New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 332

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Letters

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Unhealthy reading
Unicef’s State of the World’s Children report for this year is unhealthy reading: 20 million children have been displaced by conflict, 10 million have been orphaned by HIV, 11 million under-fives have been killed by preventable disease.

Meanwhile the UK’s Department for International Development’s White Paper ‘Eliminating World Poverty’ proposes cash to fight polio and ending aid-for-trade deals. These short measures are welcome. But in the face of Unicef’s findings, the White Paper sub-title is an indictment of all wealthy countries’ response so far: ‘Making globalization work for the poor’? We should be making the rich work for the globe.

John Nicholson
UK Public Health Association,
Manchester, England

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Disarming strategies
Having just read your December issue (Globocops NI 330) with much interest and fervour, I would like to point out to NI readers wishing to join an organization that the United Nations Association is very active in the field of disarmament. The UNA has launched a three-year programme focusing on many aspects of disarmament – small arms and light weapons, the arms trade, landmines and weapons of mass destruction. UNA is also taking a holistic approach to disarmament and will incorporate key environmental, sustainable development and human- rights issues.

Our ultimate aim is to seek a Fourth UN General Assembly Special Session on Disarmament for 2003 to develop the UN’s disarmament programme for the new century.

Malcom Harper
United Nations Association of Great Britain and Ireland,
3 Whitehall Court,
London SW1A 2EL, England.
Tel: + 44 207 79302931

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Is the American
empire growing?

Expanding empires
Further to the NI history of world empires (‘Power PaxNI 330), Clayton Yeutter, chief US trade representative during the signing of the Canada-US trade agreement in 1987 said at the time, ‘We’ve achieved a stunning new trade pact with Canada. The Canadians don’t know what they have signed. In 20 years they will be sucked into the US economy.’ Some British voices have favoured a free-trade agreement with the US, and just recently in Australia a proposal for yet another free-trade agreement with the US has been heard. Is the American empire growing?

Walter Steensby
Hawker, Australia

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Indigenous labour
Cover of the NI issue 330 The article ‘Bull by the horns’ (NI 330) says there was ‘no Indian labour’ in Costa Rica. It is true that the indigenous population of Costa Rica was relatively low at the time of conquest. It is also true that many of these were slaughtered or driven into remote areas (which they still inhabit), but indigenous labour certainly was exploited. The civil authorities together with the Church created reducciones – forcibly taking indigenous people from their homes and communities and placing them in created settlements. The official motivation was more efficient control and ‘civilization’ of the Indians, but in reality these reducciones served as a supply of free labour on the private properties of the Spanish.

Sara Geater
Instituto de Estudios de las Tradiciones
Segradas de Abia Yala (IETSAY),
San José, Costa Rica

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God loves gays
Cover of the NI issue 328 This new subscriber was overwhelmed by Out South NI 328: fancy giving this gay man a special ‘Hello and welcome’! But remembering my queer brothers and sisters who are tortured, murdered and demonized for who they are and whom they love, I said: ‘Go to it, NI – tell the whole world the truth; God loves us not despite our sexuality but because of it.’

Now the Taylors and M Quinn (Letters, NI 330) perpetuate the old dogmas dressed up as religion. Two centuries ago your church supported slavery, justifying it by the same scriptures that tell you I am evil. But that church grew up, realized that real evil lay in slavery and racism, hence its interpretation of the scriptures must have been wrong. So that’s your project today, with sexual minorities. Some day you’ll stand beside us for humanity, not against it.

Lee Andresen
Ballina, Australia

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Bullish behaviour
Regarding ‘civil wars’ in Central America (‘Bull by the hornsNI 330), Andrew Bounds’ claim that Costa Rica’s paramilitary police are far better than their counterparts in the region needs an addendum. Nicaragua under the Sandinistas established a people’s police and army. For probably the first time in Central America the public had no fear of men (and women) in uniform. None of Nicaragua’s senior military officers was US-trained. This bold experiment was destroyed by Washington – with the help of Costa Rica, which allowed contra bases and US intelligence operatives on its soil. As Milan Kundera says: ‘The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.’

Rahul Gill
London, England

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Pan-Africanism
Pan-Africanism must go beyond its origins and begin to co-ordinate the efforts of black peoples worldwide. At this new frontier in the African struggle for identity, Pan-Africanism should be redefined from within.

The cataclysm in Rwanda and Burundi; the rifts in Angola; the decimations of hordes of people in countries like the Ivory Coast over electoral processes; the ethnic clashes in parts of Nigeria – including the opression of the Ogoni minority and the recent repatriation of fellow blacks from Libya all show that Pan-Africanism must begin with better treatment of fellow blacks by blacks.

Dr Nimbari B Anokari,
Port Harcourt, Nigeria

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Don’t blame the poor
Cover of the NI issue 329 On sustainability (NI 329) – I haven’t come across any serious studies of resource use and management that support the notion that the poor can be blamed for trashing the environment, but many that confirm the opposite – that the world’s ‘poor’ are their own best resource managers.

As a fair-trade importer and retailer, I often spend time in rural India. On our arrival in Midnapore in West Bengal a few months back, our host cut a green coconut from the tree so we could drink the cool water inside. This tree grew around one of the village ponds and while we were quenching our thirst, a local fished in the pond for our lunch. When the net was pulled to dry land, fish that were too small to eat were returned to the pond unharmed for another meal another day. Our tasty lunch of fried fish came with some spicy fresh subze (vegetables) from a nearby field. Households in the village were using biogas (energy generated using animal and vegetable waste).

the world's 'poor' are their
own best resource managers

Although I am loath to romanticize rural India, we ‘over-consumers’ should be looking to the 750 million people there who are managing their resources in an exemplary fashion as a source of inspiration in our own search for sustainability.

Jo Lawbuary Ganesha,
London, England

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African recolonization
History will tell you all you need to know about why Africa is what it is today. No other continent has been subjected to such a catalogue of diabolical treatment. The activities of Europe directly led Africa to its present predicaments: the debt burden; the arms trade; European mercenary armies; primary commodity-based economies; unfair trade policies; environmental degradation; HIV/AIDS epidemic; and globalization. All of these ensure the continent’s recolonization by the same European countries and their rich allies.

While Africa was able, with the help of liberal opinion in Europe, to rid itself of political colonization, it may be harder to free itself from the present economic recolonization.

Ayumu Sam Akaki
London, England

Letter from Lebanon

Lebanon lights up
Reem Haddad encounters big tobacco's
hard-sell tactics in the nightclubs of Beirut.

Tobacco companies in the US and Britain must be having a field day. In Lebanon, they have found the perfect market for their products. While Westerners are recoiling from the horrors of lung cancer and refusing to light up, the Lebanese seem to be developing ever-stronger ties to tobacco.

The more aggressively Americans and Europeans fight the tobacco industry, the more aggressive tobacco advertising campaigns become in developing countries.

All along roads in Lebanon, billboards show rugged-looking men smoking and enjoying the outdoors. Television spots barely take a rest from calling the young to the wonderful world of smoking. If that weren’t enough, tobacco companies sponsor youth activities – one even organized healthy hikes in the mountains! And just in case young people still don’t get the message, the companies actually infiltrate youth hangouts.

It has become a common sight to see cafés and nightclubs filled with young, beautiful women giving out free cigarettes. Wearing embarrassingly tight outfits, the women reward those who light up with sweet smiles. Equally handsome men clad in shirts imprinted with the tobacco brand they represent grin mischievously at girls as they offer them packs of free cigarettes.

In one nightclub, I cringed as I watched three teenagers – none older than 16 – light up the free cigarettes, cough and puff again. Hoping to look cool, they dangled the cigarettes from their fingers and gave what they imagined were sexy smiles to passers-by.

It wasn’t over yet. The beautiful women then gave out forms for the new smoking recruits to fill in – a fun quiz based on questions about the cigarette brand. Winners received caps and T-shirts with the tobacco brand emblazoned across and of course, even more cigarettes.

By the early hours of the morning hundreds of young people were leaving, their pockets well filled with cigarettes. Presentation of empty packs gets them big discounts when buying tickets for rock concerts.

US research has found that the surge in teenage smoking in America coincided with a sharp expansion by tobacco companies using give-away items in return for smoking their brand name. Unless Lebanese teenagers prove somehow resistant to such influences, we can look forward to similar results in this country.

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Illustration: Sarah John

When I contacted an anti-smoking organization in Britain its director was all too familiar with these tactics.

‘They are extremely common,’ he said. ‘They’re clearly targeting young people. They associate smoking with an exciting, youthful life. They get them to smoke to the point that they get addicted. Once they’re addicted, they have a customer for life.’

‘Developing countries, and the Middle East in particular,’ he continued, ‘are seen as an absolutely lucrative market for the big American and West European tobacco companies. They want to get in that market and aggressively capture it to replace the market they are leaving in Europe and the United States.’

In that case, tobacco companies must feel right at home in Lebanon. Advertising regulations are loose, people are only vaguely aware of the dangers of smoking, and – most important – tobacco companies can survive without having to deal with anti-smoking organizations.

To give the Lebanese Government some credit, a law was passed five years ago requiring cigarette packages to carry warning labels. It also required advertisements in newspapers, magazines, films, television and billboards to allocate 15 per cent of the advertisement area to the warning. Technically, smoking is banned in public buildings – but I have yet to see anyone enforcing it.

And at $0.60 a pack smoking is now a very inexpensive activity. According to the Ministry of Health, 60 per cent of the Lebanese smoke. Nearly half of them are women. The average Lebanese smoker consumes around 3,300 cigarettes each year – about 165 packs.

As for passive smoking, it remains a largely unheard-of concept. In my own smoke-riddled newspaper office where journalists worked more than 12 hours a day, the smoke was so thick that our eyes would sting, our throats would go sore and our clothes smelled for days. Temptation prompted many foreigners who had previously quit smoking to take up the habit again. Joined by some other non-smoking colleagues, plus those who found it difficult to quit in a smoking environment, a mini-war began. A few months later – after several petitions and negotiations – smoking in the office only became permissible after 9pm.

True, it was only a small victory. But it’s a start.

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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