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Indigenous Peoples



Frontal assault
Threat to the forest in Honduras

Twenty thousand poverty-stricken Honduran farmers are packing their guns, chainsaws, machetes and belongings and preparing to move home – into the heart of virgin rainforest. Their arrival will not be welcome. The forest is already home to some 40,000 indigenous people whose traditional land rights have been repeatedly violated.

‘These colonists will quickly convert forests to pasture, decimate wildlife and force the people from their land,’ says Osvaldo Munguia, director of MOPAWI, the Honduran conservation and development group.

La Mosquitia is a remote area of forests, swamps and lagoons in the east of Honduras. The Government’s plans to resettle landless farmers in the Sico and Paulaya river valleys have devastating implications. The settlement encroaches on the Río Plátano reserve, declared a World Heritage Site by the UN. At 5,250 square kilometres it is the largest remaining area of continuous forest in the country and a critical habitat for endangered species such the harpy eagle and giant ant-eater. Areas of La Mosquitia previously opened up to colonization are now little more than treeless wastelands.

‘No government has ever successfully halted or even slowed the deforestation front,’ says Munguia. Thousands of colonists have already moved into the area. One farmer said: ‘I am destroying this marvellous piece of nature with my own hands, but what can I do?’

La Mosquitia is rich in minerals and oil, as well as timber – valuable assets for a country expected to service a $2.6 billion foreign debt. Desperate for cash, successive governments have handed out concessions to mining, oil and logging companies. Politicians, the military and police have taken large tracts of land for their own use.

But perhaps the greatest threat to La Mosquitia is the roads the Government plans to build. So far, the region’s salvation has been its isolation. Conservation groups fear that roads will open the way for a massive invasion. While previous Honduran governments have undertaken to protect the region, the current President, Carlos Reina, says: ‘Ecological concerns should not slow down a country’s development.’

Osvaldo Munguia disagrees: ‘It is only our ability to protect the environment that will secure sustainable development and our future well-being.’ MOPAWI recently exposed a toxic waste-disposal firm that had gained access to the region by posing as a shrimp-processing factory. Just three years ago massive public outcry turned away a multinational logging company; campaigners wore pine cones as a symbol of their protest.

Tim Hamilton/Tear Fund

Multinational companies are waging a war to control Somalia’s lucrative banana trade, using armed guards reminiscent of the country’s warring militias. The US-based company Dole and an Italian-owned competitor have enlisted armed ‘technicals’ to protect their shipments. When Dole felt plantation owners were reneging on contracts, General Muhammad Farah Aidid was asked to referee. His faction controls most of the banana-growing region. It now approves every agreement and pockets kickbacks as well. Business circles figure that Aidid’s income from the banana wars keeps his troops fed and ensures his survival.

World Press Review vol 42 no 5

Palatial parks
According to Saudi Arabia’s pro-government newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat, Saddam Hussein is building a Baghdad palace for his wife in public parks that run along the Tigris river. Just a few months ago another palace was completed in the chic residential district of Al-Harithiyah. The building originally housed the Agricultural Museum. Iraq’s state-controlled media have dubbed these lavish constructions, built with Italian marble and other costly materials, ‘people’s palaces’. Most of the Iraqi people, hit by UN sanctions as well as Saddam Hussein, are completely impoverished.

World Press Review vol 42 no 5

A new report accuses the major arms-exporting nations of ambiguity in their export policies. The report analyses the lists of countries regarded as ‘sensitive destinations’ by Britain, the US, Germany and Japan. These lists reveal very little about the practical operation of export controls. Out of a total of 72 countries designated as ‘sensitive’ almost half appear only on one or two of the lists. So potential proliferators may be refused access to some technologies by one government only to be granted it by another.

‘Proliferation and Export Controls’ from Saferworld, London, Tel: (171) 580 8886

Swiss chef Leon Marmy thinks he has trumped the more celebrated culinary achievements of his French contemporaries. He has invented foie d’escargot, the ‘world’s first liver-of-snail dish’. For the Alpine snail population, however, the cost is high. It takes 2,000 hunch-backs to produce one pound of moussed snail livers. ‘People shouldn’t expect it to taste like liver,’ says Marmy. ‘But, on the other hand, it doesn’t taste like snail either.’

World Press Review vol 42 no 5

Women in Britain routinely pay 50 per cent more than men for private health insurance, despite the fact that women take better care of their health and make fewer claims.

Everywoman no 114

Oil rig village in the troubled Niger delta.

Walter Ofonogoro, Minister of Information in the Nigerian Government, believes that ‘misguided misinformation’ surrounding the fate of 500,000 Ogoni people in the oil-rich Niger Delta (see NI 256) is part of an ‘international conspiracy’ orchestrated by the CIA and MI5 to ‘destabilize’ his country. Ofonogoro and his entourage flew in from Lagos ‘at personal expense’ to tell a public meeting in Oxford that the Nigerian military had intervened in Ogoniland ‘to save the Ogoni people from killing themselves’. Confronted with a photograph of the detained Ogoni leader Ken Saro-wiwa clearly showing the results of physical abuse, Ofonogoro declared it to be a fake. ‘As the owner of 30 television stations,’ he added, ‘I know how easily such fakes can be produced’. No hard evidence was forthcoming, however, to suggest that the advent of ‘oil wealth’ had brought anything to the Ogoni people other than the destruction of their environment by the oil giant Shell, and violent repression by the Nigerian military dictatorship. Bill Morris, General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union – one of Britain’s largest – asked the same meeting to support a boycott of Shell products because, in addition to its record in Ogoniland, the company refuses to recognize trade-union rights.

David Ransom


Catch and kill
Bleak outlook in Kashmir
Disappeared: India has been arresting 150 Kashmiri separatists a day.

Kashmir has the unfortunate distinction of hosting the largest occupation force in the world: 600,000 Indian troops – one-sixth of the entire Indian Army – crammed into an area half the size of Belgium. As the Indian Government struggles to maintain its authority in the face of continued calls for self-determination, troop levels have risen to one Indian soldier for every three Kashmiris.

When elements of the Kashmiri cause began to adopt militant methods the Indian Army initiated ‘Operation Tiger’, dubbed ‘Catch and Kill’ by the resistance. The Army and the Border Security Force have been arresting up to 150 people every day. Many are held without trial, some for as long as four years. Cases documented by the Jammu & Kashmir Basic Rights Committee include numerous instances of rape, torture, custodial killings and disappearances.

In one of Srinagar’s main hospitals 23-year-old Nazir Ahmed Shah told us how he was arrested in January, held for one month and eight days and tortured during the entire period. His body was covered in scars, apparently the result of electric shocks. Both his legs had been amputated as a consequence of torture; so had his fingers, after being attached to a battery for long periods.

In the next bed Saleema, aged nine, and Shaheena, aged five, had both received 40-per-cent burns after the Army set their house ablaze to intimidate their family into giving the names of suspected militants. Both have little chance of survival.

Despite a unilateral cease-fire announced last year by the JKLF (Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front) the compromise talked of by the Indian Government has so far failed to materialize. Kashmiri leaders are pessimistic. According to Azam Inqilabi, leader of Mahaz-e-Azadi – one of the main Kashmiri political parties – the younger generation will not have the patience of the older political leaders.

There are some 85 million Muslims in India. Any spread of Muslim separatism from Kashmir to the rest of the country is a daunting prospect for the Indian Government. The official view from New Delhi is that UN resolutions on the right to self determin-ation for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, passed in 1949, are outdated; the area is, and will always remain, a part of India. Accordingly the solution must lie within the framework of the Indian Constitution, not the UN.

As India seeks a more prominent international role and a permanent seat on the UN Security Council this view may have to change. But in the meantime the prospect of talks between India, Pakistan and the representatives of the Kashmiri people seems as remote as ever.

Stefan A Smith and Pierre Zakrzewski

Chlorophyll by Sacha


House of winds
Tokyo restaurant gives voice to Ainu people

Talking shop: Ainu campaigner and restaurateur Sato Tatsue.

In 1986 Prime Minister Nakasone characterized Japan as a ‘monoethnic’ society. The idea lives on in the present Government’s view that the Ainu people are a withering minority rather than an indigenous group.

There are few public places in Tokyo where people can dispute such claims and make their voices heard. So those with something to say can get swept away by the atmosphere at restaurant Rerachise, ‘The House of Winds’. Beneath the campus of Tokyo’s Waseda university, on a tatami mat-area squashed between bookshelves and the kitchen, Sato Tatsue serves up Ainu delicacies like salmon, raw deer, pounded pumpkin and spicy aubergine.

The denial of recognition and rights to the indigenous people of Ainu Moshiri (more commonly known as the northern island of Hokkaido) has been enforced by oppressive laws. As in Australia and the US, such laws have destroyed an environment-friendly life-style and sent the indigenous population spiralling into poverty. Like several thousand other Ainu people, Sato left her family and came to Tokyo both to escape and to change this situation.

‘Sitting on mats at Rerachise,’ she says, ‘we realize that we are all Ainu’. The word ainu also means human’.

Since she opened the restaurant in May 1993 Sato, an activist in her mid-70s who has never had a formal education, has created a place where her culture could not be denied. Crammed full of Waseda students during the week, and often rented out for private parties and Ainu social activities at the weekend, the restaurant plays a crucial part in giving a voice to Tokyo’s Ainu population.

Sato believes that while Kayano Shigeru – who became the first Ainu member of the Japanese Government in July 1994 – can act at an official level to restore Ainu civil rights, she herself can act within the community, using Ainu recipes to provoke discussion and curb prejudice.

Sebastian Naidoo

Marginalized by money: Senegalese patients paying their hospital entrance fee.

Money at the margins
Africa – especially sub-Saharan Africa – is becoming ever-more marginalized. Africa’s share of total world exports fell from about four per cent in 1970 to not much more than one per cent in 1990. The net outflow of capital from Africa increased from $53.5 billion in 1992 to more than $61 billion in 1993. Africa will lose an estimated $2.6 billion a year in trade as a result of liberalization under GATT. Sub-Saharan Africa’s income per capita fell by a yearly average of 1.1 per cent between 1982 and 1992: its infant-mortality rate is 44 per cent higher than the average for all developing countries. Structural-adjustment programmes have cut public services, including health and education. Ethnic, religious and political strife has intensified.

Inter-Church Coalition on Africa,
129 St Clair Ave West, Toronto, ON M4V 1N5,
Tel: (416) 927 1124. Fax: (416) 927 7554

Marginalized by money: Senegalese patients paying their hospital entrance fee.

The youngest doctor in the world is Indian-born Balamurali Ambati, who has just graduated from New York City’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine at the age of 17. He will now do his residency in opthalmology at Harvard.

Meanwhile a six-year-old in a remote region of Tibet has been identified by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, who died in 1989. The Dalai has asked China to let the boy have the correct religious training. Beijing has condemned the request as negating its ‘supreme authority’.

Time, vol. 145, no. 22


‘Worms have played a more important part in the
history of the world than persons would at first suppose.’

Charles Darwin

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©Copyright: New Internationalist 1995

New Internationalist issue 269 magazine cover This article is from the July 1995 issue of New Internationalist.
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