Venezuela: Gov’t redistributes agricultural land

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez used his weekly radio program March 25 to announce the expropriation of 815,000 acres from 16 large estates — all idle, he said —for use primarily as cattle farms.

In one of the takeovers, government officials encountered armed resistance.

So far 4.8 million acres of privately owned farmland, 29 percent of the total, have been confiscated. Peasant families will receive 49 percent of the confiscated land; cooperatives, 11 percent. Chavez announced that 13 large farms would soon be giving up another 662,5000 acres of idle land.

Over five years, according to, the government, drawing mainly upon state-owned land, has awarded some 5 million acres to 150,000 families. In all, the government has incorporated over 8.4 million acres of private and state-owned land into agrarian reform programs.

Philippines: Gov’t opponents repressed

Satur Ocampo, deputy minority leader in the Philippine Congress, heads the leftist People First Party that polls say may take 17 percent of the vote in national elections set for mid-May. On March 16 the police arrested him in Manila and were set to fly him to Leyte, hundreds of miles to the southeast. After 18 days, he was released on bail by order of the Supreme Court.

At the time of his arrest, Ocampo was filing a petition to remove charges against him and 50 others relating to murders 22 years ago in Leyte. He was in jail as a political prisoner when the killings took place.

Observers fear a rise in killings and disappearances of government opponents running in the May 14 elections. Since Jan. 1, leftist candidates have been murdered, according to, along with church people, teachers, women activists, unionists and human rights investigators.

Since 2001 when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed power — and U.S. troops and military aid arrived to “fight terrorism” — the toll has mounted to 840 assassinations and over 200 disappearances. In February, Macapagal’s national security adviser said the opposition is made up of “communist fronts.”

Egypt: Human rights crisis looms

On March 26, the 3 percent to 27 percent (estimates vary) of Egyptians who voted in a special referendum approved 34 constitutional amendments soon to be translated into law by the Hosni Mubarak government.

One of the measures bans religious parties from electoral politics, thereby barring the Muslim Brotherhood, the opposition group that took 88 of 454 parliamentary seats in 2005. Another would allow Mubarak to single-handedly dissolve Parliament.

Still another inserts emergency anti-terrorism laws from 1981 into the constitution. It implies that “suspects can be arrested, investigated and monitored without judicial supervision, approval or warrants,” according to Critics say they will end up in military or emergency courts without legal representation.

Former State Council President Mohamed Hamed El-Gamal predicts the latter amendment, which does not define terrorist crime, “will make Egypt a large prison expanding from Alexandria to Aswan, in which people live at the mercy of a single individual.”

China: First in line for Iraq’s oil

Officials of China’s National Petroleum Company were in Baghdad in March to revive oil exploration contracts signed in 1997 worth $1.2 billion. They will be renegotiated under Iraq’s new oil law that its Parliament is expected to pass by July.

China’s focus is on the Ahdab oil field in south central Iraq, with deposits estimated at 1 billion barrels. Heather Wokusch, writing at, says that Iraq’s Chinese debt is part of the negotiations.

European and U.S. oil companies have reportedly shied away from early commitments because of security concerns. Associated Press writer Jim Krane suggests that looming energy shortages have induced China to move ahead of other foreign oil powers in signing the first contracts.

Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein Shahristani visited China in October 2006.

Belgium: Europeans say no to nuclear plants

Last week more than 780 European organizations, led by the Friends of the Earth, announced they have gathered 630,000 signatures on petitions calling for a moratorium on new nuclear plants in Europe and the abolition of the “Euratom Treaty,” midwife to the continent’s nuclear industry.

European Union energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs acknowledged the petition effort in Brussels at an EU conference on climate change. The conference, however, backed the nuclear energy industry.

Campaign organizers say that the success of the petition drive goes along with a recent Eurobarometer poll suggesting that 61 percent of Europeans oppose nuclear plants.

Activists quoted by believe that nuclear energy is no answer to climate change and by no means constitutes a renewable energy source.

World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney Jr. (atwhit @