My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

Text Size: Small Text Normal Text Large Text Larger Text

NEW CANAAN, Conn.—The current discussion about revision of the 1903 Panama Canal Treaty, it seems to me, is as usual rather limited. I wonder if the time has not come to consider the overall rights of all the people of the world in the waterways that facilitate transportation between distant areas. It is true that with the coming of the airplane people now move easily anywhere in the world without need to use these waterways. But much of the world's trade is still carried in ships, and it seems to me that one of the ways to unify the world is to make these passageways—so important to trade—international, putting them all under the control of the U. N.

This is one of the signs of change which will doubtless be resisted by extreme nationalists. Yet every time we accept a change such as a transfer to international control that will facilitate all world traffic, we have moved forward to greater unity. I would hope that we might begin at least to talk about a possible move in this direction.

The present talks between our country and Panama will merely meet a condition for a short period of time. We must begin to think with far more imagination into the future. As leaders of the non-Communist world, we have an obligation, I believe, to start the ball rolling in this direction. I can quite understand that our government, beset as it is with domestic and foreign problems, will not carry this thought forward unless there is pressure from the internationally-minded people in the U.S.

The International Rescue Committee recently sent me a description of a program they have initiated to aid the refugees from Angola. Few of us in this country realize that about 150,000 people from Angola have fled into the Congo since the initial fighting began in Angola between the native population and the Portuguese a year ago. This flow continues and the International Rescue Committee feels that it is not possible to expect the Congolese, who have troubles of their own, to carry this extra burden without some outside help.

President William vanden Heuvel of the International Rescue Committee, a non-governmental agency, visited these refugees and made a very comprehensive study of their needs. He feels the most vital need is medical supplies, though an effort will be made to recruit medical personnel—some of them recruited among the Cuban refugees in the U. S. There seems to be an adequate food supply at present; but clothing and temporary shelter, such as tents, may shortly be needed.

As might be supposed, one of the vital things is the demand for help in initiating primary and secondary education. In Angola itself, illiteracy among the Africans is prevalent to an almost greater extent than in any other colonial possession—95 percent being the figure given. The Portuguese have established a three-year program of education, but only a small percentage of African children are able to attend. Fewer than 100 Africans attend Angola secondary schools, and about the same number have some form of higher education.

One paragraph in the report gives a rather good picture of conditions in Angola, and perhaps furnishes the best reason for helping the refugees who have fled to the Congo. I quote it here because it is difficult for those of us who do not travel in these areas to realize what conditions exist: "Social equality and civil rights are limited to whites and to those Africans who have `assimilated' Portuguese culture, less than one-half of one percent of the Africans. The economy is geared to a system of compulsory labor for public projects, mines or privately owned plantations. Able-bodied men are compelled to leave their families and villages for as much as six months each year to work on such projects. On March 5, 1962, according to the New York Times, the International Labor Organization confirmed that `vestiges' of forced labor remain in Angola, even today. As might be expected, the African share of the economy's production is pitifully small: wages for Africans, before taxes, average about $4.00 a month."

The time has run out when such conditions can exist anywhere in this changing world of ours. I believe it is a concern of the people in our country to respond to a private organization that is willing to help one section at least of people who have escaped but are in an area where the local government cannot give them a full measure of assistance.

E. R.
TMs, AERP, FDRL