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Currents

Issue 351

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MADAGASCAR

Quest for support
Conflict over but catastrophe looming

DOMINIQUE HALLEUX / STILL PICTURES
Sowing the seeds of normality. A woman
plants mountain rice in stricken Madagascar.
This year has been one of major upheaval in Madagascar. A civil crisis followed the December 2001 presidential elections, when official results presented no majority winner. The main contenders were Didier Ratsiraka, the incumbent President, and Marc Ravalomanana, self-made millionaire and mayor of the Malagasy capital, Antananarivo. Ravalomanana claimed outright victory, adamant that the vote had been rigged, and major protests and strikes ensued in Antananarivo. Ratsiraka subsequently moved to his stronghold, the port town of Tamatave, while his supporters isolated the capital by destroying bridges and imposing blockades, starving it of fuel and essential supplies.

The stalemate - as both men claimed the presidency - dragged on altogether for seven months, as economic and social disruptions multiplied. Foreign investment plunged. Madagascar's burgeoning textiles industry fell to ruin. In the isolated capital the streets were full of excrement. With shortages in food and medicines, infant and maternal mortality rates rose dramatically. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) faced a welter of logistical problems as the transport and communications infrastructure was severely dislocated.

The political deadlock descended into pockets of military action and the country was on the brink of civil war when a turning-point finally came. On 26 June the US recognized Ravalomanana as the rightful president and other Western powers, including the former colonial ruler France, followed suit. Ratsiraka fled into exile, leaving Ravalomanana to consolidate control across the island and court the support of international donors for a rebuilding of Madagascar. The ousting of Madagascar's long-standing 'old-school style' leader was greeted as a victory for democracy - though the new African Union has yet to recognize Ravalomanana as Madagascar's legitimate ruler.
Word corner

Shampoo
Shampoo is from the Hindi, meaning to press or knead, and entered English in the 1760s with the original meaning of 'massage', especially as part of a Turkish bath. Shampooing the hair dates from the mid-1800s. The Turkish bath or hammam gets its name from the Arabic hamma (to heat). The Romans and Greeks used oil, not soap, for washing, and so had no word for soap. Soap is from the West Germanic saipo, originally a hair dye or pomade. Soap operas are so-called as early sponsors of US TV were soap manufacturers.

Susan Watkin

It is a tribute to the Malagasy people that, despite stakes and passions running high, there was so little bloodshed - less than 100 direct casualties in a civil crisis spanning half a year. Yet the price they have paid in social turmoil has been huge. Prior to the crisis, Madagascar was designated the world's eighth-poorest country. It is now significantly poorer, with average incomes across the island down by half and attendance at the island's limited health centres also 50 per cent of what they were. Between June and August an influenza epidemic affected some 22,000 people, with around 700 fatalities. Many of those affected were children under five suffering from malnutrition - malnutrition being a familiar plight for the Malagasy, exacerbated by the recent upheavals. With malaria a common killer, a three-year-long cholera epidemic, and a powerful resurgence of bubonic plague during the last decade, there is an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe on the island. In the inevitable wake of extreme poverty, the island's many unique species will inevitably be under threat.

Ravalomanana has pledged that the Malagasy people will emerge from poverty and is looking to the West for support in harnessing the island's natural riches. Whether he can secure a viable future remains to be seen.

Mal Mitchell works with Azafady, an NGO
running health, sustainable livelihoods and
conservation projects in southeast Madagascar -
where help (both financial and hands-on) is now
desperately needed. For volunteering
opportunities see www.madagascar.co.uk
or phone: +44 (0)20 8960 6629.

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Clean water from the sun
Solar disinfection of water is beautifully simple. All you need is tropical sunshine, a plastic bottle full of water and some patience. The GATE / Small-Scale Project Fund is pioneering solar water disinfection in Sri Lanka. Transparent plastic bottles are filled with water and placed in the sun for six hours. Laying the bottles on the kind of corrugated tin or iron used for roofs works particularly well. That is enough time to disinfect contaminated water through heat in order to make it safe for drinking. This technique is particularly effective for removing pathogens that cause diarrhoea. If the temperature is below 42oC or it is cloudy, two days does the trick. If the water is too cloudy to see the label on the far side of a clear bottle, it needs to be filtered first. The pilot project has already cut water-related disease rates in nursery schools.

Appropriate Technology, Vol 29 No 2
www.gtz.de/gate/kpf.afp

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NASA's climate warning
If George Bush won't listen to the environmentalists, will he listen to NASA? Pressure is mounting on President Bush to take effective action on climate change after a report led by space agency NASA warned that failure to take action could be catastrophic. The report came out a few days after the US Environmental Protection Agency dropped any mention of climate change from its annual air-pollution report for the first time in six years.

The report by the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, part of NASA, says that even if no more gases are released into the atmosphere 'additional global warming of 0.5oC is already "in the pipeline"'.

www.oneworld.net

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Trading away the Americas
The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA),currently being negotiated by 34 countries of the Americas, is intended to be the most far-reaching trade agreement in history. Based on the model of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), it goes far beyond NAFTA in its scope and power.

In the words of US Secretary of State Colin Powell: 'Our objective with the FTAA is to guarantee control for North American businesses over a territory which stretches from the Arctic to the Antarctic, free access, over the entire hemisphere, without any difficulty or obstacle, for our products, services, technology and capital.'

The treaty would give transnational corporations unequalled new rights to challenge and compete for publicly funded services currently provided by governments - from healthcare and education to social security, culture and environmental protection.

An unprecedented pan-American alliance of campaigners has mobilized popular education and protest against the trade agreement, which they see as anti-democratic. Previous protests in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Quebec City, Canada, in 2001 resulted in the negotiating text of the agreement, which had been kept secret, being published last July. The beginning of November 2002 will see similar protests in the capital of Ecuador, Quito, as trade ministers meet once more to discuss the treaty. Ecuador is home to the strongest indigenous movement in the Americas, many of whose members are opposed to the FTAA.

www.movimientos.org/noalca/
http://ecuador.indymedia.org

Katharine Ainger

Photo: Katharine Ainger
The pan-American alliance against the FTAA (ALCA in Spanish) was launched at this march during the World Social Forum in Brazil in February 2002.

Brazilians say no
Approximately 98 per cent of the 10.1 million people who responded to a survey conducted at the beginning of September in 3,894 municipalities throughout Brazil gave a resounding 'no' to the question: 'Should the Brazilian Government sign the FTAA treaty?'

The treaty was proposed by the United States and is slated to be ready for ratification in 2004. Furthermore, 95 per cent of the voters indicated that Brazil should not even 'continue participating in the FTAA negotiations,' in response to the second question put forth in what the organizers dubbed a 'people's plebiscite'.

The plebiscite co-ordinators - Brazil's National Bishops Conference (CNOB), the Movimento Sem Terra (Movement of Landless Workers), Central Union of Workers and other groups - had hoped for at least six million voters to take part in the 'consultation'. This total was reached in a similar experience in 2000, when 96 per cent responded that Brazil should stop paying its foreign debt. In the end those hopes were vastly exceeded.

There is widespread understanding, according to Catholic priest Alfredo Gonçalves, that the FTAA could shut down a debilitated economy like Brazil's and leave this South American giant - with its population of 170 million - defenceless to a world power while bankruptcies and unemployment multiplied.

'And without Brazil, there is no FTAA,' says Gonçalves. Firm opposition from Brazil 'would change the direction' of the negotiations under way, he said.

Between September 2002 and March 2003 civil-society groups in all countries in the Americas have pledged to carry out similar consultations of popular opinion.

Mario Osava, IPS

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Cancun or bust
There were those who feared that the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg last September would mark not two steps forward towards saving the earth, but three steps back. Green campaigners fought long and hard against the subordination of global environmental agreements - such as those on endangered species and toxic waste won at previous Earth Summits - to free-trade rules under the auspices of the World Trade Organization. This would effectively have allowed the gutting of multilateral environmental agreements that corporate interests deemed 'barriers to trade'. So there were sighs of relief all round when international environmental law was apparently saved from the free-trade chainsaw by the removal of references to 'WTO consistency' in the Johannesburg declaration. But Victor Menotti, director of the International Forum on Globalization's Environment Program, has some bad news. Take a closer look at the text. In fact the UN's environmental regimes are committed to 'support of the work plan agreed through the WTO'. That means that trade ministers - not environment ministers - will decide the fate of multilateral environment agreements at the next ministerial meeting of the WTO in Cancun, Mexico, in September 2003. The secretariats of the environment agreements will be granted only observer status at the meeting as the hard-won treaties they administer are eviscerated. At that news, memories of the protests in Seattle at the 1999 ministerial meeting will surely resurface in the minds of campaigners. Victor is not the only one among them saying, 'See you in Cancun!'

Katharine Ainger

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HUMAN RIGHTS

GATS goes to school
Colombia's new President bribes
his people to inform on one another

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Seriously... You couldn't make this stuff up

Corporate executives...
'Are you looking for a different team-development programme that does not include the old fashioned physical endurance and macho activities? Then undoubtedly eyeball training is for you.

By its nature eyeball will break down established managerial hierarchies enabling your personnel to attain their full potential in a friendly stimulating environment. There is no climbing ladders, wading through streams or any other irrelevant physical pursuits.

www.greenpeace.de At eyeball the way we encourage people to work together is to ask them to become a member of a surveillance team. Each team is tasked to walk around a route specially designed by eyeball in order to follow one of our operatives - who are already all experts in the art of surveillance. During the route we refer to our operative as the 'target' and each will role play the part of a criminal suspect who carries out certain activities while making available items of intelligence.

Each team will have to work together in order to witness the activities and gather the intelligence about the 'target'. To do so successfully they must, as a team, plan their tactics, communication, recording methods and format....

Do you need to find a leader or a team player? Use the eyeball experience by building it into your interview and selection programs. Let eyeball put the candidates through an event ... that will highlight their natural abilities.

eyeball teambuilding ... serious enjoyment.'

(Source: the eyeball website - http://www.eyeballtraining.co.uk)

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RINCON and his men are bleary-eyed. They were part of a dawn raid on the unsuspecting village of Vallejuelos, northeast of Medellin, which now lies strangely silent below the cliff face where we chat. It seems the higher the altitude here, the greater the lawlessness. Here, left-wing guerrilla groups and right-wing paramilitaries have been vying for control - until this morning's battle when the Colombian army captured 86 guerrillas.

'There's a lot of duelling in poor neighbourhoods,' says Rincon, a 28-year-old army captain. Guerrilla groups - the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia FARC) and the National Liberation Army - are involved. 'They blackmail people: taking taxes to keep the peace.'

The guerrillas were once a revolutionary alliance of intellectuals and peasants calling for civil and political resistance to the right-wing government. After 40 years of conflict, their once-high ideals have sold out to drug trafficking and territory wars, as they pit themselves in battle against paramilitary drug lords and the army.

Since hard-line President Alvaro Uribe came to power in August with a pledge to crush guerrilla activity, the 40,000-strong FARC has stepped up its urban offensive. In Vallejuelos the army is flushing out a FARC splinter group known as the Armed Command of the People (CAP) but they're heavily reliant on informers. 'It's hard to attack the guerrillas in their territory and we can't do anything when they melt into the background,' says Rincon. 'We pay for information and people come forward because they're fed up with the violence.'

Uribe plans to recruit a million-person informer network of ordinary Colombians acting as spies for the Government. Informants are shown on national television, balaclava-clad and collecting fistfuls of cash from government officials each Monday, advertised as a 'day of rewards'.

But human-rights groups and non-government organizations (NGOs) have criticized the plans that they believe jeopardize civilian security and set Colombia on a war footing: pitting people against each other in ever-increasing fear and suspicion. A Medellin-based NGO has disturbing accounts of children being shot by stray bullets and carrying mini Uzi sub-machine guns in their satchels. They fear that adolescents already prey to street gangs and mafiosi will join the informer network for quick cash.

Is it a case of history repeating itself? As Mayor of Medellin, Uribe supported the convivir (living together) - a civilian security group with a mission to counter drug cartels - but they spiralled out of control and metamorphosed into a 10,000-strong paramilitary force with a policy of massacre and extortion. Recent reports from the zone of Tierralta indicate that these paramilitaries are forcing farmers to harvest coca for the illicit narcotics trade or to hand over a child to their troops. Farmers forced to grow coca will put themselves at risk from another direction: the aerial spraying of Colombian drug crops is a priority for the US, which has given over a billion dollars in the last two years specifically to eradicate cocaine production.

Back in Vallejuelos, this morning's battle came as a shock for 17-year-old Maria. In Uribe's new security network, it is she and other innocents who are likely to suffer the most. Her stepfather, a kingpin with the CAP, was killed two months ago. At first she feared that his enemies had arrived to finish off the family, and she is now worried that the army will lead the paramilitaries to them.

'They say that if you kill the head, you have to kill the rest of the body. I can't go to school or leave the house; we just have to find out who's looking for us. I hope things will get better but, who knows, they might turn out worse.'

Jo Hill is a writer with Christian relief
and development organization Tearfund.

Erratum
Sorry. There was a production error in the text in the September edition of NI (NI 349). The authors of the article on page 6 entitled 'Desperate escape' were not (as published) Nicolette Jackson and Sean Healy. Rather, the article was an edited extract from the Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights website.

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