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Indigenous Peoples

new internationalist
issue 321 - March 2000



Jobs for the boys
Civilian peaceforce is far from neutral

Things are off to a shaky start for the Kosovo Protection Corps (known as the TMK) which aims to be a multi-ethnic civilian emergency service, lightly armed, and with no law-enforcement powers. Many new recruits are fresh out of the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) which officially declared itself defunct as part of the peace agreements signed last year.

More than 100,000 Serbs are said to have fled the province fearing revenge attacks by Kosovo Albanians. And the TMK is doing little to stop further intimidation. Former KLA members see the new service as a continuation of their army and disdain the attempts of the international community to enroll non-Albanians. In Drenica, Zenullah Prokshi, once commander of the KLA 14th Armored Brigade and now an active member of the TMK, says: ‘I know that the Serbs will never work with me. I hate them too much. Even those who did not sully their hands with blood helped the others to do so. I’ll never be able to share anything with them.’ His younger brother, Fitim, a former KLA communications officer, was more diplomatic: ‘As far as I’m concerned, the Serbs could join but I doubt that they really want to. They have committed too many crimes.’

Some Pristina shops already sell T-shirts printed with a jocular interpretation of the TMK acronym: ‘TMK, Tomorrow Masters of Kosova.’ Although the TMK will have only 3,000 full-time soldiers and 2,000 part-time reservists, with at least 10 per cent of posts reserved for minorities, many ethnic Albanians believe that power and privileges are likely to remain with the people who carried weapons for the KLA. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that 75 per cent of former KLA combatants wish to join the new Corps.

Late last year the IOM conducted the first registrations of non-Albanians wishing to join the TMK. Special offices were opened in minority-populated villages for anyone wishing to enlist. Particularly for the Serbs, showing up at ordinary offices alongside ex-KLA soldiers was deemed rather unwise. Only 150 people turned up – and none of them were Serb. For a force that is supposed to be multi-ethnic and devoted to the protection of all citizens, it is hard to imagine a more discouraging start.

Tomas Miglierina / Transitions Online: www.tol.cz/

Law and disorder
Ethnic and religious emotions in Nigeria have been aroused by the introduction of Shar’ia (Islamic law) in the impoverished northwestern state of Zamfara. In one of his first moves after the declaration of Shar’ia, Zamfara State Governor Sani Ahmed said women and men would now travel in segregated public transport. But it is the harsher aspects of Shar’ia – such as amputating the hand of a convicted thief – that frighten many non-Muslims. The vice-chair of the Network for Justice, Bashir Isyaku, says such fears arise out of ignorance. The amputation of limbs for theft, he says, can only be carried out under strict conditions and provision for appeals exists. Zamfara appears to be a test case for the application of Shar’ia in northern Nigeria – states such as Bauchi, Kebbi, Sokoto and Yobe are showing interest in the Zamfara example.

Irin / Newslink Africa Vol 17 No 45

Bearly surviving
Polar bears are under threat of starvation from climate change due to melting sea ice, a new study by scientists with the Canadian Wildlife Service concludes. Hudson Bay polar bears are unique in the Arctic because of their tendency to fast for six to eight months of the year, depending heavily on hunting for survival during the sea ice season. Since this season is the shortest in Hudson Bay of all the regions of the Arctic Ocean, these bears are likely to be among the first to be affected by sea ice decline.

Hungry polar bears increasingly wander south and create a ruckus, say locals such as Harvey Lemelin, Executive Director of the Churchill Northern Study Center: ‘Encounters now are not only bear sightings but bears that have to be moved away from the property using everything from dogs to vehicles to cracker shells.’ Greenpeace in Canada is pushing for the national Government to ratify the Kyoto protocol on climate change and get serious about phasing out fossil-fuel use. Greenpeace campaigner Tooker Gomberg says: ‘We’re wrong if we think that climate change is something that will happen far off in the future. Polar bears are starving and we need to act now to stop climate change.’

Greenspiration Odyssey.

For more information contact:
250 Dundas Street West, Suite 650
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5T 2Z5. 
Tel: 1 416 597 8408
Fax: 1 416 597 8422. 
Website: www.greenpeace.org

Child poverty rises
The Clinton administration has created greater instability and poverty for children of poor families, according to a conference held at Wayne State University in Detroit, US. 'The rate of poverty for children in single-parent households is particularly startling,' says Dr Alma Herrington Young. 'We can expect that 61 per cent of all children living in single-parent homes will be poor throughout most of their childhood.' Clinton's welfare plan introduced 'Temporary Assistance to Needy Families' which requires parent-recipients to work or face a cut-off of all aid. Clinton has boasted that since he has been in office the welfare rolls have dropped 46 per cent – from 14.1 million people in January 1993 to 7.6 million in December 1998. Arguing that work alone does not bring families with young children out of poverty, the National Center for Children in Poverty reports that the percentage of poor children with employed parents (63 per cent) 'has increased dramatically' – up 16 per cent between 1993 and 1996.

Carlos Baliño Institute


Violence against Guatemalan workers intensifies

In the firing line - the banana battle intensifies on all fronts, including fair-trade fruit like this in the Dominican Republic.

The methods used to maintain cheap banana production have been thrown into sharp relief by a violent incident in Guatemala, where 200 heavily armed men recently surrounded a meeting of plantation workers and threatened them with death. The meeting had been called by the union Sindicato de Trabajadores del Banano de Izabal (SITRABI) to plan a demonstration for the following day. Almost 1,000 workers had been fired from three plantations owned by Bandegua, a Guatemalan subsidiary of Del Monte Fresh Produce, one of the three transnational corporations that dominate the world banana business.

Accompanied by the hired guns, the president of the local Chamber of Commerce turned up at the 13 October union meeting and informed workers that Bandegua would leave Guatemala unless the demonstration was cancelled. Union leaders were taken under armed guard to a local radio station. There they were forced to broadcast messages calling off the demonstration, sign letters of resignation from the union and the company, and make filmed statements confirming that they were acting voluntarily. They were then warned to leave the area immediately or be killed. The SITRABI union hall in Morales, where the meeting took place, is no more than 400 metres from the headquarters of the local police, who failed to intervene.

The union leaders fled to Guatemala City, where they placed themselves under the protection of MINUGUA, the UN agency charged with monitoring the Peace Accords in Guatemala. MINUGUA described it as the most serious violation of human rights in the country since the killing of Archbishop Juan José Gerardi in 1998.

The incident came as a deepening crisis engulfed the world banana trade with falling prices and a glut of supply, particularly from the world’s largest exporter, Ecuador, where labour remains unorganized. The banana corporations responded by cutting costs, firing workers and even switching out of banana production altogether. In Guatemala, Bandegua informed the sacked workers that their plantations were to be rented out to ‘independent’ producers.

In Colombia, César Herrera Torreglosa, the 35-year-old leader of the banana union SINTRAINAGRO, was assassinated on 13 December. Since 1989, 20 of the union’s leaders and over 400 of its members have been assassinated – more than in any other union in Colombia, save the Teachers’ Union.

Meanwhile, as Banana War negotiations between the European Union and the World Trade Organization stumbled on, fair-trade producers met in Europe under the auspices of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO). The producers called for retailers in general, and superstores in particular, to do more to promote fair-trade bananas.

Increased interest in fair trade in the Windward Islands – the area hardest hit by the Banana War – is reflected in a comment from farmers’ leader Renwick Rose: ‘When you buy a cheap banana you are unwittingly participating in exploitation. People need to understand what lies behind the banana. There are children, mothers, fathers and blood, sweat and toil. Fair trade is not asking you to pay more, just what it costs.’

David Ransom / Additional information from Steve Coates.

Write to condemn violence and support union demands for reinstatement to:
Mohammed Abu-Ghazeleh, CEO, Del Monte Fresh Produce,
800 Douglas Entrance, North Tower, 12th Floor,
Coral Gables, Florida FL, 33134, USA.

For further information on:
1) the Guatemala labour dispute contact [email protected] or [email protected]
2) the worldwide banana campaign and César Herrera assassination [email protected]
3) the FLO producers’ conference (on which we shall be reporting in greater detail in the next issue of the NI) [email protected]
NI website topic index: www.newint.org/backissues/topic.htm

Cartoon by P J POLYP
Cartoon by P J POLYP


Bacardi blues

Rum is the latest battlefront for Cuba’s blockade busters

Drinkers are being asked not to buy Bacardi as part of an international campaign launched by Rock Around the Blockade, which works in solidarity with Cuba. The boycott aims to oppose the company’s role in the ongoing blockade of Cuba by the US.

The popular rum and alcoholic beverages company used its lawyers to help draft the US Helms-Burton Act, passed in 1996, which extends the blockade of Cuba to third countries. So central was the role of Bacardi’s lawyer, Ignacio E Sanchez, in establishing the law that US Senator William Dengue says it should be renamed the ‘Helms-Bacardi Protection Act’. The blockade prevents the sale of food, medicines and other essential supplies to Cuba and threatens other countries if they trade with Cuba. The blockade has cost Cuba millions in lost production and trade as well as contributing to malnutrition, poor water quality and preventable suffering and deaths created by embargoes on medicine. The American Association for World Health highlighted the last problem in a recent report citing the cases of a heart-attack patient who died because the US Government refused a license for an implantable defibrillator and of children undergoing chemotherapy who were vomiting on average 28 times a day for want of an embargoed nausea-preventing drug. Despite the effects of the blockade, Cuba in 1998 received a World Health Organization award for meeting all its targets by the year 2000 – the only country so far to have done so.

Western consumers are being asked to pledge not to buy any Bacardi products – and pubs, clubs, student bars and shops are being asked not to stock them. In Britain, a number of student bars have decided to make a stand and have replaced Bacardi with Havana Club, a genuine Cuban rum.

For further information contact:
Rock Around the Blockade
c/o FRFI, BCM Box 5909,
London WC1N 3XX, England.
Tel: +44 171 837 1688.
Fax: +44 171 837 1743.
E-mail: [email protected]

Indonesians reject independence demands
Independence for West Papua (officially known as Irian Jaya) has been ruled out by an Indonesian House of Representatives delegation. House legislator Astrid Susanto cited international opinion as a key reason for the decision. ‘Leaders of the foreign countries President Abdurrahman Wahid visited recently threw their weight behind Indonesia in dismissing independence demands here,’ he said. But the House delegation did back the locals’ demand that the province be renamed West Papua and its capital, officially known as Jayapura, be called Port Numbay. House Commission head Yasril Ananta Burhanudin also promised to investigate human-rights allegations. ‘Human-rights violations have become our focus,’ he said. ‘We will recommend stern measures against whoever is guilty of them, regardless of whether they are civilians or in the military.’

The Jakarta Post online: www.thejakartapost.com:8890
See also NI Interview.

Tracking down trouble
Once the backbone of rural law enforcement, there are now fewer Australian Aboriginal trackers than ever before. Hundreds of Aborigines were employed as police trackers early last century but now only one tracker is employed full time in Australia – Barry Port in the Cape York township of Coen. In the same region George Musgrave, a 78-year-old elder from the Ang-Gnarra tribe, is still regularly called upon to help in the 25,000-square-kilometre Laura police district where he can track down anything from cattle rustlers to missing American tourists. A few months ago, Musgrave tracked down a German marijuana grower near Cooktown after a week-long police hunt failed to find him. ‘I sneaked up on that fella and tapped him on the arm,’ says Musgrave. ‘He got a big shock.’

Sydney Morning Herald online: www.smh.com.au

Gulags exposed
North Korean defectors have exposed a secret gulag system which is at least as barbaric as that of the former Soviet Union. One former border guard was brought to a gulag as punishment for letting a starving family cross the river separating North Korea from China. In the camp where he was held there were 1,200 inmates when he entered and only about 25 were still alive when he was released a year later. Those who were too weak to work were starved and usually died within five days, says the guard: ‘That was the purpose. Everyone was intended to die here.’ Lt Col Ri, a Northern officer who fled to South Korea, says most of the estimated 200,000 people in the camps are innocent: ‘Ninety-nine per cent of these inmates are not criminals in the real sense. The crimes they committed [such as stealing food] were related to their struggle for survival.’

Far Eastern Economic Review Vol 162 No 47

Vine victory
Indigenous peoples from nine South American countries won an important victory as the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) cancelled the patent issued to a US citizen for the ayahuasca vine, which is native to the Amazonian rainforest. ‘Our Shamans and Elders were greatly troubled by this patent. Now they are celebrating,’ says indigenous spokesperson Antonio Jacanamijoy. A lawyer for the indigenous peoples, David Downes, says: ‘While we are pleased that the PTO has cancelled this flawed patent, we are concerned that the PTO still has not dealt with the flaws in its policies. The PTO needs to change its rules to prevent future patent claims based on the traditional knowledge and use of a plant by indigenous peoples.’

Center for International Environmental Law / Amazon Coalition


‘Shut up! I deserve to be respected; I’m the president of the Republic.
If you speak to me like that again you’ll pay for it.’

Mexican President Zedillo’s reply to a question from a flood victim in
October 1999 about what the Government was going to do to help.

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