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new internationalist
issue 216 - February 1991



New community grows from
the ashes of a massacre

Little remains of the village of El Mozote in north eastern El Salvador. The charred shells of a few burnt-out houses are now covered in vegetation; the area is scattered with human bones that are a testimony to an army massacre that wiped out the village.

Local human rights organizations are now attempting to sue the Atlacatl battalion of the Salvadorean army for the cold-blooded massacre in 1981 of 1,200 civilians. A key witness testifying in court is Rufina Vigil, sole survivor of the Mozote massacre, who has recently returned to El Salvador after eight years in exile in Honduras.

Rufina still has nightmares about the winter day when hundreds of Atlacatl troops entered El Mozote, dragged residents out of their homes and forced them to lie face down on the village square.

'The men were led off to the church', recalls Rufina, 'and we women were all herded into a nearby house. My three children were clinging to my skirt, and my eight-month-old baby was feeding at my breast.' Rufina remembers that she stood on a chair to see into the nearby church, and saw that the soldiers had blindfolded and handcuffed the men and were standing on top of them, beating them.

'Then I saw them kill the men - including my husband - one by one. Some were beheaded, others were machine-gunned.'

Later, the soldiers came for the women, taking the younger ones to be raped and killed first. Then they came for Rufina.

'I was led out in a group of 22 women, at the end of the line. The house they were taking us to was full of dead bodies, blood was trickling out from under the door. I knelt down and prayed to God to save me: then I saw my chance. I slipped into the cover of an apple tree and hid among the leaves.'

She stayed hidden from five in the afternoon until 11 at night. 'I heard my own children scream: "Mummy, they're stabbing me!" But I didn't dare to move a muscle - I couldn't even cry.

At about 11pm the soldiers withdrew. When a herd of cattle wandered by, Rufina slipped out of the apple tree on all fours and crawled along in the middle of the animals.

Rufina eventually fled to Colomoncagua refugee camp in Honduras, where she lived for eight years with several thousand other refugees. There the refugees learnt skills including shoe-making, mechanics, carpentry and most importantly community organization.

Rufina was one of the group of 8,400 refugees from Colomoncagua who returned to northern Morazan in 1989 and founded Ciudad Segundo Montes. It is named after one of the six Jesuit priests who were murdered last November by the very same US-trained Atlacatl battalion that massacred the peo- ple of El Mozote.

Mary Cabezas

For further information on how you can help to support Rufina's community at Ciudad Montes, contact the El Salvador Committee for Human Rights, 83 Margaret St, London W1N 7HB, tel 071-631 4200/03.


Bottom up
Community unions established in Japan

Fighting for Japan's poor - community union leader Yukie Kinugawa.
Photo: Hugh Williamson

Yukie Kinugawa is Secretary of the Koto Community Union in east Tokyo. She works as a book-keeper in Tokyo's Central Fish Market, where she is also the union shop steward.

'It's a poor industrial district,' she says. 'We set up the union in 1988 to organize ourselves and help workers in small workplaces with informal jobs, part-timers and foreign workers. It's a challenge to build a union from the bottom up.

Yukie herself is a challenge to the stereotype of Japanese women - a union leader aged only 27 who, when confronted with the choice, opted for her union work rather than marriage.

Like the 30 or so other community unions in Japan, the Koto Union offers counselling, representation, social support and health and safety advice. Death from overwork, for example, is a serious work hazard in Japan, only now gaining medical recognition. Unlike the large enterprise-based unions, community unions welcome people who are out of work and women working at home.

Community unions campaign on environmental and anti-racist issues. They have given front-line support to foreign workers in Japan. Many of these workers, from China, Bangladesh, the Philippines and elsewhere are attracted by Japan's relatively high wages.

But they have no legal employment status. In Koto, foreign workers often take on the worst jobs and live in fear of arrest. The Koto Union provides these workers with legal and employment advice. Yukie joins other community union officers in a Tokyo-wide forum on foreign workers' problems.

The Solidarity Union in Hiroshima has helped Korean members, who have suffered racial discrimination under a law that says all foreigners must be finger-printed.

Community unions have also helped put informal workers' problems on the agenda of the established unions. While official unions can ignore community unions on the basis of their size - national membership is as yet only a few thousand - they can no longer ignore the spirit of their work. Rengo, the union confederation with 8.2 million members, is now committed in its 'Basic Objectives' to the 'organization of unorganized workers'.

The problems of Japan's low-status workers cannot be solved overnight, but at least they're now making a start with the help of people like Yukie Kinugawa.

Hugh Williamson


Fair game
'Shoot-to-kill' anti-poaching policies raise doubts

In most countries it is not a capital offence to kill a rhinoceros or an elephant, but this has not stopped some African governments from imposing their own instant justice on poachers.

The Zimbabwean authorities, for example, claim to have shot dead 34 poachers in the first nine months of 1990. Effectively Zimbabwe operates a 'shoot-to-kill' policy, with game wardens and security officials legally indemnified against criminal prosecution. The parks and wildlife department has become a refuge for former members of the Selous Scouts, once the elite troops of the white minority Rhodesian regime.

At the same time, however, there are reliable reports of Zimbabwean army involvement in poaching. Edwin Nleya, an army officer who threatened to expose military poaching, was killed in mysterious circumstances early in 1989. An intelligence official investigating his murder has been forced to flee the country.

International conservation bodies appear to endorse Zimbabwe's strong-arm tactics against poachers. Internal documents from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), leaked to the UK newspaper The Guardian, show that the organi- zation has provided a helicopter and other logistical support to the Zimbabwean security forces for anti-poaching operations. In a subsequent letter to the news- paper, the director of the London Zoological Society pointedly refused to condemn the 'shoot-to-kill' policy.

African governments' main concern is that poaching threatens revenues from tourism. Little thought is given to why local people resort to poaching. In Kenya, where 34 alleged poachers were killed during the first year of a shoot-to-kill policy, most victims were ethnic Somalis. They are pastoral people and some of their traditional grazing areas have been declared national parks.

Shoot-to-kill policies are in breach of the internationally accepted principle that the use of force must be proportional to the threat posed.

Richard Carver / Africa Watch


Drastic reductions likely in Soviet support

Soviet aid recipients
Charles Quist Adade / Gemini

President Mikhail Gorbachev has decreed immediate cuts in aid to Africa, Asia and Latin America. The economic crisis in the Soviet Union, empty shop counters and falling standards of living, mean that aid is no longer a priority.

According to some estimates, the war in Afghanistan cost the Soviet Union $15 million a day. Its support for Cuba over the years has also been considerable.

In addition the Soviets have provided substantial aid to their friends in Africa - notably Angola, Mozambique and Ethiopia. They have built more than 340 industrial and agricultural projects in Africa. A further 300 are either under construction or on the drawing-board. About 50,000 African specialists have trained in the Soviet Union.

But attitudes have now changed. Gone is the eagerness to help the victims of colonial and neo-colonial exploitation. 'Why feed these good-for-nothing blacks when we can hardly feed ourselves?' is a commonly expressed sentiment these days.

In a sense it has always been there, just waiting to explode. In 1978, for example, railway workers in the Siberian town of Ulhan-Ude refused to load meat which was being shipped to Angola - for years their own shops had been empty. But until recently no-one dared comment on the problems of Soviet relations with the Third World.

For some countries, however, Soviet aid came when it was most needed. It is hard to imagine Egypt without the Aswan Dam or Guinea without its Soviet-built bauxite plant. There is gratitude too for Soviet help in the liberation struggles of Angola, Namibia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. And any loans could be repaid in local currency, saving foreign reserves - something the West has refused to do.

But this too has now changed. Another recent decree requires all trade to be conducted in hard currency. In the Kremlin the discussion is no longer about how much to give, but how to get back the billions already lent to the Third World. Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze's recent African tour was widely interpreted as a debt-collecting mission.

A large chunk of Soviet aid has, however, been in the form of military hardware, and cuts here should reduce Africa's military expenditure. Aid to sub-Saharan Africa between 1980 and 1984 stood at $2.1 billion compared to $5.9 billion in arms supplies. North Africa received a mere $0.7 billion in aid compared to $7.9 billion in arms.

So the Kremlin could more easily avoid cutting aid if it reduced the military component.

Charles Quist Adade/Gemini


The end
Fred Z enters the fray as Thatcher falls

Trying to forget - Rufina Vigil recounts the story of the massacre.
Illustration: Korky Paul

Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 1990: President Bush dining on turkey and pumpkin pie in the Arabian Desert; the NI's Oxford office toasting 'the end of an era'. It's the day UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher suddenly resigned. One of those events, like the assassination of President Kennedy, when they say you'll remember where you were when you heard the news.

Fred Z (a day in whose life we followed in the November issue of NI on ideologies) rang in to say that he'd been on the London Underground at the time. They'd announced Thatcher's departure over the public address system. Unfortunately he was at Bank Station, under the Bank of England, and no-one batted an eyelid. But Fred had been waiting 11 long years for this moment and didn't mean to be deprived of the chance to celebrate, so he rang us.

'I told you so!' he yelled down the 'phone.

'No you didn't!' I replied indignantly, wishing he had. The November magazine might then have claimed a remarkable scoop, a bit-part in history. But I don't suppose I'd have believed him even if he had predicted Thatcher's fall.

'Well, nearly.'

'That's not near enough. Besides, she was stabbed in the back, not defeated. She can say she never lost an election.'

'Good God, you're a gloomy bunch down there. You've been mesmerized by her, forgotten what satisfaction feels like. Cheer up!'

'She used to say that.'

'Yes, it's a funny old world. Remember this time last year? All those revolutions in the East? Who'd have thought then that they'd have booted out the heroine of the Cold War within a year?'

'The Winston Churchill syndrome. He didn't last long after the end of the War either. So what happens next? The end of ideology?'

'Of course not. In fact, I've decided to join a political party.'

'Never! Which one?'

'I haven't decided yet.'

'Fred, you're hopeless!'

'I've just discovered that if you mix red and green you get black. It's what painters do to get a nice colour - gives it more depth, they say. Just right for a new political party.'

'The anarchists have it already. And it denotes death.'

'Well, you could put a saffron-coloured border round it, or something like that.'

'Sure: the Dead Liberal Anarchist Party. Very attractive.'

'Don't mock. I only rang to exchange fraternal greetings on this historic day. Anyway, must dash. Keep in touch.'

'Fred ...!' I wanted to ask after his family, but he'd hung up.

David Ransom

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New Internationalist issue 216 magazine cover This article is from the February 1991 issue of New Internationalist.
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