Iraq: Referendum would hasten U.S. departure

On Aug. 17, the Nouri al-Maliki government expressed backing for a national referendum next January on the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) reached late last year. U.S. officials were caught unawares, according to the Washington Post, because the Parliament had failed so far to implement the referendum that lawmakers had advanced as a condition for supporting the SOFA.

If Parliament OKs holding the referendum, and a majority of voters reject the pact, it could force departure of U.S. troops next year rather than in 2011, as established by the SOFA. Concerned about popular support for the referendum, U.S. officials had lobbied against it, the Washington Post said.

Maliki’s action came as plans progressed for U.S. forces to join Iraqi Army and Kurdish paramilitaries in combat actions aimed at curbing increased violence in northern Iraq.

Canada: Seasonal workers threatened

Mexican workers employed by Mayfair Farms in Manitoba, tired of minimum wages, unpaid overtime work and deductions for travel from Mexico, formed a union two years ago. Last month, they voted to decertify their union, the day after the Mexican consul visited. He eventually went to all 400 Mexican workers in the province to indicate that union membership would result in blacklisting.

The Winnipeg Free Press explained that a Mexican government intent upon maximizing remittances as a source of national income was protecting the decades-old Seasonal Workers Agricultural Program under whose aegis 12,311 workers came to Canada this year.

“Mexican citizens enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as Canadian workers in the same occupation,” an embassy press release claimed in July.

Italy: Anti-immigrant hysteria takes toll

Five survivors told rescuers that 73 Eritrean migrants who left Libya with them died after their dinghy ran out of fuel and got lost during a 20-day journey. reported no boats would take them aboard, although some provided bread and water. Bodies were returned to the sea.

Laura Boldrini, spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, lamented that “fear had prevailed over the obligation to provide assistance at sea.”

At work was legislation advanced by the rightist Northern League taking effect Aug. 8. It imposes fines and jail terms on migrants and citizens helping them. To provide housing, for example, risks three years in jail. Anti-immigrant citizen patrols were instituted and migrants were removed from hospital beds. Round-ups eased last week as jails and detention centers filled.

Chile: Mapuche face repression

The recent police killing of Jaime Mendoza Collío, an indigenous, or Mapuche, man, has heightened concerns over denial of rights to a sector constituting 4 percent of Chile’s population, of whom 42 percent live in poverty. On Aug. 18, 17 writers, artists and activists wrote an open letter to President Michelle Bachelet protesting state-sanctioned police violence and denial of justice by courts. They wrote: “Since 1883, when the Army annexed Mapuche land in a bloody war [state agencies] have cursed, criminalized, repressed, distorted and punished all sociopolitical processes of this people.” The Mapuche do not resort to arms, they pointed out.

The writers demanded investigation, punishment of the guilty, cessation of repressive acts and dialogue.

China: Workers nix privatization

Protests by thousands of workers at the Linzhou Steel Company in Henan Province last week ended plans for privatization of their faltering state-owned plant. They had also held hostage the assets-control state official managing the transfer. China Daily said local government and Communist Party officials promised workers would each receive $80 monthly until production was resumed.

Triggering workers’ resistance was the unilateral decision last month to accept Fengbao Company’s offer at less than the auction-prescribed price. Chinese law requires approval of privatization plans by workers’ congresses. A month earlier, worker protests and the killing of the official directing privatization stymied nearly completed privatization of the Tonghua steel plant in Jilin Province.

Cuba: Preparing for resentencing

Lawyers for the Cuban Five held a news conference in Havana last week at which resentencing of Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labañino and Fernando Gonzalez was reviewed. An appeals court last year judged their sentencing as flawed.

The three will appear in Miami Oct. 13 before Joan Lenard, judge at their original trial. Activists nationwide are planning to be in or near the courthouse to demonstrate solidarity.

Lawyer Tom Goldstein called upon Lenard to credit already long incarcerations, suffering of family members denied visiting rights, and burgeoning international solidarity.

Granma International said William Norris, Labañino’s lawyer, expressed hope the government will provide sufficient information for preparing their case, a deficiency marring the original trial.

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



W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.