I am just back from a whirlwind tour of Brazil. Whenever I am there, I visit the Indians of the Amazon basin who are involved in a non-profit cooperative we helped set up through The Body Shop foundation. These are tribes who have every reason to be desperate and angry, but who manage instead to be hopeful, resourceful and steadfast. I am always inspired.
These tribes are being attacked from all sides by loggers, timber poachers, miners, fishermen, squatters and the massive, entrenched corruption of local and national bureaucrats. This is a population on the precipice -- "white man's diseases" such as chicken pox, malaria and intestinal parasites killed more Amazonian Indians last year than in the previous eight years combined. Those deaths are a direct result of the Brazilian government taking responsibility for Indian healthcare away from the Indians themselves and handing it over to corrupt bureaucrats.
The Amazon Co-op is designed to develop business initiatives that will allow the Indians to be financially self-sufficient. It has established, for instance, the only ISP/Internet cafe in Altamira, a city of 70,000 people on the edge of the reserve. Profits from the business go to fund education for the children of the six participating tribes.
But despite such successes, there is a feeling of desperation at the Co-op. The Indians are struggling against corrupt Brazilian municipalities that fail them right and left: many local politicians who are charged with protecting the Indians and their land are in cahoots with illegal loggers. A recent $100 million World Bank grant to the Brazilian government for Indian health care programs has nearly evaporated without any significant improvement in health services, and a disturbing increase in fatalities.
In 2000, for example, 12 Indians from the Arawete tribe died of chicken pox during an outbreak that contaminated more than 90 percent of all the tribes -- all while the local government was supposed to be putting the World Bank money to use in the control of infectious diseases in the Indian reserves.
On another recent occasion, an Arawete Indian sought treatment for a skin disease and was sent to a clinic run by the local government. He was returned to his tribe untreated, and soon a majority of his tribe had contracted the infection. Some Indians believe the government is intentionally withholding treatment, or worse, deliberately infecting Indians with the intent of wiping out native populations and taking back the vast, resource-rich land of the reserves.
With what resources they can muster, the Co-op has helped the tribes build their own health clinic, an herbal "green pharmacy," and clean water systems for their villages, with little or no help (and sometimes in the face of sabotage, incompetence and neglect by local officials and agencies).
Now the organization is fighting to win EU funds to set up a patrolling program around the perimeter of the reserve to keep out squatters, illegal miners and timber poachers who steal approximately $26 million worth of mahogany logs from Amazon Indian land every year, according to Greenpeace. The Brazilian government does nothing to prevent the theft, and nothing to punish the thieves.
Anita Roddick is the founder of The Body Shop and a lifelong activist. Email her at email@example.com.
Recent weeks have seen me under fire for comments I made criticizing the Bush administrations record on civil liberties since Sept. 11, 2001. I was briefly the object of some particularly nasty barbs from the right wing, which has chosen to take Bushs maxim Youre either with us or youre with the terrorists to heart.
On my Web site I posted a wonderful quote from Theodore Roosevelt, which reads, To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."
Thats a good one, but my favorite quote on dissent has always been Gunter Grasss famous line, The job of a citizen is to keep his mouth open.
With war gathering on the horizon, I asked readers to submit their favorite bits of wisdom on war, peace and dissent in times of turmoil. I was flooded with brilliant submissions, including dozens on related subjects, such as patriotism, tyranny and wartime politics. Here are a few of the best:
On war and peace:
"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."
-- Albert Einstein
"Every gun that is fired, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. You may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish truth. You may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate, nor establish love. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.
We must complain. Yes, plain, blunt complaint, ceaseless agitation, unfailing exposure of dishonesty and wrong -- this is the ancient, unerring way to liberty and we must follow it.
--W. E. B. Dubois
Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are people who want crops without plowing the ground. They want the rain without the awful roar of the thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. Without struggle, there is no progress. This struggle might be a moral one. It might be a physical one. It might be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will. People may not get all that they pay for in this world, but they certainly pay for all that they get.
--Frederick Douglass, 1857
It is not the function of the government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error.
-- U. S. Supreme Court
On tyranny, patriotism and wartime politics:
Why of course the people don't want war... Naturally... That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.
A people living under the perpetual menace of war and invasion is very easy to govern. It demands no social reforms. It does not haggle over expenditures on armaments and military equipment. It pays without discussion, it ruins itself, and that is an excellent thing for the syndicates of financiers and manufacturers for whom patriotic terrors are an abundant source of gain.
When a whole nation is roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice, I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and purity of its heart.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson
Beware of the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind.
And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind is closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader and do it gladly so.
How do I know? I know for this is what I have done. And I am Caesar.
-- credited to Julius Caesar
Do you have a favorite quote from history that seems especially apt today? Anita will be publishing the best on her website in coming weeks. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I met a man last month who has spent more than 30 years in solitary confinement. When I returned home to tell of my visit to Angola, friends and colleagues shook their heads sternly, muttering about African nations torn apart by civil war and chaos. They reminded me how hard it is for Westerners to grasp the traditions and political realities of the Third World. Thank God, they added, for Amnesty International.
But, I said, I wasn't in Africa. I wasn't in the Third World. I was in Louisiana, at Angola prison.
Inside that prison, in the belly of the so-called Land of the Free, two men -- Albert Woodfox, whom I met, and Herman Wallace -- have been languishing in solitary confinement for more than three decades for a crime they almost certainly did not commit.
These men -- along with Robert Wilkerson, who was himself proven innocent and released in 2001 after 29 years in solitary -- are known as the "Angola Three". They are former Black Panthers and prison reform organizers who have suffered appalling retribution at the hands of a racist and corrupt system that they had the courage to challenge from within. They are, in short, political prisoners.
Yet Amnesty International wasn't there in Angola, Louisiana, and I wondered why. It's true that for most people, the idea of political prisoners left to rot for years in solitary confinement conjures images of countries like China, Russia, Colombia, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, North Korea, Nigeria and Indonesia -- certainly not America. The political prisoners whose cases spring to mind are in places where such abuse is a well-documented fact of life:
- Jigme Sangpo, a Tibetan freedom activist, was recently released after 41 years in prison under the Chinese regime, much of that time spent in solitary.Surely, I once thought, that sort of bald retribution against people of conscience is not permitted, let alone practiced, in a freedom-loving country like America. Unfortunately, I wasn't alone in my naÃ¯vetÃ©. The Americans I spoke to after my visit to Angola seemed more shocked than anyone to discover that their fellow citizens are spending decades in solitary -- political prisoners or not, guilt or innocence aside. Most Americans still believe that solitary confinement is what it once was: a troubling but necessary tool used sparingly to keep order among the incarcerated. The subtle change in its use in recent decades seems to have slipped in under the popular radar.
- Mordechai Va'anunu, the Israeli whistleblower convicted of treason and sentenced to 18 years for exposing Israel's illegal nuclear weapons manufacture, spent almost 12 years of his sentence in solitary confinement.
- Abbas Amir Entezam, the former spokesman for Iran's moderate provisional government in 1979, was captured, jailed, tortured, and thrown in solitary for most of 16 years after the Islamic revolutionary government took over.
- Woo Yon Gak, a 70-year-old, stroke-enfeebled North Korean, has been held in solitary confinement in South Korea for 40 years on charges of espionage. His is believed to be the longest sentence served in solitary confinement anywhere in the world.
- Shin In Yong, another prisoner in South Korea, was recently freed after serving 31 years in a cell barely larger than a coffin for his sympathies for North Korea.
Indeed, solitary confinement, at least in Western countries, was originally a tool of last resort for jailers who could not otherwise control unruly or violent inmates who violated prison rules. Even then, it was used for days or weeks at a time. But now it's becoming a routine ingredient in particularly harsh sentences handed down by judges, notably in the United States. Instead of weeks in "the hole," convicts face years and even lifetimes there. Human rights advocates are understandably concerned.
A case in point: In 1998, Ramzi Yousef, the man convicted of masterminding the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, was sentenced by an American judge to more than 250 years in solitary confinement. Drug kingpins and gang leaders have since been sentenced in increasing numbers to similarly long stints in solitary, sometimes denied permission to communicate with any other human being other than a lawyer.
The new fad of "supermax" prisons in the U.S. has further institutionalized solitary confinement. In these super-maximum security facilities, all inmates are held in isolation at least 23 hours a day, every day, for their entire terms. Convicts sent to these soulless places are in solitary by default. And because America has built so many of these supermax facilities, some prisoners who would otherwise have served their time in more traditional prisons are shipped to supermax instead, in order to keep enough bodies in cells to justify these prisons' continued existence.
Many prison reform activists and human rights groups agree that not only is extended solitary confinement effectively cruel and unusual punishment, its effect is the very opposite of rehabilitative. It makes prisoners angry, psychologically unstable and antisocial. In effect, it spits out monsters where mere criminals came in.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit charging that the Angola wardens' decision to hold the Angola Three in solitary for so long violates their constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment. The suit, now pending before a federal court in Louisiana, calls for Woodfox and Wallace to be released into the general prison population at Angola, and for all three men to be financially compensated for their suffering.
What's missing here, however, is the kind of international outcry that we would surely see if the Angola Three were in a Serbian or an Iraqi prison -- fueled by the outrage we reserve for blatant abuses of power by governments against their people.
Anita Roddick is the founder of The Body Shop and a lifelong activist. Her latest book, "Take It Personally" is an in-your-face challenge to corporate globalization. Email her at email@example.com.