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Issue 135

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[image, unknown] MILITARY INTERVENTION[image, unknown]

Pacific unrest
New Zealand unveils troubleshooting force

[image, unknown] A Grenada-style military intervention in the South Pacific? Far-fetched though it sounds, some observers in the region believe political uncertainties in several Pacific nations make this a real possibility.

Australia, New Zealand and the United States are concerned about signs of potential instability in Pacific nations and the New Zealand Government recently announced plans for a 1,000-strong South Pacific trouble-shooting battalion.

Pacific-rim countries increasingly question the future stability of several Pacific countries, including the tiny Cook Islands (population 1 7,000) where there has been a series of political crises. Fiji is also regarded as a potentially volatile nation.

However, the country that most bothers Pacific-rim nations - mainly the US is Vanuatu and its so-called ‘Cuban connection’. The Cubans made a tentative landing’ in the South Pacific last year when their resident ambassador in Tokyo flew to Vila to present his credentials as Havana’s first ambassador there. Vanuatu is the only South Pacific nation where Cuba has a diplomatic profile, although it has diplomatic relations with Australia.

Vanuatu, which gained independence in 1980, is regarded as the most radical of the region’s new nations and the only one seen to have left wing leanings. The Prime Minister, Father Walter Lini a New Zealand-educated Anglican priest, defends his foreign policies. He describes Vanuatu as a developing country pursuing its own nonaligned, independent path.

The neighbouring French-ruled territory of New Caledonia has also been a target of propaganda using the ‘Cuban connection’ as a smear to discredit the Independence Front. The Front is supported by almost 90 per cent of Melanesians (Kanaks) and seeks an end to French colonialism and the establishment of a ‘Kanak’ socialist republic’. France envisages a five-year autonomy period leading to a vote of self-determination in 1989 while the Front demands immediate electoral reform and independence within two years.

Could those islands ever be a target for an intervention force?

The precedent set last year by Grenada’s Governor General, Sir Paul Scoon, in secretly appealing for outside intervention and then taking over as ruler instead of remaining a ceremonial figurehead, has not been lost on Commonwealth Pacific nations which retain Queen Elizabeth as their head of state. And it is only three years since Vanuatu appealed to Papua New Guinea to send in troops to quell the Santo rebellion in its own mini-Grenada.

David Robe, Gemini

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

Illicit sex
Apartheid unchanged by new constitution

SOUTH AFRICANS of mixed race may have just been given the vote, but life under apartheid is no easier for them.

37-year-old Petty Officer Keith Wentzel, who is classified ‘coloured’, and 20-year-old Wilna Lombard, who is white, were found guilty of making ‘illicit’ love. Both members of the top secret Simonstown naval base, the couple were sentenced to six months imprisonment suspended for four years under Section 16 of the Immorality Act, which forbids sex across the colour line.

‘We ended our relationship soon after our arrest as we knew it had no future. We had nothing to look forward to,’ said a strained Ms Lombard.

More than 135 couples were sentenced under the Mixed Marriages and Immorality Acts in 1982 and many more were arrested and paid admission-of-guilt fines. Others only escaped prosecution by fleeing the country.

Anti-apartheid campaigners claim that the Wentzel-Lombard case is a salutary lesson. Petty Officer Wentzel was a member of the South African Defence Force and had thus indicated his willingness to comply with the system. Yet he was prosecuted and sentenced under the very laws he was protecting.

This is seen as particularly significant at a time when the coloured community is being asked to participate in South Africa’s new electoral system. A whites-only referendum recently approved a new constitution which extends the vote to the country’s 2.7 million coloureds and 850,000 Indians but excludes the 20 million black majority.

The coloured Labour Party and two small Indian parties have agreed to stand in the elections on August 22, hoping to fight the apartheid laws from within the system. The coloured and Indian communities have not been given the chance to reject the new constitution - pressure for a referendum has been resisted by a white government fearing a massive ‘no’ vote. Opponents of the new constitution are now calling for a boycott of the elections.

Petty Officer Wentzel has not yet indicate whether or not he will vote.

The Press Trust of South Africa

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[image, unknown] MALNUTRITION[image, unknown]

Healthy hunger
American professor claims retarded growth is OK

POOR people who suffer from retarded growth due to their poor environment and nutrition are actually perfectly healthy, according to an American professor of economics reported in the Indian magazine Future.

Professor Seckler, of Colorado State University, argues that ‘smallness’ is an appropriate and welcome attribute of poor people, consistent with their good health. He advises nutrition scientists in the Third World not to assess the bodily size of the poor in their countries using ‘international standards’ of growth, as this will lead to their overestimating the degree of malnutrition.

The poor should not even be judged by the same criteria as the rich in their own societies, who can be considered abnormally large. This neatly sidesteps the point that in India. for instance, children of affluent sections of the same ethnic group living alongside the poor attain a body size comparable to European and American children. Small body size in Indian children could not, therefore, be explained away as a peculiar racial attribute and is clearly a result of poverty.

Standard practice at the moment is to distinguish between moderate and severe growth retardation. Seckler suggests that ‘mildly’ and ‘moderately’ growth-retarded children are small but healthy. These children who weigh up to 40 per cent less than the expected weight, are small, he claims, ‘due to poverty, poor physical and social environments’ but are not undernourished.

Other observers point out that retarded growth can lock the poor into a vicious circle. Even if they avoid the diseases that go with malnutrition - kwashiorkor, anaemia or stomatitis - their lower weight makes their manual labour less productive and thus reduces their earning capacity. This in turn means that their own and their children’s diet will be poor.

If Professor Seckler’s theory were to be accepted, it might prove useful to unscrupulous governments eager to improve their public image. Moderately undernourished children could be redefined as healthy and the country’s health record dramatically improved overnight.

Regular readers of the New Internationalist might recognise this technique of revolution by redefinition’. Ashok Mitra’s column a year ago told us of the Indian Government’s imaginative plan to combat poverty. The internationally-agreed poverty line would simply be moved downwards so that half the Indian population no longer fell beneath it.

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[image, unknown] EDUCATION[image, unknown]

Bamboo abacus
African teachers discover appropriate technology

MINISTRIES of education throughout Africa import sophisticated educational materials mass produced in the industrialised world. Often these materials are not only expensive, but also inappropriate.

Recognition is growing in some parts of Africa now that much can be done with what is locally available. An abacus can be made of a bamboo frame with clay beads. A globe can be an upside-down water pot. Even a used light-bulb is valuable. Filled with water it can act as a lens in a makeshift slide projector.

In Mozambique an educational materials development group has been set up within the Ministry of Education. One of the first teaching aids the group developed was a ruler made of bamboo designed to introduce children used to crooked walls and posts to the concept of straightness.

More adventurous are model machines. A model of a water pump has been made of

bamboo. The water pump is an important feature in the lives of Mozambican children, since fetching water is central to village life. Learning to understand how the pump works at an early age will increase the country’s chances of maintaining the pumps now being installed.

Similarly, a model construction kit made of bamboo is cheap and valuable in teaching children how machines work and getting them accustomed to practical tasks in construction and simple engineering.

The potential for such initiatives is almost unlimited. With foreign currency reserves low in nearly all African countries, women eager to set up small-scale industries, factories producing ‘waste’ that can easily be turned into useful objects and vast reserves of natural resources, manufacturing low-cost teaching aids might seem an obvious project.

However, many people in ministries of education were schooled under colonial systems, where they learnt to despise things local and ‘home-made’. In Africa there is an almost obsessive insistence on children wearing European-style school uniform - a sign that education is still not seen as a way of mobilising local skills, but of bringing African children nearer to the image of their European counterparts.

Designing the teaching aids is the easy part. Persuading the experts and the educators is much more difficult.

Lindsey Hilsum, Gemini

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[image, unknown] COMMODITIES[image, unknown]

Tea leaves market
India’s thirst inflates prices

[image, unknown] THE world’s tea producers should drink a toast to the 700 million people of India, whose combined thirst has given a major boost to prices on international markets.

Worried by the political damage which could be caused to her government by a shortage of the beverage in a country that produces more tea than any other nation in the world, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi restricted exports at the end of last year. World prices had been rising steadily for months but New Delhi’s decision gave them an added push.

The Indian move has also drawn attention to long-term shifts in the international market: some analysts even warn that India’s population growth and the failure to increase yields could turn the world’s top exporting country into an importer by the 1990s. Its market share is already under attack from China, which is attempting to push up its tea exports - remembering, perhaps, its position at the end of the last century when it accounted for 90 per cent of world trade in the commodity.

Despite the hiccup in world supplies caused by the Indian export cutbacks, UN officials say that the underlying problem for the industry has been that, overall, farmers have been growing tea faster than people can drink it, which keeps prices low.

According to ‘the magic of the marketplace’, such a decline ultimately will bring supply back closer to demand, pushing up prices, promoting investment and starting off a new cycle. But these swings of the pendulum can take years, causing hardship to millions of farm workers. At the other end of the cycle, high prices encourage consumers to turn to alternative ways of quenching their thirst.

Half of everything Britons drink, excluding tap water, is tea. So if they turned to, say, instant coffee, the effect on the $2000-million-a-year world tea trade would be enormous. Consumption has indeed been declining for years, but the London-based Tea Council says this is because of the popularity of tea bags, which are a more efficient way of putting tea into a pot. Nevertheless, traders are optimistic that tea cent were sold by just four countries - brew.

Victor Ndovi and Daniel Nelson. Gemini

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[image, unknown] DISARMAMENT[image, unknown]

Arms wave
Military spending makes the world poorer

ONE MILLION dollars is now spent on weapons every minute - according to a new report by the United Nations. Total world military spending has risen from 375 billion dollars in 1977 to 600 billion now, and has almost doubled in real terms since 1960. This represents six per cent of world output and is substantially higher than global spending on health.

Developed countries were responsible for 78 per cent of world spending on arms in 1980. and all the major arms suppliers are found within their ranks. The arms trade grew from 11.8 billion dollars in 1974 to 26 billion in 1980. Of these weapons 80 per cent were sold by just four countries - Britain, France, the US and the USSR.

Around 75 percent of arms imports in the 1970s went to developing countries. These imports accounted for a quarter of the developing world’s combined trade deficits in 1978. Arms imports use up precious foreign exchange resources that might otherwise finance purchases of capital goods. For each dollar that a developing country spends on arms, domestic investment tends to be reduced by 25 cents.

The military sector is a poor job-creator. One billion dollars spent on public service employment would yield 51,000 more jobs in a major industrialised country than if it were spent on the military sector.

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[image, unknown] TAKING ISSUE

Ashok Mitra

Ashok Mitra charts a romance when West meets East.

The girl from Abilene

Suddenly, down the crooked lane, one comes right in front of the building. It has seen better days. In a ground floor apartment lives Judith Basu, nee Judith Springfield.

Once upon a time Judith was a slip of a girl in Abilene. She had Quaker parents. When she was brought up, she was taught the virtues of gentleness and piety. She had deep blue eyes and long sheaves of blonde hair. She got into Smith College. At Smith she studied sociology with music as an option. On weekends she would come down to New York and go to concerts. She had a teacher in anthropology who would usually accompany her to New York. Since the teacher had written a PhD. dissertation on the class-caste configuration in a village in Eastern India, she had a lot of Indian friends On one such trip to New York, she met a young engineering student He was from Calcutta and loved to play the sitar over the week-ends. This was the late 1 960s; the sitar was about to conquer the United States. Judith fell for the sitar and for the engineering student. By 1970 they were married; by 1972 they were back in Calcutta. There Timir Basu, Judith’s husband, landed a job with an engineering consultancy firm. Judith’s Quaker parents had a little money which they passed on to her. Judith invested the money in a posh apartment in Calcutta’s more exclusive residential area.

That was in 1974. Meanwhile, limits passion for the sitar had dimmed, while Judith’s devotion for India and things Indian deepened. Timir’s roots were archetypal Bengali middle class. It was good fun in the beginning to have an American wife whom you could produce on evening occasions. Having an American was also passport to professional climbing. Soon Timir was on the board of directors of the engineering firm. Judith increasingly disliked the evening cocktails. She had little interest in the compulsory parties, which are an integral part of life in the professional circuit.

The inevitable happened. Timir started doing the evening rounds without Judith. Judith, who was childless, had all the time for herself during the long, lonely evenings. She began to look inwards. She would never disagree with her husband. The growing friction between Timir and herself, she rationalised, was because of her inability to adjust. Her sense of guilt persuaded her to delve deeper into Hindu philosophy. She started taking lessons in classical Indian music. Someone mentioned a guru who sang well and preached well too. Soon Judith found the guru’s sermons filled the emptiness of her soul.

From then on it was a case of accelerated development. One day Timir took Judith aside and suggested separation. He had found another girl friend who was related to the chairman of the board. A divorce was mutually agreed. Timir kept the apartment. Judith moved out.

Judith moved into a dark ground-floor apartment in a fast-disintegrating building. She has not insisted on any alimony. Her parents have written to her enquiring whether they should send money and whether she would return home for good. Judith is firm. No, there is no question of her returning to the States. There is no question of accepting any help from her parents either. She is on her own. She has started giving English lessons. She is also continuing her music lessons and in the evening she has her guru with his sermons.

Take a girl like Judith. Does one say that she is a victim of East-West confrontation? Or that her plight epitomises Eastern retribution against the wrongs perpetrated by Western imperialism? Or does her history merely unfold the caddishness of a social climber who, having reached the top, kicks out the plain wife, her nationality being irrelevant? One really does not know. But one should at least have the grace to own that crookedness is not the monopoly of the West, nor are the charms of simplicity and devotion the hallmark of Eastern girls. None of this will affect Judith Basu, nee Springfield, who, despite the wrongs she has borne for more than a decade, remains as starry-eyed as she was as a teenager 20-odd years ago in Abilene.

Ashok Mitra is Finance Minister of the State government of West Bengal, India.


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