29 May 2014
We interviewed the Tunisian Minister of Social Affairs, M. Ahmed Ammar Youmbai.
Tunisia has been working on policies to assist persons with disabilities since 1981. Now it has placed the emphasis on developing measures to help them be self-sufficient through complete integration into society. On the occasion of the closing of the “Support for socio-economic integration of persons with disabilities”project managed by the FIIAPP in this country, we interviewed the Tunisian Minister of Social Affairs, M. Ahmed Ammar Youmbai.
Why did the Tunisian government decide to request this project?
There is a particular interest in this group that we consider vulnerable and worth special attention. This made us see that it was necessary to contact national and international experts. Tunisia believes in this collaboration, especially between our country and Europe. We are sure that the Europeans can provide great value, and this is being demonstrated by the results of the programme. We are very proud.
What is the ultimate goal?
Our goal is total and comprehensive integration of persons with disabilities into the system in general, and particularly into the economic system. Tunisia has a great deal of experience in this field, but there are still areas that need to be covered. The idea that persons with disabilities must be assisted still exists, and we want just the opposite: for persons with disabilities to be self-sufficient and integrate themselves completely into society through work. There are already many projects that work on behalf of persons with disabilities, but we have seen that they are insufficient.
Did anything change with respect to this group after the Arab Spring?
We have noted some improvement. There is a stronger response from civil society, and there are many associations that are taking an interest in persons with disabilities. And they are doing extraordinary things. And this is a great source of support to the Government. Then, after the Arab Spring, people saw that the Government is not the only one responsible for this group. Moreover, from the government’s point of view, there is a clearer strategy. All of our actions are oriented towards observing the employment and occupation of persons with disabilities.
By law, in the public sector we are obliged to ensure that 1% of the staff is made up of personnel with disabilities. Between 2012, 2013 and 2014, we have recruited 1,000 persons with disabilities, but in the Ministry of Social Affairs we think this can be improved, and now we are considering a draft law to increase this percentage to 2%. This recruitment is important for establishing equality between persons with disabilities and those without. We have also noted that there is a greater number of demands and projects, especially micro-projects, for persons with disabilities, and we are studying their needs so that they can move forward.
How was the collaboration between the Tunisian and Spanish institutions?
The interest is reciprocal. It was a very useful collaboration for our department. And I think the collaboration between us and our Spanish friends was perfect.
What measures do you think Tunisia needs to take in the future with respect to this group?
We think that civil society should take the lead and that the Government has to take the role of guiding, not imposing itself on, the associations. Guiding them in their programmes and actions so that they can work on behalf of this group.
16 May 2014
Interview with Veimar Rojas, member of the Bolivian Special Force for the Fight against Drug Trafficking (FELCN).
Drug trafficking is a major source of revenue for organized crime. In this context, the cocaine routes, which start in Latin American and end in Europe, persist and extend themselves despite the efforts of the producing, transit and destination countries to reduce them. Controlling the networks that promote the cocaine routes is complex, as is knowing the exact number of tons of cocaine that pass through them and how much money they generate. Latin America and Europe have started working together to combat them under a FIIAPP-led joint programme between the American police community, AMERIPOL, and the European Union: Project AMERIPOL-EU. We spoke about this situation with Veimar Rojas, a member of this Andean nation’s Special Force to Fight Drug Trafficking (FELCN), a participating institution in the programme.
Cocaine interdictions in Bolivia increased between 2002 and 2011. Why did this happen? Is production higher or has there been more action on the part of State and Government security forces?
When we speak of Bolivia, we are talking about the fact that the new Government is taking the fight against drug trafficking to a national level. This has resulted in greater participation by social movements, and this means that the work of the police is being supported by the people themselves. That is to say, the destruction and eradication of coca plants that has been taking place recently is on the upswing because the people are also aware that it is a problem. There has also been an increase in the number of operatives. Now, international cooperation, in this case with the European Union, is also bearing fruit. We know that the fight against drug trafficking is everyone’s job. And this has been demonstrated in joint operations that have been conducted with different countries. Mainly with Spain and Portugal… This demonstrates that alone we can’t achieve much, but together we are getting better results.
How does cocaine get from Bolivia to the European Union?
Mainly through shipments or micro-shipments by means of couriers or parcel services, shipping containers and the use of mules, using what we call in Bolivia tragones (drug swallowers), as well as taped to people’s bodies or carried in false-bottomed suitcases.
Bolivia is also a transit country…
Yes, we have made numerous interdictions in the border area with Peru, where large quantities of Peruvian drugs have been intercepted entering Bolivia en route to Brazil and headed for Europe.
What is the human cost of drug trafficking in Bolivia?
We arrest a large number of people in different circumstances, not only drug mules. Directly from manufacture, transport, storage… Many people who have swallowed the substance have died. Not only Bolivians but also foreigners. We’re talking about Spaniards who have died in the attempt. The human cost is high because the person is risking his or her safety and life.
And due to confrontations between drug traffickers and police interventions?
There have been confrontations and deaths of both police forces and drug traffickers. The figures are not high, but they are significant. Human life has no price. The level of violence is not high. These are situations that have arisen when the drug trafficker fought against police intervention.
Is there a drug trafficking culture in Bolivia?
While the modus vivendi of the drug trafficker may take root in some families—because we’re talking mainly about family clans here—this is not a normal thing in the culture. Society rejects it. It’s not well regarded. The drug trafficker knows this. The person who works in this sporadically can make it a way of life because when someone enters this world, it’s very hard to leave it. It’s not a question of “I’ll do this for a couple of years and then get out”. There is a dynamic that makes this person continue because he or she cannot be allowed to leave with so much information.
Is drug trafficking in Bolivia becoming stronger as in other Latin American countries?
The phenomenon of drug trafficking is global, and we can’t stigmatize the point of origin. We are demonstrating that Bolivia is meeting its commitments in the fight against drug trafficking. We need the support and participation of regional stakeholders and those of other places. This is not a simple crime. Cooperation is always a good thing. And even more so if we’re talking about institutions as important as those of the European Union.
There is no supply without demand… Why is consumption increasing in Europe?
It’s a public health issue. The consumer is sick. It’s something that has to be attacked comprehensively. It all starts with this person’s need to consume something. So we have to address the issue of demand. The authorities have to take this into account to prevent people from entering a cycle of consuming substances.
It’s also important for governments to take measures… What is the situation in Bolivia?
Bolivia has a strategic plan for fighting drug trafficking which is based on three pillars: fighting against the supply and against the demand, and the issue of coca leaf in its cultural and medicinal dimension, of not stigmatizing it as if it were a drug. Work is being done on prevention to address consumption, and also rehabilitation. The Special Force to Fight Drug Trafficking, which is under the Bolivian police, carries out anti-drug operations every day in different parts of Bolivia, in both urban and rural areas, in airports and inland terminals. The aim is to demonstrate to the international community that this nationwide fight against drug trafficking is bringing results.
09 May 2014
Today, 9th May, is Europe Day, a date on which 28 EU countries celebrate their desire for and sense of belonging to a common project. In this interview, Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, Secretary of State for the European Union, talks to us about the present and future of the EU and the role of Spain in Europe.
We’re about to elect our representatives to the European Parliament for the next five years. With the European elections just a few days away, what do you believe the European Union has meant for Spain?
The accession of Spain to the EU helped in the consolidation of our democracy, in modernizing our economy, in attaining greater international relevance. Similarly, the structural funds received, the liberalization of the domestic market and the adoption of the single currency has led to the modernization of Spain’s productive structure. Our country could not remain isolated in the face of the new challenges presented by globalization. Becoming part of the European Union has helped us to adapt to this and to improve Spain’s situation at all levels.
What role has Spain played in the construction of Europe?
The construction of Europe is patient work that is being done little by little based on a solid and firm foundation of common culture. And Spain has contributed to this. The contribution of ideas and initiatives by Spain has helped to strengthen European institutions, we’ve led proposals on immigration, the fight against terrorism and gender violence; and we’ve created favourable conditions for Europe to become closer to Latin America and to the southern Mediterranean countries.
Spain, moreover, is strongly pro-Europe. It advocates for the growth of the European Union. The more countries that adopt all the social, cultural, environmental, economic, security and other policies applied in the EU, the more peaceful, social and democratic the environment we count on to achieve greater growth opportunities will be. One example of Spain’s commitment in this sense can be seen in the work being done through the FIIAPP, which has assisted almost all the countries recently incorporated into the EU with twinning projects between public institutions which have enabled them to adapt their legislation and administrations to European regulations.
The European Union today has nothing to do with the first step towards economic and political union taken by six countries on the continent in the 50s to create the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC)
Europe has evolved greatly since then. Not only has it grown in terms of composition, from the six founding countries to the 28 that currently comprise it, but it has progressed towards a real union in all senses. Physical borders between our countries have been abolished thanks to the Schengen agreements. We have a common market and a single currency. There is also greater judicial, penal and police cooperation; and, as an example of this, we can cite the formation of Europol and the creation of Eurojust. Training and mutual knowledge has been promoted amongst Europeans with programmes that encourage travel, language learning, cultural exchanges, common work between universities. We have the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. There is still much left for us to do, but we continue working on it. European integration is still the most beautiful utopia of the twenty-first century.
Is there a sense of a European identity amongst the citizens of the EU?
According to a recent poll, only 43% of the subjects consulted knew the meaning of belonging to the European Union, and 48% stated that they did not know their rights. Europe needs to create a new narrative that is attractive enough to engage citizens. It needs a message, and this would have to emphasize the value of the achievements of the last six decades in terms of liberties, justice, respect for fundamental rights and progress. A new narrative that joins conviction and heart, two powerful motivating forces. We have to insist on this aspect because, as Salvador de Madariaga said: “Europe will not become a reality until it exists in the minds of its citizens”.
What do you think of inter-regional cooperation and cooperation with neighbouring countries?
Europe is still under construction and, in this sense, is not losing sight of other countries that could join the EU. But, also, it has been demonstrated that community cohesion policies can be expanded to other countries in the area. Right now the EU is carrying out programmes to foment democratic values and the rule of law in these neighbouring countries, and it is going to cooperate more with them. Spain, in this sense, is very active with cooperation projects with our southern, and even eastern, neighbours, with which historically we have not had bilateral relations but which we have become closer to thanks to multiple programmes financed by the European Union.
Spain, likewise, has fought to get the EU to maintain cooperation with Latin America, which, having achieved certain established standards of development, is no longer considered a priority zone for action. Our country, despite this, has defended maintenance of the action in this region, as it considers that great inequality still exists.
What are the main challenges of the EU for the future?
The economic crisis made it clear that while the monetary pillar of the European Union was organized, the same was not true of the economic pillar. We have learned from this, and steps are starting to be taken towards greater integration and economic convergence, which involves a banking union and, as a result of this process, a tax and budgetary union, with the ultimate goal of achieving political union. This is the port of arrival in the long voyage of this lovely adventure called Europe.
05 May 2014
Interview with Virginia Carcedo, Secretary-General of the FSC Inserta Association of the ONCE Foundation
At the entrance to the classroom, next to the door frame, there is a photo of Rajá Aeargui posted on the wall. That way the children with disabilities who can’t read will know that this is their special education teacher’s classroom. An apparently obvious and simple measure that had not been applied at the Tunisian Institute for Special Education until the 2011 launch of the twinning project “Support for socio-economic integration of disabled persons” between this country and Spain, led by the FIIAPP. The adaptation of furnishings and teaching methods, like the system of pictogrammes, was another one of the measures transferred by Spanish experts on the subject to 36 Tunisian professionals ranging from special education teachers to psychologists and inspectors. In addition, a continuing education plan for teachers at special education centres and field work was developed.
Despite the fact that Tunisia has had legislation supporting persons with disabilities since 1981, neither the education provided to this group nor the design of the centres was fully adapted to their needs This meant that the training of disabled persons was not adequate to prepare them to subsequently join the job market. Therefore the project also focused on this area. A total of 48 Tunisian employment counsellors and social workers received training for providing job counselling to persons with disabilities. Five agreements with Tunisian companies were also signed, thanks to which 20 disabled persons will be incorporated into the job market within approximately one year.
We spoke with Virgina Carcedo, Secretary-General of the FSC Inserta Association of the ONCE Foundation, one of the Spanish institutions collaborating in the project, about the context of disabled persons in Tunisia and the results of the project, which clearly was an attempt to take a leap forward in the quality of Tunisian policies for this group.
What has Tunisia done in the area of policies for persons with disabilities?
Tunisia was one of the first countries to recognize and join the United Nations convention on the rights of disabled persons (2006), and it has had legislation similar to ours in place since the eighties. It is a country that already had an inclusive attitude towards persons with disabilities, and this project arrived at a moment at which democracy was being established in the country with the Arab Spring. So, Tunisia had a favourable environment for the types of projects we have developed.
What did Spain contribute in this project?
Most of all its experience. We have had a law since 1982, the LISMI, which has made it possible to create a very inclusive, and also very influential, disability movement in civil society, with which we have developed a completely transferable socio-occupational model.
What were the results of this project in Tunisia?
Besides strengthening its policies, Tunisia has learned of an experience that can be of great use: the relationship between civil society and the State, and a way of working and interacting with these people. In addition, pilot projects were completed with children with disabilities that have generated a significant trend towards inclusive education, which is the key to having a future in which this group can perform to its full potential. There was also a pilot project with the ANETI, which is the Tunisian Public Employment Service, and diverse companies. They went away with an experience that has served them to implement something they already had in mind.
And what does this mean in the occupational sphere?
First the raising of awareness of social agents. They have acquired methods for evaluating and attending to people with disabilities that put the emphasis on the talent of these people and not on what they can’t do. Companies have discovered that there is a network that interacts with them and advises them once they decide to hire persons with disabilities. They see that this is not a problem but rather an opportunity and that, if they want to, it can be done.
Will job offers for persons with disabilities increase?
We think so. One of the most important and urgent aspects according to business people and the public services themselves is to adapt the profile of persons with disabilities to the companies. By finding a strategic framework in which to make this link between the person and the company, they feel more secure and facilitate the work of incorporation. Therefore, employment will grow little by little.
27 March 2014
The FIIAPP mobilizes more than one thousand civil servants and other professionals each year to transmit the Spanish public administration model to the countries where it develops cooperation projects. Currently, thirteen of these experts are living in the places where the projects are being developed during the execution period. They are the resident advisors. We spoke with one of them, Pablo Ródenas.
“How brave. Going with the entire family…”, one of his colleagues told him while saying goodbye. These are his last days in the FIIAPP headquarters in Madrid. Next destination: Ukraine. Just a few months ago he came back from Turkey. Pablo Ródenas has gotten “hooked” on cooperation on the ground. He started working as a project officer in the FIIAPP in 2007. Four years later, in 2011 and 2013, they sent him to Turkey as a resident advisor of the Foundation to coordinate a project for strengthening Turkish intermodal transport. He was taking part in what is known as twinning, one of the types of projects managed by the FIIAPP for transferring knowledge from Spanish public institutions to their counterparts in the countries where it works. His know-how and desire for change opened the doors of this experience to Pablo.
“The work of an expert is to coordinate and organize projects. You have to adapt to the culture and try to transmit best practices, not impose them. People collaborate when their opinion is taken into account and they feel comfortable. That’s where you see good results”, he recounts. The resident advisors do not train the local staff. That’s taken care of by the experts who travel periodically to the country. He openly admits that he’s doing well. That’s why he’s being sent now to Ukraine for another two years to manage an Intellectual and Industrial Property project. He leaves on the 31st of March with his wife and two children, a three-year-old girl and a seven-month-old boy. “Each child came to us with a project under its arm”, he jokes.
What is it about cooperation that made you stay for two years in Turkey and now makes you want to go to Ukraine?
What gets you hooked on cooperation is that you’re doing something useful. You’re helping the project get results. And you do it on the ground, without barriers, adapting yourself to the needs of the moment and of the project.
Why was it necessary to strengthen the intermodal transport system in Turkey?
This system seeks to achieve more efficient, economical and ecological modes of goods transport, whether by road, rail, sea or river. That Turkey wants to strengthen this is a very good thing, because it will help it to develop its trade relations with Europe and reduce traffic congestion on its roads. Istanbul, for example, is a bridge between two continents and it suffers from a level of heavy traffic that we can’t even imagine.
How was it working with Turkish institutions and professionals?
On a personal level, it was very enriching. The people are lovely and hospitable. They always try to make your life easier. In administrative terms it was more complicated because it’s a very bureaucratic and slow-moving system.
Now you’ll be working in Ukraine in intellectual and industrial property. What is the aim of the project?
It’s legislative in nature and training-related. Seeing which laws they lack and which laws they have in order to improve them; how the professionals dedicated to this area must adapt to the international standards of the European Union and how to prosecute infringements.
Does institutional cooperation have a future?
A big one. Right now twinning is a clear example that institutional cooperation works very well and is very inexpensive. Also, the collaboration established between two countries, by not being linked to economic interest, goes beyond the contract. And the language spoken in the institutions is the same.
Besides institutions and professionals, are there other beneficiaries of this cooperation?
The population of the beneficiary country. For example if Turkey improves its transport system, this makes it more efficient and clean. Then, as it is more efficient, it will be less expensive, and this will be reflected in the prices of the products being imported or exported, and also in the environmental cost: if they take trucks off the road, there is less pollution.
What does your family have to say about changing their lives again?
The children are great about these things. The little one is hardly aware and the older one adapts right away. And my wife is a saint, although she an instigator as well. She’s been able to get a leave of absence from her job and knows that cooperation work on the ground fulfils me a lot.
07 March 2014
Interview with the delegate of the National Drug Plan (PNSD), Francisco de Asís Babín.
The FIIAPP has the support of different public institutions for the development of its drug policy projects at the international level. One of these is the PNSD, a key member in the leadership of COPOLAD, the joint programme between Latin America and the European Union for strengthening and exchanging experiences regarding these policies. Today at the FIIAPP headquarters, PNSD delegate Francisco de Asís Babín presented an overview of Spain’s policy in this area, which already has 30 years of experience under its belt. In addition to emphasizing that the work in social and occupational integration being done by Spain, which invests over 400 million euros annually in drug policies, is a source of “pride”, he shared some of his impressions of international cooperation in this sector.
Is international cooperation useful for strengthening drug policy in terms of reducing supply and demand?
It’s not only useful. It’s absolutely essential. For a long time, we lived in the utopia where some countries produced and others consumed, and each had to do its work to minimize the effect of its problem. Today this is a fallacy. There is no country that cultivates and doesn’t consume, and there is no country that, despite having consumption as its main problem, does not produce. Sharing knowledge on controlling supply and successful experiences and best practices for reducing demand is common sense and an ethical obligation.
In the COPOLAD programme, what does the EU contribute to Latin America and vice versa?
To highlight two things and be relatively concise, in Europe there has been a clear strengthening of the strategy and of knowledge of information in order to be the best when it comes to preventing drug trafficking and money laundering; and, reciprocally, I believe the European Union is in a position to drive a significant reinforcement of the function of observatory for the design of new policies. And these are realities that, in the case of COPOLAD, materialize in collaborative instruments, such as the library of documentation related to the drug problem, the reinforcement of the observatory itself and in other more specific work, such as that carried out by Germany involving alternative crops so that people who cultivate drugs for a living can find means of subsistence other than this.
Does the diversification and extension of drug trafficking routes represent a current and future challenge?
Yes. The more efficient the fight against criminal networks, the more probable it is that these become diversified and turn into an alternative route because the bad guys don’t want to lose their merchandise. The instruments aimed at depriving the bad guys of the power of this trafficking must be strengthened. If you close one channel, another opens; if you demonstrate to criminal networks that you are in a position to take away that hypothetical profit they were expecting, maybe they will start to reflect on whether or not these strategies have a future. I’m talking from a macro and almost a utopian standpoint, but what is clear is that it’s not enough to fight substance trafficking by physical means, but rather that it is necessary to work hard in relation to money laundering and other problems. The threat of new substances and Internet trafficking also exists. And this must be taken into account, because the battle we are fighting now will change in the future.
What are the most effective drug policies: the ones that curb supply or demand?
I would say that neither one without the other. It wouldn’t make any sense to wait until people fall into a drug problem and then treat it. It surely wouldn’t be ethical or logical to do it that way. At the same time that pure and simple repression per se doesn’t solve all the problems.