New Internationalist

Update

Issue 183

new internationalist
issue 183 - May 1988

Update

POLITICS

Dictating the vote
Elections in Paraguay

'In our country,' goes a popular saying in Paraguay, 'the electoral process is more advanced than in the United States. In the US computers can know the results of an election just two hours after the polls close. In Paraguay we know the results two hours before the polls open.' The February 1988 elections were no exception. General Alfredo Stroessner, the last of the old-style Latin American dictators, duly 'won' the vote as the candidate of the Colorado party and started a record-breaking eighth consecutive term of office as president.

In the run-up to the election prized information was not whether Stroessner would win but what percentage had been predetermined. One opposition leader had predicted Stroessner would receive 90 per cent of the vote - his prediction was only out by one point. When the result was declared el generalissimo was awarded 89 per cent Stroessner's predictable comment was: 'This is a democracy. One puts one's vote in the ballot box and the majority wins and the minorities co-operate to make a good government.'

It is hard to find a single criterion by which Paraguay could be called democratic or the election meaningful. The participation of two small token opposition parties, the Liberal Radical Party (PLR) and the Liberal Party (PL) gave event a veneer of competition, but only after Stroessner allegedly paid them $57,000 each to fund their campaigns. They automatically receive one-third of the seats in both Chambers of Parliament - and fat salaries - irrespective of the size of their vote.

All the main opposition parties most of them illegal - and the church called for a massive abstention or blank votes. Again the official figures were absurd: 7.4 per cent of the electorate abstained and 0.4 per cent registered a blank vote - some of the lowest figures in the world.

Every imaginable irregularity in voting procedures took place. Foreign observers reported that in many towns all the votes were for Stroessner and not one for the opposition or any blank vote; children voted, others voted several times and at many polling stations there were no neutral observers of ballot papers for the opposition parties. As a new report by the British Parliamentary Human Rights Group explains, 'even the Electoral Board operates under the formal control of the ruling body of the Colorado party.'

Stroessner's carefully designed piece of theatre is another example of dictators exploiting the easy identification of elections with democracy for international consumption.

James Painter

A report by British Parliamentary Human Rights group, Dominion... forever secured?,
is available from the Latin America Bureau, 1 Amwell Street, London EC1R 1UL.

ENVIRONMENT

Polluted palace
Norway's own backyard

Norway's pollution hot-spots. Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland is known as a tireless campaigner for the global environment. So much so that the UN report on the subject Our Common Future, is better known as the Brundtland Report. But at home critics have tagged her 'the environmental queen in a polluted palace'.

'Gro is Norway's alibi,' according to Marianne Gjorv, the 21-year-old leader of the Norwegian Nature and Youth organisation. 'She has managed to get a debate on environment protection onto the international agenda without committing herself to much at home.'

Nature and Youth hit the headlines last Christmas when three of its members draped a banner over a Christmas tree donated by Norway to London's Trafalgar Square proclaiming that 'Norway gives an Christmas tree and receives 1,000 tonnes of acid rain'.

But Norway's environmental problems are not only a matter of dying forests and 15,000 lakes with water like lemon juice, thanks to the filthy habits of its neighbour across the North Sea. The Environment Ministry admits that 100,000 tonnes of poisonous waste are produced each year in Norway itself, half of which is dumped without supervision.

Filth problems include:

· Most fiords contain polluting factories on their shores and 70 per cent of sewage running into Norwegian water courses is unpurified.

· Norway is second only to Britain in discharging chemical wastes into the North Sea.

· Half the factories awarded the Norway Industry Federation's prize for environmental protection since in 1972 subsequently have been guilty of pollution.

· Norway spends only 0.4 per cent of its gross national product on environmental protection compared with 3.0 per cent on average by other industrialised nations.

The situation is worst at Mo i Rana in the north of the country where three heavily polluting factories pump 3,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide into the air to be blown over the border into Sweden every year - although Norway is a member of the 30-per-cent club which aims at reducing sulphur dioxide emissions to that percentage of existing levels.

Instead of clamping down on the captains of polluting industry, the judicial authorities are more willing to punish the activists who draw attention to it. Bellona, another group of environmental activists, received a bigger fine for occupying a factory than the factory received for discharging chemicals into fishing grounds.

Rosa Brown / Gemini

HUMAN RIGHTS

AIDS witch-hunts
Legislative hysteria

It's unfair not to use a condom, says the German poster, while the Brazilian assures us that love need not kill if we take care. The campaigns are impressive. The messages seem reasonable. Governments all over the world are trying to combat the spread of AIDS, to inform the public and prevent unnecessary panic. What the public does not see is that those same authorities are violating the civil rights of people who are carrying the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) - 30 to 50 per cent of whom are likely to develop full-blown AIDS - in ways that have more to do with racist, xenophobic and homophobic paranoia than any concern with public health. Here are just a few examples of legislative hysteria that HIV positive people - and those who try to help them - have to contend with.

USA: Pentagon guidelines, approved by former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, mean HIV positive personnel will be denied access to classified information, denied foreign postings and have their security clearances revoked. Reserve troops found to be antibody positive will have restricted service and be denied medical treatment for HIV-related disease at military hospitals and clinics. In Illinois broad-ranging laws to control the spread of HIV infection include requiring couples wanting to get married to undergo antibody tests.

BELGIUM: Some 1,500 Third World students, mostly Africans, who receive a grant from the Belgian Government have been 'invited' to submit to obligatory blood test for anti-bodies to the AIDS virus. Those who decline will have their grants withdrawn.

USSR: Regular tests and surveillance are 'compulsory for the main high-risk groups in the USSR - such as blood donors, pregnant women, drug addicts and prostitutes'. More than 30 foreigners 'suffering from AIDS' have been deported and six more are due to go 'once they have completed their treatment'.

UGANDA: Dr Wilson Carswell, the British doctor who was instrumental in identifying AIDS in Uganda and helped the authorities in attempts to limit the spread of the disease was asked to leave the country after publishing a series of articles on AIDS in Uganda. The Ugandan Government has ordered health workers to obtain written permission from the Ministry of Health before speaking to reporters about the AIDS situation.

SOUTH KOREA: The Government announced regulations that doctors who diagnose HIV infection or AIDS must register the patient's names with authorities. People infected with HIV will be barred from jobs in the service sector.

WEST GERMANY: The Bavarian state government has introduced measures that include compulsory testing for AIDS of all Turks, Yugoslavs and Eastern Europeans applying for a residence permit. Africans, Asians, North and South Americans and Australians planning to stay for more than three months also have to be tested.

SOUTH AFRICA: The Chamber of Mines agreed to co-operate with the South African Institute of Medical Research in June 1985 in running a surveillance programme for HIV infection among miners.

No known infected person will be engaged and all recruits from high-risk areas are being tested at source.

Government health propaganda in most of these countries states that AIDS is transmitted through having sex which involves an exchange of body fluids with an infected person, being given transfusions of infected blood or being injected by an infected needle. It cannot be transmitted by touching or even kissing an infected person. Either these governments do not believe their own message or there are other, more reactionary forces riding the AIDS bandwagon.

For further information contact:
the UK AIDS Vigil Association, 45 Arrol House, Rockingham Street, London SE1 6QL.

INDIA

Costly custom
Rocketing gold prices

Photo: Claude Sauvageot Ramesh, a bank clerk in New Delhi, is in a dilemma. He must buy gold ornaments weighing at least 100 grams for his daughter's wedding in July. Should he buy now or wait until June?

The dilemma is real. When gold soared to its highest ever price last November, it caused heartbreak in homes across the country. From $223 (Rs. 2,900) for 10 grams on September 1, the price shot up to $300 (Rs 3,900) within just two and a half months.

A further rise would cause a major upheaval in a country where gold is a great social force affecting virtually everyone. The world's biggest hoard of gold - estimated at 7,000 tonnes - is held by private citizens in India. All social functions and customs from birth till death require a sprinkling of gold, with the largest amount given as dowry by the bride's parents at the wedding.

India's 10 million marriages a year mean 140 tonnes of gold change hands. Of this, 40 tonnes is met by recycling of old gold ornaments. More than 500,000 goldsmiths and jewellers deal in recycling under the Gold Control Act but everyone knows they are the outlets for selling smuggled gold to the public. It is said that without the smuggled gold the jewellers would go out of business within a month.

As gold imports are banned the price increases overseas should not, in theory, affect the price here. But is does because smuggling syndicates based in Dubai, Kuwait, Singapore and Hong Kong inject around 100 tonnes of gold into the Indian market.

The abundance or shortage of smuggled gold decides the price from day to day. Last year's abnormal price rise is attributed to several seizures of big consignments - estimated to total two tonnes - and the ensuing panic among smugglers which cut the supply to India by half.

Atiya Singh / Gemini

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