Back to the barracks
IN the last 10 years the balance between military and political regimes in Latin America has been reversed. In the mid1970s most countries south of the Panama Canal were ruled by authoritarian military governments. Now only a handful are controlled directly by the military.
Military rulers abandoned power in Ecuador in 1979 and in Peru in 1980. But the trend back to democracy has accelerated in the past year and has produced several surprises.
The most remarkable was the collapse of the military government in Bolivia last July. Bolivia has had nearly 200 governments in its 150 years of independence and much of its instability can be assigned to the military’s failure to keep out of politics. The most recent example occurred in 1980 when the army staged elections after nearly 17 years of unbroken military rule and refused to accept the results when it became clear that Siles Suazo’s left-leaning Democratic and Popular Union party had won a majority of seats.
The army engineered a particularly bloody coup and a brutal right-winger, General Garcia Meza, was installed as President.
To make matters worse, the price of tin - Bolivia’s main legal export - plummeted on world markets, while the military compounded their problems by chronic misrule. Garcia Meza was toppled by the army and there were three palace coups within 18 months, a record even for Bolivia. Pressure from the tin miners’ unions coupled with the problems of running a near-bankrupt economy proved impossible for the military to withstand. They called Siles Suazo back from exile in Peru to lead the country.
The Siles Suazo government is faced with appalling problems: a huge foreign debt, rising inflation and dwindling production in virtually everything except cocaine.
The most obvious parallel for this military reversal is with Argentina, a much richer and more powerful country but where the generals also seem to have lost the will to govern. Economic mismangement has again been the underlying cause of the candidates opposed to any deal with the military did far better than those prepared to tolerate some limited but permanent role for the military in government.
Finally, there is Brazil. Unlike its Spanish-speaking neighbours, Portuguese-speaking Brazil has not turned towards democracy out of desperation. Last November’s general election was the climax of several years of careful planning by the military oligarchy that has ruled since 1963.
The military’s aim was to produce a ‘guided democracy’. Though they scrupulously avoided that phrase they went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that the opposition parties, even if they won the election in terms of votes - which they did - would not obtain a majority of seats - which they did not.
But the very success of the Brazilian experiment, with its cynical contrivance of the electoral machine, should provide a warning to those inclined to give the word democracy a universal value.
Elections and a return to civilian rule. anywhere in Latin America. do not guarantee an end to the military’s destabilising role in political life.
John Pickford, Gemini
The state of Venda
THE so called ‘independent’ bantustan of Venda. tucked into the north-western corner of the Transvaal province on the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique, is an area of South Africa where the people live under a mantle of fear and widespread repression.
Four years ago Venda followed the path of the Transkei and Bophuthatswana bantustans in choosing Pretoria-style independence thereby becoming the Pretoria Government’s third illegitimate child - independent in name only and recognised only by South Africa.
It is a land wracked by extreme poverty and deprivation; the average monthly income is £20 and there are few’ schools and hospitals. Most of the men have to seek work outside the territory. The puppet regime is headed by Patrick Mphephu.
Through presidential edicts Mphephu has made himself the most powerful and wealthy man in the territory.
On a hilltop at the capital of Thohoyandou (head of the elephant) he lives in a palatial R750,000 home and runs a stable of luxury cars. He recently more than doubled his salary and now’ earns R70,000 a year, just R4,000 less than Prime Minister Botha.
The salaries of Venda cabinet ministers have also doubled and they now earn R36,500 a year with a tax free allowance of R4,000 plus various perks. Yet the bantustan generates less than 4 per cent of its annual revenue. Last year, the South African Government is said to have contributed more than R300 million to the Venda budget, while the Venda regime raised less than R10 million on its own.
The money being poured into Venda is blatantly being used to prove Pretoria’s dream that grand-apartheid is working.
Mphephu’s administration has signed a non-aggression’ treaty with South Africa. The obvious idea being to provide a buffer zone against any guerilla incursions from Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
The ruling Venda National Party has twice been defeated in elections by the Venda Independence Party. Mphuphu has simply subverted the poll results by detaining the entire opposition until they agreed to co-operate.
As a so-called ‘national state’ Venda is just unworkable and its corruption equals if not surpassses that of the other bantustans. They will never work because they are administrations that have been imposed from above by the Pretoria regime.
The national elephant symbol of Venda typifies the excesses of the Venda Government. A resident used the symbol to describe their lot: ‘They trample the people. The whole land is captive. With independence they sold us.’
Where credit is due
ACCORDING to the United Nations, women perform 66 per cent of all work in the world but receive only 10 per cent of the income. Why?
Women are, of necessity, good managers; they have to be if they and their families are to survive. They are used to scrimping and saving and making ends meet but once they start to put these skills to work outside the home, they come up against problems. For here survival is institutionalised. If you want to start up a business, however small, you need money - and who’s going to make a loan to a woman?
At the 1975 Women’s Conference in Mexico, the problems facing women entrepreneurs in developing countries were discussed. As a result, Women’s World banking was set up and is now in its second year of operation.
Women’s World Banking is a non-profit organisation operating from New York. Its function is not to lend money but to act as a guarantor for women who need to borrow. It will, therefore, go to a local bank to speak on behalf of a woman who is trying to start up a business: ‘We think this woman’s idea is sound and if you will accept 25 per cent of the risk, we will accept the remaining 75 per cent’.
By doing this, they hope to encourage local banks to participate in enterprises organised specifically by women. At the moment it is operating in India, Central America and Africa backing a number of small-scale projects including a craft centre, a chicken and egg factory and a bicycle repair shop.
Although an idea may be commercially viable, many women will find it difficult to raise the start-up cash and if they do manage to raise it very often it is through a money lender who may charge interest at 200 per cent. It is these women that the organisation is trying to help.
The initial action must always be at local level. An affiliate of Women’s World Banking is formed, perhaps by a women’s co-op. Then, if a project is thought to be financially sound, the affiliate will accept 25 per cent of the risk, the lending bank will be encouraged to accept a further 25 per cent and when this has been done, Women’s World Banking will come in to guarantee the remaining 50 per cent of the loan.
The sums involved are generally small, often not more than $10,000. To qualify for a loan guarantee, a woman must undertake to do some training in management and marketing - areas which traditionally have been outside her experience and which is partly the reason why banks are reluctant to lend to women.
Women’s World Banking gets its money from the sale of long-term debentures as well as from grants from the UN Development Programme, the governments of Sweden and the Netherlands, the Rockefeller Foundation and the United Methodist Church. It will not seek financial help from the banks as it prefers to retain some degree of independence.
Further information from: Michaela Walshe, P0 Box 506,
‘HEATHENS are at a premium these days in Papua New Guinea, so much so that latter-day religious zealots are tripping over themselves and their converts to bring the ‘true word of God’. The established churches - the Catholics, the Anglicans, the Lutherans and the Uniting - are getting a little niggled since the poaching of souls from their historical territories is not welcomed,’ so says Nuigini Nius correspondent Kevin Ricketts recently.
No-one seems to know just how many churches, missionaries and weird sects are operating in PNG - the last official study by the UN in the early I 970s put the figure at 48 - it may have doubled since then.
While the good work that has been carried out in the fields of health and education by the older established churches can’t be denied, the motives of some of the recently arrived gospel or pentecostal churches are highly suspect. Refugees from the West. especially the US, such religious fanatics find the average Papua New Guinean just ripe for conversion.
Protein deficiency in children is a serious problem in some areas and domestic pigs are often the main protein source. Unfortunately Seventh Day Adventists preach against the consumption of pork, and the fish stocks of the River Sepik have been significantly depleted since the river has been clogged by Salvinia. This virulent water weed was introduced by missionaries as shading for the pools of their commercial crocodile farm and subsequently escaped into the nearby river. Predatory grasshoppers are currently being released in the hope that they will gobble up the Salvinia.
Destruction of the rich Papua New Guinea culture has been hastened by the missionaries who have been burning down the ‘pagan’ Haus Tambarans, the traditional spirit houses of the people of the East Sepik region. These splendidly carved and brightly painted structures are rapidly being replaced by churches clad in corrugated iron roofs. The people are then forced to adopt a religion which is inappropriate to their way of life and persuaded to swap their traditional dress for Western clothes. These clothes remain unwashed as soap is a rare luxury and eventually harbour body lice and scabies and other aggravating skin diseases - the traditional arse grass was changed daily.
Recently there have been encouraging signs that the people of PNG are beginning to stand up for their rights, when parents of children who had been told that their traditional dress was immoral by their missionary teachers turned up in force for a sit-in at the Mission in Tambul. But they have a long way to go.