issue 214 - December 1990
Debt scheme opposed
Hugh O'Shaughnessy / CAMERA PRESS
With its designer shops, well-dressed designer citizens and fashionable cafes and restaurants, downtown Buenos Aires is much like any European capital city. A quick stroll through the wretched barrios around the centre of Buenos Aires, however, very quickly brings back the reality of Latin America - a continent crippled by debt and haunted by poverty.
More than a quarter of Argentina's 12 million workforce is either unemployed or working short time. Inflation rages away at a monthly 14 per cent, despite an agreed IMF target of two per cent. Public health, education, housing and other social services have long since passed the point of bankruptcy.
Now the disaffected underclass of Buenos Aires is finding a focus for its discontent. There are two sources of hope. One is the return of Maradona to Boca Juniors football club. The other is the figure of Juan Domingo Per6n, the neo-fascist dictator who, with his wife Eva, ran Argentina in the 1940s.
Images of Juan and Eva Per6n are everywhere. The Peronist culture is a violent mixture of right-wing working class belligerence and radicalism. Leaders of Peronist trade unions, like Hector Esquivel of the Telephone Engineers Union, are now beginning to condemn President Carlos Menem's espousal of modern capitalism with fierce rhetoric and a clear appeal to the nationalism and anti-Americanism that runs through the whole of Latin American political life.
For the past year controversy has raged around Carlos Menem's privatization programme. Menem was elected on a Peronist ticket. Now he is hoping to clear some of Argentina's debt by exchanging it for stakes in state monopolies like Entel, the telecommunications company. These monopolies were created by Per6n as part of his plan for 'national integration', Argentina's own brutal version of National Socialism.
As the agreement to privatize Entel was signed, the unions claimed that Argentina was effectively being sold to US bankers. They say Menem is a traitor. There is talk of a campaign of industrial disruption to exhaust Menem's administration. 'We are not in the mood for turning back,' says Hector Esquivel. 'We shall never abandon the flags of Per6n.'
So far Menem has had no opposition to contend with. The Radical Party of former President Raul Alfonsin is thoroughly discredited. Hardline Peronist opposition has been muted. But the unions say that Menem 'is about to be tested'.
Exchanging debt for shares in privatized state industries is seen by nearly all Latin American countries, of both right and left, as one way out of the debt spiral which is responsible for the economic paralysis of the continent. As the Peronists regroup under their old banners the appeal to the poor and disaffected of Argentina is obvious. The Peronist hatred of the 'Yankee mentality' and fear of foreign influence resonate across the whole of Latin America.
For the poor of Argentina, homeless urchins in the barrio or the unemployed dockers in the port area of La Boca, the Peronist unions seem the only hope. The way forward is also the way back.
Photo: Ruth Cherrington
Unrest is breaking out among China's minorities. Last April the authorities successfully crushed a planned separatist rebellion in the north-western province of Xinjiang. 'Ideological work' is now being carried out among the largely Muslim population and many 'counter-revolutionaries' have been rounded up. But the issues which caused violent clashes in the small city of Baren, near Kashgar, continue to present a serious problem for Chinese leaders.
Formerly known as East Turkestan, Xinjiang became part of the Chinese empire in the nineteenth century. Its name means 'new frontier'. Its people are largely Turkic with origins in the Middle rather than Far East. Uyghurs are the largest minority group, but others also live side-by-side with the Han Chinese. All the indigenous people resent Chinese rule and small-scale uprisings occur regularly.
The April uprising was sparked off when a member of a separatist group was questioned about the purchase of a number of horses in the local market. There were violent clashes with Chinese police and offices housing family-planning bureaux were attacked. The one-child-per-family policy is deeply disliked by the minorities.
In Kashgar, their cultural centre, the minority of Chinese is getting bigger. The non-Muslim 'irreligious' Han want to curtail the building of Mosques.
The city was closed to foreigners for weeks and some parts of the region are still difficult to enter. The official death toll of 26 is open to question, and it is unclear how many arrests were made. Teachers and other intellectuals had to attend political study sessions during their summer vacation. Many students were unable to return to their families for the Muslim festival of Corban in July because they had to attend official 'social practice' sessions in factories and farms. Here they were required to assert their allegiance to the Party rather than Islam in verbal and written statements. Even school children had to undergo 're-education' and their elders were told not to go to the Mosques.
Law and order have been restored, and so has tourism. But few believe in the Party propaganda. Cynicism is common, as elsewhere in post-Tiananmen Square China.
Not so far from Kashgar lies Russia, with its own Uyghur community and other related minority groups calling for independence. Other Muslim 'brothers' are close by in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Separatists may look to them for support. If the 'ideological work' fails and the call of Islam grows stronger, the Chinese Government can only face further rebellions in this troublesome region.
Tanzanian readers left empty-handed
Tanzanians have the highest literacy rate in Africa but hardly anything to read. Soaring paper costs and interest rates have brought the publishing industry to a virtual standstill.
Says Abdullab Saiwaad, acting general manager of the East African Publishing House: 'It is more profitable to sell tomatoes than to publish books'.
Educators who have spent years teaching adutts to read and write Kiswahili in the shade of trees are disillusioned. They fear the publishing crisis could undermine the achievements of a 20-year literacy campaign. Schools have also been hit hard by the book shortage; in Dar es Salaam one textbook has to be shared among 13 pupils.
At the time of independence in 1961 less than 10 per cent of the population was literate. A concerted effort was launched to boost literacy and extend knowledge of a unifying language -Kiswahili - in a nation that spoke 120 different tongues. The campaign was a great success.
But only six new children's books have been published since 1986, Education Minister Amram Mayagila told the National Assembly recently. Four of them were published by his own department. Newspaper circulation and quality have fallen while prices have risen in response to increases in the cost of newsprint.
Publishers have mountains of material waiting to go to the printers. Thomas Kamugisha, a veteran publisher, says manuscripts can gather dust for seven years before a publisher has the funds to proceed.
The Southern Paper Mill, built in 1985 in the Mufindi district with aid money from Sweden and elsewhere, produces paper that is more expensive than imports and is often damaged beyond use when it reaches Dar es Salaam, 640 kilometres away.
The Publishers Association of Tanzania (PATA) has appealed to the Government to help make books affordable and subsidize paper costs. PATA would also like the Government to set up a book development council.
The disbanding of the East African Community in 1974 and the closing of the Tanzania-Kenya border in 1977 brought an end to the East African Literature Bureau, the only organization promoting and publishing books in the vernacular of the region.
An annual book fair held in Dar es Salaam during the second week of September always highlights the pathetic state of the publishing industry. Last year, a book-starved crowd of 150,000 turned out to see what little was on offer. In a country where publishers cannot afford to print books and readers cannot afford to buy them, books are now regarded as another scarce commodity.
Ahmed Merere / Panos
Bob's 'Intifada Tour'
Photo: Sue Shaw
In many of the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv youth hostels there are hand-lettered signs offering an 'Intifada Tour' for 60 shekels (£30). The itinerary - illustrated by Polaroid snapshots glued to the board - lists several historical and religious sites in the West Bank, but no further information about the nature of the tour.
The leader of this tour turned out to be a self-proclaimed 'Ten year Vietnam Special Services Veteran' named 'Bob' with a specially-fitted van - thick plastic windows and nets to repel all projectiles - a rather large Galil assault rifle and a strong urge to 'kick ass'. Formerly a New Yorker, Bob is now a born-again Zionist living in Kiryat Arba, the West Bank settler colony near Hebron; he makes his living by giving tours and by working for the Israeli equivalent of the Special Services.
Bob hyped the tour in 'safari-among-the-natives' language. 'We are,' he proclaimed grandly, 'about to drive through the deepest, darkest parts of the West Bank.' And, although he warned us that he had earlier lost one van to a Molotov cocktail, with proper precautions we need have no fear: 'I haven't lost a tourist yet.'
The tour consisted of a mesmerisingly relentless 'Greater Israel' monologue - history, propaganda, martyr stories, aspersions on the Arabs and justifications for the annexation of 'Judea and Samaria', as Bob was prone to call the West Bank. He badgered refugees at the Deheisha camp to 'tell us what the Jews did to you,' an unlikely invitation from a 280-pound man driving a van with Israeli plates and an assault rifle propped up on the front seat. With this rifle we blasted wilderness rocks. Everybody who wanted to got a turn and most were photographed in action.
At the tomb of Rachel - wife of the Patriarch Jacob - near Bethlehem, Bob tried to provoke an argument with an Israeli guard who admitted, somewhat sheepishly, that he would trade West Bank territory for peace, 'if we really could get peace'. Bob showed his disgust for this attitude: 'If we can't live where our mother Rachel is buried, where can we live?' He seemed more at home in the modern but small Kiryat Arba shopping mall, where we stopped for a pizza. Most of the inhabitants within earshot seemed to be speaking not Hebrew but broad New Yorkese English.
In sullen Hebron, Bob again showed his machismo, directing our group down narrow alleyways as he slid ahead with his rifle, mechanically checking all windows and corners for potential 'enemy fire'.
On the road again, our van inevitably made a large and obvious target for Palestinian youths with stones. When the first reverberations of rock-on-plexiglass rattled the van, Bob not only wasn't fazed, he was positively illuminated with glee. He braked sharply and tried to chase the youths with the van while shouting to his seven passengers: 'Get your cameras, get your cameras! Let's get some pictures of some real Intifada action!' The tour participants scrambled for their knapsacks, thrilled at getting their money's worth.
Later, as we drove back to Jerusalem, Bob exulted that we had all 'won our spurs' and could 'tell folks you got stoned in the West Bank'.
This first appeared in our award-winning magazine - to read more, subscribe from just £7