WORLDNOTES Spain, Madagascar, South Korea, Iraq, Argentina, Cuba

Spain: Students rebel

Student demonstrations and occupations resumed nationwide last month against the 10-year-old Bologna process aimed at creating uniformity among European universities. Months of protests culminated March 18 when tens of thousands demonstrated, calling for dialogue. Signs described on Gaceta.es said, “We are students, not clients,” and “You will not plunder our university!”

Student supporters say Bologna provisions favor business interests and hurt low-income, part-time students.

Police in Barcelona arrested 19 students. Dozens were wounded, and hunger striker Tomàs Sayes entered a Barcelona hospital. A four-month occupation of a university president’s office continues. Observers associate student militancy with rising unemployment in Spain projected to reach 4 million later this year.





Madagascar: Coup ousts neo-liberal president

Marc Ravalomanana, ousted March 17 by a military-backed coup, waited in Swaziland for regional leaders meeting April 2-3 to decide on possible sanctions against a government headed by 34-year-old Andry Rajoelina. Rajoelina, a former disc jockey who moved against the government after he was sacked as the capital’s mayor in February, announced the creation of a two-year interim government before new elections are held. The coup, which was preceded by violent disturbances, triggered street protests, international condemnation and a possible tax boycott and kept tourists away.

Rajoelina signaled willingness to enter into reconciliation talks. Agence France-Presse cited accusations that during his tenure Ravalomanana, a wealthy agro-business entrepreneur, had lavished mining rights and farmlands upon foreign corporations after becoming president in 2001.





South Korea: Unions face challenges

The government will soon exempt employers from the long-standing practice of paying salaries for union officials who are not part of the workforce. Last year these numbered 10,583 and received $290 million.

A Korea Labor Institute survey of 590 unions found labor leaders’ pay far exceeding unions’ income. The institute said especially at smaller workplaces, unions would not be able to pay their leaders’ salaries.

The Korea Times report suggests the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, whose member unions are concentrated in small workplaces, is more vulnerable than the powerful Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, whose member unions tend to be at larger workplaces.

Besides upholding workers’ rights, South Korea’s unions have consistently opposed anti-worker policies such as the free trade agreement with the U.S. which has yet to be ratified by either country’s legislature.





Iraq: Prisoners in limbo

Brigadier General David Quantock reported March 22 that U.S. forces are holding 13,000 Iraqis in prisons, many uncharged and uninvestigated for up to six years. Over 2,500 are being prosecuted, 500 have been convicted, and 109 sentenced to death.

Quantock labeled half the remaining prisoners as “dangerous,” according to Reuters. U.S. authorities are to transfer intelligence data to Iraqi courts primed to either free prisoners or issue arrest warrants.

Under an agreement that took effect Jan. 1, Washington promised to transfer all prisoners to Iraqi custody, or free them.





Argentina: Impunity still alive

Fifteen months after he killed teacher Carlos Fuentealba, policeman José Poblete received a life sentence. The murder April 4, 2007, of a militant member of the Association of Education Workers of Neuquen (Aten) “26 years of struggle,” says its web site, occurred during a strike.

Witnesses against Poblete are paying the price. At a press conference March 24 at Aten headquarters, school principal Gabriel Pillado reported injuries a police employee inflicted on him and his wife, a teacher. Another witness, teacher Marcela Roa, described ongoing police harassment against herself and her son.

Aten leader Marcelo Guagliardo warned that loose ends from the “Fuentealba I trial” could enter into so-called “Fuentealba II.” What’s involved, he told rebelion.org, is an intimidation campaign against potential witnesses at “a new trial where political responsibilities for our companion’s murder would be judged.”





Cuba: Farmers gain land

Some 56,000 Cubans have acquired idle farm land in accordance with plans announced a year ago to allow experienced farmers individually to use 100 acres and others, so far representing 80 percent of the total, to take over 34 acres, all cost free.

The new policy came about in response to 55 percent of land lying idle, 70 percent of food being imported, and rising food prices. Juventud Rebelde last month itemized problems, among them: farmers lacking soil knowledge and planning confidence, release of land already spoken for, tool shortages, weed overgrowth, no fencing to keep animals in or out, delays in measuring land and flawed documentation.

Food shortages from hurricanes last year have also fueled calls for increased production.





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