India: New left electoral coalition formed
Before general elections starting April 16, nine left parties met March 15 to shape a coalition to oppose both the centrist alliance headed by the Congress Party, in power since 2004, and the coalition led by the rightwing BJP party.
At a press conference the next day, General Secretary Prakash Karat of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) released an election manifesto reflecting the program of the left front coalition. Key components, according to The Hindu newspaper, were reversing neo-liberal policies, social support for the poor, defending secularism, relief for oppressed sectors and foreign policy independence. Last year four left parties including the CPI(M) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) abandoned the Congress-led coalition to protest the U.S.-India nuclear power deal.
Iraq: Marshland crisis continues
The Saddam Hussein regime ousted rebellious inhabitants of southern Iraq’s marshlands by drying up the Middle East’s largest wetland ecosystem. Water and some people returned after the successor government removed dams and sluiceways.
Since 2003, however, water levels have dropped 50 percent. Marshland waters are now plagued with sewage, high salinity and pesticides. Azzaman news says thousands of families are leaving again.
Restoration may cost billions of dollars, IRIN news said. UN official David Shearer observed March 12 that marsh people “are some of the poorest and most badly provided with basic services.”
Iraqi officials have announced plans to remove remaining dams and canals.
Southern Africa: Trade talks contentious
Negotiations are coming to a close for an economic partnership agreement (EPA) between the European Union and Southern African Development Community members South Africa, Namibia, Swaziland, Lesotho and Botswana. Temporary arrangements have prevailed following a missed deadline in December 2007.
At a meeting in Namibia joined by Angola and Mozambique, the EU conceded protection for African industries and continuation of export taxes. Most favored nation provisions, to pass on to the EU any beneficial terms reached with developing nations, remain contentious. Withdrawal of holdout South Africa from the EPA would represent a challenge, according to the South African Business Day web site. Opponents protest as incipient re-colonization any arrangements seeming to favor established European economies.
Turkey: Water Forum reconvenes
Without immediate action, a global water crisis is certain, says a UN report delivered at the 5th World Water Forum, convened March 16 in Istanbul. Causative factors, according to 26 UN agencies contributing to the report, include climate change, population increase and human migration.
“Water is the principal medium through which climate change will affect economic, social and environmental conditions,” declared UNESCO head Koïchiro Matsuura. Food availability is crucial, according to IRIN news, with agriculture accounting for 70 percent of fresh water use. Some 3,000 liters of water are required daily to feed one person. The week-long gathering attracted activists, scientists, and business and government representatives. Protesters accused the Forum of colluding with companies to promote water privatization.
Haiti: Aristide party fights for election participation
In early March, a court reversed the Provisional Electoral Council’s disqualification of Lavalas party candidates in April 19 senate elections. The action coincided with demonstrations for Lavalas leader and ex-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, timed with the arrival of ex-U.S. President Bill Clinton and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to re-evaluate UN troop deployment in Haiti.
Haiti Liberté cited a protester’s warnings of further demonstrations should Lavalas be excluded. He and others demanded Aristide’s return from exile, five years after a U.S.-supported coup. Last week a visiting U.N. Security Council delegation praised Lavalas, presently divided into two factions, for contesting exclusion from the senate elections. Election council procrastination has left 12 senate seats vacant since 2007.
Cuba: Bonds tightened with Central America
Salvadoran President-elect Mauricio Funes and Costa Rican President Oscar Arias each announced plans on March 18 to restore their countries’ diplomatic relations with Cuba. Implementation for El Salvador will wait until June 1 when Funes assumes office.
Then all Latin American and Caribbean nations will have full relations with the island, a turn-about from nearly five decades ago when Washington induced all except Mexico to spurn Cuba. “The world,” Arias declared, “is diametrically distinct from [then]. We must adjust to new realities.”
Meanwhile last week Panamanian Vice President and Foreign Minister Samuel Lewis signed far-reaching commercial agreements with Cuba.
The Cuba News Agency noted that over 1,000 Panamanians have either graduated recently from Cuban universities or are studying there now. Lewis expressed appreciation for Cuban assistance in combating illiteracy and for the presence in Panama of 33 Cuban ophthalmologists who have recently performed thousands of sight-restoring operations.
World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney Jr. (email@example.com)