issue 197 - July 1989
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Load of trite
I'm disappointed. You call that a short history of the world (NI 196)? Why not go the whole hog? How about: 'In the beginning humans were apes but then they developed ever more efficient ways of growing food, building cities and killing people. Which brings us to the present day.'
Time you got your act together - some of us depend on the NI to be trite and simplistic, you know.
So we buy our cars for reasons of fashion, power, speed and sex, do we (NI 195)? Well, I must have a very strange image considering the motley array of rustheaps I've been limited to buying! Of course cars are sold this way but I really think many people buy them for other reasons and frankly I'm not interested in people who like me for my car. (Mind you, some friends have said they liked the moss that grew in my car window.)
Car owning is not always selfish. Many women, for example, have their freedom of movement curtailed because they are worried about travelling alone, especially at night. Until cheap, safe and plentiful public transport is available, a car is their lifeline and even then the question is 'Can I afford it?', not 'Which one will make me look sexiest?' And many people, again especially women, have family commitments which affect the decision to buy a car. I have been able to do far more with and for an elderly aunt and a schizophrenic nephew because of having my car.
Ms Pat Twomey
Tears of shame
How do we all bear the searing despair of the gradual dissolution of our souls at the hands of consumerism? Let us invoke all that is joyful against this demon that Jenny Vincent so stunningly evokes (Endpiece NI 195). Tears of love and shame are not unseemly to this end.
Think positive (1)
Your issue How to Help Children (NI 194) condemns individual child sponsorship as compounding the miseries of their communities but admits that community sponsorships aimed at leading towards self-sufficiency have value. World Vision NZ has moved in this direction strongly in recent years.
But the tone of self-righteousness in the articles, ending with the spread on 'Why not to sponsor a child' leaves would-be sponsors in the air. Surely there should have been equal attention given to positive actions to take to help children and their communities achieve self-determination.
R F McFarland
Here is a page analysis of your magazine How to Help Children (NI 194): ten pages attacking the sponsoring of Third World children; less than five pages of positive alternatives; and the remainder neutral. Some of the anti-sponsorship column headings read: 'Squalid images'; 'stripped of dignity'; 'cast aside'; 'satisfy the sponsor'; 'heartache and sorrow'.
You have a strange way of presenting your case to a readership distinguished by its dislike of propaganda techniques, imbalance and negative attitudes. Please - more information, less indoctrination.
Paddy Coulter (NI 194) cites my article in New Statesman & Society as providing a 'gloss of legitimacy' for the 'starving baby approach' in Third World charity appeals.
Why? Because we used pictures of dead and dying people to illustrate an article on the appalling (and largely unreported) consequences of civil war and famine in Sudan? Because I argued that in the face of such suffering what mattered was raising money to provide immediate relief, and that the presentation of more positive images could wait until there was something to be more positive about? Because I quoted examples of how it is the shock approach which gets people to dig into their pockets while the 'educational' appeals dealing with the 'real development issues' prompt a tiny response?
These are real dilemmas, not arcane philosophical debating points. Of course there is a problem concerning our images of the Third World. But by caricaturing it as an 'all or nothing' argument - as if you can't show the suffering and the solutions - Paddy Coulter does a disservice to serious discussion. How would he have handled an appeal for the Sudan famine, I wonder?
For some years now ActionAid's field operations have no longer been guilty of the sins of sponsorship depicted in NI 194. ActionAid has also become more involved in lobbying in the UK and awareness-building amongst its funders.
Let's hope strides made on the operational side can be matched by changes in the way we relate in the UK.
Director ActionAid Nepal
Terror in Timor
I'm disappointed that your Globe at a Glance edition (NI 193) shows East Timor as part of Indonesia. As if the genocidal Indonesian colonialists have not caused the death of enough Timorese (up to 200,000, or about one-third of the pre-invasion population). You seem to want to deliver the coup de grace and wipe them off the map.
Your readers might be interested in the following quote from Colonel Sobrato (president of the District Military Headquarters): 'We Indonesian soldiers do not need Timorese. We already have a lot of people. We just want the island of Timor. We deal with the Timorese as we deal with pigs: we slaughter them with pleasure whenever possible'.
As a person actively concerned with youth work and politics I was disappointed in NI 194. I work in a housing scheme in the 'affluent West'. In this scheme a third of the children come from single-parent families but few have heard of a creche; half of these children's parents are unemployed; and for many children a future awaits them in prison, on the dole or in oppressive family situations.
As a political activist I feel that the subtleties of child sponsorship schemes will not affect these children. The fundamental injustices of capitalism which underlie poverty in the West and in the Third World will directly affect all of them. Thatcher, her accomplices and her system must be directly and unequivocally blamed.
Meat eaters who don't wish to assist the destroyers of the rainforests could boycott corned beef from Brazil and try to hit the pockets of the ranchers who are destroying the forest there. A large proportion of the beefburgers for sale in the UK come from Brazil, so unless you know the beef is not Brazilian you can make your own instead. They should be far more nutritious and you will know what is in them. Zimbabwe and Argentina don't have any rain-forests and are a good alternative source of corned beef.
The Brazilian ranchers don't just sell beef. Watch out for shoes made in Brazil. But don't boycott brazil nuts! They grow wild and are harvested by the peoples of the Amazon.
I read your issue on Language (NI 191) with great interest. Unfortunately the sub-editor on your Briefly page (NI 195) seems not to have done. How else could one explain the Spanish headline to a story about Milan? Never mind, we all make mistakes. Che sara, sara.
There's one absurdity in the English Journalist Union's list of sexist words to avoid (NI 191) - mastery. If we're to delete it, surely slavery must also go? Then how to describe the present state of most of humankind, including womankind? Are we to suppose that the two Emilys, Brontë and Dickinson, lacked mastery? Must one be masculine to be a master? Certainly real mastery belongs to the devoted artist such as Rushdie, not to a mad ruler like Khomeini.
Sirdar, BC, Canada
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
Resistance in a ghost-town
Susanna Rance talks with those who have hung on in
Bolivia's mining towns after the great tin crash.
Here is an echo in the streets of Catavi. Sheep graze on a grassy slope, yards from the abandoned foundry where weeds grow up through rusting machinery.
Jorge Soliz, perched on a stool in his watchman's hut, puts down the porno novel he has been flicking through and tells me about his past as a skilled miner, in the days when tin was the backbone of Bolivia's economy.
'Ever since I was young, I'd wanted to work in Catavi. I got to specialize in drilling shafts. I'm proud of what I teamed down the mine. I know it like the back of my hand.'
Catavi and Siglo XX (it means twentieth century) are twin communities that used to have 5,000 workers. But only 500 remain, all now employed as watchmen, office or maintenance staff. Not an ounce of mineral has left the camp for over two years.
Production was halted following the collapse of the international tin market, but the newly elected conservative Government had other motives for trying to put an end to State mining. Bolivia's miners had long been the most militant union sector and Catavi-Siglo XX was the birthplace of their movement. By wiping out almost three-quarters of the mining workforce, the Government removed the most vocal and organized opposition to its harsh new economic policies.
'There's no life left in this place since they got everyone to leave,' continued Jorge. 'They offered us a lump sum to give up our jobs. We'd never seen dollars before. The ones who took the bait thought they were getting a fortune. But it only lasted them a few months, and now they're stuck in the cities, still looking for work.'
I have a sudden image of my last visit to Siglo XX, two years ago, when the Govemment's 'relocation' plan was sweeping through the mining camps. Families were packing and moving out each day, leaving whole rows of tiny terraced dwellings in ghost-like silence. As we set off on the mountain road to La Paz, our jeep was followed by a truck piled high with one family's belongings. Out of the back, children grinned at us, perched on furniture and mattresses.
But we couldn't share their optimism at what La Paz held in store for them. The shanty towns, already crowded with migrants struggling for homes, jobs and school places, could offer them no welcome.
'They say people aren't the same in the city,' says Margarita Montano, as we sit on a step watching her grandchildren play. Margarita waged a lone battle with the mining company and refused to leave Catavi when her husband was transferred to another mine. Now, she has no neighbours.
'I couldn't get used to living anywhere else. I grew up here, I've raised nine children in this house. I fixed it up myself, painted it, built on another room. they'd have to drag me out by the arms, and I'd still come back'.
As we leave the camp, I feel a mixture of emotions. Sadness at the lifeless rows of box-like dwellings, once brightened with flowers, animals, children playing, human touches in the midst of inhuman conditions. Nostalgia at the closing of a chapter in Bolivia's history. And through it all, admiration for those who stayed behind because they believe in the future of Catavi and of Bolivia.
'In our home we never even mentioned the possibility of leaving,' says Zenobia Reynaga, leader of the Siglo XX Housewives Committee. 'That was our defence. There were families packing up all around us. Now they regret having left because they haven't found jobs in the cities.
'We've managed to hang on for three years with barely enough to feed our families. Our children's future is completely tied up with that of the mine. There are stilt prospects for tin and this district has mineral reserves that can be exploited for years to come. Those of us who have stayed are struggling not just for our own jobs but for the survival of this whole region, of the country and of the labour movement.
Susanna Rance is a writer and researcher who has lived in Bolivia for several years.