WORLD NOTES: Sept. 8

Chile: General strike triggers police repression

The United Workers Central (CUT), Chile’s major labor confederation, launched a nationwide general strike Aug. 29. Workers and students marched, built barricades and demonstrated in many cities and towns.

The strikers were met with repression. In Santiago, over 685 people were arrested and dozens wounded. Militarized police assaulted strikers with cudgels, water cannon, horses and tear gas.

The marchers’ banners and speeches denounced pervasive, widening social inequalities in Chile, accentuated by profits taken in by the state-owned copper company and by transnational corporations. Analysts cited by the Mexican daily La Jornada say that governmental mechanisms left over from the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship block possibilities for change.

Labor federation head Arturo Martínez told one crowd, “The Chilean people are proud to have workers who have consciousness, who take to the street to claim their rights.” Standing next to him, Communist Party leader Guillermo Teillier saw the day as “a great triumph of the Chilean workers” and a “new stage of political and social confrontation.”

Socialist President Michele Bachelet appealed for calm.



Japan: Peace activists pressure U.S. military

In Japan’s Kanagawa Prefecture, activists with labor unions, peace groups and the Japanese Communist Party carried out a protest action Aug. 21 at the Camp Zama U.S. military base. They were joined by supporters of the pacifist provisions in Japan’s constitution, which the right wing has been trying to repeal.

The coalition was targeting U.S. plans to relocate the First U.S. Army Corps, stationed now at Ft. Lewis, Wash., to the Kanagawa base. A U.S. Army transition team is already in place.

The protesters entered the base and delivered a letter addressed to the U.S. Army commander in Japan. They also visited the offices of local municipal officials who oppose the U.S. military buildup.

Two days later, at a U.S. Marine training area in northern Okinawa, local activists, having camped out at the site, were able to prevent construction workers from beginning work on six helipads.

The Japan Press Service reports that possible adverse environmental effects are at the top of local residents’ concerns.



Iraq: Millions displaced, needs unmet

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported Aug. 28 that the rate of newly displaced Iraqis has increased from 50,000 per month leaving their homes to 60,000. The total is now 4.2 million people.

The UN report attributes the displacements to violence and lack of essential services and supplies.

Half of the displaced people remaining inside Iraq are divided evenly among northern, central, and southern sectors, many in camps inaccessible to aid workers. Syria has taken in 1.4 million people and Jordan almost 750,000. Despite their efforts, the two countries have been unable to provide adequate social services to the refugees. The UN refugee agency has built schools in both countries and recruited teachers.

The report indicates that 15 percent of the displaced have psychological and physical trauma sufficient to justify transfer to a third country. Of 13,200 people so far assigned to other countries — about 10,000 to the United States — only a few hundred have been accepted. International donations have also fallen short.



Spain: Biofuel production means high prices, food shortages

Ramón Sánchez of the Spanish Association of Flour and Bran Manufacturers told the press Aug. 29 that starting in September wheat prices in Spain will be up 50 percent. Grains are in short supply because of diversion to alcohol production for automobile fuels.

In August, world wheat prices rose 10-15 percent to historical highs. In Spain prices went up 50-90 percent in the past year, due mainly to the advent of biofuels. Other factors were drought in Eastern Europe and high energy prices.

The “effects of the new prices will be disastrous for the Third World,” declared Sánchez.

Of the total 1.67 billion ton world wheat harvest projected for 2007-2008, 109 million tons, or 6.5 percent, will be used for biofuel.

Corporations are now altering strains of corn and grain to increase alcohol production, to the detriment of nutritional capabilities. They are likely to mix with and contaminate stands of food producing grains, according to the Visiones Alternativas news service.



Nigeria: New president discards national oil company

Nigeria’s oil poses a quandary for President Umaru Yar’Adua: while it accounts for 90 percent of the country’s revenue, it is also the source of chronic corruption and of strife, particularly from armed rebels in the oil-rich, poverty-stricken Niger Delta area.

The new president announced last week he is scrapping the Nigerian National Petroleum Corp., which produces oil in collaboration with foreign companies and imports fuel products. A new energy council will attempt to reduce corruption, control price fluctuations and prevent costly, illicit oil sales by dividing the corporation into five smaller entities. Exploration contracts made by corrupt officials will be rescinded, according to allAfrica.com.

Similar reforms were proposed earlier but never implemented. Dow Jones newswires indicate that the president has yet to communicate with the groupings of Delta militants. The latters’ sabotage of pipelines, kidnapping of some 200 foreigners since 2005, and killings have caused a 25 percent drop in Nigeria’s oil production of 2.5 million barrels a day.

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