New Internationalist

Updates

Issue 240

new internationalist
issue 240 - February 1993

Updates

 

BURMA / MYANMAR

Burmese civil war
Ethnic minorities targeted

In 1988 the unrest in Burma came alive on TV screens worldwide. We saw the spectacle of the people's protest against decades of military tyranny. We did not see much of the killing of thousands of protesters that followed. A new military front was established then, called the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). Their aim is to eradicate those who resisted them.

The country is under siege with many ethnic and political groups suffering under SLORC's brand of ethnic cleansing. SLORC has its gun sights set particularly on Manerplaw, a town in Karen state bordering Thailand, because it is the headquarters of the Karen people as well as several other ethnic and political groups. Chief among them is the National League for Democracy.

In 1990 SLORC had organized general elections confident of winning, but the landslide majority went to the League. The military then crushed the League, placing president-elect and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest. The remaining NLD leaders were killed, jailed or fled to Manerplaw where they have established a parallel government.

To wipe out Manerplaw, SLORC has launched four dry-season offensives since 1988. The dry-season begins in January and lasts until the rain comes in May, making fighting impossible. Last year's offensive was the worst.

New and deadlier weapons were wielded indiscriminately against civilian and rebel targets in air strikes. Ground forces swept through the jungle destroying villages on the way to Manerplaw. Thousands of civilians fled ahead of the advancing troops. But many were captured and either tortured, shot or forced to act as human shields to deter attacks and to clear mines as they walked at gunpoint ahead of the soldiers. Tens of thousands of refugees found relative safety behind Karen lines but suffered starvation and sickness as they sat out the air strikes.

Before launching the government offensive, military commanders were in desperate need of people to carry tons of war material from supply bases to the advancing troops. They swooped on thousands of civilians, yanking them out of homes and off the buses and streets, recruiting them forcibly as 'volunteers'.

Around 20,000 found themselves slogging through the hot jungle carrying 20-kilo packs up steep mountain paths while troops beat and drove them on. Those who dropped from exhaustion were either left to die or shot where they lay. The women were subjected to repeated rapes.

One gaunt 60-year-old porter said, 'It was terrible. I'm an old man but they forced me to work hard every day with no food. I survived by eating insects and bamboo shoots. I managed to escape to the Karen.'

The high death toll among porters forced SLORC to undertake a large-scale recruitment drive, waited in fear. Prisons were emptied and the inmates sent to the jungle to die working as porters or human minesweepers.

The battle for Manerplaw ended in May 1992 with the coming of the monsoon. But now the dry season is back.

Kurt Hanson
(Kurt Hanson recently spent several months in Burma researching the civil war.)

Gay takes on the Pentagon
If you are out of the closet, you are out of the military. For 50 years, that had been the firm rule of the US Pentagon. But the day after Veterans Day, following a prolonged courtroom battle, Petty Officer Meinhold regained his job at a Naval Air Station in California. Employed for 12 years by the service, he had been sacked in August after announcing that he was gay on national TV. When the US District Judge ordered the Navy to take back Meinhold, the service refused. When the judge reaffirmed his decision declaring 'This is not a military dictatorship', Washington's Acting Secretary of the Navy decided to comply.

The reinstatement is only temporary, pending the legal result of Meinhold's wider challenge to the Pentagon's ban on gays. But such legal battles may not be necessary. President-elect Clinton has pledged to end the military ban.

From: Time No 47, 1992

The Imelda Marcos tease
Trying to unlock the Philippines' public funds that have been salted away by former president Ferdinand Marcos, and now in the custody of Imelda his wife, is a long and complicated affair. On 5 November, Imelda Marcos' lawyer said that she was offering to withdraw $356 million currently frozen in Swiss bank accounts and put the money in a public foundation for the poor of Manila. Presumably this was if the Government dropped its numerous charges related to the Marcos financial dealings.

But then Imelda withdrew the offer two days later. And the Presidential Commission on Good Government, which claims the Marcos family plundered five billion dollars while in power, subsequently rejected any offer of the deal.

From: Far Eastern Economic Review, Vol 155, No 46, 1992

Source: The Hidden cost of AIDS, Panos books. AIDS: the cost of care

. Global cost of treatment for people with AIDS: about $3bn - of which:
84% is in industrialized countries (40% of patients)
2% in Africa (50% of patients)

Source: The Hidden cost of AIDS, Panos books.

. Annual deaths: 100,000 a year

. Forecast: 400,000 a year by end of century

Source: The Hidden cost of AIDS, Panos Books

 

OVERSEAS AID

The fall and fall of British aid
Scrooge economics

[image, unknown]

A landmark for British relationships with the Third World in 1990 was the record inflow of £6,847 million ($10,612 million) from repayments on previous debts by developing countries. It meant a net inflow of funds from the poor world after overseas aid and investments had been deducted of £2,600 million ($4,030 million). This was the first time for the UK that repayments on past loans exceeded official aid and new loans.

As a percentage of gross national product, Britain has halved its aid to developing countries in the last 30 years. In 1960 the British government gave 0.56 per cent of GNP in development aid; in 1990 it gave 0.27 per cent. In both years a Conservative government was in power. Between 1960 and 1990 the standard of living measured in terms of GNP per head roughly doubled.

Cartoon : LEN MUNNIK Since Conservative government resumed in 1979, British aid has fallen sharply - by a third. However it also fell under the Labour administration of 1964-1970 from 0.53 per cent to 0.37 per cent. Nevertheless the Socialists deserve half a bouquet. For when Labour was in office from 1974 to 1979, at a time of great economic crisis, aid rose from 0.37 per cent to 0.45 per cent.

As for the future, British government aid plans announced in November 1992 project a slight increase from £1,835 million ($2,845 million) for 1992/3 to £1,900 million ($3,515 million) for 1993/4. It will then be frozen for the next two years. In case anyone needs reminding, the pledge given by all donor countries including Britain at the Rio Summit in June 1992 was to reach the UN aid target of 0.7 per cent of GNP 'as soon as possible'.

International Agricultural Development, Vol 12, No 6 1992

Available from :19 Woodford Close, Caversham, Reading, Berks. RG4 7HN, UK.

Rampant disease and the bed net
Wars are good for business, particularly the pharmaceutical business. Nowhere is this more evident than with malaria drugs. Only when it threatened Western troops, did a search for a prophylactic become a priority. Until the 1940s there was only quinine. The Second World War spawned two new drugs and the Vietnam War two more. Now these drugs are becoming defunct, overtaken by the rapid spread of drug-resistant malaria parasites. The pharmaceutical companies, hard-headed animals of the free market system, see little profit in a market confined to the nations of the South. So they have all but abandoned research into the disease.

Instead a simple solution is being proposed - the humble bed net, soaked once a year in pyrethroid insecticide and put over the bed every night. Evidence from The Gambia has shown that treated bed nets could cut the death rate from malaria by 70 per cent - this for a measure that costs 50 cents a season and requires little specialized training.

From New Scientist, Vol 136, No 1845 1992

Kidnapping legality
A recent United States Supreme Court decision permits US agents to kidnap foreigners on foreign soil and bring them to the US for trial. Politicians, lawyers and jurists from Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico and Venezuela have expressed outrage and concern over the ruling. And the chorus of condemnation is spreading.

The ruling involves a Mexican doctor, Humberto Alvarez Macham, accused of participating in the torture and murder of a US Drug Enforcement Agency official stationed in Mexico. Mexico has consistently objected to the abduction and asked for Macham's return.

At the heart of the case is the question of whether or not the abduction is a violation of international law and existing extradition treaties. The Supreme Court ruled it was not but most observers disagree.

While the US-Mexico extradition treaty does not specifically prohibit kidnapping, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens pointed out that nor does the treaty specifically prohibit murder and torture, but this does not grant the US permission to kill or torture.

Inter Press Service / Third World Network

The shortage is most serious in schools, colleges and universities.
MARION KAPLAN /
CAMERA PRESS

Starved for books
In 1989 Tanzania's official literacy rate was put at 92 per cent, totalling 15 million adults. But now there is danger of it dropping because there is an acute shortage of books. Charles Kabeho, Minister for Education and Culture, is urging Tanzanians to write books to end the dearth, but there are few takers because the country's biggest publishing house (which is government owned) takes years to publish a book.

The shortage is so serious in schools, colleges and universities that President All Hassan Mwinyi has told people holding textbooks to surrender them to nearby schools or police stations. 'If you are found with any school book, you will be taken to court,' he warned.

Herald Tagama, Dares Salasm/Gemini

 

THE AMAZON


Last chance
Notorious Indian agency tries to reform

Looking ahead into the future of the Amazon's indigenous people.
DOUGLAS BOTTING /
CAMERA PRESS

Major changes are being proposed to the way Brazil treats its indigenous peoples. There is growing support for an end to the constitutional requirement that the state should represent the Indians. This requirement, its opponents argue, is paternalistic. It undermines fundamental Indian human rights and the legitimacy of their own organizations.

One of the legacies of the state representation of Indians is the Fundacão Nacional do Indio (FUNAI), the Brazilian agency charged with responsibility for the Indian peoples. It has a notorious history of corruption, betrayal of Indian interests, control by the military and even complicity in genocide.

Nonetheless it does have the legal power to intervene against powerful logging, mining and ranching interests that are envious of the resources on Indian lands. There is genuine concern that if FUNAL were dissolved and the Indian peoples were left to their own devices, they wouldn't stand a chance in the violent reality of contemporary Brazil.

The argument to retain FUNAI has been strengthened by the appointment of Sydney Ferreira Possuelo to head the agency. With a long and respected track record as an 'Indianist' working with uncontacted groups, Possuelo has cleaned the military out of FUNAI. He personally took charge of continuing negotiations to remove illegal settlers from the lands of the Guajajara Indians in the Amazonian state of Maranhão.

Possuelo's main problem is that he has no money. FUNAL's budget has been cut by 90 per cent: the lifts in its Brasilia offices don't work and the phones have been cut off because the bills have not been paid. Visiting the UK recently Possuelo was looking for $500,000 ('Not the money - just the engines') for three Pilotus planes, manufactured on the Isle of Wight, which are currently grounded and can no longer deliver urgently-needed medical supplies to communities in the rainforest.

The situation of Brazil's Indian peoples is increasingly critical. Despite all the international furore and the official designation of an Indigenous Park for the Yanomami people in northern Brazil, between 3,000 and 5,000 garimpeiros (gold prospectors) remain within the Park. Malaria continues to decimate the Yanomami population, despite a Health Ministry programme supported by FUNAL.

Possuelo sees FUNAI as 'a fishbone in the throat' (thorn in the side) of the Brazilian establishment. Unusually he favours allowing still uncontacted groups to remain undisturbed. How the Indians fare, he says, depends upon what happens to Brazil: 'If Brazil is in trouble, the Indians are the first to suffer'. It is now his job to put this right. It could be the last chance for FUNAI to salvage its lamentable historical record - and the future of the Indian peoples over whom it has power.

David Ransom /Alex Shankland

Illustration by STEVE WESTON Hairy Spuds
A potato's best defence is its hair, according to researchers at the International Potato Institute in Lima,' Peru. The centre is testing a new variety of hairy potato that fends off aphids, moths and the Colorado beetle. The hairs are tipped by tiny sacs filled with a substance that sticks to any insect that alights on the leaf. Small insects stick to the leaf and starve; larger ones that ingest the 'glue' develop severe constipation. Researchers at Cornell University in New York have crossed wild_varieties of hairy potatoes with commercial high-yielding varieties. The hybrids are being tested in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

From New Scientist, Vol 138, No 1845, 1992

Adelaide to Stage World Music Festival
WOMADELAIDE '93 will see the southern Australian capital host a world music festival line-up of 150 artists from 14 countries. The three day event, from 19-21 February will feature rock singer Peter Gabriel and Australia's Yothu Yindi, who will head the line-up.

The music event will cost almost $1 million to stage, and will bring together musicians and performers from countries as diverse as China (Zi Lan Llao), Hungary (Szalal Gypsy Orchestra), Mali (Salif Keita), Seirra Leone (S.E. Rogle), Soweto (Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens), and Uganda (polItical songwriter Geoffrey Orysma).

The program will be sponsored by the National AIDS campaign and the International Year for the World's Indigenous People. Australian groups will Include Yothu Yindi, the female vocal group Tiddas, rock reggae band Coloured Stone and the dance troup Kanjul. Yothu Yindi, known Internationally for their songs Djapana and Treaty, recently represented. Australia In the United Nations' launch of the international Year of the World's Indigenous Peoples.

World music festivals have become major cultural events In Europe, Japan and North America. WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) is a British organisation established to promote global understanding of different cultures through music.

A number of the groups will go on to perform nationally after the WOMAD festival.

from NI Australia

Quote

"You can't imagine just how proud I feel to be a descendant, a granddaughter of the Mayan people. I could be a grandchild of the Aztec people, the Inca people, the Arawa people, or any of the peoples who lived in Old Continent where I was born. Particularly because here, at the end of the twentieth century, there are many who think that we indigenous people are just a myth, a relic belonging to some time in the past. Sadly there are very few people in the who really understand and accept that indigenous people me alive and well living people moving towards the future."

Rigoberta Menchu, 1992 Guatemalan Nobel Prize Winner

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