World Notes: Japan, Israel, Cuba and more

Israel: Settlement construction to be halted briefly, at a price

In return for a U.S. offer of $3 billion worth of jet fighters and a promise to veto any anti-Israel resolution coming before the UN Security Council, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed Nov. 12 to a three-month moratorium on new West Bank housing construction. According to IMEMC News, U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is intent upon persuading Israel to resume Israeli-Palestinian negotiations broken off almost two years ago.  Under the new accord, Israel may still build in East Jerusalem, and after ninety days, the U.S. government will seek no further construction moratoria.  Israel signed the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits civilian population transfers to land, like the West Bank, seized through military force.

Western Sahara: Soldiers attack protesters’ camp
Moroccan troops have occupied mineral-rich Western Sahara for 35 years. On Nov. 7, they attacked 20,000 independence movement activists. In the process, they burned an “encampment of dignity,” killing ten people, wounding 70 and arresting 65.  Soldiers later went door to door in nearby El Aaiún city. The protest coincided with resumption this month of talks in New York under UN auspices between independence leaders and Morocco, which after almost 20 years has yet to implement a United Nations sponsored independence referendum. Writing for Pagina 12, analyst Atilio Boron condemned “brutal repression” and the indifference of former colonial power Spain.  On Nov. 14, however, tens of thousands marched in Madrid for Western Saharan independence, and President Zapatero promised Spanish aid for displaced refugees.  

Mexico: Workers to form political party

Bent on privatization, the Felipe Calderón government last year fired 44,000 electrical workers. On Nov. 1 in Aztec Stadium, the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SEM) took fight back to a new level. Some 65,000 unionists and family members heard union head Martin Esparza call upon trade unions and social movements to ready an electoral organization in time for national elections in two years. A convening congress is days away. Quoted by, Esparza challenged Calderon “to correct the course of capitalist economic policy that has left the balance of 60 million poor, eight million young people without opportunities.”  La Jornada writer Guillermo Almeyra sees “tens of thousands of workers organized into a political struggle [with] the SME becoming a political axis for a mass movement.”

United Kingdom: Amnesty raps European torture complicity

In a report issued Nov. 15, London-based Amnesty International called upon some European governments to make good on complicity with the CIA’s “rendition” program under which prisoners were subjected to torture, abuse, and/or disappearance.  “The EU has utterly failed to hold member states accountable for the abuses they’ve committed,” said spokesperson Nicolas Beger, who added, “We simply can’t allow Europe to join the US in becoming an ‘accountability-free’ zone.”  According to Amnesty, several countries did press charges against perpetrators and compensated victims.  Other states, notably Lithuania, Poland and Romania, have yet to act on their secret prisons. The British government recently admitted to providing airports for U.S. rendition flights, also to prisoner maltreatment by British agents.

Afghanistan: President Karzai has reservations

In a Nov. 14 Washington Post interview, President Hamid Karzai renewed calls for a U.S. cutback on military operations in his country. “Fighting terrorism,” he explained, means “not being intrusive in the daily Afghan life.” Complaining particularly about NATO soldiers’ nighttime raids, Karzai opined that the foreign troop presence worsens his country’s security situation. Speaking to reporters the next day in Islamabad, U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke indicated Washington is planning a four-year troop phase-out. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham expressed astonishment at Karzai’s remarks. “We [recently] talked about, quite frankly, looking long term with Afghanistan about having two air bases in a permanent fashion in Afghanistan to provide stability[sic],” he told Bloomberg News.  

Cuba: Communist Party Congress is set

President Raul Castro recently announced the convening next April of the sixth Cuban Communist Party Congress, the first since 1997. In preparation, the government issued a 32-page “Draft Guidelines for the Economic and Social Policy of the Party and the Revolution.”  Over 500 party leaders, ministers and economists gathered for a four-day educational National Seminar. “For the Party to exercise supervisory powers it must have knowledge,” Castro said. Nationwide discussion of the Guidelines is anticipated. Topics raised there and in the seminar include models of economic organization, macroeconomics, foreign investment and policy aspects of agriculture, education, social services and science. Economics Minister Marino Murillo emphasized, according to the Cuban News Agency, that “planning, and not the market, will predominate in the updating of the economic model.”

Japan: Military builds first foreign base

The government announced early in November that construction was underway of a military base in Djibouti, the first overseas military base to have been established under the nation’s 1947 pacifist constitution. The government gave as pretext the necessity to counter piracy off Somalia. Two destroyers arrived in Djibouti in 2008, followed a year later by two patrol aircraft and a small troop contingent, all based until now at a U.S. base in the region. On completion, the 30-acre facility will include housing, an air strip, hangers and an office building, reports Japan Press Weekly. Communist Party parliamentarian Akamine Seiken critiqued the government for violating the constitution.

Image: Construction in Jerusalem Photo by Smoochi // CC BY-NC 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.