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A look at what happened at the G-20 summit in Argentina

December 02, 2018

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Leaders of the world’s largest economic powers have agreed to overhaul the global body that regulates trade disputes, but they faced resistance from President Donald Trump over the Paris accord on climate change.

Here are some of the main developments at the Group of 20 summit, which wrapped up Saturday:

WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION

All G-20 leaders called for reforming the World Trade Organization and the issue will be discussed during the group’s next summit in Osaka, Japan, in June. The gathering’s final statement, however, did not mention protectionism after negotiators said the U.S. objected to the wording. Trump has criticized the WTO and taken aggressive trade policies targeting China and the European Union.

U.S.-CHINA TRADE WAR

Financial markets will be cheered by the announcement that Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed at a dinner after the summit to have a 90-day truce in their trade battle.

Trump agreed to hold off on plans to raise tariffs Jan. 1 on $200 billion in Chinese goods. Xi agreed to buy a “not yet agreed upon, but very substantial amount of agricultural, energy, industrial” and other products from the United States to reduce America’s huge trade deficit with China, the White House said.

The cease-fire will buy time for the two countries to work out their differences in a dispute over Beijing’s aggressive drive to supplant U.S. technological dominance.

PRINCE UNDER PRESSURE

There were some awkward moments for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as some leaders called him out over the gruesome October killing of dissident Saudi newspaper columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the country’s consulate in Istanbul.

French President Emmanuel Macron was captured on video seemingly lecturing bin Salman, at one point being heard saying “I am worried,” ”you never listen to me,” and “I am a man of my word.” Macron said the crown prince only “took note” of his concerns.

British Prime Minister Theresa May also said she pressed bin Salman.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was the only G-20 leader to raise the issue during the official session. Erdogan called bin Salman’s response — that the crime had not been proven — “unbelievable” and complained that Saudi authorities have been uncooperative.

But it wasn’t all bad for bin Salman. He was not shunned, and on the gathering’s first day, he and Russian President Vladimir Putin engaged in a hearty grip-and-grin as the two seemingly reveled in their shared status as relative outcasts.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded the Saudi prince was behind the killing. Saudi Arabia denies he played a role.

UKRAINE CONFLICT

Western leaders confronted Putin over Russia’s recent seizure of Ukrainian naval vessels and crews, but the diplomatic pressure didn’t seem to bring either side closer to solving the conflict. Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of being responsible for the standoff.

Trump cited Russia’s actions as the reason that he canceled a planned meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the summit. EU Council President Donald Tusk sharply criticized “Russia’s aggression” against Ukraine.

Putin tried to convince Trump and the leaders of France and Germany that Russia’s actions were justified — even pulling out a piece of paper and drawing a map of the disputed area to make his point.

CLIMATE CHANGE

The final communique signed by all 20 member nations said 19 of them reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris climate accord. The only holdout was the U.S., which has withdrawn from the pact under Trump.

Still, environmental groups praised the statement as welcome news.

“That G20 leaders signed up to the Paris Agreement reaffirmed their commitment to its full implementation in the resulting communique is important,” the World Wildlife Fund said. “It is also a reflection of the Argentinian government rightly making climate an important topic on the agenda.”

Greenpeace said that “the necessity of the U.S. being part of the effort to fight climate change cannot be denied, but this is a demonstration that the U.S. is still the odd one out.”

NAFTA

After two years of negotiations, Trump signed a revised North American trade pact with the leaders of Canada and Mexico on the sidelines of the summit. The deal is meant to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump long denigrated as a “disaster.”

The new pact won’t take effect unless approved by the legislatures of all three nations, and there are questions about the pact’s prospects in the U.S. Congress, especially now that Democrats will control the House. Democrats and their allies in the labor movement are already demanding changes.

But Trump said on the way back to Washington that he plans to formally terminate NAFTA, so Congress will have to choose between accepting the new pact or going without a trade accord.

LOW EXPECTATIONS_LOW OUTPUT

Even the host country had lowered expectations ahead of the summit, saying before the gathering started that it might not be possible to reach a consensus for a final statement.

After sleepless days of round-the-clock talks by diplomats, a communique was produced, but analysts said leaders merely signed a watered down statement that skirted trade and other contentious issues.

“The G20 veered all over the road” at the summit and the leaders failed to fix trade, which is widely seen as a priority for boosting growth in jobs and economies, said Thomas Bernes, a distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation who has held leading roles with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and Canada’s government.

“Leaders buried their differences in obscure language and dropped language to fight protectionism, which had been included in every G-20 communique since the leaders’ first summit. This is clearly a retrograde step forced by United States intransigence,” Bernes said.

Associated Press writers Peter Orsi and Angela Charlton contributed to this report.

Argentina minister says country without means to rescue sub

November 17, 2018

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Hours after announcing the discovery of an Argentine submarine lost deep in the Atlantic a year ago with 44 crew members aboard, the government said Saturday that it is unable to recover the vessel, drawing anger from missing sailors’ relatives who demanded that it be raised.

Defense Minister Oscar Aguad said at a press conference that the country lacks “modern technology” capable of “verifying the seabed” to extract the ARA San Juan, which was found 907 meters (2,975 feet) deep in waters off the Valdes Peninsula in Argentine Patagonia, roughly 600 kilometers (373 miles) from the port city of Comodoro Rivadavia.

Earlier in the morning, the navy said a “positive identification” had been made by a remote-operated submersible from the American company Ocean Infinity. The company, commissioned by the Argentine government, began searching for the missing vessel Sept. 7.

It remained unclear what the next steps could be. In a statement to The Associated Press, Ocean Infinity CEO Oliver Plunkett said authorities would have to determine how to advance. “We would be pleased to assist with a recovery operation but at the moment are focused on completing imaging of the debris field,” he said.

Navy commander Jose Luis Villan urged “prudence,” saying that a federal judge was overseeing the investigation and would be the one to decide whether it was possible to recover a part or the entirety of the ship.

Without adequate technological capabilities, however, Argentina would likely need to seek assistance from foreign countries or pay Ocean Infinity or another company, potentially complicating its recent commitment to austerity. Argentina is currently facing a currency crisis and double-digit inflation that has led the government to announce sweeping measures to balance the budget and concretize a financing deal with the International Monetary Fund.

Any move to recuperate the vessel would also be a logistically large and challenging undertaking based on the submarine’s distance from the coast, its depth, and the kind of seabed upon which it is resting.

Relatives of crew members were determined to fight for it to be quickly surfaced. Isabel Vilca, the half sister of crewman Daniel Alejandro Polo, told the AP that the discovery was just the beginning.

She said families need to recover the remains of their loved ones to know what happened and help prevent similar tragedies. “We do know they can get it out because Ocean Infinity told us they can, that they have equipment,” said Luis Antonio Niz, father of crew member Luis Niz. “If they sent him off, I want them to bring him back to me.”

The sub’s discovery was announced just two days after families of the missing sailors held a one-year commemoration for its disappearance on Nov. 15, 2017. The San Juan was returning to its base in the coastal city of Mar del Plata when contact was lost.

On the anniversary Thursday, Argentina President Mauricio Macri said the families of the submariners should not feel alone and delivered an “absolute and non-negotiable commitment” to find “the truth.”

On Saturday, Aguad said that the vessel was found to be in an area that investigators had deemed “most likely.” Officials showed images of the submarine, which was located on a seabed with its hull totally deformed. Parts of its propellers were buried and debris was scattered up to 70 meters (230 feet) away.

The German-built diesel-electric TR-1700 class submarine was commissioned in the mid-1980s and was most recently refitted between 2008 and 2014. During the $12 million retrofitting, the vessel was cut in half and had its engines and batteries replaced. Experts said refits can be difficult because they involve integrating systems produced by different manufacturers, and even the tiniest mistake during the cutting phase can put the safety of the ship and crew at risk.

The navy said previously the captain reported on Nov. 15, 2017, that water entered the snorkel and caused one of the sub’s batteries to short-circuit. The captain later communicated that it had been contained.

Some hours later, an explosion was detected near the time and place where the San Juan was last heard from. The navy said the blast could have been caused by a “concentration of hydrogen” triggered by the battery problem reported by the captain.

Macri promised a full investigation after the submarine was lost. Federal police raided naval bases and other buildings last January as part of the probe, soon after the government dismissed the head of the navy.

Argentina gave up hope of finding survivors after an intense search aided by 18 countries, but a few navy units have continued providing logistical support to Ocean Infinity. On Saturday, Plunkett tweeted: “Our thoughts are with the many families affected by this terrible tragedy. We sincerely hope that locating the resting place of the ARA San Juan will be of some comfort to them at what must be a profoundly difficult time.”

He also said: “This was an extremely challenging project and today’s successful outcome, following the earlier search operations, firmly endorses our technology.” The company unsuccessfully searched for the Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared in 2014 over the Indian Ocean.

Associated Press video journalist Paul Byrne contributed to this report.

Argentine Senate rejects historic abortion law

August 09, 2018

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentina’s Senate has rejected a bill to legalize elective abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. The issue has divided the homeland of Pope Francis. Lawmakers debated for more than 15 hours and voted Thursday 31 in favor to 38 against.

Crowds of supporters and opponents of the measure braved the heavy rain to watch the debate on large screens set up outside Congress. The lower house of Congress had already passed the measure and President Mauricio Macri had said that he would sign it.

Argentina now allows the procedure only in cases of rape or risks to a woman’s health.

Argentine group IDs 128th person taken during ‘Dirty War’

August 04, 2018

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — DNA tests have determined the identity of a person taken from his mother as a baby by Argentina’s former dictatorship, a human rights group said Friday, bringing the number of such cases to 128.

The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo said that the person who was identified only by the name Marcos is the biological son of Rosario del Carmen Ramos. Former military and police authorities in the northern province of Tucuman kidnapped Ramos and her then five-month-old son and one of his half-brothers in 1976. Ramos was forcibly disappeared and was never found, while the two boys were taken to separate homes.

Marcos, who is now 42, found out the news about his true identity Thursday night and met with family members. The announcement was made at an emotional news conference attended by two of his half-brothers.

“It was an emotional shock,” said Camilo Suleiman, one of his half-siblings. “We want to know his whole life story in 20 seconds. This is the restitution of 42 years of love that has yet to be lived.”

Officials during the dictatorship have been convicted of organizing the systematic theft of babies from political prisoners who were often executed. About 500 or so newborns were whisked away and raised by surrogate families. Several hundred have yet to be accounted for.

Human rights group estimate that more than 30,000 people were jailed, tortured, killed or forcibly disappeared during the 1976-1983 dictatorship.

Argentina pays homage to Brit who recovered Falklands dead

March 24, 2018

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — They looked eye-to-eye and shed tears together: On one side the families of Argentine soldiers killed in the 1982 war with Britain, across the table the former British army officer who helped recover and rebury their loved ones.

A forensic study recently identified the remains of 90 Argentine soldiers buried in a Falkland Islands cemetery after the war. The families of the fallen troops will travel next week to the faraway graves on a lonely hillside in the South Atlantic, where until now gravestones have read: “Argentine soldier known only to God.”

The identification process was led by the International Red Cross under an agreement between the two nations. But it was only possible thanks to the efforts of Geoffrey Cardozo, who is a retired British colonel.

When the war ended on June 14, 1982, most Argentine bodies were left untouched on the battlefield or in temporary graves during the southern winter. Britain tried for months to send them to Buenos Aires, but the ruling military junta said they were already in their homeland.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher finally agreed to build a cemetery. Cardozo, then a 32-year-old captain, was ordered in January 1983 to recover and rebury the dead. “They very quickly became my boys because they were orphans. Their mothers and fathers were not on the island and I was the only one who could look after them,” Cardozo told The Associated Press. “And so I took great care to bury them, to look after them. And every step I took along the way with each body, I had in my mind their mothers, their families.”

Cardozo assembled a team of British funeral directors that rappelled into minefields from helicopters and dug up mass graves to recover Argentine corpses. They carefully prepared each one for reburial in individual coffins.

On Friday, the families of the soldiers and Argentine officials paid homage to Cardozo at an emotional ceremony in Buenos Aires. “Today, I feel a great joy, a great tranquility,” Cardozo told the relatives as they broke into tears.

A multinational team of 14 experts exhumed the remains last year. Tissues were analyzed and compared with DNA samples from family members of some of the dead soldiers at a laboratory in Argentina. Laboratories in Britain and Spain conducted quality control of the DNA analyses.

The Red Cross has said the identification process of the more than 120 graves was highly successful. “I would have never imagined 35 years later that we would achieve this kind of success,” Cardozo said. “It’s formidable, miraculous.”

On Monday, Cardozo will join the families as part of the mission to the Falklands to explain how he organized the cemetery with its rows of white crosses and dark gray tombstones. “What will happen next Monday will bring a huge relief to these heavy hearts,” he said.

Many families of the Argentine fallen troops had long distrusted the idea of sending experts to the islands to identify their war dead. “One day, my mom finally told me: ‘Who am I to impede another mother from finding her son,'” said Maria Fernanda Araujo, who was 9 when her brother Eduardo was killed in the war. She now leads a group for the relatives of the fallen soldiers.

“We had to make other families understand that this was not impossible,” she said. In all, 649 Argentines and 255 British soldiers died in the war. “The angels lined up — 649 of them — and Geoffrey was there. And we can all be friends,” Araujo said as she turned to Cardozo, who was sitting next to her, and they embraced.

Argentina’s Patagonia Rebels Against Oil Field Waste Pits

By Daniel Gutman

BUENOS AIRES, Mar 1 2018 (IPS) – A project to install a huge deposit of oil field waste pits has triggered a crisis in the north of Argentina’s southern Patagonia region, and brought the debate on the environmental impact of extractive industries back to the forefront in this Southern Cone country.

Catriel, in the province of Río Negro, about 1,000 km southwest of Buenos Aires, was a small town untilan oil deposit was discovered there in 1959. Since then, the population has boomed, with the town drawing people from all over the country, driving the total up to around 30,000 today.

The conflict broke out in 2016, when the city government announced a plan to set up a “special waste deposit” on 300 hectares of land, for the final disposal of waste from oil industry activity in the area.

This generated social division and resistance that ended last November, when opponents of the project were successful in their bid to obtain an amendment to the Municipal Charter – the supreme law at a local level – which declared Catriel a “protected area”, and prohibited such facilities due to the pollution.

Mayor Carlos Johnston described the modification of the charter as “shameful” and asked the courts to overrule the amendment, arguing that those who drafted the new text overstepped their authority.

The court decision is still pending.

“At all times it was practically impossible to access information. When we went to ask, the city government gave us a document that had a map of where they want to install the plant and practically nothing else,” said Natalia Castillo, an administrative employee who is part of the Catriel Socio-Environmental Assembly, a community group that emerged to fight the project.

“We are very worried about the possible impact of the plant and we are trying to raise public awareness. The problem is that many people around here work in the oil industry and prefer not to meddle with this issue,”Castillo told IPS.

Mayor Johnston confirmed his position to IPS: “We have had environmental liabilities since 1959. It is our obligation, as the State, to address them. It would be much worse not to do it.”

“The environmental authorization came from the provincial authorities. It may be that we have so far failed to provide enough information to society. But we value the work of environmental organizations and are ready for dialogue because this project is necessary,” he added.

Johnston said the waste that will be accepted at the plant will come from Catriel and other municipalities in the province of Río Negro.

However, environmental organizations suspect, due to the large size that is projected for the deposit, that it could receive waste from oil industry activity in the entire area and not just from the municipality.

Catriel happens to be located in the so-called Neuquén Basin, the main source of oil and gas in the country, and is very close to VacaMuerta, the unconventional oil and gas deposit in the neighboring province of Neuquén, which fuels Argentina’s dreams of becoming a major fossil fuel producer.

The United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated the recoverable reserves in the 30,000-square-km Vaca Muerta at no less than 27 billion barrels of oil and 802 trillion cubic feet of gas.

The Argentine government also places its hopes in this field to bolster its hydrocarbon production, which has been declining for 20 years, and has forced the country to import fuel to make up for the deficit.

“The problem is that ‘fracking’, which is used to extract unconventional hydrocarbons, generates waste on a much larger scale than conventional exploitation,” said Martín Álvarez, a researcher at the non-governmental interdisciplinary Oil Observatory of the South (OPSur).

He explained that with this technology, which drills rocks at great depths through large injections of water and additives, “not only do the chemicals used to carry out the drilling and hydraulic fracturing come back to the surface, but also radioactive materials of natural origin that are in the subsoil.”

“There is a saturation of oil waste in the Neuquén Basin from fracking, which is a dirty technique. Then came this new business, waste disposal, which has a huge environmental impact because contaminants can seep into the groundwater,” added the expert.

Together with the Environment and Natural Resources Foundation and Greenpeace Argentina, two of the most influential environmental organizations in the country, OPSur requested access to information from different provincial bodies in Río Negro.

In addition, it issued a critical report, drawing attention to the size of the project. Covering 300 hectares, it would be almost 10 times larger than what is currently the biggest South American plant of its type, with an area of 34 hectares.

The document refers to Comarsa, an oil waste deposit that is only 135 km from Catriel, in the province of Neuquén, near the provincial capital. The installation has been questioned for years by residents, forcing the local authorities to promise to close it once and for all last November, although it has not yet happened.

The environmental organizations also complained that during the Mar. 31, 2017 public hearing where the project was discussed, many questions and objections raised by the participants were not answered.

They also questioned the approval of the environmental impact assessment conducted by the Rìo Negro Secretariat of Environment, “despite the rejection by different sectors in the community of Catriel.”

In the middle of this conflict, Catriel had to reform its Organic Charter, a task that is to be carried out every 25 years.

With the issue of the plant at the center of the debate, the local ruling party, Juntos Somos Rio Negro (Together We Are Río Negro) won the elections with 35 percent of the vote and obtained six seats on the reform committee. But the other nine seats went to different opposition parties, which joined forces against the waste pit project.

“The establishment or installation of nuclear power plants, reservoirs, landfills, repositories of final or transitory disposal of contaminated material from the nuclear, chemical or oil industry, or any other polluting activity, is prohibited,” says Article 94 of the new Charter, which came into force on Jan. 1.

But the mayor argues that it must be revised because “it is not feasible.”

Johnston also rejected the possibility of calling a referendum on the authorization to install the plant, as requested by the Catriel Socio-Environmental Assembly.

In a communiqué, the assembly asked: “What will happen when diseases become visible in the people who live in Catriel, due to the environmental contamination caused by the oil waste deposit?”

A fact that has not gone unnoticed is that the company that is to install the treatment plant is Crexell Environmental Solutions, which has strong political connections, to the point that its president, Nicolás Crexell, is the brother of a national senator for Neuquén, and nephew of the person who governed that province until 2015.

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS News).

Link: http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/argentinas-patagonia-rebels-oil-field-waste-pits/.

Finally, Argentina Has a Law on Access to Public Information

By Daniel Gutman

BUENOS AIRES, Sep 28 2017 (IPS) – After 15 long years of public campaigns and debates in which different political, social and business sectors held marches and counter-protests, Argentina finally has a new law that guarantees access to public information.

This step forward must now be reflected in reality, in this South American country where one of the main social demands is greater transparency on the part of the authorities.

The Law on the Right of Access to Public Information, which considers “all government-held information” to be public, was approved by Congress in September last year and enters into force Friday Sept. 29.

Eduardo Bertoni stressed the importance of the new law. He is the academic appointed by the government of President Mauricio Macri to lead the new Agency for Access to Public Information, which will operate within the executive branch, although “with operational autonomy,” according to the law.

“There are already 113 countries that have right of access to information laws and 90 countries have incorporated it into their constitutions,” Bertoni said during the public hearing where his appointment was discussed.

Bertoni, a lawyer with a great deal of experience regarding the right to information, served as Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIADH) between 2002 and 2005.

“We must now encourage society to demand more information from the authorities. And it is essential to push for better organisation of the public archives, because if we do not find the information people seek, we will fail,” he added.

The text is broad in terms of the list of institutions legally bound to respond to requests for access to information: besides the various branches of the state, it includes companies, political parties, trade unions, universities and any private entity to which public funds have been allocated, including public service concessionaires.

The Agency was created to ensure compliance with the law. Its functions include advising people who seek public information and assisting them with their request.

“This was clearly a pending issue for Argentina. It is incomprehensible that the governments of Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and Cristina Fernández (2007-2015) did not push for approval of this law, which should be an incentive for provinces and municipalities to do the same, since very few have regulations on access to public information,” Guillermo Mastrini, an expert on this question, told IPS.

For Mastrini, a former director of Communication Sciences at the University of Buenos Aires, “this does not change the worrying scenario with respect to the right to information, since the government is regulating by decree issues related to audiovisual communication services in a way that does not favor plurality and transparency.”

The bill was sent to Congress by the government a few months after Macri took office in December 2015, and passed with large majorities in both legislative chambers.

Until now, at the national level, there was only decree 1172, signed in 2003 by Kirchner with the aim of “improving the quality of democracy”, which was not only below the status of a law, but only covered the executive branch with regard to the obligation to provide information.

José Crettaz, a journalist and the coordinator of the Center for Studies on the Convergence of Communications, told IPS that “Néstor Kirchner’s decree, which applied to the executive branch, worked very well at first, but then public officials began to leave most requests for information unanswered.”

“Now we are seeing a huge step forward, since the law encompasses all branches of the state, and I see a government with a different attitude. The decisive thing will be how the law is implemented. The only valid criterion should be: if there is public money involved, it is public information,” he said.

The law was passed after dozens of bills on access to information were introduced in Congress in recent years. The first was presented under the government of Fernando de la Rua (1999-2001), with the support of a network of civil society organisations, but with little backing from journalists.

The initiative obtained preliminary approval from the lower house of Congress in 2003, passed to the Senate and then the main Argentine media outlets joined the public campaign demanding that it be approved. However, they later distanced themselves from the bill.

They did so, Bertoni recalled in a paper written in 2011 for the World Bank, when a senator warned that the media should also respond to requests for information submitted by any member of the public, as they receive state advertising, which is considered a subsidy.

In 2004, the Senate approved the bill, but with modifications that included private entities among the subjects obligated to provide information, and sent it back to the lower house, where it was shelved. Another bill was passed by the Senate in 2010, but it also failed to prosper.

Now one thing that stood out is that just two days before the law went into effect, the government modified it through a questioned channel: based on “a decree of necessity and urgency”, putting the new Agency in the orbit of the chief of the cabinet of ministers.

“The government thus gave a lower status to the Agency, which according to law was to depend directly on the Presidency of the Nation; the decision, moreover, cannot be taken by decree when Congress is in session,” said Damián Loreti, professor of Right to Information at the University of Buenos Aires.

“That the law is in force is good. But I am concerned about a number of things, such as not including among its objectives a guarantee for the exercise of other rights, such as housing or sexual and reproductive rights. The model law of the Organisation of American States was not followed,” he told IPS.

For Sebastián Lacunza, the last director of the Buenos Aires Herald, a well-respected English-language newspaper that closed this year, “in a country that does not have a culture of transparency, there is a risk that the law will fail.”

“This government promised a regeneration of the country’s institutions, but in some aspects it ended up aggravating the shortcomings of the previous administration, which was not prone to being open with information,” he told IPS.

In his view, “in a context of global crisis in the media industry and a shrinking of plurality of information, the most important thing is that there is an active state that combats the concentration of the media in a few hands.”

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).

Link: http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/finally-argentina-law-access-public-information/.

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