Global Notebook 1/01

Castro Assassination Plot Derailed

PANAMA CITY — Four Right-wing Cubans were arrested Nov. 17 after an alleged attempt to "eliminate" Fidel Castro during an Ibero-American Summit. But extradition is apt to be rejected, in part because Cuba has previously refused to send Panamanian criminals home. In general, Panama also refuses to extradite anyone who might face the death penalty if returned.

No firearms were found when the four were arrested, but a cache of plastic explosives was discovered a few days later, buried near the international airport. Panamanian authorities think the plot was to bomb Castro’s motorcade during a drive to an engagement at the University of Panama. Cuba suspects that the men, who had tens of thousands in cash, planned to shoot down Castro’s plane.

The accused have a history of clandestine attacks. Luis Posada Carriles, the leader, has been a CIA "asset" since the 1960s. Charged with the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger flight from Caracas, he spent nine years in a Venezuelan prison, but escaped in 1985. He next surfaced in El Salvador, working for the Contra rebels of Nicaragua. In 1998, he admitted to directing a series of bombings at Cuban tourist sites.

The team included Pedro Remon, who spent 10 years in prison for the attempted murder of a former Cuban UN delegate, and Guillermo Novo, initially convicted in the 1976 bombing murder of former Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier in Washington, DC. The FBI says both were members of the now-defunct US-based terrorist group Omega 7. The fourth man is a Miami resident with a long record of anti-Castro violence.

Posada Carriles, who reportedly lives in El Salvador, may also face an extradition request by Venezuela to face charges in the airplane bombing. Still, when Castro charged that the Salvadoran government "knows perfectly well that he lives there," Salvador’s president denounced his remarks as "absolutely intolerable."
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African Woman Write Their Lives 

KAMPALA — Overcoming many rejections, Ugandan-born writer Mary Okurut published her first novel 10 years ago. Now she’s helping others through FEMRITE, a publishing house she founded in 1997 to promote Africa’s female writers.

This publishing trend is "the untold story of the African publishing industry of today," says Tainie Mundondo, trade promotion officer for the African Publishers’ Network (APNET), which promotes indigenous publishing and international distribution. "Most editors in publishing houses across the African continent are women, more women are getting published, and more women now own their own publishing houses."

Making the transition from the traditional women’s role of storyteller to writer hasn’t been easy. Barriers include widespread illiteracy and financial constraints. But Okurut’s success has generated enthusiasm, and her business has already released 19 novels. Okurut’s own work, including novels, plays, and children’s books, draws heavily from her own experiences.

"As women, we tell the story of society through our own eyes and expose those things that touch us most," she explains. "We will not go to write about Mars." Although obstacles remain, she adds, more African publishers realize that "women have a role to play and are acknowledging it rather than trying to resist it."
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Loose Lips 

WASHINGTON, DC — The US Chamber of Commerce calls its new booklet The Environmentalists’ Little Green Book, a title designed to echo Mao’s Little Red Book. Though harmless sounding, the goal of the 47-page release is to prove that environmentalists are anti-capitalist, human-hating elitists.

The text is basically a collection of quotes, under headings like "Environmentalism as a Religion" and "Bye-Bye Business." Highlights include John Muir’s unfortunate quip, "Man is always and everywhere a blight on the landscape," and Earth First! Editor John Davis’ harsh judgment, "Human beings, as a species, have no more value than slugs." Predictably, it’s being promoted actively by Right-wing radio talk shows.
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Europe’s Watergate 

VIENNA — According to a book by the former leader of Austria’s police union, the extreme-Right Freedom Party has made widespread and systematic use of paid police informants to obtain confidential information from the police computer system, EKIS. Freedom Party renegade Josef Kleindeinst is also cooperating as a witness against his old political allies, who could face jail if convicted in the scandal known locally as "Vienna Watergate."

The investigation could lead to Jorg Haider, the de facto party leader forced to resign from the government last year under pressure from the European Union. Eleven police officers, including Haider’s bodyguard, are under investigation for illegally procuring documents. A letter to Haider, discussing police data and including a computer printout, was found in the bodyguard’s home. At a 1997 press conference, Haider openly presented EKIS printouts, but refused to reveal the names of his contacts.

Kleindeinst claims he was paid monthly to provide files to Freedom Party politicians, and says some were forwarded to Haider. "Such illegal inquiries did not happen just once, but for years, systematically and for payment," he writes.

Haider’s party has mounted a furious counter-attack, calling the investigation a persecution and charging real crimes were committed during the previous Social Democratic administration. Haider says the head of the prosecutor’s office in his region is an "admitted socialist and freemason," and claims the incriminating letter is planted forgery.

The party, which wants the nation’s chancellor to fire the minister leading the investigation, threatens to withdraw from the governing coalition and force new elections. But the coalition could be destroyed anyway if Haider is formally charged.
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Bush Victory May Affect World Bank 

NEW YORK — Fresh from the 2000 presidential election fight in Florida, James Baker III, who led George W. Bush’s effort to prevent a recount, may become the next president of the World Bank.

Until recently, it appeared that James D. Wolfensohn would stay on for another five-year term. But that could change with a Republican administration. In an internal memo, Wolfensohn noted "greater progress in building external partnerships than internal ones." One source notes that he seems to be preparing the ground for departure. Meanwhile, Baker’s name is circulating among senior bank officials, according to the Washington Post.

In the Reagan and previous Bush administrations, Baker served in top positions, including Secretary of State and White House Chief of Staff. During the Florida fiasco, he uttered some of the most hard-line, damn-the-consequences partisan statements. Should Bush nominate him, opposition from congressional Democrats is likely to be fierce.  
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Toxic Research Tarnishing UN 

BANGKOK — UN-backed anti-narcotics research endangers the environment in Asia and Latin America, say scientists and governments, particularly in Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, and Ecuador. In Afghanistan, which grows opium poppies that produce most of the world’s heroin, the threat is a fungal herbicide known as pleospora papaveracea, which is being tested by the UN Drug Control Program (UNDCP). In Colombia, which supplies 80 percent of the world’s cocaine, fusarium oxysporum has been developed for mass aerial spraying as part of the US’s controversial "Plan Colombia."

Latin American governments fear that US plans to spray over the Colombian jungle will cause irreparable damage. Although UN officials claim the world body "will never support any risk," critics point to an abysmal UNDCP and the US record. Under pressure, UNDCP is distancing itself from both fusarium and the US State Department’s aggressive advocacy.

In Asia, however, the research continues, despite withdrawal of British financial support for what’s been called "biological warfare" research. The researcher funded by UNDCP admits his goal was to increase the herbicide’s potency through genetic modification. This would increase the risk of mutation and might hurt other plants, animals, and humans.

According to the Sunshine Project, which lobbies against use of biological agents, UN involvement in toxic fungi research proves that its policies have been hijacked by the US war on drugs. The project claims such work runs counter to the UN Convention against Chemical and Biological Warfare and the UN’s mandate to protect the environment. 
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Pressure Builds to End Burn Off 

ABUJA — Nigeria holds a dubious record: world leader in "gas flaring." That’s the burning off of gas left over from oil extraction. More than 75 percent of its total gas production is burned, outstripping every other oil producer. But now the north African nation has set a four-year target to end the practice, which reportedly causes serious damage to human health and plant and animal life.

Since re-injection requires costly new facilities, oil companies prefer to burn gas that comes with oil. They liked the previous eight-year deadline, but public pressure forced the government to act. Several gas utilization projects are underway, including a $3.8 billion liquefied natural gas project built by the government and several oil companies, including Shell. Penalties for gas flaring have also been doubled.

In a recent report, Shell admitted responsibility for a large proportion of oil pollution in the Niger Delta region, where much of the oil prospecting is done. The region’s wetlands have been virtually destroyed. Most creeks are polluted, threatening fishing, the main livelihood of people there.

Round-the clock flaring takes place close to human settlements, exposing people to perpetual heat, constant light, and the psychological and physiological disorders these create. The health hazards and environmental damage have turned local communities against the government and oil companies.

"The people of the Niger Delta want to take control of the resources on their land," says the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People. "The region has been neglected enough."
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Pacifica Crisis Comes to New York 

NEW YORK — In a move reminiscent of the fight at Pacifica radio station KPFA in Berkeley, the Pacifica Foundation has removed WBAI-New York’s long-time general manager Valerie Van Isler. In late November, Van Isler was reassigned to a newly created position in Washington, DC. When she protested, she was fired.

Protests and criticism that it’s moving in a more timid, ratings-driven, commercialized direction have torn Pacifica’s network of community-supported stations. Though Van Isler recently brought WBAI into the black, she locked horns with management over the airing of a Fidel Castro speech last September. She was also under fire for coverage of a Palestinian Right-of-Return March, as well as her criticisms of the network’s treatment of Democracy Now! co-host Amy Goodman.

In 1999, Pacifica removed KPFA’s general manager Nicole Sawaya. This led to massive listener protests, staff arrests, and the station’s closing for several weeks. Pacifica recently threatened to fire Goodman, co-host of the network’s flagship national newsmagazine. In response, Goodman has filed grievances for censorship and harassment. For more information, go to
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Vietnamese Win Highway Battle 

HANOI — Plans for a highway along the route of the famous Ho Chi Minh trail have been blocked by Vietnamese activists and forestry officials. The road would have bisected the Cuc Phuong National Park, a forest so revered that the Vietnamese avoided using it to transport or hide troops during what they call the "American War." Another section would have cut through the Phong Nha Nature Reserve.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature warns that the proposed highway would "encourage massive agricultural encroachment, illegal logging, firewood extraction, and hunting of protected species." The Vietnam Forum of Environmental Journalists says the government should prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment, which is required under the Convention on Biodiversity Vietnam ratified in 1995.

"The army is known to be involved in limestone exploitation," notes an InterPress Service report. "Smoother transport links would mean more lucrative gains."
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Still Number One in Rights Abuse 

WASHINGTON, DC — According to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2001, US trampling of human rights makes it the worst offender on the planet. Most US leaders "remained either unaware of their human rights obligations or content to ignore them," the report concludes. "Serious human rights violations were most apparent in the criminal justice system — including police brutality, discriminatory racial disparities in incarceration, abusive conditions of confinement, and state-sponsored executions, even of juvenile offenders and the mentally handicapped."

Documented offenses also included violations of workers’ rights, discrimination against gay men and lesbians in the military, and abuse of migrant child farm workers.

Rather than embrace international norms, the US has sought to rewrite them. In a report to the UN last year on compliance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, "it failed to acknowledge crucial weaknesses in laws and mechanisms to protect the right to be free of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as the serious obstacles abuse victims face in securing legal redress."

The US also redefined torture to include only conduct prohibited under its Constitution. With few exceptions, this excludes mental torture not accompanied by physical torture. Declaring the treaty to be non-self-executing, it "failed to enact implementing legislation, with the result that US residents cannot turn to the courts to seek protection of the rights affirmed under the treaty. The US, in effect, declined to change its laws to bring them up to international standards."