New Internationalist

Update

Issue 129

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[image, unknown] LATIN AMERICA[image, unknown]

Back to the barracks
The military retreating from power

[image, unknown] IN the last 10 years the balance between military and political regimes in Latin America has been reversed. In the mid1970s most countries south of the Panama Canal were ruled by authoritarian military governments. Now only a handful are controlled directly by the military.

Military rulers abandoned power in Ecuador in 1979 and in Peru in 1980. But the trend back to democracy has accelerated in the past year and has produced several surprises.

The most remarkable was the collapse of the military government in Bolivia last July. Bolivia has had nearly 200 governments in its 150 years of independence and much of its instability can be assigned to the military’s failure to keep out of politics. The most recent example occurred in 1980 when the army staged elections after nearly 17 years of unbroken military rule and refused to accept the results when it became clear that Siles Suazo’s left-leaning Democratic and Popular Union party had won a majority of seats.

The army engineered a particularly bloody coup and a brutal right-winger, General Garcia Meza, was installed as President.

To make matters worse, the price of tin - Bolivia’s main legal export - plummeted on world markets, while the military compounded their problems by chronic misrule. Garcia Meza was toppled by the army and there were three palace coups within 18 months, a record even for Bolivia. Pressure from the tin miners’ unions coupled with the problems of running a near-bankrupt economy proved impossible for the military to withstand. They called Siles Suazo back from exile in Peru to lead the country.

The Siles Suazo government is faced with appalling problems: a huge foreign debt, rising inflation and dwindling production in virtually everything except cocaine.

The most obvious parallel for this military reversal is with Argentina, a much richer and more powerful country but where the generals also seem to have lost the will to govern. Economic mismangement has again been the underlying cause of the candidates opposed to any deal with the military did far better than those prepared to tolerate some limited but permanent role for the military in government.

Finally, there is Brazil. Unlike its Spanish-speaking neighbours, Portuguese-speaking Brazil has not turned towards democracy out of desperation. Last November’s general election was the climax of several years of careful planning by the military oligarchy that has ruled since 1963.

The military’s aim was to produce a ‘guided democracy’. Though they scrupulously avoided that phrase they went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that the opposition parties, even if they won the election in terms of votes - which they did - would not obtain a majority of seats - which they did not.

But the very success of the Brazilian experiment, with its cynical contrivance of the electoral machine, should provide a warning to those inclined to give the word democracy a universal value.

Elections and a return to civilian rule. anywhere in Latin America. do not guarantee an end to the military’s destabilising role in political life.

John Pickford, Gemini

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[image, unknown] SOUTH AFRICA[image, unknown]

The state of Venda
Pretoria’s third bantustan

THE so called ‘independent’ bantustan of Venda. tucked into the north-western corner of the Transvaal province on the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique, is an area of South Africa where the people live under a mantle of fear and widespread repression.

Four years ago Venda followed the path of the Transkei and Bophuthatswana bantustans in choosing Pretoria-style independence thereby becoming the Pretoria Government’s third illegitimate child - independent in name only and recognised only by South Africa.

It is a land wracked by extreme poverty and deprivation; the average monthly income is £20 and there are few’ schools and hospitals. Most of the men have to seek work outside the territory. The puppet regime is headed by Patrick Mphephu.

Through presidential edicts Mphephu has made himself the most powerful and wealthy man in the territory.

On a hilltop at the capital of Thohoyandou (head of the elephant) he lives in a palatial R750,000 home and runs a stable of luxury cars. He recently more than doubled his salary and now’ earns R70,000 a year, just R4,000 less than Prime Minister Botha.

The salaries of Venda cabinet ministers have also doubled and they now earn R36,500 a year with a tax free allowance of R4,000 plus various perks. Yet the bantustan generates less than 4 per cent of its annual revenue. Last year, the South African Government is said to have contributed more than R300 million to the Venda budget, while the Venda regime raised less than R10 million on its own.

The money being poured into Venda is blatantly being used to prove Pretoria’s dream that grand-apartheid is working.

Mphephu’s administration has signed a non-aggression’ treaty with South Africa. The obvious idea being to provide a buffer zone against any guerilla incursions from Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

The ruling Venda National Party has twice been defeated in elections by the Venda Independence Party. Mphuphu has simply subverted the poll results by detaining the entire opposition until they agreed to co-operate.

As a so-called ‘national state’ Venda is just unworkable and its corruption equals if not surpassses that of the other bantustans. They will never work because they are administrations that have been imposed from above by the Pretoria regime.

The national elephant symbol of Venda typifies the excesses of the Venda Government. A resident used the symbol to describe their lot: ‘They trample the people. The whole land is captive. With independence they sold us.’

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[image, unknown] MONEY[image, unknown]

Where credit is due
Banking guarantees for women

ACCORDING to the United Nations, women perform 66 per cent of all work in the world but receive only 10 per cent of the income. Why?

Women are, of necessity, good managers; they have to be if they and their families are to survive. They are used to scrimping and saving and making ends meet but once they start to put these skills to work outside the home, they come up against problems. For here survival is institutionalised. If you want to start up a business, however small, you need money - and who’s going to make a loan to a woman?

At the 1975 Women’s Conference in Mexico, the problems facing women entrepreneurs in developing countries were discussed. As a result, Women’s World banking was set up and is now in its second year of operation.

Women’s World Banking is a non-profit organisation operating from New York. Its function is not to lend money but to act as a guarantor for women who need to borrow. It will, therefore, go to a local bank to speak on behalf of a woman who is trying to start up a business: ‘We think this woman’s idea is sound and if you will accept 25 per cent of the risk, we will accept the remaining 75 per cent’.

By doing this, they hope to encourage local banks to participate in enterprises organised specifically by women. At the moment it is operating in India, Central America and Africa backing a number of small-scale projects including a craft centre, a chicken and egg factory and a bicycle repair shop.

Although an idea may be commercially viable, many women will find it difficult to raise the start-up cash and if they do manage to raise it very often it is through a money lender who may charge interest at 200 per cent. It is these women that the organisation is trying to help.

The initial action must always be at local level. An affiliate of Women’s World Banking is formed, perhaps by a women’s co-op. Then, if a project is thought to be financially sound, the affiliate will accept 25 per cent of the risk, the lending bank will be encouraged to accept a further 25 per cent and when this has been done, Women’s World Banking will come in to guarantee the remaining 50 per cent of the loan.

The sums involved are generally small, often not more than $10,000. To qualify for a loan guarantee, a woman must undertake to do some training in management and marketing - areas which traditionally have been outside her experience and which is partly the reason why banks are reluctant to lend to women.

Women’s World Banking gets its money from the sale of long-term debentures as well as from grants from the UN Development Programme, the governments of Sweden and the Netherlands, the Rockefeller Foundation and the United Methodist Church. It will not seek financial help from the banks as it prefers to retain some degree of independence.

Mary Russell

Further information from: Michaela Walshe, P0 Box 506,
Grand Central Station, New York, NY 10017.

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[image, unknown] PAPUA NEW GUINEA[image, unknown]

Soul poaching
American evangelical efforts corrode local culture

‘HEATHENS are at a premium these days in Papua New Guinea, so much so that latter-day religious zealots are tripping over themselves and their converts to bring the ‘true word of God’. The established churches - the Catholics, the Anglicans, the Lutherans and the Uniting - are getting a little niggled since the poaching of souls from their historical territories is not welcomed,’ so says Nuigini Nius correspondent Kevin Ricketts recently.

No-one seems to know just how many churches, missionaries and weird sects are operating in PNG - the last official study by the UN in the early I 970s put the figure at 48 - it may have doubled since then.

While the good work that has been carried out in the fields of health and education by the older established churches can’t be denied, the motives of some of the recently arrived gospel or pentecostal churches are highly suspect. Refugees from the West. especially the US, such religious fanatics find the average Papua New Guinean just ripe for conversion.

Protein deficiency in children is a serious problem in some areas and domestic pigs are often the main protein source. Unfortunately Seventh Day Adventists preach against the consumption of pork, and the fish stocks of the River Sepik have been significantly depleted since the river has been clogged by Salvinia. This virulent water weed was introduced by missionaries as shading for the pools of their commercial crocodile farm and subsequently escaped into the nearby river. Predatory grasshoppers are currently being released in the hope that they will gobble up the Salvinia.

Destruction of the rich Papua New Guinea culture has been hastened by the missionaries who have been burning down the ‘pagan’ Haus Tambarans, the traditional spirit houses of the people of the East Sepik region. These splendidly carved and brightly painted structures are rapidly being replaced by churches clad in corrugated iron roofs. The people are then forced to adopt a religion which is inappropriate to their way of life and persuaded to swap their traditional dress for Western clothes. These clothes remain unwashed as soap is a rare luxury and eventually harbour body lice and scabies and other aggravating skin diseases - the traditional arse grass was changed daily.

Recently there have been encouraging signs that the people of PNG are beginning to stand up for their rights, when parents of children who had been told that their traditional dress was immoral by their missionary teachers turned up in force for a sit-in at the Mission in Tambul. But they have a long way to go.

Sam Page

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[image, unknown] TAKING ISSUE

Ashok Mitra

Ashok Mitra’s monthly column takes a jaundiced look at local society ladies doing good to the poor.

They also serve

If there were no squalor and deprivation, what would society ladies do? The country may be poor, the nation’s per capita income maybe less than one hundred American dollars annually, the rate of illiteracy among the adult population may be as high as 70 per cent, the rate of infant mortality may be around 150 per 1,000. None of this however precludes the availability of a thin stratum at the top of the social hierarchy, enjoying a standard of living comparable to that of those settled in Marthas Vineyard or Malibu Beach. One could in fact suggest a casual relationship between wretchedness at the lower depths and affluence at the peak; it is misery at the base which ensures indolence at the level of the super-structure.

Time hangs heavily with the ladies who adorn the super-structure. The husbands working as ministers or civil servants or army generals or leaders of industry and trade are occupied via means sometimes clean but mostly unclean to pile up surplus value. They have time only for occasional dalliances; certainly they do not have time for their restless wives. The latter every now and then, try to break the dull monotony of their daily perambulations by stealing or borrowing one another’s husbands but, once you are past the post of menopause, the urge is intense for yet other voices and yet other rooms. They discuss social welfare.

The greater the misery, the larger the prospects for social welfare. All one has to do is to set up a group or an association - to look after the wellbeing of slum-dwellers or handicapped children or battered wives or ex-servicemen’s widows or squatters on Government land or school dropouts who are wont to turn to smuggling. The golden hearts the ladies possess overflow with the milk of human kindness. Once you have sifted the facts, it could well be that it is the chiselling and marauding the husbands have indulged in which are responsible for the present plight of the unfortunate specimens of the human race whom the ladies want to succour. Such social irony is however lost on them They are an earnest lot; they mean business Once they have put together their association, they begin to go about it with proper grit They rent adequate premises for the association, decorate with taste, recruit a regular office staff and, what is most crucial, cultivate the right connections. Ministers are invited to come and address their meetings; soon this or that department of the government is persuaded to accord a couple of large grants - one on capital account, the other recurring - so that social welfare can reach new milestones, year after year.

With the money the associations are supposed to set up rehabilitation centres, educational programmes, handicraft schools, production centres, sales shops and assorted other projects which could help the socially deprived in some meaningful way. However, how many governments have bothered to find out the manner of disposal of such welfare funds? A sample survey suggests that as much as 80 to 90 per cent of the funds are used to defray the overhead expenses of the associations; it is only the paltry residue which reaches the tribe of the down and out who provide the alibi for the government grant. Be reasonable, the ladies have to travel, they have to organise conferences, they have to air-condition their office rooms.

Soon the fame of the ladies spreads. They become the acknowledged specialists on children’s welfare or rehabilitation of the handicapped or the problem of squatters or urban community development. Invitations flow in beseeching them to attend this or that ponderous international conference; this or that agency of the United Nations hires them as advisers on the worlds diverse woes and on methods of redressing them. The husbands suddenly discover that yes, they know how to make money, but, poor fellows, have they gone to dinner with Alva Myrdal?

The socially deprived should feel redeemed. Without them, there would have been so much less of do-gooding and globe-trotting. It is an altogether irrelevant matter that all the good accrues to the ladies, and little, very little, percolates down. Haven’t the socially deprived heard the adage: they also serve who stand and wait.


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