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Aiding and abetting
Cover of the NI 332 on Bangladesh The article ‘When dollars swim easily’ (Aid in Bangladesh NI 332) made me consider a deeper question. A thief needs a fence to convert stolen goods to cash. Corruption needs banks to swim good dollars to bad bank accounts – either at source in the donor country, as hard currency transfers to personal external bank accounts, or on receipt in the receiving country, as a transfer to a personal account, then on to an external personal account.

In both cases the bank is the fence and the principal accessory before the fact for the theft of development aid or by acting as a dishonest broker to facilitate the transfer of illegal bribes or kickbacks. Banks know that the recipient does not have the right to handle such large sums in convertible currency. They know they are laundering money for criminals.

Without the willing help of banks, corruption in developing countries would not be such an endemic disease. These same banks have signed accords about not laundering stolen or drug-related money, but they continue to pay lip service to such principles. History will see them as the main culprit for aiding and abetting grand larceny on a gigantic scale. The by-product has been the destruction and destitution of millions of people who were sacrificed at the altar of profit and greed.

AF Edwards
Norwich, England

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What’s in the water
Further to ‘Poison in the Well’ (NI 332), I answered a UNICEF Clean Water appeal by sending a small donation with the promise of a larger one upon receiving a statement as to its position on fluoridation of drinking water.

Fluoridation, promoted as a public-health measure for children prone to tooth decay, is being foisted on 10 per cent of the British population without consent. It violates our right not to be indiscriminately medicated and transcends the code of medical ethics. The agent used is hexafluorosilic acid, an untested industrial waste-product containing arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium and other carcinogenic elements which, found free in the environment, would cause public outcry. Its effect on health could be catastrophic.

When challenged, politicians prevaricate, the media plays it cool and the Drinking Water Inspectorate ignores the risk factor. UNICEF is no better. It did not reply.

Bernard J Seward
Bristol, England

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Even the most well-intentioned of us... are at the mercy of information we are fed.

Rooting out heresy
I would like to applaud Paul Farmer’s article ‘AIDS heretic’ (NI 331). It brought to light the real issues surrounding the international condemnation of Thabo Mbeki and surrounding AIDS in general. I had been recently discussing the issue with friends and also in a university ‘international development’ class. I now realize that none of us were well informed. Even the most well-intentioned of us with a committed interest in international issues are at the mercy of the information we are fed. The NI seems to be one of the only sources that make a bold, educated effort at exploring the roots and nature of the issues. Congratulations, but that’s also incredibly frightening and depressing.

Judith Rae
Montreal, Canada

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Hidden hand
Re the photo caption on page 21 of NI 330. On 22 December 1997, 45 indigenous people were brutally massacred by an armed civilian group which goes by the name of MIRA, Movimiento Indigena Revolucionario Antizapatista (Revolutionary Antizapatista Indigenous Movement), not by the Mexican army as you mentioned. MIRA is just one of many paramilitary groups in Chiapas. Like the Contras in Nicaragua and the Kaibilies in Guatemala, these are local civilians, provided with military training and arms by the local government (those that trained many of these groups in Chiapas were students at the infamous School of the Americas). The paramilitaries who carried out the massacre in Acteal were indigenous peasants, neighbours of their victims, the poorest of the poor in their communities, minor offenders or delinquents. They had been indoctrinated by government officials against the ‘offending’ population – in this case a politically unaligned community of displaced peoples who, when offered a wage and a gun, leap at the chance of acquiring status and power, two things they have never had before. Paramilitaries are not to be confused with the national army who for political reasons cannot carry out such activities openly.

Jennie Gamlin
Mexico City, Mexico

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Reductionist lingo
I resent the use of the term ‘South’ when referring to poor countries in general. In NI 331 it appeared about a dozen times (eg, page 31, ‘large Southern cities...’ – do you mean London? Singapore? Sydney?). It is so overtly Eurocentric I find myself questioning the intentions of your magazine. Reducing global concerns to a single geographic reference is really missing the point.

Peter Hill
Plympton Park, Australia

Ed: We try to vary our terminology as much as possible. But ‘South’ is a convenient shorthand which has been embraced by many in the Majority World (another new term we have tried to promote). Is it any less acceptable than referring to rich nations (including Australia) as the West? Can readers suggest other alternatives to the traditional ‘Third World’ or ‘developing countries’?

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Cover of the NI 331 on Health Drug companies on the make
Whilst South Africa is in the dock for trying to produce affordable drugs for its HIV-positive population, it would be more appropriate to deliver a ‘guilty’ verdict on the multinational pharmaceutical companies using the World Trade Organization regulations to prosecute this case.

While the latter try to prevent developing countries such as South Africa, Brazil and India from producing their own, cheaper, anti-HIV drugs, Western governments seem reluctant to challenge this – seeming to expect ethical self-regulation from drug companies, wishfully thinking that consideration for the well-being of all will temper their drive for profit.

After four years of promising, it is time the British Government finally produced its HIV strategy and made clear its own contribution to tackling HIV – in Britain and worldwide – including calling for the companies to drop their lawsuits against developing countries such as South Africa, and calling for all other governmental and non-governmental organizations to join in this demand – right now.

John Nicholson
UK Public Health Association,
75 - 77 Ardwick Green North, Manchester M12 6FX,
England. Tel/fax: +44 (0)870 010 1930.
E-mail: [email protected]

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[Homosexual people]... must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity

Acceptance and respect
Thank you for a very informative and, indeed, heart-rending issue on How the system makes us sick (NI 331). Can I just say that your ‘Factfile’ on religion is incorrect to state ‘only some Buddhist organizations have a policy of accepting gay people.’ I would like to refer you to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which declares: ‘[Homosexual people]... must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfil God’s will in their lives...’ (paragraph 2358). It is true that some Christians are homophobic, but it should be clear to all that Christ Himself does not share those fears. Indeed, in the Gospels, for example John Chapter 21, Jesus is at pains to build and sustain close, loving emotional relationships with other men, although he chooses not to express such relationships sexually.

Andy Clarke
Fukuoka-kan, Japan

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Contested version
Your Chronicle 2000 entry ‘Serbian Uprising – Milosevic: the end?’ (NI 331) was far off the mark. The ‘coup d’état’ of 5 October 2000 was planned in the NATO offices and carried out by local players. These had been trained, equipped, financed and led into action by Western intelligence operatives, some of whom participated in the storming of the Serbian Parliament in Belgrade. The ordinary people, frightened by the violence, stayed home that night!

The US Senate approved funds worth $100 million in July 1999 for the Serbian ‘democratic’ opposition, to help them knock down the socialist government and install another that would promote Western privatization and other ‘free market’ programmes – ie a quick sell-out of the country’s assets to and its colonization by the West. The IMF, World Bank, hundreds of corporate CEOs and other Western vultures are already there to make it happen.

Tika Jankovic
San Jose, US

Letter from Lebanon

Salman’s struggle
Reem Haddad reports on an incurable
optimist’s campaign for a patch of green.

He could easily have turned away like many others. But not Salman Abbas. Night after night and hour after hour, the 37-year-old sits at his computer responding to every one of the roughly 60 international e-mails he receives each day.

‘The Lebanese living abroad must know what is going on,’ he tells me with a determined nod. The e-mails are in support of his cause. To Salman, the ‘cause’ is obvious: Beirut has practically no parks to speak of, so why not turn the horse-racing track in the midst of a residential area into a public garden?

Beirut’s green areas are few and far between. Currently, the amount of public space per resident is as low as 0.8 square metres, 50 times less than the recommended healthy average under international standards. And those parks that do exist are small and cannot accommodate the area’s residents. As a result, children end up playing in the streets, dangerously close to speeding cars. The racetrack, which occupies less than half of a 210,000-metre-square green area, could serve as a much-needed recreational outlet for up to 1.5 million Beirut residents.

It wasn’t Salman who came up with the idea. In fact, an environmental organization, Green Oasis, was created by members of the community for the sole purpose of fighting for the conversion of the horse track into a garden. Salman was part of the group. Months of meetings, press conferences, petitions and negotiations with government officials, however, led nowhere.

In great frustration Salman would call me up. ‘What is wrong with these people in the Government?’ he said. ‘Residents of Beirut need parks. Children must play in safe areas and the elderly should have a place to stroll or sit.’

The voice of money, however, is much stronger than those of the children or the elderly. It’s certainly stronger than Salman’s.

The racetrack, valued at $800 million, is owned by the Beirut municipality. A considerable income comes from the Sunday races; a percentage is allocated to the municipality and a large amount goes to the Association for the Protection and Improvement of Arab Horses, which manages the track and is heavily supported by powerful politicians.

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Illustration: Sarah John

The municipality claims that it needs the extra income from the races. Environmentalists have in vain suggested various ways to generate income for the municipality: through public gardens with a café and recreational facilities or by taxing each of the 1.5 million inhabitants of Beirut an additional 60 cents. Each suggestion has been firmly refused.

In theory Green Oasis’ fight was against the municipality of Beirut, but in reality they were up against politicians who greatly benefit from the races. Faced with such strong opponents, many of the members of Green Oasis simply gave up. Except Salman.

An agricultural engineer, he frequently misses days at work to meet with various members of the municipality – explaining over and over again the importance of parks in the city. In vain, friends tell him that the powers against him are too strong. He doesn’t seem to hear them. ‘What if I go to all the households and have them sign another petition?’ he asks me instead.

An environmental organization he belongs to, Green Line, has already collected 16,000 signatures in favour of turning the racetrack into a public garden. The petition failed to impress the municipality. Instead, they offered to plant trees along the city’s streets.

‘Planting trees is fine,’ he explained patiently to the members of the municipality yet again. ‘But greenery doesn’t just mean trees. It means the social concept of making room for children to play somewhere and providing young and elderly people somewhere pleasant to sit, like in any other country.’

A recipient of the Hubert H Humphrey Fellowship at Cornell University in 1997, Salman could easily seek employment outside Lebanon and emigrate. He could settle somewhere where parks do exist. Two years ago, an international environmental organization offered him a prestigious job with good pay. It was tempting. His current job brings him a meagre salary and sometimes – thanks to the devastated Lebanese economy – no salary at all.

‘But if I join them,’ he told me, ‘then I would have to fight for their causes – which are fine. But right now I need to fight for more basic requirements in Lebanon like the need for trees and for parks. Or like stopping quarrying and preventing villages from incinerating their waste.’

And so Salman’s struggle continues. Despite all the odds against him, he strongly believes that change for the better is just around the corner.

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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New Internationalist issue 334 magazine cover This article is from the May 2001 issue of New Internationalist.
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