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Poor Communities on the Salvadoran Coast Face Constant Threat of Eviction



Members of families threatened with eviction ride in a boat down a mangrove channel in the community of Cuatro Vientos, in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura, on the Salvadoran coast. They denounced to IPS that one of the country’s main banks now claims to be the owner of the land where they have lived for 20 years. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPSby Edgardo Ayala (san luis la herradura, el salvador)Monday, December 06, 2021Inter Press Service

Martínez, 77, lives with his wife Gloria García, 50, and their severely disabled 21-year-old son Fredy Martínez in the Cuatro Vientos community, formed some 20 years ago by homeless families from different parts of the country.

The settlement is located in San Luis La Herradura, a municipality in the south of the department of La Paz, on the Salvadoran coast.

Martínez, his skin toasted by the sun, added: “Now we have reached the difficult moment when they want to remove us, which is very unfair,” referring to the threat of eviction that is hanging over his family and others in the settlement, from a bank and wealthy families in the area, as they told IPS during a day spent in their community.

Driven by necessity, some 180 poor families settled in Cuatro Vientos, on what they considered to be public land: a narrow 17-kilometer-long strip of land separating the Pacific Ocean and the Jaltepeque estuary, one of the main wetlands in this Central American country.

A paved road runs through the middle of the strip connecting the highly touristic area with the rest of the country.

In addition to Cuatro Vientos, 18 other settlements or communities have sprung up in the area over the past 50 years and have also been threatened with eviction, either by private consortiums or by wealthy families who have beach houses there.

Extreme inequality

On this strip of land, ostentatious wealth coexists with painful poverty.

Some families do have legal title to their plots, the ones that are located along the roadside, lawyer Teresa Hernández of the Foundation for Legal Studies for the Application of Law (Fespad) told IPS.

However, some 40 meters further inland towards the estuary, the situation is different for most of the people, who live in conditions of poverty and without documents certifying that they own the land.

“In general, all 19 communities find themselves in this legally precarious position,” the lawyer explained.

Francisco Martínez, 77, with his wife Gloria García, 50, and their severely disabled 21-year-old son Fredy Martínez pose for a photo in the courtyard of their house in Cuatro Vientos, a settlement formed some 20 years ago by homeless families from various parts of El Salvador. The Martínez family fears that they will be evicted because the property is claimed by one of the country’s main banks. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Fespad and the Movement for the Defense of the Land in El Salvador (Movitierra) are providing legal assistance to the affected families, especially in 12 communities that have organized to fight for their rights.

About 850 families live in these 12 settlements, but the lawyer said she did not know the total number of inhabitants of the 19 communities.

Insecurity of title

According to official figures, about 10 percent of El Salvador’s 6.7 million people are in a position of land tenure insecurity.

Cases like those of the families in Cuatro Vientos, who thought they were living on land that they could call their own because it belonged to the State, but who now face the risk of removal.

The conflict over property rights in this area known as Costa del Sol arises from the fact that the land has a high value as a result of tourism, which drives the construction of hotel complexes.

In addition, for decades it has been impossible to establish exactly which land is privately owned and which belongs to the State, which has generated disputes over land ownership, the Fespad lawyer added.

Tourism businesses such as hotels and restaurants have set up shop there because of the beauty of the area: the sea on one side and the lush estuary, with its mangroves and wildlife, on the other.

Wealthy families have also built beach houses in the area for decades to spend vacations or weekends. That is why the real estate sector is also in high demand in the area.

Boats are moored to private docks in one of the channels of the Jaltepeque estuary. On El Salvador’s Costa del Sol, a narrow 17-kilometer-long strip separates the Pacific Ocean from one of the country’s main wetlands, where luxury homeowners and tourism and real estate companies are threatening to evict poor communities. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Institutions should clarify

Every beach, whether on an estuary or on the sea, belongs to the State, and wealthy families and companies have been buying up adjacent or nearby lands, initially considered private in origin. But after decades of disorder, the limits of what is private and what belongs to the State have become entangled.

Hernández said that in order to clarify these boundaries, the government’s land registry should carry out a cadastral survey to determine the background of these lands and define who owns them. But this has not been done and the communities do not have the resources to carry it out on their own.

She added that, in view of this situation, Fespad and Movitierra requested in 2019 that the governmental Institute of Property Legalization (ILP) conduct an inspection to determine the boundaries between State and private land in at least five communities on the Costa del Sol, as a pilot test.

The covid-19 pandemic stalled the effort, but it was resumed in April.

However, although the investigation into the legal status of the property in these settlements has been completed, the final report has not been released.

“The final report of those inspections has been requested and the ILP has not delivered it to us, the communities or Fespad, as applicants together with Movitierra,” said Hernández.

A group of women from the community of El Mozote, on the Salvadoran coast, express their concern about the uncertainty of not knowing if they will be evicted from their homes built on a plot of land claimed by a real estate company. They are asking the authorities to carry out a complete survey of the land. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Evictions have already started

Threats of eviction, which in some cases have already materialized, are based on the argument that the poor families do not have property titles, while the companies and wealthy families claim to possess them.

These sectors claim part of the land where poor people live, many of whom work in the hotels or in the vacation homes of the opulent families who generally sail their yachts in the estuary.

“There was a hole here, and with the pennies I earned, I filled it in and made my champita (hut) covered with coconut and banana palm leaves,” Martínez told IPS, while taking care of his son in the wheelchair.

On a visit to the area by IPS, the affected families in Cuatro Vientos said the threats come mainly from the private Banco Agrícola, one of the most important banks in the country.

According to the families, the bank owns a plot of land about a block and a half in size – approximately one hectare – where several families built their houses two decades ago believing that it was abandoned land, which is common in the area.

These plots had owners decades ago, but for one reason or another were no longer used and over time became overgrown by weeds.

Now the bank has reportedly found a buyer and wants to remove the families living on that specific plot.

“We did not come to this land to take advantage of anybody, but out of need. I had nowhere to live,” said Martinez, whose small house stands on the disputed land.

According to some estimates, El Salvador has a housing deficit of 1.3 million homes.

Along El Salvador’s Costa del Sol the ostentatious wealth of families who own beach houses and yachts moored at the docks stands in sharp contrast with the poverty of hundreds of families who have built shacks in areas that were considered state property and from which companies and families now want to evict them. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Several families in Cuatro Vientos met with IPS to explain how the situation affects them.

They live with the uncertainty of not knowing when they may be forced by the police to leave their homes, which took them so much effort and sacrifice to build.

“I have sleepless nights, my eye twitches, I have nightmares, I’m so worried,” Alba Díaz told IPS.

Diaz, 48, is a single mother raising three teenage sons and a daughter without many job opportunities. She manages to earn a living by going to take care of her mother and grandfather, for which an uncle pays her 100 dollars a month. She also sells pizzas from time to time.

“We are threatened by the bank, they want to take back the property and sell it, we don’t know exactly,” she added.

But that’s not all.

The bank also seems to be interested in seizing other areas outside the land it owns, plots of land where other families live.

Those affected in Cuatro Vientos mentioned a strange situation in which police officers wearing masks showed up in July accompanying two people who told some families that they were there on behalf of the government to carry out a census.

The two people, who they said were probably representatives of the bank, collected personal identity document numbers, they added.

“I ran, but I couldn’t find them. I asked myself: Masks? Masked policemen don’t come to conduct a census,” said Diaz.

Francisco Martinez’s wife Gloria García confirmed that the hooded men and the two other people came to their house.

“They came here, who knows why. We gave them our identify document numbers and signatures. We don’t know if they came from the bank or from where,” Garcia said.

On Nov. 16, the Banco Agrícola sent an official statement of its position in an e-mail to IPS.

“It is important to clarify that, as an agricultural bank, no eviction action is being considered or planned for the inhabitants of the Cuatro Vientos community,” it stated.

The bank confirmed a day later that it did own a piece of land there since June 2000, but that it sold it in March 2021 and that the property is currently in the process of being registered in the name of the new owner. The bank also denied that any of its representatives had visited the community.

Meanwhile, in another community located on the Costa del Sol strip, El Mozote, some 125 families are also living in uncertainty and threatened with eviction, because a real estate company is trying to evict them, claiming to be the owner of the land.

“They are State lands, we have cadastral records that say they are State lands, but when people clear them and fix them up, others want to take them over,” one of the residents, Mélida Alvarado, an activist in the collective struggle against eviction, told IPS.

© Inter Press Service (2021) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service


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From Milan to Glasgow, Young Moroccans Commit to Fighting Climate Change



A new way to recycle large amounts of coffee grounds; a platform connecting young African activists; technology to produce electricity from ocean waves or recycle plastic. A new energy-efficient construction method – an innovative carpooling app. 

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Health Workers Lauded for Role in Leprosy Treatment During Pandemic



Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination and Chairperson of the Nippon Foundation, thanks participants at a webinar ‘Raising Awareness about Leprosy, Role of Health Professionals at the Grassroots Level’ organized by the Sasakawa Leprosy Initiative. He is with other participants from Japan, India and Nepal in the “Don’t Forget Leprosy” campaign event. by Joyce Chimbi (nairobi, kenya)Thursday, January 20, 2022Inter Press Service

Sasakawa, the WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination and Chairman of the Nippon Foundation, was speaking at a webinar ‘Raising Awareness about Leprosy, Role of Health Professionals at the Grassroots Level’ organized by the Sasakawa Leprosy Initiative.

A leprosy-free world was one where “patients and those cured of leprosy live free of discrimination and, people around them will be free of the misunderstanding, ignorance and fear that perpetuate discrimination”, he told the webinar.

Sasakawa Leprosy Initiative is a strategic alliance between WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, the Nippon Foundation and Sasakawa Health Foundation for achieving a world without leprosy and problems related to the disease. The initiative spearheaded a campaign, “Don’t Forget Leprosy”, to raise awareness about the condition in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

The WHO Goodwill Ambassador envisions a post-COVID world where those affected by leprosy will be liberated from such stigma and discrimination in keeping with human rights.

Sasakawa says this world is now at risk of delaying leprosy elimination due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as there was a 37 percent drop in reported new cases and leprosy programs in many countries have stalled or scaled back.

Participants heard about the role of health professionals in combating leprosy, recognition of this role and the successes and challenges faced in addressing leprosy during the ongoing health pandemic.

Their role, Sasakawa said, was a central pillar to the vision of a leprosy free world as it helps reduce transmission and disability.

An estimated three to four million people live with some form of disability caused by leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease.

“The ‘Don’t Forget Leprosy’ is a global campaign because our voices alone are not enough. Stopping leprosy requires (the involvement of) all of us, from India and Nepal to all other countries around the world,” he said.

Dr Rashmi Shukla outlined efforts in India to identify and treat patients with leprosy. He was speaking at a webinar ‘Raising Awareness about Leprosy, Role of Health Professionals at the Grassroots Level’ organized by the Sasakawa Leprosy Initiative. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

Dinesh Basnet, Central President of the International Association for Integration, Dignity and Economic Advancement (IDEA) in Nepal, said he was happy to see progress in recent years.

“More so Nepal’s efforts to track and eliminate leprosy. Even during the pandemic, detection and treatment interventions were uninterrupted, and this has been possible due to government commitment and unrelenting efforts of health professionals,” said Basnet.

“People affected by leprosy were not forgotten as communication continued through WhatsApp groups, and this was critical during the lockdown.”

Dr Indra Napit, a senior Orthopedic Surgeon at Anandaban Hospital, Nepal, spoke about innovative technology in the trial of Autologous Blood products to promote ulcer healing in Leprosy. He added that a new drug was on trial to manage reactions to this form of treatment at this leprosy mission.

In a video message, Birodh Khatiwada, Nepal’s Minister of Health and Population, spoke of Nepal’s undisrupted program to address leprosy, including the continued supply of leprosy medication despite the pandemic.

He says Nepal has already prepared the National Leprosy Roadmap, 2021-2030, National Leprosy Strategy 2021-2025, in line with the Global Leprosy Strategy, Neglected Tropical Diseases Roadmap and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Sasakawa emphasized that it was indeed the ultimate goal for India and other affected countries worldwide to reach zero leprosy cases by 2030.

Despite challenges in the fight to eliminate leprosy, a ray of hope shines through, with Anju Sharma sharing good practices in case finding in India amid the ongoing health pandemic.

Sharma is an accredited Social Health Activist and is considered a driving force behind India’s public health system and an essential link between the community and the public health system.

“Screening for leprosy during the pandemic is much more difficult. As COVID-19 cases increase, so does my responsibilities because I have to strictly follow COVID-19 protocols, and this takes a lot of time,” Sharma explained.

“Due to the pandemic, people are hesitant about getting screened. But I reassure them that protocols will be observed and remind them that failure to detect and treat leprosy can lead to disability.”

Dr Venkata Ranganadha Rao Pemmaraju, acting team leader, WHO Global Leprosy Programme, emphasized that discussing the role of health workers was critical, and hearing from those in the frontlines helps efforts to eliminate the pandemic move forward.

WHO, he said, subscribes to the Don’t Forget Leprosy campaign. He lauded ongoing efforts to sustain counselling for those affected by leprosy and those who tracked and managed Nepal-India cross border leprosy cases despite challenges COVID-19 protocols like restrictions on movement and lockdowns.

Dinesh Basnet, a person affected by leprosy thanked health care workers and others for their efforts in eliminating the disease. He was talking at a webinar ‘Raising Awareness about Leprosy, Role of Health Professionals at the Grassroots Level’ organized by the Sasakawa Leprosy Initiative. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

Similarly, Dr Rabindra Baskota, the Leprosy Control and Disability Management Section director in Nepal’s Ministry of Health and Population, confirmed that health workers had been relentless to find new cases, raising awareness on leprosy and treating patients despite ongoing challenges.

“Still, there is a need to train community health workers to detect new cases and manage reactions to leprosy treatment even as older and more experienced health workers retire,” he said.

Dr Anil Kumar, the deputy director-general (Leprosy) in India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, who spoke about good practices in combating leprosy said that a leprosy-free India was not very far off.

Despite a notable decline in screening and detecting cases due to COVID-19, he said critical interventions were nonetheless rolled out, and that leprosy-related services continued at the grassroots level.

“Migrant labourers were screened for leprosy at point of return to home districts and patients on treatment tracked. Treatment defaulters were cross notified based on the address in treatment record,” Kumar said.

“A WhatsApp group titled Leprosy Action Group was created for cross notification, and members included state leprosy officers and partners. Supportive supervision and monitoring up to sub-district level using virtual platforms continues.”

Executive Director of the Sasakawa Health Foundation, Dr Takahiro Nanri, moderated a panel discussion that included a session to further shed light on additional support needed to achieve leprosy elimination milestones.

Sasakawa suggested that health workers’ training included human rights, and the panel lauded health workers for their passionate and proactive steps to eliminate the disease.

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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Ominous History in Real Time: Where We Are Now in the USA



US President Joseph R. Biden Jr. addresses the general debate of the UN General Assembly’s 76th session last year. In his inaugural address to the annual gathering of world leaders at the UN, Biden called for a new era of global unity against the compounding crises of COVID-19, climate change and insecurity. Credit: UN Photo/Cia PakOpinion by Norman Solomon (san francisco, usa)Monday, January 17, 2022Inter Press Service

Dollar figures can look abstract on a screen, but they indicate the extent of the mania. Biden had asked for “only” $12 billion more than President Trump’s bloated military budget of the previous year — but that wasn’t enough for the bipartisan hawkery in the House and Senate, which provided a boost of $37 billion instead.

Overall, military spending accounts for about half of the federal government’s total discretionary spending — while programs for helping instead of killing are on short rations at many local, state, and national government agencies. It’s a nonstop trend of reinforcing the warfare state in sync with warped neoliberal priorities. While outsized profits keep benefiting the upper class and enriching the already obscenely rich, the cascading effects of extreme income inequality are drowning the hopes of the many.

Corporate power constrains just about everything, whether healthcare or education or housing or jobs or measures for responding to the climate emergency. What prevails is the political structure of the economy.

Class war in the United States has established what amounts to oligarchy. A zero-sum economic system, aka corporate capitalism, is constantly exercising its power to reward and deprive. The dominant forces of class warfare — disproportionately afflicting people of color while also steadily harming many millions of whites — continue to undermine basic human rights including equal justice and economic security.

In the real world, financial power is political power. A system that runs on money is adept at running over people without it.

The words “I can’t breathe,” repeated nearly a dozen times by Eric Garner in a deadly police chokehold, resonated for countless people whose names we’ll never know. The intersections of racial injustice and predatory capitalism are especially virulent zones, where many lives gradually or suddenly lose what is essential for life.

Discussions of terms like “racism” and “poverty” too easily become facile, abstracted from human consequences, while unknown lives suffocate at the hands of routine injustice, systematic cruelties, the way things predictably are.

An all-out war on democracy is now underway in the United States. More than ever, the Republican Party is the electoral arm of unabashed white supremacy as well as such toxicities as xenophobia, nativism, anti-gay bigotry, patriarchy, and misogyny.

The party’s rigid climate denial is nothing short of deranged. Its approach to the Covid pandemic has amounted to an embrace of death in the name of rancid individualism. With its Supreme Court justices in place, the “Grand Old Party” has methodically slashed voting rights and abortion rights.

Overall, on domestic matters, the partisan matchup is between neoliberalism and neofascism. While the abhorrent roles of the Democratic leadership are extensive, to put it mildly, the two parties now represent hugely different constituencies and agendas at home. Not so on matters of war and peace.

Both parties continue to champion what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the madness of militarism.” When King described the profligate spending for a distant war as “some demonic, destructive suction tube,” he was condemning dynamics that endure with a vengeance.

Today, the madness and the denial are no less entrenched. A militaristic core serves as a sacred touchstone for faith in America as the world’s one and only indispensable nation. Gargantuan Pentagon budgets are taken for granted, as is the assumed prerogative to bomb other countries at will.

Every budget has continued to include massive outlays for nuclear weapons, including gigantic expenditures for so-called “modernization” of the nuclear arsenal. A fact that this book cited when it was first published — that the United States had ten thousand nuclear warheads and Russia had a comparable number — is no longer true; most estimates say those stockpiles are now about half as large.

But the current situation is actually much more dangerous. In 2007, the Doomsday Clock maintained by The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists pegged the world’s proximity to annihilation at five minutes to apocalyptic Midnight.

As 2022 began, the symbolic hands were at one hundred seconds to Midnight. Such is the momentum of the nuclear arms race, fueled by profit-driven military contractors. Lofty rhetoric about seeking peace is never a real brake on the nationalistic thrust of militarism.

With the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the third decade of this century is shaping up to unfold new wrinkles in American hegemonic conceits. Along the way, Joe Biden has echoed a central precept of doublethink in George Orwell’s most famous novel, 1984: “War is Peace.”

Speaking at the United Nations as the autumn of 2021 began, Biden proclaimed: “I stand here today, for the first time in twenty years, with the United States not at war. We’ve turned the page.” But the turned page was bound into a volume of killing with no foreseeable end.

The United States remained at war, bombing in the Middle East and elsewhere, with much information withheld from the public. And increases in U.S. belligerence toward both Russia and China escalated the risks of a military confrontation that could lead to nuclear war.

A rosy view of the USA’s future is only possible when ignoring history in real time. After four years of the poisonous Trump presidency, the Biden strain of corporate liberalism offers a mix of antidotes and ongoing toxins. The Republican Party, now neofascist, is in a strong position to gain control of the U.S. government by mid-decade.

Preventing such a cataclysm seems beyond the grasp of the same Democratic Party elites that paved the way for Donald Trump to become president in the first place. Realism about the current situation — clarity about how we got here and where we are now — is necessary to mitigate impending disasters and help create a better future. Vital truths must be told. And acted upon.

This article is adapted from the new edition of Norman Solomon’s book “Made Love, Got War,” just published as a free e-book.

Norman Solomon is the national director of and the author of a dozen books including Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America’s Warfare State, published in a new edition as a free e-book in January 2022. His other books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 and 2020 Democratic National Conventions. Solomon is the founder and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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