China-Venezuela: Trade pact signed

During Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’ state visit to China late last year, the two countries concluded trade agreements expected to increase trade between them to almost $3 billion in 2005.

Chinese firms plan to invest in 15 mature oil fields in eastern Venezuela, which could produce over 1 billion barrels, and to bid for gas exploration contracts. Venezuela has also offered to supply China with 120,000 barrels of fuel oil per month.

Venezuela also plans to buy a telecommunications satellite from China. In addition, the two countries discussed greater cooperation in mining, agriculture, infrastructure construction and high-tech matters.

Last month’s visit was Chavez’ third official trip to China.

Israel: Children getting poorer

Israeli children are growing poorer as the government’s programs to aid them are shrinking, the National Council for the Child said in an annual report presented to President Moshe Katsav Dec. 27.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted the report as saying some 31 percent of the country’s 2.25 million children lived below the poverty line last year — over 1 percent more than in 2003. At the same time, the number of children whose families received income supplements shrank by over 12 percent.

“The data reveal that the troubles are increasing while the solutions are decreasing or disappearing,” said council head Dr. Yitzhak Kadman. “More poor children are receiving less and less economic support.”

West Africa: Food shortages loom

Much of West Africa escaped major lasting damage from last year’s locust invasion. But the UN’s IRIN news agency says governments and aid workers are warning that this year many people in isolated pockets of the Sahel will face drastic food shortages.

The hardest hit country is Mauritania, where it is estimated that a third of the population may suffer hunger following last year’s severe damage to already marginal croplands and desert pastures.

Besides Mauritania, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has expressed concern over Chad, which is struggling to cope with an influx of refugees.

Though the locusts did relatively little damage to major grain-producing regions, Oxfam spokesman Michel Anglade cautioned that many already marginalized farming and ranching communities have been hard hit. “This follows the trend of people continuing to get poorer and poorer” following the droughts of past decades, he said.

Cuba: GDP up 5 percent last year

Cuba’s Gross Domestic Product rose 5 percent last year, Minister of Economy and Planning Jose Luis Rodriguez told the National Assembly late last month.

At the same time, Granma reported, Minister of Finance and Prices Georgina Barreiro said state spending for health, education and social security will be increased by 9 percent to 11 percent in 2005.

In 2004, Rodriguez said, “we have had to meet many challenges, a result of natural phenomena that have negatively affected the island, the energy difficulties, the unprecedented rise in oil prices, all compounded by the implementation of the most insensitive and aberrant measures imaginable by the U.S. government in its desperate attempts to destroy the Revolution.” He added that thanks to the people’s enormous effort, the essential objectives were met and social development advanced.

Rodriguez cited gains in food consumption, nickel production and tourism, while losses were sustained from the drought in the eastern provinces as well as Hurricanes Charley and Ivan. He said oil production and electricity generation were both lower than in 2003.

Rodriguez emphasized the importance of Cuba’s growing cooperation with China and Venezuela.

Ukraine: Pro-NATO candidate wins

U.S.-backed, pro-NATO candidate Viktor Yuschenko appears to have won the Dec. 26 presidential election, the third such election in two months. The Central Election Commission said Yuschenko led by 52 percent over challenger Viktor Yanukovich, with 44.2 percent.

The Dec. 26 vote came after an earlier runoff giving victory to Yanukovich was marred by widespread allegations of fraud. Tens of thousands protested in Kiev, causing authorities to schedule the third election.

Washington and other NATO members poured millions into Yuschenko’s campaign. Critics say these foreign powers exploited the legitimate anger of many Ukrainians at a corrupt, oligarchic system, to further their goal of installing a pro-NATO candidate. Yanukovich is tied to the current administration.

Yanukovich plans to appeal to the Supreme Court, claiming that millions were disenfranchised Dec. 26, because the right to vote at home was scaled back.

The Communist Party of Ukraine refused to support either candidate, instead calling for the presidency to be suspended and for all power to be handed over to the Parliament.

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (