issue 229 - March 1992
The murmurs grow louder
Campaign for independence continues
Tibet, one of the last outposts of colonialism, is once again stirring for independence from China. Many Tibetans believe that with the end of the distractions of the Cold War their cause may be better understood internationally. To this end Tibet's spiritual and political leader, the Dalai Lama, has over the last two years met and sought support from a variety of political leaders including the leaders of the US, Costa Rica, Czechoslovakia, Ireland, the UK and the Baltic states. No doubt he was helped in these initiatives by receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
For 40 years, most of them in exile, the Dalai Lama has been fighting for his country, which is as big as Western Europe. Bordering two Asian giants in the Himalayas, Tibet had enjoyed centuries of independence. It was a peaceful Buddhist state where most lived locked into a feudal society with the Dalai Lama's word as law.
The Chinese revolution of 1949 changed all that: Communist troops occupied the country in 1950. Initially the Dalai Lama worked with the Chinese authorities but after an uprising in March 1959 when thousands of Tibetans were killed, he escaped to asylum in India. There a government in exile was established, dealing first and foremost with the 120,000 Tibetan refugees who followed.
The Chinese saw the country as feudal, anachronistic and unexploited. Their word for Tibet indeed, means 'Western storehouse'. Under their occupation more than 6000 Buddhist monasteries - the cultural and spiritual backbone of the country - were destroyed. Hunting, which had formerly been prohibited (Buddhists revere all life), became obligatory. Monks and children were given quotas of 'unnecessary birds, animals and insects to kill: if they failed to produce the evidence, legs or wings, they were beaten. Soldiers killed cats and dogs on sight, because they were 'parasitic'. During the Cultural Revolution 250,000 walnut trees were felled after being declared élitist.
Last year China announced 'the third wave of construction' in Tibet: exploiting vast new oil and chromite reserves and extracting hydro-electric power from one of Tibet's four sacred lakes. Some 7.5 million Chinese are said to have been resettled in the country of six million Tibetans.
Today foreign attention is being focussed again on Tibet, perhaps shamed by the comparison with Kuwait - where the international community was prepared to go to war over one country's annexation by another. So in August 1991 the UN Commission on Human Rights expressed concern over violations of fundamental human rights and freedoms that threaten... the Tibetan people'; while the US Congress declared Tibet 'an occupied country'.
Daya Kishan Thussu/Gemini
Beams and motes
America is the champion of free and (above all) fair trade. Yet it allows in a maximum of 35,292 brassieres from Mexico and no more than 350 tons of alloy steel from Poland. Congress has enacted over 8,000 different taxes and tariffs on imports. The commerce Department labels imports 'dumped' (artificially cheap) if they sell for as little as 0.5 per cent less in the US than in foreign markets. But most of the affected goods come from Third World countries where floating exchange rates make these calculations meaningless.
The Department also insists that foreign companies make at least eight percent profit on their exports: in 1989 13 of America's 15 largest companies failed to meet this test themselves. The institute for international Economics claims that the average American family pays an extra $1,200 a year in needlessly high prices because of import protection barriers.
Source: The Economist, Vol 321 No 7736, 1991
Zionism is no longer racism
It's official. At the end of last year, 16 December, the United Nations General Assembly repealed the resolution it passed in 1975 condemning Zionism - the belief that Jews should have a homeland in Palestine - as a form of racism and a threat to world peace. The vote passed with 111 in favour, 25 against, 13 abstentions and 17 not taking part. The US led the campaign for the repeal of the offending resolution, in 1975 72 countries voted in favour of the anti-Zionist resolution and 35 against with 32 abetentions. This time 29 countries joined the Soviet Union in changing their minds.
Source: The Economist, Vol 321 No 7738, 1991
President Collor of Brazil has announced the demarcation of 94,000 square kilometres of the northern Amazon rainforest as Yanomami territory. This represents an astonishing and largely unexpected victory in the long campaign both inside and outside Brazil to create a Yanomami Park. But critical issues such as the release of funds to demarcate and protect the park remain to b settled. The Yanomami peoples, the largest remaining indigenous group in the Amazon, have been threatened with extinction since invasions of their lands by the military and gold diggers began 17 years ago.
SOURCE: Survival International / Comissio pale criacio do Parque Vanomami - São Paulo
This plaque saves lives
Low key, common sense, baby friendly
If concern about increasing bottle-feeding of babies in the Third World is to go beyond multinational corporation bashing, then positive initiatives are required. The Nestlé boycott 'till they change their ways' goes some of the way. But how to persuade hospitals to get rid of the babyfood companies' presence in the all-important first few days after birth, when mothers first begin to nurse their babies? Here is a low-key but thoroughly common sense initiative just launched by the UN.
It is based on the fact that more than a million children's lives could be saved every year if all mothers gave their babies nothing but breastmilk for the first four to six months of life.
UNICEF and WHO have drawn up a code of practice for all maternity units. All hospitals following the 'Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding' will be designated as 'baby-friendly'. The ten steps?
1. Have a written breastfeeding policy - routinely communicated to all health staff.
2. Train all health staff to implement this policy.
3. Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.
4. Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within half an hour of birth.
5. Show mothers how to breastfeed, and how to maintain lactation even if they are separated from their infants.
6. Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breastmilk, unless medically indicated.
7. Practise rooming-in (mothers and children to remain together) 24 hours a day.
8. Encourage breastfeeding on demand.
9. Give no artificial teats or pacifiers (also called dummies or soothers) to breastfeeding infants.
10. Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or clinic.
The State of the World's Children 1992 Press Kit
Hi! First citizen
If the United Nations represents the world, then the Secretary General is the world's first citizen. So welcome to the new incumbent, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Egypt's Foreign Minister. Boutros-Ghali was chosen because he was from the Third World; France and China had promised to veto someone from the North. He is from Africa and there was strong sentiment from the non-aligned countries that it was Africa's turn for the portfolio. And the US had decided that this was as far as it could go.
Will Boutros-Ohali distinguish himself from his predecessor? A start would be if he could persuade Washington to pay UN dues of more than $485 million owing for years. As it is, his main field of expertise is Africa, where he helped to mediate conflicts in Western Sahara and Liberia on behalf of the Organisation of African Unity. He also accompanied Anwar al Sadat to Camp David. He is a supporter of the privatization wing of Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party. At 68 and in ill health, he is expected to servo only one term.
Source: The Nation, Vol 253. No 21 1991
Battle plan for the killer industry
Over this last decade there has been a 36-percent decline in smoking among US adults. A leaked confidential memo written by executives of the tobacco industry outlines the latest strategy to combat anti-smoking regulations. Rather than flatly opposing all laws, the industry has a new plan to encourage US states to adopt loosely written laws which pre-empt cities from passing tough anti-smoking ordinances. The memo shows how the anti-smoking battle is shifting from Congress to states and cities.
For such a strategy the tobacco lobbyists need to find political support. Indeed political action committees supported by tobacco interests contribute big money to the election campaigns of preferred candidates. The industry gave more than $7.3 million to California state politicians between 1986 and 1990.
Source: Consumer Currents, No 141 1991
Selling off a birthright
Exploitation of the Mosquito Coast
An astonishing deal struck by the Honduran government will give the US-based Stone Container Corporation the right to exploit the unique wilderness forests of the Mosquito Coast on the Caribbean Sea for the next 40 years. The deal threatens untold ecological damage and the extinction of the region's indigenous peoples.
In best Honduran tradition the details of the deal have been kept tightly under wraps. But it is known to involve some 28,000 square kilometres of an area which covers a biosphere reserve designated by the UN, including pristine, uncharted rainforest, unique mixed tropical pine forests, wetlands, salt and fresh water lagoons, a sandy coastline and nearby coral reefs.
The Honduran government has guaranteed to provide Stone, a paper and packaging giant ranked 92nd in the Fortune 500 list of the biggest US companies, with infrastructure and energy. Once opened up by roads the region will inevitably act as a magnet for wealthy ranchers and land-hungry peasants. Oil and chemical waste companies have also been showing keen interest in the region. Biology professor Mirna Main at Honduras University believes the region could yield, over time and without being destroyed, ten times the value of its timber.
Misquitia is also home to groups of indigenous peoples, including Misquito, Tawahka, Pech - and the Garifuna, who are descendants of slaves. The largest group, the Misquito, have mixed with Spanish, Caribbean and even English peoples but they retain a powerful cultural identity based on the Misquito language. Further inland just 1,000 remain of the Tawahka people. One of the proposed roads cuts right through their territory. Over the border in Nicaragua the Contra war long ago destroyed both the environment and culture of 20,000 Tawahka people. Deals are also being done between the Nicaraguan government and Taiwanese business interests to cut down the Nicaraguan 'Mosquito Coast' forests.
Mirna Marin believes that while the US government promotes environmental concerns by the use of conditional loans, US companies coming in through the back door are doing their best to destroy the Honduran environment. 'The US destroys with its feet what it builds with its hands,' she says.
The departmental name given to the Mosquito coast is Gracias a Dios ('Thanks be to God'). Columbus, on first sighting the Honduran coast, is said to have exclaimed: 'Thanks be to God we are clear of the depths.' The Indians and wildlife of the Mosquito coast are doubtless wondering quite what it is they have to thank God for.
Nut price problems
Brazil nuts were too cheep last Christmas, with repercussions for the survival of the Amazonian rainforest. The collapse in prices means that the nut gatherers will have to resort to slash-and-burn farming to survive.
The trees which grow the nuts are found only in unspoilt rainforest, and gathering the nuts is an environmentally friendly way of exploiting the forest.
While the usual price for nuts was about $1.20 a pound, it is now about $0.80 because of the recession in the West - and because of the disastrous crop the previous year, which caused the export of poorer-quality nuts to make up the shortfall. Shoppers remembered just how sour were the previous year's nuts and failed to buy them.
Shippers are refusing to advance credit, and castanheiros are having to look for other ways to make ends meet. Most of them have small clearings in the forest and keep a few cattle. Without any income from the nuts, the logic must be to clear more forest to farm.
Source: New Scientist, No 1800/1801 1991
Shoot-up in the game parks
Widespread killing of animals in Ugandan game parks by soldiers and guerillas is jeopardising government attempts to regenerate the parks after the ruin of years of civil war. Worst affected is Murchison Falls. Army detachments shoot at anything they see and sell the meat, mainly hippo, to surrounding villages. Soldiers have also stolen road-making machinery and other park equipment. In fact army harassment was the reason for the European Community suspension of two park rehabilitation projects. Mgahinga Park in Uganda's south west is occupied by the Rwandese Patriotic Army opposed to Rwanda's President Habyalimana. Gorillas and elephants are among their prey, while in Kidepo Park in the north-west, giraffes are on the run from members of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, which opposes the Khartoum government. Giraffe numbers have fallen from perhaps 80 in 1984 to about five.
Source: Henry Wasswa/Panos Briefs
"There is no lasting substitute for a profound and painful commitment at home to reconstitute our societies, to reform our political systems and to restructure our economies...
Sovereignty was indeed wrested from us as a people. That fact is rooted in our history. Equally undeniable however, is the fact that with the act of recovering that sovereignty...
African leadership in general did not give much thought to the logic and justice of reinvesting that sovereignty in its peoples. "Democracy is not only an attractive option but a rational and inevitable one. This is one act of our internal reparations which leadership on this continent can no longer evade."
Address by General Babangida, President of Nigeria at the
Organisation of African Unity Conference, 1991.
Help us keep this site free for all
New Internationalist is a lifeline for activists, campaigners and readers who value independent journalism. Please support us with a small recurring donation so we can keep it free to read online.