New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 357

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Letters

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The great privati$ation grab

The absolute PITS
Congrats on your exposure of the Great Global Con Job (GGCJ) that is privati$ation (The great privati$ation grab, NI 355). The GGCJ has been sourced from evil advocates of ‘might is right’ in the US and has produced a new world order of New Feudalism, which comes heavily camouflaged as individual freedom. Basically, it’s the ‘freedom’ to sink or swim in unassisted isolation from one’s indifferent community.

Privati$ation Is Theft Surely – it’s the absolute PITS!

Tony Hosking
Nakara, Australia

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Taking issue
1 I would take issue with Trevor Turner when he seems to suggest (‘I shop, therefore I am’, NI 355) that choosing not to have children is egotistical and narcissistic.

Perhaps it’s just that we prefer not to bring another human being into this tortured, unequal, unjust world.

And what could be more narcissistic than having children only to search their traits and characteristics for traces of one’s own?

Kate Evans
London, England

 

2 I have just got my dad a subscription for NI when what do I find but some obfuscating, unsubstantiated, illogical and – worse – unoriginal, half-baked ranting from a psychiatrist, telling us how to live our lives and showing a sorry lack of awareness of the structural causes of ill-health.

As someone who has worked in health promotion I am amused that the car is given as a cause of heart disease! A cause of brain injury, permanent disability, death and pollution, yes, but heart disease? It is a pity Mr Turner failed to mention that heart disease is strongly linked to poverty/inequality and is much rarer amongst the middle classes nowadays. If I want conventional unthinking such as the insulting old-hat assumptions about the children of lone parents and his implicit accusation of drug addicts as being selfish, I can buy the Daily Mail!

Name witheld
Sheffield, England

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Self-improvement scheme
‘Trading Credibility’ (Currents, NI 355) took a number of swipes at the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) scheme. Certification shouldn’t just be an award ceremony for the best managers already working to the highest standards but a scheme of self-improvement, setting a course for under-performers. Managers must meet tough criteria prior to certification but this invariably comes with a range of conditions and deadlines attached. Annual inspections ensure continual improvement.

Through creating a growing market for certified products, the aim is to pressure more resource managers to better their performance and gain certification. FSC certification has been incredibly successful but there is much more to do, particularly to expand the scheme in the tropics. There are always dangers when NGOs work together with business interests to bring about change but this is courageous work, worthy of strong support.

Phil Whitfield
Moray, Scotland

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I don’t know whether to laugh or give up in despair...

Rampant and raging
I don’t know whether to laugh or give up in despair on reading Tamara Koziar’s letter (‘Appalled in Oshawa’, NI 355). There was an explanation for the cover which ‘APPALLED’ her (The Other America NI 351) – that it was part of an anti-war demonstration in Philadelphia, so presumably the woman on the cover was parodying the sick images that much of America promotes of itself (the missile with the slogan ‘TOY$ R U$’ should have been a clue). As for the charge that ‘you endorse the idea of female exploitation…’ may I point out that, as a rampant raging heterosexual male, I am not turned on by images of women dressed in grotesque stars-and-stripes costumes; I am merely dismayed that one of your readers was too straight-laced and humourless to admire the demonstrator’s creativity.

Tim Jones
Sheffield, England

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What’s in a name?
1 Regarding the debate on the inadequacy of using the term ‘Americans’ for the residents of the US (NI 353 and 355). This has bothered me for a long time and since the ‘Americans’ refer to us Hispanic Americans by the equally inappropriate term of ‘Latin’ Americans, I normally use ‘yanquis’. A Peruvian journalist suggested, many years ago, using the term ‘usamerican’.

Jorge C Zayas
Miami, US

I am a bit bothered by the use of ‘American’ for Hawaiians...

2 As a citizen of the United States, I always felt embarrassed when filling in the entry card coming into Britain. In the blank for nationality I always wrote ‘US’ rather than ‘American’. I now make a special effort to enclose America or American in single quotes to mean ‘the US’ or ‘a citizen of the US’. It is awkward.

I am a bit bothered by the use of ‘American’ for Hawaiians since 1959. Hawaii isn’t even in the western hemisphere. Will the word ‘American’ eventually be used to designate other peoples around the world?

‘ Manifest Destiny’ aided the US in taking the southwest US from Mexico in the Mexican War 1848. ‘Remember the Maine’ 1898 gave the US a foothold in the Pacific and the Caribbean; and ‘Remember Pearl Harbour’ 1941 increased that foothold in the Pacific (and oddly enough seems to have established the ‘Americans’ firmly in Europe with some 26 military bases in Germany alone 60 years later). Bush’s rallying cries of ‘Liberty itself has been attacked’ and ‘the Axis of Evil’ are just the beginning of putting ‘America’ and the ‘Americans’ into the Middle East and Korea.

Joe Hanania
Nouic, France

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The great privati$ation grab

Cuban clichés
John Ripton presents a highly clichéd, contradictory, uninformed and, at times, factually incorrect Essay on Cuba (‘Revolution vs globalization’, NI 354).

His account of Cuba’s response to the spread of dengue fever makes no reference to the huge mobilization of the population in its comprehensive and highly successful fumigation policy (Cuba is now the authority to which the rest of the Third World turns); Havana must be the safest city in the world, contrary to the impression presented; despite what he says, medical and other professional students do follow their chosen careers after graduation; and notwithstanding the continuing US blockade, three hurricanes last year and the fall in prices of Cuba’s main export products, the country outperformed Latin America as a whole last year.

Strangely, the last third of Ripton’s essay praises Cuba for the development path it has taken, emphasizing its equitable nature, its towering educational achievements and the fact that Cuba’s revolutionary socialist model, and not that of the IMF or the World Bank, should be the way forward for the rest of Latin America.

Why is it that academics and journalists find it so difficult to write about Cuba in a non-clichéd, informed and non-confusing manner?

Douglas Hamilton
Belfast, Ireland

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Arno Peters
1 Arno Peters’ commitment to bringing equality into the area of cartography is nothing less than inspiring (Obituary, NI 353). It was stated that ‘the Mercator Projection... seriously misled the reader through gross exaggeration of scale towards the poles’. Surely the greatest inequity of the Mercator Projection, though not widely realized, is that the equator is two-thirds of the way down the map, allocating two-thirds of the map to the northern hemisphere and one-third to the southern hemisphere. That this map remains so prevalent on the walls of schools and homes is more than a bit of a worry!

Barry Oster
Buderim, Australia

2 The Peters’ Projection was neither the first nor the only projection to show the nations of the world in their true proportion. Some of the other attempts were more successful in avoiding its horrible distortions.

The Mercator Projection condemned as ‘Eurocentric’ was, and still is, the only projection on which a course plotted on the map will match the course on the ground.

The use in the NI of the Peters’ Projection maps to illustrate one country allows no size comparison, thus defeating the admirable object of ‘fairness’ with regard to North/South sizes. Peters’ great contribution was his ability to publicize the matter and bring to millions the relative sizes of countries, and for this he deserves our thanks.

Sandy Hedderwick
Leamington Spa, England

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Integrating refugees
My experience of refugees is limited to housing two from Kosovo a couple of years ago. What seems to be missing both from British Government policy and from your articles (Refugees, NI 350) are imaginative proposals on how to integrate refugees/asylum seekers into our lives and workplaces so that we may tap into the talents they bring to contribute to our society.

Michael Davies
Bradford-on-Avon, England

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WMD
What a surprise, the WMD issue has simply proved to be ‘Weapons in the Mind of Dubya’.

Dr Steve Mustow
Otley, England

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Letter from Lebanon

A house of one’s own
Reem Haddad witnesses the sleight of hand that robs an elderly couple of their rest.

I had never experienced an elderly man break down before and didn’t quite know what to say. At 78, Arthur Hamalian suddenly found himself without a home. ‘I beg you, help me,’ he said, his tears flowing stronger. ‘I’m depending on you.’

I stared at him, racking my brain for something to say. Hamalian, originally of Armenian descent and speaking halting Arabic, had come to look for me at my newspaper office after he had seen me once at a press conference. ‘Can’t you write my story?’ he urged. ‘Maybe someone can help us then.’

I promised to do my best.

I went searching for his home. It was a beautiful two-storey house built early last century. A little courtyard and a small fountain welcomed visitors. And it was unfortunately located in downtown Beirut, in an area all but destroyed during the 16-year Lebanese civil war and subsequently taken over by a real-estate company. Established by governmental decree in 1991, the company, Solidere, was given permission to develop the entire downtown area. In order to do so, the company had first to own the land. Thousands of the area’s inhabitants – most of whom now live in the outskirts of the city – were told that they no longer owned their homes. Instead they would get shares in the company.

The Beirutis’ hue and cry were ignored and the company’s plans went ahead. One of those inhabitants was Hamalian who had stayed in his home throughout the war. ‘We only left once for two weeks when the shelling was too close,’ he said. ‘But I came every day to look after it.’

Hamalian was apparently given the choice of keeping his home if he met certain requirements. He did so except for one requirement: the house had to be clear of any legal property disputes.

Illustration: Sarah John Unfortunately, in the 1970s just before the war erupted, Hamalian and his brother had had a minor dispute about the house in court. Hamalian had won the case. But before he had received the papers which proved his victory, the courthouse was shelled and burnt to cinders – along with all its documents.

Now, Solidere demanded these papers. In vain, Hamalian explained the circumstances and tried to get the courts to issue him new papers. But he was refused at every turn. The elderly couple was given notice to leave.

Early one morning in 1998, Hamalian, clad in pyjamas, answered the doorbell and found himself confronted with dozens of police. Before he knew it, he and his wife were dragged out to the street. The house was immediately seized and locked up. Shocked, the elderly couple made their way to their cousin’s small flat and have been there ever since.

Hamalian was duly issued some company shares. But with a Lebanese economy brinking on disaster, the shares are worth only a few dollars. Property prices, on the other hand, have gone through the roof. His house and land are estimated to be worth more than seven million dollars in today’s market.

‘I am an old man,’ he continued to cry. ‘I can’t wait for the economy to get better. I worked hard all my life so I could live well at this age. Now, I’ve lost it all. Just like that. Why?’

I visited the company’s lawyer. ‘He just didn’t meet the requirements,’ he told me coldly. ‘That’s all there is to it. He couldn’t prove that he had settled the dispute. We have the legal right to seize his property.’

It seemed like a flimsy excuse to me and I said so. The lawyer shrugged his shoulders. It was all part of a very dirty game.

I have since bumped into Hamalian several times. He would usually be taking his daily stroll to his lost house. I’d see his lonely, thin figure standing outside his beloved home – now surrounded by a tall fence. He notes every single change in his house. ‘See, they’ve taken off that railing there.’ Again, the tears.

‘Why have they done this to me?’ he repeats. ‘This house is the only thing I have to leave for my children. I am nothing without it.’

Now, I often pass by Hamalian’s house, hoping against hope that things have worked out and he’ll be back in it again. But the house is still locked and the fences are still up.

The last I heard was that the house has been sold to a wealthy Arab entrepreneur. I don’t know if that’s true. But I do know for certain that Hamalian will never get his home back – though he continues to fight for it.

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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