado project, only 16 percent of the farms are owned by women, while 37 are owned by individual men and 47 percent are in the hands of corporations, which are mainly headed by men.

But Guillén sees no reason to feel discouraged. “Women are better informed now, and that has boosted participation” and will continue to do so, she said.

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