New Internationalist

Briefly…

November 1988

new internationalist
issue 189 - November 1988

BRIEFLY...

UNITED NATIONS

US parsimony
Relations between the US and the United Nations have soured since the rise of the New Right on Capitol Hill. The advent of the Reagan administration, and its alliance with the powerful pro-Israeli lobby has been bad news for the UN agencies. Since 1985 the US has been withholding a portion of its annual dues as a way of policing the UN. Anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist rhetoric from the podium, or a hint of criticism of the actions of multinational corporations in the Third World could provoke a further tightening of the screw. At the moment the US owes over $467 million in back dues and $70 million in peacekeeping assessments. The debt endangers the success of Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar's diplomatic initiatives to end the Iran-Iraq war. Plans to send 350 troops to observe the cease-fire are threatened because there just isn't the money to pay for them.

Facts but not opinions from Time magazine, 22.8.88

TOP FIVE DEBTORS
In millions

% of 1988 Budget assessed
Amount due from prior years
Amount due in 1988
Amount paid in 1988 as of 31 July
Total amount outstanding

US

25.0%

$252.8

$214.9

$0.8

$466.9

South Africa

0.4%

30.7

3.2

0

33.9

Brazil

1.4%

7.8

10.1

0

17.9

Iran

0.6%

7.6

4.6

.03

12.1

USSR

10.2%

10.5

73.9

74.6

9.8

URBANIZATION

Superbarrio to the rescue
Three rockets explode in Mexico City, the signal that a family is about to be evicted. The police are standing by. Neighbours arrive to talk to officialdom; they voice strong opposition but are careful not to provoke trouble. Behind the solidarity is Superbarrio. In red stockings, a long yellow cape and a face mask he looks a Latin American version of Superman. In fact he is the symbol of the Mexicans' long struggle for decent housing in the world's biggest city.

The real identity of Super-barrio is known only to a few. But his background is evident. Wearing the uniform of the wrestling ring, where masked men representing the forces of 'good fight others representing evil, Superbarrio has found other pursuits more of a challenge. Since June 1987 he has been found representing working people's rights to employment, water, light, drainage and decent accommodation. Today he talks to police, leads protest demonstrations, confronts Government deputies. Behind the gaudy clothes Superbarrio embodies the revival of popular organizations, and the realisation of the power of a people united.

From South, No 95 1988

CONSUMER POWER

Whiter than white
The Nigerian government is fighting an uphill battle to discourage its people from using 'beauty' aids which whiten the skin. Although 34 medicinal soaps and creams which contain bleaching agents such as mercury compounds have been banned, they are still popular. These bleaching creams usually contain hydroquinone, a photographic chemical which peels off the natural top layer of the skin, exposing the body to harmful radiation. Moreover, mercury in the banned products can be absorbed by the skin and lead to hypertension, stroke and heart failure.

From Consumer Currents, August 1988

CORRUPTION

Swiss banks
African heads of state will in future have to explain the origins of any large sums of money they deposit in Swiss banks. Switzerland's all-powerful Federal Banking Commission recently announced new directives. These require foreign heads of state and their legal representatives to explain away the funds they are depositing.

From African Analysis, No. 53. 1988

CHINA

Moonlighting army
Soldiers have long been described in Chinese history as economic leeches and political predators. Esteem for the scholar is matched by disrespect for the general. 'You don't use good iron to make nails, and you don't use good men to make soldiers,' goes a popular saying.

Now cuts in defence spending -from 17.5 per cent of the national budget in 1979 to 8.2 per cent this year - has pushed the military into commercial ventures to supplement their allocations. Double-digit inflation has also pushed down the average soldier's standard of living. The People's Liberation Army was told at the National People's Congress in March to meet its financial needs by making a profit out of business operations. it sounds close to privatizing the armed forces.

The result? Units have encouraged commercial activities, with individuals keeping a share of the profits and being exempt from square-bashing, sentry-duty etc. Ventures have included flying tourists in transport aircraft. The navy's ships have even engaged in smuggling in cars and other electronic trinkets from Japan.

From Far Eastern Economic Review, 18.8.1988

CHINA

Tasmania stumped
The Canberra administration has put the bite on the Tasmanian State government to protect 360,000 hectares of tall forests from clearfelling. The 300 foot high gum trees on the south west of the island are among the last such reserves in the world; many are 200-300 years old. The area also has a range of fragile eco-systems and rare plants including button grass, alpine meadow and snow gum.

The Government's investigation found that a third of the timber harvested nearby had been wasted, burnt on site or left to rot.

This conservation success, however, is qualified. The finding protects only half the area's tall forests. And there is no guarantee the Tasmanian Government will comply with Canberra's wishes. Their record on ecological concern to date has been appalling.

From correspondence received

Illustration: Victor Jubasz
Campaign Dilemmas 1988
From Mother Jones Sept. 1988

'The man (sic) who dies rich, dies disgraced.'

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This feature was published in the November 1988 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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