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The flowers of the earth
Argentine Indians win land-claim dispute

'From the hearts of the people' - protesters at the Pilcomayo River Bridge.

A sit-in by Argentine Indians has finally won them their long-promised land rights. The Wichi, Toba and Chorote Indians have lived in the Chaco area of northern Argentina for centuries. But for nearly 100 years they have suffered the take-over of their land by farmers and ranchers. Their fertile grasslands have been turned into scrub and semi-desert due to overgrazing, and recently national and international companies have begun building roads and bridges on the Chaco. As they arrived, settlers laid claim to the land and lobbied the Government to recognize their land rights. But the indigenous people’s claim to the land was never recognized.

Finally, in 1993, Indian community leaders went to see Argentine President Carlos Menem. He received them warmly and listened to their claims. The Government agreed in principle to grant them the deeds to their land. But delay followed delay and the legal process ground to a halt.

The Indian community became increasingly frustrated as their letters and visits were ignored.

‘We are not little animals that run around loose,’ said community leader Humberto Diaz. ‘We are not dogs that are chased away when their owner comes to sit by the fire. We are the flowers of the earth that God alone has planted to live and grow in these parts.’

At last, in September of this year, Hilario Dixon and Francisco Perez, leading members of the Indian community association, Lhaka Honhat, decided to try to mobilize the 35 communities in their area against the ongoing misuse of their lands. Together with 1,000 fellow Indians, they halted the construction of a partly-built bridge linking Argentina and Paraguay by occupying the site for more than three weeks.

‘We have suffered the cold and the heat, the wind and the dust,’ said Humberto Diaz. ‘We have endured all this because our claim springs from the land itself and from the hearts of the people.’

After 23 days, Indian leaders met with officials from the provincial government and signed an agreement. This guarantees legal transfer of 600,000 hectares of land to Indians in the Chaco area of Northern Argentina. ‘For years now in the Salta Province they have not wanted to listen to our voice, and the Government hasn’t given our claim the importance it deserves,’ said Dixon and Perez. ‘But now we have succeeded in making our voice heard in the whole country and overseas.’ A portion of the 600,000 hectares of land under consideration will also be given to recent settlers.

On signing the agreement the Indians ended their demonstration and agreed to allow the construction of the bridge to continue. But plans to build a new town around the bridge have been dropped until they have been consulted. Importantly, the agreement promises to respond to their demands for environmental restoration. They have highlighted reforestation, recovery of the soil, and control over the use of natural resources as essential elements of their land claim.

Ingrid Hanson, Tear Fund

Burma success
The Burma Action Group have awarded British Home Stores (BHS) their ‘Unethical Business of the Year’ certificate and launched a country-wide consumer boycott of BHS because it continues to import from Burma, a country ruled by one of the most repressive military regimes in the world. A long list of high-street names including Levi’s, Liz Claiborne, Reebok, Eddie Bauer, OshKosh B’Gosh and London Fog no longer stock products produced there. Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the democratically elected representatives of the country, has repeatedly asked foreign companies to stay away: ‘These people... hurrying in to make cosy little business deals while pretending that nothing is wrong... are clearly more interested in making money than helping us to achieve democracy. Putting money into the country now is simply supporting a system that is severely harmful to the people of Burma.’ Burma Action Group is urging BHS to reinstate their good reputation by ceasing operations in Burma.

SUCCESS: As we went to press, the Burma Action Group announced that BHS has decided NOT to renew their contracts with UK suppliers of Burmese clothing. As a result, the Burma Action Group have called off all scheduled protests against the company.

Although BHS claim that their sourcing decisions are taken on a clearly commercial basis, the Burma Action Group think that the negative publicity attracted by the BHS boycott campaign was a significant factor in BHS’ decision to stop buying clothes made in Burma.

Source: Burma Action Group UK, Collins Studios, Collins Yard, Islington Green, London N1 2XU, England


A chance to tell their story
Street festival offers hope to Ghana's homeless children

A street youth festival is being organized in the Ghanaian capital city of Accra to benefit its 45,000 street children.

During the last decade economic pressure due, in part, to the implementation of structural-adjustment policies have made it impossible for Ghanaian families to provide the support they once gave their members. As a result increasing numbers of Ghanaian children are being forced on to the streets. There are even street children in Ghana’s small rural towns and villages. Alhaji Mumuni Bawumia, Chairman of Ghana’s Council of State, admits that: ‘We cannot delude ourselves that the problem is limited to urban areas.’

Most street children, some as young as six, are engaged in menial labour. They work as shoe shiners, coolies, trolley pushers and trinket sellers, while some are undeniably engaged in prostitution. Government efforts to reduce the number of children on the street have been negligible, largely because 73 per cent of the Ministry’s budget goes into salaries alone.

PS Abeka, a director of the National Youth Commission, says that: ‘A good number of the street youth already have training in some employable skills. The problem is the capital to start off or in most cases, just a set of tools.’

However, there is now a glimmer of hope for Ghana’s youngest and most vulnerable citizens. The National Youth Commission and a number of non-governmental organizations, including the Commonwealth Youth Programme, Response, and Catholic Action for Street Children, are in the process of organizing a street youth festival. The festival is intended to provide Ghana’s street children with an opportunity to tell their stories to the nation. The festival’s organizers hope this will sensitize Ghanaian policy makers, and motivate them to act on behalf of the children. The festival organizers have also established a street youth fund aimed at netting $50,000 in three years, to help provide Ghanaian street children with the tools and training they desperately need.

Yaw Owusu Addo

Legal torture
A bill entitled ‘Prohibition on Torture’, if passed by the Israeli Parliament, will make Israel the only country in the world to legalize torture. While the bill prescribes prison terms for any public servant convicted of inflicting or authorizing torture, it defines torture as ‘severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, except for pain or suffering inherent in interrogation procedures or punishment according to the law.’

Therefore if a detainee is physically or mentally brutalized while being interrogated, it is not considered to be torture. Human-rights organizations worldwide have described the bill as an ‘outrage’ and a ‘grave international precedent’.

Amnesty International is calling for the complete abolition of torture in Israel. They state that interrogation procedures should conform to the absolute ban on torture in international conventions, and ask that people write to their local government representative, asking them to raise their concerns about torture in Israel with their governments. They ask that you also write to the Israeli Prime Minister, at the Israeli Embassy in your country, urging him to abolish the use of torture.

Source: News from Within, 8 August

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H U N G E R Big Bad World [image, unknown]

Turkish-Cypriot journalist assassinated

8,000 people attended the funeral of journalist Kutlu Adali. Kutlu Adali, a well-known Turkish-Cypriot journalist, was shot dead outside his home in the Turkish occupied territories of Cyprus on 7 July of this year. Adali is one of four Turkish-Cypriots to have been killed in separate incidents on the island last summer. Turkish-Cypriots are rapidly becoming an endangered minority within the Turkish part of Cyprus. According to an article Kutlu Adali wrote in 1995, 40,000 Turkish-Cypriots have left Cyprus since 1974, to be replaced by 100,000 mainland Turks. ‘It will soon be difficult to pinpoint a single Turkish-Cypriot on the Island,’ Adali wrote earlier this year.

Although a census has yet to be carried out in the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus, at least a fifth of the population now consists of Turkish military personnel. A 40,000-strong Turkish army garrison has turned Northern Cyprus into ‘one of the most highly militarized areas in the world, in terms of civilian-military personnel ratio,’ according to UN General Secretary Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

A shadowy group, calling themselves ‘The Turkish Revenge Brigade’ claims responsibility for Kutlu Adali’s assassination. But according to a woman witness, who has identified and named the killers, they were Turkish army officers. The Turkish-Cypriot police claim they began ‘carrying out a widespread investigation’ shortly after the assassination. However, their only announcement since then has been that the crime was committed with a small handgun. In fact Adali died from multiple bullet wounds inflicted by a 9mm machine gun, a weapon regularly used by the Turkish military.

The Government of Cyprus, which controls the Southern, Greek-Cypriot portion of the island, has produced videotaped evidence that officials of the Northern, Turkish-Cypriot government were involved in Adali’s assassination and the other Turkish-Cypriot killings.

‘Kutlu was an ardent believer in Turkish-Cypriot, as distinct from mainland Turkish, identity,’ one of his former colleagues said. ‘The problem for him was that both Greek and Turkish-Cypriots did not have enough confidence in themselves, or in each other.’ An estimated 8,000 people attended his funeral and, in London, 2,000 Turkish-Cypriots signed a petition demanding the arrest of the killers, yet Adali’s assassination has been overlooked by the mainstream press.

Sergios Zambouras

Traditional Indian fisherfolk to be protected by comercial deep-sea fishing ban.

Good tidings
The Indian Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has decided to ban deep-sea fishing operations in Indian-controlled oceans. The decision came after traditional fisherfolk and the operators of small mechanized boats had protested against deep-sea fishing. They argued that the super-efficient vessels used by companies encroached on their fishing fields. The decision could mean the cancellation of all licences granted for deep-sea fishing operations under joint venture, lease and charter policies. The ban, if implemented, would involve 16 joint-venture companies with a fleet of 61 deep-sea fishing vessels and 57 vessels on lease.

Source: Down to Earth, 16 September 1996

Nigeria looks East
Nigerian president General Abacha seems to be circumventing Western threats of economic sanctions by encouraging companies from Malaysia, South Korea and China to invest in Nigeria. Abacha has been under pressure to reform his regime ever since he executed nine Ogoni activists, including Ken Saro-Wiwa, in November 1995. Abacha’s son, Mohammed, plans to bring South Korea’s Daewoo Corporation into offshore oil production near the oil-rich Niger Delta. Nigerian Oil Minister Dan Estete backs the deal.

Source: Africa Confidential, 6 September 1996


‘Post-modernism? I don’t know what that means.
But I suspect it’s a scam thought up by intellectuals
to keep themselves employed.’

Noam Chomsky (1928 - ) US thinker and activist.

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©Copyright: New Internationalist 1996

New Internationalist issue 286 magazine cover This article is from the December 1996 issue of New Internationalist.
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