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adding to my annoyance with bio-fuel

While local circuits of bio-fuel can surely provide a temporary alternative to petrol use, it makes absolutely no sense long-term nor on a wide scale. The oil industry and modern large-scale agriculture are practically synonymous. The fuel used to sustain the crops needed for bio-fuel far exceeds fuel not spent in tanks – not to mention oil required for transport and other associated operational expenditures. A band-aid solution such as this that prolongs avoidance of the larger systemic and spatial problems associated with the oil use is not only unsustainable but dangerous. Numerous reports have affirmed this position yet remain largely ignored because it opens new markets and income opportunities within the same industries. Innovation surrounding bio-fuel use should not be thwarted by such knowledge – only incorporated to ensure the most effective application. The deforestation and other environmental issues surrounding the surge toward bio-fuel production is absurd and invisible. Any true sustainable solution would incorporate an increase in social and environmental justice - Argentina is restructuring its entire economy to become the world's top exporter of bio-fuel - with aid and consultation from the US of course. If the following article is an indicator of how this is being carried out - the urgency of the situation is extreme.

From The Sunday Times
June 3, 2007
Biofuel gangs kill for green profits
Tony Allen-Mills, New York
HE survived decades of Colombia’s murderous guerrilla uprisings. He lived through paramilitary purges and steered well clear of the cocaine overlords who swarmed across his rural region. It was something completely different that killed Innocence Dias. He died because the world is turning green.

The global quest for alternative sources of environmentally friendly energy has attracted high-profile support from American politicians, including President George W Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California. Celebrities such as Daryl Hannah, the actress, and Willie Nelson, the country singer, are leading a campaign to promote green fuels.

Yet the trend has already had disastrous consequences for tens of thousands of peasants in rural Colombia. A surge in demand for biofuels derived from agricultural products has unleashed a chaotic land grab by a new breed of gangster entrepreneurs hoping to cash in on the world’s thirst for palm oil and related bioproducts.

Vast areas of Colombia’s tropical forest are being cleared for palm tree plantations. Charities working with local peasants claim that paramilitary forces in league with biofuel conglomerates – some of them financed by US government subsidies – are forcing families off their land with death threats and bogus purchase offers.

“The paramilitaries are not subtle when it comes to taking land,” said Dominic Nutt, a British specialist with Christian Aid who recently visited Colombia. “They simply visit a community and tell landowners, ‘If you don’t sell to us, we will negotiate with your widow’.”

Dias was one of several landowners around the remote settlement of Llano Rico who decided not to abandon his property when the paramilitaries first moved into the area. “My father felt protected because he had a local government position,” said his daughter, Milvia Dias, 29.

Even when paramilitaries warned the villagers that if they stayed they would be considered left-wing guerrilla sympathisers, Dias refused to be bullied. “He had cattle and land and one day, after all this happened, he went out to fix a hole in one of the farm’s fences,” his daughter said. He never came back. A search party found him with his throat cut and seven stab wounds in his torso.

“We held the funeral at 5pm the same day and we ran away the next morning,” said Dias. The land is now covered in palm trees owned by Urapalma, a Colombian enterprise that has repeatedly been accused in court proceedings of improperly invading private property.

Nutt said last week that he had heard stories of paramilitaries cutting off the arms of illiterate peasants and applying their fingerprints to land sale documents. In many cases, Nutt added, the land is collectively owned by indigenous people or Afro-Colombians and protected by federal laws that courts seem unable or unwilling to enforce.

There is no reliable estimate of how many thousand acres have been appropriated, or how many of the 3m Colombians who have lost their homes since 1985 were forced out by the palm oil business.

Washington has been struggling for years to persuade Colombian farmers to turn their backs on coca leaf production in favour of other crops. Desperate to find energy alternatives to expensive and politically volatile sources of Middle Eastern and Venezuelan oil, Bush is also advocating a global increase in biofuel production.

Alvaro Uribe, the president of Colombia, has urged local palm oil producers to more than double the land they have under cultivation within four years. Uribe’s critics complain that he has effectively given a green light to paramilitaries.

At a congressional hearing on Colombia last week, Luis Gilberto Murillo-Urrutia, the former governor of Choco province, told a House foreign affairs subcommittee that US trade policy was likely to “generate an expansion of palm oil cultivation in Afro-Colombian territories . . . there is evidence that palm oil companies, taking advantage of the vulnerability of Afro- Colombian people, have been taking over lands illegally”.

For Don Enrique Petro, 67, formerly a wealthy landowner from Curvarado, growing international awareness of the human cost of a green conscience has come several years too late.

“I arrived in Curvarado 39 years ago with my wife and five sons,” he said last week. He bought a patch of jungle and slowly transformed it into a 30-acre spread with 110 cows, 20 bulls and 10 horses.

He lost two sons and a brother to the guerrilla wars and in the early 1990s fled his land for five years. When he returned, he found a right-wing paramilitary group in control. “They said they wanted my land to fight the guerrillas,” Petro said. “They were lying. It was so they could grow palm on it and make money.” Petro refused to sell up. He claims he was eventually taken prisoner by the paramilitaries and, when released, found his land had been planted with palm trees belonging to Urapalma. The company has denied that it is cooperating with paramilitaries or acquiring land illegally.

The world’s demand for alternative fuels is unlikely to diminish, but Nutt argued that biofuel consumers should put pressure on Colombia to return stolen land.

Celebrities such as Hannah are beginning to distinguish between palm oil and less controversial biofuels such as ethanol, which is derived mainly from corn.

“I want biofuels that are grown and produced in a sustainable manner,” said Hannah, who leads a pressure group which is lobbying for US government standards on green fuel production. “I would not buy biodiesel made from palm oil."

Tue, June 12, 2007 - 7:22 AM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Sexual Violence and Native American women in the U.S.

One in Three Native Women Suffer Sexual Assault
Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON, Apr 25 (IPS) - Native American women are at least 2.5 times as likely to be sexually assaulted in their lifetime as other women in the United States, according to a major new report by Amnesty International (AI) released here Wednesday.

At least one in three indigenous women will be raped or otherwise subject to sexual violence in their lifetime, according to the 113-page report, the latest in a series produced by the London-based group's Campaign to Stop Violence Against Women.

At least 86 percent of reported rapes or other sexual assaults against indigenous women are committed by non-Indian men who are only very rarely prosecuted or punished, according to the report, 'Maze of Injustice: The Failure to Protect Indigenous Women from Sexual Violence in the USA'.

The failure to pursue justice in such cases is due to a number of factors, the report noted, including chronic under-funding of police and health services and a "complex maze of tribal, state and federal jurisdictions that is so confusing that it often allows perpetrators to evade justice entirely..."

"What this amounts to is a travesty of justice for the tens of thousands of Indigenous survivors of rape," said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty's U.S. section, AIUSA.

"Violence against women is not only a criminal or social issue; it is also a human rights abuse," he added. "In failing to ensure that Indigenous women are protected from violence, the U.S. government is complicit in violating their human rights. It is disgraceful that such abuse even exists today."

Registered Native Americans, who make up about 1.4 percent of the U.S.' 300 million citizens, are distributed among some 560 tribal governments across the country.

While these governments are given substantial autonomy over their internal affairs, the federal government has steadily eroded their authority, including their justice systems, over time, particularly in areas that involve non-Native individuals or interests.

In one of the most far-reaching cases, the Supreme Court ruled in 1978 that tribal governments cannot prosecute criminal defendants who are non-Indian even if the crime of which they are accused takes place on tribal lands.

In addition, tribal authorities, many of whose communities suffer the highest poverty rates in the U.S., are chronically under-financed, leading to major gaps in law enforcement and the availability of social and health services compared to non-Native communities.

The report, which was based on Justice Department data and research in three states with proportionately large Native American populations -- Alaska, South Dakota, and Oklahoma -- found indigenous girls and women suffered most from these deficiencies.

"American Indian and Alaska Native women are living in a virtual war zone, where rape, abuse and murder are commonplace and sexual predators prey with impunity," said Sarah Deer, an attorney at the California-based Tribal Law and Policy Institute.

"In many tribal communities, rape and molestation are so common that young women fully expect that they will be victims of sexual violence at some point," she noted, adding that the weakening of tribal justice systems by the federal government has made it far more difficult for victims of sexual violence to gain redress.

Indeed, federal and tribal statistics may understate the degree of violence suffered by Native American women, according to the report, which noted that fear of retaliation and the lack of confidence that the authorities will take allegations of assault seriously tend to reduce reporting of sexual assault throughout the United States, as well as in Native American communities.

One support worker in Oklahoma, for example, told AI that only three of her 77 active cases of sexual and domestic violence had been reported to the police.

And many women interviewed on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in South Dakota said they could not think of a single Native American woman within the community who had not been subjected to sexual violence at some point in their lives, and that many had suffered several assaults, by different perpetrators.

Native American women were victims in nearly 80 percent of confirmed cases of rape and murder in Alaska over the last 15 years, according to a medical professional responsible for post-mortem examinations of such cases in the state who was interviewed by AI. Native Americans make up only 16 percent of Alaska's total population of about 675,000.

Jurisdictional issues have often been a major obstacle to successful prosecution of sexual assaults, particularly in states such as Oklahoma where land owned by nearly 40 different tribes adjoin each other and are often intersected by state land in a "checkerboard" pattern.

Renee Brewer, family violence co-ordinator with the Citizen Potawatomi Nation in Oklahoma, cited one case in which the victim, a member of the Shawnee Tribe, lived in tribal housing owned by another tribe, the Sac & Fox Nation, but located within the limits of an incorporated city outside of tribal lands.

She had a valid protective order against her estranged husband, a Seminole, who entered her home, beat and raped her, and then refused to leave. When she called 911, police officers from four different jurisdictions showed up.

"Being an Indian woman rape victim in the state of Oklahoma usually means that law enforcement officers spend as much time trying to determine the appropriate responding authority as they do in protecting you from the rapist," she said.

In that case, police assistance was at least available. In South Dakota's Standing Rock Reservation, an area of almost one million hectares (2.3 million acres), tribal police have at most three patrol officers on duty during the day. Nevertheless, Amnesty found that women on the reservation who report sexual violence often have to wait for hours, even days, before receiving a response from the police department, if they receive any at all.

In Alaska, the situation for Native American women in rural districts, a third of which have no police presence at all, is even more dramatic.

In addition to under-funding Native law enforcement agencies, the federal government has also denied adequate resources to the Indian Health Service, according to Amnesty, which found that in cases where health facilities were relatively close and accessible, they often lacked qualified staff or even inexpensive rape kits that would be helpful to any eventual prosecution.

The fact that non-Native perpetrators cannot be tried in tribal courts has actually drawn sexual predators to tribal areas to assault women, because they know that federal prosecutions are rare in those areas, according to Deer.

"The majority of rape cases on tribal lands that are referred to the federal courts are reportedly never brought to trial," said Amnesty's Cox.

"Sex offenders and predators are well aware of the jurisdictional gaps and confusion created by the Oklahoma checkerboards," added Brewer. "Non-Indians often flaunt their crimes because it is so rare that they will be held accountable." (END/2007)
Wed, May 9, 2007 - 6:52 AM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

World Water Day - today

Today is world water day, another internationally recognized day gone unrecognized in the US for the most part. We turn on faucets and the water comes out at a relatively inexpensive rate, or even better we purchase water - maybe it is even delivered to our doorsteps.

There have been two distinct times in my life when water positioned itself at the forefront of my consiousness, waking me up with the realization that it is undoubtedly the most powerful force on the planet and most vital resource for life as we know it. While planning and packing for Burning Man and other camping trips especially in the desert, seeing with my own eyes the volume of water I consume to meet my most minimal needs for such a short time period is always thought provoking. Living in rural India where I was provided with one bucket of water a day - deciding how to ration, save, and spend my buckets was an awakening expereince as well. These were times I became most strongly present to the vital relationship I have with water. I feel this realization has inspired and helped create a strong foundation for understanding the political-economy of water today.

For more on World Water Day:


In the world today there have been many protests around water issues, hopefully some will be covered in the mainstream media tomorrow. Here are a few articles in the not so mainstream news, there are many many more, and of course it's important to not forget the stories never told in between the lines:

Pressure to Make Water a Public Good
Kintto Lucas

QUITO, Mar 21 (IPS) - World Water Day will be marked Thursday in Ecuador by protests against the privatisation of water, the construction of dams, and the mining industry, and by demands for the new constitution to recognise access to water as a basic human right.

Activists see the cancellation of the privatisation of water in Quito, announced last week by Mayor Paco Moncayo, as a victory.

The process of privatising the administration of the city's water supplies, which began in 2004, was reported and criticised by the Quito-based magazine Tintají, which along with various urban and indigenous social organisations created the Coalition to fight the move.

After several protest demonstrations were held, the city government temporarily suspended the public tender, and last week finally decided to cancel it.

"The arguments put forward by the Coalition in Defence of Water were solid. After several meetings, evaluations were carried out which showed that the concession was unnecessary," said Moncayo.

But according to Coalition activist Rosa Rodríguez, only one battle has been won.

"We have information about a plan to put water services out to tender in a rural area of Quito and in other parts of the country," she told IPS. "That's why the constituent assembly that will be installed within a few months should draft a constitution that declares water a fundamental human right and prohibits its privatisation."

On Apr. 15, Ecuadorians will elect the members of a constituent assembly, which will rewrite the constitution. A similar process is underway in Bolivia, which is also governed by a left-leaning administration.

"We have to uproot the view held by neo-liberal governments that saw water as just another kind of merchandise. Water is the source of life, and the state can and should guarantee sustainable management of this public good," Rodríguez argued.

In late 2004, Uruguay became the first country in the world to introduce a constitutional amendment declaring water resources a public good and prohibiting the privatisation of water and sewage services.

At the same time that authorities in the public water company, Empresa Municipal de Agua Potable y Alcantarillado (EMAAP-Q), were organising the push for privatisation, they covered up studies that found high levels of arsenic in the drinking water in several outlying Quito neighbourhoods, which are home to around 60,000 people.

Two EMAAP-Q employees who carried out the studies in early 2006 demanded that the company take corrective measures. When the employees insisted, they were laid off.

It was not until six months later, when news of the incident reached the public, that the EMAAP-Q directors urged people in those areas not to drink the water.

Although the authorities have promised to find a solution to the problem, nothing has been done yet.

Over the past year, the movement in defence of the public administration of water has grown in areas where hydroelectric dams are under construction or in the planning stage.

In the west-central province of Los Ríos, the construction of the Baba hydropower dam, which will divert water to other agricultural areas, has triggered a conflict with local farmers opposed to the project.

The Water, Land and Life organisation, which represents small farmers who will be affected by the dam, protests that the aim is to divert the waters from the province of Los Ríos to an area in the neighbouring province of Guayas where the land is owned by large agribusiness interests from the city of Guayaquil.

The "hidden purpose" of the project "is the privatisation of water, and we will not permit that: water belongs to everyone," the organisation said in a communiqué.

For over a year, small farmers in the area have been holding protests, some of which were cracked down on harshly by police.

But the movement has enjoyed a measure of success: the Environment Ministry has not yet issued an environmental permit for the project.

In the northern province of Carchi, the U.S.-owned Current Energy company was granted a 50-year water concession on the Apaqui River to build a hydroelectric station.

Local farmers complain that they will no longer have access to the river water for irrigation, nor will people living in the area be able to take their drinking water from it. The farmers said hydroelectric projects should respect biodiversity, and should "contribute benefits to the communities that lend their water for energy production."

The Apaqui project is the first of 19 hydroelectric stations planned on several rivers in Carchi province.

"Energy has become a highly profitable business for private transnational corporations that take over river basins in Third World countries, privatising the water. In our country this has already given rise to serious social problems, conflicts and ecological damage," Ricardo Buitrón of the environmental group Acción Ecológica (Ecological Action) told IPS.

Scarcity of water, poor administration of supplies, and sanitation problems in many countries remain serious hurdles standing in the way of reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by the international community in 2000, which include halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water.

In the Amazonian province of Morona Santiago, in southeastern Ecuador, a similar conflict has been smouldering since August 2006, when social and community organisations held a province-wide strike lasting five days, to protest the second phase of the Hidroabanico hydroelectric dam and huge mining projects in the area.

The campaign against the Hidroabanico dam is led by the Provincial Assembly for the Defence of Life, Nature and National Sovereignty.

Hidroabanico is related to the Canadian mining company Corriente Resources and its Ecuacorriente subsidiary, with which it signed a letter of intent for the sale of energy in March 2006.

The activities of Hidroabanico -- whose first phase is already producing electricity -- and Ecuacorriente are affecting the water sources of nearby indigenous Shuar communities.

According to Buitrón, the 1998 constitution paved the way for growing private control over water resources by establishing that water use belonged to the state or "to those who acquired the rights to it."

Article 249 states that water for drinking or irrigation and other services related to its use are the responsibility of the state, which may directly or by delegation transfer them to mixed or private companies, by concession, partnership, capitalisation, transfer of stock or any other contractual means.

Social, environmental, indigenous and small farmers' organisations that have been mobilising in defence of water in this country are lobbying for the new constitution to establish that water is essential for life, and that access to drinking water and sanitation are fundamental human rights.

They also want surface and underground water, except rainwater, to be state-owned, and water for drinking and irrigation to be public services provided directly and exclusively by the state.

On Thursday Mar. 22, the organisations will be holding a march in Quito to mark the end of the different activities carried out throughout this week in celebration of World Water Day. (END/2007)

Holes in the Legal System, Leaks in the Pipes
Joyce Mulama

NAIROBI, Mar 22 (IPS) - Kenya's capital, Nairobi, takes its name from a Maasai word meaning "place of cool waters". In parts of the city, however, this term is less descriptive than ironic -- as demand for water is outstripping supply.

The Athi Water Services Board (AWSB), a governmental body that manages water provision in Nairobi and surrounding areas, says demand for water currently stands at 337,487 cubic metres daily, while only 248,000 cubic metres is reaching consumers.

Worse, demand is set to increase to 573, 871 cubic metres per day by 2015; 728,229 cubic metres daily by 2020 -- and over a million cubic metres per day by 2030, according to a new report by AWSB: 'Water Supply and Sewerage Services: Demand Forecast for Nairobi City 2005-2030'.

The challenge of stretching water supplies ever further is coming to the fore Thursday, as countries around the globe mark World Water Day -- this year under the theme of 'Coping With Water Scarcity'.

But, getting water to all who need it in Nairobi is complicated by the fact that current laws fail to acknowledge informal settlements, and thus impede proper planning in the matter of water provision to these areas. Government figures indicate that about 75 percent of Nairobi's population of some 2.6 million lives in sub-standard and informal housing.

If this problem is overcome and water provision laid on in slum areas, another difficulty may present itself in the form of unhappy water vendors. "The water vendor phenomenon in the slums is a result of the ineffectiveness of the formal water provider," says Patrick Owuori, a service planning engineer at the AWSB.

"They will sabotage your service. They will try to fight off the government, which they view as a competitor. They will try to prevent the government from stealing their business. It is market warfare."

Daniel Makau is one of the vendors in question. "I have been making between 58 and 72 dollars per month from selling water. This has kept me and my family going," he told IPS.

Makau is chairman of the Maji Bora Kibera (Clean Water Kibera) umbrella body for water vendors in Kibera, a 700,000 strong informal settlement located a few kilometres south-west of Nairobi -- and reportedly the biggest slum in sub-Saharan Africa. About 500 vendors are registered with Maji Bora Kibera; they sell water to residents of the settlement at a cost of three cents per 20 litres.

While this price might appear negligible to some, it is too high for many residents of Kibera, where unemployment is rife. "I use about 40 containers (20-litre jerry cans) per month with my family of five. This is not sufficient, but if I want more I have to spend more, and I do not have this money," one of these residents, Linus Sijenyi, told IPS.

According to the World Health Organisation's website, at least 20 litres of water should be provided to every member of a household daily. This equates to 3,000 litres a month for a family of five, rather than the 800 litres Sijenyi uses, by his own estimates.

The price of water in informal areas is also high relative to the cost of this commodity elsewhere. A study published last year using data from the Nairobi-based African Population and Health Research Centre, 'The Place of Cool Waters: Women and Water in the Slums of Nairobi, Kenya', notes that people in informal settlements pay about eight times more for water than those living in wealthier areas.

According to the report, slum dwellers pay approximately three to thirty cents for a 20-litre jerry can of water, depending on the availability of the commodity. People in areas that are more upmarket pay a standard rate of some 1.7 dollars for 10,000 litres of water -- or less than one cent for every 20 litres.

The study notes further that the water sold to people in slums is not always clean.

In yet another irony, vendors are also held partially responsible for the water shortages in informal settlements that they make their living from. Most get their supplies through illegal connections to water pipes, at a cost to consumers elsewhere.

"We are aware the connections have been causing an artificial shortage of water in the slums, and we are addressing the matter," says Mildred Ogendo of the Nairobi Water company, contracted by the AWSB to expand provision of water services in the city.

The firm has invited water vendors in informal settlements to legalise their activities through applying for new connections, for which a monthly fee will be charged.

But, "Some of the vendors do not want order because water is a hefty business in slums. This is our greatest challenge," notes Ogendo.

Up to 50 percent of water goes unaccounted for in Nairobi, something also ascribed to leakages. Many of the capital's water pipes were laid down before independence in 1963, and are showing their age.

Authorities have started assessing the state of equipment used to supply water, but until their efforts result in regular supplies of potable water to all in the city, residents like Sijenyi will be left scratching their heads at the present state of affairs.

"If you see where the water pipes pass through, you wonder how we can still be alive after drinking the water. The pipes pass through the sewers. Sometimes they are punctured and the sewage seeps into the pipe, mixing with the water. This is the water we drink and use for cooking," he says, pointing to a nearby pipe that is lying in a sewer, and sprinkling water in all directions.

Notes Amina Mustafa, coordinator of Ushirika wa Usafi Kibera (Association of Cleanliness in Kibera), "Because of such conditions, diseases like typhoid, cholera and diarrhoea are very common here in Kibera."

But illness or no, water must be obtained from somewhere -- so certain Kibera residents are making use of the pipe near Sijenyi. In fact, queues of people with jerry cans are waiting to draw water from it. (END/2007)

Services in Public Hands Gaining Popularity
Diego Cevallos

MEXICO CITY, Mar 22 (Tierramérica) - Publicly supplied water costs consumers 50 percent less than water controlled by private firms, and management could be more efficient, say activists and local authorities. With that argument, they are doing everything they can to stop the expansion of foreign companies in the water sector.

Successful examples in cities of Argentina, Brazil, Ghana, Japan and Venezuela, among others, where water and sanitation are in the hands of the national or local government, are the banner waved by those who believe that nobody should be treating this essential resource as a business.

But the cases of water privatisation are in the minority worldwide, and it is in state hands where most of the water distribution problems emerged -- now affecting millions of people.

Silvano da Costa, president of Brazil's National Association of Municipal Sanitation Services; Julián Pérez, leader of the Federation of Neighbourhood Councils in the western Bolivian city of El Alto; and André Abreu, delegate from France's Danielle Mitterrand Foundation, are just some of the staunch defenders of publicly controlled water services.

The three, in attendance at the 4th World Water Forum in Mexico City, Mar. 16-22, said in conversations with Tierramérica that the privatisation of water, much touted in the 1990s, was a failure worldwide.

As an alternative, they are pushing for better public management through associations of governmental agencies, non-governmental organisations and communities.

Many activists see it as a positive step that this issue is being debated at the World Water Forum, because in the previous meetings they say it was practically ignored.

The Forum is organised by the World Water Council, created in the mid-1990s by representatives of the business, academic, scientific and civil society sectors, and came under fire for what has been seen as its pro-privatisation stance.

Unlike other economic sectors that were transferred almost entirely to private companies in developing countries in the 1980s and 1990s, there were no dramatic shifts in water services. Worldwide, 90 percent of water and sanitation services remain under government administration.

And under these conditions, the problems in distribution continue. Of the planet's 6.5 billion inhabitants, 1.1 billion do not have adequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation services.

The United Nations report, "Water, a Shared Responsibility", suggests that private participation should not be ruled out, and warns that governments subject to budget restrictions and strict regulations would have a hard time posing an alternative for resolving deficient management of water services.

"We defend public service in everything related to water, but not just any service. It has to be one that improves, that shakes free from ‘bureaucratism' and is open to monitoring and to community participation," said the Brazilian sanitation association leader Da Costa.

At the Water Forum, Da Costa presented 20 cases of successful water administration by Brazilian municipalities, exclusively under the control of those local authorities, and in some cases with direct participation by communities. In most of these cases, the population has 100 percent coverage of water and sanitation services.

One of the most celebrated cases in Brazil is that of the southern city of Porto Alegre, where, under a model of public control and with citizen participation, water services reach the homes of most of the population.

"It's true that there are many cases of poor management and deficiencies in the public sector," but the approach is to work on those problems and turn them around, not turn over the services to private companies, said Da Costa.

"The public service of water cannot be a business, because it is a basic necessity, and it has been made clear that privately run services are costly and bad," he added.

According to his own studies of costs per cubic metre of water, Da Costa says that when it is privately managed it costs 50 percent more than when it is controlled by the state.

Many other examples of successful state water management were considered during a meeting held in parallel to the World Water Forum.

Activists pointed to the efforts since January by environmentalists in Argentina's northeastern province of Santa Fe to ensure that the state-run Aguas Santafesinas operates efficiently. The provincial government recently rescinded the concession for water services it had given the French company Suez.

In Ghana, the independent but state-owned Ghana Water Company works with the northern town of Savelugu. It provides water in bulk to the residents, and they are in charge of distribution, establishing rates, and management -- a model that activists say is worth repeating elsewhere.

They also highlighted efforts in Venezuela by several communities and public water management agencies to work together to define plans, carry out improvements, and designate funding.

Another example among many is Japan, where the public water system is highly efficient. The companies are not limited to working only in their home territory, but are deployed through cooperation and technology transfer to help the countries of the developing world.

According to Abreu, of the Danielle Miterrand Foundation, private water management turned out to be so inefficient even in France, where private firms supply 80 percent of the services, that many cities began to "municipalise" water and sanitation.

This has already occurred in the cities of Cherbourg, Grenoble, Neuf-Chateau and Varages.

The French activist agreed with Da Costa that when water is publicly managed it costs half what private firms generally charge.

Pérez, head of the federation of neighbourhood councils of El Alto, Bolivia, lamented the existence of "a general policy of discrediting the public sector in water management" and that this attitude has led to privatisation.

"Through our experience in Bolivia, we realised that the private company doesn't meet its objectives and is corrupt," he said. "There is no privatisation model that is on the side of the poor."

In 2005, in the wake of widespread mobilisations and protests against high costs and poor service, a decree by the Bolivian government suspended the Suez corporation's contract in El Alto. However, through legal manoeuverings, the firm continues operating to date.

"We hope that in a couple months Suez will leave Bolivia forever," said Pérez.

(*Diego Cevallos is an IPS correspondent. Originally published Mar. 18 by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme.)
Thu, March 22, 2007 - 3:14 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

fast-tracking with Korea - take action this weekend, FTA seventh round

From: Sukjong Hong

The 7th round of negotiations on a Korea-US Free Trade Agreement taking
place this Feb. 11-14th will conclude the largest trade agreement since
NAFTA, as the world's largest and tenth largest economies attempt to
finalize the terms. Many US-based organizations, including the network I
worked with, will be headed to Washington DC to protest the undemocratic
process and terms of the agreement for US and Korean farmers and workers.

I'm posting on this because trade negotiations are where interests and
conflicts involved in international studies in planning and US
community/economic development intersect in very apparent ways, but don't
seem to be studied enough, except as an aftermath. And I know people are
generally uninterested in Korea except for the security situation, but
issues of public participation, food sovereignty, healthcare provision,
public services, environmental standards, and education are tied to this
set of negotiations. www.thenation.com/doc/20070212/winne

The lack of media coverage and dialogue on this issue on the US side is not
surprising, considering that Bush's trade negotiator is using his
'fast-track' authority to push through a proposal without
amendments for a Congressional yes/no vote, and considering the American
public's general ignorance of the America's 20 in-process or
finalized Bilateral Trade Agreements, not even including the
countries involved in US-regional negotiations with CAFTA
(Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and
Nicaragua) and SACU (Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and
Swaziland). More on US and other bilateral
agreements-- www.bilaterals.org/rubrique.php3

On the Korea end, civil society groups countering the falsified govermment
data on the benefits of this FTA and organizing public demonstrations have
had their offices raided and leaders arrested, national assembly leaders
go on hunger strikes, and even US allies, including labor unions and other
groups in the US, have been arrested in the resort towns that this
agreement takes place- example: Jeju Island, a prime honeymoon spot in
Korea, and Big Sky Resort in Montana. All this pushed forward by a Korean
president elected, in part, on his campaign promise to NOT pursue free
trade agreements. As for all the benefits, most are projected to go to
transnational corporations such as Cargill and Samsung.

Excerpts, photos, links below.
Korea-US Trade Pact Headed for Trouble

An excerpt from the article:
" The more you examine the values of US corporations with respect to their
export practices, the more they mirror the behavior of the tobacco industry:
"Let's see what we can sell overseas that we can no longer sell here." Big
auto wants to sell Korea big cars, but in order to do that, Korea must relax
its auto emission standards--hence more pollution. Big Pharma wants to sell
Korea its high-priced drugs, but to do that Korea would have to amend its
national health insurance system, which favors cost controls on prescription
drugs. Big Agriculture wants to sell Korea beef and rice, but to do that
Korea would have to lower its sanitary inspection standards for cattle that
are designed to reduce the risk of mad cow disease, and it would have to
sacrifice up to 140,000 peasant rice farmers (rice and peasant farming have
nearly sacred status in Korea). Hollywood wants to show more US films to
Korean viewers, but to do that Korea would have reduce its requirement that
50 percent of all movies shown in its theaters be of Korean vintage, a rule
that has created one of the more robust film industries in Asia. And in a
bizarre twist on nimble-footed American marketing know-how, the SAT industry
wants to get Korean universities hooked on a student testing system that is
quickly losing favor among US colleges and universities.

But the biggest loser of all may be Korea's fragile democracy. With only
three free presidential elections under its belt, South Korea is still a
neophyte when it comes to citizen participation and free speech. And with
respect to the way the government has managed the FTA process, it's evident
that the nation's transition from dictatorship to democracy is still a work
in progress."

More on the planned February protest:


Pictures from December demonstrations in Seattle

*Democratic Labor Party Lawmakers go on a hunger strike against FTA*
Mon, February 5, 2007 - 6:27 AM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment


The USDA has approved meat and milk from cloned animals. I won't bother posting articles highlighting the disturbances of this decision. Foods from cloned sources will of course not be labeled.

Fighting against biopiracy in the Andean mountains......paticularly interesting to me because I currently attend an institution that has programs to both homogenize the potato in order to make potato growing more "efficient" and thus more profitable/marketable and through a separate department is promoting the sustainment and integrity of the communities involved in potato farming and the potato varieties themselves (if you haven't see the varieties - they are amazing in the variety of flavors, shapes, colors, and favorable growing conditions like elevation)

This article also gives a great overview of the company policies of "Syngenta" (a company synonymous with Monsanto, the bringers of napalm and many PCB laden chemicals), biopiracy itself, the resistance movement, and Andean legislation regarding GMOs

'Insulted' Andean farmers pick GM potato fight with multinational

Friday January 12, 2007

A coalition of indigenous farmers in South America will today (12
January) launch an international protest against the multinational
corporation Syngenta, claiming that its plans threaten their region's
biodiversity, culture and food sovereignty.

In an open letter signed today by representatives of 34 indigenous
communities in Peru, the coalition says Syngenta’s claims that its
patent for 'terminator technology' potatoes is neither relevant nor
applicable in the region are "deeply offensive".

The Indigenous Coalition Against Biopiracy in the Andes says that by
commercialising such potatoes, the corporation would threaten more
than 3,000 local potato varieties that form the basis of livelihoods
and culture for millions of poor people.

It wants Syngenta to publicly disown the patent, which describes a
genetic- modification process that could be used to stop potatoes
from sprouting unless a chemical is applied.

Terminator technology refers to genetic modifications that 'switch
off' seed fertility, and can therefore prevent farmers from using,
storing and sharing seeds and storage organs such as potato tubers.

Although there has been a global moratorium on the field-testing and
commercial use of terminator technologies since 2000, research into
them continues and some countries and corporations want the ban relaxed.

"Syngenta's pursuit of terminator potato patents in Europe, Brazil,
Canada, China, Egypt and Poland — in addition to granted patents in
Australia and Russia — demonstrates its investment in the technology
and interest in commercialising it," states the letter. "No trade
barriers nor regulatory system would be in place in Peru to keep
terminator potatoes from contaminating native potatoes."

Peru and its Andean neighbours are the potato's centre of diversity —
with nearly 4,000 unique varieties that farmers have developed over
generations. Before reaching its position, the coalition undertook a
lengthy discussion with farmers across the region.

Farmers are concerned that terminator potatoes will enter the Andean
production system and destroy their traditions of storing and
exchanging potato tubers for future planting. This is central to the
farmers' culture and has contributed to the region's immense
diversity of potato varieties. They also fear that pollen from the
modified potatoes could contaminate local varieties and prevent their
tubers from sprouting.

"We feel greatly disrespected by corporations that make a single
genetic alteration to a plant and then claim private ownership when
these plants are the result of thousands of years of careful breeding
by indigenous people," says Argumedo.

"Making farmers depend on chemicals they do not want to use, and
preventing them from saving and reusing seeds and tubers, merely
increases corporate control over the global food system."

Last year, a Syngenta shareholder hand-delivered a letter outlining
the coalition's concerns to the corporation’s CEO Michael Pragnell.

"We received an insulting letter in reply," says Alejandro Argumedo
of Asociación ANDES, a founding member of the coalition. "Syngenta
disregards our culture, values and our right to use the tubers of a
resource that our peoples have nurtured for millennia. Introducing
'terminator technology' potatoes could create major problems for
farmers in the Andes."

Syngenta says it has a policy not to use terminator technology but
defines the term solely as a "hypothetical process, which leads to
plants with infertile seeds", adding that it was patented by another
company in 1998.

In March 2004, however, Syngenta was granted its own patent (US
patent 6,700,039) for a genetic modification process that stops
tubers — plant storage organs such as potatoes — from sprouting
unless an external chemical is applied.

"While distancing itself from the prevention of seed germination,
Syngenta remains keen to prevent potato tuber development," says
Argumedo. "For Andean farmers, this is the same thing."

The coalition is calling for support from the international
community, including the World Council of Churches, which lobbies for
political change that supports the word’s poorest communities.

In May 2006, the council’s general secretary Samuel Kobia issued a
statement condemning terminator technology. "Preventing farmers from
re-planting saved seed will increase economic injustice all over the
world and add to the burdens of those already living in hardship," he

The coalition finalised its letter at a meeting held on 11-12 January
in Lares, Cusco, Peru. The meeting was organised by Asociación ANDES
(the Quechua-Ayamara Association for Sustainable Livelihoods) with
support from the International Institute for Environment and

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Alejandro Argumedo (ANDES) 00 51 1 955 82372

Mike Shanahan
Press Officer
International Institute for Environment and Development
Email: mike.shanahan@iied.org
Tel: +44 (0)20 7872 7308
Fax: +44 (0)20 7388 2826

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) is
an independent, non-profit research institute. Set up in 1971 and
based in London, IIED provides expertise and leadership in
researching and achieving sustainable development (see: http://

The Association for Nature and Sustainable Development (ANDES) is a
non-profit Peruvian indigenous organisation that aims to improve the
quality of life of Andean indigenous communities by promoting the
conservation and sustainable use of their bio-cultural heritage
through rights-based conservation-development approaches. See: http://

Founded in 2002 in Lima, Peru, the Indigenous Coalition Against
Biopiracy is an informal network of indigenous communities, community-
based organisations and individuals working together to protect their
collective biocultural heritage, which is the basis of their culture
and sustenance. The coalition primarily aims to create a space to
analyse and discuss the threat of biopiracy to indigenous communities
as well as strategies to confront its increasing influence on a local
and global level.

Syngenta AG is a multinational corporation with staff in 90 countries
that markets seeds and crop protection products. The company's sales
in 2005 were approximately US$8.1 billion. Syngenta is listed on the
Swiss stock exchange (SWX: SYNN) and the New York stock exchange
(NYSE: SYT). See: www.syngenta.com/en/index.aspx

Syngenta’s website states that: "Syngenta and its predecessor
companies have a long-standing policy not to use the so-called
'terminator' technology to prevent seed germination." It defines
terminator technology as "a hypothetical process, which leads to
plants with infertile seeds" and states that it was patented in 1998
(not by Syngenta and its predecessor companies). The website adds
that: "Syngenta believes that other methods of controlling the
activity of genes, such as chemical switch technology, will provide
new benefits for farmers and consumers… Other techniques involving
the control of the activity of genes in plants could bring a variety
of benefits for farmers and consumers. These include boosting the
natural disease or pest resistance abilities within a crop plant
during susceptible periods of growth, reducing losses after crops
have been harvested, or helping avoid frost damage by controlling the
timing of plant development."
See: www.syngenta.com/en/ar2003...nsibility/
position.aspx (link 4)

Full details of Syngenta’s patent (US patent 6,700,039) are online
at: www.patentstorm.us/patents/...text.html

In 2000 the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
recommended that governments not field-test or commercialise genetic
seed sterilisation technologies - thus creating a de-facto
international moratorium. In 2006, the CBD rejected a proposal —
backed by Australia, Canada and New Zealand — to allow field trials
of the crops on a case-by-case basis.

The potato (<i>Solanum tuberosum</i>) originated in the highlands of
South America, where it has been consumed for more than 8,000 years.

The World Council of Churches' general director’s full statement on
terminator technology is online at: tinyurl.com/rhsux

Biopiracy refers to the monopolisation (usually through intellectual
property rights) of genetic resources and traditional knowledge or
culture taken from people or regions that developed and nurtured
those resources.

In November 2006, the Andean Parliament passed a resolution to
declare the countries of the Andean Community (Colombia, Ecuador,
Peru and Bolivia) free of genetically modified potatoes. The
resolution urges governments of the Andean countries to stop any
field trial, manipulation and experimentation with genetically
modified potatoes to eliminate the risk of loss of genetic
variability of potatoes. It also calls for an end to any activity
related with propagation in the environment, commercial use,
transportation, use, commercialisation and production of GM Potato,
inside the Andean Community.
Sat, January 13, 2007 - 8:15 AM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

militarization, war, us

So few of us have or will ever experience militarization, extreme policing, civil war, or occupation by a foreign government first hand. Tired of the sickness of complicity? I recently revisited a documentary - focused around a September 11th speech made by Arundhati Roy. There are powerful images of militarization throughout and I let them fill me. I suggest watching with your eyes and heart open. It is free....see link below.

If you can - take everyone you know and get to Montana. The US FTA negotiations with South Korea are in full swing - with weak opposition. A major activist group in South Korea primarly representing farmers were rounded up before departing, their computers were stolen, and they were put in jail. There is power in taking space and raising your voice.



From the field:

House Demolitions in the West Bank
by Jane Smith
December 5, 2006

As we arrived in the village of Al Funduq, central West bank, the aftermath of the first house demolition was evident. A family stood on a pile of rubble silenced and shocked. The second house demolition was just beginning, with the Caterpillar and Volvo bulldozers ripping into the top floor of the nearly completed house. As we approached, four Palestinian men ran forward from behind the line of soldiers and entered their house. I was deeply moved by their courage. The soldiers grabbed the men out of the house, holding one in a tight neck lock, and handcuffed two of them throughout the demolition. Within an hour, the future home was nothing but a pile of rubble. The family was powerless in this situation, and could only watch as years of labor and money was obliterated by the Israeli army. Caterpillar and Volvo are profiting from this family's grief.

The bulldozers turned around and headed off in the direction of the village. By this time we were joined by five more internationals. We walked ahead so as to be able to get to the site of the third demolition before the bulldozers arrived. Not surprisingly, the Israeli army was already surrounding the building. It was a big agricultural structure, where livestock lived. Money had clearly been invested and no doubt many mouths were dependent on the income. One end of the building was already under demolition as I helped the family salvage a few things.

Without pause, the bulldozers and army headed off to the site of the fourth demolition, in the nearby village of Hajja. This family had fire. They wanted to resist. They stood at the top of the hill, angry and shouting at the Israeli army. They were frantically waving and hollering for neighbors to join them in their resistance. We ran over the field and up the rocky, thorny hill to join them in their struggle to preserve their livelihood. As people were approaching the army started throwing sound bombs. This did not deter us, and we joined the family up against the wall and gate of their huge agricultural structure. The family had papers with their lawyer, which they hoped would prevent the demolition. No wonder they had fire. They had a slither of a chance of preventing this crime. It was only ever a slither. They needed time. And time is exactly what is not available living under military occupation. The family was frantically calling their lawyer. We were frantically calling everyone and anyone who may be able to buy some time. There was a sense of inevitability about the demolition, soldiers had already entered the compound, and the family members inside the walls and gate were "allowed" to move some of the animals. Let it not be said the Israeli army is inhumane. Though much like the hierarchy of human beings in this part of the world, some are "worth" saving, some are not.

The predictable happened. The army would not wait for the papers and the demolition started. It took two hours to rip this multi-storied building apart.

During the demolition a group of around 10 soldiers took off across the field in which I was stood. They threw a sound bomb and fired at least one rubber bullet into a small group of boys aged around 12 who were passing by. The boys were in no way threatening. I am sure more bullets would have been fired if this white skin had not been watching. Throughout the day, I lost count of the number of times I shouted: "Stop. Do not shoot."

The final house demolition was by far the worst. It was extremely traumatic for the family involved. The soldiers tried to prevent internationals from passing, pointing their guns at us.

It was unclear which of the two houses the bulldozers were aiming for. Outside the first house there were several women, gathering up their young children, petrified. I thought of my sister. And my beautiful niece. We had our brief moment of opportunity and dived in the house with the women and children, locking ourselves in. It was then that we became aware of what was happening in the next house. A family up on the roof, hysterical in their grief. Four internationals stayed with the women, three of us dodged the soldiers and joined the family on the roof of their semi constructed house.

I will never forgot the agony of that family. As I emerged onto the roof I was met by a scene of utter chaos. I had no idea what was happening. One young man was lying motionless, with family members desperately trying to rouse him. Periodically, he would writhe around screaming in agony. A second man dropped to the floor, writhing uncontrollably. We had to keep pulling him back from the edge of the open roof. I was pretty sure what I was witnessing was an extreme emotional reaction, but at the back of my mind were the stories I have personally heard of the Israeli army using unknown gases that have debilitated people for a week. I heard a bang and then a third man screaming and holding his leg. I thought he'd been shot. That was the first time I consciously felt my fear. Possibly a rubber bullet skimmed him, but fortunately he was not shot. An elderly woman collapsed. Everyone was wailing and screaming and crying out to Allah. The Divine arrived in the form of the medics. Palestinian medics are some of the saints of this world. Fortunately the army did not try to prevent them entering the building.

Things became marginally quieter and calmer for a brief moment. Then the 30 soldiers who were stood around the house massed together. It was clear they were going to act. What was not clear was what that action would be.

En masse they entered the house. They scrabbled up the concrete framework where the steps would have been built, in this yet unfinished house. They pushed past me and started grabbing and pushing the Palestinians down the rough steep concrete slope. Four people were still being treated by the medics. They picked these people off the ground and dragged them outside.

Once we were all outside the Israeli army started throwing sound bombs and firing rubber bullets. Sound bombs were exploding all around the ambulance and one man was shot with a rubber bullet a couple of meters from the ambulance.

A few people were beaten by the soldiers. They pushed people to the ground. They screamed with hatred into our faces, the saliva of their anger meeting my skin.

As the demolition was happening, the soldiers began firing rubber bullets into a group of predominantly women and children, stood outside their house, watching what was happening. There were so many outrageous things that day. But this indiscriminate shooting is where I felt my anger boiling. One soldier had his gun aimed at the women. I shouted with as much power as I had left, but with complete clarity, to stop. He looked at me. We held each others eyes for what felt like an eternity. He did not shoot. I am utterly aware the only reason I can do this and for it to work is because of inherent and deep deep racism. Fortunately there are still situations where this international privilege is working.

Three people went to Qalqiliya hospital, seven to local clinics to be treated for rubber bullet injuries and shock.

A young man sobbed, tears racking his body as he sat on a pile of rubble that was his family's future.

The reason for any of this? A brutal, racist illegal Occupation.

If you want the reason according to the Israeli army, Palestinians dared to build on their own land, in their own village without the permission of Israel.

The virtual impossibility of getting building permits is another story all together. If you want to learn more about demolitions, permits, etc. go to: www.btselem.org and www.icahd.org.

Jane Smith is currently working with the International Women's Peace Service in the West Bank, Palestine. IWPS is a solidarity group which documents as well as intervenes in human rights abuses. On 22nd November the IWPS was called to some house demolitions in the villages of Al Funduq & Hajja.

* For photos and video of the demolition go to www.rainbow70.blogspot.com www.youtube.com/watch www.iwps-pal.org.

Tue, December 5, 2006 - 8:06 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Indigenous People Denied by UN

U.N. Delays Vote on Native Self-Determination
Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 28 (IPS) - Leaders of the world's 370 million indigenous peoples and their supporters expressed sadness and anger Tuesday as a subsidiary body of the U.N. General Assembly rejected a draft declaration calling for the international recognition of native peoples' right to self-determination and control over their traditional lands.

The Third Committee of the General Assembly, which deals with social, humanitarian and cultural issues, decided to put aside the matter for further discussion, as a majority of member states approved a resolution in favour of deferment.

"It is shameful," said Arthur Manuel, chief of the Secwepemc Nation, about the outcome of the vote on the declaration. "This was an historic opportunity for the U.N. to at least recognise our inalienable rights."

Les Malezer, an Australian aboriginal leader who chairs the Indigenous Caucus at the U.N., added: "This is unjustifiable. This is an attempt to derail the whole process."

Both Manuel and Malezer said they had hoped that the General Assembly would approve the declaration since it was already adopted by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council during the summer.

Though African nations had supported the declaration in Geneva, this time around they changed their position, demanding that the wording on the "right to self-determination" be changed, a move that undermined the attempt to get the declaration adopted by the Assembly during its current session.

In interviews with IPS, some indigenous leaders said they were surprised at the new stance of the African bloc, but others suggested it was the U.S. and its allies which had lobbied behind the scenes.

"It's the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand who are responsible for this," an indigenous leader told IPS after Namibia sponsored a resolution in the committee seeking amendments to the declaration on the ground that the text "contradicts" its constitution.

In a run-up to the vote, a diplomat from an African nation told IPS that some governments on the continent feared that if they recognised the principle of self-determination, then they might find themselves with unwanted rebellions by certain tribes.

"Almost all of Africa is indigenous," he said. "So the concept of self-determination does not apply over there. It could create trouble."

Still, many indigenous leaders who work closely with the U.N. said they had no doubts that the change in the African bloc's position on the declaration was the outcome of external pressure.

"There are many countries in Africa which are economically vulnerable," said an indigenous representative before the vote.

Australia, Canada and New Zealand voted in support of the Namibian amendment, whereas most Latin American and European nations opposed the resolution. The U.S. abstained.

"It seems strange to ask for more time, as 24 years worth of negotiations have taken place," said a Mexican diplomat. "What really has been delayed is the paying of attention to the rights of indigenous peoples."

The U.S. and its allies argue that the declaration is "inconsistent with international law". The U.S. has also repeatedly held that the indigenous land claim ignores current reality by "appearing to require the recognition to lands now lawfully owned by other citizens".

Indigenous leaders describe this argument as "racist" while a U.N. body that investigates discriminatory practices also views this line of reasoning as unacceptable.

The declaration was first put together by the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues last May, following more than 20 years of intense diplomacy involving governments, native representatives and numerous non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

In addition to recognising the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands and resources, the declaration states that all indigenous people must be protected from forced assimilation and the destruction of their cultures.

Even though the resolution would not be legally binding, supporters said its approval would have increased pressure on governments to observe universal principles, such as democracy, justice and nondiscrimination.

Deploring the committee's decision, the London-based human rights watchdog Amnesty International said the declaration was an attempt to "fill an important gap in the protection of indigenous peoples' rights," and warned the governments against any move to "weaken" its text.

"It was the best that could be achieved," the group said in a statement. "Any revision of the draft text must be transparent and allow full and effective participation by indigenous peoples and NGOs."

The resolution in support of amendments to the draft was endorsed by 82 countries while 67 voted against it, with 25 abstentions. (END/2006)
Thu, November 30, 2006 - 12:14 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Three Strikes by Bush (While Congress is Out!)

Below the Belt: A Biweekly Column by NOW President Kim Gandy

November 29, 2006

In only two weeks, the Bushies have struck three times at women's rights. George W. and his minions are ever-watchful for the opportunity to roll us back a few decades, and with Congress out of session and the media busy covering the rapidly deteriorating situation in Iraq, the administration has thrown us some real curveballs.

Strike One! Get ready for segregated classes at a public school near you. Last Friday, Nov. 24, new Department of Education regulations took effect, allowing U.S. public schools to establish sex-segregated classes, activities, and schools. Under the guise of "giv[ing] educators more flexibility" and giving parents more choices, the administration has effectively changed a core guarantee of Title IX, part of the 1972 Education Amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That's right, back in the '70s, gender equity in education was considered a civil right and segregation was considered unacceptable. Welcome to Bush's 2006.

With the new regulations, teachers in public schools can teach more like Regina Choi, a private school educator who recently told the Los Angeles Times that "it is sometimes more effective posing problems for girls using shopping examples and for boys using sports." (If you haven't gotten around to teaching your children by using gender stereotypes, don't worry, now their teachers can take care of it.) Of course, Choi's girl and boy students are being taught the "same course content"-it's just presented in different (read: more sexist) ways. How far is this teacher's choice of approach from that of the Livingston Parish School Board, which dropped its sex-segregation plans last summer after being sued by the ACLU because the Louisiana school wanted to teach girls "good character" and boys "heroic" behavior?

According to that ACLU lawsuit, one of the experts cited by the Livingston school system contends that "because of biological differences in the brain, boys need to practice pursuing and killing prey, while girls need to practice taking care of babies. As a result, boys should be permitted to roughhouse during recess and play contact sports, to learn the rules of aggression. Such play is more dangerous for girls, because girls are less biologically able to manage aggression." Seems to me it's the other way 'round.

Meanwhile, U.S. public school students are still performing much worse than those in other developed nations according to international tests-ranking, for example, 21st in math and 23rd in problem-solving. Who cares if research shows "no conclusive evidence that girls perform better academically without boys in the classroom," let's shoot in the dark when it comes to our kids' education. After all, we know how skilled the Bushies are at shooting…

Strike Two! Speaking of decisions made without conclusive evidence that children won't be negatively affected, on Nov. 17 the Food and Drug Administration granted approval for silicone-gel breast implants after banning them 14 years ago. The ban was put in place by the FDA after numerous women filed reports and lawsuits concerning the rupture of their implants and the development of serious and debilitating conditions. Thousands of women sued breast implant manufacturers, bankrupting Dow Corning. Now, more than a decade later, hundreds of thousands of women-and their children-will again be at risk. Despite reports from women with silicone breast implants that their children have been adversely affected, the FDA did not require implant manufacturers to study or even consider the impact of leaking silicone implants on breast milk, breastfeeding or children's health. Nor did the FDA deem it important to replicate an independent study showing that some women with implants and their children have high levels of a toxic form of platinum found in their breast milk, blood and elsewhere. Look for legislation in the new Congress that will address the serious deficiencies in the FDA's approval process -- it's about time.

Strike Three! No doubt you've already heard about the Nov. 16 appointment of anti-contraception doctor Eric Keroack to be Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs-the person responsible for dispensing hundreds of millions of dollars designed to ensure access to contraceptives and family planning information, especially for low-income women. Leave it to the Bushies to appoint a guy who opposes birth control and abortion to the extent that he's the medical director of a network of "pregnancy counseling" centers that tell women birth control is "demeaning" to them. Join us in urging Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt to rescind the appointment.

Considering these recent developments (or rather, regressions), it comes as no surprise that the U.S. is ranked 29th in the world by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2006. The report measured gender equity in terms of women's economic participation and opportunity, education, political empowerment and health and survival, and this country comes far behind nations such as Norway (1st), the Philippines (9th), and even Sri Lanka (19th).

On the up side, we do have a new Democratic majority in Congress that, we hope, will give this administration the oversight it so desperately needs, and give us progressive legislation that will turn things around for women. Sex-segregated public schools, approval of dangerous breast implants, and an anti-woman doctor in charge of federal family planning programs -- all taking effect while Congress is on holiday -- are a good sign that the Bushies are going to continue pandering to their right-wing base.

We won't give them a moment's peace until they give us some.
Thu, November 30, 2006 - 11:30 AM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

From NYTimes

November 23, 2006

Of Rubber and Blood in Brazilian Amazon


RIO BRANCO, Brazil — Alcidino dos Santos was on his way to the market to buy vegetables for his mother one morning in 1942 when an army officer stopped him and told him he was being drafted as a “rubber soldier.” Men were needed in the Amazon, 3,000 miles away, to harvest rubber for the Allied war effort, he was told, and it was his patriotic duty to serve.

Mr. dos Santos, then a 19-year-old mason’s assistant, protested that his mother was a widow who depended on him for support, but to no avail. He would be paid a wage of 50 cents a day, he recalls being told, and receive free transportation home once the conflict was over, but he had to go, that day.

More than 60 years after the end of World War II, Mr. dos Santos and hundreds of other poor Brazilians who were dragooned into service as rubber soldiers are still in the Amazon, waiting for those promises to be fulfilled. Elderly and frail, they are fighting against time and indifference to gain the recognition and compensation they believe should be theirs.

“We were duped, and then abandoned and forgotten,” Mr. dos Santos, who never saw his mother again, said in an interview at his simple wood house here in Acre, a state in the far west of the Brazilian Amazon that has the largest concentration of former rubber soldiers.

“We were brought here against our will,” he said, “and thrown into the jungle, where we suffered terribly. I’m near the end of my life, but my country should do right by me.”

The program originated in an agreement between the United States and Brazil. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had cut the United States off from its main source of rubber, in Malaya, and President Roosevelt persuaded Brazil’s dictator, Getúlio Vargas, to fill that strategic gap in return for millions of dollars in loans, credits and equipment.

According to Brazilian government records, more than 55,000 people, almost all of them from the drought-ridden and poverty-stricken northeast, were sent to the Amazon to harvest rubber for the war effort. There are no official figures on how many of them succumbed to disease or animal attacks, but historians estimate that nearly half perished before Japan surrendered in September 1945.

“Some of the guys died of malaria, yellow fever, beriberi and hepatitis, but others were killed by snakes, stingrays or even panthers,” recalled Lupércio Freire Maia, 86. “They didn’t have the proper medicines for diseases or snakebites there in the camps, so when someone died you buried him right there next to the hut and kept right on working.”

The work was exhausting, dangerous and unhealthy: rubber soldiers rose just after midnight, tramped through the jungle in the dark to cut grooves in the trees and returned later in the day to collect the latex that dripped into cups.

They would then toast the white liquid into solid balls weighing up to 130 pounds, a process that generated so much smoke that many were left blind or sight-impaired.

Though many of the rubber soldiers were forced into service, a few enlisted, hoping for adventure and riches. José Araújo Braga, 82, described himself as “a rebellious kid who wanted to see the world” and thus was easily swayed by government propaganda that spoke of the Amazon as an El Dorado where the “Rubber for Victory” effort could earn a hard worker a fortune.

“I could have joined the army and gone to Europe,” where Brazilian troops fought alongside American forces in Italy and are now honored as heroes, he said. “But I chose the Amazon because, foolish me, I thought that I could make a lot of money.”

Once the men reached the Amazon, though, their wages ceased and they were herded into cantonments, with no visitors allowed.

When the war and American interest ended, the people profiting from the arrangement were not about to let their free labor go. The rubber camp bosses “feared an exodus if the news got out, and so many rubber soldiers were still there in the jungle years later, unawares,” said Marcos Vinícius Neves, a historian who is director of a government historical preservation foundation here.

Mr. Maia said: “It wasn’t until 1946 that I learned that the war was over. We didn’t have any radios, and we were completely cut off from the outside world.”

But those who heard the news right away also encountered problems in leaving and collecting their wages. Many were told that they owed money to the rubber camp bosses for food, clothing or equipment, and would have to remain until their debts were paid off.

“Oh, I was so happy the day the war ended, because I thought, ‘Now I can finally go home,’ ” Mr. dos Santos recalled. “But when I went to talk to the boss about leaving, he said, ‘Who are you kidding?’ and told me to get back to work.”

With no money and no transportation, most of the rubber soldiers resigned themselves to remaining in the Amazon. They married, had families and continued to work in the rubber camps or became rural homesteaders, ignored and anonymous.

“How do you suppose Brasília was built?” said José Paulino da Costa, director of the Retirees’ and Rubber Soldiers’ Union of Acre. “The United States paid money to Brazil, but it went to other projects instead of the rubber soldiers, which was a terrible injustice.”

In 1988, though, Brazil ratified a new Constitution with an article that called for the rubber soldiers to receive a pension valued at twice the minimum wage, or $350 a month currently. But many who served here found themselves ineligible because they could not supply the required documents. Their original contracts had been lost, destroyed by rain or handed over to rubber plantation bosses and never returned.

Those who have qualified receive a pension that is barely one-tenth of the amount paid to Brazilian soldiers who fought in Europe during World War II. In 2002 a member of Congress from the state of Amazonas introduced a bill to pay rubber soldiers “who are living in misery” the same amount, but the bill remains stalled in committee.

“When I watch the Independence Day ceremonies on television and see the soldiers who fought in Europe parading in their uniforms I feel sadness and dismay,” Mr. Maia said. “We were combatants too. Everyone owes us a big favor, including the Americans, because that war couldn’t have been won without rubber and us rubber soldiers.”
Mon, November 27, 2006 - 8:28 AM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Contaminated Rice

US rice imports sent to West Africa are contaminated with illegal GM rice

A genetically modified rice not allowed for human consumption originated from the United states has been found in West Africa. Friends of the Earth Africa is urging the Governments of Sierra Leone and Ghana to immediately recall the contaminated products.

In August this year the US Department of Agriculture announced the presence of LLRICE601, an unapproved genetically modified rice variant developed by a subsidiary of chemical company Bayer in the food chain.

FoE Africa calls on the government to immediately halt untested long grain rice food aid and commercial imports from the USA. The USDA must take immediate steps to examine protocols for the containment of field trails and also to ensure that every shipment to Africa is adequately screened to ensure they are free of contamination.

USDA Gives Rubber-Stamp Market Approval to Genetically Engineered Rice Contaminating Food Supply

The U.S. Department of Agriculture today granted marketing approval of a genetically engineered rice variety following its illegal contamination of the food supply and rice exports, first announced three months ago.

"With this decision, USDA is telling agricultural biotechnology companies that it doesn't matter if you're negligent, if you break the rules, if you contaminate the food supply with untested genetically engineered crops, we'll bail you out" said Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director of the Center for Food Safety.

"Experimental genetically engineered crops like LL601 are prohibited for a reason," said Bill Freese, Science Policy Analyst at Center for Food Safety. "Exhaustive testing is required to determine whether or not mutagenic gene splicing procedures create human health or environmental hazards, and no one has done that analysis on
LL601 rice," he added.

In comments filed with USDA, the Center for Food Safety blasted USDA for allowing Bayer to black out extensive portions of its petition as "confidential business" information.

"Contrary to what you hear from the biotech industry, genetically engineered crops like LibertyLink rice mean more chemicals in our food, not less," said Freese.
Mon, November 27, 2006 - 8:26 AM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment
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