Bolivia: Congress rejects president’s resignation

The Bolivian Congress voted unanimously March 8 to reject the resignation President Carlos Mesa had submitted a day earlier, saying ongoing popular protests had made it impossible for him to continue. Mesa said his government had faced 820 protests since taking office in October 2003. Mesa assumed the presidency after former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada fled the country amid nationwide demonstrations.

The demonstrations to uphold Bolivian sovereignty over its vast natural gas resources, to oppose privatization of industries and natural resources, including the country’s water supply, and to protest rising fuel costs, have been organized by the Movement Toward Socialism party, a working-class and indigenous movement led by indigenous leader Evo Morales.

Opponents said Mesa’s proposed resignation was a political ploy to stay in office, since Congress’ rejection would strengthen his hand. Morales called Mesa’s move “a coercive attitude toward the social movement” and accused Mesa of unleashing “a racial war” with criticism of indigenous protest leaders.

Uruguay: President sets a new course

Right after his inauguration, President Tabare Vazquez met with Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque in Montevideo and restored his country’s relations with Cuba. In 2002, reportedly under U.S. pressure, Uruguay had condemned Cuba at the UN Human Rights Commission and then broke off relations.

The two countries also signed letters of intent to develop commercial relations and to set up medical sales and exchanges. Despite the lack of diplomatic ties, 300 Uruguayan young people have been studying at Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine, 40 of whom will graduate this summer.

Vazquez, a socialist and leader of the Progressive Encounter-Broad Front coalition, also immediately proclaimed a broad “Social Emergency Plan” to aid the many Uruguayans who have fallen into poverty during recent economic crises. The plan features food, health, job and housing programs.

Perez Roque observed that Uruguay is joining the Latin American trend of choosing progressive leaders, including those of Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela.

Africa: Over 80 million could die of AIDS

More than 80 million people living in Africa could die from AIDS by 2025 unless concerted action is taken, a new report by UNAIDS said March 4. While about 10 percent of the world’s people live in sub-Saharan Africa, the report said, the region has almost two-thirds of all people living with HIV/AIDS.

Titled “AIDS in Africa: Three scenarios to 2025,” the report details the 20 years of the AIDS epidemic and warns that the worst is still to come. “What we do today will change the future,” the report said. “While societies will have to deal with AIDS for some time to come, the extent of the epidemic’s impact will depend on the responses and investment now.”

UNAIDS estimates that nearly $200 billion is needed to save 16 million people from death and 43 million from becoming infected. The report emphasized that major inroads can be made if the will is there.

Now, UNAIDS said, 25 million people in Africa are infected and life expectancy in nine African countries has fallen below 40. There are 11 million orphans, and 6,500 people die each day. Last year some 3.1 million people were newly infected.

Nepal: Some unionists freed, crisis continues

Two trade union leaders arrested after King Gyanendra usurped power Feb. 1 have been released, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions said March 1. The ICFTU said it was continuing to press for release of other jailed leaders of the Nepal Trade Union Congress, and for complete freedom of activity by the country’s trade unions.

Key former government leaders remain under house arrest, including the deposed Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, Nepali Congress president G.P. Koirala, Communist Party (UML) head Madhav Kumar Nepal, and former Home Minister Purna Bahadur Khadka.

Others have been released, including two former prime ministers.

On March 4, several CPN (UML) activists were arrested as they tried to stage a demonstration in the capital city, Kathmandu.

Bangladesh: Fired workers reinstated

Thirty-two Bangladeshi garment workers fired in December for trying to organize a union will get their jobs back after talks between their union, BIGUF, and the company, Square Fashions, according to the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation (ITGLWF).

The company first denied and later admitted the violations that led the workers to organize. It is working with the union to resolve them. The ITGLWF credited a combination of local trade union action and global support for the workers’ victory.

The two-month-long campaign to win back the workers’ jobs was supported by most of the brands and retailers buying from the factory, some of whom withheld their orders while the problems persisted. Square Fashions’ clients include a number of internationally marketed brands.

World Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (mbechtel@pww.org).
W.T. Whitney Jr. and Julia Lutsky contributed to this week’s notes.

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