Venezuela: U.S. sanctions elicit condemnation

Venezuela reacted angrily to U.S. sanctions imposed May 24 against its PDVSA oil company, aimed at Iran’s nuclear energy program. PDVSA recently sent shipments of a gasoline-blending component worth $50 million to Iran. The sanctions will affect U.S. contracts and export financing with PDVSA. New U.S. sanctions against Iran, some announced earlier, also affect companies in the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Israel, Monaco and China.  Protesting “aggression against Venezuela and against OPEC,” Venezuelan Oil Minister and PDVSA president Rafael Ramirez promised continued oil supplies for PDVSA’s U.S. subsidiary Citgo, but hinted at retaliatory actions against other U.S. customers. PDVSA sends 45 percent of its crude oil to the United States, an amount making up 10 percent of U.S. oil imports.

Somalia: Migration signals humanitarian crisis

As the United Nations considers an air and sea blockade of Somalia to keep foreign fighters out, violence and the worst drought in decades have led to massive cross-border migration. As of mid-May, 348,605 mostly Somali people were living in Kenya at Dadaab, the world’s largest refugees complex, now four times over capacity. So far this year, arrivals total 43,001 persons. Sharing space under plastic with others, families find food and especially water in short supply. Women are vulnerable to sexual assaults, reports the IRIN news agency. Camps in Northern Mozambique now shelter tens of thousands of refugees who, heading for South Africa, arrived by sea from Somalia and Ethiopia. Presently 600,000 Somalis are displaced in neighboring countries, 800,000 more within Somalia. International funding for humanitarian needs in Somalia has dropped 41 percent over two years.

Fiji: Repressive regime targets workers

The military government of Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama is preparing to impose its Critical Industries Empowerment Decree 2011. The Australian ACTU labor federation, on its website, indicates the measure would make independent trade unions illegal, end existing union agreements and deny workers’ rights to choose union leaders and bargain collectively. On May 19, the ACTU demanded that Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd condemn the crushing of unions in a nation where 40 percent of the population exists on less than $1.25 per day and 40 percent are unemployed. The inspiration for the oppressive legislation, according to, comes from U.S. citizen David Pflieger, head of Air Pacific. The proposed decree would primarily benefit the sugar industry and airline and air terminal corporations.

Iraq: labor rights under siege

Iraqi oil workers, who are paid less than foreign workers, undertook May 17 to block foreign workers from entering the oil fields of BP and a Chinese corporation in Rumaila, those operated by Royal Dutch Shell in Majnoon and fields in Zubair, developed by Italy’s ENI. A week earlier, 300 striking workers at a state-owned field in Basra returned to work after the governor agreed to discuss low pay and managers’ corruption. These actions played out despite prohibitions against collective bargaining and strikes affecting most workers, left over from the Saddam Hussein era. The government in April, according to, fired leaders of the GFIW labor federation, Iraq’s largest, as it prepared to take over the federation.

Turkey: Repression mounts for tobacco workers union

Last year, unionists and their supporters demonstrated for three months in support of 12,000 workers who lost jobs after privatization of the state tobacco monopoly. They’d first been offered low-pay jobs at state-owned tobacco warehouses, which never materialized. Then they were fired. Further agitation was put off pending new jobs promised by the state. Impatient, they demonstrated in Ankara on April 1, where they met with severe police repression. This month, the government announced criminal charges carrying up to five years in jail against 111 persons, including leaders of several union federations and non-union social activists. The government, says the IUF website, intends “to cripple the labor movement in Turkey by criminalizing protest action.”

Cuba: UN hears denunciation of Cuban Adjustment Law

On May 19, Cuban UN Ambassador Rodolfo Benítez, speaking before a one-day UN General Assembly session on “International Migration and Development,” denounced the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act. That law, enacted in 1966, grants permanent U.S. residence to Cubans arriving without previous authorization. The U.S. purpose, according to, has been to portray revolutionary Cuba as a prison requiring freedom seekers to chance the dangerous sea passage to Florida to escape. National People’s Power Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón noted previously, “The United States is the only country with two immigration laws, one for the whole world and one just for Cubans.” Recently, the Cuban government announced preparation of measures that would ease its citizens’ travel to other countries as tourists.


W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont and now lives in rural Maine. He practiced and taught pediatrics for 35 years and long ago joined the Cuba solidarity movement, working with Let Cuba Live of Maine, Pastors for Peace, and the Venceremos Brigade. He writes on Latin America and health issues for the People's World.