Often referred to as “games for good” or “games for change,” a new generation of socially- and environmentally-oriented online simulation games aims to go beyond entertainment by raising awareness of global issues and securing funds for projects—making a real-word difference.
Over 10 million people worldwide have played World Food Programme’s (WFP) “Food Force,” for example, spending money that goes to fund WFP-sponsored school meals projects. However, few simulations have been useful at the policy-making level—until now. Today marks the release of “SimPachamama,” a new game from Bolivia that could influence international, national and local-level policy decisions that affect forest communities.
SimPachamama—“Pachamama” means “Mother Earth” in the local Aymara language—was developed by a multidisciplinary team of researchers from British and Bolivian institutions.* The simulation is modeled on data collected in a real-life Bolivian forest town, and in the game, the player becomes the mayor of an Amazonian rainforest community. The goal of the mayor’s 20-year term is to increase citizens’ wellbeing and reduce deforestation through a variety of policies: levying a tax on deforestation, making conservation payments, creating green jobs in the ecotourism sector, and adjusting public spending.
One proposed way to curb global deforestation is to transfer money from rich countries to poor ones via the UN Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN REDD). SimPachamama takes this kind of mechanism into account by including one additional important policy lever: the decision of whether or not to accept international payments to reduce local deforestation.
It is notable, however, that the simulation’s developers are not supporting UN REDD per se—or its REDD+ and REDD++ versions that include initiatives for forest conservation and, sustainable forest management and enhancement of forest sinks. This is because the UN REDD mechanism has been vigorously opposed by the Bolivian government, in part because it links emissions reductions payments to volatile carbon markets. It is also not likely to help the poor—one of Bolivia’s major policy concerns. The researchers found that under the kind of payments system proposed by UN REDD, less than 5 percent of the population—mainly the richer large-scale farmers—would reap more than 90 percent of the financial benefits. Bolivia’s proposed Joint Mitigation and Adaptation Mechanism for the Integral and Sustainable Management of Forests (Joint Mechanism) addresses some of REDD’s worst issues and is presented as a practical alternative. The researchers involved in developing SimPachamama are working with the Bolivian government in an advisory capacity to help get funding to start the mechanism.
The Brazilian government confirmed Monday night that Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota has resigned after the Brazilian embassy in La Paz facilitated the passage of a Bolivian opposition senator to Brazil. The diplomatic scandal has heightened tensions between Brazil and Bolivia, which accuses Brazil of violating international agreements.
Brazil granted Bolivian Senator Roger Pinto asylum last year, when he alleged that he was a victim of political persecution by the government of Bolivian President Evo Morales, which had accused Pinto of crimes including corruption. Pinto had been living in the Brazilian embassy in La Paz for 450 days when he was transported across the Bolivan-Brazilian border in a Brazilian diplomatic vehicle with Brazilian Chargé d’affairs Eduardo Saboia, who provided diplomatic immunity. He crossed the border on Saturday after a 22-hour car ride and arrived by plane in Brasília on Sunday.
Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca has demanded an official explanation from Brazilian authorities. “This is a most negative incident: under protection of diplomatic immunity you can traffic drugs, arms and people. What happened is extremely serious,” Choquehuanca said, adding that Pinto faces four pending arrest warrants. Pinto, meanwhile, accuses the Bolivian government of involvement in drug trafficking.
The Brazilian government in Brasília reportedly did not know about the plan to facilitate Pinto’s entry into Brazil. Bolivian Communications Minister Amanda Davila said that the case “has not affected bilateral relations with Brazil.”
Patriota will be replaced as foreign minister by Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, the permanent representative of Brazil to the United Nations, while Patriota will take Figueiredo’s place at the UN.
On Wednesday, representatives of the Bolivian and Chilean governments met for the first time at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague for a preliminary meeting to establish the timetable and other details for a case around a long-standing disagreement over the countries’ maritime borders.
Bolivia filed a formal lawsuit against Chile with the ICJ in April, demanding that the court force Chile to negotiate in good faith to provide land-locked Bolivia a sovereign outlet to the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia lost access to the sea in 1904, when it signed a treaty to end the War of the Pacific—a war sparked by conflict over mining rights. Bolivia is seeking land that is currently part of Chile’s Atacama region.
During Wednesday’s meeting—the first step in a long process before the case actually comes before the court—former Bolivian President Eduardo Rodríguez Veltzé met behind closed doors with Chilean Ambassador to the United States Felipe Bulnes to discuss dates and other logistics for the proceedings.
After the meeting, Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno denounced the lawsuit as unfounded, upholding Chile’s decades-long dismissal of Bolivia’s territorial claim. Meanwhile, the Bolivian government maintains that the 1904 treaty was signed under pressure from Chile and is therefore invalid.
If the case goes forward, this will be the first internationally arbitrated attempt to solve the dispute. Previous negotiations have failed and the two countries have never re-established diplomatic ties since they lapsed after a previous failed negotiation in 1978.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Cuba prepares for political successors in 2018; Venezuela’s opposition protests lack of information on Chávez; Tensions between Chile and Bolivia rise over Bolivian soldiers’ arrest; Oscar Arias visits Paraguay for OAS elections observations; and Cerrejón strike continues after explosives destroy trucks.
Raúl Castro Says he'll Step Down in 2018: On Sunday, Cuban President Raúl Castro told the Cuban National Assembly that he will step down at the end of his upcoming five-year term as president in 2018. Revolutionary icon Fidel Castro, whose public appearances are now rare, was present when his brother made the announcement putting an official end-date on an era of Castro rule that began in 1959. Raúl Castro then named Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermúdez, 52, his first vice-president. The younger Castro had indicated on Friday that he was thinking of retiring and might name a successor from among the next generation of Cuban politicians.
Venezuelan Opposition Demands Information as Chávez' Health Remains Uncertain: Hundreds of government opponents marched in Caracas on Saturday as part of the opposition’s new political offensive to protest the current political stasis in Venezuela as President Hugo Chávez remains out of sight in a military hospital. Since returning from Cuba on February 18, the Venezuelan government has shared limited information about the president’s cancer treatment and prognosis. On Friday, Venezuelan Vice-President Nicolás Maduro said that Chávez was “energetic” and had participated in a five-hour meeting with government leaders, though he acknowledged that the president can't speak because he is breathing through a tracheal tube. Meanwhile, Chávez supports held candlelit vigils outside the presidential palace to pray for the president’s recovery.
Hearing for Bolivian soldiers in Chile begins Monday: Three Bolivian soldiers arrested in Chile for crossing the border with weapons on January 25 will face a judicial hearing today in the northern Chilean city of Iquique to determine whether they'll remain in prison. The arrest of the soldiers has increased the diplomatic strain between Bolivia and Chile after Bolivia denounced Chile's actions via a letter to the UN on February 18. On Sunday, Bolivian President Evo Morales compared Chile’s imprisonment of the soldiers with Bolivia’s lost access to the Pacific Ocean since 1879, another source of recent tension. Chilean Minister of Foreign Affairs Alfredo Moreno said that Bolivia is blocking a swift resolution to the soldiers’ cases.
Oscar Arias Visits Paraguay to Prepare for April Elections: Former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias is visiting Asunción, Paraguay, until February 27 as head of the Electoral Observation and Political Accompaniment Mission of the Organization of American States (OAS). The mission aims to facilitate and monitor Paraguay’s presidential elections on April 21 to ensure that they are free and fair. It will be setting up elections observers and meeting with members of the Paraguayan government for the next two months. A number of the country’s neighbors view Paraguayan President Federico Franco as illegitimate due to the controversial impeachment of his predecessor, former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, in June 2012. Members of Mercosur and Unasur elected to suspend Paraguay from regional membership until the elections are held.
Explosives Destroy Trucks at Cerrejón while Mining Strike Continues: Unknown assailants detonated explosives at the Cerrejón coal mine in Colombia on Sunday as a strike that began on February 7 continued into its seventeenth day. Both Cerrejón and the leader of Sintracarbon, the coal miners' union, denounced the attack, which damaged four trucks but reportedly did not result in casualties. Cerrejón workers initially demanded a 7 percent pay raise, but they have since decreased that amount to 5.8 percent. According to the World Coal Association, Cerrejón’s coal accounted for 80 percent of Colombia’s coal exports last year. Union leader Igor Diaz said that the workers will meet with Cerrejón today to restart wage negotiations despite the attack.
Watch a recent AQ documentary on Cerrejón. http://www.americasquarterly.org/rio-rancheria-documentary
Top stories this week are likely to include: Uncertainty surrounding Hugo Chávez’ inauguration in Venezuela; Evo Morales alleges U.S. plot to destabilize his government; Brazil weighs electricity measures; and Canada deepens ties with Africa.
Inauguration Day in Venezuela: After his re-election last October, President Hugo Chávez is scheduled to be inaugurated this Thursday per the constitution that he helped write when he first rose to office in 1999. However, with Chávez recovering in Havana, Cuba, after his surgery last month on an undisclosed form of cancer, many Venezuelans are questioning his fitness for office as well as if or how he will assume another six-year term in three days. The constitution stipulates that the National Assembly President—Diosdado Cabello, who was re-elected to the post over the weekend—act as president if Chávez is declared incapacitated before Thursday and that Vice President Nicolás Maduro would become head of state if Chávez is declared incapacitated after Thursday. However, there are no indications that the executive branch intends to abide by these rules. Maduro claimed that the Supreme Court could swear in Chávez at a later date—a statement that was supported by Attorney General Cilia Flores, who is also Maduro’s wife. Calls from the political opposition for greater transparency have been repeatedly rebuffed. Stay tuned for updates on what will be the top issue in the hemisphere this week.
Morales Accuses U.S. Embassy: Bolivian President Evo Morales claims he has “irrefutable evidence” that the U.S. Embassy in La Paz is plotting to destabilize his government, claims Minister of the Presidency Juan Ramon Quintana. Quintana continued that the Morales administration will present the evidence to U.S. President Barack Obama and “tell him [to] cease all hostilities against the Bolivian government, stop the political ambush of our government.” U.S.-Bolivian relations have been tenuous since Morales assumed office in 2006, hitting a nadir when Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador in 2008.
Brazil’s Energy Budget Crisis: After water levels in hydroelectric dams dropped considerably—in some areas reaching a two-thirds decrease—Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called an emergency meeting with energy representatives to shore up electricity reserves. Rousseff tasked her Minister of Mines and Energy, Edison Lobão, to head the meeting, which Folha de São Paulo is reporting will occur on Wednesday. At issue: Brazilian cities have experienced blackouts in recent months, and some private-sector analysts are projecting a rationing of electricity in the world’s sixth-largest economy—recalling a similar scenario in 2001. Pay attention to see if Rousseff’s government announces any measures for 2013 as a result of the meeting.
Canada Discusses Africa Policy: Beninese President Thomas Yayi Boni, also the head of the African Union, will visit Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa tomorrow. A central focus of the meeting is anticipated to be the growing instability in Mali; last month the United Nations Security Council agreed to an African-led counter-assault against Islamist rebels. Boni’s visit could include a request for Canadian involvement. According to Defense Minister Peter MacKay, the Canadian government is “contemplating what contribution Canada could make.” International Cooperation Minister added that “Canada remains very concerned about the situation in Mali, [but] we do not anticipate going there.” More concrete details will likely surface after tomorrow’s meeting.
A national population and housing census will take place in Bolivia today, the first in the country in 11 years. Ahead of the survey, President Evo Morales has imposed a general curfew, which restricts private traffic, bans alcohol and closes the country's borders during the day. Exceptions to the curfew include government officials, diplomats, journalists and medical personnel.
The objective of the measure is to recount the country's population to better assess its needs. "The census is not for the government, it is for the people, especially for the future generations,” Morales said. Under the current Bolivian constitution, a census must take place every 10 years. The country has held 10 such surveys since independence in 1826.
According to the National Institute of Statistics (Instituto Nacional de Estadistica⎯INE) Bolivia’s population was of 8,274,325 inhabitants for the 2001 census. Estimates indicate that the population has grown to nearly 11 million.
The results from the census will lead to changes in the number of representatives in the legislative body. At the same time, some communities fear that they may be underrepresented in this year’s count, which will restrict their access to resources in the future. Given the important implications for years to come, the census has triggered more than 80 disagreements over the municipal borders that will help to define specific population areas. On Monday, Morales clarified that the objective of the census is not to solve territorial conflicts but to update information on the number of inhabitants and their needs.
Today the INE will mobilize 217,000 canvassers and will have the support of 36,000 police officers and the armed forces to carry out the national census. All Bolivians, including foreigners who reside in the country or are visiting, must remain at home and participate. Those who fail to abide by the curfew will be subject to a fine.
On Thursday, The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) approved a $122 million loan to help expand and upgrade a 69.7 kilometer (43.3 mile) segment of Bolivia’s Santa Cruz-Cochabamba Highway. Developing the highway has been declared a national priority due to its high traffic volume of 9,000 vehicles per day. More than 20 percent of trucks using the highway transport agricultural goods such as soy, cassava, corn, sugarcane, and rice.
The current highway, which runs from from Montero to Yapacaní, will be expanded to four lanes to alleviate traffic and facilitate the transportation of goods. An estimated 200,000 people will benefit directly from the highway construction, including farmers living between Santa Cruz and Cochabamba who transport their goods by road and pass through the municipalities of Portachuelo, Buena Vista and San Carlos.
“Due to geographical and other factors, Bolivia depends on road transportation for most of its foreign trade,” said René Cortés, the IDB project’s team leader. “The East-West Corridor is Bolivia's most heavily traveled road and carries the bulk of the country’s freight. It links the country's most important cities with Chile and Peru to the west and with Brazil to the east.”
The project is expected to advance service ability, reduce travel times by nearly a third and accidents by 15 percent by 2017. The main components of the project include civil works, road safety, technical and environmental management, social viability, and project management. Only 4,800 kilometers (2,982 miles) of Bolivia’s 74,831 kilometers (46,497 miles) of roads are paved—a little more than 6 percent.
Top stories this week are likely to include: UNGA high-level meetings get underway; Enrique Peña Nieto concludes Latin America tour; mining strike continues in Bolivia; Federico Franco and Mariano Rajoy discuss Ibero-American Summit; and Evo Morales visits Cuba.
UNGA High-Level Meetings Kick Off: The sixty-seventh session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) began last week, and this week the focus shifts to a series of high-level meetings along with general debate among the many heads of state representing the United Nations’ 193 member-countries. The high-level meeting on the rule of law takes place today at the New York secretariat. General debate begins tomorrow morning with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff delivering the first address for the second consecutive year.
Peña Nieto Concludes LatAm Tour: Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto will arrive home today after completing a six-country tour through Latin America in advance of his December 1 inauguration. Peña Nieto visited Guatemala, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Peru. In his most recent stop, Peña Nieto and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala agreed yesterday to strengthen ties on public security issues, particularly in the fight against organized crime and drug trafficking. The Mexican president-elect called for strengthening the Pacific Alliance and will round out his tour by meeting with 180 Peruvian businessmen today to discuss ways to boost trade ties. “This was a successful trip for Peña Nieto to show the leadership that his government wants to take in the hemisphere and how he will aim to collaborate on key issues for Mexico,” notes AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak.
Mining Strike in Bolivia: In the escalating standoff this month between the Bolivian government and cooperative-member miners over the Colquiri tin and zinc mine, perhaps this week could see a development. Although the Federación Sindical de Trabajadores Mineros de Bolivia (Union Federation of Miners in Bolivia) broke off talks on Saturday with a delegation sent by Bolivian President Evo Morales, Minister of Government Carlos Romero called for further dialogue over the rights to Colquiri. The Bolivian government expropriated the mine from a Swiss company in June 2012.
Franco, Rajoy to Discuss Ibero-American Summit: Paraguayan President Federico Franco and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will meet on the sidelines of UNGA in New York this week to discuss the status of Paraguay’s presence at the Ibero-American Summit to be held in Cádiz, Spain in November. Given Paraguay’s suspension from Mercosur and Unasur in response to the impeachment of former President Fernando Lugo, it was revealed that a Spanish diplomat traveled to Asunción recently to dissuade Paraguay from participating in the summit in the hope that Argentina would attend. Look for developments from the Rajoy-Franco discussion this week.
Evo Morales Visits Cuba: Bolivian President Evo Morales made an unannounced stop in Havana enroute to New York for the UNGA, where he was greeted by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez according to Cuban state television. Today, Morales receives a doctorate degree, honoris causa, in political science from the University of Havana.
The production of coca leaves in Bolivia is down since last year, according to an annual United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report published yesterday. The area used for cultivation of coca decreased 12 percent, from 31,000 hectares (76,600 acres) in 2010 to 27,000 hectares (66720 acres), the 2011 national coca monitoring survey said.
UNODC surveillance showed decreases in cultivation in Bolivia’s coca-growing hotspots: 11 percent in Yungas near La Paz, responsible for two-thirds of the country’s production; 15 percent in Cochabamba Tropics, Cochabamba; and 7 percent in the provinces north of La Paz. Despite these efforts, Bolivia remains the third-largest cocaine producer, after Peru and Colombia. While the production of cocaine is illegal in Bolivia, the production of small amounts of coca crop, the main ingredient in cocaine, remains lawful.
Monday’s UN report comes two days after the governments of Bolivia and Venezuela rebuffed a statement by President Barack Obama that both nations "have failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotics agreements." Bolivian President Evo Morales responded by saying that the American consumption of cocaine and other narcotics gives the U.S. “no morality, authority or ethics” to speak on the War on Drugs.
Top stories this week are likely to include: López Obrador files a legal challenge to Peña Nieto’s win; cholera spreads in Cuba; standoff between Bolivia and a multinational Canadian mining firm; the Chávez factor in the U.S. presidential election; and Unasur sends a delegation to Paraguay.
López Obrador Contests Peña Nieto’s Victory: Although Enrique Peña Nieto won the July 1 presidential election according to the independent electoral authority Instituto Federal Electoral (Federal Electoral Institute—IFE) earlier this month by over 6 percentage points, runner-up Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has now filed a legal challenge to the ruling, claiming fraud on the part of Peña Nieto’s Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI). AMLO’s team says it will prove that “illicit money” was used to buy votes. Despite IFE having recounted over half the ballots and still upholding its verdict of Peña Nieto’s win, AMLO’s legal challenge submitted to IFE will now be forwarded to the Federal Electoral Court; in turn, the Court will deliver a ruling before early September.
AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini notes, “While fraud remains a problem in Mexican elections and with it people's trust in the results, AMLO is going to have an uphill battle explaining the direct, logical connection between any allegations of fraud and 3 million plus votes of difference between him and the winner, Enrique Pena Nieto."
Cuba and Cholera: According to the Cuban health ministry in a release over the weekend, there have been no new cholera-related deaths since the three ones reported earlier this month in the eastern city of Manzanillo. However, the health ministry has reported 158 cases of the disease, a significant increase from the 56 initially disclosed. Given that the health ministry has remained rather quiet, leading to rumors about a wider problem with the outbreak, pay attention this week to growing concerns about the spread of cholera.