Worldnotes – May 10, 2008

UN: World hunger is top priority

Concluding a meeting in Bern, Switzerland of 26 United Nations’ agencies, the World Bank and IMF, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced plans April 29 for a high-level UN task force to deal with mounting world food shortages. He called for closing of a $755 million funding shortfall for the World Food Program and for reversing recently imposed food export restrictions.

Ban identified climate change, prolonged droughts, biofuel production and increased consumption among developing nations as together raising the “specter of widespread hunger, malnutrition and social unrest.” Experts cited by Inter Press Service explained that food shortages disproportionally target women and children, and that food prices worldwide have almost doubled over three years.

Afghanistan: U.S. troops tortured prisoners

Documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in April under the Freedom of Information Act — accessible on its web site — confirm the U.S. military’s use of unlawful interrogation methods on detainees held in U.S. custody in Afghanistan.

The ACLU news release charges that early during the U.S. occupation there “special Forces beat, burned, and doused eight prisoners with cold water before sending them into freezing weather conditions.” One died. Sodomy is also alleged.

Criminal investigation undertaken by the military in late 2004 absolved the alleged perpetrators. Rather than ending “systemic abuses, senior officials appear to have turned a blind eye to them,” declared ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh.

Chile: Strike riles copper giant

The strike launched April 15 by Chile’s Confederation of Copper Workers, representing 30,000 contract workers, forced state-owned Codelco Corporation to close three mines. Output dropped 41 percent and $100 million in potential income was lost.

By May 3, Codelco’s huge Teniente operation had resumed operations and settlement seemed imminent. Demands, timed with a 22 percent rise in copper prices over one year, centered on compliance with agreements reached after a strike last year.

According to Reuters, Arturo Martinez, head of the CUT labor federation, told 80,000 International Workers Day celebrants that “subcontracting has been converted into one of the most perverse forms of exploitation.”

Codelco produces ten percent of the world’s copper. Profits approached $18 billion over two years.

Morocco: Factory fire kills workers

A fire April 26 that destroyed the Rosamor mattress factory in Casablanca killed 55 workers, 35 of them women. This was “inevitable mass murder arising from employer greed and official negligence,” according to Neil Kearney, general secretary of the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation.

Kearney called for murder charges against those responsible — the factory owner and manager were arrested — and said this “could have occurred at hundreds of locations in Morocco and tens of thousands across the world.”

The French news agency AFP said the victims, earning less than Morocco’s minimum wage and not registered for social security, were trapped behind locked doors and barred windows. Fire extinguishers were empty.

Japan: Court rejects military role in Iraq

The Nagoya High court ruled April 17 that involvement of Japan’s air force with U.S.-British military activities in Iraq violates Japan’s constitution.

Article Nine states that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation.” The court was responding to a suit brought by 1,122 residents of Aichi Prefecture demanding that Japanese forces be withdrawn from Iraq.

Ten other courts considering similar law suits have yet to hand down judgments.

The Japan Press Service said the court rejected government allegations that the air force was engaging in humanitarian assistance.

Cuba: Wages and benefits rise

Cuba’s government announced that starting May 1, virtually all pensioners will receive increased monthly social security payments of up to 40 pesos and that families with reduced income due to sickness, death, maternity, or disability will experience a 20 percent benefit hike.

Juventude Rebelde also reported that almost 10,000 court and prosecutorial workers will receive monthly pay increases ranging from 211 to 425 pesos.

In 2005, pay was upped for more than five million workers, retirees, and other social security recipients. The government emphasized that future pay increases will depend upon overall economic conditions, identification of prioritized work sectors and trends in aging of the population as affected by advancing life expectancy and decreased births.

World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney (atwhit@