Saturday, March 31, 2012

Thousands Protest Canadian Mining Operation

Thousands of people in the northwest Argentine province of La Rioja are mobilising to stop an open-cast gold mining project in the Nevados de Famatina, a snowy peak that is the semi-arid area's sole source of drinking water.

La Rioja "is a dry province and we have just enough clean water to live on, but not to share with miners," one of the protesters, Héctor Artuso, a resident from the small town of Villa Pituil, in the Famatina area, told IPS.

Residents of Famatina and neighbouring Chilecito have set up a partial roadblock at Alto Carrizal, a stop located 4,000 metres above sea level on a gravel road leading up to the highest point of this mountain chain, Cerro General Belgrano (better known as Nevados de Famatina), which stands at 6,250 metres.

Still visible in Famatima as historical reminders of nineteenth- century mining activities is the abandoned mining site "La Mejicana", which includes a tramway system built by a British company in 1905 to transport gold and other metal extracted for export.

Back then mining was done in underground pits. Today, modern mining methods require large explosions, huge volumes of water, and the use of cyanide to extract the mineral, which is why local residents are protesting.

The activists maintain the Alto Carrizal roadblock day and night, but are selective in whose passage they block. Local residents and tourists are allowed through, while provincial authorities are stopped, along with anyone representing the Canadian company authorised by the Argentine government to mine the area.

Protesters are backed by a number of national and international environmental NGOs, including Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, Greenpeace, and Los Verdes, which in recent days voiced their concern about the activists' safety, reporting threats and harassment. Political parties from the opposition and celebrities are also stepping forward to support the anti-mining campaign.

The conflict was sparked in October 2011, when local residents learned that the La Rioja state-owned mining and energy company Energía y Minerales Sociedad del Estado (EMSE) had signed an agreement with the Quebec-based Osisko Mining Corporation, to mine Nevados de Famatina.

The agreement was never made public, and the government failed to hold the public hearings and perform the environmental impact studies stipulated under the 2002 General Environmental Act. Even Famatina authorities were left out of the agreement.

Mayor Ismael Bordagaray, in fact, supports the demonstrations against the mining project. "I'm doing it basically because I have to stand by my community and this is what the majority of the community wants," he told IPS.

But the mayor said he was also concerned as a citizen. "I have the same fears and misgivings about the risks of pollution, indiscriminate use of water, and lack of controls that come with this kind of project," he said.

Bordagaray also said he had read the agreement, which he found very vague, and does not know why it has not been made available to the public. It was Osisko that gave him a copy, and not the provincial government, which is headed by Bordagaray' own political group, the Frente para la Victoria, the majority faction of the centre-left Justicialist Party of President Cristina Fernández.

La Rioja Governor Jorge Beder Herrera's position on mining has shifted since coming into office. During his 2011 campaign he had spoken against it, but after the election he announced the agreement signed with the mining corporation.

Now, despite overwhelming opposition, EMSE Director Héctor Durán Sabas declared that they will be going ahead with the project "because it's a state decision and a matter of public policy".

In Argentina, provinces have jurisdiction over their natural resources, and the national government's regulatory role is limited to setting basic guidelines on which each province then bases its own specific legislation.

Héctor Artuso explained why the local population opposes the project. "We're not environmental or anti-mining activists. We're just regular people who reject this foreign-led model of natural resource extraction, which uses cyanide and large volumes of water."

"Our community is fully aware (of what the project entails) because we've been through this before," he said, recalling how in 2006 the local population succeeded in stopping a similar project by another Canadian mining company, Barrick Gold Corporation, and later a Chinese venture.

Many people who are participating in the current demonstrations were also involved in the anti-mining rallies, marches and roadblocks that began in 2006, and the reasons are the same: the fear their water will be polluted.

Communities Pay High Price Of Hydro Electric Power

At first sight the small town of La Playa in the department of Santander in Colombia seems gripped by a minor boom. Its population has rocketed while new residential buildings, shops and small bars blaring out loud music have sprung up all over town. Yet the growth does nothing to mask the pervading atmosphere of desperation and frustration among its long-term residents, brought on by living with the uncertainty of whether there will even be a town in the future.

The new buildings and bars cater to the new residents – construction workers from all over the country who have flooded the community to work on the Hidrosogamoso hydro-electric dam. According to the people of La Playa, after three years of construction work the dam has already decimated the traditional local economy, wrecked the eco-system and disrupted the social and cultural life of the community.

When finished, the 190m high dam on the river Sogamoso will hold back a reservoir covering 7,000 hectares. With an 820 megawatt capacity, the dam will provide approximately to 10% of Colombia’s electricity, according to ISAGEN, the mixed public/private company behind the project.

Hydroelectric power already generates over 70% of Colombia’s electricity and dams both large and small dot the landscape throughout the country. Construction is currently underway on a host of new projects, including several controversial mega-dams that have faced a backlash from affected communities. The $.5.5 billion Hidroituango dam in Antioquia is the largest of the new projects and is projected to supply a fifth of Colombia’s energy when construction ends in 2018. Last March, over 4,000 people from the region marched against the construction while in November 80 miners staged a protest against the dam’s threat to their way of life that only ended more than a month later when they were evicted by riot police. In the department of Huila, construction of the El Quimbo dam has also been met with popular resistance and in January this year protesters shut down construction by blockading the site in protest against its impact on local communities and the environment.

Many of the next generation of dams are not just looking to meet the country’s energy needs, they are also looking to capitalize on the growing carbon trading market. Despite increasing concerns over whether large hydroelectric dams can be considered “clean” energy due to methane emissions from reservoir surfaces, spillways, and turbines, hydroelectric projects still make up a large part of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) – the UN’s carbon trading scheme. The controversial scheme allows polluters in industrialized countries to purchase carbon credits from emissions reduction projects in the developing world in order to meet their Kyoto Protocol targets. In Colombia, eight hydroelectric projects have already been approved for the CDM, while 12 hope to be, including Hidrosogamoso and Quimbo.

The people of the Sogamoso river basin first heard about plans for the Hidrosogamoso when ISAGEN held meetings in the nine municipalities that would be affected. The meetings were supposed to fulfill the company’s constitutional obligation to actively consult with communities affected by the project. However, according to “Tomas”, a community leader in La Playa, the community consultations amounted to little more than a series of presentations about the benefits of the project. “They only came to encourage the making of the dam,” he said, “[to tell us] what they were going to do, how they were going to bring benefits to the people, training and work ... they never came to ask us if we wanted the dam here, [or if] we agreed with what they were going to do.”

Most people in the communities initially welcomed the project. “It brought a lot of hope for the region” said Tomas. According to Tomas, ISAGEN told them the dam would bring employment while the company would invest in health and education and improve water and sewage systems. They also said that life downriver of the dam would be unharmed, thanks to the company’s stringent environmental standards and careful monitoring. According to Tomas, “The reality we are living at the moment never came out.”

ISAGEN dispute the claim. The company says it carried out consultations in 128 communities involving 2,100 people and that the consultations included the project’s impacts and the company’s mitigation plans. Alberto Bustamente, the project’s Environmental Coordinator, said, “It is not ISAGEN’s style nor is it policy to sell the project, to show the wonders of the project and say ‘this is development,’” he said.

When construction began it was not long before down river communities like La Playa began to feel the impact. Like most of the other nearby communities, La Playa depends on the river for its existence. The river was a source of irrigation for crops, building materials and a tourist attraction. Most of all, it was an abundant source of fish, the engine of the local economy. Before the arrival of ISAGEN, the overwhelming majority of La Playa’s men worked as fishermen. Now most are unemployed or casually employed.

“Carlos” has lived in La Playa for 30 years. “We have lived all our lives from fishing and we have always had the opportunity to take ourselves forwards,” he said. “Now, the environment and the life here aren’t the same, it is culturally completely different to what we had three years ago.”

The fishermen noticed a drop in the levels of fish shortly after construction on the dam began. Some of the men continued to eke out a living but now, three years on, there are no full time fishermen in La Playa. Locals blame the decline on contamination from waste materials from the construction being dumped into the river and feeder streams and residue from the explosives used in excavations. They point to the large piles of waste materials on the river banks, saying when water levels are high it washes downstream. According to Carlos, construction on the dam has also disrupted the fish’s reproductive cycle, blocking them from the upriver streams where they would reproduce.

ISAGEN claim the low levels of fish are because of seasonal fluctuations related to Colombia’s wet season and the affects of climate phenomenon La Niña, although the company has admitted responsibility for one case of killing fish by dumping waste. According to Mr Bustamente, “Throughout construction, there is not a single activity related to the project that affects the river. The residues and material from the tunnels, roads and other works are taken to specially designed disposal sites.”

The company points to the fact that at the end of 2011, some fish began to return to the region. However, according to “Julian,” who has worked as a fisherman all his life, the catch is a tiny proportion of what there was before the start of construction. Julian was also deeply skeptical about the company’s claims the fish levels were related to climatic conditions. “The wet season is something natural but this contamination, this is done by people,” he said.

The company is currently touting its plan to restock the streams where the fish reproduce to try and kick-start the eco-system. The fishermen though, are skeptical, shrugging it off as a futile gesture as they claim the water is too polluted for the fish to survive.

The decline of fishing did not just affect the men of the La Playa. Many of the town’s women worked as fish vendors, selling the day’s catch in roadside stalls. The stalls, abandoned and dusty, still line the road and drivers still pull over stop to try and buy fish when they spot a woman nearby. Although some have returned to selling fish in recent weeks, around half of what they sell is brought from the nearest city. “Roberta” worked for years selling fish side by side with her two sisters. “Just like our husbands worked, we always supported our families as well,” she said. “We always worked but now...nothing.”

The dam has also hit La Playa’s other sources of income. Tourism has slowed to a trickle as the residents say the river is now too polluted to swim in, while agriculture has withered away to near nothing. While the odd papaya tree still spots the town, the semi-formal cultivation of crops to sell, trade or share locally has all but ended. Much of the land used for agriculture was lost when the company bought up small plots of land that had previously been used for crops to use for extracting building materials and as dumps for waste material. Combined with the sudden population boom, this has contributed to a scarcity of food and sky-rocketing prices. According to ISAGEN both the problems with the crops and with the river are related to Colombia’s wet season.

The destruction of the traditional economy in the region has led to a surge in unemployment. According to ISAGEN, the 4,000 plus construction jobs created by the project would fill that gap as locals would have priority when it came to filling positions. “When they [the company] arrived, they said there would be work here even for our children,” said “Andres,” a former fisherman who has worked on site at the dam. However, according to Andres and others who have worked at the company, work is scarce and the men from La Playa are treated as casual, disposable labor. They claim they are ill-paid, ill-treated and have no stability.

The company’s statistics show that in December 82 workers were from La Playa and 1,892 were from the nine municipalities affected by the dam. However locals claim many jobs are taken by people from outside the region who claim residency in the communities. For the people from the town, the company demand certifications and qualifications they almost never have. “You can’t get these [qualifications],” said Andres, “because you are born in the countryside and you are a campesino.”

According to Andres, workers from outside the region receive higher wages along with accommodation and food allowances, while those from La Playa work long hours without proper breaks and are often fired without justification. “If you are from La Playa," he said, “you can’t even get sick.”

According to ISAGEN, local employees are paid the same as their counterparts from outside the region, although most are not directly employed by the company but by contractors, and they have established several bodies to look into claims of labor rights abuses. The company also claims studies show the opposite to what locals claim – that since the arrival of the project residents have improved their income and access to social security

While a few of the town’s women have found work at the ISAGEN administrative center, most have been left with little option but to cater to the work force, renting out rooms in their houses, cooking, cleaning and washing their clothes. Yet the sudden influx of mostly young men, away from their homes and families, has brought its own problems. “This is an invasion” said Roberta.

Roberta and her sisters, “Juliana” and “Marta”, say the workers have brought with them social problems previously unheard of in La Playa, including a surge in drug and alcohol abuse and prostitution. “The people from other parts have brought bad habits that they have had in other places,” said Juliana, “and it is influencing the people of this region, before everyone was clean-living.” Several rapes and attempted rapes involving workers have been reported in nearby communities and many of the town’s women speak of feeling afraid to go out alone after dark.

According to Juliana and her sisters, the social changes are having the biggest impact on the children and teenagers of the town. “Now you have to watch your children carefully,” said Juliana, “because they go about picking up these ideas. When did children ever steal here before? Now they go about stealing everything.”

The sudden influx of workers has also contributed to a spiraling cost of living and has stretched resources such as water to breaking point. The improvements to public services promised by the company have yet to materialize.

While the economic disruption the dam has brought threatens the financial future of La Playa, locals are also concerned about a more dramatic existential threat – earthquakes. Although the science remains clouded in uncertainty, an increasing number of scientists believe the weight of water from newly created reservoirs and the water’s ability to penetrate rock below could change the pressure exerted on seismic fault lines. Experts have suggested hydroelectric dams could be to blame for earthquakes from China to Chile.

The Sogamoso dam is being constructed in one of the most seismically active zones in Colombia, just 70km from the Bucaramanga “earthquake nest,” Juliana said. “We are at the mercy of God here because everyone knows, you shouldn’t play with nature.” In March, negotiations between the ISAGEN and community representatives led to an agreement that the company would carry out a seismic risk study. Many in the community though, remain troubled by the idea of La Playa being washed away. “That is how we are looking at the future,” said Juliana, “that there might not be a town.”

Even when the impacts of construction of the Sogamoso dam began to be felt in La Playa and other affected communities, there was initially little organized resistance to the project. Tomas first took on his role as a representative of the community when people became disillusioned with his predecessor who, he said, was too easily manipulated by the company. “When we woke up [to what was going on], it was already too late,” he said, “because they had everything locked down, we couldn’t do anything.” According to Tomas, until recently opposition to the dam has been hampered by the divisions that have wracked the communities in the region. “There has been terrible disunity here,” he said. “And that has strengthened the company further.”

A turning point came in March, when 700 opponents to the dam staged a three-day blockade of the construction site to force the company into negotiations. On the first day riot police attacked the protesters outside the ISAGEN offices with clubs, leaving several protesters badly injured. Juliana, who attended the protest, said, “They are the powerful ones and we have nothing to defend ourselves with when they attack us like that.” She added, “They treated us like terrorists, like we had kidnapped the workers.”

Despite the police assault, the picket continued until community representatives negotiated an agreement with the company. The settlement included 17 points, dealing with issues from the right to peaceful protest to retraining programs. The success of the protest changed the atmosphere in the area. “Before we didn’t have the confidence we could do the blockade, now we do” said Juliana.

As a result of the agreement, the company has begun construction on public works projects, started retraining programs for fish sellers and other workers, and has increased monitoring of environmental and labor standards.

Paraguay Land Soy & Boots

Eight million hectares, half the surface area of Uruguay:

That is the combined area that the government of Fernando Lugo is hoping to investigate, to determine if the lands are "ill-gotten," whose title deeds could be forged or faked or simply seized from the times of the Stroessner dictatorship. The landowners who have inundated Paraguay with transgenic soy are resisting the review, in an alliance with a parliament where Lugo is clearly in the minority. The conflict could lead to an institutional breakdown – to the sound of [army] boots.

Magui Balbuena, of the National Council of Organizations of Rural and Indigenous Workers, offers her account to Brecha Magazine of a conflict that has as its epicenter the Paraguayan department of Alto Paraná, on the border with Brazil.

What is the situation in Alto Paraná, and what are the conflicting interests?

The struggle of the landless in this area has been going on for a long time. Recently Lugo's government has sought to legislate on the border lands that are being destroyed by multinationals, mainly Brazilian. Then the government sent the military to the border to place boundary markers and inspect title deeds. There are many doubts about how, in a very short time – about 10 years – those border lands passed into the hands of foreigners; and they are the best lands!

Those expanses are dedicated to the cultivation of transgenic soy, a monoculture for export. They have destroyed mountains, they have dried up streams and drained swamps, they have poisoned rivers with indiscriminate use of agro-chemicals. This is a very serious situation that is taking place across the country, but mainly in the border area, where a kind of patriotic spirit is rising because what the people see in those areas no longer looks like Paraguay. The campesinos feel they are the owners of the land and they react. When the soldiers went to place the boundary markers and check the title deeds of those fields, the "carperos" reacted.

What is the "carpero" movement?

It is people from different departments who are in the conflict area and are questioning a Brazilian landowner named Tranquilino Favero. He has land in three or four departments, some of the best land near the border. He has endless farms and soy fields that in all exceed one million hectares.

The National Institute of Rural Development and Land (INDERT) has started to investigate and verify the origin of the title deeds of this businessman, many of which are fake or forged. But there is also a real mafia inside INDERT that for years has sold and resold land belonging to the state.

This is what created the crisis in Ñacunday, in the department of Alto Paraná. There they are questioning a piece of land of 162,000 hectares on the border, currently controlled by Favero, that the landless campesinos claim was distributed between them by the state.

How did the different parties react?

It has been a delicate situation since the army arrived in the middle of January to place the boundary markers. The big soy farmers united around Favero to defend him. That is the case with the Agricultural Coordinator of Paraguay, the Coordinator of Soy Producers and the cooperatives. The fact that the army is there has prevented the landowners from acting against the campesinos who claim the land. There is even an order from the Interior Ministry so that the police do not suppress them. But the landowners resisted the setting of markers. Why do they refuse the examination of the documents by the state? The district attorney and the entire congress are on the side of the soy farmers, and they have covered up this problem of the "ill-gotten" lands.

The only way that the land will continue to be under the sovereignty of our country is to offer land to the thousands and thousands of campesinos who claim it.

Have there been direct confrontations by the landowners?

The pressure is very great, the press is on the side of the soy farmers, and there is real risk that they will act as they know how: with violence against the landless campesinos. The landlords have already organized armed groups and have threatened to act on their own. We are currently in a tug-of-war, and a political problem is emerging because the soy farmers have threatened that if the government continues it could put the 2013 elections at risk. They have even had meetings of military retirees. Their allies are very strong here in Paraguay. Remember that according to some estimates, the "ill-gotten" lands occupy an area of eight million hectares and are in the hands of officials, members of the military, companies, and collaborators of [former] dictator Alfredo Stroessner.

Are we talking then of a risk of institutional breakdown?

That's right. The problem in Paraguay is agriculture, of the land. There is a profound contradiction between the 400,000 landless families and Brazilian settlers ("brasiguayos") who already occupy not only border lands but also lands deep into the Chaco. It is a wooded area, natural. It is a true lung of the earth that must concern everyone. There is no control over it and it is being preyed upon, destroyed by the cultivation of transgenic soy. The right-wing of the parliament supports these invaders and it is very difficult to do something to recover sovereignty. It's an outrage, a true plundering of our land. Under this model, which has existed for decades, the women and children suffer the consequences the most: illnesses, malformations, abortions, and the extreme impoverishment of our communities and families.

We really believe that there are actors whose goal is destabilization, even resorting to bloodshed to heighten the conflict.


Over half a million Brazilians have lived in Paraguay for the past several decades. They include all kinds, but those who are central to the conflict are the landlords who have settled in the border areas in the east of the country, particularly in Alto Paraná. The majority of the landlords own enormous expanses of land that they for years have dedicated to the super-profitable cultivation of soy. And they defend their lands with arms. The dictator Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989) found the landlords to be great allies, and let them act as they pleased on territories that were extended with no restrictions. Of the 1.5 million hectares planted with soy in the east of the country, 1.2 million of them are planted by Brazilians. The "brasiguayos" and others who arrived more recently acquired the land for a bargain price: land that in Brazil is worth $7,000 to $8,000 per hectare, in Paraguay they paid from $1,000 to at most $4,000 for the most fertile land, above all for those lands that until recent times were dedicated to ranching. In fact, in the east of the country, they do not enforce the 2005 law that prohibits the purchase or usufruct of lands situated less than 50 kilometers from the border by citizens of neighboring countries. Even less attention is paid to environmental regulations.

The hi-tech production of soy (the Brazilians "modernized" the Paraguayan agricultural sector) to a large extent drove small producers out of those areas. Claudia Ricca, of the NGO Friends of the Earth, which works in the area, told the BBC: "There is no benefit whatsoever for the area: the people are expelled from their jobs and territory, the roads are completely destroyed by the soy farmers' trucks, the businessmen don't live here, they don't pay taxes, and none of what is earned stays in the communities."

Tranquilino Favero, a septuagenarian who disembarked in Paraguay in the early 1960s, symbolizes the "brasiguayos" like few others. He crossed the border tempting fate, soon after the dictatorship was established, and today he is one of the biggest businessmen in the country. He is called the "king of soy" and is in charge of an empire that has its own army of hit men.

His connections in the army are notorious, and on multiple occasions Favero has called to "resist the advance of communism," which he sees symbolized by Fernando Lugo because of the president's historic links to campesinos and landless movements. Dozens of campesinos have been killed in the east of Paraguay by "unknowns," probably paid off by the landlords in the area.

Latin America Facing World Water Forum

The media tells us that 8 million people die every year from illnesses related to water; that more than a billion people lack access to potable water; and that more than 2.4 billion do not have access to sanitation.

These grave numbers, revised upward every three years, are cited by the World Water Council as the reason for convening their tri-annual World Water Forum. While the Water Forum, billed with a strong corporate flavor as an “international multi-stakeholder platform,” has a different character than the annual Conferences of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the results are largely the same: a lot of talking, perhaps even a lot of good intentions, but little action, and universal frustration.

So it is that the Sixth World Water Forum opens today (March 12-17) in Marseille, France. At $1000 for participants from wealthy nations, and about $450 for participants from the ‘under-developed countries,’ the cost of attending makes the forum inaccesible to those who come from the countries of the Global South.

And so it is that every three years those of us who believe this Forum to be illegitimate gather together to denounce it. And every three years, over the course of many months, organizations and movements from around the World come together to hold the Alternative World Water Forum. We have done so previously, in Kyoto in 2003, in Mexico City in 2006, and in Istanbul in 2009. Now, in 2012, in Marseilles, the last details for this year’s convening are being worked out.

The challenges facing our social movements are enormous. The greatest of these challenges is the construction of viable alternatives to the dominant economy and to the regime of natural resource management that is based on extraction, exploitation, and extreme energy.

The questions are clear, the answers diverse and complex. For example, who should convene these fora? If the World Water Council has no legitimate right to push decisions regarding global water issues, does the United Nations? We are struggling to put water in public hands – but is it truly public when the State controls it? Or when it is in the hands of us, the people? How can we create conditions where State-managed water systems coexist with systems developed and managed by the community? How can we get beyond the demagoguery that dominates the discourse of human rights and the Human Right to Water? In the cases of Bolivia and Ecuador, how can we advance the defense of Mother Earth and her natural Rights when the practical demands of running a country within a global economy are in direct contradiction to ecological concerns?

Wherever we are headed, the world continues turning, and it will not stop in Marseille. Throughout the Americas, discontent is on the rise in the face of governments left, right and center, red, green and pink. We are witnesses, not to a series of isolated uprisings, but to a global movement against the unwarranted ambition of the corporate agenda, and in defense of the Commons.

In Chile, the population of Aysén has risen up and put state authorities in checkmate, because the government of Sebastian Piñera remembers them only when it comes time to launch a hydroelectric project.

In Ecuador, March 8, International Women’s Day, marked the launch of the National March for Life and the Dignity of the People. The march, convened by the National Confederation of Indigenous Nations of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONAIE) and other sectors, seeks to unmask the neoliberal policies of the Correa administration and the ongoing criminalization of the indigenous peoples’ movement. The march, which began in the province of Zamora and will end in Quito on World Water Day, March 22, is also in defense of the Constitution of Montecristi and the approval of the revolutionary agrarian law and the popular water law.

Not long ago in Peru, a similar March for Water ended with the alignment of new social sectors following the approval by the government of Ollanta Humala of mining projects in Cajamarca, in the face of widespread resistance and discontent.

In Bolivia, the peoples of the Indigenous Territory and National Park Isiboro Secure (TIPNIS) are preparing their ninth march against the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos highway that the Morales government continues to promote as part of the interoceanic corridor to unite Brazil to Chile.

In the United States, the Occupy movement has been evicted from the plazas, but has expanded to the neighborhoods and other public spaces in the form of workshops, gatherings, and assemblies that may easily come to be more of a threat to the authorities, and teh authroitarians, than the simple occupation of public spaces.

Hours before the beginning of the World Water Forum in Marseille, reflecting on what is happening in our countries, I feel a kind of anger that it is an affair like this – a gathering of corporate elites – that brings us together, again. Every three years we unite to delegitimize and denounce this profit-oriented trade fair that is built on our backs by the corporations that make up the World Water Forum. It shouldn’t be this way.

But, I maintain hope: the day will come when we will gather together not to respond to the destructive agenda of the corporate elites, but because we see the way forward, because we have a clear, common agenda; because we are called by solidarity to do so. We will gather together because we will have learned not only from our defeats, but from our victories.

At the end of the day, we will join together because we desire to do so, as brothers and sisters on this planet we call Earth, and because it is our legitimate right.

Marcela Olivera is a Bolivian water rights activist, based in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Currently she is a Visiting Global Associate of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Details Released On US Support For Military Dictatorship In Argentina

Kissinger sought immediate support for the new military regime in spite of staff warnings on bloodshed; 22,000 people murdered or disappeared by military between 1975 and 1978 according to secret Chilean intelligence report

Source: The National Security Archive

On March 22, the eve of the 30th anniversary of the military coup in Argentina, the National Security Archive posted a series of declassified U.S. documents and, for the first time, secret documents from Southern Cone intelligence agencies recording detailed evidence of massive atrocities committed by the military junta in Argentina.

The documents include a formerly secret transcript of Henry Kissinger's staff meeting during which he ordered immediate U.S. support for the new military regime, and Defense and State Department reports on the ensuing repression. The Archive has also obtained internal memoranda and cables from the infamous Argentina intelligence unit, Battalion 601, as well as the Chilean secret police agency, known as DINA, which was secretly collaborating with the military in Buenos Aires.

The documents record Washington's initial reaction to the military takeover. "I do want to encourage them. I don't want to give the sense that they're harassed by the United States," Secretary of State Kissinger ordered his staff after his assistants warned him that the junta would initiate a bloodbath following the coup. According to the transcript, Kissinger's top deputy on Latin America, William Rogers, told him two days after the coup that "we've got to expect a fair amount of repression, probably a good deal of blood, in Argentina before too long."

State Department cables, including some obtained previously by the Argentine newspaper, Clarin, show that U.S. officials had prior knowledge of coup plotting. More than a week before the coup, Ambassador Robert Hill sent Assistant Secretary Rogers a secret cable reporting that the commander of the Navy, Admiral Emilio Massera, had requested that the U.S. embassy "indicate to him one or two reputable public relations firms in the U.S. which might handle the problem for a future military government." Massera, according to the cable, promised that the Argentine military would "not follow the lines of the Pinochet takeover in Chile," and would "try to proceed within the law and with full respect for human rights."

But although the military repression in Argentina drew less international attention than the Pinochet regime's in Chile, it far exceeded it in terms of human rights violations. By mid 1978, according to a secret cable from the DINA station in Buenos Aires, posted here publicly for the first time, the secret police battalion 601 had "counted 22,000 between dead and disappeared, from 1975 to the present date [July 1978]." Thousands of additional victims were killed between 1978 and 1983 when the military was forced from power.

Some of the victims were Uruguayans living in Buenos Aires at the time of the coup. A secret Argentine intelligence report records an operation to kidnap two Uruguayan citizens who were then disappeared. "From: State Intelligence Secretariat. To: Intelligence Battalion 601... Primary objective: Jorge Zaffaroni [and] Maria Zaffaroni, Results: Positive…" reads the military form dated September 29, 1976. Other records posted today provide details on efforts to wipe out a Uruguayan resistance group known as OPR-33 through Operation Condor, a network of Southern Cone secret police services that worked together to eliminate opponents of their regimes.

"For the sake of history, memory and justice, it is extremely important that this kind of information from the Argentine intelligence and security services be made public and rigorously analyzed," said Professor Marcos Novaro, who directs the political history project at the University of Buenos Aires.

"It is clear from Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's reaction that Argentina had to pay in blood for the sake of stability in the region," said Archive analyst Carlos Osorio. "The U.S. knowingly supported a national security doctrine that disregarded all civilized norms and any adherence to human rights, and tens of thousands of Argentines paid the ultimate price."

The Documents in Historical Perspective

In the year preceding the coup, Argentina descended into a spiral of violence. On one side, death squad operations carried out by the Anti-communist Argentine Alliance (AAA), sponsored by the government, the Federal Police and the Armed Forces, claimed hundreds of victims per month; on the other side the People's Revolutionary Army (ERP) and the Montoneros guerrillas attacked a number of economic installations. Scores of union leaders, popular activists, journalists, scientists, lawyers and intellectuals as well as public servants, military men and business people were targeted. Private companies, many of them U.S. corporations, saw their executives threatened and killed. The U.S. Embassy received numerous threats and attacks; one of its staffers was wounded and another killed in 1975. Political chaos was compounded by economic upheaval. By early 1976, Isabel Peron, who had succeeded her late husband as president, was weak and isolated. The military coup was seen by many in the Argentine polity as an inevitable step to bring stability.

Washington welcomed the military takeover. Initially, reports by the U.S. Embassy branded it as "moderate in character" and the "most civilized coup in Argentine history." The administration of President Gerald Ford was ready to support the new Junta financially and with security assistance. But, as the U.S. Ambassador put it: "the USG [U.S. government] of course should not become overly identified with the Junta, but so long as the new govt can hew to a moderate line the USG should encourage it by examining sympathetically any requests for assistance." At the very first State Department staff meeting after the coup,

Assistant Secretary William Rogers predicted to Secretary Kissinger that the Argentine military was "going to have to come down very hard not only on the terrorists but on the dissidents of trade unions and their parties," and recommended that "we ought not at this moment rush out and embrace this new regime."

Kissinger, however, ordered U.S. support for the new government. "Whatever chance they have," Kissinger noted, "they will need a little encouragement from us."

As predicted by the State Department, the military Junta instituted widespread and vicious repression following the coup. Not only Argentines were targeted, but also citizens from Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia and Uruguay who had taken up political exile in Argentina to escape repression in their home nations. As part of Operation Condor-a network of Southern Cone secret police services collaborating to eliminate opponents of their regimes--the Argentine military carried out numerous operations against foreigners trapped in Buenos Aires after the coup.

A secret Argentine military document revealed here for the first time records the capture of Jorge Zaffaroni and his wife Maria, who were never seen again. (Source: Sin Olvido)A secret Argentine military document revealed here for the first time records the capture of Jorge Zaffaroni and his wife Maria, who were never seen again. (Source: Sin Olvido)The clandestine effort to capture, kidnap, detain and disappear two Uruguayans, Jorge Zaffaroni and his wife Maria Islas de Zaffaroni, is recorded in dramatic detail from documentation obtained from intelligence agencies in four countries. The National Security Archive has reconstructed the paper trail on the chilling events of September 1976 that led to the disappearance of these two Uruguayan citizens:

By May 1976, Uruguayan intelligence is keeping track of dozens of OPR-33 uruguayan guerrillas operating in Buenos Aires. A secret document published here shows a list built between May and October 1976,listing the Zaffaroni couple and 60 other members of the OPR-33. The information found in the archive of the Paraguayan Secret Police was likely being shared with Southern Cone intelligence services. (Source: The secret police archive in Paraguay)

A U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency cable written in mid-September 1976, states that a high ranking delegation of Argentine generals has traveled to Montevideo, Uruguay to coordinate intelligence operations. (Source: Italian judicial official from a FOIA request to the U.S.)

An Argentine intelligence report obtained by the Archive through a confidential source records information provided by the Uruguayans authorizing the State Intelligence Secretariat to order Intelligence Battalion 601 to kidnap the Zaffaroni couple; the operation is successfully carried out, and the couple is handed to the Uruguayan authorities and never heard from again.

An October 1, 1976, U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency cable reports that in a one week operation the intelligence cooperation of Argentina and Uruguay has destroyed the OPR-33.

By mid 1978, military repression in Argentina had already peaked and was winding down, but human rights violations nevertheless continued. The Carter administration's policy of open diplomacy on human rights brought significant international pressure on the Junta to begin to curtail its abuses. But torture, disappearances, and executions continued at a reduced level until the military was defeated during the Falklands war, and forced to withdraw from power.

How many people were killed and disappeared during the seven years of dictatorship? "It is our estimate that at least several thousand were killed and we doubt that it will ever be possible to construct a more specific figure," says the U.S. Ambassador in one cable in early 1978. The National Commission on the Disappeared (CONADEP) was able to document 9,089 persons disappeared at the hands of the regime. Another U.S. declassified State Department memo, titled "Disappearance Numbers," places that figure at 15,000 by late 1978.

But one internal DINA document, obtained by journalist John Dinges for his book, The Condor Years, recorded secret numbers on the dead and disappeared compiled by Argentine Intelligence Battalion 601 between 1975 and July 1978. The cable, sent by DINA's attaché to Buenos Aires, Enrique Arancibia Clavel (using the code name Luis Felipe Alemparte Diaz) stated that that he was "sending a list of all the dead" which included the official and unofficial death toll. Between 1975 and mid 1978, Arancibia reported, "they count 22,000 between the dead and the disappeared."

The DINA cable, according to Dinges, "provides important corroborating evidence that the true number of disappeared is significantly higher than the 9,089 persons listed by CONADEP in the 1980s."

Farmers Refuse To Disappear For Big Sugar Plantations

Juan lived in the village of Paraná until August, when for the second time in six months the private security forces of an international sugar company reduced his home to ashes and tilled his crops under to plant sugarcane. Now he lives across the road from Paraná, a short walk that took us just a few minutes. Where he lived and farmed corn with dozens of other families just a few months ago, there is now an unbroken expanse of tightly-planted rows of sugarcane. At left, he stands with his daughter at the site of the formre village.

Where he lives now, the houses are temporary, crowded, cobbled together with sticks and plastic sheeting. He shows us the one-room house he shares with his displaced wife and children; he shows us the cacao residue they add to hot water and drink in the mornings instead of coffee. They drink it without sweetener, he explains apologetically, because they can't afford to buy the bags of sugar.

The Polochic Valley is now full of farmers, surrounded by a sea of sugarcane, who can't afford to feed their children sugar. This snapshot is a telling example of what hunger and poverty look like today –according to the FAO three-fourths of the people who experience food insecurity live in rural farming areas –and the most recent round of dispossession in the Polochic dramatically illustrates the larger pattern of how small farmers become landless laborers.

Resistance to land theft is something of a family tradition in the Polochic. Some of the old-timers still remember their parents' stories of the 19th-century colonization of highland Alta Verapaz by German and American coffee planters. They pushed the indigenous Q'eqchi' population from their lands, leaving many land-poor Q'eqchi' to seek new homes in the Polochic lowlands.

The oldest campesinos there were children when President Arbenz's 18-month attempt at agrarian reform was cut short by a CIA-backed coup. The valley is still haunted by memories of the popular movement of the 1970's that culminated in the infamous massacre of Panzós, during which over a hundred Q'eqchi' campesinos were killed by the army as they agitated for legal recognition of their land titles. The children of today – those that survive the 3rd-highest child mortality rate in the hemisphere – will grow up remembering March of 2011, when 3,000 indigenous farmers in 14 communities were violently evicted by a combination of private mercenaries, army troops, and federal police.

When we visited and wrote about the Polochic crisis in August of last year, we found not only death threats and paramilitary murders of local activists, but also a more quiet but equally devastating assault wearing down those evicted communities: a food price crisis of unprecedented proportions, forcing the displaced families to buy basic grains at sky-high prices because their crops had been destroyed just weeks before harvest. The government swore that it would comply with the Interamerican Court of Human Rights' (IACHR) June 20th rebuke by delivering emergency food aid and shelter, a claim that at the time ended up being rather spectacularly false.

We returned to the valley on the first anniversary of the March evictions, visiting the same communities and families we had met in August. The displaced communities had always said that food aid was necessary but not sufficient – that the only way to end their hunger would be to guarantee their right to farm their own land unmolested. As one man in Paraná told us last week: “we don't want sugarcane here, we want corn, livestock, pigs, and things we can eat.”

A maize plant grows where Parana used to be - now only cane remains. Photo: Mark RomeriStill, peasant organizations brought international scrutiny to the Guatemalan government's promise to provide food aid, documenting the state's failure to comply with even its own, partial, commitments. We were told by displaced families who had sent two of their own up to a series of negotiations and IACHR hearings in Washington, DC in October and November that the government had finally committed to begin delivering food aid to the displaced.

In the end, though, the quantity of food the government offered in its “monthly” food aid packages was laughable – an amount that locals reported would last them only two or three days per family, depending on how many children.

Apparently even that commitment, though, was short-lived. Displaced families from several of the 14 evicted communities told us that food arrived in January, but when it was supposed to arrive on February 27th, there was no aid. They said that government officials that notified them the food wouldn't be coming had dismissed even the farmers' existence, using that as the excuse to cut off the promised corn, beans, and oil: “there are no displaced people sheltering here, so no food aid is necessary!” Pictured right in photo by Mark Romeri, a single maize plant grows where the village of Parana once stood.

This approach is reminiscent of that taken by the Colom administration back in July, when the country’s widest distribution newspaper, Prensa Libre, quoted a government spokesperson saying that the reason that they haven’t complied with the Interamerican Court of Human Rights’ ruling was that they “haven’t managed to identify the communities” that were evicted.

In my prior article, I refer to that approach, saying that the “internal incompetence and contradictions of the government took an almost comic turn.” But the pattern is becoming clearer with time. This is not incompetence; this is a long-term public relations strategy every eight-year-old would recognize: if you break something, sweep it under the rug and pretend it doesn't exist. The Otto Perez Molina administration appears to be following the same strategy, hoping to turn the evictions of the Colom era into a full-fledged disappearance.

This is an old enough tactic –during the genocidal war of the 1980's in which General Otto Perez Molina played a major part, the military regime would regularly simply disappear its opponents rather than try or face them in public. This may seem like a cheap comparison, so let's walk through it to be clear what this new kind of disappearance looks like:

1) In March, hundreds of federal police and soldiers were mobilized and sent to the Polochic Valley to evict thousands of residents and provide firepower and cover for the sugar company's private security while plantation workers destroyed homes and crops, erasing any visual evidence of those families' prior occupation of the land.

2) Then, the sugar company engaged in an ongoing terror campaign, hunting down, ambushing, and killing several vocal land reform activists and delivering death threats to dozens more.

3) These now-landless farmers searched the valley for paid work to sustain their families, land to plant crops on, and neighboring or dispersed lots to construct temporary shacks on. During our visit to Paraná, we are all clustered under a single tin roof maybe covering eighty square feet of ground, and as we look around at the dozens of displace men and women who are gathered there for the meeting we ask: where do you sleep at night?

The group explains that since the evictions many of them are renting lots to camp on, sometimes a different lot every month. Because they lost their possessions, even their clothing, when their homes were burned in March and August, most don't have the $30 a month that rent averages, so they take out loans from a local bank or arrange to rent on credit until the landlord kicks them out, and then they go somewhere else, and then somewhere else. The loans continue, on the hope that at least the men can find some kind of job to pay it off, but these men have been blacklisted by the sugar company and few find work anywhere in the valley, so the leapfrogging from one squat to another continues.

4) When the government arrives and doesn't find refugees lined up in an orderly fashion, ready to be counted and certified, it declares that the communities “cannot be identified” or, perhaps, they simply do not exist.

The irony of this approach, of course, is that it requires us to believe that the state has simply shut off its surveillance apparatus, now that it suits them to simply pretend that the problem is no longer there. The courts are able to competently sign out eviction and arrest warrants, deploy hundreds of troops to a valley 250 kilometers away from Guatemala City, arrive at the right spot to preside over the systematic destruction of hundreds of homes, and then fail to find any of the broken pieces when it is time for the aid trucks to arrive.

On March 4th we arrived in Ocho de Agosto, the most accessible and exposed of the 14 displaced communities. Where there had once been a corn field just between the highway and the river, we came upon an enormous construction project. Using some of their painstakingly-raised aid funds, the communities had decided to build 125 bamboo-pole temporary homes, fastened together with wire and staples and roofed with tin and tarps.

Ten families from each of the 14 displaced communities will be invited to take the risk and the temporary comfort of the refugee camp, braving the nightly drive-bys of the plantation's paramilitary security team in order to challenge the government's stategy of dispersal and narrative of disappearance.

More well known to Guatemalans and, increasingly, to the world, is their second strategy. Since March 19th, a group of the evicted families, joined by other campesino activists from around the country, have been marching along the highway from Cobán to Guatemala City. The march is 215 kilometers and will last nine days, not only blocking road traffic but also bringing their cause to the similarly-impoverished communities of farmers and landless workers that lie along the route.

The Long March is a strategy Guatemalan social movements use periodically, but never as iconically as when the miners of San Ildefonso Ixtahuacán went on strike in 1977 and walked 250 miles to Guatemala City, joined by hundreds of thousands of supporters who donated food, supplies, and marching feet along the way. That march was understood as a central part of the growing indigenous labor movement of the late 1970's, proving that unity between rural communities and urban workers was possible. That unity would crescendo and then face brutal disarticulation during the dirty war of the early 1980's.

Water Yes! Gold No!

“¡Agua sí! ¡Oro no! ¡Agua sí! ¡Oro no!” [Water yes! Gold no!]

The chant vibrated through the thin Andean air as a regional demonstration against the Conga Gold Mine Project took place last Thursday to honor World Water Day. Thousands of residents of Cajamarca, Peru, gathered at the Laguna Azul, one of many high-altitude lakes on the proposed Conga Mine site, in effort to protect their water resources from exploitation and contamination.

“We are not asking for something that is not ours. The water in this lagoon and below it has fed our people for many centuries and Conga is going to take that away from us,” said Avelardo Escobar Huaman, a resident of El Tambo, Cajamarca. “The gold mine is going to destroy our springs and water sources. Here, we are mainly farmers. How will we grow our crops and feed our animals without water?”

Once it begins, the $4.8 billion Conga Project, a joint venture between U.S.-based Newmont Mining Corporation and Peruvian company Mina Buenaventura, will become the largest investment in Peru’s history and the second largest gold mine in the world. The open pit mine would affect between 3,000-16,000 hectares of fragile mountaintop wetlands including numerous lakes, rivers and marshes that supply the region’s drinking water.

Currently, the gold mine is on hold while international consultants review the environmental impact study which approved the Conga project in 2010. As the nation awaits the results, Cajamarca residents have been continuously demonstrating against the mine, organizing rallies and marches, sometimes more than twice a week in cities like Cajamarca and Celendin.

On Thursday, during the World Water Day gathering, police in riot gear watched the peaceful demonstration from a distance. Local farmers chewed coca leaves as speakers from various organizations and environmental groups took turns rallying up the crowd.

A demonstration that took place last November turned tragic when armed forces tear-gassed and fired upon protesters, resulting in 17 injuries. Standing before graphic photographs of bruised limbs and bullet wounds from the incident, Ana Bueno Abanto, director of La Casa de las Lagunas, clenched a handful of soil and asked the audience to remember the violence.

“Rifles have been used against people that have tried to defend this land that I hold here in my hand,” she said. “This land, our land, was disrespected on that day of violence and no matter how many metals and precious minerals are beneath this land, we as a community will always protect it and make sure it is respected.”

Reanalyzing a Controversial Study

In response to the civil unrest, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala declared a 60-day state of emergency in Cajamarca and increased military presence in the region. Shortly after, Newmont halted work on the Conga site and proposed an external review of the environmental impact study that originally gave the project a green light.

Following Newmont’s suggestion, the Peruvian government appointed three consultants from Spain and Portugal last month to review the study and gave them 40 days to present their findings. Results will be publicized in April, but Cajamarca Regional Vice President César Aliaga Díaz said he has little confidence in the outcome.

“Here in Cajamarca, few people take this review seriously,” Díaz said. “The study did not have any methodology or serious scientific approach. It’s so bad that we simply need to throw it out and make a new one. Reviewing this ten-thousand page study in forty days cannot possibly work.”

Díaz also pointed out the environmental impact study was approved by Felipe Ramirez del Pino, general director of the Ministry of Energy and Mines, who previously held high-level positions in Newmont projects from 2006 to 2009.

Regardless of the perceived flaws with the study, Peru’s national government has been pushing the project forward without heeding the region’s complaints. In October, Cajamarca’s Regional President Gregorio Santos joined the opposition against Conga by calling on a general strike. Then Santos’ government passed Regional Ordinance 036 on Dec. 5, 2011. The ordinance protects land on the proposed mining site from development and is presently being challenged in court for its constitutionality.

With its new anti-mining stance, Díaz said Cajamarca’s regional government has come under national scrutiny, both from the media and from politicians in Lima, but Díaz said his government is simply “listening to the voice of the people: Conga will not go.” He insists Cajamarca residents are fed up with foreign mining companies exploiting their resources, polluting their water and, all the while, exporting the majority of the profits.

Digging in Social Discontent

RallyAnti-mining sentiment has been growing in the region ever since Newmont opened its Yanacocha gold mine just outside Cajamarca in 1993. The mine promised to increase employment and improve living standards for Cajamarcan residents, but few locals were hired by Yanacocha and many became frustrated as they watched foreigners and Peruvians from different regions get high-paying positions.

“When Yanacocha opened, most Cajamarcan residents saw little change in their lives,” said Aldo Santos Aries, regional coordinator for Servicios Educativos Rurales. “The main change was that they had less access to clean water because of the mine’s intensive use of the region’s water resources.”

“The Conga project is technically an expansion of Yanacocha mine,” he continued. “And aside from Yanacocha employees and businesses related to the project, few people in Cajamarca have been happy to have the mine here. They want to see Newmont leave, not expand.”

For the past two decades, Yanacocha sparked both a mining boom and a population boom in the region. According to the regional health service’s study, “Cajamarca: Analysis of the Health Situation 2010,” Cajamarca’s urban population grew by 45.9 percent between 1993 and 2007.

Seemingly overnight, a region that was traditionally centered around agriculture changed into a major mining district. According to the same health study, 45.5 percent of the land in Cajamarca was owned by mining companies in 2010.

Cajamarcan activist, priest and politician Marco Arana Zegarra writes in his essay, “Water and Mining in Cajamarca: Defending the Right to Water” [Agua y Mineria en Cajamarca - Defendiendo El Derecho al Agua], that the mining industry has spurred impressive economic growth in Cajamarca, but due to lack of regulation, low taxes and low labor costs, the region remains one of the world’s cheapest areas to extract gold. The cost of gold production in Yanacocha costs an average $110 US per oz. and is sold on the market for about $500 US per oz.

From 1996 to 2000, some of the mine’s most productive years, Arana also writes that the amount of chronically malnourished children in the region increased from 38.7 percent to 42.8 percent with over 75 percent of the population living in poverty.

During the same period, the Cajamarca region experienced a loss of fresh water trout and half its native bird species. Cases of stomach cancer also increased among rural populations. Various environmental studies have suggested the new ailments may be caused by heavy metal waste from mining activities.

Fragile Environment, Limited Water Sources

According to Laura Lucio, engineer for the Group of Formation and Intervention for Sustainable Development (GRUFIDES) environmental organization in Cajamarca, Conga’s main threat revolves around the fragile ecosystems and access to potable water. The Conga mine estimates it will use more than two million cubic meters of fresh water a year, drying five lakes in the process and drastically reducing the water sources in the region.

“The main problem is the terrain. We are talking about high altitude wetlands and marshes, with subterranean waters very close to the surface,” Lucio said. “The area is not made for mining activities. As they dig into the ground, they will have to continuously extract the subterranean waters which supply the whole region’s drinking water.”

In response to the concerns, the Conga project claims it will include four reservoirs, three of which will be constructed to supply potable water for the population’s consumption.

“Basically, our water is being foreign-owned and privatized right before our eyes. Without boundaries, the mine will have the full power over potable water,” Lucio said.

Another environmental dilemma is the risk of groundwater contamination. Water treatment plants will be built on the Conga site, but according to “Conga Mine, Peru: Comments on the Environmental Impact Assessment and Related Issues,” an independent study by Dr. Robert Moran, these plants will not be sufficient to handle the amount of contaminated water being produced by mining operations.

“If the Conga project must pump 379 liters per second, that implies treating roughly 1.4 Million liters per hour, which far exceeds the capacity of the treatment plant,” Moran wrote. “Clearly the proposed plant could not treat all of this water, nor would it be treated to chemical quality suitable for human consumption of aquatic life purposes.”

“In the United States it would not be legally allowable to approve the operating permits for a site requiring perpetual water treatment,” he continues.

A Handful of Water

At the conclusion of Thursday’s World Water Day gathering, protesters walked to shores of Laguna Azul, cupped the water in their hands, and drank it down. Speakers rallied up the crowd, vowing for a long fight to protect their land and water from another gold mining operations, and then, finally, the protest ended as it had begun, with the singing of the Tinkari band’s, “¡Agua sí! ¡Oro no!”

“El Oro en estas Lagunas, ya lo quieren explotar. Nosotros Cajamarquinos no lo vamos a dejar.”
[The gold in these lakes, they want to exploit it. We the Cajamarcans, we aren’t going to leave it.”]

Juicing Cannabis Saves Lives

At 16, Kristen Peskuski was suffering from joint inflammation and an array of autoimmune conditions which made her organs and other tissues swell, including interstitial cystitis and lupus. She was prescribed over 40 different anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and painkilling medications to combat the symptoms.

Still struggling to bring the symptoms under control, Kristen developed steroid toxicity. She was told that the most she could hope for was reduced discomfort, and with luck, she might make it to her 30th birthday. Seeking alternative treatments, she began juicing raw cannabis leaves every day, and within two months, Kristen's back pain had been eliminated, and she had stopped using any other painkillers.

Meet Amber

At two years old, she was diagnosed with terminal brain tumours. Her mother was told that with treatment, Amber had a 10 percentchance of survival. After surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, the tumours were still spreading. Her parents were advised to take their child home, make her comfortable, and prepare for the inevitable. A month later, her parents reported a startling change. The tumours had decreased in size and number. The family had been juicing cannabis leaves and feeding their baby a few ounces of the juice each day.

Up in smoke

A typical first reaction is to associate marijuana consumption with its psychoactive effects. However, THC only becomes psychoactive when heated, like when traditionally smoked or cooked. When used raw, cannabis isn't psychoactive. The marijuana's abilities as a painkiller are generally perceived to be the result of its psychoactivity - so much so that the intensity of a plant's psychoactive effects is often used as a gauge of its medical potency. Contrary to intuition, this isn't true!

The medical properties of marijuana are actually destroyed when heated or aged, as it becomes psychoactive. Heating converts 600mg of non-psychoactive THC acid into 10mg of psychoactive THC. Here's where the exchange for medical effects occurs. While the 10mg retain some medicinal effects, there is only a fraction of the THC left. In simplified terms, in the raw plant, THC acid isn't psychoactive, but acts as a very powerful medicine, up to 400 times more powerful than when smoked.

Healthful communication

Scientific American, in 2004, published an article called "The Brain's Own Marijuana", in which they asserted that the brain releases chemicals that are structurally and functionally similar to cannabinoids - the reactive property in marijuana. THC is the cannabinoid that people are most familiar with, but this is only one of 80. In normal synaptic nerve function, the signals are uni-directional, and the receiver forwards the signal, but never notifies the sender that the message has been received.

Cannabinoids maintain communication with the original transmitter so that it is aware that the message has been received and is being worked on. For example, if a neuron sends a pain signal, normally it would just keep sending the message until the message becomes false. The cannabinoids turn every cell into a manager with increased oversight.

Learn more:

Florida Mom Sues Hospital For Cutting Off Baby's Finger

The family of an 8-month-old girl is suing a Haines City, Fla., hospital and a nurse after the baby's finger was cut off.

Olguin said regardless of the legal outcome, her daughter will forever wear someone else's mistake.

"It's so hard," said Veronica Olguin. "She was born so perfect and then they cut off her finger."

Veronica had taken her daughter to Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center for a high fever and bronchitis. The baby was discharged after three days. Veronica, 15, said she sat Selena -- who was 3-months-old at the time -- on her lap.

The nurse, Emily Anna Stutz, started cutting the bandage holding the IV in place, but Veronica said Stutz cut too far.

"There was blood squirting everywhere," Veronica said. "I held her head close to my chest … she was red, she was screaming. And I looked at her hand (and) she didn't have her finger any more. I started screaming, 'Her finger! Her finger!' and that's when (the nurse) panicked and she threw her scissors and started screaming for the other doctors. And they came in and they picked the finger up from the floor."

The baby was rushed to Tampa General Hospital, but the nerve endings were reportedly so tiny, surgeons were unable to re-attach the severed finger.

Every time Veronica looks at Selena's left pinky, she's reminded of that October day.

"I literally wake up at night crying, because I dream about everything that happened," Veronica said. "Everything goes through my mind again."

The family attorney, Luzardo Pendas, said they are suing Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center and Stutz for emotional and psychological damage and any developmental challenges Selena will face as she grows up. But the attorney said this is about much more than money, it's about making sure this doesn't happen to another child.

"Hopefully with proper procedures, proper training, (this will) … keep these things from happening," Pendas said.

Veronica said regardless of the legal outcome, her daughter will forever wear someone else's mistake.

Pendas said that after the first contact with hospital officials a few months ago, they have not heard from the hospital and their attorney. That is why the family is now seeking legal action.

On Tuesday afternoon, a spokesperson for Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center released the following statement:

"An unfortunate accident occurred at our hospital while an experienced nurse was removing bandages from the tip of a child's finger. We rushed the child to a hand specialist, but unfortunately the tip of the finger could not be reattached.

We deeply regret the harm to the child and want to express our compassion and concern for her and her family. We reached out right away to the child's family and their attorney, but have not been able to reach a mutually agreeable resolution. Again, we want to reiterate our sincere concern for the child and her family."

Newborn Seized in Hospital by Police, Social Worker

I am not content to sit on the sidelines while the government gradually usurps the very essence of parental rights. I hope you share my determination. We need to stand with people like Scott and Jodi Ferris (obviously no relation to someone named Farris). Here’s their story:

Jodi went into labor a bit earlier than she had expected—and the baby was coming rapidly. Given their location and other factors, the midwife they had hoped would deliver the baby at their home encouraged them to get in an ambulance and head to the hospital.

Their baby, whom I will call “Annie,” was born in the ambulance in the parking lot of the Hershey Medical Center—a state-affiliated hospital in Pennsylvania. Hospital personnel arrived very quickly and took charge of both baby and mom.

As any mother would do, Jodi immediately began to ask the nurses and attendants how her baby was doing. The hospital staff was utterly unresponsive. When they started to give Jodi an injection, she asked what it was and what it was for. They gave her vague answers like, “It’s just to help.” Only after giving her the injection of oxytocin did they tell her what it was and then asked, “You aren’t allergic to that are you?”

Jodi persisted in asking about Annie. No one would tell her anything other than “she’s in good hands and you’ll be able to see her soon.”

Eventually a doctor told her that Annie scored a 9 on a physical exam applied to newborns known as the APGAR test. A score of 8 or higher is considered healthy. (It is unclear when the score was given since she was in the ambulance at birth.) But shortly after this a different doctor told Jodi that Annie was “very sick” and would need to stay in the hospital. This doctor’s comments were accompanied by an explanation of his disdain for midwives saying, “Too many people think they know what they’re doing.”

About an hour later, another hospital staffer finally brought Annie to Jodi and said, “The baby is doing good. She will be able to go home in no time.”
Legal Requirements?

However, several hours later yet another staffer told Scott and Jodi that Annie would have to stay in the hospital for 48 to 72 hours for observation. Even though they persisted in asking why Annie would need to stay, his only answer was that “the law requires us to keep the baby for 48 hours.” When they asked for a reference to this supposed law, he answered, “you’ll have to get that from risk management.” (By the way, there is no such law in Pennsylvania.)

The risk management staffer eventually told them that even though they saw nothing wrong with the baby, they just like “to keep babies like this” for 48–72 hours. The Ferrises were told that Annie would not be released for this period since it was “unsafe for her to leave the hospital.”

Eventually, a risk management staffer admitted that the risk that was being managed was not the health of Annie but the risk that the hospital might get sued if something went wrong after she was discharged.

Ultimately, risk management said that they would be satisfied with a 24-hour stay and that Jodi and Scott could remain with the baby overnight.
You have been Accused

Late in the afternoon, a government social worker named Angelica Lopez-Heagy came into Jodi’s room announcing that she was there to conduct an investigation. Jodi asked to know the allegations. The social worker claimed that it would be against the law for her to show Jodi the allegations.

Jodi replied that she would not be comfortable answering the questions if she couldn’t know the allegations. Immediately the social worker proclaimed, “Since you’re not going to cooperate, I’ll just go and call the police and we can take custody of the baby.”

Fearing that the social worker would carry out her threat, Jodi replied that she was willing to cooperate.

The social worker soon intimated that the issue was Jodi’s refusal to consent to medical treatment for the baby. Jodi replied that she had no idea why anyone would say that. The social worker claimed that she had refused to allow a Vitamin K shot for Annie. Jodi replied that no one had asked her about such a shot. Moreover, she had overheard hospital staffers saying that they had already given Annie such a shot.

Neither the social worker nor any hospital staffer ever gave Jodi or Scott any example of any medically necessary treatment that they had refused for Annie.

At this point, Scott left the hospital to tend to their older children who were staying with friends.
Ordering Tests

Shortly after this, the hospital asked to check Annie’s white blood cell count and to perform a strep test. Jodi agreed to the testing.

Then the hospital demanded that they give Annie shot for Hepatitis B. Jodi said that she would agree only if they tested her or Annie to see if either of them were positive. If so, then she was quite willing to have the shot for Annie. The hospital claimed that they had forgotten about this earlier when it was still possible to test that day, and that they needed to give the shot anyway without any testing.

When the social worker pressed her to make an immediate decision about this shot, Jodi asked her if they could simply wait until Scott got back before they decided.

Put yourself in Jodi’s shoes at this moment. You gave birth that morning in an ambulance. The hospital has made wild and conflicting claims about your baby’s health all day long. You are exhausted. You are in pain. Your husband has gone to check on your children. And a social worker who has threatened to take your baby into police custody is standing in your hospital room demanding that you make an immediate decision.

Jodi simply said, “Please can’t this wait until my husband gets back.”

The social worker renewed her threat. If Jodi would not answer her question right then, she would call the police. And then the social worker started adding conditions. She and Scott would have to agree to sign a safety plan before she could conclude her investigation.

Jodi said that she wanted her husband and an attorney to look at the plan. She felt she was in no position to read such a document and really understand what she was being pressured to sign.
Thrown Out

And then the story turns ugly.

The social worker left the room and called the police. Without a court order they took custody of Annie, immediately claiming that she was suffering from illness or injury—a patently false claim.

The social worker consented to the administration of the Hepatitis B shot even though no blood test had been done.

The police made Jodi Ferris get up out of her hospital bed and escorted her to the entrance—they were expelling her from the hospital because she had not signed the “safety plan.”

Scott met her at the entrance to the hospital. The police escorted them both off of the grounds of the hospital.

Jodi was told that she would be allowed to return every three hours to nurse the baby through the night.

Jodi and Scott were forced to spend the night that she had given birth in their car in a nearby parking lot. You read that right. They kicked this mother out of the hospital, and in order to be close enough to feed her child, she had to sleep in the car.

To add insult to injury, Jodi was given access to Annie only sporadically and not every three hours.
Baby Returned

The next morning a judicial officer held a shelter care hearing. After hearing the evidence, the officer immediately returned custody of Annie to her parents.

No parents should be put through this kind of ordeal. It is not a crime to ask questions about the well-being of your child. It is not a crime to ask for testing to ensure that a procedure is needed before it is done. It is not a crime to be a protective mom.

It is a moral offense of the highest order to kick a mother out of a hospital and to seize her child on the day of her birth simply because a mom wanted to have her husband read a legal document before she signed.

Both the medical personnel and the social worker engaged in outrageous behavior toward this family.

And we believe that they violated their rights under the Constitution of the United States. And we are going to court to prove it.

Why is HSLDA fighting for parental rights in this context? It is not a homeschooling case.
Parental Rights at Risk

We are taking this case because we are tired of seeing the erosion of parental rights in virtually every area of life. Parental rights in medical cases have an impact on broader parental rights, including educational decisions.

And the plain fact is this: If we don’t fight for parental rights, it is probable that our rights will be eroded bit by bit until there is nothing that remains.

We cannot afford to fund cases like this out of HSLDA’s membership dues. We are taking this case because we believe that our members and friends will stand with Jodi and Scott Ferris. We believe that parents should not be punished by “over-the-top” social workers and doctors.

The social worker’s priority was not the welfare of Annie, but her own convenience and her own perception of her power. She was aiming to teach this homeschooling mother a lesson.

And the hospital was clearly not concerned that Annie had a medical issue—they were just trying to avoid being sued for medical malpractice.

When government workers run over parents in cases like this, the lesson that needs to be taught is to the government.

This case will cost tens of thousands of dollars. Your tax-deductible gifts to the Homeschool Freedom Fund of the Home School Foundation will make it possible for us to take this case to court and to try to establish a precedent that will help protect us all.

All of our families are at risk when the government is allowed to run over one of us. When we stand together, we can fight back for freedom and for truth.

Thanks for giving as the Lord leads you. And pray for us. This is not an easy case. We really need your ongoing prayers.

Nose To Tail Eating, Can You Stomach It?

With 15 billion farm animals killed each year for food in the UK, eating the whole animal is the ethical choice. The Ecologist follows Fergus Henderson's lead and tries a week of eating offal

It came as a bit of a surprise to see someone putting ‘sustainable’ and ‘meat’ together in a recent newspaper article. Tim Wilson, a butcher and the founder of the Ginger Pig restaurant in London, explained in the Times that because almost the entire pig could be eaten, it was the ‘ultimate sustainable meat’. Whether or not meat production is environmentally sustainable or ethical is, in itself, one hell of a question.

What is clear, though, is that we are not sustainable or particularly ethical meat eaters. A recent study into UK food waste by WRAP found that we throw away 8.3 million tonnes of food a year, 5.8 million tonnes of which was avoidable. Within this, meat and fish account for just seven per cent, but still throws up some eye-watering figures.

Pork is the worst offender for avoidable waste levels: we throw away 93,000 tonnes a year, which tots up to £440 million of unnecessarily discarded pork. Even lamb - the most efficiently used at a comparatively minimal 8,000 tonnes avoidably wasted, and widely regarded as being reasonably ethical - accounts for £51 million in the bin. Not, after-all, the most sustainable meat.

Sustainable meat

It hasn’t always been this way. Meat wasn't traditionally unsustainable or unethical. Without falling prey to nostalgia, our ancestors should be praised for making the most of the less popular cuts of meat - shoulders, necks, jowl - and offal - the innards, from the brains to the kidneys. Everyone, it seems, has a parent or grandparent who enjoyed sheep brawn or goat’s head stew as a dietary staple.

A recent BBC article on favourite old foods, for example, listed tripe and chitterlings as some of the foodstuffs that were once cherished but have now waned in popularity. But recent years have seen a minor revival of the unusual cut. The chef Fergus Henderson championed the idea of eating the entire animal as being more respectful to the ‘beast’, as he calls it. Fergus Henderson's cookbook Nose to Tail Eating, published in 2004, became a hit and any ambitious pub worth its salt now has slow roast belly pork on the menu.

But, even if we are beginning to let fewer parts go to waste, does this make eating meat more sustainable or ethical? Hypothetically, yes: if we were more efficient in eating one pig, it would reduce our need for another in a simple equation of supply and demand. Going further, Simon Fairlie, author of the groundbreaking Meat: A Benign Extravagance, argues that meat is intrinsic to the UK’s agricultural tradition. ‘Whether you like it or not,’ he argues, ‘it would be wasteful to not consume meat or dairy. Something I’d like to see happening is people keeping a neighbourhood pig and making bacon.’

While keeping a pig between my flatmates and I probably wouldn’t have met with the approval of our landlady, the idea of nose to tail eating in the spirit of avoiding waste seemed like a good challenge. And a step - perhaps - towards steering our flesh consumption towards sustainable meat. But could I handle it for five days without opting for a more conventional fillet or, worse, cave in to squeamishness? I started slowly, with liver, the most familiar type of offal. With its strangely brown hue, wrapped in a vacuum-packed sheath of blood, liver is immediately recognisable on supermarket shelves. It's also cheap.

Very cheap. As would become clear over the week, eating unpopular cuts saves the pennies: my 350g of lamb’s liver was at its sell-by date and had been reduced to a ridiculous 47p. My girlfriend and I decided to try the classic liver and onions. Preparing the meat is the worst part of the dish: before you fry it, you need to rub the liver in flour, which turns almost clay-like when it mixes with the blood, leaving your finger-tips strangely numbed by their blood-flour coating.

After that, fry the onions until they begin to caramelise, add the liver and fry for five minutes, then mix in some stock and simmer for 15 minutes. Liver is an acquired taste, its distinctively rich flavour accompanied by an almost gritty crunch, and would work well in small portions. In our case, the amount we had was more than enough for the two of us.

100 Pesticides Licensed For Lettuce

More than a 100 pesticides are licenced for spraying on the humble lettuce. As well as posing a threat to consumers, workers harvesting the crop can face contamination and poisoning

Pesticides of one sort or another are used to produce 95 per cent of the produce grown in the UK and are promoted by the companies that make them as being the only way to ensure that yields remain high, prices remain low, and that growers can make a living. However, this is far from the truth, and many studies show that it is possible to maintain yields and profitability with reduced pesticide inputs by working with nature rather than against it.

The problem is that reliance on agrochemicals, and pesticides in particular, is hardwired into our current agricultural system. Factors such as the demands of supermarkets for perfect produce, the limited range of varieties available to farmers, monocrop systems and crop rotations that create ideal conditions for pests to develop all place pressure on farmers to use more and more pesticides with devastating consequences for the environment and human health.

From field to fork the use of pesticides ensures that people and the environment are exposed to potentially harmful risks from these toxic chemicals that are designed to kill. In the UK over 20 000 tonnes of pesticides are sprayed on farmland annually to grow the food that we eat.

Toxic threats

A great number of these chemicals are potentially toxic to humans, pollute waterways and have harmful effects on our biodiversity as has been seen by the recent loss of bees and other pollinators here in the UK and elsewhere.

We know that the impacts of pesticides are incredibly serious. In 2008, a European parliament commissioned study concluded that the families of farm workers are far more susceptible to childhood leukaemia’s than the general population. It is also estimated that 25 million agricultural workers suffer at least one incident of pesticide poisoning annually. And you can add to this all the unreported poisonings of bystanders and residents that occur throughout the pesticide spraying season.

All along the production trail people – whether it is the grower, the picker, the packager, local residents and bystanders or the end consumer – are exposed to pesticides.

Pesticides are used from the very earliest stage of production – and can be applied to the very seeds themselves. Dressing seeds with pesticides prior to planting is touted as a ‘safe’ way of applying pesticides that will reduce human exposure. Under this approach, the insecticides are taken up into the structure of the plant as it grows making the plant itself poisonous to its pests. What this also means is that the pesticide remains in the plant even after harvesting and no amount of washing or cooking will eradicate it.

But farmers and farmworkers are also exposed through handling the seeds. Many do not realise that the seeds are toxic and they – and neighbouring residents – can be contaminated by the pesticides covered dust that is kicked up and dispersed.

Exposure risks

Other fungicides, herbicides and insecticides are applied throughout the growth cycle of the plant to opening up yet further potential routes of exposure. The pesticide applicator, while at greatest risk, is usually required to wear protective equipment to reduce exposure. But others are not so lucky.

One particular group, that has been neglected by successive UK governments, is rural residents. People who live in the countryside can be exposed to pesticides during and after spraying in fields close to their homes. This exposure can go on for years and increases the risk of chronic illnesses including some cancers and neurological diseases like Parkinson’s.

Workers in the fields are also open to exposure as they walk amongst the crops and particularly if they are put in the fields soon after the crops are sprayed.

In particular, labourers employed to harvest the crops can be exposed to pesticides that remain on the crops whilst they pick them. Even after leaving the field, exposure is still possible on clothes that have been contaminated with pesticides taken home for washing or often used again the next day.

The problems can be exacerbated by the fact that many of the labourers used to harvest and pack produce in the UK do not have English as their first language and so cannot understand warnings about what they need to do to minimise or avoid the risk of pesticide contamination. Their status also often limits their ability to report any incidents of pesticide poisoning that might occur and so these incidents go largely unreported in the UK.

And finally, the end consumer will come into contact with pesticides as residues on the food that they eat. The DEFRA Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food (PRiF) samples a range of produce each year. This sampling shows that 30-40 per cent of the food purchased in the UK has pesticide residues present on it - and often multiple residues are present.

Chemical warfare

Multiple pesticide residues are particularly concerning because some pesticides can interact with one another and increase their toxicity – the so-called cocktail effect. If we take lettuce as an example there are 122 registered professional pesticides that can be used for growing lettuces in the UK of those:

• 20 are fungicides
• 45 are herbicides
• 57 are insecticides

Amongst them are some particularly unpleasant actives:

Mancozeb, a fungicide that is also classified as a carcinogen, a developmental or reproductive toxin, a suspected endocrine disruptor and a potential groundwater contaminant. Pirimicarb, an insecticide and also classified as a carcinogen and a cholinesterase inhibitor. Lambda-cyhalothrin, an insecticide and suspected endocrine disruptor. Cypermethrin, an insecticide and classified as a possible carcinogen and suspected endocrine disruptor.

Fungicides are applied to the soil even before sowing. If the lettuce is grown under cover, it is possible that two to three applications of fungicides could be used as well as an insecticide.

The Pesticide Action Network UK has analysed the figures made available by PRiF between the years 2000 and 2006 and found that of 826 non-organic lettuces tested, 36.7 per cent contained pesticide residues with 19.5 per cent containing a cocktail of residues.

Because lettuces along with many other crops such as soft fruits are considered to be high value crops, farmers will often use pesticides prophylactically in a bid to head off pest damage rather than to treat an existing pest problem. Unnecessary applications result in higher usage and on the whole don’t ensure that the crop will actually be any better protected.

Significant reductions in pesticide use are easily achievable simply by changing crop rotations, or using resistant varieties can dramatically. But this requires a fundamental shift in the approach away from pesticides first to pesticides last. This means that pesticides would only be used when all other methods have failed and then they would be used in a targeted manner ensuring that what is used is the least toxic option available. It requires working with, rather than against, nature and if we do so, we will all benefit.

UK Fights Stricter Pesticide Laws

UK opposition to restricting the use of pesticides in the 1990s and 00s has at times even seen the intervention of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown to lobby the case for the farming industry

The UK Government has come under sustained pressure - through a high profile campaign, the UK courts and the EU legislative system - to toughen up its pesticides legislation over the past decade.

But throughout, both the previous Labour administration and current Coalition Government have stood firm and sought to maintain the status quo. The justification is twofold. Ministers and their advisers have maintained that the UK’s mix of statutory and voluntary pesticide controls are ahead of the game and already provide sufficient protection for the general public and the environment.

They have also become increasingly vociferous in warning of the impact of cutting back on pesticide usage on crop yields at a time of heightened concern about food security. 'Defra’s pesticide policy aims to minimise risk without losing the benefits,' is how the relevant Department neatly sums up its position on its website.

The UK’s approach is best illustrated by its response to a huge chunk of EU legislation that has been grinding its way through Brussels since 2006. The backdrop was growing concern among member states about the potential risks for human health and the environment associated with crop spraying. In 2007, for example, French president Nicolas Sarkozy pledged, as part of a ‘green revolution’, to dramatically cut back pesticide use in France, including banning 47 pesticide products. In 2009, the EU published four pieces of legislation under the banner of the Thematic Strategy for Pesticides.

One strand, the Sustainable Use Directive, sought to harmonise the various regimes governing pesticide usage in place across the EU, covering areas like training pesticide users, inspection of spraying equipment, aerial spraying and protecting waterways, public spaces and conservation areas. Following public consultation in 2010, the UK is about to implement the Directive. Defra recently revealed that, in line with the Government’s commitment to avoid unnecessary regulation, only ‘a small number of changes’ will be made to the UK’s existing arrangements.

It points out that, unlike most EU member states, the UK has had an ‘extensive domestic regime’ in place since the 1980s. This is implemented through a mix of statutory controls and the Voluntary Initiative, an industry-led programme set up 10 years ago to minimise the environmental impacts from pesticide use in order to stave off a pesticides tax. 'Our long-standing and rigorous regulatory regime means we have safety and environmental standards that are among the highest in Europe. Our regime already covers most of the areas set out in the Sustainable Use Directive, and in some areas (notably a requirement for pesticide users to hold a certificate of competence) goes even further,' a Defra spokesman said.

A far more contentious strand of the EU legislative package is the Plant Protection Products Regulation, which came into force in the UK in June 2011. It establishes a new pesticide authorisation system based on ‘hazard’ rather than ‘risk’ with new cut-off criteria designed to exclude the most hazardous compounds.

Explaining the UK’s opposition to the change at a recent conference, David Barnes, the Scottish Government’s Deputy Director of Agriculture, said the risk based system enabled policymakers ‘put rules around’ potentially dangerous products to ensure they can be used safely. 'The hazard based approach means if there is any danger attached to a product at all we simply say it’s not acceptable and can never be used under any circumstance. That is just too inflexible,' he said.

Gordon Brown leads fight against EU rules

The UK Government, with intervention by Prime Minister Gordon Brown at one point, often appeared to be a lone voice as it vehemently opposed the proposals as they were bring debated. Based on impact assessments by Defra’s Pesticides Safety Directorate, it argued that the potential removal of the triazole group of pesticides as ‘endocrine disruptors’ (chemicals with potential adverse effects on human hormone systems) could result in a 20 per cent drop in UK wheat yields.

Even though it is now in place, the finer details of the Regulation are still being pored over by the European Commission and individual member states. According to Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the Crop Protection Association (CPA), the UK’s resistance and changing priorities in Europe mean it is now being interpreted ‘on a more ‘rational basis’.

It is now increasingly likely, he believes, that key chemicals that fall into the hazard criteria will be retained under a derogation that allows temporary approvals where no alternatives are available. 'In 2008, the UK was quite isolated. Since then its position has resonated with other member states,' Mr Dyer said. 'We are in a different world now. No-one among the major players in Europe wants to lose large numbers of very important chemicals like triazoles because they now understand that a 15 -20 per cent reduction in food production in Europe would be disastrous.'

He described a recent EU Parliament vote against calls to ban neonicotinoid pesticides because of their impact on bee health as a further ‘sign of changing times’.