WORLD NOTES: November 17

Dominican Republic: UN report condemns racial oppression

After a visit to the Dominican Republic, UN investigators Gay McDougall and Doudou Diene, the latter a special rapporteur on racism, issued a preliminary report in Geneva, Switzerland, on Oct. 29. Their finding of “a profound and entrenched problem of racism and discrimination” directed at blacks, primarily Haitian immigrants, was discounted by Dominican Foreign Minister Carlos Morales as a “pre-fabricated setup.”

Some 800,000 migrants or migrants’ descendants working mostly on sugar plantations, cattle ranches or in factories face poverty, periodic unemployment and occasional mass deportations. Despite constitutional guarantees, children of Haitians born in the Dominican Republic are usually denied citizenship because their birth certificates are withheld.

Morales dismissed the UN report as echoing the views of “traitors,” according to Reuters.



Syria: Dilemma on subsidies mounts

The United Nations news service IRIN reported Nov. 1 on remarks by Syria’s deputy prime minister for economic affairs, Abdullah Dardari, on the burden of continuing to provide government subsidies for the population’s living expenses. Annual payouts of $7 billion were “no longer bearable,” Dardari said.

Culprits are rising oil costs, fuel smuggling and declining revenues. Housing and food costs have climbed steeply, due to inflation. Authorities say subsidy cuts would increase prices further — a worrisome prospect in view of state wages hovering around US$120 a month.

Solutions are unclear, although agreement reigns that subsidies, a 40-year-old hallmark of the country’s economic system, must remain in one form or another.

Economist Nabil Mazook, responsible for the present five-year plan in effect until 2010, notes, “In the current political and social situation … there is a risk of uncontrolled and spontaneous protests.”



Kenya: Trade conflict looms

East African nations face pressure from the European Union to sign economic partnership agreements (EPAs) replacing arrangements deemed illegal by the World Trade Organization. Under EPAs, Europe would continue to accept East African imports duty-free, but would gain sales access to the region’s markets.

A small farmers group and the Kenya Human Rights Commission filed suit in early November against the government’s acceptance of the new scheme, alleging potential human rights violations and economic jeopardy for small producers. Rift Valley farmer Eather Jepkosgei said EPAs would spread as much harm as World Bank’s structural adjustment programs, according to Inter Press Service.

In a related development, officials representing Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi, member states of the East African Community, met in Entebbe, Uganda, Oct. 22-24, to continue discussions toward a common market, seen by some as a prelude to political union.



New Zealand: Zealous police jail activists

Invoking the 2002 Suppression of Terrorism Act, New Zealand police rounded up 17 political radicals in mid-October, including indigenous Maori leader Tami Iti. Police claimed the activists had been using firearms in military-style training camps.

Critics denounced the arrests, saying the activists had merely gathered occasionally to swap protest tactics. They say the terrorism charge is intended to chill legal protest. They demanded the release of all of the jailed environmentalists, indigenous leaders and labor rights activists, some of whom face prison terms of up to 14 years.

Jimmy O’Dea, 72, a sickly union organizer and friend of Iti, had his home raided by police, who said they were looking for a cell phone, a pistol and ammunition.

“In the 50 years I’ve lived in this house and the 50 years I’ve lived in New Zealand, I have never seen anything like this in my life,” he told One News.

The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions has called for repeal of the terrorism law.



Canada: Most forest workers back on job

In British Columbia, the United Steelworkers reached an agreement Nov. 5 with Interfor, a giant wood-processing company. The pact was later ratified by the union membership.

Over 7,000 forest industry workers went out on strike on July 21 against multiple sawmill owners over safety and wages. Seventy workers having been killed in accidents over the past two years.

The union signed a pact with a consortium of 31 companies in late October. The terms in that case and this one, according to the union’s web site, are similar: wage increases of 2 percent this year, 3 percent next year, and 2 percent the following year, along with provisions for severance pay in the event of permanent plant closures.

Negotiations with two remaining companies are continuing.

During the initial strike, U.S. unionists engaged in solidarity actions at Home Depot stores, the major U.S. retail outlet for forest products from British Columbia.



World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney Jr. (atwhit @megalink.net).