issue 202 - December 1989
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At last! NI has had the courage to tackle the most taboo of human rights issues - homosexuality (Pride and Prejudice, NI 201) It was indeed a shock to the system to learn that Amnesty International still does not recognize imprisonment on the grounds of sexuality as a human rights issue.
I do have one serious criticism of the magazine, however. It should in some way have been indicated that what Buchi Emecheta (Natural gestures) saw on her TV screen and interpreted as lesbianism was probably not lesbianism at all, but pornography aimed at men. Lesbian sex most commonly features in male heterosexual pornography and often bears very little resemblance to the reality. In fact it is unlikely that the women on film were lesbians at all. They were probably straight actors.
I was surprised to read the extremely biased and largely misinformed Country Profile of the Enaye people (NI 200). There were many serious omissions, chief being no mention of the People's Revolutionary Army Tenth September, our Patriotic Marxist front that broke away from the Karfoum Populist Movement as long ago as 1986.
To put the record straight, our heroic struggle against revolutionary and capitalist forces in Enaye is increasingly successful; the running dogs of US imperialism are being put to flight. Clearly, the non-mention of the people's war by Ms Doe, leads one to suspect she is related to the infamous CIA provocateur, John, of the same surname.
It was a welcome change in the same issue, to read a letter from an obviously astute reader who shares our regard for the revered 'gentle' Joe Stalin, that great socialist and humanitarian. This, in a small way, sweetened the pill. Next time you write about Enaye, get it correct.
The subject of the Palestine / Israel conflict (NI 199) is very close to my heart. Between July 1965 to June 1967 I worked as adviser to the Civil Aviation Department in Jordan. Some of our neighbours were Palestinians as well as most of the people I worked with. We learned to love the country, both East and West Banks, and could easily have forgotten we were British until the June war.
It is my belief that Israel is a neurotic nation obsessed with the idea of persecution. When Theodore Herzl set out to build a Jewish state his principles were good, but the movement was overtaken by political Zionism and the neurosis set in. Some saw that this would bring disaster to the state, including Moshe Menuhin, father of the celebrated violinist. Natan YellinMor, one time leader of the Stern Gang, tried to set up a movement to establish peace with the Arabs shortly after the 1967 war. I was present at his first meeting in London. He was threatened by British Zionists and the meeting broke up.
W Dennis Goodwin
When I visited the Holocaust Museum at Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot in Israel (The Palestine / Israel conflict NI 199), I noticed different things to Sarah Faith, author of the article 'The Holocaust lives on'. For example, I saw a section that commemorated the slaughter of the Gypsies, with captions emphasizing that they should not be forgotten. It is untrue that the museum leaves the impression that only Jews suffered.
In my dealings with Holocaust survivors, I have found the sufferings of other groups constantly acknowledged (along with the conviction that the Nazi ferocity against Jews was unique). But bickering over placement on the suffering stakes doesn't help. If some Israelis have compared Arabs to Nazis, some Arabs have returned the comparison. Both comparisons are distasteful and counter-productive.
I do not support the actions of the Israeli Government, police or defence forces in their attempted suppression of the unrest in Israel and the West Bank (NI 199); the scenes of violence there have been deplorable.
But your analysis of the background to the troubles is lacking many important facts. You refer to 'the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip' without mentioning that this happened after the Arab nations tried to wipe Israel out completely in 1948, 1967 and 1973. You refer to the 'expulsion of the Palestinians', without mentioning that in 1948 the Arab nations told those Arabs living within the borders of what had been declared Israel, to leave so that they could return once the newborn nation of Israel had been destroyed. Would you give half of your country to a foreign power that pledged to destroy you?
I fail to understand Paul Rosen's quibble (Letters NI 199). Of course Christ would have had the appearance of a present-day Arab, but that doesn't mean the artist is obliged to portray him as such. The painting featured in The History of the World was the work of a white European, and she chose to draw Christ like the people she was most familiar with. Christ's message is about transcending the barriers - racial or otherwise - that we have erected between each other.
I found it curious that Macdonald Daly should review William Morris's News from Nowhere as a 'Classic' yet find predominantly condescending and negative things to say about it (Reviews NI 198). The review seemed to be more concerned with the reviewer's guilt at the insincerity with which he answered questions on his university exam papers than with what makes News from Nowhere the classic that it truly is. The book has its defects to be sure, but far from Morris's prose 'slowly running aground on long stretches of eventlessness', it is an instrument used very effectively to describe a vision of a peaceful, co-operative, moneyless society which is truly exciting to those ready to contemplate it. This vision, rather than going 'beyond anything Karl Marx ever described', seems to me an eminently practical application of Marx's views of socialism as 'the abolition of the wages system'.
In The History of the World (NI 196), you perpetuate many myths about the history of Zimbabwe. First, 'Zimbabwe' means 'houses of stone'. 'Great Zimbabwe' does not therefore mean 'Royal Court'. Second, it is now thought very unlikely that Great Zimbabwe was suddenly abandoned by a mass migration led by Mutota. Instead it probably declined owing to overpopulation, disease, famine and pollution. Third, the Mutapa Empire was not founded as a result of a mass migration northwards from Great Zimbabwe, but probably evolved over several decades, starting long before Mutota became its ruler. It owed its power not to the efforts of one man but to the capture and control of the gold trade on the coast as Great Zimbabwe declined.
In the 'Rise and rise of religion' (The History of the World, NI 196) you implied that Jesus never claimed to be God - but, like Buddha, simply a teacher. If you accept the four gospels as reasonable accounts of Jesus Christ's teachings, then please notice that enemies and followers alike recognized Christ's claim to be equal with God. As C S Lewis wrote, 'The discrepancy between the depth and sanity of (Christ's) moral teaching and the rampant megalomania which must lie behind this theological teaching unless he is indeed God, has never been satisfactorily got over'.
Dr JE Corlett
We are sorry for any undue alarm resulting from our printing of a quote from a cancer victim (Cancer NI 198) inaccurately linking the herbicide paraquat with the phenoxy herbicides 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T and the chemical spray Agent Orange.
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
Crossing the border
How do you support eight children as a single
mother in Bolivia? Desperation breeds some ingenious
solutions, as Susanna Rance reveals.
'Want to buy a pig?' asked a voice as I carried Amaru downstairs to breakfast. Frankly, at 7.30 am on a work day I had other things on my mind. Anyway our yard was scarcely big enough to hang the nappies, let alone house a grunting beast.
'A pig? Are you crazy?' Then I saw Dona Andrea grinning up as she squatted in her wide skins beside the bundle of farm produce she had brought to the city to sell. Her face radiated hope and good will.
'It's all right! They're not born yet'. Well, that was something. 'My sow is going to have piglets in a couple of weeks. I'm short of cash and I wondered I mean I'd raise it for you. It'd be an investment'.
I got the picture. The idea still didn't fill me with enthusiasm, but I had to admire Dona Andrea's resourcefulness in finding yet another strategy to feed and clothe her eight children.
Bolivia is on the bottom rung as far as Latin American poverty levels go. The minimum monthly wage is worth 535. Only one worker in five has access to the social security system. Unemployment benefit is non-existent. So how do people survive?
The answer lies in the intricate web of activities performed by every family member old enough to bring in a bit of income. Two-thirds of the work force are in the informal economy, outside the protection and control of labour laws. They rely on their ingenuity to improvise a living, running family workshops, shining shoes, doing errands or selling on the street.
Women, hampered by lack of capital and training, and with their youngest kids in tow, make up the majority of informal sector workers. Julia was supporting three children, with her husband Out of work. She started off in the local market selling detergent, soap and toothpaste smuggled from Peru. Having a good head for business she soon graduated to bringing in contraband cameras and ghetto-blasters. With a bit of capital in hand, the next step was to become a money-changer.
Then a neighbour suggested a risky but potentially profitable deal: investing all her capital in a cargo of cocaine. The neighbour got busted and ended up in jail. Julia lost everything. Shaken after her narrow escape, she started off at square one again with her market-stall.
The middle classes also resort to activities on the fringes of illegality to make ends meet. My neighbour Luisa's job as a domestic-science teacher brought in barely enough money for bread and bus fares. But she kept on her evening teaching post because it gave her two daughters access to social-security health care.
In the daytime she sold fashion clothes to colleagues and friends. Then prices started to rocket. Few people could afford even contraband garments from neighbouring Brazil. A new business started flourishing in La Paz: second-hand US clothing shipped south to Chile and brought back overland.
Once a fortnight Luisa would leave a supply-teacher to manage her class and join the band of hardy clothes-traffickers who controlled the train, bus and truck routes over the mountains to Chile. Bargaining with wholesalers; hauling heavy loads around; shivering under tarpaulin at dawn; battling with corrupt customs officials: she would return from the four-day trip pale and exhausted.
Her two-bedroomed house was piled to the roof with bales of used clothing. Luisa struggled to sell the merchandise and raise the capital for her next journey. But the idea was catching on and competition was fierce in the markets and on the contraband train. Her eldest daughter was starting university and the youngest would soon be leaving school.
Last week Luisa broke the news. 'I'm leaving. I'm going to the US to try my luck. I'll do anything, I'm not afraid of a bit of hard work so long as I can raise some cash. What's left for me here? I can't keep going like this. I've got to give the girls a future'.
By the end of the month Luisa will be on her way to Miami with two friends, one an engineer, the other a secretary. Their papers have been 'fixed' by a travel agency running an undercover emigration racket. Bolivia is a country of six-and-a-half-million inhabitants. A million more have gone abroad to live. For many, the trip north was just another step on the ladder of survival strategies: the only way up was across the border.
Susanna Rance is a writer and researcher who has lived in Bolivia for several years.