Venezuela: Economy is growing

The Central Bank says Venezuela’s economy grew by nearly 30 percent in the first quarter 2004, compared to the same period last year, reported.

In the first quarter of 2003, a lockout organized by big business opponents of President Hugo Chavez stalled the national oil industry, causing oil related economic activity to drop by 47 percent and the GDP to drop by 27.8 percent.

The Central Bank said that in the first three months of 2004, oil related activity grew by 72.5 percent, while non-oil activity grew by 18.9 percent compared to last year.

The Venezuelan government and independent economic experts had expected the economy to grow between 6.5 and 8 percent this year. But in April, the IMF predicted the country should expect an economic growth rate of 9 to 10 percent, making Venezuela the country with the largest economic growth in Latin America.

Cuba: Worldwide campaign to free the “Five”

Around 1,900 groups in 140 countries belonging to the World Movement of Solidarity with Cuba are working to publicize the case of the five Cuban anti-terrorist heroes railroaded into U.S. prisons, and the number is growing fast, according to a report just released by the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP).

Arrested in September 1998 and jailed in solitary and inhumane conditions, the five – Rene Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero, Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino and Fernando Gonzalez – were sentenced to harsh terms ranging from 15 years to double life imprisonment. Funds were raised earlier this year to buy a full-page ad in the New York Times to publicize the injustices in the case.

Besides the organizations linked with the World Movement of Solidarity, some 237 groups in 79 countries have been created specifically to work for freedom for the Cuban Five.

United Kingdom: Postal workers reject ultra-right leaflets

For the first time, postal workers in Wales are using their contract’s conscience clause to refuse to deliver election leaflets by the far-right British National Party, IC reported last week. Their action followed a North Wales police investigation into a different BNP leaflet linking the asylum issue with suicide bombers, which was called “inflammatory” and “hateful” by an area Member of Parliament.

The BNP claimed the Communication Workers’ Union was illegally encouraging the non-delivery of its material. But CWU southeast Wales branch secretary Charlie Balch said it was clear a lot of union members had problems with the fliers. “People have consciences and they are refusing to deliver this sort of stuff to homes our service has to go to day in day out, 52 weeks a year,” he said. “There is an ethnic mix to some of the areas we have to deliver to and we represent people from many ethnic backgrounds. In a lot of our offices we will get a large amount of people refusing to carry anything to do with the BNP.

India: Trade unions present demands

India’s leading trade unions last week presented the new United Progressive Alliance government with their demands for points in the UPA’s Common Minimum Program.

The unions called for measures to improve working people’s lives, including the country’s 370 million unorganized workers.

Among the demands: ensuring minimum wages, a viable pension program, a program of social security, a comprehensive new law protecting the interests of workers in agriculture and in unorganized sectors, and a complete halt in privatizing profitable and strategic public sector entities.

Joining in presenting the demands were the All India Trade Union Congress, the Center for Indian Trade Unions, the Hind Mazdoor Sabha, the All India Central Council of Trade Unions and the Trade Union Coordination Committee.

Sudan: Gov’t & rebels sign new pact

The Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) signed three key pacts May 26, bringing them closer to a comprehensive peace agreement, the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks reported.

The pacts covering power-sharing and administration of contested areas during a six-year interim period were reached after bilateral talks between Sudan’s First Vice President Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha and SPLM/A Chairman John Garang.

Negotiators are to agree on a formula for a permanent ceasefire by mid-July, and signing of a comprehensive peace agreement is to follow.

The agreement was widely welcomed by both northern and southern Sudanese. But Human Rights Watch and others warned that civil war continues to rage in the Darfur region of western Sudan, where over a million people have been displaced by militias allied with the government, in actions that HRW and others have called “ethnic cleansing.”

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (