Zimbabwe: Unity government formed

Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, was sworn in as prime minister on Feb. 11 by President Robert Mugabe. Mugabe was acting in response to pressure brought last month by the Southern African Development Community to make good on a September power sharing agreement. Tsvangirai had defeated Mugabe in the first round of a presidential election last March. He assumes office despite failure by the Mugabe government to adhere to promises to release jailed, and allegedly tortured, Tsvangirai supporters.

Al Jazeera reports that unemployment exceeds 90 percent, half the population requires food aid, public hospitals are closed, and some 3,400 people have died from a cholera epidemic.

China: World unions meet on economic crisis

At an international trade union meeting in February sponsored by the All-China Federation of Trade Unions and reported on CCTV.com, speakers called for a worldwide movement to create jobs and protect workers’ rights. They were responding to the economic crisis and job losses by 50 million people worldwide, including over 20 million in China, most of them rural migrants. Local authorities have been warned to expect social unrest.

China’s government outlined plans recently to expand welfare spending, create jobs and support incomes. Rural areas, plagued by already low income levels, are targeted for special attention. Economic growth has fallen to a seven-year low, and, according to the BBC, exports are down 17.5 percent over a year, and imports, 43.1 percent.

Gaza: Israel unveiled new killing tool

Norwegian surgeon volunteers, cited by Foreign Policy in Focus, testified to bizarre, deadly wounds caused by tungsten-laced shells employed by Israel recently in Gaza. The small, invisible particles released by the dense inert metal explosive (DIME) make surgical repair of destroyed internal organs nearly impossible. Joint development of DIME by the U.S. Air Force and California’s Lawrence Livermore Laboratory raised questions about the weapon’s source, whether the U.S. government or a copycat Israeli manufacturer.

Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital cared for almost 150 DIME-wounded patients. Surgeon Mad Gilbert said: “Gaza is now being used as a test laboratory for new weapons.” Some accuse Israel of war crimes for its actions there.

Britain: Report finds gov’t health care is best

An Oxfam report released Feb. 12 says privatized health care, darling of international lenders, is dangerous. The authors of “Blind Optimism: Challenging the myths about private health care in poor countries” emphasize that provider competition and private earnings do not promote efficiency, quality of care or access. Accusing the World Bank of conditioning loans on cutbacks in public health services and institutions, the report says, “Publicly financed and delivered services continue to dominate in higher performing, more equitable health systems.” Chile, Lebanon and South Africa are mentioned as examples of public health failures caused by privatization.

Latvia: Economic plunge is bellwether for Eastern Europe

A fourth-quarter economic decline last year means a 10.5 reduction in Latvia’s gross domestic product, according to figures released Feb. 9. In January, 10,000 demonstrated in the capital, Riga, along with thousands more in other Eastern European capitals, protesting privatization, social service cuts and corruption.

Baltic unemployment is projected to rise by 15 million or more. Hungarian industrial output has plummeted, Ukraine is near bankruptcy, and regional currencies are down, according to globalresearch.ca. Austrian banks, owed 220 billion euros in outstanding Eastern European loans, are seeking a 150 billion euro European Union bailout for the east. The EU Observer cited a warning from the Austrian chamber of commerce that “if Brussels did not act in the east, Moscow would.”

El Salvador: Struggle over mine mixes with elections

People of San Isidro have fought to close down toxic gold mining operations of the Pacific Rim Co. since 2006. Opposition to mining across El Salvador has led the right-wing Arena government to delay approving environmental permits for the Canadian company. Having filed for arbitration under the Central America Free Trade Agreement, Pacific Rim expects a decision nine days before March 15 presidential elections here.

A report on upsidedownworld.org says the company is trying to pressure the government and frightening voters with the threat of potential CAFTA lawsuits. During municipal elections Jan. 18, polling closed early on discovery of Guatemalans brought in to vote for a pro-mine mayoral candidate. On Jan. 31, documents, photos and cameras were stolen from the home of anti-mine activist Héctor Berríos.

Cuba: Food imports from U.S. grow

U.S. food sales to Cuba jumped to $710 million in 2008, up from $437.5 million in 2007, and $340 million to $392 million in three previous years. Rising food prices and heightened demand related to hurricane damage propelled the increase. Cuba is the 29th largest export market for U.S. agribusiness. The U.S. has become Cuba’s fifth largest trading partner. Corn, wheat, chicken and soybeans constitute the bulk of cash-payment-only exports allowed under a U.S. blockade exception passed in 2000.

Trade adviser John Kavulich said President Obama, responding to U.S. economic distress, could use executive orders to expand exports to Cuba, Reuters reported.

World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney Jr. (atwhit@roadrunner.com).