Tinkering with ‘sustainable or eco-tourism’ hides the real face of tourism

By Anita Pleumarom (Tourism Investigation & Monitoring Team) and Chee Yoke Ling (Third World Network)

Reproduced here by kind permission of Anita Pleumarom, Chee Yoke Ling and the Third World Network – www.twn.my

The United Nations committed a substantial error when it proclaimed 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.  Despite its pronouncements of tourism being a positive force for economic development and poverty eradication, tourism is inept at meeting the challenge of implementing the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Like no other industry, tourism promotes – and glamorizes – a hyper-mobile and hyper-consumeristic lifestyle, rendering sustainability elusive. In fact, most tourism development is fraught with negatives including gross inequalities, human rights violations, cultural erosion, environmental degradation and climate instability (1).

Recent research is particularly alarming in terms of tourism’s contribution to climate change, primarily due to the high energy use for transport such as air travel. Based on a new global tourism emissions model, global tourism is set to emit some 300 gigatonnes of CO2 between 2015 and 2100, which is 30 percent of the global carbon budget for sustainable development (2). It is preposterous to allocate so much of this budget to tourism, instead of meeting the acute energy needs of billions of people around the world. Meanwhile, tourism alternatives such as ‘green’ or ‘eco’-tourism can also be problematic. Not only do they usually depend on long-haul flights that drive climate change, they also tend to penetrate fragile ecosystems and Indigenous Peoples’ ancestral lands, triggering both biodiversity loss and culture loss.

Tourism as a major source of financial leakage is well documented (3). Since it is frequently large foreign companies that either initiate or take over commercially successful tourism projects, the domestic retention and distribution of tourism benefits has a very poor record; profits are generally repatriated to corporate headquarters and shareholders abroad. A particular characteristic of tourism in this age of neoliberal globalisation is that it is closely intertwined with the finance and real estate industries. Ground evidence shows that vast tracts of public land are being privatized and acquired by foreign investors for luxury tourism – plus tourism-related residential, commercial and mega-infrastructure developments (e.g. ‘aerotropolis’, or airport cities) – resulting in displacement and disempowerment of local people. The radically de-regulated business environment spawns price hikes and speculation, posing high risks to local economies, ways of life and community social structures.

The nature and conceptualisation of the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) does not allow for it to adequately deal with the unsustainable and unjust patterns of tourism. Originally formed as a business organisation, the UNWTO remains industry-controlled and industry-oriented, and its critics do not regard it as a responsible UN agency acting for the common good. In synchrony with the global tourism and travel industry, it continues to aggressively campaign for further tourism growth despite the fact that much of contemporary tourism is antithetical to sustainable development and most of the tourism-related goods and services are luxuries that can only be enjoyed by the world’s minority. Even if some improvements can be achieved in tourism through better regulation and management as well as increased incentives for ecologically sustainable activities (alleged ‘eco’-tourism among them), it is clear that the gains made will be negligible in the context of the continued growth of the tourism industry at large, as forecast and aspired by the UNWTO. Instead of down-scaling the inflated tourism sector and effectively engaging in harm avoidance, the UNWTO sends a wrong message to the public: that ‘sustainable (eco)tourism’ is the solution and needs to grow without barriers for the benefit of us all.

Actually, steering tourism policy and practice towards more sustainability requires first and foremost correcting the unjust economic structures and power relations that drive tourism development. It is also necessary to put in place laws and regulations that effectively protect local citizens and communities from harmful tourism, including mechanisms that require travel and tourism businesses to compensate for social losses and to clean up the damage they created. Clear transparent, accessible processes for accountability are needed, which empower people(s) to monitor and hold governments, financial institutions, development agencies and the private sector engaging in tourism  accountable for their actions.

Rather than aiming at further tourism expansion, other more sustainable economic activities should be developed, particularly in small island developing states (SIDS) and least developed countries (LDCs) that heavily rely on tourism – which not only must contend with the volatility of tourism (e.g. due to international financial/economic crises, acts of violence, extreme weather events, natural disasters and pandemics), but also are endangered by tourism-induced climate change.  This is a major undertaking that the international community must assist with, for the transition of those economies and health of their populations.

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References:

(1) Third World Network, ‘Global Tourism Growth: Remedy of Ruin?’, TWR, Sept./Oct 2015, http://www.twn.my/title2/resurgence/2015/301-302.htm

(2) Sustainability Leaders Interview: Paul Peeters on Tourism, Aviation and Climate Change, 8 June 2016, http://sustainability-leaders.com/interview-paul-peeters-on-tourism-aviation-climate-change/

(3) Pleumarom, A., ‘Tourism – a driver of inequality and displacement’, TWR, Sept./Oct 2015, http://www.twn.my/title2/resurgence/2015/301-302/cover01.htm

This article can be downloaded from Third World Network’s website at: www.twn.my/tour.htm

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 The article is based on a chapter entitled ‘Corporate capture subverts production and consumption transformation’ by Chee Yoke Ling, published in Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2016: Report by the Reflection Group on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, 11 July 2016, pp.94-100  

The full report as well as single chapters of it can be downloaded at: https://www.2030spotlight.org/

Remittances to and migration from Central America’s Northern Triangle

El Economista recently published an article based on the findings of a report entitled ‘The Future of Central America: Challenges for a Sustainable Development’. The report was produced by a collaboration between the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Latin American Centre for Competition and Sustainable Development (CLACDS, by its Spanish initials) of the INCAE Business School. Short extracts from the article are translated below.

Key words: remittances; migration; Northern Triangle countries; Temporary Protected Status (TPS);

The recent hardening of the United States’ immigration policies is putting at risk a significant ‘escape valve’ for the economies of the Northern Triangle of Central America: namely remittances.

“An important factor for these societies [El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala] is the fact that there is an escape valve for social and demographic problems, and a source of income,” said the Dean of the INCAE Business School, Alberto Trejos, to El Economista, regarding migration and remittances.

The report points out that there are at least 3 million migrants from the Northern Triangle in the United States and that their remittances represent 20 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of El Salvador and Honduras and 12 per cent of the GDP of Guatemala. Our societies in the region

According to the report, in 2017 Salvadoran migrants in the United States accounted for 23 per cent of total population of El Salvador, and the respective proportions of Honduras and Guatemala were 8 per cent and 6 per cent.

The report warns that the hardening of immigration policies in the United States could have a substantial impact on remittances and, through them, on the economies of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

The report’s estimates indicate that remittances could decline by 7.6 per cent per annum due to recent and proposed immigration policies changes and that the elimination of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Honduran and Salvadoran citizens [illegally residing in the USA] could imply a further reduction in remittances of 6 per cent per annum in the medium term. It also estimates that a further 7 per cent of migrants who currently reside in the USA could decide to return to their country of origin.

Those migrants would return with savings of around 3 per cent of their country’s GDP which would generate a temporary positive effect which would be converted into an additional demand for jobs. For these jobs to be filled would require that the economies of the Northern Triangle countries would have to grow by one percentage point more than is expected or predicted.

For the INCAE Dean, remittances are an important escape valve, but the current remarkable migration has negative consequences due to the flight of humans who are at their most productive ages. “We have to stop thinking of the phenomenal migration from the perspective of remittances, even though it appears to represent the inflow of money. But we have to admit that this money flows in because we cannot provide alternative prospects to young people so that they might stay.”

“At the same time that this money flows in, the productive capacity of these people disappears. Society loses the income that these people would have generated, we lose the contributions of the skills of these migrants and that leaves us with a society that is demographically and economically different.”

For the INCAE Dean, the conditions which prompt people to migrate “are not a good thing,” and although migration may generate some positive effects on the economy, it cannot be called a good thing. Trejos warned that a mass return of migrants at this time would necessitate “a very disruptive adjustment.”

El Economista: eleconomista.net

INCAE: www.incae.edu

Nicaragua en paz – a pesar de los títulares falsos de los medios y las ONGs

El artículo siguiente es originario del blog Two Worlds por John Perry. Apareció originalmente en el Grayzone.com – thegrayzone.com . Estoy agradecido a John por su autorización para reproducir el artículo en este sitio web.

John Perry

Two Worlds blog:  (twoworlds.me)

18 de febrero 2020

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Aquí hay un titular que no verás: Nicaragua está en paz. Tras el violento intento de derrocar al gobierno en 2018, que costó al menos 200 vidas, el país ha vuelto en gran medida a la tranquilidad que disfrutaba antes. Esta no es sólo la impresión que recibe cualquier visitante de Nicaragua, sino que está confirmada por las estadísticas: Insight Crime analizó los niveles de homicidio en toda América Latina en 2019 y demostró que sólo tres países eran más seguros que Nicaragua en todo el continente.

Además, tres de sus vecinos, el ‘triángulo del norte’ de Honduras, El Salvador y Guatemala, estaban entre los peores países. También tienen altos niveles de violencia mortal contra las mujeres. En los primeros 24 días de 2020, por ejemplo, 27 mujeres hondureñas sufrieron muertes violentas, mientras que el vecino Nicaragua sigue teniendo uno de los niveles más bajos de femicidio en América Latina.

Pero, espera. Un titular de enero denuncia la trágica epidemia de violencia en Nicaragua. Este mes la ONU censura al gobierno nicaragüense por permitir ataques repetidos contra los pueblos indígenas. Un ‘informe de situación’ de la ONU habla de un ambiente general de amenaza e inseguridad. A finales del año pasado se informó de la represión sistemática, selectiva y letal de los campesinos. ¿De dónde proceden estas acusaciones y qué significan?

Las últimas provienen de un incidente a finales de enero. Los campesinos sin tierra atacaron una comunidad en el gran bosque de Bosawás. Según la agencia Reuters, seis muertos, diez secuestrados y casas destruidas. The Guardian, el New York Times y el Washington Post repitieron la historia. El periódico local de derecha La Prensa citó a la ONG Fundación del Río, que lo calificó de ‘masacre’; la Alianza Cívica de la oposición nicaragüense se sumó a esta calificando el ataque de ‘etnocidio’. Amnistía Internacional condenó ‘la indiferencia del Estado’ ante el sufrimiento de los pueblos indígenas. La Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos dijo que el gobierno no estaba cumpliendo con sus obligaciones internacionales.

Bosawás es la mayor superficie de selva tropical al norte del Amazonas. Tiene pocas carreteras y principalmente comunidades pequeñas, muchas de las cuales dependen de los ríos para su transporte. Muchos habitantes locales pertenecen a grupos indígenas a los que el gobierno ha concedido títulos de propiedad de la tierra. Otros son los llamados ‘colonos’, familias campesinas de las cuales algunos han comprado sus tierras pero también hay otras que las ocupan ilegalmente. Las disputas entre los agricultores establecidos y los campesinos sin tierra son comunes, y durante muchos años han dado lugar, a veces, a la violencia. Los problemas de la vigilancia de esos lugares, con su historia de conflictos y corrupción, no se limitan a su lejanía.

Lo que realmente ocurrió en el caso reciente sólo quedó claro después de que la policía llegó en horas avanzadas de la tarde del 29 de enero para investigar, tras haber sido llamada al lugar por motivo de un reporte de dos personas muertas, no de seis como se reportó en los medios. En el lugar donde se produjo el atentado, la comunidad de Alal, la policía encontró 12 casas quemadas y dos personas heridas. Nadie había desaparecido. Para el 31 de enero habían revisado otras tres comunidades cercanas y no encontraron pruebas de asesinato o secuestro. Los líderes de la comunidad local condenaron las noticias falsas.

Luego, en un lugar completamente distinto, a 12 km al este de Alal, a lo largo del río Kahaska Kukun, cerca de la comunidad de Wakuruskasna, la policía encontró e identificó cuatro cadáveres, dos en una parte del río y dos en otra parte, aparentemente muertos por heridas de bala. La población local dijo que no conocía a nadie que hubiera desaparecido o estuviera desaparecido. Las investigaciones continuaron y dos días después altos funcionarios de la policía y del gobierno se reunieron con la comunidad en la escuela local para explicar las investigaciones y la labor de aplicación de la ley que estaban realizando, así como la ayuda que recibirían las personas para reconstruir sus casas destruidas. Posteriormente, el 5 de febrero, los familiares de las víctimas se reunieron con la Procuradora de los Derechos Humanos de Nicaragua, Darling Ríos, para denunciar los crímenes cometidos. La policía cree haber identificado a la banda criminal involucrada y continúa la búsqueda de los mismos.

Los antecedentes de esta historia son importantes y son ignorados por los medios de comunicación internacionales y los organismos de derechos humanos. Una parte importante del territorio nicaragüense está legalmente en manos de grupos indígenas y ha sido debidamente titulado por el Gobierno de Nicaragua como tierras comunales de cada comunidad. Las autoridades que las administran son designadas por las propias comunidades. En el territorio indígena de Mayangna Sauni As, formado por 75 comunidades, existe una disputa interna por el control de estas tierras comunales. De tal manera que algunos de los líderes han vendido tierras a grupos de colonos externos, lo que podría ser la raíz del conflicto del mes pasado.

Lamentablemente, a pesar del proceso masivo y continuo de reforma agraria en Nicaragua, sigue habiendo casos de campesinos desplazados que no pueden comprar tierras caras en zonas pobladas y tratan de comprarlas en otro lugar a bajo precio, y tal vez ilegalmente, o simplemente las toman. Las zonas poco pobladas como Bosawás son especialmente vulnerables. Las organizaciones internacionales describen los conflictos resultantes como luchas entre pueblos indígenas conscientes del medio ambiente y forasteros destructivos, instigados por el gobierno. La realidad es que los pobres compiten por la tierra, a veces de forma violenta. Y la violencia es espasmódica: en los dos últimos años se han registrado pocas muertes en conflictos por la tierra, aunque hubo varias en 2015 y 2016, que afectaron principalmente a una comunidad indígena diferente, los miskitu.

No es de extrañar que los medios de comunicación se pongan del lado de los grupos indígenas y que los colonos rara vez tengan voz. Inevitablemente, como en el caso de Alal, quien pueda sacar una historia a través de una llamada telefónica recibirá atención, e incluso una agencia como Reuters parece ser dispuesta a basar sus reportajes en ese tipo de información antes de que los hechos puedan ser comprobados. Para quienes no están familiarizados con Nicaragua, cualquier noticia sobre grupos indígenas conjura imágenes de los tribus aislado de la Amazonia, lo cual está lejos de la situación real. Los medios de comunicación establecen la escena con imágenes románticas de las selvas tropicales. Sólo en raras ocasiones envían a sus reporteros para investigar a fondo los acontecimientos sobre que están reportando.

Si esto es lo que se espera de los medios de comunicación de hoy, no debería ser el caso de las ONG de derechos humanos. Sin embargo, los organismos de ‘derechos humanos’ con sede en Nicaragua son notoriamente sesgados políticamente, y desde hace mucho tiempo ya pasaron el punto en que se pueden considerar ser objetivos. Sus recientes denuncias de una campaña gubernamental de asesinatos en zonas rurales, por ejemplo, se han demostrado ser completamente falsas. Todas las ONG locales compiten por las donaciones de gobiernos extranjeros, y (como uno admitió) exageran sus cuentas de muertes para conseguirlo.

Lamentablemente, las ONG internacionales no son mucho mejor. Los reportajes de Amnesty International sobre Nicaragua se han demostrado estar llenos de errores y tergiversaciones. Anteriormente, varios individuos y organismos habían solicitado a la ONG Global Witness corregir la información sesgada en sus informes sobre de las disputas de tierras en el área de Bosawás, que caracterizaron a Nicaragua como el “país más peligroso del mundo” para ser un defensor del medio ambiente. A pesar de los muchos esfuerzos que hizo para asegurar que Global Witness escuchara las complejidades de la historia real, ese ONG se negó a retirar sus acusaciones, incluso cuando se descubrió que algunas eran completamente falsas.

Por eso los titulares como ‘Una trágica epidemia de violencia’ no deben tomarse al pie de la letra. Incluso la BBC (seis indígenas muertos en un ataque) se equivocó. El sesgo mediático contra el gobierno sandinista de Nicaragua es incesante, y las ONG internacionales lo están alimentando (al igual que el gobierno de EE.UU., por supuesto). Mientras tanto, detrás de los titulares, el pueblo nicaragüense está recuperando con éxito la preciosa paz y seguridad de la que disfrutaba antes de los violentos acontecimientos de 2018. La mayoría se siente aliviada de que la verdadera ‘epidemia de violencia’ haya terminado unos meses después de haber comenzado para dejar a Nicaragua el país más seguro de la región.

Thirst, crop failure and cattle deaths result from drought in Honduras

Summary report by Martin Mowforth

A 13th September report in the Salvadoran daily newspaper La Prensa Gráfica described yet another motive behind the exodus of people from Honduras: namely drought. This illustrates well the thesis in the article ‘How Climate Change Forces Central American Farmers to Migrate’ – also uploaded to this website this month,  September 2019 – that drought and the unreliability of climate are forcing many rural farmers to consider the possibility of migration as a way out of their predicament.

Several Honduran departments have been declared as emergency zones due to the scarcity of water. Some of these zones have not had any rainfall for ten months and over 50 per cent of basic grains like corn and beans have been lost, according to official sources.

In the eastern department of Olancho 1,000 head of cattle have died due to the drought. Farmers with some capital behind them can purchase alternative feeds for their cattle such as the waste products of African palm oil which are rich in protein. But for the majority the grass is simply not growing due to the drought. Some sources are suggesting that this climate trend means that in the medium and long terms farmers must adapt to raising a much smaller number of cattle on their land.

The drought has also affected urban areas such as the capital city Tegucigalpa, and residents are having to purchase tanks of water for activities such as washing as well as drinking. Clearly in such circumstances the poor are more likely to be adversely affected by the drought.

In July 2019, in Inside Climate News (ICN), Georgina Gustin produced a report entitled ‘Ravaged by Drought, a Honduran Village Faces a Choice: Pray for Rain or Migrate’. It is available at: https://insideclimatenews.org/news/08072019/climate-change-migration-honduras-drought-crop-failure-farming-deforestation-guatemala-trump  and includes three video clips of interviews with Central American farmers. We urge our readers to read and view this account of the link between climate change and migration patterns.

As if Hondurans don’t have enough to contend with: a narco-state run by organised crime; security forces whose main modus operandi is violence against the people they are supposed to be protecting; a gang culture and protection racket which pervade so many of the activities of Honduran society and economy; a system of production which displaces Hondurans from their land for the benefit of transnational corporations and local elites; and a complete lack of opportunities for Hondurans. Add climate change to the mix, and who could be surprised that so many Hondurans try to escape their country of birth to find opportunities elsewhere in the world?

A headline you won’t read

By John Perry

Two Worlds blog: (twoworlds.me)

February 19, 2020

The following article by John Perry comes from his Two Worlds blog. It originally appeared in The Grayzone, an independent news website dedicated to original investigative journalism and analysis on politics and empire – thegrayzone.com. I am grateful to John for permission to reproduce his article in this website.

Here’s a headline you won’t see: Nicaragua is at peace. After the violent attempt to overthrow the government in 2018, which cost at least 200 lives, the country has largely returned to the tranquillity it enjoyed before. This is not only the impression that any visitor to Nicaragua will receive, it is confirmed by statistics: Insight Crime analysed homicide levels across Latin America in 2019 and showed that only three countries were safer than Nicaragua in the whole continent. What’s more, three of its neighbours, the ‘northern triangle’ of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, were all among the worst countries. They also have high levels of fatal violence against women. In the first 24 days of 2020, for example, 27 Honduran women met violent deaths, while next-door Nicaragua continues to have one of the lowest levels of femicide in Latin America.

But wait. A headline in January denounces the Tragic Epidemic of Violence in Nicaragua. This month the UN slates the Nicaraguan government for allowing repeated attacks against indigenous peoples. A UN ‘situation report’ talks about a general environment of threat and insecurity. Towards the end of last year the systematic, selective and lethal repression of peasant farmers was reported. Where do these allegations come from and what do they mean?

The latest ones come from an incident at the end of January. Criminals attacked a small community in the large forest reserve of Bosawás. It was reported by Reuters to have led to six deaths, ten people being kidnapped and houses being destroyed. The Guardian, New York Times and Washington Post all repeated the story. Local right-wing newspaper La Prensa quoted the NGO Fundación del Rio who called it a ‘massacre’. Nicaragua’s opposition Civic Alliance joined in by calling it ‘ethnocide’. For the opposition news channel Patriotic Communications it was a ‘war’ against indigenous people in which ‘the Ortega government is silent’ about the crimes committed. Amnesty International condemned ‘the state’s indifference’ to the sufferings of indigenous people. The Interamerican Commission for Human Rights said the government was failing its international obligations.

Bosawás is the largest area of tropical rainforest north of the Amazon. It has few roads and mainly tiny communities, many relying on rivers for transport. Many local people belong to indigenous groups which have been granted land titles by the government and this land cannot be sold, only leased. Others are settlers (called ‘colonos’) some of whom have leased land but others who occupy it illegally. Disputes between established farmers and landless peasants are common, and for many years have sometimes resulted in violence. The problems of policing such places, with their history of conflict and corruption, are not confined to their remoteness.

What really happened in the recent case only became clear after the police arrived to investigate, having been called to the scene of two reported deaths, not six, late on the afternoon of 29 January. In the place where the attack occurred, the community of Alal, the police found 12 houses had been burned down and two people had been injured. No one had disappeared. By 31 January they had checked three more nearby communities and found no evidence of murder or kidnapping. Local community leaders condemned the false news reports.

Then, at a completely differently place 12km east of Alal, along the River Kahaska Kukun near the community of Wakuruskasna, police found and identified four bodies, two in one part of the river and two in another part, apparently dead from gunshot wounds. Local people said they knew of no one who had disappeared or was missing. Investigations continued and two days later senior police and government officials met with the community in the local school to explain the investigations and the enforcement work they were doing, as well as the help that people would get to rebuild their destroyed houses. Then, on February 5, the families of the victims met with Nicaragua’s Procurator of Human Rights, Darling Ríos, to denounce the crimes committed. The police are pursuing the criminal gang involved and so far (February 12) have captured one culprit who was carrying a sub-machine gun.

The background to this story is important and is ignored by the international media and human rights bodies. A significant proportion of Nicaraguan territory is legally held by indigenous groups and has been duly titled by the Nicaraguan Government in each community’s ownership. The authorities that administer them are designated by the communities themselves. In the indigenous territory of Mayangna Sauni As, made up of 75 communities, there is an internal dispute over control of these communal lands. Some of the leaders have sold land to groups of outside settlers, which is possibly at the root of last month’s conflict.

Sadly, despite a massive and ongoing process of land reform in Nicaragua, there are still cases of displaced peasant farmers who can’t buy expensive land in populated areas and seek to buy it cheaply, and perhaps illegally, elsewhere, or simply to occupy it. Sparsely populated areas like Bosawás are especially vulnerable. The ensuing conflicts are portrayed by international organisations as struggles between environmentally conscious indigenous people and destructive outsiders, abetted by the government. The reality is that poor people are in competition for land, sometimes violently. And the violence is spasmodic: there were few reported deaths in land disputes for the last two years, although there were several in 2015 and 2016, mainly affecting a different indigenous community, the Miskitu.

It is hardly surprising that news media side with indigenous groups and that the settlers rarely get a voice. Inevitably, as in the Alal case, whoever can get a story out via a phone call will receive attention, and even an agency like Reuters will (it seems) accept such a report before the facts can be checked. To those unfamiliar with Nicaragua, any news item about indigenous groups conjures images of uncontacted tribes in the Amazon, which is far from the real situation. News media set the scene with romantic images of rainforests. Only rarely do they send reporters to investigate in depth.

If this is to be expected of today’s media, it shouldn’t be the case with human rights NGOs. Yet Nicaraguan-based ‘human rights’ bodies are notoriously biased politically, and have long passed the point where they can be considered objective. Their recent allegations of a government campaign of rural assassinations, for example, were shown to be completely false. All the local NGOs compete for donations from foreign governments, and (as one admitted) exaggerate their death counts in order to get it.

Regrettably, the international NGOs are little better. Amnesty International’s reporting on Nicaragua has been shown as full of errors and misrepresentations. Global Witness was earlier called out for biased reporting of the land disputes in the Bosawás area, in which it called Nicaragua the world’s ‘most dangerous country’ to be an environmental defender. Despite many efforts to get it to listen to the complexities of the real story, it refused to withdraw its allegations even when some were found to be completely untrue.

This is why headlines like ‘A Tragic Epidemic of Violence’ should not be taken at face value. Even the BBC (Six indigenous people reportedly killed in attack) was wrong. Media bias against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government is unremitting, and international NGOs are feeding it (as, of course, is the US government). Meanwhile, behind the headlines, Nicaraguan people are successfully recovering the precious peace and safety they enjoyed before the violent events of 2018. Most are relieved that the real ‘epidemic of violence’ ended a few months after it began.

A version of this article appears in: The Grayzone and also in Tortilla con Sal and here in Spanish (en Español).

How Climate Change Forces Central American Farmers to Migrate

The following article is taken from ‘Towards Freedom’, an organisation that takes “a progressive perspective on world events” – https://towardfreedom.org/  We are grateful to Toward Freedom and Edgardo Ayala for permission to reproduce the article here.

January 2, 2019 | By Edgardo Ayala

Gilberto Gómez stands next to the cow he bought with the support of his migrant children in the United States, which eases the impact of the loss of his subsistence crops, in the village of La Colmena, Candelaria de la Frontera municipality in western El Salvador. This area forms part of the Central American Dry Corridor, where increasing climate vulnerability is driving migration of the rural population. Photo Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

CANDELARIA DE LA FRONTERA, El Salvador (IPS) – As he milks his cow, Salvadoran Gilberto Gómez laments that poor harvests, due to excessive rain or drought, practically forced his three children to leave the country and undertake the risky journey, as undocumented migrants, to the United States.

Gómez, 67, lives in La Colmena, in the municipality of Candelaria de la Frontera, in the western Salvadoran department of Santa Ana.

The small hamlet is located in the so-called Dry Corridor of Central America, a vast area that crosses much of the isthmus, but whose extreme weather especially affects crops in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

“They became disillusioned, seeing that almost every year we lost a good part of our crops, and they decided they had to leave, because they didn’t see how they could build a future here,” Gómez told IPS, as he untied the cow’s hind legs after milking.

He said that his eldest son, Santos Giovanni, for example, also grew corn and beans on a plot of land the same size as his own, “but sometimes he didn’t get anything, either because it rained a lot, or because of drought.”

The year his children left, in 2015, Santos Giovanni lost two-thirds of the crop to an unusually extreme drought.

“It’s impossible to go on like this,” lamented Gómez, who says that of the 15 families in La Colmena, many have shrunk due to migration because of problems similar to those of his son.

The Dry Corridor, particularly in these three nations, has experienced the most severe droughts of the last 10 years, leaving more than 3.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned as early as 2016.

Now Gómez’s daughter, Ana Elsa, 28, and his two sons, Santos Giovanni, 31, and Luis Armando, 17, all live in Los Angeles, California.

“Sometimes they call us, and tell us they’re okay, that they have jobs,” he said.

The case of the Gómez family illustrates the phenomenon of migration and its link with climate change and its impact on harvests, and thus on food insecurity among Central American peasant families.

La Colmena, which lacks piped water and electricity, benefited a few years ago from a project to harvest rainwater, which villagers filter to drink, as well as reservoirs to water livestock.

However, their crops are still vulnerable to the onslaught of heavy rains and increasingly unpredictable and intense droughts.

In addition to the violence and poverty, climate change is the third cause of the exodus of Central Americans, especially from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, according to the new Atlas of Migration in Northern Central America.

The report, released Dec. 12 by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and FAO, underscores that the majority of migrants from these three countries come from rural areas.

Between 2000 and 2012, the report says, there was an increase of nearly 59 percent in the number of people migrating from these three countries, which make up the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America. In Guatemala, 77 percent of the people living in rural areas are poor, and in Honduras the proportion is 82 percent.

In recent months, waves of citizens from Honduras and El Salvador have embarked on the long journey on foot to the United States, with the idea that it would be safer if they traveled in large groups.

Travelling as an undocumented migrant to the United States carries a series of risks: they can fall prey to criminal gangs, especially when crossing Mexico, or die on the long treks through the desert.

Another report published by FAO in December, ‘Mesoamerica in Transit’, states that of the nearly 30 million international migrants from Latin America, some four million come from the Northern Triangle and another 11 million from Mexico.

The study adds that among the main factors driving migration in El Salvador are poverty in the departments of Ahuachapán, Cabañas, San Vicente and Sonsonate; environmental vulnerability in Chalatenango, Cuscatlán, La Libertad and San Salvador; and soaring violence in La Paz, Morazán and San Salvador.

And according to the report, Honduran migration is strongly linked to the lack of opportunities, and to high levels of poverty and violence in the northwest of the country and to environmental vulnerability in the centre-south.

With respect to Guatemala, the report indicates that although in this country migration patterns are not so strongly linked to specific characteristics of different territories, migration is higher in municipalities where the percentage of the population without secondary education is larger.

In Mexico, migration is linked to poverty in the south and violence in the west, northwest and northeast, while environmental vulnerability problems seem to be cross-cutting.

“The report shows a compelling and comprehensive view of the phenomenon: the decision to migrate is the individual’s, but it is conditioned by their surroundings,” Luiz Carlos Beduschi, FAO Rural Development Officer, told IPS from Santiago, Chile, the U.N. organisation’s regional headquarters.

He added that understanding what is happening in the field is fundamental to understanding migratory dynamics as a whole.

The study, published Dec. 18, makes a “multi-causal analysis; the decision to stay or migrate is conditioned by a set of factors, including climate, especially in the Dry Corridor of Central America,” Beduschi said.

For the FAO expert, it is necessary to promote policies that offer rural producers “better opportunities for them and their families in their places of origin.”

It is a question, he said, “of guaranteeing that they have the necessary conditions to freely decide whether to stay at home or to migrate elsewhere,” and keeping rural areas from expelling the local population as a result of poverty, violence, climate change and lack of opportunities.

In the case of El Salvador, while there is government awareness of the impacts of climate change on crops and the risk it poses to food security, little has been done to promote public policies to confront the phenomenon, activist Luis González told IPS.

“There are national plans and strategies to confront climate change, to address the water issue, among other questions, but the problem is implementation: it looks nice on paper, but little is done, and much of this is due to lack of resources,” added González, a member of the Roundtable for Food Sovereignty, a conglomerate of social organisations fighting for this objective.

Meanwhile, in La Colmena, Gómez has given his wife, Teodora, the fresh milk they will use to make cheese.

They are happy that they have the cow, bought with the money their daughter sent from Los Angeles, and they are hopeful that the weather won’t spoil the coming harvest.

“With this cheese we earn enough for a small meal,” he said.

Copyright Toward Freedom 2018

Remittances to El Salvador and Nicaragua in 2018

El Economista (17 December 2018) reports that remittances received in El Salvador between January and November 2018 increased by 8.7% in comparison with the same period in 2017, and amounted to more than US$4,900 million [US dollars], according to the Central Reserve Bank (BCR).

In these ten months the country received remittances from 160 countries, at the head of which was the US with US$4,602.4 million, followed by the European Union and Canada with US$46.8 million and US$43.8 million respectively.

The 2.8 million Salvadorans who live in the United States sent a major part of the US$5,021.3 million in remittances which El Salvador received in 2017, this being the highest figure in history for the Central American country.


Informe Pastrán (21 December 2018) reports that remittances received in Nicaragua during the third quarter of 2018 rose to US$372.8 million, an increase of 4.8 per cent compared with the same period in the previous year. Remittances up to and including the month of September 2018 amounted to US$1,097.4 million, a 7.6 per cent increase on the same period during 2017.

During the third quarter of 2018, the major origins of these remittances were the United States (55.4%), Costa Rica (19.4%), Spain (11.5%) and Panamá (5.3%).

The department of Managua continued to be the major recipient of the remittances (35.0%), with the department of Chinandega receiving 10.3%, León 8.2%, Estelí 8.0% and Matagalpa 7.0%.

Government of Panamá searches for incentives to promote recycling

Summary by Martin Mowforth from report by El Economista

2 October 2019

Key words: recycling; incentives; plastics; Bay of Panamá.

On 2 October, El Economista reported that the government of Panamá was looking for ways of incentivising recycling. Speaking at an international symposium on sustainability organised by the Industrial Union of Panamá, the Environment Minister Milciades Concepción said that recycling by industry is practically nil: “Here we can’t set up recycling plants because there are no incentives,” he declared.

According to official figures the Bay of Panamá receives 175,000 tonnes of waste each year, much of which is composed of plastics. The Director of Urban and Household Hygiene Pedro Castillo said that “on recycling we are years behind.”

Cerro Patacón is the main landfill dump for the city of Panamá and the 150 informal recyclers who work there find the collection of plastic material to be less attractive than the collection of other materials because of the low demand for plastics.

The United Nations Environment Programme calculates that in Latin America only 10 per cent of all waste material generated is recycled, and that this rate is lower in areas of poverty. UNEP also estimates that each year 8 million tonnes of plastic reach the sea, and that if this continues, by 2050 there will be more plastics in the oceans than fish.

Plastic waste in Panamá bay

Panamá Canal Ready for El Niño in 2019

In October 2018, the Panamá Canal Authority gave notice that its lakes were ready for the possible arrival in early 2019 of the El Niño effect. El Niño is a climatic phenomenon associated with the warming and movement of ocean currents in the Pacific Ocean. In Central America the phenomenon can cause severe droughts.

The two lakes which supply the canal with water are Lakes Gatún and Alhajuela which at the end of 2018 were almost at their maximum capacity.

Experts predict that El Niño will not extend beyond the month of May in 2019 and that its effects will be light. The month of November generally marks the highest lake levels on account of the high levels of rainfall during October and November. May generally marks the end of the dry season in Panamá.

The Authority is sensitive to the levels of water and their effects on the Canal because in 2016, when the effects of El Niño were much stronger, they had to impose a limitation of vessel draught.

Around 6 per cent of world trade passes through the Canal and every time a boat passes through its locks, it requires 202,000 cubic meters of water.

A map and longitudinal section of the canal are shown as a separate item in the website immediately following this brief explanation.

Political developments in El Salvador

A half-yearly comment and update on political developments in El Salvador by the El Salvador Network (ESNET), a UK-based solidarity network.

We are grateful to ESNET for permission to reproduce their latest Update (November 2019) in our website.

Key words: ARENA; FMLN; GANA; Nayib Bukele; gang violence; corruption; Archbishop Oscar Romero.

The former Marxist guerrilla army (the FMLN) demobilised, as Peace Accords were signed, in 1992 to bring the 12 year long civil war to an end in El Salvador. There was space for the FMLN to organise politically, and contest elections locally and nationally. This finally resulted in the first ever Left Presidency from 2009 – 2014. President Mauricio Funes is now in exile in Nicaragua after being charged with large scale corruption. Previous right wing (ARENA) Presidents have also been charged, conveniently died or been imprisoned for even greater corruption offences.

The second FMLN term, 2014 to May 2019, of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, saw little social progress as the FMLN tried a variety of tactics to tackle massive gang related violence, which has forced many into exile and resulted in many murders each day. Against this violent background it was clear that the historic opportunity so many had fought for – and many had died for – had not achieved a lot. Programmes to give out free school uniforms, and fund co-operatives to grow maize seed for food sustainability were a good start, but there was never a radical transformation of society. Ten years of the FMLN in government left them exhausted by the gang wars, mired in many accounts of favouritism, ineffectiveness, nepotism and worse.

In the February 2019 Presidential Election, the FMLN candidate came a distant third, with ARENA (extreme right wing) second and a clear first round victory with well over the necessary 50% for Nayib Bukele, formally of the GANA centre right party. 

An initial wave of euphoria that here was something new politically to move El Salvador beyond the 2 party paralysis of the post-civil war period has given way to a more nuanced reflection. Bukele has allied himself with Trump and against Cuba and Venezuela and has recently expelled Venezuelan diplomats. Some of his more left wing supporters hope this is to keep onside with the US in order to be left alone to initiate some social and economic progress. Announcing that all teachers will move to ‘flexible’ (in effect zero hours) contracts shows the economic direction of travel of Bukele. 

Who is Nayib Bukele? 

Son of a wealthy family and working originally in the family business, Bukele (now 38) worked as a PR specialist on the 2009 FMLN Presidential election campaign for Mauricio Funes, and subsequently joined the party. He was quickly elected Mayor of a small town, and then of the capital city, San Salvador. He proved to be dynamic, controversial, slick, a maverick who never fitted well in the FMLN. He was expelled from the FMLN for a number of acts against party rules, and then became candidate for President of the GANA centre right party in 2019. 

Bukele is a figure similar to Macron in France – a young dynamic outsider who has shaken the political mould – with no clear ideology, but clearly of the centre / right. Above all he is a ‘self-brand’, adept in using social media. He has had some early successes against the gangs, reducing the daily murder toll. El Salvador recently hosted the Latin American surfing championships, and Bukele encouraged all the surfers to go back home and tell everyone how wonderful El Salvador is for surfing, and how they should all come and stay a while! It seems that attacks on trade unions, public sector social programmes and the alternative press show that Bukele is going all out to attract US private sector investors.

Meanwhile Archbishop Oscar Romero (murdered while saying mass by a death squad in 1980) has been finally officially canonized by the Argentinian Pope Francis as ‘San Romero de las Americas’. The ceremony in Rome was a national celebration of Romero and his legacy – which is still disputed, since the right have tried to reclaim Romero as one of their own.  March 2020 will mark the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Romero, which will be commemorated widely in El Salvador, and around the world, including here in the UK. 

Cop25: Indemnification to accompany mitigation and adaptation?

At COP25 in Madrid in December 2019 Nicaragua’s Policy Minister Paul Oquist outlined to delegates the policy stance of his government to the issue of climate change and how to address it. In particular he explained the need to introduce into the system of adaptation and mitigation the notion of losses and gains, using the term ‘indemnification’, to redress the injustices of the historical causes of climate change. We consider this to be an important feature of any international mechanisms that seek to allocate funds for climate change action; and so we include his address here.

Dr. Paul Oquist Kelley Minister-Private Secretary for National Policies Presidency of the Republic of Nicaragua

Translated by Tortillaconsal.com

December 11th 2019

Madam President, Your Excellencies, Ministers, Special Guests
 
The President of the Republic of Nicaragua, Comandante Daniel Ortega Saavedra, and Vice President Compañera Rosario Murillo Zambrana, send their greetings and best wishes for the success of this COP, aimed at achieving a higher level of commitment and climate action.
 
Common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capacities are not political positions but objective historical and contemporary realities. To maintain that we are all historically responsible for climate change would be tantamount to saying that we all participated equally in the Industrial Revolution, as well as in the massive accumulation of capital resulting from it. This was when most of our countries suffered at that time the yoke of colonialism and neocolonialism, as well as the slave trade and the exploitation of slave labour, which also contributed to the historical accumulation of those responsible.
 
To maintain that we are all equally and universally responsible for greenhouse gas emissions today, is equivalent to saying that the 100 countries with the lowest emissions that account for 3% of the total, have the same responsibility as the ten countries with the highest emissions that account for 72% of the total. At the same time, it is equivalent to saying that most countries with less than one ton of CO2 equivalent per capita have the same responsibility as countries with 18 tons or 16 tons per capita.
 
My country, Nicaragua, contributes 0.03% of total global emissions, with a per capita of 0.63 tons. Despite our negligible level of responsibility, we are actively working on mitigation and adaptation, as well as loss and damage, because we love Mother Earth, and we are concerned about the future of our country and the world. Nicaragua has gone from 25% renewable energy in 2007 to 62% in 2018, while electricity coverage has expanded from 54% of households in 2007 to 95% in 2018. We are committed to the 30×30 initiative to restore 2.8 million hectares degraded due to a historic, active agricultural frontier. We have committed in the Forest Carbon Partnership to capture 11 million tons of CO2(e) [carbon dioxide equivalent] over the next five years. We are also adapting a dry corridor to the new reality of climate change.
 
This effort has been in the context of average annual economic growth of 4.7% between 2011 and 2017, the third highest rate among the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, accompanied by great social advances. These include the reduction of the maternal mortality rate from 92.8 per hundred thousand in 2007 to 34.1 today, and the reduction of the infant mortality rate from 29 to 12 per thousand children born. Chronic malnutrition in schools was reduced by 66%. General poverty was reduced from 47.9% to 24.9%, and extreme poverty from 17.3% to 6.9%. Very important in this world, the GINI measure of inequality in consumption went from 0.41 to 0.33. In 2007, Nicaragua ranked at 90 in the Gender Gap Index of the World Economic Forum in Davos, rising to the rank of number five in 2019, only below the Nordic countries. The indigenous and Afro-descendant population of the Caribbean Coast and Upper Wanki River or Coco, achieved the delimitation and titling of 37,800 square kilometers of their ancestral lands, in 23 territories, each with its own territorial government and control of its own resources.
 
However, Nicaragua, like 35 other countries around the world, has seen its capacity to respond to climate change and to achieve sustainable development goals undermined by coercive, unilateral, extraterritorial and illegal measures, which even criminalize third parties that do not comply with the illegal measures. Only sanctions approved by the United Nations Security Council are legal in international law. The international system of bank transfers is key to the de facto imposition of these illegal, unilateral, coercive measures that violate the human and legal rights of individuals, organizations and entire countries. There are also covert actions of destabilization of governments and attempts at coups d’état, some successful and others not. In the Middle East, several countries have been invaded or bombed in wars of aggression. The Nuremberg court ruled that this type of war is the supreme violation of international law and human rights, because it contains within it the sum of all the evils of war. Even countries suffering the consequences of climate change see their ability to respond to the future shattered by catastrophic disasters and the lack of international compensation mechanisms. All these phenomena have affected the respective response capacity of developing countries.
 
Our Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement are incomplete, because they do not include an effective mechanism to finance response and recovery of losses and damages. Mitigation reduces the risk of loss and damage; adaptation reduces the impact of specific threats of loss and damage; loss and damage themselves are the end result of the very climate change we are seeking to minimize. Thus, we propose that the concept of losses and damages be elevated to the same level as mitigation and adaptation, in order to receive resources.
 
The President of Nicaragua, Comandante Daniel Ortega Saavedra, in his message to the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, stated that the only equitable and effective way to finance losses and damages is for the countries and corporations that have caused the problem and benefited from the use of carbon to accumulate capital to compensate countries that suffer the consequences of climate change without having caused it, in the proportion of their responsibility. We have the data from 1880 to date, both for countries and for corporations. Some people think this is a very radical proposal, but it is not. The concept that whoever causes damage to another must then compensate the other for the damage caused is called tort in common law. It is also in the Napoleonic codes and in Sharia law. So too, all ethical systems, and all religions of the world, contain the concept. However, the term most despised and feared in these negotiations is the word “indemnification”.

The developing countries need enormous financial resources for the future, to face mitigation, adaptation and losses and damages. In Copenhagen in 2009, funding of US$100 billion per year starting in 2020 was proposed and reiterated in successive COPs. We should not accept as part of the US$100 billion accounts of past expenses, we cannot finance our projects with them. Nor can we accept that the market mechanisms of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement replace the US$100 billion annually. We must not accept the postponement of the date after having already waited 10 long years. What is needed from 2020 onwards are new, fresh, liquid resources with equal access for all developing countries. To guarantee these requisites, if these funds appear, they should be channelled through the financial mechanisms of the Convention, namely the Green Climate Fund, the GEF, the Adaptation Fund, and the Least Developed Countries Fund.

The year 2019 will be remembered like 1848, 1871, 1968 and 1989, as a year when the street became important in world politics. Climate change is one of the drivers of this phenomenon in many countries, with youth on the front line. The 16-year-olds marching in the streets today will be 18 years old in two more years, and no one will speak of that youth as passive, disinterested and apolitical. A highly motivated voting youth can change the correlation of political forces in many countries, being decisive in countries now evenly split between opposing forces.
  
There is still a year before COP26 in 2020 but you see neither a working group advancing the US$100 billion a year nor a road map. Only Secretary General Antonio Guterres has asked President Emanuel Macron of France and Prime Minister Andrew Holness of Jamaica to investigate the issue.

If the US$100 billion annual commitment in 2020 is broken, this could be termed the Fraud of the Century. In reality, much more is needed and US$100 billion has to be just a starting point. The US$100 billion myth has the aggravating factor that it reduced climate change spending and action in the critical decade of 2010 to date, and now we are suffering the consequences. What we cannot do at this time is to have another Lost Decade of financing and action on Climate Change.