Inter Press Service » TerraViva Europe http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 30 Sep 2014 10:17:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Separatist Violence Just One of Ukraine’s Problemshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/separatist-violence-just-one-ukraines-problems/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=separatist-violence-just-one-ukraines-problems http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/separatist-violence-just-one-ukraines-problems/#comments Fri, 30 May 2014 10:30:36 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134646 Flowers laid out in Kiev earlier this year for those who died in the Maidan protests. People who fought for change in Ukraine are hoping the new president will not let them down. Credit: Natalia Kravchuk

Flowers laid out in Kiev earlier this year for those who died in the Maidan protests. People who fought for change in Ukraine are hoping the new president will not let them down. Credit: Natalia Kravchuk

By Pavol Stracansky
KIEV, May 30 2014 (IPS)

As Ukraine’s president elect Petro Poroshenko prepares to begin his presidency, Ukrainians are hoping he will not forget that separatist violence is just one of a long list of problems he needs to help solve in the country.

Poroshenko, a billionaire confectionary magnate, won a resounding victory in the first presidential elections this week following the revolution that saw his predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, ousted in February.

But he comes to office with Ukraine in turmoil, having seen its territory annexed by Russia, separatists in the east of the country waging war, a collapsing economy and many activists and protestors who led the Maidan movement that paved the way for a new regime angry and confused at some of what has come to pass since their protests.“As a Ukrainian citizen, I would hope to see my country developing as a free society that brings opportunities to hard working and honest people” – 32-year-old teacher Yury Shevtsov

And while most Ukrainians agree that unifying the country and putting a stop to the conflict in the east of the country is the new president’s top priority, they say that he must not ignore the many other challenges Ukraine is facing.

Yury Shevtsov, a 32-year-old teacher in Kiev, told IPS: “Getting some stability in the country is important but once the president has done that, as a Ukrainian citizen, I would hope to see my country developing as a free society that brings opportunities to hard working and honest people.”

Prior to the Maidan protests, many Ukrainians perceived the country’s institutions, from the presidency and parliament to the civil service down to the judiciary and police, as systemically corrupt. Nepotism and cronyism were seen as rife.

The country’s human rights record was dubious, with police brutality and persecution of minorities and other groups commonplace.

Third sector organisations, while not facing the kind of intimidation and persecution their peers in Russia or Belarus have been regularly subjected to, complained of obstructions to their work and a lack of cooperation from authorities.

Meanwhile, the economy has been slowly falling apart since the financial crisis, with already low living standards falling further. But despite this, the country’s leaders were seen to be only getting richer and consolidating their grip on power.

While the Maidan protest movement was originally a reaction to Yanukovych’s refusal to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union – seen as a first step on the road to greater European integration – it soon turned into a wider protest against the regime and its failings.

Protestors demanded an end to the corruption and other problems that blighted society, moves to fix the ailing economy and bring at least the hope of some prosperity to the country.

Analysts see Poroshenko’s unexpectedly resounding victory as a reflection of Ukrainians’ demand for change and a regime that will address the country’s problems as much as support for him as an individual candidate.

But they also say that Ukrainians must understand that the new president alone will not be able to effect the kind of changes the country needs.

Balazs Jarabik, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, told IPS: “The urgent reforms which need to be undertaken are things like agreeing a deal with the International Monetary Fund to avoid bankruptcy, improving the business climate to attract investment, electoral reforms and decentralisation, curtailing bureaucracy and making state subsidies transparent and justified.

“But they need to be gradual reforms instead of radical ones which could fuel conflict instead of building [society]. There needs to be a lot of communication with, education of, and explanations given to, the average Ukrainian. But importantly, Ukrainians should understand that neither Poroshenko, nor the EU, will do the job for them. The participation of Ukrainians in the reforms is crucial.”

Some NGO groups have already started working with the interim government to help push through legislation related to reforms and say they are seeing important progress made. And Poroshenko has made it clear that he wants to make sure Ukraine signs the Association Agreement with the EU that his predecessor fatefully rejected.

But many Ukrainians are impatient to see some kind of visible improvement in their lives.

As Shevtsov told IPS: “People are fed up with uncertainty and tension and we definitely need some stability in the economy. Corruption, to name just one thing, urgently needs to be dealt with.”

However, economists are not hopeful that Ukrainians, many of whom live with an average wage of just 200 euros a month, will feel any economic improvement in the near future.

Vasyl Yurchyshyn, an economic analyst at the Kiev-based Razumkov Centrethink tank, told IPS: “Ukraine is facing some serious economic challenges over the next few months and there is potential for the recession to continue.

“I am not sure that anyone’s standard of living will be improved in the near future. But at the same time I believe that the government will implement reforms that will expand opportunities for growth and development. But it will be a year or so before any average Ukrainian would feel any difference.”

The progress of any reforms is also likely to be slowed by the violence in eastern districts.

Although most Ukrainians see unifying the country and ending the conflict with separatists as Poroshenko’s top priority, analysts say that concentrating solely on this could hurt the Ukraine’s prospects.

Jarabik told IPS: “The more Ukrainians will have to focus on Russia, the less time and energy they will have to build a new Ukraine.  The key issue is whether the majority of Ukrainians will want to build or to fight.”

But many people in Ukraine continue to believe that it is only by dealing with the separatists – or their backers in Moscow – and bringing peace to a unified state that any rebuilding can begin.

Nadezhda Vlassovskaya, a 31-year-old accountant from Kiev, said: “Starting to talk to Russia officially is needed and by doing so I think that would bring some hope to Ukrainians that our new leader has started to sort things out.”

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Turkey’s Accession To European Union – A Long and Bumpy Roadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/turkeys-accession-european-union-long-bumpy-road-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=turkeys-accession-european-union-long-bumpy-road-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/turkeys-accession-european-union-long-bumpy-road-2/#comments Fri, 30 May 2014 06:56:15 +0000 Emma Bonino http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134614

In this column, Emma Bonino, former Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and former European Commissioner, argues that 21st century Turkey is a regional power to be reckoned with but that its accession to the European Union depends largely on it resuming democratisation.

By Emma Bonino
ROME, May 30 2014 (IPS)

Since 2004, the Independent Commission on Turkey (ICT) has watched closely developments within Turkey and between Turkey and the European Union (EU). On April 7 the ITC launched its third report, Turkey in Europe: The Imperative for Change.

The report puts in a nutshell what to do for progress in EU-Turkey relations under present circumstances: “In the turbulent times we are living in, a stable, democratic and prosperous Turkey is ever more in the vital interest of the EU and Turkey. We call upon Turkey to resume its democratisation and reverse its shortcomings. In this context we are firmly convinced that re-launching of a credible accession process to the EU can buttress Turkey’s efforts to cure its internal rifts, and accelerate political reform.”“A stable, democratic and prosperous Turkey is ever more in the vital interest of the EU and Turkey. We call upon Turkey to resume its democratisation” – Independent Commission on Turkey

We observed how the vicious circle between Turkey and the EU that we sketched in 2009 deepened significantly Turkey’s mistrust and disaffection towards the EU grew, while the EU, absorbed by its internal crisis, largely neglected the accession process towards Turkey.

By 2013, we started seeing signs of a possible new beginning between Turkey and the EU. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Brussels, and perhaps above all, the agreement between Turkey and the EU on readmission and a visa liberalisation dialogue, encouraged us to believe that in 2014 Turkey’s accession process could be revamped and put on a healthier footing.

Recent years in Turkey have witnessed important efforts along the path of political reform. In many respects Turkey has made important leaps forward. Civil-military relations in Turkey now approximate the standards in EU member states. The era of military interference in civilian life seems to be definitively over.

Emma Bonino

Emma Bonino

Regarding the Kurdish question, the Turkish government has undertaken a courageous process of reconciliation with the Kurdish nationalist movement.

The road ahead is long and bumpy, but the results achieved so far – when compared to where Turkey stood only two decades ago – are truly historic.

We also note, however, that in other important respects – notably freedom of expression, judicial reform, separation of powers, and rule of law – steps forward were matched or overtaken by parallel and at times greater steps backwards.

In the Report, the Commission criticises the Turkish government for displaying increasing authoritarian tendencies and draws attention to the widening gap between the EU and Turkey. Special emphasis is placed on judicial independence, separation of powers, freedom of media, restrictions on internet and government’s poor performance in freedom of thought, expression and demonstration in the aftermath of the Gezi Park protest initiated on March 28, 2013.

The deepening polarisation in the country between political forces as well as between the state and segments of civil society underpins many of the difficulties that Turkey has been encountering in consolidating its democracy.

The failure to agree on a new civilian constitution, the protests sparked in Gezi Park and the corruption scandal that enveloped Turkey at the close of 2013 all epitomise diverse manifestations of such nefarious polarisation.

A credible EU accession process that can assist Turkey’s democratic consolidation lies in the EU’s ability both to inspire reforms and to act as a glue between a disparate set of actors in Turkey, who have otherwise been torn apart by centrifugal forces.

At the same time, a healthy relationship between Turkey and the EU is predicated on Turkey’s efforts to reverse its political shortcomings and resume the path of democratic reform.

As regards economic development, Turkey has continued to demonstrate considerable resilience, having weathered the global financial storm and the ensuing repercussions on the Eurozone remarkably well so far.

Since Turkey’s accession process began, the EU-Turkey relationship has deepened significantly also in a number of areas which, at first glance, may seem detached from the accession process.

In the realm of energy, the interdependence between the EU and Turkey has grown in recent years, notwithstanding the stalling of the accession process.

Turkey has firmly established itself as a key transit country in the Southern Energy Corridor, and the recent agreements to transport Azerbaijani gas represent the first concrete manifestations in the making. But as a fast growing and energy hungry country, close to multiple sources of gas, Turkey aims at becoming not only a transit state, but also an energy hub.

In particular, Turkey could become a major destination and route for new gas sources from the Eastern Mediterranean and Iraq. In the case of the Eastern Mediterranean, a pipeline from Israel to Turkey passing through Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone could also catalyse progress in the Cyprus peace process.

More broadly, 21st century Turkey’s foreign policy projection in the neighbourhood and beyond has lived through a remarkable rise. In terms of diplomatic initiatives, trade, movement of people, development assistance, military missions, or cultural outreach, Turkey’s regional and global role is unambiguously on the rise.

This does not mean that Turkish foreign policy initiatives are always successful. Turkey’s acute problems with Syria, the downturn of relations with Egypt, its complicated relations with Iran, Iraq and Israel, and its failure to move forward on Cyprus and Armenia all testify to this.

All notwithstanding, however, 21st century Turkey is clearly a regional power to be reckoned with. Across the EU there has been a rising appreciation of Turkey’s strategic relevance and a deepening consensus on the desirability of close foreign policy cooperation with Turkey.

The Independent Commission on Turkey strongly believes that change in both Turkey and the EU has become imperative. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

 

 

(*) Chaired by Martti Ahtisaari, the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former President of Finland, the Independent Commission on Turkey, established in 2004, comprises prominent figures such as Emma Bonino, the former Foreign Minister of Italy, Hans van den Broek, former Foreign Minister of the Netherlands, Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of Munich Security Conference, David Miliband, former Secretary of State of Great Britain, Marcelino Oreja Aguirre, former Foreign Minister of Spain, Michel Rocard, former Prime Minister of France, and Albert Rohan, former Secretary General of Foreign Affairs, Austria.

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Immigrants Face Indefinite Detention in Greecehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/immigrants-face-indefinite-detention-greece/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=immigrants-face-indefinite-detention-greece http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/immigrants-face-indefinite-detention-greece/#comments Wed, 28 May 2014 22:08:57 +0000 Apostolis Fotiadis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134611 Credit: Nikos Pilos

Credit: Nikos Pilos

By Apostolis Fotiadis
ATHENS, May 28 2014 (IPS)

The evolution of immigration and border control policy in Greece and its interdependence with European funding suggests an agenda which has been decided above national legislatures with strong coordination between European political actors and economic interests, while ignoring the human suffering it produces.

Since February, the Greek authorities have taken another step towards harsher treatment of irregular immigrants by announcing a policy of indefinite detention until repatriation. Indefinite detention has been based on an opinion of the Legal Council of the Greek State and will be implemented even in cases where repatriation is not feasible.

Earlier this week, a Greek court considered the premises of this decision to be against national and European legislation and asked for it to be revoked. Authorities have yet to react to this decision.

Since the summer of 2012, when police launched a crackdown policy on irregular immigrants with ‘Operation Xenios Zeus’, administrative detention has been implemented on a massive scale, often applied for the maximum period of 18 months.

Now the opinion of the Council of State considers this extension to be not ‘detention’ but a restrictive measure for the benefit of immigrants who otherwise, if released, could be exposed to situations of danger.

“Prolonged and systematic detention is leading to devastating consequences on the health and dignity of migrants and asylum seekers in Greece” – Doctors Without Borders
Detention has been denounced as ineffective and inhumane by various international organisations and local NGOs. Doctors without Borders called the measure an “appalling sign of the country’s harsh treatment of migrants”.

In a new report published last month regarding living conditions in detention camps in Greece, the organisation warned that “prolonged and systematic detention is leading to devastating consequences on the health and dignity of migrants and asylum seekers in Greece.”

While attracting severe criticism, the Greek authorities show no intention of relaxing their harsh measures. On the contrary, the tendency towards stricter controls appears to be in line with the European Commissions (EC) guidelines and funding rearrangements.

In September 2012 , a month after Greece launched Xenios Dias, the implementing rules of the Return Fund were amended, introducing several changes, including the possibility of financing infrastructure projects such as renovation and refurbishment or, in case of specific needs, construction of detention facilities.

The Return Fund is the European structure that finances the majority of immigration control projects throughout Europe.

Further, last year the Commission proposed an amendment increasing the EU co-financing rate, among others, of immigration control-related projects to be covered by the European Return Fund and the External Border Fund (from 50 or 75 percent by 20 percentage points).

The amendment would not result in any increase in EU funding, but it would allow the Member States concerned to decrease compulsory national co-financing.

In the case of Greece, the compulsory national co-financing for projects could be decreased from 25 to 5 percent. The legislative proposal was adopted in spring 2013.

Danai Angeli, a researcher with Greek ELIAMEP think-tank that runs ‘MIDAS’, an immigration control policy cost-effectiveness research project to be concluded later this year, told IPS that the interdependence of Greek policy and EC support cannot be questioned.

“The practice of systematic detention would have been impossible without the support of European funds,” Angeli told IPS. “Without these resources, the focus in Greece would possibly shift to alternative solutions that would take much more into account a cost-effectiveness approach and detention would have never acquired the status of a political priority.”

Despite the obvious cost in human suffering, the policy of en mass detentions is not only the prominent choice in the EU but, according to Dr. Martin Lemberg-Pedersen, a migration expert at the Centre for Advanced Migration Studies in Denmark, it appears to coincide with an agenda of militarisation and privatisation of border and irregular immigrant controls.

”Despite public statements condemning the humanitarian catastrophe at the EU’s external borders, the union has in fact never ceased its support for more and harsher border controls in the south-eastern European borderlands,” Pedersen said.

“We can view this double standard as a way for the union to continually make itself a relevant policy venue in a Europe, where anti-immigrant parties occupy an increasingly larger part of both national parliaments and the European parliament.”

In December last year, the European Commission announced the launching of EUROSUR, a major project that will allow constant surveillance of the Mediterranean.

Although it has been introduced by the EC as ‘a new tool to save immigrants’ lives’, it has been criticised by organisations and MEPs, including leading German member of the European Green Party  Ska Keller, as an instrument “to serve the battle against illegal immigration”.

Also in December last year, the Council of the EU produced a proposal “establishing rules for the surveillance of the external sea borders”, and ten days later the European Council’s annual summit set priorities in increasing effectiveness of the defence policy and operations capacities of the Union.

“EUROSUR is a prime example of what we can call regulatory capture, that is, processes of lobbyism and multi-level governance, where actors like private security and military companies, and of course the European Commission itself, are able to transform the border control policies of individual nation-states without having to engage directly with their national parliaments,” Pedersen told IPS.

In April this year, four months after the annual summit, the Greek Ministry of Maritime Affairs quietly initiated a tender to rent surveillance services for its naval borders at the Aegean sea.

The project envisaged compensation of 73,800 euros for 60 hours of surveillance over a period of two months, an average of 1,230 euro per hour, with 75 percent of the cost covered from European funds and 25 percent from national.

Privatisation of security services in three of the biggest detention centres in the country has also been planned, attracting major players from the private sector like G4S, the world’s largest private security firm, which has come under criticism for the treatment of detainees at its three U.K.-based asylum centres.

The costs, estimated to about 14 million euro annually, will also be covered mostly from European funds.

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Where Will The New Europe Go?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/will-new-europe-go/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-new-europe-go http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/will-new-europe-go/#comments Wed, 28 May 2014 18:43:30 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134608

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, wonders where Europe is heading after the results of the end of May elections to the European Parliament.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, May 28 2014 (IPS)

“An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted” is a phrase from Arthur Miller which applies well to the European elections that have just ended. What those elections showed was that disenchantment with Europe as an ideal has grown to a dangerous point.

It is true that the European elections have been always more about domestic national issues than Europe. They were moments to check how national parties were rated by the electorate, with its government as the first to be judged.

But this is the first time, since the birth of the European project, that a remarkable part of the electorate has coalesced on parties which identity themselves as enemies or sceptics of Europe.

It is revealing to see the sense of relief with which the system has declared that the anti-Europe parties only received 20 percent of the vote. Yet, 20 percent of the vote, with abstention close to 50%, is a remarkable show.

And of the 80% who voted for pro-European parties, the large majority does not look on the embodiment of the project – the European Commission – with much sympathy.

According to the Eurobarometer, those with a positive opinion of Brussels fell from 72 percent in 2000 to 37 percent last year. If the present trend continues, in the next European elections there will be only one European in three harbouring some faith in the European Commission and, by extension, the credibility of European construction.“The sense of solidarity and common destiny which accompanied the birth and growth of the European project has disappeared”

Much has been written on the disenchantment which has ushered in 20 percent of the members of the new European parliament who are, in fact, internal enemies of the institution itself.

It is in fact the programme of austerity imposed by the European Commission (under German instructions) which has given a terrible image of Europe, especially to the millions of unemployed young people.

It is true that the Eurocrats have appeared more and more unaccountable and isolated, in a maze of bureaucratic rules: it is also true that the leaders that member states have conveniently installed have lacked charisma and never connected with the people.

But the real problem is much simpler, and much more tragic: the sense of solidarity and common destiny which accompanied the birth and growth of the European project has disappeared.

Roberto Savio. Credit: IPS

Roberto Savio. Credit: IPS

The creeping code word which has accompanied this Commission for the last four years, has been “reappropriation”.  Governments, strong or weak, have all been looking to the European supranational space as something from which to recover as much as possible.

In the last four years, Germany has simply ignored any element of solidarity with the other European countries, and looked only to its interests. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the strongest European politician, but dedicated basically to German interests.

Reports abound on how the absolute priority behind the aid given to Greece, Ireland and Portugal was to refund the loans by German banks, and only after that directed to the national priorities of the recipients.

The German balance of payments is another excellent example of how Germany does not care about the internal imbalance its present policy is creating in Europe. Simply said, everybody buys from Germany, but Germany does not buy from anyone.

Some analysts think that the policy is not directed towards Europe. They argue that Germany wants to be a big Switzerland, and is not participating in any international policy. It has kept out of all important decisions, from Libya to Syria, and on Ukraine it has been considerably silent. But Germany’s self-centred participation in Europe is now the rule, even with the weaker countries.

A good example is the tragedy of immigrants, now basically heading for Italy, which now number several thousand per month. In 2013, the official count was 140,000 people. They emigrate because there are no functioning states in many Arab countries, which have also themselves become sources of emigration, like Syria. An estimated 25,000 have left Libya alone. While it is difficult to count how many have lost their lives during the crossing of the Mediterranean, a common estimate is over 7,000.

The reaction of Europe has been total indifference. Italy is spending close to 100 million euros on rescuing the immigrants, and any appeal for solidarity has fallen on deaf ears. Maybe now, Matteo Renzi, the Italian Prime Minister, who chalked up the greatest success of all European leaders, will be able to change the situation.

But what it is important to stress is that the European Commission has not lifted a finger, citing the lack of support from member countries (read Germany and the other Northern countries.)  When it came to rescue Greece, which represented two percent of the European budget, it was considered necessary to punish people who lived beyond their means, and who falsified the budgets that they presented to the European Commission. Then, the same was said for Ireland and Portugal (a very doubtful claim because both countries were in a totally different situation).

Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman noticed that it was the first time that economy had become a branch of morality, and that in German sin and debt use the same term. Not only there was no solidarity, there was a campaign about austerity as the moral compass necessary to build a sound macroeconomic situation. People, of course, are part of microeconomics: but they have been consistently ignored, in favour of banks, for which all the funds necessary for the big bail-out were found.

The issue of immigration is the best example for understanding that the crisis of Europe is a crisis of values, which are well written into the various constitutions and are part of the rhetoric of European identity. Beyond solidarity, those values were social justice, participation and accountability. On those four counts, the European Commission is largely absent. And today it would be very difficult to find a European citizen who feels obliged somehow to other European citizens.

The same can be said the same about American, Russian, Indian or Chinese citizen … but they have common structures which take care of redressing regional inequalities and helping general development. This is not the case of Europe, which has only one real element of unity: the euro, which is as inspiring an ideal as a banknote!

Then there is quite a difference in the realities of the north of Europe and the south of Europe. Germany has now over 10 million immigrants, and receives more of them than the United States. But German industries and the economic world know well that without immigrants Germany would no longer be competitive.

According to UN projections, Europe needs to receive at least 20 million immigrants over the next ten years to remain economically competitive with United States, whose immigrants keep the working population in constant balance. Yet, what has been the lesson of the last elections? That the ant-immigrant theme was so strong that it propelled close to 50 parliamentarians to the Europarliament. In every crisis there is the search for a scapegoat, but then let us abandon the European rhetoric.

It is anyhow clear that if there is not a radical change of the way in which Europe is perceived by its citizens, the next elections will be even more negative for the European project. Now for the first time, the Europarliament  has a voice over the nominations of the new European Commission. Possibly, countries should no longer be able to place obscure people at the helm of the institutions – previous elections have brought to the forefront figures barely legitimised by the will of citizens.

Yet, it will be interesting to see if governments do not find a way to bypass this indication. And anyhow, it is not a question of revolutionaries coming to the fore.

Suffice the case of Jean-Claude Juncker, former prime minister of Luxembourg. When he was still prime minister and chairman of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN), which brings together the economic and finance members of the European Union,  he famously opened a meeting saying: “We heads of government all know what to do, we just don’t know how to get re-elected when we do it”, very much in the vein of Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann,  who said: “If I please the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, I am the ruin of Europe; but if I please Europe, I lose the support of Germany.”

Maybe the new value for European identity is realpolitik. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

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Poetry, Politics and the French Far Righthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/poetry-politics-french-far-right/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poetry-politics-french-far-right http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/poetry-politics-french-far-right/#comments Tue, 27 May 2014 19:14:04 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134579 Joël Des Rosiers (2nd from right) with other poets at the Biennale Internationale des Poètes en Val-de-Marne, with festival director Francis Combes (far left). Credit: A.D.McKenzie/IPS

Joël Des Rosiers (2nd from right) with other poets at the Biennale Internationale des Poètes en Val-de-Marne, with festival director Francis Combes (far left). Credit: A.D.McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, May 27 2014 (IPS)

As acclaimed writers arrived in France this week for an international poetry festival, many expressed shock at finding that 25 percent of the country’s vote had gone to a far-right party in elections for the European Parliament. “I’m afraid for Europe, I’m afraid of what’s going on here now,” said Joël Des Rosiers, an award-winning Haitian-born poet and psychiatrist, whose family fled François Duvalier’s dictatorship in the 1960s to take refuge in Canada. “It’s as if Europe is losing its capacity for universality,” he told IPS.

“There’s a feeling of insecurity and a fear of losing identity, and some Europeans seem not to believe anymore in civilised humanism.”

France’s anti-immigration party, the Front National (FN), came first in last Sunday’s election, beating the centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) and pushing the governing Socialist Party into third place.

While the FN celebrated, Des Rosiers and other writers from Haiti, Guyana, Martinique and elsewhere came to Paris to take part in a week-long festival organised by the Biennale Internationale des Poètes en Val-de-Marne, a French cultural association that supports contemporary poetry and especially writing that has a strong humanistic element.

“There’s a feeling of insecurity and a fear of losing identity, and some Europeans seem not to believe anymore in civilised humanism” – Joël Des Rosiers, Haitian-born poet
Although not a political movement, the Biennale promotes diversity in literature, and this year it has organised a Festival of Caribbean Poets (Poètes des Caraïbes) that runs until June 1.

Des Rosiers, who did part of his university studies in Strasbourg, the main seat of the European Parliament, said writers had a role to play in pushing back the tide of nationalism in Europe and especially in France.

“As writers, we are here to explain to Europeans who can still listen that we are part of you. I’m a person of African origin who speaks French because of you. You have a responsibility for that. This is not to make anyone feel guilty, but we have a history that is common to all of us,” he said.

Delia Blanco, a poet and professor of art and comparative Caribbean Literature in the Dominican Republic, also expressed stupefaction at the vote, especially for a continent that has “seen two world wars”.

Her ancestry is French and Basque and she visits France often, but she said she is disturbed by current anti-immigration politics. “We all have origins that come from elsewhere, we’re all members of the displaced, especially in the Caribbean,” she said. “Think about the people who left Spain during the Spanish Civil War to settle in Cuba, Mexico and other places, including the Dominican Republic.”

In response to a question about anti-immigrant or racist movements in the Caribbean itself, concerning Haitians for instance, Blanco said that “racism comes from ignorance”.

“When people take the time to know others, it’s a different thing,” she said, adding that there was also a difference between the actions of people and those of the state. “Maybe being a poet is to believe in illusion, but we have an ethic and poetic vision of unity,” Blanco told IPS.

“Perhaps this can be the message from Caribbean writers to France and the world. Despite our different languages, despite our different origins and being separated by the sea, we speak a common tongue, of life and mutual existence.”

France is not the only country that voted for radical parties in the elections. The United Kingdom handed victory to the Euro-sceptic U.K. Independence party (UKIP), with 27 percent of the vote, while the Labour Party received around 25 percent, and the Conservatives (part of the coalition government) got just under 24 percent.

In Greece, it was the far-left that scored highly, as Alexis Tsipras’ SYRIZA coalition grouping garnered over 26 percent, in comparison to the 10 percent for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, which came in third.

But the result in France, a country that sees itself as an icon of equality and fraternity, sent shudders through the main traditional parties.

In response to the vote, President François Hollande said that people had to be listened to but that the “worst” thing would be renounce France’s “values”. Promising reform and calling for a “reorientation” of the 28-country European Union to become transparent and effective, he said the future was not in closing doors and “rejecting” others but in working to boost the economy.

Hollande and other leaders were scheduled to meet Tuesday in Brussels and expected to discuss ways to address European voters’ anger and dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Even with the low turnout overall, the elections for the Parliament had been closely watched because of the legislative body’s expanding powers. MEPs, who shuttle between Brussels and Strasbourg, have been making their voices increasingly heard on a variety of topics, ranging from international trade agreements to health-care policies.

They will influence EU legislation during their mandate, and will also help to determine who becomes chief of the European Commission, the Union’s executive branch.

These are some of the reasons that Front National head Marine Le Pen heightened her campaign, using the familiar themes of less globalisation and fewer immigrants, in the run-up to the vote.

As with the French national elections two years ago, she tried to distance her party from its more radical past, but her father Jean-Marie Le Pen showed the dark side of the Front in a speech ahead of the polls.

At a reception in the southern town of Marseille, Le Pen suggested that the deadly Ebola virus could “solve” population growth in the world and thus the “immigration problem” in Europe, according to media reports.

He expressed fears that France was facing a “migratory invasion” that was just beginning.

Des Rosiers, the poet, told IPS that as a human being and medical doctor he found Le Pen’s words to be “sickening”. “This is a virus that has killed many African people,” he said. “Marine Le Pen might have tried to un-demonise the party, but the father is still a fascist of extraordinary dimensions.”

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Burundi Headed for Election Turmoil as Ruling Party Allegedly Arms Youth Winghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/burundi-headed-election-turmoil-ruling-party-allegedly-arms-youth-wing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=burundi-headed-election-turmoil-ruling-party-allegedly-arms-youth-wing http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/burundi-headed-election-turmoil-ruling-party-allegedly-arms-youth-wing/#comments Tue, 27 May 2014 07:41:54 +0000 Bernard Bankukira http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134567 BURUNDI: Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, the chairman of the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (APRODH) was taken into custody on May 15 for speaking publicly about the paramilitary training of the ruling party’s youth wing. Courtesy: Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (APRODH)

Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, the chairman of the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (APRODH) was taken into custody on May 15 for speaking publicly about the paramilitary training of the ruling party’s youth wing. Courtesy: Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (APRODH)

By Bernard Bankukira
BUJUMBURA, May 27 2014 (IPS)

Burundi could be heading for political violence ahead of the 2015 elections amid allegations that the ruling National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) has been arming its youth wing.

Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, the chairman of the civil society organisation Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons, known by its French acronym, APRODH, was taken into custody on May 15 for speaking publicly about the issue. Since his arrest, Mbonimpa appeared to court three times. During his last appearance on May 23 he was denied bail. Civil society groups in this tiny Central African nation tried in vain over the weekend to negotiate his release.

Mbonimpa, who was allegedly in possession of pictures supporting this claim, has repeatedly denounced the paramilitary training of CNDD-FDD’s youth wing, Imbonerakure, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Mbonimpa alleged that the training was conducted by senior police and army officers. “The attitude of [the government] in attacking civil society and the opposition, muzzling the media, and trying to silence everyone ... will lead only to a catastrophe." -- Agathon Rwasa, leader of the main opposition National Liberation Forces

Léonce Ngendakumana, the leader of the opposition Alliance of Democrats for Change (ADC-Ikibiri), a coalition of 11 major opposition parties, said that arms were being distributed in order to spread terror among the electorate and force them to vote for the ruling party.

Ngendakumana concurred with the claims by activists that Mbonimpa’s arrest was an attempt to prevent him from speaking out about the arming and militarised training.

“The chairman of APRODH was arrested because he had courageously pointed a finger at the terrorism-oriented behaviour of the Imbonerakure militia,” Ngendakumana told IPS.

Mbonimpa was charged with making false claims likely to harm relationships between Burundi and neighbouring DRC, and for undermining state security. He denied the charges.

“He has been arrested in this regard in a bid to push him to give up inquiring and delivering all the information he has,” Ngendakumana said. He pleaded for a commission of inquiry into the allegations.

However, the Burundi government has turned a deaf ear to the requests from various organisations, including the United Nations Office in Bujumbura, for an investigation into the matter.

In April a confidential correspondence from Parfait Onanga Anyanga, the U.N. secretary-general representative in Bujumbura, to the secretary-general of the U.N., alleged that army and police uniforms and weapons were being distributed to the CNDD-FDD-affiliated youth wing. Two high-ranking army officers were alleged to have been involved.

The Burundi government refuted the allegations, claiming it was an attempt by the U.N. office to divide the Burundian people.

Paul Debbie, the security councillor of the U.N. Office in Burundi, was given 48 hours to leave the country by the government.

“Those who give these reports, which are only rumours, are the ones who have to carry out such investigations,” the government said in a statement.

Agathon Rwasa, leader of the main opposition National Liberation Forces and a presidential candidate, urged the international community to monitor the upcoming elections. He told IPS that he feared if the CNDD-FDD continued to arm Imbonerakure, the situation would eventually become catastrophic. Burundi is recovering from a 13-year civil war that resulted in 300,000 deaths and which only ended in 2006. The last armed group only formally laid down its weapons in April 2009.

“The attitude of [the government] in attacking civil society and the opposition, muzzling the media, and trying to silence everyone [reporting on] their evils will lead only to a catastrophe,” Rwasa told IPS.

“If the government fails to find a solution to what’s said about [CNDD-FDD]-affiliated youth, what would happen in Burundi if all other political parties gave their youth military training and provided them with weapons?”

Rwasa said that the ruling party was seeking to become a dictatorship.

He called on the government to promote dialogue with all key players to ensure a peaceful environment that would ensure fair elections.

Léonidas Ntahimpera, a political analyst from Bujumbura, told IPS that the ruling party had no reasonable explanation for the military training of its youth.

“Instead of explaining this suspicious venture, the government just opts to shut up any disturbing voice,” said Ntahimpera, referring to Mbonimpa’s arrest.

He said that the current socio-political situation was just a prelude to an situation of fear ahead of the 2015 elections.

“The tense situation observed for the time leads to threats of electoral violence as it happened in Kenya in 2007 and in Côte d’Ivoire in 2012 where election exercises were marred by violence,“ said Ntahimpera.

Ntahimpera urged the government to promote transparency and political tolerance and acceptance before, during and after the elections.

“Imagine there are candidates who are prohibited from running their campaigns for their own security, or [parties] where their members are intimidated in their activities. How can they believe in the outcomes of the elections?”

Pacifique Nininahazwe, the chairperson of the Forum for Conscience and Development, a civil organisation in Bujumbura, told media here that imprisonment was being used as a weapon of intimidation and harassment against human rights activists, journalists, and whoever expressed views that conflicted with those of the ruling party.

He said he failed to understand why the government was unwilling to investigate the allegations.

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Wary of Climate Change, Indonesia Looks to Lawmakers for Solutionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/wary-climate-change-indonesia-looks-lawmakers-solutions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=wary-climate-change-indonesia-looks-lawmakers-solutions http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/wary-climate-change-indonesia-looks-lawmakers-solutions/#comments Tue, 27 May 2014 04:03:51 +0000 Sandra Siagian http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134564 Logs stacked in Riau, Sumatra, which has one of Indonesia’s highest rates of deforestation. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

Logs stacked in Riau, Sumatra, which has one of Indonesia’s highest rates of deforestation. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

By Sandra Siagian
JAKARTA, May 27 2014 (IPS)

Comprised of over 17,000 islands that are highly susceptible to rising seas, Indonesia is taking stock of its position as the world’s third leading emitter of greenhouse gases after the United States and China.

Faced with the upcoming GLOBE Summit of World Legislators, scheduled to take place in Mexico City next month to test a new international climate change agreement centered on national legislation, the Indonesian government is in a race against time to evaluate its existing climate change policies, and bring its laws in line with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s promise to slash carbon emissions by 26 percent by 2020.

The international community is largely agreed that the next two years will be crucial in determining the planet’s future vis-à-vis global warming. At the end of 2015, Paris will host the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an event scientists are calling the “last chance” for world leaders to agree on a global emissions peak.

"What we need [now] is to encourage frank and open dialogue between legislators and the government.” -- Farhan Helmy, manager of the Indonesia Climate Change Center (ICCC)
Indonesia is poised to play a significant role in negotiations, with local initiatives like its Green Economy Caucus (GEC) – a sustainable development model launched last year – offering valuable lessons for the international community.

But environmental experts here say that unless swift steps are taken to boost dialogue between legislators and government officials, the country will not advance far down its path towards sustainability.

Farhan Helmy, manager of the Indonesia Climate Change Centre (ICCC), is hopeful that the GLOBE summit will provide the basis for exactly this kind of conversation.

“The conversations so far [on climate change] have not been very well connected, even in Warsaw last year,” Helmy, who was a lead negotiator with the Indonesian delegation on climate change at the 2013 UNFCCC in Poland, told IPS.

“I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel with less than two years left… What we do need is to encourage frank and open dialogue between the legislators and the government.”

Helmy strongly supports platforms like the GEC, comprised of a team of lawmakers who are plotting the country’s transition to a green economy, including identifying environmentally friendly methods of exploiting natural resources.

According to Satya Yudha, GEC’s president and a member of Indonesia’s House of Representatives who was recently re-elected for another five-year term in office, the caucus also focuses on devising green bills, creating a renewable energy strategy, and implementing the United Nations-backed REDD+ initiative (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).

The latter, Yudha told IPS, is essential for the management of land usage and for monitoring forest conservation and protected areas.

“Seventy percent of [Indonesia’s] carbon emissions come from land usage, and 30 percent from the energy sector,” he said, adding that legislators must push parliamentarians to prioritise environmental policies when setting the government’s annual budget.

Setyo Budiantoro from Prakarsa – the local NGO that helped set up the GEC – told IPS that one of Indonesia’s biggest obstacles was its parliamentarians’ mistrust in the very notion of climate change.

“That’s why there’s no…sense of urgency for parliamentarians to act on a climate change law,” the NGO’s executive director explained. “So that’s one of GEC’s main objectives, to create more awareness.”

The case for a multi-sector approach

Indonesia’s attempts to cut emissions caused by deforestation also serve as an excellent case study on the need for collaboration between lawmakers and various government sectors.

Deforestation has been rampant here in recent years, mainly due to the world’s hunger for palm oil, pulp and paper. According to a 2013 study published in ‘Science’ magazine, the country’s rate of deforestation between 2000 and 2003 totalled roughly one million hectares a year, and doubled to two million hectares a year between 2011 and 2012.

The destruction has led to deadly flash floods, landslides and the loss of habitat for endangered species like orangutans and rhinos.

Last year Yudhoyono extended a 2011 moratorium, which barred new logging and palm-oil plantation permits under a one-billion-dollar deal with Norway.

The extension of the landmark ban on clearing primary rainforests and peat lands will preserve 64 million hectares until 2015. However, environmentalists have been sceptical that some protected areas continue to be exploited due to corruption, illegal fires and logging.

A recent Human Rights Watch report argued that Indonesia’s forestry ministry failed to “accurately map forests, land use, and concession boundaries, and did not fairly allocate use rights.”

Citing an investigation by the country’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), the report, entitled ‘The Dark Side of Green Growth’, found that these “weaknesses were central causes of persistent corruption and lost government revenue, as well as high levels of deforestation.”

Muhammad Farid from REDD+ believes that Indonesia “needs to enforce policies from the top level to monitor all land sectors for unplanned deforestation, illegal logging, encroachment and forest fires.”

“REDD+ can’t fix everything,” he told IPS. “We need support from other ministries within Indonesia to really make a difference. Mining, agriculture, home affairs, they all need to coordinate with the government. This is not an easy task, but it will eventually be done.”

Locally, the jury is still out on Yudhoyono’s voluntary pledge to severely reduce carbon emissions by the end of the decade. Some experts, like Yudha, admit the president is on the right path, but are concerned about balancing an “ambitious” target with savvy economic policies.

Others, like Farid, are more optimistic, convinced that the right policies and incentives could put the country within reach of the goal in six years.

“If we [successfully] reduce encroachment and [improve] the state of our forests, and also…reduce unplanned deforestation and illegal logging, I think this goal can be reached,” he said.

With presidential elections scheduled for July, it remains to be seen whether or not the new government will follow in Yudhoyono’s footsteps.

“My hope is that whoever leads the country understands that we are not alone in [these] efforts,” Helmy asserted, adding that Indonesia is just one of many countries actively participating in global negotiations on climate change.

“I think the stakes for us are quite high… we have small islands and rising sea levels.”

Given that reality, if Indonesia fails to take concrete steps to strengthen its national legislation it will stop being part of the solution and join the ranks of the “troublemakers in the global society,” he added.

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Protests Threaten to Paralyse Brazil Ahead of World Cuphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/protests-threaten-paralyse-brazil-ahead-world-cup/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=protests-threaten-paralyse-brazil-ahead-world-cup http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/protests-threaten-paralyse-brazil-ahead-world-cup/#comments Mon, 26 May 2014 23:35:03 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134559 Professors and public employees of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, a state in northeast Brazil, in a demonstration during the strike they have been holding since March. The state capital, Natal, is one of the 12 cities hosting the FIFA World Cup. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Professors and public employees of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, a state in northeast Brazil, in a demonstration during the strike they have been holding since March. The state capital, Natal, is one of the 12 cities hosting the FIFA World Cup. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 26 2014 (IPS)

As the FIFA World Cup approaches, the streets of Brazil are heating up with strikes and demonstrations, and there are worries that the social unrest could escalate into a wave of protests similar to the ones that shook the country in June 2013.

Groups of public and private sector workers have been on strike for days, creating a hectic backdrop for the Jun. 12-Jul. 13 global football championship.

In the southern city of São Paulo a strike by bus drivers last week generated the worst traffic jams in the history of the city. And on May 21, some 8,000 police marched to the esplanade of ministries in the capital Brasilia, in a protest supported by the federal and military police forces.

In the 12 cities that will host the World Cup matches, at least 15 protests are scheduled for the event’s opening day.

Trade unions are taking advantage of the spotlight on Brazil to pressure the centre-left government of Dilma Rousseff to meet their demands.

Even workers in over a dozen Brazilian consulates in the United States and Europe, responsible for issuing visas to those interested in flying to Brazil for the sporting event, went on strike last week.

And staff at LATAM airlines – the region’s largest carrier, formed by the merger of Brazil’s Tam and Chile’s Lan – threatened a strike or slowdown that could bring airports to a halt and disrupt hundreds of international flights during the World Cup.

Professors at 90 percent of the country’s federal and state universities and teachers at state and municipal primary schools across the country have also gone on strike, while many public cultural foundations and museums have closed their doors.

“A general strike hasn’t been ruled out,” Sergio Ronaldo da Silva, secretary general of the main federal workers’ union, CONDSEF, told IPS.

“This isn’t all happening because of the World Cup,” he said. “We had been talking for a long time about going on strike. Our complaints aren’t connected to the championship – they are demands we have been voicing for years.”

If the situation remains unchanged, this country of 200 million people could grind to a halt during the World Cup, Ronaldo da Silva admitted, after pointing out that the authorities have not set a date for negotiations. He added that as the opening match approaches, relations could become even more tense.

“The federal government should have foreseen this scenario,” the trade unionist said. “They want to show the image of Brazil as a first world country, but our health system is almost broken down, and the same thing is true of education and public transport.”

CONDSEF represents around 80 percent of Brazil’s 1.3 million federal public employees.

“On May 30 we’re going to discuss the possibility of a general strike, in our confederation. The government has been hearing the message since last June’s protests,” Ronaldo da Silva said.“The government generated an exaggerated sense of expectation among the public, which has fallen flat. It promised a lot and has delivered very little. The outlook has changed and the protests are a reflection of those changes.” -- Pedro Trengrouse

In late 2013, the government signed more than 140 labour agreements with a number of different trade unions, pledging – among other things – a 15.8 percent raise, to be paid in three annual quotas.

But at that time, the projected inflation rate was much lower than today’s rate of 26 percent, the unions complain. “Of the agreements that were signed, 70 percent are not being fulfilled,” said Ronaldo da Silva.

Another problem facing the public sector is the exodus of public employees. In the latest recruitment process, in 2011, 240,000 were hired – and nearly half have already left their jobs, according to CONDSEF.

Since February 2012, legislators have been discussing proposals for preventing strikes during the World Cup. Draft law 728/2011, currently under debate in the Senate, would limit strikes ahead of and during the global sporting event.

Under the bill, unions organising a strike would have to announce it 15 days ahead of time, and 70 percent of workers would have to remain on the job.

And in February the government introduced a bill to limit protests and strikes, but there are doubts that it will be approved in the next few days.

Justice Minister José Eduardo Cardozo said strikes, demonstrations or other measures should not create chaos and disorder or generate economic damage or violence.

“The police, who serve the constitution, know that strikes are prohibited by Supreme Court rulings,” he said. “We can use the national security forces and the armed forces to guarantee law and order,” he added, to reassure the public.

On May 13, Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo predicted that the World Cup would be a peaceful time of public celebration.

“If protests occur, they’ll be isolated incidents,” he said. “I believe the country is ready because Brazil’s legislation protects peaceful demonstrations and prevents violent protests. I don’t think there are many people interested in seeing the World Cup turn chaotic because of violent protests.”

“I think we’re prepared, that public security is going to work. The safety of visitors and guests is assured. There is no risk,” he maintained.

But Pedro Trengrouse, a member of the Brazilian Lawyers Institute who specialises in sports law, said there is a climate of frustration that is very different from the initial enthusiastic reception of the 2009 announcement that Brazil would host the World Cup.

“The government generated an exaggerated sense of expectation among the public, which has fallen flat. It promised a lot and has delivered very little. The outlook has changed and the protests are a reflection of those changes,” Trengrouse told IPS.

When Brazil was selected as the host of the 2014 World Cup, no one was thinking about protests, he pointed out, because 80 percent of the population at the time supported Brazil’s bid for hosting the event, according to opinion polls.

Today, however, 55 percent of respondents say the World Cup is likely to bring the country more problems than benefits.

In 2008 and 2009, Trengrouse worked as a United Nations consultant in the service of the Brazilian government for legislative affairs related to sports, especially the World Cup.

The lawyer said the government associated the World Cup with the major structural transformations that Brazil needed, but that they would have had to be carried out with or without the mega sports event.

And in two years time, Rio de Janeiro will also host the 2016 summer Olympics.

“A balance must be struck,” Trengrouse said. “The workers’ right to strike for better conditions is inalienable. But strikes must not hurt the public. There is opportunism in some sectors. Protests cannot be allowed to give rise to criminal activities, vandalism and fascist rallies.”

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Divided Opinions on Feasibility of Kenya’s Option B+ Roll Outhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/divided-opinions-feasibility-kenyas-option-b-roll/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=divided-opinions-feasibility-kenyas-option-b-roll http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/divided-opinions-feasibility-kenyas-option-b-roll/#comments Mon, 26 May 2014 07:53:59 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134556 With Option B+, pregnant women are started on lifelong antiretroviral therapy regardless of their CD4 count. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

With Option B+, pregnant women are started on lifelong antiretroviral therapy regardless of their CD4 count. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, May 26 2014 (IPS)

Kenya’s health sector has been facing significant challenges, ranging from a shortage of health care providers to a series of labour strikes. The problems have not only disrupted health services, but have HIV experts divided on whether to roll out Option B+ nationwide or just to pilot it in high volume facilities such as major referral hospitals. 

Option B+ is the latest treatment option recommended by the World Health Organisation for HIV positive mothers.

In the earlier Options A and B, mother and baby were given antiretrovirals (ARVs) during pregnancy and breastfeeding; only women with CD4 counts under 350 were prescribed ARVs for life. CD4s, or helper cells, fight infections in the body.

Option B+ consists of lifelong provision of ARV therapy to pregnant women, regardless of their CD4 count.

Dr John Ong’ech, assistant director at Kenyatta National Hospital, told IPS that when discussion begun in 2013 on whether to start option B+ in Kenya, “at the national policy level, people were divided on whether to roll out Option B+ fully.”

Currently, Option B+ is only available in the two major referral hospitals, Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) in Nairobi province, the Moi Referral Hospital in the Rift Valley province, and in a few mission and district hospitals.

“There are those who felt that we need to first fix systems in the health sector,” said Ong’ech.

“To begin patients on Option B+, you need clinicians because there are things to be considered, such as drug toxicity, at the treatment entry point, after which nurses can manage,” he added.

In 2013, nearly 20,000 HIV positive pregnant women were given Option B+ lifelong ARV therapy.  Another 55,860 should be enrolled to achieve 100 percent coverage, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Human resource crisis

Maurice Okoth, a clinician at a prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) centre in Nyanza province, told IPS that Option B+ is not just a matter of ensuring drug availability.

“Clinic records must be organised, they must show if patients are defaulting and how these defaulters can be tracked. This is nearly impossible at the moment due to understaffing. We are facing a human resource crisis in the health sector,” he said

Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission Kenya 2013

HIV Positive Pregnant Women
32,770 on short course ARVs
20,000 on lifelong therapy
55,540 total receiving any ARVs
55,980 number of pregnant women to reach 100% Option B+ coverage

Source: UNAIDS (rounded figures)

Kenya has some 36,000 nurses in the public and private sector but needs at least 80,000 more, according to government statistics.

Ong’ech agrees: “If you have adherence problems among the HIV patients that you are already treating, there is no need to roll out Option B+ because it will only get worse.”

The Director of Medical Services, Dr Simon Mueke, acknowledges that the disruption of health services due to labour unrest has affected PMTCT services.

In December 2011, doctors went on strike demanding more money for the health sector. In March 2012, nurses staged a two-week long strike, and five months later doctors stopped working for nearly three weeks. More strikes took place in 2013. A strike by doctors and nurses is looming in 2014 if government does not hire more staff.

Not surprisingly, PMTCT coverage fell by 20 percent in 2011 and 2012, according to UNAIDS.

Price and logistics

The price tag and the logistics of rolling out Option B+ nationwide are additional challenges.

Onge’ch says that, while ARVs are generally available across Kenya, “the country needs to come up with a cost effective way of procuring the additional drugs for Option B+.”

In ARV treatment, the actual cost of drugs represents less than 30 percent of the total. The new single-pill, fixed-dose regime costs about 180 dollars per patient per year, according to the Ministry of Health, and is expected to cost even less in the future.

“It is health care systems and the actual delivery of the services that take the remaining 70 to 80 percent,” said Okoth. “You need more laboratory services and viral load testing to ensure that they [women] are adhering to the treatment.”

Distance from home to the clinic is a problem. In Kisumu, Nyanza province, the average distance to the health facility is about 5.8 km while in Mandera, North Eastern Province, it is 20 kms, explained Okoth.

But Maya Harper, country director for UNAIDS Kenya, told IPS that Option B+ is a cost effective measure: “In the long run, it reduces the burden on the health system and on poor women. Placing women on and off treatment when they are pregnant is much more expensive.”
Beyond health infrastructure problems, Dr. Dave Muthama, from the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation, says that stigma ”remains one of the major obstacles.“

At KNH, Ong’ech daily sees how stigma affects patients: some get the ARVs but do not take them while others refuse to collect the drugs for fear of being found out.

Poverty is another barrier, said Muthama: “Mothers do not adhere to the PMTCT visits because (…) while at the clinic, they are missing out on economically gainful activities.”

For Muthama, full elimination of HIV transmission to babies requires social structures to support HIV positive mothers.

“The society needs to go through the same four stages that most people who test positive for HIV go through: denial, anger, acceptance and coping,” he said.

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To Grow Or Not To Grow GMO Cropshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/agriculture-italy-grow-grow-gmo-crops/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=agriculture-italy-grow-grow-gmo-crops http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/agriculture-italy-grow-grow-gmo-crops/#comments Sun, 25 May 2014 16:11:35 +0000 Silvia Giannelli http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134519 Fidenato's GMO MON810 maize in Tomba di Mereto 2014. Credit: Leandro Taboga

Fidenato's MON810 maize in Tomba di Mereto 2014. Credit: Leandro Taboga

By Silvia Giannelli
LUCCA, Italy, May 25 2014 (IPS)

“I  want to grow genetically modified organisms (GMOs) because I want to feed my family with biotech products. In no way do I want to eat biological food because I think it’s not so healthy or nutritious.”

This is how Giorgio Fidenato, Italian farmer and President of Agricoltori Federati (Federated Farmers), explained to IPS the reason behind his fight against the Italian ban on Monsanto’s genetically modified MON810 maize.

“I’ve already sown [GMO maize] in three different plots this year and I have self-denounced myself for doing so” -- Giorgio Fidenato, Italian farmer, President of Agricoltori Federati (Federated Farmers)
The Monsanto maize is the only GMO allowed for cultivation throughout the European Union, and the directive that regulates the deliberate release into the environment of GMOs, Directive 2001/18/EC, includes a ‘safeguard clause’ that allows member states to prohibit such cultivation, provided that they “have justifiable reasons to consider that the GMO in question poses a risk to human health or the environment”.

So far, 129.000 hectares of land – roughly the area covered by a city the size of Rome – are being cultivated with genetically modified corn in Europe, 90 percent of which is in Spain, while the rest is spread across Portugal, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania.

In Italy, three ministers – Health, Agricultural Policies and Environment – signed a decree last year to ban Monsanto’s GMO maize. “There are currently six countries in Europe that have invoked the ‘safeguard clause’ to prohibit GMO cultivation,” Giuseppe Croce, agriculture director of Italy’s environmental organisation Legambiente, told IPS, “namely, Austria, France, Greece, Hungary, Germany and Luxembourg.”

“On the other hand,” said Croce, “Italy used an emergency-measure procedure that bans them only temporarily.” The inter-ministerial decree banning GMO maize has a validity of 18 months. “If nothing happens in the meantime, at the end of 2014, Fidenato will be free to grow Monsanto’s genetically modified maize,” Croce explained.

However, Fidenato has no intention of waiting. In the last three years, he has already sown his three hectares of land with MON810, fuelling strong protests by environmentalist groups and sparking a huge debate in the country. “My first harvest, in 2010, was confiscated by the authorities. My farm was under legal possession until May this year, but I’ve already sown in three different plots this year and I have self-denounced myself for doing so.”

Despite the upholding of the national ban by the Regional Court of Lazio, to which Fidenato had appealed in October last year, the farmer is not giving up and has already presented another appeal to the Council of State. “This is my chance to show the arrogance and iniquity of democracy, because here we are facing the pretension that, just because the majority does not want GMOs, I can’t eat them either. What I say is: if you don’t want them, don’t buy my products.”

But not all agriculturists see farming the way Fidenato sees it. Lucca, in Tuscany, is the Italian province with the highest concentration of biodynamic farms. Like the majority of those, Gabriele Da Prato’s ranch farm in the mountain region of Garfagnana, north of Lucca, produces wine. For him, his choices – and the choices of the farmers around him – will determine the future of the territory where he grew up.

His farm covers three and half hectares and he is the only ‘employee’, producing around 14,000 bottles of wine each year. “I decided to take over the family farm in 1998, in the years of heavy chemicals, also in subsistence farming,” Da Prato told IPS.

Farmer showing a clump of soil, with “simply no life underneath”. Photo credit: IPS/Silvia Giannelli

Farmer showing a clump of soil, with “simply no life underneath”. Photo credit: IPS/Silvia Giannelli

In 2000, he began to realise that his land had problems of soil erosion, lack of potassium and calcium, “but what bothered me the most was to find out, by observing the clumps of soil, that there was simply no life underneath. This was the consequence of years and years of chemical use: artificial fertilisers had impoverished the soil, herbicides had killed all the grass, the butterflies had disappeared, it was a disaster.”

It was then that he took a radical decision and began to apply biodynamic methods, using uniquely natural substances, such as mineral, plant, or animal manure extracts to enhance soil quality. For him, opening the doors to GMOs in Italy is simply nonsense: “First of all, Italy’s surface area isn’t big enough to compete with giants such as North America in the field of GMOs. High quality, inimitable products and our territorial identity, these are our trump cards,” Da Prato stressed.

But beyond the economic factor, threats to the ecosystem seem to be his biggest concern. “On a field sown with GMOs, the water simply slips away. My plot, which is healthy and lively, can hold up to 90 percent of water. Last year we had a big flood, and I can thank my biodynamic vineyard if my house is still intact,” Da Prato said. “Once we are done exploiting our territory to fill up the wallet, and the earth won’t be able to give us food any longer, then maybe people will start asking themselves what happened,” he concluded sadly.

The legal battle between these two points of view is still on, as Croce explained: “The EU is in the process of reforming the directive on GMOs, and this will likely happen during the Italian presidency (July-December 2014). Based on the current negotiations, we are hopeful that the new regulation will include an additional clause allowing member states to ban GMOs also for economic reasons, which is crucial for ‘Made in Italy’ exports.”

Yet, Fidenato remains firm on his position: “When I was a kid, I used to go with my mother to pull out weeds with my bare hands, I know what it means and they won’t make me go back to that. Others can keep doing so if they like, I won’t.”

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Is Ankara Getting Deeper Into The Iraqi Quicksand?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/ankara-getting-deeper-iraqi-quicksand/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ankara-getting-deeper-iraqi-quicksand http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/ankara-getting-deeper-iraqi-quicksand/#comments Sun, 25 May 2014 16:07:42 +0000 Jacques N. Couvas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134548 By Jacques N. Couvas
ANKARA, May 25 2014 (IPS)

The decision late Thursday by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to proceed with its first shipment of crude oil to Europe out of the port of Ceyhan in southern Turkey has received mixed reactions from all the parties concerned.

What may be seen by the Turkish government as a blessing, at a time that faith in the future of the country’s economy is wavering, may prove a political curse in Ankara’s already troubled relations with Baghdad.

Map of Kirkuk–Ceyhan oil pipeline

Map of Kirkuk–Ceyhan oil pipeline

It took less than 24 hours for the central government of Iraq to react to the news. Late Friday afternoon the Iraqi Ministry of Oil announced that it had “filed with the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in Paris a Request for Arbitration against the Republic of Turkey and its state-owned pipeline operator Botas, seeking to stop the unauthorised transportation, storage and loading” of KRG-originating oil to one of the two Iraq-Turkey pipelines, running from Kirkuk in Iraq to Ceyhan.

In addition, Baghdad is seeking financial damages in excess of 250 million dollars from Ankara.

Under the agreement, signed in 1973 and amended several times, most recently in September 2010, Turkey and Botas undertook to reserve the entire infrastructure system for the exclusive use of the Iraqi Ministry of Oil, which retained the right to approve any and all uses of the 1,200 mile-long pipelines.

When in November 2013 Turkey announced the signature of a series of cooperation agreements with KRG, one of which contemplated the use of the Iraq-Turkey pipeline, Baghdad immediately protested that this was in violation of its agreement with Ankara.

KRG is a ‘federal region’, according to article 117 of the Iraqi Constitution of 2005 and enjoys certain autonomy in matters not falling within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government of Baghdad (Article 121, first paragraph).

International relations, including treaties, agreements and trade policy, are in the sphere of exclusive competence of Baghdad (Iraqi Constitution, Article 110, first paragraph). Moreover, Article 111 declares that “oil and gas are owned by all the people of Iraq in all the regions and governorates.”

It therefore seems that KRG and Turkey may have overlooked Iraq’s constitutional provisions in striking their oil transit and distribution deal.

In its official press release on May 24, Baghdad also accused Turkey and Botas of having violated the Mutual Friendship Treaty of 1946, which “requires Turkey to observe a strict policy of non-interference in domestic Iraqi affairs.”"What may be seen by the Turkish government as a blessing ... may prove a political curse in Ankara’s already troubled relations with Baghdad"

The crisis in the relations between the two states had been anticipated since November last year. The United States had put pressure on KRG’s Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to avoid antagonising further the Iraqi leadership. In February, Turkey’s Minister of Energy Taner Yildiz gave signs that exports from Ceyhan would not begin without Baghdad’s approval.

With the Syrian civil war dragging-on and domestic unrest between Sunni and Shia factions in Iraq intensifying, the U.S. administration did not want to risk further complications in the region.

Ankara’s interests also seem to support a business-like relation with Baghdad. Hours before KRG oil exports from Ceyhan began, the Energy Market Regulatory Authority of Turkey announced that in 2013 Iraq had ranked first in oil imports to Turkey, with a 32 percent share, a substantial increase from its 19 percent stake in 2012.

The overlapping of interests, however, stops there. In spite of a temporary warm-up in political relations in 2008, which led to the signature of 39 agreements, the entente between Erdogan and his Iraqi counterpart Nouri al-Maliki has turned into mistrust and bitter exchange of blame, influenced by the sectarian politics which plague the region.

The first clash occurred in 2009, when Baghdad issued an arrest warrant for its Sunni vice-president Tariq al-Hashemi, who was accused of planning to assassinate Shia leaders, including Maliki. Ankara refused to extradite Hashemi and offered him political asylum.

Then came the Syrian crisis. Erdogan, a Sunni, openly and materially supported the rebels against the Alawite regime in Damascus, siding with Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Alawites are a denomination of the Shia sect. Maliki, a leader of the Shia community, which represents 60 percent of the Iraqi population, did not take an open position, but got closer to Iran, an ally to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But Turkey’s chess game has two additional dimensions. The first is the Kurdish community of the country, mostly settled in southeastern Anatolia, which represents approximately 18 percent of the country’s 77 million population. Its outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has been seeking independence, often through armed action, which has resulted in the death of 40,000 rebels, civilians and security forces.

In 2012, Erdogan masterminded a ‘peace process’, promising PKK freedoms that should lead to the recognition of the Kurds’ ethnic identity. PKK has retreated to the mountains in KRG territory and Barzani has been instrumental in maintaining a truce between the rebels and Ankara. Preserving the status is important for Erdogan’s Justice and Development (AK) Party in view of the Turkish presidential elections set for August.

But a good relationship between Ankara and Erbil, KRG’s capital, irritates Baghad, which considers Barzani disloyal to the federal government and suspects that KRG will, sooner or later, press for complete independence. This possibility is also of concern to Turkey, which fears renewed separatist sentiment by its own Kurds. Financial success of KRG, through oil exports, may paradoxically become an accelerator in fuelling such development.

The other dimension in Turkey’s regional plans is its ambition to become a world energy power, by establishing the country as eastern Mediterranean’s leading hub in oil and natural gas exports to Europe.

Having damaged its relations with the European Union since 2009, Turkey sees a chance to become an indispensable partner of the West, not only in theory, but also in practice. Its geographical capability to provide safe transit for oil and natural gas from Iraq and, in the near future, from Israel and Cyprus to international markets, presents a strategic window of opportunity that it cannot afford to miss.

Erdogan’s seemingly good relationship with the Russian Federation and Iran is based on realpolitik rather than affinities. In fact, Ankara would like to minimise its energy dependence on Moscow and Tehran by 2023. The countdown has already begun. Last year the share of oil imports from Iran and Russia decreased from 39 to 28 percent and from 11 to 8 percent, respectively.

Following his recent electoral victory in the Iraqi elections, in which he secured 94 out of the 328 seats in parliament, Maliki is poised to return to the driver’s seat in Baghdad. In the absence of reconciliation, Ankara may have to revise its ambitions, given that Iraq has already built alternative routes for its oil exports, through its southern ports and Israel, while in the more distant future a normalisation of the political situation in Syria will offer additional options to oil and gas exporters.

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African Union Takes Stock of 51 Years as Terrorism Spreads Across Continenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/little-celebrate-african-union-takes-stock-51-years/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=little-celebrate-african-union-takes-stock-51-years http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/little-celebrate-african-union-takes-stock-51-years/#comments Sun, 25 May 2014 09:07:19 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134542 Boko Haram's latest bomb attack in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, on Apr. 14, 2014, claimed 75 lives. Courtesy: Mohammed Lere

Boko Haram's latest bomb attack in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, on Apr. 14, 2014, claimed 75 lives. Courtesy: Mohammed Lere

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, May 25 2014 (IPS)

As the African Union is set to celebrate its 51st birthday on May 25, it does so as the continent remains caught up in a tide of terrorist conflicts, which many analysts feel the AU has done little to resolve.

“With unsolved conflicts dotted across our continent, really the efficiency of the AU is at stake and highly questionable. We don’t need a rocket scientist to tell us that the AU is wanting, considering the terror attacks in East and West Africa,” independent political analyst Evelyn Moyo tells IPS.

The Somali extremist group, Al-Shabaab, has waged a terror campaign in the Horn of Africa nation and across East Africa, with attacks spreading to neighbouring Kenya. The Sept. 21, 2013 attack on Kenya’s Westgate Shopping Mall claimed over 67 lives and left more than 175 people wounded. The Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack.

Kenya’s port city and popular tourist destination of Mombasa also experienced a number of terrorist attacks from Al-Shabaab, with the United Kingdom, U.S. and French governments issuing warnings to their citizens not to travel there.

In West Africa, the region has been rocked by instability thanks to the Nigerian-based extremist group, Boko Haram. The group, which is also linked to Al-Qaeda, gained international attention after the abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok in Nigeria’s northeast Borno state on Apr. 14. The Nigerian government has struggled to contain Boko Haram’s attacks and the extremist group has attacked neighbouring countries, including Cameroon. There are also fears of instability in parts of neighbouring Chad, Niger, Cameroon, Benin, Ghana and even Central African Republic.

Political analyst Malvern Tigere feels the AU has done little to contain the terrorism threat on the continent.

“We have had a situation where the AU has paid a deaf ear to the severity of spreading terrorist attacks across West Africa. On Sept. 21, 2013, Al-Shabaab killed 72 people in a popular Kenyan shopping mall, and what did AU do about that? Is it a trivial thing to have close to 100 people massacred at one go?

“There are terror attacks in Kenya, there are terror attacks in Nigeria, there are also terror attacks in Somalia and all these are mounted in countries with membership to the AU. [There has been] no clear solution from the organisation to thwart such acts, which truly renders the AU spineless,” Tigere tells IPS.

But Zambia’s independent political analyst, Michael Mwanza, disagrees.

“The AU, which was formerly the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), played a pivotal role in ending colonialism and minority rule in Africa. It was AU that gave weapons, training and military bases to colonised African nations fighting for independence,” Mwanza tells IPS.

Over half a century ago, the OAU was formed in Ethiopia on May 25, 1963 and was tasked with resolving colonial conflicts. It was replaced by the AU on May 26, 2001.

“The organisation played a major role in bringing sanity across Africa,” adds Mwanza.

A Tanzanian diplomat in Zimbabwe, speaking on the condition of anonymity for professional reasons, agrees with Mwanza.

“It’s not all doom and gloom in the AU. The organisation played a role to broker Zimbabwe’s Unity government in 2009, bringing peace and stability to a country that was almost sliding into anarchy. It was the AU that in 2011 helped to have Cote d’Ivoire opposition leader Alassane Ouattara recognised as president after then leader Laurent Gbagbo had refused to hand over power after losing at the polls,” the Tanzanian diplomat tells IPS.

Zimbabwean political observer Denis Nyikadzino points out that the AU “does not often resort to using force to bringing calm in conflict situations here, but it uses dialogue and I see nothing wrong in that.”

But Rwandan civil society activist, Otapiya Gundurama, feels that the AU has over the years become lax, leaving the developed world to play the rescue role in African conflicts.

“Over the years, the AU has folded its hands and has become used to having the super powers intervening in its conflicts. That is why instead of the AU creeping instantly to thwart Boko Haram insurgents, we have the U.S., Israel and France deploying military personnel at the border between Chad and Nigeria to help find the kidnapped girls,” Gundurama tells PS.

Observers, however, say that AU on its own cannot resolve all the conflicts brewing on the continent.

“Africa has the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and surely the AU is not the Holy Spirit to singlehandedly end African conflicts,” Harare-based political commentator Innocent Majawaya tells IPS.

Ernst Mudzengi, political analyst and director of Media Centre Zimbabwe, pinned the raging conflicts in Africa on unequal distribution of the continent’s natural resources.

“Despite the AU’s presence, Africa has continued to witness conflicts caused by ineffective governments with few people benefitting from the continent’s natural resources,” Mudzengi tells IPS.

But as the AU anniversary coincides with Africa Day, Catherine Mukwapati, director of the Youth Dialogue Action Network, a democracy lobby group in Zimbabwe, says there is little to celebrate.

“We have leadership crisis in Africa where certain leaders believe they have the mandate to rule ceaselessly and people therefore hunger for leadership renewal, resulting in many people finding no reasons for celebrating Africa Day,” she tells IPS.

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EU Elections Overheat The Burning Catalonian Debatehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/eu-elections-overheat-burning-catalonian-debate/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eu-elections-overheat-burning-catalonian-debate http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/eu-elections-overheat-burning-catalonian-debate/#comments Sat, 24 May 2014 15:22:02 +0000 Julio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134525 2012 Catalan independence protest. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Kippelboy

2012 Catalan independence protest. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Kippelboy

By Julio Godoy
BARCELONA, May 24 2014 (IPS)

The debate on Catalonian efforts to become a sovereign state independent from Spain has become the centre of the otherwise tedious European Parliament elections campaign this month.

In December last year, the Barcelona-based regional Catalonian conservative government, the Generalitat, announced that it would carry out a referendum to decide whether Catalonia will remain part of the Spanish state, or declares independence. The local parliament has scheduled the referendum for November 9, 2014.

“Spain is undoubtedly a democracy … but it doesn’t have the same depth as British democracy” -- Artur Mas, President of Catalonia’s Generalitat
For the conservative central government in Madrid, such a referendum cannot take place because the national constitution does not foresee such popular consultations.

Catalonian independence activists argue that the region, Spain’s leading industrial cluster, pays too many taxes to the central budget, in exchange for low quality public services. Yet another argument in favour of independence is that the central government insists on imposing Castellan culture to the detriment of local traditions, in particular the use of the Catalonian language.

According to official 2014 figures, Catalonia is the fourth richest region in Spain, as measured by the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. However, Catalonia pays the largest contribution to the Spanish central budget, only after Madrid. To make this imbalance worse, the region’s benefit is a relatively low investment from Madrid.

In 2010, for example, Catalonia contributed almost 62 billion Euros in taxes to the central budget, but only received public investments of over 45 billion, amounting to a deficit of 8.5 percent of the Catalonian GDP. This imbalancehas been growing since 2007.

As Elisanda Paluzie, professor of economics at the University of Barcelona, puts it, Catalonia feels like a “a cash cow (which) pay(s) Swedish-level taxes in exchange for sub-par public services.”

Artur Mas, president of the Generalitat, and leading political figure supporting the Nov 9 referendum, has called this fiscal imbalance “discriminatory, unfair, and arbitrary”.

In a document prepared by the Generalitat, and released in October last year, the Barcelona government estimated that the central government in Madrid owes more than nine billion Euros to Catalonia, as a consequence of its non-compliance with investment agreements with the Catalonian region.

Despite years of Catalonian efforts to obtain a new fixing of this ratio and of the central Spanish budget, or to legally give priority to Catalonian culture and traditions, in particular the use of the Catalan language, so far nothing has changed, in particular because the central authorities in Madrid have always rejected such proposals.

In 2010, the Madrid Constitutional Court invalidated 14 articles and established an official interpretation of 27 other declarations contained in the so-called Catalonian Statute, a sort of Catalonian constitution, which had been approved by the Catalonian parliament and by a popular referendum in 2006.

In particular, the Madrid court annulled a statute article calling the Catalonian language “the preferred” language in the region.

Madrid authorities also deny the fiscal imbalance, and dismiss the Catalonian claims as “lies”. Spanish Minister of Finance Cristobal Montoro said in October last year that “Madrid pays Catalonia’s bills”.

Even Socialist opposition leaders in Madrid reject the Catalonian claims. Joaquin Leguina, former president of the Madrid regional government, proposed paying “the nine billion Euro that Catalonia demands, on the condition that the Catalonian people shut their mug for ever.”

In other declarations, local leaders have called the Catalonian independence campaign “nationalist vomits”.

As the European Parliament elections campaign, being held May 22-25, reaches an end, Spanish political parties have seasoned their electoral efforts with insulting allusions to Catalonia. María Dolores Cospedal, secretary general of the conservative Popular Party (PP), which rules the central government in Madrid, accused Artur Mas of “fomenting hatred and national division with his lies and frauds.”

Mas replied: “Catalonian is a peace loving nation which only wants to vote and to listen” to the people’s will

For Catalonian people, such debates “only heat the tensions” already in place among Spain’s regions. Dani, owner of a small enterprise in Gracia, a popular district in Barcelona, complained that “it should be possible to discuss such a matter in a civilised democratic way, without exchanging insults.

Dani, who has relatives in Britain, said that he has been following the debates about the independence referendum in Scotland, scheduled for September 18. “People in England and in Scotland are exchanging the pros and cons on the question of Scottish independence, but they don’t call each other liars or dictators.”

“Nobody in England questions the right of Scottish people to decide,” Dani added. A popular Catalonian slogan in favour of the referendum says “In a democracy, it is normal to vote”, a reaction to Madrid’s rejection of the November referendum.

Artur Mas has also referred to these differences in public. In an interview, Mas said, “there’s a more profound democratic will in Britain than in Spain. I regret that because I would love to say that in Spain there is the same talent for democracy or the same feeling for democracy.”

“Spain is undoubtedly a democracy,” Mas added. “But it doesn’t have the same depth as British democracy.”

The Scottish and Catalonian quests for independence constitute a major challenge for the European Union because, if the separatists win, the body would have to decide whether it accepts the new states as members. In the Catalonian case, European authorities would also have to decide whether the new state may keep the Euro as its national currency.

For Catalonia, with strong trade links with the rest of Europe, a loss of such status would represent a substantial economic setback. Both Scottish and Catalonian independence activists have made it clear that they want the eventual new states to remain as members of the European Union.

So far, the authorities in Brussels have tried to avoid taking sides in the debates. But José Manuel Barroso, president of European Commission, warned Catalonia and Scotland alike that, in case they become independent states, they would have to leave the EU and ask to be re-admitted.

However, there is no legal cadre sustaining such position. As Artur Mas pointed out in the interview, “there are no precedents. In the EU treaties, and more precisely in the Lisbon Treaty, there’s no consideration of cases” such as the Catalonian and Scottish quests for independence.

Indeed, no European law-maker has ever considered the possibility that a region within an EU member state would declare independence from that state but ask to remain part of the body.

Mas noted that European authorities could not take away “the rights of citizenship held for many many years by Scottish citizens or Catalans; citizenship rights that can’t be annulled or swept aside overnight.”

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U.S. Pledges to Reduce Child Stunting by Two Million Globallyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/u-s-pledges-reduce-child-stunting-two-million-globally/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-pledges-reduce-child-stunting-two-million-globally http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/u-s-pledges-reduce-child-stunting-two-million-globally/#comments Fri, 23 May 2014 22:36:35 +0000 Michelle Tullo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134515 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/u-s-pledges-reduce-child-stunting-two-million-globally/feed/ 0 Peaceful Transitions From The Nuclear To The Solar Agehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/peaceful-transitions-nuclear-solar-age-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peaceful-transitions-nuclear-solar-age-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/peaceful-transitions-nuclear-solar-age-2/#comments Fri, 23 May 2014 10:58:15 +0000 Hazel Henderson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134500

In this column, Hazel Henderson, futurist and economic iconoclast, argues that today’s systemic breakdowns are producing new plans and breakthroughs long-proposed by futurists and planetary citizens.

By Hazel Henderson
ST. AUGUSTINE, Florida, May 23 2014 (IPS)

Japanese Buddhist and president of Soka Gakkai International (SGI) Daisaku Ikeda’s Peace Proposal 2014 elevated my focus from the daily news to my longer term concerns for more peaceful, equitable and sustainable human societies to assure our common future. These broader concerns are now shared by millions of humans who have transcended purely personal, local and nationalistic goals and become prototypical global citizens.

Hazel Henderson

Hazel Henderson

Breakdowns in our current institutions now cause daily crises and are, as always, driving new breakthroughs as humans seek new solutions.  Stress has always been a tool of evolution – as recorded in the 3.8 billion years of life forms on our home planet.

Today’s crises are all consequences of our former myopic technological and social innovations addressing short-term problems without anticipating their system-wide longer-term effects.  This is how I became concerned about how human burning of fossil fuels and digging in the Earth for our energy which led me to join the World Future Society in the 1960s.  I was then leading an effort to clean New York City’s polluted air, living close by a huge coal-burning power plant pumping smoke and soot into the play park where I and other mothers watched our infants.

Fast forward to 2014, and I’m still a card-carrying futurist and on the Planning Committee of the Millennium Project which tracks our human family’s 15 Global Challenges.  Our latest State of the Future Report 2014 tracks where we are progressing and where we are falling short in addressing these challenges: sustainable development and climate change; water; population and resources; democratisation; long-term policy making; globalisation of information technology; rich-poor gap; health; decision-making capacities; conflict resolution; improving the status of women; transnational organised crime; energy; science and technology, and global ethics.  This Millennium Project has participants from academia, government, civic society and businesses in fifty countries.

“Political will in many countries is still hostage to special interests, lobbying and money from these legacy sectors and their perverse subsidies”
At the same time, Daisaku Ikeda, also my esteemed co-author of Planetary Citizenship, leader of SGI’s 12 million members, outlines his annual Peace Proposal for 2014, as he has done since 1983. Ikeda, born in 1928, is one of the world’s most distinguished global citizens.

Ikeda’s Peace Proposal 2014 – Value Creation for Global Change: Building Resilient and Sustainable Societies – engages  United Nation issues: moving beyond the 2000 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Agenda of 191 countries in Rio+20 in Brazil in 2012, as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  These now embrace the transition from fossil and nuclear energy to the more decentralised, cleaner, greener, knowledge-richer, green economies now under way.  I came to similar conclusions in my Mapping the Global Transition to the Solar Age (2014). Retiring human uses of fossil fuels, uranium and nuclear power plants and weapons is now feasible with current technologies as outlined in many reports covered in the 2014 Green Transition Scoreboard®.

Political will in many countries is still hostage to special interests, lobbying and money from these legacy sectors and their perverse subsidies. Civic movements worldwide are pressuring pension funds and university endowments to divest from fossilised sectors and shift to cleaner, greener, more sustainable investments.  Veteran financial experts, including Jeremy Grantham and Robert A. G. Monks, now join these critics, along with asset managers offering “fossil-free” portfolios which often outperform dirtier assets. As nuclear power plants are being decommissioned in the United States and Europe due to cheaper wind, solar and efficiency alternatives, many in Asia are still planned, even in China which now leads the world in solar energy.

Huge conceptual breakthroughs are needed to shift old paradigms and theory-induced blindness. One such is the rapidly developing proposal “Iran Goes Solar” by the Planck Foundation for Iran to end run the entire political debate about its right to develop civilian nuclear power. This could bypass all sanctions, Israel’s concerns about another nuclear weapons state in the Middle East and “electrify” the upcoming United Nation Conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

While Ikeda rightly calls for a “non-use” agreement under NPT, the Planck Foundation’s plan is a paradigm shifter. Iran could accelerate its transition from both nuclear and fossil fuels by immediately acquiring blocks of shares in China’s solar energy companies and then purchasing as many of their solar panels as possible. This is already a much cheaper alternative to building nuclear reactors or fossil fuel power plants.

Iran’s bountiful oil reserves would stay underground as valuable feedstocks for industrial use rather than burning them, a plan I proposed in the NBC-TV Today Show in 1965!  Details of the Planck “Iran Goes Solar” plan also call for expanding rail services on the Silk Road to China, greening desert lands with salt-loving plants as in their DesertCorp plan for expanding seawater-based agriculture in many desert regions.

Today’s breakdowns are indeed producing the new systemic plans and breakthroughs long-proposed by futurists and planetary citizens. All these plans for our common future and green economies are covered by Ethical Markets Media(United States and Brazil), but often overlooked in mainstream media. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

* Hazel Henderson is the president of Ethical Markets Media (USA and Brazil) and creator of the Green Transition Scoreboard®.

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Hemp Defies Hurdles to Make a Comeback in Spainhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/hemp-defies-hurdles-make-comeback-spain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hemp-defies-hurdles-make-comeback-spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/hemp-defies-hurdles-make-comeback-spain/#comments Thu, 22 May 2014 19:47:37 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134492 A hemp field in the Alpujarra mountains in the southern Spanish province of Granada. Credit: Courtesy of AEPTC

A hemp field in the Alpujarra mountains in the southern Spanish province of Granada. Credit: Courtesy of AEPTC

By Inés Benítez
MALAGA, Spain, May 22 2014 (IPS)

Spain is experiencing a resurgence of hemp, one of the species of cannabis with the lowest THC content, which has been used for millennia to produce textile, medicinal and food products.

“Hemp has been planted since the beginning of time for its nutritional properties and health benefits,” said Pilar López with the Galihemp Cooperative, which makes and sells hemp products in the northeastern Spanish city of Lugo. “It’s a plant that remineralises the soil.”

The European Union allows the industrial and agricultural production of hemp with a concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the chief psychoactive constituent of marijuana – no higher than 0.2 percent.

Varieties of cannabis sativa used to produce marijuana and hashish contain 0.5 to 10 percent THC.

Royal Decree 1729/1999 of Nov. 12, 1999 authorises the cultivation of 25 varieties of industrial hemp in Spain and establishes guidelines to grant subsidies to producers of fibre flax and hemp.

For thousands of years hemp was used to produce clothing, food and products like ship sails. And in Spain, hemp products experienced an upsurge during the country’s 1936-1939 civil war.

But in 1937 the United States banned all cannabis, including hemp, to benefit the production of cotton and synthetic fibres.

The age-old hemp industry collapsed, leading to a rural exodus of farmers who grew it. The final nail in the coffin in the United States was the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, in conjunction with international conventions.

Chemist Josep María Funtané from Catalonia in northeastern Spain told IPS he discovered the therapeutic properties of hemp when he was diagnosed with cancer and found that it helped ease the side effects of chemotherapy.

In 2011, in the Catalonian city of Barcelona, he founded Vitrovit, a company that produces medicinal products, cosmetics and fertilisers derived from hemp.

Patients generally only need cannabis with the lowest levels of THC and the highest possible content of cannabidiol, a major, non-psychoactive constituent of cannabis with anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects."Hemp production could be a green revolution that would help reduce unemployment in rural areas in these times of economic crisis." -- Fernando Montero

Funtané is drawing up a map of Spain to boost the recovery of the cultivation of industrial hemp, offering detailed information by community and province.

Producers of industrial hemp, a fast-growing crop adaptable to most kinds of terrain, underscore its enormous potential and complain that they are subject to confiscation of merchandise and even arrest.

On May 7, the authorities closed down a therapeutic grow-shop that sold cannabis-derived products in Calahorra, a town in the northern region of La Rioja. “Two civil guards showed up without a warrant and closed the shop,” the owner of the business, who only gave his first name, Dionisio, told IPS.

And a producer of hemp-derived products, Miguel Arrillaga, complained to IPS that “since January, the authorities have seized three of my shipments of industrial hemp when they confused it with marijuana, causing problems for shops and customers.”

There is “an epidemic of ignorance” about a crop whose growers even receive state subsidies, he argued.

Arrillaga, like other producers who spoke to IPS, buys legally certified seeds from France, because Spain does not certify seeds. His seeds are planted by farmers in the southern region of Andalusía.

He sells all parts of the hemp plant – seeds, leaves and stems – which are used to make “hemp milk” (a drink made from seeds that are soaked and ground into water), infusions, soap, and skincare products.

“Hemp production could be a green revolution that would help reduce unemployment in rural areas in these times of economic crisis,” the president of the Spanish association of hemp producers (AEPTC), Fernando Montero, told IPS.

The AEPTC was created in 2012 in the village of Bubión, in the heart of the La Alpujarra mountains in the southern Andalusían province of Granada.

Montero, who sells hemp along with his son in their company LaKaraba, said that even though they “meticulously” comply with all of the legal requirements, they are always a bit nervous when they plant, for fear that the authorities will swoop in at any given moment.

Civil guard lieutenant Pablo Cobo in the Andalusían city of Algeciras told IPS that “even though it isn’t what it looks like,” a package of industrial hemp has the same appearance and smell as marijuana.

When the authorities find a shipment of a package of hemp leaves, the results of the analysis come up positive for THC, no matter how low the percentage.

That automatically leads to confiscation of the product and the submission of a sample to the health authorities for a second lab test.

“The problem is that the initial test and identification of the product by the authorities“ are not reliable and must be contrasted by a second test, a lawyer who asked to remain anonymous told IPS.

And while the tests determine whether or not the cannabis complies with the legal limits for THC content, the product can languish in a warehouse for weeks or even months, Arrillaga complained.

He also cited Juan Zurito, a Granada farmer who was arrested several times for crimes against public health, and who has been in prison since February.

Spain is a signatory to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and the 1988 United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, which ban the cultivation, production and sale of cannabis as a drug, but do not restrict the production of industrial hemp.

Hemp fibre can be used to make clothing, rope and paper, while the oil from the seeds can be used to produce biofuel or animal feed.

“What could be better than working with something so good,” argued López, of the Galihemp Cooperative, which will produce hemp pulp to make paper, using a special machine.

She told IPS that “the ignorance about this plant in some places in Spain, at the level of the civil guard [police force], is a disgrace.”

The hemp sector faces numerous hurdles in Spain, where it is even hard to find hemp seed dehulling machines. In other EU countries like France, Germany or Austria, meanwhile, the number of hectares dedicated to hemp production is growing fast.

Nevertheless, López believes industrial hemp has a “splendid” future in Spain and says she has “no doubt” that it will prosper, although she admits that ignorance about hemp and the interests of big industry are obstacles.

Funtané concurred. “There are a number of powerful industries, like the textile or steel industries, which are not interested in the potential of hemp and won’t let it steal markets from them,” he said.

Hemp can be used to make components for the car industry, and durable insulation material is made from hemp fibre for the building industry.

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Hawaii to Host 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congresshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/hawaii-host-2016-iucn-world-conservation-congress/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hawaii-host-2016-iucn-world-conservation-congress http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/hawaii-host-2016-iucn-world-conservation-congress/#comments Thu, 22 May 2014 15:36:41 +0000 Jon Letman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134489 Hawaii is home to many of the world's rarest plants and animals, recognised globally as a 'biodiversity hotspot.' The IUCN announced that Hawaii will host the 2016 World Conservation Congress, the first time the global conference will gather in the United States. Credit: Jon Letman/IPS

Hawaii is home to many of the world's rarest plants and animals, recognised globally as a 'biodiversity hotspot.' The IUCN announced that Hawaii will host the 2016 World Conservation Congress, the first time the global conference will gather in the United States. Credit: Jon Letman/IPS

By Jon Letman
HONOLULU, Hawaii, U.S., May 22 2014 (IPS)

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Council announced Wednesday that the 2016 World Conservation Congress (WCC) will meet in Hawaii – the first time in its 66-year history that the world’s largest conservation conference will be hosted by the United States.

Hawaii, which was selected over eight candidates, including finalist Istanbul, will host between 8,000 and 10,000 delegates representing 160 nations.

The 2016 WCC, the IUCN’s 24th Congress since 1948, draws a diverse mix of scientists, politicians, policy makers, educators, non-governmental organisations, business interests, environment and climate experts, and indigenous organisations for ten days of meetings, discussions and debates on environmental and development issues and policies.

Sometimes referred to as “the Olympics of conservation,” the WCC will convene at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu on the island of Oahu from Sept. 1 to 10, 2016.

In a press release, the IUCN noted that the United States has 85 IUCN member organisations (eight of which are in Hawaii), the largest number of any single country. It added that the 2016 Congress will coincide with the United States National Park Service’s 100th anniversary.

For the WCC, the U.S. State Department will be required to issue an unprecedented number of visas to delegates from dozens of countries, some of which may have strained political relations with the United States.

Hosting the world’s largest conservation conference, one that is increasingly a forum for addressing climate change issues, also puts additional focus on the United States’ own efforts to combat issues like climate change, habitat loss and wildlife conservation.

The Hawaiian Islands

The Hawaiian Islands are a volcanic archipelago comprised of more than 130 islands, reefs, shoals and atolls. The eight high inhabited islands include a diverse range of ecosystems and microclimates ranging from coastal plains to lowland dry forest, dense wet forests, barren volcanic fields, high elevation swamps and the (seasonally snow-capped) Maua Kea volcano.

Hawaii is home to Hawaii Volcano National Park, over 50 state parks and Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, the largest single conservation area in the United States. The vast marine conservation area, larger than all U.S. national parks combined, extends over 1,200 nautical miles northwest of the main Hawaiian islands into the Central Pacific.

Climate change issues in Hawaii include: ocean acidification, coral bleaching, changing wind and rainfall patterns that are linked to persistent periods of drought, extreme rain events and sea level rise. Hawaii, the only U.S. island state, over 2,300 miles west of the continental United States, is heavily reliant on imported manufactured goods, materials and oil.

Over the last decade, Hawaii has made strident efforts to advance local sustainable agriculture and alternative energy from wind, solar and other alternative energy sources.

In an eleventh-hour appeal, President Barack Obama expressed his “strong support” in a personal letter to IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefèvre. “Hawaii is one of the most culturally and ecologically rich areas in the United States, with a wealth of unique natural resources and distinctive traditional culture…” wrote Obama, who was born in Hawaii.

‘Aloha Spirit’

In response to Hawaii’s winning bid, the state Governor Neil Abercrombie said, “we are elated,” adding “the conference will allow the Aloha State to highlight its conservation efforts to the rest of the world and demonstrate leadership in addressing global environmental and development challenges.”

Chipper Wichman, co-chair of Hawaii’s 2016 steering committee, was part of a multi-year effort to draw attention to the Hawaiian islands as a potential host. Wichman, who is also the director and CEO of the non-profit National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) on Kauai island, stressed that the conference would afford Hawaii the opportunity to increase understanding and awareness of the role islands play in conservation and battling climate change.

“Hawaii is recognised globally for the unique species that are found here and nowhere else on earth. We’re also known as one of the ‘extinction capitals’ and a hotspot of biodiversity,” Wichman added. The conference, he said, would allow Hawaii the chance to discuss and share its multi-organisational approaches to stem the loss of biodiversity and critical habitat.

Wichman said Hawaii’s efforts to preserve traditional cultural resources and indigenous knowledge and its science-based conservation can inspire the world.

Biodiversity Hotspot

Proponents of Hawaii’s bid to host the WCC point out that geographic isolation resulted in Hawaii’s extremely high rate of endemism (species found only in a specific geographic area). Roughly 90 percent of Hawaii’s native plants are found no place outside of the islands. Numbers are similar for its small and declining native bird and insect populations.

Many of Hawaii’s native plants and animals are single-island endemics, often found only in a single valley or mountain.

Hawaii is known to have lost an estimated 115 native plant species, with approximately 1,230 remaining. Currently, around 57 percent of Hawaii’s native plants – nearly 700 species – face some type of risk.

According to the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species, nearly 17,000 plant and animal species are known to be threatened with extinction – a number the IUCN admits may be a “gross underestimate.” Current extinction rates could be 10,000 times higher than historical expected rates.

Discussions, debates and voting on multi-organisational conservation strategies are a major component of the WCC. The outcome of the talks has broad implications that affect the social, political and economic activities of nations around the world.

Following the last World Conservation Congress on Jeju island, South Korea in 2012, the IUCN published a 251-page document of Resolutions and Recommendations.

Dr. Christopher Dunn, director of Cornell Plantations at Cornell University, calls Hawaii “a microcosm of all environmental and social issues facing every country.”

Dunn, formerly of the University of Hawaii’s Lyon Arboretum and Botanical Garden, said Hawaii’s own “cultural layer of traditional knowledge, and [its employment] to meet major and potentially devastating environmental issues” helped bolster Hawaii’s case for hosting the WCC.

Announcing Hawaii’s successful bid at a press conference in Honolulu, Gov. Abercrombie noted that the state had received unanimous votes by the IUCN council. He stressed the significance of Hawaii’s inter and intra-organisational cooperation and grassroots efforts that spanned the islands and extended to partners in Washington, DC.

Standing alongside the governor, Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources chairperson William Aila cited ‘The Rain Follows the Forest’ watershed initiative and ‘Green Growth Initiative’ as two examples of how Hawaii can help share potential solutions to loss of biodiversity, climate change and energy challenges.

Also present, NTBG’s Wichman added Hawaii can highlight its role as a leader in biocultural conservation. “The synergy of science and indigenous culture,” Wichman said, “will unlock future conservation of our planet.”

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Sanctioning Venezuela Unlikely to Defuse Tensionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/sanctioning-venezuela-unlikely-defuse-tensions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sanctioning-venezuela-unlikely-defuse-tensions http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/sanctioning-venezuela-unlikely-defuse-tensions/#comments Thu, 22 May 2014 04:48:34 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134484 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, May 22 2014 (IPS)

Pending legislation calling for U.S. President Barack Obama to impose sanctions against key Venezuelan officials is unlikely to defuse the ongoing crisis there and could prove counter-productive, according to both the administration and independent experts here.

A bill approved overwhelmingly Tuesday by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would authorise Obama to freeze any financial assets in U.S. institutions and cancel U.S. visas for Venezuelan officials deemed responsible for “directing significant acts of violence or serious human rights abuses against persons associated with the anti-government protests in Venezuela.”

The bill, a similar version of which was approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this month, would also authorise sanctions against anyone who has provided assistance to government security forces and commit 15 million dollars in support for “pro-democracy” groups and independent media in the South American nation.

“Today we took an important step forward to punish human rights abusers in (President) Nicolas Maduro’s regime,” declared Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who co-sponsored the bill with the Committee chair, Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez.

“The U.S. has tried hard not to become the centre of the debate, realising [...] that it would only help the Maduro government point to Washington as the source of the protests [...]." -- John Walsh, Venezuela specialist at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
“(N)ow that thousands of innocent Venezuelans have protested courageously and peacefully against the failure that is this chavista government, we can’t allow the government’s repression, violence and murders to go unpunished,” he said in a statement after the 13-2 vote.

On a visit to Mexico Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry noted Congressional support for sanctions and hinted that the administration may feel compelled to impose them.

“Our hope is that the leaders, that President Maduro and others, will make decisions that will make it unnecessary for them to be implemented. But all options remain on the table at this time, with the hopes that we can move the (dialogue) process forward,” he said.

A number of experts, as well as senior administration officials, however, warned that the legislation, however well-intended, could make matters worse in the deeply polarised oil-rich country.

“I think people are really frustrated about what’s happening in Venezuela,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based hemispheric think tank here.

“But the U.S. doesn’t have a lot of leverage, and, while sanctions make people feel good, I can’t imagine them accomplishing much except to give Maduro another reason to attack the United States.

“It also risks alienating Latin American governments,” which, with the Vatican and under the auspices of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), have taken the lead in trying to mediate Venezuela’s divisions through dialogue between Maduro and moderate opposition forces.

“I just can’t imagine any Latin American governments seeing this as a good idea or helpful under present circumstances,” he told IPS.

“The U.S. has tried hard not to become the centre of the debate, realising – correctly, in my opinion – that it would only help the Maduro government point to Washington as the source of the protests and distract attention from the genuine and legitimate grievances that have given rise to the protests,” added John Walsh, a Venezuela specialist at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

“One of the tacks that has been available to (Maduro) to get out of the dialogue and major compromises that it might force him to take is the ability to reframe the protest movement and the opposition as people in thrall to or actually taking orders from the ‘Empire’ as part of an international conspiracy to de-stabilise the government and push Chavismo out of power.”

Indeed, this has been the position taken by the Obama administration throughout the most recent crisis, which began in late February with student demonstrators demanding that Maduro step down.

In hearings before the Foreign Relations Committee two weeks ago, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson stressed Washington’s support for the UNASUR-led initiative.

“This is not a U.S.-Venezuela issue; it is an internal Venezuelan issue,” she told the senators. “…We have strongly resisted attempts to be used as a distraction from Venezuela’s real problems.”

The Senate bill, which is considered almost certain to pass if Majority Leader Harry Reid permits it to go to the floor, comes after the government-opposition dialogue – in which the foreign ministers of Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador have acted as UNASUR’s representatives – broke down last week over, among other issues, opposition demands that all political prisoners be freed.

In a report entitled ‘Venezuela: Tipping Point’ and released Wednesday, the International Crisis Group (ICG) warned that failure to resolve the stand-off could plunge the country into yet more violence, “leaving it unable to address soaring criminality and economic decline and exposing the inability of regional inter-governmental bodies to manage the continent’s conflicts.”

Since February, at least 42 people have died in confrontations between security forces and pro-government gangs known as “colectivos” and opposition forces.

While some opposition sectors have reportedly used violence, independent human rights groups have blamed most of the casualties on the government and its allies. In a harsh report issued earlier this month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused security forces of severely beating and, in some cases, shooting at point-blank range, peaceful protesters, subjecting detainees to severe abuse sometimes amounting to torture, and, in some cases collaborating with the colectivos in their attacks on protestors and bystanders.

The increased repression, as well as the impasse in the dialogue, has intensified concern here about the likelihood of further polarisation that will strengthen hard-liners on both sides.

In its report, the ICG called for all sides to consider the appointment of an international facilitator, possibly from the U.N. system, to join the UNASUR-Vatican effort, as well as the deployment of a U.N. technical mission to support it.

While the administration opposes sanctions at this point, one senior State Department official said it hoped to intensify discussions with regional governments, beginning with Kerry’s visit to Mexico, about what more can be done to get the dialogue back on track.

“The real question is for them to sort of compare notes on what they’re hearing out of Venezuela, whether we think the efforts that UNASUR and the Vatican are making are working, and what more can we do from outside that process to either help it along or to be ready to do something more,” the official said.

“(T)he last thing we want to do is torpedo any dialogue that might lead to action, but we’re just as frustrated as the Senate is that nothing has happened yet.”

Kerry reflected that frustration Wednesday, accusing the government of a “total failure …to demonstrate good-faith actions to implement those things that they agreed to do approximately a month ago.”

“I think more high-level consultations with other governments about how they see the situation and to work with them could be helpful,” said IAD’s Shifter.

“But the critical country is Brazil, and, unfortunately, (U.S.) relations with Brazil aren’t good because of the Snowden affair that led to the postponement of (President Dilma) Rousseff’s state visit that was supposed to take place late last year.”

(END)

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Permaculture Poised to Conquer the Caribbeanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/permaculture-poised-conquer-caribbean/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=permaculture-poised-conquer-caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/permaculture-poised-conquer-caribbean/#comments Thu, 22 May 2014 04:26:51 +0000 Mark Olalde http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134475 Erle Rahaman-Noronha cutting produce on his farm. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

Erle Rahaman-Noronha cutting produce on his farm. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

By Mark Olalde
FREEPORT, Trinidad and Tobago, May 22 2014 (IPS)

Erle Rahaman-Noronha is not a revolutionary, not in any radical sense at least. He is not even that exciting. In truth, Rahaman-Noronha is merely a man with a shovel, a small farm, and a big dream. But that dream is poised to conquer the Caribbean.

Rahaman-Noronha wants to see ‘permaculture’ – short for permanent agriculture – take root and spreads across the Caribbean, and he is doing his part by teaching anyone who will listen about its benefits.

Joining him is a fluid group of permaculturalists working from their home islands and sharing the same goal: to harness permaculture as a solution to climate change, food and water insecurity, and rising costs of living.

“You can start in your backyard, so there’s no cost. You can implement certain parts of it in your apartment...If you have a porch with some sunlight, you can plant something there and start thinking about permaculture.” -- Erle Rahaman-Noronha, Kenyan-born permaculturalist.
“Here, this is the Bible,” Rahaman-Noronha tells IPS, laying a book on the table. Behind him, orange trees rustle in the wind, the sharp smell of Trinidadian cooking wafts out an open window, and white-faced capuchin monkeys screech in the distance. The cover reads, ‘Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual’, and the contents offer surprisingly simple solutions to modern problems through economically and environmentally sustainable living.

Author of the manual, Australian Bill Mollison, first used the term nearly four decades ago and since then the idea has spread to Europe and the U.S. Now, the developing Caribbean is beginning to embrace the philosophy of permaculture, especially since 2008’s global recession.

Born in Kenya, Rahaman-Noronha – whose work was recently highlighted in a TEDx talk – fulfilled a keen interest in the environment by studying applied biochemstry and zoology in Canada.

“I’ve always had a strong passion for the outdoors and conservation, but just doing conservation doesn’t make money,” he says with a chuckle. “Permaculture allows me to live on a site, produce food on a site, produce an income, as well as practice conservation.”

Wa Samaki is Rahaman-Noronha’s permaculture farm, and it has been his workplace, classroom, grocery store, and home since he relocated to Trinidad in 1998. Meaning “of the fish” in Swahili, Wa Samaki covers 30 acres in Freeport in central Trinidad.

Although he uses no fertilisers, herbicides, or pesticides, Rahaman-Noronha is able to make a living off the farm’s fruit, flower, lumber, and fish sales. His newest addition is a large aquaponics system, a closed loop food production system in which fish tanks and potted plants circulate water and sustain one another.

With his partner John Stollmeyer, Rahaman-Noronha works to spread awareness of permaculture across the Caribbean, home to nearly 40 million people who are particularly susceptible to climate change.

The pair consults Trinidadian businesses, teaches permaculture design courses (PDCs), and holds workshops everywhere from Puerto Rico to St. Lucia. “How are we going to create sustainable human culture?” Stollmeyer asks. “Discovering permaculture for me was a wake up call.”

Where environmentalism meets savvy economics

Berber van Beek studying the geology of Curaçao. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

Berber van Beek studying the geology of Curaçao. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

The need for conservation is in no small part a result of climate change, especially when the Hurricane Belt covers nearly all of the Caribbean.

Trinidad and Tobago continues to compound the issue as both a major exporter and consumer of fossil fuels. The country produced more than 119,000 barrels of oil per day in 2012 and 1.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that same year, all the while boasting the second highest rate of CO2 emissions per capita in the world, more than twice that of the United States.

United Nations data dating back to 2005, the last time such statistics were compiled, indicates that industrialised agriculture accounts for 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In this environment, Rahaman-Noronha’s goal is to become an incubator of conservation start-ups that cannot secure necessary bank loans. Currently, he houses beekeepers and a wildlife rescue center on the farm for minimal rent, and he hopes that list will grow.

One such entrepreneurial mind that passed through Wa Samaki was Berber van Beek, a native of Curaçao who recently moved home after years of wandering the world. Before returning to the Caribbean, she practiced permaculture across Europe and Australia, but when van Beek wanted to develop her skills in a tropical climate, she came to Rahaman-Noronha.

“He gave me a lot of freedom on his farm to make and create a design,” van Beek says, describing a garden of banana trees she planted at Wa Samaki.

Erle Rahaman-Noronha’s closed-loop aquaponics food system. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

Erle Rahaman-Noronha’s closed-loop aquaponics food system. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

In Curaçao, van Beek uses permaculture as more than simply a food source. She realises its social potential and is working to start after-school programmes for at-risk youth who can learn useful gardening skills and the responsibility and respect for nature that come with caring for their own gardens.

In addition, she is soon opening her first large-scale organic gardening class, closely resembling a PDC.

Such initiatives are urgently needed in Curaçao, which is facing a stagnant economy and is currently nursing a youth unemployment rate of 37 percent.

According to van Beek, shifting global climates and markets have major effects on her own island in which nearly everything must be imported. “If you go to the supermarket, look where your food is coming from. Is it coming from Venezuela or is it coming from the U.S. or is it coming from Europe?” she says. “People could be more aware of what to buy and what not to buy.”

The problem, experts say, is regional. According to the Food Export Association of the Midwest USA – a group of nonprofits focusing on agricultural issues – around 80 percent of food consumed in the Caribbean is imported.

The beauty and purpose of permaculture is that it is a system of solutions that can be practiced at any level to combat environmental issues.

“You can start in your backyard, so there’s no cost. You can implement certain parts of it in your apartment if you really need to,” Rahaman-Noronha explains. “If you have a porch with some sunlight, you can plant something there and start thinking about permaculture.”

Naturally, van Beek took his message to heart, keeping a perfectly groomed permaculture garden in her own tiny backyard, using dead leaves as fertiliser and recycled rain and shower-water to sustain the plants.

“Seeing is believing,” she says. It’s her own quiet mantra, spoken when she describes her approach to spreading permaculture, and vocalised when she needs the energy to keep pressing on and to convince others that this is the right path.

Rahaman-Noronha, too, has worked to convert non-believers. From schools who tour the wildlife center and his farm to the several thousand people who watched his TEDx talk online, he is adamant that he has traded in misconceptions for progress.

“I think [the reason] I don’t get challenged…is that I’m not just preaching permaculture,” he says. “I’m actually practicing it.”

(END)

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Arrest of “Happy” Iranians Highlights Rouhani’s Domestic Battleshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/arrest-happy-iranians-highlights-rouhanis-domestic-battles/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arrest-happy-iranians-highlights-rouhanis-domestic-battles http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/arrest-happy-iranians-highlights-rouhanis-domestic-battles/#comments Wed, 21 May 2014 23:25:51 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134479 A screen shot from the Iranian 'Happy' homemade video. The original has since been marked 'private' on YouTube.

A screen shot from the Iranian 'Happy' homemade video. The original has since been marked 'private' on YouTube.

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, May 21 2014 (IPS)

It was a perfect headline for the satirical online news site, ‘The Onion.’

“Young Iranians Arrested for Being Too ‘Happy in Tehran’,” reads a May 20 New York Times blog title, with similar reports produced by news media from all over the world.

But the true story began a month ago when a group of young men and women in Iran produced a homemade music video to the hit song ‘Happy’ by U.S. entertainer Pharrell Williams.

“This is a critical time for [Iranian President Hassan Rouhani] to act on the promises he made to the people who voted for him." -- Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights In Iran (ICHRI)

The fan video, featuring three men and three women happily dancing with one another in various Tehran settings, received more than 100,000 hits after being uploaded to YouTube before it was marked private, and the actors and the director arrested May 20.

The women were not wearing mandatory headscarves in the video and the opposite sexes were touching one another in public, all of which are forbidden in the Islamic Republic.

The video has since been reproduced, however, with one version receiving over 300,000 hits and counting since its May 19 posting.

YouTube is illegal in Iran and can only be accessed through private-browsing networks, but some of the fan video did make its way onto Iranian state news television.

After the six Iranians were arrested, a clip appeared on Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), featuring the participants claiming that they didn’t know the video would be made public, with blurred clips of their video appearing in the background.

A tagline at the end of the video read: “We have made this video as Pharell William’s fans in 8hrs with IPhone 5s. ‘Happy’ was an excuse to be happy. We enjoyed every second of making it. Hope it puts a smile on your face.”

While at least one of the six young Iranians, Reihane Taravati, confirmed her release on Instagram, with reports surfacing that all except the director have been freed on bail, the event has received worldwide attention.

“It is beyond sad that these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness,” said Pharrell Williams in comments posted to his popular social media accounts yesterday.

CNN’s famous anchor Christiane Amanpour has since applauded the Iranians’ release, but had earlier tweeted an observation about the dynamics of the event.

“Tragic. Ordinary Iranians doing nothing wrong caught in a fight between hard-liners and moderates,” she said.

“If it was not for the international outcry at how ridiculous these arrests were, these youth probably would have faced the fate of other people who have been arrested for no justifiable reason and spent months or even years in prison,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights In Iran (ICHRI).

Ghaemi told IPS that he worries the director of the video will be used as a scapegoat after the other participants were pressured into putting the blame on him in their “forced confession” and could face serious jail time.

“This is a critical time for [Iranian President Hassan Rouhani] to act on the promises he made to the people who voted for him,” he said.

While no member of the Rouhani government has directly commented on the issue, Rouhani’s semi-official English Twitter account raised a few eyebrows by quoting a statement by the president from June 2013 today.

Ghaemi, an internationally recognised expert on Iranian rights issues, told IPS Rouhani hasn’t focused on remedying Iran’s heavily securitised domestic environment since his June 2013 election, despite campaigning with that promise.

“He has been very gently verbally advocating for greater freedom, but with actions he has been very timid,” he said.
Ghaemi said that the police commander featured in the state news clip proudly touting the arrest operates under Iran’s interior ministry, which is under Rouhani’s cabinet, so the president could use his executive powers to enforce some punitive action, but has not done so yet.

“Rouhani is walking a fine line,” said Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar, an expert on Iranian politics.

“He needs popular support, that’s how he came to power, at the same time, he doesn’t want to upset the security apparatus in Iran,” said Tabaar, a faculty member at Texas A&M University.

“He needs to say things so that the people who voted for him don’t think he’s betraying them, but this is exactly what happened to former President Mohammad Khatami,” he added.

The early years of the former reformist president are remembered as a time of loosened restrictions on daily life in Iran.

But while Khatami came to power on a liberal campaign platform, he ultimately failed to reform Iranian society against a powerful conservative backlash.

“Under Rouhani we are still in a honeymoon phase, but this may be déjà vu,” said Tabaar.

Yet Tabaar admits that Rouhani still holds considerable sway in Iranian politics for now, and may have even pressured those controlling the arrest of the Iranians to release them.

“He probably does not approve of what has happened; he’s expressing discontent, and protesting against the arrest of those people,” said Tabaar, when asked about why Rouhani may have quoted his own words from Jun. 29, 2013, on Twitter today.

“It is possible he is doing a lot behind the scenes,” he added.

“On the other hand, he doesn’t want to say it directly because he doesn’t want to provoke the conservative establishment.”

Can Rouhani get a nuclear deal accepted by that same establishment, which continues to criticise the negotiating strategy of Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif?

Tabaar thinks it’s possible.

“Khamenei wants a limited success that he can portray as an utter failure,” he said.

“A limited success in the sense that Iran’s enrichment right will be recognised and a lot of sanctions will be removed so Iran’s economy can thrive again, but he will still portray this as a failure so Rouhani won’t become too popular.”

Back in Tehran an Iranian analyst speaking on the condition of anonymity told IPS this event foreshadows Rouhani’s coming domestic battles.

“A lot of what you are seeing now on the social scene is the result of a less securitised atmosphere after [the] June 2013 election,” said the analyst, adding, “Can you imagine a ‘Happy’ video if former conservative presidential contender Saeed Jalili had been elected?”

“Part of the battle will involve, as witnessed, efforts to torpedo Rouhani’s effort to reframe the image of Iran in international discourse,” said the analyst.

“This fight will not be totally quiet, and it won’t be clean.”

(END)

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