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new internationalist
issue 202 - December 1989



A better umbrella
Land invasions in Buenos Aires

People all over the world, and in Latin America particularly, are moving from the land to the cities. Urban communities are being impoverished too. Shanty towns were until recently uncommon in Argentina. but even in Buenos Aires they have been growing. New communities have taken root.

On 22 January 1986 in Mantanzas a district on the outskirts of the capital, Buenos Aires, a dumpsite began to give way to an urban settlement which now houses some 3,000 families.

'It started with a few families without any organization.' remembers Ruben, one of the first settlers. 'On the following days more people arrived, some of them when they saw the crowd, others as soon as they got to know through the newspapers. At first it was very hard. I lived under an umbrella for two months.'

'We had to get organized in order to survive,' explains Elvira, one of the founders. They allotted the plots, marked out the blocks for 24 families each, appointed a representative for every 20 or 30 families, set up popular soup kitchens.

'We found that blocks of 60 metres were more appropriate, since we wanted to avoid the misuse of land. We drew up the designs in such a way that nobody had to occupy the lowland, which is easily flooded.' adds Ruben.

Some surrounding neighbourhoods gave their support from the beginning, providing them with food. Others rejected them. 'For some of them we are outcasts,' says Eduardo, also one of the first to arrive in 1986,' says Eduardo, also one of the first to arrive in 1986.

'When we arrived here we had to set fire to a lot of rubbish, we had to move many burned, stolen cars, we had to work hard cleaning the place. Society wasn't bothered by the stolen cars, the dumpsite, the rats or the infection.

'But they were bothered when we came, human beings in need of a piece of land. It seems that we have devalued their properties, that now their houses are worth less. So they say.'

Cristina Canoura / Third World Network Features


Red flag, blue screen
Commercial TV launched

[image, unknown] The Soviet Union will inaugurate its first independent commercial television company by the end of the year. NIKA TV will launch it into the era of cable television, show business, advertisements and video clips.

It is to be financed from public contributions and operated on a strict profit-and-loss basis free from government and Communist Party control.

NIKA TV should end the 70-year-old monopoly of Gostelradio, the State body which controls and directs broadcasting. But NIKA TV's President, N Lutsenko. says his company will not try to undermine State television, only offer healthy competition. He has just returned from a study tour of the United States, and dreams of 24-hour musical and 'mail-order' TV Channels

In the past two years, Gostelradio has introduced several changes to the four-channel State television. More imaginative programmes, longer air time and frequent use of video clips from Western TV stations keep Soviet viewers sitting in front of their screens with growing interest.

Old habits linger, but attempts to present a tranquil, ordered society, superior to capitalism and without crime or violence are being replaced with a view of a USSR that is like most societies, with high and low points. In the past, advertising was condemned as 'promoting consumerism and corrupting people's tastes'. Now Soviet executives are actively studying Western advertising technique with a view to emulating them.

More than 75 per cent of the 285 million Soviet people have access to television. There are over 130 stations, 900 relays and 60 million TV sets. Television antennae dot even the smallest and most remote villages. Live programmes with direct audience participation via satellites and telephones have become common. Parliamentary proceedings are for the first time being transmitted live without censorship. Soviet politicians are vying to use the blue screen - Soviet slang for TV - for image-building.

They are also polishing their skills. Leonid Brezhnev's televised address on the 50th anniversary of the Soviet Union was four hours long. Gorbachev's speeches get shorter and shorter, to stop the television audience becoming bored or inattentive.

Charles Quist Adade / Gemini


Chemical cockails
Canberra convention

Chemical weapons are as nasty as nuclear ones and harder to control. Some 70 countries attended the September Chemical Weapons Convention in Canberra, Australia, seeking a comprehensive, universal convention banning them completely.

Australia now chairs a conference of 20 developed countries, known as the Australia Group, which has been meeting since 1985. It discusses ways of avoiding the inadvertent involvement of industry in the chemical warfare programmes of other countries.

The Group hopes that a Chemical Weapons Convention will be negotiated in parallel with the Geneva Conference on Disarmament. Participating countries have already introduced export controls, and have agreed to a core list of the most harmful chemicals.

Nikita Smidovich, the Soviet arms negotiator at the Canberra conference, surprised delegates by proposing an expansion of the 'challenge inspection' that any country could demand if it suspected another country of secretly developing or holding chemical weapons.

US representatives said that they had proposed such a move in 1984. They pointed to their $240 million chemical weapons disposal plant on the Johnston Atoll, 1,000 km south of the Hawaiian islands, saying it was part of their plan to disarm or destroy all their chemical weapons by 1997. But they were reluctant to set a date for the negotiations to be completed.

It now seems that 1992 would be the earliest date possible. Brazil, India and Pakistan received little support for their demand that mandatory aid be given to countries attacked by chemical weapons, and sanctions against countries who step outside the Convention.

Iraq admits that it possesses and has used a range of chemical weapons, against Iran as well as its own Kurdish population. Libya also has been accused of producing chemical weapons at its plants at Rabta.

George Fisher



Fidel and John Paul
Papal visit to Cuba

The announcement that Pope John Paul II is to visit Cuba in the next 18 months sets the seal on the island's remarkable rehabilitation in the eyes of the Catholic Church. It was the visit of French cardinal Roger Etchegaray at the New Year which paved the way for the Papal visit. Over 1,000 people packed Havana Cathedral to listen to the cardinal, who had toured Cuba for a week and held lengthy talks with Church and government.

But the Catholic Church in Cuba is deeply split over its reasons for wanting the Pope to come. Some expect him to denounce the Castro regime, even if he does it in the veiled terms he used when visiting neighbouring Haiti under the rule of Baby Doe Duvalier. Others, including the Church hierarchy, are hoping instead that the Pope will be received by Fidel Castro. They feel this would be a triumph for their patient efforts to build up the Church without frightening the Government.

In the early days after the 1959 revolution, the Church sided with those Cubans who fled to Miami. Churches were closed, foreign priests and nuns were expelled and the State took over education. 'This created a siege mentality in the Church,' says Raul Gomez Treto, a Catholic lay spokesperson. 'The situation only changed very gradually through the 1970s, when some of those in the Church decided it would be wise to accept the fact that the Revolution was here to stay; and people in government decided that as the Church still existed, then perhaps its work could be useful.'

The current Archbishop of Havana. Monsignor Jaime Ortega, spent two years' compulsory military service in a work brigade during the 1960s, but has led the Church into a more flexible attitude towards the Government.

Fidel Castro, who was educated at the best Jesuit school in Havana, talked for several days in 1985 with Frei Betto, a Brazilian priest who is a prominent exponent of liberation theology. Castro said he looked forward to a possible visit by the Pope. 'We would discuss all the questions the Pope is interested in concerning the Church in Cuba,' he said.

In 1987 permission was granted for 40 foreign priests to enter Cuba. Father Lazaro. a 34-year-old priest from Mexico, now works with two French priests in a large church in the poorest part of Havana. Young children play noisily in the square in front of his Church, but he admits it is difficult to get them inside. 'When I arrived there were only about 15 elderly women who came regularly to services,' he says. There are now about 70 people who drop in at some time, but he thinks people 'are still worried about neighbours or people they work with seeing them going into church'. He and his colleagues stress the Church's work within Cuban society, joining in voluntary schemes, neighbourhood action and proving that they can be useful socially. Castro has been known to praise nuns for their dedication as nurses and social workers.

Though only one per cent of the population attends mass each week. Monsignor de Cespedes believes that the Pope's visit 'will be a great stimulus for all our work'. Everyone in the Church is keen to greet the Pope with a show of unity. There is a general recognition that the communist system is there to stay. But, adds de Cespedes: 'At a recent meeting with government officials, the three ecclesiastics had all come into the Church as adults. The three government representatives had all had a good Catholic education.'

Nick Caistor


Mobutu's millions
Corruption in Zaire

Zaire is one of the world's poorest countries. But its President. Mobutu Sese Seko, is one of the world's richest men. And it's Western governments that keep him in clover.

Last year auditors from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) found that between $300 and $400 million earned by Zaire from exports had gone missing. Zairean officials could not, or would not, account for it. Confidential figures from the Zaire Central Bank show that more 'money is spent on Mobutu's presidency than on schools, roads, hospitals and other social services combined. Some observers put his personal fortune at more than five billion dollars. He said last year: 'I would estimate it to total less than $50 million. But what is that after 23 years as head of state of such a big country'?'

President Bush says that Mobutu 'is a valued partner to every US President since Lyndon Johnson'. One former US State Department official says: 'Every time we thought of abandoning him. Mobutu found ways to make himself indispensable'.

In March 1977 France and Morocco intervened to save Mobutu's government from secessionists in Shaba. A year later France and Belgium were on hand to save Mobutu again from armed attackers who seized the major mining town of Kolwezi in Shaba province. For years the US has used the Kamina air base in southern Shaba to ferry military equipment to UNITA rebels fighting the Government of Angola.

According to the European Community, Zaire benefited from more debt reschedulings between 1975 and 1985 than any other country in the world. In June the IMF signed a new accord with Zaire allowing Mobutu access to funds that have been frozen since June 1988 because Zaire had defaulted on repayments.

Marshal Mobutu seized power and has been President since 1965. Since then, he has, according to author Susan George, acquired 11 chateaux in Belgium and France, palatial estates in Spain, Italy and Switzerland, buildings in Paris and Ivory Coast, presidential mansions in each of Zaire's eight provinces and a marble palace in his home province, not to mention ships, planes (including a Boeing 747) and 51 Mercedes. 'Zaire's creditors have known exactly what is going on.' says Susan George. 'They want to make sure that the country's rich mineral deposits remain under their control.'

His home village of Gbadolite has a runway big enough to take the Air France Concorde he often leases for international travel. An extravagance? 'To accuse me of wasting money, no, I'm sorry.' he said recently. 'Just think of the time I save.'

Baffour Ankomah / Gemini

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New Internationalist issue 202 magazine cover This article is from the December 1989 issue of New Internationalist.
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