Philippines: Political killings rise

Human rights activists say 900 extrajudicial executions have taken place during Gloria Arroyo’s presidency, while 200 others have “disappeared.”

Writing in the UK Telegraph, Thomas Bell noted that five additional leftist and environmental activists were killed late last year in the Compostela Valley area of Southern Mindanao, location of foreign-owned gold mines and a left-wing guerrilla insurgency. The report quoted an army spokesman who referred to the security forces as “convenient scapegoats” and pointed to “groups who want to bring down the government.” A United Nations report in 2007 had blamed the murder epidemic on the Philippine Army.

Alan Davies of the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project lamented failure of international and national organizations to investigate the killings.

UN: Poverty kills babies & pregnant women

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) annual report, “The State of the World’s Children,” released Jan. 15, says, “The divide between the industrialized countries and developing regions, particularly the least developed countries, is perhaps greater on maternal mortality than on almost any other issue.”

The agency explains that women in the poorest countries are 300 times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than women living in industrialized nations. Risks of babies of the poor world dying during their first month of life are likewise high — 14 times worse than those of infants in developed countries. The report notes progress in reducing mortality rates of children 5 years old or less.

Gaza: Protests vs. Israeli blockade

Israel’s 23-day assault on Gaza left over 1,400 Palestinians dead. International aid agencies are calling for the 19-month-long Israeli blockade of Gaza to be lifted.

Now, only 125 supply trucks are allowed to enter Gaza each day. Israeli members of Physicians for Human Rights who visited Gaza said shortages, overcrowding and structural damage will lead to the deaths of many of the 4,400 wounded who are hospitalized.

Meanwhile, fuel, medicine and food are again moving through tunnels from Egypt into Gaza. The Associated Press reported the tunnels were being quickly repaired after Israeli bomb attacks.

South Africa: Labor demands Zimbabwe solution

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) condemned the recent failure of negotiations between President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) toward forming a coalition government in Zimbabwe.

The labor federation’s statement, appearing on the MDC web site, claims the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which is mediating the talks, gave unwarranted credibility to Mugabe, who lost one election and won another unfairly. COSATU also protested against SADC support for Mugabe’s claims that “the MDC, trade unions and nongovernmental organizations were agents of Western imperialist forces.”

The statement noted a Physicians for Human Rights report describing the spread of cholera, malnutrition, maternal deaths, AIDS and even anthrax in Zimbabwe.

The SADC convened a summit in Pretoria Jan. 26 to try to resolve the impasse.

Sweden: Cancer survival varies by area

Cancer survival depends upon access to early diagnosis and modern treatment and also, say Swedish researchers, on where you live. Chances are better in western and northern countries than in eastern and southern Europe. In Sweden, 60.3 percent of men and 61.7 percent of women with cancer survive. Comparable rates in the Czech Republic are 37.7 percent and 49.3 percent respectively.

The study, reported by, showed that new treatment modalities were more available to Austrian, French and Swiss patients than to those living in Poland, the Czech Republic and Britain. “The inequalities — highlighted in our original report in 2005 — still remain,” said author Bengt Jonsson. “For patients and society this is a real concern.”

Cuba: Castro on Obama, change

Retired from the presidency and reportedly ill, Fidel Castro wrote 182 “Reflections of the Commandante” (renamed “Reflections of Compañero Fidel” after Raul Castro became president) between March 27, 2007, and Dec. 15, 2008. A month-long gap until Jan. 21 raised concerns his illness had worsened.

However Castro wrote Jan. 21 of meeting visiting Argentinean President Christina Fernandez. A day later he reflected on the inauguration of Barack Obama, “the living symbol of the American dream.”

“What will he do,” Castro asked, “when [his] immense power proves to be absolutely useless to overcome the insoluble antagonist contradictions posed by the system?”

Castro advised he would be writing fewer reflections so as “not to interfere with “the comrades from the Party and the state.” He wondered at the “the strange privilege of witnessing the events for this long” — long enough, he pointed out, for 11 U.S. presidents to witness the Cuban Revolution.

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