Italy: Protests continue vs. U.S. base

Hundreds of protesters last week occupied a former airbase in Vicenza to block construction of a new U.S. base. They cut the surrounding fence and set up an encampment to block bulldozers already at work.

If completed, the facility would serve as a U.S. military command center and as home base for an Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Stars and Stripes reported.

Last February, 200,000 demonstrators protested Italy’s acquiescence in U.S. plans to place the installation close to downtown Vicenza, a world heritage site. Nuclear weapons are located nearby, according to

Gaza: Israel seizes mercy ship

Israeli military surveillance of waters off Gaza, heightened weeks before last month’s Israeli invasion, remains in force.

A naval vessel intercepted the cargo ship Al-Ikhwa (Brotherhood) Feb. 5 as it approached Gaza from the Lebanese city of Tripoli, carrying 60 tons of humanitarian supplies. Al Jazeera reporter Salam Khoder, one of 10 activists and journalists on board, said “soldiers came onto the boat and started beating the passengers.” She and others were interrogated and after several hours, released.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora condemned the attack. Yahya Mahmassani, Arab League United Nations envoy, asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to intervene, adding, “The world community should condemn this act of piracy.”

South Africa: Israeli ships blocked

Responding to the recent Israeli war on Gaza, the COSATU labor federation is refusing to unload Israeli cargo ships. Its affiliated longshoremen’s union SATAWU targeted one slated to arrive in Durban Feb. 8. A union press release recalled longshoremen’s refusals to work on apartheid-era South African ships in Copenhagen, Stockholm, Liverpool and San Francisco.

While Palestine solidarity groups and the Young Communist League demonstrated nationwide, owners brought the ship Johanna Russ into port early, on Feb. 5. They enlisted scab longshoremen. But, COSATU said, “vigilant workers were on guard,” and that night, the Johanna Russ “sneaked out of the Durban Harbor.” SATAWU last year declined to off-load arms from a Chinese ship intended for Zimbabwe.

Australia: Heat and drought cast pall

Melbourne, this month, recorded three days of 109 degree temperatures, the highest on record since 1855, according to the Associated Press. Houses and tens of thousands of acres burned. Heavy air conditioner use caused blackouts. Train and trolley rails buckled in Adelaide. Human deaths mounted.

By early February, Australia, the “canary in the coal mine for climate-driven desertification,” was near collapse from its worst heat wave ever. Southern Australia has endured a decade of unprecedented drought. The report on warns that over the century, “Extreme drought is likely to increase from under 3 percent of the globe today to 30 percent.”

Brazil: Landless workers continue struggle

The Landless Workers Movement (MST), 25 years old last month, met in Rio Grande do Sul for its 13th national

conference. Gains were celebrated: 35 million acres of land appropriated, 370,000 families with farms, new schools, and 400 cooperatives. Helicopters overhead and police barricades on entry roads dampened the occasion.

Quoted on, MST leader Marina dos Santos told reporters that land acquisition has become difficult, “because it is not just against the landowner, but a multinational corporation.” Co-founder João Pedro Stedile explained, “Capitalism has transformed itself … and dramatically altered the model of agricultural production in the world.” The MST identified multinational agro-industry as its prime target.

Moving on to the World Social Forum in Belem, Stedile lectured leftist presidents of Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil and Bolivia at a Jan. 29 plenary session. Calling for another leadership summit, this time with social movements as full participants, Stedile asserted that to realize “structural changes,” social movements need free reign. Except in Bolivia, he said, “we haven’t yet achieved the rebuilding of a mass movement capable of changing the power relations.” It was a “political tsunami,” declared the Mexican paper La Jornada.

Cuba: UN reviews rights record

Justice Minister Maria Esther Reus and Foreign Ministry deputy head Bruno Rodríguez, Feb. 5, presented a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, presently engaged in its “Universal Periodic Review” of human rights in 54 nations. Some 200 NGOs contributed to the report.

Representatives of more than 50 nations testified before the Council in support of the Cuban report, most denouncing the U.S. blockade. Israel and the Czech Republic criticized Cuba’s human rights record, while Chile,

Mexico and Brazil called for stronger guarantees of liberty of expression and freedom to travel.

UN Special Rapporteur Manfred Nowak will visit the island early this year, according to the Cuban News Agency. The Council will issue its assessment in June.

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