Venezuela: Human Rights Watch official expelled

Accusing Jose Miguel Vivanco of visiting Venezuela to sow confusion, the government expelled the head of the Americas section of Human Rights Watch on Sept. 18.

HRW recently issued a report alleging government human rights abuses. The Communications Ministry noted, however, that constitutional guarantees “have been implemented, particularly in relation to the fundamental needs of citizens.”

Roy Chaderton, Venezuelan ambassador to the Organization of American States, recalled that Vivanco had visited on destabilization missions before earlier national elections. Regional and municipal elections take place Nov. 23.

Writing for Prensa Latina, Roberto Hernandez reported that Vivanco served Chile’s Pinochet dictatorship as a diplomat before joining HRW in Washington. Multibillionaire George Soros funds HRW, and board members include former Cold War functionaries.

South Africa: Controversial health minister out

New South African President Kgalema Motlanthe gained wide praise last week for dismissing AIDS-denying health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, replacing her with anti-apartheid veteran Barbara Hogan.

Thus ended an era of AIDS treatment given over to what former UN Special Envoy for AIDS Steven Lewis called the “lunatic fringe.” Recently displaced President Thabo Mbeki had discounted the HIV virus as causing AIDS and advocated nutritional treatment. His government began supplying public AIDS clinics with anti-retroviral drugs only in 2003, and according to the Treatment Action Campaign, Tshabalala-Msimang failed to push implementation.

Belgium: Launch new immigration plan

European Union interior ministers agreed Sept. 27 to institute a “blue card” category under which educated foreign workers with special skills could enter the 27 member states. The ministers also ruled against mass amnesties and laid plans to create an asylum system.

Blue card workers will be required to earn 150 percent of the average wage in countries where they work, 120 percent if labor shortages prevail. The initiative, propelled by France and taking effect in 2011, will be ratified this month.

European nations will be using the proposed system to compete with the United States for foreign workers. French Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux explained to Bloomberg News that the ministers sought a “way between creating a fortress … and a sieve.”

Iraq: Medical disaster prevails

A recent report on documents grim conditions at Baghdad Medical City. Only one of 10 elevators serving the 18-story complex works. Most physicians have left; many are dead.

Dr. Samir Abdul Zahra told reporters Arkan Hamed and Dahr Jamail that the nation’s premier teaching and referral medical center has “no qualified staff to serve patients, no antibiotics, and sometimes not even basic material for intravenous treatment.”

Most medicines are out of date, according to a pharmacist. Electricity is intermittent, water for hand-washing scarce, and air conditioning nonexistent. Azzaman reported, however, that “hundreds of medical doctors,” attracted by Health Ministry bonuses, have returned to their former posts. Surgeons receive $1,000 per operation.

Laos: Planners see Mekong River dammed

Rising oil and natural gas costs and concerns over climate change have cast the Mekong River, the world’s tenth longest, as a regional source of hydroelectricity.

Nongovernmental organizations, private corporations and officials from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam — plus Chinese observers — met in Vientiane Sept. 25-27 under the auspices of the Mekong River Commission to plan for multiple dams.

Advocates touted hydroelectricity as clean and accessible, while critics noted hazards dams pose to the environment and human ecology.

Inter Press Service quoted Carl Middleton, representing the U.S. group International Rivers, as criticizing dam-building corporations from Thailand, Vietnam, China, Russia and Malaysia, whose “accountability, environmental and social cost standards are low.”

Cuba: Wives of the Five gain British labor backing

Olga Salanueva and Adriana Perez, wives of two of five Cuban men unjustly imprisoned in U.S. jails, spoke Sept. 21 before 350 attendees at a meeting at this year’s Labor Party conference. General Secretaries Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson of the UK’s Unite union, Shane Enright of Amnesty International, and Fr. Geoff Bottoms of the UK Cuban Solidarity Campaign demanded freedom for the men and visiting rights for the women.

Pledging his union’s support for the Five was Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers of America, affiliated with Unite.

The Cuba Solidarity Campaign web site also reported on resolutions supporting the Cuban Five passed recently by Britain’s Trades Union Congress. Unite has produced a five-minute video on the case, accessible at .

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