Colombia: Cordoba arranges prisoner release
Colombians for Peace founding member Piedad Cordoba, a campaigner for peaceful resolution to Colombia's armed conflict and release of prisoners, was instrumental in the staggered liberation from Feb. 9 -16 of six prisoners held by Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas. Cordoba once more facilitated unilateral prisoner releases, this time by coordinating efforts of the FARC, the Colombian and Brazilian governments and the International Red Cross Committee. She is optimistic, TeleSur reported, that all FARC prisoners may soon be released and the "possibility of arriving at a dialogue for peace." On Feb. 21 in Buenos Aires, Cordoba joined activists and intellectuals from three continents at an international symposium on "Making Peace in Colombia."
Iraq: Human rights are unprotected
"Human rights abuses are commonplace," asserts a recently released Human Rights Watch report identifying women, journalists, religious minorities, and prisoners as particularly vulnerable. The Iraqi government has generally failed to investigate and prosecute perpetrators, according to findings derived from 178 victim interviews in seven cities. HRW urges Iraq's foreign allies to insist upon legal reforms there and support for displaced persons, also to "ensure that no one at risk of torture" goes to jail. Women and girls subjected to abuse and sex trafficking are "the biggest victims," claimed one activist quoted by IPS.
Ethiopia: NATO joins with African Union
According to the Feb. 18 issue of Africa Review, which cited an African Union official, a NATO legal team visited recently AU headquarters in Addis Ababa. This visit, says the Review, signifies preparation for a NATO - AU military cooperation pact. NATO will open a liaison office there and has provided transport and logistical support for AU operations in Sudan and Somalia. And crucially, according to analyst Rick Rozoff, NATO offers "capacity building support" for the AU's African Standby Force, "a joint project of NATO and U.S. Africa Command." Rozoff sees NATO's African buildup as aimed at Russian and Chinese oil and natural gas ventures and arms sales. NATO, he points out, "set itself a target to be a global 'security guarantor' by the year 2020."
South Korea: Deportation of migrant leader is condemned
Philippines native Michel Catuira arrived in 2007, finding work in a small shoe factory. Two years later he became president of the Migrant Trade Union, which, founded in 2005, has resisted abuse from employers and frequent deportations of workers by the government. The International Labor Organization had earlier protested the deportation of five MTU leaders. Pressure against Catuira increased last year as the MTU, denied legal status, resisted arrests and the police killing of a protesting Vietnamese worker. Alleging Catuira had faked his employment, the government lifted his visa in February, reported the MTU website. His threatened deportation on March 7 has elicited protests from the KCTU labor federation, the Asian Human Rights Commission, and Amnesty International.
France: Wealth tax may go
Budget Minister François Baroin on indicated Feb. 16 that the Sarkozy government would soon remove the "solidarity wealthy tax." Introduced by socialists in 1981, the tax has symbolized government dedication to wealth redistribution. Individuals' assets worth more than 790,000 euros each are presently taxed at rates up to to1.8 percent. Dropping the tax, which accounts for 1.5 percent of all revenue, would deprive the treasury of $5.41 billion annually. As if to compensate, the government is considering removal of a "shield" restricting taxation to the first 50 percent of wealthy person's income. L'Humanite, the newspaper of the French Communist Party, speculates that abandoning the wealth tax is aimed at shoring up conservative electoral support for Sarkozy. He claims the wealth tax gives Germany a competitive edge.
Cuba: International Book Fair
The twentieth annual Havana book fair began on Feb. 10. After ten days, it is to move on to other cities, ending up in Santiago de Cuba March 5. The fair this year honored Paraguay and a bevy of national and international writers. The extravaganza was dedicated to the bicentennials of "the first independence of Latin America" and "the First Declaration of the Abolition of Slavery," and the 220th anniversary of the Haitian revolution. "Two hundred personalities" from four continents received special invitations. Readings, concerts, theatrical and dance programs, colloquia, round tables and individual presentations took place in 800 venues. The Fair in Havana, attended by 360,000 people and 14 Latin American culture ministers, featured 158 publishers' exhibits from 27 countries. Six million books and 2,400 titles were on hand, of which four million and 513, respectively, were Cuban. Some 700,000 books were purchased, reported cubadebate.cu.