Korea: U.S. manipulated intelligence

A task force chaired by foreign policy expert Selig Harrison said in a report released Dec. 10 that the Bush administration distorted intelligence about North Korea’s nuclear program, in much the way it used allegations of weapons of mass destruction to justify invading Iraq.

The Task Force on Korean Policy — composed of former senior U.S. military officers, diplomats and specialists on Korea — urged Washington to stop insisting the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) provide data on an alleged program to enrich uranium. “No evidence has yet been presented publicly to justify the conclusion that facilities capable of producing high-enriched, weapons-grade uranium exist in North Korea,” the Task Force said.

Instead, the group proposed a four-step program for complete denuclearization starting with a freeze on the country’s plutonium program and including “substantial multilateral and bilateral programs of assistance” to the DPRK. The task force urged full U.S. diplomatic recognition of the DPRK and tripartite talks including South Korea for a peace treaty in the over 50-year-old Korean War.

Nigeria: Huge port layoffs threatened

The leadership of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) has called on the government to reconsider its plan to lay off at least 10,000 of the Nigerian Ports Authority’s 13,000 workers under a plan to reform the country’s port operations. The MWUN warned that it could not guarantee industrial peace in the ports unless the government changes its position.

Calling the planned job cuts a World Bank agenda, MWUN head Onikoalese Irabor said the government had repeatedly assured the union and the workers that the reform would not involve job cuts. However, he said, the government is moving to sell the ports.

“The World Bank is not our employer,” he said, “and we will not allow them to destroy this country.”

Switzerland: Demand affordable health care

Supporters handed federal authorities over 113,000 signatures Dec. 9 calling for a nationwide vote on a single, non-profit health insurance system with income-related premiums, Swissinfo reported Dec. 9. The proposal would set up a system run by health care professionals, the government and policyholders. Now, over 90 private health insurance companies operate in Switzerland.

Social Democrat member of Parliament Jean-Claude Rennwald said the proposed changes would not solve all the problems. But he called them the only alternative to a two-tier health system, one for the rich and one for the poor.

Voters will ultimately have the final say; in May 2003 they overwhelmingly rejected a plan to link premiums to incomes and savings.

The country’s health care system relies on individual contributions and taxes. It is the only European country where premiums are not income-related. Both health care costs and quality of care are among the highest in the world.

Mexico: Workers’ rights at risk

Human Rights Watch said last week that labor reform proposals by President Vicente Fox would seriously jeopardize workers’ rights. “Workers in Mexico already face unacceptable obstacles to exercising their rights to join independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike,” Jose Miguel Vivanco, HRW’s Americas director, said Dec. 9. “President Fox’s reforms would make it next to impossible.”

Fox’s proposals would require workers to have a variety of documents certifying union registration before they could strike, force employers to bargain collectively or call a vote to gain representational rights and replace an existing union. But such papers can usually only be obtained from federal or local government agencies and boards of conciliation and arbitration.

“This is like requiring that a defendant give a plaintiff permission before his case goes forward,” said Vivanco. “It makes a mockery of workers’ rights to freedom of association and their ability to defend their interests.”

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