World Notes: September 6

Gaza: Aid, solidarity arrive by sea

Two ships loaded with humanitarian aid arrived in Gaza from Cyprus on Aug. 24. Aboard were 46 international solidarity activists. The Free Gaza Movement, organizer of the shipment, described the activists as the first in 41 years not subjected to Israeli border controls.

In Gaza, citizens and political leaders provided an enthusiastic welcome. The vessels departed Aug. 30 carrying seven Palestinians, several of whom are seeking medical care denied because of continued Egyptian closure of the Rafah border crossing.

The venture aimed to encourage activists in neighboring Arab countries to expand waterborne trade, solidarity efforts and humanitarian assistance to Gaza, a prospect Egypt’s Al-Ahram newspaper said was unlikely to please cautious regional governments.

Though it had threatened naval interdiction despite a lack of jurisdiction over waters off Gaza, Israel ignored the ships’ passage and announced non-interference with future humanitarian and human rights missions to Gaza.



Switzerland: Inequities kill

The Geneva-based World Health Organization’s Commission on Social Determinants of Health has issued a report protesting “inequitable distribution of power, money and resources.” The Aug. 28 report on a three-year study suggested that national wealth may contribute less to health outcome than “equitable distribution of benefits.”

Good examples include Cuba, Costa Rica, the Indian state of Kerala, and Sri Lanka. In Spain, the report said, contract workers suffer from four times as many mental health problems as full timers.

Australian aboriginals live 17 percent fewer years than other citizens. Poor Indonesian women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die in childbirth than women with more resources. Had African Americans enjoyed prevailing U.S. infant death rates, 886,202 African American infants would not have died between 1991 and 2000.



India: Children die in drug trials

The Ministry of Health is investigating the deaths of 49 young children over two years during 42 drug trials carried out by the Indian Institute of Medical Sciences.

Shilpi Singh, writing for the EFE news service, cites pharmacologist Chandra Gulhati who focused on hypertension drugs under development by the Swiss corporation Novartis. Gulhati castigated as “unethical” the administration to children of drugs intended for adults.

Singh charges that in India, where drug trials are inexpensive and consent from illiterate parents is easy to obtain, children become “guinea pigs.” He adds that transnational corporations extend drug patents by “taking advantage of poverty and ignorance.”

Having propelled the outcry against the trials, Rahul Verma, founder of the nongovernmental Uday Foundation, is demanding an investigation by the National Commission of Human Rights.



Honduras: Joins ALBA, defying Washington

“Honduras and the Honduran people do not have to ask permission of any imperialism to join the ALBA,” President Manuel Zelaya declared in Tegucigalpa Aug. 25.

Founded by Venezuela and Cuba in 2004, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA by its Spanish initials) fosters trade, technical support and educational exchanges based on values of solidarity.

At ceremonies making Honduras the sixth nation to join ALBA, 50,000 unionists, peasants and social movement activists heard Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez promise Honduras inexpensive Venezuelan oil and 100 tractors from other ALBA nations.

Venezuelanalysis.org reported that failure of international financial institutions to support Honduran developmental projects had prompted President Zelaya’s decision.



Canada: Big gains for union women

Statistics Canada, the “National Statistical Agency,” reported recently on unionization trends. With union membership growing less rapidly than employment, unionization declined from 29.7 percent last year to 29.4 percent so far in 2008. The unionization rate for women exceeds that for men. Unionized women working full time were paid 94 percent as much as their male counterparts. Unionized women working part-time earned 14 percent more.

Unionization rose in the mining, oil and gas, public service and educational sectors. Some 300,000 nonunion employees are covered by a collective bargaining agreement, and 71 percent of public sector workers belong to unions four times the rate of those working for private enterprises.



Cuba: Social security changes

Beginning Sept. 1, Cuban workers will engage in “popular consultations” on initial proposals to change Cuba’s social security system agreed to by the National Assembly in July.

Granma reports that for two months some 3.5 million members of the Central Labor Federation (CTC) will be gathering in some 80,000 meetings to consider arguments for introducing the modifications now. These include plans to gradually raise the retirement age. It is anticipated the sessions will lead to suggestions for altering the proposals. Officials from the National Institute for Social Security and Ministry of Labor and Social Security will be available to provide technical information.

The proportion of senior citizens in Cuba’s population is expected to double over the coming decades.



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