Thursday 3 September 2009

Petrol vs. preservation in Bolivia

A fight over oil reserves in Bolivia could be brewing as some fear the government search for oil could damage the country's national park.

The Madidi National Park in western Bolivia. It stretches from the Andes to the Amazon basin and is said to be one of the most biodiverse areas on earth. It is also believed to be home to a large oil reserve, which the government began exploring in October 2008.

Now some indigenous and environmental groups are up in arms fearing further degradation to an area already hit by logging.

Patricia Molina of the Fobomade Environmental Group:

Patricia Molina of the Fobomade Environmental Group, saying:

"We are facing a clear dilemma: to promote this part of the country as we already have been, maybe organizing and promoting tourism more, or turn to a completely different development model with the exploitation of petroleum, biofuels, intensive sugar cane plantations. Which is a completely different vision

The Bolivia government is led by the country's first indigenous president Evo Morales who nationalized the energy industry soon after his election.

In 2007, the government announced that its state oil firm would join its Venezuelan counterpart for the Madidi project, with an investment of more than $1 billion. The two state oil companies formed Petroandina.

Carlos Espinoza, of Bolivia's Hydrocarbons Ministry, said that all of the local communities had agreed to the support the project before it began.

Carlos Espinoza, of Bolivia's Hydrocarbons Ministry, saying:

"In each community we have consulted the populations and explained to them all the aspects of the project and the possible impacts,"

Eight indigenous communities hold territories in and bordering on the Madidi National Park and seven of them approved the exploration.

The only community that opposed was Simay.

Simay indigenous leader, Wilma Mendoza Miro.

Simay indigenous leader, Wilma Mendoza Miro, saying:

"[The other communities] have said it themselves: 'They have given us the money, but what are we going to do with that?' It is not even one thousand dollars. Maybe some of the communities have received more, but what are they going to do with that, it won't cover anything.

Natural resources are the only major industry in impoverished Bolivia, which exported $3 billion worth of natural gas to Argentina and Brazil in 2009.

Deborah Lutterbeck, Reuters.

Africa may veto climate change deal says Ethiopia's Meles

Africa will send a united negotiating team to the landmark climate change talks in Copenhagen, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told a meeting of climate change experts, saying the continent bears the burden of global warming.

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA (SEPTEMBER 03, 2009) REUTERS - Africa will veto any climate change deal that does not meet its demand for money from rich nations to cut the impact of global warming on the continent, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said on Thursday (September 03).
A U.N. summit scheduled for December in Copenhagen will try to reach global agreement on how to tackle climate change and come up with a post-Kyoto protocol to curb harmful emissions.

"Over fifty countries, more than a quarter of the member states of the United Nations will be speaking with one voice. That should make the negotiations much more manageable than would have been the case in the absence of such a decision. Africa's interest and position will not be muffled as has usually been the case when each African country speaks for itself or tries to do so, on behalf of Africa without the necessary mandate," Meles told a conference of climate change experts in Addis Ababa.

"We will use our numbers to delegitimize any agreement that is not consistent with our minimal position. If needs be we are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threatens to be another rape of our continent," Meles said.

He did not say how much money Africa would be looking for in Denmark but some experts have said the continent should ask for up to $200 billion a year.

Africa contributes little to the pollution blamed for warming but is the hardest hit by the drought and flooding cycle that is already affecting parts of the continent.

Ten African leaders last month held talks at the African Union (AU) headquarters in the Ethiopian capital and agreed a common stance ahead of the Copenhagen talks.

"We will participate in the upcoming climate negotiations not as invitees but as full blooded negotiators. We will participate in the negotiations not as supplicants pleading for our case but as negotiators defending our views and interests and reaching out to others to achieve our common positions. The fact that Africa will be represented by one negotiating team reinforces our role as key stakeholders and negotiators," said Meles.

Meles -- who has become Africa's most outspoken advocate on climate change -- earlier this year argued that pollution in the northern hemisphere may have caused his country's ruinous famines in the 1980s.

A study published in May by the Geneva-based Global Humanitarian Forum said poor nations bear more than nine-tenths of the human and economic burden of climate change.

The 50 poorest countries, however, contribute less than 1 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions that scientists say are threatening the planet, the report said.

Developing nations accuse the rich of failing to take the lead in setting deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, and say they are trying to get the poor to shoulder more of the burden of emission curbs without providing aid and technology.

Full access to secret files being debated in Hungary

Hungarians continue to debate the opening of secret files, twenty years after the end of the communist era. One opposition MEP says it is time the country faced up to its unpleasant past.

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY. REUTERS - Twenty years after the change of regime in Hungary, many of the files of the former communist era are still unavailable to the public.
The Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security hold most of the files of the former interior intelligence department of the secret services, which dealt with spying on fellow Hungarians. But a large section of the files is still kept by the secret services, and many of the stored files cannot be fully accessed even by the victims concerned.

Unlike other ex-communist countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Hungary has not revealed the names of secret police collaborators from the communist era. Attempts to pass a law that would open up all files have repeatedly failed over the past decades. Several versions of laws were passed but all with strict data and personality protection limits.

Last year, a so-called "dossier law" proposal was tabled to parliament which aimed to open up all files to the public with very little national security limits. A committee of historians and secret service experts was given the task to evaluate the transfer of secret service documents up to 1990, to investigate what happened to these documents since then, and to prepare suggestions for a new law. But for over a year the work of the committee has been stalled as well as the work for a new law.

"I cannot name any other eastern or central eastern European country where the uncovering of the past, the knowledge of history would have such deficiencies, and be as disregarded as in Hungary," said Janos Kenedi, secret service expert and head of the committee.

Now an MEP of the largest opposition party Fidesz has come up with a new approach, calling for the state to release all documents to the people affected by them without them having to apply for the documents.

Tamas Deutsch says a truly democratic state must provide all Hungarian citizens the information that was gathered about them by the secret services.

"The state - instead of saying to the citizen, come to me and if I am very nice I will show you what I have - it should collect all information, for example on citizen Tamas Deutsch from the documents left from the communist times, and send that information to the citizen whether they ask for it or not. And in a way that nothing is covered up," he told Reuters Television.

Deutsch says if his party wins general elections next year, one of its priorities will be the release of all the secret files.

But historian and director of Budapest's House of Terror Museum worries that revealing all the files would come at a high price.

"I'm not sure that children and grandchildren should be reading such documents about their grandparents or parents that were made by the AVO, because we don't know how true these documents are. We don't know how much fabrication is in them, we don't know how much dirt got into these documents that could have been only tricks to put pressure on people under interrogation, and so on," Maria Schmidt said.

The AVO was the Communist State Security Office.

Many also argue that since a large number of files were destroyed or stolen just before the change of regime, the full truth would still not emerge.

Finding out what the files reveal about friends being collaborators can be very hard indeed, says Kenedi who himself had to face up to one of his close friends having spied on him for years.

"Those months badly tortured me when I had to keep guessing whether it was true that Sandor Tar whose writings I respected and whose personality I liked could have been an informant on me for a very long time. The psychological consequences of that should be written down sometime but I'm not sure whether I'd ever be able to write about it," he said.

At present, files kept in the archives can only be opened on the basis of individual review by archive staff to people who fear they were spied upon. or to historians who have official backing for their research. But even then, they are bound by a web of limitations of access and publication.

But over the years there have been several leaks. Online publications exposed famous Hungarians as communist informants, including Hungary's Oscar winner film director, Istvan Szabo and Cardinal Laszlo Paskai. In 2006 a political analyst company, Political Capital, published a list of some 60 former agents and bosses on the internet, including a police chief, and a well-known mayor.

Deutsch says his proposal would put an end to such manipulations and the problems of the past twenty years.

"For once and for all it would stop the former communist secret services continuing to operating like an informal network. We would be able to face up the rather unpleasant heritage of our recent past, and it would at last lead to a kind of self-cleansing because everyone could know the collaborators in their surrounding circles, or God forbid, family," he said.

But the head of the Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security says most of the available files are already accessible, and that with the destruction of many of the documents, it is not possible to know a great deal more than at present.

"Among the remaining 7% of the unreleased documents that are being released gradually every three years I would say most likely we will find another 20 agents. But will that change the world? From the historical research point of view, I feel that based on the hundreds of thousands of high office documents and interrogation documents the historical reconstruction can be already done on the basis of these materials," Gyorgy Gyarmati said.

The Archive holds about 60 million pages of documents that contain some 240,000 names, both victims and informants, out of the average population of 10 million. But because of the missing files the archives are only able to identify about 10,000 agents out of the estimated 200,000 who worked for the regime.

Gyarmati says that with 93% of all remaining secret services files available, very little is left. But the head of the expert committee that investigated the withheld documents says that figure is significantly higher.

"At the moment the amount of unreleased files is 27% of the remaining secret services files but they are reluctant to release or even admit this. It would be possible to put an end to the secrecy madness in Hungary with one stroke of a pen, all you'd need is a pen," Kenedi said.

Whether the withheld secret documents and the ones held in the archives will ever be fully opened up now depends on the outcome of the next elections and the willingness of the politicians to carry through the new proposals.

Some say it may all now be too late, and ordinary people have stopped caring about it.

"I think people don't have the time or the mood to get to know the past era and therefore they have no knowledge of it and cannot make good decisions about it," said one visitor to the House of Terror Museum, Zoltan Szepesi.

Russia court orders new Politkovskaya murder probe

Russia's Supreme Court agrees a request from the family of murdered Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya to send the case back to prosecutors for a new probe.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA (SEPTEMBER 3, 2009) REUTERS - Russia's Supreme Court on Thursday (September 3) agreed a request from the family of murdered Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya to send the case back to prosecutors for a new probe to find whoever ordered her shooting.
Politkovskaya's children Ilya and Vera, were in court to hear the supreme court judge read the verdict supporting their appeal.

"The appeal of the representatives of the [Politkovskaya] family - lawyers Moskalenko and Stavitskaya - to return the case to the prosecutor's office in order to combine it with the case of Makhmudov Rustam Ruslanovich and other unidentified people - which was supported during the hearing by the prosecutor's representative - was carried," said the judge.

The Politkovskaya family lawyer, Karina Moskalenko, gave the court decision a qualified welcome.

"The appeal of the family was carried. And of course we are satisfied, but it is a moderate satisfaction, because it gives a chance to present a better investigated case, it gives an opportunity to the prosecutor's office to send new case to the court, not the case they sent last time," said Moskalenko.

"But whether the general prosecutor's office will use this opportunity we don't know," Moskalenko added.

A Moscow military court last month turned down a petition by Politkovskaya's family to return the case to prosecutors to be merged with an investigation to find whoever masterminded the murder.

"Now the case will be returned to the prosecutor, the prosecutor will return to the investigator, and what the investigator is going to do with this case we don't know. We hope that this time it will be better investigated and there will be an attempt not to falsify evidence," said Murat Musayev, lawyer for the defendants who were found not guilty in the first trial.

Politkovskaya, a 48-year-old mother-of-two who published scathing exposes of official corruption and rights abuses, was shot as she returned to a central Moscow apartment block from a supermarket on October 7, 2006.

The journalist's killing sparked outrage in the West, which called on the Kremlin to ensure her killers were brought to justice.

Wednesday 2 September 2009

Brazil points to sharp drop in Amazon destruction

Brazil's Environment Ministry announces the annual destruction rate of the Amazon rain forest has dropped to its lowest level in more than two decades.

AMAZONAS, BRAZIL GOVERNMENT TV - The annual rate of destruction of Brazil's Amazon rain forest has fallen 46 percent to its lowest level in over two decades due partly to increased police patrols, Environment Minister Carlos Minc said on Tuesday (September 1).
The drop, if confirmed by definitive data, could allow Brazil to argue at a major world climate summit later this year that it is delivering on a pledge to slash deforestation after decades of criticism by environmentalists.

Brazil has been under pressure to slow the encroach of loggers and ranchers who are blamed for much of the destruction of the world's largest rain forest, while at the same time continuing to develop the resource-rich region.

In a news conference in the capital Brasilia, Minc said deforestation rates had dropped significantly, but were still very high.

"According to INPE (Brazil's space agency) this year there was a 46 percent reduction in deforestation in relation to the previous year. According to Imazon (Amazon research institute), there was a 65 percent fall. This is still unsatisfactory, deforestation rates are still very high, but this year we will have the smallest deforestation rate of the past 21 years," he said.

Deforestation has in the past increased when demand for soybeans, beef and timber have gone up.

Minc estimated between 8,500 square kilometers (3,088 sq miles) and 9,000 sq km (3,474 sq miles) were destroyed in the 12 months to July, 2009. That compared to 12,900 sq km (4,980 sq miles) in the same period a year earlier.

"This year alone we seized a thousand trucks loaded with illegal wood every months, which shows that Ibama (Brazil's environment agency) and the federal police are working well. But, in the other hand, it shows that they're still destroying a lot (of rain forest). Even many of those who defend the "Zero Deforestation" program, when we go after the illegal cattle, the illegal wood, they attack us violently. This is the distance between intentions and actions," Minc told reporters.

The peak of 27,329 sq km (10,500 miles) was reached in the 2003/2004 period.

He based his calculations on a preliminary report by Brazil's National Institute of Space Studies, which indicated a 46 percent reduction in deforestation in the region in the 12 months to July, 2009.

That report was based on satellite imaging. A definitive report using higher-resolution images will be published later this year.

Minc attributed 90 percent of the deforestation reduction to improved policing. Experts give authorities some credit for the trend, but they say lower commodity prices resulting from a global economic crisis also was a factor.

The states with the biggest reduction were Rondonia and Mato Grosso, both in the southwestern region of the Amazon.

Mato Grosso is one of the country's leading farm states and its governor, Blairo Maggi, is often called the "king of deforestation" by conservationists.

Brazil last year announced it would reduce destruction in its share of the Amazon by 50 percent in a decade.

The South American nation is expected to play a key role in negotiations at a summit in Copenhagen in December, which is aimed at framing a new international treaty on climate change.

The destruction of the rain forest made up 75 percent of Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions in 1994 but is falling to around 60 percent, Minc said last week. Burning or decomposing trees emit carbon dioxide, a key cause of global warming.

Minc, in his post since May 2008, earlier complained to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva about opposition to his agenda from a powerful farm lobby and from colleagues.

Animal rights activist Richard O'Barry faces Japanese dolphin hunters

Animal rights activist Richard O'Barry confronts Japanese dolphin hunters at a seaport in Taiji, Japan.

TAIJI, JAPAN (SEPTEMBER 2, 2009) YTV - Animal rights activist Richard O'Barry faced Japanese dolphin hunters at a seaport in Japan on Wednesday (September 2), but was quickly shooed away by angry locals.
According to Japanese television station YTV, O'Barry, a former dolphin trainer who trained "Flipper" from the 1960s television series of the same name, was visiting the fishing town to film a new documentary for the Discovery Channel - just in time for the dolphin hunting season that begin in September each year.

For nearly 40 years since a traumatic experience on "Flipper" in which his favorite dolphin died, O'Barry has worked to free these marine mammals and publicise their plight.

Teaming up with conservation organisations, the Earth Island Institute and the Oceanic Preservation Society, he zeroed in on Japan's small coastal town of Taiji, where fishermen ensnare a majority of the dolphins displayed in marine parks to create a documentary called "The Cove."

Following its release in the U.S. this summer, "The Cove" has already been praised by critics and won the audience award at this year's Sundance Film Festival. "Eco-activist documentaries don't get much more compelling than 'The Cove'," said Variety's review.

Beyond objections to the Taiji fishermen's hunting practices, which force the animals into nets, O'Barry suspects the town is concealing unsavory secrets related to the exploitation of dolphins passed over for capture.

With Louie Psihoyos, a veteran National Geographic photographer, scuba diver and first-time filmmaker, O'Barry assembled a crack team of marine specialists, high-tech experts and experienced divers to investigate the fate of dolphins herded into a cove adjacent to the Taiji capture site.

They battle Japanese police and fisherman to gain access to the cove where barbed wire blocks people from filming dolphin killings.

The film also showed hit U.S. TV series "Heroes" star Hayden Panettiere protesting in Taiji.

O'Barry, who has been visiting Taiji several times a year for the past eight years and now wears disguises in the town to avoid the attention of fisherman and the police, predicted the film would have a big impact.

Monday 31 August 2009

Dalai Lama visits Taiwan

In a first visit to the self-ruled island since 2001, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader prays for Taiwan's typhoon victims.

The intention - to offer comfort to those whose lives were devastated by the typhoon that swept through parts of Taiwan in August.

But not everyone welcomes the Dalai Lama's visit. Some have branded it a political stunt. On arrival he remained firm about the sincerity of the trip.
The Dalai Lama saying:

"My side, no political agenda, nothing to discuss with the leaders of this country."

Many lost friends and family in the disaster as well as their homes

Villager Mr. Yen saying:

"Look, there are all these people. he is coming here to comfort us. I'm happy about that."

Villager Hsu Hsin-Yao:

"It's great that he's come. It's good for our hearts."

Earlier in Khaosiung City, protestors gathered at the hotel where the Dalai Lama was staying

Protest organiser saying:

"To donate us money or help us rebuild our houses would be more meaningful. What is he doing in this hotel? He should be staying in our village in the disaster area. Has he seen it or not? How can he pray for us?"

As the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader prayed for the victims at Hsiao Lin Village, China, which regards Taiwan as a breakaway province denounced the trip saying it could have a "negative influence" on relations.

Joanne Nicholson, Reuters