Russia: Billionaires multiply

In one year Russia moved from 53 billionaires to 87, four of them among the world’s wealthiest 20 individuals. A Forbes editor enthused that “the new No. 2 country behind the U.S,” (which has 469 billionaires), overcame Germany, “which held the honor for six years.”

Top Russian earner Oleg Deripaska heads an insurance, auto manufacturing and aluminum empire. Construction magnate Elena Baturina, whose husband Yuri Luzhkov is mayor of Moscow, remains the country’s richest woman. That city, notable for 74 billionaires and rising inflation, late last year upped its minimum wage to $246, according to RIA Novosti. Pensioners are guaranteed $170.

Swaziland: Women workers on strike

Some 16,000 textile workers in Swaziland, mostly women earning less than $100 monthly, struck March 3 against mainly Taiwanese factory owners. Police using teargas beat workers blocking factory access. Union leader Alex Fakudze defended workers’ demands for a 12 percent wage increase.

The IRIN report says many poor Swaziland people express resentment toward Taiwanese industrialists who came there to take advantage of U.S. preferential trade conditions under the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

Swaziland has relations with Taiwan, not with China, and Taiwan’s government has encouraged investment there. Swaziland’s government has provided incentives to the manufacturers.

Brazil: Peasant women defy corporations

Over 3,000 peasants belonging to Brazil’s Movement of Workers without Land paralyzed highway traffic in Río Grande do Sul on March 5. They were responding to police violence — TeleSUR reported 50 wounded — as 900 women and 250 children were removed from a eucalyptus producing tract owned by Swiss-Finnish paper manufacturer Stora Enso, and later detained.

In all, some 1,300 women members of Via Campesina, honoring International Women’s Day, occupied four multinational land holdings in the region. The mobilization, labeled “Peasant Women Struggling for Food Sovereignty against Agribusiness,” called for 8,000 poor families to gain access to half a million company-owned acres.

China: Combating inflation

Attributing price hikes to food and housing shortages, Premier Wen Jiabao, called for expanding grain production, limiting food exports, protecting land for agricultural use and cutting back on energy consumption. January prices having risen 7.1 percent. Speaking to the parliament March 5, the premier called for capping the consumer price index at last year’s 4.8 percent rise and slowing the GDP from an 11.4 percent gain in 2007 to 8 percent this year.

Cuba: U.S. blockade goes online

British travel agent Steven Marshall discovered last October that his 80 Cuba travel websites had disappeared. Responding to a Treasury Department blacklist, U.S. based eNom Corporation, a registrar of Marshall’s and other’s domains, had inactivated 557 Cuba-related companies and 3,719 domains.

Marshall lost business before transferring web sites to European registrars. Yale law professor Susan Crawford pointed out the contradiction between the government’s legal right to shut down the domain yet through its actions controlling “a great deal of speech.”

Iraq: Women abandoned

In a report released March 1, Women for Women International said its survey of 1,500 Iraqi women found two thirds of respondents see their country as “plagued by insecurity, a lack of infrastructure and controversial leadership.”

Only 26.9 percent were optimistic about Iraq’s future, down from 90.6 percent in 2004. Almost 64 percent felt threatened by increased violence, 76.2 percent said girls could not attend school, and 68 percent complained of vanishing jobs.

Gaza: Worst crisis in 40 years

British human rights groups say the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, caused by Israel’s blockade, is the worst in 40 years. Almost 80 percent of Gazans, 56 percent of them children, require donated food, 70 percent of households earn less than $1.20 per person per day, and most cross border travel is restricted.

People die because 20 percent of travel requests for outside emergency medical care are denied. Trucks importing supplies are down from 250 per day to 45. Only 400 of 3,900 factories remain open. Crops growing higher than 40 cm. are destroyed. Electricity generation is reduced 20 percent. Sewerage runs in the streets and into the sea, according to Reuters.

India: Women vote in record numbers, Communists re-elected

People came out to vote in record numbers in the Indian state of Tripura — 92 percent turnout — last month and re-elected the Communist-led left government. The vote results were announced March 8, which happened to be International Women’s Day. Appropriately, women voters led the turnout.

Tripura is one of the three Indian states led by Communists. Kerala and West Bengal are the other two.

Communists increased their seats from 41 to 49 in a 60-seat house.

Chief Minister Manik Sarkar will take the oath for the sixth time. He reacted to the voter turnout saying through struggle, women of Tripura have become more politically conscious.

Tripura became the first state in India to provide free I.D. cards to all voters. This northeast hill state faces extremist violence from some armed factions. Communists have shown, even though in danger of losing their own lives, leadership in handling the violence.

World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney Jr. ( R.K. Sharma contributed to this week’s notes.