Portugal: General strike sends a message

The General Confederation of Portuguese Workers unleashed a general strike against the Social Democratic government of Jose Socrates on May 30. With 70-90 percent of workers participating, the strike paralyzed the nation.

Over the present government’s two-year tenure, the situation for workers has deteriorated, according to Insurgente.org. Some 500,000 workers are unemployed and 1.2 million are underemployed. In the name of “flexi-security,” the government is moving toward the deregulation of pay scales and working conditions and is allowing for arbitrary dismissals.

In a statement supporting the fifth general strike since 1974, the first in five years, Jerónimo de Sousa, general secretary of the Portuguese Communist Party, denounced “changes in the functions and role of the state, with the extinction and privatization of public services.”

De Sousa said the 7,000 meetings and recruitment of 140 unions preceding the strike reflected “one of the most important movements … in many years.” For the government after the strike, he said, “nothing will remain the same.”

Venezuela: New gains in health care, education

The RCTV situation, street demonstrations and opposition scheming are not the only news from Venezuela. On May 24, President Hugo Chavez inaugurated 19 new secondary-level medical diagnostic centers and 37 rehabilitation centers, bringing the respective totals to 319 and 430 out of 600 anticipated for each category.

New radiographic centers increased to 19, with 35 projected in all. The health infrastructure has grown 62 percent during the past year, according to Venezuelanalysis.com.

Chavez also launched Mision Alma Mater by announcing 28 new universities. Venezuelan teachers learned of both pay raises and soon-to-be-received back pay accumulated over 15 years. Public education workers will achieve raises ranging from 28 percent to 34 percent.

There are plans to refurbish university cafeterias and to distribute 1,800 new computers. Student scholarships will rise by $100 per month, and an additional 10,000 more students will be receiving them.

Swaziland: Gender bias contributes to HIV spread

On May 25, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) released the first field study confirming anecdotal evidence that in Africa gender discrimination and HIV/AIDS infection are associated. The study is based on 2,000 interviews carried out in Botswana and Swaziland, two countries with the world’s highest HIV prevalence.

Among HIV-positive sub-Saharan Africans aged 15-25, 75 percent are female. The report documents women’s lack of control over sexual decision-making, especially condom use; stigma related to HIV infection; widespread prejudice as to women’s inferiority; and governmental failures in promoting equality and women’s independence.

Both countries restrict women’s property and inheritance rights. Discriminatory economic and cultural practices promote gender inequality. The PHR web site criticizes both countries as human rights violators. Research associate Karen Leiter told the press in Swaziland, “National leadership really needs to step up to the issue of gender inequality at the heart of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.”

Philippines: Human rights in the balance

Winners in the May 14 Philippine congressional elections were still unannounced after two weeks. Fraud has been alleged. An atmosphere of fear, reinforced by an intimidating military presence at voting locations, surrounded the polling.

According to countercurrents.org, three poll watchers were killed, joining 858 other unionists and activists killed since 2001 when Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo became president.

Arroyo’s opponents in the new House of Representatives may again push for impeachment proceedings. But observers say the Arroyo majority there will likely deflect such maneuvering and instead introduce measures for constitutional changes that could prolong her hold on power.

Iraq: Humanitarian crisis deepens, especially for women

In Iraq, crises of survival and human rights are belatedly coming into wider view. Erwin Van Der Borght, finishing as head of Medicins sans Frontieres (MSF) in Iraq, attributed the lack of news coverage to diminished access by humanitarian organizations to victims and to a one-sided “developmental approach” adopted by donors and UN agencies.

In 2006 alone, MSF said, violent actions killed 34,450 civilians and may have wounded over 90,000. The health system is unable to contend with a politicized administration, fleeing health workers, a shortage of supplies and a damaged infrastructure.

Women’s suffering, often hidden from view, is especially acute. Companies are acquiescing to sectarian demands that female employees be discharged. Some insurgents are telling women to stay at home and to not share public space with men. Forced divorces and forced marriages are on the rise, according to IRIN, the UN-related news agency.

Female unemployment is especially harmful to the 14 percent of Iraqi households dependent on the income of single women.

World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney Jr. (atwhitmegalink.net).