World notes: October 18, 2008

World notes

Afghanistan: Military victory unlikely

Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, who commands a British Air Assault Brigade that has taken severe losses from the Taliban, told the Sunday Times Oct. 5, “We’re not going to win this war. We have to lower our expectations” — an opinion the UK Guardian said reflects that of British defense chiefs. Carleton-Smith called for a political solution to include the Taliban.

Last week, the UK ambassador in Kabul, Sherard Cowper-Coles, told a French official that foreign troops complicate the country’s problems that will soon include food shortages. Officials with the UN Food and Agricultural Organization say 6 million Afghan people face drought-caused shortfalls of 2 million tons of wheat and rice.





Iraq: Shell scores

Congressional criticism had nixed earlier Bush administration arrangements with the Iraqi government announced last June, under which Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total, BP and Chevron would have gained no-bid contracts to service Iraqi oil fields.

With bidding now allowed, Shell last month entered into a joint venture to process and market natural gas worth $4 billion, thus becoming the first foreign company in 35 years to pursue an energy project in Iraq.

Last year, the Pentagon awarded the five companies $4.1 billion for services. Shell took in $2.1 billion, alternet.org said. So far this year, the Pentagon has paid Shell $1 billion, including $338 million announced on Sept. 17 — part of a $1.5 billion handout on contracts going to 10 oil companies.





Guatemala: Peoples of a continent gather

Meeting Oct. 5-12 in Guatemala City, the Third Social Forum of the Americas invoked the World Social Forum mantra, “Another World is Possible,” as it staged an encounter remarkable for diversity, dialogue and dedication to social action.

Some 6,000 participants heard plenary speakers extol unity as crucial for success in struggles for indigenous rights, the rights of nature, food sovereignty, agrarian reform, and against neoliberal depredations and colonial survivals.

Prensa Latina quoted agrarian leader Rafael González: “Our land is not for sale or purchase. It is respected.” Bolivian President Evo Morales’ message reinforced these themes and added, “We have to improve this socialism of the 21st century, building communitarian socialism, or simply the good life in harmony with Mother Earth.”





Italy: U.S. base plans scrapped

For two years residents of Vicenza have opposed U.S. plans that right-wing politicians have accepted: to locate a large base in their backyard. Residents engineered a referendum proposing to buy the potential base site in order to “designate its use in the public interest,” according to afterdowningstreet.org.

Efforts to block the referendum, led by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, culminated in an Oct. 1 Council of State decision that reversed court decisions backing the referendum.

That evening, some 12,000 citizens met and decided on a “popular referendum.” Orderly voting five days later was decisive: 24,094 voters representing 95.7 percent of the total population voted for the anti-base referendum. Symbolic votes in solidarity with Vicenza took place elsewhere in Italy.





India: Leaders look to Latin America for food

Increasing food shortages since 2006 and expected food scarcities due to climate change have prompted Chinese and Indian government and business leaders to covet land in South America to shore up soy, sunflower and wheat supplies. Use of soy to produce biodiesel is also envisioned.

The report on the Radiomundoreal web site describes Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile and Bolivia as “the last great agricultural reserve of the planet,” although analysts have amply documented environmental and human costs of turning the region into a “green desert.”

Last month, Ashok Sethia, president of an Indian vegetable oil trade group, said representatives of 14 Indian companies were already discussing land purchases with the governments of Paraguay and Uruguay.





Cuba: Committed to health care

The newspaper Granma reported that as university sessions began last month, almost 200,000 young people — a record number — were studying medical sciences, including 22,749 scholarship students from poor countries.

Multidisciplinary institutes teaching medicine, dentistry and nursing are located in Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Camaguey and Villa Clara. There are 24 medical schools and four dental schools elsewhere in Cuba, plus 34 facilities including the Latin American School of Medicine aimed at preparing new Latin American and Caribbean doctors.

At a meeting of the Pan American Health Organization in Washington last week, Deputy Health Minister Joaquin Garcia Salabarria reiterated Cuba’s determination to provide health care expertise and training for the region, despite hurricanes and the U.S. blockade.





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