Sonntag, 11. November 2012

Afghan Women Call for Democracy and Social Justice

By the end of 2014, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission will be concluded. Even after ten years of the establishment of the Karzai government and the fall of the Taliban, Afghan women continue to be among the worst off in the world.

By Nele Rissmann

Afghanistan 2012. A young Afghan girl, Zahra is 15 years old. Grown up in the valley of Panjshir -a province about 100 km northeast of Kabul- she was born in a little village to a traditional Pashto speaking Afghan family. Zahra has fond memories of her childhood: she spent her days playing in the fields and swam together with other kids in a pond. At the age of 13 Zahra’s father forced her to marry a 30-year-old man. However, she refused, and as a consequence, Zahra’s life changed dramatically. Her father and brothers started to abuse her. They beat her, sometimes until the point of unconsciousness, while keeping her imprisoned in her own home. Three months later, Zahra managed to escape and was picked up by a safe house in Kabul.

The need to defend of women’s rights was cited by NATO as one of the primary motivations, after the need to defeat the Taliban and to root out al Qaeda, for the 2001 invasion and subsequent commitment to rehabilitate Afghanistan. In December 2001, they determined in the Bonn Agreement: “these interim arrangements are intended as a first step toward the establishment of a broad-based, gender-sensitive, multi-ethnic and fully representative government”. By the end of 2014, the ISAF mission will be concluded and almost all international forces are scheduled to be out of Afghanistan. A NATO force will be left behind in order to help with the training of Afghan forces. On the 20th and 21st of May 2012, Heads of State and government, as well as Foreign Ministers and Defence Ministers met at the NATO Summit in Chicago. The declaration of the summit contains a review of the achievements during the last decade: “the lives of Afghan men, women and children, have improved significantly (…)”.

Has NATO Met its Promises?

“They have not fulfilled their promises. The situation for women in Afghanistan is getting worse, every day”, claimed the 20-year-old Reena, a member of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), who told Zahra’s story. After hearing about Zahra’s case, RAWA admitted the girl into one of their safe houses. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan is an independent political and social organization of women fighting for human rights and social justice. They are being watched, and due to this, they have to operate semi-underground. Frequently, they receive threatening letters and phone calls, “but there is no other way if you want to bring a change”, said Reena. In every area, the situation of Afghan women would be dismal, including education, employment, and health, freedom from violence, political participation, and equality before the law. Forced marriage, and oppression of women belong to the bitter everyday life in Afghanistan. “Day by day, women are being raped, and since we have foreign forces in our country, even by them.”

Violence against Women Increased

A study by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) registered 1026 cases of violence against women in the second quarter of 2011. By contrast, in 2010 there were 2700 cases in total. A nationwide survey by Global Rights of 4700 Afghan women, found that 87.2% had experienced at least one form of physical, sexual, or psychological violence including forced marriage in their lifetimes. The forms of violence include physical violence, rape, and ‘honor killings’. However, the country’s 2004 constitution guaranteed a number of important rights for women, including the right to an education, the right to equality before the law, and the right to work. In 2009, the Elimination of Violence against Women law, which criminalized many harmful traditional practices, has been introduced by the Afghan government.

Claudia Söder, Afghanistan expert at the women’s rights organization Medica Mondiale blamed first of all the insecurity in the country for the increase of violence against women, “recently, we even have the feeling that the situation for women in Afghanistan deteriorated”. NATO’s military intervention cannot be considered as a success in terms of women’s rights, and NATO has chosen a wrong approach; they gave weapons to Afghans but a majority of the recruited men were not military trained and in most cases are completely illiterate. Moreover, NATO’s focus was on the military rather than on the civilian population. Another big issue is the high rate of corruption within the Afghan government and society, “just because a law is written on paper, it does not mean that it is implemented in society”, said Ms Söder.

“They show a wrong picture in the west. They show that the war they are fighting for is a good war. But that is not true.” – Reena, RAWA Member of the Foreign Committee

Education has been a top priority for both the Afghan government and the foreign forces while a majority of girls’ schools were closed down under the Taliban. According to the 2011 Education for all Global Monitoring Report, there are now 2.7 million girls enrolled in school, 38% of the 7.3 million total students. However, a visible change took place in major cities whereas the number of schools in rural areas, where 80-90% of Afghans live, is still very low and with very poor standards. Furthermore, the dropout rate because of underage marriage is very high and due to this, a majority of girls’ visits school for only a few years. 57% of all marriages that take place in Afghanistan are classified by UNIFEM as child marriages (under 16 years old) and 70-80% as forced marriages. Moreover, “how can girls and boys study when there is war and when the situation is so unsecure?” asked Reena.

Naida Nashir Karim, chairman of the Afghan Women’s Association Germany (Afghanischer Frauenverein e.V.) said it was particularly pleasing to see that a significantly higher number of political positions are held by women nowadays and that women appear to be becoming more self-confident during the last decade. Overall, she does not believe that the promises made by NATO were kept. “Military troops will never be able to make peace. They rather protect themselves.” Karim, who was born in Kunduz, also supports the opinion that western media show a wrong picture of the situation in Afghanistan. “If a woman is stoned by the Taliban, western newspapers will report about it. But no one cares when civilians are killed by the NATO”, claims Karim.

According to the Islamic scientist Abbas Poya at the University of Freiburg in Germany, there have been some visible changes concerning the question of women’s rights in Afghanistan. What is grotesque though, is that these women represent only an urban minority. Overall, the picture shows that in countries where “the West” is not military involved, human and women’s rights are a focus of the discourse. The discourse changes however, where western military is present. In that case, issues such as security, occupation policy, and foreign interests take a central place.

Has the Media Lost its Interest?

However, it seems that the future of Afghanistan’s women is not on the top media agenda these days and its focus rather on the withdrawal of NATO troops in 2014. In addition, France’s new president aims to redeem his election promises and has therefore put forward a pace that its NATO partners dizzy. And all over sudden, it is no longer spoken about the original objectives, to rid the country out of oppression and religious fanaticism.

The Shia Personal Status Law

In March 2009, the diminishing status of women’s rights came back into focus when the Shia Personal Status Law was signed by President Hamid Karzai and passed by the parliament and the highest Afghan religious leaders, in an apparent attempt to garner political support from powerful political factions. The new law regulates marriage, divorce, and inheritance for the country's Shia population (about 15-20% of the population). According to the law, women are subordinated to men they may even be beaten by them. It includes provisions that require a woman to ask permission to leave the house except on urgent business, a duty to ‘make herself up’ or ‘dress up’ for her husband when demanded, a duty not to refuse sex when her husband wants it, and a duty to have sex every four days, unless a woman has health problems. The marriage age for women is lowered from 18 to 16 years.

Even after ten years of commitment of the international community in Afghanistan, the Shia Personal Status Law -which seems rather in the past and not in the future-, could be adopted. Why? Looking at the whole country, basically, structures have not changed much within the last ten years, said Islamic scientist Abbas Poya. Especially in the width of the society, nothing has changed. Due to this, laws like the Shia Personal Status Law can still be adopted in Afghanistan. “The law is actually a bit symbolic”, said RAWA member Reena. There has been violence against women before and after the new law. However, fear and helplessness would have increased because what men do to women is legal now. “There is no hope for women.”

NATO’s Response

“Our objectives in 2001 were certainly too ambitious”, admits Dr. Philipp Wendel, NATO’s public relations officer. Meanwhile, they became more realistic. To strengthen the security situation in Afghanistan continuously is one of their major goals at the moment. “Within the past ten years, we were able to improve women’s access to education and to public services. For instance, there is actually a female general officer in the Afghan army which we do not even have in the German Armed Forces”, said Wendel.

Furthermore, the birth mortality rate would have declined significantly as well as the mortality rate of women who die during pregnancy or birth. However, the strengthening of women’s rights can only be realized in a long-run. “In terms of women’s rights, we expect regress after the withdrawal of a majority of NATO troops in 2014. Nonetheless, we are very satisfied about the development of the Afghan Army during the last decade and we will continue to support the Afghan forces.” A serious effort on the part of the Afghan government must be continuously exerted.

How will the Future Look Like?

Zahra has been living in a safe house for almost two years. She got to know a different life, where she now has opportunities she did not even imagine could exist, where nobody is stopping her and where she can study and live her life almost the way she wants to. Zahra does not want to lose this new life, but she also longs for her family and especially for her younger sisters. Sadly, Zahra won’t be able to see them soon because it is certain that her father and her brothers would kill her in case of a return.

Zahra’s fate is shared by many Afghan girls. What do they wish for their future? “We want peace, no war. We want democracy and social justice“, answered Reena. To improve the situation of Afghanistan’s women permanently, the society needs to accept women as a part of society. To make this happen, it needs a change in people’s ideology and in their way of thinking.

Samstag, 10. November 2012

The Vuon Case

Pollution Aqua Farming

A Vietnamese farmer caught up in the conflicting forces of environmentalism and political arbitrariness

Text and Photography by Lydia Ciesluk

A controversial case of self-justice brought the orderly city of Hai Phong located at Vietnam's north-east coast into the headlines in January 2012. Dozens of policemen tried to evict the farmer Doan Van Vuon and his family, whose land had been marked for an airport project. The clan attacked them with homemade land mines and improvised shotguns. Six of the officers executing orders of the Tien Lang district people committee were wounded. Vuon was accused of having destroyed mangroves on his land by building fish ponds. Mangrove trees protect coastlines from erosion and secure the nutritional basis of marine ecosystems.

Instead of drawing public condemnation, Vuon's resistance made him a local celebrity. State-controlled media, bloggers and many high-level government members publicly sympathised with the farmer. The case attracted so much attention that Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung ordered an investigation into the eviction and called for officials involved in the case to be punished. In fact, the family was unequally and illegally treated several times by Hai Phong authorities.

All in all, there were conflicting reasons given by the local authorities to justify the repossession attempt. The official explanation of the chairman of the Tien Lang District People's Committee (DPC) was that the end of Vuon's land use term led to the raid and the land must legally be allocated to the Commune People's Committee (CPC) for management. The chairman of the Vinh Quang Commune  People’s Committee stated that it was planned to allocate  this land to other aqua farmers. However, the chairman of the Tien Lang DPC is the older brother of the chairman of the Vinh Quang CPC. According to some state's officials of the Hai Phong City People's Committee the land should have been used for the enlargement of  Haiphong's airport following a proposal made by the Vietnamese Ministry of Transport.

MONRE Vietnam
Former Minister Prof. Dr. Dang Hung Vo
"After studying diverse documents I still do not know the real reason," states Prof. Dr. Dang Hung Vo, the former deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE). He is currently working as a professor at the Hanoi National University and an independent consultant for the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN's Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) sharing his expertise about climate change, land policy and housing development in Vietnam.

Indeed, it is very hard to decide on this case. "For constructing weapons and organizing violent attacks Vuon has to be punished according to the criminal law," says Dang Hung Vo and reveals: "On the other hand, it has already been stated by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment that he will get his land back. In fact, the chairman and deputy chairman of the Tien Lang DPC and the chairman of the Vinh Quang CPC were already dismissed, and some state's officials at city, district, and commune levels were also held to account. In my opinion, the central government should take care of the punishment of all local officials involved in the destruction of Vuon's house. Administrative discipline is needed to correct illegal behaviour in a stronger way. Additionally, the highest leaders of the Hai Phong City should resign."

Doan Van Vuon had spent 18 years and all his savings turning 40 hectares of coastal swampland into a productive agricultural farm. Since there is no private ownership of land in Vietnam, Vuon had to request land allocated by the State for short term use. This policy makes millions of farmers in the country fall victim to the whims of local authorities. In Vuon's case, the district committee abused laws designed to shield against climate change to illegally repossess his land. "In retrospect, it is hard to prove, whether he did even clear the mangroves. That happened many years ago", states Hoang Quoc Dung, standing deputy cum general secretary of the Vietnam Forum of Environmental Journalists.

Aquaculture and mangrove conservation - a dangerous liaison

The rich biodiversity of mangrove ecosystems provides perfect conditions for the breeding of shrimps and fish species. Therefore, many marine households build aquaculture farms on Vietnam's coastal wetlands. On the one hand, these farms have alleviated poverty in the country and their high economic return improved living standards. As the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states, Vietnam exported 241,000 tons of shrimp in 2010, valued to 2.1 billion U.S. dollar. On the other hand, this sector generates massive environmental problems. A report by the Environmental Justice Foundation reveals that the traditional aqua farming in Vietnam's intertidal areas exterminates enclosed mangroves within three to five years.

Aqua farms also damage associated ecosystems since they operate based on water exchange. The continuous flow spreads chemicals like disinfectants, antibiotics, fertilizers or hormones as well as waste like faeces, uneaten food, phosphorous, and carbon dioxide into receiving waters and grounds. Thus, wild fish and shrimp populations are biologically polluted while soil and surface water supplies suffer from salinisation. "Additionally, the high biological oxygen demand of aqua farms depletes ground water", explains environment management expert Le Hoang Lan. "Accusing Vuon of polluting the water environment has also been used as justification by the Tien Lang district people committee to repossess his land." Shrimp might be tiny but they exacerbate one of Vietnam's biggest problems - global climate change.

A climate change loser

Vietnam is particularly vulnerable to changing climatic conditions due to its extensive 3,260-kilometer-coastline, the Mekong's and Red River's vast deltas and mountainous areas on its borders. The World Bank ranks the country among the top five most threatened by a global rise in the sea level. Due to higher global temperatures and the ongoing melting of the world's biggest ice sheets, sea levels are projected to rise by around 30 centimetres by 2050. Vietnam is only responsible for a rather small share of global greenhouse gas emissions. In 2008, Vietnam emitted 1.5 tonnes of CO2 per person while the US emitted 18 tonnes.

Oxfam reports that the general intensity and unpredictability of rainfall, floods and typhoons pressuring the country has increased in the last 50 years while droughts have lasted longer. These extreme weather events are expected to occur even more frequently resulting in declining agricultural incomes and higher food prices. Accordingly, there is a real risk that climate change will slow down Vietnam's progress towards achieving the Millenium Development Goals. The United Nations estimate that the Vietnamese government’s ambition to pull millions of people out of poverty are seriously endangered by climatic developments. According to the World Bank's 'Economics of Adaptation to Climate Change' study, the livelihoods of Vietnam's poorest farmers will be hit hardest.

Vietnam's exposure to weather risks created the necessity to legislate conservation laws aimed at protecting the coastal wetlands. "Problematically, these laws harm the poor ones the most. There are several regulations obstructing the marine households' access to the mangrove forests their livelihood is based on", explains Hoang Quoc Dung, who also works as chief editor of science and education unit of Tien Phong daily newspaper”.

Mangrove forests combating climate change

In fact, the wetlands' smelly and swampy mangrove forests are of incredible value. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) asserts that the conservation of these woodlands can be seen as a key natural adaptation strategy to climate change. Mangroves are evergreen tropical trees or shrubs thriving in salty, oxygen-poor soils of brackish tidal waters. Physiological adjustments such as aerial roots and leaves able to excrete excess salt enable them to grow in coastal wetlands. Mangroves stabilize coastlines, coral reefs and sea-grass beds by trapping sediments in their dense network of twisted, exposed roots. "Thereby, they reduce coastal erosion and protect shores against hazards like storms or flooding", says Christoph Rosche, plant ecologist at the German Martin-Luther University's Institute of Geobotany.

In addition to these adaptation aspects, mangroves are important for the mitigation of climate change. By storing greenhouse gases in their dense biomass they lessen the carbon dioxide's contribution to global warming. "Mangroves belong to the most effective carbon capturers among all ecosystems. The tropical trees remove three to four times more carbon from the atmosphere than other forests", affirms Christoph Rosche. In 2011, a report published in 'Global Ecology and Biogeography' revealed that the world's mangroves account for 11 per cent of the total input of terrestrial carbon into the ocean and 10 per cent of the terrestrial dissolved organic carbon exported to the ocean. Even though they only cover 0.1 per cent of the earth’s continental surface.

Mangrove swamps also fulfil a crucial role in the food chain. "These extremely productive ecosystems transfer organic matter and energy from terrestrial to marine environments. Together with associated plants they build the base of marine food webs and function as nurseries for many aquatic animal species", explains Christoph Rosche. According to the 2007 conducted FAO study 'The world's mangroves', every cleared hectare of mangrove burdens coastal fisheries with a loss of some 480 kilograms of fish per year.

Economic development versus environmental protection

"Accusing Doan Van Vuon of cutting down mangroves was a false pretence. Just shortly before the raid there has been published a serial of articles about his success in building a productive aqua farm”, states the former Minister Dang Hung Vo. In July and August, 2008, journalist Lieu Chi Trung published 3 articles in a serial under the heading 'Roc Drain - Challenges do not come from the sea' (Roc Drain is the geographical name of the place where Doan Van Vuon has reclaimed vacant land to establish an aqua farm) in the Vietnam Economic News (VEN), the official voice of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce ( In this serial, the author describes Doan Van Vuon as a hero successfully cultivating wetlands by building a sea dyke and by planting mangroves. These articles reveal that he contributed to the reforestation of mangroves rather than harming the environment.

Poor Vuon built his farm close to Hai Phong's Cat Bi airport, a project that has proved attractive to investors due to its expansion potential. So far the operating airlines Jetstar Pacific Airlines and Vietnam Airlines only offer six departures per day, even though the area is just a stones throw away from the scenic tourist magnets of Cat Ba island and Ha Long Bay.

Doan Van Vuon is only one of the state's millions of farmers driven to the wall by the systemic abuse of environmental laws. His case represents Vietnam's political dilemma between pushing the socio-economic development and simultaneously trying to address climate change in a progressive way.

Helplessly exposed to inconsistent policies

In the 1990s, Vietnam's Government actively encouraged the growth of aquatic production to increase exports. Following the course of the extensive reform program 'Doi Moi', preferential taxation and financial support were offered to farmers using coastal wetlands to breed fish and shrimp. Thus, the agricultural engineer Vuon became an aqua farmer when he moved to Vinh Quang Village in 1997.

For years, the Vuon family worked under oppressing heat in the damp atmosphere of a stinking swampland to create useable farming ground. Accompanied by plenty of mosquitoes and the tidal rise and fall of the water level they built ponds, sluices and a dike at the river mouth protecting the coastline from tropical storms. Within this process, Vuon lost his daughter and nephew who drowned in the marsh.

By 2012, the engineer had increased his family enterprise to a 40-hectare biotope. After a long period of experimenting, the farm became the perfect breeding ground for fish and shrimp and turned a small profit. Embedded in tropical grasses and trees with dark-green, slightly fleshy leaves the ponds were connected by self-made bridges. Also, Doan Van Vuon built a modest two-story house as well as homes for his brothers' families on the ground. All of them were bulldozed after the raid on January 5, 2012, coercing Vuon's wife to take shelter under a tarp. Their farm was completely devastated and all 20 ponds of highly valuable mature fish looted.

A legal framework opening up the door to power abuse

In 2009, Vuon had already filed a lawsuit against the local authorities. He feared the loss of his land and livelihood because he was only issued a 14-year grant agreement. That was illegal. Vietnam's 1993 land law guarantees conditional 20-year land grants. The dispute resulted in the district authorities' offer that Vuon could stay on his land if he would withdraw his complaint.

Hai Phong Vuon
Seafood harvested on a Vietnamese Aqua Farm
Two years later, the officials incorrectly applied the Land Law to recover aqua farm in currently successful use by Vuon. Additionally, the officials also applied terms specified in environmental protection laws to justify their business plans as coercive land recovery. They used article 6 of the 2003 Fisheries Law prohibiting "the illegal exploitation and destruction of [...]submarine plantation systems, mangrove forests and other aquatic habitats" to declare the attempted land allocation in a manner beneficial to them. Additionally, they accused Vuon of the destruction of mangrove aquaculture violating article 47 of the Law of Environmental Protection 2005. Thus, legal documents designed to compensate Vietnam's vulnerability to climate change provided local officials with remarkable power. "They also offer a huge potential for abuse. The legal framework is so complex, ambiguous and confusing that farmers following one environmental law simultaneously violate another one", states environmental consultant Le Hoang Lan. 

Vuon - Just a Pawn or a Change Driver?

"However, it is impossible to get accurate figures stating how many farmers have lost their livelihood in a similar way as Vuon. We can only count several hundred cases of public grievance every year", adds journalist Hoang Quoc Dung. A figure that is official are 2.8 million people employed in Vietnam's aquaculture sector. According to the Ministry of Natural Natural Resources and Environment, all of them are seriously jeopardized by increased flooding and salinity.

So far, the Vuon case has speeded up the Government's decision on an agricultural land reform in Vietnam. In 2013, millions of land users holding 20-year land use right , which were signed in 1993, will run out. "In fact, the farmer's shooting put so much pressure on the legal decision makers, that it has already been decided that all of them will be extended automatically," states Dang Hung Vo. According to him, only 50 percent of the members of the Central Committee of Communist Party voted for an extension of these use terms  Now, influenced by the case Vuon, almost all members support this policy. Thus, the use term of agriculture land will be newly determined. Currently, it is discussed about 50, 70 and 99 year long terms of use. "In my view, the state should allocate agricultural land to farmers forever. The whole extension process is way too complicated. It harms our farmers' willingness to invest and impacts our whole economy negatively," emphasizes Dang Hung Vo.

The former deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) summarizes: "The violent actions of Doan Van Vuon have indicated how important land to our farmers is and how far they can go when facing the loss of their livelihood. They also demonstrated that the relationship between local authorities and the people in Vietnam has to be improved. The lesson to learn from this case is that the private possession of land will stabilize our society. Long-term land use rights secure investments and hold up the ongoing rural migration. If we then succeed in implementing environmental protection regulations in our land law, our society will make a huge step forward."    

Dienstag, 6. November 2012

The discussion about Euro 2012 is sweeping the globe: boycott or not to boycott?

By Anna Guzhiy Hougaard

The much-debated 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, commonly referred to as Euro 2012, had suddenly found itself in the center of international attention. While some EU leaders are reserving their position, the members of the European Commission and Council have said they will boycott football matches in Ukraine in protest of human rights violations and corruption in Ukraine. Heads of Britain, France, Germany and Belgium call for a boycott of Euro 2012, but not all European countries have supported the idea of political boycott. Ukraine, which is co-hosting the tournament with Poland, has suffered a deluge of bad publicity in the build up to the tournament, which puts Poland in a difficult dilemma. Poland is against a boycott and calls for a dialogue. Poland’s situation worsens the dilemma; as a result, there can be no single EU position on this matter.

So what is the unique dilemma all Western European countries are dealing with in facing this human rights situation in Ukraine, and in particular Poland? Should European leaders attend football matches in Ukraine, as part of the Euro 2012 championship, but add some protest gesture, or should they boycott them and stay away? Will boycott 2012 make any difference at all?
First of all, in order to understand the difficult choice EU is facing with the Euro 2012 it is necessary to have some knowledge of the so-called Tymoshenko case.

Tymoshenko – not an innocent offer?

A couple of days after kick off of Euro 2012 on Friday June 8 in Warsaw, Poland, a Swedish Euro 2012 commentator Johanna Främdén made infamous Tymoshenko-braid in support of imprisoned opposition leader. The 51-year-old Tymoshenko's martyr-like reputation has been growing since her imprisonment, and it has only escalated with the approach of Euro 2012. Most European countries sympathize with the imprisoned political leader, but what if Tymoshenko is far from a political innocent?
Western leaders call for a Euro 2012 boycott in protest of corruption and human rights violations in Ukraine, in particular, the imprisonment of Ukraine’s former prime minister and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. Western leaders believe her conviction was politically motivated and unjust, and see it as an attempt by her rival, President Viktor Yanukovych, to silence her prior to the upcoming parliamentary election in Ukraine in fall 2012.
Yulia Tymoshenko is the former Ukrainian prime minister, a leader of Ukraine's Orange revolution six years ago, and the country's chief opposition politician and rival to the president, Viktor Yanukovych. She is still one of the most influential figures in Ukraine - even from a jail cell in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, where she is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence on charges of abuse of power. She is charged in overstepping her authority as prime minister, when she in 2009 signed a disadvantageous for Ukraine gas deal with Russia. New serious charges with crimes from the distant past are raised against her since her imprisonment.
Tymoshenko, who suffers from a chronic back condition, claimed that she was beaten in prison earlier this year and supporters are worried about her health and lack of appropriate medical care. The assault she suffered in prison has triggered fresh condemnation of her plight and brought the Eastern European nation under the microscope in the build-up to the tournament, resulting in incredibly negative publicity. 
“Both Tymoshenko and Yanukovych are people from the past. Throughout the turbulent 90’s in the former Soviet republics it was not possible to make a political carrier by being honest. Everybody within the politics was pickled in corruption”, explains Jakob Tolstrup, Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University. It is entirely possible that she really is guilty. But the paradox is - that is not the point. It is not a question of what she may or may not have done in the past. It is a question of how the law – enforcement system in Ukraine works. “Due to upcoming parliamentary election Yanukovych is interested in keeping her locked up for as long as possible to weaken the opposition. 

The Tymoshenko case shows that there is a clear pattern in Ukraine of who is to be punished for the past’s wrongdoings”, says Tolstrup. Another expert on Eastern Europe agrees with Tolstrup’s statement. “It is difficult to interpret her persecution as anything else but politically staged. She is a strong and annoying politician, and that is not the way you treat a country’s political opposition. It has nothing to do with the trial. Ukraine has demonstrated that the whole political elite in Ukraine – probably also Tymoshenko – is corrupt”, explains Mette Skak, Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science at University of Aarhus. 

Poland’s unique dilemma

Being one of the relatively new EU member states, and given its particular history one would expect Poland to stand up against human rights abuses. However, Poland, which with Ukraine has spent years and billions preparing for the matches, is calling on Yanukovych to relent on Tymoshenko, while also arguing against a boycott and for a dialogue. Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski warned against a Western boycott of Ukraine during the championships, saying this would “send the former Soviet republic back into the arms of Russia”. Also, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has expressed his concerns about the boycott. "I think the calls for a boycott are inappropriate. I understand the politicians who sympathize with Yulia Tymoshenko, but nothing stands in their way to express this sympathy in a clear way during the championships”, Donald Tusk told a news conference.

It all looked different when the tournament was awarded jointly to Poland and Ukraine in April 2007. Ukraine was still identified with the “Orange revolution”, and the hope was that Poland would serve as an example to Ukraine in a successful “return to the West”. It was a unique opportunity for Ukraine to shed its Soviet image and show its European mettle. Instead, after the failure of the Orange revolution and the election of a pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych in 2010, Ukraine had travelled in the wrong direction.
As to Poland, it is doubtful that anybody seriously questioned whether Poland could cope, when Poland was chosen as one of the co-hosting countries of Euro 2012. Nonetheless, as any other country hosting a sport event of this caliber, Poland faced neither more nor less challenges during the preparations of the tournament. Poland worked hard to make the tournament a success, it should therefore not come as a surprise that Poland does not appreciate the negative publicity Euro 2012 is exposed to, as well as it is upset with the lack of attention it has suffered due to its much more discussed neighbor. 

“Poland would have liked to have more focus on the success stories about Poland during Euro 2012, instead of having all the attention on human rights violations in Ukraine. It is not particularly good publicity for Poland, why they will never join the Western boycott of Euro 2012”, says Tolstrup. Obviously, Poland can hardly boycott a championship which they co-host.
There is more to it. Bad publicity, even if on Ukraine’s behalf, affects the bigger picture. Regretfully, not all Western Europeans can distinguish between different former Soviet republics in Eastern Europe, and Poland fears how that might affect ordinary Western European fans’ understanding of this whole situation.
At last, Ukraine plays an important role in Poland’s foreign policy and, naturally, Poland wishes for a prosperous and a west-facing eastern neighbor. “Based on the geo-strategic and, also, partly, anti–Russian concerns it is in Poland’s best interest to remain in good relations with Ukraine”, points out Skak.
Here, we have some of the main causes for polish political headache during Euro 2012. And what about the rest of EU?

The other side of the boycott discussion

Again, there is no single position on this dilemma. Culture minister of Denmark Uffe Elbaek and Holland’s Health, Welfare and Sport Minister Edith Schippers visited Kharkiv, one of the host venues in the East of Ukraine, where they first thing met with representatives of Ukraine’s Amnesty International group and members of local NGO’s. In Denmark Elbaek’s visit in Ukraine was wildly discussed, but Skak does not see any political tragedy in his choice. “Elbaek’s participation is on the lowest possible level, also, his involvement with the local activists was highly appreciated in Ukraine. It is possibly a very good solution on Denmark’s behalf”, she said. According to Tolstrup, participation of the Danish royal family would have been enough. “Denmark should have restricted itself to sending the Crown Prince of Denmark, and the Danish political system should have stayed away”, said Tolstrup.

Sport and politics - bad cocktail?

“Leave politics out of this”, argue some. As reader might have guessed, Poles are not much for mixing the two. "I don't like it when people mix politics and sport. This is another example of roles and tasks being confused… I believe that Ukraine and Poland should have a chance to organize a good championship, which will be a sporting holiday and bring joy to athletes and fans," Former Polish President and Head of the Board of the Yalta European Strategy (YES) Alexander Kwasniewski told Polish Radio TOK FM, while commenting on statements about a boycott of Euro 2012 in Ukraine in connection with the situation around Tymoshenko, writes Kyev Post. 
However, politics and sport have mixed before – from the Berlin 1936 Olympic Games till Moscow in 1980 and China in 2008. “The boycott of sports events will always be a free ride. A serious statement would be an enforcement of trade or arms embargo, rather than boycotting sports events”, believes Skak. So it is or it is not pointless to boycott Euro 2012?

Euro 2012 boycott make any difference at all?

One side of this whole discussion is that EU officials refuse to be passive bystanders while the core principles and values of the Western democracies are being violated in Ukraine. The whole point with the boycott is to send a message to Yanukovych that the course of his current governing is going to lead Ukraine away from Europe, and, at the same time, the boycott is a message to Tymoshenko that she “is not forgotten”. Will this message bounce off on Yanukovych?  
”Euro 2012 boycott does have an impact on the Ukrainian government, as Euro 2012 is a huge prestigious project”, says Skak. Tolstrup agrees. “The more EU leaders join the boycott, the stronger political message would be send, and if EU is not together in this the value of this message would be reduced. The boycott hurts Ukraine’s image, telling its voters prior to the upcoming parliamentary election that EU does not approve of Yanukovych. There is a so called “grey zone” of voters who do not feel strongly neither with the opposition nor the current government, and the boycott might have an impact on these voters, in turn, those who do feel strongly about one side or another will be confirmed in their choice”, explains Tolstrup.
Regular Ukrainian citizens are less optimistic. “I do not think that the Euro 2012 boycott will affect anything or Tymoshenko case for that matter. As the government is now preparing for the upcoming parliamentary elections, they will do everything possible to keep her in prison. Ukraine is slowly turning into a criminal state. But I do not support Tymoshenko either”, sighs Oksana Tsyuz, an international student at Aarhus School of Business in Aarhus, Denmark.
Poland’s argument is that you have to find right measures, both symbolic and practical. Perhaps, boycott the corrupt president, but not the noble country. But how are you supposed to mark this difference between a country’s president and its citizens? Boycott the matches or attend the matches, but avoid shaking hands with the country’s president? Culture Minister of Denmark pointed out that he intended to watch the matches with the ordinary fans and not the political elite of Ukraine. But even if it is possible, will an ordinary Ukrainian be able to distinguish between highest-elite lounge and an “ordinary” VIP section? That is if an average Ukrainian will get to see that on the TV at all. 
We will yet get to see how successful the hosting of Euro 2012 turns out, and most probable, the big sports dramas and celebrations will outweigh the political ones. Nonetheless, the dilemma remains unresolved. There is no universal rule to determine whether or not to boycott a particular sporting or cultural event. The games are in full swing in Ukraine – both sports and political, and, keeping the presented considerations in mind, the reader would have to make her or his own mind about 2012 Euro boycott.

Brazil’s Environmental Expedition to Africa: A Green Paradox

By Sara de Melo Rocha

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Passport: check! Visa valid for 90 days: check! Invitation to the People’s Summit in Rio+20: check! Mozambican environmental activist and journalist Jeremias Vunjanhe had all of this as he travelled from Maputo to Johannesburg and, finally, to São Paulo, Brazil.  From São Paulo, Vunjanhe expected to take another flight to Rio de Janeiro, to participate in the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). Instead, he was intercepted by the Brazilian Federal Police and sent back to Mozambique “without explanation”.

Last June, Brazil hosted Rio+20. Rio de Janeiro received over 100 heads of state and government representatives, changing the routine of the city. Twenty years ago, the same city held the same event, the Rio Summit. Since then, the most significant difference was in the way Brazil faced environmental challenges. 

“In ‘92, Brazil was regarded as not respecting environmental laws, unable to protect its forest, only making its first steps in environmental issues”. Flávio Miragaia Perri was the coordinator of Rio 92, later becoming Minister of the Environment.  “The conference was the turning point for Brazil in terms of environmental attention”, he explains. Today, by contrast, Brazil has a say about environmental issues. This became clearer during COP15 – the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference -, where Brazilian President Lula da Silva gave a speech criticizing industrialised countries’ attitude towards climate change, adding that “Brazil [had] not come [there] to bargain. (…). We spent one century without growing, while others grew a lot. Now that we started to grow, it is not fair to make sacrifices again”.  

Jeremias Vunjanhe was going to Rio to discuss the effect the presence of Vale - a Brazilian mining company - is having on Mozambique. “The organization I work in – Justiça Ambiental – published important information about a protest by 350 families that were displaced so Vale could continue mining the area. We have pictures of police repression during a demonstration in January. I know that did not please Vale and some important sectors of the Mozambican government. If this is in any way related to my deportation from Brazil, I cannot say.”

Jeremias Vunjanhe, 
Mozambican environmental activist 
(personal archive)
Vale - investing around $1.6 billion and producing 11 million tons of coal each year - is just one example of Brazil’s presence in Africa. In 2008, the Brazilian Agency for Cooperation (ABC) approved the implementation of 236 projects in South-South cooperation. The same agency spends 55% of its resources in African countries. In environmental matters, Brazil cooperates with 12 countries on 29 projects. However, Brazil’s outreach to Africa is recent: it started with the election of Lula da Silva as president of Brazil in 2003.

Priority Mission: Africa

To explain Brazil’s interest in Africa, Miguel Silva - a researcher in the Centre of African Studies in Porto University - goes back to the time of colonization, when millions of Africans slaves were brought to Brazil by the Portuguese to work in coffee plantations. “Brazil is starting to somewhat compensate their descendants - or Afro-Brazilians. Universities have quotas for students of African descent and Brazilians are more aware and proud of their origins”.  When Lula was elected, he made cooperation with Africa a priority. Since then, 19 new embassies have opened across Africa and Lula became the Brazilian president that visited that continent the most. His handpicked successor, Dilma Rousseff, has followed Lula’s footsteps in this respect. 

Along with private investment, the Brazilian state has set up several projects in Africa: these mainly include sectors such as agriculture, biofuel, health and environment. From technical cooperation to financial investments, Brazil is building an influence network both in Portuguese speaking countries and the rest of the continent.

REDD+ is not ready

Brazil’s shine is so strong that some nations strive to emulate its most notorious developmental projects. In Africa, Mozambique has voiced its admiration for Bolsa Floresta, the first international program that pays populations to preserve the Amazon forest and avoid deforestation and carbon emissions. Mozambique is currently working on a decree that will officially create a technical group for REDD+ - acronym for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. Mozambique wants to start its own carbon market, since 70 per cent of the country is covered in forest and vegetation and 80 per cent of the population lives in rural areas and relies on forests to survive. Close to 85 per cent of the rural energy consumption comes from wood and charcoal, which consumes roughly 20 million cubic meters of wood a year. Brazil gave the know-how, Norway supplied funds and Mozambique provided the area.

Yet Brazil’s very own Bolsa Floresta is flawed. The sums offered to rural dwellers are not attractive enough to convince them to give up their use of the forest. Mozambique did not fare any better. The crux of the program lies in the payment to the populations to help keep the trees standing. Yet, according to Isilda Nhantumbo, a senior researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) - a non-profit institution behind the project -, there are reasons to question the sustainability of this measure. “What is the source of the payments?”, she wonders, “What is the compromise between beneficiary and payments? How can we measure and monitor the project?” The program is only at its first steps. Brazilian technicians were in Mozambique to instruct the African team leading the program, which is due to be implemented in 2015.  Mozambique will get $3.8 million to set up the plan, which includes studies about carbon stocks and examination of the benefit-sharing mechanism.

However, REDD+ in Mozambique is far from being ready. The IIED researcher admitted that cooperation with Brazil created some tension, due to the paradox between Brazilian investments and their posture towards the environment. “On the one hand Brazil intended to give some lessons and replicate its model in a copy/paste mode, on the other the hand it is channelling large investments in agriculture through a program called Prosavana that will occupy 6 million hectares of forest for agriculture. It is a threat, and a contradiction between the ‘green’ of the money and the ‘green’ of the environment. One cancels the other”, Isilda Nhamtumbo points out.

For the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment (MMA), REDD+ is not an official, state-run cooperation project. “It involves a Brazilian institution – Fundação Amazónia Sustentável – but it is important to point out that Brazil was invited to participate in this project and not the other way around”, clarifies Natalie Unterstell, manager of forest and climate change at the MMA.

Prosavana, a 6-hands play

Japan, Brazil and Mozambique partnered in a tripartite initiative aiming to “promote socio-economic development in an environmentally sustainable way through the development of agriculture”. This description can be read in several Mozambican newspapers outlining the project in which Mozambique lends 6,000 square kilometres for the plantation of corn, soya, rice and cotton for 50 years, renewable for another 50 years. Japan and Brazil invest $1 billion each, the latter provides technical support, since the area is very similar to Brazilian soil. According to the Mozambican Minister of Agriculture, 90% of the workforce will be Mozambican.

Jeremias Vunjanhe doubts whether the program will truly benefit Mozambique’s population or trade balance. He is equally concerned with the “secrecy” of Prosavana. “The program was announced in Brazil before even being publicly discussed in Mozambique. They say that there will be a transfer of technology and assistance to farmers in Mozambique, but this is not clear. Farmers are not being told how they will be integrated in the project”, he worries. 

The project will be implemented in 12 districts in the provinces of Nampula, Cabo Delgado and Zambézia. According to Vunjanhe, the north of the country is one of its most populated and fertile areas, “feeding a big part of the population”. Mônica Martins, a professor at the State University of Ceará, Brazil, and expert in the environment, is concerned with the future effects that this kind of plantations might have on Mozambican soil. “Despite the continuous optimistic statements from leaders about the outcome of this project, our experience with the monoculture of soybeans proved to be disastrous in the Brazilian soil”. 

A year ago, when the Brazilian delegation visited Mozambique to scout the area of the Prosavana project, the head of the delegation admitted that Brazilian investors chose Mozambique for the cheap land and flexible laws. In an article published in Folha de São Paulo, Carlos Ernesto Augustin stated “Mozambique is a Mato Grosso [a rural region in western Brazil] in the middle of Africa, with free land, without environmental impediments and with much cheaper shipping for China”. He continues affirming that "today, the land is expensive in Mato Grosso and it is impossible to obtain a license for deforestation”. 

Jeremias Vunjanhe concludes that these are the “real reasons for investing in Mozambique, it has nothing to do with increasing productivity and agriculture as the government now wants to justify”.

Nonetheless, MMA is pleased with Prosavana and believes that growth and sustainability are both met in the program. “It is fully compatible with the objective of sustainable development in a balanced environment”, Natalie Unterstell insists.

Brazilian green strategy

Natalie Unterstell just returned from Congo, where Brazil started an environmental monitoring project to mitigate the damages caused by greenhouse gases. “We have many requests for cooperation from several countries. We don’t go to a country because we want to, but because there is an interest from them”, she says, adamantly. Besides the funds from the ABC, the MMA also benefits from a Norwegian subsidy of $1billion, of which up to 20% of the resources can be used to support projects abroad.

For the MMA, the current priority is the South-South cooperation. “This dialogue with African countries is a partnership between equals. We are talking about countries that want to exchange technology and, in the environmental area, it is very important because we ourselves are still learning. Brazil does not stand as an example”, Natalie Unterstell adds. 
Jeremias Vunjanhe looks at the Brazilian cooperation from a different perspective. “Brazilian environmental projects in Africa work as a ‘business card’ for all the other investments that Brazils wants to do here”. He goes further saying that “when Brazil sees itself as a country that makes South-South cooperation, very often it claims leadership in poor countries. Brazilians criticize the way developed countries deal with them, but they are exporting the exact same model to African countries”.

Researcher Miguel Silva agrees and explains that “in economic terms, Brazil intends to access vital raw materials that can continue feeding the Brazilian economy”. Mônica Martins argues that the official Brazilian rhetoric describes South-South cooperation as a contribution for the Brazilian-African development. However, the real reasons differ, she reckons : “Brazil needs this alliance for its international perspective, to be able to enter into the United Nations Security Council, to sell products and technologies and to buy raw materials.”

A green paradox or a genuine interest?

“Of course there is a paradox when pursuing economic growth is connected with environmental preservation”, Martins promptly answers. She further explains that the image of Brazil-saving-the-environment and Brazil-projecting-an-international-positive-image walk hand-in-hand and are present in the actions of governments, NGOs and environmental movements. But no country will leave behind growth goals in order to pursue environmental objectives.

And some among Brazilian authorities are well aware of these contradictions. Speaking to the Brasileiros magazine, Nei Bitencourt, the Brazilian ambassador in the Republic of Cameroon spelled out the dilemma: “is our role focusing on cooperation and acting as a partner amongst equals, or is it to simply be investors focused on economic and commercial results?  If Brazil chooses to focus on profitability, is there a risk that we will be viewed as egotistical?  If cooperation is the route to be taken, will our own development interests be fulfilled? It is difficult to say what will happen but it is certain that these decisions will have to be mad”.

Chunchi, the town of suicidal kids

The scourge of emigration for those who are left behind

By Sara de Melo Rocha   

Suicidal kids Ecuador

In the remote region of Chimborazo, a central-Andean province of Ecuador, the town of Chunchi has one of the world’s highest suicide rates among kids and teenagers; Chunchi is known as the ‘village of the suicidal children’. In five years, 63 young people ended their lives. Many others tried it unsuccessfully.  The common denominator: all of them grew up without their parents, who emigrated to the United States or Spain.

Chunchi, has no more than twelve thousand inhabitants, a decreasing number due to the migration flow to the U.S. or to Spain. Known as “Ecuador’s Andean chair”, Chunchi provides a watercolor landscape due to the red sunset, especially during the summer. But if the Andes give Chunchi beautiful sunsets during the warm months, the winter mist is dense and the mountains isolate the town and its people. Chunchi has one hospital, three schools and the 30 rooms available in the Hotel Chunci Imperial are more than enough to receive the town’s visitors. There are more leaving than coming.

Everyone has one or more relatives that have emigrated, and the story repeats itself: a young couple - or at least one of them - decides to look for a better life in the United States or in Europe, leaving their children behind and entrusting them to relatives, godparents, neighbors or to sometimes hastily appointed legal custodians. Besides sending money for their offspring’s education, they promise they will - one day - come back to pick them up. Most of the times, the return is delayed or never happens.

Wagner Sárez, a psychologist in the hospital of Chunchi, believes that emigration is the main explanation for the suicides. “This leaves the emigrant’s son or daughter feeling lonely and lacking affection, which in turn leads them to stress, then depression because he or she is not getting any moral support from anyone. It sometimes leads these children to start drinking at an early age, which leads to further loneliness and makes them contemplate the worst. It is a tremendous and shameful situation”, he regrets.

In Chunchi, close to 41% of youths have a least one relative living in the U.S. or Spain. These numbers, provided by national census statistics, do not get better: between 1980 and 2010, 20% of the city’s population has emigrated. It is a town of grandparents and grandchildren, but the generation in the middle is gone. According to Eduardo Espinoza, the coordinator of Chunchi’s Communitarian Development Office, emigration leads to a process of disintegration among the affected families. “The man or woman that leaves makes a new home for him or herself upon arrival and simply forgets about his previous life. Close to 75 % of those who leave don’t come back. [The man or woman] who stays behind eventually looks for another partner and ends up abandoning his or her previous children, which are left with no parental and emotional point of reference and no motivation. They feel rejected” he adds.

 Desperation or heroism?

“There used to be, on average, six suicide attempts every month until recent times”, says Wagner Sárez adding that, recently, the number has gone down to roughly one or two. He remembers an extreme case that occurred in 2009: a ten-year-old boy who committed suicide. His parents were living in Spain and left him and other two sisters living with the grand-mother. He preferred to stay at home on the uncle’s wedding day and hang himself in one of the many trees around his grand-mother’s house.

Eduardo Espinoza finds another reason: “They look up to those who have committed suicide in the past. They see this as a form of heroic gesture, which they decide to emulate”, Espinoza explains.

Welcome to Europe. No children allowed

In 2003, a migration agreement between Spain and Ecuador permitted to legalize the stay of Ecuadorians interested in working in the country. A bilateral commission was created to submit job offers by Spanish businessmen to Ecuadorians. It was expected to deliver about 30 000 work visas each year. The U.S. remains the ‘promised land’ but many Ecuadorians started seeing Spain and Italy as a better and easier option.

The working fathers and the mothers were more than welcome. Children, not really.  “Many people from rural areas went to Spain to work in the fields. There was a big European demand for care services so women could start working. In Spain, there is a small birth rate because the state gives little support to working mothers. So, Ecuadorian women could not emigrate with their children”, explains Rosalia Cortes, an Argentinian researcher at the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO).  From the 441 thousand Ecuadorians living in Spain, 41,4% left at least one child behind.

Mi querida mamita

According to a UNICEF’s study about children and migration in Ecuador, female migration exceeded that of males in 1999. The researcher, Gloria Camacho,  explains that “when  the  father  has  migrated,  the  family  is  not  quite  affected  since,  from  a  cultural point  of  view,  the  mother  has  always  been  responsible  for  the  household. On the contrary, when the mother has migrated, the family is strongly affected and its vulnerability levels depend on whether the father directly takes over the care of their children, or he has the support from other women in his family.”

The role of mothers in Latin American households is particularly important and, with the migration of the female figure, the lack of attention and the feeling of rejection can be even bigger. Besides that, there are other risks involved, says Gloria Camacho: “Many  of  these  children  and  adolescents  are  subject  to  physical  and  sexual hazards. On this regard, the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission, observed during his visits of Ecuador that  “girls  are  exposed to physical,  psychological  and  sexual  maltreatment  by  their  relatives  or  neighbors in charge of them”.

Rosalia Cortes disagrees with the sexual abuse hypothesis. She states that “in the remote areas of Ecuador, with no good schools, no good education and health, what do you do with the money from remittances? These kids do have money so they can spend it on drugs. They get money but they have to face several problems. Money does not replace family guidance. It is only in theory that these remittances will help to develop the kid.  But receiving money with no familiar and cultural environment, these kids go a straight.  The risks are connected with the belief that money brings development to a family. How? ”, she emphatically asks.

Suicides are going down

In 2006, the town set up a program to fight malnutrition and to help inculcate the values of education. The center was partly funded by UNICEF and the European Union. Eduardo Espinoza gladly informs that the numbers of suicides among young people are going down in Chunchi. The program might be partly responsible: “We also want to help compensate for the lack of recreational activities in Chunchi. We do this through the Appropriate Use of Spare Time Program. We want to give these youngsters a healthy hobby, like learning a new dance or doing sports. We want to give them a greater sense of belonging to their community, which is crucial to fend off the feeling of loneliness that has driven some youngsters to commit suicide.” The program works with 180 children aged between 6 and 17 and also aims to fight malnutrition, as well as, inculcate the values of education and help them these kids with their studies and encourage them to go as far as university. The problem is that the employment prospects for those who do not migrate are scarce. Most of the population in the rural areas works in agriculture. 

It might be the efforts of the city council helping, but the decrease of emigration, itself a consequence of the current economic crisis, plays a role too. “Families living in the U.S. are returning because of the dire economic situation in America, and the Ecuadorian government is now helping with that process. The government created the National Office for Emigration, which is helping to finance the return of those who wish to come home and even granting cheap loans to help them start new business when they return”, Espinoza explains.

Rosalia Cortes sighs of relief when the words “migration flow is decreasing” come across during the skype conversation. For the researcher, migration is never an answer: “In general, NGOs want to be politically correct and they do not want to say that migration is bad but migration can be very bad for children. I see migrants’ household’s workers here in Argentina who did not bring their kids. They send money back home, they speak on the phone. Maybe they will bring the children to live with them in 8 or in 10 years and these kids are strangers.” Some Latin American researchers prefer to study the positive aspects of migration. It is not Rosalía Cortes case who points out two negative ones: “First, the cultural impact of migration - what happens to kids and teenagers that remain in an empty place? – and second the psychologist level - what happens to the family? Migration is never a solution. Migration does not bring improvement in living standards for a better family life. It destroys everything.”

Even with the decrease of the migration flow, the American and the European dream still exists among Latin Americans. Rosalía Cortes asks: “How do you stop what is in the imagination of the people? Migration is part of our culture and history. Migration responds not only to money, jobs but also to the demands of the society that those people come from”.

The last suicide case with a link to emigration in Chunchi occurred in 2010. A girl aged 18, whose parents were living abroad. In 2011, a 17 year old girl living with her parents killed herself; she was exploited by them, and forced to do several chores. “This year, fortunately, we have not yet seen a case”, Espinoza concludes.

Would the legalization of drugs end the violence in Mexico?

By Virginia Kirst
With over 60,000 dead in Mexico since the beginning of Felipe Calderón´s presidency, the time has come to declare that the war on drugs has failed. This article assesses the debate about the legalization of narcotics in the Americas and alternative approaches to the problem shortly before a new president will take office in Mexico.
Saúl Reyes is a victim of the narcoviolencia – the violence linked to the drug trade – in Mexico. He lost six members of his family: Four siblings, a nephew and his sister-in-law. Reyes is one of the very few Mexicans that have been granted political asylum in the U.S.A. Now he is trying to make sure that nobody in the United States forgets the war that is ravaging in his country: The war on drugs.

A lost war against drugs

Reyes is one of the many victims of the drug related violence in Mexico. In 2012, the violence in the country seems to have stabilized for the first time since President Felipe Calderón declared war to the drug traffickers in his counter roughly five years ago. But stabilized at what numbers? Mexico saw about 22,000 annual murders in 2011, “only” 1,000 more than the previous year but twice as many as in 2007. In 2006, Calderón vowed to use all the powers of the state to take down the drug lords – since then over 60,000 people have died.
The roots of Calderón´s approach go back to 1969, when Richard Nixon, the 37th President of the United States launched a set of policies for dealing with illegal substances: The aim of the latter was to discourage the production, distribution and consumption of drugs by repressing and criminalizing producers, traffickers and consumers. Since then, drug war strategies in Latin America were clearly “made in the U.S.A.”, says Coletta Youngers, Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). This applies to Mexico´s current approach as well.
Today, more than ever, the effects of these repressive policies are visible in Central America. And with thousands dead in Latin America and no sign of declining numbers of drug consumers (the United Nations actually estimate that the consumption of cocaine rose by 27% between 1998 and 2008), the war on drugs has to be declared lost. Today, besides Mexico, many other countries are trapped in the spiral of crime and violence.

Speaking the “L”-word

But something has changed: Little by little, Latin American leaders are starting a debate about the current drug policies. They speak of the need for change, for alternative approaches to the problem of drugs and the related violence. One of them, however, even goes a step further: Otto Pérez Molina, the newly elected president of Guatemala, openly argues for legal, highly regulated market for narcotics in order to change the situation in the Americas.
Just before the Americas summit in Cartagena in April 2012, Pérez advocated this idea in an article in The Observer: “When we analyse drug markets through realistic lenses (not ideological ones as is pretty much customary in most government circles these days), we realise that drug consumption is a public health issues that, awkwardly, has been transformed into a criminal justice problem.” In order to deal with this problem adequately, a step towards legalization has to be taken he writes.
Pérez Molina’s strong position for the legalization of drugs, emphasizing a more humane approach is surprising, considering his past as a Guatemalan military general during which he was accused of very serious human rights violations.
Also Youngers admits to being surprised when Pérez Molinas´ advocacy for this topic grew stronger and stronger. She supposes that he partially put it on the table because he was frustrated that the US-government had announced to cut the amount of counter-drug aid for his country in 2013. Furthermore, he received a very positive response from the international community for his approach to the issue. All of the sudden, he was not the ultra-conservative anymore, but progressive: His image improved. “Another part is that people say Pérez Molina is very scared that Guatemala could become another Mexico. He probably thinks twice about implementing the same strategies that Calderón adopted, seeing what the results of that have been” Youngers adds.

Calderón’s approach

But what about Calderón himself? He seems not to be able to see the disastrous results of his policy. Nevertheless, it is impossible for him to do a complete turnaround now, after having pushed his strategy throughout his term. What he can do, however, is looking at all the variables in the equation: Mexico does not bear the sole responsibility for the situation it is in now. Youngers reports that “Calderón and many others in the Mexican government find very frustrating that there is a free flow of arms into their country from the US and a free cash-flow that goes back and forth”, while the flow of illegal drugs shows its horrid effects almost exclusively in Mexico.
With no turnaround possible for Calderón, the hopes are high that his successor, to be elected on July 1st 2012, will stop the violence. And the candidates are exploiting these hopes to the fullest, promising their own, new approaches to the issues.
Experts however doubt that any of the candidates will make a substantial difference. Youngers predicts that Enrique Peña Nieto, the candidate currently leading the polls, will not do anything very different to what Calderón did. Annette von Schönfeld, Latin America council of the German Heinrich Böll foundation, is also very clear in her expectations: “It does not matter which candidate wins – the violence will continue.”

A case for legal drugs

Regardless of these predictions, Froylán Enciso thinks that Mexico would benefit greatly from legal, regulated drug markets. Enciso is currently a PhD-student at Stony Brooks University in New York, writing his dissertation on contested drug-commodities markets in his home state of Sinaloa, Mexico.
“We have to learn how to live with drugs. We have to stop fighting against the symptoms and start looking at the true causes. Rationally, it would even be a good decision to introduce legal, regulated markets – it would be a good business for Mexico” Enciso believes. But he also knows that these dreams are farfetched considering the political reality in the international system.
Three years back, Mexico already took steps towards the decriminalization of drug consumers. In 2009 a law was passed that allows the ownership of small amounts of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and LSD for self-consumption. Many critics say that the law did not really bring any change because the legalized quantities are by far too small. And because only possession was decriminalized, but not the production, trafficking or retail.
Others criticize the law for the opposite reason: For them, the decriminalization of consumers is already one step too far – not even to mention the legalization of drugs. They fear rising numbers of drug consumers and related crime. But there are facts to prove that is actually not the case. The Netherlands is populated by marijuana-addicts just because the drug is legal there. And the report of the Global Commission on drug policies from June 2011, advocates a new approach towards worldwide drug policies employing the example of Portugal to show that decriminalizing consumption does not increase the drug use and the problems associated with it: In July 2001, Portugal became the first European country to decriminalize the use and possession of all illicit drugs – not just marijuana as the Netherlands. A study about the effects concludes that “the removal of criminal penalties, combined with the use of alternative therapeutic responses to people struggling with drug dependence, has reduced the burden of drug law enforcement on the criminal justice system and the overall level of problematic drug use.”
Enciso´s ideas aim at a similar direction: To him, money is what matters; money could both be saved by removing criminal penalties, and earned from possible taxes on drugs. He suggests using it for health and development programs in affected regions of Mexico. Regions, for example, where the high unemployment rates make the cultivation of poppy seeds and marijuana seem like the only way out of misery.
“Such development programs would surely reduce the violence. Of course not immediately but in the long run for sure” Enciso affirms. Nevertheless, he remains realistic and adds that changes in the drug policy will not happen in the near future. The adamant opposition of the United States makes it particularly difficult for Mexico to even imagine legalization. Mexico is however not as dependent on the US in terms of aid as it used to be: American grants to Mexico for international narcotics control and law enforcement have continually gone down and reached a new low since 2008 at about 55,000,000 US-Dollar in 2012.

But drugs are not the only problem…

Von Schönfeld, like others, sees the legalization of drugs as only one step towards the end of the violence in Mexico. The criminal organizations that are responsible for the vicious circle of violence are also engaged in other criminal activities like money laundering, human trafficking and kidnappings. All of which involve just as much violence as drug business does. Von Schönfeld points out that the radical legalization of drugs would even incorporate the risk of an increase in other criminal activities in other fields in order to balance out the loss of income.
Furthermore, von Schönfeld adds, in Mexico, organized crime is present in all branches of the government. The democratic institutions in Mexico are not yet strong enough to deal with the infiltration of the government by organized criminality. In fact, about 70% of the regional governments in Mexico are estimated to be infiltrated by “narcos”.

Something has to change

The legalization of drugs would not eliminate all violence in Latin America at once but something has to change. At the Americas Summit in Cartagena in April, the debate about international drug control policies was on the agenda for the first time. And Barack Obama still attended the conference. In a closed-door meeting the issue was discussed with the results that the Organization of American States (OAS) was tasked with analyzing the results of present policies and the exploration of alternative approaches that could possibly be more effective. At the end of the summit, Obama did not forget to assure that he does not “mind a debate around issues like decriminalization” but personally does not think that the legalization of drugs is going to be the answer.
Even with Obama´s skeptical comments in the end, the summit in Cartagena still marks a milestone – for the first time ever the US war on drugs is being questioned seriously and openly even by administrative officials.

Real alternatives

Youngers suggests that more humane and more effective approaches that could be implemented in the near future should focus on the harm that drug policies themselves are causing right now. Firstly, consumption should be decriminalized and treated as a public health issue. New laws need to be passed that legalize the ownership of “reasonable” amounts of narcotics and do not give policemen and judges too much liberty to interpret the legislation in a way that convenes them in a particular situation.
Secondly, sentencing policies have to be changed. Currently jails across the region are filled with low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, just like they are in the United States because their model was exported to Latin America. Youngers explains that “there are horrific problems within the prisons – for example a horribly inadequate infrastructure – and jails function as schools of crime”. The problem is that once somebody goes to a prison, even if they were only small drug offenders beforehand, after they come out, they are completely tied into criminal organizations or – in Central America – gangs, or maras. “This policy is completely counterproductive. There need to be alternatives to incarceration for low-level, non-violent drug offenders, particularly women,” says Youngers.

Montag, 5. November 2012

Germany suffering cardiac arrest: The issue of organ donations

Germany is infamously known to be Europe’s forerunner. That may well be true for trying to manage the Euro-crisis, technological quality products, and a well-doing economy in times of general trouble. But when it comes to the sensitive topic of organ donations, the picture is actually reversed: Germany is struggling with a lack of donations and therefore the World Health Organisation’s criteria of self-sufficiency since years. A current law reform tries to challenge this. But there is more controversy behind the debate than just the question how to approach the people with this sensitive topic.

By Frederic van Triel 

Around 12.000 seriously ill Germans are on waiting lists for life-saving organ donations, at the moment. Every day three of them die, because of a lack of suitable organs. “We need to approach the people, by asking and double-checking”, as former foreign minister and living kidney-donor Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier emphasises, “there is no inviolable right of the people to be undisturbed by this topic.” But is that really the case and what is behind the allegedly insufficient German willingness to donate?

On first glance, the situation seems to be a dilemma: As the number of patients waiting for a liver, a kidney, pancreas, duodenum, lungs or a heart is constantly rising and reached a peak of 2.778 council enquiries in 2011, the number of donors is stagnating since years. 

In 2011 it reached a level of 1200 donors in total which displays a decline of 100 donors in comparison to the previous year. On second glance instead, the situation resembles more a paradox: Whilst 74% of German men and women are potentially willing to donate an organ, only 25% of these people possess an organ donor card. There seems to be a need to bridge a divide between the German aspiration to be Europe’s forerunning country and its empirical truth, when it comes to this controversial topic. 

Mind the Gap:Willingness vs. Reality 

For Birgit Blome, spokeswoman of the German Organ Transplantation Foundation (DSO), which is responsible for the coordination of organ donations in Germany, it is clear, that “it is not the missing will to donate. The problem is the lack of information and the realisation in the hospitals.” To understand what Mrs. Blome means, one has to have some knowledge about the previous and the present German legislation. Before the reform, the so called ‘extended consent solution’ was prevailing law. Meaning that potential donors either had to fill in an organ donor card voluntarily during lifetime, or relatives had to decide about a potential organ donation. In case of an accident, for example, they had to base their decision on the presumed will of their kinsman. A difficult situation for the relatives, as one can imagine. 

The newly passed act changes the legislation towards a ‘decision solution’. Meaning that, by the help of the public and private health insurances, every citizen aged 16 plus gets informed about organ donations and asked about his or her personal will to donate, frequently. The answer however, still remains voluntarily. In situations of uncertainty, the decision is still in the hands of relatives. By implementing the ‘decision solution’ the government expects “an increase in the willingness to donate, because of better informed citizens”, as Daniel Bahr, Federal Minister of Health puts it. A solution not without dispute, as Dr. Paolo Bavastro, cardiologist and holder of the Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, remarks: “Pushing people for a decision with the help of periodic mails is an act of coercion. The law is a purely utilitarian act to get more donations, justice or ethics of the individual are completely left out. It is impossible to ask 16-60 year-olds about this complex issue.” 

Another major point of the reform is the implementation of transplant coordinators, mandatory for every hospital with an intensive care unit. The devil was not exactly in detail but rather structural, as Mrs. Blome reports: “due to staff shortage in the intensive care units potential donors were often not reported to us. The possibility of an organ donation was treated as an additional burden and consequently neglected. Therefore the DSO welcomes the installation of transplant coordinators as the most important improvement of the reform.” With this change the Federal German government follows an allegedly success story: Widening the view to an international perspective, appointed transplant coordinators are effectively pre-existent in other European countries, such as Spain where donation rates are the highest in the world with 32 donors per one million inhabitants. However, there is doubt about a successful implementation in the German case: “staff and expenses are kept at a minimum in modern hospitals there will be a high pressure from the business executives to keep this enormous extra effort at the lowest level possible”, Dr. Bavastro remarks. On a site note it is remarkable that due to its federal system, transplant coordinators were already appointed in eight out of 16 states. A real turning point might look different. 

A lack of Unity in Organ Unity 

The current reform did not come voluntarily into existence: Germany was actually forced to readjust its transplantation laws, by standards set at EU-level, to assure consistent quality criteria. In addition to that, Germany is a member state of the Dutch-based International Foundation Eurotransplant (ET) responsible for the distribution of organs within eight countries, which are Benelux, Germany, Slovenia, Croatia, Austria, and a preliminary cooperation with Hungary. Focusing on the ET-countries, the statistics speak a very clear language: While donations per one million citizens are are considerably higher as often per million capita as Germany. ET is allocating the organs by medical criteria of expected outcome and urgency, however there is a national organ balance involved, trying to keep a reasonable exchange balance. From an ethical point of view there is no difference where the organs derived from ‘dissent solutions’ originate from, Germany’s ET-import-export balance will never be in balance, Dr. Bavastro forecasts: “waiting lists will become longer, no matter which solution is enshrined in law, because the number of people suffering brain breakdown is naturally limited.” 

Another Bone of Contention: Brain Death equals Death? 

There are more disputes than the question of dissent or consent solution, another focal point is the medically and ethically complex issue of death. For years, brain death is used as indispensible prerequisite criteria for an organ donation. From a medical perspective, brain death implies the breakdown of cerebrum, cerebellum and brain stem. In Germany, the German Medical Association derived the prerogative of interpretation when it comes to this sensitive issue, defining a three step model to declare brain death: First the type of brain damage has to be tested, than coma, areflexia (non-existence of reflexes) and apnoea have to be assured. At last the irreversibility of the brain damage has to be proven, by twelve to 72 hours of observation time. Dr. Bavastro hereby dislikes the strong ties between the DSO and the German Medical Association: “DSO, Eurotransplant and the German Medical Foundation have reached monopoly status to set the rules. These institutions must be absolutely independent, to avoid any conflicts of interest.”

An additional point of criticism is the lack of additional instrument-based diagnostic investigation. The phenomena of brain deaths giving birth and reactions physical of brain deaths during organ removal shed a critical light on the criteria. Dr. Bavastro states: “The equalisation of brain death and death is a severe lie. Why else should organs be extracted under anaesthesia?” Pastor Lauterjung adds: “we accurately have to account for the process of dying. In case of uncertainty we have to state that the process is over when all organs stopped working irreversibly – even if that contradicts a potential donation.” There are counter-arguments to these accusations, neurologist Dr. Stephanie Förderreuther, for example defines brain death as “clinically definite and reliable proof of death”, and ongoing she concludes that “without brain function, the unity of a person both physically and spiritually is no longer existent.” However, these contradictory opinions show how sensitive the topic is, in medical and in ethical views. When there is a vital dispute among experts, how can ordinary people be self-confident with their individual decision then? Not to mention taking over the decision for a relative. 

Suppression: A German Speciality 

There seems to be a high level of uncertainty in German society: 82% of Germans do not possess an organ donor card, although they are for free and distributed in multiple ways. 32% of these people feel insufficiently informed, as the Techniker health insurance found out in 2012, whereas only 6% oppose organ donations completely. “Germans have trouble dealing with the topic of death. The possibility of organ donations does not enjoy enough public awareness. As long as one did not get personally in touch with the topic through their family or friends, it has little relevance during lifetime. We tend to ignore this part of life”, Birgit Blome concludes in a disillusioning way. Pastor Lauterjung proves her point: “it is good that the ‘decision solution’ forces people to think. However, I’m afraid that many are overwhelmed with the issue and its medical processes. The distress which is to be relieved is a great unknown for most of the people.” A completely reversed effect could come into place too, as Dr. Bavastro inverts: “There is no public enlightenment by medical standards, there is effect-driven propaganda. Germans tend to react towards obtrusive pressure with skepticism and distrust. There will be no increase in donation numbers following this new law.” 

Which effect will come into place is not to be predicted, yet. An increase of potential donors may well happen, as public awareness will rise. However, as long as there is no consensus in EU-legislation and no consensus in medical criteria for transplantations, it remains doubtable, whether public trust will rise significantly. For the German case that may entail that the World Health Organisation’s goal of self-sufficiency will not be reached in the near future.


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