issue 210 - August 1990
The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
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Why won't you let us speak for ourselves? Your issue on madness (NI 209) has plenty to say about us. You even allow what we say to be reported by others. But there's nothing but the story by Bessie Head from people who know what they're talking about because they've been through it themselves. A bit ironic, this, when you rightly take everyone else to task for not wanting to listen.
So, despite what you say, the magazine reads like a commentary on madness aimed at people who think they re sane. If you'd listened to us you'd have heard more about anger and rights, less about fear and guilt. You might also have addressed the question of 'collective madness - the 'bad' behaviour of societies that, as you say, is the single biggest cause of suffering in individuals. Then you would have got to grips with the real issues, the ones we can actually do something about. But you can't get there without us.
Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK
God bless Africa
Nice try NI. Your magazine on Africa (Burden of hope NI 208) tried to find something positive to say about the only region of the world that is getting poorer. But wouldn't it have been better to spell out the real situation: to say that no-one is going to invest in black Africa any more after years of poor returns, especially now there's an alluring market of aspiring white people opening up in Eastern Europe? All your 'merrie Africa' romanticism about 'peasants working together as they have always done' seems particularly ironic in the face of the rampant bloodletting in Natal, Mozambique, Angola. Ethiopia. Sudan, Gabon. Liberia
Africans are people like everyone else. Their 'initiative and resourcefulness' can be channelled into violence like everyone else's. Africa is doomed unless the West writes off its debts and lets Africans get on with their own lives. Western romanticism isn't going to help.
Listening to the constant angst-ridden bleating of a bunch of white middle-class do-gooders has driven me over the edge. The Africa issue (Burden of hope NI 208) was the final straw. How dare you people tell Africans what they should do and how they should live? Cease publication tomorrow and leave real people to get on sorting out their own lives.
I've just read the letter headed Repellent Recipe (Letters NI 208) and I recommend Veronica Garvin to read a book called Cheaper and Better - Homemade alternatives to shop-bought products, by Nancy Birnes, published by Optima, 1988. It covers all sorts of recipes from health care to rainy-day fun for kids.
I was saddened to read your comments on New Age Music in the June edition (Reviews NI 208) and sadder still to see published such negative views on New Age Therapies and philosophy generally. As a theologian I have found such philosophies deeper, more rational and with the spiritual and emotional balance that Christianity is so desperately lacking. Although one could argue that people have to pay for them, in practice this is not unequivocally the case; people pay what they can and sometimes nothing at all.
The image of the 'trapped housewife.., struggling with frustrated kids' and her own isolation and depression' has become an annoying cliche that bears no resemblance to the lives of the majority of women (Letter from La Paz: NI 208). I live in a very friendly community with both working and non-working mothers and although I too will be starting work again soon, the last few years spent at home with my children have been the happiest of my life. I have never 'shushed' my children on a bus or seen any other children being 'shushed'. My children are always smiled at in the street. And my neighbour rushes off to fetch a banana for my two boys whenever she sees them in the garden. Differences in child-rearing practices around the world is a fascinating subject, but to draw the conclusion that one society is child-loving and another not is an incredibly simplistic generalization.
Got the hump
I was delighted with your 1990 calendar until I found myself staring at a scene in which men were riding camels and beating the animals with long sticks. I do not think such a picture is in keeping with the spirit of your magazine - though come to think of it, you have never shown a great deal of sympathy for the other species we share this planet with.
OK, so the camels' faces do not express great pain or anguish, but then camels almost always look bored and expressionless. The men are obviously involved in a camel race, which, whatever the politically 'right-on' motivation for the event, involves unjustifiable maltreatment of camels. If evolution had meant us to have fun in this way our genitals would have been a different shape.
We were disappointed to read Teresa Apin's article in the Update section (NI 208). It is far too easy to assume that the effects of logging in South America are the same as those in Africa. In Ghana, for example. 95 per cent of the remaining high forest is in areas reserved for production and around which villages have existed for many decades. There are no 'landless settlers pouring into the heart of the jungle' along logging roads in Ghana, and we have heard no reports of this happening elsewhere in West Africa.
Justine and Robert Dunn
Your issue on global warming (How to turn down the heat NI 206) gives a reasonable view of the subject and the solutions proposed. However the warming theory is still much disputed as is the assessment that global temperatures have increased at all since 1980. In spite of my rising dedication to conservation, last year I joined a growing number of sceptics in academic circles who are convinced that the warming theory is so exaggerated as to be wrong, as is the theory that the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica is caused by CFCs. No doubt all this paranoia over increased carbon dioxide and other gases has raised considerable environmental awareness, but at the expense of truth. Next century we will look back on the so-called greenhouse effect and ozone depletion as the most popular of false beliefs of the twentieth century.
South Brisbane, Australia
Many new diseases - like AIDS, Mad Cow Disease, Seal Distemper, Parvovirus of dogs and so on - have started emerging as a result of diseases which have long been recognized in other species gaining the ability to infect a new host species. Meanwhile ecologists are worried about factors like increased levels of radio-activity, increased inorganic pollution and increased exposure to solar radiation as a result of high-altitude ozone depletion. These are all mutating agents. Is any political party studying the sort of measures that are necessary to stabilize the ecological balance? Intelligence cries out for consideration of alternatives should the crisis become indubitable.
I expect NI to be provocative and I accept that my values may be challenged if not changed by your publication - I would not have it any other way. But the cartoon in NI 204 (Letters) was the first time I have ever felt my values gratuitously insulted. Perhaps Canadian Roman Catholics are unusually sensitive given recent criminal investigations of the sexual misbehaviour of a minority of our officially celibate clergy but I fail to see the humour of implying that a religious vocation necessarily indicates an attachment to some minority sexual preference.
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
Thank you, Compadre Carlos
Susanna Rance explains how God and radio have
given a whole new feel to popular politics in Bolivia.
Radio Metropolitana and TV Channel 4 are both owned by Carlos Palenque, a former folk musician turned communicator and, more recently, politician. By presenting himself as Compadre or Father Carlos, he simulates the intimate, reciprocal relationship existing between parents and godparents in Andean culture. Palenque has built up his image not just as the friend, but almost as the relative of oppressed Aymara migrants to La Paz's shanty towns.
'We've just done a social study', proclaims the Compadre, opening his daily programme, the People's Tribune. 'We've found that many poor families can't pay for their children's school books, and we've chosen ten needy cases to come forward today and receive them as a gift. This poor mother, for example, abandoned by her husband with four children... ah, she does have a husband. Is he working, Se»ora? How much does he earn'?'
Dona Irma's sobs resound on transistor sets all over the city. On realizing his radio guest speaks little Spanish, Palenque slips smoothly into fluent, city-twanged Aymara. His voice is masterly, reassuring, that of a man used to taking charge of other people's problems. The story comes out, the books are handed over, and after accepting weeping expressions of gratitude and a kiss from the child, Compadre Carlos turns to the next in the queue.
'The People's Tribune is open to the poor and needy', declares Palenque on his evening television spot, fixing the camera with his intense, super-sincere gaze. 'This is the voice of the people, and the voice of the people is the voice of God.' Nodding assent beside him are the two women who complete his indomitable trio: Palenque's radiant wife, Commadre Monica; and the Cholita Remedios, a genuine representative of the people who wields the microphone in the wide skirts, shawl and bowler hat which mark Aymara women in La Paz.
Building on his tremendous popular support, Palenque entered the political arena barely seven months before the May 1989 general elections. He set himself up as the presidential candidate when the current governing party shut down his radio and TV stations after a candid live interview with drug king Roberto Suarez. 'They did us a big favour. If it hadn't been for that closure, we'd never have gone into politics, 'says the Compadre triumphantly.
Palenque upset the apple cart for both left and right when his party, CONDEPA (Patriotic Conscience), came fourth in the general elections. Remedios Loza, now a CONDEPA deputy in the Bolivian parliament, explains the party's overnight success. 'People come to us to express their feelings and problems.' she says. 'If a woman is beaten by her husband and goes to the police, she has to have money if she wants fair treatment. But if she comes to Radio Metropolitana, she can get it all off her chest and find justice too, because the man's family and friends hear the programme and he's put to shame.'
From the right, Palenque is criticized as an ignorant upstart who uses cheap tactics to buy popular votes. But like it or not, 'populism' is in vogue, and La Paz's poor traders, artisans and unemployed have little trouble identifying with a political leader who speaks their language, listens to their complaints and cares about their problems. Whether they be squabbles with neighbours, lack of sewerage or corrupt local authorities. 'It's real life, isn't it?' muses Gregoria, a street sweeper, toddler on her back, broom and sack of trash by her side. 'Compadre Carlos talks about what happens to us. The others couldn't care. Why should we vote for them?'
Susanna Rance has lived and worked in Bolivia for several years.