issue 232 - June 1992
ROGER HUTCHINGS / CAMERA PRESS
Coup revives Tonton Macoutes
On 30 September 1991 Haiti's short-lived democracy came to an abrupt end. Brutal repression has followed - worse even than the 30-year 'Papa Doc' Duvalier dictatorship, according to some eyewitness accounts.
Ministers, journalists, priests, community workers, human rights activists, students and other supporters of the deposed President Jean Baptiste Aristide have been the targets of selective repression. More general and widespread repression covers the country, aimed at stamping out any form of criticism of the illegal government. Pro-Aristide radio stations have been closed down, the TV and press are all in the hands of the Government. Communication with the outside world has become virtually impossible.
Meanwhile, Radio VSN57 ('Volunteers for National Security' - the 57 refers to the year when the Duvalier dictatorship began) urges the remobilization of Duvalier's paramilitary force, the Tonton Macoutes, and broadcasts the names, addresses and phone numbers of Aristide supporters. One broadcast went as follows: 'We need to neutralize... all those who organize chaos in this country... crush them, eat them, drink their blood...'
According to a source inside Haiti, total deaths in the first few days of the military coup were between 1,000 and 1,500 - in one hospital alone, 300 deaths were reported on the first day. Port-au-Prince, Cap Haitien and Jeremie have now become ghost towns where people prefer to stay indoors rather than face the military's violence on the streets.
The Vatican was the only state in the world not to condemn the coup. China has since vetoed any move by the UN towards military intervention or a multinational peacekeeping force, arguing that this would constitute interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. An economic embargo has been in force from October, but commercial ships constantly leave Miami for Haiti under the guise of humanitarian missions.
At least 14,000 Haitians have so far fled in boats, heading for the US. Most have been refused entry and held in detention camps - some have been sent back to Haiti. Aristide himself, now in exile, has confirmed that repatriated refugees have been arrested and beaten. But Richard Boucher, State Department spokesperson, claims that 'we have no documented reports or evidence that people who have been repatriated have been subject to persecution'.
The US has close links with the Haitian army, which it created while occupying the island between 1915 and 1934. Three quarters of Haitian trade is with the US. In February the US moved to soften its trade embargo, under pressure from US businessmen - Haitian factories assembling parts for US manufacturers have been badly affected.
Father Antoine Adrien, a Roman Catholic priest and close adviser to Aristide comments: 'I don't think the US wants Aristide back. It is obviously because Aristide is not under their control. He is not their puppet.' So the prospect of direct US intervention to support, rather than overturn, democratic government in the region looks unlikely. The people of the poorest country in the Americas have been left to their own devices.
Angelina Guillochon / Costa Rica
Source: The Union Bank Survey
Felling Mr Clean
Brazil's outspoken Environment Secretary gets the sack
DR José Lutzenberger, the internationally-renowned Brazilian ecologist and Environment Secretary, has been sacked by President Fernando Collor de Mello following a series of public clashes with his subordinates at IBAMA, the Federal Environment Institute, over accusations of corruption in the agency.
Speaking after his dismissal, Dr Lutzenberger claimed he was the victim of a 'vicious campaign' by timber companies and their allies within IBAMA. He said he had even wQrried that his life might be in danger from the 'powerful forces' he offended by ordering the suspension of all logging permits a month ago, pending investigation of corruption allegations.
Though Dr Lutzenberger himself blames pressure from logging interests for his removal, his downfall may be linked to other outspoken declarations. He recently clashed with World Bank Chief Economist Lawrence Summers over the latter's recommendations for toxic wastes and polluting industries to be exported to the Third World, and criticized Maurice Strong, Secretary General of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) for asserting that $150 billion would need to be spent on environment issues. Dr Lutzenberger stated that 'large sums attract corruption'.
This statement was interpreted as a warning to potential donors not to invest in large-scale environmental aid for Brazil, and led the Environment Secretary to be accused of undermining his own government's attempts to raise funding for environmental programmes. Dr Lutzenberger later denied that he had been referring specifically to Brazil, but emphasized his worry at the possible negative impact of 'big money', declaring that 'with environmentally correct policies, we may end up needing less money rather than more'.
President Collor's choice for an interim Environment Secretary, entrusted with steering the department through UNCED - which takes place in Rio de Janeiro in June - fell on the current Education Minister, Dr José Goldemberg. A nuclear physicist and former rector of the University of São Paulo, Dr Goldemberg is a respected scientist but has few friends in the Brazilian environmental movement, where he is seen as a technocrat and advocate of nuclear power. He clashed with Lutzenberger last year after publicly opposing the demarcation of the territory of the Yanomami Indians as a Reserve.
One of Dr Goldemberg's first actions in his new job was to fly to New York and try to smooth over the consequences of his predecessor's declarations on the risks of corruption where large-scale funding was involved. His mission was to reassure multilateral donors, such as the World Bank and the G-7 countries, that it's 'business as usual' in Brazil.
Alex Shankland / São Paulo
Each year 60 million attempts are made to telephone Cuba from the US; only 500,000 get through. Just 79 lines are available because, since 1962, the US has prohibited all commercial dealings with Fidel Castro's government. Since 1966 the Cubans have not received their share of the price of the calls, estimated to be worth at least $60 million. Now American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) wants to open up communications with Cuba, and with Vietnam and North Korea too. If accepted, the AT&T offer would make possible 750,000 calls to Cuba using an outdated cable salvaged from beneath the Atlantic, where it once carried calls between the US and the UK.
Source: The Economist vol 322 no 7751
The quality of human semen is declining worldwide, according to professors Niels Kieding and Nils Erik Skakkeback of the University of Copenhagen. At a recent WHO meeting they presented data on some 15,000 men, showing that from 1938 to 1990 average sperm counts declined by almost half. In 1938 the average was 113 milion sperm per millilitre of semen; today it is 66 million. A decline of this magnitude in such a short time, says Skakkeback, must be caused by environmental conditions rather than by genetic predisposition.
Source: Tine Eiby, 'Klassekampen', Oslo
The Philippines has a chronic, nation-wide power shortage. Attempts to meet the shortfall with nuclear power have been foiled since the $2.1 billion Bataan plant was shut down in 1986 because the site lay near two geological faults and within 50 kilometres of Mount Pinatubo. The Government is now reported to be negotiating a new barter deal with the Russian authorities: to buy six nuclear submarines and use their reactors as power stations.
Source: James Pattison / Philippine Resource Centre
Persecution by numbers
Buddhists kick out Hindus
When Dal Man Gurung was told to report to the Bhutan authorities at his birthplace he had no worries. His family had lived in Bhutan for almost 150 years, although he is an ethnic Nepali. To his dismay he found himself classified as 'Number Seven' - an illegal immigrant - and told to leave the country within 24 hours.
Dal Man is just one of tens of thousands of ethnic Nepalis who have left Bhutan over the past two years, some expelled by the Government, others fleeing restrictions and intimidation by the police. At the root of it all is Bhutan's attempt to keep at bay the Hindu culture and maintain the dominance of the Drukpa people.
In the Government's recently introduced seven-point status system, Number One is reserved for those of pure Drukpa blood. These people, settled in the north of the country, are of Tibetan stock and form the aristocracy. They are Buddhists, wear the baku dress and speak the Dzongkha language.
Over the past two centuries and more the southern part of the country has slowly been settled by ethnic Nepalis, many of them encouraged to come by the Drukpa to do their unskilled jobs. These people are of a lower socio-economic status and are largely Hindus, with their attendant customs, culture and dress.
The problems began when the Nepali population grew at a faster rate than the Drukpa, helped along by a steady influx of new immigrants. They now form half the population. New laws were introduced forcing everyone to wear baku dress, adopt the Drukpa hairstyle - short for women: Hindus traditionally wear long hair - and speak Dzongkha. In response the largely Nepali-backed Bhutan People's Party began to push for equal representation on the National Assembly, for multi-party democracy and for the freedom to practice their own culture.
Reprisals soon followed. Activists have been thrown in jail and beaten, women raped and families press-ganged into working for the army. Even those with valid citizenship have been fleeing. But, despite their treatment in Bhutan, most refugees want to return. 'We want to go back home,' they say.
Joy Stephens / Kathmandu
JOHN BLAU / CAMERA PRESS
BAT Industries, one of the world's largest tobacco conglomerates, has announced profits for 1991 that 'comfortably broke the one billion pounds sterling barrier for the first time'. According to Chairman Sir Patrick Sheehy, 'Lucky Strike made exciting progress in Europe and Latin America, as well as maintaining, along with Kent, its impressive performance in the Far East... State Express 555 continued to shine in the Far East...'
Source: BAT Industries Preliminary Announcement, year to 31/12/91
Beware of white coats!
White coats could pose a health hazard to the world at large, according to a group of Dutch researchers. These symbols of the efficient, well-managed laboratory provide the perfect escape route for large numbers of possibly dangerous, genetically engineered bacteria. They survive on wet coats that dry at the laboratory before being sent to the laundry. The first step of a commercial wash is to soak the coats in water at 35 degrees - just the right condition to release the E.coli bacterium widely used in genetic engineering. The water, with added E.coli, is flushed straight into the sewerage system.
Source: New Scientist no 1813
'There's lots of money floating around, and there's not
much to spend it on in a country like Burma.'
Barry J Shea, Pepsi-Cola International vice president for South East Asia, announcing
the launch of Pepsi in the Myanmar / Burma dictatorship on November 22 1991.
'I, who all my life have been sensitive to banal phrases, who criticized their content, now
feel an involuntary temptation to resort to such phrases for professional reasons.'
Vaclav Havel, President of Czechoslovakia
'Nowadays it's increasingly difficult to take photographs in the street. Everyone says
they 'own' their image. If you don't have a lawyer in tow you risk being sued.'
Henri Cartier-Bresson, photographer and a founder of the Magnum
photo agency, explaining why he now prefers to draw.