Category: Uncategorized

Trump’s problem isn’t Mexico but Central America

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When US President Donald Trump demands that Mexico “fix” its immigration problem, he should really look to the spiraling collapse of Central America. The limitless flow of people towards the US-Mexico border begins with the tortured descent of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador into the abyss.

And it is this very place that the Trump administration has announced it will cut aid to, rather than boosting it.

For many in the region, getting out has understandably become a matter of survival. The nations of the Northern Triangle jostle for the ugly position as the world’s murder capital, both because of the gang violence spawned by the drug trade and because of a lack of solid government.

The Northern Triangle is also one of the foremost and earliest victims of the climate crisis. At least 1.4 million people in Central America and Mexico could be on the move by 2050, the World Bank has estimated, in a place where a third of jobs are dependent on agriculture. Studies have suggested rainfall may get sparser in Honduras, yet it will see flooding increase in some places by 60%, the Guardian reported. El Salvador could lose up to 28% of its coastline by the end of the century. Drought could spread in Guatemala, and this has damaged the coffee crops in the past. Temperatures have risen 0.5C since 1950 and could rise up to 2C by 2050. Communities will see the life that they know now change immeasurably.

Climate change is the underlying malaise, but the present-day curse is the drug trade. It can feel like nearly every part of Central American life is caught some way or another in feeding drugs north to US markets. The sums of money involved, one official told CNN, are so utterly ridiculous that few other forms of economic activity make sense. And until the main market, the United States, stops taking in so much cocaine, the money will always be there.

News emerged last month that the DEA opened an investigation into the President of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez, in 2013 … for “large-scale drug-trafficking and money laundering activities relating to the importation of cocaine into the United States.” His brother, Antonio Hernandez Alvarado, was arrested in November 2018 by US investigators in Miami, accused of being a “large-scale drug trafficker.”

In Guatemala, a candidate for the presidential election, Mario Amilcar Estrada Orellana, was recently indicted by the DEA for allegedly conspiring with the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel. He was arrested in Miami in April.

Meanwhile, in El Salvador, 37-year-old President Nayib Bukele took office nearly a fortnight ago, facing a murder rate of about 50 per 100,000 — around 10 times that of the United States.

The threat of tariffs might have persuaded Mexico to try to stem the flow in the short term, but it won’t address the foundations of the tide of people.


Trial against humanitarian activist Scott Warren ends in hung jury

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In Arizona, a case against a humanitarian aid volunteer who provided food, water and shelter to undocumented migrants ended in a mistrial Tuesday after a deadlocked jury was unable to deliver a verdict.

Scott Warren, from the groups No More Deaths and Ajo Samaritans, faced up to 20 years in prison after being charged with two counts of felony harboring and one count of felony conspiracy. Eight jurors found Scott Warren not guilty; four said he was guilty. Prosecutors have declined to comment on whether they would seek a retrial against Warren.

Scott Warren speaking to supporters and the press: “Since my arrest in January of 2018, at least 88 bodies were recovered from the Ajo corridor of the Arizona desert. We know that’s a minimum number and that many more are out there and have not been found. The government’s plan in the midst of this humanitarian crisis? Policies to target undocumented people, refugees and their families; prosecutions to criminalize humanitarian aid, kindness and solidarity; and now, where I live, the revelation that they will build an enormous and expensive wall across a vast stretch of southwestern Arizona’s unbroken Sonoran Desert.”

[Democracy Now]

Tropical Cyclone Vayu bearing down on India

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Tropical Cyclone Vayu could be the strongest tropical cyclone to strike far northwestern India’s coastline in 20 years.

  • Vayu is bearing down on western India and will move slowly near its coastline through late this week.
  • Rainfall flooding, storm-surge flooding and damaging winds are all likely impacts.
  • More than a quarter million people are being evacuated ahead of Vayu.

Drought leaves 45 million in need across 14 African countries

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Failed rains across eastern Africa, southern Africa, and the Horn of Africa are seeing another dire season for farmers, increasing food prices and driving up the aid needs of tens of millions of already vulnerable people across the three regions.

All told, more than 45 million people will struggle to find enough food across 14 countries in 2019, many feeling the compounded effects of years of drought.

It’s the second time in three years that an El Niño event has disrupted weather patterns.

“We need to move to a system where we act much earlier on the warning signs of drought and hunger so that we can cut response times and costs, and reduce deaths and human suffering,” the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, said in reference to the drought in the Horn.


New World Atlas of Desertification shows unprecedented pressure on our natural resources

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The Joint Research Centre (JRC) published a new edition of the World Atlas of Desertification in 2018, which provides the first comprehensive, evidence-based assessment of land degradation at a global level and highlights the urgency to adopt corrective measures. 

Tibor Navracsics, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, responsible for the JRC, said: “Over the past twenty years, since the publication of the last edition of the World Atlas of Desertification, pressures on land and soil have increased dramatically. To preserve our planet for future generations, we urgently need to change the way we treat these precious resources.”

The main findings show that population growth and changes in our consumption patterns put unprecedented pressure on the planet’s natural resources:

  • Over 75% of the Earth’s land area is already degraded, and over 90% could become degraded by 2050.
  • Globally, a total area half of the size of the European Union (4.18 million km²) is degraded annually, with Africa and Asia being the most affected.
  • The economic cost of soil degradation for the EU is estimated to be in the order of tens of billions of euros annually.
  • Land degradation and climate change are estimated to lead to a reduction of global crop yields by about 10% by 2050. Most of this will occur in India, China and sub-Saharan Africa, where land degradation could halve crop production.
  • As a consequence of accelerated deforestation it will become more difficult to mitigate the effects of climate change
  • By 2050, up to 700 million people are estimated to have been displaced due to issues linked to scarce land resources. The figure could reach up to 10 billion by the end of this century. 

 [EU Science Hub]

Frequency of downpours of heavy rain has increased across the globe in the past 50 years

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The number of extreme downpours increased steadily between 1964 and 2013—a period when global warming also intensified, according to research published in the journal Water Resources Research.

The frequency of ‘extreme precipitation events’ increased in parts of Canada, most of Europe, the Midwest and northeast region of the U.S., northern Australia, western Russia and parts of China.

The USask study of over 8,700 daily rain records from 100,000 stations monitoring rain worldwide found the frequency of torrential rain between 1964 and 2013 increased as the decades progressed.

Between 2004 and 2013, there were seven per cent more extreme bouts of heavy rain overall than expected globally. In Europe and Asia, there were 8.6 per cent more ‘extreme rain events’ overall, during this decade. 

Global warming can lead to increased precipitation because more heat in the atmosphere leads to more atmospheric water which, in turn, leads to rain.  

More than half a million deaths were caused by rain-induced floods between 1980 and 2009. Heavy rain can also cause landslides, damage crops, collapse buildings and bridges, wreck homes, and lead to chaos on roads and to transport, with huge financial losses.

Co-author Alberto Montanari, professor of hydraulic works and hydrology at the University of Bologna and president of the European Geoscience Union, said: “Our results are in line with the assumption that the atmosphere retains more water under global warming. The fact that the frequency, rather the magnitude, of extreme precipitation is significantly increasing has relevant implications for climate adaptation. Human systems need to increase their capability to react to frequent shocks.”

[Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan]

EU migrant policy: Lawyers call it a crime against humanity

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More than 40,000 people have been intercepted in the Mediterranean and taken to detention camps and torture houses under a European migration policy that is responsible for crimes against humanity, according to a legal document asking the International Criminal Court to take the case Monday.

The request filed with the ICC alleges that European Union officials are knowingly responsible for migrant deaths on land and at sea, as well as culpable for rapes and torture of migrants committed by members of the Libyan coast guard, which is funded and trained at the expense of European taxpayers. The filing names no specific EU officials but cites an ongoing ICC investigation into the fate of migrants in Libya .

“We leave it to the prosecutor, if he dares, if she dares, to go into the structures of power and to investigate at the heart of Brussels, of Paris, of Berlin and Rome and to see by searching in the archives of the meetings of the negotiations who was really behind the scenes trying to push for these policies that triggered the death of more than 14,000 people,” said Juan Branco, a lawyer who co-wrote the report and shared it with The Associated Press. He was referring to the deaths and disappearances at sea, which come on top of the interceptions by the Libyan forces.

The ICC is a court of last resort that handles cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide when other countries are unwilling or unable to prosecute. It is up to the prosecutor, who receives many such requests, to decide whether to investigate and ultimately bring a case.

The first crime, according to the document, was the decision to end the Mare Nostrum rescue operation near the end of 2014. In one year, the operation rescued 150,810 migrants in the Mediterranean as hundreds of thousands crossed the sea. [See also] As a result, deaths in the Mediterranean then soared.

Omer Shatz, the other lead lawyer responsible for the document, said internal EU documents showed officials hoped that ending Mare Nostum would create a deterrent effect. “Deterrent effect – what does it mean? It means sacrifice the lives of some, in this case of many, to change the behavior of others, to discourage others from doing the same thing.”

[Associated Press]

The economic cost of devastating hurricanes and other extreme US weather

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June marks the official start of hurricane season. If recent history is any guide, it will prove to be another destructive year thanks to the worsening impact of climate change. 

But beyond more intense hurricanes and explosive wildfires, the warming climate has been blamed for causing a sharp uptick in all types of extreme weather events across the United States, such as severe flooding this spring and extensive drought in the Southwest in recent years.

Late last year, the media blared that these and other consequences of climate change could cut U.S. GDP by 10% by the end of the century – “more than double the losses of the Great Depression,” as The New York Times intoned.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in 2018 hurricanes Michael and Florence each caused about US$25 billion in damages, contributing to a total toll of $91 billion from that year’s weather and climate disasters. In 2017, the NOAA’s total was even bigger: $306 billion, due to the massive destruction from hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. 

But these tallies are not really valid measures of economic damage. Instead, they simply reflect estimates of what people think will need to be invested to rebuild what was damaged or destroyed in the storms, floods or fires. To really understand the economic costs of an extreme weather event, it’s important to consider all the investment that is being “crowded out” or lost to cover those rebuilding costs. Put another way, there’s only so much money to go around. And that $25 billion being used to rebuild means $25 billion is not being used for other public and private investment opportunities that are more forward-looking or more likely to promote growth.

If similar experiences in extreme events occur for the next 10 years – which is not a bad assumption given that four of the most expensive years in history have occurred in the last five – U.S. GDP in 2029 would be about 3.6% lower than it would have been otherwise, based on my calculations using growth accounting. 

That amounts to an economy that’s $1 trillion poorer as result of these extreme weather events crowding out productive investment. This is the real cost of a world in which these types of massively destructive disasters happen more frequently. 

[Prevention Web – Excerpts of article by Gary W. Yohe, Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, Wesleyan University]

Activists worried about a “chilling effect” now that the US government is prosecuting a humanitarian aid worker

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The jury trial of humanitarian aid worker Scott Warren on felony charges of harboring and transporting undocumented migrants began in Tuscon, Arizona, on Wednesday. Warren is alleged to have acted to “conceal, harbor and shield from detection” a pair of migrants who had illegally crossed into the United States from Mexico by feeding them and providing access to a shelter for several days.

Activists are livid that the Department of Justice is applying smuggling statutes to a charitable organization for providing food and shelter, and there are growing concerns that this case could set a precedent for charging community organizations with similar crimes.

The increasingly adversarial relationship between immigration agents and non-profits on the front lines of the migration crisis underscores not only the government’s inability to cope with the influx of migrants from Central America but also, as highlighted in the Warren case, the operational risk of providing services to the Hispanic community.

“All of the prosecutions of the No More Deaths activists implicate the kind of basic humanitarian aid that many organizations are giving throughout the country,” Katherine Franke, director of the Law, Rights, and Religion Project at Columbia Law School, told Newsweek. “By the terms of these charges, if someone puts out food or water or any other aid, they risk federal prosecution.”

Franke, who filed an amicus brief in support of Warren’s religious claim to humanitarian aid work, said that the prosecution sends a “troubling message” to religious workers like Warren “who are interested in the sanctity of life.”


US “emergency” arms sales to Mideast nations under fire

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The UN Security Council met last week to discuss the deaths and devastation caused to civilians in ongoing military conflicts and civil wars, the killings in Yemen and the air attacks on hospitals, schools, mosques, and market places—whether deliberate or otherwise– were singled out as the worst ever.

But the destruction and irreparable damage to civilian infrastructure and human lives were caused by weapons provided by some of the permanent members of the Security Council, including the US, France and UK.

And last week, in defiance of US Congressional opposition to arms sales to some of the warring Middle Eastern nations, the Trump administration went one better: it justified the proposed sale of a hefty $8.1 billion dollars in American arms to Jordan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia under a so-called “emergency notification”. All three countries are part of a Saudi-led coalition unleashing attacks on Yemen … and the new weapons systems are expected to add more fire power to the coalition.

Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco and coordinator of the program in Middle Eastern Studies, told IPS this is not about deterring Iranian aggression and it is certainly not an “emergency.” “It’s about the profits of American arms manufacturers at the expense of countless Yemeni lives.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council May 23 that civilians continue to make up the vast majority of casualties in conflict, with more than 22,800 civilians dying or being injured in 2018 in just six countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

London-based Amnesty International said parties to armed conflict unlawfully kill, maim and forcibly displace millions of civilians while world leaders shirk their responsibility and turn their backs on war crimes and immense suffering.