The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
They may be edited for purposes of space or clarity.
Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
to the nearest editorial office or e-mail to : [email protected]

[image, unknown] Human responsibilities
On reading your issue on Human Rights (NI 298) I found myself amazed that so little focus was placed on human responsibilities. We seem to find it easier to talk about human rights but people have expressed to me their discomfort around responsibilities because they see them as impinging on their rights. It seems we want rights for ourselves and others, but how much are we prepared to question our lifestyle to take responsibility for our choices so that human rights may exist? We hear so much talk about sustainable development yet the only possible foundation for rights to develop and be sustainable is through people accepting their responsibilities.

I am promoting a Declaration of Human Responsibilities which can be found on my website: http://www.bryant-jefferies.freeserve.co.uk/udhr.htm

Richard Bryant-Jeffries
Guildford, England

Iraqi co-operation
A very big thank you to Felicity Arbuthnot for her article on Iraq (‘Dying of Shame’ NI 298). My husband visited his relatives in Baghdad in 1995 and again in 1997 and can confirm the truth of what she reports.

The attempted genocide of the Iraqi nation will hardly gain the respect and co-operation of its people. On the contrary, they will be all the more ready to support Saddam Hussein and join in his hatred of the US and UK, as can be plainly seen.

What have financially ruined, malnourished civilians got to do with hidden biological weapons? Why should they be denied basic human rights? There is surely no reason why sanctions cannot be lifted at the same time that weapons inspections continue, or indeed why the inspections teams could not contain more non-US members?

Then maybe the Iraqis would be more willing to co-operate.

Dr Gwendolen Al Wakeel
Bristol, England

After reading David Ransom’s article (Globalization NI 296) I was stunned. As part of the American flock (perhaps of ostriches), I saw all of the cheap imports in the marketplace and thought ‘World market good!’ And somehow I rationalized that the cheap labor in other parts of the world gained also because they now were at least making some kind of wage vs. maybe no wage. But, then there is this feeling that most Americans keep hidden: that somehow our precious capitalism is out of control. We hear about the World Bank and the IMF and the financial coups of the transnationals but we feel so far removed from all of this. We are torn between a feeling that economically something is very wrong and our inbred capitalist loyalties that tell us that we need to be in on all this money-making. We’re trying to figure out which company to buy stock in when we should be looking at a much broader picture. Having said all this, I would interested in learning more about the alternative views. Who is worth listening to on these matters?

Walter Ramsey
Russellville, Arkansas, US

Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Against sanctions
Thank you for printing Felicity Arbuthnot’s article ‘Dying of Shame’ (NI 298). Your contacts box contained only details of US-based campaigns against sanctions. I am writing to inform readers that there is also a UK-based campaign, run by students at Cambridge University. Our aims are to raise awareness of the effects of the sanctions and to campaign within the UK for them to be lifted on humanitarian grounds. Contact the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq (CASI), c/o Sebastian Wills, Clare College, Cambridge CB2 1TL. e-mail: [email protected] Website: http://linux.clare.cam.ac.uk/~saw27/casi/

Sebastian Wills
Cambridge, England

Cruel tyrant
I was angered while reading your article on Iraq, ‘Dying of Shame’ (NI 298) not because of the suffering of the children – this had already made me cry many times over – but because of how biased against the West your writer is. As far as I know: 1) Saddam Hussein never complied with the UN resolutions; 2) by preferring to hide and keep producing his nasty weapons Saddam Hussein has deprived his country of hundreds of billions of dollars in lost oil revenues; 3) nevertheless, the embargo has been partly suspended to allow Iraq to buy just enough food and medicines. Mr Hussein is a cynical and cruel tyrant who is letting his children suffer and die only to tear apart the heart of the population of the West. Sure enough the Americans are no angels when they insist on enforcing UN resolutions in the case of Iraq but not in the case of Israel. But the world should not hesitate one second in choosing between the two camps, Iraq and the US.

Emmanuelle Moors de Giorgio
Rome, Italy

Strong people
Your issue on Western Sahara (NI 297) portrays the Sahrawis as they truly are – strong, intelligent, dedicated people whose independence is long overdue. I usually find myself writing letters to editors after they have published an extremely one-sided Moroccan-influenced article. This is the first time I can write to a magazine praising the coverage of the Western Saharan situation. You created a thorough foundation for people to learn more about this issue so that they can remember and take action on behalf of the Sahrawis.

Shelley Wagner Beirouk
Fallston, US

Left-wing colonialism
An otherwise excellent Dec-ember issue (Desert dawn, NI 297) is spoiled by the re-emergence of left-wing colonialism. John McSweeney (Letters) writes that the need for an alternative viewpoint to capitalism is ‘greater than ever’. The only justification for this statement is that the capitalist system in now accepted by the vast majority of nations. Judging by the privatization success of most countries it is also more popular than ever.

Left-wing intellectuals lecturing developing nations from the comfort of their armchairs are one reason why so many are still struggling to embrace the free market. Capitalism is not perfect but it’s the best system we have. Even the oppressed Saharawi people recognize this.

Ian Lewis
New Brighton, England

Small world syndrome
I have every sympathy with the issues raised by your edition on Globalization (NI 296). However, my sympathy stopped with the baffling article ‘Homeworld’ by Trevor Turner.

I have worked with mentally ill people and their families in deprived inner-city areas for many years. The depressing experiences that Dr Turner relates to globalization are far more likely to be the result of ignorance bred into incestuous communities whose minds are closed. A touch of globalization and diversification of culture might help to increase tolerance levels, thereby alleviating, not creating, mental-health problems.

Organizations such as Amnesty International and Oxfam rely on international networking through a form of social globalization to meet their objectives. The Small World Syndrome, not globalization, is I suggest at the root of the mental-health problems described by Dr Turner. Diluting cultures and not concentrating them is more likely to alleviate the problem.

Jane McInnes
Glasgow, Scotland

Brandon Astor-Jones, a prisoner on Death Row in the US, has regularly written for the NI. He has just written to NI readers thanking them for their support and asking them to ensure that they write his full name and address: Mr Brandon Astor-Jones EF 122216, G3-77 Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, Post Office Box 3877, Jackson, Georgia, 30233, US. You should also put your own full name and address or the letter will not get passed on to Brandon.
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

Trees Letter from Colombia
Killing connections

Jenny James mourns the death of a friend and ponders the paradoxes of Colombian ‘justice’.

Luis Arenas was a retired police official and a supporter of the Colombian Conservative Party. He read of our ecological community in the Conservative daily newspaper El Tiempo (The Times) and wrote to us of his own environmental efforts down in the flat, hot country of Caquetá – Port Milán on the River Orteguaza.

I made the journey at the beginning of 1995. Luis was 62 and the sort of person who made you mind ever so much whether he approved of you; his wife Dolly was plump, warm-hearted and soon became my friend. I had long, deep conversations with Luis about the social and environmental situation and local political opposition to his work. I was moved by the depth of his caring; saddened and depressed so see how alone he was in his efforts and determined to work with him in any way that I could.

Several months, river journeys and letters later, I received a note to collect a registered letter from Neiva post office, a day’s journey away.

I collapsed on the post-office floor: ‘Luis has been assassinated,’ wrote Dolly. ‘A hired killer slaughtered him with 19 machine-gun bullets. Please come and see me. I am living in Florencia: it is not safe to go to Milán.’

I got out of the taxi and fell into Dolly’s arms. ‘Who was it? The narcos?’ Luis had been fighting for the substitution of the coca crop, ubiquitous in this region.

‘No, no.’

‘The guerrillas?’

‘No, of course not.’

‘Who then?’

‘The Alcalde (Mayor) of Milán.’

Luis’ political rival: Luis’ popularity had been rising rapidly because of his efficient, honest communal and environmental work; he would undoubtedly have become Mayor in the next elections. Does Colombia know no other way of arguing?

I knew privately that I would go to the guerrillas once I got home. They are the only people who do anything about anything and they take their time about it. But Luis’ family were hugely bourgeois, university lecturers, lawyers, highly placed social workers; I couldn’t talk about that side of Colombian reality with them. Yet when I suggested going to the Security Police, they had a fit. They definitely wanted me to do something, and kept looking at me intently as if I should know what they meant. I didn’t.

I don’t know how my mono-linear European brain finally caught on. When I at last came out with it, they all heaved a huge sigh of relief and became immensely enthusiastic: they wanted me to go to the guerrillas. I felt like a five-year-old, struggling to learn to read.

I had never met the Mayor, though one day in Milán Luis had taken me to see him, only to find that he was out. So, just in case all my informants were wrong and he was innocent, I did my own test. I sent him two poems, one ‘To Luis Arenas’ promising to carry on his green work; the other ‘To Luis’ Assassins’ ending with the line ‘Luis is at rest now. And you, little people, are you sleeping peacefully?’

I heard some time later that the Mayor was telling everyone he was ‘receiving death threats from Neiva’.

Months passed. Fear paralysed Luis’ family from taking further action. One day, ‘chance’ took me into Neiva, the nearest town. Passing a newspaper stand, I saw the headline: ‘Mayor of Milán accused of murder of Governor.’

He’s done it again, murdered someone else. I ran to the newspaper headquarters, breathlessly told my story in all its details. They dialled the number of Luis’ family.

Illustration by SARAH JOHN ‘Will you give me permission to speak now?’ I asked them. ‘Yes,’ came the reply.

The newspaper director drove me to the Public Prosecutor where I recorded everything I knew on tape.

‘This will help to keep him in jail,’ they told me.

I left the office, quietly saying my last goodbye to Luis.

Today, one memory nags me. I remember telling Luis the story of a young American traveller who had been machine-gunned to death in the nearby coca town of Getuchá.

‘But he was a vicioso [an addict],’ Luis had said. ‘You must understand that this is the people’s way of cleansing society.’

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

Contents - this Issue     Magazines Home


New Internationalist issue 300 magazine cover This article is from the April 1998 issue of New Internationalist.
You can access the entire archive of over 500 issues with a digital subscription. Get a free trial »

Subscribe   Ethical Shop