Gaza: Collective punishment remains

Aljazeera and reported earlier this month that an Israeli crackdown on food and fuel deliveries was intensifying Gaza’s humanitarian crisis. Israel acted in response to rocket attacks that followed Israeli air assaults. The halt in fuel deliveries for Gaza’s only electrical generating facility paid for by the EU, caused lights out and stalled sewage treatment plants.

UN Relief and Works Agency spokesperson Christopher Gunness said border hold-ups of food for 750,000 Palestinian refugees conveyed a “physical sense of punishment but also a mental one.”
Last month, Israel prevented 100 international specialists from attending a World Health Organization mental health conference. Journalists were barred from entering Gaza. Food and fuel deliveries resumed Nov. 12.

Malaysia: Rights protests grow

Weekly protests in four cities since September against Malaysia’s Internal Security Law, which authorizes indefinite detention without trial, now attract up to 300 people.

On Nov. 10, near Kuala Lumpur, police abused and arrested 23 demonstrators. On hand and unscathed was government critic and blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin, released from jail shortly after an unexpected Superior Court ruling Nov. 5 acknowledging his rights under habeas corpus “a brave decision,” according to Bar Council vice-president Ragunath Kesavan.

Analysts cited by Inter Press Service attributed the crackdown to the government’s poor showing in elections last March, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s decision to resign as of next March, and jostling among possible successors.

Nicaragua: Sandinistas win city elections

Three days after municipal elections Nov. 9, with 86 percent of the votes counted, the Supreme Election Council reported victory by the ruling Sandinista party (FSLN) in 91 municipalities. The Constitutionalist Liberal Party took 49 mayoral posts. On hand were 120 international observers from 12 countries.

In Managua, Liberal candidate and banker Eduardo Montealegre charged election officials with skewing election results to give FSLN rival Alexis Arguello, an ex-boxer, a 7-point advantage. Street protests there left one dead and several wounded. Victory in the Managua mayor’s race is being viewed as necessary preparation for aspiring to Nicaragua’s presidency, according to Prensa Latina. Montealegre lost the 2006 presidential contest to Sandinista Daniel Ortega.

Switzerland: Gender gaps shrink

The World Economic Forum issued a press release last week (see providing a one-year update of its Global Gender Gap Index. The survey ranked Norway first in closing gaps between women and men, followed respectively by Finland, Sweden, Iceland and New Zealand. Their percentages hover around 80 percent; countries at the bottom score 45 percent and upwards.

Measured categories include economic participation, educational attainment, political empowerment and health and survival. A positive correlation is suggested between gender gap scores and national economic viability.
The report emphasizes that it is possible to achieve improvements over brief periods of time; it also warns that gaps in health status have generally widened. The United States was in 27th place.

Zambia: Change in the wind

With defeated presidential candidate Michael Sata challenging victor Rupiah Banda in court and the price of copper, source of 80 percent of Zambia’s foreign income, falling 55 percent over two years, the world’s seventh largest copper producer is facing uncertainty.

On Oct. 31 business-friendly Banda, an aide to former president Levy Mwanawasa who died in August, narrowly turned back Sata, whose campaign focused on poverty reduction.

The UN’s IRIN news service cited experts’ predictions that government social support programs could go awry in tandem with declining copper prices and reduced yield from recently increased royalty taxes on copper. They identify rising food prices as contributing to popular unrest. Maize costs 61 percent more now than in 2006.

Cuba: New cooperation with Russia

Bilateral visits hint at tightened Cuban-Russian relations. On his third trip to Cuba in three months, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin signed automobile, nickel, energy and grain deals Nov. 8 after meeting with President Raul Castro.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev visits Cuba later this month. Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque conducted an official visit to Russia on Nov. 11-12, meeting with Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and legislative leaders. Trade and military cooperation were discussed, along with anticipated Russian investments in oil exploration, tourism and mining.

Russia was the first country to send Cuba humanitarian aid following hurricanes Ike and Gustav. President Raul Castro will visit Russia next year, according to the Cuban News Agency.

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