New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 326

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Letters

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Burma and democracy
Cover of the NI issue 324 Your article ‘Democracy – the facts’ (NI 324) makes no mention of the ongoing slaughter in Burma. It should have included this section on the ‘Democracy Meter’:

DESPOTIC GENOCIDE 
Examples: Unelected coup governments, like Ne Win’s SLORC party, in Burma.  

Notion of Democracy: People are cheaper labour than machines, less maintenance, running costs, easily disposable. Stop education. An uneducated people accepts dictatorship more unquestioningly. Mandatory mutilation, rape and torture promotes obedience through terror.

Record on Rights: Every human rights violation committed on earth is equalled or exceeded by the Military Junta oppression of Burma. Human life is cheaper than dirt, forced labour in leg irons is commonplace. Burma produces a massive amount of opium and supplies around 60 per cent of the world’s heroin.

To speak of democracy and omit any mention of Burma/Myanmar, a country so divided it has two names, is inexcusable. Tragically, Burma is one of the bloodiest examples of serial human-rights violations committed in opposition to freedom of any kind.

Ruth Franklin
Manchester, England

Corporate profit
New Internationalist is absolutely right to expose The Economist’s view that the world’s poor will lose if the so-called free trade is not allowed to proceed Fair Trade (NI 322). Instead of improving the lot of the poor in poor countries, this unfair trade is actually impoverishing the poor even in the US, the world’s richest country with a booming economy.

‘Over 30 million people live in households that experience hunger and food insecurity,’ said Larry Brown, director of the Center on Hunger and Poverty at Tufts University. Some 20 per cent of workers earn so little that ‘they’re making choices between rent and medical bills and adequate diet.’

These facts speak for themselves.

Makmood Elahi
Ottawa, Canada

Organic Bill
Your issue on pesticides (NI 323) could have benefited from a reference to a campaign in Britain which aims to persuade the Government to adopt the Organic Food and Farming Targets Bill. This Bill aims to ensure that 30 per cent of agricultural land and 20 per cent of food in England and Wales is organic by 2010.

I also feel that why organic food costs more requires further explanation. Chemical farming has many hidden costs which we pay for through our taxes and utility bills. For example, removing pesticides from drinking water costs UK water companies around £120 million per year. A new study, by Professor Jules Pretty from Essex University, shows that food actually costs about three times more than the price you see on the supermarket shelf. Organic food appears to cost more in the shops, but as the farming method significantly reduces some of these hidden costs, we will pay less for our food overall. At the moment, the market for organic food is just getting off the ground, but as it grows, prices are expected to fall. The Bill aims to make organic food more affordable for more people.

Our campaign believes organic
farming can feed the world

Our campaign also believes that organic farming can feed the world. As you rightly point out, the main problem is that food is not distributed fairly. In the West, the problem is overproduction and to combat this about ten per cent of farmland has to be set-aside each year to reduce production. When land is turned over to organic production there is a decrease in the amount of food it produces. But over time (about four years), as the soil becomes more fertile, output increases. If readers would like to get involved in the campaign for organic food they can visit Sustain’s website at www.sustainweb.org

Catherine Fookes, Sustain,
London, England

Accurate century
Isn’t NI fussy about accuracy? Ama Ata Aidoo in ‘Millennium Hangovers’ (NI 324) says ‘the contentious twentieth century has gone’.

No, Ama. Not till the end of this year.

Bruce Hanna,
Heathcote, Australia

Selfish nations?
Tony Colman MP (‘LettersNI 324) claims the WTO is dominated by developing countries. Why then has the Group of 77 poorest nations, backed by 1,500 non-governmental organizations, called for ‘review, repair and reform’ of the WTO structures? Are they just being selfish?

The WTO primarily serves the needs of a small number of rich countries. One in five member countries are so poor they can’t afford to staff a permanent office in the WTO home town of Geneva. The annual cost of staffing the UK office in Geneva is equal to about three day’s exports for Sierra Leone.

The WTO primarily serves the needs
of a small number of countries.

In Seattle the inequality of access to the WTO between rich and poor nations was obvious for all (apart from Mr Colman) to see. The EU arrived with a delegation of 594 people, while the Seychelles entered the negotiations with a delegation of one. The former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth described the negotiations as the most unequal he had experienced in his 40-year career.

If he won’t listen to the voices of developing nations and campaigners, perhaps Tony Colman will heed the words of his own trade minister, Steven Byers, who admitted that there has to be ‘fundamental and radical change in order [for the WTO] to meet the needs and aspirations of all 134 members’.

Dave Timms
World Development Movement,
London, England

No vote, no veto
MP Tony Colman ‘found it weird’ that protesting non-governmental organizations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle did not realize that developing countries ‘have over 75 per cent of the votes (in the WTO) and can veto anything they do not like’.

I find it even weirder that Mr Colman does not realize that the WTO has never voted on any issue. The WTO operates by ‘consensus’, which normally translates into the Quad (US, EU, Japan and Canada) ignoring, bribing or bullying the rest of the world to their way of thinking. As long as there is no vote, there can be no veto.

Alec Bamford
Bangkok, Thailand

Nigerian fallacies
Cover of the NI issue 320 Your article on the current ‘re-democratization’ of Nigeria (NI 320 in ‘Chronicle of 1999’) is grossly wrong in two respects. Firstly, while some harassment of civil society has certainly slowed, the human-rights violations in the southern oil-rich Niger Delta continue unabated. In November 1999, just before the NI was printed, government troops attacked a town of over 70,000 inhabitants, killing hundreds of civilians, creating tens of thousands of refugees and destroying all but three buildings. The area is a hotbed of resistance against the State and the oil companies’ theft of resources, and this attack was to make an example of people to force them not to aspire to self-determination and resource control.

Secondly, to assume that the Western model of government and liberal democracy is the way forward is a shallow and in effect racist approach. Western ‘democracy’ is not participatory, and is all but run by the multinationals. Seeing the Nigerian elections as ‘democracy’, and the ‘good’ behaviour of President Obasanjo as a shaft of light, is clearly a fallacy. Moreover, the pro-democracy movement in Nigeria, whilst positive in many respects, is élitist and urban and often linked to Western political thought that is based on (male) power.

The real aspirations for democracy in Nigeria are coming from the many parallel Bills of Rights being issued by diverse ethnic groups from amongst the oppressed in the south of the country. Interestingly, your article ignored these and the evidence of how they have been met with violence by corporate security agents and by President Obasanjo’s oil-company backed ‘civilian’, ‘democratic’ government.

Nick Jukes
Leicester, England

Revolting habits
I’m slowly finding my way around your new format. New names like ‘Mixed Media’ are helpful and new features like the Essay are good. I’m not sure about ‘Worldbeaters’ though. Do we need to read about such people? We can guess their revolting habits! What about a feature on the many ordinary community-minded individuals who can inspire us?

Don Gobbett
Cennednyss, South Australia

Letter from Lebanon

Across the fence
In the aftermath of the Israeli withdrawal from
southern Lebanon,
Reem Haddad stumbles across
families reunited after 52 years of separation.

It was the last thing I expected and for a few seconds I stood there dumbfounded. I was climbing a small hill in the village of Dhayra in south Lebanon. Somebody had told me that I might be able to find some members of the South Lebanon Army, Israel's proxy militia until their withdrawal in May this year after 22 years of occupation. As a journalist, I thought this would make a great interview.

Instead, I came across dozens of people standing in front of a fence. They were tearfully calling out people's names. On the other side, others were doing the same. In between the two groups was a barbed- wire fence - all that now separates Lebanon from Israel.

Illustration by SARAH JOHN And then it dawned on me: these people were Palestinian families torn apart 52 years ago when the state of Israel was created. And today they were seeing each other for the first time.

Palestinians on the Israeli side had made their way to the fence and asked Lebanese villagers to send a message to certain Palestinian families living in refugee camps in Lebanon. Somehow the message had spread and a busload of Palestinian refugees made their way south.

On both sides, men, women and children arched their necks trying to recognize each other.

'I am Itaf, the daughter of Rihan,' an elderly woman yelled from the Israeli side. 'Who are you? Do you know me?'

Immediately, screams rang out from the Lebanese side as cousins extended their hands in the air as if to reach her. Itaf and other Palestinians stepped over knee-high barbed wire and walked to the fence. Her hand reached through it to grasp the hands of her relatives on the Lebanese side. She had not seen them since 1948.

'How did this happen to us?' she cried out. 'Oh, how did this happen?'

Itaf was born in the Acre region in what was then known as Palestine. Her family fled to Lebanon in 1948 and contact with relatives ceased.

All around, sobs filled the air as relatives either recognized each other or met for the first time. Most were children when they fled. Only childhood memories remained of their friends and relatives. They persisted, calling out the names and trying to identify who was standing in front of them.

'We were neighbours, don't you remember?' one woman shouted from Lebanon. 'Tell me, what happened to your uncle and your aunt?'

Suddenly I noticed an elderly woman next to me silently shedding tears. She turned to me and grasped my hand. Her name, she said, was Myriam Moussa.

'I was only 13 when the Israelis made me go to Lebanon to join my Lebanese fiancé,' she said. 'I didn't want to go. I went alone and never saw my parents, brothers or sisters again.'

I gathered she was around 65 but she looked more like 80. The last time she saw her siblings, they were just small children, some even toddlers.

'Look over there,' she said still holding on to my hand. 'These are my sisters, and that man over there is my brother, Ahmad.'

From across the fence, an elderly man with white hair stared back. He seemed in a daze. He must have been around ten when his sister was forced to leave.

Nearby, their children held hands through the prickly barbed-wire fence. 'You're my first cousin,' said Yusra, holding on to a man's hand on the Israeli side. Both started crying. Neither one seemed to be able to let go.

Meanwhile, dozens of voices exclaimed joyfully when identities were established. Youngsters kissed the hands of the elderly extended through the fence.

Not knowing what to give her relative on the Lebanese side, one woman handed over a Pepsi can with Hebrew lettering. Another man threw over a keffieh, the traditional male headcovering, requesting that it be given to his brother. One family exchanged photographs.

The day ended all too soon. As I helped Myriam Moussa down the hill, her tears flowed again. 'What if they don't let me see my brother and sisters again?' she said.

I could only hope that perhaps, just perhaps, two warring nations might see beyond their hatred to allow wrinkled and youthful hands to touch through a prickly barbed wire.

It was not to be: a week later Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak prohibited Palestinians on the Israeli side from approaching the fence. Those on the Lebanese side came and waited for hours.

I wondered if Myriam Moussa was among those who finally turned away and walked slowly back down the hill.

Reem Haddad is a reporter for the Daily Star in Beirut. E-mail reem.haddad@dailystar.com.lb
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