World Notes: Austria, Bolivia, Cuba, Eritrea, Gaza, South Korea

Austria: Gay civil union gets green light

The Austrian Parliament last month authorized civil unions between gays, making pension benefits available to surviving partners. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown responded by called for recognition in Eastern Europe of British civil partnerships between gay persons. The legislation, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2010, made Austria the 18th European nation granting legal status to civil unions. Observers say such action in one majority Catholic country will encourage similar reforms in others in Eastern Europe where gays endure persecution and occasionally violent confrontations. Gay rights activist Tomasz Szypula told IPS,  “What happened in a Catholic country with support from conservative, Christian politicians” could be “a good example for Poland.”   Belgium, Spain, Holland and Sweden allow for marriage between gays.

Bolivia: President wants international climate change meeting

Calling for a “great mobilization,” Bolivian President Evo Morales last week announced a world conference in Bolivia for April 22, 2010, as follow-up of the recently concluded Copenhagen climate conference. On Morales’ initiative, the UN General Assembly this year designated that day as International Day of Mother Earth. Social movements, scientists, academicians and political leaders will gather at an “alternative forum” to shape proposals for the next UN climate conference set for Mexico in December, 2010. Morales told reporters, according to, that “irrational and unlimited industrialization” accounts for the climate crisis. “The people are going to have to make them change,” he warned. Morales, a UN “World Hero of Mother Earth,” emphasized threats posed by food and water shortages. 

Cuba: Recognition for providing nutritional adequacy

The United Nations’ Children’s Fund issued a report recently indicating that of 146 million children worldwide under age five who are underweight, none are Cuban. They include 28 percent of Sub-Saharan African children, 17 percent in the Middle East and Northern Africa, 15 percent in East Asia, and seven percent in Latin America. Prensa Latina commentary attributes favorable results to provision of basic food necessities to all, nutritional supplementation during pregnancies, free meals in day care centers and schools, and breast feeding for all babies. Despite severe shortages following the fall of the Soviet Bloc, young children received a quart of milk daily. Cuba receives World Food Program assistance during times of special need, as, for example, in Eastern Cuba, where drought presently prevails.

Eritrea: United Nations places sanctions

The UN Security Council last week imposed an arms embargo against Eritrea in response to U.S. and African Union accusations that Eritrea has armed and funded Islamist al-Shabaab insurgents in Somalia, thereby violating a UN arms ban. Eritrea is blamed also for illegally occupying border areas near Djibouti. The sanctions include travel restrictions and selective freezing of assets. The Financial Times highlights the role of Ethiopia, Eritrea’s enemy, in serving as pretext for Eritrean meddling in Somalia, an allegation Eritrea denies. Under U.S. auspices, Ethiopia has, for three years, backed the Transitional Somalian government that al-Shabaab has targeted. Sanctions come as Eritrea’s poverty rate approaches 70 percent and Eritrean refugees stream into Sudan. 

Palestine: PFLP marks 42nd anniversary

Some 70,000 supporters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) joined the group’s 42nd anniversary rally in Gaza on Dec. 12, reports the Ma’an news agency.

“From the early morning hours,” writes an author on the PFLP website, “crowds of young and old, men, women and children traveled from the various provinces of the Strip and all camps and villages to Gaza City to the rally, answering the call of the Front to attend under the slogan of ‘Unity, Steadfastness and Resistance – Towards Victory!'”

The PFLP calls for armed struggle and asserts that negotiations have failed. Other left Palestinian groups, like the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Palestine People’s Party, have differed on the best way to win a just and viable Palestinian homeland, but all are represented in the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the internationally recognized representative of the Palestinian people.

Unity of the Palestinian people is utmost, say the PFLP and others. Speaking on television last week, PFLP general secretary Abed Al Raheem Malouh blamed the Hamas movement for blocking national reconciliation, pointing out that all other resistance groups had signed an Egyptian-mediated document calling for cooperation. Talks among Palestinian factions were progressing at the time in Egypt on possible unity between Fatah and Hamas, according to

South Korea: Hyundai workers accept wage freeze, bonuses

Some 62 percent of 42,146 voting Hyundai autoworkers opted last week for keeping 2009 wages in place and taking in bonuses worth $12,700. Workers will forego a wage increase for the first time in 15 years and may be entering a strike-free year for only the second time since 1987. Other South Korean corporations freezing wages include Samsung and Hyundai Heavy Industries.

The bonus package consists of a $4,200 “incentive” pay out, the equivalent of wages for three months, and 40 shares of Hyundai stock. Hyundai registered a record high $827.3 million in third quarter profits this year. 

Photo: / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0



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.