World Notes: Cuba, Chile, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Czech Republic, Bangladesh

Cuba: Church weighs in on economy

A Catholic Church publication recently critiqued “paternalistic” controls seen as contributing to economic stagnation. The Havana Archbishopric’s “New Word” called for economic openings, such as more freedom for individuals to buy and sell housing and vehicles. The editorialist, who called for protection of government achievements, sees people asking, “Why accept a foreigner investing in my country and not me.” The problem, he said, is less “capitalism or socialism” than “what works and what doesn’t work.” The Church’s contribution to the discussion took on added significance from Archbishop Jaime Ortega’s prominent role earlier in July in engineering the release of so-called dissident prisoners. The AFP report predicted that President Raul Castro, addressing the National Assembly on August 1, would announce major new economic policies.

Chile: Indigenous hunger strikers gain media attention

On July 31, 20 days after the first of 31 Mapuche activists lodged “preventively” in five jails began hunger strikes, Hernán Vergara, president of Amnesty International in Chile, charged that governmental abuse of an anti-terrorist law violates internationally recognized norms of due process.

Indigenous peoples known as Mapuche are victims of long-term governmental policies of segregation and dispossession, asserted a recent report. According to an organization representing their family members, the fasting prisoners are protesting application of the anti-terrorist law, use against them of anonymous witnesses, double jeopardy under military and civil courts, generalized state persecution, and assassinations. They are demanding the return of ancestral lands and an end to militarization of their communities. (See

South Africa: Public employees prepare for strike

The government’s offer of a 6.5 percent rather than 8.6 percent wage increase led unions representing 210,000 public sector workers to announce on July 28 that a million public employees would be striking on August 10, beginning with pickets, demonstrations and marches. COSATU, the labor federation to which most of the involved unions belong, faces a dilemma, reports union spokesperson Fikile Majola. With an eye toward worker- friendly government policies, COSATU had pressured forces within the ruling African National Congress to back the candidacy of presidential aspirant Jacob Zuma. Now, two years later, former allies are likely to accuse COSATU of undermining Zuma’s government. But the government’s problem is not “hostility, but indecisiveness,” explained union leader Thobile Ntola, quoted by Globe and Mail online.

Saudi Arabia: Massive order placed for U.S. arms

Interviewed July 23 near London, U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency director Admiral Jeffrey Wieringa said Congress may soon receive notification of a $30 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, “a key country for us.” Included in the package, four years in the making, are 72 Black Hawk helicopters, 84 Boeing F-15 fighter jets, refurbishing of 70 F-15 jets delivered in 1992, spare parts and training. Wieringa said Iraq may soon purchase 18 F -16 fighter jets. His Pentagon agency anticipates $38 billion in arms sales this year and $50 billion next year. Arms supply to Israel, India, South Korea, Australia, Taiwan, Georgia and now Saudi Arabia is directed against Iran, Russia and China, suggests Global Research.

Czech Republic: Plans revived for U.S. radar stations

Despite U.S. abandonment last year of Bush-era plans for establishing a missile detecting system in the Czech Republic as part of a European missile shield, Washington recently signaled renewed preparations for just such a system fueled by $2.2 million to cover initial costs. As reported by, the system will be sited in two locations and operated by Czech technicians. The U.S. government had also scrapped earlier plans to locate missile interceptors in Poland, only to have Secretary of State Clinton once more commit the United States to base missiles in Poland, much to the dismay of the Russian government. An opinion survey three years ago indicated 65 percent of Czechs opposed U.S. radar facilities in their country.

Bangladesh: Exploited textile workers resist

Over 3 million Bangladeshi textile workers earning a minimum $28 monthly wage, the world’s lowest, got bad news on July 26. A committee of government officials, factory owners and union leaders, formed in the wake of nationwide strikes in late June, offered a $43 minimum monthly salary, $30 less than that demanded by unions. Workers mobilized in the streets the next day, and union leader Mosherafa Mishu predicted a nationwide strike and “a militant movement.” With clothing exports accounting for 80 percent of the country’s export income, the government had pressed manufacturers for a settlement. In June 4,500 clothing factories accounted for a record high $1.72 billion in export income. Workers speaking to AFP complained of 13-hour days, unpaid overtime and physical abuse.

Photo: A march for Mapuche “disappeared,” 2008 in Chile. cc 2.0




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. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.