Authors Posts by Jennifer Kennedy

Jennifer Kennedy

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When We Were Young, There Was a War is documentary filmmaker Patricia Goudvis’ follow-up to If The Mango Tree Could Speak, a film about ten children, aged between twelve and fifteen, who grew up during the civil wars in Guatemala and El Salvador.

In If The Mango Tree Could Speak, Goudvis captures, through a series of poignant vignettes, the children’s pain of living through conflict, loss and violence, as well as their hopes for a better future.

Civil war has had a deep and long-lasting affect upon Salvadorean and Guatemalan society. In When We Were Young, There Was a War, an interactive web documentary, Goudvis revisits the ten children, now young adults, and explores their experience, and that of Salvadoran and Guatemalan society in general, of life in the aftermath of the armed conflicts. In a statement, the filmmaker said:

“I’ve kept in touch with about half the kids over the years, and now I’ve located the rest. The four from Guatemala all still live there. Of the six Salvadorans, two stayed in El Salvador, three immigrated to the US and one to Australia. Some are single, others are married with children; some finished college, others nvever went to school. But all have grappled, in one way or another, with the losses they experienced as children surrounded by war. Finding out how they have done so, what choices they have made, and their thoughts and feelings about their earlier years is the purpose of making the follow up interactive web documentary.”

“In the original film, I asked who was winning in the battle between fear and hope? I wondered if the children’s spirits had been crushed and if their scars would be permanent. Now, with the benefit of time passed, I am eager to peer deeper into how individuals are profoundly marked by early experiences, as well as to reveal the strength of character that allows them to carry on with their lives.”

Goudvis’ When We Were Young, There Was a War is an excellent project which investigates post-conflict society in Guatemala and El Salvador through the eyes of ten young people who witnessed first-hand the horrors of war.

Using the medium of interactive web documentary, Goudvis interconnects interviews of the children when they were young with interviews of them as adults, and to deliver an interactive experience, she uses video material, text, photographs, and sound recording to provide in-depth contextual and historical information about the wars and the current human rights situation in both countries.

To view this documentary please visit: www.centralamericanstories.com/characters/dora

For more information about Patricia Goudvis and her work see: www.patgoudvis.com

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River Tabasara, Comarca Ngabe-Bugle, Panama

The following is a press release from Carbon Market Watch, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)and M10, a grassroots resistance movement, on the current situation regarding the Barro Blanco dam and the affected indigenous communities living alongside the River Tabasará in western Panama.  

Washington DC, Kaid, Bonn, 24 May – Today the floodgates were opened on the contentious UN backed Barro Blanco hydro dam in Panama, sparking forced removal by authorities of indigenous Ngäbe communities that are living in protest camps near the dam site. With construction finished, GENISA, the company that owns and operates the dam, has begun to flood the reservoir today, which will inundate six hectares of indigenous territories.

According to the Movimiento 10 de Abril (M10)—a group representing indigenous peoples directly affected by the project—35 community members including women and children, were arrested and are currently being held in police custody in the Missionary Center of Tolé. Following the arrests, backhoes moved into the area to tear down their encampments.

Local Ngäbe organizations are now on high alert and are planning on taking further actions to oppose the dam, which is financed by the German and Dutch national development banks (DEG and FMO) and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration. Already fearing that the situation will escalate, international NGOs launched a petition in April 2016, calling on President Juan Carlos Varela to ensure that the affected Ngäbe people are free from intimidation and repression. The petition has been signed by 84,000 people to date.

“We, the affected communities, have never given our consent to Barro Blanco. This project violates the Panamanian Constitution and our indigenous rights. ASEP has not warned us about the imminent flooding that will destroy our crops, some of our houses and kill our livestock.” Declared Manolo Miranda, spokesperson of the M10.

National and international organizations are deeply concerned for the personal safety and security of the Ngäbe people and call on Panama to protect their rights including the rights to security and peaceful assembly.

Panamanian authorities must protect the rights of the Ngäbe people who have not consented to this project,” says Alyssa Johl, Senior Attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law.  “We urge the Panamanian government to ensure the personal safety and security of the Ngäbe people and otherwise fulfill their human rights obligations. The world is watching.”

In 2015, Panama recognized that the Barro Blanco project had been approved in violation of the Ngäbe’s social and cultural rights, and the government temporarily suspended the construction of the project. A few months later, the government fined the project developer $775,000 for failing to adequately consult, relocate and compensate those adversely affected by the dam.  To this day, the government has not reached an agreement with the communities.

Barro Blanco is an UN-sponsored project that is designed to support sustainable development in poorer countries while enabling wealthier countries to achieve emissions reductions cost-efficiently. However, Barro Blanco demonstrates how climate mitigation projects can have adverse impacts on peoples and communities and the environments on which they depend.

The Paris Agreement recognized the need for human rights protections in climate action and created a new Sustainable Development Mechanism (SDM) under which all countries will be able to generate and/or use credits to offset emissions. Parties of the UNFCCC are currently meeting in Bonn to discuss the modalities and procedure of the new SDM.

“Barro Blanco is a clear example of why human rights protections must be included in the newly established SDM. The SDM must learn from the CDM’s mistakes. As the Paris Agreement committed to protect human rights, Parties must ensure that another Barro Blanco never happens again” says Pierre-Jean Brasier, Network Coordinator at Carbon Market WatchA report to be published this week by Carbon Market Watch and Misereor also highlights the need to incorporate human rights into climate action, including the case of Barro Blanco.

A report to be published this week by Carbon Market Watch and Misereor also highlights the need to incorporate human rights into climate action, including the case of Barro Blanco.

Contact:

M10
Manolo Miranda
+507 6563-2790

Carbon Market Watch
Pierre-Jean Brasier
+32 484 61 29 76
pierre-jean.brasier@carbonmarketwatch.org

CIEL
Alyssa Johl
+1-510-435-6892
ajohl@ciel.org

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First published by Jennifer Kennedy for Guatemala Solidarity Network.

Last month the killing of Honduran activist and winner of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize Berta Cáceres caused international outcry. Her highly publicised murder has called global attention to the many risks front line environmental defenders face every day, not only in Honduras but in other countries across the region.

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Walter Méndez Barrios. Photo: Defensores de la Naturaleza.

Just over one month ago, Guatemalan environmental and land rights defender Walter Manfredo Méndez Barrios was murdered outside his home in Las Cruces in the department of Petén.

Méndez Barrios, who had been fighting to protect the natural resources in communities of the Maya Biosphere Reserve (Reserva de la Biósfera Maya),  was gunned down on March 16.

Prior to his murder, the 36-year-old father of six had recently visited the controversial Tenosique hydroelectric dam, formerly known as Boca del Cerro, on the Usumacinta River which borders Mexico and Guatemala.  The dedicated activist had also been raising awareness about the environmental impact of palm oil production in Guatemala and its destruction of the Petén Rainforest.

Méndez Barrios’ murder came just over six months after the killing of 28-year-old Rigoberto Lima Choc, an indigenous environmental defender also working in Petén.

Lima Choc had been documenting environmental damage in the Pasíon River caused by a Spanish African palm oil factory, Empresa Reforestadora de Palma de Petén SA (RESPA). The communities have accused REPSA of polluting the river, contending that they are now unable to use it for drinking water and fishing.

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Rigoberto Lima Choc. Photo: Front Line Defenders.

Lima Choc was the first person to document the damage to the river and the impact on the communities. He had also acted as a witness in a case against the company.  On September 18, 2015, he was shot and killed outside the Courthouse of Peace in the city of Sayaxché, Petén, just one day after the court ordered RESPA to close its operations due to its contamination of the river. On the same day, three environmental defenders fighting to protect the river were kidnapped and later released.

A report by Global Witness on the threats environmental defender face worldwide found that nearly three-quarters of the deaths it obtained information on were in Central and South America.

Based on information collected by Global Witness, the report found that 27 environmental defenders were murdered in Guatemala between 2002 and 2014.  The global report also found that 40% of the victims were indigenous and that the deaths were mostly attributed to conflicts over hydroelectric dams, agri-business and mining.

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Screenshot of a Global Witness infographic on global killings of environmental defenders.

See Global Witness’ infographic in full here.

To date, no one has been charged in relation to the murders of Lima Choc and Méndez Barrios. To take action and speak out against the violence being committed against Guatemala’s environmental and human rights defenders, please see the following links:

www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/action/take-action-walter-mendez-barrios

www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/rigoberto-lima-choc

 

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Millions of leaked documents reveal how dozens of politicians and public officials from countries across the world have been stashing cash in offshore havens.

The 11.5 million leaked records, dubbed the “Panama Papers,” show that some of the world’s most well-known heads of state, politicians and celebrities – including Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the prime minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson – have millions of dollars squirreled away in offshore accounts.

The leaked documents, which were reviewed by journalists from more than a hundred international news organisations – such as The Guardian, the BBC and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) – reveal that major banks have been key in creating evasive companies in Panama and other locations.

According to the ICIJ, more than 200,000 offshore accounts are listed in the leaked documents, and banking giants, including UBS and HSBC, have set up thousands of shell corporations for international clients.

The records, ICIJ says, illustrate how international law firms and big banks are “selling financial secrecy to politicians, fraudsters and drug traffickers as well as billionaires, celebrities and sports stars”.

The documents have been leaked from a Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca.  With a “global presence,” Mossack Fonseca has branches dotted across the world in places such as The Bahamas, Jersey, Hong Kong and Liechtenstein.

The company is expert in creating shell companies, and according to The Guardian and the ICIJ, the leaked files contain information about some 214,000 offshore accounts which are connected to people in more than 200 countries and territories.

As the ICIJ states, with many of Mossack Fonseca’s clients there is no evidence to suggest that the shell companies are being used for illegal activities. The documents also show, however, that Mossack Fonseca’s client list includes drug traffickers, tax evaders and scam artists.

In one case, at least two South African businessmen involved in a $60 million investment scam, which included embezzling money from a benefit pool for the widows and orphans of deceased mine workers, used Mossack Fonseca to create offshore corporations.

Mossack Fonseca has denied any wrongdoing. The Panamanian law firm said in a “Fact Sheet,” which is available online, that “our firm, like many firms, provides worldwide registered agent services for our professional clients (e.g., lawyers, banks, and trusts) who are intermediaries. As a registered agent we merely help incorporate companies, and before we agree to work with a client in any way, we conduct a thorough due-diligence process, one that in every case meets and quite often exceeds all relevant local rules, regulations and standards to which we and others are bound”.

In the wake of the massive document leak, international accountability and anti-corruption organisations are calling for greater transparency.

According to a press release from non-governmental organisation, Transparency International, José Ugaz, the organisation’s chair, said: “The Panama Papers investigation unmasks the dark side of the global financial system where banks, lawyers and financial professionals enable secret companies to hide illicit corrupt money. This must stop. World leaders must come together and ban the secret companies that fuel grand corruption and allow the corrupt to benefit from ill-gotten wealth.”

The ICIJ has said it will release a comprehensive list of companies and people linked to them in early May. For more information about the “Panama Papers,” Mossack Fonseca and corruption scandals, visit the ICIJwebsite.

Community members affected by the Barro Blanco dam attending a meeting in May 2011. Photo: Richard Arghiris

A dialogue table to discuss the future of the controversial Barro Blanco commenced yesterday (February 20) in Tolé, Panama.

The meeting is being attended by High Level Government Commission, the UN, and representatives from the indigenous Ngäbe communities impacted by dam in the hope that an agreement over the future of project, which is already 90 percent complete, can be reached.

On February 9, the chancellor and vice-president of Panama, Isabel de Saint Malo, announced that the National Environmental Authority (ANAM) was suspending the construction of the 28 megawatt dam because it had violated the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
This followed plans announced by the affected communities that they would be blocking the Inter-American Highway during Carnival — the action was abandoned after the government’s announcement.

In a press release, the vice-president stated: “The government will guarantee the respect and rights of the communities as well as legal certainty.”

Absent from the dialogue table was GENISA, the Honduran-owned company responsible for the megaproject. In a press release, the company stated that it had not received an invitation from the government but would like to be part of the discussions.

In 2007, the Panamanian government granted GENISA a concession to construct the dam on the River Tabasará in western Panama. The project will  create a reservoir, inundating 258 hectares of land which will displace six households, a school, and farmland as well as destroying hectares of forest. The communities, who have been struggling to get the project cancelled for years, will also lose the use of the river for fishing.

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Photo: Imagens Evangélicas (Creative Commons)

It was a typical ruse. Claudia Ayala, a young Costa Rican woman, was promised a cleaning job in the U.S. Claudia trusted a man she had known for years, her pastor, to organise everything. She had no reason to doubt his assurances that she would be well paid and looked after by a good family. But after being smuggled across Central America and Mexico, and into the U.S, Claudia soon realised that there was no cleaning job to be had.  Instead, she was forced to work as a prostitute in Texas.   Despite being held against her will and living in appalling conditions for months, Claudia was lucky as she managed to escape back home to Costa Rica.

Last year, Claudia, along with eight other women, told her story as part of a radio series, El Silencio Duele, produced by a Costa Rican-based NGO, Voces Nuestras, in partnership with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).  These nine women are among thousands of people who are trafficked across Central America each year in what is a growing problem throughout the region.  In a 2012 report,Transnational Organized Crime in Central America and the Caribbean, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime cautioned that human trafficking is an increasingly profitable market for Central America’s drug cartels. Indeed, the trafficking of people is extremely lucrative in other ways. According to the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking, an estimated annual profit of US$31.6 billion is made from the exploitation of trafficked forced labour and 4.1% of this profit is generated in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Disproportionately affected by human trafficking, women and girls are being denied their basic human rights. Exploited and forced to work in the sex industry, domestic servitude or as beggars, thousands of women and girls in Central America are denied their right to freedom, to be free from violence and inhumane treatment, and to health.  And, they are either trafficked southward to Costa Rica and Panama where they are forced into work or taken to countries outside the region, or they are trafficked northwards to Mexico, the US and Canada.

In 2012, the UNODC’s Report on Global Trafficking stated that, on average, 55%-65% of human trafficking victims are women and 27% are minors. The International Labour Organization estimates that globally women and girls account for 40% of people forced into exploitation such as manufacturing or domestic service, and that 98% of victims are forced into sexual exploitation. Women and girls are predominately trafficked for prostitution, but others are used for pornography and stripping.  According to NGO Casa Alianza, no fewer than 15,000 children are victims of Guatemalan child sex trafficking networks.  End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT), a network of NGOs working for children’s rights, reports that in Guatemala, girls aged between eight and fourteen were sold for between US$100 and US$200, primarily for sexual exploitation.

Women and girls are also being trafficked for the purposes of forced labour in domestic households, for agricultural work or begging. Often, women believe they have been offered a legitimate paid job but on arrival are held and forced to work for nothing.  According to CAWN’s 2012 Trafficking of women briefing paper, this is what happened to Karen. Living in a rural village, Karen went to work for one of her father’s cousins in the city after he offered what seemed like a good opportunity. Karen left believing that she would be looked after but when she got there she was forced to work long hours for no pay. Living in filthy conditions, emotionally abused and held against her will, Karen suffered in silence until she managed to escape with the help of a friend.

Both Karen and Claudia’s experiences are far from unique. But because of the clandestine nature of human trafficking the true number or victims in Central America is unknown. However, what is more clearly understood is that complex and deep rooted societal problems such as entrenched poverty, inequality, and corruption contribute to women and girls being disproportionately affected by trafficking.  Deep-rooted discrimination against women is also a fundamental issue in Latin America. For example, Teresa Ulloa, director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and Girls in Latin America and the Caribbean, told theGuardian in 2013 that “The Latin American convention remains that women are to be used for men’s pleasure. This means that if they can’t access our bodies through force, they can do so with money, creating a demand for women and girls. If we could create policy on human trafficking that has gender equality at its core, then we would be tackling demand. If there was no demand for slaves, there would be no supply.

Although most countries in Central America have adapted existing laws or created new ones to tackle human trafficking, the lack of resources has often led to a failure to prosecute traffickers and to provide adequate support for victims. The Issue of corruption and complicity of state officials, and in some cases their lack of understanding of human trafficking, also represents a major stumbling block. But, there are several grass-roots organisations, such as The Central American Network of Women (REDCAM ),  RedTraSex , Foundation Rahab , Casa Alianza, and The Fundación Sobreviventes ,  which are working diligently to provide support for victims of trafficking and abuse. They also promote gender equality, and develop strategies to combat violence against women. There are also several international NGOs and campaigns which aim to raise awareness about trafficking, such as the United Nations Blue Heart campaign and the Call and Live programme, a regional campaign to combat trafficking which was set up by Ricky Martin, the IOM and the Inter-American Development Bank.

But the trafficking of women and girls continues to be a growing problem throughout Central America and different actions have to be taken at a local, national and international level.  Within the region, underlying factors affecting women, such as inequality, poverty and discrimination, urgently need to be addressed. More research needs to be conducted on trafficking and forced labour at both a national and international level.  And, grass-roots NGO’s providing education, support and research must be provided with the resources to aid them in their vital work of combating human trafficking so that no woman or child is forced to repeat the experiences of Karen and Claudia.

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Anti-total abortion law protest, Nicaragua

Amelia, a 27 year-old Nicaraguan woman, was diagnosed with cancer and like any other patient she should have been offered medical treatment. But, instead the young woman was denied what should have been a most basic right. Amelia was pregnant and Nicaraguan law makes it illegal for doctors to provide her with cancer treatment.

In 2008, a controversial law came into effect after amendments to the Penal Code began in 2006.   The new law prohibits all abortions, even when a woman requires a therapeutic abortion to save her life or when a woman has become pregnant as a result of rape. It also makes it illegal to provide life-saving treatment to a pregnant woman if there is any risk of harm to the fetus. Doctors and other medical staff who fail to follow the law risk prosecution.   Any pregnant woman or girl who suffers from cancer, malaria, HIV/AIDS or cardiac emergencies can no longer expect to be treated by her doctors because in the eyes of the law the life of her unborn child comes before hers.

Prior to the ban, therapeutic abortion had been legal in Nicaragua for more than 100 years and many international bodies, such as the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), expressed concern that the new law would be detrimental to the health of pregnant women and girls.  National and international women’s and human rights groups have since been campaigning for the government to repeal what has been described as a “draconian” law.

But according to a Ministry of Health (MINSA) report released in July, Nicaragua it is in fact “winning the battle against maternal deaths”.  Government statistics state that the number of maternal deaths in Nicaragua has dropped significantly since 2005 with 50.6 maternal deaths per 100, 000 live births in 2012 compared to 84.47 per 100,000 in 2005. And those in support of Nicaragua’s new abortion law suggest that these new figures show that the law has had no negative impact upon maternal health.

Back in 2010, the Nicaraguan government also released statistics which appeared to show a dramatic decrease in maternal deaths, 70 deaths per 100,000 compared to a 140 death per 100,000 live births in 2006. But the data was called into question by several Nicaraguan non-governmental organisations.

Francis Bustos, an independent clinical pathology researcher, told the Inter Press Service (IPS) that the figure quoted by the government “seems hard to believe”. Juanita Jimenez from the Autonomous Women’s Movement (MAM) also said: “There has been strong international pressure to reinstate therapeutic abortion, and one way or another the government is seeking to improve its image (with this new data).”

Another women’s rights activist, Fátima Millón, from the Central American organisation Network of Women against Violence (RMCV), also had her doubts, telling IPS: “The government generally tells lies, hides and manipulates figures when it doesn’t want them to become public knowledge, so I doubt that it’s true.”

But maternal mortality statistics can be unreliable and maternal death is often under-reported. Nicaragua’s country report to United Nations Economic and Social Council in 2008 admitted that although it was making progress in recording maternal mortality, MINSA recognized that “maternal deaths are under-recorded“ and  that “In some cases, this is because deaths occur at home and are not reported”.  The latest statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) are from 2005 and it puts the maternal death rate at 170 per 100,000 live births.  An estimated figure for 2010 from the Mortality Inter-Agency Group, which is made up of data from the WHO, The World Bank, The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), UNICEF, and the UN Population Division Maternal, puts the maternal death rate at 95 per 100,000.

The ‘real’ maternal death figures are not known.  Although government rates are substantially lower than the most recent estimates provided by the WHO.

Amnesty International’s 2010 report on the abortion law maintains that poor quality data means maternal mortality trends are difficult to measure in Nicaragua and, “this is compounded in a situation where abortion is criminalized and stigmatized, making it impossible to account for deaths resulting from unsafe abortion”. The criminalisation of abortion in Nicaragua encourages women to seek clandestine alternatives, thus avoiding the public healthcare system altogether.  Furthermore, doctors and other healthcare professionals, fearing prosecution, are less inclined to keep accurate data related to abortion and the treatment of other obstetric complications.

Many women and girls, some of whom were raped, now face prosecution. Victims become criminals. Adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable with more than half of all rape cases in Nicaragua involving victims under the age of 18, and according to national police records, from 2008  2010, 79 women were charged with having an illegal abortion. 32.87 per cent of these women were under 18.

Indeed, the relationship between unsafe abortions and maternal mortality is well established. According to the WHO, 13 per cent of pregnancy-related deaths worldwide are attributed to complications due to unsafe abortions and the Central America Women’s Network’s (CAWN) report on maternal health, published in September 2012, states that this is the leading cause of maternal deaths in the country.

With one of highest rates of teenage pregnancy in the world, the abortion ban is especially disastrous for adolescent girls.  According to data from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), between 2000 and 2012 22% of maternal deaths were teenagers.    The likelihood of developing complications that require therapeutic abortions is increased in adolescent girls. One complication includes cephalo-pelvic disproportion, which is often seen in girls who have not reached physical maturity and is when the pelvis is not wide enough to allow the fetus through. Data from MINSA also indicates that pre-eclampsia and the ingestion of poison, to induce miscarriage or commit suicide, were the leading causes of adolescent maternal mortality between 2007 and 2008.

Girls, some as young as nine, are being compelled to become mothers. Or they risk a dangerous and illegal abortion, which could either kill or criminalize them.

Both poor girls and women are disproportionately affected by the law and as Nicaraguan women’s rights activist and member of Latin American and Caribbean Women’s Health Network Ana Maria Pizarro has said that “the anti-abortion policy was particularly cruel given the poverty of the majority of women, the lack of information about sex and reproduction, and the fact that Nica­ragua has one of the highest levels of ado­lescent pregnancy in Latin America.”

The government claims that the introduction of rural healthcare clinics for pregnant women, ‘Casa Maternas,’ is helping to reduce maternal deaths and provide better healthcare in deprived rural areas.

But Kenia Morales, a PhD student from Columbia University who is researching reproduction rights in Nicaragua, told CAWN that the “Casas Maternas are but a band aid to a gashing wound”.  Morles says that they the clinics, which receive funding from US based pro-life groups, “seek to reduce infant mortality and maternal death, but by doing so also reinforces these notions that parenting responsibility falls on women, and that victims of rape and incest should accept their god-given gift”.

Nicaragua is a devoutly Catholic county which places great importance on the fertility and the motherhood. “Abortar es Matar,”(abortion is murder) is a common expression in Nicaragua, women on street talked in hush tones about the death of ‘gods child,’ and murals depicting Jesus with a bleeding heart all reinforce Nicaragua’s pro-life message.  But desperate women will always find a way to obtain an abortion even if it puts their live at risk.

“Whether abortions are legal or not, women will (have always) find a way to control their natality and make decisions about the number of children they bear, the difference, and scary aspect, is how safely it will be done,” said Morales.

The abortion law is adversely affecting the health of pregnant women and girls.  Despite taking steps towards reducing maternal deaths and improving family planning services, the abortion law contradicts a body of medical evidence that clearly demonstrates a relationship between maternal deaths and unsafe abortions.

The government claims that it is successfully combating the country’s high maternal death rate. But in a country where there is poverty, lack of accessible health services and a ban on abortion under any circumstance, death during childbirth remains a stark reality for many vulnerable women and girls.

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Kusapin, Comarca Ngabe Bugle

Large tracks of pristine coastal land in the remote Kusapín district of the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé in western Panama have be sold to foreign developers. An area of biological diversity with verdant forests, white sand beaches, and mangroves, Kusapín is located on the Caribbean coast – in 2004, its wetlands, an important nesting site for turtles, became a national reserve. Ngäbe families have lived on the land for generations, growing crops and fishing out at sea. But now 2100 hectares of land have been sold to developers, including Costa Rican businessman and politician, Antonio Álvarez Desanti. In 1997, after a long struggle, a comarca was awarded to the Ngäbe and the Buglé (a cultural similar but linguistically separate group numbering about 3000). Some 150’000 of the country’s 200’000 Ngäbe live in the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé which encompasses 6968 squares kilometres of land, with three regions and seven districts. Land within the Comarca is collective and protected by a law that deems it “unalienable,” but this law has not stopped comarcal land from being sold.

According to an investigative article in one of Panama’s national newspaper, La Prensa, the land was originally acquired through a process of “prescripción adquisitiva de dominio.” This process allows occupants to apply for titles for privately held land if it has been occupied for certain amount of time and the original owner agrees to the titling or their whereabouts is unknown. In Kusapín, the land was bought for just three cents per meter by three lawyers, Evisilda Martinez, her husband Francisco Antonio Castillo and Nisla Janeth Ortega. The land, which consists of eleven fincas, was then titled and sold for millions to eight different companies. According to La Prensa, there were anomalies in the land sales– one issue being that the “prescripción adquisitiva de dominio” process normally takes years but in this case it was unusually fast, taking just a few months. Four of the eleven fincas were sold to Desanti, president of Desarrollo Ecoturístico Cañaveral, for millions although the exact amount is undisclosed. Desarrollo Ecoturístico Cañaveral is investing some 40 million dollars into the 685 acres of beachfront land for a tourism project that will include hotels, condos, and houses and is currently seeking hotel chains and investors.

According to its website “Cañaveral seeks to create a unique natural and cultural destination with a complete awareness of the fragility of our planet’s ecosystems and with the solemn purpose to preserve the cultural diversity of its surrounding communities.” Desanti claims “the whole community consultation process is properly documented by the district authorities.” But local Ngäbe resident Samuel Tugri told La Prensa that the community were outraged and felt deceived. “They said they would make a program to help people, but they really wanted our signatures to sell [the land]. They lied to us and now we have realized this,” he said. Community members also reported that unlike those who had so quickly acquired land titles, they had been attempting to obtain titles for years without success. La Prensa journalist Prieto-Barreiro Ereida claimed that Desanti could be taken to court. Speaking to Costa Rican paper Diario Extra, Desanti said that he bought the land in “good faith” and was unaware of any lawsuit against him. On 27 July, a regional meeting will held in the Kusapín district Comarca to discuss the development project and by the 23 August the community will decide whether to accept or reject it.