Cuba: UNESCO lauds Cuban education
Cuban education received high marks from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's annual report on Latin American education, released March1. Cuba spends 13.8 percent of its GDP on education while 4 percent of other countries spend less than 40 percent. The report recognized that Cuba's anti-illiteracy program "Yo, si puedo," (Yes I can) is being used in 12 countries, extensively in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Panamá, and Venezuela. Cuba ranked first in the region for high academic achievement among students. UNESCO extolled regional advances in overall availability of primary education and providing for equal boy - girl enrollment in primary schools. Armed conflict in Colombia and violence throughout Central America and Mexico were cited, however, as impediments to raising educational levels.
Afghanistan: Opiates skyrocket, Russia responds
Focusing on booming Afghan heroin exports, Russian drug control chief Víctor Ivanov identifies Russia as the world's top heroin consumer and Afghanistan as providing 90 percent of all heroin entering Russia. Annually 30,000 Russians die from complications of heroin use. Ivanov visited Italy on February 27 as part of a campaign to enlist European Union help in combating Afghan heroin. Indeed, he informed reporters, Afghanistan accounts for 90 percent of world heroin production, with its output increasing 40 times since 2001. The report on RIA Novosti points out also that Afghan hashish production is up twelve-fold over ten years, making Afghanistan the world's leading producer in that category too. Russia has long blamed NATO for neglecting the problem.
India: Unity the watchword as workers march
A "Workers' March to Parliament," organized by trade union federations, brought tens of thousands into New Delhi's streets on February 23. Addressing the crowd, AITUC Federation General Secretary Gurudas Dasgupta called upon the UPA center-left government "to address corruption and the issue of unemployment." This is the first time after Independence, he indicated, "that the left and non-left trade unions have come together for the cause of the people." Speakers denounced high prices, privatization of public assets, and denial of social security for unorganized workers. On its web site, the Communist Party of India - Marxist described this "massive workers' demonstration [as] a display of the united will of the working class movement to fight against the neo-liberal and anti-working class policies of the UPA government."
Egypt: Leftist political parties taking shape
Individual left leaning activists and representatives of workers' groups and independent unions have recently been meeting to begin legal preparations for two new political parties. Union leaders are setting up the "Labor Democratic Party," open to all Egyptians working for a salary or wage. Dissident elements of the older leftist Al-Tagammu party, joined by the Egyptian Communist Party, the Revolutionary Socialists and the Socialist Renewal Movement plus individual socialists, are working towards forming a "Popular Coalition Party" aimed at uniting existing leftist groups and activating young people. "The founding goals of both parties," the Egypt Daily News reports on February 28, are "establishing a civil, democratic state, as well as fighting capitalist policies and promoting the rights of lower social classes." The two parties will work toward a minimum and maximum wage, ending privatization projects, and developing programs for the poor and marginalized.
Ireland: Conservatives pay price for economic collapse
In elections on February 26, Fianna Fail took a hit, dropping from 77 to 19 parliamentary seats. That conservative party, in power for 61 of the last 79 years, had promoted deregulatory policies leading to last year's bank and housing crisis. A massive European Union bailout is requiring high interest debt repayment, cutbacks in services, and rampant privatization. The center-right Fine Gael Party moved from 51 to 76 seats and is expected to form a coalition government with the Labor party, winner of 37 seats, up from 20. The media highlighted the success of Gerry Adams' Irish Republican Sinn Fein Party in taking 15 seats. The United Left Alliance of three leftist parties gained five seats.
Colombia: Questions raised on U.S. bases
Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo recently announced dissatisfaction with Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera's responses to his letter of January 26 about seven new U.S. bases. Rivera was evasive about uses to which 126 U.S. contracts worth $12 million would be put regarding the bases. Robledo had asked about expected U.S. troop deployments, projected U.S. use of the bases, proposed government spending on U.S. projects, and discrepancies between U.S. and Colombian accounts of individual contract amounts. He contrasted the Minister's report of supposedly minor construction with U.S. plans, announced previously, for installing an "Advance Operations Base" for the U.S. Southern Command. Robledo was incensed, according to www.colombianobases.org, by many contracts having been signed after Constitutional Court nullification of the bases in August 2010.