World Notes: Haiti, Cuba, Bolivia, China, Nigeria, Turkey

Cuba: Medical outreach to Haiti is long term

Cuban doctors and nurses have worked in dozens of countries offering both long term and emergency care. Three weeks after the earthquake in Haiti, over 1,000 doctors, either Cuban or Cuban trained, are working in and around Port au Prince, with more elsewhere in Haiti. They include Haitian doctors trained in Cuba, Cuban doctors already posted to Haiti, and Cuban specialists in disaster medicine on the scene with nurses immediately after the earthquake.

Since Hurricane George in 1998, hundreds of Cuban doctors have worked in Haiti. Reporter María Laura Carpineta writes: “The Cubans did not land in Haiti in helicopters like heroes … The Cuban doctors arrived here many years ago and in silence. And in silence they were the first to attend to hurricane victims.”

The Cuban team has cared for 45,000 earthquake victims. Its 18 surgical brigades have performed over 3,200 operations. Physicians and surgeons from Spain, Chile, Venezuela, Colombia, German, and Argentina have worked “against the clock” in three still intact Port au Prince hospitals managed by Cubans.

Foreign medical contingents are already arranging to leave Haiti, according to Carpineta. “That’s a pity. The Haitian people still need us,” she heard from Carlos Alberto García Domínguez, head of the Cuban medical mission in Haiti for almost two years. He outlined plans to locate sanitation, epidemiology, and mental health teams throughout the country. “We will be here when everyone has gone,” he promised.

The United States and Cuba constitute the largest foreign presence in Haiti, except for UN “peacekeepers.” Contact between Cuban and U.S. humanitarian teams on the ground has been nil. Carpineta’s full report is here.

The right wing Panamanian government’s action last month in ordering the departure of a Cuban ophthalmological team suggests, however, that Cuban medical outreach is not always acceptable. The 16 Cuban eye surgeons returning last week to Havana from three years in Panama had performed vision restoring operations on 50,000 people. They were part of “Operation Miracle,” the Cuban – Venezuelan project that over five years has provided eye surgery for 1.8 million people in 35 countries.

Bolivia: Plotter finds U.S. sanctuary

President Evo Morales’ adversary Branko Marinkovic is in the United States. The wealthy landowner headed an opposition movement in Eastern Bolivia notable for separatism, racism, and violence. It declined following the 2008 police massacre of Morales supporters in Pando the and foiling of an assassination plot against Morales last April, allegedly funded by Marinkovic. His exodus came to light recently when Morales critiqued security forces for softness on “criminals who endangered the country.” He joins former Bolivian presidents and other officials accused of murder and more enjoying U.S. sanctuary. They include recent presidential candidate Manfred Reyes Villa. TeleSUR contrasts U.S. welcome for Marinkovic with “intense inspections” applied to travelers from 14 countries accused of harboring terrorists. Writing from Cuba, which is on that list, Jean-Guy Allard notes ties of the U.S. group Human Rights Foundation with the April plotters.

Switzerland: Duvalier loot still in limbo

The Swiss Federal Court last week announced that $4.6 million claimed by former Haitian dictator Jean Claude Duvalier would not be returned to the Haitian government. It cited the 2001 expiration of a statute of limitations, according to the BBC. The money has been frozen since 1986, when Duvalier escaped to France. The Swiss government responded to the court’s decision by continuing a hold on the funds pending legislation authorizing their confiscation and return to Haiti. The Federal Court decision reversed a lower court ruling rejecting Duvalier’s request for transferring the money to a foundation in Liechtenstein controlled by his family. The Duvalier dictators, father and son, are accused of removing $100 million from Haiti under the cover of support for foreign charities.

Nigeria: Presidential absence paralyzes government

President Umaru Yar’Adua’s three-month stay in a Saudi Arabian hospital has divided the cabinet and threatened Niger Delta peace. Cabinet members and street protesters are demanding transfer of power to Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan. That’s despite a high court ruling that the Vice President may act on Yar’Adua’s behalf but not assume presidential power. Schism between Nigeria’s Muslim dominated north represented by Yar’Adua and the Christian south loyal to the vice president complicates the impasse. At a meeting in Yenagoa last week, guerrillas of the Niger Delta Network of Freedom Fighters threatened hostilities and advised “the international community” to suspend dealings with Nigeria pending a new president. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta threatened to end a ceasefire introduced last year, reports Vanguard News.

China: Land seizures and sales fund governments, bring protests

Data cited by People’s Daily last week demonstrated that sales during 2009 of 522,000 acres of publicly owned land brought in $233 billion for local governments, a 63.4 percent hike over the previous year. Half was sold for real estate development, one-third for residential use. Transfer fees accounted for 84.2 percent of the revenues, which made up 23.2 percent of all state income last year. Al Jazeera reported that the income-raising potential of land sales has prompted local governments to seize land for development, leading to a 44 percent one-year increase in state owned land. In order to quell ubiquitous land seizure protests, the national government has proposed legislation requiring 90 percent of residents to accept relocation prior to land takeover.

Turkey: Public workers fight for rights

Privatization in 2008 of Tekel, the government tobacco and alcohol monopoly, led to the loss of 12,000 jobs as of Jan. 31. Police violence against workers has marred nationwide protests beginning in mid December. Last week, 8,000 workers demonstrated outside the national headquarters of the Confederation of Turkish Labor Unions, 12 of them carrying out a hunger strike. The dispute centers on a law providing the dismissed workers with new government jobs as “public employees,” with lowered wages and benefits. Their union is demanding preservation of the status and income they enjoyed as “public workers.” Hürriyet Daily News reported on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s accusation that workers were campaigning against his political party. Six unions organized a one-day general strike, illegal in Turkey, for Feb. 4.






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.