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Small Argentine Town Becoming Waste Dumping Ground

IPS Latin America - Fri, 2014-03-14 19:51

Gaucho dancers at the Pollution Festival in Bouwer, Argentina. Courtesy of Bouwer Sin Basura

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BOUWER, Argentina, Mar 14 2014 (IPS)

While the magnificent samba schools of Brazil were getting ready for the grand carnival in Rio de Janeiro, a modest carnival troupe toured a small Argentine town to draw attention to an urban problem that has brought the central province of Córdoba to the brink of environmental disaster: garbage.

Some 2,300 kilometres away from Rio de Janeiro, a murga (band of street musicians) named Colour and Joy gathered at the foot of a replica of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue in the Cordoban town of Bouwer.

But this town of 2,000 people bears a different cross.“It is no coincidence that waste is dumped in the poorest towns around Córdoba.” -- Cintia Frencia, a provincial lawmaker for the leftwing Workers Party

After a long struggle to close an open sky rubbish dump with an accumulated 12 million tonnes of garbage that finally succeeded in 2010, Bouwer is once again facing the prospect of another waste tip being opened, which would exacerbate chronic pollution in the area.

Twenty-four million tonnes of rubbish generated by the provincial capital and other municipalities over the next 30 years may be deposited on 270 hectares of land only 600 metres away from the old dump.

“Carnival should be for the people, and today we are here to raise awareness about what is happening with the garbage,” Sergio Moggi, the head of the murga, which is made up of children and teenagers, told IPS.

The Colour and Joy murga was one of the attractions at the Festival de la Contaminación (Pollution Festival) organised by residents to call attention to their plight.

One of the criteria for choosing the location for the new dump was the land value, and this counted against Bouwer because of its poverty.

The town is also burdened with the nearby remains of a lead smelter, a storage facility for toxic waste and a vehicle pound, and there is constant spraying of pesticides on the surrounding plantations.

The Environment Defence Foundation (FUNAM) regards Bouwer as “one of the most polluted zones of Argentina.” The large number of sources of pollution and the alarming perinatal and child mortality rates led this municipality to declare a “public health emergency.”

“In the summertime, every town in Córdoba holds a festival to celebrate something typical that represents it: salami, potatoes, and so on. Our characteristic feature, unfortunately, is garbage,” teacher Daniela Arce, of Bouwer Sin Basura (Garbage-Free Bouwer), a local residents’ association, told IPS.

Musicians of the Colour and Joy group tuning drum heads next to a replica of the statue of Christ the Redeemer. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

But Bouwer’s problems are shared by this province, which has extensive fertile plains in the east and the Sierras de Córdoba mountain chains in the west.

The capital city, Córdoba, and 16 smaller surrounding municipalities generate some 2,200 tonnes of solid waste a day, according to the inter-municipal corporation for sustainable waste management in the Córdoba metropolitan area (CORMECOR), a public limited company that is studying technical alternatives for the handling and ultimate disposal of waste from the greater Córdoba area.

“The problem calls for waste treatment technology and a space for its disposal, and so far has not been handled in an integrated way,” says CORMECOR’s website.

The main shareholders of CORMECOR are the city of Córdoba, nine other municipalities and the garbage collectors’ union.

The normal practice was to bury garbage or dump it in open sky pits until 1981, when it began to be sent to the Bouwer tip.

Since that closed in 2010 – and it still contains 30 years’ worth of rubbish – waste has been taken to a temporary dump in Piedras Blancas, hastily made ready in less than two months and located beside national route 36, only five kilometres away from Bouwer.

Piedras Blancas has received 2,500 tonnes a day since 2010, when its estimated useful life was declared to be one year. According to the authorities it is now on the verge of collapse.

“The garbage is deposited and crushed daily, and earth is spread on top of it at the end of each day. The gases are vented, without being captured or treated; the liquid leached from decomposition of organic material is not treated either,” Nayla Azzinnari, FUNAM’s press officer, told IPS.

Now the provincial government is preparing to expropriate two pieces of land for the new project: one near the unfortunate Bouwer and another, for a transfer station, near the town of Estación Juárez Celman in the centre-north of the province.

CORMECOR is analysing proposals for waste treatment from 27 companies (from Argentina, the Netherlands, the United States and Brazil) and universities, while the people who have had the problem dumped on them have some answers of their own.

“Every town should look after its own rubbish. The Córdoba municipality should look after its waste, and so should the other municipalities,” the mayor of Bouwer, Juan Lupi, told IPS.

Bouwer produces less than half a truckload of waste a week, while the capital contributes 95 percent of the total.

In the view of biologist Ricardo Suárez, a technical adviser for local people in Bouwer, garbage should be tracked back to its origins. “Our problem is out of all proportion,” he complained.

The executive, legislative and judicial branches should take action to moderate consumption and persuade companies to sell their products with less throw-away packaging, he suggested.

The justice system should punish environmental crimes, such as failure to process waste, and municipalities should invest heavily in separation and recycling programmes and educate citizens in these new habits.

“We could achieve really low, tolerable limits [of pollution]. What we cannot accept is 12 million tonnes of garbage buried in one place, as we have now,” Suárez said.

To accomplish this, waste management must be “decentralised,” so that there are no more “sacrificed zones” like Bouwer, he told IPS.

“The first thing to do is to sit down and study the problem, and not to underestimate waste,” said chemical engineer Eduardo Riaño, who has analysed the effects of the gas and liquid emissions in Bouwer, which persist decades after the dumps were closed.

“Volatile organic compounds are very dangerous” and can cause cancer, he told IPS.

On the other hand, these deposits of organic material can be used to generate energy.

The amount of biogas emitted by the Bouwer garbage dump “until it was closed in 2010 was equivalent to one and a half years of domestic gas use, and two and a half years of compressed natural gas” for the local population , he said.

In the view of Cintia Frencia, a provincial lawmaker for the leftwing Workers Party, there are vested economic interests standing in the way of waste treatment and recycling.

“It is no coincidence that waste is dumped in the poorest towns around Córdoba,” she told IPS.

“Now there is talk of a new garbage burial site with a 30-year lifetime, which means that for the next three decades there are no plans to develop any technology for reducing and treating rubbish, in other words it’s just a business,” she said.

CORMECOR wants to raise capital by being listed on the national stock market.

Garbage is big business all over the world. In countries like Italy, it is profitable not only to companies but to the mafias that control them.

IPS obtained no replies to its requests for information from CORMECOR and the environmental secretariats of the provincial and city government.

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


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Categories: Latin America News

Radicalised Right Grasps for Reins of Power in El Salvador

IPS Latin America - Thu, 2014-03-13 22:27

Rightwing National Republican Alliance (ARENA) activists in front of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal in El Salvador during the recount of results of the presidential election held Sunday Mar. 9. Credit: Francisco Campos/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Mar 13 2014 (IPS)

The few tenths of a percentage between presidential candidates in the elections of Sunday Mar. 9 have been confirmed in the final vote tally, keeping the right in El Salvador in the opposition – and increasingly antagonistic toward the second consecutive government of the leftwing FMLN.

Early on Thursday Mar. 13 the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) released the final results to a country on tenterhooks, confirming the first count: Salvador Sánchez Cerén, the candidate of the governing FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) has won with 50.11 percent of the vote.

Román Quijano, the candidate for the rightwing National Republican Alliance (ARENA), took 49.89 percent of the vote, the same figure announced in the first count. The absolute difference between the two candidates in this runoff election was only 6,364 votes.

The TSE will officially declare Sánchez president-elect after it responds formally to Quijano’s demand that the election should be annulled. ARENA is unwilling to accept losing by such a narrow margin, and indeed pre-election polls predicted a much more resounding defeat.

“I definitely foresee a combative attitude and greater boycotting of the new government,” social activist Margarita Posada, the coordinator of the National Health Forum, told IPS, in view of the razor-thin margin which has roused ARENA’s hackles.

In the first round on Feb. 2, Sánchez took 48.93 percent of the vote, very close to the 50 percent plus one vote required for outright victory and 10 points above Quijano’s result of 38.95 percent.

Over the last five years, ARENA and the upper echelons of the business community have sustained their rejection of the policies of the outgoing FMLN government of President Mauricio Funes, a distinguished journalist who took office in 2009 and is due to step down on Jun. 1.

The government led by 54-year-old Funes, with Sánchez as vice president, was prudent in the economic sphere but put a strong emphasis on social issues. Its advent ended 20 years of ARENA governments.

This country of 6.3 million people, the smallest in Central America, has a poverty rate of 34.5 percent, some three percentage points lower now than when Funes came to power, according to the official household survey of May 2013.

“Confrontation with the right will be greater now that the next president comes directly from the FMLN,” said Posada.

Sánchez, a 69-year-old teacher, was a commander in the People’s Liberation Forces, one of the five guerrilla organisations that made up the FMLN during El Salvador’s civil war (1980-1992).

The war left 75,000 people dead and disappeared, according to human rights organisations, and ended with the signing of the 1992 Peace Accords in Mexico.

Radicalisation among ARENA supporters became evident from the night of the election, in which 4.9 million voters took part.

Emboldened by their 10-point gain between the first and second rounds, Quijano and the ARENA leadership promoted confrontational actions in the streets to bring into question the victory of the FMLN, which is now definitive.

On Tuesday Mar. 11, hundreds of ARENA activists marched to the TSE, protesting against alleged electoral fraud.

No electoral observers, whether national or international, have given any credence to ARENA’s allegations of fraud. In a special communiqué they expressly stated that the elections were transparent.

The TSE carried out a final scrutiny, comparing the original polling station tally sheets with the preliminary voting results announced Sunday. This process was interrupted on Tuesday because ARENA delegates walked out, protesting that the TSE refused to carry out a vote-by-vote recount, which is not allowed under El Salvador’s electoral laws.

The only exception is when the difference in votes between the parties is less than the number of disputed votes, but the official number of contested votes was only 3,000.

ARENA delegates joined the scrutiny again on Wednesday, making it possible to reach a definitive recount.

Quijano, a 66-year-old dental surgeon and former mayor of San Salvador, on Tuesday requested that the election be annulled, a move immediately rejected by the TSE as unlawful in El Salvador, but to which it is obliged to give a formal answer.

On Wednesday the attorney general’s (AG) office, which oversees elections, issued a statement saying that only one elector was reported to have voted twice, after Quijano called for another rally, this time in front of the AG’s office, claiming there had been 19,000 instances of dual voting.

Taking radicalisation a step further, the opposition candidate said that if the TSE ratified Sánchez’s victory – as it did – he would create a parallel government to that “imposed” by the FMLN.

“ARENA has created a tense situation unnecessarily. There is no mechanism for a vote-by-vote recount,” Juan José Martel, a member of the Junta de Vigilancia Electoral (the official Electoral Oversight Board), told IPS.

“Shock tactics and a boycott of the new government (on the part of ARENA) can be expected, although this will also depend on the governance style of the FMLN,” said Martel. “What is clear right now is that their strategy is to cause destabilisation,” he said.

The military, a key actor, stated it would respect the state institutions and the result declared by the TSE.

“The armed forces reaffirm their complete respect and loyalty to the institutions of the country,” David Munguía, the defence minister, said on nationwide television.

In the long night following the election, Quijano claimed victory when only 37 percent of the returns had been scrutinised, and he called on the army to stay alert.

The media, which mainly take a conservative line, have echoed Quijano’s position, leading to part of the population suspecting fraud.

“The press has been following the same rightwing script ever since the start of the campaign,” journalist Leonel Herrera, executive director of the Asociación de Radios y Programas Participativos de El Salvador (ARPAS – El Salvador’s Participative Radios and Programmes Association), told IPS.

“The media are playing a dangerous role, because instead of expressing support and respect for the institutions, they are adding to the chaos instigated by the right,” he said.

Commenting on the scant additional support among voters for Sánchez in the second round, analysts highlight the fear campaign waged against the FMLN candidate because of his history as a former guerrilla. His party did not make the most of counter-balancing this view, for instance by emphasising his peaceful career as vice president.

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Categories: Latin America News

Caribbean to Forge United Front on Elusive Climate Finance

IPS Latin America - Thu, 2014-03-13 18:19

A man stands outside the ruins of a house in Buccament Bay, on St. Vincent’s southwestern coast, Dec. 26, 2013. Nine people were killed by Christmas flooding in St. Vincent and the damages estimated at millions of dollars. Credit: Peter Richards/IPS

By Peter Richards
KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Mar 13 2014 (IPS)

Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, says the promises of money by the “biggest polluters in the world” for small island developing states (SIDS) like his to adapt to climate change are a mostly a “mirage”.

But as chair of the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) grouping, Gonsalves will be playing a lead role in getting the region to coordinate a united front on climate finance."The big polluters, they make commitments of all sorts of monies but it is a mirage and the closer you get to it you realise it is not there, it recedes." -- CARICOM Chair Ralph Gonsalves

“We agreed on the establishment of a task force on climate change and small island developing states to provide guidance to Caribbean climate change negotiators, their ministers and political leaders in order to ensure the strategic positioning of the region in the negotiations,” he told IPS following the CARICOM summit that ended here on Tuesday.

Gonsalves said the region is now preparing for two important meetings in September – the U.N. Climate Change Summit and the Third U.N. SIDS International Meeting in Samoa.

Guyanese President Donald Ramotar, who made a presentation at CARICOM’s closed-door summit, told IPS that it was important for the leaders themselves to get involved in the negotiations “and to make our voices heard on this matter, because as you know we have been the least contributors to climate change, but we are among the first to feel the big effects.”

Ramotar said the tragedy that occurred when a slow moving low-level trough hit St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica and St. Lucia on Christmas Eve last year, killing more than a dozen people and leaving damages estimated at more than 100 million dollars, “is just the latest reminder how vulnerable our region is”.

The task force must now “find areas where CARICOM can agree on”, he said.

“This is a critical decision by heads [of state] at a time when efforts are underway through the U.N. to have a global climate change agreement by the end of 2015,” he said.

“We need to ensure that as a region, our voices are being heard on this important issue, and not only from our technical people, but from the collective political leadership in the region,” Ramotar said, stressing the need for a globally binding agreement.

“We have to ensure that we push for a climate change agreement by 2015 which is ambitious in terms of emission reduction targets and providing climate financing,” he added.

The communiqué that followed the summit here “lamented the fact that much of the promised resources had not been forthcoming but emphasised the need for the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) to work with member states in order to have projects prepared to access financing when it did become available.”

Guyana, for example, has been playing a lead role with regards to climate change, and priority projects on adaptation are outlined within its Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS), which seeks to address the effects of climate change while simultaneously encouraging economic development.

Gonsalves told IPS that on the question of adaptation, there is a whole menu of initiatives which have been established through discussions, technical reports and the like. What is needed most now is the money to pay for them.

“It is a lot a lot of money that is required so that is why…we have to work in a coordinated manner at the relevant international fora to see whether we could identify those areas where the money is more easily available for us to touch,” he told IPS.

“You get governments, the big polluters, they make commitments of all sorts of monies but it is a mirage and the closer you get to it you realise it is not there, it recedes.

“That’s the real difficulty with this and this is why we have to work better, harder on this because this is an exegetical issue it affects the very existence of our countries,” Gonsalves said.

Executive director of the CCCCC Dr. Kenrick Leslie says that waiting will only make solutions more costly.

“Climate change is here, you saw in terms of the frequency of extreme weather events, those are some of the indicators that the climate is changing. But more importantly, people don’t realise that the sea level is rising at this time, at a rate of five millimetres per year.

“They might say five millimetres, what is that? But in 10 years, five millimetrtes will become 50 millimetres, and in terms of the English system that’s two inches, in 30 years that is six inches, now consider the sea level rising a further six inches in Guyana or Suriname or Belize,” Leslie said.

“We need to have our political leaders become very knowledgeable of what is being negotiated…technical people can negotiate at the technical level but the final decisions are made at the political level, and therefore if our political leaders are not cognisant with what is going on, then we will fail in terms of getting what is needed for the adaptation that we have to make,” he told IPS.

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Categories: Latin America News

One-Third of Colombia’s Newly-Elected Senators Have Paramilitary Ties

IPS Latin America - Thu, 2014-03-13 12:58

One-third of senators and over one-fifth of the lower house that will potentially vote on peace accords in Colombia are suspected of links with paramilitaries. Credit: Photo composite by

By Constanza Vieira
BOGOTÁ, Mar 13 2014 (IPS)

In July 2004, when paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso was demobilising, he admitted to the Colombian parliament that the illegal extreme rightwing forces controlled 35 percent of the seats. Ten years later the situation is very similar: one-third of the new senate, where congressional power mainly resides, is allegedly linked to the paramilitaries.

These are the conclusions of the non-governmental Peace and Reconciliation Foundation’s monitoring of candidates in the congressional elections of Sunday Mar. 9.The former president, himself also under investigation for alleged links with the paramilitaries, was angered by the announcement of the peace talks.

Thirty-three candidates related or allegedly related to paramilitary forces active in the Colombian armed conflict were elected to the senate, equivalent to 32.4 percent of the 102 seats. In the lower chamber, 37 were elected, or 22.3 percent of the 166 seats, the Foundation said.

They are the heirs of politicians related to paramilitarism (the parapoliticians, in local terms, dozens of whom have been tried and convicted), or they are alleged to have direct links with the criminal organisations that took over after the paramilitaries demobilised under then president Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010).

The specialised web site (OpenTruth) says that 15 politicians elected to the senate were under investigation for allegedly making pacts with the paramilitaries, while 11 under the same suspicion won seats in the lower chamber.

This Congress, elected by Colombians with an abstention rate of 56.42 percent, is potentially the most important in half a century.

Apart from the abstentions, among the 14.3 million people who did cast a ballot, over 2.3 million votes were invalid, and 885,375 electors cast blank votes, more than six percent of the total, following a campaign over the social networks promoting this protest action, according to preliminary official data.

This means that lawmakers elected by a minority in this country will decide what happens to the accords that could end a civil war lasting 50 years, and debate new bills arising from the negotiations.Peace talks in Havana

With international mediation, the government of President Juan Manuel Santos is holding peace negotiations in Havana with the leftwing FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas, a peasant movement that took up arms 50 years ago.

The negotiations have already reached preliminary agreements on two of the six points of the agenda: comprehensive rural development, and political participation. Progress has been announced on another point, solving the problem of illicit drugs.
The remaining points are: ending the conflict, victims and truth-telling, and the implementation of the agreements themselves as the sixth and final point of the agenda.

Santos has also been engaged in a long-drawn-out exploration of possibilities for rapprochement with the pro-Cuban National Liberation Army (ELN) in Colombia. Talks with this guerrilla group, the second in size by number of combatants, is apparently still at the stage of agreeing an agenda for negotiations.

But no party obtained more than 20 percent of the vote, and divisions persist among the elites between support for a negotiated solution and the pursuit of a military outcome. This is one reason why the peace talks have been able to make headway.

Juan Manuel Santos, in office as president since 2010 and now running for reelection for 2014-2018, has achieved significant political consensus in support of his peace efforts, with a five-party National Unity coalition made up of Partido de la U, Cambio Radical, Partido Conservador (all three of the right), Partido Liberal (centre) and Alianza Verde (centre-left).

The coalition has 80 of the senate’s 102 seats, 100 of which are disputed nationally by the parties and the other two set aside for indigenous people’s candidates.

Santos leads voting intention polls for the presidential elections on May 25 by a wide margin. But analysts say he will have to go to a runoff ballot on Jun. 15 to win victory.

If the result bears out the polls, Santos would begin his term with a parliament, installed Jul. 20, with 46 senators in his support, not counting the conservatives, who are divided for and against the peace talks, and he would control the lower chamber, with 92 out of 166 members.

No doubt the Partido Conservador, which went from 22 to 19 seats, will again hold the balance of power, and will demand bureaucratic posts and contracts for its activists in exchange for its support. Four of its elected parliamentarians are under investigation for alleged paramilitarism.

The Partido de la U dropped from 28 seats to 21 in the senate, but continues to be the most voted party. Eight of these senators are under investigation for paramilitary connections. Cambio Radical rose from eight to nine seats, with four elected members under investigation. The Liberals maintained 17 senators, seven of them with alleged paramilitary connections.

Alianza Verde, for its part, still has five senate seats, one of them to be occupied by Claudia López, the main investigator of links between politics and paramilitarism.

According to Verdad Abierta, 16 percent of elected members of Congress for Cambio Radical and 14 percent of those for Partido de la U are under investigation for paramilitarism.

Another party that has supported some of Santos’ initiatives, Opción Ciudadana, is strongly criticised for links with far-right paramilitarism and 27 percent of its lawmakers are under suspicion.

The centre-left Polo Democrático Alternativo fell from five to three senators. This small bloc, which expelled the Partido Comunista from its ranks, could be an ally in the peace process.

According to some analysts, the biggest threat to a negotiated peace now comes from Uribe’s new extreme rightwing party Centro Democrático, which basically won the 19 senate seats lost by the Partido de la U and the Partido Conservador combined.

Uribe wants a military defeat of the guerrillas to force them to surrender their weapons, and to sentence them to prison terms in accordance with their crimes, without adopting measures of so-called transitional justice and without political rights, which would cause the collapse of the peace negotiations.

The former president, himself also under investigation for alleged links with the paramilitaries, was angered by the announcement of the peace talks.

The dimensions of the conflict are shown by justice system and journalistic investigations indicating that Santos and his peace negotiators were spied on by military intelligence agents loyal to Uribe and possibly linked to human rights violations.

Uribe did not achieve his goal of winning one-third of the senate, but the Centro Democrático has more than 14 percent of senate seats and is the second strongest party, with over two million votes.

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Categories: Latin America News

Harkening Back to Dark Days in Haiti

IPS Latin America - Wed, 2014-03-12 16:32

By Nathalie Baptiste
WASHINGTON, Mar 12 2014 (IPS)

On Oct. 16, 1993, Alerte Belance was abducted from her home and taken to Titanyen, a small seaside village used by Haiti’s rulers as a mass grave for political opponents. There she received machete chops to her face, neck, and extremities. Despite her grave injuries, Belance was able to save herself by dragging her mutilated body onto the street and asking for help.

The president of Haiti - a country with no external threats, a history of military repression, and an abundance of more pressing problems - is rebuilding the once-banished Haitian military.
Belance’s survival was extraordinary, but not all were so lucky.

On Jan. 18, 1994, Wilner Elie, a member of the Papaye Peasant Movement, was knifed to death by a group of masked men in his own home. His 12 children were handcuffed by the assailants and forced to watch helplessly as their father was brutally murdered.

Elie and Belance’s tragic stories were not anomalies. Not long ago in Port-au-Prince, decapitated bodies littered the streets, warnings to would-be dissidents. Violent men sexually abused young women seemingly for sport.

People were ambushed in their homes and shot to death for attempting to escape. Thousands of Haitians fled in shoddy boats through treacherous waters to the United States, only to be sent back despite outcries from human rights groups.

Though it reads like a horror script or dystopian novel, this is not fiction. This was reality for millions of Haitians living under military rule. And now, as the Haitian government moves to rebuild its once-banished army, some Haitians are wondering whether a sequel is in the works.

A dark legacy

Haiti has a lengthy history of military and state-sanctioned violence. Shortly after coming to power in 1957, the infamous dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, feeling threatened by the regular armed forces, created a paramilitary force to protect himself.

Nicknamed the Tonton Macoutes (Uncle Gunnysacks) after an old tale about a bogeyman who abducted unruly children and placed them in gunnysacks to be eaten at breakfast, these men carried out unimaginable murders and sent tremors of fear throughout the nation.

Accountable to virtually no one, they continued their reign of terror after Papa Doc’s death and through the rule of his successor and son, Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. After Baby Doc was forced to flee in 1986, the Tonton Macoutes were officially disbanded, but other paramilitaries continued in their footsteps.

Meanwhile the military itself continued to interfere in Haiti’s politics. On Sep. 29, 1991, Jean Betrand-Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president, was ousted by a military coup just eight months into his presidency.

The coup, led by Lieutenant General Raoul Cedras, plunged the nation into a particularly violent and turbulent period. For three years the Haitian military and its paramilitary arm, the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, ran an exceptionally brutal regime, kidnapping, torturing, and murdering supporters of the ousted Aristide. By 1994, the death toll had reached an estimated 5,000.

Haitian President François Duvalier in 1968. Credit: Public domain

Following an intervention by the United States, Aristide was restored to power in late 1994 on condition that he implement economic reforms favored by Washington. He dismantled the military the following year. The disbandment of the military did not cure Haiti of all its ills, but the dissolution was followed by three successful transitions of presidential power – in 1996, 2000, and later in 2010.

In 2004, however, a paramilitary force consisting of former soldiers with help from United States, France, and Canada organised a second successful coup against Aristide, who had been elected to a second term in 2000 after serving out his first in 1996. Even after their official disbandment, former soldiers were still able to influence political outcomes in Haiti.

A return to form

And now, after two decades in the shadows, the military is back: Haitian President Michel Martelly has followed through on a campaign promise to reconstitute the Haitian military. The new force launched its first operations this February.

This has left many Haitians wondering why a country with no external threats, a history of violent, military-led repression against its own citizens, and an abundance of more pressing problems would need—or even want—a new military. “Given the history of Haiti’s military,” warned Mark Weisbrot, its “existence alone could be considered a threat to security.”

Martelly’s personal history provides some clues about his own sympathies. Before he began his political career, Michel Martelly was a provocative konpa singer who went by the name Sweet Micky. During the Duvalier era, he ran a nightclub named Garage that was frequented by military officials and other members of Haiti’s tiny elite.

Around this time Martelly befriended Lieutenant Colonel Michel Francois, the man who would later become chief of the secret police under Raoul Cedras. Martelly remained a “favourite” of the thugs who worked for the Duvalier regime and, after its collapse, would even accompany the death squads organised by Francois to murder Aristide supporters.

While death squads hunted dissidents by night, Martelly taunted them by day. Lavalas, the massive pro-democracy movement launched by Aristide after Baby Doc was ousted, quickly became the target of Martelly’s biting lyrics. Throughout Aristide’s presidency, Martelly remained an outspoken critic of the president and his supporters, eventually emerging as a politician in his own right.

After a hotly contested and controversial election in 2011, Martelly was elected president of Haiti. Later that year, an anonymous Haitian official leaked a document to the Associated Press outlining a plan for the revival of the Haitian military.

Solving the wrong problems

The document cited several reasons why Haiti supposedly needs to spend 95 million dollars building up a new military force: to provide opportunities for young people, to rebuild Haiti’s infrastructure, to patrol its border with the Dominican Republic, and – perhaps most ominously – to “keep order” during times of chaos.

Although Haiti is well within its rights to establish an army, the purpose of a military is not to provide internal security, but to combat external threats. A Haitian official claims that it’s embarrassing to have the United Nations providing security in Haiti.

But although its mission in Haiti has been marred by scandal, the U.N. is training a national police force to provide security and keep order once the peacekeepers finally leave. It’s unclear why a military would be preferable in this regard to a civilian security force.

And it’s similarly unclear why Martelly thinks he needs to build a military to create jobs or invest in infrastructure. Haiti is in desperate need of construction workers – even before the 2010 earthquake leveled buildings and destroyed homes, Haiti’s infrastructure was already in a precarious position.

If Martelly truly wanted to provide opportunities for the young people of Haiti, he could initiate a programme that would train men and women in construction and create jobs for the multitudes of unemployed Haitians. Instead, the new military will supposedly be rebuilding the country while millions of Haitians continue to languish in poverty.

In a country with a sparse amount of cash and a government unable to provide even the most basic necessities to its own population, it seems fiscally irresponsible and morally bankrupt to spend 95 million dollars on rebuilding an army that has such an atrocious record of human rights abuses.

The cholera outbreak, food insecurity, and the 500,000 squatters lacking permanent homes are just a few of the litany of problems facing Haiti today. The lack of a military force is not high on that list of priorities.

Although Haiti’s elite and powerful seem to support the new military, a poll conducted over five years found that fully 96 percent of Haitians oppose its recreation. Defying the widespread opposition and pressing need for other development projects, Michel Martelly’s plan has finally come to fruition.

Despite assurances from officials that this military force will not have the means to imitate its predecessors, the horrors from the recent past still linger in the minds of those who remember. If history repeats itself like it is prone to do, Haiti could revert back to the days where standing on the wrong side of the ideological fence means certain death.

Nathalie Baptiste is a Haitian-American contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus who lives in the Washington, D.C. area. She holds a BA and MA in International Studies and writes about Latin America and the Caribbean. You can follow her on Twitter at @nhbaptiste. This article originally appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

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Categories: Latin America News

Heavy Rainfall Washing Out Honey Production

IPS Latin America - Wed, 2014-03-12 12:49

Vincentian Allan Williams has been a beekeeper for the past seven years. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
DUMBARTON, St. Vincent, Mar 12 2014 (IPS)

Allan Williams, 32, is an agriculture extension officer in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. But as a trained apiculturist, he has also been involved in beekeeping as a hobby for the past seven years.

He has seen beekeeping grow significantly since 2006, as stakeholders became increasingly aware of its importance to the agricultural sector, and thus an important contributor to economic growth and development.What’s happening in the Caribbean should not be confused with colony collapse disorder (CCD).

But today, Williams is worried. Honey production has declined tremendously over the past few years and he blames the changing climate as one of the main causes.

He said unfavourable climatic conditions, such as continued heavy rainfall, reduce the honeybees’ access to nectar and pollen, weakening the colonies, which do not have enough food.

“This threat was very evident over the past decade, occurring exceptionally so in 2009, 2010 and 2013. The weather as you know is very unpredictable and it has definitely affected the production of honey for the last two years, but last year was the most destructive in terms of harvesting,” Williams told IPS.

“Climate change is evident as we see with the unpredictability of the rainfall and the flash flooding in very unusual times of the year.”

Last December, St. Vincent and the Grenadines was among three Eastern Caribbean countries (the other two being Dominica and St Lucia) affected by a slow-moving, low-level trough which dumped hundreds of millimetres of rain, killing at least 13 people, destroying agricultural farms and other infrastructure.

“Most farmers, from what I understand, did not suffer destruction of their hives but they suffered from the torrential rain,” Williams told IPS.

Beehives on a farm in Antigua increase pollination and crop yields. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

He explained that when there is continuous rainfall “the bees are not able to go out and forage on trees where they could get food, so that really reduced our production and I was really affected by it. For two years we suffered a very unusual rainfall pattern.

“In April, the middle of the dry season, we had continuous rainfall for about three or four days and that impacted out production and we are seeing drier spells in the rainy season so there is a shift in the honey flow season when farmers can harvest,” Williams told IPS.

He said it used to be from February to May and even April, but “we are not able to harvest anything. That kind of change of our weather pattern is due to climate change.”

With just a dozen hives, Williams said that he harvests an average of 30 gallons of honey per year. This figure increases to 40 gallons in a “good year”.

Local honey retails for an average price of 100 dollars a gallon, slightly less than the imported product.

The apiculture industry here, which primarily deals with the production and sale of honey, is now valued at 76,600 dollars. The sector is recovering from an all-time low in 2006, when the honeybee population was almost wiped out by the ferocious Varroa Mite.

Over the last three years, the sector produced more than 1,000 gallons of honey from 477 colonies across the country.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines currently has 54 beekeepers recorded in its database, including nine women.

Rupert Lay, a water resources specialist with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), says climate change has begun to cause difficulties for bee farmers not only in St. Vincent but throughout the Caribbean.

“An interesting indicator occurring currently is the little to no production of honey in the region,” said Lay, who is participating in the USAID-funded Reducing the Risks to Human and Natural Assets Resulting from Climate Change (RRACC) project that is being implemented by the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

“This can be linked to the unpredictable weather patterns affecting farmer’s beehive colonies and thus honey production,” he told IPS.

“These events are disrupting farmers’ livelihoods which in turn affect adversely the fabric of society and livelihoods, including education. A farmer’s stress can be recognised by his or her children, thus creating worry which leads to decreased attention spans in the classroom manifesting in poor performance,” Lay added.

Williams pointed out that what’s happening in the Caribbean should not be confused with colony collapse disorder (CCD), a phenomenon in which worker bees from a beehive or European honeybee colony abruptly disappear.

While such disappearances have occurred throughout the history of apiculture, and were known by various names, the syndrome was renamed CCD in late 2006 in conjunction with a drastic rise in the number of disappearances of Western honeybee colonies in North America.

Colony collapse is significant economically because many agricultural crops worldwide are pollinated by honeybees.

According to the Agriculture and Consumption Protection Department of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation, the value of global crops with honeybees’ pollination was estimated to be close to 200 billion dollars in 2005.

Williams listed other constraints to the development of the apiculture industry as the lack of appropriate sites for apiary establishment; exotic pests and invasive species; lack of equipment; aerial spraying and lack of staff in the apiculture unit.

For Ricky Narine, a beekeeper in Barbados, the toughest challenge right now is saving the bees.

“We are trying to save the bees. A lot of people out there are using a lot of chemicals that are killing them and they don’t realise that without bees the environment is going to suffer. As much as you tell them they still do it,” he said.

“They can call us or use something safer. There are a lot of different insecticides that you can use that are bee friendly. They might be a dollar or two more but they are bee friendly and will not kill the bees.”

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Categories: Latin America News

Bachelet to Recalibrate Chile’s Foreign Policy

IPS Latin America - Tue, 2014-03-11 22:21

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

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Mar 11 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

Her government programme contains a harsh critique.

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

The War of the Pacific

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Categories: Latin America News

Gun Violence Darkens Political Unrest in Venezuela

IPS Latin America - Fri, 2014-03-07 23:00

Pro-government “colectivos” on motorbikes follow behind National Police in central Caracas. Credit: Courtesy of an anonymous Twitter user

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Mar 7 2014 (IPS)

Seven of the 20 people killed in the street protests that have shaken Venezuela since the second week of February were shot in the head, a testimony to the role being played by firearms in the political struggle in this oil-rich country.

The armed forces and the police, and a few thousand licensed civilians, carry legal firearms, but there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of illegal weapons, according to Amnesty International.“They are parapolice groups that control everything from security to the micro-trafficking of drugs and other crimes in their territories." -- Luis Cedeño

The 1999 constitution “expressly forbids the use of firearms and toxic substances to control peaceful demonstrations,” activist Marino Alvarado, of the human rights organisations Provea, told IPS.

Who owns and fires the weapons, when some urban areas are shrouded every evening in the smoke of tear gas grenades mingled with that of the burning barricades, and shots ring out, fired by unknown persons from vehicles, mostly motorcycles?

The first person to be shot to death, on Feb. 12, was carpenter Bassil Dacosta, at the end of an opposition march in the centre of Caracas. Agents of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN, the political police) were present – in defiance of an order confining them to barracks, according to President Nicolás Maduro – and so were pro-government members of the so-called “colectivos” (collectives).

The second victim, at the same demonstration, was Juan Montoya, the leader of one of the colectivos, who was carrying an identity document issued by the Caracas police.

A young model on her first demonstration, a neighbour who was closing the gate of his housing complex as hostile bikers approached, and a sergeant of the National Guard who was clearing rubble from a barricade, were the next victims, in the central states of Carabobo and Aragua.

A female student died from pellets fired at point-blank range. Dozens of people were injured by metal or plastic pellets.

Policing the protests in more than 50 cities is mainly the job of the Bolivarian National Guard, which is a domestic security corps similar to Chile’s carabineros (militarised police) or the Spanish Guardia Civil, and a component of the armed forces along with the army, navy and air force.

The combined armed forces total some 135,000 troops in this country of nearly 28 million people.

Within the National Guard, the People’s Guard, created in 2011 by then president Hugo Chávez (1954-2013) for the purposes of surveillance and citizen security, has been very active against the protests.

The Bolivarian National Police, created in 2009, is also involved, while by law regional and municipal police corps must refrain from action. Some of these are under the jurisdiction of opposition mayors.

But the novelty, found in Caracas and half a dozen cities in the interior of the country, is the colectivos, civilian groups of government supporters whose members, mounted on motorbikes and carrying firearms, have attacked demonstrators, shops, homes and vehicles in opposition neighbourhoods.

“The behaviour pattern of these groups supports the theory that they are very probably coordinated with the People’s Guard to act on the margins of the constitution, with their display and use of war weapons,” Rocío San Miguel, the head of the NGO Citizen Watch for Security, Defense and National Armed Forces, told IPS.

Some of these groups arose in the 23 de Enero public housing estate in the west of Caracas, from the remnants of urban guerrilla groups active prior to Chávez’s taking office in 1999, and they each control small territories.

“They are parapolice groups that control everything from security to the micro-trafficking of drugs and other crimes in their territories, on the margins of state authority, and they shield themselves behind their supposed loyalty to the government,” Luis Cedeño, the head of the NGO Paz Activa, told IPS.

After Juan Montoya was killed, some of his comrades in the Leonardo Pirela colectivo in the 23 de Enero housing estate held a vigil over his coffin, wearing camouflage fatigues and balaclavas and carrying fake small arms in their bags.

When the funeral procession passed the territory of La Piedrita, another colectivo, it received a one-minute gun salute, with a display of rifles and profuse firing of ammunition into the air.

“We don’t have any weapons at this time. But if Venezuelan democracy is threatened by a coup, as it was in 2002, we will bring out our weapons and our hoods. We have the weapons put away. They are in the hands of other revolutionary organisations on the continent,” said activist Alberto Carías.

Carías is the president of the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), a splinter group from the Tupamaro Revolutionary Movement, which has spread from 23 de Enero throughout the country as a legal leftwing party giving electoral support to Chávez and Maduro.

Opposition groups call the civilian groups that oppose them and dismantle their barricades “tupamaros” or “colectivos” without distinction, and this language has spread through the cities where the protests have multiplied.

But the vast majority of colectivos are peaceful neighbourhood groups that support the government, carrying out the government’s social work programmes or developing their own projects, according to research by NGOs and the media.

When the protests began, Maduro warned against “demonising the colectivos.” Later, on Mar. 5, he called on them specifically to help combat opposition protests in a speech commemorating the anniversary of Chávez’s death.

“I call on the UBCH (Chávez Battle Units, cells of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela), on the community councils and on the colectivos: when a candle (of violence) is lit, put it out,” said the president.

In a matter of hours, groups of civilians on motorbikes arrived to dismantle the barricades that opposition protesters had built with trash bags and set on fire, in Caracas and in cities in the southwest.

On Thursday Mar. 6, shots were fired near some of these barricades in the east of Caracas, killing one biker and a National Guardsman, in an example of the violence exercised by the opposition.

Alvarado said that in calling on civilians to control the protests, the president “is violating the constitution, which puts the responsibility for maintaining public order in the hands of the uniformed police force.”

Retired officers belonging to opposition groups allege that Maduro is calling on these civilian groups because his support among the conventional armed forces is waning, especially in the air force, the navy and part of the army.

According to the newspaper El Nacional, two colonels of the National Guard were arrested for protesting against excessive repression.

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Categories: Latin America News

Untimely Rains Hit Cuban Tobacco Harvest

IPS Latin America - Thu, 2014-03-06 02:22

Yamilé Venero strings tobacco leaves onto long poles for natural curing on the Valle farm, in the municipality of San Juan y Martínez, the centre of production of this preeminently Cuban crop. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
SAN JUAN Y MARTÍNEZ, Cuba, Mar 6 2014 (IPS)

Near the close of the harvest , local people in the Cuban municipality of San Juan y Martínez, which boasts the finest tobacco plantations in the world, are seeing their hopes of a plentiful season dashed by unexpected winter rains.

“It’s been a bad year, a rebellious one as we call it. There was a lot of rain, which rots the plants. Tobacco needs sun during the day and cold at night,” 67-year-old Dámaso Rodríguez, a worker on the Valle plantation in this municipality, 180 kilometres west of Havana, in the province of Pinar del Río, told IPS.

“We are late with the farm chores,” said Yamilé Venero, a young tobacco worker on the same plantation. “It’s not worth planting again,” added María Teresa Ventos, a 54-year-old woman who comes every season to string the tobacco leaves onto long poles for drying in this agricultural industry which is a source of temporary jobs for women.

Since November, when the season started, there has been too much rain in the province which was expected to supply 70 percent of the 26,400 tonnes of tobacco leaf forecast for the 2013-2014 harvest. San Juan y Martínez and the neighbouring municipality of San Luis were severely affected; between them they provide 86 percent of the tobacco for the prized and costly Havana cigars.

Local sources reported the loss of 813 hectares in Pinar del Río and partial damage in a further 1,000 hectares, out of the provincial plan for 15,000 hectares. Many farms had to uproot their tobacco plants and replant three times over.

Tobacco is Cuba’s third export, after nickel and medical products.

In 2013, the country earned 447 million dollars from tobacco, eight percent more than in 2012 when the Anglo-Cuban corporation Habanos S.A. made 416 million dollars. It is the sole vendor of Cuban cigars worldwide, trading in 160 countries, with most of its business in Europe, although cigars are doing well in Asia and the Middle East.

The storm clouds over Pinar del Río, in the west of the country, may hurt sales this year, along with other problems like tough anti-tobacco laws in Europe and the economic blockade imposed by the United States on Cuba because of the of conflict between Washington and Havana that has gone on for half a century.

To weather the damage done by the downpours, plantations in Pinar extended their planting season, which usually ends in January, by 45 days, and delayed other major tasks of the current tobacco harvest. They have also resorted to harvesting “capadura” (lower quality) leaf and plant regrowth, in order to maximise production.

On the Valle plantation, 12 skilled men continue to harvest tobacco leaves and take them to a high-roofed wooden barn at one side of the estate. Inside, 12 women string the leaves in bunches and arrange them on long poles which are then hung in tiers right up to the slanted roof for traditional curing (controlled drying) in air.

“After all, the tobacco is good quality, but not as good as before,” Rodríguez said. This veteran tobacco grower, the son and grandson of peasant farmers, is concerned that the strange weather in his birthplace “is no longer the same” as it was three decades ago.

The unique combination of temperature, soil and humidity in the Vuelta Abajo region, in the west of the province, is essential for the development of the best handmade premium cigars on the planet, a process that involves close to 190 different operations.

Only here can all the types of leaf be grown that are used in making cigars, the successors to the rolled leaves smoked by native people on the island of Cuba when Spanish colonists arrived in 1492.

Dayana Hernández and Aliet Achkienazi, researchers at the state Meteorology Institute, have forecast that this territory will become warmer every decade this century, unsettling the conditions that give Cuban cigars their exclusive taste, aroma and texture and have earned them their protected designation of origin (PDO).

The PDO protects agricultural products that have a quality and characteristics fundamentally or exclusively due to geographical factors in their place of origin. In this case it is reserved for cigars of over three grams, made in Cuba according to traditional methods from varieties of Cuban black tobacco.

The study “Impacto del cambio climático sobre el cultivo del tabaco en la zona de Pinar del Río, Cuba” (Impact of climate change on tobacco cultivation in the area of Pinar del Río, Cuba) analysed particularly productive districts in the province, including San Juan y Martínez and San Luis.

On the basis of future climate scenarios, the authors forecast that rising temperatures will not cause great harm in the next few decades, but later on, as warming increases, crop yields will decline. However, in the north of the area they studied, the climate will be more stable and it is less likely that temperatures will exceed 25 degrees Celsius.

The study found that “the impact of climate change can be mitigated in conditions compatible with the sustainable development” of the delicate tobacco leaf. It recommended “further research” into the effects of imbalances in the rainfall patterns on the plantations.

The experienced eye of Francisco José Prieto, the manager of the Valle plantation, who owns 4.5 hectares that have belonged to his family since his grandfather’s days, led him to take steps ahead of the inclement weather.

He planted early, and was already harvesting “when the rains intensified,” he told IPS. “I didn’t have to replant,” said this member and president of the Tomás Valdés Credit and Services Cooperative (CCS), which groups 50 farms in Vuelta Abajo.

The CCSs were created in the 1960s as voluntary associations of small farmers who retain ownership of their land, and gain collective access to technologies, financing and sales facilities for their products.

But in spite of his efforts, Prieto doubts whether this harvest will be as good as the last, when his farm produced 158 quintals (7,272 kilos), a record result.

Prieto uses soil conservation techniques on his land. He sprays the tobacco only once, and after the harvest, he plants crop varieties that improve the soil, like maize and jack beans. “They provide shade, conserve nutrients that otherwise would be washed away by the rains, and they are dug in as a green manure,” he said.

The 44,863 people living in San Juan y Martínez, on large estates dotted with simple houses with light roofs, depend on the success of each tobacco harvest. “We are paid fixed wages, with bonuses for productivity,” union leader Celeste Muñoz told IPS.

Constantly working dry tobacco wrapper leaf from the last harvest on her roller, Muñoz, employed for the last 17 years in a centre for tobacco collection, selection and processing, said that her team of 50 women is trying to “recover as much dry leaf as possible.”

She is not sure whether it is “because of the climate, the fertilisers or the variety planted,” but she claims that the yield “is less than before. We got as many as 1,000 quintals (46,039 kilos) of dry leaf in one season,” she said nostalgically.

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Categories: Latin America News

Chevron Wins Latest Round in Ecuador Pollution Case

IPS Latin America - Wed, 2014-03-05 00:46

Outside the New York federal courthouse on Oct 15, 2013, Ecuadorians and their supporters gather to protest the Chevron lawsuit. Credit: Samuel Oakford/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Mar 5 2014 (IPS)

In the latest twist in a 21-year-old environmental pollution case, a U.S. federal judge Tuesday ruled that the victims of massive oil spillage and their U.S. attorney could not collect on a nine-billion-dollar judgement by Ecuador’s supreme court against the Chevron Corporation.

In a racketeering case brought by the U.S. oil giant, the judge found that the lawyer, Steven Donziger, and his associates had used bribery and falsified evidence to prevail against Chevron in Ecuador’s courts and thus should not be permitted to collect damages.“Misconduct on the part of a couple of lawyers... is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for a corporation that has committed massive toxic contamination.” -- Marco Simons

“It is distressing that the course of justice was perverted,” the District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan wrote in a nearly 500-page ruling.

“There is no ‘Robin Hood’ defense to illegal and wrongful conduct,” he went on. “And the defendants’ ‘this-is-the-way-it-is-done-in-Ecuador’ excuses – actually a remarkable insult to the people of Ecuador – do not help them.”

Chevron applauded the judgement “as a resounding victory,” while Donziger and his attorneys said they would take the ruling to the same appeals court that overturned a similar judgement in the case rendered by Kaplan in 2011. At that time, Chevron appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Kaplan’s original ruling, but the Court rejected the appeal without comment.

Donziger himself called Kaplan’s latest judgement, which followed a six-week trial conducted late last year, “an appalling decision resulting from a deeply flawed proceeding that overturns a unanimous ruling by Ecuador’s Supreme Court. …We are confident we will be fully vindicated in the U.S., as we have been in Ecuador.”

The case was first filed in the U.S. federal court in 1993 on behalf of 30,000 mostly indigenous residents of the Lago Agrio region of the Ecuadorean Amazon where Texaco, which was acquired by Chevron in 2001, had operated continuously from the 1960s until 1992. For much of that period, it worked in partnership with Petroecuador, which took over all of Texaco’s operations in the region when the U.S. oil giant left.

The plaintiffs claim that Texaco dumped more than 70 billion litres of toxic liquids, left some 910 waste pits filled with toxic sludge, and flared millions of cubic metres of toxic gases – poisoning the environment in one of the most biologically diverse areas in South America and creating serious health problems, including an unusually high incidence of cancer, for people living in the region.

Apparently concerned that U.S. courts would be more sympathetic to the plaintiffs’ case, Texaco persuaded Judge Jed Rakoff to have the case transferred to Ecuador in 2002 — when it was ruled by a conservative government eager for foreign investment — on condition that the company waive certain defences, such as the expiration of the statute of limitations, and ensure that any judgement would be enforceable in the U.S. The Ecuadorean case was filed the following year.

Chevron has long argued that the damages cited by the plaintiffs are exaggerated and that, in any case, Texaco extinguished its obligations when it carried out a 40-million- dollar environmental remediation project as part of a 1995 agreement with the Ecuadorean government that covered 37.5 percent of the well sites and waste pits in the concession area.

The remaining sites were to be cleaned up by Petroecuador, according to Chevron.

But the plaintiffs, who are backed by a number of local and international green groups, have argued that Chevron, having drilled all of the original sites, also remains responsible for Petroecuador’s portion, as well as for the continuing health and other impacts of its operations that are not covered by the 1995 agreement.

The trial court in Ecuador ruled against Chevron and granted the plaintiffs, who were represented by Donziger and his associates, an 18 billion dollar judgement. The country’s Supreme Court subsequent upheld the judgement but reduced the damages to 9.5 billion dollars.

Chevron, however, has sought to prevent the plaintiffs from collecting any of the money, by, among other steps, withdrawing all of its assets from Ecuador and initiating a racketeering suit against Donziger and his team based on its charges that they used bribery and other corrupt methods to win the case and extort billions of dollars from the company.

To sustain those charges, it subpoenaed tens of thousands of documents, emails, and other materials from Donziger and other lawyers, as well as activist groups that supported the case. It even subpoenaed out-takes from a 2009 documentary produced by film-maker Joe Berlinger, “Crude,” about the case.

In his testimony last November, Donziger himself admitted making mistakes, such as concealing his interactions with and payments to a court-appointed expert witness who produced a report on which the Ecuadorean courts relied for the assessment of damages.

One former Ecuadorean judge testified for Chevron that plaintiffs paid him to ghostwrite opinions for the presiding judge who had been promised half a million dollars by Donziger for a favourable ruling. Both Donziger and the presiding judge, Nicolas Zambrano, vehemently denied those charges.

Nonetheless, Kaplan, who has never questioned the extent of the environmental damage wrought by the oil companies’ operations in the region, ruled in favour of Chevron, noting that “an innocent defendant is no more entitled to submit false evidence, to co-opt and pay off a court-appointed expert or to coerce or bribe a judge or jury than a guilty one.” He also noted that Donziger himself stood to win more than 600 million dollars in contingency fees.

If upheld, Kaplan’s ruling would prevent Donziger and the plaintiffs from collecting any damages from Chevron in U.S. courts. It also requires them to turn over any damages against Chevron they might collect in foreign courts to the company.

The plaintiffs have brought cases in three countries where Chevron has major operations and assets — Canada, Brazil, and Argentina – to enforce the Ecuadorean judgment, and Chevron’s CEO Tuesday told reporters Tuesday that Kaplan’s ruling should bolster the case in those countries.

The judgement, according to Deepak Gupta, who represented Donziger, amounted to “what is in effect a global anti-collection injunction that would preclude enforcement of a judgement from one country in every jurisdiction.” He noted that was one of the main reasons why the appeals court overturned Kaplan’s 2011 decision.

Marco Simons, legal director of EarthRights International, told IPS Tuesday’s judgement was vulnerable on other grounds as well. He said the law over whether the kinds of injunctions issued by Kaplan could be employed under the federal racketeering law remains unsettled.

In addition, he noted, the fact that Kaplan had found that the Ecuadorean judicial system had not provided due process “offers a good basis for re-filing the substantive case against Chevron in U.S. courts.”

“And even if all of what Judge Kaplan said about the fraudulent conduct of the attorneys was true, the answer shouldn’t necessarily be that Chevron gets away with no liability for what it has done in the Ecuadorean Amazon,” he said. “Misconduct on the part of a couple of lawyers, which is what Judge Kaplan suggested, is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for a corporation that has committed massive toxic contamination.”

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Categories: Latin America News

Costa Rican Farmers Become Climate Change Acrobats

IPS Latin America - Tue, 2014-03-04 18:26

José Alberto Chacón weeds between bean plants on his small farm in Pacayas, on the slopes of the Irazú volcano, in Costa Rica. The terraces help control water run-off that would otherwise cause soil erosion. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
ALVARADO, Costa Rica, Mar 4 2014 (IPS)

José Alberto Chacón traverses the winding path across his small farm on the slopes of the Irazú volcano, in Costa Rica, which meanders because he has designed it to prevent rain from washing away nutrients from the soil.

His careful husbandry ensures his crops of beans, maize and carrots on his half-hectare parcel of land, which like that of many other farmers in the Pacayas area, is located on steep slopes that are prone to the loss of the land’s fertile layers.

Chacón told IPS that he is constantly applying techniques like designing a winding path, and building terraces or containment walls with harvest leftovers, and he feels like an acrobat leaping from one measure to another to keep his family farm alive.

“It hurts to see soil being washed into the river. I’m getting older and my piece of land will always be the same size, so I have to find ways of making it flat with terraces, so as to keep working it as long as God wills,” said the 51-year-old Chacón, who is married and has three children.

One of his children helps with the sale of excess produce. His 50-year-old wife, Irma Rosa Loaiza, shares the farm work. “We are a model of family agriculture. She comes out to the plot of land itself to help,” said her husband.

The community of Pacayas, one hour east of San José, is located on the eastern end of the fertile Costa Rican central valley, between the Irazú and Turrialba volcanos. The population density is higher than the national average and it receives 2,300 millimetres of rain a year, on slopes of up to 70 percent.

Now climate change is another factor, increasing rainfall and soil erosion. The Ministry of Environment and Energy estimates that erosion has reduced agricultural GDP by 7.7 percent between 1970 and 1989.

The 2014 agricultural census may show a worsening of the situation in this Central American country of 4.4 million people, where agriculture contributed 10.7 percent of GDP in 2000 but 8.67 percent in 2012, according to official figures.

Chacón, wearing black rubber boots and a white hat for protection against the sun, proceeds along the cultivated rows. His field has a 50 percent slope, and there is a height difference of up to 20 centimetres between one maize row and another, sufficient for rainwater not to pour straight down to the Pacayas river in the canyon below.

Farmers in Pacaya cultivate crops on a slant across the slope so that rains will not wash away their soil. In this micro-basin, 68 percent of the fields have a slope of more than 30 percent. Credit: Diego Argueda Ortiz/IPS

He is a subsistence farmer, like the rest of the farmers in the area, whose parcels are an average area of 2.5 hectares and who eke their living out of the mountainside. If their crops fail, they do not eat; if they overplant and the soil is washed away, they also fail to put food on the table.

“There has to be a balance between sustainability and food security. I can’t tell local people: this land is unfit for agriculture, you should plant forests, because it is all they have,” agricultural scientist Beatriz Solano, assigned to the area for the past 17 years by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, told IPS.

A study published in 2013 by the journal Environmental Science & Policy describes how “a combination of extreme precipitation, steep topography and questionable land use has led to heavy erosion and impairment of soil regulation services” in the area.

Even families with land on gentler slopes have had to apply new techniques. The certified organic farm Guisol is an example. Its owners, 68-year-old María Solano and 43-year-old Marta Guillén, work small parcels using live hedges to contain erosion, as they showed IPS.

Not all the area’s producers are aware of the importance of such actions. A survey carried out in 2010 by a researcher with the inter-American Tropical Agronomy Research and Training Centre (CATIE), based in this country, found that seven out of 10 farmers in Pacayas did not use soil protection techniques.

Moreover, the small size of the farms means that they do not benefit from payment for forest cover, the preferred system of erosion control in Costa Rica.

Experts say the latest soil conservation practices in family agriculture will be essential in Pacayas, because of the changes in rainfall patterns.

“There used to be steady rainfall from October to January or February, with thick mist. Now it’s more unstable, and without water potatoes do not grow, and it is farmers who lose out, because seeds and fertilisers are increasingly expensive,” 68-year-old farmer Guillermo Quirós, who had to rebuild the drainage channels on his farm two years ago, told IPS.

In 2011 researcher Carlos Hidalgo of the National Institute of Agricultural Innovation and Technology Transfer concluded a research study monitoring soil management in the area.

“It’s a process that has to include all the actors, including municipalities, producers and research centres,” Hidalgo told IPS in his office in San José.

The multi-disciplinary effort is making progress. Every two months, the soil management committee for the Birrís river basin, a group made up of different sectors, meets in Alvarado municipality to which Pacayas belongs. There they plan their work for the next period.

This month the modest town hall of Alvarado hosted the first meeting of 2014, presided over by local environment manager Gabriela Gómez, and seven out of the eight participants were women. In Pacayas, men carry out most of the agricultural work and women take on local planning and conservation.

“We’re gong to ask the TEC (Technological Institute of Costa Rica) to do a study of run-off, so we can improve the ditches, prevent flooding in the lowlands of the district and reduce erosion,” Gómez told IPS. She has led environmental initiatives that have achieved nationwide recognition.

Pacayas is located in the Birrís river basin, a hydrographical complex rising in the mountains above the town, which feeds the hydropower plants of the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE).

The Institute spends close to four million dollars a year removing sediment derived from soil erosion from its reservoirs.

Meanwhile, Chacón and other small farmers keep building terraces following the contours of their plots, to prevent the rains from stripping their topsoil.

The impact is clearly visible. On the other side of the river that borders his field, the earth is reddish and bare and there are only a few green patches lower down the slope. “That soil has already been eroded,” said agricultural scientist Solano.

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Categories: Latin America News

Vegetable Gardens Ease Poverty in El Salvador

IPS Latin America - Mon, 2014-03-03 20:41

Agronomist Francisco Ramírez, a member of the Cuscatlán vegetable producers’ cooperative, and his family, in one of the greenhouses where they grow tomatoes. Credit: Tomás Andréu/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala and Tomás Andréu
EL CARMEN, El Salvador, Mar 3 2014 (IPS)

Vegetable growing is flourishing in Cuscatlán, the smallest department in the tiny country of El Salvador, with the help of a national programme to promote family agriculture and lift hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty.

On one and a half hectares of land, four of the Ramírez brothers used to grow only maize, without much expertise. Today they sell fruit and vegetables to the Walmart transnational chain.

They were determined to make the most of the Family Agriculture Plan (PAF), launched by the government in February 2011 to give support to more than 300,000 producers, improve their yields and incomes and fight hunger.

Government technicians trained the Ramírez brothers in horticulture and the creation and management of a cooperative. They learned to build greenhouses to control pests and rainfall, as well as dropwise irrigation techniques.

Entrenched poverty

The policy of the centre-left government of President Mauricio Funes is being supported by several regional and international organisations, as part of a wider fight against poverty, which has had some successes in this country of 6.3 million people.

• 34.5 percent of households are poor
• 8.94 percent of households are extremely poor
• 43.3 percent of rural households are poor
• In 2009, 37.8 percent of households were poor and 12 percent were extremely poor.

Source: Multi-Purpose Household Survey, El Salvador Ministry of Economy, May 2013.The Asociación Cooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria Hortaliceros de Cuscatlán (Cuscatlán vegetable producers’ cooperative) was founded in 2013. It already has 18 members and is one of several that supply national and transnational supermarkets.

In the canton of Santa Lucía belonging to the municipality of El Carmen, the cooperative produces tomatoes, chili peppers, squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, bananas and guavas. Production gradually increased, and so did the families’ incomes.

“I like to work the land that belongs to us, instead of being in a ‘maquila’ (export assembly plant) earning next to nothing,” Andrea Beltrán, the wife of Francisco Ramírez, told IPS as she sorted foods before packaging them.

Her husband was walking along the rows of tomato plants, followed by his three children, checking the colour and ripeness of each fruit.

The cooperative makes three food deliveries a week to supermarkets in El Salvador owned by the U.S. corporation Walmart, generating monthly sales of 12,500 dollars.

Its members share the greenhouses and irrigation system, and each farmer grows their own produce, delivering what they harvest to a collection centre which handles sales and distribution to the markets.

The more a member produces, the more he or she earns, unlike traditional cooperatives in which all income goes into a central fund which is distributed equally between the members.

“The cooperative started with four brothers, and since then our family concern has grown,” said Francisco Ramírez, who has graduated as an agronomist.

The PAF is directed at two main sectors, very poor subsistence farmers and other farmers who, while still poor, have introduced some improvements and have some excess crops for sale, a group comprising some 60,000 producers.

The Ramírez brothers are among this group of poor rural people who nevertheless have a small plot of land that has allowed them to produce enough to pay for Francisco’s studies at the University of El Salvador, which is virtually free.

Another advantage the cooperative has is the Collection and Services Centre (CAS), which also handles produce from other cooperatives in the area, and carries out quality and hygiene monitoring before sending the products to their final sales points.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the country has 35 CASs funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which up until late 2013 benefited 45,000 producers.

Lorena Guadalupe Fabián joined the cooperative two years ago, at no cost. Previously her life consisted of buying products and re-selling them in street markets.

“I would leave for work at three in the morning and get back at seven at night, but the PAF changed my life,” she told IPS.

She has received training “that has been very useful.” And now she grows vegetables, but also takes part in quality control, and the reception and dispatch of produce. “I am not only a member, I also have a job,” she said.

“Only yesterday, we sold Walmart 2,000 chilis,” she said enthusiastically.

Another beneficiary is José Arnoldo. He looks after the planting and harvesting, has a steady job, and has become an expert on treating produce, especially in the use of agrochemicals.

The cooperative is a few steps away from becoming a supplier to Súper Selectos, the largest supermarket chain in El Salvador.

It is also negotiating with ALBA Alimentos (ALBA Foods), a subsidiary of ALBA Petróleos, an initiative born of an agreement between mayors’ offices in the hands of the governing (formerly insurgent) Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) and the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, and which is broadening its scope to other fields.

“Now we have to carry on growing a lot more,” said Francisco Ramírez.

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Categories: Latin America News

Predatory Lionfish Decimating Caribbean Reefs

IPS Latin America - Fri, 2014-02-28 15:23

Handling lionfish requires special care: some of their fins are tipped with venom that make even the slightest puncture extremely painful, though not fatal. Credit: Christopher Pala/IPS

By Christopher Pala
NASSAU, The Bahamas, Feb 28 2014 (IPS)

The lionfish, with its striking russet and white stripes and huge venomous outrigger fins, wasn’t hard to spot under a coral reef in 15 feet of clear water. Nor was it a challenge to spear it.

As I approached and brought the point of my Hawaiian sling to within a foot of it, it simply looked back, utterly fearless until I pierced it and brought it back to the surface.“They’re everywhere now. It’s a doomsday scenario.” -- Pericles Maillis

Within a half-hour, we had caught four of these gorgeous one-pound fish, and the fillets made excellent eating that night.

But the arrival of a tasty, abundant and easy-to-shoot fish on the Caribbean’s much-depleted coral reefs is anything but good news. A recent scientific paper brought new detail to previous studies, showing that a year after colonising a reef, lionfish reduced the number of native fish by about half.

“They’ll eat just about anything they can swallow and almost nothing eats them,” said principal author Stephanie Green of Oregon State University. That’s why they’re so easy to catch, she explained.

However tasty they may be, only a miniscule fraction of the invaders has been removed, while their numbers continue to grow exponentially, reaching densities never seen in the Pacific, their native habitat.

This suggests the lionfish, believed to have been introduced to the Atlantic coast by aquarium lovers in the 1980s, will likely wipe out most Caribbean reef fish in a decade or two, scientists agree. As a result, many corals that depend on herbivore fish will die and eventually turn to rubble, making shorelines more vulnerable to waves just as global warming is lifting sea levels.

As he steered his boat back to shore, my host, a Bahamian lawyer of Greek descent named Pericles Maillis, balefully contemplated our catch and said, “They’re everywhere now. It’s a doomsday scenario.”

Maillis, a lifelong fisherman, conservationist and a former president of the Bahamas National Trust, has been trying to promote a commercial fishery in The Bahamas, but the fish, first spotted here in 2004, has become nearly ubiquitous since 2010. And shooting it while scuba diving is still banned.

His pessimism is not unwarranted. Scientists from the southern Caribbean are reporting seeing densities of lionfish that until a couple of years ago were only documented in The Bahamas, the fish’s jumping off point from Florida into the Caribbean.

In the Atlantic, their range now covers 3.3 million square kilometres. They can reach densities hundreds of times higher than in their native range, for reasons that remain a mystery. “Something is controlling their abundance,” says Mark Hixon of the University of Hawaii. “We’re guessing a small predator that’s absent in the Atlantic is targeting baby lions, but we have no idea what it is.”

In addition to adult little reef fish, the lionfish swallow virtually all species of bigger fish when they appear on the reef as bite-sized juveniles.

Isabelle Côté of Simon Fraser University said that today, when she surveys reefs in the Bahamas, where she does most of her research, “you can see there are a lot fewer little fish than there used to be just four years ago.”

No so for the larger predators like snappers and groupers that are the mainstay of the local fishermen’s reef catch. A stroll along Nassau’s fishing docks confirms what scientists have observed: despite the explosion in the number of lionfish, the decades-old slow decline in the numbers of large predators has not accelerated – yet.

Because they take years to mature, it will take a while for the generation of juveniles that’s being gobbled up now to fail to replace the current adults, who are too large to be lionfish prey.

At Nassau’s waterside fish market, where a “Me? Worry?” mood prevailed, fisherman Carson Colmar, 45, said he’s not seen any significant drop in his catch of reef fish and lobsters. He started spearing lionfish simply because they’re so easy and abundant. “I sell 50 a week,” he said. “I’d catch more if I could sell them.” The fillets sell for eight dollars a pound, compared to twelve dollars for grouper or snapper.

One problem is that handling lionfish requires special care: some of their fins are tipped with venom that make even the slightest puncture extremely painful, though not fatal. So local people, already taken aback by their unusual appearance, often believe that the flesh may be poisonous too, which it is not. That, fishermen complain, limits demand.

In the United States, the notion that this lethal predator could be controlled by becoming dinner for the ultimate predator, homo sapiens, has received wide coverage. Lad Akins, the founder of REEF, the Reef Environmental Education Foundation, who has been working on lionfish control for nearly a decade, noted that the commercial take of lionfish in Florida, where REEF is based, quintupled in just a year to 6.1 tonnes in 2012.

“It’s growing fast, but we don’t know yet if it’s putting a dent in the lionfish population,” says Akins, who is based in Key Largo. Scientists said the strategy of “eat them to beat them” has failed to have any overall effect and is unlikely to do so because spearing lionfish is too time-consuming to be profitable.

So far the only documented successes have come from recreational diving companies, which are literally defending their turf. Seeing how the colourful reef fish that underpin the businesses could soon be gone, they have started methodically exterminating the invaders from their regular dive sites.

In Bonaire, a diving mecca the Dutch West Indies, the first lionfish was caught in 2009, and within two years they were proliferating, according to Fadilah Ali of the University of Southampton. But some 300 volunteers were given special spears, more than 10,000 lionfish were killed and soon their density dropped in the areas favoured by divers. “Today, on a typical dive, you’ll see very few or no lionfish,” she said.

Green of Oregon State said some reefs might survive if the recreational divers go beyond the reefs favoured by their clients, which tend to have many different species but few juveniles. To protect the young fish, they would have to eliminate lionfish from shallow areas around mangroves, which serve as nurseries, she said.

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Categories: Latin America News

Shifting Rainy Season Wreaks Havoc on Barbuda’s Crops

IPS Latin America - Fri, 2014-02-28 14:58

Some small famers in the Caribbean have come together to build their own catchments to harvest rainwater for crops and livestock. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
HIGHLANDS, Barbuda, Feb 28 2014 (IPS)

Water rationing has become a way of life for the 1,800 residents of the tiny island of Barbuda, which has been experiencing prolonged dry periods, especially in the Highlands area near the main agricultural lands.

Marine biologist John Mussington told IPS the problem is that the wet period has shifted from the traditional July to September period to September to November, and when the rains do come, the showers are sharp and end just as quickly.An artificial rainwater catchment is one adaptation option that can reduce the threat of drought.

“Without areas to store the water when it comes, it runs off into the sea or penetrates underground,” Mussington told IPS. “The other problem is that the groundwater is ‘hard’ due to high levels of calcium and magnesium, and in many cases salty due to saltwater intrusion.

“This groundwater is not suitable for agriculture and because the wet season has shifted, the traditional method of planting crops at particular times so that they can be rain-fed is not as effective,” Mussington added.

The director of the Antigua and Barbuda Meteorological Services, Keithley Meade, said that climate change poses the greatest threat to Barbuda and the rest of the Caribbean region.

“If you look at what happened in the southern islands in December…climate change is impacting us,” Meade told IPS.

A slow-moving, low-level trough on Dec. 24 dumped hundreds of millimetres of rain on St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia and Dominica, killing at least 13 people.

“We find that our droughts are drier than normal and our wet seasons are wetter than normal,” Meade said.

Barbuda has been experiencing prolonged dry periods, especially in the Highlands area near the main agricultural lands. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

As the conditions worsen, the state-owned Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) has been urging residents to practice water conservation, with several public service announcements (PSAs) airing on radio and television.

“No rainfall is expected within this period. We have been getting some drizzle, but not the gut showers that are needed,” water manager Ivan Rodriques told IPS.

On average, Antigua and Barbuda requires 5.6 million gallons of water per day, increasing to six million gallons during the peak tourism season.

But there is a flicker of hope: the island is set to benefit from an artificial catchment area to trap rainwater.

The much needed help is thanks to the Reducing the Risks to Human and Natural Assets Resulting from Climate Change (RRACC) project, being implemented by the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Susanna Scott, coordinator of the RRACC project, told IPS the artificial catchment would be used “to demonstrate an adaptation option that can reduce the threats of drought and decreasing water availability on the agriculture sector.”

Mussington welcomes the plan to build a water catchment and storage area on the western edge of the Highlands to overcome some of the challenges being faced by the island.

“Incidentally, the concept and initial project design was my doing. By harvesting rainwater on the Highlands and storing the water, it can be used throughout the year to produce high value vegetable crops.

“By incorporating an aquaponics component, Barbuda could become self-sufficient in vegetables and also have the availability of fresh fish for local consumption and export in a more efficient production system,” he said.

Gaston Browne, who is seeking to oust Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer in general elections, constitutionally due here in March, has vowed to make Barbuda “the breadbasket” of the twin-island state.

But with forecasts for hotter and drier conditions going forward, Browne could find it difficult, if not impossible to realise his promise for the drought-stricken island.

Barbuda and mainland Antigua are not the only countries where drought, brought on by climate change, is wreaking havoc on agriculture and water resources.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  scientists said last month was the warmest January since 2007 and the fourth warmest on record. It also marked the driest month for the contiguous United States since 2003 and the fifth driest since records started being kept in 1880.

On Feb. 24, while launching the United Nations (UN) International Year of Small Island Developing States, Antigua-born General Assembly President John Ashe said “this year takes place at a time when the vast majority of islands are combatting the ravages of climate change, and some, like the Maldives are literally sinking because of it.”

Ironically, predictions are that the tiny 62-square-mile island of Barbuda could sink in 60 years due to sea level rise.

“The challenges that small island developing states are facing are challenges that all countries should be concerned about,” the head of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Wu Hongbo, said at the launch.

He noted that small islands are particularly vulnerable because of their unique locations. For example, the hurricane season has devastating impacts on lives and property, particularly in countries which see an increasing number of cycles and decreasing rainfall.

“Climate change represents a grave threat to the survival and viability of a number of low-lying nations,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said in his address at the launch of the International Year.

To galvanise support for addressing climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mobilising political will, Ban will convene a Climate Summit on Sep. 23 in New York.

U.N. member states agreed two years ago to support 51 highly vulnerable Small Island Developing States (SIDS) – a group that was politically recognised at the Rio Summit in 1992, underscored at a major international conference in Barbados in 1994 and again at a follow-up meeting in Mauritius in 2005.

The group of states share similar sustainable development challenges, including small but growing populations, limited resources, remoteness, susceptibility to natural disasters, vulnerability to external shocks, excessive dependence on international trade, and fragile environments.

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Categories: Latin America News

Rich Railroad Brings Few Opportunities in Brazil

IPS Latin America - Fri, 2014-02-28 01:03

Informal vendors sell food and drinks to passengers on the Carajás Railroad at Alto Alegre do Pindaré, in the northwest of the Brazilian state of Maranhão. This source of income will disappear when the trains are modernised and their windows sealed shut. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava

The Carajás railroad, regarded as the most efficient in Brazil, runs a loss-making passenger service for the benefit of the population. But this does little to make amends for its original sin: it was created to export minerals and crosses an area of chronic poverty.

Three decades after it was built, the Carajás corridor, or area of influence, of the railway that transports one-third of the iron ore exported by Brazil remains a supplier of cheap labour for more prosperous regions and large projects in the Amazon, IPS found in a visit to the region.“The Vale train has brought me only woe and loss." -- Evangelista da Silva

Auzilandia, a village of 12,000 people and humble dwellings either side of the tracks, “is empty” at the end of every year, according to Leide Diniz. Her husband has gone, “for the second time,” over 3,000 kilometres south to the state of Santa Catarina, a three-day bus journey.

He left their three children with her in November to work in a restaurant during the tourist season in the southern hemisphere summer. “He earns some money and comes back,” said his wife, who accepts the situation because “there are no jobs here.”

For the past few years most of the unemployed workers in Alto Alegre do Pindaré, a municipality of 31,000 people, have migrated to Santa Catarina for seasonal work. Auzilandia is part of this municipality in the heartland of Maranhão, a transition state between the semi-arid northeast of Brazil and the Amazon rainforest.

The main street of Auzilandia, a village of 12,000 people in the municipality of Alto Alegre do Pindaré. Many adults here migrate 3,000 kilometres to the south in the southern hemisphere summer for work, because of the lack of opportunities in this village bisected by the Carajás Railroad. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Two-thirds of the 892 kilometres of the Carajás Railroad go through Maranhão, but this state continues to send workers to many other regions of the country, in general for temporary or precarious work, like artisanal gold mining in Amazonia or harvesting sugarcane.

It is also the main source of the victims of modern slavery, especially in stock raising and charcoal making. Its Human Development Index is next to last among the 27 Brazilian states and its per capita income is the lowest.

The Carajás Railroad and the transnational Brazilian mining giant Vale, that has the concession, will have a new opportunity to aid local development. Its tracks, so far one-way,  are in the process of being made two-way, and mining extraction in the Serra dos Carajás (Carajás mountains) in the Amazonian state of Pará is about to be doubled up.

From 2018, some 230 million tonnes a year of the highest grade iron ore on the world market will be extracted.

The railway widening will extend to the deep water port of Ponta da Madeira in São Luis, the capital of Maranhão, which exports the production of  Carajás, including manganese, copper and other minerals that make Vale the second largest minerals exporter in the world.

An investment of 19.5 billion dollars is required, most of it in logistics.Accidents, in spite of safety measures

His grandparents were working in the field, his mother was hand-pounding rice in a mortar and his older brother was cutting his hair. No one noticed when the 15-month-old baby crawled across the patio, through the gate and reached the railway a few metres away.

This is how Leidiane de Oliveira Conceição relates the tragic story of how she lost her son.

“The Vale train has brought me only woe and loss. The worst thing was when it killed my grandson, but once it also ran over 14 bred (pregnant) cows of mine,” complained grandfather Evangelista da Silva, who is claiming an indemnity for land taken over by the railway.

Vale’s trains are regarded as the safest in Brazil.

Safety features include electronic barriers, viaducts, information campaigns and 24-hour patrols that remove “more than 80 at-risk people a month,” like those intoxicated with drink or visually impaired, according to Elmer Vinhote, a supervisor at the Carajás Railroad operational control centre.

Accidents and crashes have fallen from 20 in 2009 to “three or four” a year now, he said.

But accidents and legal disputes seem inevitable. Mario Farias’ mother was killed by a train in 1996 and they have still not received the indemnity. In Auzilandia, an inebriated old man was saved by the patrol a few months ago, according to local people.

Dozens of families complain of cracks in their houses, caused by the construction of a viaduct over the rails, and are claiming new houses further away, or indemnities.

At its peak, railroad construction will employ 8,645 workers, Vale said. There will be 1,438 permanent jobs when the dual-track railway comes into operation and the priority will be to hire local people, the company promised.

A drop in the bucket towards development in such a vast area of influence. The most significant aid will come from the social investments of this company, one of the most profitable in Brazil.

A new mining bill, to be approved this year, will compel a small proportion of Vale’s income to be spent for the benefit of municipalities that are indirectly impacted by its activities.

To ensure these and other resources and to make better use of them, the 23 municipalities on the path of the railroad in Maranhão have joined forces to coordinate their actions and their relations with Vale.

The company assessed local economic interests and designed “projects for each micro-region along the railroad,” according to Zenaldo Oliveira, Vale’s director of logistics operations. In one community it may fund a cassava flour mill, in another fruit growing and juice production, he said.

Vale, founded by the state in 1942 and privatised in 1997, only supports education, health and income generation initiatives, he said, because these have been identified as the major problems hindering local development.

At present, with a single track for both directions, there are 12 freight trains daily from Carajás to São Luis. The trains are said to be the longest in the world, with 330 railcars, four locomotives, and each carrying more than 30,000 tonnes of minerals, totalling over 100 million tonnes a year.

On the return journey they carry fuel, fertiliser and other products consumed in the interior.

Passenger trains operating at subsidised fares, because “the local population is unable to afford the real cost,” provide the “social benefit” of cheap, permanent transport in a region where the rains often make roads impassable, Oliveira said.

At 15 stops, especially at Alto Alegre do Pindaré, vendors of cold drinks and food, most of them women, swarm to the train offering their wares to the railroad’s 360,000 passengers a year through the open windows.

This precarious income may disappear with the new project, as the cars will be air conditioned and the windows will be closed. “We will seek solutions” before the changeover, perhaps organising vendor cooperatives, Vale’s Oliveira said.

A workers and vendors cooperative has existed in Alto Alegre for some time, founded with support from Vale. Ten years ago it used to sell food to the railroad’s canteen, but “only for a short time,” according to its 58-year-old coordinator, Alice Cunegundes, a mother of three.

Afterwards the cooperative, which had as many as 93 members, supplied up to 3,000 meals a day to the mayor’s office, until the present mayor, elected in 2012, cancelled the arrangement, knocking the stuffing out of the initiative, she complained.

Supporting enterprise, improving schools and training thousands of workers are some of the social and environmental actions of Vale and its Foundation.

But “they are one-off projects that do not promote effective development in the territory,” said George Pereira, the executive secretary of the Itaquí-Bacanga Community Association, another “product of Vale’s social investments,” which serves 58 neighbourhoods around Ponta da Madeira.

Moreover, they are inadequate compensation for the damages suffered by the population of the Carajás corridor, according to Justiça Nos Trilhos (Justice on the Tracks), a campaign made up of social and religious movements to defend the rights of the people affected by the railroad.

In 2012, its denunciations and those of Articulaçao Internacional dos Atingidos pela Vale (International Network of People Affected by Vale) led to the company being selected for The Public Eye award, created by international organisations like Greenpeace to single out the worst corporate offenders against human rights and the environment.

Fatal accidents, pollution with mineral dust and cracks in houses close to the railway line are some of the impacts on local people.

The railroad must answer for its own sins as well as those of its twin partner, iron mining. It is also part of the Programa Grande Carajás (Grand Carajás Programme), a group of mining, steel, aluminium, pulp and paper, ranching and hydropower companies with which the government intended to develop the eastern Amazon region in the 1980s.

The programme created accelerated deforestation, lethal pollution around iron industry centres, slave labour and other forms of violence, while there was little progress in human development, acording to the statistics.

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Categories: Latin America News

Indoor Mini-Farms to Beat Climate Change

IPS Latin America - Thu, 2014-02-27 18:29

Ancel Bhagwandeen with his hydroponic unit for growing vegetables indoors. The unit makes use of smart electronics. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Feb 27 2014 (IPS)

Industrial engineer Ancel Bhagwandeen thinks that growing your food indoors is a great way to protect crops from the stresses of climate change. So he developed a hydroponic system that “leverages the nanoclimates in houses so that the house effectively protects the produce the same way it protects us,” he says.

Bhagwandeen told IPS that his hydroponic project was also developed “to leverage the growth of the urban landscape and high-density housing, so that by growing your own food at home, you mitigate the cost of food prices.”

The hydroponic unit can also run on solar energy. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

Hydroponics, a method of growing plants without soil using mineral nutrients in water, is increasingly considered a viable means to ensure food security in light of climate change.

His project is one of several being considered for further development by the Caribbean Climate Innovation Centre (CCIC), headquartered in Jamaica.

The newly launched CCIC, which is funded mainly by the World Bank and the government of Canada, seeks to  fund innovative projects that will “change the way we live, work and build to suit a changing climate,” said Everton Hanson, the CCIC’s CEO.

A first step to developing such projects is through Proof of Concept (POC) funding, which makes available grants from 25,000 to 50,000 dollars to successful applicants to “help the entrepreneur to finance those costs that are related to proving that the idea can work,” said Hanson.

Among the items that POC funding will cover are prototype development such as design, testing, and field trials; market testing; raw materials and consumables necessary to achieve proof of concept; and costs related to applications for intellectual property rights in the Caribbean.

A POC competition is now open that will run until the end of March. “After that date the applications will be evaluated. We are looking for ideas that can be commercialised and the plan is to select the best ideas,” Hanson said.

The CCIC, which is jointly managed by the Scientific Research Council in Jamaica and the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute in Trinidad and Tobago, is seeking projects that focus on water management, resource use efficiency, energy efficiency, solar energy, and sustainable agribusiness.

Bhagwandeen entered the POC competition in hopes of securing a grant, because “this POC funding would help in terms of market testing,” he explained.

The 48-year-old engineer says he wishes to build dozens of model units and “distribute them in various areas, then monitor the operations and take feedback from users.” He said he would be testing for usability and reliability, as well as looking for feedback on just how much light is needed and the best locations in a house or building for situating his model.

“I would then take the feedback, and any issues that come up I can refine before going into mass marketing,” he said.

Bhagwandeen’s model would enable homeowners to grow leafy vegetables, including herbs, lettuce and tomatoes, inside their home or apartment, with minimal expense and time.

The model uses smart electronics, meaning that 100 units can run on the same energy as a 60-watt light bulb, he said. So it differs from typical hydroponics systems that consume a great deal of energy, he added. His model can also run on the energy provided by its own small solar panel and can work both indoors and outdoors.

Bhagawandeen said his model’s design is premised on the fact that “our future as a people is based more and more on city living and in order for that to be sustainable, we need to have city farming at a family level.”

A U.N. report says that “the population living in urban areas is projected to gain 2.6 billion, passing from 3.6 billion in 2011 to 6.3 billion in 2050.” Most of that urban growth will be concentrated in the cities and towns of the world’s less developed regions.

To meet the challenges of climate change adaptation, the CCIC “will support Caribbean entrepreneurs involved in developing locally appropriate solutions to climate change.”

Bhagwandeen said that support from organisations like the CCIC is critical for climate change entrepreneurs. “From the Caribbean perspective, especially Trinidad and Tobago, we are a heavily consumer-focused society. One of the negatives of Trinidad’s oil wealth is that we are not accustomed to developing technology for ourselves. We buy it.

“We are a society of traders and distributors and there is very little support for innovators and entrepreneurs.”

He said access to markets and investors poses a serious challenge for regional innovators like himself, who typically have to rely on bootstrapping to get their business off the ground.

Typically, he said, regional innovators have to make small quantities of an item, sell those items, and then use the funds to make incrementally larger quantities. “So that if you get an order for 500 units, you cannot fulfill that order,” he said.

Fourteen Caribbean states are involved in CCIC: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

The Caribbean CCIC is one of eight being developed across the world.

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Categories: Latin America News

Rights Trampled in Venezuelan Protests

IPS Latin America - Thu, 2014-02-27 15:04

Relatives and students march with a banner naming people killed in the protests, in a mass opposition demonstration in Caracas on Saturday Feb. 22. Credit: Estrella Gutiérrez/IPS

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Feb 27 2014 (IPS)

Fifteen dead, dozens injured, some 500 arrested and denunciations of torture, illegal repression by security forces and irregular groups and attacks on the press are the fruits of over two weeks of political confrontation in the streets of some 30 Venezuelan cities. 

The state “has tossed the United Nations basic principles on the use of force and firearms [approved in Havana in 1990] into the waste bin, with regulatory bodies like the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Ombudsman’s Office treating them with contempt,” Marino Alvarado, coordinator of the human rights organisation Provea, told IPS.  "In the absence of the state, parapolice bands control certain urban spaces, call themselves collectives and act as an armed wing of the government..." -- Luis Cedeño of Paz Activa

According to eye-witnesses, press investigations and videos circulating on the social networks, several protesters were shot to death by plain-clothes police, by armed groups that intimidated protesters and initiated violent incidents, or by pellets allegedly fired by members of the militarised Bolivarian National Guard.

One of the fatalities, on the morning of Monday Feb. 24, was 34-year-old Jimmy Vargas, who was allegedly attacked with pellets and tear gas by members of the National Guard. He fell from the second floor of a building in San Cristóbal, the capital of the state of Táchira, in the southwestern Andes mountains on the border with Colombia.

To defuse the crisis, President Nicolás Maduro decreed a holiday from Thursday Feb. 27, the 25th anniversary of the protests that left more than 300 dead in Caracas in 1989, to Mar. 5, the first anniversary of the death of former president Hugo Chávez (1999-2013).

This week pro-government and opposition demonstrations continued, and looting and vandalism broke out in cities like Maracay, in the north.

On Sunday Feb. 23 systems engineer Alejandro Márquez was killed, allegedly beaten to death by national guards when he was using his mobile phone to film incidents near a barricade in central Caracas.

Victims of acts of vandalism by demonstrating groups are also among the dead.

On Friday Feb. 21, 29-year-old supermarket worker Elvis Durán died on returning to his home on his motorbike and collided with a wire apparently strung by opposition activists across the street where he lived.

In Valencia, an industrial city west of Caracas, among the denunciations of torture was the story of Juan Carrasco, who was sodomised with a rifle barrel. “My son was brutalised, raped, humiliated by the soldiers in green. They destroyed his life and that of other youngsters,” complained his mother, Rebeca González de Carrasco.

Geraldine Moreno Orozco, a student, died from pellets fired at point-blank range into her face, after she had already fallen to the shots.

In several cities there were reports that young detainees were soaked with gasoline and threatened with being set alight, or were tortured with electric prods. There were also reports of security agents throwing tear gas canisters into homes.

The first protesters to be killed, at the end of a march in Caracas on Feb. 12, died in shooting involving members of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (political police) who were disobeying an order of confinement to barracks, President Maduro said.

Maduro claimed that 30 people have died because the “guarimbas” (barricade shelters) have prevented them from receiving timely medical care.

The Foro Penal Venezolano and the Fundación para los Derechos y la Equidad, two associations of human rights lawyers, are keeping track of complaints of rights violations to present to international bodies. “Government officials responsible could be accused of crimes against humanity,” lawyer Elenis Rodríguez told IPS.

The wave of demonstrations began on Feb. 6 in the capital of Táchira province with a student protest against crime, after the attempted rape of a university student on campus.

The protests expanded when the initial demonstration was harshly put down. In the subsequent demonstrations against the repression, some hotheads threw stones at the residence of Táchima Governor José Vielma, a retired soldier and member of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

Three young men were apprehended, prosecuted and sent to a prison in the northwestern city of Coro. As a result, student protests demanding their freedom spread like wildfire to other cities, and in the Andes region local people turned out in their thousands in solidarity.

On Feb. 12, Youth Day in Venezuela and the bicentennial of a battle in the war of independence, student movements organised marches all over the country, and a sector of the opposition coalition Mesa de Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Roundtable), led by Leopoldo López, called for “The Exit” of Maduro’s government.

There were huge rallies led by young people and the middle classes, which political analysts say are motivated by discontent with the government’s erratic policies in the face of the shortage of basic products, inflation and surging crime.

Although the vast majority of demonstrations are peaceful, some are accompanied with stone-throwing, setting fire to improvised barricades built of trash set up in the streets, and other acts of vandalism.

The government issued an arrest warrant for López, of the small centre-right opposition party Voluntad Popular (Popular Will), accusing him of inciting unrest and street violence by calling for “The Exit”. He gave himself up in front of crowds at a rally in Caracas.

Meanwhile, combat planes and military helicopters were sent to Táchira where they overflew the street demonstrations. A parachute battalion was dispatched to clear access roads to San Cristóbal.

A novel element that has emerged is the armed “collectives,” irregular groups usually on motorbikes, who clash with protesters and create trouble in opposition residential areas in cities like Caracas and Mérida (in the southwest), shooting at or destroying vehicles and windows.

In Alvarado’s view, they are “leftwing paramilitaries” who hide behind the cloak of social work in the shanty towns of Caracas and other cities but exercise violence in favour of the government. Maduro has warned against “demonising the collectives” and has praised them in a number of his speeches.

Not all Chavista (supporters of the president Hugo Chávez, 1999-2013) or revolutionary (pro-government) collectives are armed and violent.

Luis Cedeño of Paz Activa, an NGO which works on security issues, told IPS that “in the absence of the state, parapolice bands control certain urban spaces, call themselves collectives and act as an armed wing of the government, in order to benefit from a certain amount of legitimacy and impunity.”

Disarming and dissolving these collectives has become a rallying cry of the opposition.

Alvarado criticised “the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Ombudsman’s Office, which should act ex officio, but have turned a deaf ear, improperly issuing opinions ahead of time in favour of the government and blaming opposition leaders, and also remaining silent when evidence was contaminated by executive branch officials.”

Rodríguez and Alvarado deplore the violations by security forces and other public powers of the Law to Prevent and Punish Torture, approved unanimously by parliament less than a year ago.

“There is no torture in Venezuela,” Maduro said at a press conference on Saturday Feb. 22.

The media have also taken some punches. Journalists’ organisations have denounced 62 cases of aggression during the protests this month. Colombian cable news channel NTN24 was pulled off the air and the same threat hangs over CNN en Español.

In Alvarado’s view, the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) “could make a contribution as mediators, based on the clauses in favour of democracy, human rights and political dialogue in their founding documents.”

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Categories: Latin America News

The Race to Save the Caribbean’s Banana Industry

IPS Latin America - Wed, 2014-02-26 15:55

A farmer shows the damage to his banana crop following the passage of a storm. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
LONDONDERRY, Dominica, Feb 26 2014 (IPS)

When Dean, the first storm of the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season, lashed Dominica on Aug. 16, it left behind a trail of destruction, claimed the lives of a mother and son, and decimated the island’s vital banana industry.

Seven years later, Dominica’s agricultural sector remains painfully vulnerable to natural disasters and climate variability. Every year, farmers lose a significant portion of their crops and livestock during the six-month hurricane season.“Climate change is clearly the greatest development challenge of the 21st century.” -- Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit

“Our first major hurricane was Hurricane David in 1979, which ravaged the entire country. Everything went down,” former prime minister Edison James, himself a farmer, told IPS. “Since then we’ve had storms and hurricanes from time to time which have caused damage of varying extent.

“Sometimes we have 90 percent crop damage, particularly bananas and avocados and tree crops generally.”

The banana industry is a valuable source of foreign exchange for several Caribbean countries, including Dominica.

The island produces approximately 30,000 tonnes of the fruit annually, earning an estimated 55 million dollars. The neighbouring islands of St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which together market their fruit under the Windward Islands Banana brand, earn an average of 68 million dollars.

The banana industry is also the second largest employer on the island after the government, providing work for 6,000 farmers and many others within the sector. Research has found that even slight temperature increases can damage banana production or even eliminate it altogether.

James, a longstanding legislator who served as prime minister from 1995-2000, has shifted to “multi-crop farming” over the last decade. But he has suffered huge losses of bananas, plantains, coconuts, okra, and other crops. He blames unpredictable rainfall, ironically in a country best known for its many rivers and abundance of water.

“There has been drought from time to time and it has been very intense in areas like Woodford Hill and Londonderry,” he told IPS.

So intense was the drought that “the country was moved to take action to put in place irrigation systems,” James explained. “So wind and drought have been the climatic factors affecting us here in Dominica.”

A water resources specialist with the Reducing the Risks to Human and Natural Assets Resulting from Climate Change (RRACC) project in the OECS Secretariat, Rupert Lay, said the potential losses to farmers in Londonderry and Dominica as a whole are hitting across the board, a situation which is increasingly common in the region.

“Climate change and variability is disrupting the modus of operation of farmers and as a result their output volumes are unpredictable and sporadic,” he told IPS.

“The variations in output are wide-ranging, from bumper harvests to zero yields for respective periods, and these stressors apply not only to crops but also to livestock production,” Lay added.

The World Bank reports that agriculture’s share of GDP in Dominica has fallen consistently with each major natural disaster, with the sector failing to recover previous levels of relative importance.

Most of this decline is attributable to crop losses, and specifically the decline in banana production.

According to World Bank figures, agricultural production accounted for 12.2 percent of total GDP, and overall the sector is estimated to have declined by 10.6 percent in 2010 on the heels of a 1.5 percent growth rate for 2009.

The performance of the crops sub-sector was severely affected by the extended drought in 2010, the World Bank said, adding that agriculture’s decline has been particularly marked since Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

Environment Minister Kenneth Darroux notes that for a country that could be self-sufficient and provide food to neighbouring countries, Dominica’s food imports constitute an increasing burden on the economy, and threaten food security.

He called for “adaptive measures [to] build resilience to the stressors of climate change in that a farmer will be better able to maintain predicted levels of production, thus protecting expected levels of livelihoods and sustenance,” Lay told IPS.

These could include better farm management, pest control, and broader agricultural improvement programmes.

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said Dominica’s vulnerability to climate change is exacerbated by its present economic performance, its particular socio-economic structure and high concentration of infrastructure along the coastline.

“The additional stress that climate change places on ecological and socio-economic systems is not to be underestimated,” Skerrit said.

“Climate change is predicted to have severe, if not catastrophic, consequences over the short to medium term across sectors such as infrastructure, agriculture, energy, human settlements and water, if immediate action is not taken to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 50 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels.

“Climate change is clearly the greatest development challenge of the 21st century,” Skerrit said.

His St. Vincent and the Grenadines counterpart, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, told IPS regional countries will be pushing to strengthen their institutional arrangements to deal with the impact of climate change.

Gonsalves said that the issue would be discussed at the upcoming CARICOM Inter-sessional summit in Kingstown, Mar. 10-11.

“There are several dimensions to climate change [and] clearly an immediate one for us is how do we better prepare ourselves for national disasters and how do we better recover from natural disasters, and we have to look at the strengthening of our institutional arrangements against the backdrop of increased vulnerabilities arising from the frequency and intensity of natural disasters,” Gonsalves told IPS.

He said this was a serious matter because “we do not contribute greatly to man-made climate change but we are on the frontline and there is lots of talk all the time about monies for adaptation and mitigation.

“We haven’t seen those monies yet. There are some limited resources which come out of the World Bank but the kinds of monies which have been pledged…are yet to be delivered,” he told IPS.

Gonsalves said this is a matter where the region would have to do much more coordinated work, adding “we have a lot of good allies – the British are now talking in a very serious way because of what is happening there”.

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Categories: Latin America News

Cartel Boss Captured, Mexican Drug Trade Soldiers On

IPS Latin America - Tue, 2014-02-25 23:14

Photographs of Joaquín Guzmán, alias "El Chapo", on Interpol's web page.

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Feb 25 2014 (IPS)

The arrest of the head of the Sinaloa drug cartel, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, will not affect drug trafficking in Mexico, but it presents an opportunity to change the country’s drug policy, experts told IPS.

The organisational hierarchy of the Sinaloa cartel “reflects the weakness of the Mexican state,” said Edgardo Buscaglia, head of the Instituto de Acción Ciudadana para la Justicia y la Democracia (Institute for Citizen Action for Justice and Democracy), an NGO.

Guzmán, the world’s most wanted drug trafficker until his capture in the early hours of Saturday Feb. 22, had his centre of operations in the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa.

In Buscaglia’s view, the two previous governments of the rightwing National Action Party (PAN) “only dismantled networked power groups, without replacing them” with an adequate state presence.

To achieve that, it is necessary to “audit the assets” of the business and political network that allowed the expansion of the Sinaloa cartel in the first place, Buscaglia said.

The Sinaloa cartel is the most powerful in Mexico, and competes with at least seven other trafficking organisations for the production, transport and smuggling of illegal drugs to the lucrative U.S. market.

Mexican marines arrested the 56-year-old Guzmán in an apartment building in the tourist port city of Mazatlán, thanks to information shared by the U.S. Drug Enforcemant Administration (DEA).

Guzmán had been captured previously in Guatemala in 1993, but after his extradition and incarceration in a high-security prison in the western Mexican state of Jalisco, he escaped in January 2001, during the government of president Vicente Fox (2000-2006).

Since then Guzmán, with the support of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada and Juan José “El Azul” Esparragoza, built a narco-empire with a presence in 58 countries in Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa, according to Buscaglia and other experts.

Its transnational links provide the organisation with supplies for manufacturing drugs, arms-buying and money-laundering facilities, and the means to create production, storage and distribution centres.

Guzmán’s re-arrest “was foreseeable, because (drug bosses) become targets to show that the rule of law exists in Mexico,” said Javier Oliva, an expert on national security and chair of a department at the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s Faculty of Political Sciences.

Under former president Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) “there were rivalries in the cabinet. Now cohesiveness is much greater and there is (policy) continuity, because the armed forces are still on the front lines of the drug war,” Oliva said.

When President Enrique Peña Nieto, of the traditional Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) took office in December 2012, he promised a new approach to security, to distance himself from the legacy of Calderón, whose war on drugs left over 100,000 dead.

The difference has been one of nuances only, because Peña Nieto has kept the military in the forefront of the war against the cartels and the hunt for their leaders.

In July 2013, government forces apprehended Miguel Ángel Treviño “El Z-40”, one of the leaders of Los Zetas, a cartel founded in the early 2000s by former members of Mexican army special forces.

Violence abated a little. In 2013 a total of 34,648 homicides were reported, according to Mexico’s National System of Public Security, compared to 38,052 violent deaths in 2012.

Guzmán may be extradited to the United States, in order to avoid scandals such as his escape in 2001. The U.S. government offered five million dollars for his capture and he faces charges there for drug trafficking and money laundering.

Guzmán was apprehended only two days after the North American Leaders’ Summit, known as the “Three Amigos Summit,” between Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada, U.S. President Barack Obama and Peña Nieto in the Mexican city of Toluca, marking the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

“When the authoritarian state was dismantled, it created a vacuum in state power. This meant that organised crime acquired more power. Mexican criminal groups benefited from those vacuums,” Buscaglia said.

Buscaglia, the author of the book “Vacíos de poder en México” (Power Vacuums in Mexico), said “this transition is continuing and those vacuums remain unfilled. If the vacuums were filled, it would be harder for characters like Guzmán to emerge.”

In his view, the main challenge is to regulate drug production and eliminate incentives for the manufacture of narcotics, in an unbalanced situation: the over-regulated U.S. market, and the poorly regulated Mexican one.

“The solution is better regulation of the markets. If you remove the opportunity to make money, you eliminate the influence of the criminal groups,” he said, advocating decriminalisation of substances like marijuana.

Since the military war on drugs was launched in 2006, the armed forces have killed several drug trafficking leaders: Arturo Beltrán Leyva, in 2009, Ignacio Coronel, a person close to Guzmán, in 2010, and Antonio Cárdenas Guillén of the Gulf cartel, also in 2010.

Guzmán appeared on the U.S. Forbes magazine’s list of billionaires between 2009 and 2012, with a net worth of about three billion dollars.

According to Oliva, his recapture provides “an opportunity for prevention of drug use, and for raising awareness that those who go in for this activity end badly, either dead or in detention.”

The web site Historias del Narco (Drug Stories) speculates that Dámaso López Jr., nicknamed “El Mini Lic,” who is Guzmán’s godson, might take his place. Born in Sinaloa, and regarded by the U.S. Department of Justice as Guzmán’s “right hand,” he heads a youth gang known on social networks as “Los Ántrax”.

After Guzmán’s arrest, Phil Jordan, a former intelligence director for the DEA in El Paso, Texas, on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, expressed surprise, because according to him Guzmán had financed Peña Nieto’s election campaign.

The statement he made on the U.S. Univision television network implicated the DEA as having knowledge of alleged links between organised crime and leading Mexican politicians.

The contributions “are documented for past campaigns of the PRI. El Chapo, (Rafael) Caro (Quintero, of the disbanded Guadalajara cartel), all of them gave money to whoever was running for president. I don’t have the papers but there are intelligence reports which indicate that El Chapo’s cartel was very involved in politics,” he said.

Why, then, did the government of Peña Nieto arrest him? “Something bad happened between the PRI and El Chapo Guzmán,” he speculated. And he did not rule out that the drug trafficker may have negotiated his capture.

Neither government has yet responded officially to Jordan’s statements.

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Categories: Latin America News

Where Would You Like Your New Glacier?

IPS Latin America - Mon, 2014-02-24 14:18

El Morado Superior glacier in the Andes mountain chain in central Chile. Credit: Orlando Ruz/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Feb 24 2014 (IPS)

The idea sounds like harebrained science-fiction, but the accelerated retreat of glaciers due to global warming and the effects of mining is leading scientists to seek to restore or recreate these valuable reservoirs of fresh water.

“There are a number of technologies for saving and creating new glaciers,” Chilean glaciologist Cedomir Marangunic told Tierramérica.“To create a new glacier the natural process must be simulated, that is, winter snow accumulation must be greater than the summer melting. And that is not difficult to achieve; the main thing is to do it at minimum cost and in an environmentally sustainable way.” – Cedomir Marangunic

This sounds like a sweet promise for Chile, a mining country with at least 3,100 glaciers, most of which are clearly retreating, according to official data.

Glaciers, huge masses of ice and recrystallised snow, store 69 percent of the planet’s fresh water. They form when annual snowfall exceeds the amount of snow melted in summer, and accumulate enormous amounts of material over geologically short time frames.

But when it comes to the work of human hands, the time needed to create a glacier depends on the money invested, Marangunic said. The minimum time for a sufficient mass of snow to turn completely to ice is three years, he said.

“The natural process must be simulated, that is, winter snow accumulation must be greater than the summer melting. And that is not difficult to achieve; the main thing is to do it at minimum cost and in an environmentally sustainable way,” said Marangunic, a geologist at the University of Chile who holds a doctorate in glaciology from Ohio State University in the United States.

The techniques he has tested “aim at reducing melting on the ice surface, or at increasing snow accumulation,” he said.

In experiments in Chile, an artificial deposit of ice was covered with rocky detritus, which reduced ablation (the loss of ice mass) to one-quarter or one-fifth of normal, the expert told Tierramérica.

Marangunic heads a company that carries out research projects on glaciers, snow and avalanches. In 2007 he did an experiment transporting a mass of ice from one place to another.

Using mining trucks, 30,000 tonnes of ice were taken in one day to a pre-prepared site. In its original location, the ice was retreating 15 cm per year, while in the new site it retreated 30 cm the first year, but then less and less, as expected. In 2012, the ice retreated only three centimetres.

The expert tried transforming an ice field into a small glacier, by putting up barriers like those used for avalanche protection or on ski pistes, and modifying them to change wind direction during storms. This had the effect of doubling snow accumulation.

Among the most frequently used techniques is “covering part of the glacier surface with geotextile sheets, which reduces surface ablation,” the glaciologist said.

Marangunic pointed out that care was needed, for example, when a glacier suffers impacts and “water flows into the glacier’s basin due to rapid melting of the ice mass, but is then removed for artificial snow accumulation.”

The whole process, he said, “may affect the local ecosystem, which must be managed in order to avoid harm.”

In the view of Matías Asun, the head of Greenpeace Chile, these studies are inconclusive and “provide no basis to indicate they may be viable, sufficient, successful, cost-effective technologies, let alone that they may be applicable to all areas where there are glaciers.”

In a dry winter, for instance, there would not be enough snow for the accumulation a new glacier needs. And, because of climate change, it is expected that there will be increasingly more dry winters, Asun said.

“I don’t doubt the good intentions of those who are trying to develop strategies to protect glaciers, because it is a fact that many of the risks could be minimised,” Asun told Tierramérica.

“The key thing is to protect existing glaciers effectively. The glaciers are there, and they should stay there,” he said.

In Latin America, 82 percent of the reserves of fresh water in glaciers are in Chile, according to Greenpeace. But a large proportion of Chilean glaciers are, or will be, threatened by climate change and the actions of the mining industry.

“They are a strategic water reserve and an important part of the region’s heritage, yet at the moment they are not protected by law,” as they are in neighbouring Argentina, Asun said.

Current legislation allows a productive project to encroach on a glacier, if the impact is stated in the environmental impact study and some form of compensation is made.

In a recent appearance before parliament, glaciologist Alexander Brenning, of the University of Waterloo in Canada, said the magnitude of interventions on glaciers in Chile was unparalleled in the world, and he urged that the cumulative effects be assessed.

Parliament is studying a bill that would include a clear definition of glaciers and a permanent register of them.

In Marangunic’s view, it is essential that the definition does not close off a large part of the territory to all kinds of activities, such as tourism or development projects, “without contributing anything to the permanence of glaciers.”

The ownership status of glaciers must be established, especially those situated on private land, he said.

“Will they be able to be purchased and traded, as happens with water rights?” asked the expert, referring to the Water Code of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), which made water a private resource.

Mining projects like the Anglo American company’s Los Bronces, the state Chile Copper Corporation’s Andina 244 and Escalones, and Barrick Gold’s Pascua Lama, are the main threat to several glaciers in this country, according to environmentalists.

For Marangunic, in contrast, while “some mining” may damage glaciers, “environmental pollution in big cities like Santiago, or smoke from burning pastures and forests,” also affect the ice masses.

Therefore, in his view, the future law must be even-handed for all. “How can Santiago be penalised for producing the smog that affects the glaciers in the mountains?” he asked.

Stopping the retreat of a relatively small glacier can be achieved in a year. “But getting a glacier that has been shrinking for decades or centuries back to its original size will surely take as long again,” although a large investment may accelerate the process, he said.

In Asun’s view, “the urgent thing now is not to wait thousands of years to reproduce a glacier, to see if it works, but to proteet what is already there.”

Playing God “turns out like we saw in Jurassic Park. Since the glaciers are there, let’s protect them,” he concluded.

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

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