issue 241 - March 1993
School for nobodies
Improvised classroom under Rio’s Metro
Brazil still has the largest foreign debt of any Third World country. ‘Structural adjustment’ programmes imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are devastating essential public services. The effects are now all too visible on city streets.
The Escrava Anastásia school works on one of Rio de Janeiro’s busiest avenues under an elevated section of the Metro railway. About 20 children study while the trains rattle over their heads.
The school was set up by Aparecida Davi Dias, an ex-housemaid who lives with many other families under this same roof. Two years ago she tried to enrol her daughter in a state school which refused to take her on. So she got hold of a blackboard and chalk, made desks and benches from pieces of wood collected in the streets and opened her own school. Her husband César – a 23-year-old truck driver who is only just literate himself – was the first teacher. Aparecida became one of the first pupils.
Today the situation in the little school is much improved. ‘People stop their cars, ask what we need and then come back with pencils, pens, notepads and books,’ says Aparecida. Rare donations of money are used to buy snacks – some children only come to the classes because they get something to eat.
Kátia Estrella, a lawyer, gives up her free afternoons to teach in the school. Always shouting over the noise, always patient with a class disrupted by pigs, chickens and dogs wandering through the ‘classroom’, Kátia does what she can. But she has no illusions. ‘I am not the Government,’ she says, ‘nor responsible for the life they have to lead. Unfortunately, I cannot solve their problems.’
The tireless Aparecida has also opened a creche to help the mothers who work outside the area. In a crowded wooden shack about 15 babies spend the day sitting on a piece of carpet playing with broken toys. The creche is run by Marlene, an abandoned child aged 11 whom Aparecida met in the street and is now bringing up.
Aparecida once had her own house but it was destroyed by a flood after a thunderstorm. Without any way to buy or rent another she ended up on the street. ‘Since then I have changed a lot,’ she says.
What she has gained in strength she has lost in happiness. ‘I am always so sad that I don’t have any desire to play, to amuse myself… Living under a viaduct is not easy. To society, to the Government, we are nobodies. What happened to my daughter at the school was a lesson to me. Now I never say where I live. If anyone asks my address I lie.’
Even the notorious Rio favelas (slums) are now too expensive for many working people who cannot afford to pay rent. Brazil’s deepening social crisis reinforces prejudice against fragile communities who have nothing left but their own ingenuity.
Storming the Somali beach
The US invasion of Somalia began as a cruel and unnecessary act of charity. Armed to the teeth and posturing for the massed media like the Pirates of Pendleton, the amphibious troops made it clear to the whole world watching that what this intervention communicated was power, not compassion.
Soldiers geared for Anzio or Inchon ‘secured’ an empty hangar by rousing four unarmed men from sleep, screaming at them to spreadeagle on the ground and binding them with handcuffs when they did not obey English orders. It was a while before the Pakistani commander of the UN forces came and identified the men as his own guards, embraced them and set them free.
When US might is deployed abroad it invariably strikes at targets at home. Reagan’s Grenada and Bush’s Panama and Kuwait were in part designed to impress Americans still wary of war after Vietnam. Somalia is meant to soften up the country for more interventions under the New World Order.
Somalis are in dire need of aid and America could have provided packages without the terrifying military wrapping. It is offensive and ultimately unwise for the world’s super-duper power to blaze into one of the world’s poorest places just to make a point. In the same way that the Los Angeles police helped to create the rebellion in South Central over the years by militarizing its presence there, so Washington’s global cops are making war when they should be bringing peace. By the way: When do they plan to Restore Hope to South Central?
Editorial from The Nation, Vol 255, No 22.
Ivory trade set to resume
The ivory trade is set to start again, after being banned since 1989. Botswana, Malawi, Namibia and Zimbabwe have agreed on ways to exclude poached ivory from the market. These countries argue that their well-managed herds have become so big that regulated trade is in the best interests of the species and their economies. A recent aerial survey in Zimbabwe showed that there are 45,000 elephants in Hwange National Park alone, three times as many as the vegetation can support. The Southern Africa Centre for Ivory Marketing has agreed a system for marking legally-culled tusks: a self-adhesive strip with a hologram plus a bar code and a number. They hope that illegal traders and poachers will be unable to copy the official hologram on poached ivory.
From New Scientist, No 1851.
Corporate rap sheet
Ten worst corporations of 1992
A small but feisty US publication, Multinational Monitor, has given its awards for the world’s ten worst corporations of 1992:
Absolute Vodka (Sweden):
‘Absolute Silence’: To this vodka giant for spending huge sums of money on promoting vodka despite the devastating effects of alcoholism.
‘Bulldozing the Union’: To the manufacturer of bright yellow construction machinery for attempting to intimidate its workforce into accepting unreasonable working conditions.
‘Where Butterflies Come First’: To this integrated petroleum company for an appalling environmental record around the world while running an advertising campaign claiming it has a good record with butterflies, eagles and foxes.
Food Lion (US):
‘Clorox the Fish’: To the fastest growing food chain stores in the US with a profit margin three times the industry average, for cheating on food regulations, for example by adding Clorox bleach to old fish to remove the smell.
General Electric (US):
‘Still Bad After All these Years’: To the engineering conglomerate for allegedly continuing to build weapons of mass destruction at the expense of the environment and the health of workers and communities around its facilities.
General Motors (US):
‘Exploding Gas Tanks’: To this fading motor giant for manufacturing and marketing pickup trucks with allegedly hazardous gas tanks leading to over 300 deaths.
Martin Marietta (US):
‘Poisoning Whistleblowers’: To this energy systems company for punishing an employee who voiced concern about health-and-safety issues, ordering him to sit in a room filled with toxic and radioactive chemicals.
‘Mauling Malaysia’: To this multi-tentacled operation for the role of its trading arm, the Mitsubishi Corporation, in importing large quantities of tropical rainforest timber, particularly from Malaysia.
Stone Container (US):
‘Rock Bottom on Labour’: To this Chicago-based producer of paper bags and packages, for contaminating the environment and destroying forests around the world, while recklessly endangering the lives of its workers in the US.
Time Warner / Whittle (US):
‘Selling Kids Short’: To this newly merged media giant and majority owner of Whittle Communications whose Channel One TV news service for schools allegedly hawks products like candy and sneakers to children in the classroom.
For more details contact Multinational Monitor, PO Box 19405, Washington DC 20036, USA.
One legacy of the 1980s
Increase in severe poverty during the decade for the non-elderly. Incomes below 40 per cent of median household income.
Source: Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Washington DC, two-year study of poverty, co-chaired by William Julius Wilson of the University of Chicago and Roger Lawson of the University of Southampton.
From New Statesman and Society, Vol 5 No 230, 1992.
Ever-expanding ozone hole
The ozone hole over Antarctica expanded by 15 per cent in 1992 and is now nearly the size of the entire North American continent, a US space agency has said. Preliminary results of its ozone-mapping project aboard the Nimbus-7 satellite showed the Antarctic ozone hole measuring 23 million square kilometres on 23 September 1992 – up from 20 million square kilometres in 1991. The surface area of the North American continent is 24 million square kilometres. Ozone makes up a thin protective layer in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, absorbing harsh ultraviolet rays from the sun and preventing them from reaching the Earth, where they would cause damage to plants and increase the risk of skin cancer.
From Consumer Currents, No 150.
photo by BRIDGET ANDERSON
Philippines power project threatens ancestral lands
Mount Apo on the Philippines island of Mindanao is the most sacred site for the indigenous people of the rainforest, the Lumads. More than 100,000 Lumads hunt and farm on its slopes, as they have since records began. It is the burial ground of their ancestors and home to their supreme being, Apo Sandawa.
Their land covers a hugely profitable source of geothermal energy which the government-owned Philippines National Oil Company (PNOC) wishes to tap, and more so since the region is short of energy and suffers prolonged electricity cuts. So PNOC plans to dril into the mountain to tap the boiling water and use it to generate electricity.
The Lumads are resisting this desecration. ‘If this project continues,’ says Edtami Mansayagan, a Lumad leader, ‘it will not just mean our physical death through environmental destruction, but also the death of our history, of our people’s dignity, of our dreams as a people.’
Mount Apo is the source of 28 rivers. Any pollution would be disastrous for the whole island. Roads to the site would give access to illegal loggers eager to exploit one of the Philippines’ few remaining rainforests.
Both the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have so far refused to fund the project. But now the Export Import Bank of Japan is backing a bid by a consortium of Japanese companies to build the power plant. The investment and industrial development that the project aims to attract would be predominantly Japanese.
There is now a strong military and paramilitary presence all over Mount Apo. Last year the rebel New People’s Army attacked the drill rig. PNOC has set up its own paramilitary force. Opponents of the project allege harassment, arrest and torture. Two Lumads were killed the day before they were due to give an interview to the local radio station protesting against forced resettlement. If the project continues the bloodshed can only get worse.
Super subs to the Gulf
Russia is selling the Soviet Union’s family silver – in this case three sophisticated Kilo class submarines to Iran. Western powers are worried that the deal will alter the delicate balance of power in the Middle East. For Iran now has the capability to deploy the submarines in the narrow Straits of Hormuz through which 20 per cent of the world’s oil is shipped. The US has decided to deal with the problem by sending an attack submarine with anti-submarine warfare capability and Tomahawk cruise missiles to patrol the Gulf.
From Campaign Against the Arms Trade Newsletter, No 118.
When the buck stops
Already with unprecedented commitments in Bosnia, Somalia and Cambodia, the United Nations has gone on to authorize the creation of a 7,500-strong peace-keeping force for Mozambique. The operation will bring the number of UN troops deployed around the world to 60,000. The intention in Mozambique is to end 14 years of civil war by disarming the Renamo combatants and organizing an election.
From Time, Vol 140, No 26
O Lord our God,
help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells;
help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead;
help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain;
help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire;
help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief;
help us to turn them out roofless with their little children
to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolate land
in rags and hunger and thirst,
sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter;
broken in spirit,
worn with travail,
imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave
and denied it.
For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord,
blast their hopes,
blight their lives,
protract their bitter pilgrimage,
make heavy their steps,
water their way with their tears,
stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet.
We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love,
and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend
of all who are sore beset
and seek his aid with humble and contrite hearts.