UK: House of Lords protects civil rights

By a 191 vote majority, the House of Lords earlier this month defeated a Labor government proposal to extend from 28 days to 42 days the period police may hold suspects without charges. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith responded by announcing that in future only a terrorist emergency would prompt another try at passing the measure, which was included in a package of augmented antiterrorism legislation.

Conservative Party shadow home secretary David Davis resigned from Parliament last June to protest House of Commons approval then by a slim margin. He told the BBC this week the Labor Party had been seeking “a ‘tougher-than-Tory’ model in the public mind.”

Muslim organizations joined the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in welcoming the outcome.

Bolivia: Constitution now tops government agenda

With President Evo Morales in the lead, indigenous people, unionists and representatives of social organizations set out from Caracollo Oct. 13, arriving in La Paz three days later. Other marches converged on the capital, all aiming to press legislators to authorize a referendum vote on a constitution devised last year.

The document would protect indigenous rights, land reform and the state’s share of wealth generated by hydrocarbon sales.

The action followed failure of government talks with secessionist opposition leaders who last month had encouraged violent, destabilizing protests leading to martial law in Pando. According to, Morales is taking advantage of enhanced political capital in the wake of an overwhelming referendum victory Aug. 10 approving his continued tenure as President.

China: Reform wave hits agriculture

A Communist Party conference that included President Hu Jintao issued a report Oct. 12 setting the course for farmers eventually to be able to transfer, mortgage or rent land. Details of the plan, unspecified now, will be presented to the National People’s Congress next March.

Inter Press Service speculates that individual land use rights may be extended from 30 to 70 years. The purpose of the reform is to increase consumer income to compensate for falling industrial employment, to counter rural and urban income differences, and to strengthen domestic food production in the face of world food shortages.

Planners envision migrants to cities gaining the ability to rent land they once farmed and farmers enjoying economies of scale through expanded operations.

Iran: Strike forces tax freeze

Imposition of a value added tax in September triggered nationwide strikes by store owners and business persons prompting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to lift the tax. Al Jazeera reported that “the vast Tehran market… shut [down] entirely on Sunday (Oct. 12), a normal trading day, in the biggest such protest since the 1979 Islamic revolution.” The protest comes in the wake of retail price increases over three years culminating in a 29 percent annual inflation rate.

Application of the tax in multiple steps, from production to sales, led to additional 10-15 percent price hikes, although it had been billed as a three percent levy. Economist Saeed Leylaz diagnosed the strike as emblematic of middle class discontent.

Kenya: UN warns of food shortages

As Kenya marked World Food Day Oct. 16, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization warned that food shortages are worsening in sub-Saharan Africa. Speaking in the capital, Nairobi, FAO Country Representative Castro Camarada called on developed countries to partner with developing countries to help develop sustainable agriculture.

Kenya’s deputy agriculture minister, Kareke Mbiuki, said malnutrition and food shortages in his country are worsened by lack of infrastructure to distribute food that is available. He also cautioned about the increasing diversion of land from food production to growing bio-fuels.

The European Commission is starting an emergency food aid program to help offset the impact of rising food and fuel prices in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti.

Cuba: Foreign minister upholds socialism

At a Madrid press conference last week, held jointly with his Spanish counterpart, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque responded to criticism from a leading European Union official by declaring, “We believe in socialism, in the possibility of social justice and equality.” Referring to the world financial crisis, he said his country doesn’t like “a system run even this weekend on saving bankers, but not run on saving the hungry.”

EU Secretary of State Diego Lopez Garrido had rapped Cuba for shortchanging human rights. His call for “economic and political liberalization” was presumably timed to coincide with the Cuban foreign minister’s tour of European capitals aimed at normalizing relations with Europe.

According to, Perez Roque added that Cuba’s version of socialism “had to be perfected.”

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