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From the eagle’s backyard:

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A brief account of US foreign policy

By Uditha Devapriya

Jenny Pearce titled her book on US intervention in Central America and the Caribbean “Under the Eagle.” Though there had been a vast literature on US intervention in the region, Pearce’s study would be one of the first to document its crippling impact on Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama in Central America, as well as Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Guyana, St Lucia, Grenada, St Vincent, Dominica, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba in the Caribbean.

US foreign policy has generally been a softened down version of its policy towards its neighbours. The realities of the Cold War made it imperative for the richest country in the world to stabilise its backyard, even if it meant rigging elections, supporting coups, installing dictators, and funding counterinsurgents. And yet such interventions predate the Cold War: they began with the Monroe Doctrine (1823), which laid down in diplomatic argot the need to project US dominance over its immediate surroundings.

Between 1870 and 1916 the value of goods manufactured by US industry increased almost tenfold. By 1880 the US economy had become twice the size of Britain’s. Fareed Zakaria (“The Future of American Power”, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2008) sums up the reasons for this concomitant rise and decline on each side of the Atlantic, including the antiquated nature of British capitalism, bad labour relations, low investments in new equipment, and the feudalisation of British schools and universities; “the wonder,” writes Zakaria, “is not that it declined but that its dominance lasted as long as it did.” The reasons for this need not detain us here. What is relevant is that with these spurts in industry, the US government recognised that it had to match its economic superiority with military clout.

It went about the task slowly, cautiously. In 1892 it built its first battleship. The timing was right: two years earlier, Alfred Mahan’s book The Influence of Sea Power upon History, which contended that maritime power was the key to global supremacy, had come out.

Six years later the US defeated the Spanish and took control of Cuba. Following that it invaded the Puerto Rico and purchased the Philippines for $20 million. In 1902, after its annexation of the Philippines, it recognised Cuba as an independent republic, yet made a sham of it by inserting the Platt Amendment, which reserved to the Americans the right to intervene in the internal affairs of the country. It invoked this several times and went on to dominate Cuba’s political and economic life until 1959.

Gunboat diplomacy began with Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize at around the same time he inserted a corollary to the Monroe Doctrine which justified “the intervention by some civilized nation” and “the exercise of an international police power” for the US. He was followed by William Howard Taft, who in 1912 argued that “the whole hemisphere will be ours… by virtue of our superiority of race.”

Taft and Woodrow Wilson substituted dollars for gunboats. The sugar plantations of the Caribbean and the banana plantations of Central America lured financiers and government officials alike. The US quickly moved in: it occupied Nicaragua in 1912 and stayed there until 1925. It returned two years later and withdrew in 1933, creating a rightwing National Guard headed by one of the first US allied military dictators, Anastasio Somoza. Somoza would be followed by Jorge Ubico in Guatemala, Tiburcio Andino in Honduras, Maximiliano Martinez in El Salvador, and Gerardo Machado (and Fulgencio Batista) in Cuba.

Gunboats and dollars gave way to Franklin Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbour Policy.” As with all previous policies, it was a convenient cover for the pursuit of national self-interest. The US made it clear to the British that their time in the region was over, and to this end penetrated the Commonwealth Caribbean. Soon it got to dominate these economies: between 1930 and 1944, its share of coffee exports from Central America rose from 20% to 87%. In such a state of affairs the colonial powers had to leave, making way for the new superpower. This was true of other regions as well; thus after nationalists took up arms against the Dutch in Indonesia in 1945, US diplomats chose to side against the colonial overlords.

When the D. S. Senanayake government chose to side with the nationalists, it was arguably affirming the fading away of Dutch and the rise of American power in South-East Asia. The distinction the government made between communists and non-communists involved in the uprising and its cautious emphasis on support for the former indicate where exactly its ideological preferences lay: certainly not in Moscow.

Interestingly enough, through all this, while US interventionism didn’t explicitly emulate European colonialism, the latter shaped it. The Europeans never pretended to be motivated by anything other than the lure of trade and theft. The British did establish an efficient bureaucracy extending into the fields of health, education, the legal system, and so on, yet it was the last, and arguably the first, European superpower to do so.

Scholars have observed that of all historical transitions between superpowers, the transition to the US from Britain proved to be the most peaceful. The reason, they conjecture, is that economic ties between these two countries were great, certainly greater than had been the case between previous contending powers. Against that backdrop the US absorbed British imperialism, and rather than abandoning it, it fine-tuned it.

The language it used differed little, initially, from the language the British had employed. As seen in its conquest of Cuba, the Monroe Doctrine and the Roosevelt Corollary were put into effect to justify foreign interventions in terms of what it saw as the inability of “natives” to govern themselves. This was what the British had done in their colonies as well, having consistently denied them self-government. Thus Woodrow Wilson wrote of “our peculiar duty, as it is also England’s”, to teach the natives “order and self-control.”

Later with the onset of the Cold War, it changed its rhetoric: as James Peck argues in Ideal Illusions, “Washington predicated its war of ideas on a set of deep divisions.” Accordingly the world split into two for US political theorists: “between freedom and equality, reform and revolution, self-interest and collective interests, the free market and state planning, and pluralistic democracy and mass mobilization.” To legitimise that new rhetoric, theorists cloaked it under the cover of a commitment to a rights-based world order: what Mangala Samaraweera in a tweet on the foreign policy of the current government calls “the three pillars of democracy, freedom and the rule of law.”

This conception of rights paradoxically emphasised freedom from restraints of caste and other social fetters but not from economic subjugation, so much so that while attempts to nationalise corporations invited threats of withholding aid, growing inequalities in the Third World, particularly in Latin America, didn’t raise much concerns in Washington. The Alliance for Progress, established by the Kennedy administration, did recognise the need for reform in these countries, yet it too ended up enriching an oligarchy.

Despite its emphasis on agrarian reform, the Alliance did little to combat the dependence of the plantation sector on the export market. Between 1960 and 1965, per capita agricultural production in Central America grew by an inconsequential 2.2%. Between 1965 and 1970 it grew by a dismal 1.6%. Meanwhile, multinational companies gained ground, reversing any progress the Alliance might have made: rather than supporting agriculture, they processed junk food, promoting low nutrition among locals. Instead of preventing revolution, in other words, the Alliance succeeded in fermenting it.

Soon enough the backyard began to unravel: 20 years after Castro overthrew Batista, Daniel Ortega overthrew Somoza in Nicaragua. Then civil war broke out in El Salvador: the US gave the government there more than three billion dollars in aid to quell the rebellion. But as in Cuba, support from Washington couldn’t make up for popular hatred of the regime. After a decade of insurgency and counterinsurgency, El Salvador fell apart.

The lesson to be learnt here is that the US failed to pursue its foreign policy objectives to their logical conclusion because it couldn’t match intervention with aid. This proved to be true of its policies in the world beyond the Americas as well.

To give just one example, though every pro-Western government here distanced itself from Moscow and Beijing, the US failed to fill the gap. The Rubber-Rice Pact, for instance, was signed after Washington refused the D. S. Senanayake government’s request to buy rubber at premium prices, while not even a visit to Lyndon Johnson by Dudley Senanayake could persuade the US, then caught up in Vietnam, to resume aid years after it had invoked the Hickenlooper Amendment in response to the Sirimavo Bandaranaike government taking over several multinationals. J. R. Jayewardene expected the US to come to its support when India began to interfere two decades later, yet it explicitly refused to do so. The yahapalana government came to power on a tidal wave of Sinophobia (Humphrey Hawksley called Maithripala Sirisena “Sino-skeptical”), but when it turned to the US, it received neither aid nor investment. Barely two years later, it was crawling back to Beijing.

This rift between the reality of intervention, the promises of aid, and the failure to make good on those promises led to the defeat of successive West-friendly regimes in Sri Lanka. John Kotelawala’s government fell despite its McCarthyist tactics against the Left; Dudley Senanayake’s third government fell despite, or rather because of, its ambivalent attitude to Vietnam; and J. R. Jayewardene’s government gave way to Ranasinghe Premadasa, who proved himself to be far less deferential to Washington. As for the yahapalana regime, the results of the 2019 presidential and the 2020 parliamentary election should put to rest any notion that its pro-US tilt ever received the support of the local population.

Today foreign aid has largely replaced military intervention in the race for superpower status. China vies with the US to prop up development in the Global South, and since 2017 Beijing has outpaced Washington. Xi Jinping’s coming to power has accelerated this trend, while Donald Trump’s isolationism has pushed China to almost every corner of the Third World. The election of nationalists and populists, meanwhile, has both supplemented and contradicted China’s rise: hence the Philippines under Duterte allied with China, while Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan continues to play on anti-China sentiment.

The difference between these two superpowers lies in how they seek to shape the world. The US projects its version of European-style intervention, imposing sanctions on unfriendly states while failing to reward friendly states with aid and investments. China, on the other hand, prioritises development over outright intervention. Its actions in the South China Sea notwithstanding, its record as a driver of growth in South Asia and Africa has bolstered its image among countries like ours that have listened to the rhetoric of rules and rights from the capitals of the West without receiving any money.

Here we see an almost primeval difference in how each views the needs of the Third World: while the US emphasises fidelity to norms such as democracy, freedom, and the rule of law, which in its interactions with the world have been more honoured in the breach than the observance, China delivers development without questioning whether the governments it supports are committed to such norms. The latter is viewed, justifiably, as sign of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a country; the former is viewed, and resented, as an infringement of these values. Hence China’s rising influence in the Indo-Pacific, and the US’s waning popularity. Things may change with a Joe Biden presidency or remain as they are with a second Trump presidency, but as of now, that’s only conjecture.

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com



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Sat Mag

Notes on a not-so radical class

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By Uditha Devapriya

A little over a year ago, Devani Jayathilaka, the Gampaha Division Wildlife Officer now on a crusade against the government, stood up to a State Minister and got away with it. Objecting to Sanath Nishantha’s proposal to build a children’s playground on forest land, she stood her ground even as the Minister and his acolytes attempted to intimidate her.

Videos of Devani retorting to Nishantha and those acolytes gained supporters across social media. Public opinion being very much with her, the government quickly began feting her: Bandula Gunawardena said that the Cabinet took her side, and S. M. Chandrasena regretted the incident while half-heartedly exonerating the Minister.

Devani Jayathilaka’s courage was seen at the time as a symptom of the President’s resolve to make the bureaucracy more independent and efficient, free of bias and politicisation. As such, supporters of the government jumped on the bandwagon. The Daily News dedicated an entire editorial to her, calling her “the toast of all environmentalists, nature lovers and generally all those who cherish our country’s legal and constitutional integrity.” Hopefully, the laudatory piece concluded, “this signal act… will be a beacon to others in the public service to do their bit in fulfilling their public duty while resisting the pressures of politicians.” The subtext was unmistakably clear: the President’s reformism had empowered the officer’s activism.

A year later, and here we are: the premature love affair aborted, the feeling of celebration dampened. Yet could one have expected otherwise? At no point here in living memory have environmental concerns permeated every layer of society, from Colombo’s civil society to Sinhala nationalist outfits, as they are now. A broad conjuncture of oppositional forces, some drawn from organisations that fuelled the ideology which brought the government to power (such as the Sinhale movement), has pitted itself against that government’s apathy over the environment, while social media continues to enthrone activists: environmentalists and state officials. The President’s men, meanwhile, seem to be resorting to a policy of either ignoring or retorting to these voices. In both cases, it’s the government that has lost out.

It is hard not to side with the activists. They have a point: no regime has engaged properly with the environment. Between 2017 and 2019, forest cover reduced from 29.7% to 16.5%. It was the yahapalana government, remnants of which are tweeting against the present regime’s environmental record now, that held

the reins of power then. Yet the administration before it was no different: in 2012, to give just one example, roughly 1,585 hectares of primary forest land were lost, the biggest annual loss in a decade. The numbers for 2020 and 2021 have not been released yet, but there’s no doubting they are as big as, if not bigger than, these figures; according to the Rain Forest Protectors of Sri Lanka, forest cover stands at 17%, above what it was in 2019, but well below the 30% promised by the president.

The politics of the campaigns against the government, however, goes well beyond a simple dichotomy between political representatives and wildlife activists. Frustratingly enough, it’s not easy to put a finger on the dynamics of these protests, to draw a line between protagonists and antagonists within them, not least of all because a simple twofold division – government versus us – has been replaced by a threefold one in them: the government (high level officials included) on one side, activists and officials on another, and us on yet another.

Led by a mostly Sinhala and Buddhist lower middle-class, including the clergy (no less than the Sinhala Ravaya), these campaigns, which have mobilised activists and officials, appear to have unearthed a rather interesting contradiction from within that middle-class: a distrust of political representatives, and an ambivalent attitude towards lower level officials. To identify this contradiction for what it is, and explore it, is not easy: that requires research, the mettle of an anthropologist or ethnographer, and I am neither. Yet from what little I have been able to gather, it appears that this recent spurt of activism has facilitated a shift in the character of anti-state activism, particularly in its class composition. How so?

Devani’s message resonates profoundly with a section of the country’s upward aspiring middle-class, educated mostly in Sinhala but idealising a better life: one to which they feel both government representatives and private interests are obstacles.

They hold contrasting views regarding the state. As far as the government proper – Ministers plus high level officials – is concerned, they are against it. It’s a different story with officials, not least because of the latter a great many hail from the milieu they do: Sinhala educated and upward aspiring. This is the demographic Patali Champika Ranawaka is targeting through his “43 Senankaya”, a demographic parties have not tried to court until fairly recently.

What explains their relationship with the state? Regarding government representatives, their opposition is easy to rationalise: most of these representatives are seen to have risen to where they are now by foul means, not fair. That irks an educated middle-class bereft of political or economic power; simply put, they feel hard done by, left out, unrepresented.

Such feelings of distrust cut through parties; indeed, a defining characteristic of the middle-class is the absence of a unifying political ideology. Any Opposition which believes that by coming to power on the strength of their convictions it can expect support from them forever is therefore walking on water, for this lower middle-class happens to be adamantly protean. It is their protean character, incidentally, that explains their response to state officials.

Their view of the latter is borne out by two main considerations: that they hail from the same class background, and that, since of late, these officials have taken up arms against political authorities, a group whose actions are seen as burdening the lower middle-class.

Indeed, far from berating officials like they berate political authorities, the lower middle-class rebelling against the regime share a desire to enter the bureaucracy as either professionals or administrators, though through education attainment, and not political backing. This desire is essentially a retread of the demand made by unemployed graduates: they want to fill a post in a state institution as soon as they leave university. Under Gotabaya Rajapaka their integration into the bureaucracy has been remarkably rapid: by September last year, for instance, around 60,000 graduates had been absorbed into the Public Service, as part of his “Rata Wenuwen Weda” programme. Yet even this rather modest realisation of lower middle-class aspirations has failed to dampen, or stunt, lower middle-class opposition to his government.

To sum up, what we are seeing here is a division between state officials, assumed to have entered the government through merit, and political representatives, assumed to have entered it through influence. That Devani Jayathilaka continues to be idealised by this class therefore points at the consolidation of a uniquely petty bourgeois consciousness, which at once aspires upward in the bureaucracy, and pits itself against the government overseeing the bureaucracy. Gravitating to meritocratic ideals, they have become a huge floating electorate.

This raises another point: their disavowal of party politics. Let’s not mistake karawala for mallum here, however; the line this milieu touts, that they lack party ideology, should not mislead one into thinking that they can’t be co-opted into any party ideology. For those who believe that a non-political middle-class rebelling against an elected government, even one infringing every other norm in the book, is incapable of political manoeuvring, the case of Anna Hazare offers a counterargument: opposed to political groups, what Hazare achieved in the end was an electoral landslide for just such a group, Narendra Modi’s BJP.

By no means am I saying that Anna Hazare was/is to India what officials crusading against political representatives are/will be to Sri Lanka. Yet not unlike Hazare, these officials have given what little of an Opposition that’s there in the country some much needed ammunition (with which to topple the government). Far from welcoming such a state of affairs, I see two problems with this: the lack of a proper policy on the environment from the Opposition (apart from a few perfunctory protests), and the risk of letting what environmentalists are combating continue under a future administration led by that Opposition. As environmentalists and Left activists have pointed out only too clearly, much of what is being protested against, including the Sinharaja debacle, can be traced back to the yahapalana period. How wise would it be to trust the party that held the cards then so much as to return them to power now?

To these two problems one can add a third: the contradiction between the social conditioning and the activism of the middle-class. That contradiction translates itself into another: between political ideals that pit this middle-class against political authority, and social aspirations that orient them towards personal achievement in education and employment.

One can ask why this is a problem, why it’s so problematic. In matters of political concern, so the idealists say, personal matters are of no relevance.

But that’s precisely the issue. How pertinent are one’s personal aspirations to one’s political inclinations? Not pertinent, some would say; pretty pertinent, in my book.

That leads us to a crucial issue, the most important to crop up from what we’re seeing today: the extent to which those leading the protests are willing to own up to how class aspirations, and not just state complicity, have contributed to environmental degradation.

Let me reduce this to a simple query: how much do you attribute everything wrong with the environment to the government’s doing and non-doing, and how much do you attribute it to, say, our propensity to import, a major factor in environmental degradation?

To be fair, of course, it’s not only imports. The truth is that degradation of the environment is linked inextricably to an economic model rooted in consumerism and urbanisation.

But that merely reinforces my point: consumerism is promoted by the private sector, and urbanisation by the public, because both have an audience: the same middle-class blaming the government for what’s happening to our forests, our rivers, our way of life.

To restate this as simply as I can, then, the problems of environmental degradation today are the result of a decades-long experiment with capitalism and neoliberalism that has failed. The crisis is thus a crisis of a consumerist and exploitative model based on a capitalist framework. Now no critique of what is happening to our forests can evolve without taking this model into consideration. As perhaps its biggest beneficiaries, the middle-class must hence recognise the need to formulate an alternative model to it, in line with their activist inclinations.

However, in continuing to ignore if not marginalise this need, those taking the government to task over the environment are offering an inadequate response, radical enough to question the regime for its failings, yet not radical enough to question our embracement of an acquisitive, consumption-led economic model that has contributed to the quagmire we are in. Now I hate gazing into crystal balls, but if this is what will continue in the future, then these protests, no matter how laudable, will someday, somehow, fizzle out. That would be a pity.

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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Sat Mag

CELEBRATING EARTH DAY: THE VOICE OF THE NEXT GENERATION

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Our world needs transformational change, and it is time for us, those of the present generation to hold ourselves accountable for our role in the environmental crisis while also calling for bold, creative, and innovative solutions. This year marks the 51st anniversary of Earth Day and this Webinar is designed to commemorate the occasion and to support the worldwide efforts to conserve and revitalize the environment of the blue planet that is our home. If we are to succeed, we must listen to the children who will link hands from around the world during this webinar and voice their concerns and ideas to preserve a pristine environment for their generation.

This is the 17th of a series of virtual zoom panel discussions hosted by the America-Sri Lanka Photographic Art Society in Los Angeles California, USA (ASPAS); Member of Photographic Society of America (PSA) and The International Federation of Photography of Art in France (FIAP). The objective of the series is to showcase the beauty of world fauna and flora and promote environmental conservation in the context of nature photography and tourism, with a special focus on the grandeur of Sri Lanka’s natural habitat. The upcoming programme will commemorate World Earth Day 2021.

At a previous ASPAS Webinar, Dr. Peter H. Sand, former Secretary-General of ICUN, stated, “Pandemics, such as coronavirus, are the result of humanity’s destruction of nature, the illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade, as well as the devastation of forests and other wild places, are the driving force behind the increasing number of diseases leaping from wildlife to humans.” The ASPAS Webinars are intended to offer a platform to discuss a more balanced relationship with these ecosystems and the tools that can help us reach this objective, so that future generations can continue to enjoy and benefit from them sustainably and responsibly.

Earth Day marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970 which gave voice to an emerging public consciousness about the state of our planet. Our planet is an amazing place, but it needs our help to thrive! That is why each year on April 22, more than a billion people celebrate Earth Day to protect the planet from pollution and deforestation and environment related issues. By taking part in activities like picking up litter and planting trees, we are making our world a happier, healthier place to live.

In the decades leading up to the first Earth Day, the world was consuming vast amounts of leaded gas through massive and inefficient automobiles. Industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of the consequences from either the law or the press. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. Until this point, the world remained largely oblivious to environmental concerns and how a polluted environment threatens human health. Since, the great challenge for the environmental community is to combat the cynicism of climate change deniers, well-funded oil lobbyists, reticent policy makers, and a disinterested public. In the face of these challenges, Earth Day prevailed and established itself as a major movement for global action for the environment.

Over the decades, it has brought hundreds of millions of people into the environmental movement, creating opportunities for civic engagement and volunteers in 193 countries. Earth Day engages more than 1 billion people every year and has become a major steppingstone along the pathway of engagement around the protection of the planet.

Now, the fight for a clean environment continues with increasing urgency, as the ravages of climate change become more and more apparent every day. As the awareness of our climate crisis grows, so does civil society mobilization, which is reaching a fever pitch across the globe today. Digital and social media are bringing these conversations, protests, strikes and mobilizations to a global audience, uniting a concerned citizenry as never before and mobilizing generations to join together to take on the greatest challenge that humankind has faced.

It is quite apparent that the youth of our world should also be engaged in this vital conversation as an absolutely indispensable partner.

Governments have recognized this for decades and many have introduced some level of climate and environmental education into their education systems. But the truth is that impact of climate and environmental education is in some cases week, cursory, and still in many countries non-existent. In the decades since the launch of the global environmental movement, it is estimated that more than 3 billion young people have graduated from high school having learned little or nothing about one of the greatest issues that will shape their lives and their livelihoods for decades to come.

The time is now, indeed it is long overdue, for a massive environmental literacy campaign that can create a generation of citizens, workers and leaders who really understand why and how to stop climate change and environmental degradation, ensuring that every student around the world completes their formal education as an environmental and climate literate citizen. A citizen who is ready to take action and speak up for change and build knowledge and skills for the growing green sector of clean energy, efficient transportation, sustainable business and making themselves competitive for new jobs.

The youth must also equip themselves with the knowledge and skills needed to build a better future and be stewards of this planet. They must learn that to sustain a functional society and economy, natural resources must be used wisely and efficiently while protecting the ecological systems to ensure clean air, clean water, and food security for all.

But just as vitally, we need to equip future generations with the knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm to survive and indeed thrive in the decades to come. And that begins in school. Even world leaders recognized that pivotal role as far back as 30 years, when the countries that forged the original United Nations climate change treaty in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit enshrined climate education as an essential part of a national response to a global emergency.

Educationists believe every school in the world must have compulsory, assessed climate and environmental education with a strong civic engagement component. They have also pointed out that the onus for developing environmental consciousness in youth could not be the sole responsibility of schools as the young people need the help of adult allies. There is a role for everyone, parents, relatives, and society to support youth voices and stand alongside them.

It is in that spirit that the America-Sri Lanka Photohtaphic Art Society Los Angeles, led by its President, Suriya Jayalath Perera, has organized this Webinar to bring together 10 young people from the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Sri Lanka to voice their concerns and present their ideas on the occasion of Earth Day 2021. Youth from ages six to 18, will address the entire gamut of environmental issues from climate change to plastic pollution. It would be a truly ground-breaking event, and you can be a part of it by virtually joining them on Sunday April 18th, 2021. The webinar will be moderated by Medini Ratnayake.

More Information: www.usacaaspas.com

Join us live on Sunday April 18th, at 8.30 P.M. 2021 https://www.facebook.com/aspaslausa/live Nandasiri (Nandi) Jasentuliyana, Former Deputy Director-General, United Nations

 

 

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Sat Mag

How to flush cholesterol out of your body

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Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in all the cells in your body. Your body needs cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. Your liver makes all the cholesterol you need. The cholesterol in your body that you do not need comes from animal bodies.

If you have more cholesterol in your body than you need, then you are heading for heart disease and heart attacks. A build-up of cholesterol narrows arteries, causing a restriction of blood flow to the heart. Very often a person with high cholesterol levels has no symptoms until he has his first heart attack.

This is even more problematic if you are overweight – which you will be, because the food that causes an increase in cholesterol also increases your weight. Though some cholesterol components are stored in the liver and gallbladder, the main storage area is in fat cells called adipocytes. When you have too much cholesterol, these cells swell up and you gain weight. Too much cholesterol can be caused by eating too much fat or carbohydrates.

 

There are two types of cholesterol: HDL and LDL

High density lipoprotein (HDL) is good cholesterol which protects you from hearts attacks, and strokes, by mopping up excess bad cholesterol. It takes the cholesterol that you don’t need back to the liver. The liver breaks it down so it can be passed out of your body. LDL is bad cholesterol. This blocks the blood supply and causes strokes and heart attacks. Non-HDL take cholesterol from the liver to the cells around your body. Too much bad cholesterol (non-HDL) can be harmful because it sticks to the inside walls of your arteries. This can lead to fatty material (atheroma) building up – this process is known as atherosclerosis.

Cholesterol is found in animal foods, meat, milk, butter and cheese.

There are only two things that raise cholesterol in the blood: saturated and trans fats.

Saturated fats are found in meats, dairy products, chocolate, baked goods like biscuits and popcorn, margarine, deep-fried, and processed foods, basically junk food.

Trans fats occur in some fried and processed foods, also in junk food.

In adults, total cholesterol levels less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) are considered healthy. 200 – 239 mg/dL is borderline high. 240 mg/dL and above is high. LDL cholesterol levels should be less than 100 mg/dL.

How do you know that your cholesterol levels are high? You usually don’t. There are no typical signs if you have high cholesterol, which is why it is so important to get it checked. It is a hidden risk factor, which means it happens without us knowing until it is too late. Some people get soft, yellowish, growths or lesions on the skin, especially round the eyes, called xanthomas. If you are lucky you develop left-sided chest pain, pressure, or fullness; dizziness; unsteady gait; slurred speech; or pain in the lower legs. Any of these conditions may be associated with high cholesterol.

How do you flush cholesterol out of your body?

Stop eating meat or drinking milk. Avoid ghee, butter and paneer, and seafood like crabs, shrimps and lobsters. Don’t smoke. Exercise. Eat fewer refined grains such as maida. Foods to avoid if you have high cholesterol levels include white bread, white potatoes, and white rice, highly processed sugars. Fried foods should be avoided, as well as foods high in saturated fats.

Eat fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains, every day.

A report from Harvard Health has identified foods that actively decrease cholesterol levels: Oats, barley and whole grains, beans, eggplant and okra, nuts, vegetable oil (canola, sunflower), fruits (mainly apples, grapes, strawberries, and citrus), soy and soy-based foods. Eating just one and one-half cups of cooked oatmeal a day can lower your cholesterol by 5 to 8%. Oatmeal contains soluble and insoluble fibre – two types that your body needs.

In June 2020 a report, led by Imperial College London Majid Ezzati, et al.​ and involving dozens of universities, “Repositioning of the global epicentre of non-optimal cholesterol” ​was published in Nature. It said that while cholesterol levels have declined in high income countries, particularly Europe, since 1980 , they have increased vastly in lower and middle income countries, with Asia, specially Southeast Asia, now being the centre.

The reason for this is the consumption of animal-based foods, refined carbohydrates (maida) and palm oil. In short, the heart attack and stroke risks have been globally repositioned with the shifting of a high cholesterol diet.

A group of nearly 1,000 researchers, from around the world, analysed data from 1,127 studies comprising 102.6 million adults, to assess global trends in cholesterol levels from 1980 to 2018. This is the largest ever study of global cholesterol levels.

Previously cholesterol was considered a problem in high income Western countries.

The report said that Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland (the centre of the milk/meat diet) and Iceland (meat) had shown the steepest declines in cholesterol, going from the highest to the lowest. There has been a sharp drop in LDL cholesterol in the UK, according to the British Heart Foundation.

China, which had the lowest levels of cholesterol in 1980, was among the highest in 2018. India, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand have not covered themselves in glory either.

In 1980 Australian women ranked 32nd highest in the world in cholesterol levels. Today they are 146th . Australian men have fallen from 31st highest to 116th. 

Dr Avula Laxmaiah, National Institute of Nutrition, one of the authors of the research paper, said LDL cholesterol among Indian men ranked 128th in 1980 and remained the same in 2018.  Women are 139th in the global line-up.

Other conditions, that can lead to high cholesterol levels, include diabetes drugs that increase LDL cholesterol and decrease HDL cholesterol, such as progestins, anabolic steroids, and corticosteroids. India is one of the highest users of steroids – not directly, but through these being fed to chicken.

The authors have suggested that each country in Asia set into place prices, and regulatory policies, that shift diets to non-saturated fats. But, at the end of the day it is not prices that will decide – meat/chicken and milk are already expensive but it doesn’t stop you from eating them. You will have to take a personal decision, depending on how much you value your life or the lives of your family.

(To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org)

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