WORLD NOTES: September 27

Pakistan: Incursions escalate violence, confrontations

Reacting to U.S. missile attacks and a troop incursion two weeks ago in Pakistan areas believed to harbor Taliban fighters, tribal leaders representing half a million Pakistanis vowed Sept. 14 to join Taliban forces on both sides of the frontier against the United States if cross border attacks continue.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, meeting this week with President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan, backed U.S. plans for incorporating tribal areas into the Afghan war, despite Zardari’s earlier statement that “The sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country should be respected at all cost.”

The Daily Pakistan editorialized that with U.S. military over-extension and Russian resurgence, “Pakistan, too, can deftly handle the cowboys.”

Venezuela: Numbers tell story this month traced the course of Venezuela’s revolution in numbers. Extreme poverty, 42.5 percent in 1999, has dropped to 9.4 percent; overall poverty went from 80 to 33.1 percent. In 1998, 21 babies out of 1,000 died in their first year; now 13 die. Access to drinkable water increased from 80 to 92 percent, children of school age attending school from 44.7 to 60.6 percent.

Venezuela’s 40 percent hike in gross national product over eight years ranked fourth in Latin America. International currency reserves grew by $4 billion last year to $38.1 billion. The state-owned petroleum company contributed $13.9 billion to social development last year, $6.8 billion to infrastructure projects, $5.7 million to social missions and $1.4 billion to housing and agriculture. These are “eloquent results,” said author Hedelberto Lopez Blanch.

China: Unionization grows

Both foreign and Chinese companies face a state-imposed Sept. 30 deadline to allow establishment of local labor unions. Non-complying companies face public scorn, union blacklisting, or possible penalties.

Wang Ying, speaking for the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, told the New York Times, “China needs to improve workers’ legal rights and interests, which is a demand of a civilized society.” She said the present campaign is concentrated on international corporations, of which she predicts 80 percent will eventually have unions.

Unionists report that some non-manufacturing companies — Microsoft China is cited as an example — are resisting. Business operations in China already face rising labor and commodity costs due to inflation.

Nigeria: Oil facilities under siege

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) announced resumption of war against oil facilities that make Nigeria the world’s eighth largest oil producer. Despite recent attacks on pipelines, storage facilities, platforms and oil fields described as the most intense in two years, the government, denying losses and even the existence of war, characterized its response as a police action and rebel proclamations as fear mongering.

Claiming to fight for local control of oil wealth, MEND has taken 27 hostages recently and caused facilities to be abandoned. Reuters reported daily oil production is down by 150,000 barrels. Overall production has dropped 20 percent since 2006. Betraying concerns over stability, the government established a Niger Delta Affairs Ministry.

France: Nuclear power safety questioned

Nuclear power, providing 77 percent of the nation’s electricity, took a hit this summer due to at least five accidents occurring at the vast Tricastin nuclear complex in southwestern France. reported that on Sept. 8, two fuel rods “jammed” during maintenance operations, leading to shutdown and evacuation. In July, 30 cubic meters of non-enriched uranium from another plant went into a river. Elsewhere some 100 people were “lightly contaminated.” Deriving little comfort from industry-wide safety checks, tourism promoters in a region famous for truffles and grape production are demanding explanations.

In Spain, the nuclear industry poses another problem: “unsustainable” costs for solar power stem from high prices for photovoltaic units promoted, according to, by the nuclear industry.

Cuba: EU relations back on track

The Foreign Ministry this month notified the European Union that Cuba had accepted an invitation to resume “formal political dialogue,” issued in June following the lifting of EU sanctions. said the effect will be to encourage member nations to renew high level contacts with Cuba. Analyst Simon McGuiness attributed the improved climate to innovations introduced by the Raul Castro government and to European determination to regain African and Latin American trust — lost, the European Council on Foreign Relations said, from over-identification with U.S. aggressiveness.

Cuba’s support, as leader of the Non-Aligned Movement was seen as crucial to making the shift.

Spain has propelled improved EU-Cuba relations and led in European assistance for hurricane recovery in Cuba.

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