New Internationalist

Updates

Issue 211

new internationalist
issue 211 - September 1990

Update

NICARAGUA

U-turn
Uncertain future for development

Six months ago travellers in hearing that the Contras were on the road again, would have dived for cover or quickly made a U-turn. Now, with the U-turn of Nicaraguan politics, the Contras are part of the political and geographical landscape, moving back into old homes, claiming new territory, arguing for the political rewards they see as rightfully theirs.

The ground-rules have changed in Nicaragua since the election of Violeta Chamorro's National Coalition Union (UNO) government in February. The Contras are now dominant on the Atlantic Coast and in Region Five in the centre of the country - and they have been given their own 60-square-kilometre farm.

Days after the election a group of US AID officials arrived to advise the new administration. For the first time the Inter-American Development Bank has appeared on the scene. The US Government has promised $300 million in aid. Conservative US development agencies have also set up shop -a sign, some observers say, of an ideological shift which will tilt Nicaragua firmly to the right and undo the advances of the Sandinista era.

Thus far, fears of a total 'rollback' have not been realized. With 40 per cent of the vote, the Sandinistas kept their clout in the National Assembly as the largest single party. Divisions within the UNO coalition of 14 parties have also held conflict at bay, leading to what some see as cautious government policies -and others as fumbling and incoherent ones.

But for a number of reasons the future looks ominous. After the May civil-service strike, the Government rushed through new legislation banning strikes in state institutions and allowing the sacking of top-level state employees - in essence, introducing a return to Somoza-era labour law.

Agrarian reform, the most important of the Sandinistas' achievements, is being whittled away. Peasant land is being left untouched but fallow land and state farms are in danger of being reappropriated.

What does all this mean for development? The British voluntary aid agencies that put money into Sandinista Nicaragua are sitting tight. They continue to fund existing projects. but the prevailing attitude is 'wait and see'.

With the economy on its knees, and an IMF austerity package looming on the horizon, the key question is money. One issue is political - what will government priorities be, given scarce resources? The other is simply whether there will be enough.

First for the chop would be large state-funded projects such as the nationwide water project, a joint venture between the Nicaraguan Water Authority and agencies such as Christian Aid and Oxfam. If completed, the project would make Nicaragua the only Third World country to provide clean water to its entire rural population.

But most vulnerable are smaller projects, whose future could be utterly reshaped by a shift to a Thatcherite free-market economy. Without government financial backing or current prohibitions on land parcelization, for instance, rural co-operatives could easily decline. Some experts predict that their numbers will halve in the next few years.

Sarah Stewart/Christian Aid

 

PHILIPPINES

Threats
Human-rights lawyers in danger

Sol Jubilan: threats since 1986.
Photo: Peter Stalker

On 22 May this year staff at the office of human-rights lawyer Solema Jubilan in Kidapawan. North Cotabato province, reportedly received five anonymous death threats. Most of them threatened Solema Jubilan (who was featured in the recent NI issue on the Philippines) and her family with death and promised to blow up her office. One said: 'If I were you, I'd leave right now. The place where you are standing will explode any minute.'

The threats came shortly after the publication of an article on 12 May in the Mindanao Cross in which an unnamed military source alleged that the Children of the War Center run by Jubilan is a front for the fundraising activities of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Jubilan set up the Centre in 1989 to provide for children orphaned by war. The article quoted a source 'based in Cotobato province' as saying that 'a cause-orientated group has been raising funds for the communist movement by exploiting children'. Workers at the orphanage say they have known for some time that they and the orphanage have been watched by the authorities.

Amnesty International believes that these threats and the allegations may be intended to prevent Jubilan continuing with her work on behalf of the poor and under-privileged, with workers involved in strike action and especially with alleged or suspected opponents of the government. She has received threats on numerous occasions since 1986 when she found the message 'It would be nice to kill you' inscribed on her office door.

At that time she was handling a highly-publicized case in which several church figures who had been active on human rights were accused of rape. The charges were later dismissed as malicious. In 1987 soldiers in a local military camp were reported to have threatened to 'punish' her after accusing her of belonging to the New People's Army (NPA) and branding her 'Commander Sol'.

Threats intensified in 1988/9 when she handled a case involving 250 urban poor families whose houses were demolished on the orders of the local mayor. The families have filed a lawsuit for 12 million pesos.

In recent months there has been an upsurge in killings by the military & by military-backed paramilitary forces. Amnesty International believes that the naming of lawful non-governmental organizations as 'fronts' places the members of these organizations in serious danger. Since 1987 at least six human-rights lawyers have been killed, of whom three had been active in the defence of human rights and in reporting armed-forces abuses. Many more human-rights lawyers have received death threats.

Contact Amnesty International for more information on urgent Action.
See NI 205 (March 1990), ACTION for more information on Sol Jubilan.

 

FINANCE

Smokescreen
CIA involvement in US savings bank scandal

Huge financial scandal is rocking the United States. Taxpayers face a bill of as much as $500 billion, more than the combined foreign debt of Argentina. Brazil and Mexico, to bail out Savings and Loans institutions. Leading politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, are involved in the scandal - and so is the CIA.

Savings and Loans institutions were set up in the US in the 1930s following the Wall Street Crash and massive losses for depositors in financial institutions. The S&Ls, as they are known, were supposed to be safe havens for sober investment in home ownership - like the UK Building Societies. The Federal Government guaranteed deposits up to $100,000. But the Reagan administration 'deregulated' the institutions, allowing them to invest where they liked, while keeping the guarantees in place. So the fraudsters moved in.

As the scandal unfolds there is growing evidence of CIA involvement. The CIA may have used part of the proceeds from S&L fraud to help pay for covert operations and other activities that Congress was unwilling to support publicly - such as the contras in Nicaragua. The Houston Post has discovered that all of the 22 failed S&Ls in Texas made loans to people with links to organized crime, the CIA or both. There is also evidence of CIA intervention with its own 'operatives' accused of S&L fraud.

'It's like trying to grab smoke', says Lloyd Monroe, a former prosecutor with the Justice Department.

There is no clear picture of where the money went. Only a small proportion can have gone into the lavish lifestyles of the S&L fraudsters.

So vast are the sums involved that there is a real threat of financial chaos in the US. George Bush himself was Vice-President when the Reagan Administration deregulated the S&Ls - and his son, Neil, is the subject of disciplinary action by federal bank regulators following the collapse of a bank of which he was a director. The scandal seems likely to run and run.

David Ransom

 

SRI LANKA

Bloodbath
Threat of civil war looms as killings mount

The spectacular violence and visibility of the Tamil Sinhala war from the early 1980s onwards made almost everyone ignore the divisions between the Sinhalese themselves. Suddenly, overnight, in mid-1987 the Sinhalese were killing each other and few understood why.

As long as they had a common enemy to fight, the Sinhalese were, or appeared to be, united. But as soon as the Indian-Sri Lankan Accord of July 1987 opened the doors to a possible peace settlement with the Tamils, the Sinhalese broke ranks and turned upon each other.

The conflict between Sinhalese and Tamils may have its roots in ethnicity, religion and language but it currently finds its expression in a complex variety of very violent altercations where Tamils are also killing Tamils, Sinhalese kill Sinhalese, the security forces kill without restraint in the south, and the Indian Peace Keeping Force, the Eelam People's Revolutionary Front and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam kill individuals and groups in the north and east.

Hard facts and explanations are scarce, but a recent report by International Alert1 lists several hundred killings by government and opposition forces between August 1987 and September 1989. There were no fewer than 300 000 small arms in private hands in the South in mid-1989, according to the Colombo District Citizen's Committee.

The author of the Report, Eduardo Marino, concludes that 'the killings are nor the necessary product of socio-economic factors... There is a clear political responsibility on the part of the Government and groups in opposition... As the spate of assassinations engulfs larger groups of people in more places. the possibility of fully-fledged civil war looms clearly on the horizon...

'Unless the right to freedom from wanton political attack and repression is secured, no less than from economic need and exploitation, the strife will destroy both the economic designs and the political power of the President and the Government. By responding to terrorism with state terrorism as it does, the Government is conceding its own claim to respect.'

David Ransom

1 Political Killings in Southern Sri Lanka. International Alert, 379-381 Brixton Road, London SW9 7DE, UK. 

 

TRANSPORT

Full steam
Massive investment planned in Indian railways

The age of steam may soon be over for Asia's biggest railway.
Photo: Dexter Tiranti

The world's second biggest rail network, and Asia's largest, is steaming ahead at full speed with ambitious modernization plans.

The architect of the scheme is George Fernandes. Railways Minister and former President of the All-India Railwaymen's Federation, the biggest trade union in the country. He is a tough man who in 1973 led the longest railway strike in history. Now he wants to expand and modernize the railway to enable it to cope with the projected doubling of demand on the system in the next ten years.

To overhaul and revamp the system, staff at the Railway Ministry in New Delhi are busy arranging to import equipment worth $560 million. Their shopping list includes 40 new high-powered diesel locomotives. The contract includes technology-transfer clauses to allow for local manufacturing in the future.

The empire of Indian Railways spreads over 61,976 kilometres of track and generates over $6,000 million in revenue, providing employment for over 1.7 million people. Despite running 11,270 trains, connecting 7,093 stations and carrying 10 million passengers a day, Indian Railways had only 545 accidents last year. This works out at 0.9 accidents per million train- kilometres, the lowest in railroad history.

New rolling stock is being tested on the most difficult lines in the country. A full-scale effort is being made to improve speeds at which both passenger and freight trains run and to replace antiquated meter-gauge track with modem broad gauge.

To ease overcrowding Fernandes has stopped the manufacture of new first-class and air-conditioned coaches. He has promised to run more Janata Trains (People's Expresses) rather than concentrate on 'bullet trains' for the rich as in the past. The network is also being expanded in hilly isolated areas.

To raise money for these projects hard-currency loans have been negotiated with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. The Government has issued bonds worth six million dollars. And, predictably, fares have gone up.

AJ Singh / Gemini

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