Thursday, September 17, 2009
Poor Farmers in
NEW YORK, March 30 /PRNewswire/ -- As Afghanistan steps up its efforts to eradicate poppy crops, many poor farmers who rely on profits from the plants have had to sell their daughters to settle their debts from local traffickers who provide loans in exchange for opium. Many farmers have spent much of their lives raising opium in the stony hillsides of eastern
In the April 7 issue of Newsweek (on newsstands Monday, March 31), Afghanistan Correspondent Sami Yousafzai and South Asia Bureau Chief Ron Moreau report that the practice began with the dowry a bridegroom's family traditionally pays to the bride's father in tribal Pashtun society. These days the amount ranges from $3,000 or so in poorer places like Laghman and Nangarhar to $8,000 or more in
President Hamid Karzai recently told the nation: "I call on the people [not to] give their daughters for money; they shouldn't give them to old men, and they shouldn't give them in forced marriages."
No one knows how many debt weddings take place in
While law enforcers predict yet another record opium harvest in
Efforts to promote other crops in these regions have failed. Wheat or corn brings $250 an acre at best, while poppy growers can expect 10 times that much. Besides, poppies are more dependable: hardier than either wheat or corn and more tolerant of drought and extreme heat and cold. And in a country with practically no government-funded credit for small farmers, opium growers can easily get advances on their crops. The borrower merely agrees to repay the cash with so many kilos of opium, at a price stipulated by the lender -- often 40 percent or more below market value. Islam forbids charging interest on a loan, but moneylenders in poppy country elude the ban by packaging the deal as a crop-futures transaction -- and never mind that the rate of return is tantamount to usury.
Mohammad Zahir Khan, a Nangarhar sharecropper in his late 40s, borrowed $850 against last spring's harvest, promising 10 kilos of opium to the lender -- about $1,250 on the local market. The cash bought food and other necessities for his family and allowed him to get seed, fertilizer and help tending his three sharecropped acres. In the spring he collected 45 kilos of raw opium paste, half of which went immediately to the landowner. But before Khan could repay the loan, his wife fell seriously ill with a kidney ailment. She needed better medical care than Nangarhar could offer, so he rushed her across the Pakistani border to a private hospital in
Late last year Khan reluctantly gave his 16-year-old daughter, Gul Ghoti, in marriage to the lender's 15-year-old son. Besides forgiving Khan's debt, the creditor gave him a $1,500 cash dowry. Khan calls him an honorable man. "Until the end of my life I will feel shame because of what I did to my daughter," Khan says. "I still can't look her in the eye." But at least she was old enough to marry, he adds. He claims one local farmer recently had to promise the hand of his 2-month-old daughter to free his family from an opium debt.
Angiza Afridi has spent much of the past year interviewing more than 100 families about opium weddings in two of Nangarhar's 22 districts. The schoolteacher and local TV reporter already had firsthand knowledge of the tragedy. Five years ago one of her younger aunts, then 16, was forced to marry a 55-year-old man to pay off an older uncle's opium debt, and three years ago an 8-year-old cousin was also given in marriage to make good on a drug loan. "This practice of marrying daughters to cover debts is becoming a bad habit," says Afridi.
In the two districts she studied, approximately half the new brides had been given in marriage to repay opium debts. The new brides included children as young as 5 years old; until they're old enough to consummate their marriages, they mostly work as household servants for their in-laws.
"These poor girls have no future," she says. The worst of it may be the suicides. Afridi learned of one 15-year-old opium bride who poisoned herself on her wedding day late last year and an 11-year-old who took a fatal dose of opium around the same time. Her new in-laws were refusing to let her visit her parents.
(Read story at http://www.Newsweek.com)
By ANNA DOBELMANN
Buenos Aires _ An enterprise in the hands of the workers sounds like a Marxist dream. In Argentina, it has been fulfilled in some 200 factories and businesses. Since being occupied during Argentina's 2001 economic collapse, many of these same firms have lived up to the capitalist ideal: becoming productive and profitable, even investing and creating new jobs.
For seven years, the firms have been managed by the workers from the depths of the crisis that led to the Argentine collapse through today's economic boom.
During the years of recession leading into the late 2001 collapse and the government's 2002 default on international debt, thousands of Argentine firms failed. At times, the economy shrank dramatically, and the ranks of the unemployed and underemployed swelled to more than 40% at times.
In a bid to keep their jobs, workers occupied the premises of bankrupt companies and continued production under their own leadership. The process attracted worldwide interest, but most economists dismissed the worker-occupied enterprises as a crisis phenomenon.
Since then, though, the Argentine economy began to stabilise in late 2002 and has grown steadily around 9% a year from 2003-06.
One of the best-known businesses where the workers took over is the Hotel Bauen in central Buenos Aires. The porter holds the taxi door open and a red carpet leads into the lobby, where guests are met by receptionist Jose Alvarez. "I love this job because I always have contact with people," says Mr Alvarez, 50. He has worked at the hotel since 1980, but was thrown out of work when it closed in 2001. "From one day to the next," he remembers, taking off his reading glasses and wrinkling his brow. "We had no idea of the financial situation of the hotel."
However, employees soon got organised. In March 2003, they forced their way into the building, and they have not left it since. In the once dilapidated and boarded up lobby, there is now a modern bar, where waiters wearing white shirts and friendly smiles attend to patrons. The workers' cooperative has not yet managed to obtain formal ownership of the building. "We demand that it is expropriated from the old owner," said cooperative founder Ricardo Perez.
Many occupied businesses follow similar storylines: bankruptcy, unemployment and occupation, followed by tough times under self- management before achieving financial stability. The businesses themselves were not always at the root of the bankruptcies. In several cases, owners overstretched themselves speculating in financial markets or failed in other big projects.
It is estimated that there are currently some 250 occupied businesses in Argentina, and more are springing up all the time. "In the past three months, four new factories have joined the movement," said Alejandro Coronel, vice president of the national union of occupied firms. Those already in place have added to their workforces by hiring new people, in some cases even doubling payrolls. Everyone gets the same salary, even for different jobs within the same firm.
Before it first closed its doors, for example, the Hotel Bauen had 70 employees who often worked overtime to keep the place running and in good maintenance. Today, there are 160 employees, and none works more than 40 hours a week.
From the outside, worker-managed businesses behave like traditional companies. In internal relations, however, there are not always simple, clear systems of participation in the decision-making process. Decisions ranging from investments to wages _ both hikes and cuts _ are taken at the grass-roots level. Experience has shown that the most successful businesses take participation seriously. DPA