New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 359

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Letters

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Implications
Urvashi Butalia implied that the American, British and Australian troops were purposely shooting each other (‘(S)word play’, View from the South, NI 357) and that they had no feelings about some of the accidents which took place. I find this disgusting, to suggest that the average soldier has no conscience about killing another. The troops probably feel terrible about some of these accidents that have taken place and she had no justification for criticizing them.

Edward Lofts
Oxford, England

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The liberation of Latin America

Cracks appear
I very much enjoyed David Ransom’s article ‘The liberation of Latin America’ (NI 356). There certainly are signs throughout Latin America that the neoliberal prescription for economic development is really a ‘house of cards’. In fact it is an economic model that continues to push more and more people into living in casas de carton.

President Bush visited El Salvador in March 2002 as part of his promotional tour for the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement. He cited the country as ‘one of the really great stories of economic and political transformation of our time.’ He was eager to compliment the right-wing majority government on its commitment to free trade and economic reform. Unfortunately, the benefits of the so-called ‘neoliberal reforms’ that El Salvador has put into place have not filtered down to millions of Salvadorans. According to 2001 statistics, the national poverty rate in the country has increased from 47.3 per cent in 1999 to 49.7 per cent. A deplorable 22.1 per cent of Salvadorans live in extreme poverty, unable to satisfy their basic food and housing needs.

The IMF admitted in a recent report that globalization may not be the panacea

As opposition to neoliberalism has continued to grow throughout Latin America – exemplified by changes in the control of political power throughout the region – there is also evidence of dissension within the ranks of those espousing it. Stephen Byers, who headed up the British delegation to the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, recently stated that he now believes the free-trade policies pushed by international financial institutions are ‘wrong and misguided’ (The Guardian, 19 May 2003). Even the IMF admitted in a recent report that globalization may not be the panacea for all poverty-stricken countries and that it may even contribute to ‘increased vulnerability to crises’ (Reuters, 19 March 2003).

David Ransom questions whether Latin Americans can overthrow the global orthodoxy of neoliberalism. I believe there is growing evidence that it is starting to crumble on its own.

Dr William Van Lopik
Keshena, US

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Conduct unbecoming
Re ‘A girl called Raafat’ (Letter from Lebanon) and ‘I am the other’ (both NI 356). I would like to see Reem Haddad write about one of the young victims killed by Palestinian suicide bombers, as she reports exclusively from the anti-Israel side. And I do not feel that it becomes Hebe de Bonafini, a woman so involved in battling for freedom in Latin America, to express her ‘happiness’ at the events of 11 September 2001 in New York and Washington – in fact, it disqualifies her for me.

June Neuberger
Berlin, Germany

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Another Iraq
Felicity Arbuthnot describes the Iraq that the popular media will not (‘In memory of Iraq’, NI 356). This heartrending account of time spent in Baghdad with gentle people who want nothing more than peace brings home to us all the futility of war.

I have taken part in candlelit vigils for the Iraqis, as I did for those who died and were injured in the action against Afghanistan. The suffering of these two magnificently historic countries, with breathtakingly beautiful landscapes, is a global disgrace.

Those 30 million who marched for peace throughout the world need not feel it was worthless. Peace will come when all the world’s people finally wake up and march for an end to conflict and for an end to unrestrained material acquisitiveness.

David Harvey
Chippenham, England

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Self-analysis is often overdone

Talking it out
I think Trevor Turner made some excellent points about the levels of self-gratifying, antisocial behaviour in modern Western society (‘I shop, therefore I am’, The great privati$ation grab, NI 355). While it seems like Dr Turner would like to return to ‘the good ol’ days’ he does not address the reality of oppression that this perfect existence depended upon. Is he willing to deny his dreams and potential for the sake of a long ‘happy’ marriage, and stay at home to take care of numerous children and four dependent grandparents?

I agree that self-analysis is often overdone but it seems as though this is a necessary overcompensation for the centuries of people shutting up and putting up with oppression and injustice – not just women, but the elderly, minorities, the poor and the disabled. Until we can work out how we deal with a drastically changing society, I think it is better that it be talked out.

Lori Cotnam
Toronto, Canada

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At loggerheads
Illustrating an article on the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) (Currents, NI 355) with a picture of destructive logging in Tasmania is not helpful. It may give the impression that such an operation is approved by the FSC. In fact there are as yet no FSC-accredited forestry operations anywhere in Australia to my knowledge. In Tasmania, it might be more difficult than elsewhere to meet their criteria, especially nominating the appropriate indigenous group to protect local ecology. The massacre of Tasmanian aborigines was so widespread that the concept of traditional indigenous use is questionable.

As your article states, protest from community groups resulted in suspension of FSC certification of a logging operation in Indonesia. One of its advantages is that community comment is assessed regularly. Government-led certification to meet international standards does not include this safety valve.

In Australia, the Standards Association of Australia is currently introducing a standard for forest management, for both plantations and native forest, which seeks to make the contribution of conservation groups irrelevant. It includes the use of fire as an approved disturbance regime for management of some forest types which would not meet approval as best practice elsewhere in the world. The public comment process was boycotted by most conservation groups and the standard has no credibility in such circles. But most consumers will not know this when the supposedly sustainable timber is marketed.

Sa Gunn
South West Rocks, Australia

A late mention to two readers who wrote in enthused by our December 2002 Get it right! edition (NI 352). Keltie Craig of Victoria, Canada wrote to tell us of a project run through the Sierra Club of Canada called Be the Change! which also highlights success stories from around the world – www.gaiaproject.bc.ca
Bob Banner the publisher of Hopedance (www.hopedance.org), which covers hopeful and inspiring stories, wrote: ‘I admire your courage to do this. Of all the doom and gloom and heady analyses of the world’s problems I was drawn right to your magazine amidst a plethora of other titles grabbing for my attention and dollar.’

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Climate change solutions

Toxic agnosticism
Did it not occur to you that the ‘Toxic sceptics’ whom you damned so comprehensively in the June issue (Climate change solutions, NI 357) might be acting in good faith? There are good reasons for being at least agnostic about the rapidly growing new religion of global warming.

1 It is only 26 years since there were dire warnings that a new ice age was about to come upon us.

2 About half the change in global temperature can be accounted for by variations in the activity of the sun. Oddly, there is no mention of this anywhere in your coverage of the topic, but I appreciate that it is a pity to spoil a good story with nasty facts.

3 Much of the global-warming story is based on the activities of computer modellers. I have been a modeller for 30 years, concerned mainly with losses of nitrate and phosphate from the soil. Rule one for modellers is that you check your models against reality, usually represented by measurements. Some of the predictions from the global-warming models, temperature changes at certain levels in the atmosphere, are not found in measurements.

I have subscribed to the New Internationalist for a good few years on the assumption that it was concerned with the fate of the poor, but perhaps I was wrong. If only a tenth of the money now devoted to global warming were given to NGOs working in Africa the impact on poverty would be enormous.

Tom Addiscott
Harpenden, England

Ed: The NI stands by the piece. Variations in solar activity naturally cause temperature changes on Earth. But the theory of cycles of sunspot activity to justify trends in global temperatures, prominently used by climate-change sceptics, has been found wanting even by its originator. The surge in temperatures since 1980 cannot be explained by it.

As for computer modelling – we and the modellers themselves do not claim it is perfect. However, the most recent models have been run backwards in time where predictions can be tested against available data and have been found to be accurate.

Today many NGOs are warning that the worst effects of climate change will be felt in some of the poorest countries of the world.

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Letter from Lebanon

The perfect wife
Reem Haddad is both amused and appalled by a recent
trend among well-heeled Lebanese bachelors.

It sounded rather preposterous to me but my new friend, Toufic, was nodding his head vigorously in excitement.

‘I think I have found my bride,’ he said. ‘She’s everything I’ve ever wanted. I can’t wait to marry her.’

‘When is the big day?’ I inquired, amused at his excitement.

‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘I suppose some time after I meet her.’

I must have looked shocked for Toufic burst out laughing. ‘It’s true,’ he said. ‘She’s a mail-order bride from Russia.’ I must have looked even more shocked. ‘Everyone is doing it,’ he rushed to explain.

Well, maybe not everyone but certainly many men, I later found out. Much to the disgust of young hopeful Lebanese women, some men have turned to the internet to find brides.

‘All the Lebanese girls I dated just want too much from me,’ he said. ‘They want to have a house in the most expensive area in town, cars and maids.’

But the internet sites which provide Russian brides promise something different. ‘Russian women,’ one site claimed, ‘are unspoiled. They tend to be devoted adoring wives.’

Illustration: Sarah John
Illustration: Sarah John

They are also beautiful, slender and willing to relocate. Pictures of the women, their profiles, hobbies and the qualities that they are looking for in men, are on display. Men have to pay a certain amount for each email address.

At first, Toufic decided on 21-year-old Olga. But Olga informed him that her monthly internet connection cost $50 and she therefore couldn’t communicate with him. Toufic obligingly offered to pay.

When it became apparent that Olga’s English was very weak, Toufic found himself paying for English lessons. Olga also received a mobile phone with a bill which conveniently made its way back to Toufic. She also demanded clothes, jewellery and a weekly allowance. Toufic obliged.

After two months of ‘dating’, it was time for Olga to come to Beirut and meet her future husband. And so Olga and her mother arrived in Lebanon where a fully paid hotel suite awaited them.

After a two-week all-expenses-paid stay, the women agreed to the marriage if Toufic provided them with a brand new Alfa Romeo car, a luxurious apartment registered in Olga’s name and a generous monthly allowance. Olga and her mother were soon sent back to Russia.

Toufic had since been ‘dating’ Julia. ‘And I think she may be the one,’ he said. ‘I have already sent her air ticket and booked a hotel suite for her. I can’t wait to finally meet her.’

Suddenly I see a lot of Russian women in Beirut. Some have children in tow. ‘I miss Russia,’ one woman told me. ‘But I like it here too.’ Her name is Anna. She met her husband over the internet. He sent for her and after a few weeks together, they decided to get married. ‘My family is very poor,’ she explained. ‘A Russian husband cannot give me what my husband here does. I have a nice home and good life now.’

But not all the women have met their husbands over the internet. Some met their Lebanese husbands when they were students in Russia or Europe. Others were among the hundreds of Russian cabaret dancers who have been arriving in the country for the past several years.

‘I make $40 a month in Russia as a dancer,’ one woman told me. ‘As a cabaret dancer here, I make about $500. My family doesn’t know I am a cabaret dancer. I send them some money and they think I am dancing in a ballet abroad.’

The dancing itself is innocuous: there’s no stripping involved and performances are in a troupe. But the audience is entirely male and dancers are encouraged after their performances to mingle with their admirers and get them to spend as much cash as possible on drink. Several such meetings have ended in marriage.

But Toufic had no intention of setting foot in a cabaret venue to meet the ‘right bride’. ‘Not my style,’ he said disapprovingly.

The last I saw of him, he was busy preparing for the arrival of Julia. Spending money, jewellery and clothes had already been sent. His experience with Olga had, however, scared him. Just in case Julia wasn’t the ‘one’, Nathalie would be arriving from the Ukraine a few months later.

That was over a year ago. I haven’t seen Toufic since and often wonder if he ever found ‘the perfect wife’.

Judging by the amount of email I receive advertising mail-order brides mostly to Western men, I can only hope that some Russian brides are living happily ever after.

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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