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new internationalist
issue 174 - August 1987



Reading in Colombia
Informality works best

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Large independent groups teaching reading and writing, like Dimensión Educativa, are succeeding much better than Government schemes in Colombia. The small groups co-ordinate small programmes throughout the country, train teachers, publish educational books and print workbooks of their own. The independent groups are critical of the Colombian Government's literacy campaign. 'The Ministry of Education's programme is part of the system which breeds illiteracy in the first place' they claim. The Government' s literacy programmes are aimed at 'producing a pool of capable unemployed, so that low wages can be maintained.'

Dimension Educativa has taken advantage of the Government' s campaign to extend their own aims and methods. Their literacy workbook Luchemos (Let us fight) aims to explain the inequalities of capitalism experienced in the everyday lives of the learners. Images and sentences stimulate discussion on housing shortages, inadequate health services, American imperialism, multinational companies and other topics.

The political content of the materials is a vital ingredient in motivating the learners, and giving a purpose to the acquisition of new skills. It is widely recognised by educationalists that learning is increased when it is based on examples that are meaningful to the learners.

The Ministry of Education denies all knowledge of Dimension Educativa and similar groups. However, someone clearly knows of their presence. Groups which choose to use the Luchemos workbook have found their funding abruptly stopped, and there have been several cases of teachers unaccountably disappearing. The future of the literacy programme is linked to the fight for Colombia's political future, as five million may either be incorporated into the existing system, or become critical and active protagonists against it

David Archer and Alan Murdoch


Africans feed Africans
Helping Mozambique

A drive launched by the Zimbabwe - Mozambique Friendship Association (ZIMOFA) raised $40,000 in its first two months, much of it in contributions from individual workers who chip in a few cents each through their unions. More surprising, a mostly white commercial farmers group gave 30 tons of maize. In addition, the Zimbabwe Freedom from Hunger Campaign - a group formed to help this country's poor - bought a thousand tons of food for Mozambique with money from a German aid agency.

Zimbabweans also help thousands of Mozambicans who flock there seeking refuge from the war which disrupts much of their country. Many live in refugee camps. Others, especially those from ethnic groups straddling the border, have been absorbed into local communities.

Zimbabweans say they are returning the hospitality shown by Mozambique before 1980, when their country was known as Rhodesia and ruled by a white minority regime. The Zimbabwe National Liberation Army (ZANLA) operated from Mozambique and received massive support there, while civilian war refugees were generously welcomed to that country.

Zimbabweans understand that Mozambique's sacrifices for them contributed to the current crisis. At great cost to its own economy, Mozambique closed its border with Rhodesia and imposed tough sanctions in 1976. Rhodesia retaliated by creating the Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO), a brutal contra-style guerrilla group now funded by South Africa. RENAMO rampages through Mozambique burning schools and health clinics, destroying relief trucks, stealing food and even attacking peasants in their fields. An estimated four million Mozambicans are touched by war-induced famine.

Steve Askin


Land grab
Tribes displaced by logging

This decade may see the destruction of the last sustainable indigenous rainforest culture on earth, if the Malaysian Government has its way and allows logging to continue in the Sarawak district gazetted as a Communal Forest Reserve have failed. Petitions to the government have remained unanswered.

This district, to the northeast of to large multinational industries Sarawak, is the traditional - and ancestral - hunting and gathering ground of the nomadic Penan. But the Penan are by no means the only indigenous group threatened. Continuing deforestation, due both to the expanding timber industry and the construction of hydro-electric power stations, is causing tens of thousands of other Malaysian natives to flee their homelands.

In many cases, lack of deeds proving ownership has been devastating to the tribal groups. Almost all of the Baram River has already been allocated for logging, displacing the Kayan and Kenyah peoples, as well as the nomadic Penans. If logging continues at its present rate, more than half of Sarawak's forests will be destroyed within the next ten years.

The hydro-electric power station projects which forced the displacement of numerous indigenous tribes from their land is a clear example of the way national and international companies pursue profit with scant regard for the indigenous populations. The massive Atang Bari dam, which has been completed and the proposed Bakun dam in Sarawak, have been linked to the US's proposed billion dollar Reynold Aluminium Smelting Plant in Bintulu, Sarawak. Other countries are similarly affected. Big dam projects like the Asahan dam in Sumatera, Indonesia, are linked to large multinational industries such as the Aluminium Smelter Corporation.

In Malaysia, meanwhile, many Penan and other tribal people have been arrested for attempting logging blockades, and at least one Australian has been expelled by the Malaysian Government for his role in the logging protest. But the blockades are expected to continue.

George Fisher

For further Information on the Sarawak Project: Patrick Anderson, Rainforest Information Centre, P0 Box 368, Lismore NSW 2480, Australia. Or: Sahabat Alam MalaysIa (SAM), (Friends of the Earth), 37 Lorong10250, Penang, Malaysia


Canadian clampdown
Refusing refugees

Canada: the growing queue Canada, historically among countries sympathetic to refugee claims, has joined the growing list of industrial countries cracking down. Most of those requesting a haven from wars and dictatorships around the globe are from the Third World, but sudden increases in arrivals from Portugal and Turkey have aroused public suspicion.

Authorities estimate there are up to 100 million people around the world seeking protection and employment, of whom perhaps one quarter may be escaping oppression or danger. But there is no proper tally of their movement.

Within the past year tighter border controls and stricter entry criteria have been applied even by such traditionally hospitable countries as Denmark, France and Holland, which are admitting far fewer refugees than before. Canada accepted much of the spill-over as restrictions tightened elsewhere. Refugee claims increased last year to 18,282 from 8,400 in 1985 and 1,800 in 1980. The pace quickened further in the first six weeks of 1987 until more than 1,000 asylum seekers were arriving each week, the majority Salvadorans and Guatemalans coming from the US.

Under a new US immigration, several million Latin American - perhaps as many as five million - face deportation unless they can prove they have lived continuously in the US since 1981. Those who arrived after that date are barred from working, and employers face stiff penalties for hiring them.

Passage of the new law in November increased the number arriving at the Canadian border. Authorities responded by assigning interview dates and sending the dejected refugees back to the US. At the same time, the Canadians rescinded an earlier ruling which gave automatic protection to citizens of 18 states considered to be war zones or dictatorships. This means that applicants from El Salvador, Guatemala, Sri Lanka and Iran, as well as the Eastern European countries, will have to satisfy Canadian immigration that their fears of persecution at home are well-founded. The Government has promised to interpret the new rules liberally, but critics fear that many genuine refugees will be unable to convince officials and will be sent back.

Maxwell Breem / Gemini


Sweet 'n' sour
Unfair wages

Sugar workers on the lndian Ocean island of Mauritius are 'not paid a living wage to cut cane, says Potoya Kuppan, leader of the 6,000-strong Sugar Industry Labourers' Union (SILU). Men are paid a basic four dollars a day, women $2.50, cutting the cane which is refined by Tate and Lyle in the UK.

Mauritius supplies 490,000 tonnes of raw sugar a year to the UK under the special Sugar Protocol of the Lome convention between the European Community and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) nations. The sugar is paid for at a premium rate. The Lome sugar price is closely linked to the high prices paid by the European Community to its own sugar beet farmers.

At present Tate and Lyle is paying £281 ($400) a tonne for ACP sugar or roughly three times the world market price. But SILU is still not happy. Most of the money is siphoned off by the'patrons', the sugar estate owners and by taxes, says the Union. The Mauritian Sugar Producers Association says that, after paying local taxes, many estates do not make a profit. But the British company, Lonrho, which owns three estates on the island, reports a 'markedly good' profit performance rom Mauritius in 1985. Tate and Lyle, which made profits of $2.3 million last year, owns Redpath Industries in Canada and Tate and Lyle in the US as well as holding a majority stake in the Mauritius Molasses Company. The Company chairman, Sir Robert Haslam, complains that the Sugar Protocol does not allow Tate and Lyle a sufficient profit margin on refining cane sugar.

SILU realises that exporting raw sugar will never be vastly profitable. 'We must refine the. sugar ourselves in Mauritius and make chocolates and soft drinks here on the island if we are to make big profits', says Kuppan.

John Tanner


Watchdog needed
Amnesty for the environment

What Amnesty International does for political prisoners, Environmental Amnesty should do for natural resources, says one of the brains behind the Green Revolution. Instead of reporting on human rights violations, Environmental Amnesty would act as a watchdog for abuses of the world's natural heritage.

The suggestion comes from 61-year old Indian agricultural scientist, Dr M S Swaminathan, who helped pioneer the Green Revolution in the 1 960s when famine wracked his homeland. Swaminathan is now president of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources and head of the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute. Says Swaminathan: 'Human rights violations affect individuals, but human heritage violations cause genetic damage, since their harmful impact will extend to generations yet to be born.' Like political Amnesty, he says, his proposed Environmental Amnesty would be politically neutral and professionally credible.

Swaminathan sees his Environmental Amnesty plan as necessary to prevent irreversible environmental damage while meeting the need for increased food production. Another recommendation is the drawing up of an international code for sustainable and equitable use of natural resources. Such a code should prescribe steps to conserve scarce resources while maintaining economic growth, he says, and he defines conservation as 'the guarantee of livelihood and security to all people at all times'.

He stresses that the idea would not work without the full support of governments, media and the public - which is where the third prong of his plan comes in. He believes that people's associations for sustainable development should be set up at a grassroots level all over the world.

Atiya Singh / Gemini

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New Internationalist issue 174 magazine cover This article is from the August 1987 issue of New Internationalist.
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