U.S.-Latin America Immigration Agreement Raises more Questions than Answers

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Migration & Refugees

A hundred Central American migrants were rescued from an overcrowded trailer truck in the Mexican state of Tabasco. It has been impossible to stop people from making the hazardous journey of thousands of kilometers to the United States due to the lack of opportunities in their countries of origin. CREDIT: Mesoamerican Migrant Movement

A hundred Central American migrants were rescued from an overcrowded trailer truck in the Mexican state of Tabasco. It has been impossible to stop people from making the hazardous journey of thousands of kilometers to the United States due to the lack of opportunities in their countries of origin. CREDIT: Mesoamerican Migrant Movement

SAN SALVADOR, Jul 19 2022 (IPS) – The immigration agreement reached in Los Angeles, California at the end of the Summit of the Americas, hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden, raises more questions than answers and the likelihood that once again there will be more noise than actual benefits for migrants, especially Central Americans.


And immigration was once again the main issue discussed at the Jul. 12 bilateral meeting between Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Biden at the White House.

At the meeting, López Obrador asked Biden to facilitate the entry of “more skilled” Mexican and Central American workers into the U.S. “to support” the economy and help curb irregular migration.

Central American analysts told IPS that it is generally positive that immigration was addressed at the June summit and that concrete commitments were reached. But they also agreed that much remains to be done to tackle the question of undocumented migration.

That is especially true considering that the leaders of the three Central American nations generating a massive flow of poor people who risk their lives to reach the United States, largely without papers, were absent from the meeting.

Just as the Ninth Summit of the Americas was getting underway on Jun. 6 in Los Angeles, an undocumented 15-year-old Salvadoran migrant began her journey alone to the United States, with New York as her final destination.

She left her native San Juan Opico, in the department of La Libertad in central El Salvador.

“We communicate every day, she tells me that she is in Tamaulipas, Mexico, and that everything is going well according to plan. They give them food and they are not mistreating her, but they don’t let her leave the safe houses,” Omar Martinez, the Salvadoran uncle of the migrant girl, whose name he preferred not to mention, told IPS.

She was able to make the journey because her mother, who is waiting for her in New York, managed to save the 15,000-dollar cost of the trip, led as always by a guide or “coyote”, as they are known in Central America, who in turn form part of networks in Guatemala and Mexico that smuggle people across the border between Mexico and the United States.

The meeting of presidents in Los Angeles “was marked by the issue of temporary jobs, and the presidents of key Central American countries were absent, so there was a vacuum in that regard,” researcher Silvia Raquec Cum, of Guatemala’s Pop No’j Association, told IPS.

In fact, neither the presidents of Honduras, Xiomara Castro, of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei, or El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, attended the conclave due to political friction with the United States, in a political snub that would have been hard to imagine just a few years ago.

Other Latin American presidents boycotted the Summit of the Americas as an act of protest, such as Mexico’s López Obrador, precisely because Washington did not invite the leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, which it considers dictatorships.

 From rural communities like this one, the village of Huisisilapa in the municipality of San Pablo Tacachico in central El Salvador, where there are few possibilities of finding work, many people set out for the United States, often without documents, in search of the "American dream". CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

From rural communities like this one, the village of Huisisilapa in the municipality of San Pablo Tacachico in central El Salvador, where there are few possibilities of finding work, many people set out for the United States, often without documents, in search of the “American dream”. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

More temporary jobs

Promoting more temporary jobs is one of the commitments of the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection adopted at the Summit of the Americas and signed by some twenty heads of state on Jun. 10 in that U.S. city.

“Temporary jobs are an important issue, but let’s remember that economic questions are not the only way to address migration. Not all migration is driven by economic reasons, there are also situations of insecurity and other causes,” Raquec Cum emphasized.

Moreover, these temporary jobs do not allow the beneficiaries to stay and settle in the country; they have to return to their places of origin, where their lives could be at risk.

“It is good that they (the temporary jobs) are being created and are expanding, but we must be aware that the beneficiaries are only workers, they are not allowed to settle down, and there are people who for various reasons no longer want to return to their countries,” researcher Danilo Rivera, of the Central American Institute of Social and Development Studies, told IPS from the Guatemalan capital.

The Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection states that it “seeks to mobilize the entire region around bold actions that will transform our approach to managing migration in the Americas.”

The Declaration is based on four pillars: stability and assistance for communities; expansion of legal pathways; humane migration management; and coordinated emergency response.

The focus on expanding legal pathways includes Canada, which plans to receive more than 50,000 agricultural workers from Mexico, Guatemala and the Caribbean in 2022.

While Mexico will expand the Border Worker Card program to include 10,000 to 20,000 more beneficiaries, it is also offering another plan to create job opportunities in Mexico for 15,000 to 20,000 workers from Guatemala each year.

The United States, for its part, is committed to a 65 million dollar pilot program to help U.S. farmers hire temporary agricultural workers, who receive H-2A visas.

“It is necessary to rethink governments’ capacity to promote regular migration based on temporary work programs when it is clear that there is not enough labor power to cover the great needs in terms of employment demands,” said Rivera from Guatemala.

He added that despite the effort put forth by the presidents at the summit, there is no mention at all of the comprehensive reform that has been offered for several years to legalize some 11 million immigrants who arrived in the United States without documents.

A reform bill to that effect is currently stalled in the U.S. Congress.

Many of the 11 million undocumented migrants in the United States come from Central America, especially Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, as well as Mexico.

While the idea of immigration reform is not moving forward in Congress, more than 60 percent of the undocumented migrants have lived in the country for over a decade and have more than four million U.S.-born children, the New York Times reported in January 2021.

This population group represents five percent of the workforce in the agriculture, construction and hospitality sectors, the report added.

 Despite the risks involved in undertaking the irregular, undocumented journey to the United States, many Salvadorans continue to make the trip, and many are deported, such as the people seen in this photo taken at a registration center after they were sent back to San Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Despite the risks involved in undertaking the irregular, undocumented journey to the United States, many Salvadorans continue to make the trip, and many are deported, such as the people seen in this photo taken at a registration center after they were sent back to San Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

More political asylum

The Declaration also includes another important component of the migration agreement: a commitment to strengthen political asylum programs.

For example, among other agreements in this area, Canada will increase the resettlement of refugees from the Americas and aims to receive up to 4,000 people by 2028, the Declaration states.

For its part, the United States will commit to resettle 20,000 refugees from the Americas during fiscal years 2023 and 2024.

“What I took away from the summit is the question of creating a pathway to address the issue of refugees in the countries of origin,” Karen Valladares, of the National Forum for Migration in Honduras, told IPS from Tegucigalpa.

She added: “In the case of Honduras, we are having a lot of extra-regional and extra-continental population traffic.”

Valladares said that while it is important “to enable refugee processes for people passing through our country, we must remember that Honduras is not seen as a destination, but as a transit country.”

Raquec Cum, of the Pop No’j Association in Guatemala, said “They were also talking about the extension of visas for refugees, but the bottom line is how they are going to carry out this process; there are specific points that were signed and to which they committed themselves, but the how is what needs to be developed.”

Meanwhile, the Salvadoran teenager en route to New York has told her uncle that she expects to get there in about a month.

“She left because she wants to better herself, to improve her situation, because in El Salvador it is expensive to live,” said Omar, the girl’s uncle.

“I have even thought about leaving the country, but I suffer from respiratory problems and could not run a lot or swim, for example, and sometimes you have to run away from the migra (border patrol),” he said.

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Sri Lanka: Why a Feudal Culture & Absence of Meritocracy Bankrupted a Nation

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Credit: Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

BROMLEY, UK, Jul 19 2022 (IPS) – Sri Lanka is officially bankrupt and a failed state in all but name. How did a country of 22 million people with a level of literacy on par with most of the developed world end up in such a dire position where the state coffers did not have the measly sum of 20 million dollars to purchase fuel to keep the country functioning beyond the next working day?


Whilst the vast majority of the population have concluded that the blame for this economic armageddon is due to the gluttony of corruption and greed, instigated and enabled by the Rajapaksa family , its acolytes and sycophantic nodding dogs, my own assessment is different.

It is a fact that vast sums , amounting to billions of dollars, were indeed stolen and moved overseas through various illegal networks by the Rajapaksa clan and their accomplices.

Many billions were also squandered on gargantuan white elephant vanity projects in order to glorify the Rajapaksa legacy. However, the seeds for the bankruptcy were sown when the country attained its independence from Great Britain in 1948.

Sri Lanka proudly proclaims itself as one of the oldest democracies in Asia which has had a functioning democracy since 1948. The democratic process has functioned like it should do and parliamentarians elected as they should be and the leaders who represent the aspirations and values of the people appointed as they should be.

Why then has the country reached this abyss?

For democracy to enrich the lives of the people and bring about economic prosperity, two essential and fundamental criteria have to be satisfied. The election of individuals based on merit and the adherence to a universal justice system.

In the absence of meritocracy and a universal justice system, democracy becomes meaningless – an utterly futile process which will not achieve what it is intended for.

Meritocracy is however an alien concept in Sri Lanka!

A universal justice system does not exist in Sri Lanka!

Meritocracy does not exist in Sri Lanka because the cultural DNA is that of a feudal society. Sri Lankan culture promotes race, religion, nepotism, old school connections, social connections, social influences, political influences and servitude (where one class of people are held in perpetual bondage or servants for life ) over and above the attributes and qualities of the individual.

That is a primitive mindset and a recipe for disaster.

In Sri Lanka, people are judged not by the content of their character but by their race, their religion, their socio-economic background, their family connections, the schools they attended, where they live, and who they know. (with apologies to the Rev Martin Luther King for using his words in a manner he did not intend)

When a society functions in such a feudal manner, such values permeate throughout and has a direct correlation with the workings of the justice system. The justice system replicates the culture and ultimately ends up being not fit for purpose.

If a justice system is unable to function based on facts and objectivity, the fabric of society slowly starts to tear apart because the checks and balances needed for a society to progress and for nations to grow, slowly start to dissipate.

Since 1948, Sri Lankan democracy has existed on the basis of nepotism, feudal, racial and religious criteria.

The feudal culture masquerading as democracy has elected the Senanayake family, the Bandaranaike family, the Premadasa family and the Rajapaksa family into the highest offices of the land.

The singular qualification that Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake had was that he was the son of the father.

The singular qualification Prime Minister Mrs Bandaranaike had was that she was the wife of the husband

The singular qualification President Chandrika B had was that she was the daughter of the father and the mother

The singular qualification that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (now acting President) has is that he is the nephew of President JR Jayewardene.

The singular qualification that Sajith Premadasa has is that he is the son of the father

The singular qualification Gotabaya Rajapaksa has is that he is the brother of Mahinda

The singular qualification Namal has is that he is the son of the father

The singular qualification Basil has is that he is the brother of Mahinda and Gotabaya.

The singular qualification Thondaman had was that that he was the son of the father.

And this is called Democracy?

This is a banana republic in all but name where Nepotism is the ultimate passport to success – and all done through the ballot box !

This is a culture of entitlement masquerading as democracy , which in turn has given birth to a nation whose leaders are elected not by the content of their character but by their name and association.

It is the equivalent of death by a thousand cuts for what has been spawned is a society where quality has been superseded by mediocrity at best and incompetence at worst.

The end result is the economic armageddon that has destroyed the country.

When leaders of a nation are elected in such a manner, those who serve them and the very fabric of society itself replicates the structural fault line that promotes feudal nepotistic values. It becomes self-fulfilling, promotes mediocrity, encourages malpractice, and creates a culture of corruption.

The legal system, which on paper is there to oversee the rule of law, sadly becomes an extension of the structural fault line which then ensures that impunity and immunity against corruption , theft or even murder, becomes standard operating procedure.

Einstein’s definition of “insanity” is where he states that if we do the same thing over and over again, we end up with the same result. Sri Lanka’s sham democracy since 1948 has been exactly that. A culture based on feudal nepotistic values which enables the same results over and over again.

The people of Sri Lanka must break this vicious cycle if they are ever to escape from the death spiral they have created for themselves.

The critical mass of people who have recently demonstrated for structural change and the complete transformation of government and governance, have achieved more in the last few months than most of the corrupt incompetent deluded half-wits in parliament ever will.

A fundamental new approach to governance based on competence and the rule of law is a pre-requisite to stop Sri Lanka disintegrating into anarchy and chaos.

Does real democracy exist in Sri Lanka ? No !

Real democracy in Sri Lanka doesn’t exist because the culture prevents those with real ability and competence from being elected on merit alone. The vast majority of the electorate simply doesn’t understand that real democracy that provides a positive outcome is based on merit, first, second and last.

It is also unlikely that the majority of the electorate will understand this any time soon.

Can the country find a leader that replicates Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew ? It is imperative that it does find such a leader who leads by example and who creates a structural transformation of society itself where honesty, integrity and the adherence to the rule of law becomes sacrosanct .

However, does such a leader exists within the current crop of parliamentarians? If not within in parliament , then where ?

A leader who will also ensure that all those who have been culpable in this bringing about this catastrophe are forced to change their ways as well as bringing to justice those who have systematically looted and stolen the countries’ wealth – politicians and non-politicians .

Does a universal justice system exist in Sri Lanka – No !

A justice system in a secular democracy has to be independent of parliament. The justice system is meant to be independent of state machinery and should not be influenced by state operatives.

However, in Sri Lanka the parliament overrules and effectively instructs how the justice system should act which in turn makes the whole system corrupt and not fit for purpose.

The country has huge numbers of legal eagles with more qualifications than they have had hot dinners and who know the finer points of the law better than most in the world.

However, they are rendered impotent and toothless because they are beholden to the political masters they serve – either through choice or otherwise.

The corrosive and toxic nature of a feudal culture which promotes false values over merit and the rule of law ensures even the greatest minds of the land are reduced to corrupt sycophantic nodding ponies.

The legal system in Sri Lanka is also an organised money printing racket where the ordinary citizen or client is entirely at the mercy of the corrupt and dysfunctional bureaucracy.

Those who operate within the system make the equivalent of monopoly money by effectively fleecing the unsuspecting and manipulating a system that is not fit for purpose.

As I write this , the elected leader of the country whose policies and incompetence were the catalyst for the economic meltdown, has fled overseas – the ultimate ” runner viruwa ” !

The man appointed as the acting leader of the nation is one whose party has a single seat in parliament – his own ! And that too not due to electoral votes but due to a corrupt system which enables ” grace and favour ” appointments to parliament.

Such is the abyss that Sri Lanka is in.

What truly beggars belief is that there are millions in the country who still believe that this corrupt rotten s–t show of a system can still be tweaked here and there and made to work.

It cannot and the saddest reality of all this is that millions of Sri Lankans will still cling to their delusional sense of self-importance and righteousness and even at this point where mass starvation is a real possibility, carry on repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

A country whose majority population follows the teachings of one of the greatest philosophers the world has known, is simply incapable of understanding some of the most basic lessons the great sage from Lumbini taught – honesty, integrity, introspection, reflection and truth !

If however, a NEW set of leaders with competence, honesty and integrity, whose primary purpose is to serve the people, can be found within parliament, within the Aragalaya movement , within the commercial sector or a combination of individuals from all three , there is still hope for Sri Lanka.

If however the same corrupt incompetent rotten thieves who still occupy positions of huge powers are allowed to maintain the status quo , the failed state that is Sri Lanka will descent into complete anarchy and bloodshed.

At the end of all that, arising out of the ashes, there will be a breakaway part of the country ………called Eelam !!!!!!!!

Charles Seevali Abeysekera, a semi-retired sales and marketing professional, has worked in the UK mailing industry for over 35 years. He also scribes a blog on current affairs as well as reflections and thoughts on his own life journey “

IPS UN Bureau

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Indigenous Peoples Must Continue To Challenge Human Rights Violations: PODCAST

Civil Society, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Multimedia, Podcast, TerraViva United Nations

Indigenous Rights

KATHMANDU, Jul 7 2022 (IPS) – Today we are starting a new series focused on human rights. For people working to create a more sustainable and just world – as we are – a human rights based approach makes sense as it starts from the premise that only by recognizing and protecting the dignity inherent in all people can we attain those goals.


Today’s guest, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, has immense experience in human rights. She is the founder and executive director of Tebtebba Foundation, which works to improve the lives of Indigenous peoples in the Philippines, her home country, and beyond. She was the Chairperson of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples from 2005 To 2010, and UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples from 2014 to 2020.

We cover a lot of ground in this episode — from Vicky’s analysis of her time as special rapporteur to recent rhetoric around ‘building back better’, the circular economy and other touted economic reforms, versus the reality on the ground. Indigenous communities are facing growing pressure from both states and the private sector to extract the natural resources that they are trying to protect. This dichotomy between the words and deeds of these powerful actors must be continually exposed and challenged by Indigenous peoples, says Vicky.

Asked whether governments of poorer countries are doing enough to protect human rights, without hesitating Vicky answers no. But she also points out that these countries are themselves pressured by international agreements, brokered largely by rich countries, that leave them with few options but to exploit natural resources.

She also tells me about an exciting project — the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, a body of 23 global experts, is creating a General Recommendation on Indigenous women and girls. Among other things, it recognize the individual and collective rights of Indigenous women, the latter including respect for their rights to land, languages and other culture. Vicki says it is the first time that a UN treaty body is developing a recommendation focussed on Indigenous women.

Resources

Tebtebba Foundation

UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples

UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigneous Peoples

IPS Coverage About Indigenous Peoples Rights

The dichotomy between the words and deeds of powerful actors must be continually exposed and challenged by Indigenous peoples, says today’s guest, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

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Sri Lankan Beggar’s Opera

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

The ongoing financial crisis in Sri Lanka has also triggered a sharp drop in the value of the country’s currency.

LONDON, Jul 6 2022 (IPS) – When Ceylon- now Sri Lanka- gained independence from Britain in 1948 after almost 450 years of colonial rule under three western powers, it was one Asia’s most stable and prosperous democracies.


Today, after years of misrule, rampant corruption by the ruling class and a politicised administration, the country is bankrupt, its economy on the verge of collapse, and society in disarray while a discredited president still clings to power and manipulating the political system, determined to serve the rest of his term.

While the original 18th century Beggar’s Opera was a satire on the injustice in London society of the day and Prime Minister Robert Walpole’s corrupt government, Sri Lanka has not turned to opera but to begging and possibly borrowing if any international lending institution is willing to lend to a country that has recently defaulted on debt repayment for the first time in its post-independence history.

That speaks volumes for the fiscal and monetary policies of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government, and its unthinking and ill- considered actions in the last two and a half years, that has “collapsed” the country’s economy— as the prime minister told parliament the other day.

Under the 10-year rule of elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa (2005-2015), the government borrowed heavily from China for massive infrastructure projects. That included a huge international airport at Mattala in nearby Rajapaksa territory in the deep south. Some of them continue to be white elephants.

A joke at the time and resonating now and then was that even herds of roaming wild elephants in the area spurn the airport because of the colour bar!

Since Gotabaya Rajapaksa came to power in November 2019 and a year later brother Mahinda led their Sri Lanka People’s Party (SLPP) to a parliamentary victory, the Rajapaksas, now at the helm of power, strengthened their already close relationship with Beijing at the expense of ties with the West and international lending institutions and alienating UN bodies such as the UN Human Rights Council.

But in the last few months it has been a begging-bowl ‘opera’ as Sri Lanka scoured the world for loans after its foreign reserves started dipping drastically and leading international rating agencies took to downgrading the country’s sovereign rating.

Eventually the Rajapaksa government reneged on its debt repayments, humiliating Sri Lanka which had never defaulted in its 74-year history.

Trapped by a plunging economy Sri Lanka turned to Bangladesh to save it from emerging bankruptcy. Nothing could be more ironic. In its early years Bangladesh was perceived as a recipient of financial support, not a lender.

At that time Sri Lanka’s economy seemed stable enough despite its near 30 years of war against Tamil Tiger separatists.

In early, June Bangladesh agreed in principle to another currency swap of US$ 200 million. This is in addition to last year’s currency swap of $200 million whose repayment date of three months was extended to one year at Sri Lanka’s request last August.

Today, the country’s 22 million people are almost without petrol, cooking gas, kerosene, food, medicines, powdered milk, and other essentials as the government has no foreign currency to import them.

A common scenario in many parts of Sri Lanka are queues of people-men, women and even children- spending many hours and even days to buy the essentials that are scarce and a food shortage is predicted in the coming months.

As I sat down to write this, news reports said the 12th man died seated in his vehicle at a queue for fuel. A few days later the Sunday Times Political Editor upped the death toll to 16.

Meanwhile physical clashes are becoming common at filling station where thugs have muscled in. The other day a soldier was caught on video assaulting a policeman.

Such is the tension building up in society that the Sunday Times Political Editor reported of concerns among local intelligence services about national security.

While the long-drawn out covid pandemic did cripple the tourism industry, a major foreign currency earner, much of the blame rests on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s short-sighted policies as well as those of some of his ministers and close advisers whose arrogance and ignorance brushed aside warnings sounded a year or two ahead by reputed economists, former Central Bank professionals, academics and trade chambers.

Rajapaksa having denied any culpability for these errors of judgement ultimately conceded his responsibility but only when mass protests erupted in Colombo and elsewhere in the country with even the peasantry-a vital support base of the Rajapaksas- took to the streets castigating him and his government for creating shortages of essential fertilizers for agriculture.

After almost two months, thousands of anti-government protestors who set up camp on the seaside promenade opposite the presidential secretariat in the heart of Colombo, are still there raising their clarion call which has now spread across the country- “Gota Go Home”-demanding that the president return to whence he came.

While Sri Lanka struggles to survive and the Rajapaksas gradually reappear into public view, there has been a perceptible change in the government’s world view. Though Chinese leaders have often declared that Beijing is Colombo’s “all weather friend” it has been slow to come to Sri Lanka’s aid at a time of real crisis.

An appeal to China by the Rajapaksa government to restructure its loans as one of its biggest lenders had not produced the expected reaction from Beijing. Nor had there been a positive response at the time for another credit line of US$ 1.5 billion when Colombo’s foreign reserves were fast drying out.

Even President Xi Jinping’s birthday greeting to President Rajapaksa last month made no mention of any concrete assistance except references to the long-standing Sri Lanka-China relations.

Observers claimed that China was coaxing-if not actually pressuring- Sri Lanka to distance itself from India, its competitor for political positioning and an expanding stake in the strategically- located island.

While the immediate target was India, Beijing was also pointing its finger at Sri Lanka’s growing ties with the US and international institutions such as the IMF.

The fact that since January India has provided assistance to Sri Lanka with currency swaps, credit lines, loan deferments and humanitarian assistance to meet the mounting crisis and supported Colombo’s call for IMF aid, appeared unwelcome news to China which has been trying to persuade Sri Lanka to enter into a trade agreement with it.

In late June, a high-powered Indian delegation led by Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra made a quick few- hour visit to Colombo to meet President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and discuss further strengthening of Indo-Lanka ties and bilateral investment partnerships including infrastructure and renewal energy.

New Delhi pointed out that this unprecedented recent economic, financial and humanitarian assistance including medicines and food valued at over US$ 3.5 b was guided by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Neighbourhood First” policy.

Had it not been for the Indian central government and the Tamil Nadu state government responding fast with generous assistance Sri Lanka would have been struggling to find scarce food, fuel and medicines.

Meanwhile a nine-member team of senior IMF officials spent 10 days in Sri Lanka in late June to assess whether it could come up with a reform package to restore macroeconomic stability and debt sustainability.

Since Colombo approached the IMF for a bailout programme early this year the international lending institution has been monitoring the country’s economic and political situation, neither of which presented much confidence.

It is not only sustainable economic reforms that the IMF is after. It seeks substantial efforts to improve governance and a stable corruption-free government that the IMF and other lending institutions such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank and donor nations could have confidence in.

The current government of bits and pieces could hardly provide evidence that it is fighting corruption when one of its stalwarts who was convicted the other day on extortion and sentenced to two years rigorous imprisonment but suspended for five years was reappointed to the cabinet by President Rajapaksa and made chief government whip in addition.

It is the need for clean government that causes concerns with President Rajapaksa reneging on promises he made to introduce constitutional amendments that will substantially prune the plethora of powers he grabbed on coming to power.

This is hardly likely as the world will see when the new 21st constitutional amendment is gazetted in a few days.

Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who held senior roles in Hong Kong at The Standard and worked in London for Gemini News Service. He has been a correspondent for the foreign media including the New York Times and Le Monde. More recently he was Sri Lanka’s Deputy High Commissioner in London

Source: Asian Affairs, London

IPS UN Bureau

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Smelter Finally Closes Due to Extreme Pollution in Chilean Bay

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Environment

The municipality of Puchuncaví in central Chile turns greens after days of rain, but next to it are the smokestacks of the industries located in this development pole that turned this town and the neighboring town of Quintero into "sacrifice zones", with the emission of pollutants that damaged the environment and the health of local residents, which will finally begin to be dismantled. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS - The smelter is an outdated facility that has suffered repeated episodes of industrial pollution, one of the chemicals causing the deteriorating health of the inhabitants of Quintero and Puchuncaví

The municipality of Puchuncaví in central Chile turns greens after days of rain, but next to it are the smokestacks of the industries located in this development pole that turned this town and the neighboring town of Quintero into “sacrifice zones”, with the emission of pollutants that damaged the environment and the health of local residents, which will finally begin to be dismantled. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

QUINTERO, Chile, Jul 4 2022 (IPS) – A health crisis that in 20 days left 500 children poisoned in the adjacent municipalities of Quintero and Puchuncaví triggered the decision to close the Ventanas Smelter, in a first concrete step towards putting an end to a so-called “sacrifice zone” in Chile.


The measure was supported by President Gabriel Boric who reiterated his determination to move towards a green government.

The decision by the state-owned National Copper Corporation (Codelco), the world’s leading copper producer, was announced on Jun. 17, following a temporary stoppage of the plant eight days earlier, and was opposed only by the powerful Federation of Copper Workers.

The union reacted by calling a strike, which ended after two days, when the leaders agreed to discuss an organized closure of the smelter, which will take place within a maximum of five years. The smelting and refining facility will be replaced by another modern plant at a site yet to be determined.

The smelter is an outdated facility that has suffered repeated episodes of sulfur dioxide pollution, one of the chemicals causing the deteriorating health of the inhabitants of Quintero, a city of 26,000, and Puchuncaví, population 19,000.

In the last three years Codelco invested 152 million dollars to modernize the smelter but without success, admitted Codelco’s president, Máximo Pacheco.

Pacheco argued that the closure was due to “the climate of uncertainty that has existed for decades, which is very bad for the workers, their families and the community.”

Sara Larraín, executive director of the non-governmental organization Sustainable Chile, said the definitive closure of the plant does justice.

“It is the first step for Quintero and Puchuncaví to get out of the category of damage that is called a ‘sacrifice zone’ where for decades the emission standards have been exceeded,” she told IPS.

“Sacrifice zones” are areas that have suffered excessive environmental damage due to industrial pollution. Residents of poor communities in these areas bear a disproportionate burden of pollution, toxic waste and heavy industry.

The back of the Ventanas Smelter reveals the poor operating conditions of the copper processing facility in Chile, which will be replaced by a new one within a maximum of five years at an as yet undefined site. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

The back of the Ventanas Smelter reveals the poor operating conditions of the copper processing facility in Chile, which will be replaced by a new one within a maximum of five years at an as yet undefined site. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

The two adjacent municipalities, 156 kilometers west of Santiago, qualify as a sacrifice zone, as do Mejillones, Huasco and Tocopilla, in the north, and Coronel in southern Chile, because the right to live in a pollution-free environment is violated in these areas.

In Quintero and Puchuncaví the main source of sulfur dioxide is the Ventanas Smelter, responsible for 61.8 percent of emissions of this element, causing widespread health problems.

Fisherman-diver forced to move away returns to Quintero

Carlos Vega, a fishermen’s union leader in Quintero, is the third generation of divers in his family.

“My grandfather, a fisherman, taught me how to make fishing nets. He had a restaurant on the coast,” he told IPS, visibly moved, adding that his two brothers are also fishermen and divers, who catch shellfish among the rocks along the coast.

“Fishing was profitable here. We were doing well and making money,” he said.

He added that people are well-organized in the area. “At one time we were the largest producer” of seafood and fish for central Chile, “because we had management and harvesting areas. But they had to close because of the pollution,” he said, describing the poverty that befell the local fishers in the late 1980s.

Then the health authorities found copper, cadmium and arsenic in the local seafood and banned its harvest. As a result, the small fishermen’s bay where they keep their boats and sell part of their catch lost their customers.

The crisis forced him to move to the south where he worked for 15 years as a professional diver in a salmon company.

Carlos Vega, a fisherman, diver and trade union leader, and Kata Alonso, spokeswoman for Women of Sacrifice Zones in Resistance, pose for a photo in the bay of Quintero, during the celebrations in that town and in neighboring Puchuncaví for the announcement of the definitive closure of the Ventanas Smelter of the state-owned Codelco copper company, whose polluting emissions have damaged the local environment and made local residents sick for decades. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

Carlos Vega, a fisherman, diver and trade union leader, and Kata Alonso, spokeswoman for Women of Sacrifice Zones in Resistance, pose for a photo in the bay of Quintero, during the celebrations in that town and in neighboring Puchuncaví for the announcement of the definitive closure of the Ventanas Smelter of the state-owned Codelco copper company, whose polluting emissions have damaged the local environment and made local residents sick for decades. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

Today, back in Quintero, with two sons who are engineers and a daughter who is a teacher, he continues to dive, albeit sporadically. He participates along with 27 fishermen in the management area granted to the north of the sacrifice zone, where they extract shellfish quotas two or three times a year.

“The social fabric was broken down here, that is the hardest thing that has happened to us,” said Vega.

Codelco is not the only polluter

Codelco is the main exporter in Chile, a long narrow country of 19.1 million people sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains where the big mines are located. In 2021 it produced 1.7 million tons of copper and its pre-tax income totaled nearly 7.4 billion dollars.

“Chile is the leading global copper producer and the world is going to become more electric every day,” said Pacheco. “And copper is the conductor par excellence, there is no substitute. We have to be ready for copper to be increasingly in demand in this energy transition.”

The president of Codelco emphasized that the wealth does not lie in exporting concentrate, which has 26 percent copper, but anodes with 99 percent purity, “and for that we need a smelter and a refinery.”

Young residents of Quintero and Puchuncaví came out in a drum line to celebrate the closure of the Ventanas Smelter and participate in a Festival for Life which lasted eight hours and was joined by a hundred local and national artists. Thousands of people gathered in the square which is on the edge of Quintero on Saturday, Jun. 25. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

Young residents of Quintero and Puchuncaví came out in a drum line to celebrate the closure of the Ventanas Smelter and participate in a Festival for Life which lasted eight hours and was joined by a hundred local and national artists. Thousands of people gathered in the square which is on the edge of Quintero on Saturday, Jun. 25. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

But the smelter, he explained, must be modern and not like Ventanas, which only captures 95 percent of the gases released. In the last three years, Codelco has lost 50 million dollars in the Ventanas smelter, which has a production scale of 420,000 tons. A modern Flash furnace produces 1.5 million tons and captures 99.8 percent of the gases.

The Ventanas Smelter employs 348 people and another 400 in associated companies. Half of them do not live in the area but in Viña del Mar, Villa Alemana or Quilpué, towns that are also in the region of Valparaíso, but are located far from the pollution.

The smelter is part of an industrial cluster that includes 16 companies.

After the latest health crisis, the authorities decreed contingency plans in plants and maritime terminals of six companies for emitting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and applied an Atmospheric Prevention and Decontamination Plan.

Four coal-fired thermoelectric plants also pollute the area, one of which was definitively closed in December 2020 and another that was to be closed last May, although the measure was postponed.

According to environmentalist Larraín, when the smelter and the four thermoelectric plants are closed “better standards can be achieved, at least with respect to sulfur dioxide and heavy metals,” in Quintero and Puchuncaví.

View from the road of the Ventanas Smelter, in central Chile, which has been temporarily shut down since Jun. 9 and whose antiquated facilities will be permanently closed in a maximum of five years. They are adjacent to populated areas that have been turned into so-called "sacrifice zones" where local residents periodically suffer environmental and health emergencies due to sulfur dioxide fumes. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

View from the road of the Ventanas Smelter, in central Chile, which has been temporarily shut down since Jun. 9 and whose antiquated facilities will be permanently closed in a maximum of five years. They are adjacent to populated areas that have been turned into so-called “sacrifice zones” where local residents periodically suffer environmental and health emergencies due to sulfur dioxide fumes. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

The plan to continue decontaminating

Other pollutants are VOCs linked to the refineries of the state-owned oil company Empresa Nacional de Petróleo (Enap) and the private company Gasmar.

Kata Alonso, spokeswoman for the Mujeres en Zona de Sacrificio en Resistencia (Women in Sacrifice Zone in Resistance) collective, told IPS that “the prevention plan is good so that people don’t continue to be poisoned, so that they can breathe better, and so that the companies that pollute can close their doors, instead of the schools.

“There are companies that were built before the environmental law was passed that have not taken health measures. So what we are asking is for each company to be evaluated, and those that do not comply with the regulations must leave,” she said.

The repeated crises occur despite the fact that Chile’s environmental standards are below those of the World Health Organization (WHO).

For level 10 particulate matter, the mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets in the air, the ceiling in Chile is 150 milligrams per cubic meter (m3) and the WHO ceiling is 50.

For particulate matter 2.5 (fine inhalable particles), in Chile the limit is 50 milligrams per m3, while the WHO guideline is 25. And the Chilean ceiling for sulfur dioxide is 250 milligrams per m3 compared to the WHO’s limit of 20.

Three years ago, the Chilean Pediatric Society and the Chilean Medical Association requested that Chile raise its emission standards to WHO levels.

Part of the audience at the Festival for Life, which celebrated the closure of a copper smelter, that along with 15 other industrial plants turned the municipalities of Quintero and Puchuncaví into "sacrifice zones" in central Chile. Performances by musicians and other artists from around the country were interspersed with messages calling for a life free of pollution in the area. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

Part of the audience at the Festival for Life, which celebrated the closure of a copper smelter, that along with 15 other industrial plants turned the municipalities of Quintero and Puchuncaví into “sacrifice zones” in central Chile. Performances by musicians and other artists from around the country were interspersed with messages calling for a life free of pollution in the area. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

Alonso the activist said that “my two neighbors died of cancer, whoever you ask in Puchuncaví has relatives who died of cancer. Today people are dying younger, breast and uterine cancer have increased in young women, and there are so many miscarriages.

“The statistic we have is that one in four children in Puchuncaví are born with severe neurological problems, down syndrome, autism. Here in Quintero there are two special education schools and many children with learning disabilities,” she said.

Larraín called for “government support for those who have been affected by irreversible diseases, asthma, lung cancer and others that have been proven to be caused by coal combustion and heavy metals.”

The Catholic University conducted a study using data on hospitalizations and mortality in Tocopilla, Mejillones, Huasco, Quintero and Puchuncaví.

“The rates for cardiovascular disease associated with industrial processes are clear. In some cases they are 900 percent higher. Calling them sacrifice zones is real, it refers to impacts that are occurring today,” said Larraín.

The environmentalist said it would be difficult to revive Quintero Bay “because it has a gigantic layer of coal at the bottom, dead phyto and zooplankton because water is used for cooling in industrial processes and is dumped back out with antialgaecides that kill marine life.”

She believes, however, that “over the years, the capacity for regeneration is possible, even in agriculture that has been lost due to sulfur dioxide emissions. There may also be a recovery in fishing and tourism.”

But Larraín demanded “a just transition that restores healthy levels and regenerates ecosystems so that local communities can sustain their economy in a healthy and ecologically balanced environment.”

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The World Is Melting Down and the Cause is Corruption- The G20 Needs to Take Action

Civil Society, Economy & Trade, Global, Headlines

Opinion

The G20 needs to strengthen regulatory authorities across its membership and expand sanctions for violating Anti-Money Laundering requirements.

WASHINGTON DC, Jul 1 2022 (IPS) – The G20 is meeting again next week in Indonesia for the second time this year- at a moment when the world is facing the most difficult economic, political and social challenges for decades.


At their core, these problems are driven by corruption- from the “weaponization” of graft by Russia in Ukraine to the lack of regulation of the enablers of corruption in G20 countries such as the UK. This malfeasance costs lives and livelihoods- and is directly responsible for everything from energy black-outs to food and fuel shortages.

Critical decisions are being made by the G20 about the ways that governments can collectively manage what is now considered a significant transnational threat to peace and prosperity. But despite the earnest anti-corruption commitments made by G20 countries annually, follow-up and delivery on these commitments is a challenge.

Despite the earnest anti-corruption commitments made by G20 countries annually, follow-up and delivery on these commitments is a challenge

Civil society has to make its voice heard on these issues now, before it is too late. The Civil-20 (C20)– which we Co-Chair- engages the G20 on behalf of civil society. Over the past several months we have collectively gathered ideas from civil society around the world related to five central corruption challenges on which the G20 must take action immediately: Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and asset recovery; beneficial ownership transparency; countering corruption in the energy transition; open contracting; and the transparency and integrity of corporations.

This is what the C20 members are telling the G20 it needs to do now. First, effective anti-money laundering efforts are key to detecting illicit financial flows from corrupt activities in countries like Russia.

The G20 needs to strengthen regulatory authorities across its membership and expand sanctions for violating AML requirements, in particular for large financial institutions and what are called Designated Non-Financial Businesses and Professions (DNFBPs) that facilitate illicit financial flows (such as lawyers or accountants).

Similarly, when assets are returned they need to be aligned to GFAR principles, including through the engagement of civil society and community groups to support the transparency of this process.

Second, the G20 has committed to lead by example on beneficial ownership transparency (the real ownership of companies) and has the opportunity to strengthen this commitment by strengthening G20 High-Level Principles on Beneficial Ownership Transparency in line with improved global standards, including those recommended by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

One challenge is integrating data and G20 member countries should also implement the Beneficial Ownership Data Standard to share and analyze data more easily- which would dramatically improve the ability of citizens to understand who owns companies that might be involved in corruption.

Third, there is massive amounts of corruption as the world transitions to clean energy, but corruption risks in the renewables sector are not unique- they follow many of the same patterns we have seen in infrastructure and the extractives industries, for example. As more and more countries transition towards renewable energy, it is important to prioritize resource governance in ways that align with existing agreed-upon high-level principles and best practices.

The G20 must regulate lobbying activities around clean energy- including through lobbying registries; enforce a strong and credible sanctions regime, including public databases of companies banned from tenders; and support independent civil society monitoring of large-scale energy projects through integrity pacts and other similar vehicles that help to ensure transparent procurement.

Fourth, government contracting is rife with collusion, nepotism and graft. The G20 must open up contracting processes and strengthen open data infrastructure by sharing information across the whole cycle of procurement for projects- from planning to contracting to awards and implementation.

Governments must also publish high-quality open data that is readily machine-readable so it can be used across multiple systems. This does not mean starting from scratch- there are standards for this, like the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) and the Open Contracting for Infrastructure Data Standard (OC4IDS). It is a question of commitment.

Finally, not all G20 member countries are party to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and private sector bribery is not criminalized in every G20 member country as per the UNCAC provisions. This means companies can legally offer bribes to win contracts, and this has to be outlawed immediately.

The EU Directive for Corporate Responsibility Due Diligence includes requirements that the G20 should adopt immediately- for instance to identify the actual or potential adverse human rights impacts of corruption; to prevent or mitigate the potential impacts of bribery; and improve public communication around due diligence processes.

G20 members should also regulate the “revolving doors” through which government and business people can engage in favoritism; and invest in better partnerships between entities working on these issues such as regulators, law enforcement agencies and civil society.

This might all seem quite technical- but the negative impacts of corruption are not felt in government meeting rooms, but in the everyday lives of citizens. The G20 has for too long made excuses for the lack of action on this topic, and we are now seeing the devastating effects. Unless action is taken now, it will be too late.

These ideas were gathered through a consultative process as part of the C20 Anti-Corruption Working Group (ACWG), and represent the inputs of many civil society organizations.

Blair Glencorse is Executive Director of Accountability Lab and is Co-Chair of the C20 ACWG.

Sanjeeta Pant is the Global Programs and Learning Manager at the Lab. Follow the Lab on Twitter @accountlab.

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