Venezuela: Land returned to peasants

The Venezuelan National Land Institute (INTI) and the Spanish Embassy concluded an agreement last week in which Venezuela will buy back close to 3,000 acres of fertile land from Spanish agricultural producers. The land will be turned over to poor peasants for farming.

In recent years, more than 164 peasants have been killed by paramilitaries allegedly working for the Spanish landowners. Spain’s ambassador to Venezuela, Raúl Morodo, commented favorably on the agreement, saying it was reasonable and satisfactory.

INTI President Richard Vivas told, “The land belonged to African-American groups who in 1732 fought on this property against the colonial system.”

Under Venezuela’s Agrarian Law, the government is carrying out a campaign to buy up large holdings of unused agricultural land. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said, “We are recouping land for Venezuelans, who have started to be owners of their land and are recovering their dignity.”

Kenya: Lobbyists debate quest for oil

Listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, Lamu, a small island off the southern coast of Kenya in East Africa, is a unique place with “cultural and natural properties of outstanding universal value which are to be protected,” the UN agency said.

But when geologists announced the discovery of a nearby petroleum system that points to potential offshore oil, government officials began selling exploratory licenses to foreign companies.

According to The Nation (Nairobi), Lamu leaders and environmentalists have formed a lobby group and are protesting the government’s withholding of vital information from the people, including what sites will be drilled and how the people will benefit. They say offshore drilling will disrupt the fragile marine ecology system and put the island’s environmental balance and economy at risk.

Seventy percent of the local population depend on fishing for their livelihood.

Iran: Victory for Saqez labor activists

In an incident that began at a rally and march on May 1, 2004, in the city of Saqez, in Iran’s Kurdistan province, 50 participants were arrested for celebrating May Day.

While most were released, seven Iranian labor leaders were prosecuted in a trial lasting 18 months, mostly behind closed doors. The charges included “organizing an illegal gathering” and “conspiring to commit criminal acts against national security.” Five of the seven were sentenced to imprisonment or exile.

A massive protest campaign ensued. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and other international labor groups joined Iranian labor and social activists to pressure the Iranian government to drop the charges against the Saqez Seven and to respect workers’ rights to organize and assemble.

Last week, the International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran reported the Kurdistan Province Court of Appeal, Division 7, repealed all the sentences. The decision was hailed as a great victory for Iran’s workers.

Greece: Anti-globalization forum

About 30,000 activists participated in the anti-globalization meeting of the European Social Forum in Athens, May 4-7.

The forum closed with a series of demands including an end to the occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine; closure of all detention centers and military bases in Europe; unconditional support for the legalization of immigrants; and nuclear disarmament, the Athens News Agency reported.

The forum also laid out plans for Europe-wide antiwar demonstrations during a week of action Sept. 23-30 and appealed for an international day of action in support of immigrants without residence papers on Oct. 7 in Europe and Africa.

The forum’s final declaration said, “Opposition movements to neoliberalism are growing and clashing with the power of transnational corporations, the G8 and organizations such as the WTO, IMF and World Bank, and neoliberal policies of the USA and European Union.”

Japan: Voters oppose U.S. military expansion

Voters in Okinawa City and Iwakuni City elected mayors last month who strongly oppose the expansion of the U.S. military presence in their respective cities.

In an alliance with four other parties, the Japanese Communist Party helped propel Tomon Mitsuko, an outspoken opponent of new U.S. bases, to an upset victory April 23. She became the first female mayor in Okinawa’s history.

The Japanese newspaper Akahata hailed her election as evidence of a “no new U.S. bases verdict” by the voters.

In the Iwakuni race, Mayor Ihara Katsusuke, who strongly opposes the planned relocation of a U.S. aircraft carrier-borne unit to the U.S. Marine Corps’ Iwakuni Air Station, received 69 percent of the vote.

Ecuador: Contract with Occidental annulled

The Ecuadorian government annulled its contracts with the U.S. oil company Occidental Petroleum on May 15 in the latest sign that Latin America is seeking to reclaim its natural resources.

Some 5,000 people marched in Quito, the nation’s capital, on May 9 to demand cancellation of the contract and an end to all negotiations on the Andean Free Trade Agreement, which the U.S. is promoting with Ecuador, Colombia and Peru, the Nicaragua Solidarity Network reported. They also demanded that more oil revenue flow to six Amazon provinces, whose indigenous peoples have benefited little from the extraction of their region’s petroleum.

Ecuadorian officials charged that Occidental improperly transferred a 40 percent interest in its fields to a Canadian company, Encana, in 2000, and that it also owes substantial back taxes and other fees.

World Notes are compiled by Pamella Saffer (