Mexican and American environmentalists
Human rights activists
Indigenous leaders and representatives of the US government
Harry Wu, author, Troublemaker: One Man’s Crusade Against China’s Cruelty
This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.
JEFF MARTIN: This is Common Ground. In this edition of Common Ground,
managing the forests along the U.S.-Mexican border.
DOUG SHAW: And many of the habitats for some of the migratory birds, for example, are
shared between United States and Mexico and even some of the terrestrial species, it behooves us
to work together to manage the land and use the land in a way that protects the habitats.
MARTIN: And then later in the program, why Chinese dissident Harry Wu continues his
struggle against the leaders of his native country.
HARRY WU: I can’t forget. I cannot turn my back to my country, to my people.
MARTIN: Common Ground a program on world affairs and the people who shape events.
It is produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Jeff Martin. As commerce between the United States
and Mexico grows, environmentalists are concerned about how the timber trade between the two
nations might impact Mexican and U.S. forests. In the wake of a new Mexican forestry law both
governmental and non-governmental organizations are stepping up their activities around the
forest question. Kent Paterson has this report.
KENT PATERSON: (with sounds of heavy vehicles in the background) At the Santa Theresa
border crossing of southern New Mexico, a fork lift moves a load of Mexican lumber back onto a
truck. During the past two years Mexican wood product imports have grown at Santa Theresa,
soaring from 22,000 square board feet in 1995 to more than 36 million board feet in 1997.
Because of the trade the United States Department of Agriculture inspects lumber imports for
pests that could spread to U.S. forests and wreak havoc on the ecosystem. Sharon O’Neal is a
spokesperson for the Agriculture Department.
SHARON O’NEAL: The first requirement is that the stuff needs to be kiln dried and you
have like a moisture content. I think it’s 12 percent. And then it has to be pressure treated.
And if we have green lumber coming in from the Mexican interior, then we have approved establishments
here in the United States which are very close and that lumber has to be treated within 30 days.
PATERSON: (with sounds of heavy vehicles in the background) Twenty companies have permits
to ship wood products through Santa Theresa to mills and businesses in the United States. While
demand for the wood is great new permits for southern Mexican timber and soft wood products have
been stayed pending the issuance of an environmental impact statement by the Agriculture Department.
That’s because a federal district court in Northern California last year ruled in favor of a lawsuit
filed by the Oregon Natural Resources Council. The environmental group seeks to curb new foreign
soft wood imports until the Agriculture Department can show foreign pests won’t damage U.S. forests.
However, the decision doesn’t affect lumber imports from the five border states of northern Mexico.
According to Sharon O’Neal, the commerce in Mexican wood products raises new issues.
O’NEAL: We never traditionally imported lumber into the United States from foreign sources.
And when we did it was through Canada. So Canadian stuff was about the same as our own stuff.
However we’ve had certain issues that happened since 1990. One is the environmental issues that
are occurring in the Pacific Northwest. And also, the issue of who is going to log U.S. public
lands. Are we going to leave them alone? Are we going to harvest the resources? What are we
going to do? That has kind of put a lot of stops onto domestic lumber production. So therefore,
other lumber, in order to maintain our mills and our domestic production is actually being augmented
by foreign imports. And as I told you before a lot of these things, a lot of this importations,
they go up into Arizona, they go up into Oregon, Wyoming, Washington, Northern California. It’s
PATERSON: (with sounds of running water in the background) About nine hours south of Santa
Theresa a stream flows through the mountains of Chihuahua, Mexico. The landscape, graced with
pine-topped mesas and slopes, and carved with deep canyons, resembles Arizona and New Mexico.
Ecologists and biologists regard the mountains as the core of an ecosystem that extends into the
U.S. Southwest. Some of the wood that passes through Santa Theresa comes from these very same mountains.
MARGARITA BAQUETERO (SPEAKING SPANISH)
PATERSON: In the village of Cusurare, elder Margarita Baquetero takes a break from harvesting
vegetables. She explains the relationship of her indigenous Taramara people to the forest.
BAQUETERO: (via a translator) The resources we need to live are from the forest.
Whatever we have to eat comes from there. The forest is very important because if there is no
forest we won’t have medicinal plants or animals to eat. The forest has a lot of importance for
us because that’s where our artisan products, wood and furniture come from. When I was very
young, in 1940, the old forest was very big. A pine tree was very big. I remember very well
that no more than 2 pine trees would fit in a truck. Nowadays they are not the same pines as
they used to be. Now, 30 or 40 trunks can fit in a truck. What I’m seeing is that little by
little they’re finishing off with our pines. They’re finishing off with all the forest. That’s
why I say the forest is very important for us, but what I’m seeing is that little by little the
hillsides are being left very bare.
PATERSON: (with sounds of a lumber mill in the background) For more than 100 years
logging and milling have been important industries in the Sierra Tara Mara. Pine trees are
harvested and cut for pulp or wood moldings. Like at this plant in the town of Crio. But some
recent studies are documenting the decline of the forests. The old growth is disappearing and
mills are being forced to cut smaller trees. In Mexico, environmental authorities estimate that
about 50% of the harvested timber is illegally cut. Without the proper permits or outside officially
sanctioned zones. Forest loss is also being compounded by widespread fires. In early 1998
thousands of acres burned up in the Central and Southern parts of the country.
JUAN CARLOS PEREZ VASQUEZ: (SPEAKING SPANISH)
PATERSON: Juan Carlos Perez Vasquez is an organizer with Training and Community Development
Alternatives, a non-profit group in Chihuahua. His organization works with indigenous communities
to develop sustainable economies. Perez says logging practices favor profits over sustainability.
He contends that because of the removal of the forest cover an entire ecosystem along the U.S.-Mexico
border is being impacted.
JUAN CARLOS PEREZ: (via a translator) The drought we had in Chihuahua during the last 4
years and which also affected Arizona and Texas in the United States, had a lot to do with the
exploitation of the forest in Chihuahua and Durango. It’s the lifeblood of the water and the
frontier zone of northern Mexico and the United States. But it hasn’t been looked at this way.
Nor have there been an implementation of counteractions in a systematic series an professional
manner. And above all in a way that involves the people of the community.
LEONEL IGLESIAS: (SPEAKING SPANISH)
PATERSON: Forest ecology concerns are receiving some official attention from the three
NAFTA partners. For instance, model forest projects are under way between Canada and Mexico.
And according to Lionel Iglesias, of the Mexican government’s National Institute of Forestry Research,
authorities are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rocky Mountain Experimental Station
to devise a model forest simulation for the entire Rocky Mountain system. Iglesias adds that Mexico’s
revised forestry law contains new provisions that will make it tougher to engage in illegal
logging. He says the new law forces lumber storage yards to maintain a permanent inventory.
Also, truckers are now required to carry permits with their wood shipments. In the United States
the Forest Service operates a little known cooperative program with officials and landowners in
northern Mexico. Among other activities, foresters from the two neighbors exchange ecological
data and fight forest fires near the border. The U.S. spends a modest $300,000 annually on the
bi-national project, but Gilbert Vehiel and Doug Shaw, who work with the program from the Forest
Service’s Region III office in Albuquerque, expect cooperation between the two countries to grow.
GILBERT VIGIL: The fire situations, that drought, you know, if we were in a drought here
they’re in a drought down there, and we got, we have the fires that cross the border. And we
have species that are here and there. So the cooperation only, it only makes sense to be, to be
much stronger, much closer.
DOUG SHAW: We share an awful lot. I mean, we share the watershed for the Rio Grande, the
Rio Bravo. We share the mountain range, actually the northern Mexico extends on up into, into
Arizona. And many of the habitats for some of the migratory birds, for example, are shared
between United States and Mexico and even some of the terrestrial species, we share habitat.
It behooves us to work together to manage the land and use the land in a way that protects the
habitat for these species.
MARIA TERESA GUERRERO: (SPEAKING SPANISH)
PATERSON: But others have little faith that government-sponsored solutions will remedy
the forest program in the short-run. Instead, non-governmental forest advocacy groups are concentrating
on grass-roots organizing. They’re organizing educational forums and building cross-border
alliances. In a Chihuahua workshop, landowners hear from Maria Teresa Guerrero about the
intricacies of Mexican forest law. Guerrero is organizer with the Independent Chihuahua
Commission in Solidarity in Defense of Human Rights, COSIDAC.
MARIA TERESA GUERRERO: (SPEAKING SPANISH)
PATERSON: Guerrero’s group has been active in fighting what they consider unhealthy
logging practices. For instance, in the early 1990’s COSIDAC, together with the Texas Center
for Policy Studies, helped block a $100 million World Bank loan for logging in the northern
Sierra Madres. More recently, COSIDAC wages an Internet campaign against an international paper
company logging contract in Chihuahua. Guerrero says the latest effort drew considerable support
from U.S. environmentalists.
MARIA TERESA GUERRERO: (via a translator) We asked for solidarity from U.S. non-governmental
organizations and received enormous support. The issue isn’t to have U.S. environmentalists
attain success in passing stricter regulations governing their forests, only then to have the
companies come to Mexico where the forest law is being liberalized. What we need to do is work
together to internationalize the work of non-governmental groups and to show the companies that
they have to have a new approach with respect to the exploitation of forest resources. We know
that the paper industry is an important industry. Everything we do is with paper. We write and
we read with paper. The question is how to tackle the problem of paper production within the
context of conserving the world’s forests and discovering a way of producing that is less devastating.
The success of the non-governmental organizations in the United States cannot be the downfall of
the indigenous Mexicans.. That’s the ethical problem in the background. That’s if we see the
attitude of U.S. non-governmental organizations as an ethical question connected to what’s happening
in the mountains of Chihuahua, Durango and Guajaca in the forests of America.
PATERSON: (with sound of sawmill in the background) In the meantime as the debate over
the future of Mexico’s forests grow sharper, trees continue to be harvested for export abroad.
Many of their products will wind up in the United States as material for paper, firewood, and
building construction. For Common Ground, I’m Kent Paterson reporting.
JEFF MARTIN: We’ll take a break for a moment. And when Common Ground continues,
we’ll hear from Chinese dissident Harry Wu.
WU: Because I love my country. That’s why I want to expose the ugly truth of the
MARTIN: Printed transcripts of Common Ground and audio cassettes of this program
are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details on ordering. Common Ground
is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts varied
programs and activities meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.
Back in 1994 the United States de-linked the issues of trade and human rights when it comes to
China. The Clinton administration hoped that by engaging, rather than isolating China, the
human rights situation would begin to improve. Unfortunately this year’s report from the State
Department shows little improvement. Mary Davidson spoke with Chinese dissident Harry Wu about
the situation in China and his work to expose human rights violations in his native country.
DAVIDSON: Harry Wu is probably best known for sneaking into one of China’s prisons a few
years ago to film the conditions there for the television news program 60 Minutes. He was
caught by Chinese authorities but eventually released under international pressure and returned
to the United States. Wu has made it his mission to bring to light what happens in China’s
prison system. That’s because Wu himself spent 19 years as a political prisoner in one of them.
In a Winter issue of the Harvard International Review, Harry Wu compared China’s prison
system with the Soviet Gulag.
WU: The early 1950s a number of the Soviet Gulag experts, arranged by Stalin, came to
China. Helped the government, Chinese government, establish Chinese logai systems. You can
compare today’s logai policy, is no basic different from that policy.
DAVIDSON: And logai means exactly?
WU: Logai means “Labor and reform.”
DAVIDSON: Reform through work?
WU: From, through labor. Hard labor. Now, according to common knowledge every
totalitarian regime, they must maintain a suppression system. Otherwise, how to keep themselves
in power? I think this very common knowledge.
DAVIDSON: I’m sure you’re well aware of your critics here in the United States. Some
have accused you of inflating the numbers of people imprisoned in China. How d you respond to
that? Is it possible to know the numbers?
WU: In the early 1990s, actually the late of 1980s, I estimated 20 million. And recently
I find out the real number is close to 6 million. Okay. The Chinese government said that’s number
probably between 1.4 to 2.0 million. First of all we have to understand what is the real
definition of the prisoners. Now, if according to Chinese government’s estimate I am not a
criminal, I am not a prisoners. I was subject to life term of re-education through labor. No
trial, no paper. But I lost my freedom 19 years. And the other policy is you serve your sentence,
you get out of camp, not real get out from the camp. You become a worker and forced you,
resettle you, in the camp, as a worker. So called job placement policy. Just like the people
in Soviet Union served the sentence, exiled in Siberia, never can come back. My estimated number
includes those people.
DAVIDSON: And those two million prisoners that the Chinese government admits to, those are…
WU: We have to know one thing. What is the definition of criminal. In the early ’50s
many people sentenced to the prison camp as counter-revolutionaries, counter-revolutionary rightists.
Historical counter-revolutionaries, reactionary, anti-socialists, anti-Party’s elements, and on
and on. Recently they tried to dismiss the political term. For example, there are three young
people in 1989 movement. They went to the Tianneman Square. They throw the paints, damage the
portrait of Chairman Mao on the Tianneman Gate. They sentenced 16, 20 and life. Today, still in
the jail. But they crime? Damage public properties. So this is not a political crime, right?
How do you explain? Government information said, in 1958 85% of the prisoners in Chinese logai
camp is so-called political crime include the people as a thief. But you can find enemy class.
Okay. Today they try to dismiss the political term. Many people is talking about, “you are
the robber, you are the arson, you are the, you know, damage public properties.”
DAVIDSON: In 1995 you were arrested during a clandestine trip back to China. And
eventually allowed to return to the United States. Have you been back to China since then?
WU: I decline to make comments.
DAVIDSON: Well, your book Troublemaker covers that trip back to China in 1995.
Could you recap how you managed to slip into China undetected back then? And exactly what your
mission was there?
WU: I’m a very common person. I, today I enjoy my life, enjoy freedom in the United
States. I have family, I have good life. Why shall I risk my life to do something?
DAVIDSON: You anticipated one of my questions. Why would you risk your life?
WU: Let me tell you these things, okay. 1985, I passed the check-in point at the international
airport of San Francisco. I arrived, tell myself, “finally I am free.” And I told
myself, “Turn the page over.” I realized there’s many, not many years in the rest of
my life. I come to the United States 49 years old. I’m same as you as human beings. I like the
good food. I like good house. I want to love, to be loved. I want to start my family. I want
to live without the nightmare.
DAVIDSON: The nightmare of 19 years in the prison?
WU: Yeah. My whole family destroyed. My mother was committed suicide when they arrested
me. My father was tortured, lost all the belongings. Died wrongfully. My other, my younger
brother was killed. All my family separated with me. Is that enough? I did try, try to turn
the page over, okay. But I can’t. I can’t forget. I cannot turn my back to my country, to my people.
DAVIDSON: It’s very difficult to ask you this in light of what you’ve gone through, but
there are so many people who criticize you for, for what you do. For slipping back into China.
They say that’s, that’s using deceitful means for entering the country. And that you make a
career out of this China bashing. And I’m just wanting you to respond to those critics who say that..
WU: In 1995 trial…
DAVIDSON: This is back in China when you were arrested, while you were investigating the prisons.
WU: Yes. I did admit I violated Chinese law. For example, I did pose as a policeman.
Got into the labor camp. I did violate their law because I posed as a policeman. This Communist
law, this inhuman law. I know some criticism is come from Chinese.
DAVIDSON: Here in the United States?
WU: Yes. And even people, look, say, “I come from Tianneman Square. And my father,
my uncle, my relative was suffering in Chinese logai camp. But we behave different
from you. Because you hate our country.” I say, “Come on. What are you talking about?”
Chinese have very strong tradition, it called patriarchal tradition, nationalism tradition.
Not easy to distinguish the government and the motherland. They always try to put together.
And I say, “Today I telling these ugly things.. This is not a shameful for our Chinese, our
country. It’s a shameful things, ugly things from the Communist regime.” Right. Because I
love my country. That’s why I want to expose the ugly truth of the Communist regime. That’s why
I risk my life, to tell the people what is it. These things have not come from our Chinese. Not
come from our motherland. Is come from Communist regime.
DAVIDSON: Harry Wu was in the news again earlier this year when two Chinese citizens were
arrested in New York City on charges of conspiring to sell human organs. According to court
papers the men said the organs would come from executed prisoners in China. Harry Wu helped in
the investigation of these two men. He said one of them, a former criminal prosecutor in China,
came to him.
WU: And she said, “Under my control in this province, average every year have 200
executions. I can manage, I can guarantee 50 cadavers every year. For your business.” A
little bit, they go more further; each organ have a list.
DAVIDSON: A price list?
WU: Yeah, a price of the organ. Even they came, more further that. Guarantee the lung
is come from non-smoker’s lung.
DAVIDSON: China says the organs are taken only from voluntary donors.
WU: The organ donation for a civilized society is a good things. I support it. My driving
license have a sticker. If I have an accident my organ right away go to the other people.
DAVIDSON: You’re an organ donor.
WU: I’m organ donor. So, if the prisoner willing to donate organ, I think this is very,
very good things. We want to know, how many organs are really removed from executed prisoners.
Tell us, how many? Tell us, how many have a consent from prisoners. How many have a consent
from a family? And tell us, what is the procedure to get the consent? The prisoners voluntarily
in front of whom?
DAVIDSON: So what you’re implying is that any consent is forced.
WU: Produce a paper. Hitler also did it. Stalin also did it. Okay. Sign a paper in
front of the judge, in front of prosecutor, in front of police guard. It mean nothing.
DAVIDSON: Last Fall the Chinese government released another prominent political prisoner.
Wei Jen Chiang arrived in the United States after 18 years in prison for his activities during
the 1978-79 Democracy Wall movement. Last month Wei Jen Chiang wrote in the Washington Post
that we must not see his release as an indication that China’s human rights situation is improving.
Harry Wu agrees, but he does believe that Wei Jen Chiang’s release is an indication that the
Beijing regime is weakening.
WU: You can say there’s a kind of improvement in telling the people that they care about
international pressure. Basically today the situation in China is they need the money. They
need the technology from the West. So for this purpose they have to listen to international
society. So release the Wei Jen Chiang is going to make a deal for some exchange, some profit
from the West. So we have to know today the China need the West much more than the West need China.
DAVIDSON: Harry Wu’s book called Troublemaker: One Man’s Crusade Against China’s
Cruelty, is out in paperback this spring. For Common Ground, I’m Mary Davidson.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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