issue 170 - April 1987
The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
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The recent issue of NI 169 on AIDS was a welcome contribution to the inadequate body of information on the impact of this disease.
In the six years since AIDS was first recognized, cases of the disease have been officially reported to WHO by more than half the world's countries, and the virus has spread to more than 100. Senior health officials in Uganda, where 10 per cent of the population is thought to be carrying the virus, conservatively estimate that one out of every two Ugandan adults will be infected in little more than a decade. In the US in the year 1991 alone, the bill for the treatment of AIDS patients is expected to total between $8 and $10 billion.
Medical research is looking for an AIDS vaccine, a solution which researchers do not foresee becoming available for mass distribution in less than a decade. Nevertheless, developing the 'hardware' of AIDS control - vaccines, drugs and other therapies - is a task, like putting someone on the moon, which we know how to organize.
In the meantime, people need to know about AIDS and how to protect themselves. But the 'software' of AIDS control - communicating the necessary information to all those who need to know - is a task which may be just as complex as the discovery of a vaccine. We simply do not know enough about the social and individual needs which determine sexual behaviour patterns to alter them very easily. But unless we learn to do this quickly, a number of unpalatable measures may be forced upon us by the need to control the spread of this disease. In most countries AIDS education is not happening at all; in no country has it become a sufficiently high priority, and nowhere is it targeted accurately enough to reach all the groups at risk.
The Panos Institute
Congratulations on the decision to devote an issue (NI 168) to debt. The blind-spot on the economic roots of poverty and underdevelopment needs to be tackled.
As your 'conversational style' was aimed at readers entirely new to the issue, they should judge its success. However one cost was omitting a number of key aspects of the crisis, chiefly the immense political significance of the debt and the efforts and strategies people are adopting to oppose it. Only if we understand what the majority of people in the debtor countries are fighting for is there any point in campaigning here.
National Campaigns Organiser
'Profits out of Poverty?' London, UK
Mike Rose's piece about racism and imperialism (NI 167) was entertaining enough, but I must put the record straight about the Inca empire of the Andes. Rose suggests that the paternalistic Incas made available food for the peasants at all times. Indeed they did; famine was almost unknown. But they did it for a reason. They needed labour. All men of between 20 and 50 were mobilised for forced labour, 50 per cent of a conquered province's assets were plundered for the Inca and the religious establishment, and huge populations were forced to migrate.
As Jacques Soustelle says, 'Peruvian "socialism" was rooted in a vigilant despotism.' The people were forced to see the Inca as a god. In fact, they worshipped (when they could) trees, rocks and waterfalls.
Mike Rose rightly slags off the imperialists but the life of a peasant in Peru, living as an unpaid serf, perhaps hundreds of miles from home, is not to be seen as utopian.
Whilst not wanting to appear an apologist for the Soviet Union, it is necessary to question the accuracy of the table of alleged Soviet 'gunboat' imperialist interventions which is presented in your article Imperialism - The Facts. (NI 167)
Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Egypt, Angola and Ethiopia are all cited as examples of Soviet 'intervention'. What is meant by 'intervention' is not made clear, but what is well known is that no Soviet troops have ever fought in those countries, or even been stationed there. On the other hand, it is also well known that American troops fought long and bloody conflicts in both Vietnam and Korea. Is it being suggested that mass American armies fighting in those two countries are to be equated with Soviet military aid?
D A Stainwright
Many thanks for publishing my address at the bottom of my brother's (John Medcalf) Endpiece (NI 163) from Nicaragua. It has resulted in an overwhelming amount of supportive mail and offers of help for the Nicaraguan rural libraries project from all over the world.
Mrs K S Doust
Editor: For those who missed it first time around: Burnside, 21 Victoria Embankment, Nottingham, N02 2JY, UK
For some reason I read the editorial of your Finance issue (NI 168) and after reading the bit about 'not always having as serious a tone as it might' I dived in. Lo and behold I couldn't put it down till I'd finished the whole thing! At last I had got, fairly painlessly, a picture of roughly what is going on in the mystic realms of banks and finance.
I am surprised at your review of the record Graceland by Paul Simon. I wonder who you think we should be boycotting in South Africa? Surely the white racist regime, its institutions and everything that supports and encourages it should be the targets for the boycott. What is gained by boycotting black musicians in Soweto township? Surely exposure of black South African culture is one of the few things we should whole-heartedly encourage. Sadly, the average person in the West (or in my country) wouldn't know black South Africans had a culture.
Ascot Park, Australia
Kids against Attila
Mr Moelart, writing in NI 168 on the lack of moral justification in bringing children into this world, may care to reflect that, had his forbears taken the same view in the times of Attila the Hun you would have been spared the trouble of printing his letter and we of reading it.
D J Vickery
I was interested to learn of Sheldrake's hypothesis of formative causation (NI 167), particularly the 'critical mass' of one per cent.
This was the vote gained by the UK Green Party in the 1983 General Election. Since then our share of the votes has risen steadily, and in the last local election in Scotland, the Scottish Green Party polled 15 per cent.
I would suggest to E P N Valinsky that the chain reaction is in progress and that we are moving towards a new, green world, not just politically, but in the much wider sense of the word.
Press Officer (Lothian) Scottish Green Party
As a group, your new policies have increased your circulation - this leads you to self-congratulations. But are more sales of the hyped-up NI really so complementary to the greater understanding of development issues and education?
I must ask you to stop sending us the NI until and unless the editors come to grips with development education and stop wasting time and effort on their myopic, adolescent, marginalised visions.
I hope that both sense and skill return quickly - NI is too valuable as a possible truth vehicle to become trash.
Sister Sheila O'Connell
Albany Development Education Group, Australia
Editor: If voyeurism is helping people get inside difficult and opaque subjects we plead guilty. And if 'development education' is relegated to describing life 'out there' in the Third World then we believe it is at a dead end. Education of any kind starts in the mind of the reader.
Fish 'n toxin
I would like to see more in the NI about the way in which farming is contributing to pollution. In the north east of New South Wales, for example, banana farmers are being allowed to clear and plant on slopes in excess of the legally allowed gradient. This leads to loss of topsoil while the toxins from sprays have polluted streams and rendered fish inedible. I'm sure this sort of thing is happening in other parts of the world with equally disastrous consequences.
James R Burns
New South Wales, Australia
Why does a radical magazine such as NI still persist in the old habit of referring to countries as 'she' (NI 167 and others)? Surely this reference, implying once again the passive female object being steered and directed by male values and structures is not concurrent with the progressive views expressed.
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
Margaret St Clare has been living and working in the
I'm just back from my first visit to Victoria Falls - I hope it won't be my last, though it took me three years to get there. At first I was uninterested in tourist spots; I wanted to use my holidays getting to know my own area better. Later I thought I should wait till relatives or friends came to visit. Then I wondered about taking a local friend to see them, since most never get the chance. Finally I joined three expatriate friends who had booked their trip with room for one more, and I'm very grateful to them.
Almost everything about the Falls is even more lovely and breathtaking than I had imagined. But let me start in Bulawayo Railway Station, with sunset bathing the vast white cooling towers of the downtown power station. We found our names on the second class reservation list displayed in a polished teak and glass case on the platform, spotted our carriage and climbed aboard. There seemed to be no third class, and little difference between the panelled and mirrored first and second class carriages. Fourth class (for less than half the second class fare) means sitting upright all night on slatted wooden benches (also polished).
Pulling away in the dying light from Zimbabwe's biggest city, the train drew a wide arc around warehouses, factories and mills. We leaned out of the windows, exhilarated, remembering Europe, and the stark familiar beauty of industrial landscapes at dusk.
In the morning, after a good night's sleep in our fold-out bunks, we were awakened with coffee again as the train slowly covered the last few flat, forested miles to the Falls.
Our first glimpse of them was a plume of grey that seemed to rise up from the trees to join the clouds. Then we were rolling into the station past the tiny, carefully segregated, third and fourth class waiting room and long, neglected webs of trailing wisteria. Gasping with delight and admiration, we passed through the station and down the steps towards the Hotel.
The Victoria Falls Hotel, I realised on our third day, is a place that makes everyone look, and feel, beautiful. Everyone, that is, who has the money or the confidence to join the casual, colourful parade. As we ate our prolonged buffet breakfast (making sure we got our five dollars worth), we spotted Italians, Germans, Americans, Australians - and, from Zimbabwe, many more black and Asian families than whites. Some, like us, were staying in the National Park lodges, some were camping, others were paying $100 a night as full guests. But we all got to listen to the marimba music and the jazz, eat, drink, rest in the shade and watch the people go by.
And the Falls themselves? Well, they almost call for silence, or a long, dreamy smile. But I'll try. First, they are free to visitors, and unspoiled. Before you see the water, you hear it: 'The Smoke that Thunders' is their local name. Then you enter the rain forest and smell its wet life; you start to feel showers of spray on your skin - and then you see. As you walk, you feel every sense is being touched and is responding.
In a way impossible to describe without diagrams, you can walk almost the whole length of the Falls, facing them across the gorge they have slowly carved through the black basalt. On the Zimbabwean side you walk further, and the rainbows come and go in the mist. On the Zambian side, you walk closer and get wetter and the rainbows are steady, almost circular.
It is as if, having created a natural wonder, God decided to let everyone come as close as possible to admire, and foreseeing international tourism and the border, resolved that no-one should have grounds for envy.