International Notes

Greece: Rally honors workers who died Hundreds gathered in downtown Athens Aug. 10 for an open-air memorial service honoring 13 workers killed during the frantic scramble to finish facilities for the Olympic Games. The ceremony was the latest protest against the widespread violations of labor rights and safety provisions. Amnesty International has predicted that as many as 40 Olympic construction workers may have been killed on the job. Greek Construction Workers Union leader Andreas Zazopoulos said, “All the money spent on the games means our children and grandchildren will have fewer benefits and will be worse off.” Union leaders had earlier told of workers being forced to work shifts up to 14 hours a day, day after day, in extreme temperatures, lacking even basic gear such as hard hats and safety boots, and under constant pressure to finish the Olympic facilities in time. Besides protesting the death toll, the Communist Party of Greece has called attention to the repression, violations of democratic rights, and environmental damage resulting from the way the 2004 Olympic Games are being managed.

Nigeria: Hope grows to wipe out polio The spread of polio could be curbed this year worldwide, and the disease could be eradicated by 2005, thanks to removal of a significant obstacle to the worldwide anti-polio campaign, according to David Heymann, World Health Organization special representative on polio eradication. As reported by Inter Press News Service, Heymann said polio immunizations had resumed last week in the northern Nigerian state of Kano, where they were suspended a year ago because of rumors claiming the vaccines were unsafe. During the interruption, polio cases shot up, with Nigeria accounting for 430 of the 538 cases worldwide so far this year. Heymann said resumption of the campaign in Kano would allow the state to prepare for synchronized immunizations in 22 countries in West and Central Africa from September to November. India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Egypt “have the lowest ever reported numbers of polio cases” this year, Heymann said. But, he added even if transmission is interrupted successfully this year, eradication of the disease can’t be confirmed until 2005.

Argentina: IMF admits mistake The International Monetary Fund’s audit unit, the Independent Evaluation Office, released a report July 29 saying the IMF’s own decisions contributed to Argentina’s devastating financial crisis in late 2001. The report criticized the IMF for ignoring Argentina’s rapidly growing debt during the 1990s, when the country was publicized as the “poster child” for neoliberal economics. It said the size of the debt became the IMF’s main focus only in late 1999 or early 2000, when it was nearing half the gross domestic product (GDP). The IMF then aggravated the problem by making new loans the country could not possibly repay. However, the report failed to criticize the IMF’s insistence on sweeping austerity policies. Argentina’s gross domestic product declined 11 percent in 2002, real wages fell 35 percent, and about 60 percent of the population ended up living below the poverty line.

S. Korea: U.S. builds up Patriot missiles As part of its proposal to reposition forces, the U.S. will assign 500 more troops to a Patriot missile unit in South Korea, the JoongAng Ilbo reported last week. The newspaper quoted a U.S. “senior official” as saying the 35th Air Defense Brigade would move from Texas to Osan, South Korea. Two more Patriot batteries are to be added to the current six, the official said. Each battery is equipped with six to eight launch pads, and each launcher can hold four PAC-2 missiles or 16 PAC-3 missiles. The repositioning also involves withdrawal of about one-third of the present 37,000 forces stationed in South Korea. However, units responsible for transportation and wartime reinforcement processing will not leave the peninsula.

Haiti: Small merchants protest taxes Merchants from Port-au-Prince’s informal sector last week threatened to shut down the capital’s public markets unless taxes imposed through the nation’s customs offices and ports are lowered, the Haitian news agency AHP said. The merchants said the increase in their tax burden is the direct consequence of the interim government’s preferential treatment of big businesses. “The interim authorities make us pay the taxes that the large businesses would normally have to pay to clear their goods through customs,” the informal sector merchants said. They said they were getting together with other informal merchants’ associations to work out strategies to win their demands. They added that if big business is crushing them now, it is because they refused to join the campaign to oust President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, driven from office by a U.S.-led coup last February. International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (mbechtel@pww.org). Julia Lutsky contributed to this week’s notes.