issue 198 - August 1989
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In your issue on Peru (State of fear NI 197) you recognize that radical change is needed; that the old order of 'unjust privileges' dating from the time of the Spanish Conquest must be overthrown. Why don't you follow this through to its logical conclusion and support the only organization that is capable of bringing about a real change - Sendero Luminoso?
The parliamentary Left can only offer reformist solutions. It won't get rid of the structural violence of poverty and inequality that you rightly identify as the root of the country's current crisis.
If the parliamentary Left (Izquierda Unida) does get into power in the 1990 elections, we know what will happen. They will be down on their knees in next to no time, licking the boots of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. There are times when armed struggle really is the only way. Sadly that appears to be the reality of Peru today.
Your article (The rise and rise of religion NI 196) repeated the old myth of St. Paul's conservatism towards women. Certainly within the context of his day he advised contemporary norms when referring to Church leadership, law and order; similar restrictions are felt necessary today for Christians in Islamic countries. But the man, Paul, had many women friends whom he refers to with affection and respect: 'Phoebe a good friend to me'; 'Priscilla, a fellow worker'; 'Mary who worked so hard for you'. As far as slavery is concerned, Paul accepted his society's norms in terms of hierarchies, but not in terms of relationships. Writing about the slave Onesimus, he calls him a 'brother in the Lord'.
Robert de Berry
It was good to see your favourable review of David Bradbury's State of Shock in the last issue (NI 196). But although David's film is generally welcomed among aboriginal groups in Australia, it has come in for some criticism over its unsparing depiction of drunkenness and dissolution among the marginalized families it presents. Our own feeling is that the work suffers from the lack of a commentary one could surely have been provided by Cape York members of the North Queensland Council, some of whom have been campaigning for nearly two decades for compensation over the loss of their land.
Colonialism and Indigenous Minorities Research and Action
In scientific circles you say 'the myth of man the hunter has been discredited, though it will take a while for popular thinking to catch up'. What a pity you didn't realize the same is true of the fantasy presented as fact at the beginning of the 'Slime and Apes' article (History of the world NI 196). One evolutionist - Hitching - says such fiction is about as meaningful as the patter of a conjurer crying 'Abracadabra'.
The story of human descent that follows, has more to do with imagination than evidence, because the latter is in such short supply that 'all there is could be displayed on a dinner table'
(New Scientist 20/3/82). The truth is that neither history nor science nor the Bible tell us exactly how things come to exist. And only one of them says why.
Sorry to quibble over a detail in an otherwise fine issue (History of the world NI 196), but the account of our common ancestress 300,000 years ago may be misleading. The type of DNA in question (mtDNA) is passed exclusively through the female line, just as Western surnames are usually passed exclusively through males. The reason why every woman now shares this particular 'Eve's' mtDNA is the same reason why so many Welsh are called Evans and so many Koreans are called Kim; by a purely random process over time, the alternatives die out as their lines are halted by an all-male or all-female generation to which the feature cannot be passed on.
We are all certainly descended from this woman, but we are also descended from other women in her breeding group as well. And in so far as the 'conquerors, atomic physicists and peace campaigners' mentioned are male, they do not in fact carry this particular bit of her genetic blueprint.
Tunbridge Wells, UK
Congratulations to Chris Brazier for his remarkable History of the world (NI 196). As he pointed out, no history can expect to avoid criticism even if only on minor details, but this should not make any difference to one's admiration and respect for such an amazing (and unique?) 'tour de force'. I suggest that every local education authority be supplied with a copy for possible adoption as a contribution to the history syllabus in schools.
I have recently returned from Sarawak in Borneo where I traveled to the interior to meet the Penan people a nomadic tribe of aboriginal indians. Their situation is dire. The rainforest they depend on for their sophisticated and environmentally sound way of life is threatened with extinction. They do not want the 'advances' our civilization' can offer. At this very moment logging companies are tearing down the forest and destroying its soil at an incredible rate whilst feasibility studies are being carried out over the construction of a huge hydro-electric dam. This will flood a massive area to provide electricity for mainland Malaysia and Singapore.
I really was disappointed at your lapse on the back page of the April issue (NI 194) where you depict the calligraphic styles of different languages. Why not write the slogan in different languages? Hasn't a Russian screamed a protest at you yet? That way you would educate your own people.
Dexter Tiranti replies: We tried to translate One World into other languages. But the ambiguous meaning which gives the slogan power was lost. We hope our compromise still keeps the flavour of internationalism.
Here at last is some guidance on giving, I thought, when I received How to help children (NI 194). 'How not to help children' would have been a better title. What a negative approach you took. You rightly pointed out the imperfection of the system. But where was the positive alternative? Even the grey box 'Better ways to help' failed to tell me how to go about re-hydrating 200 children. Let's have some practical advice. And meanwhile don't discourage people from giving.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
It is ironical that you illustrate your article on the supposed misdeeds of Nestlé by a Nestlé product sold in Nicaragua which is clearly identified as 'powdered whole milk', not infant formula, and labeled for consumption from a glass and not a feeding bottle (How to help children NI 194). Alongside it shows 'the Russian equivalent' in flagrant contravention with the World Health Organization (WHO) International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes which forbids pictures of infants on containers or labels, and requires label texts in the consumers mother tongue.
In admitting that Nestlé has probably done more than most infant formula companies to support the WHO recommendations and that companies other than Nestlé 'more regularly break the spirit and letter of the World Health Organization's Code', you demonstrate the sheer hypocrisy of the campaign launched by the so-called 'Action for Corporate Accountability' group in Minneapolis and its British equivalent. NI readers who have written to Nestlé at your instigation may appreciate receiving the address of the Soviet Embassy so that they can protest the flagrant violation of WHO recommendations.
F X Perroud,
Editor: Unfortunately we haven't room to publish details of the Soviet Embassies in all of our readers' countries. But Baby Milk Action applauds this proposal: it is in favour of people writing to anyone who flouts the WHO guidelines.
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
Playing the game
Bolivia has just been to the polls - again. Susanna Rance is
curious to find out what ordinary people make of elections in a
country where the average government lasts nine months.
As our bus crawled down the crowded market street. two women leapt on, brandishing leaflets. The younger student began to speak: 'Ladies and gentlemen. may we have your attention for a few minutes. We want to ask you not to vote in these general elections. None of the candidates could care a fig about your interests.'
'We won't get social justice through the system,' continued her companion. 'Don't play the game. Throw bank slips in the ballot boxes. Read our bulletin - armed struggle is the only way.'
'Who are they?' whispered my five-year-old daughter. While I tried to explain, our fellow passengers sat through the impassioned discourse without a flicker of response. Discouraged, the two militants jumped off the bus. The shopper in front of me turned to her neighbour. 'Humpf. Must be from some political party.'
Her expression summed up the mistrust many Bolivians feel towards party politics. Only a minority are clearly aligned with a particular tendency, while the rest shift their vote in successive elections from right to left and back again.
However. Bolivians are by no means apolitical: they have a long tradition of joining forces to defend their rights. Housewives block the roads with empty cooking gas containers until supplies arrive. Unemployed miners occupy city avenues to pressurize the Government for overdue benefits and jobs.
In the shanty-towns, local politics rule: water, drains and schools; are what pull the votes in. One poor suburb managed to get its school roofed by the goveming party and its benches donated by another. All was well until the rival sponsors met head on at the opening ceremony. and the local leaders realized they'd committed something close to bigamy.
Who really runs Bolivia? At different limes in the country's history. the peasants and labour movements, the Catholic Church, private business, the Armed Forces and the cocaine mafia have all disputed or negotiated power with political parties. Constant struggles between these forces and between national and anti-national interests have led to almost 200 changes of government in 164 years of Republican history.
Voters go for a charismatic figure rather than a manifesto. In May's elections ex-dictator General Banzer, whose harsh regime dominated the 1970s, was back as a democrat in civilian gear. Leftist Jaime Paz found himself proposing monetarist policies similar to those of his two main rivals. The Left barely got a look in this time. But nor did the ruling centrist party get a big enough majority to elect a President and so a re-vote has been called.
Curiosity took me out on the streets of La Paz, to ask a varied sample of people what they expected of these elections. Having lived through almost two decades of military dictatorship in the recent past. Bolivians do not take democracy for granted. The first wish of many is that elections actually take place, that they be ordered, calm and 'reasonably' clean, and that their results should be respected.
A businessman spoke for the upper classes: 'l'd say that three main candidates have very similar economic policies in mind. I'm pretty optimistic, whichever of them wins.'
People in the middle classes felt confused and sceptical. Said a 25-year-old secretary: 'In the past you used to know who was on your side. But now it's hard to see who you can believe in. Yes. I'll be voting - but I can't say who for.'
A sixty-year-old market seller summed up the feelings of the main mass of voters, poor, illiterate, with no power in the system which rules their lives. 'Oh, I couldn't say ... we don't know what all this election business is about.'
'Who would you vote for.' I ask. 'Exactly! ' exclaimed Senora Modesta. 'That's just the question. Who to vote for! They just get money off you. They're always pecking around like chickens looking for corn, getting taxes out of us. Mone, money and then there's none left for us.'
Susanna Rance is a writer and researcher who has lived in Bolivia for several years.