World Notes: Venezuela, South Africa, Romania and more

Venezuela: Violence against land reform is protested

Some 10,000 marchers representing peasant advocates and human rights groups marched in Caracas on June 7 demanding protection for small farmers determined to take over unused land in accordance with the Lands and Agrarian Development Act of 2001. Denouncing the subsequent assassination of 258 peasants over the last 10 years, they presented a document to the National Assembly demanding repeal of a penal code article under which peasants occupying private land receive five to ten year jail terms. In a television interview, National Assembly delegate and peasant leader Orlando Zambrano inveighed against thugs and judicial bureaucracy. He was at one with march organizers who, quoted by, declared support for “[President Hugo] Chávez, against imperialism, against impunity, and against the criminalization of the popular struggle.”


South Africa: Unions down on Walmart expansion

South Africa’s Competition Tribunal gave anti-trust approval on May 31 to Walmart’s $2.3 billion acquisition of retail giant Massmart. The government had criticized Walmart for making no commitments to Black empowerment, small business safeguards, and local procurement. The tribunal ordered the rehiring of 503 Massmart workers dismissed last year, allegedly to meet Walmart demands, and cessation of further firings for two years. Labor critics, cited by South Africa’s IOL website, say a Walmart fund aimed at developing local suppliers constitutes a bribe and creates an opening for a monopoly aimed at serving Walmart. Responding to the situation, COSATU labor federation spokesman Patrick Craven indicated unions were planning “action in the form of demonstrations, pickets, even a strike,” adding, “We would have preferred Walmart to be barred entirely from South Africa.”


Romania: Plans are laid for U.S. operated missile interceptors

The U.S. Naval cruiser Monterey carrying the AEGIS air defense system and missiles entered the Romanian port of Constanta on June 7. A U.S. spokesperson explained the two-day visit represents “partnership with the Romanian Navy” in future Black Sea operations undertaken by NATO’s “European missile shield project.” The Russian government, according to RIA Novosti, protests the lack of “guarantees that the system will not be directed against Russia.” Russia has suggested a possible joint Russia-NATO missile shield system, yet NATO demands two separate systems. Romanian President Traian Basescu told reporters in early May that Constanta port and the Deveselu airbase, future home to land based missile interceptors, would, according to, “be at the disposal of US troops.”


Israel: Prisoner anonymity is dispelled

To remedy the “almost sepulchral silence” about 133 Palestinian political prisoners in jail for over 20 years, the Middle East Monitor has begun periodically to post some of their life stories. Like most of the 800 Palestinian prisoners serving life terms – and 587 others serving more than 20 years – 58-year-old Salim Kayal, featured on June 7, has spent 28 years, almost his entire adult life in jail. His daughter Dua can only communicate with her diabetic, hypertensive father via broadcast radio. His wife knows him as “firm in the belief that he will return to the streets of Gaza.” Jailed Palestinians currently number almost 6,000, reports the Addameer human rights group.


China: Readjusting foreign investment

“North Africa’s unrest and Libya’s situation in particular are testing China’s ‘go out’ strategy,” says analyst Wang Jinyan, quoted by Aljazeera. “The political risk aside, investment in Africa is no longer what it used to be,” said another official. With Asia increasingly seen as economically promising and politically safe, a new Ministry of Commerce five-year plan is shifting gears to that region as a locus for foreign investment. Beginning with the global financial crisis in 2008, some 2000 Chinese companies have invested $32 billion in African economies, making China Africa’s biggest trading partner. Recent turmoil in Libya, however, has cost China $3 billion in losses, which include costs of repatriating 36,000 Chinese employees. China’s foreign investment is projected at $2 trillion by 2020.


Cuba: Chavez visit marks review of bilateral accords

Venezuelan President Chavez’ arrival on June 8 in Havana with technical and diplomatic aides was the occasion for meetings, involving President Raul Castro, at which existing accords on energy, telecommunications, and agricultural matters were reviewed, among other matters. The El Universal report indicated discussions covered cooperative plans for further development of the Cienfuegos oil refinery and construction of a new refinery in Matanzas. Also discussed, the Venezuela-Cuba-Jamaica undersea cable, which will be functioning as of July, leading to a 3000-fold increase in Cuban Internet capabilities. The agenda included cooperative development of pharmaceutical factories in Venezuela and discussion of a Cuba-Venezuela military academy under the auspices of ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas) seen as fostering “Latin American [military] doctrines.”

Photo: Venezuelan farmers wave copies of the Land Law during a gathering at El Charcote Ranch in western Cojedes state. Fernando Llano/AP



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.