Solar Energy Gives Important Boost to Small-scale Farmers in Chile

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Energy

Myriam Miller and Freddy Vargas stand next to one of the three greenhouses on their farm, where tomatoes are growing, anticipating an optimal harvest this year. The couple uses no chemical fertilizers to ensure the healthy development of thousands of plants on their farm in Mostazal, a municipality in central Chile. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

Myriam Miller and Freddy Vargas stand next to one of the three greenhouses on their farm, where tomatoes are growing, anticipating an optimal harvest this year. The couple uses no chemical fertilizers to ensure the healthy development of thousands of plants on their farm in Mostazal, a municipality in central Chile. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

MOSTAZAL, Chile , Feb 2 2024 (IPS) – The installation of photovoltaic panels to use solar energy to irrigate small farms is expanding quickly in Chile because it lowers costs and optimizes the use of scarce water resources.


This long, narrow South American country that stretches from the northern Atacama Desert to the southern Patagonia region and from the Andes Mountains to the Pacific Ocean is extremely rich in renewable energies, especially solar and wind power.

“Solar panels have made an immensely important contribution to our energy expenditure. Without them we would consume a lot of electricity.” — Myriam Miller

Last year, 36.6 percent of Chile’s electricity mix was made up of Non-Conventional Renewable Energies (NCREs), whose generation in May 2023 totaled 2392 gigawatt hours (GWh), including 1190 GWh of solar power.

This boom in the development of alternative energies has been mainly led by large companies that have installed solar panels throughout the country, including the desert. The phenomenon has also reached small farmers throughout this South American country who use solar energy.

In family farming, solar energy converted into electricity is installed with the help of resources from the government’s Agricultural Development Institute (Indap), which promotes sustainable production of healthy food among small farmers, incorporating new irrigation techniques.

In 2020 alone, the last year for which the institute provides data, Indap promoted 206 new irrigation projects that incorporated NCREs with an investment of more than 2.1 million dollars.

That year, of the projects financed and implemented, 182 formed part of the Intra-predial Irrigation Program, 17 of the Minor Works Irrigation Program and seven of the Associative Irrigation Program. The investment includes solar panels for irrigation systems.

Within this framework, 2025 photovoltaic panels with an installed capacity of 668 kilowatts were installed, producing 1002 megawatt hours and preventing the emission of 234 tons of carbon dioxide.

The six solar panels installed on the small farm of Myriam Miller and Freddy Vargas, in the municipality of Mostazal, south of Santiago, Chile, allow them to pump water to their three greenhouses with thousands of tomato plants and to their vegetable garden. They also drastically reduced their electric energy expenditure. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

The six solar panels installed on the small farm of Myriam Miller and Freddy Vargas, in the municipality of Mostazal, south of Santiago, Chile, allow them to pump water to their three greenhouses with thousands of tomato plants and to their vegetable garden. They also drastically reduced their electric energy expenditure. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

An experience in Mostazal

“Solar panels have made an immensely important contribution to our energy expenditure. Without them we would consume a lot of electricity,” 50-year-old farmer Myriam Miller told IPS at her farm in the municipality of Mostazal, 66 km south of Santiago, where some 54,000 people live in different communities.

Miller has half a hectare of land, with a small portion set aside for three greenhouses with nearly 1,500 tomato plants. Other tomato plants grow in rows outdoors, including heirloom varieties whose seeds she works to preserve, such as oxheart and pink tomatoes.

Indap provided 7780 dollars in financing to install the solar panels on her land. Meanwhile, she and her husband, Freddy Vargas, 51, who run their farm together, contributed 10 percent of the total cost.

In 2023, Miller and Vargas built a third greenhouse to increase their production, which they sell on their own land.

“We’re producing around 8,000 kilos of tomatoes per season. This year we will exceed that goal. We’re happy because we’re moving ahead little by little and improving our production year,” Miller said as she picked tomatoes.

On the land next to the tomato plants, the couple grows vegetables, mainly lettuce, some 7,000 heads a year. They also have fruit trees.

Vargas told IPS that they needed electricity to irrigate the greenhouses because “it’s not easy to do it by hand.”

Freddy Vargas turns the soil on his farm in the municipality of Mostazal, south of Santiago, Chile. Lettuce is his star vegetable, with thousands of heads sold on the farm. The farmer plans to buy a mini-tractor to alleviate the work of plowing the land. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

Freddy Vargas turns the soil on his farm in the municipality of Mostazal, south of Santiago, Chile. Lettuce is his star vegetable, with thousands of heads sold on the farm. The farmer plans to buy a mini-tractor to alleviate the work of plowing the land. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

The farm has two wells that hold about 30,000 liters of water that arrives once a week from a dam located two kilometers away. This is the water they use to power the pumps to irrigate the greenhouses.

“We have water rights and Indap provided us with solar panels and tools to automate irrigation. They gave us four panels and we made an additional investment, with our own funds, and installed six,” Vargas explained.

The couple consumes between 250 and 300 kilowatts per month and the surplus energy they generate is injected into the household grid.

“We don’t have storage batteries, which are more expensive. Every month the electric company sends us a bill detailing the total we have injected into the grid and what we have consumed. They calculate it and we pay the difference,” Vargas said.

The average savings in the cost of consumption is 80 percent.

“I haven’t paid anything in the (southern hemisphere) summer for years. In the winter I spend 30,000 to 40,000 pesos (between 33 and 44 dollars) but I only pay between 5,000 and 10,000 pesos a month (5.5 to 11 dollars) thanks to the energy I generate,” the farmer said.

Above and beyond the savings, Miller stressed the “personal growth and social contribution we make with our products that go to households that need healthier food. We feel good about contributing to the environment.”

“We have a network, still small, of agroecological producers. There is a lack of information among the public about what people eat,” she added.

Their tomatoes are highly prized. “People come to buy them because of their flavor and because they are very juicy. Once people taste them, they come back and recommend them by word of mouth,” Miller said.

She is optimistic and believes that in the municipalities of Mostazal and nearby Codegua, young people are more and more interested in contributing to the planet, producing their own food and selling the surplus.

“We just need a little support and more interest in youth projects in agriculture to raise awareness that just as we take care of the land, it also gives to us,” she said.

Valentina Martínez stands on her father's small plot of land in the municipality of María Pinto, north of Santiago, Chile. The fruit trees provide the shade needed to keep the planted vegetables from being scorched by the strong southern hemisphere summer sun in central Chile. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

Valentina Martínez stands on her father’s small plot of land in the municipality of María Pinto, north of Santiago, Chile. The fruit trees provide the shade needed to keep the planted vegetables from being scorched by the strong southern hemisphere summer sun in central Chile. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

A pesticide-free new generation

Valentina Martínez, 32, is an environmental engineer. Together with her father, Simón, 75, they work as small farmers in the municipality of María Pinto, 60 kilometers north of Santiago. She has a 0.45 hectare plot and her father has a 0.35 hectare plot.

Both have just obtained funding from the Transition to Sustainable Agriculture (TAS) project, which operates within Indap, and they are excited about production without chemical fertilizers and are trying to meet the goal of securing another larger loan that would enable them to build a greenhouse and expand fruit and vegetable production on the two farms.

“It’s a two-year program. In the first year you apply and they give you an incentive of 450,000 pesos (500 dollars) focused on buying technology. I’ve invested in plants, fruit trees, worms, and containers for making preserves,” Valentina told IPS.

In the second year, depending on the results of the first year, they will apply for a fund of 3900 dollars for each plot, to invest in their production.

“This year my father and I will apply for solar panels to improve irrigation,” said Valentina, who is currently dedicated to producing seedlings.

“My father liked the idea of producing without agrochemicals to combat pests,” she said about Simón, who has a fruit tree orchard and also grows vegetables.

In María Pinto there are 380 small farmers on the census, but the real number is estimated at about 500. Another 300 are medium-sized farmers.

Simón Martínez, 75, proudly shows some of the citrus fruits harvested on his farm where he practices agroecology and does not use agrochemicals. He and his daughter Valentina won a contest to continue improving the sustainability of their farming practices on their adjoining plots, located outside the Chilean town of María Pinto. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

Simón Martínez, 75, proudly shows some of the citrus fruits harvested on his farm where he practices agroecology and does not use agrochemicals. He and his daughter Valentina won a contest to continue improving the sustainability of their farming practices on their adjoining plots, located outside the Chilean town of María Pinto. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

The rest of the area is monopolized by large agricultural companies dedicated to monocultures for export. Most of them have citrus, avocado, cherry and peach trees, as well as some walnut trees, and they all make intensive use of chemical fertilizers.

Chile exports mainly copper, followed by iron. But it also stands out for its sales of fish, cellulose pulp and fruit. In 2023, it exported 2.3 million tons of fruit, produced by large farms and bringing in 5.04 billion dollars. Agriculture represents 4.3 percent of the country’s GDP.

Family farming consists of some 260,000 small farms, which account for 98 percent of the country’s farms, according to the government’s Office of Agrarian Studies and Policies (Odepa).

Family farms produce 40 percent of annual crops and 22 percent of total agricultural production, which is key to feeding the country’s 19.7 million people.

Valentina is excited about TAS and the meetings she has had with other young farmers.

“It’s fun. We’re all on the same page and interested in what each other is doing. We start in December and January and it lasts all year. The young people are learning about sustainable agriculture and that there are more projects to apply for,” she explained.

She said that 15 young people in María Pinto have projects with pistachio trees, fruit trees, greenhouse gardens, outdoor gardens, animal husbandry and orchards. They are all different and receive group and individual training.

The training is provided by Indap and the Local Development Program (Prodesal), its regional representatives and the Foundation for the Promotion and Development of Women (Prodemu).

“The idea is that more people can learn about and realize the benefits of sustainable agriculture for their own health and for their land, which in a few years will be impossible due to the spraying of monocultures,” Valentina said.

It targets large entrepreneurs who produce avocado and broccoli in up to four harvests a year, both water-intensive crops, even on high hillsides.

“We need to come together, do things properly and recruit more people to create a legal group to reach other places and be able to organize projects. When you exist as an organization, you can also reach other places and say I am no longer one person, we are 15, we are 20, 100 and we need this,” she said.

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The Spectre of Migration: A conversation with Hammoud Gallego

Civil Society, Climate Change, Economy & Trade, Energy, Global, Green Economy, Headlines, Human Rights, Inequality, Latin America & the Caribbean, Migration & Refugees, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Antonio Berni, Unemployed, 1934

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Feb 1 2024 (IPS) – Karl Marx’s Manifesto of the Communist Party begins with the now worn-out phrase: “A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre”. Nowadays the word “communism” could easily be substituted by “migration”. All over Europe, politicians claim that Europe is being destroyed by migrants. In country after country, ghosts of yesterday are awakened. Parliaments include xenophobic politicians who might be considered as inheritors of demagogs who once dragged Europeans into hate and bloodbaths.


Populists have successfully convinced voters that the greatest threat to their nations is neither inequality, nor climate change, but immigration. Politicized storytellers have found that fear of “the other” can be a means to gain power. Nevertheless, such a fear does not concern any “other” – respected professionals who move to another country are usually not labelled as “migrants”, neither are wealthy businessmen who acquire new passports as easily as they move their money around the world.

To obtain some insights to the often all overshadowing phenomenon of international migration, Jan Lundius recently met with Dr Omar Hammoud Gallego, a fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Omar Hammoud Gallego

IPS: Your research deals with migration, as well as civil society’s connection with international organisations. How did this interest develop?

Hammoud Gallego: Like many of my colleagues and friends, I am the son of migrants. My parents came from different parts of the world and met, married and established themselves in a third country. However, this was not the main reason for me to focus on migration in my research. In 2015, while working for UNHCR in Colombia, where I was engaged in supporting internally displaced Colombians, I soon found out that there was a lack of serious, in-depth research about migration within Latin America. I began to read about regional migration and decided eventually to pursue a PhD on this topic.

IPS: Was it the specific situation in Colombia that made you shift your main interest from internal to regional migration?

Hammoud Gallego: Yes, over the last few years Colombia has received a huge influx of migrants and refugees from Venezuela (although they are recognised as refugees only in a handful of countries). A phenomenon that has not abided. More than 7,7 million migrants and refugees have left Venezuela as a result of political turmoil, socio-economic instability and an ongoing humanitarian crisis, roughly a quarter of the country’s population. While democratic backsliding in the country began with Hugo Chávez, the situation worsened considerably during the presidency of his successor since 2013, Nicolás Maduro. Most refugees, more than 6,5 million, are hosted in Latin American and Caribbean countries; close to three million in Colombia, one and a half million in Peru, and close to half a million in both Chile and Ecuador.

IPS: And the cause of this exodus is mainly political?

Hammoud Gallego: To a certain degree – yes. The Venezuelan government inept and corrupt handling of the economy and plummeting oil prices caused the output of PDVSA (the national oil company) to decrease substantially, leading to lower revenues for the government. As it happens with many countries with vast oil reserves, Venezuela developed into a rentier state, receiving most of its income through the export of oil. Since 2013, the country’s economy has suffered greatly. In 2018, the inflation was more than 63,000 percent compared with the previous year, while nearly 90 percent of the population lives in poverty. Furthermore, estimates by the UN and Human Rights Watch indicate that under Maduro’s administration close to 20,000 people have been subject to alleged extrajudicial killings.

IPS: Is the current situation in Venezuela still excruciating?

Hammoud Gallego: Yes, and the current geopolitical landscape seems to have favoured Maduro’s regime rather than debilitated him. The country is Russia’s most important trading and military ally in South America. Due to the energy crisis linked to Russia’s criminal invasion of Ukraine, the US government in October last year lifted sanctions on the Venezuelan oil and mining sector, which had been in place since early 2019. In spite of this influx of money and support, the situation continues to be severe and so far, few Venezuelans are returning to their country of origin. Many are instead making their way to the Darien Gap, through Panama and from there continue north until they reach the United States. Elections in Venezuela are scheduled for this year, but it is hard to know if Maduro will allow them to take place fairly and transparently.

IPS: How is UNHCR handling the Venezuelan refugee crisis?

Hammoud Gallego: The UNHCR is one of the few UN agencies which depends almost entirely on voluntary contributions. Every year UNHCR funding shifts depending on the outcome of its Global Appeal, the process in which it asks governments and some private donors to contribute to the support of refugees. In 2023, about 74 percent of these funds came from 10 donors only, with much of the funding earmarked for specific crises and only 15% of it consisted of multi-year funds. Commitments are constantly shifting and crises around the world compete for limited resources. For example, when a refugee crisis erupted due to war in Ukraine it meant that less funding was dedicated to Latin American countries hosting Venezuelan refugees, as well as UNHCR commitments in other parts of the world. However, there are many NGOs across the region that also make a concrete difference in the lives of many refugees. For instance, the NGO VeneActiva, which was founded and is led by Venezuelan migrant women and operates in Peru, is one of the best examples in the Latin American region of how civil society can step in and provide the support refugees need. Its digital platform contains key information that helps Venezuelan nationals to restart their lives in Peru. The NGO provides a variety of services, including psychological support and advice on how to regularise one’s migratory status.

IPS: You are currently living in the UK, a country where migration, like in other European nations, is high up on the political agenda. Can you provide us with some insights about how the migration issue is dealt with in the UK?

Hammoud Gallego: Over the last few years, the Conservative government in the UK has been facing a dilemma of its own making. The Brexit decision was supposed to lead to a decrease in immigration, and instead the opposite seems now to have been the case. Still, the lack of enough immigrants to fill in positions in the public sector, particularly in education, and health, and to take on seasonal work in agriculture and construction, has limited economic growth in the country. The health sector was exceptionally hard hit by both Covid and Brexit.

IPS: How is the governing political party affected by the migration issue?

Hammoud Gallego: Since 2010 the UK has had a Conservative-led government, with Conservative party leaders making migration a prime electoral issue. However, according to the latest polling data, it is estimated that 46 percent of voters would vote for the Labour Party in a general election, compared with 22 percent voting for the Conservative Party. Understandably, conservative politicians are worried about losing votes to the far right, and specifically to the Reform Party, and are trying to out-do the far-right by adopting absurd measures to deter the arrival of asylum seekers. One such scheme is the recent Rwanda asylum plan.

IPS: Could you elaborate on whether the Rwanda plan is a feasible project, or not, and why some Conservative politicians actually proposed such a solution for asylum seekers.

Hammoud Gallego: It is a proposal that foresees that some of the asylum seekers who arrive to the UK irregularly will be relocated to Rwanda for processing. Those successful in claiming asylum would remain in Rwanda. It is an absurd proposal based on two wrong assumptions. The first, is that most asylum seekers will know about the scheme. The reality is that the information most of them get, comes from unofficial sources, oftentimes from the smugglers that organise their journeys. Second, even if they knew about the scheme, it is unlikely that it will deter them. For most of them, the choice of a country depends on several factors: the language they speak, the network they have, etc… Also, on their way to the UK asylum seekers have often taken several risks, and suffered greatly, so the minimal risk of being sent to Rwanda will be seen as an acceptable risk for most of them. The reality is that what this plan will only push individuals not to apply for asylum once in the UK, and in many cases simply live in the country with an irregular status, akin to the reality of many Mexican and Central Americans in the US.

IPS: How do you view the future for asylum seekers and so called “economic” migrants?

Hammoud Gallego: It looks bad. I believe that climate change will exacerbate conflicts in many regions of the world, thus forcing people to move. Such challenge needs urgently to be dealt with, both internationally and locally, and it might already be too late. Investments in green energy are far too limited, viable resettlement programs are not in place, leaving asylum seekers no option but to embark on dangerous journeys. Also, one of the main myths surrounding economic migration is that as countries become wealthier, people will have less incentives to leave. The reality is that the poorest individuals in the Global South have always been the ones least likely to travel, as they lack the means to do that. The poor cannot afford to move. As countries become wealthier, the middle classes will seek to travel and migrate more.

IPS: What can be done for migrants who are already in place in Europe, and elsewhere?

Hammoud Gallego: Well thought-through integration policies forcefully implemented and sensible migration policies would be a good place to start. There are many examples of how integration can be conducted successfully. Nations like the UK are to a certain degree proof of this, with a prime minister of Indian origin, and the Mayor of London and First Minister of Scotland both sons of Pakistani immigrants. Considering sudden refugee crises, the way European countries responded to the Ukrainian crisis shows the way forward: let refugees move wherever best suits them, and you will avoid a humanitarian catastrophe. However, politics in Europe seems to be going in the opposite direction. In Germany, Sweden, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and many other European nations anti-migration and nationalistic forces are gaining strength, not the least among young people who mistrust ageing and unrepresentative traditional parties. If everyone who voted in the election had been aged under 35, Geert Wilders’ Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) might have won even more votes. In last year’s French presidential runoff, Marine le Pen won 39 percent of votes from people aged 18-24 and 49 percent of those aged 25-34, le Pen’s deputy is the 28 years old Jordan Bardella. Giorgia Meloni’s ruling Brothers of Italy was the preferred party among people under 35 years of age. I assume that the likely win of Donald Trump in the next US elections will boost European anti-migration politics.

IPS: What can immediately be done to address the issue of migrants and asylum seekers already in Europe, and maybe elsewhere as well?

Hammoud Gallego: If governments across Europe were to pursue sensible and evidence-based migration policies instead of replicating far-right talking points, it would be a start. Principled opposition politicians could, instead of focusing exclusively on migration to attract votes, focus more on those aspects of migration policies that might be improved, without resorting to a xenophobic rhetoric that normalises a polarising political discourse. Integration and inclusion are key for people coming to Europe. Integration is both a right and a duty, meaning that every member of a society has to adapt to and respect fundamental human rights, including democracy, the rule of law, freedom of speech and religion, as well as the rights to equality and non-discrimination.
Considering that migration has become a highly politicised issue it has been proposed that long-term immigrants ought to be given the right to vote, thus making their support more appealing to politicians and decision makers. A few countries, such as Chile and New Zealand, are allowing all residents to vote, hoping this would decrease polarisation and marginalisation, whether this will happen remains to be seen. Under all circumstances it would be desirable if we could live in a world where migrants were considered as fellow human beings, rather than as scapegoats for governments’ ineptitudes.

IPS UN Bureau

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The Ghost of Oil Haunts Mexico’s Lacandona Jungle

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Energy

Lacandona, the great Mayan jungle that extends through the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico, is home to natural wealth and indigenous peoples' settlements that are once again threatened by the probable reactivation of abandoned oil wells. Image: Ceiba

Lacandona, the great Mayan jungle that extends through the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico, is home to natural wealth and indigenous peoples’ settlements that are once again threatened by the probable reactivation of abandoned oil wells. Image: Ceiba

MEXICO CITY, Jan 19 2024 (IPS) – The Lacandona jungle in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas is home to 769 species of butterflies, 573 species of trees, 464 species of birds, 114 species of mammals, 119 species of amphibians and reptiles, and several abandoned oil wells.


The oil wells have been a source of concern for the communities of the great Mayan jungle and environmental organizations since the 1970s, when oil prospecting began in the area and gradually left at least five wells inactive, whether plugged or not.

“The situation is always complex, due to legal loopholes that do not delimit the jungle, the natural protected areas are not delimited, it has been a historical mess. The search for oil has always been there.” — Fermín Domínguez

Now, Mexico’s policy of increasing oil production, promoted by the federal government, is reviving the threat of reactivating oil industry activity in the jungle ecosystem of some 500,000 hectares located in the east of the state, which has lost 70 percent of its forest in recent decades due to deforestation.

A resident of the Benemérito de las Américas municipality, some 1,100 kilometers south of Mexico City, who requested anonymity for security reasons, told IPS that a Mexican oil services company has contacted some members of the ejidos – communities on formerly public land granted to farm individually or cooperatively – trying to buy land around the inactive wells.

“They say they are offering work. We are concerned that they are trying to restart oil exploration, because it is a natural area that could be damaged and already has problems,” he said.

Adjacent to Benemérito de las Américas, which has 23,603 inhabitants according to the latest records, the area where the inactive wells are located is within the 18,348 square kilometers of the protected Lacandona Jungle Region.

It is one of the seven reserves of the ecosystem that the Mexican government decreed in 2016 and where oil activity in its subsoil is banned.

Between 1903 and 2014, the state-owned oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) drilled five wells in the Lacandona jungle, inhabited by some 200,000 people, according to the autonomous governmental National Hydrocarbons Commission (CNH), in charge of allocating hydrocarbon lots and approving oil and gas exploration plans. At least two of these deposits are now closed, according to the CNH.

The Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, in the Lacandona jungle in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, faces the threat of oil exploration, which would add to phenomena such as deforestation, drought and forest fires that have occurred in recent years. Image: Semarnat

The Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, in the Lacandona jungle in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, faces the threat of oil exploration, which would add to phenomena such as deforestation, drought and forest fires that have occurred in recent years. Image: Semarnat

The Lacantun well is located between a small group of houses and the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve (RBMA), the most megadiverse in the country, part of Lacandona and near the border with Guatemala. The CNH estimates the well’s proven oil reserves at 15.42 million barrels and gas reserves at 2.62 million cubic feet.

Chole, Tzeltal, Tzotzil and Lacandon Indians inhabit the jungle.

Other inactive deposits in the Benemérito de las Américas area are Cantil-101 and Bonampak-1, whose reserves are unknown.

In the rural areas of the municipality, the local population grows corn, beans and coffee and manages ecotourism sites. But violence has driven people out of Chiapas communities, as has been the case for weeks in the southern mountainous areas of the state due to border disputes and illegal business between criminal groups.

In addition, the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), an indigenous organization that staged an uprising on Jan. 1, 1994 against the marginalization and poverty suffered by the native communities, is still present in the region.

Chiapas, where oil was discovered at the beginning of the 20th century, is among the five main territories in terms of production of crude oil and gas in this Latin American country, with 10 hydrocarbon blocks in the northern strip of the state.

In November, Mexico extracted 1.64 million barrels of oil and 4.9 billion cubic feet of gas daily. The country currently ranks 20th in the world in terms of proven oil reserves and 41st in gas.

Historically, local communities have suffered water, soil and air pollution from Pemex operations.

As of November, there were 6,933 operational wells in the country, while Pemex has sealed 122 of the wells drilled since 2019, although none in Chiapas, according to a public information request filed by IPS.

Since taking office in December 2018, leftist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has strengthened Pemex and the also state-owned Federal Electricity Commission by promoting the extraction and consumption of fossil fuels, to the detriment of renewable energy.

The state of Chiapas is home to hydroelectric power plants, mining projects, hydrocarbon exploitation blocks and a section of the Mayan Train, the most emblematic megaproject of the current Mexican government. Image: Center for Zoque Language and Culture AC

The state of Chiapas is home to hydroelectric power plants, mining projects, hydrocarbon exploitation blocks and a section of the Mayan Train, the most emblematic megaproject of the current Mexican government. Image: Center for Zoque Language and Culture AC

Territory under siege

The RBMA is one of Mexico’s 225 natural protected areas (NPAs) and its 331,000 hectares are home to 20 percent of the country’s plant species, 30 percent of its birds, 27 percent of its mammals and 17 percent of its freshwater fish.

Like all of the Lacandona rainforest, the RBMA faces deforestation, the expansion of cattle ranching, wildlife trafficking, drought, and forest fires.

Fermín Ledesma, an academic at the public Universidad Autónoma Chapingo, said possible oil exploration could aggravate existing social and environmental conflicts in the state, in addition to growing criminal violence and the historical absence of the State.

“The situation is always complex, due to legal loopholes that do not delimit the jungle, the natural protected areas are not delimited, it has been a historical mess. The search for oil has always been there,” he told IPS from Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of Chiapas.

The researcher said “it is a very complex area, with a 50-year agrarian conflict between indigenous peoples, often generated by the government itself, which created an overlapping of plans and lands.”

Ledesma pointed to a contradiction between the idea of PNAs that are depopulated in order to protect them and the historical presence of native peoples.

From 2001 to 2022, Chiapas lost 748,000 hectares of tree cover, equivalent to a 15 percent decrease since 2000, one of the largest sites of deforestation in Mexico, according to the international monitoring platform Global Forest Watch. In 2022 alone, 26,800 hectares of natural forest disappeared.

In addition, this state, one of the most impoverished in the country, has suffered from the presence of mining, the construction of three hydroelectric plants and, now, the Mayan Train, the Mexican government’s most emblematic megaproject inaugurated on Dec. 15, one of the seven sections of which runs through the north of the state.

But there are also stories of local resistance against oil production. In 2017, Zoque indigenous people prevented the auction of two blocks on some 84,000 hectares in nine municipalities that sought to obtain 437.8 million barrels of crude oil equivalent.

The anonymous source expressed hope for a repeat of that victory and highlighted the argument of conducting an indigenous consultation prior to the projects, free of pressure and with the fullest possible information. “With that we can stop the wells, as occurred in 2017. We are not going to let them move forward,” he said.

Ledesma the researcher questioned the argument of local development driven by natural resource extraction and territorial degradation as a pretext.

“They say it’s the only way to do it, but that’s not true. It leaves a trail of environmental damage, damage to human health, present and future damage. It is much easier for the population to accept compensation or give up the land, because they see it is degraded. A narrative is created that they live in an impoverished area and therefore they have to relocate. This has happened in other areas,” he said.

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Guatemala’s Chance for a New Beginning

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Democracy, Featured, Headlines, Indigenous Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Credit: Emmanuel Andres/AFP via Getty Images

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, Jan 18 2024 (IPS) – Guatemala’s new president, Bernardo Arévalo, was expected to be sworn in on 14 January at 2pm –the 14th at 14:00, as people repeated in anticipation for months. It was a momentous event – but it wasn’t guaranteed to happen.


One year earlier, Arévalo – co-founder of the progressive Movimiento Semilla (Seed Movement), a political party born out of widespread 2015 anti-corruption protests – was largely unknown, freshly selected as his party’s presidential candidate. He wasn’t on the radar of opinion polls. A long chain of unlikely events later, he’s become the first Guatemalan president in living memory who doesn’t belong to the self-serving elites who Guatemalans call ‘the corrupt pact’, which he has credibly promised to dismantle.

The fear this caused among corrupt elite that has long ruled Guatemala was reflected in a series of attempts to try to stop Arévalo’s inauguration. The huge and sustained citizen mobilisation that came in response can largely be credited with keeping alive the spark of democracy in Guatemala.

Last-minute delays

All the Guatemalan Congress needed to do on the morning of 14 January was certify its newly elected members so the body could swear in the new president. But this routine administrative procedure was dragged on for many hours. The Indigenous movement, at the forefront of the months-long protests that had successfully kept at bay successive attempts to reverse the election results, called on Indigenous communities throughout Guatemala to remain on the alert.

In the late afternoon the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, surrounded by members of numerous foreign delegations, read a declaration calling on Congress to hand over power, ‘as required by the Constitution’, to the president-elect. This signalled that the world was watching.

As tensions mounted, Semilla reached an agreement for one of its representatives to be elected as president of Congress. This allowed the certification process to resume, and Arévalo was finally sworn in shortly after midnight. Night-long celebrations followed.

A coup attempt in stages

Arévalo’s election was unexpected. He only made it into the 20 August runoff because several other contenders not to the elite’s liking had been disqualified ahead of the first round. His candidacy wasn’t blocked because he scored so poorly in the polls. People’s expectations were extremely low, and first place went to invalid votes.

But once Arévalo entered the runoff, his rise was unstoppable. Death threats soon poured in, and an assassination plot involving state and non-state forces came to light days before the runoff.

As soon as the first-round results were announced, nine parties submitted complaints about supposed ‘irregularities’ that had gone undetected by all international observers. Their supporters converged outside the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) calling for a rerun.

The Constitutional Court instead ordered a recount and instructed the TSE to suspend official certification until complaints were resolved. Following the recount, the TSE eventually endorsed the results two weeks later.

But meanwhile, Attorney General Consuelo Porras Argueta, an official under US sanctions for corruption, launched an investigation into Semilla for alleged irregularities in its registration process and had its offices raided. She also ordered two raids on TSE offices, and when the TSE officially announced Arévalo as one of the runoff contenders, she ordered Semilla’s suspension. The Constitutional Court however blocked this order and the runoff ran its course. Arévalo took 58 per cent of the vote, compared to 37.2 per cent for the pro-establishment candidate.

Efforts to stop Arévalo’s inauguration began immediately, with yet another attempt by the Public Prosecutor to have Semilla suspended. The Constitutional Court continued to receive and reject legal challenges until the day of the inauguration.

For 100 days, two different visions of Guatemala wrestled with each other: people eager for change protested nonstop while corrupt forces linked to organised crime strove to preserve their privileges at any cost.

Democracy on life support

Guatemala has long been classified as a ‘hybrid regime‘ with a mix of democratic and authoritarian traits. Under outgoing president Alejandro Giammattei, civic freedoms steadily deteriorated. State institutions grew even weaker, ransacked by predatory elites and coopted by organised crime.

One of the last acts of Giammattei’s predecessor and ally, Jimmy Morales, was to end the work of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Charged with supporting and strengthening state institutions to investigate and prosecute serious crimes, CICIG helped file over 120 cases in the Guatemalan justice system and its joint investigations with the Attorney General’s Office led to over 400 convictions.

Under Giammattei, the Attorney General’s Office dismantled all anti-corruption efforts and criminalised those in the legal profession who’d worked alongside CICIG. Impunity flourished. Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index found evidence of strong influence by organised crime over politics and politicians, with some crime bosses seeking and securing office.

It’s no wonder that Guatemalans’ trust in state institutions hit rock bottom. According to the latest Latinobarómetro report, in 2021 satisfaction with the performance of democracy stood at a meagre 25 per cent.

Challenges ahead

Arévalo came to the presidency on a credible anti-corruption platform. But dismantling dense webs of complicity, rooting out entrenched corruption and rebuilding state institutions are no easy tasks.

Among the many challenges is a highly fragmented Congress in which 16 parties are represented, with Semilla on only 23 out of 160 seats. A large majority of Congress remains on the payroll of the interests Arévalo has promised to take on, along with most of the justice system. The 14 January events made clear that the ‘corrupt pact’ will do anything it can to stop Arévalo.

Arévalo’s to-do list is long, ranging from reducing political spending and improving social services to reversing laws that criminalise protest and establishing an effective protection mechanism for human rights defenders. At the top is forcing the resignation of Attorney General Consuelo Porras, the highest official presiding over a judicial network set up to ensure the impunity of the ‘corrupt pact’.

Arévalo can’t remove the Attorney General unilaterally, and so will have to negotiate her departure. This will be a key early test of the hope invested in him to keep democracy alive. Many more are sure to come.

Inés M. Pousadela is CIVICUS Senior Research Specialist, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.

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What Is the Cost of Phasing Out Fossil Fuels in Latin America?

Civil Society, Climate Action, Climate Change, Climate Change Finance, Conferences, COP28, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Energy, Environment, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Latin America & the Caribbean, Projects, Regional Categories, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations

Climate Change

Colombian President Gustavo Petro presented his environmental plans at COP28 in Dubai and added his country to the small group of nations that support the negotiation of a binding treaty to prevent the proliferation of fossil fuels, despite his country being an oil producer. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy / IPS

Colombian President Gustavo Petro presented his environmental plans at COP28 in Dubai and added his country to the small group of nations that support the negotiation of a binding treaty to prevent the proliferation of fossil fuels, despite his country being an oil producer. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy / IPS

DUBAI, Dec 12 2023 (IPS) – One of the most heated debates at the annual climate summit coming to a conclusion in this United Arab Emirates city revolved around the phrasing of the final declaration, regarding the “phase-out” or “phase-down” of fossil fuels within a given time frame.


This is an essential calculation on the decommissioning of refineries, pipelines, power plants and other infrastructure that, in some cases, have been in operation for years, as discussed at the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Experts who talked to IPS at the summit agreed on the magnitude of the bill, which for some Latin American nations could be unaffordable.

“Financial support will be needed. There must be a differentiated approach, differentiated timing, and developed countries must come up with the resources.” — Fernanda Carvalho

Fernanda Carvalho of Brazil, global leader for Energy and Climate Policy at the non-governmental World Wildlife Fund (WWF), referred to the amount without specifying a figure.

“Financial support will be needed. There must be a differentiated approach, differentiated timing, and developed countries must come up with the resources,” the expert, who was present at COP28, held at Expo City on the outskirts of Dubai, told IPS.

COP28 engaged in an acrimonious debate between phase-out and phase-down, with a definite date, of oil, gas and coal, which has already anticipated a disappointing end in Dubai, that in line with the tradition at these summits extended its negotiations one more day, to conclude on Wednesday, Dec. 13.

The “phase-down” concept has been in the climate-energy jargon for years, but it really took off at the 2021 COP26 in the Scottish city of Glasgow, whose Climate Pact alludes to the reduction of coal still being produced and the elimination of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.

Throughout the climate summits since 1995, developing countries have insisted on differentiated measures for them, in accordance with their own situation, the need for financing from developed nations and the transfer of technology, especially energy alternatives.

Enrique Maurtúa of Argentina, senior diplomacy advisor to the Independent Global Stocktake (iGST) – an umbrella data and advocacy initiative – said they hoped for a political signal to determine regulations or market measures regarding a phase-down or phase-out.

“If a target date is not set, there is no signal. If you set a phase-out for 2050, that is a pathway for the transition. With a deadline, the market can react. And then each country must evaluate its specific context,” the expert told IPS in the COP28 Green Zone, which hosted civil society organizations at the summit.

Available scientific knowledge indicates that the majority of proven hydrocarbon reserves must remain unextracted by 2030 to keep the planetary temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, the threshold agreed in the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement to avoid massive disasters.

On Sunday, Dec. 10 the non-governmental Climate Action Network (CAN) delivered at COP28 a dishonorable mention to the United States for its role in Israel's carnage in Gaza, in the traditional Fossil of the Day award for “doing the most to achieve the least” in terms of progress on climate change at the summits. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy / IPS

On Sunday, Dec. 10 the non-governmental Climate Action Network (CAN) delivered at COP28 a dishonorable mention to the United States for its role in Israel’s carnage in Gaza, in the traditional Fossil of the Day award for “doing the most to achieve the least” in terms of progress on climate change at the summits. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy / IPS

Failed attempts

In the Latin American region there are unsuccessful precedents of fossil fuel phase-outs.

In 2007, the then president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa (2007-2017), launched the Yasuní-Ishpingo Tambococha Tiputini initiative, which sought the care of the Yasuní National Park in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest, in exchange for funds from governments, foundations, companies and individuals of about 3.6 billion dollars by 2024 to leave the oil in the ground.

The aim was to leave 846 million barrels of oil untouched underground. But a special fund created by Ecuador and the United Nations Environment Fund only raised 13 million dollars, according to the Ecuadorian government. So Correa decided to cancel the initiative in 2013, at a time when renewable energies had not yet really taken off.

In a referendum held in August, Ecuadorians decided to halt oil extraction in a block in Yasuní that would provide 57,000 barrels per day in 2022 – the same result sought by Correa, but without foreign funds.

The result of the referendum is to be implemented within a year, although the position of the government of the current president, banana tycoon Daniel Noboa, who took office on Nov. 23, is still unclear.

Meanwhile, in Colombia, President Gustavo Petro has put the brakes on new oil and coal exploration contracts, a promise from his 2022 election campaign.

In addition, the president announced on Dec. 2 in Dubai that his country was joining nine other nations that are promoting the formal initiation of the negotiation of a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Colombia will thus become the first Latin American nation and the largest oil and coal producer to join the initiative that first emerged in 2015 when several Pacific Island leaders and NGOs raised the urgent need for an international mechanism to phase out fossil fuels.

For the undertaking of a just energy transition to cleaner fuels, Petro estimates an initial bill of 14 billion dollars, to come from governments of the developed North, multilateral organizations and international funds.

The latest summit of hope for the climate kicked off on Nov. 30 in this Arab city under the slogan “Unite. Act. Deliver” – the least successful in the history of COPs since the first one, held in Berlin in 1995.

The hopes included commitments and voluntary declarations on renewable energy and energy efficiency; agriculture, food and climate; health and climate; climate finance; refrigeration; and just transitions with a gender focus.

In addition, there were financial pledges of some 86 billion dollars, without specifying whether it is all new money, to be allocated to these issues.

Like many countries, the host of COP28, the United Arab Emirates, has had a pavilion in the so-called Green Zone, which hosts non-governmental organizations, companies and other institutions. The Emirati government bet a lot on the climate summit to deliver results, but without directly targeting the fossil fuels on which its economy depends. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy / IPS

Like many countries, the host of COP28, the United Arab Emirates, has had a pavilion in the so-called Green Zone, which hosts non-governmental organizations, companies and other institutions. The Emirati government bet a lot on the climate summit to deliver results, but without directly targeting the fossil fuels on which its economy depends. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy / IPS

Billions

Given the production and exploration plans of the main hydrocarbon producing countries in the region, the magnitude of the challenge in the medium and long term is enormous.

In October, Brazil, the largest economy in the region and the 11th largest in the world, extracted 3.543 billion barrels of oil and 152 million cubic meters (m3) of gas per day.

This represented approximately two percent of the domestic economy that month.

Mexico, the region’s second largest economy, extracted 1.64 million barrels and 4.971 billion m3 of gas per day in October, equivalent to 52 million dollars in revenues.

Meanwhile, Colombia produced 780,487 barrels of oil in the first eight months of 2023 and 1,568 cubic feet per day of gas, equivalent to 12 percent of public revenues.

“We have to think about decarbonization measures. We want Latin America to be a clean energy powerhouse,” said Carvalho.

As of September, Brazil’s state-owned oil giant Petrobras was working on obtaining 9.571 billion barrels of oil equivalent, according to the Global Oil & Gas Exit List produced by the German non-governmental organization Urgewald.

This represents an excess of 94 percent above the limit set by the 2015 Paris Agreement to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius.

Meanwhile, Mexico’s state-owned oil company Pemex is producing 1.444 billion barrels of oil equivalent, 56 percent above the threshold set by the Paris Agreement.

Finally, the public company Ecopetrol, mostly owned by the Colombian state, is working to obtain 447 million barrels, 98 percent above the Paris Agreement limit, according to Urgewald.

In addition, the cost of action against the climate crisis is far from affordable for any Latin American nation.

For example, Mexico estimated that the implementation of 35 measures, including in the power, gas and oil generation sector, would cost 137 billion dollars in 2030, but the benefits would total 295 billion dollars.

But Maurtúa says the budget question is only relative. “There is a lot of public money with which many things can be done,” complemented by international resources, he argued.

 

Argentina: Unpalatable Choices in Election Plagued with Uncertainty

Civil Society, Economy & Trade, Featured, Financial Crisis, Gender, Gender Identity, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Credit: Tomás Cuesta/Getty Images

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, Nov 3 2023 (IPS) – For many of Argentina’s voters the choice in the 19 November presidential runoff is between the lesser of two evils: Sergio Massa, economy minister of a government that’s presiding over a once-in-a-generation economic meltdown with a whopping 140-per cent inflation rate, or Javier Milei, a far-right libertarian who admires Donald Trump, wants to shut down the Central Bank and wields a chainsaw in public as a symbol of his willingness to slash the state. Many will rue that it ever came to this.


A peculiar outsider

A post-modern media celebrity, Milei’s performance style is a perfect fit for social media. He’s easily angered, reacts violently and insults copiously. He’s unapologetically sexist and mocks identity politics.

Milei bangs the drum for ‘anarcho-capitalism’, an ultra-individualistic ideology in which the market has absolute pre-eminence: earlier this year, he described the sale of human organs as ‘just another market’.

To expand his appeal beyond this extreme economic niche he forged an alliance with the culturally conservative right. His running mate, Victoria Villarruel, represents the backlash against abortion – legalised after decades of civil society campaigning in 2020 – and sexual diversity and gender equality policies, along with reappraisal of the murderous military dictatorship that ruled Argentina between 1976 and 1983.

In the run-up to primary elections in August, the two mainstream coalitions – the centre-left incumbent Union for the Homeland (UP) and the centre-right opposition Together for Change (JxC) – displayed a notable lack of leadership and indulged in internal squabbles that showed very little empathy for people’s daily struggles. All they had to offer in the face of widespread concerns about inflation and insecurity were the candidacies of the current minister of the economy and a former minister of security. They made it easy for Milei to hold them responsible for decades of corruption, ineffectiveness and failure.

In Milei’s discourse, the hardworking, productive majority is being bled dry by taxation to maintain the privileges of a parasitic and corrupt political ‘caste’. His proposal is deceptively simple: shrink the state to a minimum to destroy the caste that lives off it, clearing their way for individual progress.

Milei gained traction among young voters, particularly young men, via TikTok. He found fertile ground among a generation that no longer expect to be better off than their parents. While many of his followers concede that his ideas may be a little crazy, they appear to be willing to take the risk of embracing the unknown on the basis that the really crazy plan would be to allow those long in control to retain their power and expect things to turn out differently. Milei has capitalised on the despair, hopelessness and accumulated anger so many rightfully feel.

Surprise after surprise

The first surprise came on 13 August, when Milei won the most votes of any candidate in the primaries.

Milei only entered politics in 2021, when the 17 per cent vote he amassed in the capital, Buenos Aires, sent him and two other libertarians to the National Congress. In the 2023 primaries he went much further, winning 30 per cent of the vote. He placed ahead of JxC, whose two candidates received a joint 28 per cent, and UP, the current incarnation of the Peronist Party, which took 27 per cent. The bulk of the UP vote, 21 per cent, went to Massa. That Peronism, once the dominant force, came third was a historic first.

The second surprise came on 22 October. Following the primaries, all talk was of Milei winning the presidency. He trumpeted his intent to win the first round outright. Measured against these expectations, his second place looks like an underperformance. But the fact that a candidate who wasn’t on the radar before the primaries has made the runoff shows how quickly the political landscape can shift.

In the October vote Milei took almost the exact share he’d received in the primaries. Massa finished above him with almost 37 per cent, displacing JxC, which lost four points on its second-place performance in the primaries.

The fact that the economy minister was able to distance himself from the government he’s part of – one often described as the worst in 40 years – to come first was viewed as a notable victory, even though his share was just about the lowest Peronism has ever received.

One explanation for Massa’s improved performance was turnout, which increased by eight points to almost 78 per cent – still low for a country with compulsory voting, but enough to make a difference. Much of the increase could be credited to the political machinery that mobilised voters on election day, aided by the minister-candidate pulling as many levers as he could to improve his chances. This included putting lots of instant cash into voters’ pockets, including through tax breaks benefiting targeted groups of workers and consumers.

An unpalatable decision

There’s still much uncertainty ahead. Economic failure is Milei’s best propaganda, so much will depend on how the economy behaves over the next couple of weeks. Milei and the destruction he represents can’t be written off.

Neither those currently in power nor those in the mainstream opposition recognise the obvious: Milei is their fault. They’ve held power for the best part of the past 40 years without effectively tackling any of the issues that concern people the most.

Many voters now feel they face an unpalatable choice between a corrupt and failing government and a dangerous disruptor. They fear that if they choose to keep Milei out, their votes may be misinterpreted as a show of active support for a continuity they also reject. What’s at stake here is more than one election. If Milei is kept at bay, the political dynamics leading to the current economic dysfunction will still need to be addressed – or the far-right threat to democracy won’t end with Milei.

Inés M. Pousadela is CIVICUS Senior Research Specialist, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.

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