issue 176 - October 1987
Oasis of hope
Peasants who have returned to their lands in the heart of El Salvador's war zone are celebrating the first anniversary of a daring experiment. Against all odds, the 530 peasants have managed to keep their co-operative alive at El Barillo near the Guazapo volcano.
Their achievement is seen as a sign of hope in a country where the seven-year civil war has forced half a million people into exile and a further half million to become refugees in their own land.
The army appeared to have achieved their aim with the notorious Operation Phoenix aerial bombardment campaign of January 1986 which drove out all civilians from the area. Villagers from El Barillo ended up in a church-run refugee camp in Calle Real.
But five months later the peasants were back. Today, although virtually cut off from the outside world and still subject to army harassment, the community remains determined to stay put.
'In the city we were fish out of water,' said one villager. 'We were not born to live off charity in refugee camps. We were born to work the land, this land where we were born and raised our children.'
The peasants farm co-operatively and are together rebuilding their bombed-out village. They are also building a school - this will take the place of the two large mango trees that currently serve the purpose.
Relations with the army are tense but not openly violent. The army has tried instead to co-opt peasants into so-called 'civil defence' groups - without success. The villagers remain suspicious of the military. Each house has its bomb shelter and secret tutor or underground holes where families can hide when the army returns to using more violent means of coercion.
The authorities meanwhile are eager to avoid publicity about the success of the El Barillo repopulation. They make it almost impossible for outsiders to get through army cordons and into the region.
A church worker involved in the repopulation movement explained why: 'El Barillo is not only an island of activity in a deserted zone. It is also an example of communal living and co-operative working that is a success. In terms of ideology it is exactly what the FMLN has been fighting for these past seven years. The army is scared stiff that the rest of the country will learn that it works.'
Kidneys for sale in India
N.V. SELVAM is not shy about his profession. His card reads: 'Kidney Agent. Registered No. 978'.
Despite the card, what Selvam does is illegal. Yet he boasts of having already arranged more than 70 kidney transplants, and maintaining a list of 50 donors awaiting their turn. He even promises receipts.
Selvam is a leading figure in the thriving Indian trade in illegal kidneys. In Bombay alone, it is estimated that up to $10 million a year may change hands as agents like Selvam match up impoverished donors, willing to exchange a kidney for cash, with wealthy patients who cannot obtain one by any other means.
About 37,500 people a year suffer from kidney failure in India. The vast majority have little chance of getting proper treatment. Dialysis is expensive and difficult because of the country's shortage of equipment. To get a replacement kidney, patients must either find somebody willing to part with one of theirs or get one transplanted from a donor who has just died.
But transplants from cadavers are illegal in all but two of India's 24 states. And where they are legal, the operations require sophisticated equipment and highly-trained personnel to carry out the switch within 24 hours. Even where these conditions are available, Indian law adds a further obstacle. Unlike some countries, where a person may be declared clinically dead when the brain stops functioning, Indian doctors are only allowed to certify death when the heart has stopped beating.
The result is a big demand for donated kidneys - which agents have been quick to turn into lucrative trade. Most prey on migrant workers and the poor, telling them they need only one kidney to live and offering to buy the other. Willing donors' names are added to the agent's list, together with details of blood group, which is used in prospecting for potential clients. Commissions are paid to hospital employees and unscrupulous doctors in an effort to find the right match.
Agents charge up to $7,000 per kidney, depending on the wealth of the patient and how badly the organ is needed. Of this the donor receives less than $l,000 and may make as little as $250.
Doctors opposed to the trade are now calling for a change in the law to make transplants from dead bodies legal. Other restraints must also be removed, they say, so that when a suitable kidney is available it can be removed and transferred to the needy patient without delay.
But there are fears that the trade could expand internationally - especially in view of the shortage of suitable kidneys for transplant in industrialized countries. Even at the prices charged by the agents the operations are comparatively cheap in India. Already a number of clients from Arab countries have had transplants arranged in Indian hospitals and Indian newspapers have reported cases of Indian donors being flown to Frankfurt and Los Angeles for the benefit of patients there.
A.J. Singh / Gemini
The politics of seed control
The 'Green Revolution' of the 1960s was hailed as a solution to rural poverty.
Twenty years later, despite impressive production increases in some sectors, the Green Revolution has become a socioeconomic disaster. It has aggravated income disparities in the countryside, made richer the small number of already wealthy farmers and businessmen and failed to break the back of rural poverty.
At the centre of the disaster is the question of seed production, and who controls it. The development of new types of high-yield seeds has actually eroded the genetic seed base, led to a series of crop failures and caused severe ecological damage.
Now, after a series of takeovers of smaller companies, the seed industry is firmly in the hands of large multinationals whose primary interest lies in creating larger markets for high dosage chemical treatment and fertilizers. The cries of the world's unfed take low priority compared with the profits of shareholders in the $50 billion industry controlled largely by the private sector in the North.
Royal Dutch Shell, Tate and Lyle, Sandoz, Bayer, Cargill, Union Carbide and other giant companies investing in research into high-yielding seed varieties (HYVs) have no interest in conserving and propagating traditional seeds. Unless this trend is halted or reversed, Third World farmers will soon have no option but to buy expensive 'technology packages' offered by Western seed merchants.
In an attempt to safeguard genetic resources Friends of the Earth! Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) and the Asia-Pacific People's Environment Network (APPEN) are waging a long-term seeds campaign. In this way they hope to enlighten the multinationals involved and get Third World governments to take measures to protect traditional seeds.
For further details about this and other campaigns contact: SAM, 37 Lorong Birch, 10250 Penang, Malaysia.
Burger chain gang
'Boycott burgers', urge activists in Manila protesting against McDonald's multinational fast-food giant over alleged connections with the corrupt Marcos regime.
'Stop the barbarians,' shout Italians as they oppose the opening of a new shop in a historic town; while in Sweden protesters express anti-US and anti-burger sentiment with smoke-bombs.
Wherever it goes McDonald's seems to raise hackles. But that does not stop it growing. It's golden arches now span shop doorways in 45 countries. Every day it serves identical food to 19 million people and swallows $1.3 million profits. McDonald's work practices have something of a uniform character too. In Britain its workers are amongst the lowest paid. More than 75 per cent are under 21, often working long hours on a part-time basis so that the company can keep profits high without having to pay out sickness, holiday or other benefits.
In Australia there were complaints from workers that the company was sacking them before their 20th birthdays to avoid having to pay adult wages.
Unions are taboo or outlawed. In San Francisco McDonald's used lie detectors when asking applicants if they belonged to a union. In Madrid workers who asked for union elections were sacked. Not surprisingly the company boasts it knows of no unions in its British stores.
McDonald's does not skimp when it comes to advertising, however. It spends more on one brand than any other company in the world. What the ads don't say is that fast food is as low on nutrition as it is high on unhealthy fats and additives.
Harriet Lamb / Steve Percy
Poor aid rich
The biggest problem facing Third World economies now is the plunge in the prices of their export commodities. In 1986 alone, primary commodity prices fell sharply by an average of nine per cent. The average index of prices in 1986 was 25 per cent below the 1980 level, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD),
But that is not all. In the meantime, the prices of goods the Third World imports from rich countries have continued to increase. So, although the Third World gets less for its rubber, tin or copper, it still has to pay more for manufactured goods from the rich world.
To take this into account, economists measure 'real commodity prices' - the Third World's export prices compared with the prices of manufactured goods. On average, real commodity prices have fallen by 28 per cent between 1980 and 1986, according to UNCTAD data.
In the first half of 1987 the situation worsened further. A report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that non-oil commodity prices in dollar terms reached their lowest level in the post-Second World War period during the first quarter of 1987.
It also predicts that real commodity prices will continue to weaken, with another average decline of 2 per cent projected for 1988. According to an estimate by the London-based Economist magazine, the Third World lost $65 billion in 1985 alone because of its commodity price decline. In 1986 the loss is estimated at more than $100 billion.
This loss is very serious. It means the Third World is exporting more commodities in terms of quantity, but the money it earns from them is reduced and can buy fewer and fewer imported goods.
Plunging prices have caused extreme hardship for farmers and workers throughout the Third World. Millions of workers have been sacked from plantations and mines because of their companies' losses; farmers cultivating export crops on their own have suffered severe cuts in living standards. And governments have seen their own revenues dwindling, thus forcing them to reduce their subsidies and to cut health and other social programmes.
But what the Third World loses, the rich world gains. The rich world can now buy more Third World commodities at very low prices. This means they can enjoy a higher standard of living even though they themselves do not work harder to produce more.
The fall in Third World export prices has thus given a boost to the Gross National Product (GNP) of the rich countries, to the tune of something like $100 billion a year. The poor are actually giving aid to the rich.
Khor Kok Peng / Third World Network
Children under fire
Last year, 140,000 children died in Mozambique and Angola - victims of war and economic destabilization by South Africa. If the situation does not improve, half the children born in the two countries will be dead or disabled before reaching the age of five.
That is the verdict of the United Nations Childrens' Fund (UNICEF). According to spokesperson Richard Jolly: 'It is the equivalent of one child dying every four minutes, or a primary school of 380 pupils being killed each day. These findings are tragic, far worse than people realize.'
In its report 'Children on the Frontline' UNICEF shows that mortality rates in Angola and Mozambique are among the highest in the world because of underdevelopment compounded by the war and economic destabilization.
The two countries are fighting against South-African backed rebels: the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and the Mozambique National Resistance group (MNR).
The report estimates that between $25 and $28 billion have been lost by Southern Africa Development Coordination Committee (SADCC) countries in the past six years as a result of destabilization, destruction of assets, enforced military expenditures, high transport costs and loss of output. These figures are the equivalent of one year's total production in the SADCC region and far exceed the region's total debt.
Although all SADCC member states have borne some burden, the economic damage and human casualties have been greatest in Angola and Mozambique.
In Mozambique, about 700 health clinics have been destroyed and health programmes set back. To alleviate its people's plight, especially that of women and children, an appeal has been launched with the aim of getting the international community to donate $2-2.5 billion to the frontline states.
Lee Musonda / Third World Network
This article is from
the October 1987 issue
of New Internationalist.
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