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Issue 331

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Bolivians are up in arms over
coca, dead chickens and exams

Angry chicken producers dumped a pile of 1,000 dead and rotting birds on the front steps of the Cochabamba state Governor. Students had no teachers during the final weeks of the South American school year and examinations. And blockades meant food shortages across the nation.

Word corner

Junta
The Spanish and Portuguese word junta (meeting or council) is from the same root as ‘join’. Etymologically a group of people joined together for a particular purpose, junta is now particularly used to describe a political faction taking power after a revolution or coup d’état – and is commonly associated with military rule. The yoke joining two animals together is a related word, as is yoga (which means ‘union’ in Sanskrit).

Susan Watkin

Bolivia was thrown into turmoil in October when an informal alliance of teachers, rural water users, coca farmers and others began a series of national protest actions aimed at forcing the Government to listen to their various demands. In response Bolivia’s President Hugo Banzer, who ruled the nation as a dictator during much of the 1970s, deployed more than 20,000 soldiers and police in an effort to stop the protests by force. At least ten people were killed by government gunfire, more than 100 were injured and an unknown number jailed. The crisis erupted just six months after Banzer declared a national ‘state of emergency’ in an unsuccessful effort to stop a civic uprising over water privatization.

One of the issues was the Government’s US-financed plan to eradicate the last remaining five per cent of Bolivia’s illegal coca leaf crop. That plan involves building three new military bases in the Chapare region, the chief coca-growing area. To be built with six million dollars in US assistance, the bases would permanently deploy 1,500 troops in the area – a move bitterly opposed by local residents and many human-rights groups. ‘These bases were never debated in the Bolivian Congress or by the Bolivian people,’ says Edwin Claros, Vice-President of the Assembly on Human Rights in Cochabamba. ‘The bases will definitely mean more use of the military in the region and more violations of human rights’.

Representatives of farmers demanded that they be allowed to continue growing small plots of the plant (less than a fifth of a hectare). With nearly 95 per cent of the crop already eradicated in the region, they argue, the small crops that remain would be for traditional use, including the widespread Bolivian practice of chewing coca leaves.

But on national television Banzer cited US support for drug eradication as a rationale for a permanent military presence in the region: ‘We can’t leave those areas unprotected to be retaken by the black market of narco-trafficking.’

Jim Shultz / The Democracy Center: www.democracyctr.org

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Cycling for change
While cars have come to dominate the streets of the West, in much of the South the battle between cyclists, pedestrians and the motor vehicle is only just beginning. So last October, Cyclo North South sent a first shipment of 500 bikes from Canada to Cuban partner Federacion de Mujeres (Womens Federation). ‘The bicycle remains for many in the South the only realistic alternative to walking,’ says Cyclo founder Claire Morissette. ‘It is a clean and convivial way to improve people’s quality of life.’

Christian Huot. For more information, see: www.cam.org/~cyclons

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Devils as dogs
Australians should forgo pet dogs and cats and instead adopt native animals, says Director of the Australian Museum in Sydney, Michael Archer. ‘There is no animal that human beings have ever turned into a domestic pet that has died out,’ he explains as a rationale for this advice. ‘It’s the ones we don’t value that go extinct.’ And there are practical skills native animals offer, he adds: ‘If you have a quoll, and a house mouse chews its way in, by the time you count to five the tail is disappearing down the quoll’s throat. Another pleasing thing about quolls is that, unlike cats, they don’t torment their dinner before they eat it.’ As for a guard dog, Archer says: ‘I think a Tasmanian devil would be a fairly good bet. I recall a man going down the street in Hobart with a Tasmanian devil on a leash. You could see the crowds pulling well back. It would be a very brave intruder who went into a house where something like that was on guard.’

New Scientist Vol 166 No 2236

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The people’s loss
Forty million Chinese will lose their jobs in the first five years after the country enters the World Trade Organization, according to investment bank Salomon Smith Barney. Economic restructuring will cause 5 million farmers to leave agriculture, 10 million public-sector workers to be sacked and 20 million from private and collective enterprises to become unemployed.

Far Eastern Economic Review: www.feer.com

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Russia’s reaction
Far from responding to demands for less state control of information following the sinking of the sub Kursk, the Russian Government is reverting to secrecy. The Doctrine of the Information Security of the Russian Federation, signed into force by President Putin in September, seeks to entrench in law increased government control over the media. Amongst other measures, it introduces penalties for spreading ‘false news’ and recommends mandatory licensing of journalists.

Article 19: www.article19.org

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Good for nothing
When President Clinton signed the US Trade and Development Act in May 2000, he declared that the Act would be good ‘for the United States, good for Africa, good for Central America and the Caribbean’. The most publicized benefit of the Act is that it offers duty- and quota-free access to African products in the US market. But this offer of increased access is only to products that the US deems as not being import-sensitive. Coffee and sugar – key commodities of immediate export importance to a number of African economies – are not covered. In response the Act requires extensive African economic liberalization and restructuring and promotes US exports and investment in the region. It seems obvious the main beneficiary of the Act will be the US.

Third World Network

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Biorat bites business
The German company Bayer and British-based Zeneca Agrochemicals have launched an attack on Biorat, a mouse and rat poison developed in Cuba. The two Northern companies say Biorat is a dangerous pathogen. But José Antonia Fraga, director of Cuba’s Biological Pharmaceutical Laboratories, says the active substance in the poison is a strain of salmonella that affects only mice and rats. The bacteria lives only 72 hours, he adds. Fraga also points out that Biorat has also played a role in combating outbreaks of bubonic plague in Peru, haemorrhagic fever in Bolivia, leptospirosis in Nicaragua and other rodent-borne illnesses in Costa Rica, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.

Latin America Press Vol 32 No34

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Loving the Ugly One
Colombians have a new heroine – Betty, the leading character of a television show watched by 70 per cent of the national population, I am Betty, The Ugly One. A contrast to the usual Barbie-like female characters, Betty is a dowdy secretary who outsmarts her superiors and rescues her boss from bankruptcy. So popular is Betty that in Ecuador members of congress suspended a late-night debate for half an hour to watch the show. The Ugly One also dominates ratings in Mexico, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic. The show’s creator Fernando Gaitan says that in making an ‘ugly’ character popular, the show challenges the region’s class divide. ‘The poor in Latin America have Indian features,’ he says, ‘while the rich look more like Europeans. The rich are considered beautiful, but the poor are ugly and rejected.’

Guardian Weekly Vol 163 No 14

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Georgian police critics hospitalized

Photo: Amy Spurling
Investigative journalist Vasiko Silagadze - just one of the reporters beaten by police.

In the centre of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, Vasiko Silagadze was shoved into a car. He has that solid build and air of authority typical of investigative journalists, but Georgian police are no less strong and there were three of them. They beat him and sliced the pen-holding fingers of his writing hand. ‘Now let’s see how you’ll write articles,’ they said.

Vasiko is not the first Georgian journalist to be hospitalized after police brutality. Two years ago Aleko Skitishvili found himself in a hospital bed after Special Branch Police prevented him from reporting on a Mafia-boss trial. A year ago police turned on journalist Giorgi Kapanadze when he witnessed them beating another person and tried to intervene. And these are only the cases that get to the courtroom.

Journalists publicizing unlawful behaviour or exposing police and ministerial corruption can expect to pay for it afterwards. The presenter of a popular investigative Georgian TV programme called 60 Minutes apparently received veiled threats for airing critical information on the Interior Minister (and head of police) Kakha Targamadze.

Targamadze denies this, as he also denies any connection to Vasiko’s case. However, he was specifically targeted by Vasiko in his newspaper article – ‘Police live comfortably even with no salary’ (published in the Economic Digest in July). In itself, the article was not particularly sensational. It stated that police salaries have been frozen for the past four months and police supplement their meagre salaries with bribes. Vasiko wrote: ‘I wonder how one of the deputy [interior] ministers manages to have a new foreign car every 12 months – one of which he gave to the Ministry accountant after only a year’s use…’

Vasiko’s case serves to highlight that freedom of speech is becoming expensive for Georgian journalists, despite President Shevardnadze’s outwardly democratic stance. Even if these incidents do come to trial they usually freeze up mid-way or are dismissed. What exactly happened to Vasiko Silagadze in July is still being investigated. It was wryly noted by one civil-rights campaigner that ‘the investigator will probably conclude that he fell down the stairs and cut his own fingers.’

Amy Spurling

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Good news for girls
Young Egyptian women today are at least ten-per-cent less likely to undergo female genital mutilation than were their mothers, according to the Population Council. In 1995, 97 per cent of married older women had had their clitoris removed but the new data suggest that approximately 84 per cent of girls will end up having the operation. The Council also confirmed a trend toward greater medicalization of clitoridectomy, with doctors and nurses four times more likely to perform the operation than five years ago. The clitoris has traditionally been removed by barbers or midwives.

Newslink Africa Vol 18 No 37

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Working themselves to death
Social workers link Japan’s high rate of suicide among middle-aged men with the nation’s economic woes. Back in 1990, when the economy was stronger, 5,200 middle-aged men committed suicide. But in 1998 around 10,000 men in their forties and fifties killed themselves. The social cost of this is staggering – 12,000 children lost their mothers or fathers to suicide in 1998, four times the number who lost a parent in a road accident. But the subject remains taboo in society and many fail to notice or help ease work-related stress. ‘I chose this way because I couldn’t achieve results,’ says businessperson Masayuki Tanaka in his suicide note, ‘even though I worked until becoming completely exhausted.’

Far Eastern Economic Review: www.feer.com

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Big Bad World by Polyp
Big Bad World cartoon.

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