Finland: Anti-bailout Populists win
Buoyed by opposition to EU bailouts and disillusionment with government scandals and arrivals of new immigrants, the populist True Finn Party won 19.1 percent of the votes in elections April 17. The gain from five parliamentary seats in 2007 to now 39 represents Finland’s biggest election turn-around ever, said rebelion.org. The Party will probably collaborate in forming a new government with the conservative National Coalition Party that took 19.9 percent and with Social Democrats accounting for 19.2 percent of the vote. Placing fourth, the Center Party dropped from 52 to 35 seats. Finland is the only EU country requiring parliamentary approval for participation in EU bailouts. Ultimately, however, the True Finns will likely support a Portugal bailout, in exchange for the government not pursuing tax and retirement age hikes.
Honduras: Chavez takes on mediation role
At a Caracas press conference April 17, exiled President Jose Manuel Zelaya, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and leaders of Honduras’ National Front for Popular Resistance (FNRP), announced Chavez would be attempting to mediate conflict within Honduras. Chavez and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos earlier had conferred with serving Honduran President Porfirio Lobo. FNRP official Juan Barahona, quoted by aporrea.org, said Chavez would be conveying four FNRP stipulations: “return of exiles [including Zelaya], respect for human rights, convocation of a constituent assembly, and recognition of the FNRP as a political organization.” He later expressed hope Zelaya would return in May setting the stage for the Organization of American States meeting in June to readmit Honduras, ostracized because of the coup in 2009.
Japan: Public service workers under the gun
Spurning International Labor Organization recommendations, the government indicated April 5 that public sector workers lacked rights to strike and bargain collectively. These are “fundamental labor rights,” responded labor union activists, according to Japan Press Service. Projected civil service reforms also entail reducing government employees, which critics say weakens the public response to natural disasters. Civil service overview is moved from the National Personnel Authority, a “neutral and specialized organization” its website says, to a cabinet office. Personnel there will be negotiating salary demands and working conditions. The reforms offer no protection against “Amakudari,” the time honored arrangement encouraging senior bureaucrats to take lucrative, influence peddling positions in the private and public sectors.
Swaziland: Protests mount against oppression
Meeting in Accra on April 11-12, the African section of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) denounced repression of trade unionists and other pro-democratic forces in Swaziland. Naming eight high-level labor leaders arrested along with other activists on April 12, the censure hit violations of rights of free speech and assembly and use of torture. The besieged unions are demanding the royal government revoke its emergency decree of 1973 that criminalizes political dissent. The ITUC statement appearing on its website condemns the government for corruption, extravagant displays of wealth and institutionalization of poverty. Days before, activists inside the country and outside had met across the border in Kamhlushwa, South Africa, to inaugurate a new Communist Party of Swaziland.
Syria: Opposition group receives Washington money
As anti-government demonstrations continued in mid April, revelations from cables made available by the Wikileaks website indicate that from 2006 through at least 2010 the U.S. State Department funded activities directed at overthrowing President Bashar Al-Assad’s government. Over $6 million flowed to the Los Angeles-based Democracy Council which dispersed money to exiled dissidents in London forming the Movement for Justice and Development. That group beams anti-government programming into Syria through its Barada satellite TV channel. Global Research reports that the cables identify the group’s leaders as “liberal, moderate Islamists,” who formerly belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood. Ironically, endeavoring to build relations, the U.S. government in January 2011 sent an ambassador to Syria after a six-year hiatus.
Cuba: Spanish Bank kneels to U.S. whim
Spain’s BBVA bank has 100,000 employees worldwide. One works in Cuba. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission made the discovery while perusing the giant bank’s annual report. Washington, reports La Republica, quizzed bank financial director Javier Malagón about the “reach and nature of [the bank’s] past, present, and future activities” in Cuba and identity of its Cuban government contacts. Although the sole BBVA representative there deals only with banking needs of non-Cubans, BBVA is under the gun. There are SEC rules applying to traders on the New York Stock Exchange keeping up ties with an allegedly terrorist nation. BBVA and other foreign banks have already had to close offices in Iran. “The U.S. doesn’t let down its guard,” commented elpais.com.