The Guardian 11 May, 2005

Global briefs

CUBA: Cuban President Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez praised the growing ties between their countries, as they participated in the formal launching in Havana on April 28 of branches of Venezuela's state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela and of the Venezuelan Industrial Bank. "We are very pleased. This is a historic day", said Castro. Chávez responded, "We have been building this brick by brick, like a house". On April 29, the two countries signed 49 agreements for cooperation. These include a new Cuban commitment to provide even greater medical care for the people of Venezuela, and Venezuela's pledge to step up its help to Cuba in the field of energy, including offshore oil exploration, making Havana the headquarters for its Caribbean oil refining and distribution plans, and building shipping and storage facilities.

IRAQ: Doctors are reporting a significant increase in deformities among newborn babies, especially among poor families in southern Iraq. The most affected regions are around Basra and Najaf, where weaponry used in the 1991 Gulf War contained depleted uranium. University of Baghdad scientist Dr Nawar Ali said the 650 cases reported since August 2003 represent "a 20 percent increase from the previous regime", and warned the number could be higher since the study did not include private hospitals. He said polluted water, which could contain radiation from weapons used in earlier conflicts, was the main factor in the increase. Pediatrician Dr Lamia'a Amran said most deformities were found among poor families in the southern region.

NIGERIA: Shipping and courier workers, members of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, said last week that they were prepared to picket employers over a drive to casualise their jobs, contract labour and outsourcing. The union's president-general, Peter Onikolease Irabor, said the only solution to the crisis now facing the maritime industry is to "decasualise the casual workers and normalise the employment of contract workers. These two practices offend the labour laws." He added that companies were motivated to casualise by the drive for profits, not by the economic slump.

HAITI: The ordeal of ousted Haitian Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, who began a second hunger strike on April 17 as a protest against his detention for over 10 months without trial, continues. According to Marguerite Laurent of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network, authorities recently tried to force Neptune to undergo medical treatment in the neighbouring Dominican Republic on the condition that he would not be allowed to return to Haiti. Laurent spoke to Neptune's family and friends who said that the deposed prime minister has vowed that he will not leave the National Penitentiary and will continue his hunger strike until a judge declares him innocent and releases him from jail. Laurent said that Neptune is critically ill and near death.

PUERTO RICO: Last May 1 the Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosian marched in San Juan, demanding the US government close its base in the San Juan metro area Fort Buchanan.

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