That man in Havana
FIDEL Castro’s campaign for Third countries, particularly those in Latin America, to stand together and repudiate their massive foreign debts has been much publicised. And among the powers-that-be his ideas are doubtless dismissed as part of a communist plot to undermine the global economic system. But what he is actually seeking is the survival of the capitalist system, as is shown by the following extracts from his interview with the liberal Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo.
What about the flood of bank failures?
Will the solution involve a moratorium, or bankruptcy?
What would the creditors gain from all this?
With a partial debt forgiveness, the domestic economies of the hopelessly indebted countries would be reorganized. For the industrialized nations this would mean a renewal of the structure that supplies them with raw materials; more trade with the developing nations - which would begin to show growth - and more business for the multinationals.
Latin America could import twice as much from the US as now. The purchasing power of the Third World in Japanese, European and US markets over the next twelve months would increase by about $100 billion.
How would the bankers react?
With 10-12 per cent cuts in military spending, which is now excessive, we would see a miracle - without endangering national defence and without tax increases.
The debt crisis is a tragicomedy. lt is a distorted book-keeping situation that forces more than two thirds of the world’s population to live in hell.
Will capitalism succumb to its own excesses?
The Titanic of the world financial system, believed to be unsinkable, will sink. On that day, we will stop paying the illegitimate part of our debts and negotiate the honest repayment of the rest, with rates and terms adjusted to the abilities of some 120 debtors around the world. The project is simple: re-establish conditions as they were before 1979.
For more than a century banks loaned money at 6 per cent. Why not rescue capitalism?
Should we pray for the Titanic to sink?
NUCLEAR power has been going rapidly out of fashion over the last few years. Following the accident at Three Mile Island, USA, in 1979, there was a sudden decline in building new reactors throughout the industrialised countries and the nuclear construction companies turned to the Third World to fill their order books. However, in 1985, it is only those governments determined to build their own nuclear weapons which still seem prepared to bear the huge costs of a nuclear programme. Those countries whose primary concern is merely to fulfil their energy needs are looking elsewhere.
The developing countries most committed to nuclear power, Argentina, India and Pakistan, have all managed to build up their own indigenous nuclear industries so that they do not rely on outside help for any part of the fuel cycle. They have been able to do this only because their manufacturing industries were already sufficiently developed to make the various bits and pieces and they had the facilities to train the people necessary for such a highly technical industry.
The other advantage of completing the fuel cycle is that it makes it possible to build nuclear weapons. Both India and Argentina have refused to sign any non-proliferation treaties. India tested its first nuclear bomb in 1974. Meanwhile, most developing countries have turned off the idea of buying a large number of nuclear reactors just to supply electricity. It simply costs too much.
Back in 1973, the Philippines was planning to build 11 nuclear reactors. The first one, started in 1977, is still not complete and has cost 10 times more than expected. No more are planned. The Philippines is now the world’s second largest user of geothermal steam (water heated by the natural warmth of the earth’s core). The energy ministry expects non-conventional energy to make the greatest contribution to reducing its country’s reliance on imported oil.
Even in Argentina, the nuclear budget has been slashed by two-thirds since December 1983 when civilian government replaced the military. This is despite Argentina having no other substantial energy source at present.
In Australia an advertising campaign touts non-alcoholic Clayton’s Tonic as ‘the drink you have when you’re not having a drink’. Inevitably, the newly declared South Pacific Nuclear-Free Zone is called the Clayton’s Zone. For ships carrying nuclear weapons will continue to sail the Pacific and the French remain adamantly deaf to pleas from Pacific nations not to test nuclear weapons in the region.
The treaty setting up the zone was endorsed by island nations. Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand. It has been greeted with derision by anti-nuclear groups whose claims of its inherent weakness are supported by the lack of alarm it has generated in pro-nuclear lobbies and in the US. A stronger treaty certainly would have upset Washington where impatience is growing with the nuclear policies of New Zealand’s Lange Government.
The US might sign the protocols to the treaty. They only involve application of provisions to American Samoa and a guarantee that the United States would not test, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons in the Pacific.
France certainly will not sign. The Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke. stated the sentiments of Pacific countries on the matter of French testing: ‘We don’t like or want them testing their nuclear weapons in our region. If it is as safe and uncomplicated as they assert, let them do it in metropolitan France.’
Yet Australia itself has come under attack for hypocrisy over its export of uranium. Hawke put forward the standard defence: ‘We accept that there is an international nuclear-fuel cycle and that it will grow. It is very important that Australia, which has the most stringent safeguards in the world of raw suppliers, should not leave a vacuum there to be filled by those who would have not only lesser safeguard provisions, but, in the case of some, no safeguards at all.’ Vanuatu, for one, was not convinced and said Australia’s exports were incompatible with the spirit of the South Pacific Nuclear-Free Zone treaty.
Pornography and the First Lady
As popular protest and the strength of the NPA guerillas grow in the Philippines. Imelda Marcos, the President’s wife, continues to fiddle while Manila burns. Her pride and joy is the Manila Film Centre, built at enormous expense as a copy of the Parthenon in Athens. Now she has added fuel to the fire of critics who consider such extravagance indecent by launching Manila as the pornographic film capital of Asia.
The $25 million Film Centre was constructed by Ms Marcos for the 1982 and 1983 Manila International Film Festivals, an event which promptly died when the government withdrew its support because of financial stringency. But money is needed to maintain an edifice which no government organization wants to touch. Originally intended as a home for artistic films, the Centre is now the promoter of sexually explicit films where the mass of eager customers often causes the air-conditioning to break down.
So, amid fanfare and controversy. thousands of Filipino men braved typhoon rains and gusty winds to queue up for the premiere of steamy films like Scorpio Nights which made pre-marital law bomba (sex) films look very tame. The centre’s three cinemas have 15 screenings a day. and performances are always sold out, with hundreds of customers siting in the aisles. Security men with loudhailers maintain order among the predominantly male patrons rushing through the gates, a scene equalled only by the big Christmas sales.
The pornographic films seem to have been officially sanctioned. Imelda Marcos, the patron of the arts, has been advised that it is the only way to raise money. Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, created by Imelda with her daughter Imee in charge, has taken over the running of the Centre and the promotion of porno films outside the censorship laws.
The official Board of Censors refuses to have anything to do with the Film Centre, and Christian groups in this predominantly Roman Catholic country have picketed the place. Church leader, Jaime Cardinal Sin, has called the centre a ‘cesspool’.
The quarrel continues, underscoring the dilemma of the Filipino film industry’s inability to go beyond the genre of sex and violence. In a nation where statistics show that more people go to the cinema than to church, it is a sorry statement to hear from film-makers that no Filipino film can win audience approval without a rape scene or guns being fired.
Imelda Marcos has said seeing porno films is part of growing up. But she was unable to mollify the Cardinal with her promise to give the proceeds of the Festival to the poor and disabled. Asked Sin: ‘What is the price of seeing an entire generation morally crippled?’
Abbv Tan, Gemini
In the aftermath of Bangladesh’s devastating floods last year, field workers from voluntary agencies were alarmed to discover a number of destitute women had been denied relief wheat unless they agreed to be sterilised.
Twenty-year-old Rohima, a divorced mother with one baby son who lives in a village south-west of the capital, Dhaka. was told by her Union Council Chairman. ‘if you have the operation, you will get wheat.’ Afterwards Rohima received a card from local Bangladeshi authorities confirming she had been sterilised and authorising her to receive food aid.
According to health workers in the area, 80 per cent of the women sterilised during the floods had done so to receive wheat. Similar cases were reported from Barisal. Jessore, Comilla and Pabna Districts. Of 85 women sterilised in one location in Pabna, two died of side effects from the operation.
Government figures reported in the Bangladesh Observer indicate that an ‘unprecedented’ 257,000 sterilisations were performed in last year’s flood months from July to October - almost one quarter of the total performed in the entire decade from 1972 to 1982.
Over one hundred million people live in Bangladesh’s 55,000 square miles and they are in theory offered a broad range of contraception choices. But in practice, female sterilisation is the main method promoted - a survey in 1983 revealed that 80 per cent of those who underwent the operation were women. Today, 34 per cent of Bangladeshis using a family planning method are sterilised and the Government aims to increase this figure to 41 per cent by the end of the decade through the use of financial incentives and disincentives.
Doctors and clinical staff receive special payments for each sterilisation they perform. and health and family planning workers as well as members of the public receive a fee for each sterilisation patient they bring forward. Family planning workers who fail to meet monthly targets have had their salaries withheld until very recently. People who are sterilised receive a new item of clothing and a cash payment of 175 taka ($6) which is less than five per cent of the annual per capita income.
Eighty-five per cent of the incentive payments’ costs are funded by the United States Agency for International Development whose hardline attitude to population control has contributed to the Bangladesh Government’s aggressive promotion of sterilisation.