Cuba: U.S. charges of bioterrorism a ‘lie’

Cuba’s Foreign Ministry has denounced the resurrection of discredited U.S. claims, originally made last year, that Cuba is developing biological weapons. Such charges constitute a “cynical lie,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Allegations that Cuba possesses or seeks to possess biological weapons were first made by Bush administration official John Bolton in a speech in May 2002. They receded from view after Cuba emphatically rejected the charges and challenged the U.S. to prove them. Former President Jimmy Carter had also demanded to see such proof, casting doubt on Bolton’s claims.

The charges were raised again on Oct. 2 in the testimony of Roger Noriega, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs, at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. Noriega also called for intensifying the blockade and threatened to escalate actions against Cuban diplomats in the U.S.

The Cuban Foreign Ministry said the Bush administration has “shamefully lied” in its bid to win votes from right-wing Cubans in Miami. It rejected what it called “these new imperial threats” and said the Cuban people will not be intimidated.

South Africa: ‘Red October’ focuses on farm workers

The South African Communist Party said last week that this year’s “Red October” campaign will focus on the fightback of farm workers against their employers’ widespread violations of labor law.

In a statement Oct. 3, SACP General Secretary Blade Nzimande said the case of over 1,000 farm workers wrongly dismissed by the ZZ2 farm in Limpopo Province for insisting the farm comply with new minimum wage laws is just one example of the problem. He said a recent report by the South African Human Rights Commission “shows evidence that despite the post-1994 transformation of the labor market in favor of workers, farm workers still do not enjoy rights because of arrogant refusal by employers to comply” and lack of mechanisms to ensure compliance. Most farm workers and domestic workers still face conditions similar to those under apartheid, he said.

India: Unions vs. oil privatization

The All-India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) and the Center of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) are strongly condemning the government’s proposal that some of the Indian Oil Company’s operations be privatized.

In a joint statement, the union federations said the decision is neither prudent nor in the national interest. “In fact the decision is directly against national interest, keeping in view the geopolitical importance of the oil sector to the country in the present worsening security scenario,” they said.

The Cabinet Committee on Disinvestment met Oct. 4 to discuss the government’s options after a Supreme Court ruling that the government must seek parliamentary approval before selling equity in Hindustan Petroleum Corporation and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd., which were nationalized by legislation. The Cabinet Committee decided to form a committee to discuss many proposals, including splitting the Indian Oil Corporation and privatizing some of its operations.

Italy: General strike looms over pensions

The country’s three main labor federations – CGIL, CISL and UIL – are calling a four hour walkout on Oct. 24 to protest the Berlusconi government’s plan to raise the retirement age and increase years of service needed for pension eligibility.

Though the official retirement age is 65 for men and 60 for women, pensions may begin when a worker has contributed to the pension fund for 35 years, and is at least age 57. The government’s proposal would raise the years of contribution to 40, and the eligibility threshold to 65 by 2008.

“We ask all workers, young people, and pensioners to take to the streets and defend a system which is not in trouble,” the three federations said in a joint statement. “There is no pensions emergency. The government … is dramatizing the pensions problem.”

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (