New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 351

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Letters

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Benefits of GM
Why do anti-GM campaigners such as Jordi Pigem ('Barcoding Life', Patents on Life, NI 349) always pass over the real and potential benefits of GM? I love nature and care about development as much as he does, but do not share his mystical and spiritual approach.

The insulin produced by genetically engineered micro-organisms has saved many millions of lives.  Is this 'playing God', or showing disrespect to nature, or 'arrogantly seeking to become masters of the universe'?  Or when genetic scientists succeed in growing maize or wheat in drought or saline conditions, or in extremes of temperature, will Pigem still say that 'meddling with life forms. threatens food security'?

Click here to read NI 349 I doubt that his philosophical concerns will be shared by those for whom added nutrition or the reliability of crops (or an insulin injection) is a matter of life and death. They may not care that biotechnology is 'objectifying life' or will 'alienate' or 'dispirit' nature.

Finally, to be in favour of the controlled application of genetic modification does not lead necessarily to the acceptance of the patenting of genes, or support for the Monsantos of this world and their bullying tactics.

David Simmonds
Epping, England

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Devil incarnate
The nightmare of modern technology in the form of biotechnology invests in us the fear of helplessness, to a degree unparalleled in human history.

We will, if we permit its further advance, witness the arrival of a devil incarnate - the patenting of life itself (NI 349) - into a world already wallowing in the irresponsible and destructive pursuit of unrestrained material acquisitiveness.

David Harvey
Chippenham, England

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Ends and means
I share many of the concerns expressed about genetic engineering and the profit motive (NI 349), and I think much of genetic research is a waste of time when scientists are looking for the genes causing illnesses which are due to environmental factors such as diet. However, I do feel that the whole science of genetic research should not be dismissed wholesale.

I suffer from an inherited genetic disease and like many others who have inherited diseases I see gene therapy and genetic research as a great hope for an improvement in my health. I have suffered great illness and misery and if science can lead to a treatment for my condition I'm all for it, provided research is conducted responsibly. It's all very well for healthy people to castigate biotech companies; it's quite another story if you're sick.

Valerie Paterson
Stirling, Scotland

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Jubilee debt campaign
It was good to see the article 'Dragging the debt chain' (Currents, NI 349) and see the campaign is alive and well in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Given that your article only gave a US web address, your readers may not realize the campaign is still active in Britain with the new name of Jubilee Debt Campaign. Jubilee Scotland also carry on the tradition begun by Jubilee 2000. Supporters old and new should be in touch with one of our many local groups or the national office at PO Box 36620, London SE1 0WJ  (Tel: +44 (0) 20 7922 1111, www.jubileedebtcampaign.org).

Audrey Miller
Jubilee Debt Campaign,
Birmingham, England

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Willing victim
Why is Israel the main recipient of American aid? Why does the US seem to support continued occupation of Palestinian land captured in 1967 (Israel & Palestine, NI 348)?

The most compelling reason for this I have found is in Noam Chomsky's recent Understanding Power. Israel is being encouraged to remain embattled, psychologically under siege, to keep it as a more-than-willing client state of the US.

The argument that Israel is somehow manipulating US public opinion and foreign policy is surely not right. How can the tail wag the dog? It is Israel being manipulated into being America's willing victim. The tragedy of it is the Palestinian situation and the long-term inevitability of Israel's military defeat and all the killing and revenge that may well follow.

We must do everything, whether we are Jews or not, to stop this march of folly. A just settlement must be made with the Palestinians.

Stephen Langford
Paddington, Australia

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Argentina's wealth divide
Benjamin Blackwell's Essay (NI 348), on the possibility of change thrown up by Argentina's economic crisis, gave a grain of hope to those in despair at inequalities endemic in the political system. Many in Argentina are undoubtedly suffering from the sudden loss of wealth brought about by the crisis. However, the nation's indigenous peoples have never tasted their share of Argentina's riches. They have routinely  had their right to protection in law stolen from them by endemic corruption: the rich are able systematically to rob peoples, such as the Wichí in the north of the country of their lands and livelihoods thus reducing them to penury. With soaring prices for food and petrol, their situation is grim. It will take a seismic shift in attitude to bring justice to Argentina's very poorest.

Clare Passingham
Co-ordinator  of Chacolinks,
www.chacolinks.org.uk

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We refuse to be enemies

Click here to read NI 348. We refuse to be enemies. Good.
So why are you crying?
Grown boys do not cry.
Seventy-six-year-old boys do not cry.
Mohammed, ambulance driver, does not make me cry
For his burnt face his burnt body.
What is new?
The trapped doctor does not make me cry.
He is dead. I am a grown boy now.

He is dead, I will return to my job,
I am not a soldier, I do a humanity job,
I hope the Israelis realize I am doing a humanity job.
That is why I cry.
A seventy-six-year-old man is crying.

Joseph Goodman London, England

(In response to the 'We refuse to be enemies' feature, Israel & Palestine, NI 348).

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Ghanaian democracy
While the statistics provided in the short piece 'Voting highs and lows' (Currents, NI 348) are revealing, your assertion that Ghana's first democratic election took place in 2000 is erroneous. In fact, J J Rawlings, the leader of the 1981 coup mentioned in the article, was elected by overwhelming majorities of the electorate in two subsequent multiparty elections in 1992 and 1996, both of which were declared free and fair by international and local election observers.

The constitution which barred Rawlings - and all other future leaders of the West African nation - from serving more than two terms was drafted while Ghana was still ruled by the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC), a military/civilian government headed by Rawlings. Ghana's Fourth Republic, which commenced with the election of Rawlings as President in the 1992 elections and marked the end of the PNDC era, has been notable for its thriving, independent media, strong opposition parties, and general climate of free speech and assembly in a region of the world known mostly for instability and authoritarian rule during the 1990s.

Dennis Laumann
Assistant Professor of African History,
University of Memphis, US

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Corporate definitions
In your issue on corporations (Inside Business, NI 347) you quote Ambrose Bierce's definition of a corporation - 'an ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility.'

I prefer Howard Scott's definition of a criminal - 'a person with predatory instincts who has not sufficient capital to form a corporation.'

Dennis Murphy
Sydney, Australia

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As the world’s only superpower, we need to act responsibly, not like an unpredictable neighborhood bully

'Why do they hate us?'
A question raised many times during the remembrance of the events of 9/11 is 'Why do they hate us so much?' One answer might well be the double standard we repeatedly espouse: one set of laws for us, another set for everybody else. We call for multilateral action when it is to our advantage and play Lone Ranger at other times. We call for inspection of other prisoner camps but refuse to open up Guantanamo. 'Why do they hate us?' indeed.

It's time for the President and Congress to state openly and firmly that we endorse the World Court and are willing to be bound by its decisions, and that we are ready to accept the Kyoto accord on the environment. As the world's only superpower, we need to act responsibly, not like an unpredictable neighborhood bully.

Kenneth J Rummenie
Buffalo, US

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BP responds
John O'Reilly (Vice-President, External Affairs, BP Indonesia) has written to the NI regarding the article 'Way beyond Petroleum' (West Papua, NI 344) which explored BP's involvement in West Papuan politics. O'Reilly writes, 'the article contains several points with which we agree, particularly regarding the challenges of establishing a transparent "ethical framework" between investors such as BP and other institutions. However, the article also contained a number of important factual errors that we would like to correct.' NI co-editor Chris Richards, who wrote the article, has refuted the charges in full. Read the correspondence on the NI website at www.newint.org

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Letter from Lebanon

Seeking Hemalatha
Reem Haddad encounters the underbelly of domestic servitude in Lebanon.

My first inclination was to turn them down. Searching for a missing woman was rather beyond my means as a local reporter. But the officials at the Sri Lankan embassy were insistent as they handed me the two photographs they had received that morning.

I stared at them with shock. The woman - in her early thirties - had pulled up her shirt sleeves and skirt to reveal severe bruises.

'Her name is Hemalatha Mendis,' explained one official. 'We received these photographs this morning. We don't know for sure where she is but we believe she is being held at the agency which brought her to the country.'

Hundreds of such agencies have sprung up in Lebanon over the past few years. They bring in women from Sri Lanka, the Philippines or Ethiopia to work as maids and are notorious for abusing the women.

I didn't really relish going in search of the missing woman.

'She has two children waiting for her in Sri Lanka,' said the embassy official.

I sighed and took down the name of the agency.

When I showed up at the agency, a hefty-looking woman was busy showing potential customers the 'new import': a 19-year-old Ethiopian girl. Dissatisfied, the middle-aged couple then asked to see another one.

So the 'old product' was brought in: a 22-year-old who has already been in Lebanon for a few years. Satisfied, the couple sternly told the bewildered maid that she would not be allowed any days off, phone calls or outings.

My presence was then noticed and the agency owner was summoned. 'Do you have a Sri Lankan woman here called Hemalatha Mendis?' I asked. Quite pleasantly, the owner replied that he had never heard of that name and added that 'we currently only have Ethiopian girls.'

I went in search of the last person to have seen Mendis. She turned out to be another Sri Lankan housekeeper, Chandra Wanasinghe, who worked in the adjacent apartment to where Hemalatha had been employed.

Illustration: Sarah John

Hemalatha had told Chandra that the agency owner had beaten her. Chandra had borrowed her employer's camera and taken pictures. A few days later she sent them to the Sri Lankan embassy. By then, Hemalatha's employers had gone abroad and Hemalatha herself had disappeared.

I went back to the agency. As I walked in, there was a woman scrubbing the floor. She looked up at me briefly and I recognized her immediately: it was Hemalatha.

But in a flash, she was whisked into a nearby room crowded with potential maids. The door was slammed shut and the hefty woman began screaming at me.

'Get out. You have no business here,' she yelled. 'Get out.'

A few minutes later, the agency owner - the same one I had spoken to just a few hours earlier - made an appearance and also began to holler. 'Who told you to come back here?' he shrieked.

'I saw Hemalatha Mendis,' I said.

'No you didn't,' he yelled. 'I don't know who that is.'

Under his angry glare, I made my retreat. The next day my story about the missing woman was published in the local paper along with her photographs.

Two days later, I received a call from the embassy: the agency owner had dropped Hemalatha off at the embassy. 'He saw the article in the paper and got scared,' said the embassy official.

Later that day I met with Hemalatha. Her employer had described her as 'a problem' and had wanted to return her to the agency. This prompted the agency owner to 'take out a big stick and start beating my back, my arms and my legs,' she said. 'I tried to cover my body but I couldn't. I was crying and my head began to throb with pain.'

Once finished, the owner turned to the employer and said: 'If you have any more problems with her just bring her to me.'

I only saw Hemalatha one more time. A few months later she, Chandra and I were reunited in Sri Lanka where I had been invited to receive the Nur Aleem Media Award for my article about her escapade. Chandra received a bravery award for starting the search for the missing woman. A beaming Hemalatha, accompanied by her husband and children, hugged me.

I never saw her again. A year later I heard that she had accepted another assignment to work as a maid in a foreign country.

As for the agency in Lebanon - it's still open and hundreds of women continue to pass through its doors.

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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