Cuba: Literacy milestone reached

Speaking to reporters, Cuban Minister of Education Luis Ignacio Gomez indicated that as of March 13 three million people worldwide have learned to read and write through the Cuban method of literacy training known as Yo sí puedo (“Yes I can”).

Based on associations between letters and numbers, 14 versions of the program have been utilized in 28 countries for presentations over radio, television and video. Cuba has provided materials and 700 advisors at no charge to implement the program. The report on cited testimony from Presidents Chavez, Correa, and Ortega about literacy’s crucial role in propelling social change.

UN: Women’s exploitation continues

Female employment is up worldwide, but women’s jobs produce less in goods, services, and pay than those of men, and are less protected by labor rights, according to a report from the UN International Labor Organization. “Women have to overcome many discriminatory obstacles when seeking jobs,” the ILO says.

On March 8, International Women’s Day, the International Trade Union Confederation estimated the current “Global Gender Pay Gap” to be 16 percent. The ITUC study of data from 63 countries demonstrated upward pressure on women’s pay by unions along with the role of reduced pay levels for men in narrowing the gap. That report highlighted the inaccuracy of official figures.

South Africa: Death penalty discussed, again reported recently that new African National Congress President Jacob Zuma, a possible successor to incumbent President Thabo Mbeki, favors a referendum allowing South Africans to weigh in on restoring the death penalty.

Reversing South Africa’s constitutional ban on capital punishment would require a two-thirds majority in parliament and approval by six of nine provincial delegations to South Africa’s national council of provinces (the upper house of parliament). Earlier this month Zuma, not a member of parliament, called for new laws dealing with crime.

Analysts see Zuma as courting public favor, especially among business leaders. They also point out that using referenda to measure public opinion could backfire, especially as applied to contentious issues.

Malaysia: Winds of change

Malaysia’s National Front Coalition lost some hold on power in early March as opposition forces gained 19 new seats in parliamentary elections along with control over five of the nation’s 13 states.

Powerful prime ministers have long held sway in Malaysia and elsewhere in the region, where they have dominated the U.S.-supported Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Upbeat opposition leader Teresa Kok told IPS that Malaysians, concerned about corruption, crime and a shaky economy, “felt bold enough to demand for change,” and as a result, “It opens the space for a two-party system.”

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi still claims the loyalty of 60 percent of the deputies.

Israel: Land grab threatens negotiations

Shortly after plans were announced for resumption of talks suspended in the wake of recent Israeli attacks on Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert authorized the construction of 750 homes for Israeli settlers in Givat Zeev, located five miles from Jerusalem and home already to 11,000 settlers. Israel regards that West Bank settlement and others as “Greater Jerusalem.”

In 1980 Israel designated Jerusalem as the nation’s capital, but failed to define East Jerusalem’s borders. Now 250,000 Israelis live in an area seized during the 1967 war and illegally occupied, according to international law. Miftah analyst Joharah Baker predicted March 12 that little land in the area will be left for future negotiations.

Guatemala: Violence continues

Violence has overwhelmed the “hundred days” plan of new Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom, reaching levels higher than those marring the earlier presidency of Oscar Berger.

Among 420 victims in 50 days were 25 transport drivers, 11 students, nine police functionaries, and on March 2 labor leader Miguel Ángel Ramírez.

The government has responded by adding more troops to an army responsible for most of the 150,000 killings in Guatemala over three decades. The Mutual Aid Group called upon the government to fulfill election promises by attending to “structural causes” of violence, specifically to fight “poverty, economic instability, organized crime, and unemployment.” Killings of women, long plaguing the country, are down.

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