Australia: Tied to U.S. coattails?

“The Howard Government is pouring billions of dollars into military spending as part of long-term preparations for ongoing conflict, recklessly tying Australia to Uncle Sam’s coattails in endless U.S. terror wars,” The Guardian, newspaper of the Australian Communist Party, said late last month. On Nov. 20, the paper said, Defense Minister Robert Hill was in Washington signing agreements for “seamless interoperability” between the U.S. and Australian military.

Under the recent Defense Capability Review, the way is open for Australia to join the U.S. missile defense program. This includes building three new warships fitted with the latest high-tech radar equipment, as well as a billion dollar purchase of U.S. tanks, Joint Strike Fighters and new multipurpose vessels that carry troops and helicopters.

Zimbabwe: SACP delegation visits

The South African Communist Party (SACP) said last week that a high-level delegation headed by General Secretary Blade Nzimande would visit Zimbabwe Dec. 8-12 to meet with the governing party, ZANU-PF, as well as the major opposition formation MDC, and organizations such as the Zimbabwean Congress of Trade Unions and faith-based movements.

The SACP said the visit had been fully discussed with its alliance partners, the African National Congress and Congress of South African Trade Unions, and with colleagues in government, and takes place “within a context of ongoing South African and Zimbabwean interaction and solidarity efforts.”

Objectives include enriching understanding of the strategic perspectives and concerns of Zimbabwe’s key political and social protagonists, focusing attention on the plight of the Zimbabwean working class, the urban and rural poor, discussing perspectives on fostering wide-ranging dialogue and negotiation within the country, and discussing with all the key forces how best to increase South Africa’s solidarity with Zimbabwe.

El Salvador: Workers’ rights abused

As U.S. trade negotiators prepared for this week’s talks on the proposed Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), the New York-based Human Rights Watch released a scathing report, “Deliberate Indifference: El Salvador’s Failure to Protect Workers’ Rights.”

The report cites specific cases in private and public enterprises, and in service and manufacturing industries, including delayed salary payments, failure to pay overtime, and even withholding workers’ social security.

Most common, the report said, is denying the right to organize. Employers routinely fire union members and leaders, suspend union activists, and bully workers to drop their union membership.

The Bush administration has rejected demands to exclude countries that don’t mandate, or don’t enforce, basic labor rights.

The Stop CAFTA Coalition, including the Campaign for Labor Rights, CISPES, Witness for Peace, and the Nicaragua Network, has called for local actions against CAFTA during the talks.

South Africa: Nobel prize proposed for AIDS fighters

South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and its founder, Adurrazack (Zackie) Achmat, have been nominated by the American Friends Service Committee for the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, based on their work fighting HIV/AIDS.

The AFSC said it made the nomination “in the belief that the global AIDS epidemic constitutes a grave threat to peace and security, a threat now recognized by the global community.”

The organization said the efforts of Zackie Achmat and TAC have led to dramatic cuts in the cost of anti-AIDS drugs through voluntary price cuts by drug manufacturers and the acceptance of generics. TAC has also “contributed to an overhaul of global trading rules to give precedence to protection of public health over protection of intellectual property rights.”

Achmat was jailed repeatedly during the anti-apartheid struggle. He had founded the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality, and served as director of the AIDS Law Project, before founding TAC in 1998.

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel