At the foot of Buddha
Monks at the forefront in caring for AIDS patients
Frazer Dryden writes: Wat Phrabat Nampo monastery is Thailand’s largest AIDS hospice, with 150 patients and more than 2,000 waiting to get in. Bags of bones and ashes lie beneath a statue of Buddha: some are never collected for fear of infection (top left). Kong Sak was a transvestite before joining the monastery: he is HIV positive (top right). Surasak Koonpong, aged 19 and hiv positive, lifts a monk to his bed (left). Dariwan Wongpradit sits with her 18-month-old son, Whisut: both of them contracted HIV from his father (right).
Forced farming brings in harvest
Farming fever has hit the Gambia, as military ruler Captain Yahya Jammeh pursues his ambition to make the small West African country self-sufficient in food. In the beginning, Jammeh used public rallies to urge young men to return to agriculture, castigating them for neglecting the land and travelling to the coastal tourist areas, to Europe or the US, leaving their aged parents to farm up-river alone.
When his appeals to his country’s young men to take an interest in hoeing and sowing fell on barren ground, Jammeh got tough. In June, bureaucrats were instructed not to issue any young men with a passport until September, when the farming season ends and even then they would have to prove they had farmed in order to get one.
Women have always been farmers and gardeners, producing more than 80 per cent of the nation’s crops, but the uncompromising message to young men has sparked a national fervour for farming. Virtually all available spaces – open patches of bushland, swamps, little strips of land beside housing compounds, hotels and garages – have been cleared, turned and planted.
Libya has donated tractors, power tillers and other equipment to help the Gambian food drive. The machinery is being distributed with a warning that it will be withdrawn from communities that fall short of production expectations. A German equipment manufacturer has run workshops in conjunction with the Women’s Bureau on the use of milling machines to encourage people to grind their own flour and cereal. In Kartong, in the south, 35 dikes are being built by the community to help prevent salt intrusion into the rice fields.
‘The present trend of demographic growth and rapid migration of the youthful population to urban areas has affected agricultural productivity,’ says agricultural specialist Abdou Karim Sanneh. Currently subsistence farming has no appeal, Sanneh points out. Power and prestige are what will count if the young are to be encouraged to farm as a career.
Right now, though, whether from fear of soldiers, fear of hunger or a genuine enthusiasm to see things grow, almost every young man has become a son of the soil.
Rosemary Long / Gemini
Greenpeace are campaigning to save the North Sea, where highly unsustainable and unregulated industrial fishing activities have brought the cod population to a third of its minimum safe size. One of the problems is the capture of sand eels – which form food for hundreds of species – along with the rest of the catch. Currently the eels are turned into animal feed and oils for biscuits, cakes and margarine. In May Greenpeace activists dressed as puffins, blocked the entrance to McVities – Britain’s leading biscuit manufacturer – in West London to protest the company’s use of fish oil. Within hours McVities agreed ‘to cease the use of fish oil from non-sustainable industrial fishing in European waters within one year’. Other corporations and supermarkets have also made similar assurances.
Ethical Consumer, No 42
The big drain
Tibet’s third-largest lake, the sacred Yamdrok Tso, is being tapped for power by a four-turbine hydro-electric scheme. The freshwater lake will be drained as a result within the next 500 years, threatening the lake’s ecology, wildlife and the life of local people who depend upon it. Most of the electricity will supply the new homes of Chinese settlers.
GreenLine, No 135
El Barzón fights to break the yoke
photo by DAVID RANSOM
In Mexico there are two revolutions. ‘One is armed, which is the one in Chiapas, and the other is unarmed, which is El Barzón,’ says debtor Silvia González Román. She is referring to the debtors’ revolution that is sweeping the country. Mexico’s debtor problem is enormous. In January a study of 12 of Mexico’s largest banks estimated that a staggering 30 per cent of loans were unlikely ever to be repaid. Representatives of Mexico’s National Banking Commission estimated in mid-1995 that the net worth of the country’s commercial banking system was a negative of $10 billion.
El Barzón – a barzón is a leather strap used to hitch ploughs to yokes shouldered by oxen – originated among ranchers in the northern Mexican states of Sonora, Chihuahua and Zacatecas, according to its leader Juan José Quirino Salas, a native Zacatecas farmer, rancher and businessperson. With the North American Free Trade Agreement opening up Mexico’s markets to foreign products in 1994, these once-prosperous ranchers’ incomes dwindled and their debts mounted. Seven ranchers decided there must be an alternative to either surrendering their properties to the banks or restructuring their loans on the banks’ terms. With Quirino Salas’ advice they set up a tent in front of Fresnillo town hall, where everyone could see debtors who were not ashamed of their debts. Within days they had enlisted about 1,000 members. Throughout 1994 the Barzonistas extended their geographical reach, with chapters founded in 19 of the country’s 31 states.
‘No-one does anything, because we are thousands of people who are well organized to fight the banks. We are the ones who produce goods, while the banks just act as intermediaries,’ says Quirino Salas. ‘It is ridiculous that they, through high interest rates, are strangling the hen that lays golden eggs, even as they demand that it keeps laying golden eggs.’
Debtor groups estimate that between one and two million Mexicans with non-performing loans – loans that are more than 90 days past their due date – have been organized to stand up to their bankers, and increasingly members are filing pre-emptive usury suits against the banks, to bog down the courts.
‘I owe, I don’t deny it, but I will pay only what is just,’ is El Barzón’s slogan. The group directs its members to make regular – albeit modest – payments to accounts overseen by judges. The banks are allowed to access these funds only if they agree to apply the money to the debt’s principal.
El Barzón and the National Co-ordinating Committee of Bank Users pledge to continue their struggle until the Government and the banks acknowledge the futility of taking over thousands of homes, cars and businesses, dismantling the country’s productive base and falling into an even deeper social crisis. They demand that the Government, banks, and other business groups enter into dialogue with debtor groups to find a way to resuscitate the economy
From a longer report by Andrew Wheat in Multinational Monitor, Vol 17, No 6.
Congratulations to Andrea Needham, Angie Zelter, Joanna Wilson, and Lotta Kronlid on their acquittal of the charge of causing criminal damage to a Hawk fighter jet that was destined to be used against the people of East Timor (Updates NI 281). And congratulations also to the jury who felt that the women had acted lawfully to prevent British Aerospace and the British Government from aiding and abetting the crime of genocide in East Timor.
Also flexing judicial muscle was the Zimbabwean high court which ruled that Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (Galz) could open their stand at the country’s international book fair, despite a ban by homophobic President Mugabe (also Updates NI 281). However, regardless of this positive outcome, poor security at the fair and the presence of a politically motivated crowd shouting abuse and threats meant that Galz couldn’t open their stand after all.
Compassion in World Farming are campaigning for the British Government to stop turning a blind eye to the routine illegal mutilation of farm animals and start bringing prosecutions. Throughout August they ran a ‘Mutilations Amnesty’ when farmers were urged to hand in the crude instruments used to castrate, tail-dock and de-beak animals. The campaign focuses on painful, backyard operations which are carried out by non-vets without anaesthetic. Peter Stevenson of CIWF says: ‘Tail-biting by pigs and feather-pecking by hens should be prevented not by slicing off pigs’ tails and de-beaking hens but by keeping them in decent conditions. Farmers are systematically breaking the welfare laws; much of what they do is not only cruel but illegal.’
Compassion in World Farming can be contacted on: Tel: + 44 (0)1730 233904, Fax: +44 (0)1730 260791.
‘You, the jury, have been called here to act as the conscience of our community... I ask you to look beyond the superficial appearance of shattered glass and of holes in an expensive aeroplane and to know what the purpose of that Hawk was. Ultimately we acted in order to save lives of people, people like you, people like us. What can be more right, more just than that?’
Closing speech to the jury by Lotta Kronlid one of the Ploughshares Four women
who were acquitted of charges of criminal damage after disabling a
Hawk fighter jet with household hammers.
©Copyright: New Internationalist 1996