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new internationalist
issue 248 - October 1993



Brutal harvest
Army and ‘Shining Path’ target poor communities

‘Pray for us,’ a Peruvian father implored as he rushed to the hospital with his five-year-old son. The boy had lost an eye in a machete attack by guerillas – the latest casualty in Peru’s brutal civil war.

‘The man burst into our room trembling and in a state of great distress,’ reported Christian Aid’s Wendy Tyndale after her visit to the turbulent area of Ayacucho in July. ‘He told us that his village had been attacked just as it was growing dark. About 80 Shining Path guerillas, led by a young man of 20, attacked the villagers. They killed twelve people, six of them children.’

Christian Aid sources say that over half a million Peruvians – perhaps as many as 600,000 – have been forced from their homes by incidents such as this.

In some parts of war-torn Ayacucho peasant communities are rebuffing the Shining Path. Through self-defence rondas campesinas, peasant communities have managed to expel guerillas and also defend themselves against the army, which is no less savage. Such initiatives may have sparked vicious retaliatory attacks of the kind described to Wendy Tyndale.

The capture last year of Shining Path leader Abimael Guzman was a significant blow to the insurgent movement. On the ground in the shanty towns and the countryside, however, its presence is still felt. Fed by the extreme poverty in which most Peruvians live, this presence – as many as 500 cadres in the Lima shanty town of Villa El Salvador, for instance – is aimed against independent popular leaders and organizations. For Shining Path they are, like resistant peasant communities, ‘counter-revolutionary’.

Last June Shining Path combatants shot community leader Michel Azcueta – twice mayor of Villa El Salvador – as he walked into the school where he taught. Four children were badly injured. One of them, 12-year-old Hans Camarena, was critically wounded when he threw himself over his two younger sisters to protect them.

Just over a year earlier, the then Mayor of Villa El Salvador, Maria Elena Moyano, was shot dead by the Shining Path and her body dynamited.

In shanty towns such as this thousands of displaced families live in absolute misery, lacking public services, schooling and health care. Water is trucked in and sold to an already impoverished population. Survival is a matter of community effort. What stands between them and starvation is often the work of women. They organize Lima’s 9,000 popular kitchens, free milk distribution to children, shops and other community activities.

Shining Path executions are not the only problem for these communities. Peru has the largest number of ‘disappeared’ people in the world – for which the Peruvian security forces are chiefly responsible. President Fujimori rules as a virtual dictator with military support. The Peruvian people are caught in the middle.

What’s in a label?
While appropriate drug-prescribing information is the norm in the US, this is not always the case when US multinational drug peddlers do business in ‘developing’ countries. A US Congress Office of Technology Assessment report found that in four selected countries – Brazil, Kenya, Panama and Thailand – of the 241 drugs sampled, two-thirds failed to provide the labelling information a physician needs. Reliance on poor labelling information alone could lead to serious or life-threatening medical problems or, at best, ineffective treatment.

US Congress, OTA Report Brief, April 1993.

The soul’s burden
The human soul weighs one 3,000th of an ounce, according to researchers at the Technical University of Berlin. They weighed 200 terminally ill patients just before and immediately after they died, finding a one-3,000th-ounce weight-loss in each case. In a letter to German science journal Horizon, Dr Becker Mertens said his team had taken into account other possible explanations of weight loss (such as air leaving the lungs), but that ‘the inescapable conclusion is that we have now confirmed the existence of the human soul’. The challenge now was to ‘figure out exactly what the soul was composed of’. Any takers?

i to i, No 15.

Falling silent



Falling silent
More than 150 African languages are nearing extinction, according to the University of Cologne’s Institute for African Studies. The languages are not being replaced by Western tongues but by major regional languages such as Hausa in Nigeria and Swahili in East Africa. This development troubles historians as well as linguists. The dying languages are largely oral, not written; with each one goes a people’s history.

World Press Review, Vol 40, No 7.



Missing links
Roads like to make networks. When an environmentally sensitive area gets in the way the road advances from either side until nature falls to ‘the inevitable’ and the road runs through it. Two very different sites of great natural wealth and beauty, on opposite sides of the globe, are falling victim to the same device.


The darien gap
The forest on the border between Panama and Colombia
has a legendary reputation as impenetrable. Now a new
attempt is being made to complete the Pan-American
Highway from Alaska to Patagonia – and the Darien forest
is the last remaining break.

Leopoldo bacorizo’s gentle face screws awkwardly into a frown as he contemplates the plan to drive a road through his people’s home.

‘The people of the city see the jungle as a piece of merchandise to be exploited for financial gain,’ says Bacorizo, a leader of the Waunana and Embera tribes, who live in the Darien rainforest on the Panama-Colombia border.

‘God put us here. We are part of the forest. We see it as our friend and we will fight to defend it from greedy men.’

The Darien rainforest is set to become Latin America’s latest environmental battleground as government officials and traders enthusiastically tout the idea of a highway to join South and Central America.

In a region whose leaders are firmly committed to free-trade agreements and improved communications, the idea of bridging the only remaining barrier to traffic between Alaska and Patagonia has won considerable support.

‘Colombia is ready to start building now. If Panama delays, we’ll build our side anyway,’ said Alfonso Araujo Cotes, Colombia’s ambassador to Panama. ‘This area really is a tremendous obstacle to trade, the only break in the Pan-American Highway. Before, we didn’t have the technology to get through, but now we can do it. Just think – only 102 kilometres more highway is needed to unite the Americas.’

Opponents of the project predict that a road would devastate the jungle, shatter the culture of some 30,000 Indians living in the rainforest and stimulate the already flourishing activities of drug-traffickers.

‘The road would be bad enough in its own right, but the building of a highway through rainforest always follows a pattern of attracting loggers and farmers who cause more and more damage,’ said Juan Navarro, one of Panama’s leading environmentalists and head of the National Association for Nature Conservation (ANCON). ‘It would be a disaster for the Darien, for Panama and for the world. The Darien has been a beacon, a mystery for centuries, a place of impenetrable forests and extraordinary biological wealth. It has to be kept that way.’

Currently, only a few Indians, guerillas and explorers trek through the lush mountain wilderness on a maze of overgrown paths. Most traffic between Panama and Colombia uses sea or air routes.

The Darien region – which includes the jungle area on both sides of the Panama-Colombia border – is home to 2,325 plant and 704 animal species, according to ANCON. Many of these species are not found anywhere else in the world. Some, like the black spider monkey, are already in danger of extinction.

The Panamanian Government supports the highway in principle but is keenly aware of the opposition and has been dampening Colombia’s enthusiasm at a series of border conferences.

‘From a mental point of view, the joining of the Americas like this is very important for the solidarity of the continent,’ said Panama’s Public Works Vice-Minister Laurencio Guardia. ‘It also benefits trade, and possibly tourism, for the whole of Latin America. But we have other more important highways to build and improve in Panama first.’

Officials estimate the highway will cost $200 million and take three years to build. The preferred route is through a natural gap in the mountains on the border. As this route follows a lowland rift, it passes close to many of the Waununa, Embora and Kuna Indian settlements.

Locals are confident that even if the highway is built the jungle will have the last word. ‘Let them try,’ says Bacorizo. ‘They may have a road for one or two months, but after three months the plants will creep back and after four months the rains will come. Soon their road will be a swamp again.’

Andy Cawthorne

Dog's day

Dog’s day
Banned in cities since the Cultural Revolution, when they were considered needlessly wasteful, pet dogs are making a comeback in urban China. Still illegal, designer pets are the latest extravagance among the growing urban rich. Once regarded as semi-divine, pure-bred Pekinese are being smuggled in from Russia via the Trans-Siberian Railroad. They fetch up to $52,700 – a year’s wage for 50 urban Chinese – according to Chinese newspapers. A Hong Kong newspaper reported that a woman from southern Yunnan province agreed to breast-feed three puppies when a mother dog gave birth by Caesarean section and could not feed her pups. Her reward was a pup. For those who cannot afford to buy a pet, there is a new rent-a-dog service in suburban Peking, where customers queue up by the hundreds to walk a dog.

Far Eastern Economic Review, Vol 156, No 27.




The M3 motorway from London to Southampton is almost complete – except for a four-mile stretch that crosses an area of high value in terms of archeology, wildlife and natural beauty. A vast chalk-white wound has been inflicted on Twyford Down to make way for the road. It has become the site of exuberant protest, mass trespass – and symbolic attempts to repair the damage.


‘Women have a hard time in Africa.
We have no voice; our men do all our talking for us.
My role is to speak directly to women both through
my songs and by setting an example, and show
them that they can make decisions, that they can
choose their own loved ones. The way is
not easy and there will be suffering and
struggle. But I’m proud to be involved in it.’

Oumou Sangare,
Mali’s best-known female singer.

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New Internationalist issue 248 magazine cover This article is from the October 1993 issue of New Internationalist.
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