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new internationalist
issue 226 - December 1991



Razor's edge
Killings continue in Brazil

He's a scrawny, ten-year-old boy with a distant look in his eyes. He's lived half his life on Praca da Sé in downtown São Paulo, which is home to some 300 children and the backdrop to frequent violence and death. Sitting in the sun on park benches, sniffing glue or stealing fruit from street stalls, these children are precociously sceptical. 'Nobody can help us. I don't believe them anymore,' says the boy, who will not give his name.

In July 1990, Amnesty International reported on the torture and killing of Brazilian children by police officers and death squads. The report caused resentment in top political circles in Brazil - very little was done, despite the furore.

In July this year 30 children aged between 15 and 17 were murdered or died in armed confrontations with the police on the outskirts of São Paulo, according to a dossier published by O Estado de São Paulo. Pedro Franco de Campos, the Public Security Secretary of São Paulo state, staunchly denies the existence of organized death squads, inside or outside the police force. He also denies any knowledge of a confidential report on Brazil's seven million street children drawn up earlier this year by the federal police. The report says that 4,611 children have been killed over the past three years. In São Paulo alone 918 children were killed by fire arms, stabbing, beating, strangulation and even rape.

Dr Munir Cury, São Paulo's chief district attorney for children, says they are living on a razor's edge. 'There are death squads specializing in killing children and they most certainly are paramilitary organizations,' she says. She knows of many cases of killings by the military police.

Tired of constant hold-ups and theft, shop owners hire contract killers to 'clean up' their neighbourhoods. The children's own families often play a part too. Half Brazil's 40 million children live in families with an aggregate income of no more than $40 per month. For these families the birth of another child can mean an extra source of income as well as another mouth to feed.

According to the federal police report, street children as young as six years old are 'adopted' by adults and set to begging or selling bits and pieces at traffic lights. Sometimes addicted to glue sniffing as a sedative to hunger, such children are easy prey for drug traffickers, who supply them with glue and blackmail them into delivering drugs. They eventually join teenage armed groups and enter the drug trade themselves, competing with other organized street gangs - or even with the police.

Fabiene Rocha / São Paulo

UNICEF have published Brazil: the Fight for Childhood in the City, by Anthony Swift, an excellent brief study available from UNICEF International Child Development Centre, Piazza SS Annunziata 12, 50122 Florence, Italy.

Illustration by HECTOR CATTOLICA

The withdrawal of Soviet subsidies and troops from Cuba is prompting predictions of the immanent collapse of the Castro regime. Fidel Castro has so far showed no signs of making any concessions at all to the 'New World Order' or perestroika.

Stealth condom confusion
The Northrop Corporation and maker of the M7 Stealth Bomber is suing a small condom company for alleged trademark infringement. US-based Stealth Condoms sells red, white and blue condoms in packages shaped like the Stealth Bomber, with the motto 'They'll Never See You Coming'. Northrop Corporation claims that by using the name Stealth, the condom company 'is likely to cause confusion, to cause mistake, or to deceive'. Northrop also fears that its products will be held in 'disrepute' because of the condom use of its name. The owner of Stealth Condoms Inc commented, 'We offer a heck of a lot more protection than the Stealth Bomber, at a lot less cost'.

Women's Health Journal, Chile, June 1991

A mass rape at a mixed Catholic boarding school in Kenya last July, which left 19 schoolgirls dead, has raised a storm of condemnation. But no-one could accuse the deputy headmistress, Joyce Kithiira, of not standing by her men. 'They meant no harm,' she said. 'They just wanted to rape.'

The Independent, London, 30 September, 1991.

Pick a peck of poison
[image, unknown] African countries should refuse many of the donated pesticides they receive, says a scientist from the US Environment Protection Agency. Many of these aid imports are never used, and disposing of them is a growing problem. It is estimated some 7,000 tonnes of surplus pesticides have accumulated in Africa. Morocco with 2,000 tonnes and Sudan with 1,000 tonnes have the greatest stocks.

In 1987 Japan sent Sudan a shipment of methyl bromide, a corn fumigant. This was larger than the projected 10-year demand for the chemical in the country. Sudan now has to get rid of the excess. Japan sometimes requires a recipient country to accept pesticide donations as part of an aid package which includes highly-prized tractors. Benin and Guinea-Bissau have found that such packages of aid have left them stocks of dimethoate and other chemicals that far exceed demand. Other pesticide stocks are left over from campaigns in the 1960s and 1970s against locusts and mosquitoes, and are now rotting away in leaking barrels at storage sites.

New Scientist No 1786 1991

To bomb Greenpeace and be made a Knight
France has awarded a medal to the man convicted of bombing the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland, Aotearoa. Lieutenant Colonel Alain Mafart is to be made a Knight of the Order of Merit, according to Le Figaro. 'Giving an Order of Merit obviously for exemplary military service to a parson convicted of manslaughter in a New Zealand court and sent to jail is frankly disgusting,' according to New Zealand Foreign Minister Don McKinnon. Mafart was a major in the Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure, and part of a team of agents who planted a bomb on Rainbow Warrior on July 10, 1985, just before it was due to sail to the French nuclear testing site at Mururoa Atoll. Killed in the blast was Fernando Pereira, a Dutch Greenpeace activist. This year there have been six underground nuclear blasts at that same atoll.

Rainforest action
'We will stop destroying rainforests - but not yet.' This is the policy of the B & Q British chain of DIV stores. Following pressure from Rainforest Action Groups, B & Q have adopted a deadline set by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and will only sell 'sustainably produced' rainforest timber after 1995. While WWF are pleased with this 'responsible stance on the environment', Rainforest Action Groups who have been regularly picketing B & Q stores are not so happy.

'If B & Q can stop selling unsustainable tropical timber in four years time, they can stop now,' says a Rainforest Action Group spokesperson. This was followed up with 'Who gave WWF the right to sanction wholesale extinction for another four years? 1995 is an entirely arbitrary date. The only rational deadline is now.'

For more information contact:
London Rain forest Action Group, 9 Cazenove Road, Stoke Newington, London N16 6PA.



Nobel Suu Kyi
Prize spotlights repression in Burma

The award of this year's Nobel Peace Prize to Aung San Suu Kyi has focussed much-needed attention on Burma, a country that has increasingly turned its back on the world since independence in 1948. Foreign journalists are banned and the few foreign workers are confined to special quarters from which no radios or newspapers may be removed.

About 12,000 people are thought to be held on political charges. Some 15,000 people have been moved out of their homes in Rangoon and relocated in 'new towns' on the edge of the city. Tribal villages have been burned down and the people forced to move to areas under strict military control. An estimated 60,000 people, mostly from Karen and Mon ethnic villages, have fled into neighbouring Thailand. A further 20,000 are living as refugees in India, Bangladesh and China.

Huge logging, oil and fishing concessions have been offered to foreign firms. Every day between 80 and 100 trucks, each carrying 35 tons of Burmese teak and other hardwoods, cross into Thailand. The exiled opposition group BURMA lists more than 200 firms, predominantly from Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea which have major investments in extractive industries in Burma.

Aung San Suu Kyi returned to the country from Britain to care for her ailing mother in 1988. The daughter of Burma's most celebrated independence hero, she was asked to lead the opposition to the military regime in elections promised for the following year. In July 1989 she was banned from talking to anyone and placed under house arrest. When the elections did take place, in May 1990, the opposition National League for Democracy won more than 80 per cent of the seats in Congress. The military Junta conceded defeat but held onto power and intensified its repression.

The European Community has urged Asian countries to join a ban on arms sales. The UN Secretary General has called for the release of Suu Kyi. The Junta demands that she should renounce her opposition and leave the country. This she refuses to do. Her nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize was made by two people with similar experiences - President Vaclav Harvel and Alexander Dubcek of Czechoslovakia.

Report compiled by David Ransom from information supplied by the Burma Action Group, I a Bonny Street, London NWI 9PE, UK (tel 071 267 9660) and the Burma Rights Group for Action (BURMA), P0 Box 1976, Silom Post Office, Bangkok 10504, Thailand. Contact them for information on the campaign for democracy and human righta in Burma.



Gaddafi's pipe dream
Greening the desert

Moammar Gadaffi's grand scheme to pump billions of gallons of water from beneath Libya's desert to farm-land on the coast has met with partial success. The first phase of the $25 billion project has laid nearly two thousand kilometres of pipe big enough to drive a car through. It was inaugurated in September. There is no lack of hyperbole behind the massive project, billed as 'one of the biggest African construction projects since the pyramids'.

Officially it is called 'the Great Manmade River' (with all the sexism that implies). Yet it is a pipeline. And what a pipeline. Some 1,900 kilometres so far, or 250,000 of the 80 tonne concrete and wire pipe sections all laid end-to-end beneath the desert. This artificial river is as long as the Rhine and brings two million cubic metres of water each day from more than 200 wells sunk far inland to coastal farms. There, existing underground water supplies have almost run out.

Work on the project, overseen by South Korean construction giant Dong Ah, began in 1983. For much of the 1980s this was the largest civil engineering project in the world. More bulldozers and excavators were assembled in Libya than had ever been brought together in one place. The work involved assembling pipe construction plants, building roads to transport the pipe sections, digging, scraping and blasting the 1,900 kilometres of seven-metre deep trench in which to lay the pipe, and the construction of pumping stations and vast reservoirs to control the water flow.

[image, unknown]

The project is tapping vast reserves of water discovered beneath the Sahara by oil prospectors. Much of the water percolated through the sandstone to impervious rocks about 30,000 years ago during the last ice age. Then, what is now a desert was a land of tall grasses and crocodile-infested swamps.

Environmentalists are worried that within 50 years they may well have taken out so much water, the wells will run dry. And Egypt protested too, claiming some of the water was theirs. However when Gadaffi argued that the resulting irrigation on the coastal farms would provide jobs for a million immigrant Egyptian farmworkers, Cairo's protest stopped.

As long as the oil money does not run out, work will continue well into the next century towards the goal of food self-sufficiency for Libya. The aim is to eventually irrigate 2,000 square kilometres of the country and produce more than a million tonnes of wheat a year and , make the rain-less country an exporter of food.

Whether more food exports are needed is another matter. The European Community, Australian and North American grain and meat surpluses are already an embarrassment. However the Korean contracting company is credited with doing a superb construction job under terrible desert conditions. And there are a lot worse things for Arab oil money to be spent on than bringing water and food to the community.

Allan Thompson/Gemini

Stand and deliver
[image, unknown] Elephants have been holding up cars and lorries on national highway Number 39 in Assam, north-east India, in search of fruit - particularly sugar cane and bananas. At first the elephants fed on sugar cane stalks fallen from passing trucks. Then the wild animals started approaching vehicles. Gradually drivers started carrying fruit for them. When tourists heard about this, they began making detours to see and feed the beasts.

The natural concord was broken earlier this year when a truck driver offered bananas to a lone elephant and panicked when his hand was taken along with the fruit. His screams frightened the elephant and the jumbo ran away with the bananas and the hand. On further occasions drivers who did not pay up when being confronted by the animals with trunks outstretched, found their cars being shoved to the side of the road.

Now vehicles travel in convoys with armed escorts. Ahead of the convoys will go tame elephants to see off any of their wild counterparts that might be lingering with intent.

Panos Briefs


"Human wrongdoing is inextricably linked to social
deprivation, poverty, poor housing and illiteracy."

George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury,
on inner city rioting in Britain.

"Spending $1 billion on guided missile production creates about 12,100 jobs. But spending the same amount on pollution control yields 22,000 jobs and on education 84,700 jobs."

The Pacifist.

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New Internationalist issue 226 magazine cover This article is from the December 1991 issue of New Internationalist.
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