Worldnotes - May 2, 2008

Honduras: General strike reflects discontent

A “march against neoliberalism” called by labor federations, peasant organizations and teachers’ groups resulted April 17 in 2 million no-show workers throughout Honduras. Tens of thousands filled the streets and 15 cities were paralyzed.

For leftist legislator Marvin Ponce, “the serious problem is hunger.” He told journalist Dick Emanuelsson, writing for Rebelion.org, that almost half the population either has no work or only informal employment and 15 percent of the peasants lack land.

The list of 12 strike demands included wage hikes to meet rising costs, agrarian reform, independent unions, free education and no water privatization. Police repression left dozens wounded, according to laprensahn.com.

At the same time, tens of thousands marched for land reform in Guatemala and Costa Rica.





Gaza: No fuel, mass suffering

Fuel deliveries to Gaza, restricted for 10 months, stopped after April 9 when two Israeli soldiers were killed. By April 22, Palestine’s only electricity generating plant was set to close. UN aid authorities announced imminent cessation of relief efforts, essential for the survival of 80 percent of Gaza’s population. The next day, Israel relented, announcing pipeline oil deliveries from Egypt, enough for three days of power generation.

As Hamas was preparing protest marches directed at Egyptian border stations, the Mizan Center for Human Rights appealed for international intervention to avert “a serious humanitarian disaster.” The Center noted 59 Palestinians killed by the Israeli military so far in April, 310 during 2008.





Africa: Zimbabwe arms stay on ship

Angola announced April 26 that a Chinese ship could dock at Luanda to unload cargo destined for that country, but not weapons it carried for Zimbabwe’s military.

Chinese ship An Yue Jiang had first sought to offload its cargo at Durban, South Africa, for overland shipment to Zimbabwe, which reportedly ordered the weapons last fall. Human rights and labor organizations feared Zimbabwe’s government would use the arms in the turmoil following the country’s contested election.

South Africa’s government OK’d the land journey but the Transport and Allied Workers Union refused to unload the vessel, and the country’s High Court barred the shipment.

The vessel was expected to return with the weapons to China.





Hungary: Crisis over cuts

Controversy over cuts to social services, particularly health care, is causing the breakup of Hungary’s coalition government, leaving the ruling Socialist Party in a minority position after April 30.

A March 9 referendum vote initiated by conservatives rejected medical and education fees. That prompted the socialists to withhold privatization reform measures they had introduced previously. Faithful to the cuts and angered by the socialists’ firing of a like-minded health minister, the Alliance of Free Democrats opted to no longer serve as junior coalition partner.

The socialists, with a 20 percent popular following, reject early elections. Inter Press Service reported that some of them are demanding restoration of the welfare state, as do, ironically enough, left-leaning elements within the center right Hungarian Civic Party.

Cuba: Health care changes seen

The Cuban government recently announced changes to a primary care health system credited with preventative care achievements but now criticized for physician unavailability.

Over two decades, Cuba’s family doctor program grew to almost 30,000 doctor-nurse teams. But with 36,578 health professionals serving in 81 countries — 15,000 physicians in Venezuela alone — many offices are open only briefly, or not at all.

Health Minister Jose Ramon Balaguer has outlined plans, reported by Reuters, to close offices, keep others open full time and encourage Cubans to seek care at multi-specialty polyclinics, strengthened over recent years.

At a press conference April 14, Balaguer promised improved distribution of pharmaceuticals and said studies would be done to identify special health vulnerabilities within local areas.

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