WORLD NOTES: March 29

Canada: Troops stay in Afghanistan

Canada’s Parliament voted 198-77 on March 13 to back an “Independent Panel” recommendation to continue deployment of 2,500 troops in Afghanistan until 2011.

Parliament also demanded that 1,000 additional NATO soldiers be sent to the Kandahar area to back up Canadian troops, although one expert suggests 16,000 more are needed.

Opposing the motion in Parliament were the New Democratic Party and Bloc Quebecois. Anti-war demonstrations erupted in 20 Canadian cities marking the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war.

Meanwhile, Australia’s Defense Minister has suggested that Australian troops would be leaving Afghanistan soon, unless manpower burdens are equalized.



South Korea: Business in the saddle

New South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s class allegiance was never a secret. His prosecutors have imposed large fines, $300 to $3,000, against workers who strike, demonstrate or sit in to advance labor demands — an attempt “to shackle the labor movement,” a labor lawyer told the Korea Times.

Earlier this month, the president’s office announced a list of 100 favored business owners who enjoy direct cell phone access to the former entrepreneur for advice “to enhance corporate investment and competitiveness.”

Lee Myung-bak favors investment rather than aid to build ties with North Korea. In his campaign, he called for a 7 percent annual rise in GDP, a $40,000 per capita income and South Korea to become the world’s seventh largest economy.



Somalia: UN considers intervention

Following a UN task force visit to Somalia, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has issued a report on the humanitarian and human rights disaster that engulfed the country in 2007 after invading Ethiopian troops and the Transitional Federal Government ousted rulers representing the Union of Islamic Courts. (Washington designated the latter’s military wing as a terrorist organization on March 18.)

The report, which the UN’s IRIN news agency said is headed for discussion by the Security Council, suggests the possibility of a 27,000-strong UN peacekeeping contingent to supplement current efforts of 2,400 African Union troops. Requirements for beefed up UN support include: dialogue leading to a cease-fire, withdrawal by Ethiopian troops, safety guarantees for foreign aid workers and security for humanitarian aid material.



Iraq: Sunnis, unpaid, abandon ship

Reduced violence in Iraq is widely attributed to Sunni support for U.S. military objectives over the past year. Some 80,000 Sunnis, organized into “Awakening Councils,” agreed to participate in return for job promises and $10 weekly payments.

Now U.S. payments are late, and six of 49 councils have backed out. The U.K. Guardian reported March 21 on a telephone survey showing that 38 more may soon join them.

One council near Baghdad is discouraged because Shia officials have turned down all 2,000 of its applicants for police and military jobs. A Sunni leader pointed out that “when the situation began to get better, the Americans really cooled to us.”



Brazil: Land hogging and slavery

Twenty human rights groups demonstrated March 12 in the capital, Brasilia, urging the Chamber of Deputies to pass a constitutional amendment originally proposed in 2004 to expropriate land from owners who all but enslave workers.

The measure failed to pass again this year, despite earlier Senate approval.

In 2003, the government launched a “National Plan” to eradicate slave-like conditions. The effort mostly targeted large landowners who recruit workers to clear forests for soy or cattle production.

The following year the International Labor Organization estimated that over 25,000 Brazilian workers received almost no pay and were subjected to rotten food, contaminated water and pesticide exposure.



Cuba: Meeting of Cubans living abroad

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque welcomed Cubans living abroad “who have an unshakeable commitment to the defense of their homeland” to a three-day meeting held in Havana. Discussions attended by 129 Cubans from 34 countries centered on topics relating to Cuban culture and national identity.

Pérez Roque paid tribute to the Miami-based Antonio Maceo Brigade, now 30 years old, as “the seed and inspiration” for international solidarity with Cuba, a movement now rooted in 40 countries.

Andres Gomez, a Brigade founder, emphasized ongoing work and paid homage to members killed or injured by terrorist violence. According to a new Foreign Ministry web site, www.nacionyemigracion.com, 193,000 Cubans living abroad visited the island in 2007, a new yearly high.

The meeting, which ended March 21, issued demands: lift the U.S. blockade, eliminate restrictions on Cuban Americans visiting the island, stop anti-Cuban terrorism, free “our five brothers, unjustly held in U.S. jails” and end the European Union’s anti-Cuba sanctions.

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