South Africa: Militants step up struggle against AIDS

Meeting in Johannesburg, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has denounced the government’s handling of the AIDS pandemic that kills 900 people in South Africa every day. Member unions have called on President Thabo Mbeki to remove Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang from his cabinet. Criticism mounted following her presentation to the World Conference on AIDS in which she emphasized nutrition for treating AIDS instead of antiretroviral drugs, a performance described as “embarrassing” in a report from

At its congress, Cosatu honored Zackie Achmat, chairperson of South Africa’s militant Treatment Action Campaign. The campaign has recently gained support from 12 large student organizations, including the Young Communist League, which have been attracted by its civil disobedience actions.

Calling for an all-night vigil outside Parliament for access to drug treatment, deputy YCL Secretary Mazibuko Jara reminded the press that, after all, “it is the youth that is most affected with the HIV/AIDS pandemic.”

Philippines: Resistance to human rights abuses

Constancio Claver, activist, victim and physician, testified Sept. 15 at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City at the founding assembly of Hustisya. The name stands for “Victims of Arroyo Regime United for Justice.”

Over 500 human rights activists and victims of government repression joined Claver as he remembered his wife Alyce, killed July 31, allegedly by soldiers. Claver, himself a lifelong activist, declared that “the assassins kill with impunity” and that the government expects that “hopelessness will turn to lethargy and apathy.”

The Karapatan group, one of Hustisya’s founders, claims that 752 political murders and 184 “disappearances” have occurred since 2001 when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed power. Speakers representing a variety of groups sought support for human rights, especially from the media, and called for international solidarity.

Union activist Amado Inciong took the occasion to accuse Arroyo of heading a “government for and by American imperialism.”

Palestine: Humanitarian crisis intenstifies

On Sept. 20, Israeli soldiers raided over 20 West Bank money-exchange enterprises and confiscated $1.2 million on the pretext that the money was being used to finance terrorism. The Palestinian Authority flatly denied the charge.

Meanwhile Palestinians struggle to survive under mounting hardships. A report from Miftah, a Palestinian group, quoted Bethlehem physician Dr. Isa Janina who, having told a cancer patient, “I am out of medicine,” was facing “the most difficult thing I have ever done as a physician. Both she and I know that this means she will die.”

Funded almost entirely from international sources, the Ministry of Health provided 65 percent of all health care for Palestinians. That money, however, stopped after last January’s Hamas election victory. Government physicians have received no pay for six months.

Haiti: Dealing with crushing debt

The International Monetary Fund announced Sept. 19 that Haiti qualifies for its Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, which purports to provide a modicum of debt relief. The special terms will also apply to loans from the World Bank.

Brian Concannon Jr., director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, says half of Haiti’s $1.3 billion debt represents borrowing by the three-decade-long Duvalier family dictatorship, which began in the late 1950s, for private armies and luxuries.

According to the Haiti Action Report, two years must elapse before the debt is cancelled entirely. In the interim “structural reforms” are required, along with annual payments of $60 million.

Most Haitians survive on less than a dollar a day. Life expectancy is 53 years.

Rep. Maxine Waters of California has introduced legislation, HR 888, calling for immediate, total cancellation of Haiti’s foreign debt. It has 60 co-sponsors.

South Korea: Protests over U.S. base expansion

When the South Korean government began removing houses in Pyongtaek on Sept. 13 to allow for expansion of a U.S. military base, 18,000 protested. Last January, earth-moving activities at the site prompted a protest march to the U.S. Embassy.

Opponents of the expansion, led by People for Achieving Peace and Reunification of South Korea, say the expansion will destroy valuable agricultural land and desecrate cultural treasures. They also charge the U.S. intends to use the bigger base to enhance its nuclear first-strike capabilities.

The base will be enlarged from 1,125 acres to 3,500 acres, big enough to accommodate 44,500 people, including 14,500 combat troops.

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