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Linked traits
NI magazine issue 293 Your issue on genetic engineering (NI 293) was a refreshing change from the often facile treatment of the issue to be found in the mainstream press.

One point that is often overlooked is that apparently undesirable traits can be inextricably linked to desirable ones. Manic depression, for example, appears to be linked to artistic creativity. If it has a genetic component and means existed for detecting and aborting foetuses with this trait, it is possible that a whole area of human creativity would be lost – forever. Conversely, if positive eugenics were possible so that parents could select for artistic creativity, the result might be a large increase in mental illness in society.

Leaving things as they are might not be a perfect solution but the alternatives are likely to be worse. It is unlikely, given the nature of complex systems, that ‘free’ choice by individuals would result in a balance between, say, artistic creativity and levels of mental illness. Chaos resulting from free choice would be something that politicians could take advantage of – introducing centralized control of the human genome.

Clive Mather
Sheffield, England.

Oldest democracy?
OK, so the Colombian Govern-ment is not a military junta but is – in the textbooks at least – ‘Latin America’s oldest democracy’ (Letters NI 292). But this accolade is most often quoted as an example of how very inaccurate such labels can be.

By international standards the Colombian media is very far from vigorous and lacks the impartiality, critical capacity and freedom from political interference that one associates with the media in a democracy. The assassination of two Bogotá human-rights activists, Mario Calderón and Elsa Alvarado, by men breaking into their apartment at two in the morning and identifying themselves as agents of the State Prosecutor’s office is further proof that those who speak truth to power are not tolerated in this ‘democracy’.

Thacker quotes out of context the part of Harrison’s article which offends him most. Harrison does not state that BP abuses human rights directly but refers to the links between the horrific human-rights abuses of the Colombian Government on the one hand and BP on the other. By arguing that Colombia stands to gain 85 per cent of the revenues from BP operations in the country, Thacker himself provides the explanation for the blind eye which the Colombian Government turns to paramilitary and military excesses in the oil regions.

BP’s considerable leverage here could be used to discourage the State from fuelling legitimate international concerns about human-rights abuses. But BP staff would need to be considerably less biased and better informed on the situation under their noses.


Polyp’s polyps
It’s good to see that your cartoonist is taking an interest in Deep Ecology (Big Bad World NI 292). Human beings need to find fresh approaches to the problems they have created. However, his self-portrait shows that he’s looking in the wrong place. Humans have had their heads up there for centuries and all they are likely to find is polyps.

John Revington
Lismore, Australia

Net loss situation
With reference to the article ‘Turtle’s Cargo’ in your issue on the Pacific (NI 291) I would like to share the following: ‘Helena Norberg-Hodge in The Case Against the Global Economy says: “Introducing micro-loans for small-scale enterprise may actually contribute to the destruction of local non-monetarized economies and create dependence on a highly volatile and inequitable global economy, where factors such as currency devaluation can prove disastrous”. It is good to look for ways to alleviate poverty but there still needs to be the knowledge that it was through outside interference by such bodies as the World Bank that the culture was broken down in the first place and poverty resulted. The security provided through non-monetarized networks and people’s own knowledge of how to live on their land will not be restored through micro-loans: their lives are still in a ‘net loss’ situation by being thrust into the money economy... Once you attach a dollar value to life (the ‘acceptable’ cancer rate for a given activity) you have taken a huge philosophical leap. How can we put the spiritual back into our lives and still continue to use economic formulas that have no place for spirit?’
(From Yes! A Journal of Positive Futures, Spring 1997).

Emily Noble
Indiana, US

Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Deep challenges
I was surprised to see the cheap and dumb shot made by Polyp in his cartoon on deep ecology (NI 292). I’m not here to defend deep ecology but in fairness Polyp should have taken the time to inform himself about it instead of basing his opinion on stereotypes. Key deep ecology authors such as Arne Naess, Andrew McLaughlin and Warwick Fox offer more than enough illustration that deep ecology does not regard people or human society per se as bad. Rather it sees the well-being of humanity as just as important as the well-being of non-human nature.

Polyp’s message is the sort of image that helps to stir up hostility towards radical environmentalists. Deep ecology challenges our anthropocentric-resourcist ideologies but those who don’t want to listen will inevitably attack the messengers instead of dealing with the arguments.

Mark Meisner
Toronto, Canada

South Africa
I am a bit disappointed that you rarely list South African organizations in the ‘Action’ column. For example, NI 289 on Ethics lists contact details for Amnesty International in New Zealand, Australia, Britain, Canada and the US – but not South Africa. There is now a national structure for Amnesty International and a very active group in Cape Town. Their address is: PO Box 24404, Landsdowne, 7779. Tel: (021) 24 5776. email: [email protected]

Stephen Langtry
Cape Town, South Africa

Right of reply
Hardly a month goes by without NI having another stab at the World Bank’s Structural Adjust-ment schemes. This criticism might be well deserved. Or it might not. Doubtless the World Bank has some talented individuals working in its ranks who might be able to put pen to paper. For the sake of a little debate, how about asking someone from the World Bank to write an article on why they think SAPs are a good thing. You might get a reasoned reply from a leading SAP critic. Perhaps a right of re-reply might be included?

James Barrett
London, England

Relative economics
Does anyone know of any ideas for a new standard by which currencies could be measured, rather than (useless!) gold and dollars? I am thinking of ‘relative economics’ whereby currencies could be measured against a ‘representative product index’ which gave equal weight to North and South and to industrial and rural products.

John Robinson
Redditch, England

The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

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An avalanche of love
Jenny James in the first of her letters, writes of her journey from Ireland
to the rainforests of Colombia – and of her friend Eduardo.

Eduardo Rincón is dead. Murdered on his scooter in San Vicente del Caguán, Caquetá, Colombia on 16 June 1997. Just over 40 years old. The first and only Green Party Councillor for the Amazonian region of south-east Colombia where we live.

Eduardo was my friend, and, extremely briefly, my lover. But much more important than that, he changed the history of this enormous area; an area controlled by the guerrillas and abandoned by the Government. Unlike anyone else, it seemed, he cared for the trees – and for the people who are felling them at an alarming rate.

When I first heard of Eduardo, I refused to believe that he existed. It was 1994 and two of my young daughters (nine and eleven at the time) were in Guayabal, the one-street, many-shack 'shopping centre' of this mountainous area. They had been singing and juggling at a Halloween fiesta with the other members of our small back-to-Nature commune called Atlantis.

'It wasn't just a Halloween party,' they said. 'It was a Green Party celebration – their candidate has just been elected councillor for this part of Caquetá.'

‘Impossible,' was my reply, in my usual tolerant way. 'There couldn't be a Green Party in this God-forsaken place.'

Then I read Eduardo Rincón's letter to me. I was invited to meet him and he expressed amazement and delight that a group of gringos (foreigners) had landed in the area and were concerned about nature.

We had been here in Caquetá for four months, arriving the day that three children in our nearest hamlet, Rovira, had been killed by a landslide sweeping their shack into the ravine below. We had come on foot, picking our way in alarm over the 300 (yes, 300) avalanches blocking the mud road between Rovira and Neiva, the nearest large town.

Illustration by SARAH JOHN

It took us two days, but we were happy. We were going to our new home on the edge of cool virgin forest, 1,500 metres above sea level.

We had left Europe seven years earlier. I was 45. My youngest daughter, Katie was still in nappies. I had lived with my commune for 12 years on a windswept Atlantic island off the coast of County Donegal in Ireland. We had planned for years to remove to some even wilder, remoter spot. For 18 months we roamed the islands of the Canaries, Cape Verde and the Caribbean. Helped by various men from the commune, my three daughters and I lived on beaches and in caves and even shanty-towns with the poorest of the poor. We travelled through Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, looking for a new home for our tribe.

We didn't choose Colombia. It chose us.

'You absolutely must stay here. Colombia is the most politically alive country in South America. And we need you.' The seduction was too strong for me. After a miserable look at Ecuador and Peru, I came home.

For six years I lived in Tolima, where the commune still has a large settlement. We made friends with the guerrillas. But environmentally it was never wild enough for us and at best we were an odd, though thoroughly accepted group. I longed to be more politically effective.

Then one of our men found Caquetá. And the Green Party found us.

Eduardo Rincón had brilliant blue eyes and grey hair; Fernando Zapata, his right-hand man, was black, hugely enthusiastic and very talkative. I was bowled over at what was happening; we were planning a Green future for Red Caquetá.

'Look, I haven't any money, no power, I'm nobody,' I said. 'But I tell you what: I can type, I can write, I'm really middle class and I know what it feels like to be in Europe; to hear about the destruction of the rainforest and despair at one's powerlessness. I just know there are thousands of ordinary people everywhere who would love a chance to help in a personal way. I'll write to the Green Movement over there and tell them what's happening here and we'll see what happens.'

What happened was an avalanche of love and caring from abroad and the rise in popularity of Eduardo from local councillor to the obvious choice for next Mayor. And his death last Monday.

Jenny James has lived and worked in the rainforest in Colombia since 1987.

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© Copyright New Internationalist Magazine 1997

New Internationalist issue 295 magazine cover This article is from the October 1997 issue of New Internationalist.
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