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Heritage Site or Home? Indigenous Thais Fight for Right to Forest

Hundreds of indigenous Karen people in Thailand face evictions from a national park that authorities wish to turn into a World Heritage Site, joining millions in a similarly precarious situation as authorities worldwide push tough conservation laws.

The Kaeng Krachan is Thailand’s biggest national park, sprawled over more than 2,900 square kilometers (1,120 square miles) on the border with neighboring Myanmar.

Renowned for its diverse wildlife, it is also home to about 30 communities of ethnic Karen people, who have traditionally lived and farmed there — and is on a tentative list of world heritage sites.

The United Nations’ cultural agency (UNESCO) had referred the submission back to the Thai government in 2016, asking it to address “rights and livelihood concerns” of the Karen communities, and get their support for the nomination.

The Thai government plans to respond later this year, according to campaigners.

“The communities have not been consulted or reassured on their access to the forest,” said Kittisak Rattanakrajangsri of advocacy group Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact.

“The communities are not opposed to the heritage status,” he told Reuters. “They are just asking that they not be evicted, and that their land rights are secure — because if the park gets heritage status without that, there will be a great many more evictions.”

A spokesman for the forest department did not respond to requests for comment.

A spokesman for the U.N. human rights office (OHCHR) in Bangkok said they had recently facilitated a meeting between a rights organization working with the Karen, and Thai officials.

Worldwide, more than 250,000 people were evicted from protected areas in 15 countries from 1990 to 2014, according to Washington D.C.-based advocacy group Rights and Resources Initiative.

In India, more than 1.9 million indigenous families face evictions after their forest rights claims were rejected.

‘No legal rights’

Since Kaeng Krachan was declared a national park in 1981, hundreds of Karen — a hill tribe people thought to number about 1 million in Thailand — have been evicted, according to activists.

Last year the country’s top court ruled that about 400 who had been evicted in 2011 had no legal right over the land.

“The security of indigenous people in Thailand is so tenuous because they have no legal rights, and no recognition of their dependence on forests,” said Worawuth Tamee, an indigenous rights lawyer.

“The laws have made them encroachers,” he said. 

A 2010 Cabinet resolution had called for recognizing the Karen people’s way of life and their right to earn a livelihood the traditional way. But this has not been implemented, said

Tamee.

After the military government took charge in 2014, it vowed to “take back the forest” and increase forest cover to about 40 percent of the total surface area from about a third.

This has resulted in hundreds of reclamations from farmers and forest dwellers, according to research organization Mekong Region Land Governance.

“It is the biggest challenge facing indigenous people,” said Tamee. “Parks are not just for the enjoyment of city people and tourists. They are also the home of poor, indigenous people who have nowhere else to go.”

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Mexican President Says to Return ‘Stolen’ Wealth to the People

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Monday he will create a “Robin Hood” institute to return to the people the ill-gotten wealth seized from corrupt politicians and gangsters.

His administration is drawing up a bill to create an independent “Robin Hood” institute “against the corrupt” that would put confiscated goods such as real estate, jewelry and cars into the public’s hands, the president told reporters.

“Let’s quickly return everything to the people that’s been stolen,” he said at his regular morning news conference.

For example, the institute could assign seized homes to municipalities for schools, hospitals or elderly care centers, he said. Assets seized by the government tend to have been ransacked or require expensive upkeep, he noted.

He did not estimate the value of the assets, or offer details on how they would be given back to the people.

Since taking office in December, veteran leftist Lopez Obrador has rolled out a string of welfare programs for the poor and the elderly, cut salaries for top civil servants and says he is saving public money by eliminating corruption.

Lopez Obrador has shunned the often luxurious trappings of Mexico’s wealthy elites, choosing to fly coach and drive through the capital in a white Volkswagen Jetta.

Immediately upon taking office, he turned over the presidential palace to the public and put his predecessor’s official plane up for sale.

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Mexican President Says to Return ‘Stolen’ Wealth to the People

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Monday he will create a “Robin Hood” institute to return to the people the ill-gotten wealth seized from corrupt politicians and gangsters.

His administration is drawing up a bill to create an independent “Robin Hood” institute “against the corrupt” that would put confiscated goods such as real estate, jewelry and cars into the public’s hands, the president told reporters.

“Let’s quickly return everything to the people that’s been stolen,” he said at his regular morning news conference.

For example, the institute could assign seized homes to municipalities for schools, hospitals or elderly care centers, he said. Assets seized by the government tend to have been ransacked or require expensive upkeep, he noted.

He did not estimate the value of the assets, or offer details on how they would be given back to the people.

Since taking office in December, veteran leftist Lopez Obrador has rolled out a string of welfare programs for the poor and the elderly, cut salaries for top civil servants and says he is saving public money by eliminating corruption.

Lopez Obrador has shunned the often luxurious trappings of Mexico’s wealthy elites, choosing to fly coach and drive through the capital in a white Volkswagen Jetta.

Immediately upon taking office, he turned over the presidential palace to the public and put his predecessor’s official plane up for sale.

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Ivanka Trump In Africa For Women’s Economic Summit

Ivanka Trump arrived in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, Sunday for a summit on African women’s economic inclusion and empowerment.

In addition to attending the summit, the daughter of the U.S. president, who is also an advisor to her father, will meet with female workers in the coffee industry, and tour a female-run textile facility.

President Donald Trump signed a National Security Presidential Memorandum in February, establishing the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative. W-GDP says it hopes to “reach 50 million women by 2025, through the work of the the United States Government and its partners.”

It was not immediately clear if the controversy that surrounds the U.S. president will follow his daughter to Africa. The president has not been kind in his remarks about Africa and its migrants.

“I don’t think people will have a good feeling” said Ethiopian journalist Sisay Woubshet, about the president’s daughter visit to the Continent.

Marakle Tesfaye, an activist, said, however, “I think she’s coming genuinely to empower women and it’s good that she’s coming because she will push forward our agenda.”

Trump is also scheduled to an make an appearance at a World Bank policy summit.

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Why Cryptocurrency Is Gaining in Philippines Despite 2018 Bitcoin Crash

Cryptocurrency exchanges are growing in the Philippines, despite a downturn last year in the value of the virtual currencies, due to growing popular demand and lenience among regulators.

Authorities in the developing Southeast Asian country have permitted at least 29 exchanges of cryptocurrency following three that the central bank said it approved this week, according to domestic media reports. 

That count, which is high for Asia, follows a total of 10 exchanges permitted by the central bank. The Cagayan Economic Zone Authority in the archipelago’s far north has issued 19 additional permits, the zone’s website said in October. 

These exchanges feed into the development of a fast-growing financial technology, or fintech, sector in the Philippines, said Jonathan Ravelas, chief market strategist with Banco de Oro UniBank in Metro Manila.

“Fintech appears to be very advanced in the Philippines,” he said. Consumers, he said, “eventually look at the mobility of having it in mobile wallets, [which] gives them flexibility to use money.”

Uses for cryptocurrency

Cryptocurrency, most notably its standard bearer Bitcoin, became an investment vehicle in much of the world about a decade ago. But a 70% drop in Bitcoin prices last year weakened enthusiasm for crypto overall. 

​Filipinos generally pick more traditional investments such as equities, Ravelas said, but young companies are eyeing cryptocurrency to raise capital, a process called initial coin offerings. Seven in 10 Filipinos have no bank account, he added, so virtual currency gives those consumers a new option for making payments.

That population would be able to jump on a currency source that’s open to anyone and transparent because of its online transaction ledger called the blockchain.

Government support

The central bank governor may see the cryptocurrency trade as part of his bigger plan to advance the country’s electronic payment systems, analysts say.

Cryptocurrency “probably goes toward those efforts at facilitating electronic payments. I think that’s the key point,” said Christian de Guzman, vice president and senior credit officer with Moody’s Sovereign Risk Group in Singapore.

The 2016 National Payment Systems Act, among others, “bolsters the central bank’s capacity to foster the efficiency of payment systems as pipelines of funds in the financial market,” the authority’s governor Benjamin Diokno said in a speech last month.

The central bank and Securities and Exchange Commission are “working towards regulating cryptocurrencies to protect the Filipino people,” domestic Bitcoin and blockchain news website Bitpinas said in November. “This is a positive step towards adoption as this move will give users security and confidence in dealing with it.”

Said de Guzman: “A certain segment of the population is certainly very technically sophisticated.” 

First mover advantage?

The Philippines, though later than much of East Asia in picking up cryptocurrency, would eventually stand out if regulators embrace rather than restrict it.

China and South Korea have placed curbs on certain types of crypto trade. Both banned initial coin offerings in 2017, and China ordered the closure of cryptocurrency exchanges as part of that move. South Korea has at least 21 exchanges.

​Japan is widely seen as Asia’s most liberal place for cryptocurrency. That country, which has let 17 exchanges fully register, overtook China in 2017 as the biggest Bitcoin market in the world with 58 percent of the global volume. Japan declared Bitcoin legal tender in 2017.

The Philippines in its current groove should take a “first mover advantage,” said Kenneth Ameduri, financial analyst and CEO of the crypto-specialized news website Crush the Street in the United States.

“I think the Philippines understand that it’s going to be a very big deal to be involved with cryptocurrency, because it’s going to happen no matter what, and if they’re the ones to treat this capital best, the capital is going to flow there and the other jurisdictions are just going to completely miss out,” Ameduri said.

The Philippines might eventually look harder at the role of cryptocurrency in falsifying tax payments and paying for illegal drugs, de Guzman said. Taxation and drugs are already sticky issues without crypto.

Exchanges contacted for this report declined comment.

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Why Cryptocurrency Is Gaining in Philippines Despite 2018 Bitcoin Crash

Cryptocurrency exchanges are growing in the Philippines, despite a downturn last year in the value of the virtual currencies, due to growing popular demand and lenience among regulators.

Authorities in the developing Southeast Asian country have permitted at least 29 exchanges of cryptocurrency following three that the central bank said it approved this week, according to domestic media reports. 

That count, which is high for Asia, follows a total of 10 exchanges permitted by the central bank. The Cagayan Economic Zone Authority in the archipelago’s far north has issued 19 additional permits, the zone’s website said in October. 

These exchanges feed into the development of a fast-growing financial technology, or fintech, sector in the Philippines, said Jonathan Ravelas, chief market strategist with Banco de Oro UniBank in Metro Manila.

“Fintech appears to be very advanced in the Philippines,” he said. Consumers, he said, “eventually look at the mobility of having it in mobile wallets, [which] gives them flexibility to use money.”

Uses for cryptocurrency

Cryptocurrency, most notably its standard bearer Bitcoin, became an investment vehicle in much of the world about a decade ago. But a 70% drop in Bitcoin prices last year weakened enthusiasm for crypto overall. 

​Filipinos generally pick more traditional investments such as equities, Ravelas said, but young companies are eyeing cryptocurrency to raise capital, a process called initial coin offerings. Seven in 10 Filipinos have no bank account, he added, so virtual currency gives those consumers a new option for making payments.

That population would be able to jump on a currency source that’s open to anyone and transparent because of its online transaction ledger called the blockchain.

Government support

The central bank governor may see the cryptocurrency trade as part of his bigger plan to advance the country’s electronic payment systems, analysts say.

Cryptocurrency “probably goes toward those efforts at facilitating electronic payments. I think that’s the key point,” said Christian de Guzman, vice president and senior credit officer with Moody’s Sovereign Risk Group in Singapore.

The 2016 National Payment Systems Act, among others, “bolsters the central bank’s capacity to foster the efficiency of payment systems as pipelines of funds in the financial market,” the authority’s governor Benjamin Diokno said in a speech last month.

The central bank and Securities and Exchange Commission are “working towards regulating cryptocurrencies to protect the Filipino people,” domestic Bitcoin and blockchain news website Bitpinas said in November. “This is a positive step towards adoption as this move will give users security and confidence in dealing with it.”

Said de Guzman: “A certain segment of the population is certainly very technically sophisticated.” 

First mover advantage?

The Philippines, though later than much of East Asia in picking up cryptocurrency, would eventually stand out if regulators embrace rather than restrict it.

China and South Korea have placed curbs on certain types of crypto trade. Both banned initial coin offerings in 2017, and China ordered the closure of cryptocurrency exchanges as part of that move. South Korea has at least 21 exchanges.

​Japan is widely seen as Asia’s most liberal place for cryptocurrency. That country, which has let 17 exchanges fully register, overtook China in 2017 as the biggest Bitcoin market in the world with 58 percent of the global volume. Japan declared Bitcoin legal tender in 2017.

The Philippines in its current groove should take a “first mover advantage,” said Kenneth Ameduri, financial analyst and CEO of the crypto-specialized news website Crush the Street in the United States.

“I think the Philippines understand that it’s going to be a very big deal to be involved with cryptocurrency, because it’s going to happen no matter what, and if they’re the ones to treat this capital best, the capital is going to flow there and the other jurisdictions are just going to completely miss out,” Ameduri said.

The Philippines might eventually look harder at the role of cryptocurrency in falsifying tax payments and paying for illegal drugs, de Guzman said. Taxation and drugs are already sticky issues without crypto.

Exchanges contacted for this report declined comment.

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Malaysia Pulls About-Face Ahead of China’s Belt and Road Forum

In a twist, China has announced that it has persuaded Malaysia to resume a canceled rail project worth $10.7 billion. The sudden about-face by Kuala Lumpur, which had earlier rejected the Chinese-funded project, will be a big boost for China ahead of a Belt and Road Forum in Beijing later this month, say analysts.

China is hosting its second annual Belt and Road Forum from April 25 to 27 in Beijing. The event is likely to include the heads of state and governments of 40 different countries and officials from 60 others as Beijing tries to win more support for the trillion-dollar infrastructure and investment plan known as the Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI.

In recent months, the initiative has faced tough challenges as Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Malaysia canceled or reduced the size of previously negotiated deals. Although Malaysia is back on board, it has forced China to accept a 30 percent reduction in the price of the project.

The reworked deal with Malaysia highlights how China is trying to face up to widespread criticism about the financing costs of its projects and concerns expressed by experts and government leaders around the world that the projects are nothing but diplomacy debt traps.

“I think China is trying to make changes. But it is trying to do too much too quickly and with too much skepticism facing it. No wonder it’s having a torrid time,” said Kerry Brown, director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College London.

Analysts said it is likely that the forum will be mostly about optics, but some real deals could be finalized. Given the heavy criticism about the projects, there will be high expectations from participants, which Beijing has said will include 40 heads of states and governments.  

“They will presumably want something more than mere protocol. Even the promise of deals is better than none at all,” Brown said.

Analysts add that, despite the criticism of the plan, which has been loud at times, the BRI has been able to attract dozens of foreign governments and has been backed by institutions like the World Bank because it is offering to build much-needed infrastructure and help foot the cost.

“The reason so many countries are interested in BRI is because China is offering something no one else is and there is genuine demand for what BRI represents,” said Paul Haenle, director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing.

Still, it has not been easy for Chinese leaders to wade through the skepticism and sometimes strong opposition to the program from the United States’ and China’s neighbor, India. Critics see BRI as China’s attempt to impose financial imperialism on economically weak but strategically located countries. Many have also raised questions because of the lack of transparency surrounding the projects.

Recently however, there have been signs China is modifying the program to suit the needs of its customers, particularly those like Malaysia and Italy, which are not as desperately in need of Beijing’s financial largesse and deep pockets. Italy recently joined the BRI bandwagon after visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping provided the kind of assurances Rome sought.

“Chinese regulators realize they need to be pragmatic if these projects are to be successful, especially where there is local pushback on political and societal levels,” said Andrew Polk, partner at Beijing-based consultancy firm Trivium China.

There are still serious questions about the kind of changes that Beijing is ready to make. Some analysts believe that China might offer better financial terms and stop its practice of flooding foreign projects with Chinese workers; however, they say Beijing is unlikely to make changes in crucial areas like the transparency of deals and Chinese companies involved in overseas projects.

“Beijing could make the terms of deals public, which would be a major signal of change, but no indications of that happening soon,” said Jonathan Hillman, director of the Reconnecting Asia Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“Greater transparency would constrain Beijing’s ability to funnel cash through BRI projects to its friends in high places,” he said.

There have been problems even in places where Chinese projects have proven to be successful in terms of implementation. For instance, Chinese companies have ensured the commercial success of the Greek port city of Piraeus. “But its political impact is mixed. Greeks might welcome Chinese investment, but they don’t want China’s environmental or labor practices,” Hillman said.

The U.S. recently described BRI as a “vanity project” and announced it would not send a high-level delegation to the forum. Analysts are wondering if the U.S. will stay away from the meeting altogether.

“The U.S. has made its position clear. It opposes the BRI. Attendance under the current circumstances with the trade war unresolved would be odd,” Brown said.

Haenle said he believes the U.S. should engage with the BRI along with its friends and partners.

“The U.S. is right to point out the flaws in the Belt and Road Initiative, but if it wishes to see them corrected, it must also put forward its own alternatives and refrain from knee-jerk reactions,” he said.

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Malaysia Pulls About-Face Ahead of China’s Belt and Road Forum

In a twist, China has announced that it has persuaded Malaysia to resume a canceled rail project worth $10.7 billion. The sudden about-face by Kuala Lumpur, which had earlier rejected the Chinese-funded project, will be a big boost for China ahead of a Belt and Road Forum in Beijing later this month, say analysts.

China is hosting its second annual Belt and Road Forum from April 25 to 27 in Beijing. The event is likely to include the heads of state and governments of 40 different countries and officials from 60 others as Beijing tries to win more support for the trillion-dollar infrastructure and investment plan known as the Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI.

In recent months, the initiative has faced tough challenges as Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Malaysia canceled or reduced the size of previously negotiated deals. Although Malaysia is back on board, it has forced China to accept a 30 percent reduction in the price of the project.

The reworked deal with Malaysia highlights how China is trying to face up to widespread criticism about the financing costs of its projects and concerns expressed by experts and government leaders around the world that the projects are nothing but diplomacy debt traps.

“I think China is trying to make changes. But it is trying to do too much too quickly and with too much skepticism facing it. No wonder it’s having a torrid time,” said Kerry Brown, director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College London.

Analysts said it is likely that the forum will be mostly about optics, but some real deals could be finalized. Given the heavy criticism about the projects, there will be high expectations from participants, which Beijing has said will include 40 heads of states and governments.  

“They will presumably want something more than mere protocol. Even the promise of deals is better than none at all,” Brown said.

Analysts add that, despite the criticism of the plan, which has been loud at times, the BRI has been able to attract dozens of foreign governments and has been backed by institutions like the World Bank because it is offering to build much-needed infrastructure and help foot the cost.

“The reason so many countries are interested in BRI is because China is offering something no one else is and there is genuine demand for what BRI represents,” said Paul Haenle, director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing.

Still, it has not been easy for Chinese leaders to wade through the skepticism and sometimes strong opposition to the program from the United States’ and China’s neighbor, India. Critics see BRI as China’s attempt to impose financial imperialism on economically weak but strategically located countries. Many have also raised questions because of the lack of transparency surrounding the projects.

Recently however, there have been signs China is modifying the program to suit the needs of its customers, particularly those like Malaysia and Italy, which are not as desperately in need of Beijing’s financial largesse and deep pockets. Italy recently joined the BRI bandwagon after visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping provided the kind of assurances Rome sought.

“Chinese regulators realize they need to be pragmatic if these projects are to be successful, especially where there is local pushback on political and societal levels,” said Andrew Polk, partner at Beijing-based consultancy firm Trivium China.

There are still serious questions about the kind of changes that Beijing is ready to make. Some analysts believe that China might offer better financial terms and stop its practice of flooding foreign projects with Chinese workers; however, they say Beijing is unlikely to make changes in crucial areas like the transparency of deals and Chinese companies involved in overseas projects.

“Beijing could make the terms of deals public, which would be a major signal of change, but no indications of that happening soon,” said Jonathan Hillman, director of the Reconnecting Asia Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“Greater transparency would constrain Beijing’s ability to funnel cash through BRI projects to its friends in high places,” he said.

There have been problems even in places where Chinese projects have proven to be successful in terms of implementation. For instance, Chinese companies have ensured the commercial success of the Greek port city of Piraeus. “But its political impact is mixed. Greeks might welcome Chinese investment, but they don’t want China’s environmental or labor practices,” Hillman said.

The U.S. recently described BRI as a “vanity project” and announced it would not send a high-level delegation to the forum. Analysts are wondering if the U.S. will stay away from the meeting altogether.

“The U.S. has made its position clear. It opposes the BRI. Attendance under the current circumstances with the trade war unresolved would be odd,” Brown said.

Haenle said he believes the U.S. should engage with the BRI along with its friends and partners.

“The U.S. is right to point out the flaws in the Belt and Road Initiative, but if it wishes to see them corrected, it must also put forward its own alternatives and refrain from knee-jerk reactions,” he said.

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