World notes: June 21, 2008

South Korea: Conservative president confronts outrage

Monitored by 30,000 riot police, a million people demonstrated throughout South Korea on June 10, following weeks of protests against the government’s bowing to Washington’s threats to retract a trade deal if U.S. beef imports are not resumed. They were cut off five years ago because of fears of human illness resulting from BSE, mad cow disease. Protesters called for President Lee Myung-bak’s resignation, six months after the former Hyundai chief’s decisive election.

Lee’s approval ratings are now at 20 percent, due to discontent with neoliberal educational reforms, privatization of public institutions and a proposed cross-country canal project. The president’s cabinet offered to resign. Two labor federations mobilized tens of thousands of demonstrators and were planning an upcoming general strike.

The Hankyoreh news service pointed out that the rallies commemorated the 21st anniversary of the death of student Lee Han-yeol at police hands during pro-democracy demonstrations.





Spain: High fuel costs trigger trucker strike

Almost half of Catalonia’s service stations had no fuel by June 11, day three of a truckers’strike extending across Spain, Portugal and southern France. Truck slowdowns backed up traffic for miles around Bordeaux, Madrid and Barcelona, and at border crossings. In Spain, food stores closed, factory entrances were blocked and 6,000 trucks driven by nonstrikers received police escorts. Dozens of strikers were wounded, 60 arrested and two killed on picket lines.

A report in the UK Guardian says the truckers’ action indicates a new level of planning for multinational strike actions. “We’re taking this up a gear and focusing on the European dimension,” explained French union leader Jérôme Cordier.

Governments responded with early retirement deals and tax relief. Portuguese truckers returned to work on June 12.

Iraq: U.S. occupation treaty still secret

In a letter to the U.S. Congress, an Iraqi parliamentary majority said U.S. troop withdrawal must be part of a treaty presently being negotiated with Washington. The proposed agreement, targeted for completion by July 31, would replace the UN authorization for the U.S. occupation, which expires Dec. 31. A recent AP report, however, doubts that an agreement will be in place before President Bush leaves office.

The Voice of Iraq web site quotes State Department official David Satterfield giving assurances June 10 in Baghdad that there are “no items that require Senate approval.” He claimed that it’s an executive matter and that discussion points will remain secret until “there is agreement upon them.”





Cuba: World Trade Organization hears dissent

Jorge Ferrar, counselor of Cuba’s Permanent Mission in Geneva, took the occasion last week of the World Trade Organization’s ninth “trade policy review” of U.S. compliance with WTO objectives to denounce U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba. He reminded officials that Cuba is denied credit, use of dollars in international trade and access to multilateral financial institutions. Focusing on the “extraterritorial” application of U.S. policies, Ferrar attributed trade losses of $1.3 billion in 2006-2007 to the U.S. economic blockade.

Nevertheless, Washington won high marks from the WTO. Referring to the “openness and transparency”of U.S. trade, a WTO press release applauded continuing U.S. efforts “to reduce barriers to market access and other distorting measures.”





Morocco: Troops rout demonstrators

In the southern Moroccan port city Sidi Ifni, youths and women demonstrating over unemployment and grim economic prospects triggered brutal suppression by 3,000 Moroccan police and soldiers on June 7.

A camp had been set up May 30 blocking truck entrances to the port. Over 4,000 people had assembled before the city hall when the attack came. Homes were entered, belongings stolen, hundreds detained and, according to Reuters, eight killed.





Chile: Pinochet-era censorship persists

Chilean filmmaker Elena Varela was jailed on May 7. Demonstrators this week demanded a fair trial and return of seized material related to Varela’s unfinished documentary depicting the Mapuche people’s struggle to regain land.

The police may hope to use this material in tracking down indigenous militants. Prosecutors identify Varela as the “intellectual author” of robberies allegedly organized by the Movement of the Revolutionary Left, subject of an earlier Varela documentary. “The Chilean state applies an antiterrorist law from the Pinochet regime,” filmmaker Patricio Guzman wrote on piensaChile.com, to bury awareness of “the stealing of lands and bad treatment visited upon the Mapuche since the creation of the Chilean republic” and to throttle resistance to these policies. Four foreign documentarians filming the Mapuche were arrested recently.





World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney Jr. (atwhit@roadrunner.com).