“Indians in Honduras say they will stage a symbolic trial and execution of Christopher Colombus, whose discovery of America opened the New World to Spanish conquest more than 500 years ago. The trial of the Genoese explorer would begin on July 20 when Honduras celebrates Lempira Day, honouring an indigenous leader who fought Spanish colonisation, said Salvador Zuniga from the Council of Popular Organisations and Indigenous People. It will culminate in the execution of the explorer with bows and arrows on Colombus Day on October 12. … ‘We are going ahead with the trial of Colombus above all because of the conquest, and a tribunal of indigenous people will hand down their [predetermined] decision,’ Mr. Zuniga said.” (South China Morning Post, June 24, 1998)

Learning From Diversity: 10,000 Die & India Shrugs

” Saira Ahemad stood barefoot in the muck, kicking with her leathery toes at the shards of bones left over from the cremation of her neighbor’s children. It was almost 110 degrees Fahrenheit and the sky hissed with hot little pellets of rain, but Mrs. Ahemad, 56, had no shelter except the dirty shawl she pulled tighter over her head. All around were the shattered remains of the Shirwa Labor Camp, a city of shacks where thousands of impoverished migrant workers lived until June 9, when a cyclone roared across the tidal flats with 100-mile-an-hour winds pushing a wall of water at least eight feet high. As many as 10,000 workers, most of whom earned a living scraping sea salt from the sun-baked flats, were swept away in India’s deadliest natural disaster in five years. But this country of 950 million people has absorbed the loss of life in stride. Even as bodies still wash ashore, to be doused with kerosene and cremated on the spot to fend off disease, new workers are traveling here to take their place, and slums dangerously close to the water’s edge are being rebuilt. The tragedy in Kandla, India’s busiest industrial port, 560 miles southwest of New Delhi, illustrates a sad truth about the poorest people in one of the world’s poorest nations. Drivers who hit a cow on the streets of New Delhi face the very real threat of being attacked by a mob furious over the death of a sacred animal. But when thousands of people from society’s flimsy bottom rung die in a place like Kandla, there is a collective shrug of resignation. Tjabhai Desai, a local development official, said recently: ‘No one bothered about these people when they lived. Now who cares once they’re dead?’ Suhas Chakma, of the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Center, said: ”If you are poor, basically your life has no value here; a cow would get more importance than a human being. There is no sense of moral outrage against injustices like this that take place in India. People just say, ‘That’s the way it is.” Trying to save the millions of Indians in poverty is like standing under a waterfall with a spoon. … Bottom-line business owners have no incentive to do Mother Teresa’s work, and they argue that they are helping simply by giving jobs to the poor – even if those jobs eventually kill them. … India has been criticized by the United States and other nations for spending billions to develop nuclear weapons rather than to improve education, health and welfare for millions who live in poverty. Last week, the government turned down Japan’s offer of about $300,000 in humanitarian aid for the cyclone victims, citing its anger over economic sanctions imposed by Japan after India conducted nuclear tests on May 11 and 13. … Many of those who died here had traveled halfway across the continent to find jobs in Kandla’s salt pans: vast, low-lying tidal flats where sea salt, baked dry in the blistering sun, is scraped by hand from the rocks and mud. Salt workers go blind from the reflected sun and suffer skin disease and gangrene at alarming rates from wounds constantly exposed to brine and filth. An entire family might work for days to collect a ton of salt, for which they would earn less than $4″ (International Herald Tribune, July 7, 1998)

All of It for Nunavut

Less than two weeks before the stunning electoral debut by Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, she called Aboriginal land claims “‘A preposterous sell-out of the Australian people. … Native title is just a precursor to the establishment of a taxpayer-funded Aboriginal state. It will tear the heart out of our country and deliver that heart to one of our very smallest minority groups.'” (Reuters, June 2, 1998) A look at Canada’s newest, neediest, foster-child is not especially reassurring. On April 1, 1999, “a quarter of Canada’s land mass” (Globe and Mail, July 4, 1998) will be ceded away, and Nunavut will become “Canada’s poorest jurisdiction. … The federal government could pay at least $21,700 a year to support each person living in the new territory. [That’s optimistic, given the range of social ills] … There is excessive substance abuse. Marijuana use is four times as high as the national average; LSD, speed and cocaine use is three times as high; abuse of aerosols and solvents is a shocking 26 times the national rate. … The rate of heavy drinking is three times the figure for Canada. … The suicide rate is almost six times the national average. … Tuberculosis … occurs at eight times the national average, and hepatitis A occurs 18 times as often. … About one-third of the Nunavut population was living on social assistance in March of 1996 — more than three times the national average — and 38 per cent of residents have less than a Grade 9 education.” (Globe and Mail, June 5, 1998) Although Nunavut’s prospects fall well short of bleak, taxpayers will no doubt caper with glee to know that Ottawa’s footing 90 per cent of the bill! The article prompted Inuit leaders to remind us that, here we have a yet another chance to atone for “colonial-era mistakes”. A June 13 letter in the Globe and Mail fumes, “Canada is our country and it is our money and we will not allow anyone to make us feel guilty about taking our rightful share of it.” (John Amagoalik, Chair, Nunavut Implementation Commission) Another letter writer puts it into Hanson-clear perspective: “Run by southerners? No; God forbid. But paid for by southerners? No problem.” (J.R.A. Ball, Toronto) “The new deal will increase the overall spending to about $1.28-billion — $587-million for Nunavut and $690-million for the [as yet unnamed] western territory. … [That] does not include $150-million in one-time transitional funding under a deal signed in 1996 to help establish Nunavut.” (Globe and Mail, June 25, 1998) It’s our guess that in the fullness of time, many opportunities to help establish Nunavut will present themselves.

Indian-Jewish Alliance Forged

At a time when aboriginal groups demand semi-autonomy from the federal government, Quebec natives resist the idea of a separate, sovereign (less accomodating?) French Canada; clinging instead to Ottawa, the wicked step-mother. Last September the premiers of “the nine other provinces” concocted something called the Calgary Declaration on national unity, “marrying ‘the unique character of Quebec society’ to the equality of all Canadian provinces. … [This was rejected outright by native leaders until the premiers added] a companion document saying that natives constitute a distinct society and a separate order of government within Canada. [Isn’t that precisely what Quebec was denied?] They also agreed that aboriginals should be included in any further constitutional and social-policy talks that directly affect them [wouldn’t it be nice if the majority of Canadians were extended the same courtesy?] … The Canadian Jewish Congress and Assembly of First Nations have agreed to pursue common strategies to advance the federalist cause in the unity debate. … ‘Aboriginal people as well as Jewish people have been denied the right to be self-determining peoples, and both have survived in spite of these incredible odds,’ said Phil Fontaine, Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. The keynote speaker at the CJC annual meeting yesterday, Mr. Fontaine said natives ‘have been very interested in pursuing this relationship [with the CJC] and now we have what I take as a formal invitation. I think it’s going to be very beneficial not only for Quebec but for our struggle nationwide. We see the Jewish community as having a formidable presence in Canada.’ … About 500 delegates to the CJC meeting formally endorsed the Calgary Declaration. … Montreal’s Jewish community took an active role in the last referendum campaign.” (Globe and Mail, May 26, 1998) “The Assembly of First Nations, which represents Canada’s Indian chiefs, voted last week to raise Phil Fontaine’s salary from $85,000 [to $125,000]. … As a status Indian, Mr. Fontaine does not pay federal tax on his salary, which means $125,000 is equivalent to a taxable income of about $240,000. … But some chiefs are questioning the raise because of both its size and the small percentage of chiefs who actually endorsed it. About 30 of the 200 chiefs registered were on hand when the salary vote was held.” (Globe and Mail, July 2, 1998) Many hard pressed Canadian workers would like the tax exempt perk afforded to Mr. Fontaine’s “self-determing people.”

Teaching Red China Democracy Is No Easy Task

Interparliamentary exchanges between Chinese and Canadian elected representatives have been conducted for years by means of the Canadian-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Association and its counterpart in the Republic of China on Taiwan. Apparently, some people in the Canadian government think that this situation is not satisfactory and that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) must be integrated into this type of political activities, notwithstanding the fact that no bona fide parliamentarians are to be found in the land ruled by the Chinese Communist Party. According to a press release from Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, dated March 30, 1998, this strange idea was first floated last fall: “The proposal to create the Canada-China Interparliamentary Group arose during discussions between Prime Minister Jean Chretien and President Jiang Zemin at the time of the President’s state visit to Canada in November 1997.” Suddenly, Canadian decision-makers resolved that a parliamentary caucus dealing with Red China had to be set up. An announcement to that effect was made in the PRC’s capital city by the International Trade Minister, Sergio Marchi, the substance of which was conveyed through the aforementioned press release. “The Canada-China Interparliamentary group will provide a forum for dialogue between Canadian parliamentarians and members of the National People’s Congress (NPC),” the document read. It also revealed that Mr. Marchi spoke about the new body “following meetings with the Chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, Li Peng” and other PRC officials. Furthermore, “Canadian companies were represented at a number of these meetings.” In the current decade, critics of Canada’s foreign policy have maintained that it is too narrowly concerned with economic matters, particularly trade. That a major political initiative had to be advanced by the head of International Trade, accompanied by business executives, appears to be a caricature of a policy which is already questioned in well-informed circles. However, this curious story would lead on to an even odder development, since the Canadian Parliament was involved. Marchi’s whole scheme collapsed three weeks after his pronouncement in Peking. The Speaker of the House of Commons let it be known that the minister had taken steps without any mandate from his fellow parliamentarians. Gilbert Parent was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying that he was “disappointed a minister of the Crown, acting with such haste, may have prejudiced the very outcome he wished to bring about.”

Added the House’s supreme authority: “Such disregard for the administrative competence of Parliament does nothing to enhance its prestige on the international stage.” Having to handle Peking carefully, an embarrassed Parent felt obliged to underline the following: “I trust our Chinese friends will understand this situation is strictly an internal Canadian matter relating to the basic tenets of our primary law.” Surely, it is unfortunate that the Speaker’s opportune intervention focussed on form rather than content. If he had discussed the nature of the NPC, then the underhanded attempt of the Canadian government would have proved perfectly understandable. Advocates of political reforms in mainland China know very well that the NPC leaves much to be desired. For instance, the figurehead of the so-called “Democratic Faction” within the Chinese Communist Party, Fang Jue, issued a paper last November which called for radical change in the communist-controlled Congress. Fang stressed that the NPC has yet to be “transformed into a modern legislature that truly and independently exercises its power to legislate, to determine the composition of the government and to supervise the executive administration.” He urged “the election by universal suffrage of NPC representatives above the county level” and challenged its members to enact “an Election Law that would reflect the desire of the Chinese people.” Simply put, the NPC is presently looked upon as a “rubber stamp” institution. With a good sense of timing, its leading office bearer, Li Peng, in late April confirmed its being subject to the party, discounting any desire his predecessor, Qiao Shi, may have entertained.

A man notorious for his role in the blood bath at Tiananmen Square, Li pointed out that the NPC stood out in contrast to legislatures in democracies. The mainland’s laws, which the NPC approves, “give forms to the party’s line, guiding principles and policy,” he bluntly explained. The NPC has always been a mere state organ in a country where the state is the plaything of a single, totalitarian party. Nevertheless, in a press release dated April 4, 1996, Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs described it in this fashion: “The NPC is the body within the Chinese system that most closely resembles Canada’s Parliament.” It is true that that statement — not exactly flattering for the Ottawa legislature — was published during the tenure of Mr.

Qiao, a politician whom the Canadian government saw as “committed to the development of the rule of law” in the PRC.On second thoughts, however, it is quite conceivable that Canada’s Parliament do resemble the NPC — at least in the opinion of those who rule the Ottawa government. Then they behaved in a logical manner when they tried to establish an interparliamentary group over the heads of their own MPs and Senators. And this is why the Canadian way to democracy may not be the right one for mainland China. — Gilbert Gendron [Gilbert Gendron is author of Feeding the Red Dragon – The Case Against Canada’s Aid to Communist China ($15) and Pol Pot’s Own: The Joy of Being a Former Comrade of the Fallen Cambodian Dictator in Today’s Canada ($4) — available from C-FAR.]

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