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Letters to the editor

July 20, 2001 | Page 4

The tragic sinking of a sweatshop at sea
Papua New Guinea cops gun down protesters
Right-wing vandals attack free speech in N.Y.
Bomb threatens leftist newspaper in Colombia

Brazilians march against austerity

Dear Socialist Worker,

Blackouts aren't just a problem for California. Across Brazil, citizens have had to reduce their electricity usage by 20 percent or face cutoffs. Like in California, insane deregulation policies caused the crisis.

But this was a plan hatched by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). And Brazilians are fighting back.

In late June, labor unions, the Workers Party and other opposition groups organized a massive march on Brazil's capital with upwards of 30,000 people. This was no easy task--as Brazil's capital is about a day's travel by bus from most large cities.

I was fortunate to attend this exciting demonstration, which targeted the IMF as well as Brazil's center--left president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso. The marchers also demanded a raise for public utility workers who are fighting privatization.

The spirited demonstration expressed the popular anger against a government bent on serving a neoliberal agenda.

But the government brought out the troops to show the protestors who was boss--unleashing tear gas and rubber bullets on the crowd after a coffin inscribed with the president's name was submerged in the national pond.

Although cops succeeded in dispersing the demonstration, it showed the level of radicalization among many young workers and the nervousness of the Brazilian state in the face of even the most peaceful expression of dissent. But more importantly, it showed the international nature of the fight against privatization--and the potential for a fightback against the wacky priorities of the market.

Peter Bret Lamphere, New York City

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The tragic sinking of a sweatshop at sea

Dear Socialist Worker,

A newspaper article relegated to the back pages really struck me recently. It was the tragic story of 15 men who drowned in the Bering Sea near Alaska in the U.S.'s worst fishing disaster since 1951.

The Arctic Rose, a 92-foot commercial trawler, sank sometime after midnight on April 2. The only trace of the ship left was the captain's body, which was found floating in the 34-degree water miles from the nearest shore.

Like many fishing vessels, the Arctic Rose had a processing factory on board, where workers would cut, gut and freeze the fish. They would work elbow-to-elbow in the crowded plant for as long as 16 hours straight.

The media has called the boat's sinking a "mystery," but it's nothing of the sort.

A Coast Guard investigation uncovered that the vessel was unsafe. The processing factory had been installed on top of the boat, making the vessel top-heavy. A former skipper, Jim Kelley, testified that he rarely took the ship far from land because it handled poorly in rough weather.

But when it disappeared, the Arctic Rose was fishing 285 miles northwest of St. Paul Island, which is itself 300 miles from the Alaskan coast.

Moreover, several witnesses testified that the ship's wastewater pumps would often become clogged. Water would slosh back and forth in the compartment, sometimes "enough to knock you down," according to one former worker. "The [ship's] stability would look drastically different…in a situation like that," said naval architect Bruce Culver."It would have a dramatic effect."

Basically, the Arctic Rose was a sweatshop at sea. And there are many other fishing vessels like it.

Stuart Easterling, Los Angeles

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Papua New Guinea cops gun down protesters

Dear Socialist Worker,

On June 21, several thousand students marched from the University of Papua New Guinea and blockaded the home of Prime Minister Sir Makere Morauta. They demanded an end to austerity measures imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The planned privatization and "land mobilization" would open up tribal land to investors.

Police drove the protest back to the campus and opened fire as students were surrendering. Four students were killed and 17 people critically injured.

"We didn't have anywhere to go because there was a fence behind us, so we thought we must surrender to the police to avoid being shot," explained William Doa, a student. "We thought we'd be all right if we surrendered with our hands up."

Students believe the riot squads were goons from mines owned by the U.S. and Australia–including mines owned by oil giant Chevron.

Just as the deaths of demonstrators in Indonesia in May 1998 led to the collapse of the Suharto regime, this coalition of students, settlement dwellers, unionists and soldiers could bring down the Morauta government. Papua New Guinea is in a deep economic crisis. It owes the IMF, World Bank and other institutions some $906 million. Its annual debt is 40 percent of the government's annual spending.

Protests against the killings have been held at the World Bank offices in Sydney and Papua New Guinea consulates, including one in New York City on July 9.

Lee Wengraf, New York City

Right-wing vandals attack free speech in N.Y.

Dear Socialist Worker,

Only hours after hosting an event protesting the attempted corporate coup at Pacifica Radio's WBAI, a nonprofit Long Island movie theater was broken into, vandalized and robbed by right-wing thugs late last month.

The unknown marauders spray painted anti-WBAI graffiti on the walls, carpeting, computer screens and doors of Cinema Arts theater July 1. They also stole a 400-pound safe with $2,500.

The afternoon before the break-in, Cinema Arts had hosted a "WBAI Radio-in-Exile" festival in support of the embattled station's longstanding tradition of independent, progressive programming. Pacifica's increasingly corporate-friendly national board has cracked down on the station's radicals by censoring programs, firing people and ousting its local advisory board.

The graffiti attacked WBAI in general and didn't make reference to the ongoing dispute over the station's future. Theater owners Vic Skolnick and Charlotte Sky believe the perpetrators were simply motivated by hatred of WBAI as a symbol of the left. "It's the usual hate crap by right-wing cranks," said Skolnick.

Over the years, Cinema Arts has received nasty mail and phone calls in response to its politically controversial events.

"Let it be noted that this act of intimidation, this Nazi-style attempt to silence free speech must strengthen everyone's resolve to speak out in defense of this basic human right," Sky said, promising that Cinema Arts won't be intimidated.

Kevin O'Neill, Long Island, N.Y.

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Bomb threatens leftist newspaper in Colombia

Dear Socialist Worker,

A 500-pound bomb found outside left-wing Colombian newspaper Voz was a U.S. military bomb, according to the Associated Press.

The six-foot bomb--capable of destroying two city blocks--was sold to El Salvador in 1974. The bomb was part of a U.S. arms package to aid the Salvadoran military in its fight against leftist rebels. Like most U.S. aid, the bomb and three others like it ended up in the hands of drug dealers.

Carlos Castaño, a notorious leader of one of Colombia's right-wing paramilitaries, claimed responsibility for the bomb placement. But after realizing the bomb could only be detonated after being dropped from the air, Castaño decided to claim the action was only a "warning" to the paper's editor.

This is yet another example of why the U.S. should not intervene in Colombia. The military is in collusion with the government, the right-wing paramilitaries and drug kingpins against leftist agitation. The U.S. will stop at nothing to maintain the status quo in its own "backyard."

John Green, Oakland, Calif.

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