Clearly the Catholic Church is a vital, courageous, even revolutionary force in Central America. Here, when the choice had to be made between the practical needs of the people and the morality of violent opposition to brutal dictatorships in the region, practical needs triumphed and violence had to be condoned.
How strange, then, to read that the Catholic hierarchy has reaffirmed its opposition to abortion. What more practical need can there be for hungry, overworked women, exhausted from years of child bearing; or for teenagers with bodies barely formed who daren't resist the social and economic pressures of older, more powerful men in a patriarchal society?
It must stretch the faith of true grass-roots Catholics to the limit to have to support the whims of the Vatican on the question of abortion. How can they in all conscience both oppose the regimes of Central America, yet support a policy with equally brutal consequences for women throughout the world?
Abortion - a basic need?
Over half of all pregnancies end in abortion, but abortion is illegal in many countries and outlawed by many so-called humanitarian religious groups. Yet the cost of patching up victims of illegal abortions in those same countries takes care of up to one-third of their health budgets.
A legal abortion can take less than ten minutes to perform, uses simple transportable equipment and is 11 times safer than having your tonsils out.
So where is the NI's incisive, damning analysis of the Catholic Church - a church that forbids abortion and has a vast influence in the poorest parts of the world? Where are the expositions of namby-pamby aid agencies, so vociferous in their support of family planning, but who consistently brush this most important form of birth control under the carpet?
Its about time the NI stopped sitting on the fence. Groups all over the world are now making a stance against the edicts of a white-gowned man in the Vatican Palace and the vicious hypocricies of the Right-to-life lobby in Europe and the US. Even in the Catholic bastions of Spain and Italy the protests are growing. It is time for the NI to ask just whose lives are at stake.
In 'Merchants of Misery' (NI No. 100), Jorgen Lissner drew attention to an unusual moral dilemma. He questioned the means used by charitable agencies for their fund raising. Countering the cry 'But surely anything is justified for the sake of a good cause', he pointed out that many of the charities' advertisements simply degrade people of the Third World and maintain our own sense of benevolence and superiority.
But perhaps his analysis did not go far enough. He began by talking about the economics of raising money. What he failed to stress, however, was the fact that the charities are in competition with each other.
It is not ignorance or insensitivity that keeps the poverty pornography flowing, but simple market forces: the more gruesome the picture, the skinnier the infant, the fuller the collecting boxes.
The opening sentences of your Update article on aid (NI No. 100) are most misleading. You do not go so far as to assert that big relief organisations don't get food to the empty bellies shown on their advertisements, but the impression and innuendo were there.
(Where else was it that I read of the misuse of impression and innuendo in the press? Ah, yes, I remember - page 15 of the same issue!)
But the organisations doing the advertising are in a completely different ball game as regards the scale of food aid and the care with which they choose and check their distribution channels. They should not be tarred with the same brush you use for government aid through government channels.
The people of Brazil were doubtless fascinated to learn from the February issue of the New Internationalist that their inflation rate is dust over 30 per cent.
Actually, as the government happily admits, the current rate is between 150 and 200 per cent!
Having just spent two months in the poor north-east region of Brazil, I heartily agree with Penny Sanger's assessment that (a) income distribution is appalling, and (b) there is none the less an immensely appealing gaiety about Brazilians. However, in recent weeks, there have been severe food riots in the province of Ceara, which perhaps show that the population will not always accept the injustices that characterise so much of Brazilian society.
I was disappointed by the conclusion of the Brazil Country profile: 'That's the way God wanted it' most people say...
Liberation theology, the spread of Christian grass-roots communities, the consistent commitment of clergymen and many bishops against exploitation and repression seem to be forgotten by NI. Yet a major people's movement, unprecedented elsewhere, to radically changing society is on the move in Brazil.
The upcoming free trade unions, the conscientization of slum-dwellers, the political mobilization of millions of peasants, the shaping-up of a new Left is all intimately connected with people's faith in a liberating Christ.
The author replies:
The 1980 World Development Report gives 30.3 per cent as the average 1970-78 inflation rate. No doubt Jonathan Fryer's figure is accurate for early 1981.
Food from the forest
I read with great interest your short article 'Feeding the Five Billion' (NI No. 99) with its reference to important new technical discoveries and developments in the field of fertilisation. As co-author of Forest Farming, I would like to draw your attention to a system of producing food and other basic necessities which is being developed in several countries, notably China. Called `Agroforestry', it can be operated in many areas such as deserts, barren uplands, rainforests and marshlands where conventional agriculture is difficult or impossible. And it produces far higher yields than conventional agriculture.
Whereas livestock-rearing in temperate regions produces an average of about two cwt of meat per acre and cereal growing an average crop of about 1.5 tons, apple trees can yield at least seven tons, while leguminous bean-bearing trees such as the honey locust can produce 15 to 20 tons of cereal equivalent.
I must take issue with one of May's Update articles (NI No. 99) where it was stated that venereal diseases and sterility are less of a problem in 'groups where the spread of sexually-transmitted disease is strictly controlled by enforcing women's marital fidelity'. What about men's fidelity? Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't sexual intercourse usually involve two people?
Yet again the blame for sexual permissiveness is being put on women. You would think that men had nothing to do with it. Yet symptoms of VD are much more obvious in men than in women. So, arguably, men are more to blame than women for not seeking treatment, thereby encouraging the spread of these diseases.
Could it be that we are setting a pace that the Soviets feel compelled to equal for their own security? Just who is wrecking whose economy?
Who's space is it?
A comparison of your monthly Letters Page with February's (NI No. 96) 'Readers in Profile' feature is really quite startling. Can these really be the same people?
Typical NI readers are professional, left-oriented and in their mid-twenties. Interested in reading, music, art, travel and social problems, they read the NI for its clear and creative presentation of Third World issues.
Then to the letters - surely that four per cent of Conservative readers, that eight per cent of clergy, and that 24 per cent of the over-forties are getting more than their fair share of space?
Admittedly, people are more likely to write in if they object to the style of the NI, and it is a well-known fact that Conservatives are more likely to attend meetings, turn out to vote at elections, and generally make their opinions known.
But it does make me wonder if I'm alone in thinking that you do a great job!