International notes

Iraq: CPs in Arab countries protest U.S. threats Communist parties in six Arab countries stated in a Sept. 16 communique that “the situation facing our region signals a dangerous turnabout in the orientation of U.S. policy, especially after the tragic events of Sept. 11.” They called the plans to invade Iraq “enormously out of proportion” with the pretext for the aggression, getting rid of mass destruction weapons. The statement, signed by the CPs of Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Lebanon and Egypt, called the Bush administration program part of “a universal American strategy” to consolidate sole U.S. control of the future world development, “especially in our region, which is considered, with its huge oil reserves, particularly in Iraq, a principal link in achieving this mad dream of American monopolies.” The parties said Iraq’s refusal to allow U.N. weapons inspectors to return and to comply with relevant U.N. resolutions helped the U.S. administration find a pretext for its overall scheme, including the invasion of Iraq. Complying with the resolutions “will constitute support for the broad international forces which reject the war against Iraq,” the parties said. They stressed that “the task of changing the political system on a democratic basis in Iraq is the responsibility of the Iraqi people alone, with their patriotic forces which enjoy their support.”

Italy: Huge protest vs. Berlusconi policies In the year’s biggest protest to date against far right Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, some 800,000 demonstrators filled central Rome in mid-month to oppose a government bill on judicial reform. Opponents say the bill could cause the collapse of a trial in which Berlusconi is accused of bribing judges in the 1980s. The bill, which has already passed the upper house of parliament, has been approved by two committees in the lower house, and could become law within weeks. It would allow defendants to request their trials be moved to different courts on “legitimate suspicion” that the judges hearing their cases are biased. Meantime, the militant leftwing CGIL labor federation called for a one-day strike Oct. 18, to protest the Berlusconi government’s proposed reforms of the employment, tax and welfare systems.

South Africa: AIDS activists accuse giant drug firms AIDS activists last week filed complaints with South Africa’s Competition Commission against British-based GlaxoSmithKline and German-based Boehringer Ingelheim, accusing them of causing thousands of deaths through overpricing their medications. The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), three physicians, a nurse and four people living with HIV/AIDS said in affidavits that the firms were charging unreasonable prices for AZT, nevirapine, Combivir and 3TC. The complainants want the commission – an independent monitoring body – to fine the firms up to 10 percent of their annual receipts in South Africa and to declare publicly that they have conducted prohibited practices. This would allow people who suffered a loss because of past excessive pricing of the drugs to sue the companies. COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi urged the government to issue compulsory licences to local firms so they could produce cheap drugs.

Brazil: Overwhelming vote against FTAA Brazilians voted overwhelming against signing the Free Trade of the Americas (FTAA) treaty. Of the 10,149,542 Brazilians who participated in the plebiscite, 9,979,964 (98.33 percent) maintain that Brazil should not sign the Free Trade Area of the Americas treaty, versus 113,643 persons (1.67 percent) who believe that Brazil should join this economic bloc. Participation surpassed the four million persons who voted two years ago on the Plebiscite on the Foreign Debt. The results were released September 17, from Brasilia. Brazilians also voted against continuing to participate in the FTAA negotiations by 96 percent. Ninety-nine percent of the voters answered no to the third question – whether Brazil should deliver control over the Launch Base in Alcántara, in Maranhao, to the United States.

Slovakia: CP wins 11 seats in parliament For the first time since 1989 the Slovak parliament will include Communist MPs. The Communist Party of Slovakia won 11 seats in last weekend’s elections to the 150-member National Council. It polled 6.2 percent of the vote, more than doubling its support since the last election in 1998. The next Slovak coalition government will probably consist of four rightwing parties – current prime minister Mikulas Dzurinda’s Slovak Democcratic and Christian Union (which polled 15.09 percent); the Christian Democratic Movement (8.25 percent); a new party formed by Berlusconi-like media magnate Pavol Rusko, the New Citizen Alliance (8 percent); and the Hungarian Coalition Party (11.6 percent).