Costa Rica Studies Its Land, to Keep from Losing It

Donald Vásquez shows how the land has been degraded in an area of coffee plantations on the slopes of Berlin, one of the towns in the Barranca-Jesús María river basin in western Costa Rica. Farmers in the area, with the support of experts, have built terraces and channels to curb erosion. Credit: Miriett Ábrego / IPS

Donald Vásquez shows how the land has been degraded in an area of coffee plantations on the slopes of Berlin, one of the towns in the Barranca-Jesús María river basin in western Costa Rica. Farmers in the area, with the support of experts, have built terraces and channels to curb erosion. Credit: Miriett Ábrego / IPS

By Daniel Salazar
SAN JOSE , Feb 28 2018 (IPS)

Donald Vásquez points to the soil on a farm located in one of the most degraded basins on the Pacific Ocean side of Costa Rica. Below, where he points with his index finger, there is a huge layer of white earth, with dozens of bare coffee plants struggling to produce beans in the next harvest.

“This used to be a cloud forest, a rainforest 60 years ago. Now the soil looks like this. From a productive point of view, this has practically died,” Vàsquez, who is taking part in several initiatives aimed at restoring the soil in the Barranca River-Jesús María River basin, where land degradation is already impacting farmers, told IPS.

Vásquez lives in one of the towns in the basin, about 60 km from San José, to the west of the Costa Rican Central Valley, within an area at about 1,500 m above sea level dedicated mainly to coffee growing.“Here we lament it when a tropical forest is cut down, we know that’ a terrible thing. But a tropical forest can regenerate in 60, 80 years. When you lose the soil, recovering it can sometimes take up to 200 years.” – Óscar Lucke

His concern is not about something that is a minor issue in Central America. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) estimated in its Global Land Outlook (GLO) report, published in 2017, that degraded lands account for over a fifth of forest and agricultural lands in Latin America and the Caribbean.

According to the Costa Rican Advisory Commission on Land Degradation (Cadeti), established by the government, and in which Vásquez takes part, degradation is already happening in more than a tenth of the territory of Costa Rica, making it more necessary than ever to meet the goal of achieving Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) by 2030.

The concept of LDN is defined as “a state whereby the amount and quality of land resources, necessary to support ecosystem functions and services and enhance food security, remains stable or increases within specified temporal and spatial scales and ecosystems.”

Costa Rica is one of the countries in the region that devotes the greatest effort to meeting that goal. There is a need for more indicators and budget, but those dedicated to the matter, such as Vásquez, are already working on several initiatives to prevent the loss of more land.

“Here we lament it when a tropical forest is cut down, we know that’ a terrible thing. But a tropical forest can regenerate in 60, 80 years. When you lose the soil, recovering it can sometimes take up to 200 years,” Óscar Lucke, a consultant on land degradation neutrality and a retired professor who is a representative of civil society in Cadeti, told IPS.

“We are working to protect that wealth of biodiversity and all the services we need that are in the soil,” he explained.

It was not until 2015 that the UNCCD agreed to set national goals to stabilise the planet’s soils. But in Costa Rica Cadeti was already working on the issue since 1998, through coordinated work among different government and academic bodies.

For this reason, this Central American country of 4.9 million people became one of the 10 pilot sites in the world to implement LDN, and the only one in Latin America.

In April 2017, the government reinforced the strategy with a decree that coordinates the different agencies involved in that objective and, in addition, designated Cadeti as the body within the Ministry of Environment and Energy to advise all public institutions in how to move towards that goal.

Assessing the land

Several indicators are used to measure neutrality in land use.

According to the 2017 Scientific Conceptual Framework for LDN, countries must observe the evolution of three key elements: forest cover, productivity and soil organic carbon. So far, Costa Rica only has information on the first indicator, and is working to obtain the others this year, with important progress made so far.

In fact, between 2000 and 2015, Costa Rica went from 47 percent to 54 percent of forest cover, while all other Central American countries have proportionally cut their forest covers, according to a study released in December by the State of the Nation of Costa Rica, an interdisciplinary body of experts.

The first State of the Environment Report, published Feb. 20, prepared by the Costa Rican government, notes that the country increased its forest area by 112,000 hectares between 2010 and 2013 (currently it has more than three million hectares of forest), an increase of almost the same amount as the reduction in crops and pastureland, which amounted to 114,000 hectares.

“That is very positive. In general, the more covered the soil is, the better, but protection guidelines have to be implemented in the areas that clearly cannot be covered with trees, because crops have to be planted to grow food,” said Carlos Henríquez, director of the University of Costa Rica’s Agricultural Research Centre, and an expert in soil fertility.

He told IPS it is necessary to implement protection practices to try to maintain the resource in a sustainable way, because the increase in forest cover does not mean that farmers always use their land well.

For example, the cultivation of pineapple (questioned because of its link with soil erosion and the high use of agrochemicals) has increased fivefold since 2000, according to the annual report of the State of the Nation.

For that reason, the government is working on generating carbon maps and productivity maps to identify the most degraded areas of the country.

According to forest engineer Adriana Aguilar, the national focal point for the UNCCD, and an official in the National System of Conservation Areas, an agreement is also being hammered out between the government and the German Technical Cooperation Agency (GIZ), aimed at identifying key actors and model projects, and capturing resources for them.

“That is a goal for this year, so that from 2019 we can report on that basis. By defining these indicators, applying the panel, finishing our action plan and implementing this decree, we are moving towards achieving that goal,” she told IPS.

There are already several initiatives to work with farmers in the areas that, according to estimates, could have the most degraded soils in the country.

“Degrading the land is very easy. To recover them is the difficult thing. Farmers do not have resources for this and there are crops, such as coffee, that already have very low productivity,” said Renato Jiménez, another member of Cadeti, which for the past six years has carried out more than a hundred projects on farms in the most degraded areas of the country.

For example, in the Barranca-Jesús María river basin, farmers and experts from the government and civil society have created channels and terraces to prevent water from washing away their crops and nutrients, and have extracted healthy bacteria from the forest to use in their plants.

For Vásquez, who operates in the area, that is key because with climate change the rains in Costa Rica seem to be increasing in intensity and decreasing in frequency.

“The idea is for river flows to not build up so much speed or destroy the soil so much. I believe that if people see the positive results, and notice that coffee production is increasing, other neighbours will copy it, because production here has been dropping,” he said.

The post Costa Rica Studies Its Land, to Keep from Losing It appeared first on Inter Press Service.

In a suburban Cincinnati office park, white nationalists have found their lawyer – and an ally

You probably haven’t heard of James Kolenich. You will.

Source: In a suburban Cincinnati office park, white nationalists have found their lawyer – and an ally

Kolenich also called into question the estimated number of six million Jewish people killed during the Holocaust, and even if it actually happened.

He said he’s never been called a neo-Nazi before, and that he wouldn’t care if he was. “If being Christian is equated with being a neo-Nazi in this society, then that’s just how it has to be,” he said. “‘It’ (being a Nazi) is something that I would reject, all things being equal, but there’s nothing I can do about it in modern society.”

Kolenich said the Holocaust gets too much attention.

“You can’t call the Jew Holocaust into question, right?” said Kolenich. “How many millions, tens of millions of Russians were slaughtered during the Soviet Union… you never hear about it right? Don’t want to talk about it. Just the magic six million. So Christians really shouldn’t fall for that. The Holocaust is the execution, the crucifixion of Christ. The most important event in human history is His Resurrection, not, this Jewish Holocaust even if it did happen.”

Cincinnati Sisters Head to DC For Dream Act Push

Sr. Andrea Koverman, Sr. Tracy Kemme and Sr. Jean Miller left Cincinnati on their way to DC yesterday for the Catholic Day of Action with Dreamers organized by PICO, Faith in Public Life and others. These sisters will risk arrest as they participate in nonviolent civil disobedience after a press conference starting at 10:30. We will share a live stream of IJPC’s Facebook page.

Jose, Sr. Jean, Sr. Andrea and Sr. Tracy

We asked for our friends to share their reasons for participating in this day of action and risking arrest.

Sr. Tracy Kemme:

 I’ve worked with immigrants for more than a decade, both pastorally and in pursuit of comprehensive immigration reform.  Recently, I’ve done all I could to support the movement for justice that brave Dreamers are leading across the country: call and visit my legislators, join rallies, write op-eds, and participate in an Ohio letter campaign that collected 17,000+ letters.  Our elected officials are not listening.  Protecting our immigrant youth should be a no-brainer, and yet Congress fails repeatedly to do their job.  I’m ashamed and outraged by the immoral inaction that holds Dreamers and their families in limbo.

So when the call came from D.C. to participate in nonviolent disobedience in support of Dreamers, I felt drawn into discernment.  I knew how strongly I felt about the issues, but was God indeed calling me to risk arrest?  Did the action make sense strategically?  Would Dreamers support us doing this? I spent much time in prayer and conversation, and particularly talking to IJPC’s own Jose was helpful to sort through motivations, hesitations, passion, and prayers.  In the end, the call became clear.  As a follower of Jesus, I cannot sit idly by while our country oppresses young people and uses them as bargaining chips.   Our Dreamers aren’t giving up the fight, and I want them to know that we won’t either.  They are here to stay!

When I risk arrest with other Catholic leaders on Tuesday, I will hold in my heart the hundreds of immigrants I know and love dearly.  I will stand for Jose, all the Y.E.S. members, and their families.  I will stand for my fellow parishioners at Holy Family Church who live in daily uncertainty because of our unjust immigration policies.  I will stand for Maribel Trujillo and all the families that have been torn apart.  And I will stand for all those who have given their energy to this movement across the country.  We go in hope that the Holy Spirit may change hearts, and we count on your prayers.  Clean Dream Act now!

Sr. Andrea Koverman:

Our concern and apprehension has grown with each day that passes without a moral resolution to the expiration of DACA. We have signed petitions, made phone calls, written letters, met with elected officials, and stood in local demonstrations all to no avail. We feel the sting of injustice and pangs of guilt as we helplessly witness the escalation in arrests and threats of deportation of young immigrant community members that we promised to protect through DACA. We have betrayed their trust. These are the young people who we have helped shape and educate, who have grown into some of the most hard-working ambitious people we know, who are eager to contribute to the well-being of the county they call home. They embody all the values and characteristics Americans espouse but lack the legal status to experience the freedom of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness the rest of us are granted through our citizenship.

As a Christian and a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati, I take very seriously the gospel mandate to love one another as God loves us. It is not a choice but our responsibility to take care of one another, to stand up for one another not only in words and prayers but in action. We don’t need to know someone affected by our broken immigration system to be called to this responsibility, but I have been blessed to know many. In the years I spent living on the border near El Paso and crossing regularly into the area of Mexico around Juarez, this issue became very personal as I witnessed the poverty and violence that pushed people to risk crossing the border. I heard stories that broke my heart open and gave my nightmares as any jugement I had about the legality of their actions dissipated. They have as much right to be safe and prosper as I do. I saw people I met as God does, beloved members of my own family.

When I moved to Cincinnati and began working at the Intercommunity Justice & Peace Center, I was further blessed to have a young colleague, Jose Cabrera  who is a “Dreamer.” He manages the YES program-Youth Educating Society-made up of young DACA recipients and their allies. They help society understand the realities of the immigration issue by sharing their personal stories. Through them people come to learn what it is like to have been brought here at an age to young to remember, being raised as an American full of the promise of thier potential and the opporutunity to be successful with hard work and determination, only to then be denied what they’ve worked for while threatened with deportation to countries that would often be as foreign to them as they would be to you or me.

I am willing to risk personal arrest as I take a public stand to demand a clean DREAM Act with a path to citizenship for Jose and the other 800,000 estimated Dreamers. I want to raise awareness of how critical it is not to let them be used as negotiation pawns in the broader conversation of comprehensive immigration reform. This needs to happen now; all people of good conscience need to take action and demand that it does. I will stand firm at our nonviolent demonstration when told to step aside to communicate that we will not stand by and let our Dreamers lose their status. When faced with an injustice, a prophetic sister in my community quoted what Martin Luther said in 1521, “Here I stand. I can do no other.” Me, too.

Sr. Jean Miller:

My call to stand with DACA Recipients and Dreamers came 65 years ago when I committed myself to the Gospel of Jesus with my vows to the Sisters of Charity. That call challenged me to stand with the vulnerable, the poor, those treated unjustly or violently. These Dreamers and DACA recipients are surely being treated unjustly and sometimes violently.

The Gospel called me to other countries where I saw the suffering, violence, poverty as well as the beauty, strength, wisdom, compassion of the people of those countries. Sadly at times I even discovered that our country was partly responsible for the pain and suffering in those countries from which parents and young people needed to escape.

Since returning to the United States I continued to walk with many Dreamers in a variety of different ways. I am sorry that they must struggle so much here in our country that claims immigration roots. They are my neighbors, my co-workers, my friends. I watch them giving so much of their culture, wisdom, economics and joy to our country. Risking arrest is the least I can do for people who welcome

me in their homes, hearts and Lives. May every letter sent, call made, vote taken, rally held and prayer said finally give them what they deserve, A Clean Dream Act.

I would like to add one of the many stories that will be in my heart and prayers on Tuesday when we raise our voices and bodies for them. This story is about a Honduran Mother and her 10-year old son. They had experienced the death of a relative, who would not collaborate with the drug cartel. This Mother worried for the future of her son so they left family behind and traveled the dangerous trip through Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and finally crossed into the U.S. seeking safety but finding detention centers and lengthy processes. They continue to do whatever is required so that one day the freedom we cherish may be theirs.

The post Cincinnati Sisters Head to DC For Dream Act Push appeared first on IJPC | Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center | Cincinnati Ohio.

California Supremes Say 50+ Years in Prison for Juvenile Non-Murder Crimes Is Unconstitutional

In a 4-3 decision Monday, the California Supreme Court ruled that juvenile sentences of 50 years or more for non-homicide crimes are unconstitutional in that they don’t give minors who are “constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing” a reasonable chance for release during their lifetimes.

The defendants in the case, Leonel Contreras and William Rodriguez, were convicted of kidnapping and raping two teenage girls at knifepoint in 2011. Contreras and Rodriguez, both 16 at the time of the crimes, were charged in as adults and sentenced in 2012 to 58 years to life and 50 years to life, respectively.

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Florida sentencing juveniles to life without parole (LWOP) for crimes other than murder constituted a violation of the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

In a related 2012 case, People v. Caballero, the California Supremes held that a minor’s 110 years to life sentence for three counts of attempted murder would effectively serve as a life-without-parole sentence, in violation of Graham.

The high court looked at whether the sentences handed down to Contreras and Rodriguez violated the Eighth Amendment based on the Graham, Caballero, and/or the U.S. Supreme Court’s Miller v. Alabama decision, which found mandatory life sentences without a possibility of parole for juveniles who commit murders to be unconstitutional. On Monday, the California Supreme Court found the Contreras-Rodriguez sentences to be “unconstitutional under the reasoning of Graham.” According to the CA justices, sentences must give juveniles a chance of some life on the outside, otherwise, the sentences are the functional equivalent of LWOP.

According to the majority opinion, Rodriguez will be 66 and Contreras will be 74 years old when the two first become eligible for parole. The California Attorney General’s Office has stated that “any term of imprisonment that provides a juvenile offender with an opportunity for parole within his or her expected natural lifetime”–based on life expectancies calculated by the Centers for Disease Control–“is not the functional equivalent of LWOP.”

A 2010 CDC report estimated that 16-year-old males in the U.S. are expected to live a total of 76.9 years.

“For any individual released after decades of incarceration, adjusting to ordinary civic life is undoubtedly a complex and gradual process,” Justice Godwin Liu wrote for the majority. “Confinement with no possibility of release until age 66 or age 74 seems unlikely to allow for the reintegration that Graham contemplates.”

Liu points out that according to Graham, “[a] young person who knows that he or she has no chance to leave prison before life’s end has little incentive to become a responsible individual.” The majority in Monday’s opinion agreed that the same would be true for a juvenile serving a 50-year sentence.

And although 50 years to life is not as harsh a sentence as LWOP, it remains an “especially harsh punishment” for a minor, according to the majority. And as with an LWOP sentence, a 50-year sentence for a juvenile will mean “more years and a greater percentage of his life” behind bars than an adult who receives a similar sentence.

The ruling garnered a 38-page dissent from California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who said as long as there is a chance for parole in a juvenile’s lifetime, a lengthy sentence like those given to Contreras and Rodriguez are justified.

The chief justice argued that the teens’ initial sentences granted them a chance at parole no later than age 60 because of AB 1448, a bill signed into law at the end of 2017, which established an Elderly Parole Program. Through this program, prisoners who have served at least 25 years of a prison sentence and are at least 60 years old are eligible for a parole hearing. According to Cantil-Sakauye, a “sentence offering an opportunity for parole no later than age 60 is not invalid under Graham.”

Justice Liu disagrees with Cantil-Sakauye’s reliance on a bill passed just a few months ago. The chief justice’s interpretation of the bill “is not the only plausible reading of the elderly parole statute, and we decline to issue a definitive interpretation less than five months after the statute’s enactment, before any Court of Appeal has filed a published opinion applying it in the context of juvenile sentencing, and before CDCR has adopted any implementing regulations.” It’s not clear that the new law would ensure that juvenile offenders the “meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation” that Graham intended.

Cantil-Sakauye also pointed out that Graham said that a life without parole sentence was the “second most severe” punishment allowable by law.

“Today, the majority declares unconstitutional a range of sentences that most certainly are not the second most severe penalty permitted by law; that do offer hope of restoration of basic liberties; that do not necessarily mean that defendants will remain in prison for the rest of their days; and that do give a chance for fulfillment outside prison walls, do give a chance for reconciliation with society, and do offer hope,” Cantil-Sakauye wrote. “In short, the majority extends Graham to invalidate an array of sentences that are qualitatively different from the sort of punishment that Graham was concerned with.”

According to the chief justice, her colleagues are asserting “unconvincingly” that within the Graham ruling lies “a more far-reaching intent to invalidate all sentences that do not provide juvenile offenders convicted of nonhomicide crimes with an opportunity for parole at an age when release would, in the majority’s view, be sufficiently conducive to their full reintegration into society.”

Both Contreras and Rodriguez will be resentenced under this latest ruling. The California high court has directed the sentencing court to “to consider, in light of this opinion, any mitigating circumstances of defendants’ crimes and lives, and the impact of any new legislation and regulations on appropriate sentencing.” The sentencing court will also have to select a time at which the defendants will be able to seek parole.

Arctic warming: scientists alarmed by ‘crazy’ temperature rises


Record warmth in the Arctic this month could yet prove to be a freak occurrence, but experts warn the warming event is unprecedented

An alarming heatwave in the sunless winter Arctic is causing blizzards in Europe and forcing scientists to reconsider even their most pessimistic forecasts of climate change.

Although it could yet prove to be a freak event, the primary concern is that global warming is eroding the polar vortex, the powerful winds that once insulated the frozen north.

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