New Internationalist

Update

Issue 268

Update

CANADA

In jeopardy
Global education programmes axed

Andre Ouellet caricatured promising: 'With me as minister, foreign affairs will remain foreign to you!' Canada’s unique national development-education system has been gutted as a result of severe federal government budget cuts. The $11 million slashed from the government aid agency CIDA’s ‘Public Participation Programme’ is part of a planned $540 million cut to the country’s foreign-aid budget which Jean Chrétien’s Liberal Government announced in its February budget. The voluntary sector of CIDA, under which most non-governmental organizations (NGOs) receive funding, was cut by $45 million.

Although NGOs across the country knew the cuts were coming, few were ready for their severity. Most expected a series of phased cuts over two or three years. Instead, for those groups doing global education work in Canada, the cuts were total and immediate. More than 100 organizations nationally were affected.

For people like Paddy Campbell of the Arusha Centre in Calgary, ‘It’s 25 years of community work down the drain.’ CIDA’s $120,000 grant to the Centre provided three-quarters of its budget, enough to hire eight part-time staff. Like dozens of similar community-based groups across the country the Arusha Centre is a busy hub for local interest in international issues. ‘We’ve established solid relationships here with schools, arts groups, service clubs,’ says Ms Campbell. ‘And now it’s all in jeopardy. It seems to me a tremendous waste.’ The Arusha Centre will lay off six staff, some of whom have been there for more than ten years. Like fellow global education workers across the country they earn basic salaries, constantly battling to keep their underfunded groups afloat.

Government officials justify the targeting of public education programmes in terms of CIDA’s aid mandate: their priority, they say, should be NGOs working overseas. However, global education activists believe the decision was motivated more by politics than foreign policy. Christine Smiley is Director of the Saskatchewan Council for International Co-operation, one of seven provincial co-ordinating councils that had their funding cut completely. ‘To me the cuts are an attempt to silence those voices that have held the Government accountable on foreign-policy decisions.’

The Canadian system of government funding to global education inside the country was widely admired by NGOs abroad. Few other Western countries could match the extensive network of community-based groups working on aid issues that had developed over the last two decades. State support for public education on international issues began in the 1960s during the era of former Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. The original goal was to strengthen public support for government aid programmes. In fact global education advocates were rarely cheerleaders for government policies. Stuart Wulff of the South Pacific Peoples Foundation in Victoria says the cuts were not unexpected. ‘CIDA has wanted to cut public participation funding for years. The feeling is that all these small decentralized groups are not efficient. They don’t do enough public relations for the official aid programme. Bureaucrats argue the need for “professionalism” and “centralization” but it seems more to reflect a suspicion of community-oriented grassroots work.’

Most NGOs believe the impetus for the cuts came directly from Foreign Affairs Minister André Ouellet. The Minister is said to have taken personal offence at criticism directed at him by Quebec-based NGOs in the French-language press last autumn. The irony is that Ouellet made a point of congratulating NGOs for their contributions to cross-country hearings on foreign policy last year. ‘The Minister says he believes in public participation to establish foreign policy,’ says Dale Hildebrand of the Ontario Council for International Co-operation. ‘But cutting off global education will only limit public debate.’

Although all parts of the Canadian aid programme were hit by the cuts, some sectors emerged relatively unscathed. CIDA Inc, the aid arm set up to boost Canadian exports to the Third World and stimulate the private sector in developing countries, received a mere ten per cent cut from $72 million to $64 million. Canada has high levels of ‘tied aid’ with over 60 cents of every aid dollar returning as a subsidy to Canadian business.

With these devastating cuts to global education there will be even less co-ordinated opposition to this business agenda. In addition, Canadian support to much-criticized financial bodies like the World Bank remains untouched. Nearly a fifth of Canada’s official aid budget goes to these lending institutions. Current cuts will further reduce the country’s aid budget to 0.31 per cent of GNP, a long way from the 0.70 per cent figure to which the Government is officially committed.

Wayne Ellwood

Chain gang
Inmates in leg irons were due to appear this spring along Alabama highways in the US. This is part of recently-elected Governor Fob James’ plan to put more prisoners to work.

The Alabama Department of Corrections already has inmates who are considered low security risks picking up rubbish along highways. But Prison Commissioner Ron Jones has placed a $17,000 order for 500 sets of leg irons, so other prisoners can be put to work. Jones said the inmates will be chained leg to leg in groups of five, with eight feet of chain between them. ‘We think the risk of escape will be almost nil.’

The Atlanta Journal, 19 February 1995

Free fall
The destruction of Cambodia’s forests (reported in NI 242) continues unabated. The profits are being split between the Khmer Rouge, Thai and foreign companies and the Royal Government of Cambodia itself. Cambodia’s forests have declined from 73 per cent of the land area to around 35 per cent today.

The outlawed Khmer Rouge guerrilla group, responsible for the killing of 1.5 million people, is doing a roaring trade in timber and gems with Thailand. However, the Thais maintain that the border between Cambodia and Thailand along which the logs are being transported has been closed since late 1994 when 22 Thai timber workers were murdered. Investigators from Global Witness, a group which focuses on situations where environmental exploitation funds human-rights abuses, described the closure as ineffective and cosmetic.

Just two sites controlled by the Khmer Rouge are capable of generating a million dollars a week. One of the companies dealing in this timber is Display Tech which sends it on to the US through Lumber World, a Florida-based importer.

The deforestaton has affected Cambodia’s unique natural irrigation system, leading to floods, drought and the failure of the rice harvest. With the next harvest due only in December, many rural communities are facing the threat of famine.

Further information from Global Witness, PO Box 6042, London W2 3GH, England.. Tel: (44) 171 251 3900.

 

ECUADOR

Fight to the finish
Big bets on cockfights

Bloody boys' game: women may observe, but don't participate.
photo by RACHEL BAYNES

A man died of a heart attack in a cockfight in Pelileo, a small town in the Ecuadorian highlands. He had lost a million sucres ($300). No more cock fights are held there. A million sucres is a small sum compared to the houses, cars and life savings that are sometimes bet on fighting cockerels in Ecuador. The monthly minimum wage is $33.

Cockfights, popular all over South America, are most prevalent in rural areas where families have the space to rear cockerels in their back yards. Championships between towns, regions and countries are held every year, like the South American Championships held in December.

It takes a year to raise a fighting cockerel. It is fed on vitamins and iron and made to do exercises. Once it has won over 10 fights it is worth up to $300.

Hector Valles has a friend who trains them. ‘He holds the bird upside down and makes it bite the head of a chicken. He also makes cocks run and do sit-ups,’ says Hector.

Standing around a table men of various ages and backgrounds display their cockerels. They share only their passion for the sport. Weighing and comparing the size and age of the cockerels is considered vital to the outcome. It can take hours. One owner swings his bird towards another cockerel’s head to see if they show aggression. If they do, the owners must agree on how much to bet.

The cockerels are armed with pointed fishbone spurs for the fight. Plastic tape is wound around the bird’s foot. The claws are trimmed. It flutters in discomfort. Wax is melted onto its claws to attach the spur. The bird held by Mario Vega, a 24-year-old local who is helping out, jumps from his arms. He grabs it tightly.

At the beginning of the fight the cocks are taunted with live chickens. One owner licks his bird’s feathers, smoothing the ruffled ones down before sending it into battle.

‘As soon as they send the cockerel to fight, it must stick the spur in the other’s throat,’ says Hector. Unemployed, he can only watch. ‘When I am working again I will bet on the cockerels,’ he says.

‘Hit him’, ‘Kill him’, ‘Give it to him’ shout the men drinking spirits. Traditionally it is the men who participate while female relatives observe. One cockerel gets badly wounded. The other has won. Its owner jumps up and down, hands in the air.

Mario shrugs his shoulders. ‘I lost 100,000... Oh, that’s nothing. Many bet one or two million,’ he says. Mario swiftly carries the dying cockerel to the bathroom and cuts its throat. He adds: ‘Well, they’re going to eat it now. It’s dead.’

Rachel Baynes

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CHINA

Unwilling teachers
High college fees restrict choice

Brief escape from teaching: Xiao and Li.
photo by CHRISTINE HALL

China needs teachers – and young people are being recruited against their will. To refuse often means losing their chance of a college education. Only a small, wealthy minority can afford to pay college and university fees to study their subject of choice.

Liang, 18, has just finished middle school. She had hoped to study languages at university and become an interpreter. But the only form of higher education she was offered was teacher-training.

‘I’m desperate,’ she says. ‘I don’t have any talent for the job, let alone a vocation. When I imagine standing in front of a class, I sweat and panic.’

Li HuoYou, 23, studies at a college for teachers in Tonghua, in the Northeast. She wanted to become a bilingual secretary. Her sister and brother suffer from a disease of the brain and cannot earn. Li’s parents could not afford the huge university fees. She was offered a state grant – on condition that she studied to become a teacher.

Li feels responsible for her parents and siblings, and will probably provide for them in the future. She will have to work for at least six years as a teacher before she is allowed to change jobs. And she will have to work wherever the state sends her. ‘Probably in a small village, where nobody wants to go,’ she fears. ‘Most of us are sent to remote rural areas because the lack of teachers there is extreme.’

Only students whose parents have guanxi (connections) – and can afford to pay bribes – have access to the better-paid teaching jobs in the big cities.

Li’s friend Xiao Wen Jun is also unwillingly attending the teacher’s college. ‘It is possible to escape the fate of being a teacher,’ she says. ‘But if you want to change to another work unit, you have to pay an enormous fine – at least 6,000 ($705) yuan.’ Many teachers earn as little as 1,500 ($176) yuan per year, and Xiao doesn’t think she can save enough money.

The situation looks more hopeful for Zhin Zue Lian. Her mother is manager of a department store and her father a graduate engineer.

‘I will get qualifications for English teaching, and then I’ll use my language skills elsewhere. My father has guanxi in the rich coastal cities in the south. He will find someone who owes him a favour and will get me a job as a translator.’

Xiao, whose parents are peasants, will have to come to terms with the unwanted profession: ‘If I had the chance, I would like to become a journalist or an illustrator. But at least there is one advantage in being a teacher. There are suddenly so many unemployed people in China, who are terrifyingly poor. It will not happen to us.’

Christine Hall

Big boss
A London curate is suing the Church of England for unfair dismissal. This follows an industrial tribunal which overruled the Church’s claim that its clergy are not protected by the British Parliament’s Employment Acts because they are employed by God and not the Church.

The Economist, Vol 334 No 7904

Mining trouble
The Australian Council for Overseas Aid (ACFOA) has released a report on the killing, torture and disappearance of villagers living in a huge mining-concession area of West Papua controlled by US-based company Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold.

The villagers – members of the Amungme, Dani, and other West Papuan peoples – have been demonstrating in opposition to the expansion of the current copper and gold mine at Grasberg, one of the biggest in the world.

Now a British company, RTZ, is making a major investment – estimated at $1,700 million – in Freeport, which will finance expansion of the mining by up to 2.6 million hectares.

This February the Indonesian Government said that it would be removing (forcibly if necessary) 2,000 indigenous people from the concession area. The report states that 22 civilians and 15 alleged guerrillas have been shot by the Indonesian army, aided by Freeport’s security personnel.

Others have been arbitrarily arrested, beaten, tortured and forced to flee into the jungle.

Further information in Australia from ACFOA. Tel: (61) 3 417 7505. Fax: (61) 3 416 2746.
Further information in Britain from Tapol. Tel: (44) 181 771 2904. Fax: (44) 181 653 0322.

What a gas!
At the United Nations global climate conference held in Berlin, the US – the world’s biggest producer of carbon dioxide – refused to commit itself to any cut in emissions in the next century. This did not stop it from urging so-called developing countries to do more to cut down their emissions.

Its allies in this bizarre doublespeak were Australia, Canada, Japan and Aotearoa/New Zealand. The European Union advocated reduction commitments.

Meanwhile a bloc of 60 developing countries backed a proposal under which they would make no new commitments on cutting emissions of greenhouse gases while richer countries would be asked to make steep cuts.

The Guardian, 4 April 1995

Quote

‘Travellers may tell what they have seen on their journey, but they cannot explain it all.’

Ashanti saying.

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©Copyright: New Internationalist 1995


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