World Notes: Sept. 20, 2008

Afghanistan: EU envoy issues warning

Ending six years as EU ambassador to Afghanistan, Francesc Vendrell told reporters Aug. 31 that a NATO military victory against the Taliban is “impossible” and that a “change of strategy,” a “political solution,” is required.

The Spanish diplomat blamed a U.S. leadership that in 2002-2004, “did almost nothing” to impede the Taliban which he said has gained popular support from killings of civilians by NATO forces and enormous extralegal detention centers operated by “foreign troops.”

Vendrell maintained on rebelion.org that because Pakistan “appears to have lost control” of border regions serving as Taliban bases, Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai government faces mounting pressures. Citing the independent Senlis organization, he added that the Taliban is well along toward encirclement of Kabul.



Panama: Strike shuts down cities

A one-day labor-led anti-government warning strike earlier this month immobilized transportation, businesses, schools and hospitals nationwide. Over 800 strikers  workers, students, community activists and peasants  delivered 15 demands Sept. 4 to the National Assembly in response to privatization plans aimed at schools, health care and water supply. Protesting inflation, the strikers sought salary and pension increases.

China’s People’s Daily reported violent confrontations between police and strikers.

Genaro Lopez, secretary-general of the 40,000 member SUNTRACS union, denounced repression of workers and students, warning, “We will keep on with actions, including an open-ended national strike.” We are engaged in “legitimate defense of the right to life.”



Lebanon: New peace moves

President Michel Sleiman’s Sept. 9 call for talks between rival Lebanese factions to start in mid-month stems from an agreement reached last May in Qatar under Arab League auspices to move dialogue forward and accept Sleiman as president.

Al-Jazeera said the main issue is possible incorporation of Hezbollah forces into the army. The initiative was welcomed by the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and parliamentary majority leader Saad al-Hariri, a Sunni, whose prime minister father was assassinated in 2005.

Al-Hariri was fresh from having arranged talks in northern Lebanon leading to a reconciliation agreement between Sunnis and Alawite supporters of Hezbollah aimed at ending violence there through a takeover of security responsibilities by the army.



India: Left front mounts mass protests

When marchers bearing anti-imperialist and peace slogans reached North Kolkata Sept. 1, those four miles back had yet to start. High school students walked “hand in hand with eminent lawyers,” tobacco workers with coal workers, Ganashakti.com reported.

Joining unionists, women activists, peasants and teachers, 82-year-old Puspa Dutta walked the distance. Left Front Chairman Biman Basu, State Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), denounced “imperialist aggression,” specifically U.S.-Indian naval exercises and nuclear collaboration.

The latter prompted the left recently to withdraw support from India’s ruling coalition. This “historic rally vibrated ... under the banner of the red flag,” Ganashakti said.



Angola: Big win for ruling party

The MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola), which has governed the country since independence from Portugal in 1975, has scored an 82 percent victory in the country’s first parliamentary elections in 16 years.

After the National Electoral Commission dismissed its complaints of electoral fraud, the minority party, UNITA  a past pawn of Washington and South Africa’s apartheid regime  conceded defeat Sept. 8.

The head of the European Union’s observer mission called the election a major step forward for democracy, while noting organizational problems including confusion and disorganization on Sept. 5 which led election officials to extend voting to a second day in many locations.



Cuba: U.S. unmoved by vast storm suffering

Hurricanes Gustav and Ike destroyed or damaged hundreds of thousands of homes, cut electricity throughout the country and ruined crops. Over one-fifth of Cubans were evacuated amid unprecedented rains and flooding. Ike killed seven there, Gustav none.

Washington’s pegging of humanitarian aid beyond an initial $100,000 to on-site U.S. damage appraisal provoked a war of words. Why, asked Cuba’s foreign ministry, is U.S. assessment required when Cubans are expert along these lines, and other foreign donors made no such stipulation?

On Sept. 11 the ministry asked that Cuba be allowed to buy construction materials and that credit be granted for food purchases.

U.S. refusal to grant requests from Cuban Americans and Democratic candidates, including Barack Obama, temporarily to suspend restrictions on Cuban American visits to the island and delivery of money to families there revived debate over the U.S. Cuban blockade.

Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, joined in asking President Bush to remove such restrictions. The New York Times editorialized: “We believe the embargo against Cuba is about as wrongheaded a policy as one can devise.”

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