new internationalist
issue 191 - January 1989



Rogues gallery
Marcos art collection

Caught out: Imelda Marcos.
Blair Seitz /



Photo: Camera Press

Supposed old master paintings bought by Imelda Marcos, wife of the deposed President of the Philippines, with stolen Government money have been hauled out of storage - and found to be fakes. Fiction has it that Mrs Marcos was a grand art collector, acquiring beautiful paintings as a testament to her taste. In fact she was a trickster who transferred billions from the national treasury to her personal bank account and then squandered the money on forgeries.

Most paintings she bought have been stolen so no-one knows which are valuable and which worthless. A treasure hunt was launched in February 1986 by the new Philippines President, Corazon Aquino, who hoped to return some of the missing fortune to the 45 million Filipinos from whom it was swindled. The search spanned three continents but it uncovered a pathetic bounty.

The first find was the old masters collection of 75 paintings which art experts dismiss as bogus. The second haul comprised 24 paintings found in France. These have been in US custody since May last year awaiting White House approval to seek an indictment of the Marcoses. (The couple are charged with using Philippines Government funds to buy art and US real estate, concocting elaborate schemes to conceal their ownership and trying to sell the assets and evade taxes.) The largest and most valuable part of the would-be treasure trove has disappeared altogether. No-one knows where the paintings are and the Philippines Government does not have the funds to continue the search.

Meanwhile, earlier this year in a separate investigation, the Italian Tax Police filed three sets of charges against a Florence art dealer called Mario Bellini, who helped Mrs Marcos acquire her art collection. It is the first time anyone connected with the Marcos pictures has been criminally charged. And the case springs from a fake painting which Mrs Marcos claimed was a Michelangelo and for which she apparently paid Bellini $3.5 million in 1983.

Far from celebrating Filipino cultural achievements, Mrs Marcos' taste leaned towards the Italian Renaissance. She spent between 15 and 20 million dollars on her paintings in an attempt to mimic Western 'high society'. But the chances are that even if all the paintings were traced, the Philippine Government would never recoup even a fraction of the money spent on them, because she was so regularly duped.

Margaret Scott


Black backlash
Soviet killings

Despite the rigorously anti-racist official ideology in the Soviet Union, African students frequently complain about racial harassment. In the past these accusations were dismissed as 'Western-orchestrated propaganda', but there has now been Soviet confirmation of a number of recent killings in the Ukrainian town of Kharkov during fights between Soviet youngsters and African students.

More than 13,000 Africans study in the Soviet Union (nearly 10 per cent of all foreign students), and many welcome confirmation of the killings as a sign that glasnost may end Soviet press silence on racism, and actively educate people about such matters. There is currently a great absence of well-researched journalism about Africa, and many articles reflect the ignorance of the average Soviet citizen, posing such questions as 'Do you have houses?' 'What about cars?' 'How do you live among crocodiles and snakes?'

The media has added another dimension to racism by accusing Africans of importing AIDS. One Mozambican student recently complained on a youth television programme in Leningrad: 'I am called SPID (AIDS) all over the place'. Such slurs culminate in fights and African students are invariably found guilty by police.

Racism is strongest in the Central Asian Republics of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Tajikistan. Four years ago, Ghanaian students studying in the Azerbaijan capital of Baku refused to return to the city after their summer holidays, because of hostility amongst the local population. At the request of Ghana's Embassy, the Soviet authorities have stopped posting Ghanaian students to Azerbaijan.

Charles Quist Adade / Gemini


Mining misery
Namibian apartheid

'We suffer apartheid here,' says a miner at Tsumeb copper mine, one of Namibia's three largest mines where workers are living in conditions comparable to those in South Africa. The mine is run by the Tsumeb Corporation Limited (TCL), owned and managed by the British company Consolidated Goldfields. The latter company has an appalling record for its treatment of workers in South Africa and its behaviour in Namibia is little better, says the campaigning group End Loans to Southern Africa.

Miners are recruited in the north of Namibia. Earning a basic wage of around 30 cents an hour, they are forced to spend most of the year away from their families living in the very poor hostel accommodation provided. Only hostel residents are allowed to enter here and there are no whites. In hospitals there are separate rooms for people according to their colour and race. And the transport provided by the mine is also segregated.

Workers say that at least one employee has been dismissed from his job without compensation because of illness caused by pollution from the smelter which also processes arsenic, cadmium and lead - well known to have adverse effects. Evidence that the mine is polluting the local environment includes dying trees in the vicinity of the smelter, and a street of houses which has been abandoned by whites concerned at the risk of disease. The houses are now occupied by black TCL employees who have no option of better housing.

Workers at Tsumeb have formed a branch of the Mineworkers' Union of Namibia. Members at Tsumeb and at mines in Kombat and Otjihase (also run by TCL in Namibia), were the first to embark on a major strike when they walked out in July 1987 in support of demands for better pay and conditions. Although the company made a net profit of $10.5 million in 1987 it took a hard-line response over the strike: out of the 5000 who went out, 2000 workers were estimated to have been sacked.

For more information contact
End Loans to Southern Africa,
56 Camberwell Road,
London SE5 OEN, UK.


Comic escape
Mexican fantasy

Any Tuesday morning you can find a crowd lined up outside Mario Lopez's little newspaper stand in the heart of Mexico City. They are waiting for their hot-off-the-press copy of the weekly Vaquero or Cowboy magazine, a comic book that traces the adventures of North American cowboys and voluptuous Indian maidens, wrestlers, soccer players and truckdrivers. Nationwide sales of Vaquero top one million a week.

Each copy of the magazine is reportedly read by an average of seven people which means that about one third of the population reads them every week. In contrast only two to four per cent of Mexicans read books without pictures. One left-wing newspaper has capitalized on the trend by running a Sunday supplement of underground comics under the label 'hysterietas' - little hysterias.

The main purchasers of the genre are the poor. Vaquero's creator offers this explanation: 'In every Mexican there resides an idyllic feeling for the countryside his (sic) parents knew. Vaquero offers the city-bound reader a few minutes to escape to a time and place that we are losing'. Marketing also plays apart. Each booklet can fit into a back pocket and is designed to be read in the 90 minutes it takes someone to get to work.

Comics have been a popular tradition in Mexico for centuries. One thousand years ago the Mayans were cranking out codices not dissimilar to today's illustrations. And in the 1790s Catholic missionaries circulated a book of calaveras or skeletons as a grim warning to prospective converts. Cigarette companies picked up the idea a hundred years later and included romances in each packet of cigarettes.

Every issue of the comics is flavoured with grisly details of human sacrifices, devil worship and serial murders. 'Mexican comic books have always reflected our lowest instincts,' confesses Alfonso Morales, curator of the Museum of Popular Culture in Mexico City. 'They are the clearest portraits of our repressions.'

[image, unknown]

John Ross / News-Scan International Ltd


Blinding medicine
Malarial myths

Two Ghanaian doctors are challenging the accepted wisdom about malaria. They claim that it is less prevalent than generally believed and that preventative medicine often does more harm than good. And they are particularly worried about the over-prescribing of the anti-malarial drug chloroquine which can damage eyesight.

Noticing the rising number of people whose sight had been affected by Chloroquine retinopathy due to overuse of the drug, Dr Lawrence Osei initiated a two-year research project.

Together with Professor R K Anteson, a fellow lecturer at the University of Ghana Medical School, Osei followed for one year the progress of 1,200 babies born at the Maprobi Polyclinic in a suburb of Accra. Children were chosen for the study because they are supposed to be especially vulnerable to malaria. The generally accepted figure, used by the UN Children's Fund - is that one million children under the age of five die of malaria alone. Consequently it is common to give children weekly doses of chloroquine as a prophylactic.

But the researchers found that in the babies they studied malarial infection was extremely rare in the first three months of life and that overall about 70 per cent of babies had no infection at all during the first year of life.

The problem, according to Dr Osei, is that many fevers caused by viral infections are being wrongly diagnosed as malaria. The doctors now hope that health workers will take note and prescribe less chloroquine and that people who normally treat themselves will realize that not every fever is malaria.

Ajoa Yeboah-Afari


Pacific peace
Anti-nuclear success

Australian support for nuclear disarmament is slowly growing. The conservatism which has held sway for several generations is increasingly giving way to a recognition of the aims and ideals of the peace movement - particularly successful in wooing 'middle Australia'.

In the early 1980s two thirds of Australians wanted the country to have its own nuclear capability and a similar proportion wanted US communication bases on Australian soil. Today these figures are only 22 and 39 per cent respectively, whilst support for visits from nuclear-armed ships has dropped from 47 to 24 per cent. There has been a comparable fall in support for increasing military defence spending and compulsory military service.

Some peace researchers connect these changes with improved relations between the US and Soviet Union, and possibly even glasnost. In July this year only six per cent of those surveyed considered the Soviet Union to be a threat to Australia's security, this figure being an all time low.

Australia's youth are generally wary of the Australia-US alliance (ANZUS), although support from all age groups is high. But the trend indicates that more Australians are questioning the country's role in the arms race: the alliance is receiving lower levels of unqualified support.

George Fisher

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