WORLD NOTES: January 17

Peru: Witchhunt builds

Late last month Judge Omar Pimentel ruled that 13 labor and leftist political leaders would be confined to their homes during a 15-day investigation period. They included Renan Raffo Munoz, head of the Communist Party’s political commission. The charge, “collaboration with international terrorism,” was based on material allegedly found in the widely discredited computer files of FARC leader Raul Reyes, killed by the Colombian military on March 1.

Rumors had circulated of the impending detention of dozens more, including nationalist opposition leader Ollanta Humala. Authorities recently arrested hundeds of anti-corruption, anti-privatization protesters. On its web site, Peru’s Communist Party denounced the government for launching a “dirty McCarthyist campaign” in preparation for regional and national elections in 2010 and 2011.



United Nations: Support for gay rights

Presently the laws of 77 nations define homosexuality as criminal behavior. Some demand capital punishment. In an unprecedented step, the United Nations General Assembly last month took under consideration an Argentinian-sponsored declaration that, appealing to human rights, called for the decriminalization of homosexuality.

Alone among western industrialized nations, the United States refused to join 66 nations in affirming the declaration. Reuters cited Vatican protestations against discrimination, despite disapproval of the declaration on grounds of imprecise language.

Coincidentally, an opening materialized in notoriously anti-gay Uganda. Afrol News reported that on Dec. 25, Judge Stella Arach invoked the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to rule that state suppression of gay and lesbian organizations was illegal.



Portugal: Renewable energy is priority

The world’s largest solar power plant opened Dec. 30 in Moura municipality. By 2010, the plant, built on 625 acres and costing $410 million, will produce 64 megawatts of energy from 268,000 photovoltaic panels, enough for 30,000 homes.

Mayor José María Prazeres Pós-de-Mina had founded the Amper Solar Power Company to advance the project. Two years ago a Spanish company acquired the municipality’s 88 percent ownership stake.

Pós-de-Mina told Inter Press Service of Moura’s leadership in the “Sunflower Project,” a network of eight municipalities in eight European Union countries aspiring to the exclusive use of renewable energy sources. The communist mayor, son and grandson of anti-fascist activists, has come to epitomize the EU’s war on carbon emissions.



Democratic Republic of Congo: ‘Blood Coltan’ spurs conflicts

Eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo claim 80 percent of the world reserves of the metallic ore coltan, from which the minerals niobium and tantalum are extracted. The latter is crucial in cell phones, video games and computers.

Experts say that income derived by armed forces through control of illegal coltan mining and exports fuels deadly civil wars. Last month, according to Insurgente.org, the South Africa Resource Watch, supported by the George Soros Foundation, sent the United Nations Security Council a list of 22 corporations profiting from Congolese coltan. While not appearing on the NGO’s web site, the list showing up on the Afrikarabia site (Dec. 13, 2008) includes five U.S. mining companies.



Egypt: Cited for right abuse

The state of human rights in Egypt, freedom of association in particular, has deteriorated. The annual report of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN), issued last month, concluded that “freedom of association has been denied or severely restricted for everyone without any distinction.” It denounced the government’s actions barring court challenges to decrees rendering groups illegal, accusing the government of targeting the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid, “active in fighting against torture for 13 years.”

Last November, support grew for laws tht would loosen restrictions on nongovernmental organizations. EMHRN is calling for legislation protecting freedom of association and, according to dailynewsegypt.com, an end to Egypt’s “state of emergency,” in effect since 1981.



Cuba: Infant mortality is low

Reflecting health care accessibility and quality, education levels, and nutrition, the infant mortality rate (IMR) is a measure of overall social wellbeing. In Cuba last year 4.7 babies per 1,000 births died during their first year. The rate before the revolution exceeded 60. It fell to 11.1 in 1989, 6.5 in 1999 — during the “special period — and 5.3 in 2007.

Minister of Health José Ramón Balaguer attributed Cuban success to dedicated, scientifically-advanced health workers; integration of primary and hospital level care; maternity homes for expectant mothers and effective specialty services. Granma, Cuba’s national newspaper, attributed the new low to “epoch struggle, against wind and tide, let loose by the revolution, favoring that primary human right — health.”

The U.S. estimated IMR for 2008 is 6.3; that for other industrialized countries, around five. In the U.S. the IMR for racial minorities has historically ended up two to three times higher than that of the general population.



World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney Jr. (atwhit @roadrunner.com)