Loser takes all
High price of victory paid by Hanoi
PETER BARKER / PANOS PICTURES
Twenty years ago victorious Vietcong troops marched into Saigon as the last American soldiers and government officials were hastily evacuated from the roof of the US Embassy. But did the North Vietnamese really win the war ? Judging by the results today it doesn’t look that way.
At a conference held in Paris in 1993 Western governments generously pledged nearly two billion dollars in loans and aid money to support free-market reforms in Vietnam. But the money did not come without strings. In return Hanoi agreed to reimburse $140 million in arrears on loans owed to the IMF by the defeated Saigon regime as a condition for the resumption of new loans. Japan and France formed a so-called ‘Friends of Vietnam’ committee to lend Hanoi the cash to reimburse the IMF.
The major result of the Paris meeting – the rescheduling of the bilateral debts of the Saigon regime – was kept secret. But Hanoi’s signing of this deal was ultimately instrumental in Washington’s decision to lift its embargo and normalize trade relations. The irony is that by agreeing to repay debts incurred by the former US-backed government in the Saigon, Hanoi is actually paying back loans which were used to support the US war effort against its own forces.
Meanwhile, a new phase of economic and social devastation has hit Vietnam, spurred by free-market reforms. US dollars have largely replaced the Vietnamese dong as the currency of choice. With soaring prices, real earnings have dropped to abysmally low levels. State enterprises have been closed down or steered into bankruptcy. More than a million workers and 200,000 public employees (including tens of thousands of teachers and health workers) have been laid off. With the imposition of school fees 750,000 children dropped out of the school system. Local famines have affected at least a quarter of the country’s population; in the Mekong Delta (Vietnam’s ‘rice basket’) 25 per cent of the adult population now has a daily energy intake below 1,800 calories. Health clinics and hospitals have collapsed. Furthermore, there has been a resurgence of malaria and tuberculosis.
Though the Americans were defeated on the battlefield, two decades later Vietnam appears to have surrendered its economic sovereignty to its former wartime enemy.
Michel Chossudovsky’s detailed study of Vietnamese economic reforms was in Third World Resurgence, July 1994.
Cambodia’s forest cover has roughly halved from around 74 per cent of the land area in the 1970s to between 30 and 35 per cent today. The bulk of this forest loss has occurred since 1989. Given current rates of destruction the rest will have gone by the end of the century.
Source: Forest, famine and war, Global Witness
To combat traffic gridlock Indonesia has introduced a scheme banning vehicles with fewer than three passengers. So a whole subculture of professional passengers (called Joki) has sprung up. People with time on their hands – usually young – hang out close to restricted zones and are then hired by passing motorists. This has given rise to a new occupational terminology: I passenge, you passenge, we are passenging. Police officers have been assigned to stop cars and attempt to find out whether youngsters are genuine offspring of the motorist.
Source: Far Eastern Economic Review, vol 158 no 17
Henri Konan Bedie, President of Côte d’Ivoire since 1993, needs to find himself a mother – or he may be prevented from seeking re-election by an electoral code he himself promulgated last year. The code is designed to keep ‘foreigners’ out of politics, especially his most prominent opponent, former Prime Minister Alassane Dramane Ouattarra, whose parents came from neighbouring Burkina Faso. Bedie’s own origins have, however, been shrouded in secrecy. It is popularly believed he was fathered by the late president Felix Houphouet-Boigny. Opposition parties now claim that his mother, Mo Kobla, came from neighbouring Ghana.
Source: Melvis Dzisah/Gemini
A puff of smoke
From 1985 to 1992, cigarette consumption per adult increased by 20 per cent in China, but at the same time dropped by 13 per cent in ‘highly developed’ countries. For every cigarette not smoked in highly developed countries, three cigarettes more were smoked in China. If current trends persist, two to three million annual tobacco-caused deaths are predicted for China by the 2020s. These trends suggest that 50 million of the young people alive today in China will die prematurely from the consequences of smoking. There is no age bar on smoking which also goes to explain why 10 per cent of 9- to 12-year-olds and 35 per cent of 12- to 15-year-olds smoke.
Source: WHO and China Now no 152
How much is a patch of clear sky worth? The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has been trying to build the world’s largest telescope, known simply as the Very Large Telescope (VLT), in the dry air and stable micro-climate of Chile’s northern Atacama Desert. But the Chilean workforce has protested that it has not been allowed to unionize and now a local group has claimed it is owed $5 million for the land. The problems have arisen because ESO members thought the site had diplomatic immunity. Some of them (including Sweden and Italy) were not keen to be seen doing business with the Pinochet regime and so did not clarify the original VLT agreements.
Source: The Economist, vol 335 no 7911
Red Sea reefs crumble
CHRIS STOWERS / PANOS PICTURES
The coastline of the Red Sea attracts thousands of visitors every year. The Red Sea reefs support up to 1,000 species of fish of which ten per cent are to be found nowhere else in the world. Divers and snorkelers come to marvel at this underwater world. But tourists are fast destroying the very wonders they come to see.
Corals are fragile by nature and sensitive to changes in their surroundings, making them vulnerable to many forms of damage. Resorts such as Ain Suhka, Quseir and Marsa Alaam have some of the richest colonies to be found anywhere. The construction of hotels and holiday villages breaks up and destroys the reef terraces. Silt from the debris floats away to smother reefs elsewhere. At Hurghada development is so intense that the coral has been completely destroyed.
There are other problems. The physical action of shore-divers is gradually abrading the coral terraces. People interested in colourful souvenirs are openly gathering specimens to take home. The anchors of off-shore diving boats rip and scour away at coral colonies and other marine organisms before taking hold.
On the east coast, the southern tip of Sinai offers great scope for diving and underwater photography. The marine national park of Ras Mohamed is a protected and relatively unaffected area, but the number of divers has increased dramatically over the last couple of years. Although dive boats now have fixed moorings, there is little enforcement and the diving fraternity continually disturb and plunder this diverse ecosystem.
The Gulf of Aqaba to the north of Ras Mohamed may run the same gauntlet soon. Giant projects in Taba and Nuweiba are being planned.
In 1994 Egypt brought out a law forbidding building works within 200 metres of any shoreline. But by then sites up and down the west coast had already been sold off. The prospects for effective control to minimize damage now look bleak.
Since 1990 the Egyptian Government has invested vast amounts of money to develop its coastal resorts. An income of $750 million is hoped for from the extra accommodation. Because of recent attacks on tourists in the trouble-spots of the country’s interior the Government is promoting the Red Sea as an alternative.
Egypt has a coral paradise that it can ill afford to lose. A rigorous code of conduct is now required for both developers and tourists. If lessons can be learnt from the mistakes of the past, then the future of those places that have not been destroyed or over-exploited will be secured for thousands of people to enjoy.
Walk through the storm
Pilgrimage hits war zone in Cambodia
ROGER BARLOW / CAMERA PRESS
Koi Saroth leans on his crutches and stares intently across the border. The wait is long and the heat relentless. But for the 24-year-old Buddhist monk in Cambodia the arrival of a rag-tag group of 32 pilgrims at the border with Thailand marks the start of one more try for peace in his country.
‘I wanted to come, so Cambodia can have peace sooner,’ said the young monk, waiting to welcome the Interfaith Pilgrimage for Peace and Life that was making an eight-month trek from Auschwitz in Poland to Hiroshima in Japan to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War Two.
The pilgrimage had already passed through Bosnia, the Gaza Strip and Iraq. In Poipet, Cambodia, it entered an active war zone. In the previous ten days the border town had been hit by several shelling attacks in which at least 12 people had been killed and 38 injured.
‘I’m willing to risk my life to do this,’ said 26-year-old Joe Roche from the US. And risk there was. After the group left Poipet, the Khmer Rouge – the Maoist group which formerly ruled Cambodia – shelled the town, killing a small boy and injuring 18 people.
Brother Gyoshu Sasamori, a Japanese monk, commented: ‘The most important message we can bring to them is solidarity with the Cambodian people – since most of the international marchers are from Japan and America, which supported the Khmer Rouge in the past.’
Christine Graillot, a secretary from France, originally joined the walk for three weeks in Israel. ‘Coming back to work after that was meaningless,’ she said. She took leave-of-absence from her job and rejoined the march in Thailand. ‘It’s nothing rational. If I use my head, it doesn’t make sense... my heart tells me to be here.’
US psychologist Robert De Young, who is blind, works with torture victims and war veterans. ‘Many of them left parts of themselves in this region,’ he said. ‘I’m doing this for me, but because of them.’
Margo Grant, a 66-year-old Australian, said the reaction of Cambodians made the risk and discomfort of the march worthwhile: ‘In the villages people were coming out and crying. Soldiers were putting down their guns and asking to be blessed,’ she said of a similar walk she joined the previous year.
Bob Maat, a Jesuit who has worked with Cambodians for almost 15 years, said: ‘War in Cambodia is like a thunderstorm. It’s sunny, then it’s raining and storming, then the sun comes out like before... Life goes on.’
And so, the walkers say, will the peace marches.
During the 1950s fewer than ten wars were waged at any one time. By 1993 there were 34 major continuing conflicts in the world. In 1994 the number of UN-registered refugees had jumped to 23 million, up from 15 million in 1989. Since 1976 the number of refugees has risen at a rate of more than 12 per cent annually.
Source: Populi, vol 22 no 2
For whom the bells toll
In India’s Bihar state, prospective bridegrooms are being kidnapped and forced to marry strangers, usually girls from families who cannot afford to pay the excessive dowry demands customary in India. During the ‘marriage season’ in June and December parents of modest income hire specialist bachelor-kidnapping squads to abduct a suitable male in the vicinity.
Most favoured are those men in government service, followed by bank and public-sector employees. Within the week, the ‘groom contractors’, who have been known to shadow their victims for days, at times snatching them off buses and trains in broad daylight, supply a compliant groom, who has usually been beaten senseless. Local politicians have been known to play a role in these forced marriages and the police turn a blind eye.
Ultimately, official apathy and Bihar’s peculiar social and caste mores lead the victim and his family to compromise and accept the bride as part of the family. But she is rarely looked on kindly, adding to the woe of being a woman in one of the poorest, most violent and caste-ridden states in India.
Source: Rahul Bedi/Gemini
In Malaysia, the Consumers’ Association of Penang has called for Barbie dolls to be banned, citing experts’ views on the negative effects of the dolls on children. The proposal has drawn strong and angry reactions from the local press and several members of the public.
Reasons cited for the ban are the wrong aesthetics promoted by the doll’s blonde, leggy and non-Asian appearance.
Furthermore, according to Professor Ciam of the Department of Social Psychology in Education at the University of Malaya, the Barbie doll does not encourage creativity and the use of imagination in children because everything about them is ‘fixed’ and ready-made .
Mary Assunta and Martin Jalleh, Third World Network.
‘All people are members of the same family. They have a common origin in creation.
If one limb is struck by pain all the others are gripped by anxiety. If the suffering
of other people doesn’t hurt you, you don’t deserve to be called human.’
Muslih-ud-Din Sa’di, thirteenth-century Persian poet.
©Copyright: New Internationalist 1995