Inter Press Service » South-South http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Sun, 20 Apr 2014 08:06:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Biofortified Tortillas to Provide Micronutrients in Latin America http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/biofortified-tortillas-provide-micronutrients-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=biofortified-tortillas-provide-micronutrients-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/biofortified-tortillas-provide-micronutrients-latin-america/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 12:10:41 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133736 Latin America is one of the regions in the world suffering from “hidden hunger” – a chronic lack of the micronutrients needed to ward off problems like anaemia, blindness, impaired immune systems, and stunted growth. Brazil is heading up a food biofortification effort in the region to turn this situation around. Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras […]

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Biofortified beans. Credit: Courtesy of BioFORT

Biofortified beans. Credit: Courtesy of BioFORT

By Fabiola Ortiz
KIGALI, Apr 17 2014 (IPS)

Latin America is one of the regions in the world suffering from “hidden hunger” – a chronic lack of the micronutrients needed to ward off problems like anaemia, blindness, impaired immune systems, and stunted growth.

Brazil is heading up a food biofortification effort in the region to turn this situation around.

Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras are targets of the biofortification programme, after six countries in Africa (Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia) and three in Asia (Bangladesh, India and Pakistan).

Behind the initiative is HarvestPlus, which forms part of the CGIAR Consortium research programme on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health.

CGIAR is an independent consortium leading the global effort to modify food in developing regions by adding essential minerals and vitamins.

In Latin America, the project is led by the Brazilian Biofortification Network (BioFORT), which since 2003 has brought together 150 researchers from EMBRAPA, the Brazilian government’s agricultural research agency, and from universities and specialised centres.

EMBRAPA food engineer Marília Nutti, who heads the BioFORT network in Brazil and the rest of the region, told IPS that the three countries in Latin America with the highest rates of micronutrient deficiency are Haiti, Nicaragua and Guatemala.

HarvestPlus developed a Biofortification Priority Index (BPI) to identify countries in the developing South with the highest levels of micronutrient deficiency.

Agronomist Miguel Lacayo at the Central American University in Managua told IPS that Nicaragua is second only to Haiti in terms of problems in the production and availability of food for a nutritious diet in this region.

An index to measure progress

The Biofortification Priority Index (BPI) ranks countries based on their potential for introducing nutrient-rich staple food crops to fight micronutrient deficiencies, focusing on three key micronutrients: vitamin A, iron and zinc.

For the BPI, country data on the prevalence of micronutrient deficiencies and production and consumption levels of target crops is analysed to help guide decisions about where, and in which biofortified crops, to invest for maximum impact.

BPIs are calculated for seven staple crops and for 127 countries in the developing South.

“The diet in Nicaragua is principally made up of maize and beans, which are eaten two to three times a day,” the expert said. “People eat a lot of maize tortillas, accompanied by beans, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

Lacayo spoke with IPS during the Mar. 31-Apr. 2 Second Global Conference on Biofortification, organised by HarvestPlus in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.

“The idea is to increase the concentration of iron and zinc in these two staple foods, to reduce nutrition problems. We want to help bring down anaemia levels,” he said.

Severe nutritional deficits are especially a problem among children in rural areas in Nicaragua, one of the poorest countries in Latin America. “It’s a chronic problem among the rural poor, who make up 60 percent of the population,” Lacayo said.

Biofortification uses conventional plant-breeding methods to enhance the concentration of micronutrients in food crops through a combination of laboratory and agricultural techniques.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reports that two billion people in the world today suffer from one or more micronutrient deficiencies, and that every four seconds someone dies of hunger and related causes.

In December 2012, the World Bank released a toolkit providing nutrition emergency response guidance to policy-makers, seeking to ensure health, food and nutritional security for vulnerable mothers and their children in Latin America and the Caribbean.

According to the World Bank an estimated 7.2 million children under five are chronically malnourished in the region.

The Bank also warned about the economic costs of malnutrition, estimating individual productivity losses at more than 10 percent of lifetime earnings, and gross domestic product lost to malnutrition as high as two to three percent in many countries.

The World Food Programme (WFP) Hunger Map shows that the malnutrition rate in Nicaragua stands at between 10 and 19 percent, while in Haiti 35 percent of the population is malnourished.

Nicaragua began to biofortify foods in 2005 with support from Agrosalud, a consortium of institutions working in 14 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean that is mainly financed by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

Agrosalud has also supported the inclusion of micronutrients in foods in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru.

Of these countries, Panama went on to launch a national biofortification programme, with no outside financing.

The first phase of Agrosalud ended in 2010, and Nicaragua was made a priority target in the second phase, with backing from BioFORT, initially focused on maize and beans.

“We want to support biofortified crops,” Lacayo commented. “We are going to create a network in Nicaragua with HarvestPlus, governments, non-governmental organisations, universities, and national and international bodies.”

The alliance will include 125 researchers from 25 university institutions, and the national plan is to get underway in June, with the aim of promoting food security and sovereignty in Nicaragua.

Lacayo stressed that one element of the plan will be support for small farmers in the production of seeds “for their own consumption, as well as a surplus to sell…We want to give this added value, and to strengthen small rural enterprises.”

The agronomist foresees a lasting alliance with Brazil through EMBRAPA, to help reduce hidden hunger in Nicaragua.

BioFORT’s Nutti said the network has an “innovative focus” of combining nutrition, agriculture and health.

“Biofortification is a new science. The big advantage of the project is that it has brought together agronomists, economists, nutritionists and experts in food sciences behind the common goal of having an impact on health,” she said.

Initially, HarvestPlus asked Brazil only to biofortify cassava. But BioFORT decided it was also necessary to incorporate other micronutrients in seven other foods that are essential to the Brazilian diet: cowpeas, beans, rice, sweet potatoes, maize, squash and wheat.

“This is a very big country. You have to show people that this biofortified diet is better,” Nutti said.

Brazil is one of the HarvestPlus country programmes, because it operates with its own technical resources and is seen as a model in the administration of the biofortification effort.

While in Africa, the main target of the initiative, 40 million dollars will be allocated to biofortification, the budget for Latin America over the next five years will range between 500,000 and one million dollars.

That is not much, considering the magnitude of the task, BioFORT technology researcher José Luis Viana de Carvalho told IPS.

In his view, Brazil has the experience needed to forge alliances that contribute to the development of biofortification in the region.

“Brazil is a granary due to the quantity of cereals it produces and its cutting-edge technology. We should think in terms of a 20-year timeframe for reducing the pockets of hidden hunger,” he added.

He said that in terms of public health, the cost of spending on biofortification is lower than the cost of not undertaking the effort.

“Prevention through quality food is important. Biofortification is not medicine, it is prevention. It is the daily diet,” de Carvalho said.

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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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U.S. Blasted on Failure to Ratify IMF Reforms http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-blasted-failure-ratify-imf-reforms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-blasted-failure-ratify-imf-reforms http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-blasted-failure-ratify-imf-reforms/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 00:31:45 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133620 While Republicans complain relentlessly about U.S. President Barack Obama’s alleged failure to exert global leadership on geo-political issues like Syria and Ukraine, they are clearly undermining Washington’s leadership of the world economy. That conclusion became inescapable here during this week’s in-gathering of the world’s finance ministers and central bankers at the annual spring meeting here […]

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By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

While Republicans complain relentlessly about U.S. President Barack Obama’s alleged failure to exert global leadership on geo-political issues like Syria and Ukraine, they are clearly undermining Washington’s leadership of the world economy.

That conclusion became inescapable here during this week’s in-gathering of the world’s finance ministers and central bankers at the annual spring meeting here of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.The delays are clearly damaging Washington’s global economic and geo-political agenda: persuading other G20 countries to adopt expansionary policies and punish Moscow for its moves against Ukraine.

In the various caucuses which they attended before the formal meeting began Friday, they made clear that they were quickly running out of patience with Congress’s – specifically, the Republican-led House of Representatives – refusal to ratify a 2010 agreement by the Group of 20 (G20) to modestly democratise the IMF and expand its lending resources.

“The implementation of the 2010 reforms remains our highest priority, and we urge the U.S. to ratify these reforms at the earliest opportunity,” exhorted the G20, which represent the world’s biggest economies, in an eight-point communiqué issued here Friday.

“If the 2010 reforms are not ratified by year-end, we will call on the IMF to build on its existing work and develop options for next steps…” the statement asserted in what observers here called an unprecedented warning against the Bretton Woods agencies’ most powerful shareholder.

The message was echoed by the Group of 24 (G24) caucus, which represents developing countries, although, unlike the G20, its communique didn’t mention the U.S. by name.

“We are deeply disappointed that the IMF quota and governance reforms agreed to in 2010 have not yet come into effect due to non-ratification by its major shareholder,” the G24 said.

“This represents a significant impediment to the credibility, legitimacy and effectiveness of the Fund and inhibits the ability to undertake further, necessary reforms and meet forward-looking commitments.”

The reform package, the culmination of a process that began under Obama’s notoriously unilateralist Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, would double contributions to the IMF’s general fund to 733 billion dollars and re-allocate quotas – which determine member-states’ voting power and how much they can borrow – in a way that better reflects the relative size of emerging markets in the global economy.

In addition to enhancing the IMF’s lending resources, the main result of the pending changes would increase the quotas of China, Brazil, Russia, India, and Turkey, for example, at the expense of European members whose collective representation on the Fund’s board is far greater than the relative size of their economies.

Spain, for instance, currently has voting shares similar in size to Brazil’s, despite the fact that the Spanish economy is less than two-thirds the size of Brazil’s. And of the 24 seats on the IMF’s executive board, eight to ten of them are occupied by European governments at any one time.

The reforms would only change the status quo only modestly. While the European Union (EU) members currently hold a 30.2 percent quota collectively, that would be reduced only to 28.5 percent. The biggest gains would be made by the so-called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) – from 11 percent to 14.1 percent — although almost all of the increase would go to Beijing.

Washington’s quota would be marginally reduced – from 16.7 percent to 16.5 percent, preserving its veto power over major institutional changes (which require 85 percent of all quotas). Low-income countries’ share would remain the same at a mere 7.5 percent collectively, although their hope – shared by civil-society groups, such as Jubilee USA and the New Rules for Global Finance Coalition — is that this reform will make future changes in their favour easier.

Thus far, 144 of the IMF’s 188 member-states, including Britain, France, and Germany and other European countries that stand to lose voting share, have ratified the package. But, without the 16.7 percent U.S. quota, the reforms can’t take effect.

The Obama administration has been criticised for not pressing Congress for ratification with sufficient urgency. But, realising that its allies’ patience was running thin, it pushed hard last month to attach the reform package to legislation providing a one-billion-dollar bilateral aid package for Ukraine during the crisis with Russia over Crimea.

While the Democratic-led Senate approved the attachment, the House Republican leadership rejected it, despite the fact that Kiev would have been able to increase its borrowing from the IMF by about 50 percent under the pending reforms.

House Republicans – who, under the Tea Party’s influence, have moved ever-rightwards and become more unilateralist on foreign policy since the Bush administration – have shown great distrust for multilateral institutions of any kind.

Both the far-right Heritage Foundation and the neo-conservative Wall Street Journal have railed against the reforms, arguing variously that they could cost the U.S. taxpayer anywhere from one billion dollars to far more if IMF clients default on loans, and that the changes would reduce Washington’s ability to veto specific loans.

They say the IMF’s standard advice to its borrowers to raise taxes and devalue their currency is counter-productive and could become worse given the Fund’s new emphasis on reducing income inequalities; and that, according to the Journal, the reforms “will increase the clout of countries with different economic and geo-political interests than America’s.”

Encouraged by, among others, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and their Wall Street contributors, some House Republicans have indicated they could support the reforms. But thus far they have insisted that they would only do so in exchange for Obama’s easing new regulations restricting political activities by tax-exempt right-wing groups.

Meanwhile, however, the delays are clearly damaging Washington’s global economic and geo-political agenda – persuading other G20 countries to adopt expansionary policies and punish Moscow for its moves against Ukraine – during the meetings here.

“The proposed IMF reforms are a no-brainer,” according to Molly Elgin-Cossart, a senior fellow for national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress. “They modernise the IMF and restore American leadership on the global stage at a time when the world desperately needs it, without additional cost for American taxpayers.”

Further delay, especially now that the G20 appear to have set a deadline, could in fact reduce Washington’s influence.

While she stressed she was not prepared to give up on Congress, IMF managing director Christine Lagarde told reporters Thursday the Fund may soon have to resort to a “Plan B” to implement the reforms without Washington’s consent.

While she did not provide details of what are now backroom discussions, two highly respected former senior U.S. Treasury secretaries suggested in a letter published Thursday by the Financial Times that “the Fund should move ahead without the U.S. …by raising funds from others while depriving the U.S. of some or all of its longstanding power to block major Fund actions.”

C. Fred Bergsten and Edwin Truman, who served under Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, respectively, suggested that the IMF could make permanent an initiative to arrange temporary bilateral credit lines of nearly 500 billion dollars from 38 countries who could decide on their disposition without the U.S.

More radically, they wrote, the Fund could increase total country quota subscriptions that would remove Washington’s veto power over institutional changes.

“The U.S. deserves to lose influence if it continues to fail to lead,” the two former officials wrote.

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

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Developing Nations Seek U.N. Retaliation on Bank Cancellations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/developing-nations-seek-u-n-retaliation-bank-cancellations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=developing-nations-seek-u-n-retaliation-bank-cancellations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/developing-nations-seek-u-n-retaliation-bank-cancellations/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 23:07:29 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133573 The 132-member Group of 77, the largest single coalition of developing nations, has urged Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to provide, “as soon as possible…alternative options for banking services” in New York City following the mass cancellation of bank accounts of U.N. missions and foreign diplomats. The draft resolution, a copy of which was obtained by IPS, […]

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By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 10 2014 (IPS)

The 132-member Group of 77, the largest single coalition of developing nations, has urged Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to provide, “as soon as possible…alternative options for banking services” in New York City following the mass cancellation of bank accounts of U.N. missions and foreign diplomats.

The draft resolution, a copy of which was obtained by IPS, is an “agreed text” which has the blessings of all 132 countries, plus China.

Responding to a demand by member states for reciprocal retaliation, the G77 requests the secretary-general to review the “U.N. Secretariat’s financial relations with the JP Morgan Chase Bank and consider alternatives to such financial institutions and to report thereon, along with the information requested.”

Chase bank handles billions of dollars in the accounts maintained by the United Nations and its agencies in New York city. Credit: UN Photo/Milton Grant

Chase bank handles billions of dollars in the accounts maintained by the United Nations and its agencies in New York City. Credit: UN Photo/Milton Grant

Currently, the bank handles billions of dollars in the accounts maintained by the United Nations and its agencies in New York City.

The Group expresses “deep concern” over the decisions made by several banking institutions, including JP Morgan Chase, in closing bank accounts of mostly developing countries, and diplomats accredited to the United Nations and their relatives.

The resolution, which is subject to amendments, cites the 1947 U.S.- U.N. headquarters agreement that “guarantees the rights, obligations and the fulfillment of responsibilities by member states towards the United Nations, under the United Nations Charter and international law.”

Additionally, it cites the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations as a regulatory framework for states and international organisations, in particular the working relationship between the United Nations and the City of New York.

Citing the two agreements, the G77 is calling for all “necessary measures to ensure permanent missions accredited to the United Nations and their staff are granted equal, fair and non-discriminatory treatment by the banking system.”

Asked for an official response, U.N. Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told IPS: “We would not comment on a draft resolution.”

At a closed-door meeting of the G77 last month, speaker after speaker lambasted banks in the city for selectively cutting off the banking system from the diplomatic community, describing the action as “outrageous”.

Their anger was directed mostly at JP Morgan Chase (formerly Chemical bank) which was once considered part of the U.N. family – and a preferred bank by most diplomats – and at one time was housed in the secretariat building.

The G77 is expected to hold consultations with member states outside the Group, specifically Western nations, before tabling the resolution with the 193-member General Assembly later this month.

If any proposed amendments are aimed at weakening the resolution, the G77 will go for a vote in the Assembly with its agreed text, a G77 diplomat told IPS Thursday.

But with the Group having more than two-thirds majority in the Assembly, the resolution is expected to be adopted either with or without the support of Western nations.

If adopted by a majority vote, the secretary-general is expected to abide by the resolution and respond to its demands.

The draft resolution also requests the secretary-general to review and report to the General Assembly, within 120 days of its adoption, “of any obstacles or impediments observed in the accounts of permanent missions or their staff at the JP Morgan Chase Bank in the City of New York, and the impact these impediments have on the adequate functioning of their offices.”

And to this end, the G77 invites all members to provide the secretary-general with relevant information that will facilitate the elaboration of such report.

In an appeal to the United States, the G77 has also underscored the importance of the host country taking the necessary measures to ensure that personal data and information of persons affected by the closure of accounts is kept confidential by banking institutions, and requests the secretary-general to work with the host country in that regard and to report to the General Assembly within 90 days.

The closure of accounts was triggered by a request from the U.S. treasury, which wanted all banks to meticulously report every single transaction of some 70 “blacklisted” U.N. diplomatic missions, and individual diplomats – perhaps as part of a monitoring system to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing.

But the banks have said such an elaborate exercise is administratively expensive and cumbersome.

And as a convenient alternative, they have closed down, or are in the process of closing down, all accounts, shutting off banks from the diplomatic community in New York.

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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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Discomfort over Crimea Annexation Among Emerging Powers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/discomfort-crimea-annexation-among-emerging-powers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=discomfort-crimea-annexation-among-emerging-powers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/discomfort-crimea-annexation-among-emerging-powers/#comments Sat, 05 Apr 2014 00:00:17 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133437 Last month’s annexation by Russia of Crimea and the West’s reaction have placed emerging regional powers, which have generally supported Moscow’s position on key geopolitical developments, in a difficult position, according to U.S. analysts. Moscow’s move, which followed its de facto military takeover of the peninsula and a snap referendum on joining Russia of the […]

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Crowds waving Crimean and Russian flags in Simferopol in Crimea after the referendum. Credit: Alexey Yakushechkin/IPS

Crowds waving Crimean and Russian flags in Simferopol in Crimea after the referendum. Credit: Alexey Yakushechkin/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Apr 5 2014 (IPS)

Last month’s annexation by Russia of Crimea and the West’s reaction have placed emerging regional powers, which have generally supported Moscow’s position on key geopolitical developments, in a difficult position, according to U.S. analysts.

Moscow’s move, which followed its de facto military takeover of the peninsula and a snap referendum on joining Russia of the mainly Russian-speaking population there, has also underlined differences within the so-called BRICS bloc, which includes Brazil, India, China, and South Africa, as well as Russia.“They don’t want to be pulled into a fight between the big dogs." -- Rajan Menon

Rather than vote with Moscow, the four non-Russian BRICS members all abstained on last week’s vote at the U.N. General Assembly, which affirmed the world body’s commitment to recognise Crimea as part of Ukraine and declared the snap referendum, which took place in mid-March, invalid.

China abstained on a similar resolution in the U.N. Security Council on the eve of the referendum. Russia cast the lone veto.

“I think the Chinese decision to abstain, rather than back Russia, was a very significant decision,” said Bruce Jones, who directs the Brookings Institution’s International Order and Strategy project.

“The Chinese and the Russians have long paired up in their willingness to back each other in vetoes, and, for an issue as important as this, with the Russians putting as much emphasis on this as they did, for the Chinese to abstain was a really significant signal that they were not willing to simply close their eyes to Moscow’s action,” he told IPS.

“Overall this is an event that will sow discord within the BRICS’ grouping and will make the Chinese, Indians, Brazilians, and others think more carefully about their support for and partnership with Russia,” according to Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

Moscow’s annexation, which has been countered by a series of still-escalating economic and diplomatic sanctions imposed by U.S.-led Western nations, has provoked considerable division among both the non-Russian BRICS, as well as other members of the Non-Aligned Nations.

While only 11 countries – all of them either closely allied to Russia or reflexively anti-U.S. in foreign policy orientation – voted against the resolution, 58 countries, including the four BRICS members, as well as other politically significant countries such as Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Kenya, Pakistan, Uganda, and Vietnam, abstained.

One hundred countries voted in favour, including all European Union (EU) members, Turkey, Nigeria, Indonesia, and most of Latin America and the Gulf Arab states.

Two dozen countries didn’t show up, including several important countries with strong interests in alienating neither Russia nor the West, including several Central Asian nations with large Russian-speaking minorities.

Israel, which habitually aligns itself with Washington, and Iran, which normally opposes it but is now engaged in critical negotiations with the West over its nuclear programme, were both no-shows.

While Western leaders appear resigned to the irreversibility of Russian control of Crimea, they are hoping that what they see as the steadily rising economic and political costs incurred by Moscow – including capital flight and NATO commitments to move military assets further east toward the Russian border — will dissuade President Vladimir Putin from further adventurism either against Ukraine or in Russian-speaking areas of Romania and Moldova. Whether that works remains to be seen.

But the precedent-creating nature of Russia’s takeover – its use of military force (albeit without bloodshed), the violation of territorial integrity of a nation with internationally recognised borders, and its justification that Ukraine’s Russian-speaking population faced persecution and discrimination from what Moscow considers a regime that had illegally seized power against an elected president – has clearly troubled many nations, especially those with significant disaffected minorities.

“What is most threatening is that most states in the world are not homogenous,” said Rajan Menon, who teaches international relations at City University of New York (CUNY).

“India is a highly diverse nation, as is China and, in a way, South Africa, too. So the idea of holding a referendum to become separate states is naturally very troubling to them.”

“I think the other BRICS were all in their way quite uncomfortable with Russia’s moves in Crimea, but they’re also quite uncomfortable with the West using sanctions because they’re all quite vulnerable to that political weapon,” noted Jones, author of a just released book on the global order, ‘Still Ours to Lead: America, Rising Powers, and the Tension Between Rivalry and Restraint’.

The latter was demonstrated in the approval by the BRICS foreign ministers March 24 of a statement in which they rejected the reported suggestion by the foreign minister of Australia, which will host the next G20 summit in Brisbane in November, that Russia should be suspended or expelled form the group.

“The escalation of hostile language, sanctions and counter-sanctions, and force does not contribute to a sustainable and peaceful solution, according to international law, including the principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter,” the statement said.

While some commentators interpreted the statement as backing Moscow, Jones noted that the foreign ministers rejected language in support of the annexation that had been sought by Russia.

“That goes to the core issue of the BRICS,” he said. “They’re strategically divided at the same time that they are unified in wanting to resist the West’s using its economic leverage to pressure them.”

Moreover, he added, the idea that Russia is leading anti-Western bloc – a theme raised by more right-wing voices here since the Crimea invasion – is “nonsense.”

Indeed, Kupchan, author of a 2012 book on world order, ‘No One’s World: The West, the Rising Rest, and the Coming Global Turn’, told IPS he thinks the Western powers have gained in the international arena as a result of the Crimea crisis.

“Even though emerging powers are reluctant to align themselves clear with the West on this front, I think that they are for the most part on board with the Western response,” he said. “And the fact that so few countries have recognised Russia’s annexation of Crimes speak for itself.”

According to Menon, the BRICS want above all “a world with multiple centres of power,” a point that applies in particular to the less powerful BRICS members, namely India, Brazil, and South Africa, as well as other emerging powers.

“They don’t want to be pulled into a fight between the big dogs,” he told IPS. “They want maximum flexibility, a kind of strategic ambiguity, if you will.”

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

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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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Russia Expelled From G8, but G20? Not So Fast http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russia-expelled-g8-g20-fast/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russia-expelled-g8-g20-fast http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russia-expelled-g8-g20-fast/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 21:42:55 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133357 When Western powers, led by the United States, decided to throw Russia out of the Group of 8 (G8) industrial nations, it was aimed at punishing and “isolating” President Vladimir Putin for his intervention in Ukraine and “annexation” of Crimea. “What’s next? Expel Russia from the United Nations and the G20?” an Asian diplomat jokingly […]

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Russian President Vladimir Putin awaits leaders arriving for the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg on Sep. 5, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Russian President Vladimir Putin awaits leaders arriving for the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg on Sep. 5, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 1 2014 (IPS)

When Western powers, led by the United States, decided to throw Russia out of the Group of 8 (G8) industrial nations, it was aimed at punishing and “isolating” President Vladimir Putin for his intervention in Ukraine and “annexation” of Crimea.

“What’s next? Expel Russia from the United Nations and the G20?” an Asian diplomat jokingly asked one of his colleagues at the U.N. delegate’s lounge last week, hinting at what could only be construed as a Western political fantasy.The procedure the G7 followed to transform itself to G8 in 1998 (with the inclusion of Russia) was as opaque as the process that led to Moscow’s virtual expulsion.

The G8 move was pretty tame because it was a decision taken by seven Western industrial nations: the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Italy and Japan, along with the European Union.

But Russia is also a member of the G20, a coalition of both developed and developing countries, as well as the economic powerhouse called BRICS (comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

Australia has reportedly warned that Russia may be excluded from the next G20 summit meeting in Brisbane in November. But that is more easily said than done.

On the sidelines of last week’s Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, the foreign ministers of BRICS warned Australia against any such action.

In a statement released during the summit, the foreign ministers of BRICS said “the custodianship of the G20 belongs to all member states equally and no one member state can unilaterally determine its nature and character.”

The G20 members include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States and the European Union (EU).

At a General Assembly vote last Friday, on a resolution implicitly critical of Russia on the upheaval in Ukraine, Russia’s four BRICS partners abstained, joining 54 others.

The final vote was 100 for the resolution, 11 against, but with 58 abstentions in an Assembly with 193 votes.

Chakravarthi Raghavan, editor-emeritus of the Geneva-based South-North Development Monitor, told IPS, “The G7/G8 and the G20 are at best self-appointed informal gatherings, without any legitimacy, mere costly annual exercises, where occasionally side-event meetings are of some help.”

He pointed out that the G7/G8 originally came into being in the wake of the oil crisis to tackle economic issues and promote a dialogue of the G5/G7 with the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to promote agreements and avoid confrontations.

Soon, it became clear the G7 process was not effective, and the initial aim of informal but frank and spontaneous exchange of views among the leaders failed.

“Their own bureaucracies and ministries in governments did not want this process to move forward,” said Raghavan, a veteran journalist and a former editor-in-chief of Press Trust of India (PTI) who has covered the United Nations, both in Geneva and New York, for several decades.

But instead of abandoning the annual meetings, he said, the G7 continued to meet, with the original economic focus lost, and with costly preparations and meetings of “sherpas”, where the gatherings themselves became too formalised, and where the outcome had been already decided or agreed to at the lowest common measure of accord.

He also pointed out that the G7/G8 increasingly began pronouncing themselves on all kinds of subjects – with none of the leaders able to ensure the decisions were carried out in their own countries.

Vijay Prashad, author of “The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South”, told IPS the procedure the G7 followed to transform itself to G8 in 1998 (with the inclusion of Russia) was as opaque as the process that led to Moscow’s virtual expulsion.

The Group of Seven (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and USA) came together in 1974 to consolidate their response to the major thrust from the Third World Project: an assault of the oil weapon of 1973 that consolidated in the U.N. General Assembly resolution 3201 in May 1974 for a New International Economic Order (NIEO).

The G7 was formed, as former U.S. President Gerald Ford put it, “to ensure that the current world economic situation is not seen as a crisis in the democratic or capitalist system,” Prashad said.

“It had to be seen as a momentary shock, not a systematic challenge,” he added.

The collapse of the Third World Project, the rise of a new International Monetary Fund (IMF)-driven neo-liberal dispensation and the demise of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) moved the G7 to welcome battered Russia into its arms, said Prashad, who is the Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon.

Membership in the G7 came with the promise that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) would not move one step closer to Russia than the German border, he added.

Raghavan told IPS the annual G20 meeting pronounces itself on a range of political, economic and other arenas — but with less and less effect — whether (as they have done several times) for concluding Doha trade negotiations or other areas.

Some of their views on global financial stability – addressed to the Bank of International Settlements – have factually been very diluted in actual decisions and norms because of the lobbying of the big financial groups, both in New York and London, said Raghavan, author of the just released “Third World in the Third Millennium”.

Prashad said when the credit crisis startled the West in 2007, the G8 hastened to China and India, asking for funds.

If the money came – as it did – the G8 would wind up its operations and the G20 (with Brazil, China, India and South Africa as members) would take over as the effective executive managers of planetary affairs – which it did not, he added.

The G20 had been formed during the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 to ward off any nationalistic reactions to that crash.

“As the Western stock markets rallied by 2011, the promise was forgotten,” he said.

The G8 continued – much to the chagrin of the BRICS bloc, which had assumed it would now share power.

They agree the West’s move east is dangerous, and it is unlikely they will allow for the expulsion of Russia from the G20 – itself of limited consequence, he noted.

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Q&A: “Bolivia Marked the Start of a Major Indigenous Awakening” http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/133318/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=133318 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/133318/#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 16:46:13 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133318 Marianela Jarroud interviews Álvaro García Linera, vice president of Bolivia

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Marianela Jarroud interviews Álvaro García Linera, vice president of Bolivia

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Mar 31 2014 (IPS)

He describes himself as someone who was drawn to Marxism as a result of his commiseration with the plight of indigenous people in his country, and he is considered one of the most influential Latin American thinkers of the 21st century.

Álvaro García Linera, 51, is seen as the “right hand man” of Bolivia’s leftist President Evo Morales.

Bolivia’s 51-year-old vice president took part in the foundation of the Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army, whose aim was to support the indigenous insurgency. In 1997 he was released after five years in the San Pedro prison in La Paz.

Bolivian Vice President Álvaro García Linera during his recent visit to Santiago. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Bolivian Vice President Álvaro García Linera during his recent visit to Santiago. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

He is also one of the main forces behind the lawsuit against Chile that Bolivia filed at the International Court of Justice in The Hague to reclaim access to the Pacific Ocean, which his country lost in the 1879-1883 War of the Pacific.

Bolivia has not had diplomatic ties with Chile since 1978. But during Chilean President Michelle Bachelet’s first term (2006-2010), relations warmed with Morales – in office since 2006 – although they cooled again under the government of Chile’s right-wing former president Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014).

Now that Bachelet, a socialist, is back in office since Mar. 11, the Bolivian government wants to renew diplomatic relations. The Chilean administration has stated that while it is open to dialogue, the dispute will be settled in The Hague.

García Linera makes no secret of his hopes that “things could change.”

“If a dictator like (Chilean General Augusto) Pinochet (1973-1990) proposed access to the sea for Bolivia in the 1970s, we hope a democratic, socialist government could make that right a reality in the 21st century,” he said during a brief visit to Chile on Tuesday Mar. 25.

The vice president was in Santiago to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Art and Social Sciences, where he gave a lecture to an audience of 350 people.

In this interview with IPS, García Linera said Bolivia has taught Latin America a lesson by recognising, in its 2009 constitution, that it is a “plurinational” state. The 54-year-old Morales, a member of the Aymara community, is the first native president in the history of Bolivia, a country with a historically downtrodden indigenous majority.

Q: Given the experience of the indigenous government in Bolivia, how do you see the movements of other native peoples in Latin America, who also demand that their rights be respected and who hope to eventually hold political power?

A: What has happened in Bolivia marks the start of a major popular, indigenous awakening. No two experiences are ever the same, and we can’t expect something similar to happen in other countries. But what is common to the entire continent is that all Latin American societies are plurinational, but not the states themselves.

There is social and cultural diversity, a strong social presence of indigenous peoples to a greater or lesser extent. But the state remains monocultural, and to a certain point ethnocidal, because it kills the diversity of cultures. So Bolivia has been a pioneer in showing the need for plurinational states.

Q: Has the process in Bolivia provided lessons for the rest of Latin America?

A: In first place, in the case of Bolivia, the adoption of social concerns by the government was organised by the indigenous movement because it is a majority. And in other places perhaps the indigenous movement isn’t in a leadership position.

But any other social, cultural, labour-related, urban sector that wants to lead the struggle for equality, justice and recognition is obliged to incorporate among its issues the question of recognition of the plurinational society in the plurinational state. That is what is missing, and that is Bolivia’s message.

The second message is that popular issues can be a central focus of the state and the nation, and that it is possible for the leadership of a country and the definition of its goals to be based on the popular concerns set forth by social movements.

Q: What concrete role do indigenous people currently play in your country? Have they achieved political and economic predominance in proportion with their status as a majority in the population?

A: Yes. The subordinate sectors, which were previously dominated, discriminated against, considered inferior, unfit and incapable, are today in power in the government.

The indigenous way of thinking and organisational structures of mobilisation, decision-making and deliberation are now the core of the state organisation.

Social movements, at the head of the indigenous movement, now hold the power.

And since they achieved power, there have been changes in legislation to consolidate equal rights, equal opportunities, recognition of special collective rights for indigenous peoples, incorporation of the indigenous narrative in the Bolivian narrative, and use of public resources not only to reduce inequalities but also to empower economic and cultural activities of the indigenous sectors that were previously excluded.

Q: In the context of the cultural revolution led by Morales, what is needed to put an end to poverty and complete the programmes that provide assistance to the neediest segments of the population?

A: We have made a great deal of progress. Extreme poverty – people living on less than a dollar a day – stood at 45 percent eight years ago. Of every 10 Bolivians, four, almost five, lived on less than a dollar a day. Outrageous.

In eight years, that proportion has been reduced to 20 percent. That is still outrageous, but the reduction by more than 25 percentage points reflects an irrevocable decision to use the common assets or common property to put an end to the historical inequality of extreme poverty.

There is still much to be done. Social sectors, the rural and indigenous movement, that in the past were not taken into account in public policies are today the groups that are designing public policies in consultation with other sectors – but they are the ones leading the policy-making.

Now almost half of all public spending, the state’s resources, which have grown nearly ninefold due to the nationalisation of the country’s natural gas and oil, and which in the past went strictly to business-related segments, go to the sectors that were previously marginalised in our country.

There has been a growing empowerment of the indigenous economy, the rural peasant economy, the neglected popular sectors, which has made it possible for them to gradually improve their living conditions.

Before we reached the government, the average annual income was 800 dollars. Now it is 3,300 dollars. That’s still very low, but we have increased it nearly fourfold. And our objective, if we keep up this pace of stability and growth, is for the average real annual income of Bolivians to reach 12,000 dollars by 2020. That might still be low in comparison to the rest of Latin America, but it wouldn’t be so low anymore.

One fact: eight years ago, Chile produced 13 times more wealth than Bolivia. The gap was enormous. Today the difference is one to eight; by the end of this decade it will be one to four; and by 2025 it will be one to two. In other words, more wealth is being generated, and that wealth is being distributed among the neediest, and among those who were neglected in the past.

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Commonwealth Works to Raise Climate Resilience on Global Agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/commonwealth-works-push-climate-resiliance-global-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=commonwealth-works-push-climate-resiliance-global-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/commonwealth-works-push-climate-resiliance-global-agenda/#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 14:07:50 +0000 Peter Richards http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133315 As they fine-tune preparations for the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Conference in Samoa and the United Nations post-2015 development framework meeting in September, Commonwealth states are focusing on getting the international community to pay more attention to the challenges they face. “One of the key reasons that climate change is actually a substantial topic […]

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Seychelles Foreign Minister Jean Paul Adams (centre), flanked by Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma (left) and another Commonwealth official. Credit: Peter Richards/IPS

Seychelles Foreign Minister Jean Paul Adams (centre), flanked by Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma (left) and another Commonwealth official. Credit: Peter Richards/IPS

By Peter Richards
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Mar 31 2014 (IPS)

As they fine-tune preparations for the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Conference in Samoa and the United Nations post-2015 development framework meeting in September, Commonwealth states are focusing on getting the international community to pay more attention to the challenges they face.

“One of the key reasons that climate change is actually a substantial topic in terms of the international arena is because of the advocacy of island states,” Seychelles Foreign Minister Jean Paul Adams told IPS at the 53-member Commonwealth‘s third Biennial Conference on Small States last week."We are vulnerable, but we are not weak." -- Seychelles Foreign Minister Jean Paul Adams

“I think we are vulnerable, but we are not weak. We’ve got a lot to offer, we have a lot of strengths and we must use those strengths,” he said.

The two-day meeting targeted five key areas of concern for small states, including redirecting funding for climate change initiatives.

“Exposure to environmental shocks, together with the deeply integrated nature of small states’ economies, social wellbeing and the natural resource base, make environmental management an important element of resilience building in these countries,” the Commonwealth said in an outcome statement.

It said the meeting shared ideas on environmental governance indicators for resilience-building and reviewed approaches to ocean governance to maximise the benefits accruing to small states from their extensive marine areas.

St. Lucia’s Foreign Minister Alva Baptiste said it was impossible to speak about development “if we do not consider sustainability and protecting our patrimony for succeeding generations.

“Less than 20 years ago, some of the most powerful nations on the planet were trying to dodge the warnings about climate change because they felt it was a problem of poor countries, but today as the devastation of climate change continues its decimating march across Europe, North America and other parts of the globe, the inescapable reality seems to be finally hitting home,” he said.

“So America has acknowledged that colder winters are not climatic accidents. Russia has accepted its warmer winter as a phenomenon of climate change, and Europe has recognised its wetter rains as climate change in action,” he said.

“There must be a recognition, especially among the richer nations, that regardless of our GDP (gross domestic product) status, we are resource-poor and in need of financial resources to undertake resilience-building work,” he said.

Delegates also highlighted the need for ocean forecasting to predict impacts from climate change; action on land-based sources of pollution; and efforts to strengthen oceans and seas issues in the Third International Conference on SIDS process (SIDS 2014).

Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma said the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat has the capacity to represent small island states within the international community on their concerns.

“The Commonwealth is the preferred interlocutor for the group of 20 working group on development and they look forward to all the input that we can bring from the outer world,” he told IPS.

“We say very often that 90 percent of the world’s GDP is on the table of the G20, but 90 percent of the world’s countries are outside [that bloc of large economies]. So who is going to make available the dilemmas and the anxieties and the expectations of the outside world? The Commonwealth does it in a variety of ways.”

Sharma said the grouping is in the process of developing a financial instrument that would stem the economic “free-fall” of any economy should it suffer from the downsides of global development.

“The instruments that we are developing now…are both on the concept of resilience as well as the practical tool kit for various types of counter cyclical loans; which means that once an external shock is experienced, your financial obligations get naturally and immediately readjusted’, Sharma said, hinting at a debt swap for climate change, “a practical suggestion now being considered by the international community at large”.

Adams said that small island states are among the first to feel the impact of climate change “whether it be through extreme weather events or sea level rise or other issues that affect basically how we are able to create wealth that can be shared amongst our people.

“We don’t have huge natural resources that we can suddenly start exploiting. We don’t have huge populations to get economies of scale so we have to look at the things that we are able to offer…and create a framework which is more conducive for those issues,” he told IPS.

Recalling the devastation caused by heavy rains to his island, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines over the Christmas holidays, St. Lucia’s Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony said the question remains how much longer small states will have to lobby for an internationally accepted differentiated approach to aid for small states.

“You can turn to Grenada with Hurricane Ivan in September of 2004, where damages were well over a billion U.S. dollars, or nearly 200 percent of GDP,” he said. “You can go through nearly all the islands of the Caribbean and you would see the impact of such extreme weather events.”

The problems confronting the region are not limited to extreme weather events, he noted. Last week, the regional countries participated in a simulation for a tsunami.

“We have seen the earthquake destruction of Haiti in the year 2010 and the volcanic disaster of Montserrat. We have been warned to expect a ‘big one’, an earthquake of immense destructive power,” he added. “In response to these calamities, the pledges are often many; the delivery of the promises, not so many.”

He said the realities of climate change must catapult small states to be leaders in climate change adaptation, “because we exist largely as coastal populations threatened by sea-level rise, the bleaching of coral reefs and the desertification of some territories.”

“The economic and environmental imperative is that we commit more forcefully to renewable energy and energy efficiency,” Anthony said.

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U.N. Diplomats, Cut Off from Banks, Seek Haven in Mattresses http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/u-n-diplomats-cut-banks-seek-haven-mattresses/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-diplomats-cut-banks-seek-haven-mattresses http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/u-n-diplomats-cut-banks-seek-haven-mattresses/#comments Tue, 25 Mar 2014 17:33:55 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133206 Addressing a closed-door meeting of the Group of 77 (G77) developing countries last week, a visibly angry Latin American delegate recounted the growing new hostility towards foreign diplomats in New York city. In some residential buildings, he said, there were covert signs conveying an unfriendly message: “Pets and diplomats not welcome.” It is bad enough […]

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Chase handles most of the accounts and money transfers of the United Nations and its agencies, running into billions of dollars. Credit: Jim the Photographer/cc by 2.0

Chase handles most of the accounts and money transfers of the United Nations and its agencies, running into billions of dollars. Credit: Jim the Photographer/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 25 2014 (IPS)

Addressing a closed-door meeting of the Group of 77 (G77) developing countries last week, a visibly angry Latin American delegate recounted the growing new hostility towards foreign diplomats in New York city.

In some residential buildings, he said, there were covert signs conveying an unfriendly message: “Pets and diplomats not welcome.”

It is bad enough for U.N. diplomats to be lumped together in the company of dogs and cats in the city’s high-rise buildings, he bluntly told delegates, but now “the banking sector is treating us as criminals.”

At a meeting of the 132-member G77, the largest single coalition of developing countries, speaker after speaker lambasted banks in the city for selectively cutting off the banking system from the diplomatic community, describing the action as “outrageous”.

Their anger was directed mostly at JP Morgan Chase (formerly Chemical bank) which was once considered part of the U.N. family – and a preferred bank by most diplomats – and at one time housed in the secretariat building.

G77 Strikes Back

The Group of 77 developing countries is currently in the process of drafting a resolution, which will eventually go before the 193-member General Assembly, condemning the actions of the banks and asking the secretary-general to intervene.

The draft, which is expected to undergo changes at the next G77 meeting, will request the secretary-general to review and report to the General Assembly, within the next 120 days following the adoption of the resolution.

The G77 wants to specifically single out "any obstacles or impediments" observed in the accounts opened by the Permanent Missions of Member States or their staff, and the impact these impediments have on the adequate functioning of their offices.

The draft resolution also requests the secretary-general to submit to the General Assembly, a set of recommendations and a proposal oriented to reviewing the U.N. Secretariat's financial relation with banks, specifically JP Morgan Chase, and considering alternatives to such financial institutions.

The resolution further requests the secretary-general, to provide member states with alternative options regarding banking services in New York City, to allow them to adequately manage and maintain their accounts, assessed budgetary contributions, voluntary contributions, transfers and other financial activities directly related to their membership to the United Nations, and their Permanent Missions.

The G77 is asking the secretary-general to hold "proper negotiations on this matter in his capacity as U.N. chief administration officer, including with the host country, that all Permanent Missions and their staff will be granted an equal, fair, and non-discriminatory treatment from the referred institutions when conducting their respective accounts."

Additionally, it requests the host country, the United States, to take the necessary measures to ensure that personal data and information of persons affected by closure of accounts is kept confidential by the banks, and to report on those measures to the Secretary General within two to three months after the adoption of this resolution by the General Assembly.

When the dispute first erupted in 2011, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations sent a letter sent to all member states in which it said that JP Morgan Chase is a private sector bank and its decisions are made for 'business reasons alone'.

"The government of the United States has no authority to force banks to continue to serve their customers or to open or close any accounts," it said.

Chase also handles most of the accounts and money transfers of the United Nations and its agencies, running into billions of dollars.

The U.S. treasury apparently has informed all banks that every single transaction of some 70 “blacklisted” U.N. diplomatic missions, and even individual diplomats, be meticulously reported back to Washington (perhaps as part of a monitoring system to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing).

The banks have responded that such an elaborate exercise is administratively expensive and cumbersome. So as a convenient alternative, they have closed down, or are in the process of closing down, all accounts, shutting out the diplomatic community in New York.

As one diplomat warned, if this situation continues, “we may have to request cash in diplomatic pouches from our home countries, and bank our money under mattresses.”

There are reports that some diplomatic missions want to pay their annual dues to the United Nations in hard cash, while others, citing “diplomatic reciprocity”, want the Secretariat to retaliate by closing its own accounts with these banks.

Ian Williams, a longstanding U.N. correspondent and senior analyst at Foreign Policy in Focus, wonders why banks should even bother monitoring U.N. missions and diplomats when the U.S National Security Agency (NSA) can perhaps do a better job.

The NSA, which has already been accused of tapping telephones and monitoring the movements of diplomats, could probably provide details of all bank transactions entered electronically, he said, because they are known to have the capacity to do so.

“Unless you can find a bank that uses paper ledgers and an abacus,” Williams told IPS, with tongue firmly entrenched in his cheek.

When the United Nations decided to locate its secretariat in the city of New York, the United States signed a ‘headquarters agreement’ back in 1947 not only ensuring diplomatic immunity to foreign diplomats but also pledging to facilitate the day-to-day activities of member states without any hindrance.

Williams said the United States has never been enthusiastic at accommodating itself to international law, as was proven when the General Assembly temporarily relocated to Geneva because Washington refused a visa for Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat to visit New York in December 1988.

In his address to the General Assembly session in Geneva, perhaps the only one of its kind, Arafat took a swipe at Washington when he prefaced his statement by saying “it never occurred to me that my second meeting with this honourable Assembly, since 1974, would take place in the hospitable city of Geneva”.

The story about the new dispute between the diplomatic community and the banks surfaced in the Inner City Press blog last week.

But IPS ran a detailed story titled Banks Blacklist U.N. Missions back in January 2011, when financial institutions first imposed this rule on some U.N. missions, but not on diplomats.

At the G77 meeting, the most vocal country was China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, which complained that its bank accounts were closed in 2011.

The problem was not the closed accounts per se, said a Chinese delegate, “but more serious was the issue that some countries were targeted, mostly developing countries.”

An Asian diplomat told IPS that to the best of his knowledge, the bank accounts of most, or all, Western missions were left untouched.

“Why this double standard?” he asked.

Besides China, the countries that led the protest at the G77 meeting included Bolivia (the current G77 chair), Colombia, Argentina, Iran, Kenya, Sudan, Algeria, Zimbabwe, Honduras and Sri Lanka.

Ambassador Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s permanent representative to the United Nations, told IPS there has been a suggestion that the U.N. Secretariat wield its considerable commercial clout by ceasing to deal with banks which have closed the accounts of certain diplomatic missions and diplomats attached to such missions

“The U.N.’s transactions amount to many billions of dollars per year,” he noted. “If the diplomats of member states and their missions are not welcome at these banks, why should the United Nations, which is an organisation of the same member states, continue to deal with them?”

Williams said there is an underlying principle of ‘do as we say, not do as we do’.

Presumably, under the Vienna Conventions, diplomatic bank accounts should have similar protections as other diplomatic communications, but the banks would need assurances from the U.S. authorities to exempt them from the Orwellian scrutiny they subject everybody else to, he added.

“So the missions will now be forced to send cash – tending to suspicions of money laundering. Indeed, we know some missions have done just that, but U.S. insularity now gives them an excuse for their behavior,” said Williams, U.N. correspondent for the Tribune and author of “U.N. for Beginners”.

Asked for an official response, U.N.’s Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS the secretary-general shares the concerns of the Group of 77, and the U.N. has taken up the issue with the host country and Chase.

“The Secretariat has also initiated discussions with other financial institutions to assist with finding alternative banking arrangements for the affected missions and their staff,” he added.

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Putting Climate Polluters in the Dock http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/putting-climate-polluters-dock/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=putting-climate-polluters-dock http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/putting-climate-polluters-dock/#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 13:30:25 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133178 Can Caribbean governments take legal action against other countries that they believe are warming the planet with devastating consequences? A former regional diplomat argues the answer is yes. Ronald Sanders, who is also a senior research fellow at London University, says such legal action would require all Small Island Developing States (SIDS) acting together. He […]

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Workmen clear a road blocked by a landslide in Trinidad. Compensation for loss and damage from climate change has become a major demand of developing countries. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Workmen clear a road blocked by a landslide in Trinidad. Compensation for loss and damage from climate change has become a major demand of developing countries. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Mar 24 2014 (IPS)

Can Caribbean governments take legal action against other countries that they believe are warming the planet with devastating consequences?

A former regional diplomat argues the answer is yes. Ronald Sanders, who is also a senior research fellow at London University, says such legal action would require all Small Island Developing States (SIDS) acting together."There is a moral case to be raised at the United Nations...It would require great leadership, great courage and great unity." -- Ronald Sanders

He believes the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) would be amenable to hearing their arguments, although the court’s requirement that all parties to a dispute agree to its jurisdiction would be a major stumbling block.

“It is most unlikely that the countries that are warming the planet, which incidentally now include India and China, not just the United States, Canada and the European Union…[that] they would agree to jurisdiction,” Sanders told IPS.

“The alternative, if countries wanted to press the issue of compensation for the destruction caused by climate change, is that they would have to go to the United Nations General Assembly.”

Sanders said that the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries could “as a group put forward a resolution stating the case that they do believe, and there is evidence to support it, that climate change and global warming is having a material effect… on the integrity of their countries.

“We’re seeing coastal areas vanishing and we know that if sea level rise continues large parts of existing islands will disappear and some of them may even be submerged, so the evidence is there.”

Sanders pointed to the damaging effects of flooding and landslides in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, and Dominica as 2013 came to an end.

The prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, described the flooding and landslides as “unprecedented” and gave a preliminary estimate of damage in his country alone to be in excess of 60 million dollars.

“People who live in the Caribbean know from their own experience that climate change is real,” Sanders said.

“They know it from days and nights that are hotter than in the past, from more frequent and more intense hurricanes or freak years like the last one when there were none, from long periods of dry weather followed by unseasonal heavy rainfall and flooding, and from the recognisable erosion of coastal areas and reefs.”

For the first time in several years, Antigua's main water source, Portworks Dam, has run out of water as drought continues. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

For the first time in several years, Antigua’s main water source, Potworks Reservoir, has run out of water as drought continues. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

At the U.N. climate talks in Warsaw last November, developing countries fought hard for the creation of a third pillar of a new climate treaty to be finalised in 2015. After two weeks and 36 straight hours of negotiations, they finally won the International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (IMLD), to go with the mitigation (emissions reduction) and adaptation pillars.

The details of that mechanism will be hammered out at climate talks in Bonn this June, and finally in Paris the following year. As chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), Nauru will be present at a meeting in New Delhi next week of the BASIC group (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) to try and build a common platform for the international talks.

“It isn’t just the Caribbean, of course,” Sanders said. “A number of other countries in the world – the Pacific countries – are facing an even more pressing danger than we are at the moment. There are countries in Africa that are facing this problem, and countries in Asia,” he told IPS.

“Now if they all join together, there is a moral case to be raised at the United Nations and maybe that is the place at which we would more effectively press it if we acted together. It would require great leadership, great courage and great unity,” he added.

Pointing to the OECD countries, Sir Ronald said they act together, consult with each other and come up with a programme which they then say is what the international standard must be and the developing countries must accept it.

“Why do the developing countries not understand that we could reverse that process? We can stand up together and say look, this is what we are demanding and the developed countries would then have to listen to what the developing countries are saying,” Sir Ronald said.

Following their recent 25th inter-sessional meeting in St. Vincent, Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller praised the increased focus that CARICOM leaders have placed on the issue of climate change, especially in light of the freak storm last year that devastated St. Lucia, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

At that meeting, heads of government agreed on the establishment of a task force on climate change and SIDS to provide guidance to Caribbean climate change negotiators, their ministers and political leaders in order to ensure the strategic positioning of the region in the negotiations.

In Antigua, where drought has persisted for months, water catchments are quickly drying up. The water manager at the state-owned Antigua Public utilities Authority (APUA), Ivan Rodrigues, blames climate change.

“We know that the climate is changing and what we need to do is to cater for it and deal with it,” he told IPS.

But he is not sold on the idea of international legal action against the large industrialised countries.

“I think what will cause [a reversal of their practices] is consumer activism,” he said. “The argument may not be strong enough for a court of law to actually penalise a government.”

But Sanders firmly believes an opinion from the International Court of Justice would make a huge difference.

“We could get an opinion. If the United Nations General Assembly were to accept a resolution that, say, we want an opinion from the International Court of Jurists on this matter, I think we could get an opinion that would be favourable to a case for the Caribbean and other countries that are affected by climate change,” he told IPS.

“If there was a case where countries, governments and large companies knew that if they continue these harmful practices, action would be taken against them, of course they would change their position because at the end of the day they want to be profitable and successful. They don’t want to be having to fight court cases and losing them and then having to pay compensation,” he added.

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Brazilian Innovation for Under-financed Mozambican Agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/brazilian-innovation-financed-mozambican-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazilian-innovation-financed-mozambican-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/brazilian-innovation-financed-mozambican-agriculture/#comments Wed, 12 Mar 2014 08:15:41 +0000 Amos Zacarias http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132711 Some of the technological excellence that revolutionised Brazil’s tropical agriculture is reaching small producers in Mozambique. But it is not enough to compensate for the underfinancing of the sector. Last year, Erasmo Laldás, a 37-year-old farmer who has worked for 15 years in Namaacha, a village 75 kilometres from Mozambique’s capital Maputo, planted 15,000 seedlings […]

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Erasmo Laldás on his strawberry farm in Naamacha, Mozambique. Credit: Amos Zacarias/IPS

Erasmo Laldás on his strawberry farm in Naamacha, Mozambique. Credit: Amos Zacarias/IPS

By Amos Zacarias
MAPUTO, Mar 12 2014 (IPS)

Some of the technological excellence that revolutionised Brazil’s tropical agriculture is reaching small producers in Mozambique. But it is not enough to compensate for the underfinancing of the sector.

Last year, Erasmo Laldás, a 37-year-old farmer who has worked for 15 years in Namaacha, a village 75 kilometres from Mozambique’s capital Maputo, planted 15,000 seedlings of Festival, a new strawberry variety originated in the United States.

Laldás produced seven tonnes of strawberries, employing eight workers. He sold all his produce in Maputo, and in January was the lead vendor in that market, because there was already a shortage of the fruit in South Africa, his main competitor.Mozambique invests very little in the agricultural sector, although it has been increasing its expenditure. In 2013 it devoted 7.6 percent of its budget to agriculture, equivalent to some six billion dollars.

“The fruit is very good quality, it does not require as many chemical products as the South African strawberries and its harvesting season is longer than the native variety that I was growing before,” he told IPS.

Laldás is the first Mozambican producer to benefit from Brazilian and U.S. aid through technical support to the Mozambique Food and Nutrition Security Programme (PSAL).

Created in 2012, the project brings together the Mozambique Institute of Agricultural Research (IIAM), the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), to expand production and distribution capabioities for fruit and vegetables in this African country.

First of all, studies were needed to adapt seeds to the local climate.

IIAM received more than 90 varieties of tomato, cabbage, lettuce, carrot and pepper, which are being tested at the Umbeluzi Agricultural Station, 25 kilometres from Maputo.

“The results of the trials are encouraging; we identified 17 varieties that have the desired phytosanitary characteristics, and are ready to be distributed to farmers.

“We are waiting for them to be registered and approved under the seal of Mozambique,” IIAM researcher Carvalho Ecole told IPS, regretting that his country has not registered new fruit and vegetable varieties for the past 50 years.

Fruit and vegetable growing is a key sector for generating employment and income among small farmers, as this produce represents 20 percent of family expenditure, according to Ecole.

“For a long time, horticulture was neglected. When talking about food security the government thought only about maize, sorghum and cassava,” Ecole said. Moreover, “our producers still do not have credit or financing,” he complained.

South Africa is the largest supplier of fruit and vegetables for southern Mozambique. IIAM figures show that prior to 2010, nearly all the onions, 65 percent of tomatoes and 57 percent of cabbages consumed in the cities of Maputo and Matola were South African. And those proportions have been maintained.

As a result, prices are high. A kilo of tomatoes costs between 50 and 60 meticals (between 1.60 and 2 dollars) and onions a little less. When the new varieties that have been tested are available for national small farmers, prices will be lower, Ecole said.

Mozambique also imports mangos, bananas, oranges, avocados, strawberries and other fruit from South Africa.

“We need to train and empower local small farmers so that in the years to come they can produce enough to supply the domestic market,” José Bellini, EMBRAPA’s coordinator in Mozambique, told IPS.

Agricultural cooperation is the path chosen by Brazil, ever since the Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva government (2003-2011), to consolidate its development aid policy, especially in Africa.

Embrapa, a state body made up of 47 research centres located throughout Brazil and several agencies abroad, has worked to transfer part of the knowledge of tropical agriculture accumulated over its 41 years of existence to other countries of the developing South. Its office for Africa was installed in Ghana.

But Brazil’s presence in Mozambique became unequalled with the creation of ProSAVANA, the Triangular Co-operation Programme for Agricultural Development of the Tropical Savannah in Mozambique, supported by the Brazilian and Japanese cooperation agencies (ABC and JICA, respectively), inspired by the experience that made the South American power a granary for the world and the largest exporter of soya.

The goal in the next two decades is to benefit directly 400,000 small and medium farmers and indirectly another 3.6 million, strengthening production and productivity in the northern Nacala Corridor.

Brazil is to build a laboratory for soil and plant analysis in the city of Lichinga. Embrapa is training IIAM researchers and modernising two local research centres.

But ProSAVANA is a controversial programme.

Small farmers and activists are afraid that it will reproduce Brazilian problems, such as the predominance of agribusiness, monoculture, the concentration of land tenure and production by only a few transnational companies, in a country like Mozambique where 80 percent of the population is engaged in family agriculture.

Students at the Agrarian Middle Institute in Inhambane study the development of a variety of lettuce at the Umbeluzi Agricultural Station in Mozambique. Credit: Amos Zacarias/IPS

Students at the Agrarian Middle Institute in Inhambane study the development of a variety of lettuce at the Umbeluzi Agricultural Station in Mozambique. Credit: Amos Zacarias/IPS

Supporting the PSAL makes sense in a very different way. It focuses on vegetable growing, and is clearly aimed at small producers and improving local nutrition. But it suffers from limitations of scale and resources.

“We cannot improve our production system without investment. We have taken a giant step, there is more research and technology transfer, but large investments are needed as well,” said Ecole.

Mozambique invests very little in the agricultural sector, although it has been increasing its expenditure. In 2013 it devoted 7.6 percent of its budget to agriculture, equivalent to some six billion dollars.

Thirty percent of the country’s population are hungry, according to 2012 figures from the Technical Secretariat for Food and Nutrition Security. And nearly 80,000 children under the age of five die every year from malnutrition, according to Save the Children, an NGO.

There is no justification for these figures in Mozambique, which has a favourable climate and plentiful labour for large-scale agricultural production, Ecole said.

Namaacha illustrates the contradiction. It is the only district in the country that produces strawberries. It was able to supply the entire Maputo market, but many producers were bankrupted by lack of credit, said Cecília Ruth Bila, the head of the fruits section in IIAM.

“The small farmers find it difficult to get financing, and our banks do not help much, so producers give up,” she complained.

Nearly 150 strawberry farmers in Namaacha gave up growing them in the last five years because they lacked access to credit, according to information from the section.

Laldás is one of the few to continue. Perhaps that is why his dreams are so ambitious. This year he has asked for 150,000 seedlings to expand his growing area to three hectares, and meanwhile he is seeking financing to put in electricity, three greenhouses, an irrigation system and a small improvement industry.

“It will cost me a total of nearly six million meticals [nearly 200,000 dollars],” he said with optimism.

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

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Bachelet to Recalibrate Chile’s Foreign Policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/bachelet-recalibrate-chiles-foreign-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bachelet-recalibrate-chiles-foreign-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/bachelet-recalibrate-chiles-foreign-policy/#comments Tue, 11 Mar 2014 22:21:29 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132690 For the past four years, the foreign policy of Chile, South America’s “miracle”, has focused more on economic  than political issues. Socialist Michelle Bachelet, sworn in this Tuesday Mar. 11 for her second (but not consecutive) term as president, must now recalibrate those policies, which have scored some successes but have also sparked tensions and […]

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Michelle Bachelet speaking to international media correspondents. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Michelle Bachelet speaking to international media correspondents. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Mar 11 2014 (IPS)

For the past four years, the foreign policy of Chile, South America’s “miracle”, has focused more on economic  than political issues.

Socialist Michelle Bachelet, sworn in this Tuesday Mar. 11 for her second (but not consecutive) term as president, must now recalibrate those policies, which have scored some successes but have also sparked tensions and conflicts.

During her election campaign, Bachelet said the foreign policy of the outgoing president, rightwing Sebastián Piñera, had a “mercantile emphasis,” and promised she would employ a more political approach.

Her government programme contains a harsh critique.

“Chile has lost presence in the region, its relations with its neighbours are problematic, a commercial vision has been imposed on our Latin American links, and external integration options have been ideologised,” the programme says.

The War of the Pacific

Chile fought against the adjacent countries of Bolivia and Peru in the War of the Pacific (1879-1883) in which an estimated 14,000 to 23,000 people were killed.

The embers of the conflict are still very much alive, especially in Bolivia and Peru, which lost significant amounts of territory to Chile.

Peru lost what is now the Chilean region of Tarapacá, and Bolivia lost what is now Antofagasta, as well as its access to the Pacific ocean.

Chile and Bolivia broke off diplomatic relations in 1978 and the tension between them continues, due to Bolivia’s demand for the recovery of its outlet to the sea.
International analyst Francisca Quiroga of the Universidad Arcis says that this country “must rebuild relationships because it has had latent, manifest, and some critical conflicts, and has invalidated and excluded its relations with neighbouring countries.”

During the Piñera government, “which had less political talent and lacked a narrative,”  discourse on Chile as an economically and commercially successful country was emphasised, something that had been present in its foreign policy since 25 years ago, Quiroga, a professor at the Diplomatic Academy, told IPS.

Bachelet (2006-2010) has ample political capital in the region and in the world, which was enhanced by her role as executive director of U.N. Women.

In her last international appearance as the president of Chile, at the 21st Rio Group Summit in Mexico in 2010, Bachelet’s leadership qualities were evident in her speech, which received an enthusiastic ovation.

“You can count on Chile, today and tomorrow, to work for our continent and for our Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). You can always count  on today’s president of Chile, who will always be a woman of Chile,” she said.

Bachelet has a close relationship with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who said she looks forward to deepening ties with Chile and affirmed that they both have “a clear understanding of the role of integration in South America.”

She is also close to Argentine President Cristina Fernández, who calls her a “dear friend,” and is on good terms with Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa.

Piñera, in contrast, was closer to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, and promoted the Pacific Alliance which also includes Mexico and Peru, seeking to create a free trade area, boost economic competitiveness and become a platform for exercising influence, especially in the Asia Pacific region.

Fundamental aspects of Piñera’s foreign policy “were subordinated to certain commercial and economic interests,” political scientist Fabián Pressacco, of the Universidad Alberto Hurtado, told IPS.

However, Piñera denies that his government neglected regional political, social and cultural issues. “That does not correspond with reality,” he told IPS during a press conference with foreign journalists.

The emphasis on the Pacific Alliance, created in 2011, “did not mean that we neglected the continent,” Piñera said.

His government worked for global integration and promoted “wider strategies that included political, social and cultural aspects,” he added.

And it participated actively in mechanisms like CELAC and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), among others, Piñera said.

But according to Quiroga, his handling of foreign policy has created some urgent challenges.

The first of these is strengthening relations with Argentina, Bolivia and Peru, the countries with which Chile shares borders.

Next, “a long-term working agenda should be established, to strengthen Latin American integration, in which relations with Brazil, Ecuador and Mexico should be secured by means of a strategy of public policies and not only commercially motivated actions,” said Quiroga.

Bachelet has nominated distinguished diplomat Heraldo Muñoz, a former ambassador of Chile to the United Nations and a high official of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as her foreign minister.

Muñoz will have to address the ongoing conflicts with Peru, which Piñera dealt with by a policy known as “cuerdas separadas” (separating commercial issues and territorial disputes as “separate strings”), maintaining relations almost entirely on the commercial plane, while the International Court of Justice (ICJ) debated a bilateral maritime dispute.

The new foreign minister will also have to face problems with Bolivia, a country with which Chile broke off diplomatic relations in 1978. Bolivia took its claim for a sovereign outlet to the sea to the ICJ in The Hague in 2013.

In spite of the tensions and exchanges of words with Piñera, Bolivian President Evo Morales decided to attend the handover ceremony, and his vice president, Álvaro García Linera, announced he would visit Chile at the end of March as a gesture of “rapprochement,” his advisers told IPS.

With Bachelet as president, relations with Argentina will also be smoother, analysts say.

Ties with Argentina have been strained by the political asylum granted by Buenos Aires to Galvarino Apablaza, a former guerrilla prosecuted in Chile for the 1991 murder of rightwing senator Jaime Guzmán, and by a dispute between the Chilean airline LAN and Argentine airport authorities.

“UNASUR should become a point of convergence for integration initiatives in South America, while CELAC should be a platform for political coordination in the region,” says Bachelet’s government programme.

“In the Bachelet government, Latin America is going to be more important in a wide sense, and not just in the commercial-ideological dimension given it by the Piñera government,” Pressacco said.

An expert analyst of Latin American affairs, he predicted that the outlook of the new  team “will be more comprehensive, broader, more aware that international relations, as well as politics in general, do not work solely on the basis of economic agreements.”

Delegates from more than 20 countries will be attending Bachelet’s investiture, including nearly all the region’s presidents.

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G20 Urges U.S. Action on IMF Reforms by April http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/g20-urges-u-s-action-imf-reforms-april/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=g20-urges-u-s-action-imf-reforms-april http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/g20-urges-u-s-action-imf-reforms-april/#comments Tue, 25 Feb 2014 00:58:50 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132005 The Group of 20 (G20) industrialised and emerging economies on Sunday formally expressed frustration with the ongoing inability of the United States to approve a major reform package that would see governance at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) shift more towards developing countries. The reforms were approved by the IMF in 2010 and have since […]

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By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Feb 25 2014 (IPS)

The Group of 20 (G20) industrialised and emerging economies on Sunday formally expressed frustration with the ongoing inability of the United States to approve a major reform package that would see governance at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) shift more towards developing countries.

The reforms were approved by the IMF in 2010 and have since been ratified by more than three-quarters of the fund’s member governments. Yet while the administration of President Barack Obama has been a key proponent of the reforms, the U.S. Congress has thus far been unwilling to approve the changes."The BRICS are wondering why they put up their money when nothing is happening." -- Jo Marie Griesgraber

Because the United States, with around 17 percent of voting rights (or “quota” shares) has an effective veto within the IMF, the reforms cannot go forward without the U.S. vote. The process has now missed a January deadline, while a second deadline for a subsequent round of changes is looming.

“Given that the U.S. is a big part of the G20, it is no small victory that emerging market and developing countries were able to get IMF reform so formally prioritised,” Kevin P. Gallagher, co-director of the Global Economic Governance Initiative at Boston University, told IPS. “Such pressure is basically the US administration and the rest of the world against the U.S. Congress.”

On Sunday, the G20, which has been a key organiser of the international financial response in recent years, strongly criticised the deadlocked reforms process. It also offered a new deadline for U.S. action.

“We deeply regret that the IMF quota and governance reforms agreed to in 2010 have not yet become effective,” the G20 stated in a communiqué on Sunday, following a ministerial meeting in Australia, which is hosting the grouping this year.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde. The quota changes would significantly increase the currently underweighted influence of fast-rising economies such as Brazil, China, India and Turkey. Credit: World Economic Forum/cc by 2.0

IMF chief Christine Lagarde. The quota changes would significantly increase the currently underweighted influence of fast-rising economies such as Brazil, China, India and Turkey. Credit: World Economic Forum/cc by 2.0

“Our highest priority remains ratifying the 2010 reforms, and we urge the US to do so before our next meeting in April. In April, we will take stock of progress towards meeting this priority.”

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde echoed this concern, saying Sunday that the fund “share[s] this view and urge[s] rapid progress on implementation.” The Washington-based institution is considered the world’s “lender of last resort”.

The quota changes would significantly increase the currently underweighted influence of fast-rising economies such as Brazil, China, India and Turkey. It would do so largely by decreasing the cumulative share of European members, considered outsized in terms of gross domestic product.

The Netherlands and Spain, for instance, both have voting shares similar in size to Brazil’s, despite the fact that the Spanish economy is less than two-thirds the size of the Brazilian. Given the problems in the eurozone, the European countries have also been prime beneficiaries of IMF support in recent years.

Under the quota reforms, the so-called BRICS countries – middle-income countries including Brazil, India and China – would see their vote shares expand the most significantly. The 2010 reforms would shift around nine percent of these shares towards developing countries, while also doubling the size of the fund’s overall lending capacity.

“The Europeans love it – they’re gloating. They have excessive power, are significantly overrepresented, and they love that [the United States] is not moving the reforms process forward,” Jo Marie Griesgraber, the executive director of the New Rules for Global Finance Coalition, a Washington-based international network, told IPS.

“On the other hand, the BRICS are wondering why they put up their money when nothing is happening. They’re most unhappy. In the long term, the BRICS countries could say this doesn’t work for them and move more seriously away from the IMF.”

On Sunday, a top Indian finance official warned that the failure to move forward on quota reform was threatening to undermine both IMF and G20 legitimacy.

“This is perhaps the first visible failure of G20. This has reduced the credibility of G20,” India’s economic affairs secretary, Arvind Mayaram, said in Sydney, calling implementation of the 2010 reforms “vital for the credibility, legitimacy and effectiveness of the IMF”.

Alternative institutions

Although an esoteric topic, the IMF governance reforms have received widespread approval from important constituencies in the United States, including major business and financial lobby groups as well as a long list of Republican luminaries.

In fact, President Obama bears some blame for the current situation, having decided in 2012 for political reasons not to request approval from the U.S. Congress. Yet since then, his administration has tried to do so repeatedly.

Each time, however, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has rebuffed these requests, though apparently less for ideological than for political reasons. The last such attempt took place last month, when Republicans agreed to include the IMF reforms proposal in a major appropriations bill – but only if the Democrats would agree to stop the U.S. Treasury from imposing proposed restrictions on political “dark money”.

President Obama reportedly refused the trade, and there are few legislative options left for moving related legislation through Congress in coming months, particularly as national elections loom at the end of the year. (On Sunday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew told the G20 his office “will continue to work with Congress to pass legislation as soon as possible to secure the 2010 reforms, which are vital to our economic and national security interests.”)

Some observers say that such a situation should only strengthen an ongoing process under which developing countries are building multilateral structures outside the IMF.

“Upcoming Congressional elections may lead to further entrenchment by the U.S. on this issue. Thus it is imperative that the developing world continue to build alternative institutions such as the BRICS bank and the BRICS exchange reserve pool,” BostonUniversity’s Gallagher says.

“Just as important is for these bodies to have more equitable and transparent processes, so they can be held up as models against the arcane structures in the international financial institutions.”

The BRICS countries announced their intention to create a new multilateral development bank last year. Yet since then, progress has reportedly been slow, particularly as ongoing economic roiling is being felt particularly strongly in emerging economies.

“There is good talk about these projects, but most countries remain very reluctant to walk away from the [IMF]. Nonetheless, we are already seeing a gradual erosion in the use of the institution,” New Rules’s Griesgraber says.

“From our perspective, we need to get through this current reform process so we can move on to the larger governance issues that need to be addressed at the fund. Let’s equalise the power, introduce greater transparency around the board, and ensure that likely consequences for poor people are assessed before the IMF acts.”

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South-South Cooperation Takes Off in Arab World http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/south-south-cooperation-takes-arab-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-south-cooperation-takes-arab-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/south-south-cooperation-takes-arab-world/#comments Fri, 21 Feb 2014 22:39:28 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131917 As the concept of South-South cooperation (SSC) continues to strengthen worldwide, some of the richest countries in the Arab world have been reaching out to the poor and the needy in the developing world. The assistance has come mostly in the form of soft loans, investments, debt-relief, infrastructure building, technical cooperation and experimentation in new […]

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The UAE's Masdar City, a planned city powered by renewable energy, serves as a model of what green urban development can be. Credit: Nrman Foster/cc by 2.0

The UAE's Masdar City, a planned city powered by renewable energy, serves as a model of what green urban development can be. Credit: Nrman Foster/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 21 2014 (IPS)

As the concept of South-South cooperation (SSC) continues to strengthen worldwide, some of the richest countries in the Arab world have been reaching out to the poor and the needy in the developing world.

The assistance has come mostly in the form of soft loans, investments, debt-relief, infrastructure building, technical cooperation and experimentation in new technologies and products."The Doha Expo is a showcase for joint creativity in our region." -- Mourad Wahba

At least three funding mechanisms – the Saudi Fund for Development, the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development and the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development – currently finance projects or contribute to debt relief in scores of developing countries, mostly in Africa.

In its latest report on South-South Cooperation, the United Nations singles out the 44-billion-dollar Islamic Development Bank, established by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, whose portfolio of loans and investments has been spread over many Islamic countries in Africa and Asia.

At the same time, the nine-billion-dollar Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development has been providing soft loans to governments and to public and private corporations.

The dramatic increase in SSC was highlighted at the first-ever Arab States Regional South-South Development Expo in the Qatari capital of Doha, which also showcased some of the success stories and shared experiences of more than 500 delegates from 45 countries.

Hosted by Qatar, the Expo was co-organised by the U.N. Office for South-South Cooperation and the U.N. Development Programme’s (UNDP) Regional Bureau for Arab States.

Yiping Zhou, director of the New York-based U.N. Office for South-South Cooperation, told IPS the Expo in Qatar, which concluded Thursday, was a direct response to the requests of member states and institutional partners to bring practical Southern solutions closer to regional contexts.

“With a focus on the exchange of knowledge and experience, stakeholders came together at this Expo to deepen the impact of South-South development cooperation through concrete scaling up and replication efforts,” he added.

Overall, more Arab financial resources have been allocated to poor countries, with 40 percent of total Arab financial assistance to recipients of World Bank’s International Development Assistance programme, according to a report released by the Cairo-based UNDP Regional Bureau for Arab States.

Additionally, some 20 percent of total Arab lending has been directed to countries eligible for heavily indebted poor countries (HIPC), including Afghanistan, Ghana, Cameroon, Mali and Senegal.

When the United Nations held a pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria last month, the Kuwaiti government made a hefty contribution of 500 million dollars – far ahead of the 380 million dollars pledged by the United States.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar were also key contributors, with 60 million dollars each.

“No one nation and no one community has all the answers,” said Mourad Wahba, deputy regional director of the UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Arab States.

“This is why the [Doha] Expo is so important, as a showcase for joint creativity in our region,” he added.

He said the Expo brought together “many champions of development policies and technologies that transformed inspiring ideas into everyday reality in countries of the South that have achieved balanced growth and sustainable development.”

The Expo also presented “a strong incentive for all Arab countries to learn from those successful experiences in order to achieve tangible development results across the region,” he noted.

The U.N. system is already incorporating South-South approaches into national and regional development planning and programming, specifically in Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia.

The United Nations has also assisted Saudi Arabia to become one of only five countries worldwide to have a specific country-level outcome related to SSC in its medium-term plan between the government and the world body.

According to the UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Arab States, more than half of the nearly 800 loans and 230 technical assistance grants by the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development have been distributed across 16 Arab states.

In 2010-2011, the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development signed loan agreements with seven Arab countries, primarily in the energy sector.

Also in 2011, the Saudi Fund for Development financed power plants in Egypt and Syria, along with dams in Sudan, while the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development provided Bahrain with a loan to build government and administrative buildings.

Kuwait is also cooperating with the Gulf Organisation for Research and Development, based in Qatar, to promote knowledge transfer on sustainable buildings and promote overall sustainable development.

Similarly, according to the report, the UAE has been particularly active in the field of renewable and alternative energy and clean technology.

Masdar, a subsidiary of the Mubadala Development Company in Abu Dhabi, continues to host the annual World Future Energy Summit, which has provided an important platform for knowledge-sharing among numerous Southern countries.

The UAE has also recently re-established the South-South platform for the High-level Conference on Science and Technology, an important forum for South-South knowledge exchange.

Under the Egyptian Fund for Technical Cooperation with Africa, Egypt has provided more than 250 short- and long-term experts to some 30 African countries for training and facilitation of knowledge-sharing in a variety of sectors, including water resources, health, agriculture and education, according to the report.

Egypt, which has trained more than 1,200 scholars from Kazakhstan through training courses, has also launched the Centre for South-South Industrial Cooperation for transferring technology and promoting innovation-based industrial development among African states.

Led by King Mohammed VI, Morocco has encouraged the deployment of graduates of Moroccan engineering schools to assist in development projects in rural electrification or water management, particularly in Africa.

Meanwhile, the Dubai-based Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation, the largest in the Arab region with a 10-billion-dollar endowment, has been described as a major philanthropic organisation in the Arab world, while Dubai Cares, which supports primary education in developing countries, is armed with an endowment of over one billion dollars.

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CELAC Summit Targets Inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/celac-summit-targets-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=celac-summit-targets-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/celac-summit-targets-inequality/#comments Thu, 30 Jan 2014 18:40:49 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130987 Heads of state and government at the Second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) made a joint commitment to reduce poverty, hunger and inequality, and declared their region a “zone of peace”. The goals, which even the presidents regard as “ambitious”, came at the end of two days of deliberations […]

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Heads of state at the Second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), at the Palacio de la Revolución, Havana.
Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Heads of state at the Second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), at the Palacio de la Revolución, Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Jan 30 2014 (IPS)

Heads of state and government at the Second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) made a joint commitment to reduce poverty, hunger and inequality, and declared their region a “zone of peace”.

The goals, which even the presidents regard as “ambitious”, came at the end of two days of deliberations in the Cuban capital, and include action for food security, access to education and better job opportunities, as instruments to reduce inequalities in the most unequal region of the world.“We have to integrate for the sake of our own development, but this is not just about more wealth and consumption, it is the struggle for human happiness." -- Uruguayan President José Mujica

By proclaiming a continent-wide zone of peace – with the exception of Canada and the United States – the region committed itself to act “as a space of unity within diversity”, and confirmed the two-year-old CELAC as the regional political forum for dialogue and collective action at the highest level, regardless of ideology.

The summit, held in Havana Jan. 28-29, was attended by the heads of all Latin American and Caribbean countries except Panama, Belize and El Salvador (in the last two cases because of illness). The meeting of 30 presidents also put an end to Cuban isolation.

“This is a historic summit,” because it has decided to address an issue that has long been demanded by the Latin American peoples: the fight against inequalities, hunger and poverty, said Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

Another woman, Chilean president-elect Michelle Bachelet who is due to take office Mar. 11, said “poverty and hunger are not the only forms of inequality,” and emphasised that governments must address “all inequalities,” including gender divisions, urban-rural disparities, and the injustice faced by indigenous people and Afro-descendants.

The 83 paragraphs of the Declaration of Havana ratified the commitment to promoting social inclusion and sustainable development with quantifiable policies, measures and goals, in order to spread “the enjoyment and exercise of economic, social and cultural rights” to all the population, especially the most vulnerable.

Among the major goals, it says, are strengthening food and nutritional security, literacy, universal free public education, land tenure and agricultural development, including family and peasant agriculture.

It also calls for decent, long-term jobs, universal public health, the right to adequate housing, and industrial and productive development as “essential factors for eradicating hunger, poverty and social exclusion.”

The Economic and Social Panorama of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States 2013, a study presented at the summit by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), shows inequality statistics for this region of over 600 million people.

The study says that the poorest one-fifth of the population on average accounted for five percent of total income, and even less in countries like Bolivia, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. Meanwhile, the wealthiest fifth received up to 55 percent in countries like Brazil.

In 2012 the poverty rate was 28.2 percent, and 11.3 percent of the population lived in extreme poverty. This means that 164 million people live in poverty and, of them, 66 million are extremely poor. These “shameful figures,” as some presidents called them, were the centre of discussions at the meeting.

Progress in recent years has been “slow, fragmented and unstable,” Cuban president and summit host Raúl Castro said in his opening speech.

According to figures from 2011 and 2012, the rate of inequality reduction has been above one percent a year only in Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela, and above 0.5 percent a year in Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Panama.

Poverty has its greatest impact on children and teenagers, since its incidence is higher in households with a large number of dependent children. A total of 70.5 million children under 18 are affected, of whom 28.3 million live in extreme poverty, according to ECLAC.

Child poverty is greatest in Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Peru, where an average of 72 percent of children are extremely poor, based on data from 2000-2011.

The countries with the lowest child poverty rates (19.5 percent) mentioned by ECLAC were Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Uruguay.

Alicia Bárcena, ECLAC’s executive secretary, said Latin America is a “region of contrasts” and recommended that its governments should promote public policies that contribute to poverty reduction. Employment, she said, is the “master key” to remediating inequality.

At the summit, Castro handed over the rotating presidency of CELAC to Costa Rica. In his view, Latin America and the Caribbean have all the necessary conditions to change the unbalanced social panorama outlined by ECLAC, since they possess natural riches ranging from extensive mineral reserves to one-third of the world’s fresh water.

The sub-continent also has 12 percent of the world’s arable land, the highest potential for expanding food production and 21 percent of all natural forests.

The populations of the región, said Castro, want fairer distribution of wealth and income, universal, free and high-quality education, full employment, better wages, the elimination of illiteracy, real food security, health care for all, and the right to decent housing, drinking water and sanitation.

Uruguayan President José Mujica’s contribution reflected his characteristic humanism. “We have to integrate for the sake of our own development, but this is not just about more wealth and consumption, it is the struggle for human happiness,” he said.

“We cannot attempt development that goes against human happiness. That would not be development,” said Mujica. “Defending life means being able to put aside waste and pollution,” and he asked his colleagues, “Why do we waste so much?”

Cuban analyst Carlos Alzugaray told IPS that, beyond the goals reflected in the Declaration of Havana, CELAC has emerged from its second summit “facing the challenge of consolidation” as a forum for political integration “that will foment regional cooperation and build a regional profile with a single voice.”

It also has the challenge, said the political scientist, of persuading other blocs in other world regions to “accept and recognise it as a legitimate and authoritative voice to negotiate in the name of the entire region.” This can only be achieved by “sustained, firm but cautious work,” he said.

With additional reporting from Ivet González.

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Digital Age Demands Educational Transformation, World Forum Says http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/digital-age-demands-educational-transformation-world-forum-says/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=digital-age-demands-educational-transformation-world-forum-says http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/digital-age-demands-educational-transformation-world-forum-says/#comments Fri, 24 Jan 2014 00:54:09 +0000 Clarinha Glock http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130691 The challenges of the digital age call for schools to develop an alternative model of education, with teachers who incorporate new technology and employ a more critical pedagogy, participants said at the Fórum Mundial de Educaçao (World Education Forum) in this southern Brazilian city. Guadalupe Jover, a Spanish education expert, told IPS that information and […]

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Participants in a panel on “Pedagogy, territories and resistance” at the World Education Forum in the Brazilian city of Canoas. Credit: Clarinha Glock/IPS

Participants in a panel on “Pedagogy, territories and resistance” at the World Education Forum in the Brazilian city of Canoas. Credit: Clarinha Glock/IPS

By Clarinha Glock
CANOAS, Brazil, Jan 24 2014 (IPS)

The challenges of the digital age call for schools to develop an alternative model of education, with teachers who incorporate new technology and employ a more critical pedagogy, participants said at the Fórum Mundial de Educaçao (World Education Forum) in this southern Brazilian city.

Guadalupe Jover, a Spanish education expert, told IPS that information and communication technologies (ICT) must be used as a tool for building collective knowledge through pedagogical renewal, and not to perpetuate the worst aspects of the prevailing educational system.

“We are talking here about the offensive strategies of the markets aimed at those who want to be involved in education, that is, sales through ICT,” said Jover, the coordinator of Spain’s Platform of Citizens for Public Schools in Spain, at the forum held Jan. 21-23 in Canoas, 19 km from Porto Alegre, the state capital of Rio Grande do Sul.

In suffocatingly hot weather, more than 4,000 participants from 13 countries debated the forum’s central theme: “Pedagogy, Metropolitan Regions and Peripheries,” holding three plenary meetings and working groups on six sub-themes.

Porto Alegre was the cradle of the World Social Forum, an alternative movement which first met in 2001 under the slogan “Another World Is Possible.” Thousands of social organisations and movements from all over the world participate in its meetings, which are held in different regions of the developing South.

Jover was a panellist at the meeting on “Pedagogy, Territories and Resistance,” which discussed the problems posed by present-day curricula and the prevailing neoliberal concept that students should be trained to satisfy the needs of the market.

Jaume Martínez Bonafé of the University of Valencia, Spain, told IPS that “pedagogy continues to be autistic, obsolete, because previously the whole world was explained in classrooms, whereas now the focus is on the major commercial hubs.”

His concern, he said, is that ICT “will only change the tools without altering educational content.”

According to educators from different regions, ideally curricula should contribute to the growth of persons and their emancipation, as proposed by Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire (1921-1997), one of the most innovative educational theorists of the 20th century, who did for education what Liberation Theology did for the Catholic Church.

His influential ideas heralded alternative education, through unorthodox formulas of learning based on freedom, and through his concern for promoting equality through education and increasing access to schooling for the oppressed.

Two Argentine educators inspired by Freire, Carla Azul Cassineiro and Laura Mombelli, travelled a long distance from their country to participate in the forum. Cassineiro teaches physical education and and Mombelli accounting. They are both popular educators in La Cava, Argentina’s second largest shanty town, in Buenos Aires.

Their students have access to the digital world, but many of their families see their devices and want them to buy food and get jobs, creating conflict and violence, they told IPS.

Cassineiro said the government Universal Child Allowance programme, which over the past five years has paid Argentine families with incomes of less than the minimum wage 31 dollars a month for each child, on condition that they attend school, has “helped integration and social containment.”

While Latin America is the second most urbanised world region, in Africa the school population is 60 percent rural, Aidil de Carvalho Borges, project manager for educational reform in Cape Verde, told IPS.

“This accentuates every kind of inequality, especially in relation to technology, which is only available in the cities,” she said. This hinders what ought to be a priority in education, that is, “for all children to have the same rights, no matter where they live.”

“Needs and demands are growing constantly,” said the Cape Verde education ministry official. “In some countries there may be one or two politicians who want to change the situation, but I think only radical social movements can bring about changes, or at least concessions, in education.”

Moacir Gadotti, the head of the Paulo Freire Institute, said that “schools need to discuss the kind of country they want, the kind of neighbourhood they want; there must be no fear of being free.”

He talked about the new Brazilian phenomenon of “rolezinhos”, in which large groups of young people from disadvantaged or peripheral areas occupy leisure spaces, especially shopping malls, after some of them, mostly Afro-Brazilian and poor, were expelled from one of these malls in São Paulo in late 2013.

“These young people have aspirations, they want to participate in the new Brazil,” Gadotti said. “Young people are connected to the social networks and this is something that politicians often do not understand or pay attention to.”

Popular educator Alberto Croce, the founder and president of Fundación SES in Argentina which promotes social inclusion of young people with limited resources, believes that the “rolezinhos” are a way of defying the system, connecting the movement with protests against educational and social exclusion in countries like Chile or Colombia.

Croce said that it is true that poor people are now better off in Latin America, but it is also true that inequality has increased in this region, the most unequal in the world.

The differences between educational models in big city schools and those in the poor suburbs is, in a way, a reflection of the contradictions of that inequality, he said.

The general run of schools prioritise the neoliberal model of preparing students for the labour market, but in the shanty towns and poorer districts there is resistance to this model because it discriminates against them and makes them invisible.

“One of the keys to education is respect for diversity. When education values cultural differences, integrates and incorporates them, then we can talk of quality education,” Croce said.

“Digital inclusion is a phenomenon that is present” in society, he said. Previously, young people wanted fashionable shoes, “but now they want to buy cell phones; there has definitely been a change, because access to technology is valued.”

In his view, young people have chosen mobile phones, the most personal device, to access ICT. “Inclusion is limited, but it has without doubt created a transformation,” Croce said.

It is a transformation that education cannot turn its back on, said participants at the Canoas forum, in debates on topics such as “Education as a human right,” “Education, environment and sustainability,” “Education in the emerging paradigm,” and “Education, diversity and inclusion.”

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Bike Paths, BRT Going Strong in Latin American Cities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/bike-paths-brt-going-strong-latin-american-cities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bike-paths-brt-going-strong-latin-american-cities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/bike-paths-brt-going-strong-latin-american-cities/#comments Mon, 06 Jan 2014 04:05:05 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129872 Sustainable transport grew in the Latin American cities of Buenos Aires, Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro in 2013. The left-wing government of the Mexican capital inaugurated the fifth Metrobús bus rapid transit (BRT) system route and extended the Ecobici Individual Transport System. It also expanded the Ecoparq parking meter system – a new parking […]

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A Metrobus stop on 9 de Julio avenue in Buenos Aires, with the famous Obelisk in the background. Credit: Juan Moseinco/IPS

A Metrobus stop on 9 de Julio avenue in Buenos Aires, with the famous Obelisk in the background. Credit: Juan Moseinco/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jan 6 2014 (IPS)

Sustainable transport grew in the Latin American cities of Buenos Aires, Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro in 2013.

The left-wing government of the Mexican capital inaugurated the fifth Metrobús bus rapid transit (BRT) system route and extended the Ecobici Individual Transport System.

It also expanded the Ecoparq parking meter system – a new parking management scheme – into new areas on the west side of the city and opened up a new pedestrian-only street in the old city.

In the Argentine capital, meanwhile, the third Metrobús line began to operate with great success on Avenida 9 de Julio, and the government expanded its “Buenos Aires, mejor en bici” (Buenos Aires, Better by Bike) programme.

In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the centre-right city government forged ahead with the construction of the Transcarioca and Transbrasil BRT corridors, while the second stage of the Transoeste BRT project got underway.

The network of bicycle paths was also enlarged, as part of the infrastructure planned for the FIFA World Cup, to be held in Brazil from Jun. 12 to Jul. 13, and the 2016 Olympic summer games in Rio de Janeiro.

In Mexico City, “there have been interesting projects, but they haven’t been carried out at the desired speed,” Bernardo Baranda, Latin America director for the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), told IPS.

He called for more initiatives and said they should be more rapidly implemented, aimed at “a further reduction of the use of automobiles” in greater Mexico City, home to more than 20 million people.

As part of that objective, he said it was important to expand Ecobici, which includes exclusive and non-exclusive bike lanes as well as a bike-share system.

What is happening in greater Rio de Janeiro, population 11.7 million, “is very exciting,” he said. “A great deal has been invested in infrastructure. Bicycle use has expanded. The centre has great potential for better transport conditions.”

The ITDP Latin America director said that in greater Buenos Aires, home to some 13 million people, “the use of public bicycles has been fomented, along with the idea of turning several streets in the microcenter into pedestrian-only.”

Roberto Remes, an independent Mexican expert in public policies on the environment and transportation, also pointed to interesting developments in the three cities.

He explained to IPS that in Buenos Aires, right-wing Mayor Mauricio Macri “is trying to build an alternative system to the subway,” which turned 100 years old in December.

Meanwhile, “in Mexico we see mainly plans. Apparently we’ll do ok, we’ll have an integrated system with policies focused on mobility and a person-oriented, rather than car-oriented, perspective.”

With respect to Rio de Janeiro, he said “they want their prepaid public fare cards and their institutional image to be the same across the entire country – something that not many countries have achieved.”

The three cities face similar challenges, such as heavy dependence on private vehicles, the proliferation of parking garage buildings, and virtually no progress on road safety, except in the case of Buenos Aires.

In addition, there have been social protests against the infrastructure work accompanying the development of sustainable, multimodal transportation systems.

Baranda said “the bicycle must be better integrated with mass transit, and more integrated transport is needed in order to make it easier to get around.”

On Jan. 15, the ITDP and eight other organisations will grant the Sustainable Transport Award in Washington, DC. This year’s nominees include Buenos Aires, Lanzhou, China and Suwon, South Korea. Mexico City won the award in 2013.

The prize, granted since 2005 to cities of more than 500,000 people, awards accomplishments such as improving public transportation and public spaces, reducing transport-related air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and improving safety and access for cyclists and pedestrians.

This year, the Mexico City government will build another Metrobús line and will expand segregated and non-segregated bike paths.

For its part, the ITDP will focus on reducing the number of parking garages, and drew up a study on the viability of a Metrobús line on the central Avenida Reforma.

For the 2013-2016 period, the Rio de Janeiro city administration plans to build 150 km of bike paths, as well as bicycle parking stations, to reach a total network of 450 km by 2016.

Buenos Aires projects the creation of another four Metrobús routes for 2014-2015.

The December report on “Social, Environmental and Economic Impacts of BRT Systems” stresses the benefits of bus rapid transit in Bogotá, Colombia; Mexico City; Johannesburg, South Africa; and Istanbul, Turkey.

The report was produced by EMBARQ, the sustainable urban transport and planning programme of the World Resources Institute (WRI).

The study shows that BRT systems have led to travel time savings, a reduction in vehicle operating costs, improvements in health due to reduced pollution, and improved road safety.

But it also identifies challenges such as declining quality of service, the exclusion of the poorest residents from the system, limited integration with other transport systems, and competition with subways.

Remes warned that it was not enough to focus transport strategies on merely establishing BRT systems without addressing other possibilities, such as urban trains.

“The existing models of financing, management and planning only allow for the expansion of these systems. If we create BRT corridors, we can cover the cities in a decade, but there is still a problem: transfers and switches from one system to another. There’s something that’s not working in the long-term vision,” he said.

In the 1970s, nations like Japan, South Korea or Singapore began to build railway networks to foment a mix of transport, employment, financing and economic development in big cities.

In Latin America, “we are a millennium behind,” Remes lamented.

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Women Farmers in Chile to Teach the Region Agroecology http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/women-farmers-chile-teach-region-agroecology/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-farmers-chile-teach-region-agroecology http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/women-farmers-chile-teach-region-agroecology/#comments Sat, 04 Jan 2014 09:11:32 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129869 An organisation that brings together some 10,000 peasant and indigenous women from Chile is launching an agroecology institute for women campesinos, or small farmers, in South America. For years, the National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women (ANAMURI) has been training thousands of people through La Vía Campesina, the international peasant movement, working on the […]

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Part of the grounds and house where the Agroecology Institute for Rural Women will be set up. Credit: Courtesy of ANAMURI

Part of the grounds and house where the Agroecology Institute for Rural Women will be set up. Credit: Courtesy of ANAMURI

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jan 4 2014 (IPS)

An organisation that brings together some 10,000 peasant and indigenous women from Chile is launching an agroecology institute for women campesinos, or small farmers, in South America.

For years, the National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women (ANAMURI) has been training thousands of people through La Vía Campesina, the international peasant movement, working on the basis of food sovereignty, which asserts the right of people to define their own food systems.

But today it is undertaking its most ambitious project.

The Agroecology Institute for Rural Women (IALA) will be the first in Latin America to only target women. It is taking shape in the town of Auquinco – which roughly means “the sound of water” in the Mapuche indigenous language – in the district of Chépica, 180 km south of Santiago.

The training sessions have already started, even though the building isn’t ready yet.

“We aren’t pursuing a dream, but a challenge,” the international director of ANAMURI, Francisca Rodríguez, who will run IALA, told Tierramérica*.

The project has a political core: “food production to resolve the problem of hunger.”

“It is essential to find ways to make it possible for us to continue surviving and existing as an important segment of agriculture amidst the fierce attack on campesinos, which has to do with productive sectors but also with the models of consumption,” she said.

IALA is focused on defending campesino family agriculture, she said.

It’s an effort to join in “the big task” of the Agroecology Institutes of Latin America, from which it took its acronym, she said.

These projects began in Venezuela, where the first agronomists – all children from campesino families – have graduated.

The IALA institutes were replicated later in Brazil and Paraguay, as well as Ecuador and the rest of the Andean region. The latest major achievement has been the SURI Campesino University, which opened its doors in Argentina in April 2013.

“It’s important for us to have professionals in the field of agriculture, in order to help achieve food sovereignty, and to continue along this route which requires specialists who have come from the land itself,” Rodríguez said.

“No one better than campesinos can feel the need to continue developing agriculture that is at the service of humanity,” she added.

Rodríguez said that in ANAMURI “we understand the challenge,” and while the institute will initially focus on women from the Southern Cone of South America, it could later be expanded to incorporate men.

In Auquinco, they have a one-hectare plot and a large house where the students will stay, purchased for just 23,000 dollars. They said the price was low because after the former owners, a couple who had gone into exile during Chile’s 1973-1990 dictatorship, returned to the country, they decided to sell the property to the women so the group could do good work with it.

Because of the damages it suffered during the February 2010 earthquake, however, the house needs extensive repairs, though the architects that evaluated the damage assured them it will maintain its character as a traditional rural dwelling, after the renovation.

The repairs must begin as soon as possible, said ANAMURI director of organisation Alicia Muñoz.

“During the current [southern hemisphere] summer, we have to organise brigades of volunteers to help us fix up the house and the grounds, so that it won’t lose its original character,” Muñoz said.

ANAMURI decided that 2014 would be “the year of restoration” – a volunteer campaign that starts Jan. 4 with a visit to the building to clear the overgrown vegetation and begin the most urgent part of the remodeling: fixing the roof.

“Our dream is having an institute for the conservation of the kind of agriculture that women know how to do, that is truly trustworthy from the point of view of health and nutrients,” Muñoz said.

In the history of Chilean agriculture, men have always dominated the scene, “with women relegated to the domestic sphere, to the processing of food, keeping house and raising the small livestock,” anthropologist Juan Carlos Skewes told Tierramérica.

But “their contribution, in my view fundamental, to agricultural work and to the alternative development project that is the vegetable garden, has been forgotten,” he added.

“Every vegetable patch, every campesino family farming practice, involves biodiversity, conservation of genetic material, the possibility of reproducing seeds and making better use of local resources,” said Skewes, director of the School of Anthropology at the Alberto Hurtado University.

“There is also the question of better coordination of resources, self-sufficiency and strengthening local economies,” he added.

“So, summing up, there are autonomous projects, a capacity for self-management, autonomous sustainable production, and management of non-genetically-modified material, and there is a chance to counteract, resist or challenge industrial processes in agribusiness, as well as the food processing industry,” he said.

The expert said that “in these tremendously contemporary aspects, the key player is the rural peasant woman, organised in the protection of seeds for self-consumption and the sustainable management of agriculture.”

In ANAMURI, the new year is full of hope. The participants are confident that the new government, to be headed by a woman, socialist former president Michelle Bachelet, will open up doors for them to strengthen their work.

They are also confident in receiving support from the United Nations, which declared 2014 the International Year of Family Farming.

“Many people are going back to the countryside, which means there is hope,” said
Rodríguez. “We know we’re helping to strengthen the country on our parcel of land in Auquinco.”

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

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