South Africa: UN studies state’s role in food security

A study comparing the effects of unrestrained market mechanisms with the results of state intervention in food production was released in mid-February in Johannesburg, by the UN news agency IRIN.

The authors, who are associated with the UK-based Overseas Development Institute, highlight the harmful role of corruption in both situations throughout Southern Africa.

Privatized agriculture has limitations, they say. They cite Malawi’s experience, where rural infrastructure problems, lack of consumer purchasing power and market inaccessibility argue against exclusive reliance upon privatized agriculture to feed people. In Malawi and elsewhere in Southern Africa, they say, farmers need food aid, cash transfers and subsidies in the form of credit, seeds and marketing assistance.

The UN study concludes that under no circumstances should “strategic grain reserves” in Southern Africa be privatized.

Afghanistan: More U.S. troops, deaths

Leaving Afghanistan on Feb. 14, Defense Secretary Robert Gates claimed that U.S. generals there concur with his upcoming recommendation to President Bush for a troop increase there.

Soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Italy, had already learned they would be going to Afghanistan instead of Iraq as originally planned. According to Reuters, two brigades are being sent to replace another whose stay has already been extended.

Military leaders are expecting a Taliban spring offensive and are responding to intensified fighting last year that killed 191 coalition troops, among them 98 Americans. Since 2001 the totals are 520 and 359, respectively.

Other deaths in Afghanistan are also noteworthy. According to Save the Children, infant and maternal mortality rates there are among the world’s highest. One-fourth of the children die before age 5. Pregnancy or childbirth kills 16 percent of Afghan women. Over 40,000 foreign soldiers are serving now in Afghanistan, including 27,000 U. S. troops.

Portugal: Abortion ban on the way out?

Portugal’s Feb. 11 referendum on abortion was not legally binding, because a majority stayed away from the polls. However, over 59 percent of those who did participate voted to allow women to have an abortion at a legally registered clinic within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.

Portugal, Malta, Poland and Ireland are the only European countries that still ban abortions. In Portugal, where 23,000 clandestine abortions are performed annually, women face up to three years in jail for having the procedure.

Socialist Prime Minister Jose Socrates, who campaigned in 2005 to legalize abortion, takes the issue now to Parliament where the Socialists are a majority. Prior to the referendum, pamphlets showed up in elementary schools supposedly from the “Christian Church of Wisconsin” with lurid and inflammatory anti-abortion messages, according to Inter Press Service.

Paraguay: Popular ferment increasing

“Whether he is a democratic reformer or a demagogic populist remains to be seen,” says the Economist, nominating Fernando Lugo as possibly “the next Chavez.”

As a Catholic bishop in poverty stricken San Pedro, Paraguay, Lugo joined peasant land redistribution campaigns. Last year he held 50,000 people spellbound at an anti-corruption rally.

Asked by the church to resign, Lugo left the priesthood in December to form the Justice and Equality movement. On Feb. 11, he announced plans to challenge Paraguay’s Colorado Party, in power for 60 years, in a run for president. The vote is not until April 2008, but Lugo is running very strong in the polls.

Meanwhile the Paraguayan Communist Party, Socialist Popular Convergence, Popular Unity and other parties gathered in Asuncion on Feb. 17 with representatives of student, indigenous, labor and human rights groups to form the Socialist Patriotic Alliance. The founding parties had agreed in November to build a united movement for justice, socialism and national liberation, according to

China: Communist Party combats corruption

At a Feb. 13 meeting with officials of the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi outlined the need “to remove loopholes [and to] set up an effective mechanism for clean governance.” According to People’s Daily, SFDA head Zheng Xiaoyu and other officials are currently being investigated for taking bribes as part of a nationwide offensive against graft and corruption.

The offensive is being led by the Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. Commission spokesperson Gan Yisheng announced Feb. 13 that the cases of 3,350 officials, including governors and ministers, have been turned over for prosecution. In all 97,260 Party members — 0.14 percent of the total — were sanctioned during 2006.

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