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new internationalist
issue 233 - July 1992



Finger in the dyke
Crossing the Rio Grande

The tense and chaotic US-Mexican border is a symbolic frontier between the First and Third Worlds. Recent goings- on have surprised even seasoned border watchers.

Potential immigrants from troubled nations of Central and South America are becoming ever more ingenious in their bid to reach the supposedly better life offered in the US.

One technique they use at the crossing near Tijuana, in Mexico, is to gather in their hundreds, wait for the US border guards' change of shift when only a skeleton staff is on duty, then rush across in droves.

The few hapless officers are over-whelmed and can only catch one or two people, whilst the majority of the immigrants dive for safety and anonymity at the San Ysidro shopping centre on the US side of the border.

A more individualistic and less successful method of making it to the US is to hurtle through the checkpoints at high speed. Three Mexicans who tried this recently in their Chevrolet van were pursued for 60 miles by border patrol cars and were eventually driven off the road near Los Angeles by a civilian driver with news helicopters circling overhead broadcasting the chase live on afternoon TV.

The risks are high. A report by the American Friends Service Committee accused US guards of widespread abuse of the rights of Latin Americans. It documented 392 recent case studies involving psychological pressure, sexual assaults, and unjustified shootings, including the killing of a 17-year-old shot three times at point blank range while trying to cross near San Diego.

Further, California Highway Patrol statistics show 250 illegal immigrants have been hit by cars in California since 1987 - 153 of them fatally. This prompted the Patrol to ask Mexico's boxing hero Julio Cesar Chavez to star in an advertizing campaign warning border crossers of the perils of walking on highways.

Andy Cawthorne / Mexico City

Illustration by HECTOR CATTOLICA Tips for gentle tourism
1. Be a considerate guest. Remember - your vacation resort is someone else's home.
2. Save precious natural resources. Try not to waste water; and switch off lights and fans when you go out.
3. Be kind to wildlife. Loud music, bonfires, litter and off-mad jeep driving can disturb - or destroy - wildlife.
4. Be adventurous! Get out and meet the local people by walking or cycling and eating in local restaurants. You'll get to know the country and people much better.
5. Always try and make an effort to learn something of the local language.
6. Always ask before taking photographs or video recordings of people. If you don't speak the language - just a smile and a gesture will be understood and appreciated.
7. Support traditional local skills and businesses by buying authentic crafts made in the area ... but do help safeguard nature by avoiding souvenirs made from ivory, fur, skins, coral or any other wildlife.

In Focus 3 (Tourism Concern)

Illustration by CLIVE OFFLEY. Mexico opens health umbrella
Government health authorities have been running a campaign to vaccinate every one of Mexico's 10.5 million children against polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, tuberculosis and measles, by October 12, 1992. This would be exactly 500 years after Columbus set foot in the Caribbean, bringing with him the 'European' diseases that have since killed millions throughout Latin America.

The programme which employs more than 200,000 people sends teams on horseback and in boats to the country's remote jungle and mountain communities. They have been successful in reaching more than 80 per cent of the country's children up to five years old. Funded jointly by the government and donations from international organizations, the programme is being held up as a model to the Third World by the World Health Organization.

Andy Cawthorne



Refugees flee army repression

Flight from fear across the Naf river: 250,000 are cared for in impoverished Bangladesh.

MYANMAR'S (BURMA'S) military, which refused to hand over power to the government elected in 1990, continues its rule of terror while hundreds of thousands of people flee the country. Villagers are conscripted as porters to carry army supplies and build roads without any pay. Women porters are often raped. Soldiers steal local food supplies and burn homes and crops.

Across Burma's eastern border in Thailand, there are at least 65,000 refugees in about 50 village camps. They come from the Karen, Mon and Karenni ethnic groups. Of these, the Mon, numbering 12,000, are under increased pressure from the Thai authorities to return. A Thai company ran into trouble operating in an area where logging is prohibited by the Mons.

On the Bangladesh border each day scores of Rohingyas or Burmese Muslims cross the River Naf under the glare of a scorching sun. Bangladesh now houses about 250,000 of these refugees. Ten refugee camps have been built, and more are being constructed. Help has started to arrive from the Red Cross, Christian Aid, Medecins Sans Frontieres, and a host of other agencies.

The Bangladeshis are bound to feel the pressure on their own resources. Already, as some officials point out, the refugees are damaging the forests, cutting trees and saplings to meet their daily needs for fuel and shelter. One official said, 'It is a huge and nightmarish task, managing these people. We know we have to help them and we are doing that... but for how long?'

Roushman Zaman (Gemini) / Burma Rights Movement for Action / Christian Aid/Exile, 58



Growing pains
New report links numbers to economic growth

This year's report from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) emphasizes the relationship between economic and population growth and comes up with some novel findings.

The years from 1965 to 1980 were favourable to economic growth. Over the period 36 nations saw their average income per person grow at more than three per cent a year.

Of these 'economic miracles' 17 countries had population growth rates of 2.5 per cent a year or less, while 19 had rates higher than that. In the 1965-80 period there was no correlation, negative or positive, between economic and population growth rates. But the fortunes of the two groups diverged widely in the harsher climate of the 1980s.

Out of the 19 whose populations were growing faster than 2.5 per cent a year between 1965 and 1980, only 10 achieved positive income growth in the 1980s. Four of them - Algeria, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, and Kenya - barely managed to do so, with incomes growing at 0.5 per cent or less.

Only five grew faster than this. One was Thailand, which even during the early period began one of the world's fastest drops in birth rates ever. Three others were the very small countries of Swaziland, Botswana and Oman, exporters of primary commodities. Botswana in any case ranks among the lowest fertility and infant mortality rates, and the highest levels of female education, in sub-Saharan Africa. The fifth was Israel.

By contrast, the 17 countries where population growth was growing slower than 2.5 per cent a year in 1965-80 saw much better growth in incomes in the 1980s. Their average income growth rate was 2.4 per cent per year. No fewer than 15 had positive growth in incomes of at least 0.8 per cent a year. Only two saw per capita incomes decline. One of them was Nigeria, where oil revenues fell drastically and population growth apparently speeded up considerably in the 1980s. The other was Trinidad and Tobago, which was also very badly affected by declining oil prices.

The State of World Population 1992/UNFPA

For richer for poorer
The UN estimates that the percentage of poor people in developing countries fell from 52 per cent in 1970 to 44 per cent in 1985. But because population grew rapidly over this period the actual numbers of poor people rose from 944 million to 1,156 million.

. In Africa from 166 million to 273 million
. Latin America from 130 million to 204 million
. Asia has the biggest share of the world's poor at 737 million despite a big drop in the percentage of poor people, from 56 per cent to 43 per cent

[image, unknown]


'Resettlement' fiasco follows dam flooding

Disease of development: fighting malaria created by the dam and stagnant water of Tucurui.

The Tucurni dam in southern Para state, Brazil, inspired the film The Emerald Forest. The dam flooded an area of Amazon rainforest the size of Holland and forced the resettlement of 24,000 people.

'When Electro-Norte built the dam a company called Capemi was supposed to clear the trees from the area to be flooded, but it didn't,' says Lucia Helena Pereira. She works for the Tucurui Rural Workers Union, and she's sitting in a canoe on the stagnant waters of the reservoir. 'It was a big scandal at the time. But nobody had any idea how bad it was going to be.' For the rotting trees released foul gases and together with the still waters encouraged a nuisance: mosquitoes bred in their millions.

In some areas people claimed they were bitten as many as 500 times an hour. A wave of infectious diseases followed. People began to die from malaria, leishmaniasis, meningitis and Chagas disease. It has become virtually impossible to work the land.

'They say they built this dam to bring electricity, but all we have received is mosquitoes and flies,' says a local farmer. 'We didn't get any electricity - only problems.'

The Union is now campaigning to get compensation and relocation from the afflicted areas. It organized the occupation of Electro Norte's offices in August last year. Around 8,000 women, men and children are now camped outside the main gate and have vowed to stay put until they get satisfaction.

Returning to their land is impossible. 'The place still has the stink of poison put down three years ago,' says Maria de Jesus da Silva Rodrigues. 'It was bad for the plants, bad for the animals and so I'm sure it is bad for us too. We won't accept any more poison. What's the point? They say they have put wire netting over our windows, but you ye got to go out to work on the land or you starve. You can't stay a prisoner in your own home.'

Anne-Marie Sweeney / Oxford Film and Video Makers

If you wish to support the Tucurui Rural Workers Union write (preferably with a donation) to:
Sindicato dos Trabalhadores Rurais do Tucurul -
STR, Av 7 de Setembro no 125, Tucurui, Pare CEP 68460, Brazil.

The video Amazon Sisters is available from:
Oxford Film and Video Makers, The Stables, North Place, Oxford 0X4 1XX, UK.

Killer Cards
It's hard for a mere baseball card to compete with the latest offering in US candy stores: 'Killer cards' that feature mass murderers with graphic descriptions of their crimes. Some New York State legislators are seeking to ban their sale to minors. But publisher Dean Mullaney defends his product. 'Silence of the Lambs won the Academy Award, but it's not a glorification of cannibalism.'

Time Vol.139, No.18 1992

Indonesia cannot afford to start sustained yield forestry by the year 2000, Forestry Minister Hasjrul Harahap told leaders of a group of non-government organizations. He advised local NGOs to take care in relations with foreign NGOs, and claimed that Greenpeace, was a 'multinational organization accountable only to itself, with large revenues and a brilliant ability to manipulate the press and the public.'

Rachmat Hassan/Panos

Scientists from Russia's Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry have revealed that at least nine scientists at the Institute died of starvation during the siege of Leningrad in 1941-42. While starving, they tended several tons of seeds representing 40,000 varieties of field crops. Their story has surfaced as the Institute's future looks uncertain, with 50 per cent budget cuts and takeovers of several outlying research centres by newly independent states.

New Scientist No.1819, 1992

PS Earth Summit
No grand outcome was predicted for the Earth Summit held last month. But pre-Summit discussions between diplomats eager to represent their countries' interests set new precedents. As disagreements increased, the offending words in documents were placed in brackets. In some documents, only 'and' and 'but' were left unbracketed. Sometimes there were brackets within brackets, and squabbles over whether a square or round bracket was appropriate. Diplomatic history was made, according to Dutch representative Leon Mazairac, when after two days of argument a comma was put inside its own bracket.

Niala Maharaj, New York/Gemini


'If UN members can impose sanctions on Iraq and South Africa,
environmental pollution and wasteful consumption are no less an act of
war and a violation of the human rights of the people of the South.'

Maneka Gandhi, former Minister of State
for Environment and Forests in India.

"They say, 'Why do you always bring up the past?' Why do whites
always bring up their past? They are always telling you when they
came over here and what kind of time they had. They never let you
forget their history, but they want you to forget yours. Is it so painful
for them to think what they have done to us? Does that bother them?"

Maggie Holmes, an American black in domestic service
for most of her life, talking to historian Studs Terkel.

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New Internationalist issue 233 magazine cover This article is from the July 1992 issue of New Internationalist.
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