The Guardian

The Guardian August 15, 2001


Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Red rat poison? No thanks!

 you see where those pesky Cubans donated a consignment of a Cuban-
developed rodenticide (that's rat poison if you must have it in the 
vernacular) to the US for use in poverty-stricken parts of US cities? 
Darned cheek!

Those equally pesky religious folk, the Pastors for Peace, tried to bring 
the donated rat poison into the USA to help alleviate the effects of 
poverty  specifically the rat-infested tenements and alleys inhabited by 
the poor and the homeless.

Pastors for Peace are the guys who for years now have been busting the US 
embargo on trade with Cuba by openly taking convoys of trucks loaded with 
goods for Cuba through US Customs and shipping them on to the Socialist 
island.

This time they tried to break it in the other direction and the US 
administration has become quite agitated as a result. In fact they have 
charged the Pastors with smuggling, no less.

The Cuban rat poison is called Biorat. According to the InterPress news 
service (IPS), "the active ingredient in Biorat is a strain of salmonella 
that Cuban researchers say is only harmful to mice and rats.

"[It] has been marketed in Latin America, Africa and Asia since 1994, [and 
has been] used to combat outbreaks of bubonic plague in Peru, haemorrhagic 
fever in Bolivia, leptospirosis in Nicaragua and other rodent-borne 
illnesses in Costa Rica, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic".

But it's from Cuba. How would it look if the foreign press reported "Cuba 
helps fight poverty in the US" or "Cuba cleans up US cities" or  even 
worse "Cubans cleaning out US rats"? It's unthinkable.

And anyway, Biorat is not a product of the transnational 
chemical/biomedical industry so it can't be any good, can it?

Being a Cuban product, it has never even been considered for approval by 
the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for distribution as a 
pesticide in the USA. Why, it's probably a health hazard. Trust those 
Cubans to send a health hazard to the good ol' US of A.

Even so, it's a bit rich charging the Pastors for Peace with smuggling. 
When the Pastors' trucks fronted up to the US Customs in the Texas border 
town of McAllen, near the US-Mexico border, they "not only declared 
everything to Customs officials, but they also asked them to inspect the 
shipment".

Not only that, but they also made sure there were plenty of witnesses, 
"including members of the media, who could confirm that the group declared 
everything that they were bringing into the country". This is smuggling?

Of course, US administration officials say the attempt to charge the 
Pastors for Peace "is not driven by political tensions between the United 
States and Cuba, but is being conducted primarily in the interest of public 
health". Yeah? Pull the other one.

The Pastors are not giving up. They are trying to get permission to 
distribute Biorat legally in the US. Apparently there are rat epidemics 
raging in some US cities at present, particularly New York, Chicago and the 
national capital itself, Washington DC.

A spokesperson for the religious group said that they chose to import the 
Cuban rat poison "because it was clear from discussions with community 
groups working in poorer areas of US cities that rats are a major problem 
for residents".

" She pointed to the fact that there are ten rats for every person living 
in New York City. The problem is considered so grave that a 'Rat Summit' 
was organised recently in the city".

Isn't capitalism just so impressive?

* * *
Who cares what you think! The following item is not by me, but it is just so delicious I have to share it with you. It's an honest to God account of one person's meeting with US President George W Bush in Philadelphia last month. When the President was here on July 4, I had the opportunity to shake his hand. I wasn't sure if that was a good idea or not but I did it anyway, and said to him, "Mr President, I hope you only serve four years. I'm very disappointed in your work so far". He kept smiling and shaking my hand but answered, "Who cares what you think?" His face stayed photo-op perfect, but his eyes gave me a look that said, if we'd been drinking in some frathouse in Texas, he'd've happily answered, "Let's take it outside". A nasty little gleam. But he was (fortunately) constrained by Presidential propriety. But that was the end of it until I turned away and started scribbling the quote down in my notepad, so as to remember the "Gift" forever. When he saw me do that, he got excited and craned his neck over the rubberneckers to shout at me, "Who are you with? Who are you with?" People started looking, so he made a joke: "Make sure you get it right." But he kept at it: "Who do you write for?" I told him I wasn't "with" anybody and pointed to one of his staff people who knows me a little, and said, "Ask him, he'll tell you". Then I split. Half an hour later, my boss (who had helped organise the event we were at) came up to me and said, "Did you really tell the President that he was doing a 'lousy fucking job'?" "No way," I said, "I was very polite, I just told him what I thought." Fortunately, he believed me. He wasn't happy with me, but he believed me. But anyway, if you ever wondered if the Prez really is kind of a jerk, I'm here to tell you, he is, and I got The Gift to prove it. I'm thinking of making up t-shirts so we can share The Gift with everyone: "Who cares what you think?" President George W Bush, July 4, 2001. Andrew Hudson, Spokesman, Mayor Wellington Webb 437 Bannock Street, Denver, Colorado. Isn't that a nice story!

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