issue 227 - January 1992
One year on
Palestinians hounded in Kuwait
A year has passed since the Gulf war A consumed our attention. Now it seems diminished and remote. Yet millions continue to suffer the war's consequences. The prospect that they will obtain relief has diminished along with the passing of the spotlight of world attention.
Palestinians living in Kuwait prior to the Iraqi invasion are among the continuing victims. After the liberation there was a flurry of attention to some of the more flagrant Kuwaiti abuses against Palestinians and others accused - generally on the basis of little or no evidence - of collaborating with Iraqis or merely sympathizing with them. But when the Kuwaiti government commuted the death sentences imposed upon some accused of collaboration, interest in Kuwaiti justice abated.
According to Middle East Watch there have been what would be called 'death squad' killings if they had taken place in Central America, disappearances, clandestine burials, torture, rape in detention, prolonged incommunicado detention, horrifying conditions of imprisonment and farcical trials. Of about 5,800 persons detained since liberation, at least 3,000 remain in detention today. A much larger number of Palestinians and others who resided in Kuwait have been expelled or barred from returning to the country. About 180,000 Palestinians fled during the Iraqi occupation and have not been permitted to return.
Having whipped up support for the war by recounting horror stories about Iraqi atrocities against Kuwaitis - some of them real, others imaginary - the Bush Administration hardly distinguishes itself by ignoring abuses by the Kuwaitis. At a press conference on July 1 last year President Bush said: 'The war wasn't fought about democracy in Kuwait. The war was fought about aggression against Kuwait.'
Aryeh Neier / The Nation
Private health costs
Surgeons in the US are usually paid on a fee-for-service or piece-rate basis. This is the land of private health care. Statistics show that people there are twice as likely to have an operation as people in Britain, where there is still a National Health System and surgeons are paid simply a salary for doing their NHS work. American surgeons who are paid salaries have much lower operating rates than their fee-for-service colleagues.
The connection between the profit motive and unnecessary medical operations continues within the UK. Data shows that British women in the private beds in NHS hospitals have more than twice as many caesarean births as those in the non-paying beds. It could be that doctors have the financial incentive to operate. It could also be because some patients with private health insurance can claim for a caesarean but not a normal delivery.
Which? Way to Health, June 1991
By mid-August 1991, the world price of coffee had fallen to $900 a ton, little more than its price in July 1975 and well below the cost of production for most of the 50-plus coffee-growing countries. The $15 billion a year world coffee market is dogged by oversupply. World-wide coffee production in 1989/90 was around 93 million 63-kilo bags, but only 83 million bags were bought.
Attempts are being made to resuscitate the International Coffee Agreement which, until it collapsed in 1989, supported prices by regulating the supply of coffee beans coming onto the world market. The agreement collapsed partly because Brazil, which had a quota under the ICA amounting to 30 per cent of world trade, would not agree to a quota reduction enabling other coffee-growing countries to increase their much smaller quotas. The subsequent free-for-all saw countries dumping on the international markets all their stock which had previously built up.
International Agricultural Development Vol 11 No 5 1991
Spare time blues hit middle-aged men
The Centre for the Shortening of Working Hours in Japan is struggling to change the habits of a nation of compulsive workaholics. But a campaign for shorter working hours and a five-day week seems doomed to fail. Workers need the money - and a national guilt complex is felt by all those daring enough simply to clock in and out.
The average working year in Japan is 2,044 hours compared with 1,600 hours in Germany and 1,900 in the UK and US. Average monthly overtime is 28.8 hours, rising to as much as 50 hours. Yet a recent survey by the Trade Union Confederation revealed that only 24 per cent of Japanese workers would prefer shorter hours.
The reluctance to take time off work is particularly pronounced among older managers whose careers coincide with the period of high-growth post-war economic boom. These are the workers who believe that time spent at work is what matters, not actual results. Toyota Motors have introduced a policy designed to make managers take 10 consecutive days off per year. The move is seen as being partly a response to the Karoshi, or sudden death from overwork, of vice-chairman Tsutomu Oshimo.
Even if employees are cajoled into taking holidays, many are at a loss to know what to do with themselves. The National Recreation Association tries to help middle-aged men to 'discard their sense of guilt at having spare time and enjoying themselves', according to spokesperson Akira Asano. Some still suffer from the trauma of only working five and a half days a week - the weekend depressives' who phone the National Institute for Mental Health for guidance.
A recent article in a Tokyo newspaper claimed, under the headline 'Unattractive Men Cause Declining Population in Japan', that marriage is no longer appealing to Japanese women because of the drone-like prospective spouses on offer. Keiko Higuchi, a professor of women's studies at Tokyo Kasei University, believes that 'unless people put their private lives before corporate ones, their whole life will yield nothing'.
Philip Short / Gemini
Latin American 'soaps' strike back
Flooded with slick TV programming from the US and Europe, developing countries often feel overwhelmed by foreign cultural products. But producers of Latin American soap operas, known as telenovelas, are launching a remarkably successful counter-attack, seducing audiences and penetrating tough markets with their steamy exports. Audiences at home love them too.
Like their 'soap opera' counterparts in the US and Europe, telenovelas provide an irresistible blend of sex, drama and strong emotions to attract their growing international following. While hardly culture, they do possess special attributes that explain their ability to compete. In recent years Brazil's TV Globo has been selling 40-minute episodes to Italy for $3,000 to $6,000, whereas half an hour of US programming can cost as much as $48,000.
Latin American TV companies have also succeeded in broadening the middle-class target audience aimed at by the original 'soap operas'. Telenovelas reach all classes, including the urban poor, men as well as women. Interest in working-class and lower-middle-class characters contrasts sharply with the North American obsession with the lifestyles and values - or lack of them - of the rich.
Plots, characters, settings and themes are fine-tuned to attract the largest audience. Testing is continuous, sometimes daily and door to door. 'The novela is like life,' says Gustavo Basalo Sucre, programming director of Radio Caracas TV. 'You don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. Even the actors are surprised.' A popular character's role may be expanded, an unpopular one's changed or reduced, and so on according to the survey results.
It's an idealized daily life, for sure, where amazing coincidence is almost routine and justice always triumphs. When military dictatorships reigned in much of Latin America, scripts emphasizing political freedom and resistance against oppression were not let into Argentina, Chile and other military-dominated countries.
Even today Brazilian scripts must be submitted to the censors, who have frequently demanded the excision of entire chapters or scenes deemed politically offensive - nudity, however, does not seem to bother them. The tradition of machismo demands that heroines, though not heroes, must always be pure and virginal. 'Serious' treatment of urban poverty, on the other hand, generally offends against the constraints of the international market.
Telenovelas now dominate prime time in the huge Spanish-speaking US market. The next step is to gain a larger share of the English-language audience. And that's coming. Soon the Venezuelan production Topacio will be seen on Fox Television - the first novela dubbed into English for the US market.
Geoffrey Fox / Development Forum
Excavating the tip
Excavating landfill tips is the speciality of Bill Rathje, archaeologist from the University of Arizona. He is bound for Toronto to dig up three landfills there. The research is about the city's curbside recycling scheme which has been running for several years. The aim is to see how much of the rubbish conscientiously recycled by Toronto's good citizens still ends up on the same tip as everything else.
Surprises from Bill Rathje's research so far include the small proportion of rubbish which is non-biodegradable plastics. They account for less than 5 per cent of the weight and 12 per cent of the volume. The biggest element in North American landfills is paper, particularly telephone directories. It takes up about half the total space of the trash.
Worse still is the lack of biodegrading - rotting - which occurs. The landfills are too well-sealed and too dry. Scarcely 25 per cent of what is tipped, rots. And the rotting almost stops after 15 years. Mr Rathje's excavations have found a head of lettuce from 1982 which looked better than many do in the fridge after a week. Furthermore, biodegradable paper often maintains its pristine condition. Rathje has found newspapers dating back to 1952 looking like they were hot off the press.
Saudis arm Afghans with Gulf war castoffs
A recent US-Soviet agreement to halt arms supplies to their respective allies in Afghanistan was threatening to bring everyone to the negotiating table. Now however, Saudi Arabia is sending more weapons to the Islamic fundamentalist groups of the mujahideen. Since the end of the Gulf War these Afghan guerrillas have been receiving captured Iraqi weapons including 300 T62 tanks, anti-aircraft guns, and 120 and 130 mm artillery. With the current stockpiles fighting could last another three or four years.
It is all confusing for the moderate mujahideen factions, who can spend as much time fighting the hardline factions as they do the Kabul government forces. For whilst the moderates had supported the Coalition Forces during the Gulf War, those same hardline factions had supported Saddam Hussein.
Far Eastern Economic Review, Vol 154 No 40
Japanese household names linked to logging
Japanese mod cons may have swept the world, but Japan's companies are also market leaders in the headlong rush to log the rainforests - particularly in South-East Asia.
Fortunately for would-be boycotters each one of the major Japanese logging companies is inextricably bound through the Zaibastu corporate structure to well-known brand names. Sharp, NEC, Pentax, Toshiba and Nikon all figure largely as associates of the companies whose activities make Japan the world's largest importer of rainforest timber.
Having virtually exhausted supplies in the Philippines and some of the Indonesian islands, the loggers are now focussing on the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, on Borneo. At current logging rates, it has been calculated that Sarawak will be logged out within four to six years. Loggers are already moving into Papua New Guinea, Myanmar and the Solomon Islands.
As the largest trading house in Japan, if not the largest logger, Mitsubishi has been chosen as the main target for protests. Friends of the Earth Holland have been demonstrating outside Mitsubishi Motors, and in several countries campaigners are trying to set up telephone and fax blockades of Mitsubishi offices.
Campaign supporters are asking people to write to associated companies telling them politely why they feel the enjoyment of purchasing their products is tarnished by the logging activities of their associates.
Rob Harrison / Ethical Consumer and The Globe
Send letters of complaint to:
Mitsubishi Corp, 2-6-3 Maunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Mitsubishi Motors, 4-21-1 Shimo Maruko, Ota-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Mitsubishi Electric, 2-2-3 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Nikon Corp, 3-2-3 Marunouchi, Ohiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan
AKAI Electric, P0 Box 21, Tokyo International Airport, Tokyo, Japan
The mod-con log league
Source: Padfield and Kuroda
Out of site
One of the less impressive aspects of the flimflam that surrounded last October's World Bank / IMF meeting in Bangkok was the Thai army engineers. They forcibly cleared a slum along a railway track to build a new road providing back door access to the conference venue. No resettlement site was provided for those evicted, and local journalists were warned not to report on the evictions. Interestingly enough, during the conference almost no vehicles used the road and most of the time barbed wire blocked the rear entrance to the conference hall.
Far Eastern Economic Review Vol 154 No 43 1991
'Indians discovered the colonial pirate Christopher Columbus who was hoplessly lost on the high seas. For that we continue to suffer 500 years of deceit and treachery from these colonial intruders who have invaded our sacred lands. In retrospect, we, the Indian people, would be better off had we taken Columbus and his ragtag crew by the seats of their ragged trousers and thrown them back into the sea.'
Wabun-Inini aka Vernon Bellecourt,
Anishinabeg Nation, North America.
'You needn't kill everyone to complete the job... We instituted Civil Affairs in 1982 which provides development for 70 per cent of the population, while we kill 30 per cent.'
Former Guatemalan Defence Minister, General Hector Alejandro Gramajo,
quoted in Harvard International Review, Spring 1991