Cuba/Venezuela: Ties grow closer

Cuban President Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez praised the growing ties between their countries, as they participated in the formal launching in Havana April 28 of branches of Venezuela’s state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela and of the Venezuelan Industrial Bank.

“We are very pleased. This is a historic day,” said Castro. Chavez responded, “We have been building this brick by brick, like a house.”

On April 29, the two countries signed 49 agreements for cooperation. These include a new Cuban commitment to provide even greater medical care for the people of Venezuela, and Venezuela’s pledge to step up its help to Cuba in the field of energy, including offshore oil exploration, making Havana the headquarters for its Caribbean oil refining and distribution plans, and building shipping and storage facilities.

Iraq: MDs warn of deformities

Doctors are reporting a significant increase in deformities among newborn babies, especially among poor families in southern Iraq, the UN’s IRIN news agency said last week.

The most affected regions are around Basra and Najaf, where weaponry used in the 1991 Gulf War contained depleted uranium.

University of Baghdad scientist Dr. Nawar Ali told IRIN the 650 cases reported since August 2003 represent “a 20 percent increase from the previous regime,” and warned the number could be higher since the study did not include private hospitals. He said polluted water, which could contain radiation from weapons used in earlier conflicts, was the main factor in the increase.

Pediatrician Dr. Lamia’a Amran said most deformities were found among poor families in the southern region.

Nepal: CP office attacked

Masked security personnel last week invaded the offices of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), which in recent years has led the government or been a leading opposition force. The party’s general secretary and other leaders have been under detention following the February declaration of a state of emergency by King Gyanendra. This week, Reuters reported that two party leaders had been released.

The April 25 attack, in which one party leader was detained, immediately followed the party’s memorial meeting for Shadhana Adhikari, widow of Nepal’s first Communist prime minister. In a statement issued later that day, the party said police were continuing to surround its offices.

Opposition parties including the Nepali Congress Party, the Nepali Congress (Democratic) Party and the Rastriya Janashakti Party joined in strongly condemning the attack.

CPN(UML) general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal, under house arrest for weeks, has been reported ill with high blood pressure. The party says neither he nor other detainees have received adequate medical assistance from the government.

On April 30, the king reportedly lifted the state of emergency, under strong domestic and international pressure.

Nigeria: Maritime workers protest casualization

Shipping and courier workers, members of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN), said last week that they were prepared to picket employers over casualization of employment, contract staffing and outsourcing, the Lagos Daily Champion reported.

The union’s president general, Peter Onikolease Irabor, said the only solution to the crisis now facing the maritime industry is to “decasualize the casual workers and normalize the employment of contract workers. These two [practices] offend the labor laws.” He added that companies were motivated by the drive for profits, not by the economic slump.

“It is inhuman to use workers as casuals for six, seven years knowing full well that they would not be entitled to any benefits on termination, because they are not full-fledged staff,” Irabor added. “This is callous.”

Haiti:Ousted premier near death

The ordeal of ousted Haitian Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, who began a second hunger strike April 17 in protest of his detention for over 10 months without trial, continues. According to Marguerite Laurent of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network, authorities recently tried to force Neptune to undergo medical treatment in the neighboring Dominican Republic on the condition that he would not be allowed to return to Haiti.

Laurent spoke to Neptune’s family and friends who said that the deposed prime minister has vowed that he will not leave the National Penitentiary and will continue his hunger strike until a judge declares him innocent and releases him from jail. She said, “If Neptune is flown to the Dominican Republic, or anywhere else for any purposes whatsoever, and a liberation order acknowledging his wrongful incarceration has not been signed, then Prime Minister Neptune, through his family, wants the world to know he was forced to leave against his will and sent into exile in the same fashion as President [Jean-Bertrand] Aristide.” Laurent said that Neptune is critically ill and near death.

World Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel ( Julia Lutsky and Susan Webb contributed to this week’s notes.