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?

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

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

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. 

Tourism Recovery in Nicaragua, January 2020

It isn’t often that you will find the UK Daily Mail cited in this website, unless the citation is given for its racism, intolerance and bigotry; but in this case we reproduce a report from Nicanotes which in its turn cites a list of the Daily Mail’s ‘must-see’ tourist destinations.

Taken from Nicanotes (https://afgj.org/nicanotes/), a weekly production by the Alliance for Global Justice (AFGJ)

9 January 2020

Daily Mail Includes Nicaragua in List of 12 New Key Destinations for 2020

Nicaragua was included in an exclusive list of 12 new key tourist destinations around the world, published on December 28 [2019] by the British newspaper Daily Mail. Nicaragua was listed along with Chicago (USA), Japan, Dubai, Galway (Ireland), Chile, Israel and Australia. Nigel Tisdall, writer of the article, describes Nicaragua as “a captivating mix of volcanoes, jungle and beach, with a relaxed atmosphere and excellent coffee.” It also highlights Granada, for “its architecture” and “the possibility of sailing among its forested islands.” Recently other British media, such as Travel Weekly Magazine, Marie Claire Magazines UK, Selling Travel, Travel Trade Gazette, Wanderlust, have recognized Nicaragua as a must-see destination for 2020. The print version of the Daily Mail has 2.5 million readers daily, and its digital version reaches 26.8 million unique users monthly, making it one of the most read websites in the English-speaking world. (Taken from Informe Pastran, 3/1/20)

Increase in Tourism from Costa Rica

For Nicaragua’s commerce, service and transportation, the month of December [2019] was very good with the considerable increase in the arrival of tourists from Costa Rica. In the Masaya handicraft market, the arrival of hundreds of Costa Rican tourists was visible. In the case of transportation, the companies that provide this service from San José report that passenger traffic increased by 40%. Enrique Quiñonez, president of the Chamber of Tourist Transport of Nicaragua confirmed that they had to put into circulation more buses to meet the demand. (Taken from Informe Pastran, 6/1/20)

Guatemala offers El Salvador a port on the Atlantic Coast.

Shortly after the inauguration of Alejandro Giammattei as the new Guatemalan President, he met with President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador and offered a deal of potentially great benefit to El Salvador: namely a port on the Atlantic coast of Guatemala. Lucy Goodman translated articles about the deal from La Prensa Gráfica (by Melissa Pacheco, 28.01.20) and El Economista (29.01.20), and Martin Mowforth summarised and commented upon these for The Violence of Development website.

Key words: El Salvador – Guatemala integration; Atlantic port; security cooperation; domestic flights.

El Salvador and Guatemala plan to eliminate the border initially for the passage of persons and later for freight. They have also re-defined flights between the two countries as ‘domestic flights’.

Anuncio. En conferencia de prensa, los presidentes hicieron diversos anuncios entre ellos la eliminación de las fronteras para el tránsito de personas y mercaderías.
(Melissa Pacheco) The presidents share the announcements between themselves about the removal of the border for the transit of people and goods.

The Guatemalan president offered a concession to create a public-private partnership as the means to enable completion of a Salvadoran port on the Atlantic coast. Land from the Santo Tomás de Castilla National Port Company (Empornac) will be ceded to El Salvador for this purpose. The area to be ceded is known as El Arenal (or The Quicksand) and currently serves as a depot for containers. Last year (2019) Empornac carried out technical studies to determine the feasibility of constructing a pier to accommodate dredgers and cruise ships there.

“We have offered El Salvador something unprecedented in the history of Central American integration and today I want to announce it publicly because we’re going to explore, as soon as possible, the possibility of El Salvador having a port in the Guatemalan Atlantic. We will deliver this Project as a public-private partnership so that El Salvador can develop it. It is an offer that we have made to El Salvador, we consider it to be the right thing to do,” Giammattei announced at a press conference that took place at the Presidential House.

He added that he had spoken with the authorities of SICA (Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana / Central American Integration System) in order to receive the support of the institution in the implementation of the project. He also announced that he made a firm pledge to officially de-categorise flights between Guatemala and El Salvador to ‘domestic’. This comes as part of the initiatives to improve integration in the region.

The Guatemalan Minister of Economics, Antonio Malouf, confirmed that a legal-technical analysis for ceding the land of Empornac will be carried out.

“Basically, it would be our entry to the Atlantic. Our goods will have the power to go from the Atlantic and enter from the Atlantic. I believe what we’re doing is making a real union that is going to spread to other countries in Central America that will want to unite and do similar,” declared the Salvadoran President.

Apart from the possible construction of the Salvadoran port on the Guatemalan coast and the re-categorisation of flights, the leaders announced that in one month they hope to have removed the border for the passage of people and within three or four months the barriers for goods between the two countries.

“We have to sign papers where we can eliminate the customs on goods respecting that goods entering El Salvador and destined for Guatemala have already paid taxes in El Salvador and do not have to pay them in Guatemala and those that have entered Guatemala destined for El Salvador do not have to pay them in El Salvador. We believe it will take us about three months,” the Guatemalan president declared to the media.

The elimination of the borders for the passage of people also requires the implementation of a bi-national arrangement on security. “If someone passes from Guatemala to El Salvador evading an arrest warrant, they will not be evading anything because we are going to have the same approaches in both countries,” Bukele stated.

Giammattei referred to their intention to apply similar security sanctions, one of which was to standardise the criminal codes in both countries. In the language he used to explain this part of the agreement, Giammattei betrayed his profoundly hateful and hardline understanding of crime in society. “Standardising the penalties, the sanctions, the punishments, so that when they spray ‘Baygon’ here the cockroaches do not go there because they think that there they will find it easier, and when they spray ‘Baygon’ the cockroaches won’t come here, as the law will be the same for the two countries,” said the new president.

Moreover, he said that they had been monitoring Bukele’s Territorial Control Plan (PCT), the main commitment of the Salvadoran Government to improve security conditions, and he (Giammattei) did not rule out implementing some of the same sanctions in Guatemala.

Guatemalan Government bans plastics; then repeals ban.

The following article illustrates the cynical greenwash deployed by governments in their relationship with environmental protection. In this case, the government of Guatemala is shown to be the cheating ‘greenwasher’. (Both articles were originally sourced from the Spanish News Agency EFE and appeared in El Economista. We are grateful to Lucy Goodman for her translation and summary on behalf of The Violence of Development website.)

El Economista, 20/09/19

Gobierno de Guatemala prohíbe el uso de plástico
Guatemalan government prohibits the use of plastics

Key words: single-use plastics; Guatemala; repeal on change of government.

In September the Government of Guatemala announced the prohibition of the use and distribution of single-use plastic bags and other plastic items in order to contribute to the protection of the environment and gave a two-year deadline for adapting to this measure.

The Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources published the government agreement in the official daily newspaper (Diario de Centro America), announcing the restriction that also applies to plastic straws, plates, cups, containers and plastic or polystyrene food packaging.

This movement does not restrict or limit any municipal initiatives with the same purpose, as within several constituencies in the country, similar measures have already been in place for a while. The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources will be verifying, inspecting and monitoring compliance with this legislation itself, and wall train legal persons to apply the corresponding sanctions for non-compliance.

The only exempt plastic items will be those “for medical or therapeutic purposes”, as well as imported items that are “factory sealed with plastic material or expanded polystyrene”.

Showing a photo of a turtle tangled in plastic, the then-president Jimmy Morales celebrated on social media this decision in which “Guatemala says no to plastic” and affirmed that this changes the country for future generations to come. “It’s time to change our form of consumption, for our nation and the future of our children” he proclaimed.

Subsequently, in a press conference, the president reiterated his pleasure with this decision, that there are other products available for use, and that there are two years to accomplish the transition and find the right substitutes.

Questioned about the loss of jobs in the plastics sector, Morales advocated seeing the benefits and asked for it not to get “dramatic” and “to find a solution to the issues”.

The Plastics Commission of the Guatemalan Exporters Association, formed of 60 manufacturers and export companies states on the website that the sector creates some 10,000 jobs directly and 60,000 indirectly, and the plastics industry is the “industry of export, indirectly the most important in the country”. The principle export destinations of these products are Central America, the Caribbean, the United States and Mexico.

[Editorial comment: it is rumoured that President Morales knew that the measure would be repealed by any right-wing successor to the presidency. Enter stage right: President Elect Giammattei.]

President-elect of Guatemala to repeal the agreement to ban plastic.

https://www.eleconomista.net/export/sites/prensagrafica/img/2019/10/09/guatemalax_alejandro_giammattei.jpg_1130814359.jpg
President Elect of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei. EFE

Guatemala’s new President Alejandro Giammattei announced on Wednesday that he would repeal the agreement that prohibits the use and distribution of single-use plastic bags, among other products.

“Plastic usage is not prohibited; there are other more important things to do. We must focus on culture, education, environmental awareness” declared Giammattei to the press after he left a meeting with the Chamber of Commerce.

Giammattei had warned that he would look into this agreement because in his view there is a “much deeper” problem.

[Editorial comment: indeed there is; it is the deep corruption within Guatemalan state politics and the Chamber of Commerce.]

Various commercial sectors have spoken out against plastics prohibition because they consider the real problem of contamination is in the management and control of solid waste, while the Plastics Commission of the Guatemalan Exporters Association states that 10,000 direct and 60,000 indirect jobs are at risk.

Guatemalan Congress Weakens NGOs

Key words: Guatemala; non-governmental organisations (GOs); human rights defenders; social activists; Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Early this month (February 2020) the Guatemalan Congress moved to limit the work of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Human rights defenders and social activists criticised the Guatemalan Congress for passing a law that could be used by governments to arbitrarily control non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The ‘Law of Non-Governmental Organisations for Development’ establishes that NGOs will not be able to use foreign donations or financing to carry out activities that “alter” public order.

“If an NGO uses foreign donations or financing to alter public order, it will be immediately cancelled … its executives will be charged under criminal and civil legislation,” the new law states.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also expressed its reservations regarding what happened in Congress.

“The reform of the NGO law could affect the freedom of association, assembly, and expression, as well as democratic spaces for organised civil society,” the OHCHR said and added that “it is important to adopt laws and policies that guarantee spaces for democratic participation.”

In 2019, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expressed concern about the NGO bill as it introduces controls that could be used to arbitrarily limit social organisations.

The NGO law is based on proposals that lawmakers of the previous legislature made to avoid the fight against corruption promoted by the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala.

With the new law, the government can “arbitrarily cancel uncomfortable organisations,” said Justice Now (JusticiaYa), an NGO which was born amidst the anti-corruption fight in 2015.​​​​​​​

The leftist party Winaq, whose most notable member is the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, said the NGO law is “a blow to freedom of social organisation and harmful to the majority.”​​​​​​​

Sources:

  • La Prensa Gráfica (El Salvador) 12 February 2020.
  • Impunity Watch

Transport initiatives in Costa Rica

Despite our efforts to point out that Costa Rica is not as environmentally friendly or as labour friendly as its legislation would suggest,  the Costa Rican government is clearly making some real attempts to move towards its pledge to decarbonise the country. The country’s transport system is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, so meeting this goal will not be an easy task, but the following summary indicates some important first steps made towards the goal.

By Martin Mowforth

Rail reactivation

In November 2019, the Ministry of Planning and Economic Policy together with the Costa Rican Railroad Institute (ICF by its Spanish initials) initiated a feasibility study into the reconstruction of 131 km of railroad between the central province of Alajuela and the Pacific Central province of Puntarenas. Such a rail line could be used to transport passengers and freight.

$550,000 (USD) have been invested in the initiative. Elizabeth Briceño, President of ICF, said: “We are sure that this will contribute to the economic reactivation of the zone and will generate employment.” The funds will be used for the pre-feasibility and feasibility studies, market analyses, risk analysis, environmental studies, and design, administrative and budget evaluations.

The studies are expected to take seven months. The Planning Minister, Pilar Garrido, linked the project entitled ‘Railroad Reactivation to the Pacific’ with other possible rail initiatives such as the ‘Limón Electrified Freight Train (Caribbean Zone)’ with the aim of connecting by rail six of the country’s seven provinces.

Electric cars

The IONIQ model of electric cars has a range of 375 km from one single battery charge which takes up to 54 minutes. In Costa Rica, the model has been marketed for two years and 400 sales have already been achieved. This is a level of acceptance which Jerry Campos, regional manager of Hyundai, says is greater than expectations.

By the end of 2019 Costa Rica had 34 fast charging points for electric cars in operation. They are part of a network of charging stations (called ‘electrolineras’) that the government plans to expand in future years.

Of course we need to remember that not everything about electric vehicles is environmentally friendly or even socially friendly. Nevertheless, it can be said that if Costa Rica manages to change its fleet of vehicles from petrol to electric over the course of the next decade, then there is little doubt that it will be further along the path of phasing out fossil fuels than most other countries in the world. But that’s a big ‘if’.

In February this year, El Salvador also introduced its first completely electric car to the public, again with plans for later expansion. It is being marketed there by Grupo Q which is hoping to sell five units within two months of its introduction. Currently there is only one charging point in El Salvador. At the price of $39,800 (USD) the car is unfortunately out of the range of the vast majority of the country’s population.

Electric buses

More recently (March 2020) the government of Costa Rica has announced a pilot plan to introduce electric buses as one aspect of their plan to decarbonise the country’s economy. Three autobuses have been donated to Costa Rica by the German Cooperation Agency GTZ, and the Costa Rican government has extended the scheme to include a total of 15 electric buses by the end of this year.

Currently the idea is that they will be tested out in different parts of the country, and data will be collected on their serviceability, their usage and their profitability. The eventual aim is to turn the whole public transport fleet in the country over to electric buses. Claudia Dobles, the First Lady of the country, said: “This is a clear signal that the sector wants to modernise and provide an improved service to its users.”

The pilot plan requires the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity to provide the necessary accompanying technical electrical infrastructure. Additionally, the National Learning Institute is to provide training for drivers and mechanics; and a special tariff will be charged for electric bus users.

A group of transport businesses are involved in the plan and each participating business is expected to purchase at least one of the 12 new buses. The transport businesses have been pressuring the government to promote policies for the implementation of bus-only lanes and favourable financial credit lines for green initiatives such as bus renewals and operating costs.

The National Decarbonisation Plan presented by President Carlos Alvarado’s government in February 2019 envisages the elimination of the use of fossil fuels in Costa Rica by the year 2050.

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

indigenas-nicaragua-600x343

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.

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).

New Deal for Nature: Paying the Emperor to Fence the Wind

by Stephen Corry

Stephen Corry has worked for Survival International since 1972 and has been its Director since 1984. Survival International exists to protect tribal peoples from annihilation and to give them a platform to speak to the world.

www.survivalinternational.org/

24th February 2020

This article by Stephen Corry is more general and less Central America specific than most of the material included in this website. We have selected it for inclusion here because of the cogency of its arguments, its relevance to protected area management and conservation in any region of the world and its exposure of the destructive role of the Big International Conservation NGOs. It also exposes the myth that palm oil plantations (which have taken over large tracts of Central American land) are in any way beneficial to wildlife and biodiversity. The article first appeared in the CounterPunch journal. We are grateful to Stephen Corry and Survival International for permission to reproduce the article here.

Key words: conservation; climate change; protected areas; biodiversity loss; plantations; land theft; ‘New Deal for Nature’; community managed forests.

*************

The conservation industry says 2020 is its ‘super year.’[1] It wants to set aside thirty percent of the globe for wildlife, and divert billions of dollars away from reducing climate change and into ‘natural climate solutions.’[2] This would be a disaster for people and planet. Conservation was founded in the racist ideology of 1860s USA but it committed thirty years ago to becoming people-friendly. It hasn’t happened. There will be more promises now, if only to placate critics and funders like the U.S. and German governments, and the European Commission, which are paying for conservation’s land theft, murder and torture.[3] More promises will be meaningless. No more public money should go for ‘Protected Areas’ until the conservation bodies recognize their crimes, get rid of those responsible, and hand stolen lands back, with compensation. Conservation NGOs must also stop cozying up to mining, logging, oil, and plantation companies.

The latest idea to be heavily promoted by big conservation NGOs is doubling the world’s so-called ‘Protected Areas’ (PAs) so that they cover thirty percent of the globe’s lands and oceans. This is now their main rallying cry and response to two of the world’s biggest problems – climate chaos and loss of biodiversity. It sounds good: It’s easy to grasp and has numbers that are supposed to be measurable, and advertisers do love numbers.

What better answer to climate change and biodiversity loss than to ban human ‘interference’ over huge areas? If, that is, you think ‘everybody’ is guilty of causing both crises and that everything’s solved by keeping them away. The idea’s been around for years, but now governments and industries are promoting it to the tune of billions of dollars,[4] so it’ll be difficult to oppose. But it’s actually dangerous nonsense which would have exactly the reverse effect to what we’re told, and if we want to save our world, it must be stopped.

Let’s be clear that cutting destructive pollution globally is vital for the climate, and that stopping industrial exploitation of unspoiled areas is essential for the flora and fauna, and the physical and mental health of inhabitants and visitors. None of that is disputed, but these are not the arguments advanced for asserting the right of this ‘New Deal for Nature’ to more taxpayers’ cash. It’s a marketing gimmick designed to funnel even more money to those who have for decades demonstrated their failure to mitigate either climate change or biodiversity loss.

Let’s assume they did succeed in putting so much territory ‘out of bounds.’ As with the emperor in his new suit, it’s childishly obvious that this wouldn’t necessarily bring any reduction to climate chaos: That’s simply because it wouldn’t affect what happens in the remaining seventy percent of the world – where most pollution originates. If just as much pollution carries on outside, then it doesn’t matter what’s going on inside PAs, because they too depend on the world’s climate, and you can’t fence the wind. Without reducing industrial emissions globally, leaving existing forest intact or planting lots of trees just won’t be enough to solve the problem. Wreck the atmosphere – even from a tiny proportion of the Earth – and you wreck it everywhere.

Not for the first time, the ‘experts’ are promoting a policy which a child can see is senseless, but if they tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.

What about the second claim, that more PAs are needed to ensure the protection of biodiversity? Everyone rightly wants more of that: The more diverse an ecosystem, the more likely it is to adapt and survive. ‘Biodiversity’ means the enormous variety of life, and life forms are interconnected: they depend on each other. Where the flora and fauna is reduced to just a few species, there’s a domino effect that cuts the number still further.[5]

However obvious, it merits restating: to mix metaphors, when the domino becomes a snowball effect then ecosystems become deserts, even when visibly green. Oil palm plantations carved out of tropical forests are a famous example of lots of trees being planted in an area where biodiversity has been slashed to just a few species. Such plantations are effectively ‘green deserts.’

Putting the propaganda aside, it’s impossible to determine scientifically how effective PAs are for enhancing biodiversity. For example, a line drawn around a highly biodiverse area, which is then declared a national park, proves nothing about the park: The biodiversity was there in the first place. There is, however, considerable agreement about one thing, and it’s not that PAs are the solution at all.

It turns out that the most diversity is not found in areas where all human interference is banned, but actually the reverse – it’s found in places where tribal, indigenous, and other local, communities have stayed put and carried on doing what they’ve always been doing. It’s simply not true that everyone shares responsibility for biodiversity loss. Studies show that community-managed forests have less deforestation than inside PAs, and that ‘nature’ is doing better in areas managed by indigenous peoples than elsewhere.[6] In places as different as Australia, Brazil, and Canada more diversity is found in indigenous territories than in PAs.[7] It seems clear that biological and human diversity are interlinked.

This is a key point which conservation NGOs haven’t wanted the public to know as they clamor for yet more cash: Areas managed by local people, especially if they’re indigenous, are much better than PAs imposed by outsiders. One study concluded, albeit limply, the “notion that indigenous reserves are less effective than parks… must be re-examined.”[8] You can say that again! They are already reckoned to contain no less than eighty percent of global species diversity. That’s the very reason conservationists want to take control of them. Indigenous peoples are now being victimized precisely because of their expertise in environmental stewardship.

Even where PAs are hyped as being about preserving iconic species, the evidence is mixed. For example, the former head of a conservation NGO thinks there could be more Indian tigers outside protected areas than inside. No one knows, but what’s certain is that when the British colonizers imprisoned the Waliangulu tribal elephant hunters in 1950s Kenya, elephant numbers did skyrocket, but only to plummet when the next drought hit and the herds proved too numerous for the environment. Thousands died of starvation, restoring a balance that the Waliangulu had achieved for generations or millennia. In South Africa, an average of nearly 600 elephants were culled every year from 1967 to 1996 (without publicity, to avoid upsetting conservation donors).[9] Banning traditional indigenous hunting generally harms biodiversity.

Protecting ‘nature’ by fencing it off from the locals simply hasn’t worked. It doesn’t help that many PAs aren’t really protected at all. They include industrial exploitation – mining, logging, plantations, trophy hunting concessions, or extensive, usually high-end, tourist infrastructure – but that’s the reality. The locals are thrown out as the land is grabbed by one or other industry, partnering with one or other big conservation NGO.

Like it or not, many PAs are as much about stealing the land from local people to make someone else a profit as they are about conservation. The famous Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana is the second largest ‘game reserve’ in the world but it’s also leased to mining exploration. There’s a diamond mine, with its roads and heavy machinery, where a tiny handful of the Bushmen who have lived there for generations are occasionally given menial jobs. (The government kicked them out until forced to backtrack by the high court.) As in almost all African PAs, wealthy tourists enjoy luxury accommodation inside the reserve. The man responsible for both the tourism and mine was the former president, General Ian Khama, a much-feted conservationist who was on the board of Conservation International.

This land theft is a problem for us all, and not only because the indigenous people are generally much better conservationists than ‘us’: Not surprisingly, the locals object when their land and self-sufficiency are looted for someone else’s gain, and their need for food, and sometimes their anger, translates into defying hunting bans (making them ‘poachers’ for trying to feed their families), as well as taking action to recover their ancestral territory. For example, pastoralists whose herds are banned from private ‘conservancies’ in East Africa are cutting the fences and going back in. They can be armed and violent clashes are increasing. Some researchers fear increasing bloodshed is inevitable[10] and the increasing militarization of conservation will just make things worse. Yet this is the model touted as the future of PAs, one supposedly enacted with the support of local communities (which is often a lie). They’re supported by the American NGO, The Nature Conservancy, and are largely profit-making investments aimed at wealthy companies and tourists. They’re now taking over huge areas of East Africa and beyond.

Just as Africans extricated themselves (at least, partly!) from European rule in the last century, they are unlikely to accede quietly to what is seen as more colonization, this time by conservationists. Unless things change, PAs in Africa will become real, not metaphorical, battlegrounds. Serious environmentalists know that you can’t have a PA for long if it’s surrounded by an angry population, yet conservation groups seem incapable of changing their practice. They exhort industry to become sustainable, while promoting their own model, which palpably isn’t.

WWF, for example, routinely violates human rights, the law and its own policies. It’s already spent millions of dollars illegally pushing for a new park in Congo, Messok Dja. The money comes from WWF itself and its accomplices, including a logging, oil palm, and luxury tourist company, as well as the Wildlife Conservation Society, the U.S. government, the EU, and the UN. As with the creation of almost all African PAs, the first step has been to kick out and terrorize the local Baka (so-called Pygmies) who’ve probably lived there for thousands of years, and who have adapted and sustainably managed their biodiverse-rich environment. Now they are kept out of their ancestral lands and terrorized, beaten and arrested if they return to seek traditional foods or plant medicines.

This is what the thirty percent of the globe taken for the New Deal for Nature will look like – a third of the globe stolen for profit. It’s a new colonialism, the world’s biggest land grab, supposedly ‘green’ and supposedly to save the world – a really big lie. As Odette, a Baka woman from Congo, says of such imposed conservation projects which don’t work, “We’ve had enough of this talk of ‘boundaries’ in the forest. The forest is ours.”[11]

The last couple of generations have amply demonstrated that meetings of corporate heads, NGOs, politicians, and celebrities are not going to solve the crises of climate and biodiversity. Those attending are amongst the major contributors to the problems, and least willing to accept any change which might threaten their position. They argue over statements that no one actually applies, or even intends to, and which are replete with clauses ensuring ‘business as usual.’ The meetings and declarations attract an enormous media circus, but are akin to the emperor’s workshop, with hundreds of tailors busily cutting suits of such rarefied material that they don’t cover his nakedness.

The real answers to the crises of climate and biodiversity lie in an inversion of the current approach, and a rejection of the New Deal for Nature and its failure to understand the relationship between indigenous peoples and nature. If we really want to save our world, then we have to start with the rich cutting their massive overconsumption. The wealthiest ten percent cause about half the world’s total pollution,[12] so they must work hardest to cut it. Both military conflict and the growth of information technology must be seen as the major polluters they are. The first is barely mentioned in climate activism, and the plan for the second is the exact opposite of what’s needed, with yet more energy-hungry ‘artificial intelligence’ lined up to monitor our lives for the benefit of industry and state control.[13] If we’re going to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, we must also reduce dependence on ‘smart’ tech, and we must accept the fact that real solutions aren’t found in marketing gimmicks like ‘net zero,’ offsetting, carbon markets, or ‘pricing nature.’ Real solutions are found with the local peoples that have successfully been creating and managing the world’s biodiversity since prehistory.

Humanity as a whole isn’t responsible for these problems, one particular sector is, and it’s same one coming up with the New Deal for Nature. Those promoting it want to dictate how the rest of the world should live, but they’re acting primarily for themselves. Banning human activity from yet more so-called ‘Protected Areas’ is another manifestation of the hubris that got us into this mess in the first place. Local people – those who retain some self-sufficiency, common sense, and connection with their environment – remain the strongest backbone of humanity, even today. They have better answers than the conservation technocrats and other global elites who lack their perspective. Kicking even more of them out at best reduces them to landless poverty and at worst destroys them and the environment. It would be disastrous for everyone.

We should be respecting land rights and encouraging indigenous peoples and other local communities to remain where they are – if they wish – to carry on managing their lands in their own ways, and we must, above all, stop the theft of their territories for conservation. Those who want to, should be maintaining their self-sufficiency, not forced into global markets that profit the polluters more than anyone. We must ‘give’ them back previously stolen lands, to manage themselves. We must listen to them rather than destroying them, as we are now.

Whether this happens remains to be seen. The few voices pointing out that the emperor has no clothes at all, are up against a deafening scream from conservation propagandists and mainstream media, baying that the New Deal for Nature is the perfect solution. Whose voice will prevail depends on people’s gullibility and ability to challenge both their own prejudices and powerful vested interests. It’s a real battle, and the outcome will determine how much more nature is stolen from this beautiful world we have helped create.


 References

1) WWF Ecological. ‘2020: let’s put nature top of everybody’s to-do list.‘ Ecological.panda.org. April 20, 2018. (accessed 13/02/2020)

2) Tollefson, Jeff. ‘Global deal for nature’ fleshed out with specific conservation goals.’ Nature, April 19, 2019. (accessed 13/02/2020)

3) Baker, Katie & Tom Warren. ‘The US Government Spent Millions Funding WWF-Backed Forces Accused Of Torture and Murder.’ Buzzfeed News, September 24, 2019. (accessed 13/02/2020); Baker, Katie & Tom Warren. ‘WWF Says Indigenous People Want This Park. An Internal Report Says Some Fear Forest Ranger ‘Repression.’ Buzzfeed News, March 8, 2019. (accessed 13/02/2020)

4) The estimate for the total global ecosystem services in 2011 is $125 trillion/yr

Costanza, Robert, Rudolf De Groot, Paul Sutton, Sander Van der Ploeg, Sharolyn J. Anderson, Ida Kubiszewski, Stephen Farber, and R. Kerry Turner. ‘Changes in the global value of ecosystem services.‘ Global environmental change 26 (2014): 152-158. (accessed 13/02/2020)

5) Carrington, Damian. ‘What is biodiversity and why does it matter to us?‘ The Guardian, March 12, 2018. (accessed 13/02/2020)

6) Porter-Bolland, Luciana, Edward A. Ellis, Manuel R. Guariguata, Isabel Ruiz-Mallén, Simoneta Negrete-Yankelevich, and Victoria Reyes-García. ‘Community managed forests and forest protected areas: An assessment of their conservation effectiveness across the tropics.’ Forest ecology and management 268 (2012): 6-17

7) The study measured vertebrate animal diversity only.

Schuster et al, 2019, Vertebrate biodiversity on indigenous-managed lands in Australia, Brazil, and Canada equals that in protected areas, Environmental Science & Policy Volume 101, November 2019, Pages 1-6

8) Woods Hole Research Center. ‘Satellites Show Amazon Parks, Indigenous Reserves Stop Forest Clearing.’ ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/01/060126200147.htm (accessed February 13, 2020).

9) Dickson, Paul, and William M. Adams. ‘Science and uncertainty in South Africa’s elephant culling debate.’ Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 27, no. 1 (2009): 110-123.

10) Letiwa, Paul. ‘Herders protest as wildlife conservancies drive them out.’ The Daily Nation, August 18, 2019. (accessed February 13, 2020).

11) Survival International. ‘We’ve had enough of this talk of ‘boundaries’ in the forest.’ YouTube video, 01:00. 4 Jan 2019. (accessed February 13, 2020).

12) Gore, Timothy. Extreme Carbon Inequality. London: Oxfam. Dec 2, 2015. (The report can be found in Spanish and French at https://www.oxfam.org/en/research/extreme-carbon-inequality) (accessed February 13, 2020).

13) See: Lu, Donna. ‘Creating an AI can be five times worse for the planet than a car.’ New Scientist, June 6, 2019. (accessed February 13, 2020).

14) Berners-Lee, Mike and Duncan Clark. ‘What’s the carbon footprint of … email?‘ The Guardian, Oct 21, 2010. (accessed February 13, 2020).