World Notes: Brazil, Turkey, Laos – and more

Brazil: Construction workers revolt

Some 80,000 workers stopped work in mid March at hydroelectric plants, refineries, and electric generating facilities in “the biggest social protest by workers in many years,” according to

Aat a hydroelectric construction site on the Madeira River, over 20,000 workers headed for their homes. Work was still down several weeks later. As of April 14, the government was preparing to set baseline work conditions. Complaints had proliferated of labor recruiter trickery, no overtime pay, company store debt, abusive security forces, and private jails. The Movement of those Affected by Dams attributes the revolt to “authoritarianism and the drive for accumulation of wealth through the exploitation of both nature and the workers.”


Turkey: Greenpeace protests Arctic oil drilling

Until gale winds forced their departure, protesting Greenpeace climbers on April 22 were perched 80 feet above Sea of Marmara waters on the side of the world’s second largest oil exploration rig. The Leiv Eiriksson was proceeding from Turkey to Baffin Bay off Greenland to drill four exploratory wells. It’s the first of many such ventures in Arctic waters, the UK Guardian says. To operate the rig, owner Cairn Company, yet to release a spill response plan, will be paying $500,000 a day and $500 million in coming months. Greenpeace spokesperson Ben Ayliffe affirmed, “Any Arctic spill would be very difficult, if not impossible, to contain and clean up.” “This is the most controversial rig in the world,” he claimed.


Laos: Decision on contested dam is put off

On 19 April, three members of the Mekong River Commission, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, put off approval of a future dam upstream in Laos, the Commission’s fourth member. The meeting in Vientiane deferred a decision pending an upcoming ministerial meeting. Environmentalists warn the $3.8 billion dam project will cause the extinction of dozens of fish species and threaten the livelihoods and food security of millions of people living in downstream countries. Laos, hoping to benefit from electric power sales, has already begun construction on the dam, reports the IRIN news service. In all, 11 dams have been proposed for the Lower Mekong River in response to a six percent annual rise in electrical power use, mainly in Thailand and Vietnam.


Italy: Nuclear power emerges as divisive

The Senate on April 20 approved dropping plans for a return to nuclear power, which Italy gave up on in 1987 following the Chernobyl disaster a year earlier. Critics say the Senate action represents less a rejection of nuclear power than a moratorium designed to undermine anti-nuclear sentiment as Italy heads for a referendum in June on nuclear power. Attending Chernobyl commemoration events in Kiev on April 25, Prime Minister Berlusconi confirmed that impression by praising nuclear power as the “safest” form of energy. With the EU preparing to legislate oil company responsibility for pollution up to 200 miles off shore – no longer 12 miles – oil industry uncertainty exacerbates European quandary over nuclear power, reports AFP.


Cuba: Kudos for bringing back forests

In its recently released report on the “State of the World’s Forests 2011,” the UN Food and Agriculture Organization gives Cuba high marks for achieving the highest rates in Latin America and the Caribbean for setting aside forest acreage for protective purposes. Beginning in 1998, Cuba’s forestry restoration program has added some 250,000 acres to the island’s forests. Anticipating a reforestation rate of 120,000 acres annually, Cuba plans to increase its forest coverage from 26.9 percent at present to 29 percent by 2015. Speaking of new tree plantations, national forestry director Carlos Alberto Díaz Maza says, “60 percent will be conservation forests, protecting our coasts, our river basins, and soils.” Cuba joins 11 other countries in achieving the world’s highest reforestation rates.


Iraq: Government tries to quash antigovernment and anti-U.S. protests

Widespread demonstrations, ongoing for two months, have met repression. Security forces killed 12 protesters in nationwide protests on February 25. Since then, 250 demonstrators have been wounded and many imprisoned in Kurdistan. Labor Start says enforcers include masked gunmen in civilian clothes. By mid April, the government had upped the ante. In Baghdad on April 13 police raided adjoining offices of a labor federation and a women’s group. Five days later security forces killed two protesters and wounded 30 more in Northern Iraq. CNN reports demonstrators are demanding the release of detained prisoners, improved government services, and departure of U.S. troops.

In regard to the latter, the Iraqi al-Mashriq newspaper, cited by Xinhua news on April 26, predicts, “The Iraqi government will arrange a special status” allowing 15,000 U.S. troops and thousands of foreign contractors to remain in Iraq “to protect the U.S. interests after the deadline of U.S. troops’ pullout by the end of 2011.”


Photo: Cambodian fishermen on the Mekong River at the outskirt of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, April 19. Neighboring Laos has deferred decision on erecting in the first dam on the lower Mekong River in the face of strong opposition. (Heng Sinith/AP)



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

W.T. Whitney Jr. grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont and now lives in rural Maine. He practiced and taught pediatrics for 35 years and long ago joined the Cuba solidarity movement, working with Let Cuba Live of Maine, Pastors for Peace, and the Venceremos Brigade. He writes on Latin America and health issues for the People's World.