Cuba: International Day Against Homophobia

Spain’s La Vanguardia newspaper recently interviewed Mariela Castro, director of Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education.

Anticipating change, Castro believes that gay people’s rights will be protected under Cuba’s Family Code and will evolve through an educational and media strategy assisted by the Communist Party. A “legal union” formula will eventually guarantee the rights of homosexual couples.

All societies are patriarchal, Castro suggests, but violence against women has waned as women’s rights advanced under Cuba’s revolution. She envisions a future of reduced prohibitions, easy departures from Cuba, and expanded citizen participation in decision making. That’s the “principal objective of socialism,” she says: “the emancipation of human beings; their well-being with fairness and social justice.” To view the entire interview, go to

In a related development, Cuba’s gay community celebrated unprecedented openness with a government-backed campaign against homophobia on May 17.

The meeting at a convention center in Havana’s Vedado district may have been the largest gathering of openly gay activists ever on the island nation.

“This is a very important moment for us, the men and women of Cuba, because for the first time we can gather in this way and speak profoundly and with scientific basis about these topics,” said Mariela Castro.

Castro joined government leaders and hundreds of activists at the one-day conference for the International Day Against Homophobia that featured shows, lectures, panel discussions and book presentations. A station also offered blood tests for sexually transmitted diseases.

South Africa: Protecting water rights

A Johannesburg court ruled this month against a municipal pre-paid water distribution scheme operating for five years in Soweto.

Judge Moroa Tsoka cited the “fundamental right to have access to sufficient water and the right to human dignity.” Analysts see the judgment, which will be appealed, as a global precedent in favor of the poor, who in Soweto have had access to far less than the UN-recommended daily supply of 50 liters of water.

The report by the UN’s IRIN news agency explains that, according to the judge, the prepaid system set up inequalities prohibited by South Africa’s constitution.

Israel: Different health outcomes

Israeli Physicians for Human Rights issued a report last month on the health status of Arab Palestinians living in Israel, who make up 20 percent of the population.

Overall, they live five years less than do Jewish citizens, while their infant mortality — the number of infants dying in their first year out of 1,000 births — is high: 7.3 for Palestinian babies (15.5 for Bedouins) compared to 3.1 for Jewish infants.

Palestinian districts have 50 percent fewer physicians than do Jewish cities, and most have failing sewerage systems. Only two have ambulances.

Israel’s Ministry of Health attributes the discrepancies in part to poverty and social exclusion.

Brazil: Environment takes a hit

Marina Silva became an emblematic figure five years ago when she became Brazil’s environmental minister. Last week, the self-educated activist — a victim of heavy metal poisoning incurred as a child working on rubber plantations — resigned, admitting defeat at the hands of agricultural corporations engaged in cutting and burning Brazil’s rainforests, reservoir of half the world’s fresh water and a crucial depository of carbon dioxide.

Rising commodity prices have propelled expansion of cattle ranching, soybean production and mining, along with attendant highway networks.

“She was the environment’s guardian angel,” said Greenpeace spokesperson Frank Guggenheim. “Now Brazil’s environment is orphaned.”

Silva was unable to overcome the political influence of corporations, according to

Canada: Victims confront multinational giant

Indigenous leaders from Australia, Chile, Papua New Guinea and the United States attended a Barrick Gold stockholders meeting in Toronto May 6 to protest operations carried out on five continents by the world’s largest gold mining corporation.

The visitors later presented their accusations to parliamentarians in Ottawa and public meetings in Montreal, including violation of ancestral lands, spurning of indigenous self-determination, poisoning of the environment and destruction of local economies.

Canadian governmental support for Barrick Gold came under attack, according to, especially free rein for prosecutors over protesters under so-called free trade treaties.

In 2006 the corporation took in $2.3 billion.

Australia: Coal mine canary dies

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology attributes the closing recently of a giant Australian rice mill to drought “without historical precedent” and to climate change.

In response, environmentalist Bill McKibben cites NASA climatologist Jim Hanson: “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed,” Carbon dioxide concentrations need to drop from 385 parts per million currently to 350 ppm. But carbon dioxide rose 2.4 ppm last year after decades of increases averaging 1.5 ppm annually.

Scientist Rajendra Pachauri of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns, “If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late.”

“All of a sudden it isn’t morning in America,” worries McKibben on; “it’s dusk on planet Earth.”

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