World Notes: Belgium, Canada and more

Belgium: EU attacks poverty

The European Commission on December 16 unveiled a ten-year plan aimed at reducing the number of Europe’s poor from 84 million to 64 million. The new “‘EU Platform against Poverty” aspires to coordinate separate national anti-poverty projects. Critics see effective regional action as unlikely in view of national governments’ strict control over their own social policies. Observers view the current economic crisis as disproportionately affecting the poor, with high rates of job loss for migrants, young people, and the unskilled. A spokesperson for the European Anti-Poverty Network warned that austerity programs now on the rise will undermine anti-poverty efforts. The anti-poverty plan features micro-financing, belittled on, where the Bangladeshi Prime Minister was quoted. “Sucking blood from the poor,” he said of micro-financing.


Canada: a Union takes down Wal-Mart

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union characterized the settlement a Quebec Superior Court announced on December 15 as a free speech victory. Alleging that employees were infringing upon its trademark, Wal-Mart Corporation had sought an injunction 18 months ago against the worker-operated web site Supported by the UFCW union, that site advocates for labor rights, including the right to collective bargaining through a union. UFCW President Wayne Hanley promised his union would continue its ten-year long campaign so that Wal-Mart workers might be able to “exercise their rights as workers in Canada.” The victory came about “despite the best efforts of the world’s largest corporation to dictate the terms of online communication.”


Cuba: Washington is down on dissidents

Recently released Wikileaks documents show Jonathan Farrar, head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, deciding that Cuban opposition groups are “disconnected from society [and are] more worried about taking in money” than broadening their appeal. U.S. diplomats find that “very few” dissidents have a “political vision applicable to a future government.” They bemoan “the energy opposition factions use up in undercutting one another” while criticizing friction between exile and internal clients over “positioning themselves for power when the Castros leave.” Quoting from documents, Cubadebate highlights U.S. officials’ realization that such competition has led to “tens of thousands of euros and dollars [going to] to unknown, disconnected, and greedy characters.” Henceforth, they would preferentially support “young bloggers, musicians, and artists.”


Venezuela: Statistics show social gains

Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, a UN agency, was interviewed recently by EFE News and Pagina 12 on 2010 economic trends. According to on December 20, she credited the region for weathering the worldwide global crisis and for prioritizing social investment. Citing the report “Our Democracy” of the Organization of American States, that report went on to praise Venezuela for reducing its poverty rate from 49.4 percent to 27.4 percent from 1999 to 2008; extreme poverty, from 21.7 percent to 9.9 percent. The Gini co-efficient, a measure of income inequalities, fell from 0.498 to 0.412 during the period. Childhood malnutrition fell from 7.7 percent in 1990 to 3.2 percent in 2009.


Israel: African migrant workers are barred

The Israeli government last month began construction of a $360 million, 155 mile long electric fence along the Egyptian border. It also approved plans for a detention facility near the border targeting African migrants seeking work in Israel. Citing a “wave of illegal immigrants,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bemoaned loss of jobs for Israelis. A prison built for Africans “is not only racist, it also contravenes basic tenets of international law,” stated Egyptian human rights activist Hafez Abu Saeda, quoted by IPS. Rather than allowing Israeli authorities to rule on migrants’ status as political refugees, potentially qualifying them for entry, he prefers UN determination. The migrants come mainly from Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Egyptian border guards have killed over 85 African migrants in three years.


South Africa: World Youth Festival concludes

Some 15,000 delegates from 140 countries gathered in Pretoria on December 13-21 for the 17th World Youth festival. Taking anti-imperialism as its main theme, the festival paid special honor to Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro. Delegates pronounced in favor of world peace, Korean peace, national self determination, and education for all. They denounced Israeli aggression against Palestinians, the anti-Cuban U.S. blockade, and Moroccan denial of Western Saharan independence. Aili Labinino read a message from her Cuban Five father to the Anti-Imperialist Tribunal, in session at the Festival. The Cuban News Agency quoted Ramon Labinino: “We can build a new society where human beings and not capital or money is at the center.” Labinino is a U.S. political prisoner.

Photo: Former employees of the Saguenay, Quebec, Canada Wal-Mart create an unhappy logo face May 6, 2005, when the store closed. Jeannot Levesque/Chicoutimi Le Quotidien/AP



W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine.