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new internationalist
issue 314 - July 1999

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]

Peanuts and compassion
I do not believe that Third World debt can be written off as purely a financial transaction as the NI construes in issue 312. It may seem cynical to suggest that debt is a deliberate instrument of repression, but evidence would appear otherwise. The ‘bondage of debt’ that David Ransom speaks of is precisely that.

Cover of the 312 Debt issue. (May 1999) It must be made clear that banks offer high-risk loans to incredibly poor nations because they know that the IMF and national governments will bail them out. Whilst it is true that this is partially to safeguard their own economies, the richer nations are also able to dictate precisely the economic growth (or lack of it) of the debtor nation. Thus we have an interesting and foolproof way of safeguarding the position of one state at the expense of another.

Money is not the issue; it could easily be found. The debts of Third World countries are, to the West, peanuts. Rather than asking how our governments can refuse our demands, we should be asking how they have escaped decency and compassion for so long.

Kerry Wall
St Neots, England

Unclear leaflet
I was rather sorry to get the ‘stop the bombing’ pamphlet with issue 312. To me the magazine should give a broad background coverage. The pamphlet makes some fair points, and some highly contestable ones. The comment that Serbian forces have displaced and murdered people ‘unchecked by international negotiations and observers’ (over 18 months/ 2 years) is an odd comment on the known horrors preceding the action. To say ‘it is clear that bombing does not work’ seems less clear to others. The ‘destruction of democratic opposition’ was already near-total. UN action would have been vetoed by both Russia and China, as both repeatedly said.

Anyway the point is not who’s right and wrong here (nobody is right probably) but the dangers of a quickly decisive tone on complex issues where a lot of people in good faith who are not militarists strongly disagree with you. By the same token I would never vote Conservative but it would be disappointing in a sense if some of your readers didn’t.

Michael Green
Birmingham, England

Boom for Whom?
It's great to celebrate the Dow's latest record, but it helps one's perspective to notice that only 40 per cent of Americans own any stocks, either directly or through mutual funds, pension funds, or trusts. The richest ten per cent hold 82 per cent of stock-market wealth. Most striking, over half of stock market wealth is held by the wealthiest one per cent of the population. At the very top, the wealth of Bill Gates has now surpassed $100 billion, or more than the combined net worth of the poorest 140 million Americans.

Leaving aside the disturbing implications for democracy and social stability of the increasing concentration of wealth, we can at least note the new market dictum: 'A rising tide lifts all yachts'.

Blaise Salmon
Victoria, BC, Canada

[image, unknown]
Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Doubtful sincerity
The proposed ‘Blair doctrine’ would allow a humanitarian right of interventions that the UN Charter presently forbids. The Prime Minister is of course entitled to propose changing the Charter, but what entitles him to act as if this change has already been made?

Governments that claim to be intervening on humanitarian grounds in one country should prove their sincerity by avoiding complicity in state repression in others. Yet the US and British Governments armed and backed the Croatian Government, which in 1995 expelled at least 250,000 Serbians. They are arming and backing Turkey’s Government, which is now conducting a campaign of repression on a similar scale to the Serbian, that has killed about 2,000-3,000 people. They are also arming and backing the Government of Indonesia, which is guilty of terrorism in East Timor on a far greater scale.

Worst of all the US and British Governments are the key supporters of the murderous sanctions against Iraq, which have killed more than a million people in ten years: this is the nearest present-day example of genocide. These acts of complicity throw some doubt on the sincerity of their commitment to opposing state repression.

Will Podmore
London, England

Editor’s note: The NI will be publishing issues on both Indonesia and Iraq in the next few months.

Old wounds
Thank you for the well-documented article ‘Clipping the Condor’s Claws’ (NI 311). Not only has the arrest of General Augusto Pinochet relieved Chilean friends here in Australia who were imprisoned and tortured under the military dictatorship, but these recent developments have opened old wounds and brought back horrific memories for those who have suffered. In Australia, activists are celebrating 20 years of solidarity and aid with Latin America and the Caribbean. We know only too well that the Australian government has been complicit and at times openly supportive of the US administration’s brutal treatment of the Latin American people who continue to struggle for liberation and justice in the region. International solidarity is one of the many ways that we can all struggle to achieve a more just and peaceful society. Hasta La Victoria Siempre!

Lynda Hansen,
Queensland, Australia.

Scottish centre
Thank you for your issue on Peace and Reconciliation (NI 311). Readers may be interested to learn that there is a Scottish Centre for Nonviolence currently being set up. Its address is Scottish Centre for Nonviolence, The Annexe, Scottish Churches House, Kirk St, Dunblane, FK15 OAJ.

Alina Armstrong
Edinburgh, Scotland

Atrocious fate
I was mortified to read the disturbing story (‘Update’ NI 309) about atrocities suffered by Native Canadians at the hands of religious organizations as recently as the 1980s. It is probably no consolation to them to know that Indigenous Australians suffered exactly the same fate until the 1960s. The absolute tragedy is that the Tibetan people are suffering the exact same fate right now at the hands of the Chinese and the United Nations chooses to ignore it, as does the world at large. The Declaration of Human Rights is a farce. How many more generations of the world’s Indigenous people must suffer this fate, I wonder?

S M Hawk
New South Wales, Australia

Ridiculous wars
The ‘Century in 5s’ article in your January issue needs to be updated in the light of current events – is there any war more ridiculous that the Nato aggression against Yugoslavia?

A war that is being fought only for the ‘pride’ of the aggressors (has anyone noticed that there’s no mention of the bullshit of ‘the international community’ any more?), a war that is actually the cause of the problems that would be solved, which is coupled with a hastened decline of any peace proposal, what can be more ridiculous than that?

Going to the ‘5 big ideas’ this war indeed proves that a UN independent of the US is a prerequisite for the existence of ‘United Nations’.

Nikos Missoulis
Southampton, England

CD-Rom price
Thank you for reviewing our CD-Rom program ‘Pillaged Lives: Third World Debt and Global Institutions’ (‘Reviews’ NI 309). We have had a number of queries about the price, which is $25. People can e-mail us at [email protected] or write to 1857 de Maisonneuve west, Montreal QC, H3H 1J9, Canada.

Derek MacCuish
Montreal, Canada

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

[image, unknown]

Going home
In her last letter, Louisa Waugh ponders on what she will miss on leaving Mongolia.

I knew I was leaving Tsengel village when the weekly mail arrived. Wedged in the bundle of letters handed over to Nina in the post office were three airmail envelopes addressed to me. They were all letters from my family and all said the same thing: 'When are you coming home, Louisa?'

I re-read the thin sheets of paper sitting in my yard with a cup of coffee. Afterwards I looked around me and pursed my dry lips. This small herding community had been my life for the last year. I knew all the local gossip, the simmering feuds and illicit affairs: the celebrations, traditions and drudgery that made up this secluded mountain village. But, after almost three years away from my own country, I suddenly reeled with homesickness, and knew with a sombre certainty my days in Tsengel were numbered.

I thought I was ready to leave. I couldn't face another raw, freezing winter in the mountains. I was sick of fetching slopping buckets of water from the river and washing myself in a tin bath. My skin was dry and my feet were cracked. I told myself there was a lot I wouldn't miss about the countryside.

Over the weeks before I left Tsengel, friends and neighbours crowded into my wooden cabin and constantly invited me for dinner. My stomach bulged after numerous mounds of horse meat and mutton noodles. Mongolians lavish food on guests who are embarking on a long journey - I ate and drank my way around the village, took endless photos and promised to return. In between the feeding frenzy and the farewell disco, I wandered along the river bank alone, absorbing every detail of the wild, silent landscape around me.

Landing in the capital Ulaanbaatar at dusk two weeks later was a revelation.

The taxi driver, who looked as though he was about 15, accelerated through the streets as high-pitched pop music screamed out of the tinted car windows. I laughed out loud as the illuminated city centre zoomed past. In the year I'd spent in Tsengel, there'd been electricity for exactly three weeks - and that was for four hours a day. Most people in Tsengel have never been to Ulaanbaatar and I suddenly felt like a flustered tourist, although I'd lived in the capital for two years prior to moving to the mountains.

Illustration by SARAH JOHN

I stayed with my friend Javhlan, who was amused by my waiting for the kettle to boil for ten minutes, before realizing I hadn't flicked the 'on' switch.

'You spent too long in the countryside,' she commented wryly, as I eventually poured the coffee. 'Just wait till you get back to England!'

But I knew it wasn't returning to London that would floor me - the contrast between life in Tsengel and Ulaanbaatar was far sharper than the differences between two capital cities.

I stood in front of a department store counter for 15 minutes one morning, trying to decide which brand of shampoo to buy. I'd ended up washing my hair with laundry soap in Tsengel (and it didn't look any the worse). Now labels dazzled me. Javhlan howled with laughter when I came home one evening with three different kinds of beer, because I couldn't remember which type I liked best any more.

All these choices were making my life difficult.

The day I'd booked my ticket to London, I sat in Javhlan's centrally heated lounge and mentally rewound the previous year. I had a host of memories from Tsengel impressed on my mind: my decadent birthday party, the chaotic school classes, seeing wolves for the first time, meeting the formidable Shaman.

Now I was heading back to constant hot water, book shops, English cinema and good pizza: all the things I thought I'd longed for. But what, I pondered, would I miss from Tsengel most of all?

It was the people, the immense, indigo sky - and the post office. I'd always raced to the tiny, cold post office at 11 am on Wednesday morning. Every week I'd felt nervous and excited when the decrepit delivery van rolled up. If I had mail, it made my whole day: I'd read and re-read letters, friends would visit my home to see photos or magazines I'd received - a parcel would send me into raptures. Getting a letter would never be quite so precious again.

Louisa Waugh lived and worked in Mongolia and is now writing a book about life in Tsengel.
Next month there will be a new letter from Lebanon.

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