Spain: Workers reject government austerity policies
Some 2.3 million public service workers staged a one-day strike June 8 against government austerity measures due to take effect on June 16. “Why should we pay for the worldwide financial crisis?” one asked, quoted by Timesonline.co.uk. The International Monetary Fund had prescribed “far-reaching and comprehensive reforms” for bringing last year’s budget deficit of 11.2 percent of GDP down to 9.3 percent. Government spending cuts will total $18.4 billion. Civil service salaries are programmed to decrease by 5 percent now and to be frozen next year. Civil servants will no longer benefit from long-term contracts providing benefits like long-term severance payments to laid-off workers. A general strike seemed likely once union-government negotiations failed on June 10.
Nigeria: Poverty, desperation leads to poisoned children
Authorities initially attributed deaths of children in Zamfara state noted by a vaccination team to cerebral malaria. Then a team from Doctors Without Borders studying meningitis documented extremely high blood lead levels among area residents. During May, lead intoxication, disastrous for children, caused over 170 of them to die, leaving hundreds terribly ill. Even symptomless poisoned children suffer neurological and developmental setbacks. Lead dust liberated by rudimentary gold mining operations has been washed into streams and taken into houses. Farmers unable to support their families resorted to illegal mining after gold ore availability was signaled through the government awarding contracts to Chinese mining companies. Reuters quoted Yakubu Ibrahim: “If this mining is no longer possible, what will I do?”
Israel: Hike requested in U.S. military aid
Haaretz newspaper reported June 8 that defense officials visited Washington recently to request more JDAM bomb systems and increased storage in Israel of U.S. military equipment potentially available for Israeli use, depending on U.S. approval. JDAM refers to appliances grafted onto gravity bombs, converting them into guided munitions. Since last December, $600 million worth of U.S. military supplies have been stored in Israel with more expected soon, worth $200 million. The current request is for storage there of additional U.S. supplies valued at $400 million, including rockets, bombs, aircraft ammunition and armored vehicles. The object is to augment resupply capabilities during a regional war triggered by Iran and Hezbollah, one the report says may come soon.
Venezuela: Military spending drops
Venezuelan military spending fell 25 percent last year to $3.3 billion, fifth place in Latin America. Brazil was the top military spender at $27.1 billion, up 16 percent, followed by Colombia at $10.1 billion, up 11 percent. As a percentage of GDP, Colombian expenditure ranked first at 3.7 percent, followed by Ecuador, Brazil, and Venezuela at 2.8, 1.5, and 1.4 percent respectively. The report, released June 2 by Sweden’s SIPRI research institute, also indicated that global military spending, up 49 percent since 2000, increased 6 percent during 2009. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela, quoted by Venezuelanalysis.com, recently commented, “The United States is worried about the aggressive discourse and the arms race on the part of the government of Venezuela.”
China: Labor demands are being heard
A clash June 9 near Shanghai between KOK Machinery workers and police left 50 wounded. According to labor expert Cai Fang, cited by China Daily, recent labor disputes “send a clear signal of tighter labor supply.” Honda workers striking on May 17 obtained a 24 percent wage increase. Intermittent strikes affecting Honda suppliers continue in early June despite offers of 24-32 percent wage hikes. Strikes and suicides at Apple and Sony supplier Foxconn prompted an almost 70 percent wage increase. Wages for 150 million migrant workers increased 16 percent in 2009. Minimum wage levels have risen this year by up to 20 percent in 14 provinces and regions. Labor’s share of the national income declined from 53.4 in 1996 to 39.7 percent in 2007.
Cuba: Work starts on long-awaited fiber optic cable
In late May, the Singapore-based explorer vessel MV Ridley Thomas arrived at Santiago harbor to begin undersea explorations preparatory to laying fiber optic cable between Venezuela and Cuba. Use of the cable, set for early 2011, will boost Cuba’s Internet access markedly and increase Internet communication speed 3,000-fold, according to Cubaheadlines.com. The laying of cable, with a spur headed for Jamaica, will bring to fruition one of the largest ventures thus far of the Latin American solidarity alliance ALBA. Wilfredo Morales, president of the Cuban-Venezuelan company undertaking the project, earlier had attributed the choice of a Shanghai corporation to provide Internet cable in part to Chinese immunity from strictures imposed by the U.S. economic blockade.
Photo: Workers protest outside Spain’s Economic Ministry in Madrid May 20, after the government announced job cuts for public employees. (AP Photo/Paul White)