Week of April 29, 2003, Program 0317
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|Iran War Reaction||Transcript||MP3||Related Links|
|Afghan Health||Transcript||MP3||Related Links|
|Cambodia Landmine Museum||Transcript||MP3||Related Links|
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SULTAN ABDULLAH: [via a translator] I would have hoped that the Iraqi people would defend their land and their homes, because the worst thing is that they threw stones at Saddam, and they welcomed the American and British armies.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, Jordanians hope for a quick American withdrawal from Iraq.
KEITH PORTER: And Iran’s mixed reaction to the fall of Saddam Hussein.
MOHAMMAD HOSSEIN HAFEZIAN: They think that the United States will not stop at this station. They will try to contain Iran, contain Iran and perhaps they repeat the Iraq scenario in Iran, too.
PORTER: Plus, a former child soldier’s campaign to disarm Cambodian landmines.
AKI RA: From the war until now I clear many, many thousand—twenty, thirty thousand, in my life.
MCHUGH: These stories—coming up next.
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PORTER: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Keith Porter.
MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. As the United States sets about the task of reconstructing Iraq and installing a transitional administration, Washington is facing criticism from many parts of the Arab world. Several governments, including some traditional US allies, say the US-led forces have accomplished what they set out to achieve in Baghdad—namely the ouster of Saddam Hussein from power. Now they say it’s time for the US to withdraw. And as Common Ground‘s Simon Marks reports from Amman, the capital of neighboring Jordan, many local residents agree.
[The sound of the Moslem call to prayer.]
SIMON MARKS: Something different is happening these days—every Friday in Amman. Each week the center of this ancient capital is transformed as crowds spill out from the mosque that dominates the downtown skyline. Muslim worshippers pray on sidewalks, in alleys, and in the doorways of nearby stores. There’s nothing unusual in that—it’s been happening here for centuries. But what is unusual is that once the prayers have ended, the people of this city go back to school, to work, to their homes. For the first in many weeks they do not participate in demonstrations protesting against the US invasion of neighboring Iraq.
MOHAMMED SALAH MAHMUD: [via a translator] We used to demonstrate to express our feelings and our support for the Iraqi people. What are we going to demonstrate for now?
MARKS: Mohammed Salah Mahmud speaks for many in the crowd of worshippers.
MOHAMMED SALAH MAHMUD: [via a translator] The government has collapsed. In an instant, there was no Iraq, no nothing. So what are we going to demonstrate for? How can we demonstrate against American occupation? There’s nothing we can do.
[The sound of the Moslem call to prayer.]
MARKS: These are confusing and bewildering times for the people of Amman. They’re stunned and amazed by the speed with which Saddam Hussein and his regime in Iraq fell from power. A military operation dubbed by the Pentagon “Shock and Awe,” has certainly brought those qualities to the Jordanian capital. Sultan Abdullah is another worshipper at the Mosque.
SULTAN ABDULLAH: [via a translator] I would have hoped that the Iraqi people would defend their land and their homes, because the worst thing is that they threw stones at Saddam, and they welcomed the American and British armies. This is absolutely shameful. It’s a disgrace to their honor and to their faith.
MARKS: That view, that the Iraqi people should have put up more of a fight and resisted the American-led invasion is widely shared in Amman.
RAMI BATRAWI: Everyone is saddened about what happened to the Iraqi people.
MARKS: Rami Batrawi works in Jordan’s information technology sector. We found him with his friends at an American-style bookstore and coffee shop in the center of Amman. Jordan’s young professionals who, before the war began, expected Saddam Hussein to give US forces a run for their money, now profess astonishment that it all fell apart so fast.
BATRAWI: Our hearts and our minds were with the Iraqi people, and we were shocked when we saw them welcoming the, and celebrating the end of war. When Saddam disappeared suddenly and the Americans walked in the streets of Baghdad. We were really shocked. Because everything in the past three weeks or month, every single minute of our lives we were thinking, “Poor Iraqis, what’s going to happen to them?” And I was really shocked when—I mean, they could have stayed at home and done nothing. That was better.
MARKS: And many in Jordan have also changed their views about Iraq’s former leader. Jacoub Abougoush, a student drinking coffee in the bookstore, says Saddam Hussein—once said to be passionately worried about his historical standing in the Arab world—now has a dreadful reputation in Jordan.
JACOUB ABOUGOUSH: We’re talking about a man who used to get rid of people closest to him, just to ensure his, his, you know, staying in power. Which is considered very, you know, someone—only a coward would do something like that. So basically only a coward would run away and leave without any kind of fight or any kind of resistance.
[The sound of a busy Jordanian newsroom.]
MARKS: In the newsroom of Al Rai, one of Jordan’s leading newspapers, journalists have been working around the clock to keep the country informed about the epoch-changing events on the other side of the border with Iraq. George Hawatmeh is the newspaper’s editor and an influential regional voice. He says people on the Arab streets of Jordan will now judge the US invasion of Iraq by the kind of nation that emerges from the misrule of Saddam Hussein.
GEORGE HAWATMEH: They want to see solid action. They don’t want empty promises. We’ve lived enough with the double standards pursued by the West so far. We’re not going to believe—we’re not gonna take words from them anymore. They fought a battle in Iraq, they won. We’re yet to see what they’re going to do with their victory.
[The sound of a bus depot.]
MARKS: Some in Jordan aren’t prepared to wait. Even now, at the bus depot in the center of Amman, some of the 100,000 Iraqis who call Jordan home are trying to return to Iraq. Like many proud Iraqis, Abed Hakim says he wants to urge the Americans to leave his country.
ABED HAKIM: [via a translator] America is just cheating and lies. And the Iraqi people will not accept what America says. I am Iraqi, and I wish to go back to Iraq. And when I go back, I will teach my children and my grandchildren to fight for their country, and to eject the Americans.
MARKS: That may not be the welcome the United States hoped to receive in Iraq, but it does reflect growing regional concerns that having won its victory, the US should now leave Iraq to the Iraqis. If it doesn’t, those demonstrations that have stopped for now may return to the streets of Amman. For Common Ground, I’m Simon Marks in Amman, Jordan.
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Common Ground's "The Iran Project"
Iran From World Press Review
Korea, North From World Press Review
PORTER: The fall of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein brought joy to many Iranians who remember their grueling eight-year war with his country. But the delight is tempered by a feeling of uncertainty about what will happen next. Many Iranians are apprehensive about the threat of US forces next door. But others welcome it as an impetus for change in the Islamic Republic. Roxana Saberi reports from Iran’s capital, Tehran.
[The sound of an Iranian TV news broadcast.]
ROXANA SABERI: The news of the Iraqi leader’s downfall at the hands of US-led forces lifted the spirits of many Iranians. They remember how Saddam Hussein attacked their country in 1980, sparking a devastating eight-year war. Some, like Leila, an Iranian-Brit visiting her mother’s home near Tehran, say what Iraq needs now, is democracy.
LEILA: His population were suffering for a long, long, time and it’s time that Iraq gets better, either in humanitarian terms and financially.
SABERI: But for many Iranians, joy with Hussein’s removal is tempered by uncertainty about what will happen next in Iraq. Along with Iraq and North Korea, the Islamic Republic of Iran is part of President Bush’s three-member axis of evil. Tehran has not had diplomatic relations with the US since Washington cut ties about a year after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution. During the US-led war on Iraq, Iran was torn between two enemies. It took a position of active neutrality, publicly denouncing the attack on Iraq. At the same time, it seemed to realize quiet cooperation with US and Britain might improve its post-war position.
MOHAMMAD HOSSEIN HAFEZIAN: Iranians are waiting to see what will happen in Iraq.
SABERI: Mohammad Hossein Hafezian, an Iranian researcher of Middle Eastern studies, says Iran faces three main scenarios in post-war Iraq. He says the best situation for Iran’s ruling authorities would be a Shi’ite Iraqi government sympathetic to Iran’s interests. But he says the US will likely prevent this from happening.
MOHAMMAD HOSSEIN HAFEZIAN: And for this reason, they are content to, to the middle scenario, the so-so scenario. That will be a government that is elected by the Iraqi people and is not hostile to Iran and has friendly relations with Iran but not Iran’s puppet.
SABERI: Hafezian says Iran’s worst-case scenario would be an Iraqi government completely in American hands and unfriendly to Iran. The uncertain future of Iraq is making many of Iran’s leaders, especially those in the clerical establishment, wary of American objectives in the region. Many are anxious about US military build-up on Iran’s doorsteps in the Persian Gulf.
[The sound of Iranian national supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking to a large crowd at a mosque.]
SABERI: At a recent Friday prayer session in Tehran, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told thousands of Iranians he condemned the war as a military offensive with imperialist goals. The ayatollah, who sets the direction of the country’s domestic and foreign policies, said while he welcomes Hussein’s departure, he opposes US plans to install a military government in Baghdad. Such a move, he said, would be an act of aggression against Islam.
[The sound of Iranian national supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking to a large crowed at a mosque.]
AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI: [via a translator, speaking to a large crowd] If the US believes in democracy it must leave Iraq now. Because it wanted to defeat Saddam and now Saddam has been defeated.
SABERI: The fear of many of Iran’s authorities is that after Iraq, the US will focus on their country—if not militarily, culturally, politically, or economically. US Secretary of State Colin Powell has warned Iran, along with Syria, to stop pursuing weapons of mass destruction and supporting terrorist activities—charges that Iran and Syria deny. He says these warnings don’t mean the US military will attack those countries. But Hafezian says many of Iran’s leaders are not convinced.
MOHAMMAD HOSSEIN HAFEZIAN: They think that the United States will not stop at this station. It will proceed to expand its hegemony, in their own words, and they will try to confine Iran—contain Iran and perhaps they repeat this scenario, the Iraqi scenario, in Iran, too.
SABERI: Some of Iran’s reformists say if the US starts to seriously threaten Iran, it will give powerful hardliners an excuse to crush reforms. The reformists themselves say the US and British victory in Iraq should be a strong impetus for change at home. They say if the Iranian government accelerates reform through democratization, there will be no need or excuse for the US to repeat the Iraqi scenario in Iran.
[The sound of a speaker at an Iranian opposition party rally.]
SABERI: At a gathering in Tehran for supporters of an opposition party, a speaker said Iran must unite through nationalism instead of religion to prevent the US from attacking.
[The sound of applause.]
SABERI: On the way home from the event, a young Tehrani, who preferred to remain anonymous, said he agreed nationalism should be a unifying factor. But the mechanical engineer also said he does not think the US will attack Iran militarily.
YOUNG IRANIAN ENGINEER: They have the other, another, for example, strategies which will come over Iran. Something mentally. For example, they change the mind of people, they change the culture. That’s a loss of culture I think, and for no country it is okay.
SABERI: He and his wife, a college student majoring in English translation, say they would oppose any kind of US pressure for change in Iran. Change, they say, should come from within.
YOUNG IRANIAN ENGLISH TRANSLATOR: Change by Iranian, not by foreign…
YOUNG IRANIAN ENGINEER: …foreign forces.
YOUNG IRANIAN ENGLISH TRANSLATOR: …foreign force.
SABERI: As Iranians wait to see what happens next door, they remain in a sort of limbo. While some don’t believe US assurances it has no plans to attack their country, many know Iran is on America’s radar screen. They realize the US-led attack on Iraq and the events that follow will shape their region, their country, and their future. For Common Ground, I’m Roxana Saberi in Tehran.
MCHUGH: Applying the lessons learned during the Afghan war, next on Common Ground.
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United Nations & Afghanistan
International Security Assistance Force
Iraq From World Press Review
MCHUGH: As the war in Iraq winds down, the long, and costly process of nation-building begins. There are parallels with the case of Afghanistan, except that there the process had faster UN backing than Iraq did. Was that a help or a hindrance? The EU envoy to Afghanistan, formerly the UN senior diplomat there, Frances Vendrell says the multilateral approach to rebuilding Afghanistan may have held it back. He criticizes what he calls inertia over spending money in Afghanistan. Vendrell says Iraq could stand a better chance, because the US-led coalition chose to bypass the UN system. Suzanne Chislett reports from London.
SUZANNE CHISLETT: Nations without a leadership, citizens without a state. There were many similarities between Iraq and Afghanistan at the fall of their administrations. The EU’s envoy to Kabul says the path to progress is a tricky one. Francesc Vendrell accuses donor nations of withholding cash they promised to give. He says Afghanistan’s militias should have been disarmed.
FRANCESC VENDRELL: It was certainly foreseeable and I think we, almost all of us I think, on the whole foresaw that unless the commanders of the Northern Alliance were either neutralized or eventually forced to disarm or persuaded to disarm, that there would be no settlement in Afghanistan.
CHISLETT: Afghanistan’s warlords argue they need to keep their militias because outside Kabul there’s no functioning civilian police force. Francesc Vendrell is calling for an expansion of the peacekeeping force—the International Security Assistance Force or ISAF—to cities beyond Kabul.
VENDRELL: If we’re going to have free and fair elections and a reasonably objective constitutional process I think it may be necessary to find ways of having, for a small period, forces from the coalition or from ISAF providing security across the country.
CHISLETT: Resistance to change is in part because ISAF is a multi-nation project, and consensus on greater investment is hard to achieve. So law and order and basic infrastructure such as roads and schools remain pressing problems for Afghanistan. From the start, Iraq was different. It had had a functioning secular state. And crucially the US-led occupiers resisted giving decision power to the United Nations, fearing that nothing would ever get done. Francesc Vendrell says that leaves Washington with an unrivaled opportunity.
VENDRELL: The advantage of the situation in Iraq at the moment from what I can see is that the coalition has gone directly—and although I’m not necessarily saying that I favor this or not—now that they’re in, they should be in a better position to shape Iraq in a way that will enable the Iraqis to decide their own future and their own form of government.
CHISLETT: Whatever happens now in Iraq will be a huge experiment and provide an example of what can and can’t happen. The US and UK have an environment that they totally control and many analysts say if reconstruction can’t work here it won’t work elsewhere. Among those observers is Professor Michael Clarke, of the International Policy Institute at Kings College in London.
PROFESSOR MICHAEL CLARKE: There’s very little to build on in the immediate post-war period. So this is a window of opportunity for those who think that democratic construction may have any chance. Now, like most members of the panel I’m pretty skeptical about that. But if I was a neo-conservative I would say “Well, if it can be made to work anywhere in the Gulf, it should be made to work here.”
CHISLETT: Putting Iraqis back to work in a safe, secure, and democratic society, was a stated aim of the coalition once major hostilities had ceased. But Iraqis are watching to see if the coalition’s civil planning is, in fact, ready—or whether it will fail to take advantage of the current environment. For Common Ground, I’m Suzanne Chislett in London
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US Center for Diesease Control Epidemiologic Assistance in Humanitarian Emergencies
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
PORTER: Even before its military campaign to topple the Taliban was over, the United States government was promising to rebuild Afghanistan. At the time, critics said the Bush administration had no idea what it was getting into. Now new health studies highlight just one of the daunting challenges Afghanistan faces. Eric Whitney has more.
ERIC WHITNEY: Just 10 days after the 2001 coalition air campaign ended in Afghanistan, researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control set out to help assess the country’s health situation. They’ve been there ever since, conducting careful studies to help prioritize how the billions of dollars in promised international aid should be spent. The results of half a dozen of these studies were recently presented at a scientific conference in Atlanta.
PRESENTER AT THE ATLANTA CONFERENCE: Afghanistan is now at a point where it follows 30 years—three decades—of civil war, 3 years of severe drought, political instability which we hope is improving over time, very little to no economic base, tremendous food insecurity, and massive population movements, with approximately a million displaced Afghans. The average life span…
WHITNEY: That health, economic, and social conditions inside Afghanistan are among the worst in the world is no surprise to anyone familiar with its recent history. Reports from non-governmental organizations have for years pointed to multiple crises in need of attention, but many of those reports were based on very limited data and less than scientific methods. So once the Taliban was gone, the CDC, in partnership with the UN and private relief groups, took the opportunity to conduct some of the most careful and comprehensive surveys ever on health conditions in Afghanistan. The CDC’s Dr. Linda Bartlett conducted the largest survey ever of maternal death rates inside Afghanistan, gathering information on nearly 90,000 people in four provinces across the country. Because access to health care is so limited, especially for women, Bartlett was expecting to find many childbirth-related deaths, but she wasn’t prepared for how bad conditions were in the rural province of Badakshan.
BARTLETT: For example, in Kabul many of the deaths were maternal, but in Badakshan, the routine interview was, first of all, a maternal death, but then secondly a story something like, “She was in labor for eight or ten days and then died undelivered.” We heard that over and over again, and it was really quite shocking.
WHITNEY: In part because of Dr. Bartlett’s research, the US government has channeled extra money into programs to train obstetricians and midwives in both urban and rural areas. CDC research has also revealed a new facet of another well known problem in Afghanistan, that of injuries from landmines and bombs left behind by three decades of war. Dr. Oleg Bilukha analyzed data gathered by the International Committee of the Red Cross to find out which caused more injuries: landmines, or still active bombs, which are also known as unexploded ordinance or UXO.
BILUKHA: The previous reports and world opinion in general often pay more attention to landmines, and unexploded ordinance is left kind of in the shadow of landmines. In our data, it’s very clear that 54 percent of all injuries were caused by UXO, and only 37 percent by landmines.
WHITNEY: Dr. Bilukha’s research showed that over a 16-month period, more than half of all Afghans injured or killed by leftover mines and bombs were younger than 18. But not all of the research presented at the CDC conference yielded such grim statistics. One investigation of reports of widespread and severe hunger in a refugee camp found the fears overstated, although malnutrition and lack of clean drinking water remain serious problems across much of Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s ongoing measles vaccination campaign is perhaps the most positive health news in the country. For 18 months beginning in July of 2001, an international team was able to vaccinate about 10.5 million of the estimated 11 million children in Afghanistan. For Common Ground, I’m Eric Whitney in Atlanta.
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Aki Ra Landmine Museum
Common Ground Photos of the Landmine Museum
Cambodia From World Press Review
MCHUGH: Landmines have been described as among the most evil weapons created by man. They are deadly during war, but after a conflict they become vicious killers, which can spend years, even decades, silently waiting for their victims. When Keith and I visited Cambodia recently, we found a monument and a man dedicated to solving this problem.
[The sound of birds chirping.]
PORTER: Deep inside Cambodia is the town of Siem Reap. It’s home to the Angkor Wat temples and is quickly becoming a very popular tourist destination in Southeast Asia. But off the beaten path—well off the beaten path—is a tiny little attraction known as The Landmine Museum. It’s a privately owned and operated museum and it’s run by a man named Aki Ra.
AKI RA: Yeah, in the war I am the special army to lay the mine and fighting. I am very young soldier—13 years old. And I lay many, many mine around Cambodia and Thai border.
PORTER: And now you’ve spent how many years trying to get rid of those mines?
AKI RA: Now I clear landmines to save for my country. From the war until now I clear many, many thousand—twenty, thirty thousand, in my life.
PORTER: And you also started this museum. Tell me about the Landmine Museum.
AKI RA: Now I open my Landmine Museum to tell the Cambodian people to know about war and landmine in the past and in the future.
[The sound of chirping birds and barking dogs, followed by the sound of a motorcycle.]
PORTER: The museum, several kilometers outside Siem Reap, is a collection of small buildings made from wood and corrugated metal.
[The sound of a crowing rooster.]
PORTER: Once on the museum grounds most visitors will be afraid to touch anything. There are dozens and dozens, perhaps hundreds of mines—everywhere. Aki Ra says they’re all safe. There are large antitank mines as big as a skillet, perhaps four or five inches deep; tiny little mines designed to blow the leg off an enemy soldier. There are also unexploded ordinances lying about—bombs half buried in the ground, just the way a child or an adult might find them if they were to come into a post-conflict situation.
[The sound of a crowing rooster.]
AKI RA: My parents were die when I am young. I don’t remember them. My birthday may be ’72 or ’73. Also, I stay in the group with the Khmer Rouge, to work for them when I am 10 years old. And after I am 12 years old they teach me how to use gun, mine, bomb. And many my friends were die, injured, when we learned the real thing, like a mine or bomb and gun.
[The sound of people walking through the museum compound.]
PORTER: As we walk around here we see these mines all over the place. Are they dangerous?
AKI RA: No, all safe. I, I made it safe. I take TNT and fuse already.
PORTER: And what are these mines called?
AKI RA: These are MD-82B, made from Vietnamese for blow up the leg when we step.
PORTER: Yeah, I see above the display here, where you have over 500 of these mines, you have some photographs. And tell our listeners what’s happening in the photograph there.
AKI RA: Yeah. This picture, the man he blow up with this mine, the small one, and lose one leg.
PORTER: Outside of the main small little hut where the museum is located, we’re standing outside of that in an area where you have planted some items to look as they did when they were originally found or…
AKI RA: …yeah, it…
PORTER: …as you might find them.
AKI RA: In the minefield, some place have many, many grass and tree. And we have to know how to walk, how to find it. But for me, I can walk in the minefield without stepping on the landmine. I can walk just normal. Many, many landmine, some place, five or ten mine in one meter.
PORTER: So, in a one-meter area there might be five or six landmines?
AKI RA: Some place. Many, yeah.
PORTER: And you could walk through there without setting off those landmines?
AKI RA: Yeah, I can walk. Because I have experience in lot in the war.
PORTER: And you would also then know how to dig up those mines and defuse them?
AKI RA: Yeah. I know how to dig and make it unscrew and take fuse and then it’s safe.
PORTER: But isn’t that dangerous? I mean, it sounds very, very dangerous.
AKI RA: Yeah, if you don’t know then dangerous. But I know, not dangerous.
[The sound of people walking through the museum compound.]
AKI RA: Some mine, they are put on the tree with a trip wire. And one mine with a tree and when we walk and touch the wire one blow up and one fall down from the tree, same time. Blow people up.
PORTER: So what we see right here, it looks like a hand grenade….
AKI RA: …Yeah, hand grenade…
PORTER: It’s connected to a wire, to a tree….
AKI RA: …and then from the tree…
PORTER: …and then there’s a bomb hanging from the tree there.
AKI RA: Yeah, when they drop, hit the ground and blow up.
PORTER: Now, you are still in the process of cleaning up mines all over this country, right? I mean, that’s still your full-time occupation, is de-mining?
AKI RA: Yeah, now I still clear landmine. Today I just come back. I clear a lot. Yeah.
PORTER: How long do you think it will take? How long will you be doing that? How many landmines are left?
AKI RA: In Cambodia, still many million more left. I think four, five million more left. And when it is finished I don’t know.
PORTER: I mean, it sounds like it could take the rest of your life to clear all of them.
AKI RA: Yeah, yeah. I think like that.
[The sound of chirping birds.]
PORTER: Aki Ra runs the Landmine Museum near Siem Reap, Cambodia.
MCHUGH: If you have questions or comments about today’s program, visit our Web site at commongroundradio.org or e-mail us at [email protected]
ANNOUNCER: Common Ground is a Stanley Foundation production. On the Web at stanleyfoundation.org.
MCHUGH: This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: I’m Kristin McHugh.
PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, the US war on terror takes a toll on Mexico.
RUBI OROZCO: The lines on the bridge are just very, very long when we have orange alerts because of the increased searches.
PORTER: Plus, radio helps save the environment in Guatemala.
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US Border Patrol Immigration Information
Mexico From World Press Review
MCHUGH: War, recession, and terrorism are causing transportation bottlenecks and difficulties for millions of people along the US-Mexico border. While officials from the two countries seek to maintain commercial relations, a range of other issues stemming from a tense situation are rising to the forefront. Kent Paterson has more from Mexico.
[The sound of singing.]
KENT PATERSON: Mourners gather at a mass for Juan Patricio Peraza, a young Mexican immigrant shot to death last February during a confrontation with US Border Patrol agents here in El Paso, Texas. Immigrant advocates, supported by the Mexican government, charge that the killing was a violation of human rights. All along the border, tension prevails in the wake of terrorist alerts and the US war with Iraq. Rubi Orozco works with the nongovernmental group Border Peace Presence in El Paso-Ciudad, Juarez.
RUBI OROZCO: And with this increased fear and xenophobia, there’s a blatant militarization of the border, which we’ve seen an example of recently with Juan Patricio’s death, and also in more logistical terms, the lines on the bridge are just very, very long when we have orange alerts because of the increased searches. And last year there were two deaths of children due to carbon monoxide poisoning because of the long waits on the bridge. And it creates a public health problem.
[The sound of traffic.]
PATERSON: Traffic creeps to a crawl on the Santa Fe Bridge between El Paso and its sister city of Ciudad, Juarez, Mexico. As on other occasions when orange alerts have slowed traffic at this and other border crossings, merchants on both sides of the line complain about lost business. They say travelers don’t want to endure two or three hour waits to cross back into the US. But at least one vendor, Jose Juan Aguilar, who roams the bridge selling goods to passengers in waiting cars, says his business picks up when the traffic backs up.
[The sound of Juan Jose Aguilar speaking.]
PATERSON: Aguilar and others who spend long amounts of time on the bridge might be in danger. They are exposed to vehicle emissions of carbon monoxide and other toxics, which sometimes reach very high levels for short periods of time that greatly exceed regular OSHA health standards established for eight-hour periods.
[The sound of Alma Leticia Figueroa speaking.]
PATERSON: Alma Leticia Figueroa is the Director of the Environmental and Civil Protection Department of Ciudad, Juarez.
ALMA LETICIA FIGUEROA: [via a translator] What we have here is really a micro ecosystem. The emissions which are above the norm affect the health of people who for occupational reasons go every day to the bridge for more than 8 hours, like the people who work in immigration and customs and who sell things. They are the ones most affected.
PATERSON: Figueroa says border authorities from the US and Mexico are trying to cut down on the wait time and emissions by adopting measures like designated lanes in which drivers pay a yearly fee to get a security clearance ahead of time and then are allowed to cross into the US more easily. However, the lanes are limited and most people still have to wait long times in the event of orange alerts.
[The sound of traffic.]
PATERSON: Growing environmental and economic concerns come at a time when the border is already reeling from the effects of the economic slowdown in the United States. In Ciudad, Juarez alone, more than 60,000 people have lost their jobs in the export manufacturing sector during the last two-and-a half years. Plant closings have also hit Nuevo Laredo and other border cities.
[The sound of Beatriz Lujan speaking.]
PATERSON: Beatriz Lujan is the Director of the Labor and Studies Workshop in Ciudad, Juarez, a labor advocacy group for workers in the mainly US-owned maquiladora industry.
BEATRIZ LUJAN: [via a translator] The government still hasn’t realized that we need to boost national industry and the agricultural sector like it was before. We can’t be dependent on an economy which is dependent on the exterior, because if we are, the same thing is going to happen that’s already happening along the border. We’re dependent on the maquiladora industry, and about 80 percent of that business is with the United States. The US suffers a recession and we suffer too. Why? Because we don’t have any national industry that can replace it and all the jobs that we are losing.
PATERSON: A recent meeting of border governors from several Mexican and US states declared the importance of furthering commercial ties between their nations. But so far, no new specific plans to deal with the economic downturn and environmental concerns have emerged. for Common Ground, I’m Kent Paterson reporting.
PORTER: Two weeks ago, we read listener response to our question about whether the United States or Europe is more to blame for the war in Iraq. All of the responses we received pointed a finger at the United States and that prompted a thoughtful message from Todd in Washington state.
MCHUGH: Todd wrote, “What would have happened if France, Germany, and Russia had supported the US’s calling for Iraq’s immediate disarmament back in the fall? I think quite possibly Saddam Hussein’s regime would have fallen. Instead, France and Germany’s call for peace and time allowed Saddam to mistakenly believe that once again he would be able to stall and maneuver around serious consequences for his noncompliance with UN sanctions. The blame is not on our government or president, or in fact on Europe. Many European nations supported the United States. But squarely upon France, Germany, and Russia.”
PORTER: We’d like to hear your response to this or any of our other stories. Send your e-mail to [email protected] Or, use the response form on our Web site, commongroundradio.org.
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PORTER: The idea of Central American rain forests may conjure up images of lush vegetation, colorful birds, and ancient ruins. But there are people in those forests too. And in Guatemala’s northern Peten region, a population influx over the past four decades has led to increasing deforestation and environmental degradation. An organization called ProPeten has been working to promote grass-roots conservation in the region, and part of its program includes advocating organic farming methods. As Judith Smelser reports, ProPeten has taken to the airwaves to get its message out.
SMELSER: The Peten occupies the northern arm of Guatemala—a kind of inland peninsula bordered by Mexico on two sides and Belize on a third. Once home to only 15,000 people, the region now has a population of roughly 500,000, due to a ’60s-era government resettlement policy. And over the past two years, that population has been hearing a new voice on the region’s airwaves.
[The sound of a radio program, first music, then the program host speaking in Spanish.]
SMELSER: That’s Eric Mena, host of Peten’s number-two radio show, Mi Amigo, El Agrónomo—or My Friend the Agronomist.
[The sound of Mr. Mena hosting the show.]
SMELSER: When Eric joined the environmental NGO ProPeten as the staff agronomist, he never dreamed he’d end up a radio star. The idea for his show grew out of ProPeten’s previous association with a similar program produced by a regional university. A ProPeten study found that people were learning more from that show than from the organization’s environmental education programs. And Executive Director Carlos Soza says ProPeten knew then that it had to get into the radio business.
PROPETEN EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR CARLOS SOZA: We realized, you know, if that is happening, so we need to take care more of the informal education through radio programs. We have such a powerful instrument here that we’re not taking in account. So that’s why we started to promote this program that was specifically talking about organic agriculture or things related to agriculture, a traditional agriculture of Peten in view of people who were doing this and doing that in a positive way.
[The sound of Mr. Mena hosting the show.]
SMELSER: Each day, Eric chooses a different theme to discuss on the show and invites listeners to call or write in with their questions. Often the theme has to do with the program’s main focus—organic farming using natural pesticides instead of chemical ones. But Eric says he also chooses topics from the local headlines.
ERIC MENA: [via a translator] One day we talked about a plant that’s destroying some Guatemalan lakes. The people call it the extra-terrestrial plant, or the killer plant. A lot of people imagine that the plant will eat them when they go bathing in the lake. And so we asked the question, “Can you go into the lake now, or will the plant eat you?” These simple questions we address are things that rural people may not know.
SMELSER: The show has also touched on topics including domestic violence, forest fire prevention, and veterinary advice. But what makes the program popular is that it examines these heavy topics in an entertaining way.
[The sound of music from the show.]
SMELSER: American anthropologist Liza Grandia is on ProPeten’s board of directors.
LIZA GRANDIA: I think the secret of the radio show is that we don’t want to preach to people—that we want to make the show fun. So it’s a variety show. There are jokes, there are songs, there are different characters impersonating kind of different rural accents.
[The sound of a comedy routine from the show.]
SMELSER: There are five characters on the show and Eric does them all. One is a jokester who provides the comic relief.
[The sound of one of the show’s characters.]
SMELSER: Another is a macho man type who’s always skeptical about the agronomist’s suggestions but realizes in the end that they do work.
[The sound of one of the show’s characters.]
SMELSER: There’s plenty of music on the show, too. In fact, Eric says music is one way he connects with the communities in his listening area.
ERIC MENA: [via a translator] Sometimes we have local people sing and we put their singing on the air. One of the singing groups is the Tigres del Monte. They do songs that the people can identify with and they sing about the activities of the people.
[The sound of the Tigres del Monte singing.]
SMELSER: That’s Tigres del Montes singing on one of Eric’s broadcasts. But through all the fun and games, the show has a very serious message, especially when it comes to the use of pesticides. Again, Liza Grandia.
LIZA GRANDIA: Chemicals that might even be considered safe within the US context are not safe in the Third World context, particularly in a place like Peten, for various reasons. First of all, the products are sometimes of low quality. They’re repackaged in the country, they can sometimes be sold in leaking bottles, there’s no guarantee that the quality that is regulated in the United States is going to be replicated in Guatemala.
SMELSER: ProPeten also says farmers often use chemical pesticides without proper protections, like masks and gloves, and that often, there’s no running water to wash off the residue. So, ProPeten and My Friend the Agronomist advocate the use of natural pesticides, like those used by the region’s original inhabitants. They say farmers who’ve tried their recipes have been largely successful in keeping pests away. Liza Grandia says it’s hard to gauge the impact of the show, but anecdotal evidence suggests their ideas are catching on. She relates the story of one gentleman she met on a bus.
LIZA GRANDIA: He asked me who I worked with, and I said ProPeten; he’d never heard of it, and I said, “Have you ever heard of this radio program, My Friend the Agronomist?” He said, “Oh yes, I was almost losing my fruit orchard, and then I tried one of the recipes that the agronomist suggested, and it saved my fruit orchard!” He was thrilled and the fact that I knew Eric made me almost, sort of famous as well.
[The sound of Mr. Mena hosting the show.]
SMELSER: It’s that kind of story that ProPeten likes to hear. But the organization has a long way to go to win over farmers in a country where the so-called green revolution of the 1960s and ’70s largely replaced traditional farming methods with modern technologies, including pesticides and improved seeds. And of course, those technologies do have their advocates, who say modern methods will provide farmers with greater crop yields and more revenue. But ProPeten wants to let farmers know that there are alternatives out there. And My Friend the Agronomist is doing its best to get the word out.
[The sound of Mr. Mena hosting the show.]
SMELSER: For Common Ground, I’m Judith Smelser.
MCHUGH: You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
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MCHUGH: China is stepping up efforts to stop the practice of keeping Asiatic Black bears–or Moon Bears, as they are commonly known—in captivity for use in Chinese medicine. In a rare instance of a Western activist group working hand in hand with the Chinese government, British-born Jill Robinson and her group, the Animals Asia Foundation, are having great success in shutting down mainland bear farms. Celia Hatton has more from Beijing on the ongoing fight to save the moon bear.
[The sound of caged bears making hollow popping sounds.]
HATTON: These are the sounds that changed Jill Robinson’s life.
[More popping sounds.]
HATTON: As a dedicated animal activist based in Hong Kong, Jill had heard gruesome tales of endangered Chinese Moon bears that were being kept on farms just over the border in mainland China. The bears were allegedly kept in cages barely bigger than their own bodies for up to 2-20 years at a time so that their bile, a precious commodity in Chinese medicine, could be milked directly from their gallbladders. Jill confirmed her suspicions when she snuck onto a bear farm with an Asian tour group in 1993.
JILL ROBINSON: We walked into a darkened room and in the background, we heard these strange sort of popping sounds and it wasn’t only until our eyes became used to the darkness that we saw cage after cage of Asiatic black bears in cages so small they couldn’t move.
HATTON: The popping noises turned out to be sounds that the bears made to alert each other when they were scared. Once Jill had witnessed the firsthand effects of bear farming, she began to use her charity organization, the Animals Asia Foundation, towards creating a sanctuary for all of China’s captive moon bears.
[The sound of traditional Chinese music.]
HATTON: The use of bear bile in traditional medicine can be traced back to the seventh century AD. However, bile is still in use in Chinese medicine today. Sonya Pritzker is a licensed practitioner of Chinese medicine in the US and a Fullbright scholar who is now completing research in Beijing. Here, she lists just a few of the things that bear bile can be used to treat.
SONYA PRITZKER: Bear bile, in essence, is used to clear heat. And this means that it is used in inflammatory conditions and in some instances, it is used to stop convulsions due to seizures.
HATTON: The active ingredient in bear bile is an extremely potent substance called ursodeoxycholic acid, or UDCA, that is only produced in substantial amounts by bears. However, bear bile is no longer necessary because UDCA can now be recreated synthetically without using any animal parts. Moreover, many practitioners of Chinese medicine argue that there are many other things that can take the place of bear bile.
[The sound of Beijing street traffic.]
HATTON: On the streets of Beijing, bear bile is still easy to obtain. Whole bear gall bladders are, remain extremely valuable, demanding as much as $10,000 on the black market. This price has traditionally put wild bears at risk of being shot by poachers so that their gall bladders can be sold in traditional medicine shops around the world. In the 1980s, the Chinese government began to issue licenses for bear farms in the belief that if some bears were kept alive and milked for their bile in captivity, wild bears would no longer be sought by poachers. Unfortunately, the plan backfired. Jill Robinson explains what she sees when bears from bile farms arrive at the Animals Asia Rescue Center:
ROBINSON: My goodness, we see some horrendous sights. You know, we’ve had 15 percent of the bears at our center have arrived missing limbs. They’ve been caught in leg-hole traps in the wild. And obviously they’ve just lead a horrendous existence from start to finish.
HATTON: In what might seem quite amazing to some, Jill and her team have elected to work hand in hand with the Chinese government to end the practice of bear farming. Amazing, because it is the government which started bear farming and to this day, many bears are still held captive on state-owned farms. However, Jill is adamant that her foundation has the support of the Chinese central government.
ROBINSON: They can’t be kinder. They help us every step of the way. They are responsible for closing the farms. We know that there are some other officials that still want bear farming to remain, but we’ve got a very, very strong allegiance with the officials that we’re working with and we are making darn sure that we are holding onto them.
HATTON: In China, it is the government who decides to shut down farms and alerts the rescue center when more sickly bears will be arriving at their doorstep. To the government’s credit, 35 farms have already closed down since an agreement was signed with Animals Asia in the year 2000. Animals Asia compensates the bear farmers for their lost income and in return, the farmers must turn over their bear farming licenses to the foundation.
[The sound of a Beijing street market.]
HATTON: In China, it seems that the market for bile products has the potential to change just as quickly as the attitude of the Chinese government. Chinese medical doctors, both in the West and in China, are beginning to pay attention to the calls of animal activists. However, in response, practitioner Sonya Pritzker is quick to defend traditional medicine by stressing that not all Chinese medicinals use endangered animal parts.
PRITZKER: Animal products are useful in some circumstances. You cannot, by any means, say that they are more potent or more useful in all cases. In some cases, they are. And in some cases, the animal products are, are not—to get them does not require hurting the animal, as in the case of the bear gall bladder.
HATTON: Jill Robinson acknowledges that many Chinese medical doctors have already joined her in the fight against bear farming.
ROBINSON: These Chinese doctors are very, very disturbed when they see bears being treated in this way.
HATTON: Although attitudes are changing, the Animals Asia Foundation is still struggling to raise enough money to cope with the growing numbers of rescued bears. It costs $600 a year to feed just one moon bear. So, five years into the foundation’s fight to save the moon bears of China, the Hong Kong staff of the Animals Asia Foundation spend a large portion of their time raising money at schools and charity events.
[The sound of school children chattering in an auditorium.]
HATTON: On a typical spring day, Jill Robinson is visiting an international school in Beijing to thank students for raising money for her cause.
[Ms. Robinson is introduced and the children clap and yell.]
HATTON: Both students and teachers have responded warmly to Jill’s story and her plans to expand the bear sanctuary. An 11-year-old member of the audience summed up the kids’ response to the problem:
YOUNG GIRL: I was terrified about how people could do that to bears.
HATTON: Sixth grade teacher Jenny Wilson says she isn’t surprised that her students have embraced the bear issue.
[The sound of children clapping and yelling.]
JENNY WILSON: Children are very sensitive to animal issues. And I think you could present them with an issue about worms and they would be just as responsive.
HATTON: So far, the Animals Asia Rescue Center in Southern China houses 54 bears and another 30 bears have already been released into the foundation’s bamboo forest sanctuary, enjoying freedom—the ultimate gift that Jill Robinson says she can give to each animal.
ROBINSON: To all intents and purposes, once those bears go out in that forest, they have the choice whether they come back at night or whether they choose to sleep under the stars.
HATTON: For Common Ground, I’m Celia Hatton in Beijing.
MCHUGH: That’s our show for this week. If you have questions or comments about today’s program, visit our Web site at commongroundradio.org or e-mail us at [email protected] Please drop us a line—we’d love to hear from you.
PORTER: Transcripts and information on how to order copies of this and other Common Ground programs are also available on our Web site: commongroundradio.org. I’m Keith Porter.
MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. Cliff Brockman is our Associate Producer. B.J. Liederman created our theme music. Additional compositions by Wink Music.
ANNOUNCER: Common Ground is a Stanley Foundation production. The Stanley Foundation: promoting public understanding, constructive dialogue, and cooperative action on critical international issues. On the Web at stanleyfoundation.org.