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World View: The Curse of Xawara, & New Itinerary for Africa

The Curse of Xawara

The tragedy being enacted in Northern Brazil appears to be moving towards its last act. It is a tragedy that has been enacted throughout the history of private property.

The fate of indigenous people invaded by a more economically developed society makes a sorrowful catalogue of human misery. The Native Americans slaughtered in the United States in the last century, the butchery of the Aborigines in Australia and now the destruction of the Yanomami people in Brazil.

It has been estimated that there were over 100,000 Yanomami roaming the watershed of the Rio Branco and Orinoco rivers in the Northern Amazon basis when the Spanish colonises reached the New World. It is reckoned that they have lived in these tropical rain forests for something like 40,000 years but it is now though that only 22,000 of them survive, 9,400 in Brazil and the rest in Venezuela.

Unlike many other tribal groups, the Yanomami have managed to resist integration with modern capitalism. Portuguese exploiters, who attracted indigenous people into their settlements and into slavery, failed to lure the Yanomami from their traditional communal culture. Likewise, early missionaries failed to convert them to their guilt-ridden religious opium. The Yanomami preferred inhaling the Yakuna (a hallucinogenic tree extract) and practising their traditional rites and ceremonies. Modern anthropologists consider them to be one of the last remaining societies on earth that still live in kinship groups and inhabit "malocas" (communal huts). They exist on a staple diet of cassava gathered from their manioc plantations and game from the jungle, such as monkeys and turtles. They live the semi-nomadic life that once was the norm for all of humankind. They are a living example of humanity's communal past. Tragically, they appear doomed. Modern capitalism will probably see to that.

Many of them were killed in the 1970s when the Brazilian military government, in an attempt to open up the Amazon to gold speculators and cattle barons, built the first highway through the Yanomami's terrain. The road was never finished but thousands of the Yanomami were. They were killed by the infections, such as Yellow Fever, brought by the road builders. The 1990s were to see an increase in the encroachment of capitalism in their way of life. Their reservation of 9,000 square kilometres was reduced to 2,000 and the government allowed another 256 square kilometres of their land to be exploited for gold mining in 1990. Little attention is paid to "human rights" when capital becomes involved. Some 45,000 gold miners have poured into their land, polluting their rivers with mercury, blowing up villages, and shooting children (they call them "monkeys") out of the trees for sport.

The recent forest fires have devastated even more of their forests. Many of these fires were started deliberately to clear land for cattle. The Yanomami must have to forest to live, without it they must die. There are laws in Brazil that debar the exploitation of the shrinking rain forest area that the Yanomami inhabit, but these are largely ignored by a government desperate to advance the development of capitalism in Brazil.

These last remnants of a former stage of human society have at present little chance of survival. Neldo Campos, the state governor, voiced the insatiable voice of modern capitalism when he said; "There is too much land for the Indians, and the devastating economy of the state will make it inevitable that hungry colonisers will want to move in on the indigenous reserves."

The Yanomami language is a linguistically isolated one with many dialects, making anthropologists believe that they once occupied a much larger area than at present. Their word for disease and epidemics is "Xawara" which they see as an evil spirit that lives in the bottom of the world. They have the same word for gold. They see the "nabebe" (white men") as having an insane desire to bring disease and gold from the bottom of the world.

The working class of the so-called "civilised" world must establish World Socialism very soon, otherwise, the men, women and children of the Yanomami people have little hope of survival. After all, as workers, we also suffer from the curse of Xawara.

RICHARD DONNELLY

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New Itinerary for Africa

Those who chanced upon UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's recent report on Africa's ills, requested by the UN Security Council as a contribution to the US effort to bring about an "African Renaissance", could be forgiven for thinking it was written by President Bill Clinton on behalf of the US corporate elite.

Annan's manifesto smacked of the same hypocrisy and was fused with the same Orwellian double-speak as had characterised much of President Clinton's speeches during his six-nation tour of Africa in March.

Annan's blueprint called for continent-wide reforms and urged Africa to solve its own problems. He criticised the "accountability of leaders", neglecting to mention just how many were US-backed, the "inadequate checks and balances, non-adherence to the rule of law", the lack of respect for human rights, argued that African governments should stamp out corruption and accused African states of being far too reliant on military force. All of this would be laughable were it not downright pathetic, for the same critique could just as easily be levelled against the US, with particular emphasis on violations of human rights and some 300 foreign military interventions.

The report suggested Africa could steer a path to "economic liberation", by ushering in deregulation and the privatisation of state-controlled industries and that the private sector was the engine of growth that would speed Africa's integration into the world economy.

Ever the altruist, Annan also suggested that other countries could also do their bit to help Africa, but for instance by reducing debt repayments and by opening their markets to African goods, and he proposed that a ministerial session be held every six months by the UN Security Council that would result in a summit in five years' time. Talk about the triumph of hope over experience!

It hardly seems coincidental that Annan's report comes less than a month after president Clinton's six-nation tour of Africa, nor that this tour included specifically those countries deemed economically stable, countries highly rated in a Harvard study which listed African countries according to "good governance and competition"—Ghana, South Africa, Botswana, Senegal and Uganda. Rwanda was included but only as an afterthought and the object of the visit to "send a message that genocide is not acceptable and cannot go unpunished", (Guardian, 26 March)—brave words indeed from a president whose military machine brought about bloodshed in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Iraq on a much greater scale than in Rwanda.

Pre-empting Annan's report, President Clinton had previously declared his 12-day visit to Africa to be all about "delivering the message that the US stands ready to be an active partner in Africa's prosperity", (Guardian, 16 March). If past experience is anything to go by, Africa's immiserated millions should set no store by such statements. For when it comes to trade with Africa and direct foreign investment, the facts speak for themselves:

Whereas flows of direct foreign investment reached $315 billion in 1995—two-thirds of those transactions between the wealth OECD countries—only 0.5 percent found its way to the developing world. and while the former are the main beneficiaries of the "Uruguay Round" of GATT, sub-Saharan Africa is expected to lose $1,200 million per year. It is also the case that trans-national corporations (TNCs) have almost total control over the process of globalisation, and that they can dictate the terms and conditions governments must adhere to prior to investment. These same TNCs will have the biggest say in Africa's future, and it's worth pointing out that in 1994, the top 5 TNCs had an income of $871.4 billion, compared to sub-Saharan Africa's GDP of $246.8 billion, that in the same year General Motors alone enjoyed corporate sales of $168.8 billion, while Nigeria (Africa's most populous country) had a GDP one-fifth of that figure.

This is the reality behind Kofi Annan's diatribe. These are the facts President Clinton's speeches are devoid of. There is no real agenda to lighten the lot of the average African, regardless of the cant contained in the recent African Growth and Opportunity Act approved by the US House of Representatives. Africa may well experience growth, but when the big boss is sent over to Africa you can bet your bottom dollar the real beneficiaries are already sizing up Africa's mineral deposits and the exploitability of the African working class. That whereas in the past, when Africa was divided between the superpowers, each one pursuing their own interests, the future will see Africa divided between the super TNCs.

JOHN BISSETT