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Archive for September, 2011

Without Land There Is No Culture

By Elizabeth Roberts
Jun 2, 2011

The Mapuche nation in South America is being marginalized by rigid and ineffective government policies.

For the Mapuche people, loss of land means loss of identity and without this life is meaningless.

Land is essential for the development of Mapuche culture; the land has the graves of their ancestors and is where their religious celebrations take effect.

“We are first ground and then people, so first ‘Mapu’ land and then ‘che’ people. For us, the earth is our mother,” Mapuche lonko (chief) Juana Calfunao, explained to members of the European Parliament in Brussels last March.

The story of Juana’s town, as with so many indigenous towns in Latin America, is one of a history of territorial dispossession, genocide, and cultural devastation, which continues to ruin the lives of the natives.

The Juan Paillalef community has been the victim of systematic persecution by the Chilean government. Lonka Calfunao told the Parliament how Chilean authorities and industry executives have tried to take her land away.

“The Chilean State and the forestry companies … have burned my house four times now. … We have no home to live in,” she said. “After they burned my house, the forest companies wanted to take my land illegally and the army came with tanks and 300 police. My son and I on foot defended the community against attack helicopters.”

State Oppression

The Mapuche are native to the southern cone of South America where they were recognized as an autonomous nation by Spain in 1641 after successfully defeating the Spanish conquests on their land. In the late 1800s however, the Mapuche were victims of extermination campaigns carried out by Argentine and Chilean armies against native peoples living in the Patagonia region.

In these military campaigns, native leaders and soldiers were killed, and communities were enslaved with girls and women forced into servitude and prostitution.

The nation states took the Mapuche land, enfolding it into their developing economic structures.

Although on paper Chile has seemed ready to protect the rights of indigenous by signing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the OAS Charter, the American Convention on Human Rights Charter, and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, there is still a wide disparity in practice between these rights and the protections the Mapuche actually receive.

In a 2003 report on the Mapuche, the International Federation on Human Rights said, “There is a considerable gap between the legal protection of indigenous rights during this first democratic period in Chile and the actual development of public policies regarding indigenous issues by the Chilean government.”

The Mapuch people, numbering approximately one million, are still subject to ethnic discrimination.

Fighting Multinationals

Besides institutional discrimination, the recent efforts by the Mapuche to recover their native land has brought them into conflict with transnational companies that want access to the land’s natural resources.

Mapuche scholar and director of History at Sorbonne University in Paris, Arauco Chihualaf, told the European Parliament that natural resources are the primary source of conflict between the Mapuche and multinational corporations. “The advance of the globalized economy governed by transnational companies that exploit basic resources, such as mining, agricultural and water, generates conflicts because many of these riches are found in indigenous land,” he said.

In the southern regions of Chile, Chihualaf said that the forest industry, which is linked to transnational capital groups, is fighting with the Mapuche over land resources.

In Argentine Patagonia, the Mapuche community of Santa Rosa Leleque is in conflict with the multinational clothing maker Benetton Group, which claims 500 hectares of land occupied by the Santa Rosa community. One of the largest landowners in Argentina, the Italian Benetton family, owns around a million hectares in the south of the country.

When Chile’s largest electric company Endesa, built the Ralco hydroelectric dam, upstream waters submerged Mapuche land displacing the local Mapuche population.

Chihualaf said the native people are not opposed development, which also means the creation of jobs for them, but want fair development practices. The indigenous Indians he said, reject “uneven development, the unevenness that has exacerbated poverty in the indigenous population compared to the prosperity of transnationals.”

He added that the native people reject “abusive land occupation, population displacement, damage to the environmental balance, excessive rate hikes, such as on water, threats, and abuse of their organizations and leaders.”

Institutional Violence Against Children

Mapuche youth are victims of abuse by Chilean authorities with reports of Mapuche children and adolescents who live in communities that are mobilizing to recover their ancestral lands being wounded by pellet guns and tear gas, and harassed, tortured, and illegally interrogated in schools. Mapuche youth also receive death threats and live with the fear of kidnapping and forced immersion, according to a report by Mapuche Ombudsman Claudia Molina presented in January 2010, before the Committee on the Rights of the United Nations.

The violence by the Chilean government against Mapuche children was also condemned in April this year by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington, D.C.

European Involvement

Under an Association Agreement between EU and Chile, European investment is providing more than 16 million euros (US$22.9 million) to Chile for social cohesion starting in 2007 until 2013.

Catalonian Member of Parliament Oriol Junqueras, said at the Brussels conference, that as a major player in the world market, the EU has significant bargaining power with international leaders and with Chile, and that “to the extent that the EU is able to reconcile these trade agreements with peoples’ rights … we will be much closer to our goal of a more just and equal opportunities.”

The program director of France-Libertés Fondation Danielle Mitterrand, Tapia Olavarria Rodrigue, said that one step the EU needs to take is to stop implementing policies that cause other countries to develop systems that unsustainably extract natural resources and threaten the environment and the livelihoods and fundamental rights of indigenous peoples.

Source: The Epoch Times.
Link: http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/world/mapuche-without-land-there-is-no-culture-57165.html.

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Germany to Boost Renewables

By Julio Godoy

BERLIN, Jun 3, 2011 (IPS) – The decision by the German government of Chancellor Angela Merkel to phase out nuclear power by 2022 will increase efficiency in the use of energy, boost investment and accelerate technical progress in renewable energy sources, and promote international energy cooperation, according to numerous experts.

These factors are indispensable for Germany, the leading industrial powerhouse in Europe, to substitute the present share of nuclear energy – of some 23 percent of the country’s total consumption of electricity – and to guarantee a steady supply of alternative energy, the experts say.

The German government announced Monday that all nuclear power plants operating in the country would be shuttered by 2022. The seven nuclear power plants offline for testing since the catastrophe that destroyed the Japanese nuclear facilities of Fukushima, plus one additional power plant, offline for several years now due to technical problems, will remained closed for ever. The remaining nine plants will be closed by 2022.

According to the government, the share of its renewable energy supply will double, from 17 percent now to more than 35 percent in 2020, to compensate for the loss of nuclear power. On the demand side, increased efficiency in home heating and improved thermal isolation of buildings should reduce consumption by 10 percent.

“We expect a formidable growth in demand for new, more efficient heating systems for private households and thermal isolation of buildings in general,” Holger Schwannecke, director of the German association of industrial artisanry, told IPS.

The essential piece of the German energy puzzle that will substitute nuclear power is the further development of renewable energy – especially the installation of more wind turbines offshore in the northern Atlantic Ocean and in the Baltic Sea.

Merkel’s government announced that it would improve the bureaucratic handling of new permits for wind energy installations offshore, to increase the supply to 25,000 megawatts by 2030.

Tim Fischer, professor for renewable energy at the University of Stuttgart, told IPS that, “the installation of new, extreme performing wind turbines towers – up to 150 meters high, and with a capacity of 20 megawatts per unit – is already possible.”

The average height and performance of the present German wind turbines are 90 meters and two megawatts.

“There is no technical obstacle to such a high wind turbine. Engineering knowhow and material are already available,” according to Fischer.

Frank Zimmermann, managing director of the offshore business unit at Repower Systems, the leading German manufacturer of wind turbines, agrees with Fischer. “The problem is not the technology,” Zimmermann told IPS.

“We can easily build a wind turbine tower of 150 metres with a performance of 20 megawatts. But there are many bureaucratic obstacles we have to solve to obtain a permit to transport and install such a tower,” he said.

Beyond the increase of renewable energy supply, Germany will have to solve the problem of transporting this electricity and guaranteeing enough supply – some 75 gigawatts on a typical winter day, or 35 gigawatts on a typical summer day.

“We need new intelligent electricity grids, that allow us to transport the wind energy we produce in northern Germany to potential consumers in the south of the country,” said Reinhard Christiansen, director of several wind turbine parks located in the federal state of Schleswig Holstein, near the border with Denmark.

Christiansen told IPS that in 2010, at least 15 percent of the electricity generated by the wind turbines he manages could not be delivered to consumers. “We had to shut down our turbines, because the grid could not handle our electricity,” Christiansen complained.

He put the amount of electricity lost from the turbines he manages at 50 million kilowatts per hour.

A smart electricity grid would use digital technology to monitor all electricity supply flowing into the grid while controlling the consumer’s demand – right down to household appliances – to save energy, reduce costs, and increase reliability of supply. Smart grids would also provide storage capacity for fluctuating supply, such as that generated by wind and solar energy, to deliver it at moments of high demand.

For Antonella Battaglini, director of the European Renewables-Grid Initiative, and researcher at the German Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the need for such smart electricity grids goes beyond German national interest, and should be promoted at the European level.

“Today, it is practically impossible to transport electricity from one country to another,” Battaglini said. “Bureaucracy makes it almost impossible, and national opposition to such transnational electric lines are high.”

Without an international smart electricity grid, Europe “can bury its plans to generate all its electricity with renewable sources by the year 2050,” Battaglini warned.

Wind energy providers in Denmark and other European countries have expressed similar sentiments. Dorthe Vinther, vice president of Energinet, an independent public enterprise which owns the main electric and natural gas grids in Denmark, told IPS that smart grids constitute an essential factor for the creation of a future international renewables market, especially of wind energy.

“The integration of large-scale wind power requires a strong international transmission grid and efficient international electricity markets, to trade and balance the wind power in a wide geographical area,” Vinther told IPS. “For such an international project, we also need coherent energy systems to increase flexibility and economic efficiency and reduce environmental impact.”

One fundamental question of the energy revolution in Germany remains unanswered: the cost.

“We don’t know how much it will cost, either for the public or for the state. Nobody can predict it with precision,” Minister of the Environment Norbert Roettgen told the German public television network ARD.

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).
Link: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=55914.

Gov’t Shuts Down Illegal Gold Mines

By Gonzalo Ortiz

QUITO, May 31, 2011 (IPS) – The Ecuadorian government sent in the army to shut down illegal gold mining operations in the jungles of the northwest province of Esmeraldas, where the highly polluting activity is associated with drug traffickers and protected by armed militias and hired killers.

The gold-mining activity in eight areas of the cantons of Eloy Alfaro and San Lorenzo in Esmeraldas, which is bordered by the Pacific Ocean and Colombia, was “totally illegal” and violated the country’s mining, environmental and tax laws, Minister of Non-Renewable Natural Resources Wilson Pástor and Environment Minister Marcela Aguiñaga said in a press conference last week.

They also pointed to the serious damages to local populations and the environment caused by unregulated gold mining in those areas.

Aguiñaga reported that arsenic and heavy metals like mercury are found in the waters of tributary rivers that run into the Santiago River, the source of water for local residents in that area. “This will cause cancer and other diseases in the short term,” she said.

“Ecuador is not a no man’s land,” Pástor said indignantly. “Illegal mining has to stop. We have to put a stop to exploitation of the local workforce. We have to put a stop to drug money laundering. And we’re tired of the plundering of our natural resources.”

Illegal mining, he said, generates economic activities that are not controlled by the state and irregularities like tax evasion, smuggling of materials used in the industry, networks of illegal services, capital flight, money laundering, and imports of unregistered machinery.

The military incursion earlier this month in the northern part of the province of Esmeraldas was reported by the government on May 23, in a nationally broadcast report that showed at least six helicopters taking part in the operation, in which a number of large, modern backhoes and other machinery like diesel generators and suction dredges were destroyed in controlled explosions.

The cost of backhoe excavators runs from 100,000 to 200,000 dollars, depending on the size of the engine.

Over the last six months, the heavy machines have opened up dozens of gold-mining pits in remote jungle areas of Esmeraldas that are only accessible by river.

“In the last six months, 130 million dollars worth of gold has been illegally extracted. And one ton of alluvial soil must be removed to obtain 30 just grams of gold,” Pástor reported.

The televised footage filmed by the army showed from the air dozens of pits in at least eight different areas inland from the port of San Lorenzo, near the Colombian border.

In response to a question from IPS on the military’s legal authority to destroy the machinery, Minister Aguiñaga explained that the operation had been authorized on May 19 by a judge, who ordered that it be carried out immediately.

Aguiñaga also noted that a judge in Esmeraldas had banned all mining activity in that province in December.

The military operation “was kept secret” because in December information was leaked “and the illegal miners managed to hide their machinery,” Pástor said.

But some questioned the lawfulness of the operation. Former Ecuadorean president Osvaldo Hurtado (1981-1984), a political scientist, told IPS that President Rafael “Correa and his Defense Minister Javier Ponce should answer in court for the barbaric action.

“In a state with the rule of law, a judge can order the confiscation of assets, whose fate can only be decided by a trial. There is no legal justification for sending in soldiers to bomb assets, whatever their origin,” Hurtado said.

“The responsibility does not belong to the armed forces, which carry out orders, but to those who gave the orders,” he said.

In separate statements, Interior Minister José Serrano said “we aren’t talking here about an irregular or illegal activity, but about criminal activities: tax fraud, mineral smuggling, money laundering, and labor exploitation.”

Pástor said confiscation of assets was not possible in this case, as shown by the seizure of 12 backhoes in a similar operation carried out last year in the Napo River basin in the northeast of the country, where the government had “unfavorable experiences with judges or prosecutors.”

The minister said that in some cases judges or prosecutors have ordered that seized machinery be returned to the owner. “Even prosecutor Gordillo (no first name was given) ordered the return of backhoes when the trial was in its initial stages,” he said.

But lawyer Juan José Montero told IPS “it is a contradiction to justify the destruction with a court order, while at the same time lacking confidence in the justice system to conduct the prosecutions that should arise from these cases.”

The laborers who worked at the mines will be employed “in the clean-up of the environmental damages, which are extremely serious,” Minister Aguiñaga said.

Pástor announced that the eight areas in question will be granted in concession to the state-run mining company, Empresa Nacional Minera (ENM), which will be authorized to sign partnership agreements with small-scale and medium mining outfits.

The minister said he would be meeting with the associations of miners from San Lorenzo and Eloy Alfaro to explain the steps they should take in order to sign contracts with ENM, a process he said would take around six months.

Some 2,000 families depend for a living on illegal mining in the areas targeted by the army operation, Pástor said. “Some of the members of those families had been recruited by force and exploited for ridiculously low pay and under threat,” he said.

The ministers said the tributaries of the Santiago River polluted by the illegal mining activities are the Bogotá, Tululví, Cachaví, Huimbí, Palaví, Zapallito and Estero María Rivers. They also provided a list of 20 affected villages in the area.

With respect to the threat of legal action by the owners of the excavators, or those who were leasing them and complain that they are now in debt, Aguiñaga said “they will first have to respond to the lawsuits we will bring against them for the severe environmental damages caused.”

She said the mining activity had destroyed forest cover and the fertile top layer of soil, and polluted and altered the course of rivers and wetlands – impacts that will immediately begin to be assessed by the Environment Ministry for the purpose of launching a clean-up effort.

The divisions over the question of mining among families, organizations and even local authorities in Esmeraldas have seriously undermined social relations in the area, said the Catholic bishop of the province, Eugenio Arellano.

He also complained about the illegal activities that many local people have fallen into, and about the damages to the health of the local population. “They are poisoning my people,” he said.

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).
Link: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=55869.

Unwed Tribal Mothers Seek Aid

By K. S. Harikrishnan

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India, May 31, 2011 (IPS) – For Janu, walking the streets to beg for alms is the only option for survival. After all, she has a two-year-old daughter to feed, and she herself, at 14 years old, is little more than a child.

The story of Janu, who lives in the Attappady tribal area in Palakkadu district in the southern Indian state of Kerala, is not an isolated one.

In tribal hamlets in the districts of Wayanad, Palakkadu and Kasargod, girls like Janu end up as unwed mothers after falling victim to sexual harassment and exploitation, sometimes by influential men who refuse to acknowledge their responsibilities. Now, these women face shame and starvation.

A survey conducted by the Kerala State Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Department found 563 unwed mothers in the state. But the Kerala Women’s Commission (KWC) puts the actual number at more than 2,000.

An investigation led by Deputy Police Inspector-General S. Sreejith had found that there were no less than 1,000 unwed mothers in the tribal areas of north Kerala.

According to the KWC, most unwed mothers are 14 to 20 years old. Oommen Chandy, the new chief minister of Kerala, has directed the police to go the extra mile to ensure justice to the victims of violence, trafficking, and sexual exploitation, particularly unwed mothers hailing from the tribal sector.

KWC member and senior woman leader T. Devi told IPS that there has been a steep rise in the numbers of unwed mothers in the tribal community in the past fifteen years. “The Commission is initiating a police inquiry into the cases of young unwed mothers and making arrangements to rehabilitate the affected women,” she said.

T. Devi pointed to forest officials, teachers, contractors, laborers and local leaders as among those accused of impregnating young girls. They lure teenage girls by giving them money, liquor, clothes, bags, and perfumes. They flatter the girls and then invite them to their homes or to see a movie. Some men offer marriage proposals.

Dr. K. G. Vijayalakshmi, director of the Thiruvananthapuram-based Women Empowerment and Human Resource Development Center of India, who has studied the problem, told IPS that the issues of unwed mothers are mainly linked to social backwardness.

“Hunger, poverty, illiteracy, ill-health, lack of communication and financial constraints are leading tribal women to seek the help of non-tribal people,” she said. “These forest invaders, especially rich people, sexually exploit the women. Many unwed tribal girls are working free of cost in the residences of non- tribal people.”

Chennai-based anthropologist G. P. Paul told IPS the issue of unmarried mothers is as serious as the problem of displacement from tribal territory. Kerala tribes have lost thousands of acres to non-tribal people, who venture into the forest to grab their land.

“No steps were taken to restore their land. Migration of non-tribal people continues. Raped and ravaged by non-tribal people, tribal women in Kerala are paying a heavy price,” he added.

News reports cite a survey conducted in 174 hamlets in Attappady in 2000 by the volunteer organization NAMU, which found 343 unmarried mothers, some of them with more than one child.

Earlier in 1997, a committee of the Kerala Legislative Assembly also examined the problem and submitted a report to the government, which failed to act on it.

Since then, officials and activists have demanded action and social programs to address the issue of unwed mothers in tribal hamlets.

Pushkala Unnikrishnan, an activist in tribal issues and vice-president of the local self-government institution in Wayanad district, wants the government to implement special welfare schemes such as pensions for unwed mothers.

“It is a shame for a high-literacy state like Kerala that these unmarried tribal women continue to live in a state of penury and neglect, years after their problems came to public attention,” said Unnikrishnan.

Kerala Aadivasi Forum (KAF), a tribal organization, is seeking justice from the government and social agencies for the rehabilitation of unmarried mothers and their children.

Bolan, a state committee member and KAF Wayanad district president, wants government to start planning a long-term program for the welfare of these mothers. “Living conditions of children born out of wedlock are worst. Most of them have inhibitions to face others, fearing being taunted as the children of harlots.”

Experts point out that premature deaths of unwed tribal women were not uncommon, and several crude and inhuman methods have been employed to eliminate infants even after birth.

Kitty Lukose, a social researcher who has studied the condition of tribal unwed mothers in Wayanad, found out that many tribal girls resorted to abortion using traditional medicine. “They go to government hospitals for check-ups. Once they find that they are pregnant, they abort the fetus.”

Dr. K. Ramachandran Nair, a physician who has served in tribal areas for more than 45 years, told IPS that hypertension and diabetes are very common among unmarried mothers.

“Some of the unwed mothers later turn into sex workers since there is absolutely no income for survival. The mothers are isolated both from their family as well as from the community. The culprits escape from the net through their economic and political power,” Dr. Nair pointed out.

Dr. Beena Kannan, a health expert working in a government hospital in Kochi, a city north of the capital Thiruvananthapuram, suggested that regular medical checkups, both for the mothers and children, are essential for their survival.

“Besides imparting legal and emotional support, health organizations should give awareness on safe sex practices and condom usage,” she added.

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).
Link: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=55849.

Scientists crack the spiders’ web code

Melbourne, Australia (SPX)
Jun 03, 2011

Decorative white silk crosses are an ingenious tactic used by orb-weaving spiders to protect their webs from damage, a new study from the University of Melbourne has revealed.

The team, led by Dr Andre Walter and Professor Mark Elgar from the University of Melbourne’s Department of Zoology, found that orb-weaving spiders respond to severe damage to their webs by building bigger silk crosses, but if the damage is mild they don’t bother adding extra decoration.

Professor Mark Elgar said web damage is costly for spiders as a lot of nutritional resources are required to rebuild a web. “So they evolved this ingenious way to minimize unwanted damage,” he said.

“It’s much like we mark glass windows with tape to prevent people walking into them,” he said.

The team collected a group of orb-weaving spiders and left them to build their webs in the laboratory. Some of the completed webs were severely damaged, others lightly damaged and the remainder left alone. The response of the spiders was then observed.

“The fact that spiders increased their decorating activity in response to severe damage but didn’t increase their decorating following light damage suggests that the conspicuous building of silk crosses serves to make webs more visible to animals that might accidentally walk or fly into them,” Professor Elgar said.

Adding silk decorations to spiders’ orb-webs was first reported over a century ago but why these spiders decorate their webs has been the topic of controversial debate for decades.

“Our study helps unravel this mystery,” Professor Elgar said.

Source: Terra Daily.
Link: http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Scientists_crack_the_spiders_web_code_999.html.

Algeria offers new housing units, trading stands

2011-06-02

Some 60,000 newly-built housing units will become available across Algeria before the start of Ramadan, Echorouk reported on Wednesday (June 1st). The project is part of the government’s program to build 2 million new homes for the most vulnerable segments of the population, Housing Minister Noureddine Moussa told an assembly of walis in Algiers on Wednesday. The minister also noted that to stem unemployment, 150,000 trading stands would soon be offered to jobless youths.

Source: Magharebia.
Link: http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/newsbriefs/general/2011/06/02/newsbrief-06.

Morocco foresees 50,000 green energy jobs

2011-06-02

Morocco will invest 6.6 billion euros in its renewable energy sector to achieve 3,640MW of electricity by 2015, Le Matin reported on Thursday (June 2nd). By 2020, wind and solar power will account for 42% of total production, Energy Minister Amina Benkhadra said Tuesday in Oujda. Some 50,000 new jobs will be opened in the sector, the minister said.

Source: Magharebia.
Link: http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/newsbriefs/general/2011/06/02/newsbrief-07.

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