The News Roundup is a regular feature of the blog where we select a number of news articles from various sources around the web, with the goal of providing an overview of the weekly conversation about the countries where MCC works in the region. Quotes in italics are drawn directly from sources and do not necessarily reflect the position of MCC.
More than 600 people from several African countries are stranded after crossing the Atlantic by boat to Brazil and then passing through Colombia and Panama before getting stuck in Costa Rica en route to the United States. With more arriving every day – so far from seven countries on the continent – to the small border town of Paso Canoas, both the Red Cross and the government have warned it could turn into a crisis. The whole journey took the people four months. “It’s been bad, a lot of police in Colombia, Panama asking for money,” Youleyni, a pregnant woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who travelled with her husband, told Al Jazeera.
The fungal disease has already decimated banana crops in south-east Asia, virtually wiping out Indonesia’s banana exports and causing misery for growers in the Philippines, China, the Middle East and parts of Africa. Fusarium wilt was first seen in Australia and Taiwan and is spread via soil, water and contaminated farm equipment. About 1,000 delegates at the International Banana Congress are desperately attempting to craft a plan to both stop the spread of the disease and also find a replacement type of banana that won’t be susceptible to the fungus. Should the disease affect banana crops in South America, the $36bn banana industry could be faced with escalating prices and many smaller operators going out of business. Demand for the produce remains strong: Americans eat bananas almost as much as apples and oranges combined.
I think our great challenge is to realize that other worlds are possible. We can build something different, something dignified and just. There is enough water for everyone. There is enough land, enough food for everyone. We cannot continue feeding this predatory system of capital accumulation in the hands of so few. That system is unsustainable. So from wherever we are — in the Americas, in Europe, in Asia — we will all be affected by this system. Sometimes it seems that the crisis doesn’t touch certain places, and sometimes we don’t make the structural link to capitalism with the crises that the U.S. and Canada and France and Spain face. But I hope that we realize this soon, because it will affect us all sooner or later. And I want to say that there is still time to do something. This is urgent.
The revelations come at a pivotal time in Honduras, just as an international commission backed by the Organization of American States is setting up in the country to help investigate corruption. At the same time, the Obama administration is in the process of sending about $750 million in aid to the region, hoping to address the chronic violence and lack of opportunity that has fueled a mass exodus of desperate people to the United States. The effort to suppress the results of two of the country’s most high-profile murder cases came to light only this month, when the newspaper El Heraldo revealed parts of the investigation’s conclusions and published excerpts from the files, without naming any of the most powerful suspects. Since then, the Honduran president, Juan Orlando Hernández, has vowed a mass purge of the police force in response to the evidence, which helps peel back the layers covering the deeply entrenched networks of corruption feeding the country’s violence and poverty.
With this deployment, it appears El Salvador‘s government is expanding the scope of anti-gang operations to include the country’s rural areas. Until now the low-intensity conflict brewing between the government and street gangs has mostly been focused in the cities, where the gangs are believed to be the strongest. In May 2015, for example, authorities sent three battalions of special forces to the country’s major cities to help police combat the gangs. It is indeed plausible that gang leaders have sought refuge outside the cities in order to escape pressure from law enforcement. There have been previous reports of Salvadoran gang members fleeing to neighboring Guatemala and Honduras for the same reason. But widening the campaign against the gangs to the rural areas is unlikely to provide much better results than what authorities have achieved so far in the cities. Salvadoran security officials have taken an increasingly hard-line approach to combating the street gangs, even as violence levels rise at dizzying speeds.
A recently announced plan to ship 500 metric tons of surplus American peanuts to help feed 140,000 malnourished schoolchildren in Haiti has set off a fierce debate over whether such food aid is a humanitarian necessity or a counterproductive gesture. Critics say agricultural surplus aid and heavily subsidized food imports do more harm than good by undercutting local farmers and pushing the hemisphere’s poorest nation farther from self-sufficiency. “This program does nothing to boost capacity in Haiti and does nothing to address consistent food insecurity,” said Oxfam America senior researcher Marc Cohen.
The US government subsidizes American agribusiness by purchasing excess production to keep prices high. Some of this production is then sold or donated overseas. In large markets, especially those that do not produce that crop, this may have no effect on the local market and even be beneficial. When it is done in small, poor countries, especially if they also produce that crop, the effect is to lower local prices, increasing poverty. In Haiti this has happened repeatedly over the past two decades, in particular with the world food program and other UN agencies. It’s time to stop making poverty worse – the best way to help a country like Haiti is to procure locally, from Haitian farmers.
However big the FARC‘s reserves are, what is certain is that these finances are a crucial concern in the rebel group’s ongoing peace talks with the Colombian government. Money and power can not only give an armed group increased leverage at the negotiating table, they also increase the risk that dissident factions will choose to maintain their criminal activities rather than demobilize. That said, both the government and the FARC may benefit from the secrecy surrounding the guerrilla group’s true wealth. A façade of poverty helps the FARC evade demands that the insurgency pay compensation to conflict victims. Head peace negotiator for the FARCIván Márquez said in a recent BBC Mundo interview that: “The FARC has no money … all the FARC‘s bank accounts in these tax havens, they can take them and put them towards reparation … but the problem is that we don’t have any.” The government would prefer not to draw further attention to such a touchy subject because it could hamper the peace process, several analysts argue.
Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala lobbied to hold the 2016 general assembly special session – known as Ungass to seek a more “humane solution” to the drugs problem that goes beyond a focus on enforcement and criminalisation. Colombia had hoped the UN members could agree to incorporate a human rights perspective to the drugs problem to prevent stigmatisation of drug users, abolish the death penalty for drug-related offences and make treatments for drug abusers mandatory. “A purely repressive approach is counterproductive and cruel,” Santos said. In the end, the summit declaration called for greater cooperation between nations, but maintained the prohibitionist framework which criminalises all drug use that is not for medical or scientific purposes, and included no criticism of the death penalty for drug crimes.
For years, Lydia Huayllas, 48, has worked as a cook at base camps and mountain-climbing refuges on the steep, glacial slopes of Huayna Potosi, a 19,974ft (6,088-meter) Andean peak outside of the Bolivian administrative capital, La Paz. But two years ago, she and 10 other Aymara indigenous women, ages 42 to 50, who also worked as porters and cooks for mountaineers, put on crampons – spikes fixed to a boot for climbing – under their wide traditional skirts and started to do their own climbing. These women have now scaled five peaks – Acotango, Parinacota, Pomarapi and Huayna Potosí as well as Illimani, the highest of all – in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real range. All are higher than 19,500ft (6,000 meters) above sea level.