Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Now We Are Free

Even the smallest among us can affect the future.

Never think for a moment that you are not important.

The Everyman Who Exposed Tainted Toothpaste

Eduardo Arias hardly fits the profile of someone capable of humbling one of the world’s most formidable economic powers.

A 51-year-old Kuna Indian, Mr. Arias grew up on a reservation paddling dugout canoes near his home on one of the San Blas islands off Panama’s Caribbean coast. He now lives in a small apartment above a food stand in Panama, the nation’s capital, also known as Panama City.
But one Saturday morning in May, Eduardo Arias did something that would reverberate across six continents. He read the label on a 59-cent tube of toothpaste. On it were two words that had been overlooked by government inspectors and health authorities in dozens of countries: diethylene glycol, the same sweet-tasting, poisonous ingredient in antifreeze that had been mixed into cold syrup here, killing or disabling at least 138 Panamanians last year.


read how one small man saved many and shook the world.

BURMA BLOGGERS RISK ALL: Internet geeks share a common style, and Ko Latt and his four friends would not be out of place in cyber caf├ęs across the world. They have the skinny arms and the long hair, the dark T-shirts and the jokey nicknames. But few such figures have ever taken the risks that they have in the past few weeks, or achieved so much in a noble and dangerous cause. Since last month Ko Latt, 28, his friends Arca, Eye, Sun and Superman, and scores of others like them have been the third pillar of Burma’s Saffron Revolution. While the veteran democracy activists, and then the Buddhist monks, marched in their tens of thousands against the military regime, it is the country’s amateur bloggers and internet enthusiasts who have brought the images to the outside world. Armed with small digital cameras, they have documented the spectacular growth of the demonstrations from crowds of a few hundred to as many as 100,000. On weblogs they have recorded in words and pictures the regime’s bloody crackdown, in a city where only a handful of foreign journalists work undercover. With downloaded software, they have dodged and weaved around the regime’s increasingly desperate attempts to thwart their work. Now the bloggers, too, have been crushed. Having failed to stop the cyber-dissidents broadcasting to the world, the authorities have simply switched off the internet. Now Ko Latt and his blogging comrades have abandoned their keyboards and gone underground, sleeping in a different place every night, watching and waiting to see if the democracy movement has been truly crushed or is simply on hold. “When things were hot on the streets, we were not the main worry,” Ko Latt says. “But as the situation cools down, they will follow us. They know who we are, they know we are bloggers, and I am afraid.” * * * The regime responded, first by blocking individual Burmese blogs, then, last Wednesday, by blocking all of them. But the overseas sites were beyond its reach, so on Friday it switched off the internet altogether. Now e-mails can be sent only within Burma; the only pages that web browsers can view are those of the official websites. The only solution now would be to dial up ISPs overseas but the cost of international calls makes this prohibitive. As Superman puts it: “Now Burma is like the Stone Age.” The bloggers held out as long as they could, and if there is ever a monument to the heroes of the Saffron Revolution it should certainly feature a statue of a skinny boy in a T-shirt and thick glasses hunched over a computer and a digital camera. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article2563937.ece

THE MONK'S TALE: "We cannot turn back now. Whether it takes a month, a year or more, we will not stop." With his russet-red robes pulled around his knees, rocking back and forth on a low, wooden stool, the senior monk spoke quietly but determinedly. Over the past few days, the monk has seen many of his fellow Buddhists rounded up and carted away as Burma's military regime brutally cracked down on anti-government protests, trying to suck any oxygen away from the flame of revolt. Pools of blood stain monastery doorways, memories linger of monks as young as 15 being clobbered over the head with truncheons and rifle butts. But in the now-tranquil, tree-filled courtyard in central Rangoon, it is not of these atrocities that the monk, in his early sixties and wishing to remain anonymous, wants to speak. It is the atrocities which the Burmese people have suffered. The people are living under rulers busy enriching themselves with natural gas, timber, diamonds and rubies while spending less on health care per head than nearly any other country on earth. They are living in poverty more akin to sub-Saharan Africa than Asia. "As monks, we see everything in society. We go everywhere, to ask for our food and we see how people live," he says. "We know that they give to us when they themselves do not have enough to eat, because there is no work and the costs of living are so high. We also see how the wealthy live. We see how everything is getting worse and worse." And that is why he is adamant that the fight must continue. "We have already lost too much and the people cannot continue to suffer as they do," he explained. "We knew well the risks before we started. It is up to us. We have to see this through to the end, whatever the end will be." Inside the monastery, for now untouched by soldiers, a group of monks are gathered around a television, apparently glued to a gymnastics display. But on closer examination, the soundtrack is not a sporting commentary about back-flips and balance beam routines; it is in fact the Democratic Voice of Burma, broadcasting reports from exiled journalists in Oslo, Norway. In this way, the monks can monitor the current backlash against the junta and how the world is – or is not – responding but can quickly flick the covert soundtrack off should the military's prying eyes come calling. Some of the monks are taking refuge in this temple now that their own temples have been blanketed in coils of barbed wire and sealed off from prayer. These precious religious sites now have the air of military camps. Gone is the scent of incense burning in worship, now it is the smell of stale cigarette butts, discarded by soldiers at the temple entrance. Tin Shwe Maung (not his real name), a monk in his early twenties, recalled the moment that soldiers stormed into the gleaming Shwedagon Pagoda on Thursday. The government admits to a death toll of nine that day, but Western diplomats put it much higher. "I was sitting with about 30 monks on the ground, praying at the place of the old brass Buddha. The police appeared very suddenly. There were definitely over 100, perhaps as many as 200. Carrying riot shields, truncheons and bayoneted rifles, they spread across the compound in front of us, some beating their shields, others aiming their guns," the young monk said. "Without any sort of warning, they charged at us, firing over our heads with real bullets. Some of us got up and ran but they caught many monks and beat them with their truncheons and rifle butts. One monk they beat very badly, smashing his head. He was only 15 years old, he had just joined the monastery." Another raid came after midnight, and more monks were carted off in police vans. "They are not in the normal prisons but in military and police camps. We hear that they are barely feeding the monks, nor are they allowing them contact with the outside," Tin Shwe continued. "I became a monk because of my love for peace and my love for Buddha. My heart is so full of sadness. http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asia/article3015276.ece

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