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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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Attacking Iran Is a Recipe for a Catastrophe




Opinion by Alon Ben-Meir (new york)Monday, January 31, 2022Inter Press Service

Righting the Wrong

Israel’s repeated threats to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities irrespective of any outcome in the negotiations in Vienna between the P5+1 (France, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, the US, and Germany) and Iran is a recipe for disaster.

Prime Minister Bennett’s argument that Israel will not abide by any agreement, not only because Israel is not a party in the negotiations but because Israel alone will determine what’s best to safeguard its national security, is a fallacy.

Given the complexity and the far-reaching implications of a potential Israeli attack, the only proper path to address Iran’s nuclear program is by fully coordinating and developing a joint strategy with the US to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambition to acquire nuclear weapons while seeking an end to the conflict.

It is critical that the Bennett-Lapid government not repeat Netanyahu’s disastrous mistake of opposing the JCPOA, which subsequently Netanyahu persuaded Trump to withdraw from altogether. As a result of the US’ withdrawal from the deal, Iran has only advanced its nuclear weapons program—enriching a significant amount of uranium to 60 percent, which is only a short leap to enriching it to weapons-grade 90 percent, and in enough quantity to produce one nuclear weapon in short order.

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said recently, “The reason we’re in the situation we’re in right now is because the previous administration pulled out of the Iran deal and we are paying the wages of that catastrophic mistake.”

Bennett’s repeated threats to attack Iran could lead to miscalculation and dire unintended consequences that Israel cannot possibly cope with on its own. Israel must work hand-in-hand with the US to address Iran’s nuclear program now and in the future, and must not resort to a military option without the full support of the US.

The Bennett government must carefully consider the ominous outcome such an attack could precipitate, from which Israel as well as the entire region will suffer unimaginably.

The ominous repercussions of an Israeli attack

Israel’s repeated threats are unwise and do nothing but provide Iran ample time to prepare for any contingency. Mossad director David Barnea recently stated that “Iran will not have nuclear weapons—not in the coming years, not ever. This is my personal commitment: This is the Mossad’s commitment.”

Knowing the Iranian mindset, such a statement is counterproductive and does nothing but stiffen Iran’s position. Even if Israel is planning such an attack, advertising it repeatedly in advance drastically undermines its effectiveness.

Iran is already fortifying its air defenses, especially around its nuclear facilities, and putting in place offensive capabilities that can exact a heavy price from Israel should such an attack materialize. Indeed, Israel can inflict a devastating blow on Iran’s nuclear facilities, but it cannot destroy all of them nor the Iranian knowhow. Such an attack, however overwhelming, would only set back Iran’s nuclear program for two to three years.

It is a given that an Israeli attack would force Tehran to retaliate directly against Israel by firing ballistic missiles that can reach major Israeli cities, potentially causing widespread destruction and thousands of casualties. Iran will also ensure that Hezbollah, which is in possession of 150,000 rockets, will enter the fray and fire thousands of rockets that can reach every corner of the country.

Regardless of how effective Israel’s air defense may be, its Iron Dome and Arrow interceptors cannot possibly intercept tens of thousands of short, medium, and long-range rockets. Moreover, Hamas too may well join the fight, in addition to a third front with Syria, from where Iranian proxies will attack Israel. Israel’s economy will be shattered, and past conflagrations with Hamas alone attest to this fact.

Many Israeli military experts believe that Israel does not have the aerial capability to attack Iran more than once, nor can it destroy all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, as they are scattered around the country and several are built a hundred or more feet underground. It will require several days and multiple attacks, which Israel does not have the capability to conduct.

Although all the Arab Gulf states would like to see Iran’s nuclear facilities eliminated, they want to avoid a war because even a limited Israeli attack could engulf the entire region and beyond. In many conversations I had with officials from the Gulf, nearly all of them prefer containment of Iran’s nuclear program and deterrence spearheaded by the US to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and to ensure that Iran will be unable to threaten or intimidate its neighbors.

Finally, whereas Israeli attacks on Iraq’s and Syria’s nuclear facilities (in 1981 and 2007, respectively) did not spread radioactive material into the atmosphere because no uranium was present, Iran has a stockpile of uranium purified to various degrees. Thus, an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would have disastrous environmental consequences.

From the Iranian perspective, acquiring nuclear weapons would deter any aggressor, including the US, from attacking it. Iran wants to stand on equal footing with Sunni Pakistan to its east and Jewish Israel to its west, both of whom are nuclear powers.

This partly explains why Iran does not bend easily and why it is assuming such a hard position at the negotiations in Vienna, even though it wants badly to have the sanctions lifted to salvage its ailing economy.

The need for a full US-Israeli collaboration

Attacking Iran without the US’ acquiescence, if not outright support, will seriously undermine Israel-US relations which Jerusalem cannot afford. Collaboration and coordination between the two countries is and will remain central in dealing effectively with Iran.

This is particularly important because the Iranian clergy wants to avoid any military confrontation with the US, fearing a disastrous outcome. Indeed, a US military assault on Iran could precipitate regime change, which the Iranian leadership fears the most and wants to prevent at any cost.

For this reason, to deter Iran, it is critical for the Bennett-Lapid government to work closely with the Biden administration and support any new agreement that may be reached between Iran and the P5+1. The Biden administration is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and Israel must trust the US to do whatever necessary to that end, especially because Israel cannot and must not act alone.

The failure or the success to reach a new agreement

Should the P5+1 fail to reach a new agreement, the US and Israel must develop a joint strategy to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons based on containment and deterrence. This includes the imposition of additional crippling sanctions, cyber-attacks on vital Iranian installations, and sabotaging its nuclear facilities, among other disabling measures.

In addition, the US should make it clear that all options are on the table, including military force, which could pose a significant risk of regime change, which terrifies Iran. In addition, the US should seriously consider a strategic game-changer move by providing a nuclear umbrella to cover Israel and the Gulf states.

Should a new agreement be reached, which seems increasingly likely, it will be expected to include rolling back the number of operational centrifuges and reducing the quantity and the enrichment quality of uranium, while extending the sunset clauses beyond the original dates to prevent Iran from resuming its nuclear weapons program within a few years. In addition, a new deal will obviously restore the most stringent and infallible monitoring system to thwart Iran from cheating.

Beyond these measures, however, the US must strive to end the conflict with Iran on a more permanent basis. The Biden administration ought to initiate back-channel talks to address Iran’s nefarious regional activity, its arming and financially aiding of extremist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, its ballistic missile program, and its hegemonic ambitions.

In addition, due to Israel’s profound and legitimate concerns about its national security, the Biden administration must make it unequivocally clear to Iran that it must end its repeated existential threats against Israel. Iran’s clergy must understand that such threats could precipitate a disastrous conflagration—intentional or unintentional—that could engulf the entire region from which Iran will suffer greatly.

In return, if Iran embraces such a moderate path, the US should promise publicly that it will not seek now or at any time in the future regime change, which for the clergy is a do-or-die proposition. Moreover, the US would embark on a gradual normalization of relations on all fronts.

To be sure, when there is a breakdown in any conflict there is often an opportunity for a breakthrough. Iran does not want to remain a pariah state and always be on the defensive, and the US and Israel will be much better off if Iran joins the community of nations as a constructive player on the international stage.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a retired professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University (NYU). He taught courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies for over 20 years.
[email protected]

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

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Team From UN Mission in Colombia Attacked, Vehicles Torched




Friday, January 28, 2022UN News

In a statement, the mission condemned the attack suffered by its local team in Puerto Nuevo, Guaviare, when it was carrying out a joint mission with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and a non-governmental organization. 

The joint mission, made up of three vehicles, was heading to the rural area of Guayabero to meet with communities in the area, when they were approached by armed individuals who made them get out of the vehicles.

Two of the three vehicles were incinerated a few minutes later at the scene. 

Bogotá, Colombia’s capital., by Unsplash/Claus Pacheco

The UN Mission reiterated its concern over continuing acts of violence in so-called priority areas for the implementation of the 2016 Peace Agreement with FARC rebels, and condemned any attempts to intimidate UN and humanitarian staff, by armed groups. 

The UN will continue to support Colombians in their efforts to consolidate peace in the country, the mission said.

Security Council

On Thursday, the Security Council reiterated its full and unanimous support for the peace process in Colombia.

In a statement, the Council Members highlighted the fifth anniversary of the Final Peace Agreement, celebrated in November of last year. 

They echoed the Secretary-General’s observation, when visiting the country during the anniversary, that “historic progress” was “taking root” but also that “formidable challenges” remain. 

The members also welcomed the way in which the anniversary “led to renewed focus by all parties on the need to consolidate this progress and address these challenges.”

As Colombia prepares for congressional and presidential elections, the Council stressed the importance of taking the necessary steps to ensure safe, peaceful and inclusive participation, including the full, equal and meaningful participation of women. 

They also reiterated their concern regarding the persistent threats, attacks and killings targeting former FARC-EP members, as well as community and social leaders, including women and those from indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities.

© UN News (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: UN News


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When Will Countries Ever Learn How Well to Do Fuel Subsidy Reforms?




View of downtown Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan. Credit: World Bank/Shynar JetpissovaOpinion by Alan Gelb, Anit Mukherjee (washington dc)Friday, January 28, 2022Inter Press Service

Amid alarming reports of deadly violence in Kazakhstan, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Central Asia called for restraint and dialogue. 6 January 2022

Protestors are out on the streets, clashing violently with security forces called in to maintain law and order. They vent their frustration not only with rising fuel prices but also with living costs, lack of social services, crumbling infrastructure, corruption and political repression.

Faced with the prospect of a popular uprising, the government backtracks on reforms and re-institutes subsidies, postponing the hard decisions for a later date.

This is Kazakhstan in 2022. It is also Ecuador in 2019, Nigeria in 2012, Bolivia in 2010, Indonesia in 2005 and several other energy exporters which have tried to end, or at least reduce, fuel subsidies over the last two decades.

The list will grow significantly if we include importers who are more exposed to the vagaries of international energy prices. What is interesting is that the story plays out in almost exactly the same way, and the consequences of both action – and inaction – are very similar as well.

For resource rich countries like Kazakhstan, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nigeria, subsidized energy, especially from fossil fuels, is one of the few tangible ways by which citizens can feel that they have a claim to a national resource.

While the level of subsidies varies, at some $228 dollars per head or 2.6% of GDP in 2020, those of Kazakhstan are high but not the highest among exporters. In a situation where the government is generally perceived to be repressive, incompetent and corrupt, food and fuel subsidies keep a lid on deeper grievances. It is economically damaging but politically expedient, a delicate equilibrium that many countries have sought to manage over the last several decades – with little success.

Our research has shown that there is a better way to do energy subsidy reform. Providing direct cash transfers to compensate for the rise in energy prices can be a “win-win” solution. To put it simply, energy compensatory transfers (ECT) enable households, especially the poor and the vulnerable, to absorb the shock and reallocate resources as per their needs.

By removing the arbitrage between subsidized and market prices, ECTs can also reduce corruption, improve distribution and incentivize efficient use of energy. Countries like Iran, India, Jordan and the Dominican Republic have been relatively successful in this type of reform, and their experience holds lessons for other countries that choose to embark on this path.

Digital technology can help significantly to identify beneficiaries, provide them necessary guidance and information, and transfer payments directly to individuals and households. Three key enablers of ECTs are an identification system with universal coverage of the population, strong communications and wide access to financial accounts.

Multiple databases can be cross-checked to verify eligibility norms and grievance redressal systems can help reduce exclusion of genuine beneficiaries. As shown, for example, by India’s LPG subsidy reform, countries can progressively tighten the eligibility criteria over time to target the poorest sections of the population.

Finally, ECTs can provide the impetus for a more transparent and accountable system of subsidy management, helping improve public confidence and support to the government’s reform agenda over the long run.

So, why don’t more countries follow this approach? For one, most energy subsidy reforms are pushed forward in times of economic crisis. ECTs require political commitment, openness to engage in public dialogue, building consensus among stakeholders and powerful vested interests, setting up implementation systems and working across different government ministries, departments and agencies.

Direct compensation is also more transparent than the frequently opaque systems of price subsidization that favor the rich, with their higher energy consumption, even if justified by the need to protect the poor.

ECTs are not simple solutions and often require time to be put in place. On the surface, it may seem simpler to just raise energy prices overnight through an administrative order. But the payoffs are significant in terms of sustainability, economic outcomes, social cohesion and political stability.

The sooner countries can take a longer term approach, the better will they be able to manage the transition to a more sustainable system that supports those who need it most.

Kazakhstan is the first country in 2022 to see popular unrest due to fuel price hike. It almost certainly would not be the last.

Anit Mukherjee is a policy fellow at the Center for Global Development. Alan Gelb is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development.

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

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