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new internationalist
issue 184 - June 1988



Clean hands
One of the snags of being a military ruler is that while you can close down newspapers it is a lot harder to compel people to read your books. Spare a thought for General Manuel Noriega of Panama, faced with droves of ungrateful subjects who shun his volume entitled The Thoughts, Doctrine and Practice of Comandante Noriega.

This unusual work is a collection of poetic reflections. Thought 90, for example, tells us: 'General Noriega is an earthly accident in time and space'. And Thought 87 warns: 'The only people who can do dirty work are those who have clean hands'.

The latter refers presumably to the peace-loving Panamanian armed forces and the 'earthly accident' himself. No doubt Thought 87 was topmost in the General's mind while he 'purged' Panama of four presidents since 1981.

From the London Guardian, World Press Review, April 1988


Fiscal folly
Wealthy Latin Americans have got so used to taxes that favour them at the expense of the poor that governments risk their political necks if they try to rectify this injustice.

Direct taxes have virtually disappeared in Argentina, for example. Of the 16 million people and companies registered to pay taxes on income and profits only 57,000 did so in 1984.

Like many others in Latin America, the Argentine Government faces a severe budget deficit. But business has been angered by a set of decrees to increase the tax on profits and the levy on current-account transactions and to reintroduce obligatory five-year loans to the Government. The head of the Argentine Industrial Union (UIA) - to which most big companies are affiliated - is urging its members simply to ignore the decree.

In Brazil too taxes favour the rich. But Finance Minister Luiz Carlos Bresser Pereira lost his battle to redress the injustices of the system. The changes he proposed might not have solved the Government's revenue problems but they 'would have had great ethical and social significance in a country with such extreme wealth differentials,' says tax specialist Carlos de la Roque.

From South, April 1988


Pop pornography
If pop music corrupts, rock and roll corrupts absolutely - or so the cultural commissars implied in their 1982 booklet How to Recognize Pornographic Music, in which they warned that rock 'provokes the nerves' - in fact, one may find one's body moving to the music against one's will'. Earlier this year, some 2,000 people crowded into Beijing's Workers Cultural Palace where they were seriously provoked by China's biggest rock star - and loved it. Cui Jian, the 26-year-old lead singer and songwriter for the band Ah Dou, had to beg the audience to leave 40 minutes after the show ended.

Cui's song I have nothing to my name reportedly once caused a member of the municipal party committee to explode 'That's ridiculous! He has socialism!' Nor do the ideologues appreciate Cui's interpretation of the famous revolutionary song Nanyiwan. And they can't comprehend why he likes to appear on stage in a faded army uniform, instead of a neat, new suit. But they are letting him play.

From the Far Eastern Economic Review, 24 March 1988


Radioactive aid
Rich countries will always find new ways of exploiting poor ones. But France's decision to use Benin as a nuclear dustbin is particularly sinister. Exact details of the deal to bury French radioactive waste in the heart of the tiny West African country remain shrouded in secrecy. Even top officials don't know quite what is going on. This much is known, however: the first shipment was due to leave France in mid-April and in exchange Benin will get a guarantee of 30 years special financial and economic assistance.

The choice of burial ground provides an extra nasty twist to the story. Head of State Mathieu Kérékou has decided the waste should be buried on the outskirts of Abomey, near the village of leading opposition figure Michel Aikpé who died - apparently while in the company of Kérékou himself - in 1975. The Abomey region has become one of the main centres of opposition to the ruler.

From Africa Analysis No 44 1 April 1988


Red birth
In Latin America every child is born owing $1,000. Brazilians owe more than $100 billion to foreign banks and financial institutions. Every year Brazil has to send abroad five per cent of its wealth and 30 per cent of its investment just to pay the interest on its debt. Over each seven-year period this interest is the equivalent of the whole sum borrowed.

Though the loans were mostly to private corporations, the debt is now in the hands of the Brazilian Government, meaning that the Brazilian people have the burden of repaying.

Last year Latin American trade unions got together for a conference on the debt burden where they reached the conclusion that repaying the debt is an economic, social, political and even moral impossibility 'because we cannot afford and should not recognize a debt which we, the Latin American people, did not assume but which was assumed by civil and military governments, thieves and anti-nationalists'.

March/April 1988 International Labour Reports No. 26


The black pen
As part of the Ethiopian government campaign against illiteracy, volunteers have been placing stickers showing a black pen on the walls of homes where someone in the household cannot read or write. Even the house of a senior United Nations official recently received the mark, to the embarrassment of his children, when a domestic servant failed the literacy test.

Stickers showing red pens instead of black indicate that reading and writing is no problem inside that household. Removing either of the labels is forbidden without permission.

It would be a pity to think such 'big brother' tactics were responsible for the country's literacy rate rising from 10 per cent to 60 per cent (figures unconfirmed by the United Nations) during the last ten years.

From The Daily Nation, Nairobi, Kenya


Soviet poachers
In the last year Soviet fishing vessels have taken an estimated $400 million worth of fish from Mauritanian waters. But apart from an initial $16 million, they have bypassed all revenue payments to the vast but under-populated country. The Japanese are in on the act too. With so few patrol boats to police their waters, impoverished nations find that the big fishing fleets can poach from their waters with relative impunity.

Nevertheless a Mauritanian patrol boat recently did catch two Japanese trawlers heading off for Las Palmas with their holds full of valuable Mauritanian shrimp.

From African Analysis, No. 38, 1988

'What thoughtful rich people call the problem of poverty,
thoughtful poor people call with equal justice the problem of riches.'
R H. Tawney

'The government of the United States is not
in any sense founded on the Christian religion.'
George Washington

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New Internationalist issue 184 magazine cover This article is from the June 1988 issue of New Internationalist.
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