WORLD NOTES: Oct. 6

Egypt: Textile workers strike

When 27,000 Egyptian textile workers struck the state-owned Misr textile corporation on Sept. 23, about 7,000 workers occupied a factory in el-Mahalla el-Kubra in the Nile Delta. Five independent union leaders spent two days in jail for inciting the workers and causing the company to lose the daily equivalent of US$1.8 million.

Worker demands centered on increased wages, benefits, and a year’s worth of pay to make up for the government’s failure to deliver on promises made after a textile strike last December.

Egypt’s 8 percent inflation rate has battered workers’ monthly income of $27 and, crucially, their food purchasing power. The number of “industrial actions” rose from 222 during 2006 to 386 during early 2007. According to a BBC analyst, Egypt’s government fears labor militancy spreading to other low-wage industries and “workers’ growing self-confidence.”



China: Dam project has environmental costs

At a conference in Wuhan Sept. 25-26, environmental experts and politicians noted “notably adverse” effects from China’s Three Gorges Dam that, without preventive measures, could lead to an “environmental catastrophe.”

Erosion and landslides along the 360-mile circumference of the Yangtze River reservoir created by the 600-foot high dam have exceeded predictions from the project’s beginnings in 1993. Water quality has deteriorated along the river’s tributaries, especially from algae growth, a report in the People’s Daily newspaper said.

The Chinese government has already invested the equivalent of $1.5 billion to contain landslides, relocated 1,500 factories and 70,000 people, and built 70 waste treatment plants.

On the plus side, the dam, finished in 2006, has eliminated seasonal flooding along the lower Yangtze and has resulted in a 100-million-ton reduction in carbon emissions through clean, hydroelectric power generation.



Serbia: NATO relents, permits cluster bomb search

NATO provided Serbia’s foreign ministry on Sept. 25 with a listing of locations where cluster bombs fell during the U.S.-led air war over Serbia in 1999. Human Rights Watch estimates that 527 civilians were killed during the three-month war with cluster bombs causing 90-150 deaths.

The 2,000 cluster bombs dropped over 8.9 square miles contained 380,000 bomblets, of which up to 10 percent remain unexploded and lethal. Pressure from human rights groups and governments forced NATO to reveal specific locations of sites in rural areas, some off-limits to farming and new housing.

Serbia’s foreign ministry has called for international assistance in removing unexploded bombs, a project expected to be facilitated by the new NATO-supplied information. The Independent newspaper (U.K.) indicated that exploding bombs have killed 12 people since the war’s end — six of them children.



South Africa: Farming for food or fuel?

The First Annual Africa Biofuels Conference concluded Sept. 27 in Durban, South Africa. Speakers anticipated burgeoning exports to Europe, hungry for biofuels, and production of alternative energy sources for Africa.

African biofuels currently can enter U.S. and European markets under favorable trade agreements. Experts cited in an Inter Press Service report mentioned limitations posed by Southern Africa’s lack of port facilities, railroads and refineries. A Durban businessman sensitive to the quandary of food versus fuel asked, “How can we produce biofuels where there isn’t enough food?”

Meanwhile, at the UN Council on Human Rights in Geneva, Jean Ziegler, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, condemned institutions like the World Trade Organization “that do everything possible to destroy African agriculture.”

“Putting huge areas of land into the production of biofuels,” Ziegler asserted, “has put cereal prices way up, while peasants lose their lands.”



Cuba: U.S. denies visiting rights, again

Olga Salanueva and Adriana Perez learned in September that the U.S. government was again blocking visits with their respective husbands René Gonzáles and Gerardo Hernández, who are entering their 10th year in U.S. jails. With three others, the men were arrested for defending Cuba against U.S.-sponsored terrorism emanating from Miami.

The Cuban women have applied for U.S. entry visas eight times, only to be refused each time. Having abandoned other pretexts, Washington now alleges terrorist links, according to antiterroristas.cu. “Once again the U.S. government lies,” declared Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón.

Supporters of the two women point to the May 27, 2005, report of the UN Human Rights Commission, declarations from Amnesty International, and 187 signatories of a recent European parliamentary statement as evidence for international backing. A demand that the U.S. government cease punishing the prisoners’ family members is a big part of the current worldwide campaign for the Cuban Five.

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