Iraq: Refugees are silent scandal

Amnesty International condemned “the international community” for neglecting 4.7 million Iraqi displaced persons, among them 2.7 million Iraqis unable to leave because of visa restrictions. An AI press release June 16 cites refugee poverty extreme enough that many children must work or beg and adults often have to risk violence by returning to Iraq for food or pension payments. AI denounced refugee deportations and accused international powers of “apathy and rhetoric” for “promoting a false picture of the security situation in Iraq.” The human rights organization calls upon European nations, the United States and Iraq’s neighbors to provide for employment and financial assistance, to end deportations and “coerced ‘voluntary’ returns,” and initiate long term resettlement policies.

Canada: Unions say out of Afghanistan

Late last month the 25th national convention of the Canadian Labor Congress in Toronto overwhelmingly approved resolutions calling for the removal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan. Reporting on the action, the website praised delegates for responding to the cruelty and illegality of the war and to its imperialist origins. The report highlights backing from Canadian unionists working in industries engaged in military supply and services, an expanding sector. The government’s defense budget is projected to rise by 37 percent through 2010. Over five years Canada has become the world’s sixth largest military exporter and 13th biggest military spender. Canadian mining corporations reportedly are eyeing Afghanistan’s rich, untapped mineral deposits.

Bolivia: Justice is stymied

Thousands of indigenous Bolivians marched from El Alto to La Paz to surround the U.S. embassy on June 9. Troops used tear gas and water cannons to disperse them. Protests continued and a week later Washington recalled Ambassador Philip Goldberg. At issue was an announcement in Miami by lawyers of Carlos Sánchez Berzaín that the former defense minister, who left Bolivia last year, had gained political asylum in the U.S. due to “a well-founded fear of persecution” if he returned to Bolivia. Demonstrators, however, viewed Berzain and his president, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, as murderers. During protests in 2003 against natural gas giveaways, Berzain’s soldiers killed 67 El Alto citizens and wounded 400.

Sweden: Report calls for arms control

At a press conference heralding the publication June 9 of the Yearbook of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (, director Bates Gill testified to the urgency of arms control. “In the face of looming threats to humankind,” he sees “a new window of opportunity” for achieving progress on disarmament. The report documents world military expenditure as having risen 45 percent over ten years, with Eastern European military outlay up 162 percent, of which over half is attributed to Russia. From 2001 on, U.S. military expenditure grew by 59 percent. It accounts now for half the world’s spending for war. The next four big spenders each contribute 4-5 percent to the world total.

Cuba: EU drops sanctions

As expected, the European Union removed sanctions against Cuba imposed in 2003 in response to the prosecution and jailing of 75 government opponents. They were convicted of violating Cuban laws prohibiting the use of foreign money to pay for political activities. The sanctions, which resulted in cessation of high level diplomatic exchanges and brakes on non-government aid programs, were suspended in 2005. The turnabout on June 19 comes as a result of Spanish advocacy.

China: Negotiations with Taiwan

Chiang Pin-kun, representative of Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation, conferred in Beijing last week with Chen Yunlin of the mainland’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits. This was the first meeting between the two groups since 1999. The groups were formed in 1991 to foster negotiations. To overcome the years-long impasse, according to Chiang, the groups would pursue “a gradual approach of economy before politics, easy problems before the difficult ones.” This time discussions over four days led to plans for a liaison officer, establishment of offices in both regions, weekend chartered flights, and arrangements for mainland tourists to visit Taiwan. The Xinhua report indicated that Chiang met with Chinese President Hu Jintao on June 13.