Monday, October 27, 2014

Is the Proposed Nicaragua Canal Scientifcally Sound?

You've heard the expression "the devil is in the details." Details about President Daniel Ortega's ambitious cross-country canal have been scarce, even though Nicaragua's Asamblea Nacional approved the project two years ago and HKND (Hong Kong Nicaraguan Canal Development Investment Company) was chosen as the developer in mid-2013.  

While there was skepticism, opponents--and supporters--did not know how to react to the waterway--known as the Gran Canal Interoceánico de Nicaragua (GCIN)--except in the vaguest of terms. The Ortega administration did offer some information about the project nearly a year before the actual route was released by HKND. But hen the government was confronted with the question of why officials failed on such a high level to consult with any of the communities involved, they explained that because the route was yet unknown, they could not consult with any communities in particular.

This fall,  HKND  released details of the project,including the exact route is for the waterway that will connect the Caribbean to the Pacific Oceans. This information has allowed  scientists and environmental researchersto publish their first informed assessments of the project. Both the Academia de Ciencas de Nicaragua  (ACN) and Centro Humboldt, a leading non-government environmental research center based in Managua, have highlighted the immense environmental, and socioeconomic repercussions that will inevitably result from the construction of the Gran Canal Interoceánico de Nicaragua (GCIN).

The ACN report argues that the project will cause incredible damage to biodiversity and natural and  aquifers as well infringe as the collective rights and well-being of many communities, including some that reside within protected, semi-autonomous regions. There is a “Message to the Nation” in the final section, which explains that the ACN “applauds all efforts for national economic development,” but also also urgently recommends “that such national projects should always pay close attention to all possible unintended consequences… and to follow the suggestions of relevant environmental, social and economic studies of impact.”

Without explicitly opposing the concept of the canal, the ACN report directs its criticisms at the specific plan proposed by HKND and brings the Chinese firm and the Nicaraguan government to task for failing to heed suggestions from environmental experts and community leaders.

A separate  report published by Víctor Campos, sub-director of Centro Humboldt, provides further information about the obvious and prolonged impacts that the canal will inevitably have on the fresh water supply in Lago de Nicaragua as well as the fragile biodiversity in the Cerro Silva Natural Reserve, an area that is also home to indigenous communities. These communities were not consulted despite the plan’s stipulations for the right to acquire whatever land HKND finds necessary.

At the end of Campos’ response, he too makes no explicit opposition to the idea of a canal in general, but leaves the nation with a list of suggestions and conclusions that include,”1. The best route will not pass through the Lago de Nicaragua; 2. That there has been a decision made at the National level to systemically ignore the voices of qualified scientists and experts; and 3. Eventually, Nicaraguans will be able to influence the decisions of the nation, but as of now, they will not be able to influence the decisions of this company and their enterprise.”

Both reports, which come from science-based entities, made the point that, aside from the proven and inevitable environmental and socioeconomic repercussions of the construction, much of the current problem lies outside the realm of science and environmental research itself. Both reports suggest the problem lies in the lack of transparency in the process. The national government and HKND failed to  make crucial information available to the public, failed to consult with the communities that will be directly displaced and affected, and ignored loud opposition from experts in scientific research.

-Jake Sandler

Also in LADB This Week...
Contrasting Elections in Bolivia and Peru 
While Evo Morales breezed through re-election as president of Bolivia, the trends in the Peruvian municipal and regional elections were less uniform. In the Peruvian results, Lima Mayor Susana Villarán came in a distant third, losing the race to former mayor Luis Castañeda Lossio.

A Social-Media Activist Loses Her Life in Mexico
The campaign by social-media activists to shine the spotlight on the activities of organized crime and on police and official corruption in Tamaulipas took a tragic turn when María del Rosario Fuentes Rubio one of the leaders of the Twitter-based community Valor por Tamaulipas was kidnapped and murdered.

More Trouble for Mexico's Largest Bank
Mexico’s largest lender, Grupo Banamex, is in deep financial and legal trouble with the Mexican and US governments for its handling of fraudulent loans to Oceanografía, a contractor that provided services to the state-run oil company PEMEX

A True Reform or a Charade for Police in Honduras?
The Dirección de Evaluación e Investigación de la Carrera Policial (DIECP) has provided the Ministerio Público (MP) with some 100 files on approximately 200 investigated members of the Honduran Policía Nacional (PN) as part of a slowly ongoing process officially aimed at cleansing the deeply corrupt force. But Honduran human rights activist Bertha Oliva counters, saying the results of the police-cleansing process launched in May 2012, during former President Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo’s administration (2010-2014), adds up to zero.  See more in this week's issue of NotiCen

Follow us on Twitter @LADBatUNM

(Subscription required to read full LADB articles. Click here for subscription information)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Argentine Forensic Team Working in Guerrero

Photo: Via Creative Commons on Flickr
A team of Argentine forensic experts arrived in Iguala in Guerrero state in Mexico on Oct. 7 to help federal and state authorities identify the remains of bodies found in a clandestine, mass graves. It is unclear how many of the bodies uncovered in the mass grave are connected to the disappearance of 43 students following protests in Iguala on Sept. 26.This week’s issue of SourceMex lays out the array of unclear reports regarding what actually transpired on Sept 26, when students at a teacher’s college organized a protest against plans to cut funding to their university.

The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (Equipo Argentino de Antropologia Forense, or EAAF), was founded in the mid-1980s when a team was formed to investigate the remains of disappeared families in Argentina. Since that project, EAAF has expanded its work to over 30 countries and helped form the Association of Latin American Association of Forensic Anthropology (ALAF). The two organizations have worked jointly in Guatemala, Bolivia, Spain, Colombia , Mexico and other countries. The joint work of EAAF and ALAF in Mexico dates back to the early 2000s, when the EAAF was asled tp participate in an international seminar titled "Truth Commissions: Torture, Reparations, and Prevention." Recently, EAAF was asked to assist a new Special Prosecutor investigating cases of people disappeared for political reasons during the 1960's and 1970's. Over the past several years, EAAF members worked in the state of Chihuahua on a project to exhume, analyze, and attempt to identify the remains of over a hundred individuals associated with the investigation of murdered and disappeared women in Ciudad Juárez.

The EAAF's mission statement explicitly states that the objectives of the team are to cater to the wishes of relatives of victims and their communities, and that  "the team's track record in international tribunals displays a deep and sincere dedication to truth and “the historical reconstruction of the recent past, often distorted or hidden by the parties or government institutions which are themselves implicated in the crimes under investigation."

Even though  President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration requested the intervention of the EAAF,  family members of the victims are relying on the Argentine experts for truth and justice because of  deep distrust of police and government authorities. Melitón Ortega, a relative of one of the missing students, has publicly expressed his distrust of state involvement in the investigation, representing a general attitude among his community members that the police and the government are the last people they want in charge of investigating this site.

So will the Argentine team succeed in helping relatives of  the students arrive at the truth? The task might be difficult. A slew of reports in the last week have revealed that the Argentine forensic team has had difficulty accessing the grave site, where state and federal authorities are tightly securing the area.

-Jake Sandler

Also in LADB This Week...
Unpredictable Brazilian Election Turns Predictable as Traditional Parties Duel
Brazilians headed to the polls on Oct. 5 to decide the fate of incumbent President Dilma Rousseff, conservative challenger Aécio Neves, and insurgent Marina Silva. In the end, voters endorsed Rousseff, but not by enough to avoid a runoff against Neves that will take place on Oct. 26. It was an unpredictable election season that saw polling numbers for the candidates fluctuate wildly. In one of the campaign’s most surprising and tragic turns,  Read More

Colombia’s Peace Negotiators Agree on Three Points, Urge Continued Progress
On the eve of the second anniversary of the beginning of Colombian peace talks, government and guerrilla representatives broke a self-imposed silence on Sept. 24 by reporting key details of agreements reached so far. President Juan Manuel Santos and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) were obliged to give a progress report to counteract false versions spread by warmongers seeking to discredit the negotiations and dismantle talks that began in November 2012 in Havana, Cuba.  Read More

Former Salvadoran President Francisco Flores Jailed Pending Corruption Trial
After months on the lam, former Salvadoran President Francisco Flores (1999-2004) is now behind bars pending trial on charges that he misappropriated roughly US$15 million donated during his presidency by the government in Taiwan. Flores, who hails from the hard-right Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA), El Salvador’s leading opposition party, disappeared from public view in late January. And, in May, when a judge in San Salvador issued a warrant for his arrest, he officially became a fugitive from justice.  Read More

Murder of Guatemalan Civil Servant Reveals Lack of Compliance with Private-Security Law
On July 3, well-known Guatemalan civil servant and feminist activist Patricia Samayoa Méndez was shot dead in a pharmacy by the establishment’s private security guard, who later barricaded himself in the pharmacy and attempted to shoot the police officers who were trying to arrest him. This case has highlighted that a new law imposing tougher sanctions on private security companies is not being properly enforced. Samayoa’s murder has called into question whether a law imposing more stringent regulations on private security companies that came into force in October 2013 is really being enacted.  Read More

Chinese-Mexican Consortium Submits Only Bid to Construct High-Speed Rail in Mexico
President Enrique Peña Nieto has set the process in motion to develop a high-speed train to connect Mexico City with the industrial hub of Querétaro, about 210 km northwest of the Mexican capital. On Oct. 15, the administration closed the bidding process for consortia to participate in constructing the rail line. Only one consortium submitted a bid, a partnership led by China Railway Construction Corp. (CRCC) that included Mexican companies GIA and Prodemex.  Read More

Follow us on Twitter @LADBatUNM

(Subscription required to read full LADB articles. Click here for subscription information)

Friday, October 3, 2014

Blue Helmets on Mexican Soldiers

Daniel Košinár  (Wikimedia Commons)
If you examine the composition of UN Peacekeeping forces, you would be hard-pressed to find any Mexican soldiers.  That is about to change with President  Enrique Peña Nieto's recent commitment to provide military and civilian personnel to UN missions.
The Mexican president made that pledge during an address to the UN General Assembly during the last week of September.

Peña Nieto, of course, would still have to comply with the Mexican Constitution, which prohibits any chief executive from unilaterally offering Mexican troops for peacekeeping forces. The president would require the consent of the Senate. Convesrsely, Peña Nieto and other future president are allowed to provide military and civilian personnel for UN humanitiarian missions without a vote from the Senate. How was Peña Nieto's decision received in Mexico?  There were many supporters and some detractors.  Read more in this week's issue of SourceMex.

Marie Lan-Nguyen (Wikimedia Commons)
Let's say hypothetically that Mexico had committed troops to UN peacekeeping operations a while back. Where would these Mexican soldiers be located? Currently, there are 16 ongoing UN Peacekeeping Operations, including Haiti, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, several Middle Eastern nations, as well as nine countries in Africa, from the Western Sahara to Democratic Republic of the Congo.

There are currently over 116,000 military and police personnel working under UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), and although many personnel are armed and trained in military operations, the DPKO’s main purpose and protocol does not normally involve active combat, but rather helping local security forces to establish the proper conditions for end of conflict and lasting peace. The UN does not have its own military force, and relies completely on contributions from member states.

There is some risk in committing military personnel to an area of conflict. In its 66-year history, the DPKO has suffered 3,177 fatalities, with more than two-thirds occurring since 1993. Uruguay, Haiti, Argentina, Guatemala and Spain have lost dozens of troops, although the majority of the casualties have come from Sub-Saharan African and Northern European nations.  While armed conflict has been the major reason for the loss of lives, more than 1,000 deaths  have occurred because of illness. The two places with the highest incident of fatalities have been Lebanon and the Congo.
-Jake Sandler

Also in LADB This Week...
Transforming the Sales Tax into a Value-Added Tax in Costa Rica: President Luis Guillermo Solís has a plan to boost government revenues: transform the current sales tax into a a value-added tax (Read more from George Rodríguez in this week's issue of NotiCen). So what's the difference?  Diane Yetter explains in the Tax & Accounting blog  "Sales tax is collected on retail sales at the time of the sale to the final consumer, and only the final sale in the supply chain is subject to tax. Sales tax is generally imposed on sales of tangible personal property and selected services. Value Added Tax, on the other hand, is imposed on each stage of the supply chain and ultimately charged in full to the final purchaser."

Investment in the Dominican Republic. Officials in the Dominican Republic are pleased about a recent increase in investment, but critics worry that the trend comes at the expense of human rights and the environment.  Read more from  Crosby Girón in NotiCen.

Argentina and U.S. Lock Horns amid ‘Default’ Fallout: Argentina’s current "default" crisis, which began three months ago when a judge in New York ruled in favor of a group of "vulture funds"—lenders that in 2005 refused to participate in a restructuring of the South American nation’s foreign debt—has gone from being a dispute between a sovereign state and private interests to a full-fledged face-off between the Argentine and US governments. Read more from Andrés Gaudín in NotiSur.

Center-Left Coalition Expected to Remain in Power in Uruguay: Uruguayan voters will head to the polls Oct. 26 for the last in a series of South American elections that also includes contests in Brazil, to be held Oct. 5, and Bolivia, on Oct. 12. The Frente Amplio (FA), in power since 2005, is hoping its progressive model—introduced by former President Tabaré Vázquez (2005-2010) and continued by the country’s current leader, President José Mujica—will earn the party a third-consecutive term. The FA’s conservative rivals, the Partido Nacional (PN or Blanco) and Partido Colorado (PC), are hoping to re-establish the political hegemony that kept them in power throughout most of Uruguay’s post-independence history (from 1830 to 2005). Read More from Andrés Gaudín in NotiSur.

Another term for Mexican Human Rights Ombud? Raúl Plascencia Villanueva, president of the semi-independent human rights commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH), is facing severe criticism from what academics and opposition legislators see as the commission’s deficient and inadequate job of defending human rights in Mexico. Will the Senate reappoint him for another five years or will human-rights advocates succeed in pushing through a change?  Read more from Carlos Navarro in SourceMex.

Follow us on Twitter @LADBatUNM

(Subscription required to read full LADB articles. Click here for subscription information)