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I was surprised not to have come across any reference to the 14th World Festival of Youth and Students in your issue on Cuba (NI 301). Held in Cuba last summer, there were 12,335 delegates from 132 countries who were there to show their concern for anti-imperialist solidarity, peace and friendship. This event was as important as the Pope’s visit, drawing 200 journalists and 27 television networks to highlight the problems the Cuban people have to face in their fight for independence and self-determination.
I would also have liked more details of the Cuban spirit of internationalism. Since the Cuban revolution tens of thousands of Cuban doctors, nurses, teachers and soldiers have participated in various projects of international solidarity, despite the political and economic constraints that American imperialism imposes on the country. And you could have focused on the terrorist acts against Cuba (such as the use of biological warfare to introduce blights which destroy crops), for which Cuba holds the US Government responsible.
San João de Madeira, Portugal
I found myself broadly in agreement with Professor Stephen Rose (The genetics of blame NI 300) on the limits of genetic determinism as an explanation for behavioural and social problems. I was, however, puzzled by his assertions regarding the implications of a link being found between male violence and the ‘Y’ chromosome: viz that the only solution would be to abort all male foetuses.
It is surely possible that some men might carry a putative ‘violence’ gene (or genes) on the ‘Y’ chromosome whilst others do not. Also, if the genes were located on the pairing region of the father’s ‘Y’ chromosome they would not necessarily be passed on to male offspring. Genetic screening could presumably detect it/them in a foetus.
Leaving aside some of the local environmental impact of mining, you overlooked one major issue with regard to coalmining. The burning of fossil fuels for energy is the main contributor of human-made greenhouse gas emissions to our global atmosphere. The world’s leading experts now agree that burning fossil fuels – coal, oil, gas – is slowly but surely upsetting our climate, releasing carbon dioxide which traps heat close to the earth – the so-called ‘greenhouse effect’.
We must quickly wean ourselves from such fuels for energy and move towards cleaner, renewable energy technologies. The good news is that a move towards renewable energy creates four times the number of jobs and can bring employment to regions which are otherwise deprived of industrial development.
Far from tolerable
Ian Lewis (NI 300) replied to my letter (NI 297) dismissing my views on capitalism, as paradoxically ‘left-wing colonialism’. The author suggests that I was preaching to developing nations on how to run their economies.
This is far from the truth. My assertion that the need for an alternative to capitalism ‘is greater than ever’ was directed at the worldwide capitalist system, including the so-called ‘first’ and ‘second’ world nations. It is now true to say that every nation has its own ‘third’ world. Britain, for example, has seen poverty almost double since 1979 thanks to the legacy of Thatcherism. The same is true in the US and New Zealand.
To see the effects of the free market we only have to read Dancing in the Snow (NI 296) which described the heroic fight of the 500 sacked Liverpool dockers against ‘casualization’ and ‘flexible working hours’. Their fight highlighted the pain and human suffering of many workers across the globe due to the doctrine of free trade, and capitalism in general.
When a system creates a situation where the richest 358 people have as much wealth and income as the poorest 2.3 billion it is far from tolerable.
It was very interesting to note while reading Mining (NI 299) that even a small mine throws up nearly all the problems that a large mine does.
Gujarat is not very well endowed with minerals. However, it has quite a few in small quantities. In Bharuch district, lignite mining has been going on since 1985 and has created quite a few problems. The main one is water. Five villages around the mine have found that wells have run dry, local rivers and other water bodies have been diverted or silted up. The mining company has arranged for water supplied by tankers but it is not enough.
The artificial lake created by the open-cast mine contains acidic water (and probably other heavy metals) which is pumped out and passes through two villages before losing its acidity. The feet of cattle are burned when walking through it. In addition, the mine has caused greater gender inequality among the tribal people by refusing to employ women, who in any case have to stay home waiting for the water tankers all day.
Gujarat is poised for a big expansion of its mining activities. The state intends almost to treble its electric output in the next three years and much of this is going to be lignite-based. Lignite is known to be a dirty fuel, high in sulphur. There has been no public debate or consultation on the way this expansion will be implemented.
Michael for the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (Environmental Protection Committee)
Dediapada, Gujarat, India
Felicity Arbuthnot’s article on Iraq (Dying of Shame NI 298) has had a tremendous impact on the Peace Movement in Vancouver. Until it was published, End the Arms Race (EAR), the umbrella organization for many peace groups in British Columbia had resisted working on the Iraqi sanctions issue. However, the President of EAR announced that the article had changed his thinking and EAR can now use its resources to inform and educate people about sanctions.
One of the pieces of information that we are trying to get out concerns the War Crimes Tribunal in New York City in 1992 where 22 judges from 18 nations found officials of the Bush administration guilty of 19 war crimes.
This ties in with the question asked by Felicity Arbuthnot: ‘Who are the worst terrorists?’ Saddam and his cronies have killed many people, but less than a million, as economic sanctions have. How can these sanctions continue when starvation of civilians as a method of warfare and collective punishment is prohibited by international law? Are these not crimes for which Clinton, Chrétien and Blair should also be tried. I think this issue needs to be a major priority for the International Criminal Court at the Hague.
As a member of the Michigan Peace Team (MPT), I’m frequently asked, ‘What do you do?’ Foreign Bodies (NI 298) captures the role of the international peaceworker accompanying people in places of violent conflict. Readers on the net can check the link ‘Global Peacemaking Opportunities’ on http://www.traverse.com/nonprof/peaceteam for a regularly updated list of 18 volunteer services like Peace Brigades International and MPT.
Traverse City, Michigan, US
|The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist|
Going for Gobi
Louisa Waugh sets out for the desert with her enthusiastic mother.
My mother rang her local travel agent in Cheshire, rural northern England, and told him she wanted a ticket to Mongolia. ‘Timbuktu is that Madam?’ he openly sniggered. ‘I’ve got a right one here,’ she could hear him saying aside to his colleagues.
My mother only knew one thing about Mongolia: the Gobi desert, which covers almost a third of the country. And this was where she wanted to go. When I explained there were only two ways of visiting the Gobi – booking an overpriced official tour and being led on a selected route, or flying to the Gobi alone and trying to organize the trip ourselves, she was undeterred. ‘Where can we buy the flight? It’ll be more fun going on our own and having an adventure. And you speak enough Mongolian.’
I was feeling stressed. Anyone who’s lived here for more than a few months has chilling stories of being stranded in the steppe (or desert) with drunk, inept local guides and Russian jeeps that refuse to start until the driver is heavily bribed. But, unwilling to pay the tour price, we bought plane tickets for Bayanhongor in the north-western Gobi.
To my intense relief the one contact I had in town, Matt, a gentle American teacher, came to the rescue. We’d have a Russian jeep that afternoon and could drive (or rather bump) to Orog lake, a rarely visited oasis in the Gobi. The four-day trip would cost $100 between us and our driver Batbayar and his mother Mandelmaa had lots of local friends we could visit. I started to relax.
After queuing for petrol for almost an hour we set off in the early evening. Mandelmaa and Batbayar spoke no English, but were friendly, eager travelling companions. My mother gazed out of the jeep window, entranced with the lush green pasture, which swiftly became arid, stony steppe, backed by red mountains and the brilliant, cloudless blue sky. We drove till dark and camped on a huge natural ledge next to a smooth sand dune. Our food was gritty, but the night so warm we slept outside under ten million stars.
Over the next three days my mother learnt a few words of Mongolian, took countless photographs of Bactrian camels and thrived on her first-ever camping trip. We visited Mandelmaa’s nomad friends and my mother drank airag (fermented horses milk) as I galloped round the lake with a rowdy crowd of young Mongolians, laughing out loud at the beauty of it all.
When we reluctantly abandoned the green waters and started back to Bayanhongor, we stopped to buy more airag for the searing hot drive. Here we met two drunk, charming old nomads and their sister, living alone with their horses and goats. We sat in their cool, dim ger, and introduced ourselves. ‘She speaks Mongolian’ said one brother to the other, ‘but her mother doesn’t understand a word we say.’ I asked the older man his name. He sat up straight, looked me in the eye and announced solemnly, ‘Jack’. He’d obviously seen a film or heard of someone with this name, because he had told us we were the first foreigners his family had ever met.
Children from the nearby settlement spilled into the ger and ‘Jack’ asked us to take photographs for the family album. Taking my mother’s arm he led us back into the brilliant sunshine and we posed en masse: mares and foals, a teenager on horseback, children, babies and adults, ‘Jack’, his brother and sister, Mandelmaa and Batbayar and my exhausted, delighted mother.
Six hours and two jeep breakdowns later we were back in Bayanhongor. ‘I’ll send you copies of the photos from England, Louisa, and you must get them to Jack,’ instructed my dust- coated mother, hugging Mandelmaa and Matt goodbye.
I’ve held on to the half-dozen photos as long as possible, reluctant to send them, wanting to keep the colours and images of this chaotic, memorable trip. But Mongolians treasure photographs, especially pictures of their families and friends, and nomads have little money to buy a camera. So just a couple of days ago I finally sealed the envelope and sent it to Matt, who I know will forward it to Mandelmaa. Eventually, just like us, these slightly battered pictures will find their way to Jack and his family.
Louisa Waugh is a freelance writer who lives and works in Mongolia.
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