issue 164 - October 1986
Pound of flesh
The four major British High Street Banks (Lloyds, Midland, National Westminster and Barclays) are the targets of a new War on Want campaign, Profits out of Poverty. A very useful £2,500 million ($3,750 million) was made by these banks in 1985 out of debt payments from Latin America.
During the 1970s large loans at extortionate interest rates were made to Latin American governments. Often these were military dictatorships who used the money to buy the latest wizard weaponry. Little if any of the money actually benefited the people. But juicy profits were made by the banks as exchange rates went haywire, inflation soared and the banks, backed by the International Monetary Fund, started calling in their loans. Wealth is now being transferred from Latin America to the North at a rate of $30,000 million a year.
At the insistence of the IMF, many governments have introduced severe austerity measures. In some countries the real living standard has dropped by as much as 50 per cent since 1981. The Profits out of Poverty campaign wants the banks to reduce their demands for payment on existing debts, and governments and financial institutions to make new finance available on terms that benefit the poor.
For more information on the campaign write to War on Want Suite 4 - 6, The Hop Exchange. 24 Southwark Street, London SEI.
With God on their side
Father Josimo Moraes, gunned down in May, was the third priest to have been murdered in the last year in Brazil for standing alongside the landless peasantry. He joins the 20 fatalities a month, victims of the conflict between poverty-stricken peasants and the private armies hired by the big landowners to protect their estates from squatters.
There are more than 10 million peasants without land in Brazil, yet less than 20 per cent of the cultivable area is actively farmed. Save for a few beef cattle, the rest lies idle - and at a time when Brazil is spending $1,000 million a year on imported staple foods.
The new civilian government, a year into office, promised land reform if returned to power. Neglected estates are returning to scrubland unused; in São Paulo State alone there are four million hectares lying idle. This land was promised for redistribution in 1985 but landowners will not give it up. There is now a nationwide resistance movement of right-wing farmers which the Church believes was responsible for the violence that killed Father Moraes.
From South, No 69 1986
About 24,000 bulls will be killed in Spain's rings this season. But animal-rights activists have new hope for their campaign to ban bullfighting. They feel that Spain's entry into the European Economic Community this year will strengthen the country's animal protection legislation, which is now among the weakest in Europe.
From the Economist, May 24, 1986
Canadian bank busters
'Fundamentally, how do 250 women, mainly immigrant workers, take on a bank with $75,000 million in assets and 1,500 branches coast to coast?' asked a Canadian union official. Still, they did, and with remarkable success thanks to extraordinary tactics like computerised electronic picketing.
First, the dispute. The women of the Visa section, Toronto branch of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, were angry. They had received no across-the-board pay rise for five years. They were fed up with sexual harassment and worried about job security and new technology. The Bank refused to listen to their grievances and so they walked out.
Next, the strategy. New strike tactics were pioneered, including electronic picketing. Using their knowledge of computer systems, the women set up a computerised automatic re-dialling system to continuously ring up the Bank. The switchboard was jammed with up to 50,000 calls a day, each giving a recorded message of the strike demands. Unions in the meantime were persuaded to withdraw their accounts from the Bank, which saw $15 million worth of its business disappear. Then there was the 'bank-a-thon'. Strikers and supporters lined up in the Bank at peak time on Saturday, to deposit one cent each in an account. A TV crew who began to film the chaos were hauled away by the Bank's security guards. By the time the Bank refused to accept any more of the one-cent deposits there was a balance of $18 in the account
The Bank refused to negotiate. After seven months the Canadian Labour Relations Board stepped and enforced a settlement. A union contract was won. Not all the women's demands were met, but it was a start
From International Labour Reports. July-August 1986
When the US bombed Libya last April, a computer flight-simulator program called F-15 Strike Eagle jumped suddenly from 15th to 5th place on the entertainment software list.
Reason: among the scenarios included on the disk was a strangely similar mission. Based on a 1981 incident where two Libyan MiGs were shot down over the Gulf of Sidra, an imaginary embellishment of an air-strike on Libya was added.
In that folksy country 'n' western style, a marketing executive for the objectionable software explained: 'It's a way to find out what it felt like over Libya... and the best part is no one gets hurt'
Information from Time magazine, July 14. 1986
The greater evil
After the fall of Duvalier and Marcos in the space of 18 heady days in February, who will be the next dictator to go? Favoured candidate is Chile's General Augusto Pinochet, facing widespread internal dissension after 12 years in power.
But if Pinochet looks closely at the 'transition to democracy in Manila and Port-au-Prince, he may be reassured about US backing. Little has changed since 1961 when J.F. Kennedy, talking about the Dominican Republic crisis, laid out three US options, in descending order of desirability: 'a decent democratic regime, dictatorship or Castroism'. Kennedy's enduring maxim was that, 'We ought to aim for the first, but we can't really renounce the second until we are sure we can avoid the third.'
A US AID official placed the 'news Reagan policy in context 'The regime had to go, before radical elements took advantage of the popular uprising ... In that sense, Duvalier was the greater evil.'
From NACLA Report on the Americas Vol XX No 2 1986
Sweden's dirty linen
Despite being in the forefront of the international peace movement, this Scandinavian country is the world's ninth largest exporter of conventional weapons.
Public debate on the arms industry has followed revelations that the Bofors Company exported weapons to Iran for use in the Gulf War.
The former managing director, Winberg, is likely to stand trial following allegations made by an ex-employee that Winberg knowingly engaged in arms sales to a nation at war. In theory Sweden's laws prohibit such sales - but in practice, according to peace researchers, this has often been ignored.
The country's Peace and Arbitration Society claims that Swedish weapons have been used in half of all wars since World War Two. And in recent years exports to the Third World have made up 30-50 per cent of her arms exports.
The paradoxical - perhaps hypocritical - concern of the country for both peace and fuelling the flames of war dates from the last century. Then Alfred Nobel established a munitions exporting empire and a prize for peace; such standards appear to survive in peaceful co-existence.
From Wayne Brittenden, Gemini News Service
'In May of 1984 we had our first "contact visit"... We last touched
his hand in 1962. We kissed Nelson and held him for a long time.
His warder was so moved (that) he looked the other way.'
From 'Part of my soul went with him' by Winnie Mandela, 1985