Bombardier Confirms the Closing of the Aerostructures Business Transaction

All amounts in this press release are in U.S. dollars unless otherwise indicated.

MONTREAL, Oct. 30, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The closing of the previously announced aerostructure business transaction between Bombardier Inc. (TSX: BBD.B) and Spirit AeroSystems Holding, Inc. (NYSE : SPR) came into effect today on October 30, 2020.

Spirit now owns Bombardier's aerostructures activities and aftermarket services operations in Belfast, U.K.; Casablanca, Morocco; and its aerostructures maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility in Dallas, U.S. in exchange for cash consideration of $275 million, Spirit's assumption of liabilities, including government refundable advances, pension obligations, as well as certain adjustments to the parties' trading agreements favourable to Bombardier. The total transaction value is approximatively $1.2 billion.

About Bombardier
With over 52,000 employees across two business segments, Bombardier is a global leader in the transportation industry, creating innovative and game–changing planes and trains. Our products and services provide world–class transportation experiences that set new standards in passenger comfort, energy efficiency, reliability and safety.

Headquartered in Montral, Canada, Bombardier has production and engineering sites in over 25 countries across the segments of Aviation and Transportation. Bombardier shares are traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange (BBD). In the fiscal year ended December 31, 2019, Bombardier posted revenues of $15.8 billion. News and information are available at bombardier.com or follow us on Twitter @Bombardier.

Bombardier is a trademark of Bombardier Inc. and its subsidiaries.

For Information
Jessica McDonald
Advisor, Media Relations and Public Affairs
Bombardier Inc.
+1 514 262 7255
jessica.mcdonald@bombardier.com

Patrick Ghoche
Vice President, Corporate Strategy and Investor Relations
Bombardier Inc.
+514 861 5727

The rise in plastic pollution during Covid-19 crisis

Scientists have been warning us about the impacts of plastic pollution for decades.

By Farah Kabir and Anhara Rabbani
Oct 30 2020 (IPS-Partners)

Ever since the pandemic began this year, countries across the globe have been striving to protect their people from the virus through various preventive measures where protective gear also known as PPE are in high demand. On the contrary, this has dramatically increased the unsustainable use of plastic posing significant risk for the environment. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which includes masks, gloves and goggles have become indispensable plastic products for everyone currently witnessing the coronavirus pandemic. The global health crisis has given rise to the consumption of PPE at a staggering rate, which is considered a shield for combatting the virus. PPE is playing a key role in protecting people, especially the frontline workers, who are fighting day and night to cure millions of patients ever since the outbreak started. This has led to some tough questions for those of us who are continually advocating for environmental protection and sustainability— how are we going to manage the devastating impact of plastic waste generated due to Covid-19?

The worldwide lockdown during the pandemic initially led to positive change to the environment. Reduction in air travel and road transport brought significant drop in the daily CO2 emission level across the globe. However, an unsurmountable challenge has emerged as countries are stockpiling plastic products such as PPEs to prevent the spread of Covid-19 virus. Growing number of households have also been seen to hoard groceries which too come in single-use plastic packaging. According to the World Health Organisation, it is estimated that 89 million medical masks are needed globally every month while the coronavirus pandemic lasts, together with 76 million examination gloves and 1.6 million goggles and face visors. An article in The Economist says that consumption of single-use plastic may have grown by 250-300 percent in the United States alone. A research report has forecasted a spike in the global disposable-mask market from an estimation of USD 800 million in 2019 to USD 166 billion in 2020. A crash in oil price has made it easier for industries to produce more plastic as petroleum, one of the main constituent of plastic composition, has become extremely affordable.

Ever since the outbreak of coronavirus, billions of gloves and protective masks are being disposed every day at a global scale. According to a report published by Environment and Social Development Organisation (ESDO), Bangladesh alone has generated around 14,500 tonnes of PPE and other hazardous plastic waste in March 2020. In order to curb the spread, healthcare workers are mandated to wear PPE and government has ordered people to wear a mask every time they go in public spaces. Few opted for masks made out of fabric, but its effectiveness remains highly questionable. As the consumption of these plastic products have become an everyday norm for us, uncontrolled disposal of these items is severely impacting the environment. Hazardous PPE wastes are piling up in landfills, seabeds and oceans, further adding to the existing plastic pollution and threatening the marine ecosystem. Used PPEs, especially medical waste from hospitals, are also creating health hazard for waste pickers who are responsible for collecting and transporting the waste to the storages. The lockdown period has given rise to online shopping and food delivery where most items come in unrecyclable plastic packaging, an inevitable choice people are making at this point.

Scientists have been warning us about the impacts of plastic pollution for decades. Globally the production of plastic has quadrupled over the years and the scientific community is worried that if this growth continues, the entire plastic production will make up to 15 percent of total global emission by 2050. Plastic waste is considered one of the greatest environmental challenges that can have devastating impact on land, wildlife, oceans and human health. Ironically, the issue of plastic pollution has taken a back seat during the pandemic. What we are using now to fight the global public health crisis, is contributing to a bigger crisis. The year 2020 was noted to be the year for climate and environment action, where countries are said to be gearing up to take a comprehensive and coordinated effort in addressing climate change. Adopting circular economy was considered a catalyst for accelerating implementation of the global agenda 2030 and became a key interest of focus for government, development agencies and corporations. Number of industries had started recycling initiatives to show their commitment in protecting the planet. However, due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, government and corporations are finding it hard to live up to their commitment of sustainable practices, as it has become critical for both parties to revive the economy at any cost. Ecological sustainability is being given the least priority as countries are racing to revive their economy. Many recycling businesses have been reported to close down because of fear of contracting the virus from plastic waste, lack of staff member and high overhead cost.

The global pandemic has highlighted crucial gaps in our structural system among which plastic pollution has lingered for ages. Managing this unprecedented level of plastic waste will be a challenge for countries, especially developing nations like Bangladesh who has poor, unregulated waste management system that can further trigger health risk for workers from informal sector. The current pandemic situation has made it difficult for us to make a conscious choice due to not having an alternative solution. What we require is to make informed planning at different level and timescale. During the recovery period it’s imperative that government consider ecological sustainability as a key priority in disaster preparedness. This also means investment in efficient waste management system and allocating resource for research and development. We must look into a post-pandemic recovery through the lens of environmental sustainability and resilience, where green initiatives are integrated within the economic stimulus package to create a win-win situation for both economic revival and sustainable development of the country. Most importantly, a shift in behaviour is needed where every citizen makes conscious choice of avoiding the use of unrecyclable plastic products in everyday life to protect the environment.

The current crisis requires urgent government action to prevent long term environmental risk and health hazards. At this point it is critical that the government, along with experts and development actors, establish a practical guideline on the usage and disposal of PPE for medical facilities, factories, malls, shops and local bazaars. A strict monitoring mechanism and law enforcement engaging the local authorities are required to ensure that guidelines are been implemented at every facility. Media can play a crucial role in disseminating the guideline and creating public awareness. This can also become an employment opportunity for young people to engage in monitoring process of waste disposal at community level. It is important to ensure health and safety of workers involved in waste management where they are provided with PPE to protect themselves from virus-related hazards. While a number of medical facilities are burning the used PPEs, its critical to ensure that these activities do not cause air borne hazards. Finally, we strongly urge for a specially trained taskforce to oversee nationwide management of Covid-19 related waste to prevent further degradation of the environment.

Farah Kabir is the Country Director of ActionAid Bangladesh, Anhara Rabbani is the Resilience and Environmental Sustainability Officer of ActionAid Bangladesh.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

20th Anniversary of UNSCR 1325: Much Remains to Be Done

On October 31 2000, the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1325 (2000) calling for participation of women in the prevention, management, and resolution of conflicts. Credit: United Nations

By Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury
NEW YORK, Oct 30 2020 – In 2010, at the opening session of the civil society forum observing the tenth anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on “Women and Peace and Security”, I had the honor to declare 1325 as “the common heritage of humanity” indicating the wide-ranging nature of the potential benefits which will flow from the landmark resolution’s full and effective implementation by all at all levels.

On 31 October, the world will be observing the 20th anniversary of 1325. The United Nations Security Council held a virtual session with wider participation of UN Member States on 29 October to observe the anniversary.

Today, in Namibia, the country which presided over the Security Council as it adopted UNSCR 1325, President Dr. Hage Geingob is launching the International Women’s Peace Center located in Windoek.

Anniversaries become meaningful when there is a serious stock-taking of the progress and lack of it and thereafter, charting of a realistic, determined roadmap and course of action for the next years. Of course, it is a pity that COVID-19 pandemic has setback our plans and enthusiasm for the observance in a major way.

The core message of 1325 is an integral part of my intellectual existence and my humble contribution to a better world for each one of us. To trace back, a little more than 20 years ago, on the International Women’s Day on 8 March in 2000, as the President of the Security Council representing my country Bangladesh, following extensive stonewalling and intense resistance from the permanent members, I was able to issue an agreed statement [UN Press Release SC/6816 of 8 March 2000] on behalf of all 15 members of the Council with strong support from civil society that formally brought to global attention the contribution women have always been making towards preventing wars and building peace.

The Council recognized in that significant, norm-setting statement that “peace is inextricably linked with equality between women and men”, and affirmed the value of full and equal participation of women in all decision-making levels.

That is when the seed for UNSCR 1325 was sown. The formal resolution followed this conceptual and political breakthrough 31 October of the same year with Namibia at the helm, after tough negotiations for eight months, giving this issue the long overdue attention and recognition that it deserved.

The very first paragraph of this formal resolution starts with a reference to the 8 March 2000 statement identifying the rationale and tracing the history of “Women and Peace and Security” at the Security Council. The inexplicable silence for 55 long years of the Security Council on women’s positive contribution was broken forever on the 8th of March 2000.

Adoption of 1325 opened a much-awaited door of opportunity for women who have shown time and again that they bring a qualitative improvement in structuring peace and in post-conflict architecture. We recall that in choosing the three women laureates for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, the citation referred to 1325 saying that “It underlined the need for women to become participants on an equal footing with men in peace processes and in peace work in general.”

1325 is the only UN resolution so specifically noted in the citations of the Nobel Prizes. That is the value, that is the essence and that is the prestige of UNSCR 1325 in the global community.

The historic and operational value of the resolution as the first international policy mechanism that explicitly recognized the gendered nature of war and peace processes has, however, been undercut by the disappointing record of its implementation, particularly for lack of national level commitments and global level leadership.

The driving force behind 1325 is “participation”. I believe the Security Council has been neglecting this core focus of the resolution. There is no consideration of women’s role and participation in real terms in its deliberations.

The poor record of the implementation of 1325 also points to the reality of the Security Council’s continuing adherence to the existing militarized inter-state security arrangements, though the Security Council is gradually, albeit slowly, accepting that a lasting peace cannot be achieved without the participation of women and the inclusion of gender perspectives in peace processes.

The Council has also met with women’s groups and representatives of NGOs during its field missions on a fairly regular basis. The first such meeting was held with women’s organizations in Kosovo in June 2001 when I was leading the Security Council mission to that country as the Council President, over the unwillingness of the UN appointed Mission Chief in Kosovo.

My work has taken me to the farthest corners of the world and I have seen time and again the centrality of women’s equality in our lives. This realization has now become more pertinent in the midst of the ever-increasing militarism and militarization that is destroying both our planet and our people.

Women’s equality makes our planet safe and secure. When women participate in peace negotiations and in the crafting of a peace agreement, they have the broader and long-term interest of society in mind.

It is a reality that politics, more so security, is a man’s world. Empowering women’s political leadership will have ripple effects on every level of society. When politically empowered, women bring important and different skills and perspectives to the policy making table in comparison to their male counterparts.

Women are the real agents of change in refashioning peace structures ensuring greater sustainability.

As the UN adopted the SDGs in 2015, 1325 was about to observe its 15th anniversary and many were wondering why Goal 5 on women and girls and Goal 16 on peace and governance did not make any reference to the widely-recognized 1325. This disconnect between the two main organs of the UN is unacceptable to all well-intentioned supporters of the world body.

That global reality is dramatically evidenced in the fact that the UN itself despite being the biggest champion of women’s equality has failed to elect a woman secretary-general to reverse the historical injustice of having the post occupied by men for its more than seven-decades of existence.

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of 1325, I have been invited to speak at many virtual events and interviews from different parts of the world. I am asked again and again what could be done for the true implementation of 1325 to make a difference. In my considered judgment, I have identified four areas of priority for next five years.

One, Leadership of the UN Secretary-General.

What role the Secretary-General (SG) should play? Secretary-General Guterres has done well on women’s parity in his senior management team. It would be more meaningful to expand that parity for the Special Representatives of Secretary-General (SRSG) and Deputy SRSGs, Force Commanders and Deputies at the field levels with geographical diversity.

Many believe there is a need for the Secretary-General’s genuinely proactive, committed engagement in using the moral authority of the United Nations and the high office he occupies for the effective implementation of 1325.

Would it not have a strong, positive impact on countries if their heads of state/government received a formal communication from the Secretary-General urging submission of respective National Action Plans (NAPs)?

Implementation of 1325 should be seriously taken up by the SG’s UN system-wide coordination mechanism. UN Resident Coordinators who represent the SG and UN country teams should assist all national level actors in preparation and implementation of NAPs.

A “1325 Impact Assessment” component with concrete recommendations needs to be included in all reports by SG to the Security Council asking their inclusion in all peace and security decisions taken by the Council.

Gender perspectives must be fully integrated into the terms of reference of peace operations by the United Nations. Improving the gender architecture in field missions and at headquarters; improving gender conflict analysis and information flows; and accountability for sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel do need SG’s engaged leadership to make progress.

A no-tolerance, no-impunity approach is a must in cases of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel and its regional partners in hybrid missions. UN is welcomed in countries as their protectors – it cannot become the perpetrators themselves!
1325 implementation has an additional obstacle of overcoming a culture among Council members and within the UN system that views gender issues as an “add-on” component, rather than being one of the central tenets which support conflict prevention and underpin long-term stability. SG should take the lead in changing this culture in a creative and proactive way.

Two, National Action Plans (NAPs)

As we observe the anniversary of 1325, it is truly disappointing that a mere 85 countries out of 193 members of the UN have prepared their National Action Plans (NAPs) for 1325 implementation in 20 years.

It should be also underscored that all countries are obligated as per decisions of the Security Council (as envisaged in Article 25 of UN Charter) to prepare the NAP whether they are in a so-called conflict situation or not.

In real terms, NAPs happen to be the engine that would speed up the implementation of 1325. There are no better ways to get country level commitment to implement 1325 other than the NAPs. I believe very strongly that only NAPs can hold the governments accountable.

There is a clear need for the Secretary-General’s attention for the effective implementation of 1325. Though NAPs are national commitments, it can be globally monitored. SG can also target 50 new NAPs by the 21st anniversary of 1325.

Three, Mobilizing Men for Implementing 1325

Patriarchy and misogyny are the dual scourges pulling back the humanity away from our aspiration for a better world. Gender inequality is an established, proven and undisputed reality – it is all pervasive. It is a real threat to human progress! UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has lamented that “… everywhere, we still have a male-dominated culture”.

Unless we confront these vicious and obstinate negative forces with all our energy, determination and persistence, our planet will never be a desired place for one and all.
Women’s rights are under threat from a “backlash” of conservatism and fundamentalism around the world.

We are experiencing around the globe an organized, determined rollback of the gains made as well as new attacks on women’s equality and empowerment. Yes, this is happening in all parts of the world and in all countries without exception.

Men and policies and institutions controlled by them have been the main perpetrators of gender inequality. It is a reality that politics, more so security, is a man’s world. It is also a reality that empowered women bring important and different skills and perspectives to the policy making table in comparison to their male counterparts.

We need to recognize that women’s equality and their rights are not only women’s issues, those are relevant for humanity as a whole – for all of us. This is most crucial point that needs to be internalized by every one of us.

With that objective, we launched the initiative for “Mobilizing Men as Partners for Women, Peace and Security” on 20 March 2019 in New York with the leadership of Ambassador Donald Steinberg, taking the vow to profess, advocate and work to ensure feminism as our creed and as our mission.

Four, Direct involvement of civil society

Another missing element is a greater, regular, genuine and participatory involvement of civil society in implementing 1325 both at national and global levels. The role and contribution of civil society is critical. I would pay tribute to Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) for making creative and qualitative contributions for the implementation of 1325 for the last two decades.

Civil society should be fully involved in the preparation and implementation of the NAPs at the country levels. At the global level, the UN secretariat should not only make it a point to consult civil society, but at the same time, such consultations should be open and transparent.

We should not forget that when civil society is marginalized, there is little chance for 1325 to get implemented in the real sense.

Let me reiterate that Feminism is about smart policy which is inclusive, uses all potentials and leaves no one behind. I am proud to be a feminist. All of us need to be. That is how we make our planet a better place to live for all.

We should always remember that without peace, development is impossible, and without development, peace is not achievable, but without women, neither peace nor development is conceivable.

Let me assert again that observance of anniversaries becomes meaningful when they trigger renewed enthusiasm amongst all. Coming months will tell whether 1325’s 20th anniversary has been worthwhile and able to create that energy.

Let me end by reiterating that “If we are serious about peace, we must take women seriously”.

 


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Q&A: COVID-19 has Pushed Women Peacebuilders from Key Leadership Roles

Scenes from a rehearsal session with Colombia’s Cantadora Network, a network of singers using traditional Afro-Colombian music to preserve their culture and promote peace. According to the Global Network of Women Peacebuilder, funds are being diverted from women-led peacebuilding organisations, and from peacebuilding processes more broadly. Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown

By Samira Sadeque
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 30 2020 – Women need to be given roles as negotiators, not just offered representation through advisory groups, Agnieszka Fal-Dutra Santos from the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) told IPS.

Santos spoke with IPS after the Wednesday, Oct. 28 webinar “Beyond the Pandemic: Opening the Doors to Women’s Meaningful Participation”. At the conference,  policymakers and analysts spoke about ways to ensure that women have more leadership roles in society.

Agnieszka Fal-Dutra Santos from the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP). Courtesy: GNWP

Santos was responding specifically to comments by Kavya Asoka, executive director of  the NGO Working Group (NGOWG) on Women, Peace and Security, who said that women should not be allotted to “any participation” but “meaningful participation” in peacemaking decisions. 

Yifat Susskind, executive director of Madre: Fighting for Feminist Futures, told IPS that women have been holding leadership positions in policymaking for a long time. Thus, while addressing the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, women must be given “the space to offer their expertise to shape policy responses,” she said.

During the webinar, Jeanine Antoinette Plasschaert, special representative of the secretary-general for Iraq and head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, highlighted the importance of taking into account the social, economic, political and historical contexts when engaging women in leadership roles. 

The current coronavirus pandemic adds to the challenges.

“Our partners report that funds are being diverted from women-led peacebuilding organisations, and from peacebuilding processes more broadly,” Santos told IPS. “For example, in Colombia, women peacebuilders report that COVID-19 has served as an excuse to divert funds away from the transitional justice mechanisms.”

She added that another  challenge is also the digital divide, which affects women disproportionately. This is exacerbated by the fact that not all peacebuilding work can be performed over the Internet – such as reconciliation work, dialogues between conflicting communities and support to trauma survivors – which can’t be easily moved to the virtual space owing to their “delicate and sensitive nature”.

“At the same time, the pandemic has also shown the incredible resilience of women peacebuilders and women’s movements,” she said. “Despite the digital barrier, women have continued to organise, and find innovative ways to use the internet and other communication means to continue their work.”

Excerpts of the interviews with Susskind and Santos follow:

Yifat Susskind, executive director of Madre. Courtesy: Madre

IPS: What entails meaningful participation of women in the peacebuilding processes?

Yifat Susskind (YS): Women must have more than a seat at the table in formal peace negotiations. They must also have the power and influence to set the agenda, ensuring that gender impacts are addressed as a priority and bringing community demands to the forefront. Crucially, this access must be available to grassroots women peacebuilders rooted in frontline communities, who have a deep well of knowledge about war’s impacts at home, who can help build community trust in the peace process, and who can ensure that any resulting peace agreement is implemented at the ground level.

Agnieszka Fal-Dutra Santos (AFS): The most common understanding of “meaningful participation” is that it’s the kind of participation that allows women to actually impact the outcomes of peace negotiations and other processes.

It also means participation of diverse women, and participation of women at all levels. Women need to be included in decision-making bodies and peacebuilding processes at the local, national, regional and international levels. Further, when we talk about women’s participation we have to think of women from all walks of life – refugee and internally displaced women, indigenous and ethnic minority women, young women, women with disabilities, lesbian, bi-sexual and trans women, etc.

IPS: MADRE focuses especially on climate change and how rural women are most affected by this. How have they been affected during the coronavirus pandemic?

YS: Rural women worldwide on the frontlines of climate change are forced to confront daily its worst impacts, typically carrying the heaviest burden as those responsible for providing families with food, water, and household fuel. The coronavirus pandemic has only deepened this burden of care work on women and girls.

Lockdowns have shut down markets, limiting the availability of food and making it impossible for many rural women to sell livestock, crops, and wares. The lack of income, combined with the spike in food prices and the continued effects of the climate crisis, has made food scarce for many families.

IPS: GNWP involves women from countries around the world. How do you address the diverse set of challenges they face from different parts of the world?

AFS: A key aspect of our work is to elevate the voices, recommendations and practical solutions of women peacebuilders to global policy spaces. We do this through research, as well as by creating spaces and opportunities for women peacebuilders to share their perspectives and recommendations directly with global policy makers.

But equally, if not more, important is the other aspect of our work – global to local. Localisation of Women, Peace and Security is one of flagship programmes of GNWP. It brings together local women, youth and representatives of other historically marginalised groups, as well as religious and traditional leaders and local authorities — mayors, governors, councillors, etc. Together, they analyse their local context and the relevance of the global resolutions and national policies on WPS to it. They identify concrete measures to translate these global and national laws into tangible actions and impacts on the ground.

Localisation also leads to institutionalisation of the commitments to WPS, and to harmonisation of the existing laws and policies on gender equality, women’s rights and peace and security. We have seen it yield concrete impacts and results across the world – for example, inclusion of women in traditional conflict resolution councils in the Philippines, increased SGBV reporting in Uganda, etc.

IPS: What are some ways to ensure women are given leadership roles in addressing the pandemic?

YS: We must first recognise that at the community level, women are already vital leaders in pandemic response: caring for people who become sick, ensuring food for their families, organising their communities and more. Many are trusted, longtime activists who understand deeply and specifically the needs of their communities and who are known locally as reliable sources of support and information. We must ensure that these women — including those in hard-hit places like refugee camps and climate disaster zones — have the space to offer their expertise to shape policy responses.

What’s more, since long before the pandemic, grassroots feminists worldwide have grappled with the need to meet urgent needs while simultaneously working towards long-term, systemic solutions. Learning from these approaches, policymakers can implement emergency relief efforts, whether distributing food or providing health information, while setting the stage for long-term recovery. This means continually reasserting the need for a shift in the values driving our policies, amplifying feminist approaches of collective work and community care.

AFS: Women are already leading the responses to COVID-19. From mobilising and organising humanitarian responses in their communities, to drafting Feminist Recovery Plans (for example in Northern Ireland), to monitoring the ceasefires and the implementation of peace agreements.

What is sorely lacking is their inclusion in decision-making about the pandemic recovery. We spoke to women peacebuilders and civil society across the world, and we have consistently seen that women are being excluded from COVID-19 Task Forces and planning committees. Globally women make up less than a quarter of such committees (according to CARE). One way to ensure that women are given leadership roles is to guarantee that all COVID-19 Task Forces and Committees include at least 50 percent  of women. This must include women from the civil society, who are at the forefront of COVID-19 response; and women in all their diversity.

 


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US Groups Linked to COVID Conspiracies Pour Millions of ‘Dark Money’ into Latin America

A satirical poster of President Jair Bolsonaro saying COVID-19 ‘is just a flu’ in Brazil, where US-linked groups have also denied the virus exists.
| Cris Faga/NurPhoto/PA Images

By Diana Cariboni and Isabella Cota
MONTEVIDEO, Oct 30 2020 – Half a dozen US Christian right groups have poured millions of dollars into Latin America and have promoted misinformation about COVID-19 and other health and rights issues, openDemocracy can reveal today.

These groups are part of a bigger number of twenty Christian right groups that have spent at least $44 million of ‘dark money’ into Latin America since 2007. Several of them are linked to President Trump’s administration.

None of these organisations disclose the identities of their donors or details of how exactly they spend their money in Latin America. Many do not mention their Latin American operations on their websites.

One group has called COVID-19 “the most monumental social engineering and ideological… effort in history”. The leader of another group also sits on an anti-China lobby group with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon – and claims that coronavirus was man-made in a Chinese lab.

These groups use the Global South as a laboratory for misinformation campaigns, with incalculable costs for lives and well-being

Alejandra Cárdenas, Center for Reproductive Rights

At least three of these US groups have attacked the World Health Organisation (WHO) during the pandemic, claiming for instance that it is “using COVID-19 to spread abortion”. The Trump administration announced earlier this year that it would halt US funding to the global health body.

Two groups have also supported anti-abortion projects across Latin America that have been accused of using “deception and manipulation” against vulnerable women. Another organisation has funded a controversial app that employs “misleading” advice to discourage the use of contraception.

All of these US groups promote a strict vision of a “traditional family” against abortion and LGBT equality. Latin America already has some of the world’s highest rates of adolescent pregnancies and murders of LGBT people; many rights advocates say these groups are aggravating the situation.

Alejandra Cárdenas, from global advocacy group Center for Reproductive Rights, said these findings “prove a manipulation we’ve been seeing for years by the US Christian right in Latin America and Africa, meant to break the social fabric and human rights protections that popular movements fought for”.

These groups “use the Global South as a laboratory for misinformation campaigns,” she said, with “incalculable costs for lives and well-being.”

Senator Humberto Costa from the Brazilian Workers Party added that “these findings confirm that there is an international network behind orchestrated actions to misinform and attack specific groups with hate messages.”

 

COVID-19 conspiracies

In February, as coronavirus infections began to swell globally, a veteran US anti-abortion activist claimed that the virus was created in a Chinese lab as a bioweapon and then released, either intentionally or accidentally. President Trump has also shared this theory.

The activist is Steven Mosher. He directs a US group called Population Research Institute (PRI), which has published an online book in English and Spanish claiming that China’s fabrication of the virus has the “clear intention… of radically modifying the known world through social engineering”.

Mosher also sits on the board of an anti-China lobby group that he co-founded with Steve Bannon, Trump’s former campaign director. Bannon was earlier this year charged with fraud over a fundraising campaign to build a wall between the US and Mexico. He has denied these charges.

PRI has spent more money in Latin America than it has anywhere else in the world, outside the US – more than $1 million between 2008 and 2017. While it is not one of the biggest spenders in the region, it appears to be one of the most active.

Among its activities, PRI says it has trained staff of CitizenGo, a Spain-based global conservative group that has links to far-right parties across Europe. PRI trained CitizenGo “in the use of political strategy tools, communicational and scenario analysis”, and PRI’s Latin America director, Peruvian Carlos Polo Samaniego, is also on the board of CitizenGo.

Polo is accused by his son, LGBT rights activist Carlos Polo Villanueva, of having taught him to manipulate the results of an online survey about the legalisation of abortion in Peru.

His son told openDemocracy: “I was ten or twelve years old, and my father asked me if I wanted to help him with his job. He put me in front of a computer, saying ‘you vote here against abortion, then go to cookies, disable cookies, return to the webpage and vote again. Do it as many times as you can’.”

Polo’s son also claimed that Catholic and evangelical schools pushed their students to attend the “marches for life” that his father and other ultra-conservatives organised. He said: “I marched against abortion as a child because our school took roll calls. I was forced to march in 2009 and 2010.”

Polo did not deny his son’s accounts when asked about them by openDemocracy. He said: “Obviously, there are a lot of differences between the points of view of LGBTI activists and PRI’s. LGBTI activists are free to express their views. I know what my son Carlos thinks. I love him as a son and respect him as a person, despite our conflicting opinions. PRI defends and promotes the freedom of expression for all peoples”.

In April, CitizenGo launched an online petition to “defund” the World Health Organisation, alleging that it uses public money to “promote Communist China’s false COVID information” as well as to “teach masturbation to children from ages 0 to 4… and force doctors to perform sex reassignment surgery on children”.

 

COVID-19 misinformation

Another one of the groups analysed by openDemocracy is the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP), which has disclosed spending at least $2.7 million in Latin America since 2007.

Founded in 1960 in Brazil as an anti-communist, Catholic network, its US branch has called the ongoing coronavirus crisis “the most monumental social engineering and ideological… effort in history”.

A Brazilian member of the TFP network has published articles denying the existence of COVID-19 cases in Rio de Janeiro and claiming that coronavirus mortality figures have been “inflated and manipulated” by the media and politicians to fuel “fear and hopelessness”.

“With the justification of fighting the virus, the church and the good people are persecuted,” said one of the articles published by TFP’s Instituto Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira in Brazil, referring to temporary closures of churches in the country – which currently has the world’s second-highest number of COVID-19 deaths, after the US.

Cárdenas, from the Center for Reproductive Rights, said: “The public must know who is behind these campaigns, and understand their alignment with political causes. Why are they interested in weakening public health protection systems, like the WHO? What benefit can be drawn from it?”

“Misinformation is instrumental to the Latin American right-wing tactic of dismantling rights,” added Thiago Amparo, law professor at educational institute Fundação Getulio Vargas of São Paulo. “Being funded transnationally, these misinformation tactics function as disruptive tools in the region’s democracies.”

“We are not behind or aware of any campaigns and certainly deny wanting to weaken or take any actions against public health”, the American TFP group told openDemocracy. It added that the articles published by its “autonomous sister organisation” in Brazil “are not official statements” from the group.

One of the articles was authored by a Catholic priest that is not a member of TFP, it said, and the other is a commentary on government statistics.

 

Misleading women about reproductive health

The president of the US Catholic conservative group Human Life International has also claimed that the WHO is “using COVID-19 to spread abortion”.

This group has spent $2.3 million in Latin America since 2007. Together with another US anti-abortion group, Heartbeat International, it supports a network of ‘crisis pregnancy centres’ that have been accused of misleading and manipulating Latin American women, as openDemocracy revealed this year.

Another US group, the World Youth Alliance (WYA), has spent a more modest $640,000 in Latin America – but it has also been involved in activities condemned for “misleading” women about their health. It is promoting a controversial fertility app (the FEMM app) that dissuades women from using birth control and emergency contraception, claiming it is dangerous.

If a user asks the FEMM app specifically for information on contraception, it says it doesn’t provide this as “artificial means” of preventing pregnancy “can be detrimental to a woman’s health by suppressing hormone function. Hormones are needed in sufficient levels to promote optimal health in the body”.

“The app is clearly misleading,” said Grazzia Rey, associate professor of gynaecology at Uruguay’s University of the Republic, “as it circumvents the scientific evidence provided by the WHO and Uruguay’s ministry of health guidelines, on the efficacy and security for all contraceptive methods.”

If a user says they want to avoid pregnancy, the app tells them to abstain from sex completely or on days when they are most fertile. Anita Román, president of Chile’s Midwifery Society, said such ‘fertility awareness’ methods “have a high margin of insecurity,” while sexual abstinence “is unnatural.”

In a “training course” from WYA’s sister group FEMM, which created the app, a Catholic gynaecologist from Chile claimed that young women take birth control “not because they don’t want to have babies, but because they want to be beautiful”. (A study by the US Guttmacher Institute found that 86% of women use contraceptive pills primarily to prevent pregnancies.)

 

Spending not disclosed

Globally, openDemocracy found that 28 US Christian right groups have poured at least $280 million into activities around the world since 2007 – led by their spending in Europe (almost $90 million).

However, this data underestimates the US Christian right’s influence and spending internationally. Money sent via churches, or groups registered as ‘church affiliates’, for example, is not included in the total because these organisations are not required to publicly disclose their spending.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) is the biggest spender in Latin America, spending at least $21 million in the region between 2007 and 2014, plus almost $10 million in Mexico and Canada. It’s led by the late American televangelist’s son Franklin Graham – an outspoken supporter of President Trump who said that God was behind the 2016 election.

Graham – who called the cancellation of his festivals in Europe due to COVID-19 “spiritual warfare” – was also in Russia last year meeting a Kremlin official who is under US sanctions, on a trip that he said was personally signed off by Trump’s vice president Michael Pence.

After 2014, the BGEA stopped disclosing its financial information as it obtained a reclassification as an “association of churches”.

Focus on the Family, the second-largest spender in Latin America ($6.2 million between 2008 and 2018), offers online shows, podcasts and counselling in Spanish with the message that homosexuality is “not normal” and trans identity is a “disorder and has to be treated”.

This group’s founder James Dobson has spoken out against Trump’s impeachment and celebrated his anti-abortion and pro-Israel positions. In early 2020, Jenna Ellis, who once worked for Dobson, was appointed Trump’s campaign legal advisor.

Cárdenas, from the Center for Reproductive Rights, accused all these groups of working “to break down the entire human rights protection system, which is their hidden and ultimate goal”. She said: “I hope this investigation is widely shared and helps us to open eyes at their full agenda.”

In response to openDemocracy’s questions, Polo at PRI said the group “complies with the US and Peru’s laws” and that all their financial information was “publicly registered and available to any citizen, as is established by law”.

He said that Facebook’s removal of PRI director’s Steven Mosher’s article – on the origins of COVID-19 – was later reversed, “without explanation, proving that censoring Steven Mosher publication was an error beyond any doubt.”

“We are in full compliance with US law in what we disclose or not disclose” the American TFP told openDemocracy. About LGBT rights it said: “Our position is that of the Catholic Church, which calls homosexual acts a grave sin.”

BGEA told openDemocracy that was reclassified as an association of churches because it had been operating in that way “for years, as virtually everything BGEA does is in cooperation with churches” – and because such registration offers groups more protection from government interference.

Filing non-profit disclosures had become “increasingly onerous”, it added, though it “continues to submit to an independent financial audit each year and posts a consolidated financial statement on its website for public review.”

Focus on the Family said: “We believe in the inherent worth and value of every individual, which is why we so passionately support policies designed to strengthen families all across the world.”

HLI, WYA and CitizenGo did not respond to openDemocracy’s requests for comments.

This story was originally published by openDemocracy