World Notes: Cuba, Israel, Venezuela - and more

Pakistan: U.S. drones threaten civilians

Hundreds of rural inhabitants of the North Waziristan tribal region staged a protest march Jan. 23 in the town of Mir Ali. Three days earlier, over 2,000 demonstrated in nearby Miranshah. Their protests targetted U.S. drone attacks, one of which killed seven people, mostly innocent civilians, in the Datta Khel area on Jan. 23. Throughout the region, according to the Xinhua News, markets, businesses and truck traffic closed down.  Religious leaders, tribal elders, and students speaking at the demonstrations castigated the U.S. government. Mir Ali business leader Abdul Hakim Nasir testified that drone attacks inflicted on the population an unacceptable state of fear. Speakers blamed the national government for tolerating the attacks.  

Venezuela: Fiber optic cable on the way to Cuba

Ceremonies unfolded in Vargas on Jan. 22, marking the beginning of operations to extend a submerged fiber optic cable to Jamaica and Cuba. "End the blockade of Cuba" and "Unity for all the Peoples!" proclaimed Technology and Sciences Minister Ricardo Menéndez at the event. The report from VTV television suggests improved telecommunications access will serve regional social, economic and cultural integration. Both China and France assisted with the project carried out by Venezuela in cooperation with Cuba and Jamaica. U.S. economic blockade policies denying Cuba access to under-sea fiber optic cables are responsible for having sharply reduced the island's Internet capabilities. That situation will improve when cable use begins in June. Officials in both Cuba and Venezuela also anticipate tightened bi-national communications security.

South Africa: Government initiative will cut HIV treatment costs

The Department of Health recently negotiated a two-year procurement contract with manufacturers of anti- retroviral drugs. Savings may exceed $685 million.  The monthly cost, for example, of supplying one patient with the commonly used drug Tenofovir will drop from $23 to eight dollars. Presently, 18 percent of South Africans are HIV-infected, with a million people receiving ARV drugs.  According to Inter Press Service, the deal represents a shift to big national buyers procuring ARVs and diminished reliance on donors. The advent of powerful purchasing blocs is expected to result in manufacturers' guarantees of drug availability and reduced costs to national health services. Critics suggest the new purchasing arrangement failed in protecting the government from supplier price manipulations during the contract period.  

Nepal: Peace stumbling block is removed

A UN-guided peace process, stalled for three years while former Maoist guerrillas participated in government, has been revived.  On Jan. 22, caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), signed an agreement with Maoist leader Prachanda, transferring control of 19,000 former insurgents living in camps to a multi-party, 64-person monitoring committee headed by the Prime Minister. Its task, reports Al Jazeera, will be to integrate Maoist troops into civilian life or national military service. Controversy over their fate has stymied the formation of a government. The Maoists assumed power following their victory in constituent assembly voting in 2008. Prachanda resigned as prime minister shortly thereafter. Prime Minister Nepal did likewise in June 2010.

Israel: Democratic opposition mobilizes

Coming together as the "Democratic Camp," Tel Aviv protesters on Jan. 15 denounced the government's "McCarthyite witch hunt" .against dissent, human rights, and Arab - Israeli collaboration. Describing the gathering of 20,000 people as "the biggest demonstration for years," the UK Guardian reported the protest as being triggered by the Knesset's recent approval of investigations carried out against civil rights groups and new citizens being subjected to a "loyalty oath."  Proposals to prohibit Jews from selling or renting property to Arabs further inflamed the situation. The Labor Party came under criticism for partnering with the right-wing Netanyahu government, characterized by one speaker as "the most racist coalition in the history of Israel." Two days later, that party split when three Labor Party ministers resigned. 

Cuba: U. S. mail deliveries are ended

As of Jan. 21, postal authorities began refusing to process mail addressed to U.S. recipients. Beginning in November, they disallowed mail to the United States weighing more than 453 grams. That action came about in response to U.S. restrictions, ostensibly anti-terrorist in nature, imposed on mail received from Cuba and other countries. Since 1963, when the United States ended direct mail communication with Cuba, mail has flowed by way of third countries, primarily Mexico and Canada. The most recent Cuban action is attributed to cost increases stemming from airlines of those countries having to return undelivered mail. There are no political undertones, reports La Jornada newspaper. Bilateral talks on re-establishing direct mail service took place in September 2009.

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