"Prison uprisings in Brazil are common because of massive overcrowding and because inmates often have to wait years for a trial," the Associated Press reported. Some 900 inmates are crammed in the Sorocaba penal facility, which has the capacity for 500 people. Seven of the eight prison rebellions that exploded in Brazil in the last week of 1997 occurred in Sao Paulo state.
CIA to train Mexican military
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has launched a training program with the Mexican army to establish a "network of antidrug troops" around the country. Some 3,000 Mexican soldiers in the "Air Mobile Special Forces Groups" are expected to participate in the U.S. defense department training courses by the autumn of 1998. Clinton administration officials say the training activities include air-assault operations and military policing. The Pentagon has given the Mexican government 73 UH-1H helicopters, which supposedly may only be used for "antidrug operations."
U.S. and Mexican military officials acknowledge that the elite units could be deployed against the guerrilla forces and peasants in the southern states of Chiapas and Guerrero. A CIA- trained Mexican Army strike force was disbanded in the late 1980s after several Mexican civilians were killed in raids.
Venezuela gov't plans cutbacks
The Venezuelan government has announced plans to slash $2.1 billion from its 1998 budget and reduce the country's inflation rate from 38 percent to 20 - 25 percent. The budget proposals preceded renewed negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) scheduled for January, and are in effect a counter-offer to IMF demands to raise gas prices to reduce the government's budget deficit. The regime recently sold the last state-owned steel plant in Latin America to private investors from Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela.
Bishop can't fill cruise to Cuba
Miami Archbishop John Favalora canceled a Miami-to-Cuba cruise ship scheduled for the visit of Pope John Paul II to the island January 21 - 25. Only 400 spaces on the ship had been sold. The cancellation came after weeks of debate within the Cuban-American right wing and more broadly in Miami, as well as pressure from rightist Cuban-American businessmen, political figures, and big church fund-raisers who were opposed to the trip. The Archdiocese of Miami is now looking into possibilities of air charters to Cuba for the papal visit.
Fewer Czechs support NATO
Support for the expansion of the NATO into the Czech Republic has dwindled among citizens there - from 50 percent in the spring of 1997 to 43 percent in December. Irritated with the "lethargic attitude" in the Czech ministry of defense, Clinton administration officials chided the Czech government to "sharpen its preparation for membership" into the north Atlantic military alliance, the New York Times reported.
Bowing to Washington's dictates, the Czech government hiked military spending this fall, and Vaclav Havel was forced to resign as prime minister November 30. Havel, who pressed austerity measures and other capitalist "reforms," resigned in the aftermath of a currency crisis as the economy plunged into a deep slump.
Italian gov't: `We don't want Kurdish refugees from Turkey'
Amid claims that 10,000 Kurdish immigrants are fleeing to Italy to escape repression from the Turkish government's stepped-up military drive against Kurdish rebels, Italy's prime minister Romano Prodi called for a "common European policy" to deal with the situation January 4. Giorgio Napolitano, Italy's interior minister, granted many of the Kurdish immigrants political asylum January 3 - 4, but urged the Turkish government to "work seriously" against Kurdish emigration from that country. Ankara has demanded that Rome repatriate the Kurdish refugees.
A Turkish ship carrying 825 Kurds ran aground December 26 off the southern coast of Italy, and officials in Rome said that a second vessel was en route across the Mediterranean Sea.
Meanwhile, the Turkish government announced December 29 that its military had wrapped up a recent operation against guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers' Party.
Iran opens pipeline, defies U.S.
The Iranian government opened a 125-mile natural gas pipeline December 29 that gives the country access to the world's largest untapped energy reserves. The $190 million project will transport some 12 billion cubic feet of natural gas a year from the Caspian Sea Basin through a desert field in Turkmenistan into Iran.
Tehran's deal with the Turkmenistan government weakened Washington's efforts to isolate Iran. These attempts include the 1996 Iran-Libya Sanctions Act mandating U.S. sanctions on any enterprise investing more than $20 million in Iran or $40 million in Libya. "The United States opposes as a matter of policy the construction of pipelines across Iran," declared James Foley, deputy spokesperson for the U.S. State Department at a December 29 press conference responding to the gas pact.
White farmers appeal land buyout in Zimbabwe
White farmers in Zimbabwe submitted final appeals December 28 to halt the compulsory purchase of their land by the government under its land reform program. On November 28 President Robert Mugabe published a list of 1,500 mostly white- owned farms to be confiscated under the program. The government announced it will forcibly buy 13.7 million acres - half the country's prime commercial farmland - to be redistributed to landless Black peasants. Almost half the country's farmland is owned by some 4,400 white farmers, while 8 million peasants are packed into one-third.
Since 1980 when Zimbabwe ended white-rule and won independence from Britain, the government has bought 8.3 million acres of land from white farmers. Last October Mugabe approached British prime minister Anthony Blair to request compensation for the white farmers but was turned down. According to Mugabe, Washington agreed during negotiations in 1979 that it would help London pay for land redistribution. An official at the U.S. embassy in Harare claimed there was "no foundation" to Mugabe's statement.
Suit filed for school vouchers
Joseph Rogers, a conservative Black attorney, filed a class- action lawsuit against the Denver school system demanding publicly financed vouchers to send children to private and parochial schools. Rogers initiated the legal action two years after the busing program ended in Denver and organized some 3,500 plaintiffs from Black and Latino working-class communities.
The U.S. rulers are chipping away at public school systems; deepening the attack on busing programs throughout the country as many public schools are becoming resegregated. Proposals for voucher programs, which undermine support for public schools, are being considered in about 25 states.
- BY MAURICE WILLIAMS
Janet Post, a member of the International Association of
Machinists in Miami, contributed to this column.
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