World notes: Sept. 13, 2008

Cuba: No one died with Gustav
The most destructive hurricane in 50 years hit western Cuba on Aug. 30 with gusts up to 212 mph, the strongest ever recorded during any hurricane anywhere, according to head meteorologist Jose Rubiera.

Gustav’s destruction was terrible: 20,000 homes on the Isle of Youth, 90,000 in Pinar del Rio, the entire electrical infrastructure in western Cuba, crops on 32,000 acres, and 3,306 tobacco houses.

The storm had already killed over 80 people in Haiti and dozens elsewhere in the Caribbean. With its intensity cut in half, Gustav went on to kill 18 people in Louisiana.

No Cubans died. (Although during hurrican Ike four Cubans were killed.) The Mexican daily La Jornada described “well oiled civil defense, a political-military system experienced in massive evacuations.” This time, 467,000 Cubans, 4.5 percent of the population, moved to public buildings and homes of friends and family.

Planes arrived from Russia and Spain with humanitarian aid. Tiny East Timor donated $500,000. The U.S. government offered $100,000 and promised more, but only to non-governmental organizations pending assessment in Cuba by U.S. experts. Cuba’s Foreign Ministry suggested Washington drop its blockade, the cause of losses far exceeding those of Hurricane Gustav.

In conjunction with Florida Democratic congressional candidates opposing the right-wing Diaz-Balart brothers and Ileana Ross-Lehtinen, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama proposed that restrictions on travel and financial assistance the Bush administration imposed on Cuban émigré families be suspended for 90 days.

Haiti: U.S. bullies the down-and-out

Human rights lawyer Evel Fanfan reported last week that with help from the U.S. Embassy, the U.S.-based DynCorp is preparing to raze 155 houses in Port-au-Prince’s Cité Soleil neighborhood to make way for a complex housing Haitian police and United Nations soldiers.

The Haitian government has remained silent while desperately poor residents remain uninformed about further plans, compensation or resettlement options.

Cité Soleil residents strongly support ex-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, ousted by the U.S. in 2004. Haiti Liberte says wealthy Haitians covet the area for real estate development.

U.S. Agency for International Development funding for the project will dwarf the token $100,000 the embassy handed over for hurricane relief this week.

Spain: Gov’t to ease abortion laws

Making good on an area of social change promised during his 2004 election campaign, newly reelected Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is prioritizing ending barriers to abortion. On Sept. 4, Equality Minister Bibiano Aido said implementing legislation would be introduced early next year, based on recommendations from a panel of 13 experts.

Abortions are legal now only for pregnancies that follow rape, result in fetal malformations or cause psychological distress in women.

The Roman Catholic Church and right-wing politicians oppose liberalization. Police are accused of harassing private abortion clinics.

Pakistan: U.S. troops invade

“We will not compromise on any violation of our sovereignty,” Foreign Minister Shah Memood Qureshi told Pakistan’s National Assembly Sept. 4. The previous day, U.S. and Afghan troops arriving at a frontier village in U.S. helicopters killed 20 people, including women and children. This was the first known U.S. troop incursion inside Pakistan, where previously remote-controlled missiles had been used to hit Pakistan bases of Taliban insurgents fighting U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Inter Press Service suggests divisions besetting Pakistan’s new civilian government, and the traditional autonomy of its military, add uncertainty to the country’s response to the widening U.S. war. Press reports say Pakistani officials at the Khyber Pass have blocked NATO supply trucks headed for Afghanistan.

Pakistan: U.S. troops invade

In the lead-up to Sept. 19 parliamentary elections in this landlocked southern African nation, Jan Sithole, secretary-general of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions, promised mounting strike actions supporting the Peoples United Democratic Movement’s calls for multiparty democracy.

In unprecedented fashion, women’s groups led by Swaziland Positive Living for Life have joined protests timed with the Sept. 6 celebration of the 40th anniversary of independence from Britain.

Reuters reported that King Mswati III, ruler since 1986, is criticized for his lavish lifestyle while his government gets low marks for neglecting poverty afflicting two-thirds of the population and HIV infecting 40 percent of adults.

Cyprus: New talks for reunification

Proclaiming “Today is an historic day for Cyprus,” UN Special Envoy Alexander Downer told reporters Sept. 3 that Demetris Christofias and Mehmet Ali Talat, Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders, would start serious negotiations for reunification Sept. 11 in Nicosia.

Outstanding issues include restoration of property rights, details of power sharing and acceptance of foreign guarantors sought by Turkish Cypriots.

In a statement, Christofias endorsed UN resolutions callng for a “bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with political equality.”

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