Ecuador: Reckoning for past crimes

Ecuador’s government this month confiscated nearly 200 properties of the Isaías Group including three television stations, businesses and land. said the properties will be sold to reimburse depositors using banks owned by Robert and William Isaias. In 1999 the brothers froze $661 million, resulting in bankruptcies, unemployment and billions in losses. Facing prosecution, they moved to Miami. Ecuador’s government seeks their extradition.

Finance Minister Fausto Ortiz, described as the most “market friendly” member of the government, responded by resigning. Replacing him was Wilma Salgado, whose job as head of Ecuador’s Deposit Guarantee Agency had been to rein in bankers.

Opponents of leftist President Rafael Correa (approval rating now 62 percent),protested seizure of the TV channels by invoking freedom of the press. But polls show most Ecuadorians backing the action.

Senegal: Africans, choose your union!

Senegal’s president has objected to the “Union for the Mediterranean” materializing in Paris July 13 under the auspices of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. In a statement from Dakar, Abdoulaye Wade, veteran spokesperson for African unity, predicted that the union of 43 European, Middle Eastern and Northern African nations will spurn southern, or Black, Africa.

Wade envisions “two-speed [European] cooperation” — fast for Northern Africa, showered with favors for gas and oil, and slow for south of the Sahara. Reuters said Wade and Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi are seeking exploitation of natural resources through a continent-wide government of African unity. Gaddafi absented himself from the Paris assembly which focused primarily on Middle Eastern issues.

Iran: U.S. tries diplomacy

The Bush administration has apparently backed off from bellicose anti-Iran rhetoric.

The U.S. State Department will soon open an “interests section” in Tehran to restore diplomatic relations broken in 1979, albeit in limited fashion. The Iranian government already has an interests section in Washington and reportedly will accept the U.S. proposal.

According to the U.K. Guardian, the initiative represents a State Department victory over a faction led by Vice President Cheney seeking military assaults on Iranian nuclear facilities.

The U.S. government sent high State Department official William Burns to participate in Iranian-EU nuclear talks July 19 that reportedly ended in deadlock.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino had declared beforehand, “There is no negotiation here.”

Ukraine: NATO is not welcome

Progressive Socialist and Communist Party activists, joined by Orthodox Church adherents, this month protested Operation Sea Breeze, NATO’s Black Sea war games. Centered near Odessa, the multinational training exercise involving 1,000 troops, 15 vessels, airplanes, submarines and helicopters was intended as a display of European-Ukrainian military cooperation.

Authorities banned demonstrations, and on July 7 attackers, some in police uniforms, demolished protesters’ camps. Nevertheless, hundreds, helped out by local residents, put tents back up and on July 14 — the first day of the exercise — proceeded to block roads and navigate boats offshore adorned with anti-NATO signs.

However, Ukrainian Admiral Viktor Maksimov told the Itar-Tass news agency that he anticipated “building up confidence and cooperation between the United States and Ukraine.”

China: Wal-Mart store unionized

Once Wal-Mart Corporation authorized its store in Shenyang, capital of China’s northeastern Liaoning Province, to bargain collectively with employees, only five hours were required on July 15 for managers and the employees’ union to negotiate overtime pay, paid vacations, social security improvements and annual 8 percent wage increases for two years. The store thus became the first of Wal-Mart’s 100 stores in China to conclude negotiations with a union.

In 2006, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions began a high profile campaign to unionize all Wal-Mart stores in China. Last year, according to the China Labor Bulletin, Shenyang city issued its “Collective Contract Regulation” under which managers are fined for rejecting union requests for bargaining.

Cuba: Major land use reforms

“Go back to the land,” Cuban President Raul Castro urged before the National Assembly on July 10. His government later announced provisions to encourage private farming.

Experienced farmers may use up to 99 acres of unused land, novices up to 33 acres. Their nontransferable and taxable usage rights are renewable every 10 years, and every 25 years for cooperatives and state farms permitted to farm larger tracts.

Granma said President Castro foresees a $1.2 billion rise this year in the cost of food imports, accounting for half the Cubans’ food intake. Castro said earlier that with half of Cuba’s tillable land lying idle — a 33 percent increase over nine years — national security is at stake.

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