Haiti: Hurricane deaths exceed 2,000

Over 2,000 people have died or disappeared in Haiti during the floods brought by Hurricane Jeanne, the United Nations mission in Haiti said Sept. 24. The UN and other international agencies feared the total will grow as water levels recede.

Prensa Latina said a Cuban medical brigade was at work in the hardest hit places, especially around the northern city of Gonaives, where over a thousand bodies have been recovered and some 1,200 were still missing.

Other countries in the hemisphere and the Pan American Health Organization are donating staff, money, supplies and emergency equipment, the Haitian news agency AHP said.

In a condolence message sent from Pretoria, South Africa, deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide wrote, “The suffering of one Haitian is the suffering of all Haitians,” and called for “a Lavalas peace” to overcome the physical and political hurricanes the Haitian people have suffered.

Korean Peninsula: U.S. redeployment ‘provocative’

The Pentagon’s massive redeployment of U.S. troops in and around South Korea, and the shipment of the most modern weapons to U.S. forces there, is aimed at provoking a second Korean war, the North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun said Sept. 24. Though the U.S. claims that the troop shifts are intended to fill a vacuum caused by a cutback in the number of U.S. troops, the changes are actually aimed at waging blitz warfare through a preemptive attack, the newspaper said.

Rodong Sinmun warned that the “core force” for a U.S. preemptive strike is a nuclear attack force, and said the U.S. pressure on Pyongyang over the nuclear issue is intended to disarm the DPRK and invent a pretext for war.

Mexico: Unemployment soars

Mexico’s official unemployment rate reached 4.35 percent in August, up from 3.75 percent in July and the highest it has been since January 1997.

President Vicente Fox tried to give the numbers a positive spin, saying the country had recovered jobs lost during the recession that started in 2001. However, he expressed concern about jobs for youth coming into the workforce. Over a million young people reach working age each year, and the economy would have to grow over 7 percent a year, instead of the present 4.2 percent, to provide work for them all.

Like all “official” unemployment rates, Mexico’s figure does not take into account discouraged or partially employed workers.

Canada: Farm workers suffer

The British Columbia Federation of Labor has released a report showing that abuse of agricultural workers continues to be widespread and naming changes in employment standards under the Liberal government as the main culprit.

“Abuses that have long been part of doing business in the fields are increasing under Liberal policy,” said report author Graeme Moore, a former Employment Standards branch program advisor. “The living and working conditions that this mainly Indo-Canadian workforce endures are comparable to those in the Third World,” Graeme added.

Among the violations noted in the report: labor contractors operating without a license, extremely poor sanitation and hygiene conditions at many worksites, children working in the fields without any government oversight or protections to ensure their safety.

China: Farmers’ income up

Chinese farmers’ income grew by 16.1 percent in the first half of 2004, People’s Daily reported last week. The growth rate sets a new record for the last eight years, Ministry of Agriculture official Chen Xiaohua told a national rural conference in the southwestern city of Guiyang. Chen said China will continue to stress development of agricultural areas and development of rural industries, and work to make farm products more competitive on the world market.

Malawi: Police fire on protesting tea workers

Riot police used live bullets and tear gas last week in an effort to disperse over 600 protesting former tea pickers in the west African nation of Malawi as they demonstrated for severance pay, Agence France Presse said last week.

The angry crowd marched to the district commissioner’s office in the southern tea-growing area of Mulanje, where they demanded severance pay within seven days. In a petition, they threatened to burn crops on the nearby Chitakale Tea Estates unless they received the money. The BBC said workers had burned some crops the previous week.

The government has laid off over 800 tea workers as it prepares to privatize the tea plantations. Tea is the country’s second largest foreign export, after tobacco.

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (mbechtel@pww.org).