World Notes: Afghanistan, Greece, Egypt, South Africa, Ecuador, Cuba

Afghanistan: Women, children die as war spending skyrockets

In its annual Mother’s Day report on women’s and children’s survival, Save the Children gave its lowest marks to Afghanistan among 160 countries surveyed. Specifically, one in eight Afghan women die in childbirth, women’s life expectancy is to age 44, and 259 children die by age 5 per 1,000 births. Almost half the children are moderately underweight or worse, 75 percent of Afghans drink contaminated water, and only 14 percent of women giving birth receive midwife help. Afghan women average four years of schooling. The report says, “An alarming number of countries cannot provide the most basic health care.” As of July 2009, the U. S. government was spending $3.6 billion monthly in Afghanistan, reported the Congressional Research Service.

Greece: Arms vendors first in line, parliamentarian charges

Green Party leader in the European Parliament Daniel Cohn-Bendit on May 7 accused Germany and France of forcing Greece to pay up on arms purchases from France and Germany as a condition for accepting the European Union’s 110-billion-euro bailout of the heavily indebted nation last week. As reported by Agence France-Presse, Cohn-Bendit learned of the arrangement, denied by French President Nicholas Sarkozy, in conversations with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou. The preceding conservative Greek government of Kostas Karamanlis had contracted to purchase submarines, warships, helicopters and war planes worth billions of dollars from France. The Greek military, alleging significant military threat from regional rival Turkey, has emerged as a top European arms buyer. 

Egypt: Social movements rise up in anger

The government disregarded a court order April 30 for a wage increase to replace the monthly $6 minimum wage in effect since 1984. On May 2 opposition groups and thousands of unionists protested in Cairo, joining counterparts already camped in front of Parliament and others engaged for months in street actions for higher wages. The heightened militancy builds on wage and benefits protests ongoing since 2006, especially in the textile, public and transportation sectors. Women activists, undeterred by the “threat of state-sponsored brutality,” have assumed leadership roles in the strike wave, reports the Huffington Post. “This is the largest social movement of its kind in the Arab world since the end of the Second World War,” observed Stanford historian Joel Beinin.

South Africa: Transport workers join in big strike

Adherence May 11 by the United Transport and Allied Trade Union to a day-old strike initiated by the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union meant that 40,000 of 54,000 employees of state-owned Transnet Corporation were fighting together for a 15 percent wage increase. The employer proposed 11 percent. The nationwide job action threatened passenger transportation services along with exports of coal burned in European and Asian power plants, fruit worth $1.2 billion in annual sales, and ferrochrome, of which South Africa is the world’s leading producer. A Reuters report, like others, cited worries over preparations being disrupted for the upcoming World Cup soccer games hosted by South Africa. Demands have surfaced for a strike moratorium.  

Ecuador: Indigenous and government at odds over water

Beginning May 10, indigenous groups blockaded highway access to the capital, Quito, in protest against the Rafael Correa government;s proposed “Law on Waters.” Citing ancestral rights, CONAIE Federation President Marlon Santi expressed indigenous peoples’ fears of eventual privatization of water access, especially by mining corporations. TeleSUR reported that calls for radicalization of the protests mounted in advance of National Assembly reconsideration of the legislation on May 11. Parliamentary President Fernando Cordero reiterated claims that indigenous and peasant representation there made demonstrations unnecessary. He pointed to new constitutional prohibitions against water privatization, also to restrictions the legislation envisions against water hoarding. Nationwide protests against the law expanded into calls for protection of food sovereignty and defense against multinational corporations.

Cuba: UN representative says eliminate all nuclear weapons

At the United Nations Conference on Nuclear Non-Proliferation this month, Cuba advocated gradual abolition of nuclear arms by 2025. Lamenting the current slow pace toward eradication, Cuba’s UN representative, Pedro Núñez Mosquera, affirmed his country’s view that elimination is of the highest priority. Calling for non-tolerance of pretexts for delay, he observed that ridding the world of nuclear weapons constitutes the most promising road toward combating nuclear terrorism. Núñez signaled Cuba’s support for a Middle Eastern nuclear-free zone to which end, he said, Israel must join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, submitting its nuclear installations to international inspection. The five countries with Security Council veto power have already expressed support for a nuclear-free zone in the region, reports Prensa Latina.

Photo: Afghan women at a market.





W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.