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Opinion: Canada is allowing U.S. to dictate Haiti’s renewal: More news and opinion on what the UN soldiers call the “Haitian Vacation”

By David South

Id Magazine (Canada), August 22 to September 4, 1996

An August 19 attack on the Port-au-Prince police headquarters by pissed-off former Haitian soldiers should be a wake up call to Canadians. So far, the Haiti UN mission has seemed as safe as the soldiers’ quip, the “Haitian Vacation”. The UN soldiers patrol the capital in rickety Italian trucks, stopping to chat with the locals. On the surface, this mission looks like summer camp compared to the nightmare of enforcing peace in the former Yugoslavia.

But for one crucial factor: The UN troops are propping up an increasingly unpopular government. A government that is seen by many Haitians to be getting its orders from Washington, not Port-au-Prince. Canadian troops lead the UN mission in Haiti and make up 700 of the 1500 soldiers stationed there (the rest are from Pakistan and Bangladesh). There is a serious danger they will be caught in the crossfire of any uprising or coup attempt.

Canadian troops shadow president Rene Preval 24 hours a day and also guard the National Police. When I visited the dilapidated palace in July, with its handful of Canadian troops banging away on laptop computers, I could only hope nobody will want to mess with the UN.

The two prongs of Haitian renewal – reforming the economy and the justice system – are both being directed by the U.S.. Haitian senator Jean-Robert Martinez had a theory about the August 19 attack, which killed a shoeshine boy. Martinez believes it was in retaliation for government plans to privatize Haiti’s rotting nationalised industries – a condition for receiving loans from the U.S. and the Washington-based International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Haiti is a good example of the carnage of cynical U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. wooed and then coddled the corrupt Haitian elite to run its sweatshops. As the “development” organization USAID once said, Haiti could be the “Taiwan of the Caribbean”. The U.S. trained the Haitian death squad Front pour l’Avancement et le Progres Haitien (FRAPH), who then littered the outskirts of Port-au-Prince with the bodies of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s supporters during the dark days of the 1991 coup.

Three weeks ago American troops from the 82nd Airborne plopped down on the streets of Port-au-Prince to spend a week patrolling. What kind of message does this send? This tells the Haitians that the UN isn’t the real deal; that if they get out of line, the Americans will kick their butts. Why does Canada allow the U.S. to undermine the credibility of our peacekeeping mission?

More visits by the Americans can be expected. It is no accident that a medical team attached to the 82nd Airborne remains on duty at the American base in Port-au-Prince.

The so-called justice reforms are mostly window dressing. Canada spent $4,750,000 to build and renovate court houses for the same corrupt judges that were the problem in the first place. That’s the equivalent of punishing a thief by buying him/her some new furniture.

Rather than telling the Haitians to tighten their buckles around hungry bellies, Canada should be leading the fight to pave roads and provide clean water and social services to all. Canada should not be helping to impose austerity economics on the Western hemisphere’s poorest country.

David South is the Features Editor of id Magazine

“U.S. Elections Update: Clinton is using Canada to keep control of Haiti”.
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Medical museum makes plans for future

By David South

Hannah Institute for the History of Medicine Newsletter (Toronto, Canada), Number 20, Spring, 1994

Being charged with setting up a high-calibre national medical museum isn’t easy in the best of times. The new Canadian Museum of Health and Medicine’s curator Felicity Pope wants things done right in these recessionary times. 

Now housed at The Toronto Hospital (TTH), the museum’s collection was relocated in 1992 after severe water damage, and the unsure future of the Academy of Medicine, Toronto jeopardized the artifacts in their previous location. 

Rather than having the valuable collection collect dust, a major project began to create Canada’s first national medical museum. With AMS/Hannah Institute, Academy of Medicine, Toronto and TTH support, Pope is making detailed plans to ensure the museum is an educational success. 

“The project is to create a major medical museum in Canada,” says Pope, who is working out of the public relations office at TTH. “I’m in the midst of a planning study and haven’t unpacked the collection yet because the storage rooms aren’t ready. I’m doing a market and visitor analysis to project how many visitors will come to see the collection.”

“We have guiding principles for the museum. We will have a completely new vision and mandate from before, with a new research and exposition policy. With the museum’s name there come many expectations.”

Pope says the museum will need to fundraise from corporations to be viable. And the elaborate plans will help convince potential donors of the museum’s worthiness. 

Artifacts also abound at the University of Western Ontario 

Medical history students should consider a trip to the Department of History of Medicine at the University of Western Ontario to see another unique collection of artifacts  and documents from Canada’s medical past. 

Once located in London’s University Hospital, the artifacts are now technically on loan to the university. Hannah Professor Paul Potter recently assumed responsibility for the collection when University Hospital closed the museum. 

“The collection has been created over the ages,” says Professor Potter. “The museum started at University Hospital when it was built in the early 1970s. Two rooms were set aside at the hospital for a medical museum – one room was a re-creation of a nineteenth-century doctor’s office with numerous instruments.”

The actual doctor’s office was packed off to the local pioneer village. 

“We took the medical instruments and doctors’ ledgers. I took the things that were more interesting from a medical history perspective.”

And what’s there to see? For shock value there are the gruesome instruments of Victorian medicine – bloodletting knives and cups and surgical saws. Also on display is London’s first electro-cardiogram machine and microscopes dating back to the mid-1800s. 

For Professor Potter, the collection livens up medical school lectures and provides a valuable research resource at the university.

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Brazil Preserves Family Farms and Keeps Food Local and Healthy 

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Today’s global food crisis sparked by a toxic mix of events – high oil and commodity prices, food scarcity, growing populations, and environmental catastrophes – has woken many up to the urgent need to secure food supplies and help those who grow the world’s food. More and more countries are turning to local and small farms – or family farms – to offer food security when times get rough.

Right now there are more than 862 million undernourished people around the world (FAO), and U.N. Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon has called for food production to increase 50 percent by 2030 just to meet rising demand. Three-quarters of the world’s poorest people living on less than US $1 a day live in rural areas in developing countries and 85 percent of the world’s farms are of less than two hectares in size.

There has long been a tension between those who believe in very large farms, agribusiness and mono-crops (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mono-cropping), and those who believe in having a large number of smaller farms with a wide variety of crops and animals.

Family farming has been seen as doomed for a long time. In the 19th century, figures like philosopher Karl Marx believed they would be split into capitalist farms and proletarian labour. Most modern economists regard family farming as an archaic way to grow food, destined to give way to agribusiness. Most family farms refute this, saying family farmers have been able to operate with success in both developed and developing countries.

And small farms have endured. The livelihoods of more than 2 billion people depend on the 450 million smallholder farms across the world. With their families, they account for a third of the world’s population.

Family farms are critical to weathering economic crises and ensuring a steady and secure food supply. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) (www.ifad.org) called earlier this year for small family farms to be put at the heart of the global response to high food prices and to improve food security. And in Brazil, this call is being answered by a bold initiative to create what they call a “social technology”, combining a house building programme with diverse family farms.

Brazil is currently buying up unused land and distributing it to people making land claims, including Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement (http://www.mstbrazil.org). When they receive land, family farmers often find there is no house on the land, or just a very basic dwelling.

This is where the Brazilian farmer’s cooperative Cooperhaf: Cooperativa de Habitacao dos Agricultores Familiares (http://www.cooperhaf.org.br/), steps in. It has put together what it calls a “social technology” combining housing and farm diversification to support family farmers.

“We see the house as the core issue,” said Adriana Paola Paredes Penafiel, a projects adviser with the Cooperhaf. “The farmers can improve their productivity but the starting point is the house.

“Family farming is very important for the country – 70 percent of food for Brazilians comes from family farming,” said Penafiel. “The government wants to keep people in rural areas.”

Started in 2001 by a federation of farmers unions, the Cooperhaf works in 14 Brazilian states with family farmers.

“Family farmers had to organize themselves to deal with housing,” said Penafiel. “The cooperative was formed to mediate between farmers and the government. The farmers have a right in the law to a house.

“We promote diversification to make farmers less vulnerable: if they lose a crop in macro farming, they lose everything. We encourage diversification and self-consumption to guarantee the family has food everyday. We help to set up a garden.”

The concept is simple: a good quality home acts as an anchor to the family farm, making them more productive as farmers. The farmers receive up to 6,000 reals (US $2,290) for a house, and can choose designs from a portfolio of options from the Cooperhaf.

As in other countries, the Cooperhaf and other coops encourage markets and certification programmes to promote family farmed food and raise awareness. Penafiel says promoting the fact that the food is family farmed is critical: to the consumer it is healthier, fresher and contains fewer chemicals than imported produce.

“We sell a livelihood not a product. If you get to know the product, you are more conscious of what you eat.”

In the US, there are almost 2 million farms, 80 percent of which are small farms, a large percentage family-owned. More and more of these farmers are now selling their products directly to the public.

In the UK, family farms are on course to provide 10 percent of the country’s food and drink and be worth £15 billion a year.

“If we forget them, we actually may get a situation where, while meeting the world’s immediate supply targets, we wind up with an even greater imbalance in the global supply system and greater food insecurity,” said IFAD President Lennart Båge.

“Most agri business is for export,” said Penafiel. “If we don’t have food in the country, food for poor communities would not be available. This enables farmers to be more autonomous, not having to buy fertilizers and equipment and take on too much debt. That approach is not sustainable as we saw with the so-called Green Revolution.”

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: December 2008

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

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Truckus Maximus: The Big Boys With The Big Toys Do Some Hardcore Pogo At Monster Truck Show

“I got laid off too many times. Now, I work harder for less money. But I get to do what I want to do. Not many people get that.”

By David South

Id Magazine (Canada), February 6 to 19, 1997

The little tiger-striped four-by-four is definitely going too fast. In an instant, the diminutive Suzuki stands balanced, its front wheels squashed at 90 degrees. A millisecond later, it’s on its back like a ladybug flipped over by the wind. The cacophony of the crowd reaches a crescendo. But the noise had been building; the Skydome crowd saw the writing on the wall for the little jeep. 

Frantic helpers pry open the door of the jeep, wrestling free the driver, Dwayne Robichaud. He emerges in an orange jump suit and prances around, looking vaguely like the Oklahoma bomber. The audience lets out an even louder cheer as he walks away, smug and happy. 

Half an hour earlier, two monster trucks, Young Gun and Samson, line up behind a pile of crushed cars, with a dirt ramp at each end. The methanol engines let out a roar like the mother of all hairdryers. The revving turns into a drag race. The pulsating white noise rattles the cavernous Dome. The effect on the audience is almost sexual: the stomach rattles, the heart skips a few beats. It is a short buzz, but it is good. And the noise? I begin to notice that everyone around me has ear plugs and I realize I’m going to regret this in 20 years. 

The exhaust fumes are starting to reach toxic levels 40 minutes into the rally. I shake my head and feel the motion a few seconds later. I’m getting a CO2 buzz, too. It’s the USA Motor Spectacular monster truck derby at Toronto’s Skydome. But monster trucks are just a small part of the show, there for the crowd to ogle while they get off on the noise. There is the amateur truck rally involving the tippy Suzuki and other monster-truck wannabees, and a ridiculous car-eating, fire-breathing robot called Robosaurus for the kids. The metal bashing of the demolition derby serves to satiate the audience’s thirst for damage – and is truly the highlight of the night. 

I can’t get out of my mind comparisons to spectacles in Roman times. Titans of spectacle, the Romans set the benchmark by which all other public entertainment must be judged. On the spectacular scale, Roman bloodsports involving gladiators, wild animals and the sacrificing of Christians definitely rate a 10 – anything else falls below. I figure monster trucks rate about 4. Watching pick-up trucks with over-sized $10,000 tractor tires crush cars can’t match the gore and death of ancient Rome but it will do for now. 

If monster trucks join professional wrestling and American Gladators as today’s answer to blood sports, why does this spectacle seem to lack that je ne sais quoi? Maybe it’s the sanitization of risk. The cabin of a monster truck coddles the driver. There are cushioned seats, a kidney brace, a five-point racing harness, neck braces, helmet restraints and a roll bar. Several drivers tell me that the job only looks dangerous. At half time, Young Gun’s Saskatoon-based driver, Kevin Weenks, tells me he doesn’t seek out danger. “I think some of those (amateur) guys are nuts and want to do the crowd a big favour [die]. You don’t want to run it hard. A win isn’t worth flipping over.” 

Derby destruction

Thirty demolition derby wrecks crawl into the centre of the Skydome. The flag is dropped and an orgy of car crushing begins. It goes on for half an hour. Now I’m not bored. Cars are still driving despite engine fires and rear-ends that stand at 45 degrees. It is down to two cars: one more or less intact, the other driving on its hubs, engine on fire, half its back a mangled piece of crumpled paper. The driver doesn’t give up. His engine stops, then starts again. This is repeated three times until, exhausted, he concedes defeat. 

After the derby it’s time for Robosaurus. The press release claims the hunk of grey metal stands five stories tall and costs $2.1 million. The driver flicks on the switch on a very expensive stereo system and Robosaurus starts to growl like Godzilla. Two guys with radio headsets help direct the beast onto the floor. It burps and farts for a while before picking up a pre-cut car. It crushes it, drops it to the floor and incinerates it with a flame thrower. The crowd roars.

It seems things haven’t changed with spectacles. The Romans drew on slaves, freed men, foreigners and the lower social orders to provide fodder for their spectacles. Monster trucks are driven by farmers hired for six months at a time. The amateur drivers are a hodgepodge of laid-off workers, farm labourers and guys who make a meagre living fixing four-by-fours. 

Wearing a waist-length monogrammed racing jacket is Don Frankish. The shy and patient Alberta grain farmer owns two of the four monster trucks in Canada. He has been racing for seven years and divides his year 50/50 between farming and tours on the monster truck circuit, which mostly takes him through the U.S. 

He is definitely attracted to the excitement of the stadium, but not necessarily a love of death-defying acts. “It’s the rush of the crowd as they get behind you, talking to the kids who look at you as a superhero,” he says. “I like the speed, the unpredictability. We know the risks. There is a danger to it. But the Monster Truck Racing Association makes sure we have a killer radio to shut off the engines if the truck is out of control. The worst I’ve ever seen is a truck going end over end three times – it just destroyed the truck.” I ask him about insurance and he laughs. “We can’t get insurance!”

Pit boys

Down in the pit, the air is thick with exhaust fumes. The pit boys are milling about, patting each other on the back. A sprinkling of pit girls hang around, with hairstyles straight out of Xena: Warrior Princess. The dress for today is black: black t-shirts and black jeans. Don McGuire, 32-year-old partner in the Three Stooges four-by-four shop in Brampton, sports a mischievous grin as he tells me with pride about his chosen vocation: mud bog racing. It’s the messier outdoor version of tonight’s amateur truck rally. McGuire has been a mud bog racer for 10 years and isn’t doing it for the money. “First prize is just $200 – I spring for more money than I would ever win,” he says. “We do this for the pure adrenaline. It’s just heart and soul. It takes bucks per cubic inch to win in this business,” he says resentfully, looking across the Skydome to where the monster trucks are parked. Big Foot’s sponsorship by Ford seems to be a sore point with racers who spend thousands of their own dollars to come here. 

McGuire gave up a $700 a week job to earn $300 a week and race. “I got laid off too many times. Now, I work harder for less money. But I get to do what I want to do. Not many people get that.”

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