New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 298

Letters
The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
They may be edited for purposes of space or clarity.
Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
to the nearest editorial office or e-mail to : ni@newint.org

Bougainville
Cover of the NI 296 on Globalization I was surprised that your article on Papua New Guinea (Globalization NI 296) painted such a rosy picture of relationships between the peoples of those islands. I recently heard the story of Martin Mirori of Bougainville who reported to the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva this year.

Bougainville comes under the jurisdiction of the Solomon Islands. Rio Tinto Zinc had opened a copper mine while it was under Australian jurisdiction and the environment was badly polluted. The traditional Bougainville landowners closed the mine in 1988 and the Papua New Guinean army was sent in. Amid the violence 24,000 people lost their homes. To defend themselves, the people formed the Bougainville Revolutionary Army. An interim government was formed which campaigned for self-determination for the Bougainville people.

In 1990 a blockade was imposed to prevent supplies reaching the island and news from getting out. To date it is estimated that 12,000 people (ten per cent of the population) have died as a result of the blockage. In June 1996 a major offensive was launched by Papua New Guinea. Concentration camps were set up on the island, containing 47,000 people in inhuman conditions.

I do hope you will print this letter as New Internationalist readers may be unaware (as I was) about this.

Carol Betera
Dublin, Ireland

Ed: We will be covering Bougainville in next month's issue on mining.

Reality antidote
I received my first issue of the NI. It was TRASH. Well, not really. I found the contents of NI 295 very high quality indeed. It made me regret I hadn't taken out a subscription long ago.

It has been a long time since I read a magazine cover-to-cover, but NI received the treatment. It was like a shot of reality antidote to a poor brain saturated in coke, cars and computers.

Continue to challenge and inform and you'll have a faithful reader.

Neil Maclean
Glasgow, Scotland

A big ask
Are Australians willing to forego the Sydney Olympics so that China can be persuaded to stop trading in landmines? China just missed out on hosting the Olympics. Offer the Games on the understanding that no country trading in mines (NI 294) would participate (this would include Russia and the US). Beijing 2000!

Nelson Underdown
Adelaide, Australia

Child focus
Congratulations on your issue on Child labour (NI 292). I would have liked to have seen a focus on the NGOs in the South and their respective funding organizations. It needs to be a lot more widely understood that getting children off the street or out of factories isn't the solution to child labour.

Sadly too many NGOs are more concerned with producing quantitative results than treating the root of the problem. Direct work with children needs to be along the lines of making them aware, socially and politically, of how to change their situation, while opening employment opportunities for families so that children are able to study and have a childhood. Making surrounding people aware that working children deserve respect, that they work because they have to and not because they want to, should be high on the list of any NGO working with street children.

Jennie Gamlin
Mexico City, Mexico

Making a difference
Nancy Scheper-Hughes (NI 295) demonstrates precisely why it is so easy to 'dehumanize' others. It is convenient for us to do so. We are unwilling to take responsibility for one another. And then, no doubt, we will feel resentful when there is no-one to take responsibility for us.

Caring for other people - children, aged parents, an ill spouse, the poor living on our streets - is inconvenient. So rather than accept this responsibility, we prefer to turn it over to someone else and convince ourselves there is no other option. Even our feelings of 'guilt' are ways of justifying ourselves in these circumstances.

As long as we cannot care for those we 'love' how can we expect to be able to make a difference in the wider society and world in which we live?

Rick McDaniel
Fredericton, Canada

[image, unknown]
Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Ethically dubious
The article on ethics 'Born to be good' (NI 289) has as its premise that moral is social. Without questioning the premise, I am very concerned that the evidence used to support it comes in large measure from so-called 'psychological studies' that are themselves highly ethically dubious. For a growing number of psychologists, basing conclusions on authoritarian experiments is an ethical embarrassment. Psychologists will make a much more meaningful contribution to society when the nature of their scientific enquiry becomes ethical and liberatory rather than exploitative.

Richard Walsh-Bowers
Waterloo, Canada

Wind Farms
It is sometimes difficult to know what is fact and what is untrue about proposed wind farms. What is true is that the UK is the windiest country in Europe and with nearly 40 farms already operating there is a great deal of real-life experience to consider. If you would like to find out more, write to me at the British Wind Energy Association, 4 Hamilton Place, London WlV OBQ. Or visit our website at http://www.bwea.com .

Nick Goodall
London, England

Shared home
In Endangered Species (NI 288) you remind us that each year new species of plants and animals are added to the list of those soon to be extinct. Without the possibility of a major species evolving, we must attempt to sustain those species that have evolved in the past.

Those who exalt 'business first' and scoff at the extinction of an owl or a flower forget that all life depends on the continued resilience of ecological networks of which owls and flowers are an integral part. The words 'ecology; and 'economy' both derive from the Greek ekos meaning 'home'. Our home is the earth.

The only restraint which can save this home is individual thrift and non-waste. The planet conceived of as a mass of resources to be extracted at a maximum rate of efficiency and profit is now an obsolete concept which endangers our global dwelling place itself.

Is it not time for all governments and corporate leaders to reconsider their regime for trashing our shared home?

James Christoff
Denman Island, Canada

Emotional rhetoric
In his article 'Deaf to the Screams' (NI 287) Peter Adamson courageously exposes 'the most neglected tragedy of our times': the high rate of material mortality and morbidity in the developing world. As a woman and a humanist I share his concern and outrage. However, I must take issue with the purely emotional rhetoric used to wake us up.

Adamson cites one midwife: 'If hundreds and thousands of men were suffering and dying every year... then we would all have heard about this issue long ago, and something would have been done.' Such a statement is inflammatory and empty. I recognize and support the need to focus on women's problems; however, the midwife's statement tries to emphasize the difference between the world's treatment of men and women by creating an imaginary men's affliction. Lacking specifics, she claims in effect that any men's problem would be easily noticed, understood and solved. She does not acknowledge that what often affects availability of information and ease of action are a problem's connections to the particulars of geography, politics, economics, education and culture, and not simply gender.

Emotionalism can be effective only if tied to fact. When tied to this kind of arbitrary situation it is nothing more than manipulative propaganda.

Amy Reiswig-Hoefle
Kathmandu, Nepal

The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

Illustration by SARAH JOHN

Letter from Colombia

Of poppies, plantations - and parents
Jenny James looks out over Colombia's opium crop.
The nearest fields are five minutes from her cabin.

The poppies in Colombia aren't red, like those that grew in the cornfields of Kent when I was a child. They are every delicate pastel shade from pink to mauve to purple.

When they drop their petals and form large seed-cups, young children and muscled men who could be doing much heavier work bend over the vast fields, making fine razor-cuts in the pods. Then, day by day, the sticky ooze that emanates from the cut is collected. Final destination: heroin on the city streets of the Northern Hemisphere.

Poppies grow best on recently deforested cool mountain slopes; for at least a year the floor of the slaughtered forest will be fertile.

The nearest opium crop to us is about five minutes from our central cabin. The occupant of the versatile sprayer-plane that swooped down right over our heads as we weeded our vegetable garden would naturally have thought the crop was ours; in fact, its owner lives one hour down the mountainside. So far, we have avoided being sprayed by aerial herbicides; not so our nearest neighbour Chucho, just ten minutes along the muddy track, nor Don Carlos, the next neighbour. He is an Evangelist and preached to me how he would 'never hurt other nations' by growing poppies. Now he has several acres. There is no other form of agriculture in this area, now that a ban on logging has finally been imposed.

The FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrilla force have been known kill drug-users, after the customary three cautions, or at least to drive them from the area. But they support the peasants and oppose aerial spraying. So do I.

Martyn, aged I 5, was standing with some neighbours outside their shack watching the aerial antics. He had a small radio with him and caught the aircraft's frequency.

'Look at those sons-of-bitches watching us. Perhaps they'd like another dose,' said one of the Colombian armed-helicopter crew, directing and protecting the American pilot of the spray-plane.

Martyn, being Irish, could understand both the languages spoken in the air above him.

It's handy for the Colombian Government that the Americans have decided it is easier to attack Third World peasants rather than deal with problems back home; the Colombian Government likes attacking peasants too, especially in guerrilla-controlled areas.

Meanwhile, we heard that my daughter Louise, also 15, was working on a poppy farm. She had told us that she and her teenage boyfriend, Alvaro, were tasting life in the nearest town.

Martyn's mother, Mary, hit the roof, and eyed me for my reaction. I shrugged. I was caught somewhere between not wanting to play the authoritarian parent and feeling indignant that Louise would risk sullying our anti-drug reputation, thus weakening our environmental arguments. Mary flew off.

She returned many hours later, rosy and pleased with herself, with a pale Louise in tow. Mary and the neighbour's poppy-workers had enjoyed the brawl. Alvaro had not. He was trained that it was not nice to hit ladies, even when attacked, and ended up being chased round the opium plantation by the robust and not-very-inhibited Mary. The plantation owner was also not pleased: Mary gave him an Irish-Colombian earful and he has not spoken to us since.

Louise was relieved to be rescued; she had hated every minute of her escapade. I couldn't help a little private amusement as I mentally perused the generations: my own mother, born in 1910, had shocked her Victorian mother by leaving home at 22, becoming a professional artist and joining the Communist Party. I'd horrified her by beginning my sexual life at 14; what could Louise do in her turn? Well, she could go and work on an opium-poppy plantation.

Jenny James has lived and worked in the rainforest in Colombia since 1987.

[image, unknown]
Illustration: SARAH JOHN

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