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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.



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Entries tagged "El Salvador"

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Why the 99 Percent are Protesting at the World Bank Today

December 15, 2011 ·

99 Percent Protesting at the Word BankToday I will join leaders from the labor, environmental, faith, and human rights communities to protest in front of the World Bank.


We'll be there to stand up for the democratic rights of people everywhere in the face of ever-expanding corporate rule.

There's a set of people from the 1 percent who don't think we should be there. Twenty-one years ago, those people got together just two blocks north of the World Bank, in the K Street corporate lobbyist corridor, and crafted a set of corporate rights that they then inserted in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

These so-called "investor protections," now in dozens of U.S. trade and investment treaties, are some of the most extreme examples of excessive corporate powers you could find. They grant corporations the right to sue governments in international tribunals over actions that reduce the value of their investment. This can even include environmental, health, and other measures to protect the public developed through a democratic process.

These rules empowered an obscure tribunal in the World Bank to rule on these "investor-state" cases. Three people who no one elected can decide the fate of millions.

One of these tribunals will soon decide the fate of El Salvador. A gold mining company, Pacific Rim, is suing for compensation because that government has not approved a permit for a gold mining project. The majority of Salvadorans oppose this project because of legitimate concerns that it could poison a river that's the country's biggest source of drinking water. Pacific Rim is demanding in excess of $77 million.

The story gets even more outrageous. Pacific Rim is suing under the U.S. trade agreement with Central America and the Dominican Republic, called DR-CAFTA. But since Pacific Rim is based in Canada, and Canada isn't part of the DR-CAFTA pact, they created a subsidiary in Nevada in order to file this lawsuit.

If Pacific Rim gets away with this, it will give a green light to global corporations everywhere to pull this same trick. U.S. corporations could set up subsidiaries in other countries that are trade partners with the United States, in order to sue the U.S. government.

During today's protest, I'll be part of a group of us that will walk across the street and deliver an open letter to this tribunal (called the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes) and to the president of the World Bank, who chairs the tribunal's administrative council.

The letter, signed by over 240 labor unions and other international organizations representing more than 180 million people, demands that El Salvador's domestic governance processes and national sovereignty be respected and that the Pacific Rim case be thrown out. This is the 99 percent standing up to the 1 percent. We're saying: You must stop trampling on democracy.

John Cavanagh is Director of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies. In August, he published in The Nation , with Robin Broad the article Like Water for Gold in El Salvador.

The Undocumented Poet

October 4, 2011 ·

Nostalgia for the LightOne of my earliest inspirations in the undocumented youth movement was Mario Angel Escobar, a former child soldier from El Salvador who was among the first to publicly share his story and tell the world he was indocumentado. Mario took to legislative allies, and leveraged the power of media, to advocate through a complex immigration case and earn asylum. Mario, now a doctoral student at the University of Maryland, took to poetry to share the story of the pain that undocumented young people, and he will be reading a piece during Thursday's special screening of Nostalgia for the Light.

Here's an excerpt of a poem that appeared on the publication Underground Undergrads: UCLA Undocumented Immigrant Students Speak Out:

I am the backbone
An equal to any
The chant at the end of the day

I am the caresser of voluptuous earth
Her and I become one
The hands that pluck and pick
to satisfy your hunger

I am the tender callus
The naked wind
The new tongue

Flesh seeking peace

I am the silent lip
The gaze that shouts

Click HERE to purchase a ticket to the special screening of "Nostalgia for the Light," a prelude to the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award. Pre-screening features include a special reception and light fare, with music from Son Cosita Seria and poetry from Mario Escobar.

Gold or Water? A Deadly Debate in El Salvador Mines

August 31, 2011 ·

We are inside a greenhouse, gazing at row after row of hydroponic tomatoes and green peppers, learning why people in this community in northern El Salvador are receiving death threats. We have been sent by The Nation magazine to chronicle the struggle by people here to protect their river from the toxic chemicals of global mining firms intent on realizing massive profits from El Salvador’s rich veins of gold.

Before going to the greenhouse, we spend the morning at the home of Carlos Bonilla, a farmer in his sixties whose handsome face is creased with the wisdom, suffering, and joy of decades of struggles for justice. Over a delicious meal of local tortillas, vegetables, and chicken, Carlos and a group of eight young people tell us their stories.

“We reject the image of us just as anti-mining. We are for water and a positive future. We want alternatives to feed us, to clothe us.”

These young people run a radio station, Radio Victoria, where they broadcast to a growing audience across this mountainous terrain. They tell us about giving air time to local leaders who, beginning seven years ago, found themselves facing a new threat: Mining firms, granted permits to explore for gold in the watershed of the great Lempa River (which supplies water to over half the country’s 6.2 million people), entered these communities with promises of jobs and prosperity.

Gold is now selling for more than $1500 an ounce. Local organizer Vidalina Morales tells us: “Initially, we thought mining was good and it was going to help us out of poverty…through jobs and development.”

But, then, a strange thing happened. A stream dried up near the exploration wells that a Canadian firm, Pacific Rim, was digging. Concerned, Vidalina and other activists traveled to nearby Honduras to meet with members of communities where large mining projects were already underway. They returned with grisly stories of cyanide poisoning the soil and water (cyanide is used to separate the gold from the surrounding rock), and people in mining areas suffering skin diseases and other ailments.

This wasn't what they wanted, especially near the Lempa River. Local people in northern El Salvador began to organize against the mining firms. First, they linked up with other groups across this province of Cabañas to coordinate opposition. Next, they found allies in other provinces and in the capital San Salvador, and they formed a National Roundtable on Mining. After discussion and debate, the Roundtable decided that the only way to save their vital water source was to organize for a national ban on gold and other metals mining. 

Then, they tell us, the death threats began. Some came as anonymous phone calls, some as untraceable text messages, some as people were stopped by men in cars. In June 2009, a dynamic local cultural leader, Marcelo Rivera, disappeared; his body was found in the bottom of a well, with signs of torture reminiscent of the bloody civil war that convulsed this region in the 1980s. 

Half a year later, two other people opposed to mining were gunned down. One was eight-months pregnant and held her two-year old in her arms when she was murdered. Then, two months ago, a college student volunteer with the Environmental Committee of Cabañas, Juan Francisco Duran, was found dead, two bullet holes to his head. He was last seen in Cabañas putting up anti-mining posters.

In this poor country, where mining firms have spread around a great deal of money and promises, people are getting threatened and killed.

As we travel the remote roads of Cabañas with Vidalina and others here, we are struck by how their aspirations are not unlike those of people we have met in the Philippines, Trinidad, and even the United States. They want healthy food and safe drinking water for their kids. They want a vibrant local economy that provides good jobs and livelihoods. They do not want giant firms, unaccountable to them, determining their futures.

Yet in this poor country, where mining firms have spread around a great deal of money and promises, people are getting threatened and killed. 

Carlos, Vidalina, Marcelo, Juan Francisco… ordinary people taking extraordinary actions as they protect their water and their democracy. And, in this case, there are simple things that people elsewhere can do to support this struggle for water over gold. To share just one: The Committee in Support of the People of El Salvador (CISPES) is asking people to write the Attorney General of El Salvador to demand a thorough investigation into the killings to find not only the killers but also the “intellectual authors” - the masterminds - behind their actions.    

Our next blog will offer another chapter in this story, the fight to get the national Salvadoran government to support the proposed mining ban. And, a subsequent blog will move to the global level of this fight, as U.S. and Canadian mining firms use “free trade” agreements to bring legal cases against El Salvador in international courts. 

As we leave Carlos’s house that day and visit the greenhouse and communal farm lands, Vidalina entreats us not to write about their struggle as simply a defensive one: “We reject the image of us just as anti-mining. We are for water and a positive future. We want alternatives to feed us, to clothe us.”

This article was originally published in Yes! Magazine

We Can Live Without Gold

April 14, 2011 ·

Last night I attended a moving ceremony at the Smithsonian museum where the Goldman Environmental Awards were presented to six brave activists for a better world. 

One of the recipients was farmer-turned-activist Francisco Pineda, who is a leader of a coalition of Salvadoran groups fighting gold mining, which was poisoning their fresh water sources. IPS gave its prestigious Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award to this group in 2009, and we have worked with them in an international coalition to halt the destructive gold mining.  As Francisco put it in his acceptance speech: “We can live without gold, but we cannot live without water.”

Francisco Pineda at the 2011 Goldman Prizes
Francisco Pineda accepts his award at the 2011 Goldman Prizes. Photo via Goldman Prizes FB page.

Francisco and his colleagues have managed to convince their government to stop new mining permits, but two of the big the mining companies have been suing the Salvadoran government under the Central American Free Trade Agreement. As Francisco says of the CAFTA law suit: “It is like saying to a friend: ‘I'm going to steal everything from you. But if you don't let me steal everything, I'm going to sue you.’”

I am traveling to El Salvador next week with my wife, Robin Broad, to write a piece for The Nation on this struggle, from the communities on the front lines to the global legal battles. And IPS is continuing to work with Francisco and his colleagues in a campaign to convince the mining firm, Pacific Rim, to drop its case against El Salvador as part of a larger IPS effort to end corporate protections in trade and investment agreements.

As we left the Smithsonian, Francisco still wore the huge smile he’d had all evening. “I got to meet your president today.  He told me he understood Spanish, but couldn’t speak it. I thanked him for coming to our country and for giving us assistance but I told him we needed him to come out against mining, to come out against the CAFTA lawsuit.”         

We must constantly remind ourselves and our president that global rules are made by people, and we can change them to reflect the interests of people and the environment. Today, an ally from El Salvador made that case.

Finding Rootedness in the Age of Vulnerability

December 10, 2010 ·

This article was originally published in Yes! Magazine on December 6th, 2010.

It seems that almost everyone we know is feeling vulnerable these days—whether they are rich or poor, employed or unemployed, their lives are feeling fragile. So we are setting out to discover places where people are finding ways to counter that vulnerability, creating more secure paths of living based on a concept we are calling "rootedness." We are learning from communities in the United States and also abroad—in the Philippines, Trinidad, and El Salvador.

Fifty years ago, when our parents deposited money in the bank, it was almost certainly a local bank, which then lent the money to people and businesses in that very community. Today, money goes to giant financial institutions that partake in casino-like activities that undermine local economies. Fifty years ago, most farmers grew a variety of crops from traditional seeds and most regions were largely self-sufficient in food; today, most farmers produce a single crop with seeds purchased from global firms.

Indeed, today, so much of what we eat, invest, borrow, and purchase is the product of global assembly lines. As a result, all of us are vulnerable to external shocks. So when the 2008 Wall Street crash spread like wild fire around the world, it hit families and communities everywhere, accelerating unemployment, suffering, inequality, and uncertainty. That same year, billions of people in poorer nations found that wildly fluctuating prices of wheat, corn, rice and other key food products increased their chances of going hungry. And extreme weather events related to climate change have been hitting people hard, in all parts of the globe.

In the United States and around the world many people and some governments are working to reduce their vulnerability to these global shocks by becoming more rooted.

This year, the two of us are taking a pause from our other work to dig into a fascinating array of communities and countries that are finding rootedness in this “age of vulnerability.” We are discovering the same yearning for roots and community in such far flung places as the Philippines, Trinidad, and El Salvador that we are seeing in communities across the United States. We feel it ourselves in our community of Takoma Park, Maryland.

We plan to share our musings with you through a regular blog. We are also exploring these concepts in the United States with a New Economy Working Group that has emerged through the collaboration of the Institute for Policy StudiesYES! Magazine, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, and the People-Centered Development Forum. The work we do on this blog, plus your reactions, will help us write a book on finding rootedness in the age of vulnerability.

But how does one define and measure rootedness? There are, we would suggest, several ways:

  • There is economic rootedness, which focuses on producing as much as possible locally, then nationally, then regionally, and only then globally. This notion is sometimes called subsidiarity, and it is very different from old-fashioned protectionism.
  • There is environmental rootedness, wherein communities control their water, their forests, and other natural resources, and hence have a vested interest in managing them sustainably.
  • And there is social rootedness, wherein (among other things) a society is more healthy if it is more equal and it also has a stronger sense of community.

To write this blog, we will visit Filipino rice farmers who are abandoning chemical farming in favor of organic farming, and finding that their finances, their health, and their environment are all benefiting. We will travel to Trinidad, where fisherfolk are fighting to protect their local fishing grounds against giant shrimp trawlers and oil drilling. We will visit communities in El Salvador that have rejected the get-rich-quick promises of gold mining firms in order to preserve their fresh water and their communities. And, we will report on several U.S. communities that are re-rooting different aspects of economic life, such as the rapidly expanding “slow food” and “slow money” movements.

We will also pay attention to nations like Mexico that were overly dependent on global markets and, as we are discovering, are faring the worst in this crisis—exactly the reverse of what mainstream economic theory predicted.

Our insights build on 30 years we have both spent taking on conventional economic wisdom. In particular, we have fought the myth that most community economic activity is inefficient, and that most communities and nations should specialize in a few things they do well and trade widely for the rest. We have always thought that “rooted” communities and nations made more sense than ones that are vulnerable to the whims of global markets.

Our world views have been shaped by the extraordinary range of people from diverse walks of life whom we have met during 35 years of traveling and living in different communities. We have had the privilege of living in some of the world’s poorest communities and visiting the halls of wealth and power in several countries, and we have gotten to know insightful people in both spheres. Imagine: We just spent a month in the Philippines and half of it was living with three different communities where farmers are shifting to planting organic rice. Then, we spent t

Robin is a professor at American University and has worked as an international economist in the U.S. Treasury Department and the U.S. Congress. John has worked at the United Nations in Geneva and, for the past quarter-century, at a leading multi-issue progressive think tank: the Institute for Policy Studies. We have written books on the grassroots environmental movementglobal corporationsthe global justice movement, and rethinking progress.  

We know that many of you have experienced the downside of economies made vulnerable by their reliance on globalization. We invite you to share your own experiences as you travel with us on a search for rootedness in this age of vulnerability.

he other half in the Philippine Congress discussing with lawmakers how to speed the transition from chemical to organic farming, and how to reduce the country’s dependence on call centers and electronic exports.

We were lucky to begin our travels decades ago. Just out of college, Robin spent a year living with indigenous people in the southern Philippines who were fighting against a pineapple agribusiness firm. At the same time, John landed a job in Geneva working with some of the best minds from poorer nations at a UN agency whose mandate was to close the gap between rich and poor. We then met in graduate school, married, and we are raising a son, who is now 13.


John Cavanagh and Robin Broad wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Robin is a Professor of International Development atAmerican University in Washington, D.C. and has worked as an international economist in the U.S. Treasury Department and the U.S. Congress. John is on leave from directing the Institute for Policy Studies, and is co-chair (with David Korten) of the New Economy Working Group. They are co-authors of three books on the global economy, and are currently traveling the country and the world to write a book entitled Local Dreams: Finding Rootedness in the Age of Vulnerability.

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