New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 323

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Letters

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Shining Path
‘The outside world seems to think that we are all like the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path).’ Thus complained a leader of the MRTA rebels in an interview with an Italian woman journalist in 1992. It would seem that the NI in its March issue on Peru has contributed to that impression. MRTA was also known as the Tupacamarista People’s Army and operated somewhat to the north-east of Lima in the Departments of San Martin and Amazonas. They never received much publicity in spite of being arguably more worthy of support than those who did. The same interviewee made the point:

Cover of the NI Issue 321. ‘The “Path” is autocratic and bloodthirsty, capable of killing people simply because they do not share their ideology. It is no accident that the media are careful to present the terrors of the Path as the only voice of opposition in our country. With the same object of denigrating us they say we are drug dealers. It is true that there are drug traffickers at San Martin… but the MRTA seeks to change this society on the basis of moral force. How could we encourage the drug traffic knowing the damage it does to young people all over the world? We seek an all-embracing solution to the problem, not one that puts us on a collision course with the peasants but rather one that encourages them.’

In spite of this the measures taken against the MRTA and the indigenous people who were suspected of supporting them were as savage as those used against the Path, though another part of that same interview may throw light on the reason. ‘We maintain ourselves by a “war tax” on the capitalists. They provoked the war and it is only right that they should pay for it.’ Needless to say the ‘war tax’ was collected by raids on banks and corporations, but those who say the authorities started the repression because these ‘rebels’ espoused a left-wing lifestyle are probably right. As in all forms of warfare, truth tends to be the first victim.

Chris Scott 
Derby, England

AIDS in Zambia
I find it quite incredible that your correspondent Mark Lynas could devote a whole page to Zambia (NI 320, Africa's hidden killers) without a single mention of AIDS. I realize of course that the article was primarily about the devastating effect of policies forced on the Government by the World Bank and the IMF. But the main cause of the death rate is not just ‘children... slowly passing away... from TB and pneumonia’. Many of these children, probably a majority, have underlying aids which has destroyed their resistance to the diseases mentioned.

On one other aspect of the article: the experience of Shoprite, ‘the South African supermarket chain that is colonizing the country’ is not unique to developing countries. In Britain we quite frequently see headlines like ‘ASDA/Sainsburys/Tesco create 500 jobs’ yet never hear of the consequent loss of perhaps 1,000 jobs in corner shops serving local communities. These same supermarket chains seem to be able to ‘carry’ the loss of trolleys abandoned all over the place to the detriment of the environment.

CCS Slorach
East Kilbride, Scotland

Foul nests
There is one striking omission in your Country Profile of Planet Earth (NI 320) which boils down to the fact that the poor themselves are equally capable of fouling their own nests.

No shortage of ‘warlords’: Ethiopia/Eritrea; Savimbi in Angola (it requires Angolans to fight each other to produce such a sustained civil war); Kashmir; Muslims v Christians in Indonesia rivalling anything in East Timor. And there is Congo/Zaire, never mind Uganda and Mugabe in Zimbabwe, that paragon of democratic virtue.

To blame all this (or not to mention it) on ‘colonialist’ Americans, even the World Trade Organization, is absurd and certainly disingenuous, and it weakens a perfectly good argument by suggesting ‘double standards’.

L G Holt
Bromley, England

Naive issue
The issue on redesigning the global economy (NI 320) was disappointingly naive. The keynote article claims the ‘The goal should be a new international financial architecture that will restore the social vision of meaningful employment and human rights.’

Firstly, the use of ‘restore’ here is clearly inappropriate. Secondly, tinkering with financial institutions will not alter the fact that a tiny minority own the lion’s share of the earth’s resources, which is the real reason for mass poverty. Abolishing all financial institutions and thereby establishing production for use not profit is the only solution to the ills that the NI constantly exposes but never truly addresses.

Paul Bennett 
Manchester, England

High-school project
I am a junior at Greer High School. When asked to pick an African country to do a paper on, I unthoughtfully picked Western Sahara seeing that I own a Jeep Wrangler Sahara (not the smartest idea, I know). I was to do a minimum of research and come up with a specific topic concerning either the country’s growth, economy, government, people, etc. Soon I found that Spain, Morocco and Mauritania had been fighting over the area for quite some time. That’s when I knew my subject would be to find the story behind the disputes and to see how people in and around this country were reacting. I came to the right place... the NI on Western Sahara (NI 297).

After reading of the hardships and struggles of the peoples of Western Sahara, I came to realize that this was becoming more of a story than I had ever imagined (it being a small unheard-of country and all). One story almost brought tears to my eyes, while the brave words of others sparked hope and light in my heart. This was no longer just an essay, it was then a personal issue. I did further research and plan to continue doing more. To all who helped put this issue together, you have influenced me to get to know my surroundings on a deeper level and have found a now-constant reader.

Chris Peake 
Greer, South Carolina, US

Eritrea and Tigray
I would like to make the following clarifications to your piece on the current Ethiopian-Eritrean conflict (Chronicle, NI 320). The notion that the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) wholeheartedly supported Eritrean independence is not tenable. For example, the same Meles Zenawi that you credited for allowing Eritrea ‘to go its own way’ is on the record as saying that he agreed to Eritrean independence only because the alternative would have been more bloodshed. It is also an historical fact that the Eritrean forces had liberated their homeland before the Ethiopians could do the same and Eritrean independence was a fait accompli.

Cover of the NI Issue 320. Your characterization of the current situation as a ‘petty border conflict’ fails to consider the more complex issues behind the war. The TPLF is an ethnic-based organization whose raison d’être is to ‘liberate’ the province of Tigray from the rest of Ethiopia. To this effect, it has not only divided Ethiopia along ethnic lines but it is frantically working to make Tigray a de facto state as well. The existence of a functioning multi-ethnic and multi-religious Eritrea next to the monocultural state of Tigray is perceived as a threat by the TPLF leadership.

The caption under the female fighter gives the impression that Eritrean women have made little progress since independence. Nothing could be further from the truth. They have won the right to own land and have succeeded in outlawing outdated customs such as female circumcision. They are well-represented in all sectors of Eritrean society including the Government. Moreover, the recently ratified Eritrean constitution reserves over a quarter of seats for female candidates. A lot more remains to be done, but women’s progress so far should not be underestimated.

Tensae G Tewelde
Toronto, Canada

Successful criteria
Western nations are seen by the World Bank and the IMF as having a ‘success’ which others should emulate. It’s time we changed the criteria of ‘success’ and called nations ‘successful’ whose populations all have their basic needs met.

Gina Behrens 
Wingello, Australia

Letter from Lebanon

Candles, courtesy of Israel
Reem Haddad reports on life in Beirut after another Israeli bombing..

I suppose one could look at the romantic side of being bombarded by Israel and anticipate candlelit dinners each evening. That is, if one could ignore the hassle of cooking by the feeble light of candles and battery-operated lanterns, bathing in freezing water and shivering with cold in front of a redundant electric heater.

The worst part is that people were just beginning to recover from the previous Israeli onslaught only eight months after the warplanes of our friendly neighbor bombed two power stations in Lebanon, plunging much of Beirut into darkness.

Thanks to donations, power plants had been coming back to life and homes were enjoying almost full-time electricity.

And then, on 8 February, Israel struck again. This time the excuse was that the Hezbollah fighters, who are trying to oust Israeli occupation forces from south Lebanon, killed five Israeli soldiers in the previous two weeks.

I suppose a twisted logic could justify that the Israelis injured 17 civilians, deprived around 3.5 million people of heat in the middle of winter, inflicted $40 to $50 million-worth of damage in a country still struggling to recover from a civil war – just to teach the Lebanese not to resist an occupation force in their own country.

Illustration by SARAH JOHN The day after the shelling of Lebanon, the international media plastered pictures of ‘poor’ Israeli civilians huddled in bomb shelters. I couldn’t help but notice that they had televisions, lights and heaters. And I couldn’t help wishing I had a bomb shelter to hide from Israel’s bombs.

But there was one thing the Israelis did not count on. After 16 years of civil war, the Lebanese have become an amazingly resilient people.

The day after the shelling, the reaction was subdued. With a collective sigh the people just pulled out their generators – still placed on their balconies since the war days – refuelled them and continued with their business.

Those who didn’t have generators went to their local neighborhood electricity supplier. There, a huge generator operated by an entrepreneur who had the far-sighted vision to invest in these motors rented electricity lines to neighbors.

Abu Hussein, for example, in the picturesque community of Gemaizeh, provides ten amperes to nearby households for $80 a month and five amperes for $40 a month. It’s enough to power the refrigerator, heater, television and lights in an average-sized apartment.

Others, who couldn’t afford the services, shrugged their shoulders and also went about their businesses.

‘I just close down my shop as soon as it gets dark,’ said an owner of a clothing store. ‘I won’t subscribe to a generator now or ever because I simply can’t afford it.’

‘Let them bomb us all they want. We don’t care,’ said another store owner. ‘Of course, the power cuts are making life difficult but we refuse to show the Zionists that we are weakened by their terrorism.’

I am ashamed to admit that as much as I want to be stoic, I long to watch TV, take a warm bath, cuddle by the heater and see what I’m cooking. At the moment there is strict rationing of electricity, but as luck would have it my neighborhood is getting much of the rationing after midnight.

So I head towards Abu Hussein and request a power line from his generator.

‘I have no more lines to rent,’ he said. ‘In fact, I have exceeded my limit.’ I plead.

‘I just can’t,’ he says. ‘May God help you find another way to power your home.’

So far, God still hasn’t found a way for me. So I console myself by placing scented and colored candles around the house.

I have learned the secret of surviving – God forbid – future missile attacks on power plants. Abu Hussein has confided in me that as soon as the Government repairs the electricity, some of his members will stop buying electricity from him.

‘And then all you have to do is hook up a cable to my generator and pay me ten dollars a month on top of what you pay for government electricity,’ he said. ‘So when Israel bombs again, you have nothing to worry about. I’ll immediately provide you with power.’

I think I’LL do just that.

Reem Haddad is a journalist for the Daily Star in Beirut. She has just been nominated for the UNESCO World Heritage Award and won the The Nur Aleem Civilian Bravery Award for Media.
E-mail: reem.haddad@dailystar.com.lb

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