Indigenous Peoples

new internationalist
issue 200 - October 1989


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Think big
Cover of the NI Issue 199 I found your issue on the Palestine/Israel question fascinating (NI 199) but I'm not sure I agree with your proposed two-state solution. It seems hardly realistic for Palestine to exist on two sides of Israel. And what if all Palestinians scattered the world do return home? Where will they go? There isn't room for them in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. The overcrowding that could result would inevitably escalate the conflict. Also, your assessment that Palestinians will be able to build high-tech industries in the territories is incredibly optimistic in the light of the limited infrastructure there at present.

A more realistic solution might be for Jordan to give the Palestinians some of its land - especially as a large number of Palestinians already live there.

Sarah Armstrong
Montreal, Canada

AIDS alert
We were shocked to read the factual errors in your article on the Cuban Government's AIDS policy (Briefly NI 198). You state that Cuba is not testing its drug-users for HIV when in fact the country is testing its entire adult population for the virus. People found to be HIV-positive are denied work..

The contrast between Cuba and the US is also unfortunate. When President Reagan finally spoke out about AIDS after many years of ignoring the crisis, he stated that testing should be the main thrust of the US Government's AIDS policy. This 'test and isolate' approach, of which Cuba is an extreme example, has been universally condemned by AIDS activists and people working in the AIDS/HIV field who advocate community-based education, support and treatment, and research. Not only does the test and isolate approach violate human rights - it is also ineffective because it undermines the personal responsibility upon which educational efforts depend.

Although the Cuban Government reports that the number of people with AIDS is shrinking, they have produced no evidence to support this claim. Rodolfus Rodriguez, head of the Cuban AIDS testing programme, has publicly stated that Cuba may have to further tighten its restrictions on foreigners.

Rob Archer
Rae Trewartha
International AIDS Monitor
London, UK

Cocaine co-ops
You can't please all of your readers all of the time. Valerie Jones of London (Letters NI 198) criticizes you for not wholeheartedly supporting Sendero Luminoso (A shining path of blood) in Peru, while I was thinking that you were not sufficiently unequivocal in your condemnation of Sendero Luminoso.

There are times when armed struggle is necessary. But I class Sendero Luminoso as a terrorist organization rather than a liberation movement, which is only capable of reproducing in a different form the structural violence which destroys peasant organizations and delivers death threats.

Valerie Jones damns the Izquierda Unida out of hand but what are the policies of Sendero Luminoso for dealing with Peru's economic crisis? State-run cocaine co-operatives perhaps?

Elaine Moore
Cardiff, UK

Mixed blessings
I was interested to read Susanna Rance's Letter from La Paz (Resistance in a ghost town NI 197) in which she seemed to be be-moaning the closure of the Catavi and Siglo XX mines in Bolivia and the consequent breaking up of the communities there.

Working conditions in these mines were absolutely horrific for miners. The management had no regard for either health or safety; the workers were bound to the mine by contract and debt, and there was no hope of escape. This suffering radicalized the miners. And it is arguable that the mine closures were a blessing, not the disaster which Susanna Rance seems to suggest.

Ian Gardner
Surrey, UK

Glum picture
Your issue on the use of images a few months ago was excellent so why not stick to your own guidelines? Your cover-photo on the Peru issue (NI 197) is a perfect example of the misuse of children's images. Of course there are increasing numbers of hungry children in Peru who stare mistrustfully at camera-laden gringos (white tourists), but your front cover does nothing towards providing an image of either the anger and creativity of Peruvian people, nor the barbaric economic situation that has been imposed upon their country by the current world economic order, both of which are well described within the issue.

Ruth Ingram
Leeds, UK

Spectacular stories
Your issue on Peru (NI 197) was almost exclusively about the politics of the country. Virtually every page revolved around the current guerilla war. I look to NI for an alternative view of the world. The mainstream media gives us a perspective distorted by their criteria for 'news' which includes anything spectacular like politics, violence, money, drugs and human interest stories.

With the exception of money, this was precisely the criteria used by NI to give us a view of Peru. There was even a two-page spread on the personalities of current politicians. Yet not a word about Peru's rainforests, or the state of the topsoil on those steep Andean slopes. And almost nothing about Peruvian society as a whole. Certainly the political and military situation in Peru is important, but not to the exclusion of all else.

Patrick Whitefield,
Somerset, UK

Cartoon by VIV QUILLIN

Personal prejudice
To think that I have contributed to the felling of trees so that the myopic gropings of a pseudo-intellectual can be printed (History of the World NI 196). The cant that occasionally surfaces in NI articles has finally staged a revolution and overthrown a complete issue. History is one person's interpretation of events. But an acknowledgment of bias is not a licence to parade personal prejudice as sound reasoning, which you do in this issue.

Gareth Lowther
Manchester, UK

Evolutionary doubt
I must commend you on your excellent History of the World (NI 196). I disagree with one point however. If we did evolve one species into another, why are there no half-fish or half-humans today? The anatomy of living things is so complex and delicate that they could only have been created by a Supreme Creator.

Hal Lowther,
Montreal, Canada

Goddess worship
Never has the time been more opportune to revive the worship of the Great Earth Goddess and her consorts (History of the World NI 196). Orthodox monotheism stinks - Jewish, Christian and Muslim. This planet is cursed by the worship of a jealous super-male who 'fashioned' the world rather than 'giving it birth'. This has long encouraged people to hold Nature in contempt with ruthless practices of commerce and technology threatening life's very viability.

B P Lilburn
Wanganui, Aotearoa

Stalin's success
I am angry with some of Chris Brazier's History of the World (NI 196) particularly the vitriolic, unscientific and inaccurate references to Stalin and the great Russian revolution. The revolution was not 'hijacked' by a ruthless dictator as you suggest. It was brilliantly led by Lenin and the Bolshevik party and brought to fruition under the beloved leader of the Russian people, Joseph Stalin. Despite attempts by the treacherous Trotskyites and others including Gorbachev to denigrate Stalin, he remains a source of great inspiration and leadership to millions of oppressed people throughout the world.

Penny Wright
London, UK

Burning issue
With such a clear overview and a balanced feminist perspective in your History of the World NI 196, how is it possible that you failed to mention the witch-burning of the 16th and 17th centuries, when nine million women, men and children were executed?

New South Wales, Australia

Driving women
Thank you for Car Chaos (NI 195). An important addition would be an analysis of women and cars. More women than men use public transport world-wide; fewer drive; fewer own their own cars. You also failed to mention safe transport schemes for women. Cars are the only alternative to unsafe streets for many women.

Catherine Weir,
London UK

Imaginative solution
People in the British colony of Hong Kong could settle in the British colony of the Falklands and form an independent state. The Hong Kong people would then have a home. Britain could stop spending so much on defending the Falklands. And Argentina might bankrupt itself with a second invasion.

Royce Bradshaw
Sheffield, UK

[image, unknown]
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

Letter from La Paz

Dreams in miniature
Susanna Rance finds out why serious-minded La Paz
dwellers can be seen walking down the streets intently fondling
toy cars, play-money and doll's house pieces.

The Ekeko is a squat, grotesque little god - with moustache, pink cheeks and black staring eyes. His expression is understandably strained. From trilby-hatted head to sandalled feet, his whole body bristles with a jumbled collection of objects.

This particular Ekeko figure is bearing not only furniture, clothing, pots, pans, food, musical instruments and garden tools - but also a laden truck and a three-storey house.

A cigarette juts from his painted mouth. Each Friday that shy stub is ritualistically lit by the Ekeko's guardian - in this case a writer, intellectual and left-wing politician. The latter then anoints his personal 'god of abundance' with a sprinkling of alcohol.

The Ekeko is a young god, a year short of his 200th birthday. The story goes that in colonial times, La Paz's upper classes used to hold a three-day festival in the main square, graciously dispensing banknotes and coins to their children and servants. The republican era saw the end of this aristocratic bounty. So mestizo culture - reluctant to let go of tradition - created its own deity to host the yearly handout.

The festival of Alasitas lasts three weeks. Miles of city streets are taken over by stalls offering tiny banknotes and articles of all kinds for sale. The Ekeko's fair is where dreams and wishes are sold, where even the city's poorest inhabitants can buy, in miniature, what they hope to obtain in real life during the course of the coming year.

But buying the goods is not enough. They must be blessed at midday on January 24 or they will have no more value than toys. You would not expect a self-respecting La Paz office worker to walk down a main street fondling a doll's house three-piece-suite or a Dinky-sized Toyota jeep. But these objects, ritualistically sprinkled and gestured over by a Catholic priest or Aymara sage, take on a new significance as promises of future prosperity.

Alasitas is about a mix of cultures and religions. classes and values. Even its name is a hybrid of the Aymara verb to buy something for oneself and the Spanish diminutive. The goods sold in the fair are a true reflection of the contrasts in modem Bolivian society.

Minute bales of coca and sacks of shrunken potatoes sit beside inch-high cartons of Argentinian wine, Peruvian detergent and Brazilian drinking-chocolate, which now compete with Bolivian goods on the contraband market. Native wind instruments fashioned from tiny straws are sold at a fraction of the cost of matchbox-size ghetto-blasters.

Tiny banknotes have always been the most traditional item at the fair. They have to be re-issued yearly to keep up with inflation. A decade's collection of Alositas money will give you a good idea of the unsteady course of Bolivia's economy. For example, one year the Government stopped printing money and instead resorted to issuing cheques valid for 90 days. Another year five-million-peso notes were overprinted with their new value - five Bolivianos. And Alasitas money faithfully imitated these changes.

There are other ways in which Alasitas customs mark changes in social habits. For example, as the population becomes more mobile. miniature ID cards are no longer enough - passports are all the rage. especially since the immigration office ran out of the real thing. Or, in compliance with the Government's aggressive tax drive. model houses and cars are now accompanied by the correct documents.

Children, naturally, have a field day, storing treasures in tiny suitcases and deciding between wide, native skins or Barbie-style gear for their dolls. Some set up their own stalls selling quail egg sandwiches or thimble-sized glasses of juice. But for adults, choosing what you need is serious business, despite a bit of modern-day scepticism.

'You have to know what you're buying.' says Dona Teo, a domestic worker and mother of four. 'You need a lot of faith, otherwise it won't come true. Of course I don't really believe in it at all.'

'You don't believe in it? But what if you didn't do it one year?'

Her jaw dropped. 'Ah well ... it might be unlucky. You have to buy banknotes and some food provisions at least, so you won't go without.'

Susanna Rance is a writer and researcher who has lived in Bolivia for several years.

[image, unknown]

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