Campaign Against Glyphosate Steps Up in Latin America

Glyphosate spraying of illegal drug crops has caused environmental damage in Colombia’s rainforest. Credit: Public domain

Glyphosate spraying of illegal drug crops has caused environmental damage in Colombia’s rainforest. Credit: Public domain

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Apr 28 2015 (IPS)

After the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared glyphosate a probable carcinogen, the campaign has intensified in Latin America to ban the herbicide, which is employed on a massive scale on transgenic crops.

In a Mar. 20 publication, the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reported that the world’s most widely used herbicide is probably carcinogenic to humans, a conclusion that was based on numerous studies.

Social organisations and scientific researchers in Latin America argue that thanks to the report by the WHO’s cancer research arm, governments no longer have an excuse not to intervene, after years of research on the damage caused by glyphosate to health and the environment at a regional and global level.“We can no longer accept the use of these poisons because they destroy biodiversity, aggravate climate change, destroy the soil’s fertility, and contaminate the water and even the air. And above all, they bring more illness, such as cancer. “ — Joao Pedro Stédile

“We believe the precautionary principle should be applied, and that we should stop accumulating studies and take decisions that could come too late,” said Javier Souza, coordinator of the Latin American Pesticide Action Network (RAP-AL).

The precautionary principle states that even if a cause-effect relationship has not been fully established scientifically, precautionary measures should be taken if the product or activity may pose a threat to health or the environment.

“We advocate a ban on glyphosate which should take effect in the short term with restrictions on purchasing, spraying and packaging,” Souza, who is also the head of the Centre for Studies on Appropriate Technologies in Argentina (CETAAR), told IPS.

Carlos Vicente, a leader of the international NGO GRAIN, told IPS that the herbicide first reached Latin America in the mid-1970s and that its use by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto spread massively in the Southern Cone countries.

“Its widespread use mainly involves transgenic crops, genetically modified to tolerate glyphosate, such as RR (Roundup Ready) soy, introduced in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and other countries,” said Vicente, a representative of GRAIN, which promotes the sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity.

There are 50 million hectares of transgenic soy in the region, and 600 million litres a year of the herbicide are used annually, he said.

According to Souza, there are 83 million hectares of transgenic crops in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay alone.

The WHO report “is very important because it shows that despite the pressure from Monsanto, independent science at the service of the common good rather than corporate interests is possible,” Vicente said.

Monsanto sells glyphosate under the trade name Roundup. But it is also sold as Cosmoflux, Baundap, Glyphogan, Panzer, Potenza and Rango. And among small farmers in some countries, it is popularly referred to as “randal”.

It is used not only on transgenic crops but also on vegetables, tobacco, fruit trees and plantation forests of pine or eucalyptus, as well as in urban gardens and flowerbeds and along railways.

But in traditional agriculture it is used after the seeds germinate and before they are planted, while in transgenic crops it is used during planting, when it acts in a non-selective fashion, thus destroying a variety of plants and grass, according to RAP-AL.

 

The people of the town of Malvinas Argentinas, in the central province of Córdoba, have blocked the construction of a Monsanto transgenic maize seed treatment plant since 2013, in their fight against the alleged toxic effects to human health and the environment. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The people of the town of Malvinas Argentinas, in the central province of Córdoba, have blocked the construction of a Monsanto transgenic maize seed treatment plant since 2013, in their fight against the alleged toxic effects to human health and the environment. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

“This rain – literally – of glyphosate has a direct impact on ecosystems, communities, the soil and water – and these impacts cannot be hidden any longer,” Vicente said.

“We can no longer accept the use of these poisons because they destroy biodiversity, aggravate climate change, destroy the soil’s fertility, and contaminate the water and even the air,” said Joao Pedro Stédile, leader of Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement (MST). “And above all, they bring more illness, such as cancer,” he told IPS.

Rafael Lajmanovich, an expert on ecotoxicology at Argentina’s Universidad Nacional del Litoral, has heavily researched glyphosate.

“Although the studies do not refer to human health or carcinogenesis, they have demonstrated in animals (amphibian embryos) that glyphosate is ‘teratogenic’ – in other words it causes malformations during the development of these vertebrates,” Lajmanovich, who is a member of the government’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), told IPS.

“In addition, we found that it has effects on the activity of very important enzyme systems (cholinesterases), which means it has a certain degree of neurotoxicity,” he added.

Epidemiological studies have found effects of glyphosate spraying in communities.

“The main effects that scientists and rural doctors have linked to the spraying are specifically respiratory diseases, allergies, miscarriages, an increase in children born with malformations, and a higher incidence of tumors,” said Lajmanovich.

Vicente, meanwhile, noted that applied research carried out in several Latin American countries point in the same direction as the WHO study. In Argentina, for example, studies in the provinces of Rosario and Córdoba “clearly demonstrate the rise in cases of cancer, which in some instances are three or four times the national average.”

In Colombia, agronomist Elsa Nivia, director of the Pesticide Action Network in that country, found that in the first two months of 2001 local authorities reported 4,289 people suffering from skin and gastric disorders, and 178,377 animals – including horses, cattle, pigs, dogs, ducks, hens and fish – killed as a result of exposure to the pesticide.

Cases of intoxication have also been reported in Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, according to RAP-AL.

Souza complained that in Latin America, glyphosate is sold without restrictions by animal feed and agrochemical suppliers, hardware stores and other businesses, often “in smaller quantities, in soft drink bottles.”

Stédile, who is also a member of the international small farmers movement Vía Campesina, hopes this region and Europe will ban its use in agriculture, as Mexico, Russia and the Netherlands have done.

As an alternative, he proposed “agroecological production that combines scientific know-how with the age-old knowledge of peasant farmers, to develop crops without the use of poisons, suited to each ecosystem.” That methodology has increased “the productivity of the soil and labour, better than practices that use poisons,” he said.

It is not, said Vicente, a question of replacing glyphosate with new weed killers, several of which are even more toxic, “but of switching to a model of agroecological smallholder agriculture aimed at achieving food sovereignty for our people.”

Stédile said governments in South America continue to support transgenic agriculture despite the evidence of damage to health and the environment, because they believe “agribusiness can help the economy by increasing exports of commodities, contributing to achieving a positive trade balance.”

“This exports illusion keeps governments from taking a stance against a veritable genocide,” he said.

Vicente called for concrete government measures that reflect the results of research carried out in this region, now that the WHO has issued conclusions backing it up.

In a statement, Monsanto criticised the IARC report as “junk science”, saying “this result was reached by selective ‘cherry picking’ of data and is a clear example of agenda-driven bias.” They demanded a rectification.

In response, the researchers pointed out that they stated that glyphosate was a “probable carcinogen”.

Monsanto said “This conclusion is inconsistent with the decades of ongoing comprehensive safety reviews by the leading regulatory authorities around the world that have concluded that all labeled uses of glyphosate are safe for human health.”

Lajmanovich argued that the position taken by a company “cannot prevail over that of an international institution of renowned prestige, the WHO, which is the guiding body in world health.”

He also noted that Monsanto considered WHO reports reliable “when they indicated that glyphosate was innocuous.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

Opinion: Continuing the Centennial Work of Women and Citizen Diplomacy in Korea

Christine Ahn is the International Coordinator of Women Cross DMZ, a campaign of 30 international women walking for peace and reunification of Korea in May 2015.

By Christine Ahn
NEW YORK, Apr 28 2015 (IPS)

A century ago, the suffragist Jane Addams boarded a ship with other American women peace activists to participate in a Congress of Women in The Hague.

Christine Ahn

Christine Ahn

Over 1,300 women from 12 countries, “cutting across national enmities,” met to call for an end to World War I. That Congress became the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), which is now gathering in The Hague under the theme Women Stop War.

Just as Addams women met women across national lines to try and stop WWI 100 years ago, from May 19 to 25, a delegation of 30 women from 15 countries around the world will meet and walk with Korean women, north and south, to call for an end to the Korean War.

As WWII came to a close, Korea, which had been colonised by Japan for 35 years, faced a new tragedy. After Japan’s surrender in 1945, the United States proposed (and the Soviets accepted) temporarily dividing Korea along the 38th parallel in an effort to prevent Soviet troops, who were fighting the Japanese in the north, from occupying the whole country.

Japanese troops north of the line would surrender to the Soviets; those to the south would surrender to U.S. authorities. It was meant to be a temporary division, but Washington and Moscow failed to establish a single Korean government, thereby creating two separate states in 1948: the Republic of Korea in the south and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north.We are walking on May 24, International Women’s Day for Disarmament and Peace, because we believe that there must be an end to the Korean War that has plagued the Korean peninsula with intense militarisation.

This division precipitated the Korean War (1950-53), often referred to in the United States as “the forgotten war”, when each side sought to reunite the country by force. Despite enormous destruction and loss of life, neither side prevailed.

In July 1953, fighting was halted when North Korea (representing the Korean People’s Army and the Chinese People’s Volunteers) and the United States (representing the United Nations Command) signed the Korean War Armistice Agreement at Panmunjom, near the 38th parallel.

This temporary cease-fire stipulated the need for a political settlement among all parties to the war (Article 4 Paragraph 60). It established the Demilitarized Zone, two-and-a-half miles wide and still heavily mined, as the new border between the two sides. It urged the governments to convene a political conference within three months, in order to reach a formal peace settlement.

Over 62 years later, no peace treaty has been agreed, with the continuing fear that fighting could resume at any time. In fact, in 2012, during another military crisis with North Korea, former U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta acknowledged that Washington was, “within an inch of war almost every day.”

In 1994, as President Clinton weighed a pre-emptive military first strike against North Korea’s nuclear reactors, the U.S. Department of Defence estimated that an outbreak of war on the Korean peninsula would result in 1.5 million casualties within the first 24 hours and 6 million casualties within the first week.

This assessment predates North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons, which would be unimaginable in terms of destruction and devastation. We have no choice but to engage; the cost of not engaging is just too high.

The only way to prevent the outbreak of a catastrophic confrontation, as a 2011 paper from the U.S. Army War College counsels, is to “reach agreement on ending the armistice from the Korean War”—in essence, a peace agreement—and “giv[e] a formal security guarantee to North Korea tied to nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”

Recent history has shown that when standing leaders are at a dangerous impasse, the role of civil society can indeed make a difference in averting war and lessening tensions. In 1994 as President Clinton contemplated military action, without the initial blessing of the White House, former President Jimmy Carter flew to Pyongyang armed with a CNN camera crew to negotiate the terms of the Agreed Framework with former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung.

And in 2008, the New York Philharmonic performed in Pyongyang, which significantly contributed towards warming relations between the United States and DPRK.

Christianne Armanpour, who traveled with CNN to cover philharmonic, wrote that U.S. Secretary of Defence William Perry, a former negotiator with North Korea, explained to her that this was a magic moment, with different peoples speaking the same language of music.

Armanpour said Perry believed that the event could positively influence the governments reaching a nuclear agreement, “but that mutual distrust and fear can only be overcome by people-to-people diplomacy.”

That is what we are hoping to achieve with the 2015 International Women’s Walk for Peace and Reunification of Korea, citizen-to-citizen diplomacy led by women. We are also walking on the 15th anniversary of the passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, which calls for the full and equal participation of women in conflict prevention and resolution, and in peacebuilding.

Women from Cambodia, Guatemala, Liberia and Northern Ireland all provided crucial voices for peace as they mobilised across national, ethnic and religious divides and used family and community networks to mitigate violence and heal divisions among their communities.

Similarly, our delegation will walk for peace in Korea and to cross the De-Militarized Zone separating millions of families, reminding the world on the tragic 70th anniversary of Korea’s division by foreign powers that the Korean people are from an ancient culture united by the same food, language, culture, customs, and history.

We are walking on May 24, International Women’s Day for Disarmament and Peace, because we believe that there must be an end to the Korean War that has plagued the Korean peninsula with intense militarisation. Instead of spending billions on preparing for war, governments could instead pour these critically needed funds for schools, childcare, health, caring for the elderly.

The first step is reconciliation through engagement and dialogue. That is why we are walking. To break the impasse among the warring nations—North Korea, South Korea, and the United States—to come to the peacemaking table to finally end the Korean War.

As Addams boarded the ship to The Hague, she and other women peace activists were mocked for seeking alternative ways than war to resolve international disputes.

Addams dismissed criticism that they were naïve and wild-eyed idealists: “We do not think we can settle the war. We do not think that by raising our hands we can make the armies cease slaughter. We do think it is valuable to state a new point of view. We do think it is fitting that women should meet and take counsel to see what may be done.”

It is only fitting that our women’s peace walk in Korea takes place on this centennial anniversary year of the first international act of defiance of war women ever undertook. I am honoured to be among another generation of women gathering at The Hague to carry on the tradition of women peacemakers engaged in citizen diplomacy to end war.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Caribbean Stakes Out “Red Lines” for Paris Climate Talks

A woman purchases fish at a market in Kingstown, St. Vincent. CARICOM leaders say fisheries is one of the important economic sectors already being impacted by climate change. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

A woman purchases fish at a market in Kingstown, St. Vincent. CARICOM leaders say fisheries is one of the important economic sectors already being impacted by climate change. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Apr 28 2015 (IPS)

When the international climate change talks ended in Peru last December, the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM), a political and economic union comprising small, developing, climate-vulnerable islands and low-lying nations, left with “the bare minimum necessary to continue the process to address climate change”.

“The Lima Accord did decide that the Parties would continue to work on the elements in the Annex to develop a negotiating text for the new Climate Change Agreement. We wanted a stronger statement that these were the elements to be used to draft the negotiating text,” Carlos Fuller, international and regional liaison officer at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre told IPS.”We are looking to develop a position that will allow our heads [of state] to speak with one unified position on climate change.” — Minister James Fletcher

“We did not get the specific mention that Loss and Damage would be included in the new agreement, but there is also no mention that it would not be included. On Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), we got an agreement that all parties would submit their contributions for the new agreement during 2015.

“However, we lost all the specifics that would inform parties on what should be submitted. We lost the review process for the INDCs and only those parties who wished to respond to questions for clarification would do so,” Fuller said.

The Lima talks forms part of the homestretch leg of negotiations ahead of the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) of the 196 Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), slated for Paris in December.

The UNFCCC is the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which has been ratified by 192 of the UNFCCC Parties. The ultimate objective of both treaties is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system.

At the meeting in Paris, parties are expected to sign a legally binding accord intended to keep human-induced global temperature rise within levels that science says will avert catastrophic climate change.

CARICOM negotiators are trying to avoid a repeat of Lima and are identifying the “red line” issues that are “sacrosanct” for their populations as they prepare for the Paris summit.

In preparation for the Paris talks, lead negotiators from CARICOM met here on Apr. 21, first, to prepare for an engagement of CARICOM heads with French President François Hollande in Martinique on May 9.

“President Hollande, I guess, is intending to meet with CARICOM heads to get from them what are the main concerns of Caribbean small island developing states and to see how he can develop some momentum, some consensus leading to Paris,” James Fletcher, St. Lucia’s Minister for the Public Service, Sustainable Development, Energy Science and Technology, tells IPS.

The Castries meeting brought together CARICOM lead negotiators and technical experts on climate change, Fletcher says, adding, “Our meeting was a meeting of technical experts to really refine what are our main positions, what are the issues that are sacrosanct for us, what are the red line issues, that, as far as we are concerned, any new agreement on climate change must address.”

Serge Letchimy, president of the Regional Council of Martinique, tells IPS that the regional summit in Martinique “is dedicated to preparation and mobilisation toward” COP 21 and will bring together states and territories of the Caribbean.

The regional summit aims to list the initiatives of the Caribbean region “which must be integrated in a ‘schedule of solutions’ adapted to the specificities of these territories,” explains Maïté Cabrera, a media relations official involved in the organisation of the Martinique meeting.

“It also aims to contribute to the writing of an ambitious and binding global agreement which must be adopted during COP21,” Cabrera tells IPS.

St. Lucia’s Minister for the Public Service, Sustainable Development, Energy Science and Technology, James Fletcher, says a climate change deal favourable to the Caribbean will help to protect the important tourism sector. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

St. Lucia’s Minister for the Public Service, Sustainable Development, Energy Science and Technology, James Fletcher, says a climate change deal favourable to the Caribbean will help to protect the important tourism sector. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

The Castries meeting of CARICOM climate change negotiators was also a stocktaking gathering at which officials examined the status of their proposals ahead of COP 21.

“Our negotiators have been involved in negotiations; the first round of negotiations was in Geneva this year. There are still negotiations to take place on a range of issues — adaptation, climate finance, loss and damage, Intended Nationally Determined Contributions and a range of issues,” Fletcher tells IPS.

“This really allows us to take stock of how the negotiations are going and what are the main issues and where we should be identifying with the negotiations,” he says.

A third element of the Castries gathering had to do with preparing for a meeting of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and CARICOM leaders at the CARICOM Head of Government meeting in Barbados in July.

“So, again, we are looking to develop a position that will allow our heads to speak with one position, one unified position on climate change in that meeting with the Secretary General, which, again, deals with climate change and climate finance.”

Fletcher is optimistic that the Caribbean will make progress on its positions on climate change ahead of and ultimately at COP 21, saying that the region has been “very united in its position on climate change”.

“If there is one thing I can say from the time I have been involved in this process is that Caribbean heads, Caribbean countries have all been united on our issues, there is no disagreement amount us,” says Fletcher, who has attended several COPs, including in Warsaw in 2013 and Lima in 2014.

However, he also identified areas in which the region can do more to shore up its negotiating ahead of Paris.

“I think what needs to happen a little more is coordination and this is what today’s meeting is about, ensuring that that coordination is there,” he tells IPS, adding that coordination worked well at the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in Samoa last year.

Fletcher tells IPS that at the Samoa conference “there was a very strong Caribbean presence and a very good coordinated presence to ensure that we were able to speak with the same voice and we attended all the meeting in numbers and that is what we are aiming for in Paris this year”.

He pointed out that the outcome of the Paris summit will have a direct impact on the residents of the Caribbean.

“We have been saying for a long time now that climate change represents an existential threat for small island developing states like the Caribbean, that we have to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and that anything above 1.5 degrees Celsius will cause catastrophic sea level rise, will cause warming of our oceans, will cause acidification of our oceans, which will impact our fisheries, impact our tourism sector, will cause reduction in water availability and that has impacts for agriculture, for ordinary lives, for availability and accessibility of potable water,” he tells IPS.

“Anything above 1.5 degrees will result in an increase in the severity and frequency of extreme weather events like storms and hurricanes. So, we have a very real stake in what comes out of Paris, and we cannot allow the Paris agreement to be one that we know will cause us to have a climate that is warming at a rate that is catastrophic for us, small island countries like ours, and low-lying countries like Guyana,” Fletcher tells IPS.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Anti-Foreigner Discrimination ‘Fostered in South African Schools’

By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Apr 28 2015 (IPS)

A practice of denying admission to South African public schools of children without visas or whose parents are refugees from other African countries is creating a foundation for the current rash of xenophobia, critics of the practice say.

Jean-Luc Ntumba from the DRC, a father of three, said he was unable to enroll his children in public schools. “They could not even give a reason why they could not take my kids,” he said in an interview with the BBC. “I’m not happy with that. Because we also have rights to education for our kids.”

A provision in South Africa’s constitution gives everyone the right to a basic education, but some children of asylum seekers and refugees are still turned away. Two years ago, South Africa-based Lawyers for Human Rights and the Centre for Child Law sued the government over the plight of eight minor children from the Democratic Republic of Congo struggling to attend South African public schools.

While the case was won by the lawyers’ group, the ruling was not enforced. “We’ve written letters,” said Neo Chokoe of Lawyers for Human Rights, “and we have not seen them complying with the court order.” A new lawsuit on the issue is planned, she said.

The privately-run Albert Street Refugee School, run by teachers from all over Africa, has been seeking full approval by the Education Department since 2008. William Kandowe, the school’s head teacher, expressed frustration.

“This is how xenophobia starts,” he complained to the BBC. “They always threaten to close us down. When they say we don’t have fire escapes, we find donors to put fire escapes. When they say we don’t have libraries, we find donors to put libraries.

“They just don’t want to say we are closing you down because you’re foreign nationals.”

Launched by Methodists, the school provides instruction from grades one through 12 for some 600 refugee children.

The right of refugee children to attend school has been raised by groups including the U.N. refugee agency and the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation at the University of Johannesburg which found that schools often demanded documents to enroll a child which are not legally required.

A 2013 report published in the Africa Education Review questioned whether South Africa could meet its Millennium Development Goal of achieving universal education if refugee children are not schooled.

“Refugee children have limited opportunities to secondary education and experience many problems accessing primary education because of their refugee status,” said the report.

The South African study is symptomatic of the global refugee experience, the report’s authors wrote. The Second Millennium Development Goal will not be realised unless the education of refugee children is taken seriously.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

European Biofuel Bubble Bursts

By Sean Buchanan
BRUSSELS, Apr 28 2015 (IPS)

Ten years of debate in the European Union over the detrimental effects of the demand for biofuels for transport on food prices, hunger, forest destruction, land consumption and climate change have come to an end.

The European Parliament finally agreed new E.U. laws on Apr. 28 to limit the use of crop-based biofuels, setting a limit on the quantity of biofuels that can be used to meet E.U. energy targets.

With Europe the world’s biggest user and importer of biodiesel – from crops such as palm oil, soy and rapeseed – the vote is expected to have a major impact around the world, notably in the European Union’s main international supplier countries Indonesia, Malaysia and Argentina. It is likely to signal the end to the expanding use of food crops for transport fuel.

“Let no-one be in doubt,” said Robbie Blake, Friends of the Earth Europe’s biofuels campaigner, “the biofuels bubble has burst. These fuels do more harm than good for people, the environment and the climate. The EU’s long-awaited move to put the brakes on biofuels is a clear signal to the rest of the world that this is a false solution to the climate crisis. This must spark the end of burning food for fuel.”

With the vote, the European Union has agreed to put a limit on biofuels from agricultural crops at seven percent of E.U. transport energy – with an option for member states to go lower. Before the vote, the expected ‘business as usual’ scenario was for biofuels to account for 8.6 percent of E.U. transport energy by 2020. Current usage stands at 4.7 percent, having declined in 2013.

Indirect greenhouse emissions released by expanding biofuels production will be reported every year by the European Commission and by fuel suppliers in an attempt to increase the transparency of the impacts of the policy.

Commenting on the vote, Kirtana Chandrasekaran, Friends of the Earth International’s food sovereignty coordinator, said: “While the EU has not gone far enough to stop the irresponsible use of food crops for car fuel, this new law acknowledges a reality that small-scale food producers worldwide know – that biofuel crops cripple their ability to feed the world, compete for the land that provides their livelihood, and for the water that sustains us.”

Around the world, 64 countries have policies 64 countries have policies to increase or maintain the amount of biofuels used in transport fuel, including most recently Indonesia, which has been criticised by environmentalists as promoting a policy that will accelerate deforestation in the country.

Kurniawan Sabar, campaign manager for WALHI/Friends of the Earth Indonesia, said: “The people of Indonesia will be relieved to hear that the EU has taken some action to limit Europe’s demand for palm oil for biofuels, which has escalated deforestation, land grabbing, and conflicts in Indonesia. The Indonesian government should take note and abandon its own plans for new subsidies to expand biofuels plantations in Indonesian forests.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

Cash-Strapped Latin American Countries Turn to China for Credit

Cidade de Kilamba is a new housing development built entirely by Chinese firms south of Luanda, the Angolan capital, to accommodate half a million people in five- to 13- storey apartment buildings with “smart” elevators, schools, shops and leisure facilities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 28 2015 (IPS)

Angolans are generally grateful for China’s participation in the reconstruction of their central African country, in spite of the fact that some of the roads and buildings built by Chinese firms are of poor quality, and mainly Chinese labourers have been hired rather than local workers.

To rebuild the infrastructure destroyed by the civil war, Angola needed finance which was denied to it by the West, whereas China supplied credit and engineering expertise without imposing impossible conditions on a country that only achieved peace 27 years after winning independence in 1975, Angolan leaders declare.

On the opposite side of the Atlantic ocean, several Latin American countries in financial difficulties have recently turned to China as a sort of lender of last resort. Argentina and Venezuela, for example, lacking access to international credits, obtained large loans from Chinese banks.

For China, it makes no sense to refuse loans to countries with strong agricultural production or that possess plenty of commodities, especially oil and gas. There is no need to be concerned about their solvency if their products guarantee their loans, whatever the reasons for their difficulties.

Brazil’s state oil giant Petrobras announced on Apr. 1 an injection of 3.5 billion dollars from China to relieve its finances, which have suffered from the corruption scandal that has rocked the economy, the government, large companies and several political parties in the country since 2014.

The loan from China Development Bank is helping Petrobras weather a storm that also includes gross management and planning mistakes which raised the cost of constructing two refineries, of the purchase of another plant in the U.S. city of Pasadena, Texas, and of other projects by tens of billions of dollars.

The crises faced by potential Petrobras suppliers provide opportunities for China, but are not seen as indispensable. China Development Bank previously loaned Petrobras 10 billion dollars in 2009, when the oil company appeared prosperous and had recently discovered vast reserves in the pre-salt layer off the Brazilian coast.

This loan will be repaid by a minimum of 10 years’ oil supply to China.

Unequal exchange

“China’s financial power tends to accentuate the trade imbalance,” when countries or whole regions export virtually only commodities to China, and import Chinese manufactured goods, said Luis Afonso Lima, president of the Sociedade Brasileira de Estudos de Empresas Transnacionais e da Globalizaçao Econômica (SOBEET – Brazilian Society for the Study of Transnational Corporations and Economic Globalisation).

Iron ore and soy account for 75 percent of Brazilian exports to China, he said, while imports from China are nearly all manufactured goods.

But China “is a new trading partner with a high degree of complementarity, and a win-win situation could be created if we knew how to make the most of the opportunity,” Lima said.

“Brazil must do its homework and define what it wants from China in the long term, and then negotiate, instead of merely reacting passively to Chinese demands,” he said.

In his view, now is the time to make changes to that unequal exchange, because China is facing “the prospect of reducing its exports and stimulating the dynamics of internal demand, whereas in Brazil it is the reverse: the domestic market is weakening and more exports are needed.”

But Lima recognises that Brazil’s economic and political difficulties do not favour the definition of long term strategies and goals in negotiations with an ascendant power like China.

Booming investment

China’s growing involvement in Latin America is also marked by growing investment. SOBEET identified 69 projects announced by Brazil since 2010, the vast majority in processing industries involving medium-sized amounts, that is, less than 100 million dollars.

Only three investments are over one billion dollars: in the first, the State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) invested five billion dollars, mainly for the purchase of power transmission lines; the second is for extracting and exporting iron ore; and the third is for processing soy.

The list is not complete because of the difficulty of monitoring Chinese investments that are routed through other countries, such as European nations, and arrive at their productive destination without the nationality of origin being known, Lima complained.

China has been increasing its foreign direct investments since the turn of the 21st century, and they reached over 206.8 billion dollars in 2013, according to United Nations figures published by SOBEET.

Latin America has not been a priority destination for Chinese investments. The region has received only 4.1 percent of the total, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

However this will change over the next 10 years. China will invest 250 billion dollars in the region over this period, President Xi Jinping announced in January in Beijing, at the first Ministerial Forum between China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

Some projects are exceptional, like the interoceanic canal in Nicaragua which will compete with the Panama Canal and will cost an estimated 40 billion dollars, four times the GDP of Nicaragua.

A large part of the capital already invested is oil-related. State Chinese oil companies are already taking part in oil and gas extraction in Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

But the most spectacular growth in China-Latin America relations has occurred in trade, which increased 22-fold between 2000 and 2013, to reach 275 billion dollars in 2013. And it is set to double again by the end of this decade, Xi predicted.

The expansion in trade exacerbated the imbalance, but the terms of exchange improved with the boom in prices of Latin American commodities, which lasted at least until 2012.

Credit penetration

The amounts involved in Chinese loans to the region are lower than the trade figures, but also reflect the Asian giant’s expansion and its priority interests in oil, minerals and agricultural produce.

Between 2005 and 2014, borrowing from China by the region totalled 119 billion dollars, according to the databank of Inter-American Dialogue, a forum for political and business leaders of the Americas that includes former presidents of several countries.

Of this total, nearly half – 56.3 billion dollars – was loaned to Venezuela, which possesses the world’s largest oil reserves. Next in order of importance are Brazil and Argentina, which are big exporters of soy and received 22 billion and 19 billion dollars, respectively.

Mexico, the second largest Latin American economy, is in sixth place in terms of loans from Chinese state banks, with 2.4 billion dollars, less than one-quarter of the amount borrowed by Ecuador (10.8 billion dollars) and less even than the credit extended to The Bahamas (2.9 billion dollars).

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

Peace Is Not a Boy’s Club

When armed conflict in the Casamance region of Senegal flared up afresh in December 2010, women organised a demonstration calling for peace. Credit: Abdullah Vawda/IPS TerraViva

When armed conflict in the Casamance region of Senegal flared up afresh in December 2010, women organised a demonstration calling for peace. Credit: Abdullah Vawda/IPS TerraViva

By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 27 2015 (IPS)

Governments have long pledged to bring more women to the peace table, but for many (if not most), it has been little more than lip service.

In a bid to accelerate this process, the Global Network of Women Peace-builders (GNWP) in partnership with the Permanent Missions of Chile and the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations organised an international workshop on Apr. 23 to better integrate the Women, Peace, Security (WPS) U.N. Security Council Resolutions within the security sector.

The seminar focused on recommendations for the implementation of Resolutions 1325 and 1820 at the international, regional and national level, in order to bring more women to the peace tables in conflict areas, and bring their perspectives into post-conflict reconstruction processes.

According to the 2014 Secretary-General’s report on WPS, a reform of the security sector is needed in order to accomplish these goals.

Speaking from U.N. Headquarters in New York, the International Coordinator of GNWP, Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, stressed “the need for a systematic implementation of Resolution 1325 at the international level.”

In the past three years, GNWP has conducted over 50 localisation workshops in 10 countries, in various communities and municipalities, inviting police officers and the military forces to learn about Resolution 1325.

“It is no surprise to us when they come to our localisation workshops that these officers hear about Resolution 1325 for the very first time. However, working only at the local level is hard, because final approvals come from the higher ups, in order to actually get a full reform and training of officers of the security sector,” highlighted Cabrera-Balleza.

The GNWP is not only calling for a global reform of the security sectors and armed forces for the inclusion of women in peace-building, but also for demilitarisation of countries and the elimination of conflicts to achieve peace worldwide.

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, former under-secretary general and member of the High-Level Advisory Group for Global Study on Resolution 1325, who was present at the seminar, underlined the inadequacy of governments and peacekeepers in protecting civilians, and especially women, in recent years.

“(We need) the integration of the culture of peace and non-violence in national and global policies, and education for global citizenship. We need a human security policy, and a more inclusive human way of thinking about our future, where women and men can share equally the construction of a safer and just world,” he said.

One positive example of the inclusion of women during peace negotiations comes from the Philippines.

Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chair of the Philippine Government Peace Panel with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), explained that after 17 years of peace negotiations between the Philippine authorities and the MILF, in the last two decades, the government and armed forces have moved toward the “civilianisation” of peace processes.

“More and more women were allowed in, either as members of the bureaucracy or government, or civil society leaders, or academia members, and they have all been sitting at the peace table.”

As Coronel-Ferrel said, women brought a more gender-based response into the signing of the final peace agreement between the government and the MILF.

“Not only because there were more women inside the negotiating tracks, but also women around the panels, who would be lobbying the government but also the counter party, making sure that diverse frameworks would be included in the text.”

In addition, the reform of the security sector in the Philippines created local monitoring teams, where either police officers or lower ranking members of the armed forces worked closely with MILF members, leading to trust building and cooperation for better security on the ground, concluded Coronel-Farrel.

Participating in the event were also officers from police and military forces from Argentina, Australia, Burundi, Canada, Colombia, Ghana, Nepal, countries which are implementing reforms within their security sectors at the local, regional and national level.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Moving Indigenous Land Rights from Paper to Reality

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, addresses the Human Rights Council panel discussion on human rights and climate change on March 6, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, addresses the Human Rights Council panel discussion on human rights and climate change on March 6, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 27 2015 (IPS)

Frustrated with decades of marginalisation, and of seeing their rights respected only on paper, Indigenous peoples are calling for major recognition from the international community.

Speaking at U.N. Headquarters on Apr. 27 as part of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues – which started last week and lasts through Friday – the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz expressed disappointment with the scant efforts to enshrine Indigenous People’s rights in the post-2015 development agenda.

“It is very regrettable that out of the 17 (Sustainable Development) Goals, there is no reference to Indigenous People. This does not speak well for the U.N. and its member states,” she said.

Taking Indigenous knowledge and traditional technology into account internationally could contribute to solving many of the world’s major crises in relation to the environment and climate change, and ultimately bring sustainable development, stressed Tauli-Corpuz.

“Data released by the World Resources Institute in Brazil show that forests maintained by indigenous people are 7 percent less deforested than those maintained by the government. In Guatemala, Indigenous forests are 20 percent less deforested,” added Tauli-Corpuz.

Indeed, climate change, soil erosion, deforestation and land extraction are negatively affecting many Indigenous communities around the world.

According to the World Bank, there are around 300 million Indigenous people worldwide – about 4.5 percent of the world population, although they account for 10 percent of the world’s poor.

The right to land is a key issue for Indigenous People.

Recently Aboriginal communities in Australia have been forced to move outside their territories because the government decided to use the land for resource extraction activities, such as mining or oil drilling.

The Rights and Resources Initiative, a global coalition that works for the human and land rights of Indigenous People worldwide, says that, “When communities have rights to their land and natural resources, and rights to benefit from these resources through local enterprises and other activities, they can generate substantial income.”

This is also a relevant point raised at the U.N. briefing by Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of the First Nations in Canada.

“We need to develop a long-term partnership between the government and Indigenous people, who are vital and strategic in developing and bringing wealth to the land, by protecting it at the same time for future generations,” he said.

A positive example comes from southern Belize, where Indigenous People have reached an agreement with the government after three decades of struggling to secure their land rights.

Christina Coc, director and co-founder of the Julian Cho Society, represented the Maya villagers of Toledo in their negotiations with the government of Belize.

She explained that, “The Maya people have suffered from soil exploitation, land and water seizure from the government in the past years, and so they were determined in getting their rights recognised not only on papers, but in concrete terms.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

As Nuke Talks Begin, U.N. Chief Warns of Dangerous Return to Cold War Mentalities

A view of the General Assembly Hall as Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (shown on screens) addresses the opening of the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The Review Conference is taking place at U.N. headquarters from Apr. 27 to May 22, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

A view of the General Assembly Hall as Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (shown on screens) addresses the opening of the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The Review Conference is taking place at U.N. headquarters from Apr. 27 to May 22, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 27 2015 (IPS)

Against the backdrop of a new Cold War between the United States and Russia, two of the world’s major nuclear powers, the United Nations is once again playing host to a four-week-long international review conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

A primary focus of this year’s conference, which is held every five years, is a proposal for a long outstanding treaty to ban nuclear weapons.“Recognising the deep flaws in the NPT, we see the importance of a strong civil society presence at the 2015 Review Conference.” — Jackie Cabasso

“Eliminating nuclear weapons is a top priority for the United Nations,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told delegates Monday.

“No other weapon has the potential to inflict such wanton destruction on our world,” said Ban, who has been a relentless advocate of nuclear disarmament.

He described the NPT as the cornerstone of the non-proliferation regime and an essential basis for realising a nuclear-weapon-free world.

Dr. Rebecca Johnson, director of the Acronym Institute and former chair of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), told IPS: “If we rely solely on the NPT to fulfil nuclear disarmament, we’ll have a lifelong wait, with the ever-present risk of nuclear detonations and catastrophe.

“That’s because the five nuclear-armed states treat the NPT as giving them permission to modernise their arsenals in perpetuity, while other nuclear-armed governments act as if the NPT has nothing to do with them,” she added.

A next-step nuclear ban treaty is being pursued by ICAN’s 400 partner organisations and a growing number of governments in order to fill the legal gap between prohibition and elimination.

Whatever the NPT Review Conference manages to achieve in 2015, said Dr. Johnson, “a universally applicable nuclear ban treaty is clearly on the agenda as the best way forward to accelerate regional and international nuclear disarmament, reinforce the non-proliferation regime and put pressure on all the nuclear-armed governments.”

Expressing disappointment over the current status on nuclear disarmament, the secretary-general pointed out that between 1990 and 2010, the international community took bold steps towards a nuclear weapon-free world.

There were massive reductions in deployed arsenals, he said, and States closed weapons facilities and made impressive moves towards more transparent nuclear doctrines.

“I am deeply concerned that over the last five years this process seems to have stalled. It is especially troubling that recent developments indicate that the trend towards nuclear zero is reversing. Instead of progress towards new arms reduction agreements, we have allegations about destabilising violations of existing agreements,” he declared.

Instead of a Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty in force or a treaty banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons, he said “we see expensive modernisation programmes that will entrench nuclear weapons for decades to come.”

Over the weekend, Peace and Planet Mobilization, a coalition of hundreds of anti-nuclear activists and representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), delivered more than eight million petition signatures at the end of a peace march to the United Nations.

The president of the Conference, Ambassador Taous Feroukhi of Algeria, and the United Nations have received several petitions from civil society organisations (CSOs) calling for the successful conclusion of the current session and negotiations for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

But the proposal is expected to encounter strong opposition from the world’s five major nuclear powers: the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.

According to the coalition, the weekend began with an international conference in New York attended by nearly 700 peace activists; an International Interfaith Religious convocation attended by Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, and Shinto religious leaders; and a rally with over 7,500 peace, justice and environmental activists – including peace walkers from California, Tennessee and New England at Union Square North.

“Recognising the deep flaws in the NPT, we see the importance of a strong civil society presence at the 2015 Review Conference, with a clarion call for negotiations to begin immediately on the elimination of nuclear weapons,” said Jackie Cabasso of the Western States Legal Foundation.

“We also recognised that a multitude of planetary problems stem from the same causes. So, we brought together a broad coalition of peace, environmental, and economic justice advocates to build political will towards our common goals”, she said.

Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee said people from New York to Okinawa, Mexico to Bethlehem “picked up on our ‘Global Peace Wave,’ with actions in 24 countries to build pressure on their governments to press for the beginning of ‘good faith’ negotiations for the elimination of the world’s nuclear weapons.”

The Washington-based Arms Control Association said rather than the dozens of nuclear-armed states that were forecast before the NPT entered into force in 1970, only four additional countries (India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea, all of which have not signed the NPT) have nuclear weapons today, and the taboo against the use of nuclear weapons has grown stronger.

The 2015 NPT Review Conference provides an important opportunity for the treaty’s members to adopt a balanced, forward-looking action plan: improve nuclear safeguards, guard against treaty withdrawal, accelerate progress on disarmament, and address regional nuclear proliferation challenges, the Association said.

However, the 2015 conference will likely reveal tensions regarding the implementation of some of the 65 key commitments in the action plan agreed to at the 2010 NPT Review Conference, it warned.

“There is widespread frustration with the slow pace of achieving the nuclear disarmament goals of Article VI of the NPT and the lack of agreement among NPT parties on how best to advance nuclear disarmament.”

Though the United States and Russia are implementing the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) accord, they have not started talks on further nuclear reductions.

“Russia’s annexation of Ukraine will likely be criticized by some states as a violation of security commitments made in 1994 when Kiev joined the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state,” the Association said.

At the same time, most nuclear-weapon states–inside and outside the NPT–are modernising their nuclear arsenals.

This is leading some non-nuclear-weapon states to call for the negotiation of a nuclear weapons ban even without the participation of the nuclear-weapon states; while others are pushing for a renewed dedication to key disarmament commitments made at the 2010 NPT Review Conference, the Association argued.

Ban said the next few weeks “will be challenging as you seek to advance our shared ambition to remove the dangers posed by nuclear weapons”.

This is a historic imperative of our time, he said. “I call on you to act with urgency to fulfill the responsibilities entrusted to you by the peoples of the world who seek a more secure future for all,” he declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

Opinion: Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming Economies, Realising Rights

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 27 2015 (IPS)

Our world is out of balance. It is both wealthier and more unequal today than at any time since the Second World War.

We are recovering from a global economic crisis – but that recovery has been jobless. We have the largest cohort ever of educated women, yet globally women are struggling to find work. Unemployment rates are at historic highs in many countries, including those in the Middle East and North Africa, in Latin America and the Caribbean as well as in southern Europe.Our globalised economy seems to be working at cross-purposes with our universal vision of women’s rights; it is limiting, rather than enabling them.

Where women do have jobs, globally they are paid 24 per cent less than men, on average. For the most part, the world’s women are in low-salaried, insecure occupations, like small-scale farming, or as domestic workers – a sector where they comprise 83 per cent of the workforce.

Why isn’t the global economy fit for women?

In our flagship report Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights, we investigate what this failure means – and propose solutions.

We take a fresh, holistic look at both economic and social policies and their implications for the entire economy. We look particularly at the ‘invisible’ economy of unpaid care and domestic work that anchors all economies and societies.

Conventional measures like GDP have historically been blind to a large proportion of the work women and girls do, and unhearing of the voices of those who would wish to allocate public resources to their relief, for example through investments in accessible water and clean energy.

We suggest the need to apply a human rights lens to economic problem-solving. We propose specific, evidence-based solutions for action by both government and the private sector, to shape progress towards decent, equally paid jobs for women, free from sexual harassment and violence, and supported by good quality social services.

Our public resources are not flowing in the directions where they are most needed: for example to provide safe water and sanitation, quality health care, and decent child- and elderly-care services. Yet water is essential, families still have to be nourished, the sick still have to be tended, children brought up, and elderly parents cared for.

Where there are no public services, the deficit is borne primarily by women and girls. This is a care penalty that unfairly punishes women for stepping in when the State does not provide resources and it affects billions of women the world over.

Data from France, Germany, Sweden and Turkey suggest that women earn between 31 and 75 per cent less than men over their lifetimes. We need policies that make it possible for both women and men to care for their loved ones without having to forego their own economic security, success and independence.

Our globalised economy seems to be working at cross-purposes with our universal vision of women’s rights; it is limiting, rather than enabling them. Where there is no choice, there are few rights.

But there are solutions. The report proposes a number of specific ways in which to mobilise resources to pay for public services and social transfers: for example by enforcing existing tax obligations, reprioritising expenditure and expanding the overall tax base, as well as through international borrowing and development assistance.

Global corporations also have a central role to play by being employers that offer equal pay and opportunities. Shareholders can and should ask corporations to act with responsibility to the countries in which they operate. Annual tax revenue lost to developing countries due to trade mispricing, just one strategy used by corporations to avoid tax, is estimated at between 98 and 106 billion dollars. This is nearly 20 billion more than the annual capital costs needed to achieve universal water and sanitation coverage.

With the right mix of economic and social policies, governments can make transformative change: they can generate decent jobs for women and men and ensure that their unpaid care work is recognised and supported. Well-designed measures such as family allowances and universal pensions can enhance women’s income security, and their ability to realise their potential and expand their life options.

Finally, macroeconomic policies can and should support the realisation of women’s rights, by creating dynamic and stable economies, by generating decent work and by mobilising resources to finance vital public services.

Ultimately, upholding women’s rights will not only make economies work for women, it will also benefit societies as a whole by creating a fairer and more sustainable future.

Progress for women is progress for all.

Edited by Kitty Stapp