By Zoraida Portillo
Lima, March.– The World Seed Vault Project was undertaken last February 26 in the Norwegian arctic. Such a thing seemed to be the plot for a science-fiction film 20 years ago and is a fact today. It seeks to help mankind deal with hunger, climate change and the actual possibility of losing the planet’s self-sustaining capacity.
The 10-million-dollar project is storing 268,000 seed varieties from over 100 countries. Designed to last for centuries, its real lifetime could be shorter than originally expected due to global warming.
Measures have been taken to prevent arctic glaciers from thawing. The deepest tunnel, for example, is 120 meters over sea level to avoid flooding, even if sea level continues rising in the next few decades, said María Scurrah, a Peruvian plant geneticist. She was the only Latin American expert invited to deliver a lecture at the opening ceremony.
Her presentation had to do with biodiversity and food security. "The vault project is an unprecedented effort to protect global biodiversity from disappearance", she told WNS.
"Diversity provides the biological base for agriculture. It is the culmination of thousands of years of natural selection and evolution, which ways back to the Neolithic. Diversity is also a promise for the future: it offers plant genetic improvement specialists and farmers the biological materials required to developing drought-, pest- and climate-change-resistant varieties", she indicated.
Biodiversity is the most valuable resource for mankind, she added. Our economic wellbeing largely depends on it, she stressed. She is the head of Yanapai, an NGO working in the central Andean region of the country.
Contrary to what is believed, world agriculture relies on 150 crops and only 12 species are essential components of human diet. One single species can have hundreds or thousands of varieties, such as potato and corn, two basic products originating in the Americas, all adapted to specific weather conditions, she commented.
The aim of the new project is to provide a safe environment to protect global biodiversity both from natural and made-made catastrophes. This is particularly significant for developing countries.
At the G-8 meeting last June, experts anticipated that two thirds of world wildlife will become endangered species by 2100 due to climate change and accelerated habitat destruction.
They also warned about subsequent pest outbreaks and loss of pollination, which will have devastating consequences on agricultural production. FAO reports indicate that 75 percent of genetic crop diversity has already been lost.
Such a diversity can be lost for a number of reasons, Scurrah emphasized. The genetic bank in Abu Ghraib (Iraq), which contained ancestral seeds of Mesopotamia-origin wheat, lentil and pea, was destroyed during the war. The same thing happened in Afghanistan under the Taliban government.
Fortunately enough, there were duplications at the International Center for Agricultural Research in Desert Areas (ICARDA), based in Aleppo (Syria).
Something similar occurred in Peru in the 1980s, when subversive forces made entire populations move to other places and native crops (like potato) were lost.
After the conflict came to an end, these people were able to obtain samples from the International Potato Center (IPC) in Lima and plant them again.
The Center has also sent sweet potato seeds to Nicaragua, Honduras and Indonesia (after the tsunami).
This is one of the roles played by genetic banks and related facilities in preserving crop seeds, parts of plants and/or full plants, either frozen or otherwise.
Each country is supposed to have genetic banks under operation, but this is not the case in the Third World, for example. Half of national seed banks in developing nations are considered to be far from viable due to extremely high maintenance costs.
Efforts to build a global seed vault way back to the 1980s. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) was one of the first agencies to highlight the need of establishing a safe global deposit.
Commissioned by FAO, 15 CGIAR centers are monitoring genetic banks in different areas of the world, including the Corn Center in Mexico and the Rice Center in the Philippines. Both ICARDA and IPC are under CGIAR umbrella.
As there were no international regulations on seed exchanges between and among countries in the 1980s and there were heated debates over the rights of farmers who had strived to preserve local biodiversity, the initiative was put to sleep for two decades.
Developed by FAO in 2004 and signed by over 100 member countries to date, the International Treaty on Genetic Plant Resources provided the relevant legal framework to undertake the vault project. It is sponsored by the Norwegian government, the World Fund on Crop Diversity and the Nordic Genetic Bank.
Norway has not only provided financing for construction, but has also allocated two percent of overall seed sales for equitable profit sharing under the Treaty, Scurrah commented. Speaking at the opening ceremony, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said that this decision was fair and ethical.
The project has been baptized as “Noah’s Ark for plants” or “end-of-the-world” vault. Kenya’s Wangari Maathai, 2004 Peace Nobel laureate, indicated that the project provides a means to safeguard life on Earth.
How is it? Where is it located?
The vault is located in the most distant destination that can be reached using commercial flights (78 degrees north latitude, in Longyearbyen, Svalbard).
Snow-covered peaks, the color of light and the juxtaposition of mountains and sea create a magic, indescribable atmosphere there, as Scurrah put it.
"You have the same feeling as you enter the vault, where a huge, artistic hall visible from a distance announces that you are about to get into the future. I felt as I was in the Star War film myself", she commented.
"The entrance hall was designed by Norwegian artist Dyeke Sanne. She mixed highly reflective triangular glass pieces with steel and other refractive materials like dichroic mirrors and prisms. She developed a monumental work that will remain lighted up over the long polar night", Scurrah announced.
Right after the hall, there is a 120-meter-long concrete-made tunnel that takes you to the very entrails of a mountain, under the arctic permafrost or frozen subsoil. The three storage facilities are located there and have a capacity to keep 4.5 million seed varieties at -18 degrees Celsius.
Relying on no energy source, the vault is missile-proof. It is actually impregnable and will not be open to the public. Its main armored door features a special sensor to detect the presence of polar bear. Around 3,000 of these animals are estimated to live in Svalbard.
While it is located in Norwegian territory, its seeds will be owned by the countries that have sent them to the facility. Only these countries will have the right to use them if they lose their national genetic banks for any reason. No nation will be allowed to use the seeds owned by other countries. No genetically modified seeds, medicinal plants or fruit trees will be kept there.
"We are now better prepared than in the past to deal with climate change, but such a phenomenon is really scaring", she told WNS.
This is already being experienced in Svalbard. In the past, the sea used to freeze between October and May, and no ship could come in. "We went there last February and there was no ice, only water", she added.
Norwegians are panicking because of this: when there is ice, sunlight is reflected and heat does not come in. If there is water instead, sunlight is absorbed and the fjord gets increasingly warmer. This is a narrow inlet of the sea between cliffs or steep slopes.
"It all began in 2007. When I was told about it, I immediately thought of the Andean glaciers that are irreversibly thawing. I often wonder how well prepared we are to face climate change", she concluded.
By Julia Londoño Bozzi
Bogotá, February.– The political impact of a massive protest against the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), which was held on February 4 all over the country, is already being felt.
While some quarters have come up with the idea of organizing a similar march against paramilitary groups, other sectors favor a third consecutive term in office for President Álvaro Uribe Vélez.
The insurgent organization announced that it would release other kidnapped people thanks to the good offices of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and local senator Piedad Córdoba. But why did thousands of Colombians participate in the march?
A doorman in Suba, west Bogotá, indicated that there were UFOs over Bogotá on February 4. They were probably supporting the marchers, said another witness of the paranormal event.
Germán Izquierdo, a 29-year-old reporter, joined the march along with his colleagues, at noon, on 127th Street. "I decided to get involved because I do not want to see a divided, apathetic country", he stressed.
María Fernanda Salazar, a 38-year-old PR executive, was accompanied by her office mates. "It was our duty to participate", she said.
"I wanted to protest against the guerrilla and let the international community know that most Colombians do not support FARC violence", she emphasized.
“The people united will never be defeated” was one of many slogans often repeated by marchers. On this occasion, however, it was not chorused by trade union members demanding better working conditions, but by white-collar workers who were proud of attending a historic event.
Mauricio Gaviria, a 29-year-old feature writer, told WNS that he was marching to express solidarity and take action. The national anthem was sung by hundreds of people. "There was no music band playing, just pure feeling", he noted.
Juan Fernando Muñoz (29) marched along the 7th Avenue, from 127th to 113th streets. "I hate FARC. I wanted to tell them to clear off or die", he said.
The march was politically tainted by slogans against Senator Córdoba and President Chávez. Both of them have played a key role in the search for a peaceful solution and the release of kidnapped people in Colombia.
"I was wearing a T-shirt with a goat painted on it, said Carlos Pérez, a 29-year-old university professor. I did not like T-shirts condemning FARC because, in my view, that was a sign of polarization in defense of President Uribe", he added.
"Most marchers in northern Bogotá demanded the release of those kidnapped", he emphasized.
Juan David Franco, a 26-year-old journalist, joined a group of students at Nueva Granada Military Academy, on 100th Street. Some people were wearing typical hats, caps and hand-painted T-shirts. "The majority chorused slogans against FARC and violence", he commented.
Mario Londoño, a 53-year-old hotelier, just looked at marchers from a window on 72nd Street. "I just saw hundreds of people dressed in white, visibly shaken, outraged, participating in a government-promoted event", he stressed.
"The initiative promoted hatred and sought to convey the message that there is only one side on the war", he explained.
Some people shouted: The good outnumber the bad guys. "This gave the impression that good people support the government while bad people support the war", he commented.
Cristian Torres, a 23-year-old unemployed, did not march because the event was held to condemn only the guerrilla and its acts of violence. "FARC is not the only one to blame in Colombia's dark history", he emphasized. "Shouldn’t we protest against MPs involved in drug trafficking and the paramilitary?", he wondered.
"The demonstration should have focused on the Humanitarian Accord, he noted. The media provided biased information and showed a crowd holding flags and demanding Uribe's re-election", he added.
Gustavo Gómez, a 23-year-old university student, did not march, but took pictures. It drew my attention to see a group of monks wearing tunics and T-shirts displaying contradictory messages: Chávez Go Home and Say Yes to the Humanitarian Accord.
"I did not like offensive messages against Senator Córdoba and President Chávez. The march simply served to fray tempers", he indicated.
Juliana Rojas, a 26-year-old Colombian university student living in Buenos Aires, attended a meeting at noon to sing the national anthem, also wearing white clothes.
"If the aim of the march in Bogotá was to demand the release of those kidnapped, why use slogans against Chávez, who has been the only one that has made progress along these lines", she wondered.
"Marchers did not condemn all forms of violence", she regretted.
Wearing black T-shirts, around 50 women met at Bolivar Square and chorused: End the war!
Sara Marcela Bozzi, a 53-year-old broadcaster, joined the march along with some members of the Independent Democratic Party.
"I wanted to protest against all acts of violence committed by left- and right-wing organizations. I marched for peace, for the humanitarian accord and solidarity with the relatives of kidnapped people", she commented.
"The square was filled with posters, slogans and pictures of those kidnapped", she added.
The people need to take action. Slogans like Bullet or Peace revealed both individual views on the current conflict and a conviction that war can no longer be tolerated by civil society.
"We can not take anymore. We will not live under war for ever", Gaviria concluded.
By Mirta Rodríguez Calderón
Santo Domingo, February.– Next May presidential elections anticipate a lot of proselytizing work with little benefit and recognition for women, who make up 57 percent of total voters.
Neither the most representative parties (Dominican Liberation, Dominican Revolutionary Party and Social Christian Reformist Party) nor the smaller political organizations (Social Democratic Party, Movement for Unity and Change, and People's Alliance) have come up with an agenda for women or have promoted consultations on the needs and aspirations of 52 percent of the local population.
WNS corroborated that most candidates have decided not to discuss the issue in public and that even politically experienced women have not taken a unified stance toward it.
The National Women's Forum, which is made up of former MPs and outstanding leaders, recently made a public demand to nominate women for Vice-president.
Although Enma Valoy, president of the Forum and member of the Reformist Party, submitted the demand to the National Election Committee, Citizen Participation civil organization, party leaders and presidential candidates, the action has only been given a sidelong glance.
The issue has also been evaded by a newly formed Coalition whose membership includes former congresswomen, deputy state secretaries and businesswomen who support Leonel Fernández. He is running for President again.
Irma Nicasio, an advisor to the President for gender issues and coordinator of the Coalition, does not find it imperative to have women nominated for Vice-president.
Nicasio and other members of her organization have praised the President, have supported his re-election and have highlighted the fact that the decision to choose a woman as the second in command should be made by the candidates themselves.
Milagros Díaz, a former Reformist Party member and current supporter of President Fernández, told WNS that candidates will probably make the final decision on the basis of opinion polls.
Not all women have given up, however. Magnolia Suazo, member of the Institutional Social Democratic Party, indicated that women's efforts are not being successful because men do not give in and women do not have the unity or push to change that.
"I come from a left-wing party that has always opposed the idea of nominating women just for the sake of being women", she stressed.
Dr. Rosa Roa, who was the Dominican representative to the Inter-American Women’s Committee at the Organization of American States, indicated:
"Men have set the rules of the game. We have done a lot, but have not managed to take leadership positions. Perhaps a small party will try to do that, but I do not think it will make much progress".
Some leaders of the women's movement who are not involved in the present virulent campaign feel that women are not very likely to occupy key positions next May.
Patricia Solano, a journalist who directed a television show (Women Candidates) during the congressional and municipal elections last year, told WNS that she is not very optimistic about the forthcoming round.
"The gender approach has weakened so much in the last few years that it is virtually inexistent in most political parties", she added.
This has resulted from an alliance between the two parties that had made headway toward gender equality (PRD and PRSC) in 2006. "Such a move was really devastating because the number of women candidates was reduced by half", she commented.
Solano is very familiar with local politics. Her mother Picky Lora was an active member of the local guerrilla movement in the 1960s.
"Many women who had asked to be nominated last year were forced to desist, at the request of the party or the alliance. This did away with women's self-confidence", she recalled.
We are now facing a situation where women’s petition to be nominated seems to be very poor. Is this the only aspiration of women politicians? What about parity in executive positions?, anyone could wonder. Women’s petition is poor because their general political action is poor.
This has become evident under Leonel Fernández, who is very likely to get re-elected due to a wide propaganda display and a huge amount of money allocated for the campaign, aside from his undisputable personal charisma.
Lourdes Contreras, director of the Gender Study Center at a local university, told WNS that political structures are acting in a traditional way, without any social program in place.
"What the Executive is doing right now is widening the social gap between the rich and the poor", she stressed.
Contreras believes that "second positions” do not mean much. "It is not really important to have a man or a woman as Vice-president. Milagros Ortiz (2000-2004) did not have any opportunity to do something different from Hipólito Mejía", she recalled.
What Fernández followers are doing today is not in keeping with any specific ideology. We have failed to develop our potential. Any power position calls for a support movement we do not have, she emphasized. Contreras had run for senator representing the Communist Party in 2002.
Although there is a law seeking to guarantee that women's representation exceeds 33 percent, the legal instrument often gets past and diluted.
In early 2000, two Dominican political scientists (Julia Hasbún and Josefina Arvelo) wrote a book entitled Women's representation and power indicating:
Women’s representation by 30, 40 or 50 percent does not affect men. The idea is not to create a situation where women will outnumber men, but to avoid women's under-representation.
There is no indication that something different will happen in the years to come.
By Helen Álvarez Virreina
La Paz, February.– Bolivia is going through one of the most critical periods of its history. Efforts to produce social change and overcome the current complex political, social and economic situation are being hindered one way or another.
Although the President comes from the indigenous sector, which has been the less visible and the most discriminated population group in the country, the picture remains unchanged.
When Evo Morales won the elections in 2005, he raised high expectations. They have all been wearing away, however.
Both the government and the opposition have been involved in a struggle for power that has included contradictions, inequalities and marginalization.
The draft Political Constitution and the autonomous statutes of departments (provinces) have intensified resistance to change.
Ideological fragmentation is the government’s weakness. Its strength lies in the fact that many people still trust its project because they have no other alternative.
Opposition governors in Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, Tarija and Cochabamba, and the Civic Committee in Santa Cruz have united and come up with a specific demand: department autonomy.
WNS talked about the present Bolivian situation with three local women: María Galindo, member of the Creative Women feminist movement, and political scientists Jimena Costa and Helena Argirakis.
They all share the view that the Constituent Assembly does not provide a tool for social change, mostly due to the politicization process that has been seen in the organization. The Constitution to be adopted will be temporary because it does not meet population expectastion.
Boosted by an elite that is seeking to keep its privileges intact, the department autonomy process is unstoppable.
Galindo feels that all the steps that have been taken so far should pave the way for a Pre-Constituent Assembly and a serious, open dialogue that is not very likely to be promoted by the present government. The only way-out in the current juncture is social resistance with the participation of women, she feels.
On the other hand, Costa is of the view that a new Constituent Assembly should be established within two years.
Galindo believes that there are two main issues around the current situation. On the one hand, caciquism has traditionally been a source of frustration in the country and, on the other, social movements have been under crisis and have promoted "customer" logic.
The country has been successively ruled by caciques. The Socialist Movement (MAS), for example, is neither a political nor an ideological project. It has been built on different ideologies and social approaches, with Evo Morales as its main figure. Historical frustration will prevail as Morales consolidates his political leadership in society.
When a people’s revolt overthrew President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada in October 2003, social movements experienced triumphalism. However, this only provided a way for some leaders to accede to power.
Social movements are facing a new crisis. They have the ability to mobilize people, but not to formulate specific proposals, build social fabric and promote political debate. To speak of a crisis in social movements today is “politically incorrect”, Galindo stressed.
MAS has deepened the crisis and has killed other movements. The government is aware of the fact that it can not operate without them.
"The opposition in some regions has capitalized on a legitimate demand of the people against centralized decision-making and has raised the banners of autonomy", she explained.
The Bolivian State has been under formation since the 1952 revolution, Costa recalled. There are two seemingly hegemonistic projects, but none meets the needs and aspirations of the population. The current political culture is not fully democratic. "As we are not tolerant, we make room for racism and discrimination", she emphasized.
The combination of these factors is very dangerous and has created a situation where nobody thinks there is a political way-out and the crisis is further intensified. Evo Morales appears as the only leader. His profile is that of a cacique, and his stance is locally ethnocentric.
The allegedly hegemonistic project for 25 years under democracy was that of a nationalistic, conservative, “moderately democratic” Right that has not represented the interests of the population and indigenous social movements, but those of the middle class and business people, Costa indicated.
The MAS project sought to become hegemonistic, but has also failed because its discourse has been based on differences rather than equality.
As these two projects can provide no leadership, they aim to achieve domination. We are faced with an authoritarian Left and an authoritarian Right that are unable to promote unity of mestizo and indigenous people from east to west and from north to south. There is no democratic choice.
According to Costa, the process toward change is irreversible. Despite government mistakes in public and economic management, there is no alternative to MAS.
"Those of us who are in the middle, who are not MAS or opposition supporters, make up a majority and are extremely worried about the current situation".
A debate for dignity
Argirakis dealt with two issues closely related to the national crisis in her radio show Thread and Needle.
Alternation in power has involved the same social class, common interests and a single economic model. MAS provided a valuable tool for change, but department autonomy advocates came up with an alternative political and legal system to resist change.
The current dispute in the country is not ideological, but human-rights and dignity- related. The struggle for power has exacerbated racism, discrimination, intolerance, conservatism and retrogression. "The present debate in Bolivia is thus connected with humanity and inhumanity", she concluded.
By Zoraida Portillo
Lima, February.– Seven-year-old Solange took policemen at a local station by surprise when she showed up to accuse her own mother of abusing her. Accompanied by a nine-year-old friend, she produced evidence: her legs burned with a hot fork because she had accidentally broken her shoestrings.
She told the police that her 36-year-old mother Gloria Reyes had often given her beatings. "When my friend explained to me that nobody has the right to abuse a child, I decided to accuse my mom", she added.
Solange has been lucky. The attorney deprived her mother of parental authority and granted it to her grandfather on her mother side. He corroborated the abuse. "My daughter is very frustrated because her husband left her and she has to look after their children alone", he stressed.
If the abuse is confirmed, she will not only lose parental authority, but also go to prison for up to eight years.
Thousands of Peruvian children are not as lucky as Solange. They do not have a friend to warn them about abuse and do not know that there are public entities and non-governmental organizations providing help. They have to go on living with abusers and suffering from emotional and psychological traumas.
A report by Children’s Action NGO indicated that seven minors are abused every day in Lima alone. Out of this total, five are abused by their own parents. Save the Children (international organization) believes that one third of Peruvian children and teenagers are currently being abused.
Although the exact number of children physically abused at home is not known, UNICEF estimates them at 4,500.
María Teresa Mosquera, director of Children’s Action, thinks that the figure is higher because many cases are never reported. "Some other cases are not reported to local child and adolescent protection centers, but to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and family courts", she stressed.
There is no doubt, however, about the mark of abuse on the victims. Psychiatrist Freddy Vásquez indicated that child abuse (either verbal or physical) is the main cause of suicide in this population group.
The Child Health Institute in Lima provides treatment to over 600 children every year. Most of them suffer from depression and around 200 have suicidal ideas.
The local Criminal Code establishes sentences ranging from five months to 15 years in prison on abusive parents or tutors. The number of cases, however, continues growing.
A United Nations study showed that 41 percent of parents spank their children. Over 80 percent of abusive fathers and 56 percent of abusive mothers were abused when they were very young.
Many parents feel that spanking is just a form of imposing discipline, Clarisa Ugarte told WNS. She is a policewoman working in Lima.
She recalled a case in San Martín de Porres, northern Lima. A schoolteacher reported the case of a student who had been physically abused and could not sit down without feeling discomfort.
"When her parents were called, they admitted spanking the girl, but accused the teacher of butting in family issues", Ugarte commented.
According to psychiatrist Gabriela Trelles, parents take a violent attitude toward children when they experience some kind of frustration.
The situation has reached such a point that civil society is no longer indifferent and is taking action.
The first association of voluntary promoters to identify cases of violence in two Andean provinces (Huancayo and Andahuaylas) and in a southern Lima district (San Juan de Miraflores) was established last month and is now operating.
Made up of 300 men and women of different ages and social status, the association also promotes and defends child and adolescent rights, especially in marginalized urban and rural areas.
As most of them are Quechua-speaking women, sensitization actions are all the more effective, said Carmen Barrantes, representative of Ever Child-Peru. This organization provided training to association members.
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