Iraq: Who controls contract workers?

The Congressional Budget Office reported Aug. 11 that the 190,000 private contractors working in Iraq and neighboring countries match the number of U.S. troops there. They earn up to 12 times more than do enlisted soldiers. Through 2008 they will have cost U.S. taxpayers $100 billion — equal to Iraq’s 2007 gross domestic product.

A Florida legal action against contractor giant Blackwater highlights jurisdictional uncertainties. The Iraqi government, Iraqi law prevails. A recently approved U.S. House bill invokes U.S. law.

The Office of Management and Budget’s Craig Jennings, speaking to Inter Press Service, condemned “privatization of war” and funding of corporations “whose dealings are opaque to taxpayers.”

Poland: Missile defense deal signed

After 18 months of talks, Polish and U.S. officials in Warsaw signed an agreement Aug. 14 on United States installation of 10 missile interceptors in the NATO country. The Polish parliament has yet to approve.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the United States would also supply Poland with Patriot missiles and bolster its defense efforts in other unspecified ways. The AP report quoted Russian General Anatoly Nogovitsyn’s warning that Poland “is exposing itself to a strike.”

Parallel accords were reached last month to deploy U.S. radar detection devices in the Czech Republic. Russia sees the deployments as a threat to its security.

Mexico: Voters resist oil sell-off

In the Aug. 10 second stage of a referendum on Pemex, 91 percent of 400,000 voters in seven states rejected government proposals to privatize the giant oil corporation, state-owned since the 1930s.

On July 27, 80 percent of 2,500,000 citizens turning out in 10 states and Mexico City did likewise, Prensa Latina said.

The Broad Progressive Front, led by the Party of the Democratic Revolution, organized the referendum despite ongoing internal friction over its future national leadership.

For Guerrero legislator Ramiro Solorio Almazán, quoted in July by La Jornada, “sovereignty and national security” are at stake: “We Mexicans are Pemex; to sell it off would be to relinquish the patrimony of our children.”

Philippines: Autonomy delayed

The Philippines Supreme Court began hearings Aug. 15 on a government proposal granting an area of provisional autonomy to the independence-seeking Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The government plan was ostensibly aimed at facilitating talks to end 40 years of war that has killed 120,000 people and displaced two million from homes in Mindanao.

After the court on Aug. 4 stayed plans to finalize the autonomy agreement, the following day MILF forces occupied 15 villages outside the proposed autonomous area. The incursion plus the military’s aerial bombardments and artillery attacks displaced 160,000 people.

Liberia: Unionized rubber workers gain

The Firestone Agricultural Workers’ Union of Liberia and Firestone Corporation signed an agreement Aug. 6 after four months of bargaining. The Liberian Supreme Court had earlier ruled in favor of the union as a bargaining unit, and a year ago, the union won internationally monitored elections over a company union.

Under the three-year contract, 4,500 rubber plantation workers gain 21 to 24 percent wage increases retroactive to January 2007. Work quotas were abolished and mechanized production will replace some hand labor. Firestone agreed to build new high schools in the area.

Under auspices of the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions, the U.S.-based United Steelworkers helped build the union, ICEM’s web site said.

Bolivia: Cuban doctors attacked

Cuban health workers serving abroad are usually safe. (In 2006, over 28,000 Cuban doctors worked in 68 countries.)

However, the Erbol web site reported that in the right-wing controlled separatist state of Santa Cruz, during Aug. 10 voting on a referendum aimed at deposing President Evo Morales, 40 thugs associated with the Santa Cruz Youth Union abducted six Cuban medical workers from San Ignacio, stole their possessions and left them stranded outside the city. Insults and death threats were heard and one doctor was severely injured. The Youth Union is known for fascist paraphernalia and racist assaults.

Cuba’s ambassador said some 2,000 Cubans working “unconditionally in support of the beloved and fraternal Bolivian people in areas of health, education, and alternative energy” will continue at their posts.

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